"A QUIET PLACE IN THE HILLS"
First Published in The Austringer Journal 1994.
& The Falconers & Raptor Conservation Magazine Magazine Issue 45.
When the pressure of work became too intolerable, Keith would often mutter to himself, 'I'll sell the whole bally bag of tricks, and find a nice quiet place in the hills'.
By 'the whole bally bag of tricks' he was referring to his electronics company 'Maritronics'.
It was his own firm, well at least he still had the majority share holding, and as far as electronic companies go it was small, around 150 employees. But 'Maritronics' was a little gem of a firm, specialising in underwater marine electronics, it had an order book with both civilian and the Ministry of Defence(Navy).
In fact it was a particular project for the MOD(N) that was giving Keith a dangerously high level of blood pressure, so much so that the staff had nicknamed him 'Busta bloodvessel'. Of course such a title was only used in Keiths' absence, for he was not to be fooled with, although he liked a laugh and a joke, there were times when it was positively suicidal to throw a
wise crack at Keith.
The culprit of all this stress and sleepless nights was S.L.A.D. Mk.II. and was one of the MOD(N) most secret projects.
S.L.A.D. MkI., short for Surface Launched Air Defence, was one of Keiths' most advanced inventions, and had proved a great success.
Now Keith had come up with an advanced version which could communicate with similar slave modules of itself, thus giving a blanket defence coverage. The navy boffins went crazy for the idea, but now Keiths' technical designers at 'Armatech' that was the secret R&D department of 'Maritronic', were having teething problems with the test runs on the first prototype.
Sea trials were set for the end of the next month and a naval nuclear submarine was booked to launch the Mk.II version of S.L.A.D.
As he sat at his desk in the small hours of the morning, pouring over the results of the previous days test run. His mind kept coming up with the picture of 'Shaba' his African Crowned Eagle.
A mixture of guilt and a longing to be out in the field hunting with her, it had been so long since he had had the time, or for that matter the desire to take her out. Work had taken over his life, for the past eight years it had driven his very existence, but now a great tiredness was coming over him. For once the idea of selling the whole 'bally bag of tricks' had a compelling appeal, and was no longer an idle threat.
Thoughts of early retirement and that quite little place in the hills he had always promised himself, started germinating and cluttering his mind.
That weekend as usual, Keith spent a few hours at home after Sunday lunch with Sandra his wife, before returning to the plant to evaluate the days results with his R&D team.
These few hours had become very necessary in preserving his sanity, time spent relaxing reading the Sunday papers and if the weather was fine a short walk with Sandra and the dogs.
It was as they both ambled along the footpath in the local woods that Keith, being offered a penny for his troubled thoughts, decided somewhat hesitatingly to air the idea of retiring to the hills.
To his immense surprise Sandra seized the idea before he could fully explain. She too had become tired with the routine of her life, she had dreamt of keeping horses again, and of living somewhere in the rural hills with an extensive network of bridle paths, where she could ride in beautiful countryside.
As she spoke her whole spirit seemed to ignite, her eyes sparkled and an excitement came over her which Keith had not experienced since their early teens. The realisation dawned, just how heavily his work had penetrated into both their personal lives.
Sandra had not only dreamed of moving to the hills, she had her name on a number of estate agents mailing lists. Together they hurried back home to pore over details of many suitable properties. Keith was swept up with Sandra's excitement, in those few hours they had never spoken of so many personal feelings to one another since they had married. Together they had come so far, both financially and mentally, but somehow they had lost direction and purpose in their lives.
Keith returned to work that evening with a whole new outlook, life was now for living, he had a spring in his step and a joyful note in his voice.
The tired staff felt an infusion of extra vitality as Keith breezed through the days data, and fired inspired suggestion after suggestion. His brain was suddenly back on form, 'pure bloody genius', whispered Dave the chief technician, as Keith quickly sketched out a modification to the circuitry of the memory guidance system.
'What ever you've been injecting yourself with this lunch time Keith, I think we could all do with a shot' cracked Dave. 'Whatever it is, stay on it, at this rate we could rap this project up inside a week' he continued.
'I dam well hope so' replied Keith, 'I intend selling the whole bag by the end of the month'.
'Really, who to?' gasped Dave, nearly swallowing the pencil that was in his mouth.
'Any bugger whose got enough cash, as long as they are British, I couldn't live with the thought of our lads having to penetrate this sort of defence system. If only we had had even Mk I in the Falklands, those Argies would never have sunk a single ship, just think of the lives saved'.
'You know Dave, I think that is the main reason I have absorbed myself for so many years in this bloody project. Soon we will be able to give the Navy a complete blanket defence system, in which nothing fired at their ship from the air, sea or underwater will get through'.
