Will wrote down the points he intended to present to Stieg on a notepad. He’d learnt the hard way that being prepared in advance when dealing with tricky people was always an advantage as he had a habit of putting others ahead of himself. He wrote down: “we know they’re your cattle”, “that paddock is one of our key assets”, “the paddock has been ravaged by your cattle”, and “agistment agreement?”. As he perused his notes, he realized it was a straightforward argument, no matter how tricky Stieg was. He took a deep breath before he headed off to the vineyard.
“Good luck, honey. You show him who’s boss!” shouted Wendy as he left.
Will once again walked the long way around as boundaries appeared to represent a learning challenge for Stieg Bitchman. When he arrived at the vineyard’s homestead, Stieg was nowhere in sight.
“Helloooo!” he called out, but no one replied.
He walked up the homestead’s front steps and knocked on the front door. No one responded, so he contemplated leaving. Then, around a minute later, the front door slowly opened by around six inches. Stieg was standing there in a pair of boxer shorts, looking like he’d just woken up.
“What’s up?” he asked with obvious grumpiness.
“I wondered if I may have a word with you about your cattle,” Will stated as calmly as possible.
“A word, go on then,” grunted Stieg as he narrowed the door’s opening.
“It’s just we know they’re your cattle grazing our land, and they’re eating our best grass,” Will stated.
There was a long silence before Stieg eventually replied, “On my count, that was sixteen words—you’re wasting my time. Unless you can prove to me that they’re my cattle we have nothing to discuss.”
Stieg slammed the door closed, leaving Will’s blood to boil. “What the?” he seethed. He knocked again on the door as hard as he could, but it was useless. Stieg left him standing on the front veranda where a cool breeze tickled the back of his neck but failed to cool him down. Will marched back home, propelled forward by anger.
Wendy was waiting for him on the front porch, full of questions.
“Successful mission?” she asked.
“It was an epic fail,” Wil stated with a shake of his head. “Stieg is still denying they’re his cattle. Oh, and by the way, he’s the world’s biggest asshole.”
“Oh great,” Wendy replied. “Not another angry white man.”
“Yep,” Will agreed. “The angriest. He said that unless we have proof they’re his cattle, he’s not interested in discussing it.”
“So let’s get the goddamn proof,” Wendy stated. “Surely we just need to photograph his branding on the cattle when they’re on our land, and we’ve got all the proof we need to confront him. Otherwise we can just go to the police.”
“That’s about the sum of it,” Will said. “I’ll pop down to the paddock later on tonight for some bovine photography.”
After Wendy went to bed that night, Will tiptoed over to the fence separating their garden from the back paddock. His old-fashioned camera, nicknamed Old Bertha, hung heavy around his neck like a relic of the past. He could hear grazing happening nearby, but he couldn’t see where the cattle were located due to it being a moonless night. He comforted himself with the knowledge Old Bertha had a flash which could light up an entire stage. It was so bright he’d often scared innocent bystanders when he used it in public. He just needed to know roughly where the cattle were located and he’d be able to collect all the evidence they needed.
The grazing sounded like it was happening all around Will, including in the back garden. He knew that was just the acoustics of a wide open space playing tricks with him, so he waited for a clearer guide as to where the cattle were located. However, the longer he waited, the quieter their munching sounds became. It sounded like the cattle were moving away from him down the hill. So he climbed over the fence and walked down the incline toward the middle of their back paddock. When he was around fifty yards in, the munching of contented grazing could be heard nearby. So he stood still and raised his camera to his eye. He still couldn’t see the cattle, but he was confident if he attempted to take a random photo he’d either photograph a cow or the flash would show him where they were. So he clicked down on the shutter button and the flash lit up the entire scene like a perverse pantomime. For a split second, Will could see the cattle. But there weren’t just ten cows as he’d expected. There were hundreds of cattle scattered all around the paddock. And they weren’t just cows, Will also clocked a few sets of bull horns nearby.
