End of the day and the sky is a ringing, Wedgewood blue. There are two ambulance men standing outside the station, the younger one leaning back against the bonnet of an ambulance, smoking, left arm crooked under the right, the short sleeves of his green shirt rolled up an extra inch to emphasise his bicep, a Maori pattern tattoo stretching and shrinking with the regular backwards and forwards of the cigarette. The other guy, an older figure, a curious mix, peat-digger crossed with primary school teacher, stands with his legs planted shoulder-width apart and his lumpish hands linked together on top of his head.
The younger guy blows out a stream of smoke.
‘We had a hanging today.’
‘Oh yeah? What was that, then?’
‘Young girl. Dressed all in black. Strung herself up in the woods. There was a note in her bag, explaining everything. Why she’d done it. Addressed to her family. All very organised. She’d been there a few days. We heard the buzzing before we saw her.’
The older guy unlaces his fingers, moves his hands down from the top of his head to his forehead, gives it a rub, then folds his arms and looks off into the chestnut trees growing along the front of the station.
‘A dog walker found her.’
There is a brief pause, and then a shift in the conversation, a distinctive lurch, like a handle being thrown on some battered old machine.
‘It’s always a dog walker.’
‘Always the same dog walker.’
‘Excuse me sir. I just need to ask you and your dog a few questions. How is it that you decided to go for a walk in this particular neck of the woods, pardon my French?’
‘We just had a feeling. Or rather, the dog did. He got the map out, put a paw on it and started whining.’
‘I see. And that’s the tenth time this week?’
‘And it’s only Monday.’
‘I know. Jeez! What d’ya gonna do?’
‘What sort of dog might this be, sir?’
‘He’s a Corpsehound. Part Bloodhound, part vulture.’
‘And what do we call it? Damien? Old Nick?’
‘Very nice, sir. Very nice. I especially like the red eyes. Glowing like coals, I see. Healthy.’
‘It’s all those walks. There’s a lot of ground to cover.’
‘What do you feed him on?’
‘Well, there’s a saving right there, officer. He’s been dead a thousand years.’
‘One last question sir – sir?’
‘But there was no-one there, nothing but a black cape lying on the ground and some cackling in the trees.’
‘You can’t beat a nice bit of cackling.’
The younger guy flicks his cigarette off towards the grass verge.
‘That’s me,’ he says, arching his back. ‘I hope you have a quiet one, mate.’
He picks up his kit, and slouches off towards his car.