C H A P T E R O N E
When Two Worlds Collide
As Jim McKenzie plodded purposely down a field of green shoots of grass, in his mud stained wellingtons, he could not remember whether he was the seventh or eighth generation of shepherds. But of one thing he was sure. He was the Last Shepherd.
Ahead of him, ever alert, was his faithful tricolour border collie Jess, having done her morning’s work, herding and cajoling flocks of sheep on the hills above the village of Corsack in Galloway, south west Scotland. It gave Jim great satisfaction that his outdoor life was one of silence, interrupted by the instructional whistle to Jess but maintained by the silent flight of the red kite in the vicinity. He was a man in his mid thirties who had no interest in the hedonistic lifestyles of many of his contemporaries but he did occasionally wonder if he would ever find himself sharing his life with a partner again. But if that were to be the case, it was unlikely that shepherding would attract a new generation. Times were changing. Jim made sure they did so as slowly as he could. Shepherding skills and instilled country understanding passed down through many generations were gifts not to be lost without a fight.
From an adjacent field the cross wires of a telescopic rifle focused on the shepherd’s steps advancing to the country road. On the opposite side of the hill, farmer Bob, in his early seventies, stood reading his newspaper by his Land Rover. He was distracted by an approaching car which slowed down. The car stopped by him and he saw a young good looking girl was at the wheel. He perked up. She lowered the car window.
‘Are ye lost lassie?’ he enquired.
‘I’ve come to pregnancy diagnoses some heifers for you,’ she said.
‘Are ye sure? I wis waiting fur the vet, a man called Joe.’
The young girl got out of the car. She wore a padded waistcoat, jeans and wellies. Her hair was tied back, secured by a tartan ribbon. She laughed.
‘Sorry to disappoint you but I am Jo, I’m the new vet. I was sent by the practice. It will be a good experience of large beasts for me.’
‘Are ye fit enough to dae this lass? You’ve got a lot o’ heifers here tae P. D.’
Jo smiled at him. It would be better to show what she could do rather than stand and argue about how the weaker sex were taking over in so many professions from engineering on the factory floor to the pulpits of the Bishopric in the Anglican church. She walked over to the barn and entered. She donned farm leggings and a heavy working jacket. Bob looked on impressed. She certainly seemed to know what she was about. Jo entered a cattle crush and stood beside a heifer. She lifted up its tail and entered the beast which showed no sign of discomfort.
‘This one’s in calf,’ she called to Bob. She inspected the whole heard then passed them through a cattle race. She had a stick to prod them along. As each one passed, she inspected for any infestation, cuts, abrasions or any significant hoof injuries.
Bob laughed quietly and shook his head.
‘ I’ve underestimated yer capabilities.’
Jo smiled at him. She knew she had performed thoroughly. She turned on a hose and washed down her work overalls. But Bob took the hose from her and sprayed her feet.
They left the pen and returned to the roadside where on one leg Jo struggled out of her leggings. As she did, a new black Range Rover passed by, at high speed. It splashed both Bob and Jo with the muddy water. Jo gave a squeal. Bob let fly in a more masculine outburst.
‘Ya bastard. What the hell do ye think yer dain?’ But the driver did not slow down nor acknowledge his thoughtless driving.
On the other side of the hill, Jim was lambing a ewe near a stone dyke by the road. Jess sat motionlessly beside him watching the birth. The lamb emerged. Jim smiled at the new life, satisfied with another uncomplicated delivery. He cleaned it and set it on its feet shakily, returning it to its mother. As he did so the misty rain began to fall more heavily. Jim walked towards the gate by the road. He opened it and called Jess to go through and instructed her to sit on the other side. Obediently, as she had done many times before, Jess sat on the edge of the road waiting for his master’s next command. Jim closed the gate and bent down to pick up his crook.
The Land Rover approached at great speed. The driver suddenly applied his brakes and as the rubber burned the damp road, the noise of screeching alerted the neighbourhood. Jim looked round from his kneeling position. With a sharp yelp of pain Jess was hit by the car and was thrown under the vehicle. The car breaked, its velocity carrying it forward to off-balance Jim. He was propelled forward and collapsed. He lay semi conscious. He had swallowed his tongue.
The car pulled up and a braw well dressed man in his late forties, maybe early fifties, approached Jim from his new Range Rover. His children remained in the vehicle. His wife joined him. He saw Jim lying by the gate.
‘Looks like a vagrant, a tramp,’ he says disparagingly.
‘Yes but darling, the dog, what about the poor dog? said Suzanne.
‘These stray dogs are two a penny’, he said dismissively.
Bob and Jo were standing on the other side of the hill by the cattle pen. Bob had made a mug of tea and they relaxed after the session in the barn with the heifers.
From a distant branch a rifle is made secure. The cross wires now focus on the tea drinkers. The trigger is gently squeezed. The shot cracked through the air. It landed between Jo and Bob.
‘What was that?’ asks Jo.
‘It was a bullet,’ Bob replied.
‘Someone’s trying to kill us.’
‘No Jo. If he wis tryin tae kill us, we widna be standin’ noo. We widnae hae heard the bang.’
No sooner had he spoken when a loud bang is heard. Bob scanned the horizon. He saw the marksman. He raised his arm and waved, acknowledging him.
‘It’s Tam, Big Tam. Thir must be somethin’ rang. Cum on get intae the car.’
Bob commandeered Jo’s Sabaru Impretza. Jo can find no words or reason to resist his sudden impulse. Instinctively she trusted him. He pulled back the seat to give himself leg room. Jo sat beside him.
‘Ah ken the roads lass,’ said Bob in a statement justifying his actions.