Feeling unsafe, Will stepped backwards up the hill as quietly as he could. The nearby grazing continued, but he was conscious of heavy-hoofed movement all around. It started out as the sound of cattle walking, but in short order the hoofs could be heard running. The ground vibrated with displeasure. Will let go of his slow-moving exit charade, and sprinted toward the fence at the back of the paddock. As he did, the charging cattle changed direction and followed him. He screamed and ran for his life. He’d once witnessed a bull stab a man to death—and he didn’t want to be that man.
Will finally made it back to the fence connecting with their back garden. He jumped as high as he could and landed on top of it. He tried to steady himself, but the momentum he’d created from running was too much. He slipped across to the other side, and landed in a heap in their garden. Luckily, he was unhurt. He breathed out again as a bull snorted out its frustration only yards away.
The next morning, Wendy was up before Will. When he walked into the kitchen, she was cooking breakfast.
“That smells delicious,” Will said as he kissed her.
“I thought you could use some replenishing after your midnight adventure,” Wendy replied.
“I can indeed,” Will responded. “It was a strange night.”
“What happened?” asked Wendy.
“Well, I took the photo,” Will replied. “But I was nearly gored to death by a charging bull in the process.”
“A bull!” Wendy exclaimed. “I thought we were dealing with ten friendly cows. Are you alright?”
“I may need to wash the underpants I was wearing, but I’m fine,” Will said. “The bad news is there were way more than ten cattle in our little paddock. There were at least a hundred.”
“A hundred!” Wendy exclaimed. “No wonder the grass has all but disappeared. This is an emergency then. Pass me your camera’s SD card and let’s go straight to the police with the evidence.”
“I’m afraid I used Old Bertha,” Will replied. “We’ll need to pop into town to get the film developed.”
“You best eat fast then,” Wendy said as she served breakfast.
After they finished their meal, they drove into their local town, Bruntville, three miles down the road. Will parked out the front of the pharmacy.
“You wait here,” Wendy instructed. “I need to pick up some pregnancy vitamins, so I’ll drop the film in at the same time.”
“Roger, boss,” Will replied. “I’ll make the most of having internet reception while I wait.”
Wendy walked into the pharmacy, film in hand, while Will read an article about neighbors from hell on his phone.
“How can I help you?” asked the pharmacist to Wendy.
“Hi, we’ve just moved into the area,” she responded. “I’m Wendy Watson.”
“Nice to meet you, Wendy,” stated the pharmacist. “I’m Nat. You haven’t moved into Geoff and Hazel’s place on Bald Knob Rd, have you?”
“We have indeed. Do you know the property?” asked Wendy.
“Not really,” Nat replied. “But we hear stories about Stieg Bitchman on an almost daily basis.”
“Stories?” Wendy asked.
“Let’s just say he’s not known for his people skills,” Nat said with a chuckle.
“That’s been our experience as well,” Wendy replied. “Have you heard anything about Stieg grazing land that isn’t his?”
“No, but Geoff and Hazel sure left in a hurry,” Nat stated. “There’s been local gossip about them arguing with Stieg about something.”
“Would you believe, that’s why I’m here,” Wendy continued. “We got a photo of Stieg’s cattle grazing our land last night on this film. Is there any way you can print this film as soon as possible?”
“You betcha,” Nat said. “I’ll have them ready for you first thing tomorrow morning.”
When Wendy returned to the car, Will was engrossed in an article about Krav Maga, an Israeli martial art.
“The photos will be ready in the morning,” she stated.
“Great,” Will replied.
“That means we’ve got twenty-four hours to figure out how he’s getting his cattle into our field,” Wendy continued. “Then we’ll have all we need to go to the police.”
“I was worried you’d say something like that,” Will said.
“I can see you’re worried,” Wendy continued, reading over Will’s shoulder. “Since when were you interested in martial arts?”
“Since I read an article about a neighbor from hell who tried to burn his neighbor’s house down after his neighbor asked him to stop his dog barking,” Will answered. “Here’s a photo of the guy. Remind you of anyone?”
“That’s just a coincidence,” Wendy responded as she perused the image. “A lot of older men are balding and soft in the middle like Stieg is.”
“Yes, but do we know who we’re dealing with? The angry middle-aged man is a dangerous beast at the best of times,” Will replied.
“I don’t think we need to call upon martial arts just yet, Bruce Lee,” Wendy said with a giggle as Will drove off.