It sat there amongst the brambles, accusatory and sodden, a battered red baseball boot with frayed laces. It looked incongruous amongst the frosted leaves and brooding tree-trunks; it lay at an almost jaunty angle, poised for action.
Henry poked at it with the tip of his pen, lifting it gently by a loop in the laces and peering at the sole of the boot. His breath clouded about him and his nose throbbed in the cold. Damn, it was cold. A hip flask full of Tanqueray nudged him gently from his coat pocket; he bit his lip and tried to concentrate.
The boot was small, well-loved and falling to bits. Leather frayed about the soles, and the heel of the boot was almost worn through with use. Initials were scrawled in ink across the inside of the ankle; JB.
JB stood for Jennifer Byrne, a dark haired, skinny, whiplike girl of nine who lay in a bundle not ten feet behind him; deposited rudely at the bottom of a natural pit in the woods, her face turned away from the sky modestly. Henry tried not to look in her direction, but he could sense her lying there; her presence stirred the hairs on his arms and dried his throat. Feeling the pull of the hip-flask, he spat into the earth instead and slipped the boot inside a paper bag.
At first he did not hear his name as it was yelled across the clearing; the forest seemed alive with noise today, birds shrieked and twittered and branches creaked in a wind that was gathering strength. The weather was about to change; the crystal air and bright winter sun would soon vanish and Henry intended to be at home nursing a tumbler of gin when the sky broke.
"What?" He straightened his back and saw his assistant striding through the bracken, a grim look on his face. He was holding what looked like an envelope in his hands and looking put-upon.
"You might want to see this," he huffed, proffering the brown package.
"What is it?"
The other man smiled grimly.
"The end of my Christmas holiday, that's what." Henry ripped open the envelope and found a collection of polaroids inside. He flipped through each one and felt the cold suddenly creep right into his bones, right up into his brain. He glanced over his shoulder at the inert form of the girl and back at the polaroids.
"Where is this from?"
"Kent. It looks like..."
"I know what it looks like. There's been another one." He rubbed his hands across his face and stared into space, thinking. "How many is that, now?"
"Thirteen, Henry. One a week for thirteen weeks". Tom counted them out slowly on thick, bitten fingers.
Henry exhaled and watched his breath flow about him in bright tendrils.
"I think it's safe to say that we have a serial killer, Tom," he said, and made his weary way back to the car.