Page 1

Chapter 1

The badger writhed and twisted with the loop of wire cutting deeper into its neck at every turn. The cable’s other end was fixed to a metal stake driven deep between lumps of stone and peat.
John looked down at the animal and smiled. The stake was solid and immovable; the animal was trapped, just like all those before. John took another step forward and turned his eyes up to the treetops as a pair of crows took flight. Looking to nest here no doubt, he’d see to them later.
A late winter mist hugged the slope and droplets of dew covered the grass. A steamy cloud was rising above the badger, and the animal kept twisting and turning, grunting
with the effort. The rifle hung from John’s shoulder, but he put it down, picking up an unused section of fence post instead. They’d had a grant to fence off these trees and plant new saplings. It was another scheme that meant easy cash, and they claimed for more trees than were actually planted. John had made sure there were plenty of gaps under the fence so that foxes could still get in. This was the first badger of the winter, a
young male by his look, brought here by the smell of decaying animals in the stink pit. John raised the fence post above his head and brought it down on the badger. Another two blows and the animal stopped moving. The badger lay in the centre of the circle of black peat radiating from the snare, all still now apart from the cloud of steam.
John didn’t have any wire cutters, so he set about trying to get the snare out of the badger’s neck. The wire and fastening clip were buried deep in the creature’s flesh, so John put his hands into the wound and started tugging. The wire was twisted and frayed and wouldn’t pull smoothly through the clip. John put his knee onto the animal and tugged with both hands. Eventually there was enough of a loop to pass over the badger and he tossed the wire onto the ground.
John stood up and walked over to the stink pit. It wasn’t much of a pit really, just a pile of crows, pheasant and last week’s fox under some shrubs. He couldn’t hide the badger under there. They had all sorts of people wandering around here on his moor and he expected they’d all know badgers were protected. So, he picked up the badger by the back legs. As he walked back towards his Land Rover, it dragged a trail through the
mud. He swung the animal into the back of the vehicle and, as an afterthought, threw over a length of tarpaulin.
Without any bullets or lead shot, the badger looked like roadkill.
John looked down at the calloused, hard skin of his hands, now covered in dried blood. He wanted to keep the steering wheel clean, so he headed over to the stream and bent down to wash his hands.
The water was brown and frothing after the recent rain. The peat on the moors was soaked, the heather dripping wet. And yet they hadn’t finished this year’s burning. What they needed was a long dry spell, and those always came sometime in the spring. But you couldn’t burn when the grouse were nesting. The calendar said winter, but nature knew it was spring. The crows were looking to nest, and badgers were moving into new
territories to dig their setts. It was John Salter’s job to keep this vermin off the grouse moor.
The morning had started off well, but now he felt the irritation of a headache. Cathy was going for an interview in town. Last year’s season had been poor, and there were no bonuses on shoot days. He told her it was his job to provide for them, but she hadn’t
listened. He was back at the house by 8.15am when Cathy came outside with the car keys in her hand. ‘They’ve had their breakfast. You’d better get going – don’t be late,’ she said, climbing into the car.
John watched the car bump down the track and onto the road. He didn’t have time to drive his children to school, he had work to do out on the moors. When they still hadn’t appeared, he walked into the house.

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