A Lethal Deception
Her calves burned, her breath escaping in a fine mist.
Silence, except for the sound of her footsteps.
Her lungs strained against her ribs as she took another gulp of air and leapt over a low timber barrier separating the asphalt from a rough footpath, its dirt and stony surface crunching under her shoes.
Ghostly forms emerged from the thick fog that surrounded her on each side – stunted trees struggling to grow in the thin soil discarded by the developers that had completed the latest additions to the housing estate, and stubborn shrubs that reached out and wrapped thorny tendrils around her cotton sweatshirt.
Faster now, away from the shadows, away from the darkened windows of houses that backed onto the footpath, increasing her pace to offset the chill air that clung to her skin.
An orange glow ebbed and bobbed in front of her, the streetlamp morphing into a blob of light that cast a pitiful arc over the far end of the next street as her feet found pavement once more.
Then she stumbled, the loose laces from one shoe catching under the other and pitching her forwards.
Throwing out her hands to the side to steady herself, she slowed to a standstill and peered at her feet.
Detective Inspector Kay Hunter dropped to a crouch and reached out for the errant laces, her gaze sweeping the fog shrouding the housing estate.
Fine wisps of moisture clung to her hair while she secured the bow, and she brushed a strand from her eyes before straightening. Her breath clouded in front of her as she checked over her shoulder for approaching cars.
The fog thickened the air, deadening the sounds of traffic from the main road only half a mile away, and gave the atmosphere a milky hue that would cause havoc on the M20 motorway tonight.
Her colleagues in the traffic division would be busy.
Kay pushed away the thought and broke into an easy jog, keen to complete her route and get home before eight.
Raising her arm, she peered at the wristwatch’s screen and stopped the clock.
She wouldn’t beat her fastest time, not now.
Instead, she resolved to add an extra lap to increase her distance and build up the muscles that had fallen foul of too many long days, too many late nights in the incident room, and a tendency to fall asleep in front of the television when she got home.
Her top lip curled as a cramp threatened in her right calf.
Tonight was the first chance in a long time to relax, to ease back into her old routine. Despite the drab March weather, she smiled. It was the start of a new week with a couple of days off before her next rostered shift, and nothing in the diary.
It was only two months until she and her partner, Adam, were due to fly to Portugal for a holiday in May, and Kay was determined to squeeze into the denim shorts currently packed inside a dusty suitcase on top of her wardrobe along with her other summer clothing.
Running was a cure, as well as a cheap alternative to the extortionate fees some of the local gyms charged. She thrived on the time to herself, to let the day’s problems wash over her as she found her pace once more.
She crossed a mini roundabout and turned right, nodding to a man walking an elderly greyhound that eyed her swift movement with envy.
Zig-zagging through a gap in a wooden fence that bisected the road at the end of the housing estate, Kay used her sleeve to wipe moisture from her forehead and felt the incline in her knees as the street dipped down to the main road leading to the village green.
A siren wailed in the distance, closely followed by another and her heart rapped against her ribs in response when she recognised first a patrol car, and then the unmistakable sound of an ambulance in a hurry.
Exhaling, trying to lose the tension building in her chest, she turned left, away from the glow that shone through the windows of a pub a few hundred metres away, the scent of woodsmoke clinging to the thick air.
Another left, and she was on the home straight, following the narrow lane that preceded the housing estate. There were older homes here, and in the summer she loved walking past and admiring the thatched roofs and red-brick chimneys while absorbing the history of her surroundings.
Tonight, a renewed sense of urgency surged through her at the sound of a second police vehicle. The siren faded quickly, the fog softening the noise as quickly as it had appeared, smothering it as she reached the next mini roundabout.
She slowed as she turned into the stretch of lane where she lived.
When she reached the local pub and glanced through the windows as she passed, she noted the small crowd gathering in the front bar. A man’s laugh carried through the gloom towards her, and one of the smokers standing under the wooden gazebo outside – no more than a shadow – waved in greeting.
She pulled her mobile phone from its carry strap on her left arm, wondering if she should phone Adam and find out if he was almost finished at his veterinary practice for the evening, then groaned as she saw the blank screen.
Ruing the optimism that the battery charge would last until she finished her run, she shoved it back into place and resolved to plug it in the moment she walked through her front door.
She wasn’t on call tonight, nor for the next two nights, but a sense of duty remained as she berated herself for the oversight.
Kay raised her hand to the group of smokers and decided to drag Adam back there after she had a chance to shower, a smile on her lips as she realised the irony of having a drink while trying to regain her fitness levels.
Slowing to a walk and stretching out her leg muscles to calm her heart rate, Kay peered over her shoulder at the sound of an approaching car and stepped onto the verge as blurry headlights rounded the corner and pierced the murky lane.
Long grass swept against her bare ankles, and she raised a hand to shield her eyes from the lights, choking out a snort of disgust as the driver roared past, clearly over the speed limit.
She stepped back out onto the lane and started to stretch her arm muscles, watching as the car braked heavily.
Its tail lights flared, red blobs that pixellated in the fog before the vehicle swerved to the right and stopped.
‘What are you up to?’ she muttered, a frown pinching her forehead.
A faint glow emanated through the back window, and then she heard a door slam before a silhouette of a man launched from the car. His shoes connected with the gravel driveway of the house beyond a low privet hedge and then he was out of sight, his footsteps moving with purpose.
An uneasiness crawled through Kay’s veins as she hurried towards the vehicle, a sense of foreboding creeping over her that sent a shiver of goosebumps racing across her skin.
She heard a fist pounding against a wooden door followed by a muffled voice carrying through the air.
Kay’s breath caught in her throat as she approached the car and recognised the licence plate from the pool of vehicles allocated to Maidstone police station.
The footsteps scuffed the gravel once more.
She spun at the familiar voice to see a spiky-haired man in his late twenties emerge from her driveway, his face troubled.
‘Gavin? What are you doing here? Isn’t Barnes on call tonight?’
‘He is, guv.’ The detective constable gestured towards the car and opened the passenger door. ‘I’m sorry guv, but he thought you’d want to know straight away so he told me to come and get you.’
‘Get me?’ Kay swallowed.
Her colleague’s features were grey in the faint light from the streetlamp opposite her house. She blinked away a sudden sensation that her world was tilting, and took a shaking breath.
‘Gav? What’s going on?’
‘You need to come with me, guv. There was an armed break-in at the vet practice, and Adam’s been rushed to hospital.’