I expected to hear from Sophie the next morning about visiting Holzman’s farm to take a look around but the call never came. Over the next couple of weeks I picked up jobs as they were offered by the local farmers. I even had a fertilizing job for Sophie but she didn’t say anything about the farm and I felt it best to let sleeping dogs lie. Time dragged on and I forgot all about it. If I was disappointed initially, I quickly put it behind me. Anna left the subject alone too – allowing it to fade into the background of our lives although she must have known how much I wanted to look at the opportunity that was on offer.

Five weeks had passed when the phone rang late on a Saturday evening – It was Sophie. Initially I assumed that she had an urgent job that needed doing on Sunday, farming is often urgent jobs that either have been waiting for a gap in other work or are dictated by changes in the weather. But Sopihe launched into an apology – “I’m sorry Nick.. I meant to tell you but I kept putting it off.. Didn’t want to disappoint you.” I probably mumbled a confused “that’s all right” type of response, I don’t recall, but Sophie had more to tell. “We were a bit premature, Tim hasn’t put the farm on the market yet. But he is selling and he would be happy to go down the road of a private sale if you’re still interested?” I took a moment to catch my breath.. I heard Anna ask in the background “Are you OK?” – apparently I’d gone a little pale. “I’m still interested!” I gasped. “Great – Tim’s given me the keys so I can show you around tomorrow morning! I’ve got a couple of things to sort out first thing. Could we meet at the bottom of the lane at 10:30?” I agreed and hung up the phone.

It was just Sophie and I that morning – Anna had the lunchtime shift at the Horseshoes so she decided not to come – “I’ll only confuse matters anyhow.” she said and gave me a peck on the cheek. As we walked up the lane, avoiding some puddles from overnight rain, Sophie began to give me some background to the farm. Old man Holzman appeared after the war. He married a local girl and bought a vacant farm – it’s owner having been posted missing in action early in the North African campaign. It was rumoured that Holzman was a German prisoner of war who had decided to settle in England after hostilities ceased but it had never been confirmed. Over time any mistrust in this newcomer had given way to normal farming cooperation as Holzman had proved himself willing to help out the other farms. Sophie couldn’t confirm that there was any truth in the PoW rumour but she thought it was most likely gossip driven by the german sounding name.

Tim was the couple’s second son. The elder boy wasn’t interested in farming and left to pursue an engineering career. Tim had stayed on and took over the farm when his father could no longer manage it. It was a sad story really, Ma Holzman died quite young and Old Man Holzman lost interest in life after her passing. Working hard on the farm, Tim Holzman had never married. “And that,” said Sophie, “brings us to the present.” “Tim’s been running down the farm for a few years now. He’s not a well man and can’t manage it any more.” “The big C.” she said in response to my unspoken question as we reached the farmyard.

My tour was a simple one – there was not a lot to see. “Tim’s already auctioned off most of the machinery – I believe he still has a tractor for old times sake but thats in his garage at the farmhouse.” “All that’s left for sale are the buildings and three fields.” As Sophie walked me round I began to get an idea of what a curates egg the place was. “Here’s the old shelter – good place for a tractor and there’s a basic workshop.”……”Old man Holzman once tried keeping sheep – he built this way back to keep them……but he lost the sheep during a foot and mouth outbreak and never replaced the flock.” “And this is the jewel in the crown – a nice new barn with lots of storage space!”……”Tim added it ten years back when things were looking good.”

The fields looked to be a good size with two of them doing grass for hay or silage…
…and the third growing a crop of Wheat…

I had to ask, “How come there’s a crop?” “Tim’s been paying other farmers to do the work on his land for him – I think Mark prepared the field and sowed the crop.” “I’ve helped out myself in the past as well as buying a couple of fields when he was in a bit of a hole.” “Anyway, that’s the farm and its assets.” “What do you think?” I looked around the empty yard and the abandoned sheep facility. The big modern barn was a huge plus along with the workshop in the old shelter. The grass looked ready to harvest but the Wheat was going to need some looking after to get a full return from the crop. If I bought this farm I was going to have to find a way to make money with very little and I was probably going to have to lease equipment early on. “I think I need to run it past Anna!” “OK,” said Sophie, “But don’t take too long – Tim’s going to have to put it on the general market soon and if it goes to auction there will be a lot of crows circling to pick the bones.”