A month later a consortium of venture capitalists and Company managers had put together a proposal to Keith, which he had accepted together with an eight figure sum.
Sandra had found that "Quite place in the Hills" which suited both their needs, with stabling for her horses and paddocks for grazing. A couple of spare stone buildings were earmarked for 'Shaba' the crowned eagle, with room for a team of falcons Keith had always dreamed of flying, this was made all the more possible with an option the buy the flat moorland at the top of the hill.
As Keith sat on the dry stone wall with 'Shaba' sitting on his gloved arm, he reflected on her magnificent beauty. She alone had patiently waited uncomplaining, and it was the image of her expectantly waiting to be flown that had saved Keith from many more years of stress.
Weather permitting they would hunt together most mornings, Keith had obtained permission from most of the local farmers to hunt hares on their land.
With each outing 'Shaba', and for that matter Keith as well, were becoming fitter and more agile. She hunted like a giant goshawk, leaving the fist in pursuit of a fleeing hare, her short rounded wings propelling her at a deceiving speed, her long tail enabling her to counteract any jinking movement of the hare. She flew about fifteen feet off the ground until directly above the running hare, then suddenly she would shoot up another ten or fifteen feet and power dive. Her first foot usually contacted and broke the hare's back, her second foot crushed its skull. Keith would feed her a strip of warm meat from a back leg and she would step onto the fist.
Those land owners who had seen 'Shaba' in action were mightily impressed, but her fame spread far and wide in the area after she was witnessed dispatching two vixens with ease on two separate occasions.
'Shaba' was famous and Keith a local hero who was now welcome on any farm land in the area.
Keith had purchased the moor and employed two local gamekeepers that were about to be made redundant due to the recession's effects on syndicate shooters.
The keepers designated task was to restore the moor to its former glory, after years of neglect the heather was in a sorry state, also in large area's the bracken had swamped and chocked the heather.
The keepers hired local men for controlled burning and Keith hired a helicopter spray firm to deal with the bracken.
Surprisingly the grouse were present, but were confined to small areas of the moor which were still in reasonable condition.
Keith had acquired two peregrine falcons and intended to increase this to a team of four or five falcons when the moor was fully fit. Also he had purchased a fully trained Llewellin setter bitch, a superb bird dog, and was also training a young Llewellin bitch puppy.
Falconry at last was again an important part of Keith's life, just as it had been when as a teenager he had met and married Sandra.
He had just returned from a trip to Katanga, a region of Zaire in Africa where he had been given the Crowned eaglet. Katanga was soon to be renamed Shaba, and so Keith named her after her birth place. In the U.K. she was the first African Crowned Eagle to be falconry trained, and Keith travelled the country flying her over different terrain's and at some falconry club hunting meetings.
Keith was well known, and he had written many articles on hunting with 'Shaba'. Now with the old enthusiasm for falconry surging through his veins, he once again put pen to paper. He had taken some spectacular photographs of 'Shaba' in action which fully complimented the dramatic prose which flowed from his pen.
Old and new friends came to stay and enjoy hunting outings with Keith and 'Shaba', many hours were spent discussing the new trends in falconry. Keith was fascinated with all that had happened since the start of captive breeding of raptors. In a way he had been a time warp with his head buried in business, although still keeping an interest in falconry much of what had happened in the last twenty years had past him by.
Keith was surprised and a little irritated by the one criticism that was repeatedly offered to him, and that was his total lack of security for his falcons and in particular 'Shaba'.
Initially Keith's response was that she could take good care of herself, "No one could get near the bugger without receiving physical injury" suggested Keith. But the seed was sown, and as each additional remark about lack of security was mentioned Keith realised that falconry was no longer practised solely by sportsmen and gentlemen any longer. The thief and thug had infiltrated the racks, it was time to fight fire with fire, after all Keith could design and produce one of the worlds most sophisticated defence systems, surely a small system to protect the mews and weathering lawn would be no problem.
The first, and Keith's favourite design was typical to character, a little extreme.
It consisted of four metal columns, about the height and diameter of telegraph poles, positioned around the mews and weathering ground. At the top of each column was a clear plastic sphere, which contained within a very sensitive scanning device, each covering a 360 footprint and each linked to a central computer.
Anything that approached and moved within the area covered, was first warned of the danger and then zapped. The zapping was performed by a high voltage laser, in fact there were four, one on each column. The power of the lasers could be set from stun to kill or left to the computer to decide.
