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The Falling Tree

Written by J. P. Cross


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'Good Morning Sir. I'm from the Gas-board.' The man was about fifty years old, pleasant featured, and slim built. Dressed in a dark suit. Smart, but unremarkable.

He held a card up briefly, containing a small photograph and the words GAS-BOARD.

'We've had complaints about the pressure in the Area so I just need to check your meter, If that's OK?' He looked concerned. 'Got the letter I suppose, did you?'

'Er, Mornin, er, I don't think I did,' the old man peering round the edge of the door replied, hesitantly, I'm not sure, I can't recall one, er, when er...'

'Typical!' Said the caller angrily. ''They probably forgot again. Our office people are bloody useless, if you'll pardon the French,. I'll give them a piece of my mind again when I get back.' He looked exasperated. 'I'd sack the bloody lot and no mistake.' The smile returned 'Never mind. As I'm here, it won't take me long Sir, if that's alright with you?'

'Well, er, I suppose so,' said the old man removing the safety chain and opening the door.

The caller stepped into the small hallway and wiped his feet on the mat. He looked at the lounge through an open door.
'Nice place you've got Sir,' he appeared to be taken aback, 'Yes Sir, really nice. Who picks the decor?' he smiled knowingly, 'I bet it's the wife, eh? It's just the same at my house,' he chuckled. 'You can tell her from me. She's really got good taste.'

The old man closed the Front door. He cleared his throat.

'My wife died six Months ago,' he said quietly.

The caller looked shocked

'Oh no Sir! I really do apologise. Me and my big mouth. I'm so embarrassed. How awful for you. I am sorry.' After a moment of silence, he said. 'Maybe its best if I shut up and get on with my job. I'll just pop and get my Pressure Tester from the van. Back in a Second.' Two minutes later he returned carrying a something the size of a pocket notebook. The old man was holding a door open that led to a tiny cloakroom.

'Meter in there is it? Right, this won't take long'. After whistling tunelessly in apparent concentration for a few seconds, during which time electronic beeps could be heard from the equipment, he said. 'There that's that,' He stood up, put the electronic device in his pocket and switched off the torch.' I'll be off then. I'm sorry again about the wife.'

'That's all right, I'm just getting over it, you have to carry on you know? I keep myself occupied, mainly in the garden. He giggled.
'I could tell that you were a keen gardener.' The caller said.

'As I came up the drive I said to myself. Whoever planted this lot knows his onions, as they say. Very impressive.' He paused 'Would you think it a cheek if I asked for a cutting or two from those perennials round the borders, they look great. I only moved in to my house two months ago see, and I've just laid out the garden ready for planting so I...'

As the caller continued telling him what he was planning there was a gradual change in the old mans demeanour. He appeared to slowly grow taller, his face lit up, and his voice lost its quavering. 'Say no more.' He interrupted. 'It will be my pleasure'. He gave another giggle. 'I'll just get my Secuteurs; you can have as many as you like. I got most of them from other people in the first place. If you'd like to go and select what you want I'll be with you in a second.

The caller went back up the drive. "I wonder why he keeps giggling"? He thought uneasily.

After a few minutes the man emerged from his front of his garage carrying the Secuteurs and some rolled up newspapers.

'Secuteurs,' he said. ' Couldn't place the damn things. Right, point out what you want and I'll cut them.' He glanced up the street to where a white van was parked. It was empty. The old man suppressed another giggle.



About ten minutes later after many protestations the caller had his arms full of cuttings wrapped in newspaper.

'I really must go now I've got other houses to call at.' The old man cut in.

'You must have two of the little pots of pink Geraniums I've grown, they're really nice, and just about ready to plant outdoors.' He opened one of the big front doors to the garage. 'There they are. Come on in it won't take a second.'

'Can you pull the door to?' he said, 'some of the plants are a bit delicate.'

The caller clicked the door shut behind him. 'Just the two then and I must fly.' When he turned, his eyes nearly popped out of his head 'What's goin on?' he squeaked.


He was looking down the barrel of a large Revolver that the old man had picked up from a cardboard box lying on the bench. From where he stood, It looked as big as a drainpipe. Before he had time to collect his thoughts, the old man had reached for a pile of rags from the box placed them over the gun.

'What are you doing with tha?' ... It was as far as he got, for despite the rag silencer the gun made a deafening report in the enclosed space as the old man squeezed the trigger. The Caller ceased to have any further interest in the answer. The old man looked down at the body with and angry leer on his face. 'Gotcha.' He gave another involuntary giggle. He bent and removed from the callers' pocket the electronic equipment he had described as a pressure tester. It was just a personal organiser that beeped.