Around twenty years ago I was stood in a winebar. We were drinking Bolly, celebrating another deal that had gone well for our clients and therefore for us. It was a time of high pressure playing with money that wasn’t ours in the first place! Do well and you were well rewarded – fail and you were out. I was doing well and making a lot of money. One of the older dealers – much older than most of us in that bar – liked to tell stories of insider dealing trades of the past before the law changed. That evening we found ourselves together at the end of the bar, semi-isolated from our colleagues, and he took the opportunity to share a gem of drunken wisdom with me. “You know… All the important deals are done in smoke filled rooms don’t you?” It was certainly true in my experience – much was decided before any trading began, though he was wrong about one thing. The smoke filled rooms were no more with smoking bans in public places across the capital. I reached a point not long after that celebration where I realised that the pressure of trading stocks was something I wanted to walk away from. I was also developing a rather annoying conscience which pained me when I thought someone had got a raw deal out of our efforts to make a killing. It dawned on me – “I’m in the wrong job!” So I took a package to leave back in 2007 when the city was under pressure to come clean about its dealings and just before the crash of 2008.

Life in the wilderness was scary at first. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But slowly I found myself getting involved with nature projects as a way of keeping busy and earning a little money. It was the start of a journey. I applied to work at a wildlife sanctuary. I found myself out in the driving rain making hedges and fences safe so that the wildlife was protected and somehow it felt good! Then I started doing work as a farm labourer – it didn’t pay well but I had that lump sum behind me to cover any shortfall and I found that a frugal life actually meant I could put a little money away some weeks.

I moved from one area to another, following the work. I met my current partner, Anna, while working as a labourer in Gloucestershire. I think she likes my dream even if she doesn’t believe it will ever happen. You see, I’ve been dreaming of owning my own farm some day and that prospect suddenly became a lot more realistic this week. We’ve been living in the village of Ballygreen for a couple of years now……I do work on the local farms and she works behind the bar in the Three Horseshoes as well as making pottery, some of which she sells for a good price. I’ve kept a tight reign on my finances and Anna has often made sure we have food on the table each day. Between us we have enough in the bank to perhaps fulfill that dream.

Last night, while sitting in the ‘Horseshoes with a couple of the farmers that I do work for, Sophie Brennan mentioned that Holzman’s Farm was going up for sale. Tim Holzman is looking to get out of farming and has no heir to take over his farm. “He’s going to stay in the farmhouse, so that’s not for sale” she said……That prompted a lot of chat over the ale. I knew Sophie had bought fields from Holzman in the past – he has been reducing his workload before retiring. I’ve worked a couple of them for Sophie. I wondered what was left of the farm – prompting some derision from the table. Just three fields and a yard with a couple of buildings. It seems that the farmers with the exception of Sophie were not interested in buying. I made a point of asking Sophie as I have a friendly working relationship with her and she owns the land around, “Are you intending to buy?* and she said “I don’t think so.” “Would you have any issues with me buying that farm?” I asked. “If you’ve got the £200k or so then why not? – I can take you up there tomorrow to take a look if you want. I know Tim well and I know he’d want the land to stay under the plough.”

It came back to me that night as I wandered back to our lodgings with Anna – “You know… All the important deals are done in smoke filled rooms don’t you?” I’d just made a pledge to look at something that could cost us a lot of our savings and give us a lot of heartache too. Anna was non-commital – she needed to see. I guess it would all come down to the visit with Sophie and the price Holzman wanted for what was left of his farm.

Continued from Contact unexpected…

Tiredness crept over me by mid-evening. There was no sign of Jenckque so I left the Ax-cellar-on Bar and returned to my quarters in the docking bay area. I watched the Galnet newsfeed for a while; catching up on distant skirmishes between clans and factions. It was all rather remote and I gave in to tiredness, ditched the day clothes and collapsed into bed. I slept fitfully, ill-defined dreams preventing deep sleep. In the small hours I awoke to a feeling that someone was outside my door but as much as I strained my ears I could only hear the background sounds of a busy star port at night. After a while I fell asleep once more and remembered nothing more until I woke at around 9:15 local. My head felt heavy and my eyes were sticky but I forced them open and swung myself out of bed. I had a long and uncertain day ahead.

The bars and restaurants wouldn’t open until 13:00 local – the station was on a Sol-Standard 25 hour day. I caught some breakfast in the crew area. There were a few other pilots there along with some maintenance staff but no sign of Jenckque. I was a bit concerned – We’d had roughly the same distance to travel and he should have been here by now. A quick check on Humourist satisfied me that there was no damage from the previous day – they hadn’t got through the shields before I was out of range. Then I went off to check the bulletin boards and security office for any arrivals news. The desk officer in Security shook his head – “No pilot of that name registered inbound.” He said. With nothing else to do I went up to the main promenade area of the station to do some window shopping.

