The Man Who Loved Foxes
At 9.00 pm Martin Greaves put down the food – a tin of dog meat, a handful of sultanas and half a banana cake – on the rough grass of the lawn behind his stone cottage. The fox, he estimated, would arrive in five minutes, just slightly later than yesterday evening. The animal’s movements seemed to be synchronised with the tilt of Earth’s axis, for he would appear each evening just after the sun had dropped behind the hills to the west. At this rate, Martin calculated, he would, in a few weeks, have to stay up well past his usual bedtime to watch the fox eat the food.
Right on cue, the fox made his familiar alert and hesitant entrance into the garden through the open gate in the dry stone wall. By now, Martin was sitting on a well-worn sofa with a good view, through the sliding glass doors, onto the lawn. It still surprised him that the fox began with the cake and then ate the sultanas, leaving the dog food until last. For several weeks, the animal had been eating with greater urgency. There must, Martin assumed, be a hungry vixen and her cubs waiting for her mate to return to their earth and regurgitate the food for them. It wouldn’t be long, now that it was early May, before the vixen, and then the cubs, would themselves be visiting his garden. That’s how Martin remembered it had been last year at any rate.
Watching the large dog fox, with the distinctive white tip to its tail, Martin poured himself a malt whisky, switched on the dimmed reading lamp, and reflected on how glad he was to have chosen this cottage in which to spend his retirement. Long divorced, unencumbered by children, and free at last from teaching chemistry in secondary schools, here in this remote place he could enjoy solitude and silence. Four miles west of Alwinton, the cottage was set above a little used road that snaked through a valley of the Northumberland National Park. Enclosed by large, rounded hills covered with bracken, gorse and heather, the nearest houses to the building were more than a mile away, with the one exception of an almost identical cottage only fifty yards away.
Fortunately for Martin, the Covid-19 pandemic meant that, in the sixteen months he’d lived here, the next-door cottage – a holiday let - had only been occupied for two weeks, during a temporary easing of the first lockdown. With the latest lockdown now ending, he was resigned to the imminent appearance of holiday-makers. Hopefully, he reminded himself, the place was too small and remote to attract adolescent ravers or a family with a brood of noisy children and dogs.
Certainly, he would be unhappy to see his well-established routines disturbed. Retirement had meant that he could once more take up some of his youthful enthusiasms, like painting water-colour landscapes. Although he was still a bit overweight, he was, at 64, young and energetic enough to enjoy climbing hills and swimming in the river during the summer months. He was strong enough, for sure, to resume, after more than three decades, one of his favourite pursuits as a young man – archery. Soon after he came to live in the cottage, he’d treated himself to a five-foot long recurve bow, a quiver of carbon strengthened arrows, and all the accessories, including a competition standard target. He was determined that he would be able, one day, to hit the target, at least occasionally, at the prescribed Olympic Games distance of seventy metres.
The great surprise and delight of life in the cottage, however, had been the foxes. It was on a cold, rainy evening in March of the previous year that Martin first saw a dog fox tentatively exploring the garden. For several nights in a row Martin then put out food for the fox, but he never saw him, even though the food had disappeared by the following morning. By switching off all the lights in the cottage, however, Martin gradually enticed the fox to come for his dinner at dusk, when his alert face and sleek form were still clearly visible through the sliding doors. The fox never failed to come for his meal, and after several weeks began to bring his vixen and cubs to join in. Once or twice, Martin even caught a glimpse of the fox – ‘his’ fox, he felt like saying - during the day, loping through the heather on the hill that rose behind the cottage.
