Ed thought he recognised the figure almost as soon as it turned into the narrow alley behind the almshouse cottages. His immediate reaction was to jump off the wall he was perched on and escape down the path at the side of old Mrs Joiner’s place. He could get back to the road that way without having to speak to Edgworth. It wasn’t that he disliked Tom Edgworth. He didn’t. They’d been friends of sorts at school, not that long ago, but Tom was an odd one Ed thought. Not aggressive as such, not mean really and not even particularly unruly at school. Some of the teachers had had it in for him. Bit odd of them really when you thought about it. They were ‘green’ and ‘animal lovers’ but didn’t seem to like Tom’s country ways at all. Ed remembered a ‘show and tell’, some daft American idea, where Tom had brought his ferret. Didn’t like that animal did they? Ed smiled. Not really that bad a bloke Tom. They’d spent one summer fishing for trout and selling them on. Trouble was they’d gone fishing with gunpowder packed in tins. ‘Bang!’ and all the silvery bodies floated up to the surface of old Turbemere’s lake and you scooped a nice bit of earnings. Tom said his granddad had showed him that trick. Better than sitting there all day with a line and getting nicked for poaching and no licence. One bang, five minutes frantic netting and off before Turbemere’s water bailiff could get a look at you, never mind catch you.
Ed looked up the alley again. Definitely Tom. You could tell by the strut in his step that he’d seen and recognised Ed too. Couldn’t walk off now without offending him.
Problem had been the police were a bit hotter on explosions than in grandad’s day. Lot of bother, but no charges in the end. Couldn’t prove it, and Tom and Ed had just denied it all. Tom reckoned they just visited all the kids in the village. Ed hadn’t liked it. His mum and dad had been furious having police round the house. ‘I told you them Edgworths were no good didn’t I boy?’ his dad had yelled at him. Ed had nodded. ‘And that Tom is worse than any of ’em.’ Ed had nodded again. ‘Stay away from them boy. Won’t go wrong if you stay away from them. Weird buggers they are.’
‘Why weird Dad?’ Ed had felt emboldened to ask now Dad’s ire was turned elsewhere. His father had glanced at his mother who gave one small shake of her head. ‘Never mind boy. You find some other friends that’s all.’ So he pretty much had. Couldn’t avoid Tom completely in a village mind. But there had been no more fishing trips. And now they’d left school and both found that there was no work in a village anymore, with good exams or no exams. Time lay heavy on Ed’s hands. He’d more or less decided to go to Uni next year after all. Tom didn’t have that option.
Tom bounced down the alley between the back of the cottages and the tall yellow limestone wall of the old Sterven estate, long ago split up into its constituent farms and the hall sold off. Tom drew level with where Ed was sitting.
‘You going somewhere Tom?’ Ed asked.
‘No, rooted to the spot me.’
‘Well don’t be a prat then Ed Bayfield. Course I’m going somewhere. Why would I be walking down here otherwise?’
‘Going for a walk?’
‘I’d be going somewhere then, wouldn’t I?’
‘Nah, you’d be walking, but not to anywhere. ‘Cept back where you started of course.’
‘Well I’m not. I’m going somewhere.’
‘Where you going?’
‘What’s it to you? You me mum are you?’
‘She doesn’t care where you are.’
Ed jumped down from the wall he’d been sitting on and fell in step beside Tom Edgworth.
‘Where we off?’
‘Oh it’s “we” now is it?’
‘Don’t mind a bit of company do you? I’m bored out of my skull.’
Tom looked his companion up and down.
‘No, that’s okay Ed. You can make yourself useful though, carry that.’ And with that he slung the old fashioned haversack he’d been carrying at Ed.
‘What’s in it?
‘Why you carrying it then?’
‘I’m not. You are.’
‘Very funny. You know what I mean. Why am I carrying it?’
‘Cause you’re a prat and you’re bored.’
‘Ta very much.’
Tom turned left at the end of the walled pathway and vaulted the gate that blocked the way. Ed climbed after him.
‘This is Chucker’s land. He’ll go spare if he catches us.’
‘Well he isn’t going to is he? It’s Tuesday, he’s up the market in town.’
‘I thought they’d shut that?’
‘Nah, they closed the old one, the one that sold useful stuff. It’s what they call a farmers market now. Chucker takes stuff up there.’
‘What, lambs and stuff?’
‘Can’t kill his own these days, gotta go to an abattoir.’
‘What’s he sell then?’
‘Few veg his missus grows, few birds he shoots, potatoes, and a load of crap he buys in and slaps Sterven Farm labels on.’
‘Ah well, gives us a chance for a little enterprise, doesn’t it?’
Ed hefted the canvas sack and looked at Tom.
‘Enterprise? What? Like the fish?’
‘You can chuck us the bag and go back if you like.’
‘I didn’t say that.’
‘Good. Let’s get down in the lane.’