The window shopping became real when I spotted a casual jacket that I liked in Oakes and remembered that I needed some more under-suit disposables too. While I was paying for these I noticed two pilots standing outside the store opposite. They weren’t actually looking at me but then again, there was something about the way they weren’t looking at me that I found disconcerting. One glanced in my direction and then they moved off. By the time I left Oakes they had disappeared into one of the other shops or down one of the arcades off the side of the main promenade. Everyone else seemed normal – just station staff, other pilots, husbands, wives and even children going about their daily lives. I wandered back to my quarters and dropped off my goods before heading for the bars and lunch.

I knew Jenckque would look to find me in a bar when he arrived. I looked in at the Ax-cellar-on but decided it was too large and too busy – we might miss each other – so I looked for somewhere smaller. I found a place called Dayzie’s in a quiet arcade. It was quieter, smaller and boasted home cooked food. A chat with the tall lady behind the bar revealed that she was Daisy, the proprietor. “Is it always quiet like this?” I asked. “Gets busier late evening but steady regular customers during the day.” She replied and added – “We let the larger bars attract the rowdies with loud music and cheap drinks. You’ll get a peaceful drink here.” She recommended a dish made from mushrooms indigenous to the Zagoro system and when I looked dubious, reassured me “They’re actually quite filling – a bit like a synth-steak pie but with galaxies more flavour!” I acquiesced and took my drink to a table by the wall to wait for the food.

I’d finished the mushrooms – they were everything she’d promised – and was sipping my drink with one eye on the newsfeed and the other on the door when a very tall flyer walked in. “Hey Jaxon!” Daisy greeted the newcomer – “Hi Dais’, the usual please.” He would have got my attention on height alone but the thing that caught my eye was his sidearm. Most pilots and quite a few other people out here wear a sidearm. I wear a light-weight but quality laser-pistol as an aid to peaceful negotiation when trading goods of dubious provenance. Some people wear their sidearm as a fashion accessory. I’ve seen ladies with sidearms that were chosen more for the way the holster belt accentuated their curves than for any use it might have in a fight! But this guy’s sidearm – well, it wasn’t a sidearm: More like a Cannon. The barrel would have been down below his knees if he wasn’t so tall! It was clearly a heavy projectile weapon and I guessed that made him either a mercenary or a bounty hunter.

Daisy and he exchanged some chat and some eyes while she served him then he glanced around the room and approached my table – “Ok to dock?” he asked and was almost seated before I’d nodded my head. “Noo here” he asked, humorous accent and all innocence… “Yes”. He pulled out a handpad and started scanning it. “So whatchyer doin?” I wondered briefly if he was ‘Doin’ the anger causing course! “Passing through” I responded. “Explorer? Right?” – I was starting to get a little fried by now and about to chew his ear when he turned to look me direct in the eye… “Sorry, I’m a bounty hunter here and you are not what I need – times are bad – no bad guys for a couple of weeks. I’m getting hungry and short of excitement too! In fact – don’t think I’ve seen a visitor soo clean!” Then he apologised for not introducing himself – “Should have given my name – Border, Jaxon Border” I looked him over – it took quite a few seconds – he was big! His clothes would have looked big on a bear! He was also telling me something like the truth – I’ve had enough dodgy dealings in the past to know when something smells right. “Anson” – I offered. He looked at me closely for a second or so and then… “I guess I’ve no need to ask for a second name?” he said. I shrugged and let him run with that. So when he asked me “So why are you still here? – usually you explorers sell your data and run off out there again”, I gave him the truth. “Waitin’ for a friend.” We spent an hour or so talking over my predicament – the missing Jenckque, the pilots who seemed to be watching me, the unprovoked attack as I flew in. He was that sort of person – I told him the lot and his ears must have been bleeding by the time I finished.

“I may be able to help” He said – “Give me a while – meet you back here Lunch tomorrow?” “Ok” I said and he left. I spent a couple more hours into the evening watching the door and saw no sign of Jenckque. My pilot ‘friends’ popped in but left after a quick drink. With the station closing down for the night I crept back to my quarters and crashed out – note to self…”Mushrooms good – Local Ale too strong!”

Story continues here…