He had been disappointed, but not surprised, when in early December, his fox stopped coming for his meal. Martin had by then read a lot about foxes and learnt that, in mid-winter, the males would set off alone in search of a mate. They would only return to their familiar feeding places once they were fathers of new families. He had learnt a lot more about foxes than this - the extreme rarity of fox attacks on healthy lambs, for example, or the fact, welcomed by wiser farmers, that their main prey was rats and rabbits. This, and much else that he had learnt, increased his antipathy to fox hunting, a practice deeply scarred by the brutality of the terrier men, the capture and selling on of cubs to other Hunts, the cynical circumvention of the Hunting Act, and the primitive drunken rituals indulged in by the huntsmen. Martin agreed with the words of a poem he’d read one evening: fox hunting was ‘a vehicle for human bloodlust’ and a ‘burning outrage’ to the animal realm.
The fox had finished his food and returned, his belly and cheeks full, to his earth and his family. Martin poured another whisky, turned up the reading lamp and reflected once more on the contentment that his cottage, the landscape and the foxes brought him. Even though pubs and restaurants were open again under the latest Covid legislation, he felt no great urge to drive to Rothbury to have a meal, or even to cycle to Alwinton for a pint at the pub. He’d had the foresight, too, to invest in a large freezer, so that apart from a big monthly shop in Morpeth, there was no need to drive anywhere except the small local store whenever he ran out of milk, coffee or cake for the foxes.
It had been Martin’s intention, when he bought the cottage, to get a couple of dogs, but he’d found that the foxes were company enough for him. He was, he reflected, as he took a sip of whisky, a lucky man to be content with so little company and to have so few needs. He enjoyed painting the small watercolours of the hills, the Coquet valley or his own cottage. He was already running out of wall space to hang them. Reading for the sake of it – something he’d forgotten about during his years as a chemistry teacher – was a renewed pleasure. There was pleasure and pride, too, to be taken in his slow improvement as an archer. He could now hit the target more often than not at forty metres. He enjoyed, as well, making small improvements to the cottage, and looked forward, with the warmer weather, to tackling the garden, to digging over and replanting what had once been flowerbeds on either side of the lawn.
The following morning was clear, bright and warm – just the sort of day, Martin thought, as he drank a coffee at the tiny kitchen table, to start on restoring those flowerbeds. A few hours of digging would also help him shed a few pounds. He had just finished his coffee when he heard a loud crack coming from behind the cottage. He walked quickly through the utility room that adjoined the kitchen and opened onto the back garden.
He ran into the garden and immediately understood the source of the bang. Thirty or so yards behind the back wall there stood a man, peering up the hillside and cradling a rifle in his hands. The crack he had heard, Martin realised, was a shot.
‘Hey! What are you doing there?’ Martin shouted, when he reached the gate.
The shooter turned round, waved and walked down the slope towards Martin.
‘Sorry,’ he called out, ‘hope the shot didn’t give you a fright. But I couldn’t resist it. There was this great big fox, walking through the heather, right in the direction of your place, actually.’
‘You shot the fox?’ asked Martin, in a controlled tone that disguised his anger and fear.
The man with the gun had now reached Martin, who was still standing by the gate. He looked fit and well-built, though beneath a floppy sun-hat, his unshaven face was red and sweaty.
‘I don’t think I got him,’ he replied. ‘May have just winged him, though. He took off like lightning, up towards those gorse bushes, before I could get another shot in.’
Martin looked beyond the man, straining his eyes for any sign of the fox in the direction of the gorse, but could see nothing.
‘I was expecting to get some rabbits, a hare perhaps,’ resumed the man, wiping perspiration from his forehead, ‘but I never expected a fox – in broad daylight too. Fantastic! By the way, I’m Bill – Bill Johnstone.’
Martin, still surveying the hillside and listening for any fox-like cries, didn’t respond to the man by giving his own name. Undeterred by Martin’s silence, the other man asked if he could have a drink of water. Martin nodded, turned round and went back into the garden. Mr Johnstone followed him, without any invitation, and explained as they walked that he was renting a cottage for a week the other side of Alwinton. He’d decided, this morning, to get up early, head for the hills to the west, and get in some shooting with his .22 rifle. He hadn’t realised, he went on, how hot it was going to get and had already run out of the water he’d put in his backpack. He’d ignored the golden rule, he added, always to carry more water than you think you’ll need.
