So early in the morning it was still night, out in the deep grass where the deer have held court since the days of the Tudors. The mist dragged across the world, milky white cataracts. What we were doing was wrong, but there was no option.

We met and shook hands briskly, briefly. The shake of a colleague, the shake of a gentleman, not the shake of a friend. Hands clasped for a second. His was cool, dry, papery. Mine felt fat; swollen and slick with sweat, a family of newborn rats squirming in his ape’s paw. He met my gaze, eyes as cool as his palms. My own blue-grey irises would be rimmed with pink from lack of sleep, pouchy and dark. I was not the better man.

Our seconds appeared by our sides, coalescing like dew in the just-there dawn. His had a box, and I almost laughed to see the polished walnut. Like the old days, I thought. We’re doing this right. The lid was raised and I reached for an elegant pearl-handled revolver. It was heavy, its significance giving it a gravity beyond its material weight. It pulled me like a dead star.

We paced. Turned. I could see him as a blear of shadow, but some pink dawn light hit his face. He smiled, and I could see why she loved him.

The crack of a gunshot sent the deer punching swirled holes through the deep mist, and a single human shadow stained the grass.

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