Bold Counsel

By Tim Vicary

Thriller, Crime & mystery

Paperback, eBook

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572
2 mins

1. Fox

THE YOUNG fox’s ribs showed through its coat; its belly clung to its backbone. In the starlight before dawn, it was stalking young rabbits. Its eyes blazed bright in its skull as a couple of baby rabbits hopped cautiously out of their burrow, stood on their hind legs to sniff the breeze, and cocked their ears for danger. The fox’s jaws drooled, grinning with anticipation.
But his swift, lunging run sent the rabbits scurrying back underground, his teeth snapping uselessly behind them. The brief effort exhausted him. Outside the burrow, he gasped for breath. If he didn’t eat today, he would die.
Frantically, he dug down into the burrow, seeking food and shelter. A place to eat, or a place to die. He scrabbled deeper into the earth, with the energy of desperation. His paws grew sore, his nose and eyes were covered with soil.
But the digging intrigued him; another smell, not rabbit, entered his nostrils. A rare, unusual smell. Finally, to his intense delight, he unearthed it; something hard, crunchy and bone-like. He seized the bones in his teeth, and tugged.
They tasted of ancient, rotten meat. But they were hard to loosen. He braced his forepaws against the rock and tugged, growling through his teeth. It was like a game he had played as a cub, with kills his mother brought home. The strong got the best bones, the weak got the rest. But here it was just him and the rock.
At last, almost frantic with exhaustion, he wrenched the bones free and dragged them outside. Dawn was just breaking, a thin lemon glow in the east. Disappointingly, there were only a few tiny scraps of meat between the bones, as hard as old leather. He chewed disconsolately for a while; then, as the sun rose higher, he fell asleep.
He was woken by a draught of air round his nose. He opened his eyes as a crow, wings spread wide, snatched the bones with its beak. Enraged, the young fox leapt up and lunged. But the crow flicked its wings and floated lightly out of reach. Just a yard away, two - cool orange eyes taunted him to follow. When he did, the crow flew ten, twenty yards further, to the edge of his territory.
The fox knew there was no point rushing after birds; they saw you coming, and flew away. Still, he’d nearly caught a pheasant once by stalking it - belly to the ground, nose hidden in the grass, inching one foot forward at a time, waiting for just that moment when the bird felt safe, and looked down to peck at something. That was how to get them, by creeping close enough first.
He tried it now. He crept after the crow until he saw where it had landed. On the road, outside his territory. Probably it felt safe there; it could see all around. But the long grass hid the fox’s approach. And the crow was too keen on the bones. It pecked at them industriously, seeking the tiny, leathery scraps of meat between the joints.
The fox crouched in the grass, wound tense like a catapult. The crow pecked, then glanced up - not at the fox, but at something behind it. The young fox sprang. A huge growl filled its throat, with rage at the theft.
Then several things happened at once.
The crow dropped the bones and flew up, its wings flapping wildly in alarm.
The fox snatched the bones with its teeth.
And the car, which came roaring round the corner, its driver enjoying the emptiness of the early morning road, swerved wildly as the bird’s black wings flashed across the windscreen.
The fox looked to its right, just in time to see death, in the form of a Michelin tyre, coming towards it at sixty miles an hour.
The driver felt a soft thump and braked, slowing enough to see the crushed body of a young fox on the road behind him, but not stopping to get out or see what it held between its jaws.
The bones of a human hand.



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