The Fox in the Forest

Free The Fox in the Forest by J. M. Gregson

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Authors: J. M. Gregson
ground, a trace of ashes where earth had been roughly spread over the remnants of a fire.
    Lambert had turned already towards the way out of the forest and the investigative team he should be heading. Over his shoulder to Farr, he said, “We’ll need a full description.”
     

 
    9
     
    A murder investigation exposes many secrets, most of them unconnected with the death. Clare Barton would find this in due course. For the present, she was in shock. Even the sight of her husband’s pale features had not seemed real; the voice which calmly confirmed the identification to the pathologist had seemed to come from someone else; the explanation that this was necessary for something mysteriously called ‘continuous evidence’ seemed to be meant for other ears than hers.
    Now she trod the carpets of her house on limbs that seemed hardly hers. Once she looked for the imprint of her foot in the plain deep-pile carpet of the lounge, as if in search of some tangible evidence that a real creature trod here and was experiencing all this.
    Her elder sister watched her anxiously, wondering how much of this was shock and how much evidence of the sedation the doctor had given her. It was a bad time for this to happen, she thought, rebuking herself for her selfishness. She must get Clare out of this house and back home with her: that much was obvious, despite her sister’s protests. But she could not be other than a damper on Christmas for the children. She was not a very natural aunt at the best of times, and with this behind her…
    At least she was not hysterical. Indeed, she was as docile as a small child on her best behaviour; Barbara, who was eight years her senior, could recall many happier occasions in the past when she could have wished her sister as easy to control. She busied herself in the small kitchen, salvaging what she could from the food Clare had prepared so diligently on the previous day and never eaten.
    Clare came obediently to the dining table when she was asked to do so. She was waiting there, sitting bolt upright, when Barbara carried the two bowls of soup in from the kitchen. She did not touch the food as it steamed in front of her. Barbara felt guilty that she should be so hungry herself. She waited until she was halfway through her own helping before she said, “Clare, love, you’ve got to eat. That’s good chicken soup; it’ll pick you up a bit.” The banalities reminded her of her dead father, who could never bear to see anyone fast.
    Clare did not look at her, but she began to take her soup. She spooned it into her mouth slowly, but with a regularity which became dreadful. It brought back to Barbara a long-buried image of a glass-cased mechanical model in an amusement arcade, lifting a spoon to its plaster mouth in mechanical response to children’s pence.
    The impression was fostered by Clare’s doll-like appearance. Her yellow hair had not moved since she had combed it to go to the mortuary several hours ago. The warmth of the house and the sedative from the doctor had restored her colour, so that her cheeks were almost unnaturally red, with a patch of high colour at the top of each cheekbone. Her light blue eyes might have been made of glass, so unblinkingly did they stare past her sister towards the abandoned Christmas tree in the corner of the room. Barbara felt that if she bent the stiff upper body backwards, those eyes would close automatically at some point, like those of her favourite childhood doll.
    Yet the food seemed to have some effect. Clare refused anything else after the soup, but she drank most of the coffee which Barbara brought to her, sinking gradually towards a more relaxed position in the armchair which seemed far too large for her slender frame. Barbara was relieved when she looked in from the kitchen. She began to think about Christmas Day again. She would ring her husband in a little while, after she had persuaded Clare to talk.
    The phone was quite near to Clare’s armchair,

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