He replaced the gun in the box; walked from the garage closing the doors behind him, and stood listening at the end of the drive for a while to see if any of his neighbours had come outside to see what had caused the bang. However, there was no sign that anyone had been disturbed. He then made his way up to the white van and knocked on the side window. The vandriver, a middle-aged man wearing a flat cap and a startled look, wound the window down.'

'What's the matter mate?'

'I've got a message from you're friend, he's having trouble with the meter in my house and he says can you come and help? I'm surprised you didn't you hear the bang?'

'What bang? I didn't hear any bang.' His face showed alarm. He muttered under his breath. "Trouble with the meter, what's the soft bugger doing messing with the meter"? Then, to the old man. 'OK mate, I'll come and have a butchers.'

The old man's garage could be accessed either through a large pair of doors from the drive, or by a rear door which could be approached through the house or via a side gate. He led the way through the house: out of the back door, and through the rear garage door.

Upon entering the vandriver immediately spotted his prone companion, with a yell he pushed the old man aside and rushed forward crying. 'Pete! Pete!

Another giggle escaped the old man as he reached for the revolver again; the other man turned. 'He's dead he said incredulously there's blood. He saw the gun 'Bloody Hell. wha ?' ...

'Stay where you are and listen scum.' The old man was shaking with anger. 'I want you to know why I'm going to kill you and do the world a favour.

The driver looked with disbelief at the short stocky figure before him. 'Sodding hell, I must be dreaming? I'll wake up in a minute.' He was aware as he spoke however; it was all too real to be a dream. "He must be insane", was all he could think of as he tried to rationalise the situation. To the man he said. 'Look! don't shoot mate, Please don't shoot. The police'...

'Quiet!' The old man was almost foaming at the mouth he was so angry.' The gun was raised higher. 'You make me sick. You're a thief. You and your sort live by your own predatory standards, you laugh at the law, but you're soon ready to claim protection when you're threatened. You and your pal must have destroyed the lives of hundreds of people with your filthy con tricks, but now you suddenly want the police. Bloody nerve.'

'hold on, I've never killed anybody though, this is Murde'...

'Quiet! The old man barked,' the Gun moved again fractionally.

'I have in the army in the last war. I've doubtless killed better men than you'll ever be.' He leaned back against the bench. 'This is justified execution thief. I'll tell you what's murder.



You won't recognise me, you've robbed so many people its not surprising, I didn't remember your partner until he started praising my front garden and asking for cuttings. It was then that I remembered the patter from last time. I couldn't believe my luck. It all came back to me. He was older and his hair was thinner. But I knew him all right. I've only lived here for three years. I made the move because my wife couldn't settle after you and your partner conned us with the same scheme that you tried today. Your partner kept both of us talking in the front garden while you scurried unseen like a rat, round the back and took all the money and valuables you could lay your hands on. Very clever. It means absolutely nothing to you does it? Well, I'll tell you what it means to your victims. When decent people come face to face with filth like you, The shock can be soul destroying? They've no experience of your kind. They assume people are like themselves with principles and compassion, they're unaware of the depth's people like you have sunk to. The bereaved, the weak, the sick, the old; they're all fair game to you scavengers. Some people, like my wife never recover from the shock.. She began to suffer from depression after the shock of the burglary, finally, only just six months ago' she committed suicide. She was always a cheerful soul till you pair crawled out from under your stone.'

The light dawned for the other man. 'Look mate, you've got it wrong, it wasn't me, I've only been doing this racket for a week, he talked me into it. I was going to pack it in. I'm prepared to take my medicine though. If you just call the police I'll...'


The gun was even louder, without the rag silencer. It was the mention of the police again and the lying which made the old man pull the trigger before he was ready.

When his wife died, he had made a vow that if anymore thieves ever called he would simply kill them in revenge for the way she had suffered. He'd his oiled his old Service Revolver in readiness for just such an event. That the same pair should show up again was pure good fortune, or bad, depending from whose angle you viewed it. Throwing the gun back into the box, he went and telephoned the police. He felt much calmer now. His mind at rest, he was happier than he'd been for years. His only son lived abroad, he hadn't seen him for years, and there was no one else was likely to miss him much.

'Here I come Ell. I know you forgave them sweetheart, but I couldn't.'

The gun was just as loud as before; although speaking philosophically, it was silent, for this time, like the famous falling tree in the forest; no one was there to hear it.

The end


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