To save Keith and family becoming victims of friendly fire should they inadvertently step into range, Keith designed small microchips to be injected under the skin for himself and Sandra, as well as the falcons 'Shaba' and the dogs. The scanners would read the microchips as they entered the area and the computer would recognise them as friends.
Sandra was appalled and insisted that Keith removed the kill option from the design, Keith agreeing that it was more satisfying to "package the enemy" rather than eliminate, somehow did not quite allay Sandra's misgivings to this design.
"Packaging the enemy" was Keith's computer speak for a small modification to the programme, which enabled the computer on first detection of an unidentified intruder, otherwise known to the computer as "enemy", to follow a simple sequence.
First a verbal warning over the four audio speakers mounted on each tower, a simple word 'HALT', if the enemy continued for more than four paces after the warning a single low voltage laser blast hit the enemy. This was to be equivalent to a hard body punch, and would probably knock the enemy to the ground.
The intention was to keep the "enemy" conscious as the computer instantly fired all four lasers at full power to burn a small square around the "enemy" and issued another verbal warning 'STAY'. If this little demonstration did not freeze the "enemy" to the spot, a bolter would be stopped by one laser on stun.
From the moment the computer detected the presence of an "enemy" it would phone and request the presence of the local police, if the stun laser had to be used it would also request an ambulance.
Only once the computer had followed this sequence would it allow recovery of the "enemy", it would then give a verbal warning to clear the area and return to GUARD mode.
Keith was happy with the design and set about construction, some of the items took a good bit of sweet talking and a little arm bending to procure. Keith was now a civilian and some of these items carried a military status. This slowed down the construction, but Keith now having designed the system seemed to be in no great hurry to finish it. The weather too was becoming unpredictable, having been lulled by an indian summer, winter seemed all the more harsh by its sudden appearance.
Wet and windy was the norm, some days it was to bad to put even 'Shaba' out on the weathering lawn, she had roomy indoor accommodation, and Keith had always removed her jesses leaving her free with just her anklets on whilst in the mews. This way if Keith was for any reason incapacitated, 'Shaba' was at least safe from entanglement.
It was a moonless wild night, the rain finally eased at eleven thirty and Keith who had been cooped up for to long suggested to Sandra that he would take her dogs for a leg stretch.
As he stepped into his wellingtons out in the kitchen yard the bobbery pack milled about in anticipation. Rick, a cross between a foxhound and a terrier stood by the yard gate and sniffed the air. The hair stood up on the back of his neck and he growled low and deep. "What's up lad?" asked Keith as he stroked Ricks' ear whilst opening the gate. With that he was through the gate and gone into the dark, closely followed by the rest of the pack.
Muttering to himself as he fumbled to switch on his torch, Keith was thinking that 'Rick' had picked up a roe scent, when an awful blood curdling scream, slightly more human than vixen, filled the air. The pack was at full bay, barking growling and snarling and it sounded like it was near the mews, as Keith thundered along in his heavy wellies slipping on wet leaves on the waterlogged lawn, the dogs were at the back of the mews building.
As he rounded the corner he could see they had hold of a pair of legs that were protruding from a window grill which had been removed.
All the dogs were hanging on and tugging as though they were fighting over a bone. The legs were not fighting back and as Keith tried to subdue the dogs he realised that the dogs excitement was increased by the trashing and crashing that was coming from inside the building. The window from which the legs were protruding was from 'Shaba's' pen, and she had joined in the fight, she had both feet in the upper left arm and was doing her best to take her quarry to the ground. The owner of the legs and arm seemed to be unconscious, Keith rushed back to the house to get his glove and keys, he burst through the kitchen door shouting orders to a startled Sandra to ring the police and ambulance and come and stop her dogs from dismembering the 'enemy'.
As Keith opened the door to 'Shaba's' pen he was startled by the amount of blood that had flowed down the back of the enemies neck, 'Shaba' was furious and had her talons well embedded, there were other holes in the back of the wax jacket, but now she had a good hold and was not letting go. Although the owner of the arm was still unconscious, 'Shaba' sensed he was still alive by the amount of jerking as the pack were still swinging on the legs. 'Shaba's' instinct was to grip with all her might until the struggling had ceased, indicating that the prey had expired.
Sandra arrived and started to calm the dogs, Keith had managed to slip jesses into 'Shaba's' anklets and was trying to persuade her to step onto the glove. She had released one foot as Sandra managed to pull the last terrier off the legs, as she let go of the arm with the other foot it slipped out through the window. Sandra was leading the pack back to the yard as the blue lights came up the drive. Keith was right thought Sandra, 'Shaba' could take care of herself, I bet those legs would have preferred to face the lasers.