The opening of Footsteps of the Hunter – the new Kitty Lockwood novel.
A strand of spider web blows in the breeze, curling like a soft whip.
Hitting a rise, the bike lifts off, spokes spinning above the carpet of pine needles that cover the forest floor.
Two miles done. Three to go.
The wind hisses through the treetops. He hits a steady rhythm, heart and lungs working together. Serotonin and dopamine kick in, taking him to the happy place. His feet lift at each stride, light as air. Cares fade away as he weaves between the trees.
Ahead of him a branch creaks and a shadow swings between the pines.
The first thing Trevor sees is the feet. Purple, bloated flesh turning and swaying into his path. He rears back and the bike tumbles. His face hits the earth, left cheek nicked by a spur of tree root. Blood splashes his arm, runs down his skin and falls from his fingertips.
Trevor untangles himself from the bike and feels for the cut. Above him, the body twists on a length of thin blue twine. The man is naked. A man aged around thirty, Trevor guesses. The head is hunched over the shoulders. He forces himself to look at the face. Blowflies crawl between the stretched lips. The flesh is mottled, white and a shade of ripe mulberry. The cheeks are marked by scratches – claw marks, perhaps. Trevor struggles to his feet, holding out his hand just at the moment the wind pushes the body towards him. His fingertips brush the flesh.
‘Fuck!’ Trevor falls against a tree trunk. Sweat slips down his brow. He fumbles in the pouch strapped to his wrist, finds his phone and turns to make the call. The body twists at the edge of his vision.
‘Which service please?’
‘There’s a man. Hanging. He’s hanging from a tree.’
‘OK, sir. Is he breathing?’
‘He’s dead.’ Trevor bites his lip. He steals another glance at the body. ‘Nope. He’s topped himself. Definitely dead.’
‘Can you give me your name please, sir? And the number you’re calling from?’
Trevor gives the number. He bites his lip, anxious that he might laugh.
‘What’s your name, sir?’
‘Speed. Trevor Speed. Trevor Charles Speed.’
‘Thank you. Is it OK if I call you Trevor?’
‘Yes. Of course.’ ‘Thank you, Trevor. Now if you can just give me the address we’ll have someone with you as soon as possible.’
‘Address?’ Now the nervous laughter does spill out. ‘Tricky.’
‘As soon as you do that, Trevor, we’ll send someone to you.’
‘I’m on my bike. In the woods. There isn’t an address.’
‘Which wood, Trevor?’
‘It’s a forest. It’s Kielder forest. It’s fucking huge!’ *