Martin gestured to the man to sit on the small bench that stood on the narrow patio between the cottage and the lawn.
‘Do you hunt as well?’ asked Johnstone cheerily. ‘There must be a lot of stuff around here to shoot at. Plenty of vermin … like that fox.’
‘No,’ replied Martin, still maintaining tight control over his voice, ‘I never shoot at animals.’
The man shrugged his shoulders in response, as if to say ‘You don’t know what you’re missing.’ He then ostentatiously licked his dry lips by way of a reminder to Martin that he needed some water.
Martin returned to the house and went into the kitchen to pour a glass of water. On the way back to the garden, he put the glass on top of the freezer in the utility room and quickly checked on some equipment that he would soon be needing. He then re-joined Mr Johnstone, who was fanning his sweaty face with his floppy hat.
‘Well, I do shoot animals,’ the man suddenly said. ‘Vermin, that is, like rabbits and foxes, and there are people who are grateful to me for that.’
As he spoke, he rose from the bench, drained the glass of water, and picked up his rifle and backpack.
‘So I’ll take my leave of you, then,’ he said as he turned towards the back gate. ‘I’m going up that hill to see if I can find that bloody fox. If I did hit him, he might be up there, in the trees or the gorse, licking his wounds. Thanks for the water, I needn’t that.’
Before he reached the gate, Martin called out to him: ‘Hold on a minute, I’ve got something to show you.’ He then walked back into the utility room. It took him only a few seconds to take down the recurve bow from where it hung close to the door, pick a heavy arrow from the quiver, nock one end onto the string and place the other end on the arrow rest of the bow. Martin then stepped onto the patio, holding the bow loosely in his left hand and the bowstring and arrow in his right.
‘That’s an impressive looking weapon,’ said Johnstone, who was now standing just inside the gate. ‘I’ve done a bit of archery myself. But I thought you said you weren’t a shooter.’
‘No,’ replied Martin, ‘what I said is that I don’t shoot animals.’
As he spoke, he raised the bow, clenched his fingers around the grip and extended his left arm until it was ramrod straight, while with his right hand – one finger above the arrow, two beneath it – he drew back the string until his thumb brushed against his chin.
As he watched Martin take aim at his heart, the other man’s mouth drooped open and his eyes widened. His expression was more one of curiosity than of terror. When, after a full five seconds pause, Martin finally relaxed the fingers of his right hand, the force with which the carbon steel arrowhead drove through Mr Johnstone’s chest hurled him back through the opening in the wall and onto the scrubby grass beyond it.
That evening, Martin put out food for the fox, but with little expectation that he would come for it. By the time Martin went to bed, the fox had not appeared, and the food was still there on the lawn the following morning.
After an early breakfast, and after the several hours it took to deal with Mr Johnstone, Martin climbed the hill behind the cottage, looking closely at the grass and heather for any sign of blood. He could see none, but that didn’t prove that the fox wasn’t wounded and, anyway, Martin wondered if the animal would ever come back to the cottage after the shock he’d had.
His concern, however, was unfounded. On the third night after the shooting, the fox came for his food. At least Martin assumed he had, for the bowl was empty by early morning. He would, Martin decided, prepare a special meal for the fox in the evening. Instead of dog food, he prepared a bowl full of chunks of fresh meat and pungent offal. By the side of the bowl he also put, in addition to the usual sultanas and cake, a couple of large ribs.
It worked. At 9.15, with sun just gone down over the hill, the fox entered the garden, walked slowly towards his bowl and carefully inspected its unusual contents. They were clearly to his taste, since he finished the chunks of meat, kidney and heart before turning to his normal starters, the sultanas and banana cake. Finally, he sniffed the two bones, delicately lifted them, clenched them between his jaws and trotted back through the gate.
