It sounded like a barking cough. “Must be a fox” thought Fiona “There’s no one around for miles”. The light was beginning to fade, and as she drew the curtains, she noticed it was beginning to snow. “Bad timing” she said to herself, “Very unfortunate”. Her husband Richard was due back from Brussels tomorrow, and snow could make travelling difficult. She went back into the study, as the deadline was looming for the completion of the article she was writing, and it was some three hours later when she finally finished it.
As she looked out at the steadily falling snow, she heard the coughing noise again, but could see nothing but swirling snowflakes in the darkness. She felt very relieved that she had shut the chickens away securely if the foxes were so close to the house. She prepared her supper and took it to the armchair beside the crackling log fire in the cosy sitting room. As she ate, she thought about Richard, hoping the meeting had been a success, the business desperately needed the big contract he was after. Her mind wandered back to when they were first married . Richard had been in partnership with his identical twin brother, Tony, but he had uncovered some dodgy dealings that Tony had committed the company to without his knowledge, and when they came to light, his evidence in court had resulted in Tony being sent to prison for eight years. The business had been wound up, Tony had been declared bankrupt, and his wife had divorced him. Richard had been cleared of all charges, even though Tony had tried to implicate him and had sworn he would get even one day. When Richard heard that Tony was due for release, he had been very jittery, and that was why they had moved to this house in Scotland, where they were totally unknown, to make a fresh start. He had told Fiona not to go out more than she had to, and to be very careful at all times. He had talked about taking out a large insurance policy on both
their lives in case anything happened, but she had heard no more about that. She loved the new rural isolation and had settled in immediately, soon forgetting the reason they were there.
The fire began to die down, and as she reached for a log to revive it, Fiona realised that there was only one other in the log basket. “Oh drat” she thought “I’ll have to go out to the woodpile in all this snow.” It was usually Richard’s job to keep the basket replenished but of course he had been away for a few days so it hadn’t been done, and she knew that if she left it until tomorrow, the logs would be damp and the fire wouldn’t burn, making the room chilly, and not very welcoming for Richard’s homecoming. She would have to go out now and get some, to give them a chance to dry overnight. She looked out of the window, and saw to her relief that it had stopped snowing. She pulled on her coat, woolly hat, gloves and boots, grabbed a torch and the canvas sack Richard always used to carry the logs in, then she opened the door and stepped outside into the raw bitter cold. As she closed the door behind her, she heard the cough again, but could see no evidence of a fox’s visit.
In the light of the torch she saw the footprints in the snow just a split second before she felt the hands around her throat. She turned, and in the seconds before she blacked out, looked her assailant full in the face. “Tony” she croaked, then incredulously, “Richard?” He coughed again as he threw her lifeless body to the ground and disappeared into the darkness.