Gone to Ground
Lee Temple let the carbon-framed bicycle coast to a slower speed, turning his ankles outwards to release his shoe cleats from the pedals as the tyres met the rough surface.
He braked next to one of the other riders, noting the look of annoyance that flitted across Nigel Simpson’s face.
‘Second one this week,’ said Nigel. ‘At this rate, this tyre is going to be shredded.’
‘Have you got a spare tube?’
‘Yes, thanks. It’s a pain, that’s all.’
Lee emitted a noncommittal grunt, then glanced over his shoulder as the rest of the group pulled into the lay-by.
The group of four men had started their cycling club eight months ago, and he had been surprised at how fast his fitness levels had improved. Considering that the idea had been first broached over a pint in their local pub one night, they had taken to the new pastime with enthusiasm, much to the amusement of their wives who had given them three months at most before they grew bored.
Over time, they had learned where the best cafés were, and Lee salivated at the thought of the sausage roll he intended to devour at their favourite spot on the other side of Boughton Monchelsea. Not that he would tell his wife – she thought the bowl of cereal he had consumed an hour before would be enough to satiate his appetite and keep his diet on track.
The ride had started well – the route was a favourite one, and perfect for a summer Sunday morning. They had avoided the busy traffic through Maidstone, meeting up at six-thirty when the air was still cool, having set off from West Farleigh. Their route had seen them leave the busy town centre and follow the road south towards Langley before turning west along a quiet country lane.
‘How’s that new carbon frame holding up?’
He flinched at the heavy hand on his shoulder and forced a smile.
Paul Banks was a heavyset man and unaware of his own strength. Lee often thought that the man should be playing rugby, rather than trying to perch on a lightweight bicycle frame, but he never seemed to have any trouble keeping up with the group.
‘Yeah, good. I can really notice the difference,’ Lee said, failing to keep the sense of pride out of his voice.
‘Maybe now Heather will see it was worth the money.’
‘She will, once I’ve sold the golf clubs to pay for it.’
Paul laughed, slapped him on the shoulder once more, and wheeled his bike across to where the other men were conversing.
The golf clubs were the residual evidence of the last attempt the group had had at getting fit.
Lee’s interest in cycling had been piqued years before, when the initial stage of the Tour de France had passed through the county. When he had suggested it to the others, they’d made disparaging remarks about tight Lycra and laughed it off, but once he’d presented them with enough evidence to suggest it would keep them fit and give them a good excuse to get out of the house for a few hours on a Sunday morning, they had soon joined him.
Now, they all looked forward to the weekly event and today was no different.
He removed his sunglasses and wiped at them with a corner of his cycling jersey, squinting against the bright sunlight that crested the hedgerow beyond. Rarely used by heavy vehicles, the lane was awash with the sound of birdsong.
He glanced back at Nigel, who now had the front wheel of his bike on the ground while he wedged tyre levers over the rim. Paul had crouched down to help him, and it looked like they were going to be there for at least another ten minutes or so.
A sudden urge to piss created an ache in his abdomen and, tucking his sunglasses over the collar of his jersey, he walked away from the group.
‘Where are you off to?’ said Tony White as he passed him.
The hospital orderly wore the latest aerodynamic helmet, and Lee noticed his reflection in the rainbow-coloured lenses of the other man’s sunglasses.
‘Need to take a leak.’
The other man grinned. ‘Pit stop. Might as well make the most of it.’
Lee wandered over to the far side of the lay-by, then noticed the discarded work boot on the verge next to the road.
He had always wondered why you only ever saw one single boot at the side of the road, and not two. His childhood imagination had envisaged a man walking around with only one boot, at a loss as to what had happened to the other.
Paul’s voice reached him at the same time he drew level with the footwear.
‘Piss in it!’
Lee chuckled under his breath and shook his head.
‘Go on. Dare you,’ called Tony.
A bluebottle fly landed on his cheek, and he waved it away as a barrage of laughter carried across from the other men.
Then he blinked and shook his head, bile rising in his throat.
He stared for a moment, the others’ jeers fading into a blur of white noise. A car swept past, its motion rocking his body as he stood, arms by his side, trying to comprehend why it was here, who it belonged to, and what he should do.
At last, his brain processed what his eyes were taking in.
A severed foot, cut off at the ankle.
A pool of congealed blood pulsated with flies that buzzed around the torn laces of the leather upper of the work boot.
He took a step back, his anguished cry silencing the others.
His heart racing, he twisted his ankle as he turned away, his shoe cleats slipping across the uneven surface, before he limped to the hedgerow and threw up his meagre breakfast.
Detective Inspector Kay Hunter eased open the passenger door of the pool vehicle and surveyed the scene before her.
She’d received a call from Detective Chief Inspector Devon Sharp as she and her partner, Adam, had been having a lazy weekend brunch on the patio overlooking their garden on the outskirts of Maidstone.
‘This is exactly the sort of sensationalist story we don’t need on the front page of the newspapers,’ he said. ‘I want you to lead this one – Barnes can be your deputy SIO, given that we still haven’t got a new detective sergeant assigned to the team. I’ll have him pick you up as soon as possible.’
Kay had sensed the familiar spike of an adrenalin rush caused by the prospect of a new investigation.
She had to give the newly promoted DCI credit, too. Since her promotion to DI, Sharp had ensured that she got the opportunity to work on a number of high profile investigations in between her management obligations.
Detective Constable Ian Barnes had turned up on her doorstep twenty-five minutes after Sharp ended his phone call.
Kay enjoyed working with Barnes. In his late forties, he possessed a humour and fortitude that had been a welcome tonic to the dark crimes they were often faced with.