Martin couldn’t have predicted just how intensely relieved and happy he would be to see the fox again, alive and well. His own life’s familiar routine could begin again. Nor could he have predicted his joy when, on the following evening, with the sky lit up by the sinking sun, the fox brought with him his new family. The fox ate half of the selection of defrosted meat and offal with which Martin had filled the bowl, then stood aside to allow the vixen and two cubs to approach it. The cubs, squealing softly, went straight for the banana cake and sultanas, but were soon eating their share of sliced flesh and lung. The dog fox then returned and crammed into his mouth the three juicy bones laid next to the bowl. He then turned around and, followed by his family, left the garden. It was still light enough for Martin to watch them climb the hill before they disappeared among the gorse.
Martin rose early again the following morning, still feeling elated by last night’s sight of the family of foxes. He took his coffee onto the lawn, did a few home-brewed tai-chi exercises under the already warm sun, and reckoned it was time to get his bicycle out of hibernation. He’d decided that, to celebrate the return of the fox, he’d cycle later in the day to The Rose and Thistle in Alwinton for a pint or two of beer. It’d be the first time since early last winter.
To his relief, the bicycle only needed a good oiling, a brush down, and some air in its tyres. The day was by now too hot to cycle or walk to anywhere, so Martin decided to do a few small jobs in the cottage – repairing a broken window latch, adjusting the toilet flush, reorganising the contents of the overfull freezer – before settling down to some reading.
Although his library was still small, Martin took pleasure in looking at the two bookcases into which it fitted. Two whole shelves were devoted to fox books. Some of them were studies of foxes, like The Wild Life of the Fox, but there was plenty of fox fiction too. The imagination of story-tellers, it seemed, had always been inspired by the animal. Martin had read many stories, from Aesop’s tale of the fox and the grapes and the medieval escapades of Reynard, to Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Mr Tod and Michael Morpurgo’s The Fox and Ghost King.
After a cheese sandwich for lunch, Martin inspected the books and was glad to see titles of several he hadn’t yet read – The Hidden World of the Fox, for example, or the succinctly named The Fox Book. He would read one of these in the afternoon – unless he decided, instead, to read the latest Newsletter of The Fox Project, an organisation he’d joined last year. Maybe, he would also listen to his CD of the orchestral suite from Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen. Martin was no opera buff, but he loved this one, with its folksy Czech melodies. When he was in the mood, listening to it could make him cry – with joy, when the vixen escapes from captivity, and with sadness, when she dies at the hands of a poacher.
As it turned out, he neither read nor listened to music, but fell asleep on the sofa. When he woke up, he took a cold shower, put on a fresh shirt and pair of shorts, took tonight’s food for the foxes out of the freezer, collected his crash helmet and wheeled his bike through the front gate. As he rode, with the sun on his back, along the road that ran beside the river Coquet, occasionally crossing it, Martin wondered why he hadn’t done this earlier in the spring. All those clichés extolling the Northumberland landscape, he realised, were dead true.
When he arrived, thirty minutes later, at The Rose and Thistle, a notice informed him that, due to Covid-19 restrictions, drinks could only be consumed in the beer garden and seated at a table. In the garden, he recognised two men seated either side of a bench table, each with a pint of beer in front of him. Martin joined them after asking for a pint of Reiver from the woman who was taking orders. After some ritual exchanges of ‘Long time no see’ and ‘How are you keeping?’, one of them explained to Martin that they’d been talking – like everyone else in Alwinton – about the disappearance of the tourist. Martin pleaded ignorance and asked what had happened?
‘This feller – name’s William Johnstone, apparently, comes from Newcastle – was renting a holiday cottage down the road, just this side of Harbottle,’ began the man. ‘He should have vacated the cottage yesterday morning, but when Jenny –the cleaner – got there, his car was still there. But there was no sign of him inside the house, and he hadn’t packed up ready to leave.’
‘At first,’ the second man interrupted, ‘the cleaner was annoyed. Johnstone had, she thought, simply ignored the instruction to be out by 10.00am. But then she saw the rotting fruit in the kitchen, and the congealed plates in the sink.’