As they set off, Tam a broad built man of superb physical fitness, dressed in army camouflage ran down the field at full pelt. He leapt over a dyke on to the road in full view of the accident. He drew his dagger as he raced along the road. The ski mask which he wears only reveals one eye. He looks a sinister individual and Rupert’s children Victoria and Edward scream in unison while hitting the window to attract their parents’ attention.
‘Look out behind you Dad!’
Their parents turned and saw the masked man with a high powered rifle slung over his back, clutching a long curved combat knife in his right hand. He barged between the couple. He knelt on one knee beside the unconscious Jim. Tam opened his mouth and was about to insert his knife when Rupert grabbed his arm. Tam threw his arm out aggressively and elbowed Rupert on the chin in a powerful punch which sent Rupert sprawling over his Range Rover.
‘To hell with this madness. Let’s get out of here. Come on, in the car quick,’ Rupert ordered.
The Range Rover set off once more at speed while Tam carefully removed Jim’s tongue from the back of his throat with his knife. Jim gasped for a breath of fresh air then was violently sick at the side of the road where he lay. Tam supported him in his state of shock.
Jo’s car arrived at the scene and Bob and Jo got out promptly to see what had happened.
‘You all right Jim?’
Jim came to his senses slowly and recognised Bob.
‘What the hell’s happened Bob? Where’s Jess?’
‘Come, let’s get you to the warmth of my surgery. I’ll call for an ambulance to take you to hospital,’ said Jo.
‘Tae hospital in Dumfries? Thirty miles away? No way. But a cup o tea will just be fine. So...you’re the young vet?
‘Aye, I am that and you know a vet is trained to work on animals, not folk like you Jim.’
‘Och just patch me up as you would ony beast, lassie.’
Jo smiled at Jim. It was not the time to tell him about Jess’s injuries. But there was something in Jim’s determination which Jo rather liked.
Jo resumed the wheel to drive cautiously yet as fast as she could, to get Jim to her surgery. She neither drove without saying a word, nor did Bob or Tam who sat crouched in the rear of the car, anxiously aware of the condition of her injured passenger. She reversed to the back door of the surgery. Gently, Bob and Tam helped her to carry Jim inside where she laid Jim out on an operating table.
‘You’ll probably need an X–ray. But let me have a look at you first.’
She cut away his trousers with shears and opened his shirt. She could see some bruising where he had made contact with the rail. She then looked at his leg.
‘He’ll nae be wearin’ they claes again’, said Bob.
‘That leg will need a couple of stitches and a good clean up. That must have been where the bumper caught you. Come on lads, let’s get him to the X-ray table.’
Bob and Tam lay Jim out on the table and are told to stand well clear while the X-ray is taken. Jo attended to the X-ray in a side room while Bob approached Tam.
‘Tam, we wis telt ye were killed in Afghanistan!’ Tam did not respond. Instead he knelt over and collapsed to the clinic floor. Jo ran in from the ante room. Bob looked at Jo then Jim on his table and Tam on the floor.
‘Thir must be sumthin’ seriously wrang wi' him,’ said Bob.
There was no need for Jo to reply. Action was what was required. Tam was placed on the operating table recently vacated by Jim. His ski mask was removed. His head was heavily bandaged on the right side of his face. It was blood stained and dirty. Bob assisted Jo in turning him over. There, they found blood stains on his back near a hole in his shirt, the size of a bullet. They removed his shirt and saw the bullet hole, surrounded by wheals and lash marks on his back causing infection. Jo examined the wounds carefully, dabbing disinfectant cotton wool as she did.
‘This is not good. Tam will have to get to hospital’, she said.
‘He canna go tae hospital,’ said Bob
‘Why ever not?’ asked Jo incredulously.
‘We’ve been telt he wis killed in action in Afghanistan but as ye can see, he’s somewhat alive here in oor patch.’
‘Not as alive as we would hope for. What was he out there for, do you know?’
‘It wis the army. The Royal Engineers in fact. He wis drilling bore holes for water supplies.’
‘But I don’t understand. Why is he supposed to be dead?’
Bob looked at Jo. He shook his head.
‘We jist don’t know what happened oot there. That’s for sure. It may be that the Authorities that wis tryin tae get rid o him; aye even kill him but as I said, we really don’t know. An’ he canna tell us.’
Jo thought for a moment. No patient ever complained of her surgery skills but perhaps that is why she chose veterinary surgery. Then she recalled that Professor David Purley had awarded her the Starmer award for veterinary surgery in her final year, only two years ago. That gave her the necessary encouragement. She scrubbed her hands. She sterilized the implements required and prepared Tam for surgery.
Jo eased a bullet from his shoulder and placed it in a kidney bowl. She cleansed the wound and covered it with gauze. She then slowly undid his head bandage and was horrified to find he had only one eye. Clearly a bullet had entered his eye, travelled through the roof of his mouth, permanently damaging his tongue and rendered him speechless. She saw where the bullet had left though his cheek. No wonder he covered such a face disfiguring wound; what an amazing wonder he was still alive, she felt.
‘We really should get him to hospital’, Jo said in a whisper.
‘We canna. Simply canna’, said Jim.
‘Jim’s right. Keep him here jist noo and do as much as ye can’, said Bob.
Jo took his temperature.
‘It’s 105 degrees. I’ll have to give him penicillin. I can only hope he won’t react to it. This is meant for animals you realise, but in the circumstances, it will have to do.’
Jo gave him the penicillin and tried to make him comfortable. She raised the metal rail around the mattress and left him to sleep. It was a deep sleep but Jo rarely took her eyes off her second human patient.