Now, standing beside their vehicle as she peered up the lane to where a strip of crime scene tape fluttered in the breeze, she turned to him as he slammed the driver’s door shut and joined her.
A little taller than Kay, he had pale brown hair that had turned to grey at his temples, and much to his consternation, he had started to wear reading glasses.
‘Still glad to be out of the office?’ he said as they watched the scene-of-crime officers working in the lay-by.
‘Shame about the circumstances,’ she said, and pushed a strand of her blonde hair behind her ear. She straightened her shoulders. ‘All right. Let’s go and find out what’s going on.’
She made her way up the sloping gradient of the lane, nodding to the traffic officers who kept passing motorists from gawking at the scene and ensured any passing traffic remained at a constant low speed to avoid injury to the emergency responders attending the site.
The crime scene investigation team had erected a screen between the lane and where they worked, while two uniformed officers stood on the perimeter of the crime scene tape to ward off any nosy passers-by. A female uniformed officer and her colleague had corralled a group of garishly-clothed cyclists and glanced up as Kay and Barnes approached.
Kay relaxed as she recognised the familiar face. Debbie West had been a police constable since her early twenties, and Kay held high hopes for the woman. She was one of the most meticulous officers Kay knew and could be relied upon to manage a tight crime scene.
‘Morning. What’s the latest?’
Debbie gestured to her colleague, who shepherded the cyclists away from the crime scene tape and continued to speak with them as he took notes. She turned back to Kay.
‘The guy in the red and yellow jersey is the one that found it. Lee Temple. Apparently, he and his friends are all local to West Farleigh and cycle together on a regular basis at weekends.’
Kay squinted against the bright sunshine to where the man stood next to Debbie’s colleague, and noted the line of expensive bicycles propped up against a telegraph pole or laid on the thick grass that bordered the road.
‘How is he doing?’
‘Threw up his breakfast, but thankfully not on the evidence.’
‘That’s something, I suppose.’
Barnes jerked his chin towards where the CSIs were painstakingly checking the verges and hedgerow bordering the lay-by, their heads bowed as they worked.
‘Have they found the rest of him?’
Debbie wrinkled her nose. ‘Not yet.’
Kay checked over her shoulder at the steady stream of traffic that now passed the crime scene, and had to agree with Sharp’s view that the media would be keen to have the story on the six o’clock news that night, with whatever scant information they’d glean from witnesses.
‘I take it you’ve warned Mr Temple and his associates not to speak to anyone about this?’
‘Absolutely,’ said Debbie.
Barnes tapped Kay on the arm at a shout from beyond the taped-off area, and she turned to see one of the CSI officers beckoning to them.
‘I’d like to speak to Mr Temple before you let him go,’ she said to Debbie.
‘No problem. I was going to organise a taxi mini-van to take them all home. Can’t imagine they’d want to ride back after this.’
‘Good thinking, thanks. Back in a minute.’ She followed Barnes to the perimeter tape and hovered at the temporary boundary. ‘Morning, Harriet.’
‘Morning. Debbie said you two were on your way over.’
Kay noted the weariness in the crime scene investigator’s voice and resolved to let her get on with the task at hand as soon as possible.
‘What can you tell us?’
Harriet handed them a set of disposable overalls and waited while they donned them and placed the matching bootees over their shoes, then held aloft the tape for them to duck under before leading them behind the screen towards the far end of the lay-by via a demarcated path.
‘Before you ask, the only footprints we’ve lifted from here match the cyclists’ shoes – pretty easy to deduce because of the cleats they were wearing to clip into their pedals.’
The CSI officer slowed as she reached the work boot.
It seemed incongruous in its position next to the long grass of the verge now that they knew what it contained, and yet Kay recounted numerous occasions where she’d seen similar lone shoes discarded at the side of a road and had thought nothing of it.
She crouched a metre or so away from the boot and batted a fly away from her face as Harriet continued.
‘Our victim is definitely male based on what we can see without removing the footwear. The boot is made from quality leather, but worn, as if it were one of a favourite pair. The heel has been eroded on one side, but Lucas will be able to tell you more about characteristics of our victim once he’s taken a look at it.’
Kay mumbled a response. She’d worked with Lucas Anderson, the Home Office pathologist on previous occasions, and his attention to detail and tenacity in providing as much information as possible about a victim had helped her more than once.
She didn’t doubt his ability to add more to the picture of the victim that they needed to create if they were to find the person responsible.
‘And no sign of any other parts?’
‘No – we’ve almost concluded our preliminary search. Obviously, I’ll let you know if anything changes.’
‘How long has it been out here, do you think?’
‘Hard to say, to be honest. A lot of the dirt and dust on the leather uppers has been caused by passing traffic as much as the bad weather we’ve had at the beginning of the month. Again, Lucas might be able to pinpoint a rough time of death for you to help to narrow it down.’
Kay straightened and turned to Barnes, whose upper lip curled as he watched the flies congregating upon the bloody stump. She spun on her heel and craned her neck until she could see beyond the screen and to the lane that disappeared in a straight line in each direction.
‘We’ll need to speak to homeowners along this stretch of road. You never know – they might have security cameras.’
Barnes nodded. ‘I’ll speak to Debbie to get uniform to start that straight away. I’ll give Gavin and Carys a call this afternoon to make sure they’re in early tomorrow morning, too.’
They moved back to the perimeter of the crime scene, and as she stripped the protective coveralls from her clothes and handed them to one of Harriet’s assistants, Kay let her gaze rest on the amputated foot once more.
‘Who the hell are you?’ she muttered.
eBooks & Print
"Rachel Amphlett is a master of misdirection"
"Faultlessly rendered; listeners can almost see the team"