Crushing his cigarette beneath his boot, John Bellamy clambered back into his milk-float and started the engine. As the dark January morning wrapped itself around him, he trundled along the lane, rubbing his beard and longing for the quiet, warm summer mornings. It was those mornings that made his job worth while, not these. He liked to see the sun; today, he couldn’t even see the moon as there was so much cloud around.
He continued down the lane towards the Henson’s place, hoping that maybe Rita would give him a cup of tea. He pulled up, got out of his van and picked up her two pints. As he turned towards the house, his boot caught something and he almost tripped and dropped the bottles.
“Bloody hell, that was close.”
As he looked down to give whatever it was a kick into the hedge, the clouds finally moved away from the moon and he found himself staring into the dead eyes of one of Nigel’s sheep. The two bottles slipped from his fingers and shattered, spraying glass and milk all over the severed head that lay at his feet.
The phone rang and I stretched out an arm. Beside me, Fiona stirred and then rolled over, burying her head under the duvet. I picked it up.
“It’s Benton, Sir. One of Nigel Henson’s sheep has lost its head.”
“Benton! It’s…,” I looked at my watch, “it’s quarter-past five. Why on earth would you think that I would be interested in a sheep that is going mad in the lanes? Get one of the cars to go and round it up.”
“You don’t understand, Sir. It’s lost its head. It’s been chopped off.”
I sighed. Poor Nigel. When was he ever going to get any luck? Since I had known him, he had not only had his two pigs murdered, but he had also had one of his cows hanged. At this rate, he soon wouldn’t have
any animals left!
“Give Shepherd a call and tell him I will pick him up in fifteen minutes.”
I put the phone down and swung my legs out of the bed. It was going to be another long day.
As we approached Nigel Henson’s farm, the car headlights illuminated several shards of broken glass.
“Watch out, Sir. You don’t want a puncture.”
“It’s ok, lad. I’ve seen them.”
I stopped the car and we got out, taking care not to step in the split milk. I bent down and studied the severed head that was sitting by the gate.
“Poor thing. No animal deserves to suffer like this. She must have been terrified.”
“Do we know where the rest of her is, Sir?”
“Benton never mentioned that on the phone. Come on, let’s talk to Nigel and John Bellamy.”
As we walked up the path to the farmhouse, I looked around for the body of the dead sheep, just in case our murderer had decided to leave her body on the front lawn. I knocked on the door and Rita opened it, standing aside to let us enter. She had been crying.
Inside the Aga was keeping its heat to itself, the rest of the kitchen was as chilly as a morgue. Two cups of untouched tea were standing, neglected, upon the pine kitchen table, one of them in the hand of John Bellamy. His eyes were fixed on a single drop of milk that has splashed onto the table.
“Never seen anything like it before, Mr Malone,” he whispered. “Terrible, bloody terrible.”
I patted his shoulder and looked around the kitchen.
“Where’s your husband, Rita?”
“He’s checking the flock, and looking for the rest of her. She was expecting twins, that one. We lost three sheep today.”
“Sit down, love. Shepherd will make us all another cup of tea.”
I nodded to Shepherd who busied himself at the kettle.
“What can you tell me, John?” I sat down between Rita and John and took out my trusty notepad.
“Never saw anyone, if that’s what you mean. The lane was quiet as I drove down it. I pulled up at the gate, got down, picked up the milk and my foot caught something. When I looked down, I saw the sheep staring up at me. I dropped the bottles and came straight to the house.”
“Did you hear anything last night, Rita?”
“Nothing. We got up about four-thirty as usual. We heard John pull up and the next thing, he was hammering at the door.”
Shepherd put the tea down on the table and while Rita and John stared at theirs, I picked mine up and took a sip. At that moment, Nigel walked into the kitchen, his wellingtons glistening with dew from the field.
“Morning, Mr Malone. Why me? Tell me, why my animals?” He sat down heavily with anger and sadness perched on either shoulder.
“Are the rest of the animals alright?”
“Seem to be, luckily. They’re not due to lamb yet, a shock could have set them off, but they seem ok?”
“Where’s the rest of her?”
“Can’t find her. I’ve looked everywhere, but there’s no sign. He must have taken her with him.”
“Rita said that you heard nothing strange last night?”
“Not a thing.”
As he descended into silence, I closed my notebook and the satisfying snap that I always enjoy ricocheted around the sombre kitchen and three pairs of eyes looked up questioningly. With some embarrassment, I stuffed my notebook back into the safety of my pocket.
“Shepherd and I’ll have a look around, if that’s ok?”
Nigel nodded and getting to my feet, Shepherd and I left the kitchen.
Shutting the door firmly behind me, I noticed that the chilly January air was actually a few degrees warmer than the Henson’s kitchen. Six o’clock. Sunrise was nearly two hours away. How I longed for fresh spring mornings when everything was green and bursting with life; when lambs were gambolling in the fields. Lambs. Reluctantly, I dragged my mind back to Nigel Henson’s decapitated sheep.
“Come on, lad, let’s see what we can find.”
When we got to the field, the flock was huddled together in the far corner. In the dim torchlight, I could see the reflections of lots of pairs of eyes.
“There seem to be some drag marks here, Sir.”
Shepherd was bending down, examining the ground near the gate. He was right, as usual. In the beam of light, I could distinguish scuff marks.
“But these seem to be heading back into the field, lad.” I traced the lines with my gloved hand. “Look! You can see how the sheep, if that is what it is, is dragged through the gate and then, here, it seems to do a twirl and head back into the field.”
“But, he’s just turning round to shut the gate, Sir. If the sheep was still alive at this point, he wouldn’t put it down, would he?”
“True! So where did he kill it?”
We stood up and shone our torches around. There seemed to be no splashes of blood around our feet, so we slowly made our way back to the farm entrance where John Bellamy had made his grim discovery. As we approached, our torches caught the severed head and its sightless eyes watched us without comment.
“We’d better take it back with us, Sir. We can’t leave it here, can we?”
“No, I suppose not.” My mind quickly ran through the contents of my boot to see if there was something that I could wrap the head in; I knew that Fiona wouldn’t be too happy if I got blood all over the car. I remembered that there should be an orange Sainsbury’s bag in there. It would have to do. “We’ll put the head in the boot when we leave. Now where’s the blood?”
Flashing our torches around, we scoured the ground for any dark patches. There was nothing.
“This is ridiculous. Where on earth did he kill her?” I was lost for an explanation. It had taken us less than five minutes to walk from the field to the farm entrance. We had found no blood. We had walked round and round the severed head. No blood. “Any ideas, lad?”
Shepherd didn’t answer. His gaze was fixed upon Rita Henson’s little fishpond which was nestling in the corner of the front lawn. Surely not! Together, we walked across the lawn and straightaway, our torchlight fell upon indentations on the grass. Someone had walked across here recently. At the edge of the pond, we threw our beams of light across to the other side. The water looked dark, but then again, water always did look dark. I pulled a little plastic specimen bag from my pocket and, opening it, I bent down and scooped up some water. Shepherd bent down next to me and shone his torch onto the bag.
“There could be a pinkish tinge to the water, Sir. Someone certainly walked across to the pond.”
“We’ll have to get the water tested, but unfortunately, I tend to agree with you. He decapitated her here so that all the blood would contaminate the pond.”
“But this still doesn’t tell us where the body is?”
“I’ll go and let Rita know the bad news. Now we know where the murder took place, have a scout around, lad – just in case.”
© copyright Milly Reynolds 2012