The first man then took over the story: ‘She noticed, too – smart girl – that in front of the TV, the Radio Times was open at last Monday. It seemed Johnstone hadn’t been in the cottage for days. Anyway, she called the police. They’ve been asking around, has anyone seen him? They’ll probably be calling at your place soon, Martin. They’ve already put out an alert.’
The two men, they explained, had been discussing the possibilities before Martin arrived. It seems that Johnstone was a big walker and liked to go shooting as well.
‘Chances are,’ one of the men added, ‘that he had a heart attack or an accident somewhere up in the hills. If that was five days ago, not much chance of finding him alive.’
‘There won’t be much left of him to find,’ added his companion, with gallows humour, ‘not with the foxes around here. He’ll have been their dinner.’
‘That’s very likely,’ agreed Martin, who gulped down the last mouthful of his beer and stood up.
‘Talking of dinner,’ he said, ‘I need to get back and do something about tonight’s meal. Good to have seen you both after so long. See you again soon.’
With that, Martin walked out of the beer garden and cycled back home, enjoying the sun on his face as much as he’d enjoyed it on his back earlier. The news about Mr Johnstone he had, of course, been expecting. He knew the police would soon be knocking at his door. Martin was entirely relaxed about this. They couldn’t have any reason to think that the man had been at Martin’s cottage, or anywhere near it.
His cheerful mood ended, however, when he was almost back at the cottage and saw, in front of the next-door cottage, a small blue Fiat. The tourists were back.
Later in the evening, while he watched the foxes eat, Martin began to feel more relaxed about his new neighbours. He had heard no noise from the cottage, its lights hadn’t deterred the foxes, and the Fiat was surely too small for a family with children. Maybe it was just a single person, an early-to-bed hill walker, who was renting the cottage. Martin would find out in the morning.
His plan to go and introduce himself was delayed when, just after breakfast, a police car drew up in front of his cottage. Martin opened the door for a masked police officer before he could knock, and who then jumped backwards so as to keep the regulation two metres distance away. He apologised for disturbing Martin, explaining that he was visiting every property in the area in connection with the disappearance of a tourist. Martin saved the policeman the trouble of elaborating by telling him that he’d heard all about it at the pub the previous evening.
The officer took a photograph from an envelope, placed it in the pincers of a kind of litter picker, which he then held out towards Martin.
‘Do you recognise this man at all, sir?’
Martin looked closely at a rather flattering picture of a younger Mr Johnstone taken on a beach.
‘Afraid not,’ he replied. ‘I don’t see many people around here, as you can imagine.’
The policeman asked if Martin had seen any walkers or shooters in the vicinity over the last week.
‘Very few,’ he replied, ‘usually in pairs, and none of them close enough for me to recognise from a photo.’
The officer thanked Martin, sighed, wiped his brow, and said he’d try the houses further up the valley. When the police car had driven off, Martin was pleased that he hadn’t pressed the officer on how the enquiry was going or whether there would be a search of the hills for the missing man. In the crime novels he’d read, the killer often aroused a detective’s suspicion by asking too many questions about the progress of the investigation.
Martin crossed the fifty yards of coarse grass to the other cottage to make his acquaintance with whomever was staying there. A few seconds after he’d knocked on the front door, it was opened by a woman of about his own age. Beneath her cropped pepper-and-salt hair was a tanned, weathered face, with nose and eyes suggestive of Chinese or Japanese ancestry. She wore a plain green T-shirt and a pair of grey shorts. Her bare arms and legs were rounded, muscular and, like her face, tanned.
Martin introduced himself, gestured towards his cottage, and asked if there was anything she needed.
‘Hi,’ she replied. ‘I’m Kit. It’s good of you to come round and ask. But I think I’ve got everything I need: this cottage is very well equipped.’
Martin was about to walk back when the woman asked him what the police had wanted. He kept his reply short: a man from the other side of Alwinton had disappeared, and the police were asking people if they’d seen him.
