N ightingale lit a cigarette and watched the hundredth bird of the morning get blown out of the sky with a whoop of triumph from Marcus Fairchild, who had taken to shooting while keeping his cigar clamped between his teeth. Fairchild had two teenagers loading for him and they could barely keep up with his rate of fire.
Over to his right, Jenny was taking a more sedate approach, loading her own gun and taking time between each shot. She smiled over at him and waved. He waved back.
‘You sure you don’t want to shoot, sir?’ asked Lachie, standing at his shoulder. He was holding Jenny’s Purdey over his arm. There were two cartridges in the breech but Nightingale had yet to fire the weapon.
‘Really, I’m not a big fan of shooting birds,’ said Nightingale.
‘They’re bred for it,’ said the gamekeeper. ‘We hatch them, we rear them, we feed and we water them. They have a happier life than if they were in the wild.’
‘Even so…’ said Nightingale. ‘It seems a bit mismatched.’
‘Mismatched?’ said Lachie, frowning. ‘What do you mean?’
Two more birds fell to the ground close by. One was flapping around, badly injured, its feathers drenched in blood.
‘They’re not shooting back,’ said Nightingale. ‘That’s seems a bit unfair, don’t you think?’
Lachie snapped the shotgun shut and kept the barrels pointing at the ground. ‘Fairness doesn’t enter into it, sir. They’re birds.’
‘They are indeed,’ said Nightingale. ‘But then so am I, in name anyway.’ He blew smoke up into the air and the wind whipped it away.
Fairchild was shooting like a machine, with a shot every three seconds.
‘And this is one fine gun,’ said Lachie. ‘Handmade for Miss McLean. Do you have any idea how much a pair of made-to-measure Purdeys costs?’
Lachie chuckled. ‘Aye, a hell of a lot. Be a shame to bring it out and not fire it.’ He held the shotgun out to Nightingale.
Nightingale shook his head. ‘You have a go, Lachie,’ he said. ‘Show me how it’s done.’
Lachie’s eyes hardened, and then went blank. ‘Your sister’s going to Hell, Jack Nightingale,’ he said, his voice flat and lifeless. Then in one smooth motion he swung the shotgun around so that the barrels were pointing under his chin and pulled the trigger with the thumb of his right hand. Nightingale fell back into the mud as Lachie’s head exploded into a shower of blood, brain and bone fragments.