Agatha pushed her way through thorny bramble bushes that tore at her tights. She grabbed at a low-hanging tree branch for balance, wobbling on high heels that were designed for traversing a cocktail lounge rather than a countryside ramble. She eased aside the higher tendrils of savage-looking vegetation to stop them from snagging on her jacket and hitched up her skirt to save it from being lacerated like her tights.
"That's really not a good look," said Toni.
"Well, you should know," Agatha replied, then froze. They were through the outer edge of the thicket, and only a few feet to their right they could see the brogue, the ankle, the lower leg, and...that was it. There was no body, just a sawn-off leg lying amid a litter of dead leaves and twigs. The sight of the dismembered limb sent a chill down Agatha's spine.
Toni backed away, tugging at her sleeve. "Back to the road and we'll phone the police. The killer may still be around." Numbly, Agatha followed her.
After they had called the police, they sat together in the car. Suddenly Toni said, "I know that foot."
Agatha looked at her and frowned. "How can you know a foot? You can know a man. You can know a woman. You can know a person, but not a foot."
"I know whose foot it is," sighed Toni. "Saw it at Morrison's. Remember the woman who was on reception when we arrived to see the chairman? Mr. Albert, you know, the boss, he said something about seeing her in the morning. 'Secretary's afternoon off,' he said. I noticed her because she looked like a woman out of a forties dramatisation on telly. She was wearing a tweed jacket and skirt, and ribbed woollen stockings, and those brogues."
Agatha did remember the woman. She had looked strangely out of place. Morrison's was supposed to be a twenty-first-century hi-tech company, and having a relic like her to greet potential clients had struck Agatha as a mistake.
"No stocking," she said. "Maybe not her."
"Maybe whoever did it took off the stocking when they sawed the leg off."
"Why? And why only one leg?" demanded Agatha. "In fact, why a leg at all? I mean, you read about hands being cut off and teeth removed to stop identification, but why a leg? Oh, snakes and bastards. I am going to smoke."
"Why don't you vape?" asked Toni.
"Why don't you roll down the window or go for a walk?" snapped Agatha.
She watched Toni walk a little way away from the car before she lit up a cigarette. Then her eyes narrowed. Toni was phoning someone. She was smiling. In the growing dusk, her face looked almost luminous. She looked happy, mellow, bordering on serene. Alarm bells were ringing for Agatha. Had the silly girl gone and fallen in love? Of course, it might not be love, she thought; she might have won the lottery. I'd rather she won the lottery than fall in love with some fellow and get married. That would be disastrous. She's the only one who can run the agency when I'm away.
She heard police sirens approaching and stubbed out her cigarette. She got out of the car and joined Toni, who immediately switched off her phone. The scene on the darkening, hedge-flanked road, already sinister, took on an even more eerie appearance when the thorny foliage was frozen in the flickering blue lights of the first police car.
"Where is it?" asked the policeman who stepped out of the car.
"Over there," said Agatha. "Oh, it gets dark so quickly. You can't see it from here now. I'll show you."
He was joined by another policeman. "Name?" said the first one.
"Don't you want to look at the leg?"
"It's like this. Forensics will be along and they'll say we've trampled all over a crime scene."
"But what if a fox or something drags it away while we're waiting?" wailed Agatha.
"Now then, you've had a shock. Name and address?" At that moment, Detective Sergeant Bill Wong arrived accompanied by Detective Alice Peterson. Bill was a long-time friend and Alice was his fiancée as well as his colleague. Agatha begged them to look at the leg.
"I was just telling this here woman," said the policeman, "that it don't do to muck up a crime scene before Forensics—"
"All right," snapped Bill. "We'll suit up."