‘Really? Oh, I do have another question,’ she said. ‘Last night I’m sure I heard a vixen calling. I even thought I could see an animal going up the hill behind our cottages – it was very starry. Are there foxes around here, by any chance?’
Martin hesitated. Most people in the area, he’d found, were at best ambivalent towards foxes and at worst downright hostile. Before he gave his answer, the woman spoke again. ‘I do hope so. I love foxes and really hoped, when I booked this place, that I’d see some. I would …’
‘Yes,’ interrupted Martin, his voice animated, ‘there are foxes up there – a whole family. I see them often. I, too, love these animals. I’ve got lots of books about foxes and …’
It was the woman’s turn to interrupt: ‘This is amazing … the coincidence, I mean. You could say foxes are one of the reasons I’m here.’
She went on to explain that she’d retired last year from university teaching and was now focusing on her research into animal myths in Japanese religions. Shinto myths about foxes were especially important to her work. She’d rented the cottage for a month so that she could write up her research in peace.
‘You see,’ she went on, ‘I’m half-Japanese myself. My real name is Mako. Kit is an abbreviation for the nickname my parents gave me, Kitsune. Do you know what that means?’
The word rang a bell with Martin, but he couldn’t recall where he’d encountered it. ‘I’m sure I’ve come across it,’ he replied, ‘but … no, what does it mean?’
Kit laughed as she told him: ‘Kitsune means fox. As a child, when we were living up in the hills surrounding Kyoto, I loved to watch the foxes playing. I even wanted a pet fox. So my parents called me … you might say in English, Foxy.’
‘This is amazing,’ said Martin. ‘This is really true?’
Kit laughed again before replying, ‘Do you know what Mako means in Japanese? No? It means Truth.’
Martin laughed along with her, and then became serious. ‘This evening, after dinner – around 8.30 – you must come over to my place for a drink,’ he began. ‘I promise you a treat.’
Pre-empting the question he could see forming on her lips, he finished by telling her he’d say no more for now. She’d have to wait until this evening.
‘I like surprises and treats,’ Kit said, smiling widely, ‘I’ll see you at 8.30.’
For Martin, once he was back in his cottage, the evening could not come soon enough. It was a long time since he’d found himself attracted to a woman and, just as important, she was a woman who seemed genuinely to share his love of foxes.
After lunch, he realised there were things he needed to do to the cottage to make it fit for a visitor. For the first time in months, out came the hoover and other house cleaning essentials. By early evening, windows had been washed, brasses polished, pillows plumped, and floors swept. When the work was finished, Martin showered, shaved, put on his best checked shirt and a pair of knee-length shorts, and went into the kitchen to prepare the foxes’ food. Tonight he would give them a large and special dinner – steaks, chopped liver, a thigh bone - so that, for Kit’s benefit, they’d stay a long time in the garden.
Once he’d prepared the foxes’ meal, Martin made some final preparations in the sitting room and put on the Janáček CD. She would be here any moment, and he looked forward to explaining the music to her.
On the dot of 8.30, Kit appeared at the open front door, wearing a T-shirt with a fox print on the front and carrying a bottle. She walked in, and pecked Martin on the cheek.
‘I can hear The Cunning Little Vixen, right? One of my favourite pieces,’ were her opening words. ‘You’re very perceptive, Martin. And here is a bottle of Hatozaki malt whisky. I brought it back from Japan last month. Better than anything they make in Scotland in my view. I drink mine with ice, by the way.’
Martin escorted her to the sofa, poured two large whiskies into his best glasses, added ice, and joined her. Conversation was no problem: Kit was talkative and animated, the more so with each sip of Hatozaki. Within five minutes she was excitedly telling him about the breeds of fox in Japan – the Japanese red fox and the paler, larger and beautiful Hokkaido fox.
Martin glanced at his watch and gently interrupted Kit’s monologue.
‘Shh! I promised you a treat. It’s nearly time. Just wait a minute. Don’t speak.’
