My beautiful Labrador had been my constant companion since he was a puppy, but things changed when Greg moved in as my lodger. The big, old house that had been my family home was too expensive to maintain on my own, but with six bedrooms was perfect as a bed and breakfast or for holiday lets. Although only 15 miles out of London it was set on the edge of a dense forest with lovely walks to the nearest village.
A couple of the locals were happy to help out with bed-making and cleaning, and during the first summer I even made enough money to pay for some urgent restorations. My guests were delightful, mainly middle-aged couples enjoying being woken by bird-song and having a chance to see nature in all its glory.
An ornithologist group heard about a rare bird nesting in the local woods, and even during the autumn months I was fully booked as they spread the word. Naturally I expected the winter months to be quiet, but then I slipped on some ice and broke my leg. My helpers went off to University, the bird flew off to pastures new, and the bills began piling up.
I never really took to Greg, there was something about him that made me feel uncomfortable but I could never put my finger on exactly what it was. Perhaps it was just that he didn’t like dogs, and Sandy was always nervous when he was around. It was odd because my dog loved and was loved by total strangers; it was only Greg he had no time for.
I’d never intended to take in permanent lodgers; casual visitors suited me well and left me time to enjoy my home in peace during the off-season. Greg turned up on the doorstep the night I had the fall, and just sort of stayed. At first his help was invaluable as I stumbled around on crutches. He used my car to take me for Doctor’s visits, got the shopping and generally made himself useful. The only thing he wouldn’t do was take Sandy for a walk, which was just as well as the dog flinched anytime he went near him. At least with the woods on the doorstep Sandy was able to go out alone for his exercise.
‘I never did ask you Greg,’ I said one evening when he had been living in my house for a few months, ‘how did you come to be here the night I had my accident?’
‘The flat I had was tied to my job, and when I resigned I had to find somewhere to live. Someone in the village told me you had rooms to rent so it was quite fortuitous I turned up when I did.’
‘Yes, I suppose it was, although I never really intended to take in full time lodgers. Still, the rent comes in useful. What job do you do?’
‘Oh, various things. At least I could be around when you needed me, without having to go off from 9 to 5 and leave you on your own.’
I should have been grateful but for some reason he made me feel defensive. It became even more claustrophobic as the nights grew shorter and he always seemed to be around. The animosity between him and Sandy didn’t improve and I started to feel unsettled. Added to that my dog seemed off-colour, and often retched, bringing up his food. I wondered if he had picked up something nasty when he went roaming through the woods.
A few weeks later I was woken by screaming. Throwing on a dressing gown I raced downstairs and threw open the front door, only to discover two foxes playing ‘chase me’ in the nearby trees. I had been throwing out left-overs to help feed them during the winter months, but although I often caught sight of them, they had never come this close before.
Laughing, I intended to leave them to what comes naturally when Sandy suddenly shot out past me. The foxes stopped but surprisingly didn’t run off. I watched amazed as Sandy joined in their game and the three animals played happily together. They must have got to know and trust him during his lonely walks when I was unable to take him out.
The air was cold and I was just on the point of calling him in so I could get back to sleep when I heard voices.
‘Damn animals, I’m going to shoot the lot of them. That poison’s not working.’ I recognised the voice as belonging to Greg and my hackles rose.
‘Better not. She might hear the noise and we don’t want anyone interfering at this stage. Right, ten grand is what we agreed. Here’s the stuff. Where’s my cash.’
‘You said ten, I said eight. Take it or leave it.’
‘Nobody double crosses me. Now hand it over or else.’
I listened in horror as a scuffle broke out, and was thankful Sandy had returned and was standing by my side in the doorway, growling softly. Just as I reached for my phone to get help a shot rang out, and this time the screams didn’t come from the foxes.
The sound of a car door slamming broke the silence, then the roar of an engine as a high-powered car sped off into the darkness. Shaking I dialled 999 and told the police I had heard a disturbance and thought someone had been shot.
‘We’ll be there shortly. Stay where you are.’
Unable to resist, I went to collect a torch then tentatively approached the spot where I had heard the voices. The light reflected off the cold, staring eyes of a man half buried in the undergrowth and I knew he was dead. It was Greg.
Shaking I went back to the house with Sandy at my heels, and poured myself a large brandy to help settle my nerves while I waited for the police to arrive. They took longer than expected so I had another one as reaction had set in, and I started shivering.
‘Police. Open up.’
The banging on the door made me jump, and I realised that despite everything I had dozed off. I noticed the two officers glance at the half empty bottle by the settee and realised how dishevelled I must look. Apart from the odd glass of wine I rarely drank, and the shock must have added to the effects of the unaccustomed alcohol. Trying to pull myself together I explained what had happened, and offered to show them where I had seen the body.
‘Just point us in the right direction Miss, and leave the rest to us.’
Turning on all the downstairs lights I watched from the window as they neared the location where I had found Greg. Although I couldn’t hear them clearly, their voices carried in the still of the night and I caught the odd snippet of conversation.
‘Bit lonely… out here all on her own… not surprising… imagination… been drinking.’
They thought I had imagined it! For a moment I even began to wonder if I had dreamt the whole thing, then I saw one of them bend and examine something on the ground.
‘That’s it…understandable…even gave me a scare.’
‘Did you find it?’ I asked as they returned.
‘Yes Miss. Nothing to worry about. Just a couple of dead squirrels. Looks like they’ve been poisoned.’
‘No,’ I almost shouted. ‘There was a body. It was Greg, my lodger.’
‘We’ll continue our inquiries but I think it would be better if you tried to get some sleep. We’ll be in touch.’
After a restless night, I plucked up my courage and retraced my steps to the woods. The site where I thought I had seen Greg’s body was trampled, but perhaps I had been mistaken after all, as there was nothing else there.
The next day I received a letter in the post.
‘I’m sorry I couldn’t give you any notice but something came up and I’m moving on. Best Wishes. Greg.’
There was no forwarding address and it was postmarked the day I had heard the shots. Perhaps he had only taken the flat as the house was away from prying eyes, and I had let my dislike for the man confuse my brain. This thought was confirmed when I had a visit from the police telling me they had identified Greg as a well-known drug dealer, and believed he had fled to Spain to escape arrest.
Sandy started to put on a lot of weight even though he was never hungry when he returned from his rambles in the woods, and he always seemed to have found a bone. The foxes were regular visitors, and they too seemed to have a plentiful supply of food.
It made me wonder whether there was actually some goodness in Greg after all.
© Voinks July 2017