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chapter forty

Then the little Hiawatha Learned of every bird its language, Learned their names and all their secrets

(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Song of Hiawatha)

that afternoon PC Pollard was completely 'pissed off' with life as he later reported his state of mind to his Kidlington colleagues. He'd spoken to no one for more than two hours, since the two fellows from the path lab had been along to examine the cordoned off area, to dig several spits out of the brownly carpeted earth where the bones had lain, and to cart them off in transparent polythene bags. Not that they'd said much to him when they had been there just after lunch-time: the sort of men (Pollard had little doubt) with degrees in science and bio-chemistry and all that jazz. He appreciated the need for such people, of course, although he thought the force was getting a bit too full of these smart-alecs from the universities. He appreciated too that it was important to keep people away from the scene of the crime if it was a crime. Exactly who these people were though, he wasn't sure. It was a helluva way from the car park for a couple to carry a groundsheet for a bit of clandestine sex; and they wouldn't go there, surely? He'd seen a few birdwatchers as he'd been driven along; but again, not there. Too dark and the birds couldn't fly in there anyway; it'd be like aeroplanes flying through barrage-balloon cables.

The afternoon was wearing tediously on, and for the umpteenth time Pollard consulted his wrist-watch: 4.25 p.m. A police car was promised up along the Singing Way at 5 p.m.; with further instructions, and hopefully with a relief- unless they'd decided to scrub the whole thing now the ground had been worked over, now the first excitement was over.

4-45 pm

4-55 pm.

Pollard folded away his copy of the Sun and picked up the flask they'd given him. He put on his black and white checkered cap, and walked slowly through the woodland riding, wholly unaware.hat a tiny white-fronted tree-creeper was spiralling up a beech ree to his left; that a little further on a lesser-spotted woodpecker -as suddenly sitting very still on a short oak branch as the crunching steps moved alongside.

Another pair of eyes too was watching the back of the shirt-sleeved constable as he walked further and further away; the eyes of a man who made no movement until the woodland around was completely still again, with only the occasional cries of the birds the thin 'tseet-tseet' of the tree-creeper, and after a while the high 'qui-qui' of the woodpecker to be heard in that late, still, summer afternoon. For unlike Constable Pollard this man knew much about the woods and about the birds.

The man made his way into the area behind the cordoned square, and, leaning forward, his eyes constantly fixed to the ground, began to tread slowly, as systematically as the terrain would allow, for about twenty yards or so before turning and retracing his steps along a line four or five feet further into the forest; repeating this process again and again until he had covered in area of roughly fifteen yards square. Once or twice he picked up some object from the densely matted floor, only to throw it aside immediately. Such a pattern of activity he repeated on the left-hand side of the cordoned area into which he ventured at no point working his way patiently along, ever watchful, ever alert, and occasionally freezing completely like a statue-waltzer once the music has abruptly stopped. In this fashion he worked for over an hour, like an ox that pulls the ploughshare to the edge of the field, then turns round on itself and plods a parallel furrow, right to left left to right. Boustrophedon.

It was just after 6 p.m. when he found it. Almost he had missed it just the top of the black handle showing. His eyes gleamed with the elation of the hunter pouncing on his quarry; but even as he pocketed his find his body froze once more. A rustle nearby. Very near. Then, just as suddenly, he felt his shoulder muscles relax. Wonderfully so. The fox stood only three yards in front of him, ears pricked, staring him brazenly in the eye before turning padding off into the undergrowth, as if deciding that this intruder, at least, was unlikely to molest its time-honoured solitary territory.

chapter thirty-nine | The Way Through The Woods | c