He went into the kitchen, put the foxes’ bowls on a tray, walked through the open sliding doors and placed the food in the middle of the lawn. He returned to the sitting room, closed the sliding doors and joined Kit on the sofa. Martin put his finger to his lips when Kit was on the verge of speaking: she mimicked his gesture and smiled.
The two of them sat in silence on the sofa, close together. The woman’s bare right knee was resting against his equally bare left knee, with her shoulder pressed against the top of his arm. Martin was about to extract this arm and place it around her when Kit suddenly drew her breath and suppressed a squeal of delight. The dog fox had appeared at the gate, closely followed by the vixen and the two cubs. In a column, the four of them walked calmly and delicately towards the bowls. The cubs knew they would have to wait their turn and wandered off into a corner of the garden where they started to play in the rough, stony soil.
‘I’ll go and fill our glasses,’ whispered Martin and quietly padded off to the kitchen.
When he came back to the sitting room with the fresh whiskies, Kit pointed towards the garden and said ‘Look! The little ones have found something … a football or something that they’ve dug up.’
As she spoke, one of the cubs managed to get a grip with his teeth on the object and was dragging it onto the lawn. When he released it, it rolled slowly down the gentle slope of the grass, across the narrow patio, and came to rest against one of the glass doors.
‘God, what is it!?’ shouted Kit, her hands clasped to her face.
‘It’s Mr Johnstone,’ replied Martin in a calm, even tone. ‘I thought I’d buried the head deep enough. I underestimated the foxes’ sense of smell.’
Transfixed by the sight of the soil-covered head, with the skin tautly drawn over the bones of the face, Kit asked, almost mechanically, ‘Who’s Mr Johnstone?’
Martin explained that he was a shooter who’d tried to kill the fox and was intent on going after him. ‘I needed, of course, to kill him first,’ he added: ‘Luckily I’m a good shot with a bow and arrow.’
‘Where is the … where is his body?’ asked Kit, still in a flat, mechanical tone.
‘Well,’ replied Martin, a slight smile on his lips, ‘you’ve seen some of it already.’ He gestured towards the bowls of meat, liver and bones on the lawn. ‘Poetic justice, I felt, for what Mr Johnstone was doing.’
Martin sat next to Kit on the sofa again, and took one of her hands between his.
‘Are you going to go and call the police?’ he asked gently.
‘Why would I do that?’ asked Kit rhetorically, with a grin on her face which widened when she saw the puzzlement on Martin’s face.
‘Let me explain,’ she continued. ‘I’m called Kit, right? … Kitsune. Now a kitsune in Japan is not just an ordinary fox. A kitsune can be a fox-woman – an animal that takes on the form of a woman and then seduces men.’
‘Are you trying to say …?’ interrupted Martin, but before he could finish his question, Kit laughed once more at the sight of his worried face.
‘Don’t worry, Martin! I’m not going to tell you that I’m really a fox, and just look like a woman. But, for me, the kitsune legend is a wonderful symbol.’
‘Of what?’ asked Martin, swallowing another gulp of whisky.
‘Of the amazing affinity some women have with animals,’ answered Kit, ‘of the way they identify with an animal – the fox in my case. And a symbol, too, of how such a woman will use all the guile and cunning of a fox to get the man she wants.’
She smiled at Martin before going on: ‘So how could I inform the police on someone who killed a man in order to save a fox, my spiritual twin? Now get me another whisky, you silly man, and we’ll see if the foxes come back to finish their food.’
Martin hadn’t noticed that, while they had been talking, the family had left the garden. He went to the kitchen again to recharge the two glasses and returned to the sofa. He and Kit sat more closely pressed against each other than before, holding hands and, with their free hands, sipping their whiskies. They watched, contented and enthralled, as the vixen returned with her cubs and played on the grass.
Neither of them was at all distracted by the glazed eyes that looked at them from out of the sockets of the head propped up against the glass door in front of them.
David E. Cooper