Uncompromising, gritty, thrilling, and not for the faint hearted! British detectives suspect a serial killer is on the loose. With the support of American profiler Dr Tessa Davies, they soon realize that this could be the work of a druidic sect.
Please enjoy another two chapters of my dark crime novel, Death Marks . For now, I will post a chapter every Monday and Thursday.
Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here:
Sunlight gave way to light rain as they walked up the path towards Kingsley Vale. Tess let Sweetpea off the lead to run ahead. Stepping in some mud, she nearly slipped, but Redd caught her, reaching for her hand; it was small with delicate bones. ‘It’s a bit slippery here – hold my hand.’
He felt a warmth towards her; it was such a natural thing to walk along beside her. Just for a second, his mind darkened; would it ever really be natural? Would he ever trust again, or would fate step in with gnashing teeth and a honed steel knife?
The vision of a toddler flashed across his eyes, the bright golden curls, cornflower blue eyes; they were so proud of him, handsome enough to be a model, but Esther didn’t want that kind of life for him. He gritted his teeth, his baby’s name in his throat – Harry. He felt Tess squeeze his hand. ‘You okay?’
He shook his head and looked down at her; she barely came to his shoulder in flat walking shoes. So different from Esther, just three inches shorter than his six feet three, her body slender with small breasts, flowing pale blonde hair, and aquamarine eyes – Esther.
Trained in her job, Tess caught the subtle body language, the pressure of his hand, a slight tremor in the voice; his eyes haunted. What was it? There was a depth of sadness to this man; she’d felt it in the first few moments of meeting him. He had striking looks, marred by a thin scar reaching from a full upper lip to the high cheekbone. He’d seen some fights, as his aquiline nose was not quite straight. The shadows under his eyes spoke of sleepless nights, the deep lines around his mouth, of muscle clenching sorrow. Yet, the sparkle in his electric blue eyes dispelled the gloom.
To her surprise, she thrilled at the touch of his hand. ‘In Alabama, we’re surrounded with water; we live deep in the trees, just off the Old Spanish Trail near Whispering Pines Road. Not far is Bay Front Park facing Mobile Bay; there are some fantastic views. So when I got this tenure, I was determined to live in the Downs, but near the sea as well.’
‘Yeah, we’re fortunate here, plus we have the most number of sun hours in the country, a mini micro-climate.’
She looked up smiling, only to see him gazing at some distant point in his mind.
Redd stopped to unlatch the large range gate leading into the Vale, Sweetpea leaping, ready to dash through. ‘Right here we are.’
Tess exclaimed, ‘Look at the bark on the trees – I love the way it goes deep red in the rain. It looks as if they’re bleeding. It feels eerie. You could imagine a ghostly Roman legion marching through or a horde of Vikings with axes creating mayhem. Many people report seeing them.’
‘Yeah, just the place for the Wicca and pagan groups’
Tess stopped. ‘And the Druids – their groups are termed groves. The Late Archbishop of The Eternal Order of Druids had his obituary here; they carried out the Ceremony of the Crossing of the Bridge for him here and at Stonehenge.’
‘I’ve seen pagans dancing around at Stonehenge; I’ve gotta say it, Tess, they look a bit airy-fairy, you know.’
Tess laughed, ‘Airy fairy – quite apt. Why they have to dress up like that, I don’t know. The philosophy has evolved, so should the dress. As I said, the Druids were the most learned class, philosophy, languages, architecture, medicine, and the arts, yet they were brutal in their practices. Young people would fight to be chosen as the sacrifice.’
‘How could they choose to die such a terrible death – beats me?’
‘They did not look on death as we do; they believed in reincarnation – just as some still do today. That’s why they were such terrible foes on the battlefield; they were not afraid to die. To die just meant to leave this earth for the Otherworld.’
‘Surely they had some fear?’
‘No – they had a different mind-set. There was no such thing as death or heaven or hell for the Druid. They thought nothing of sacrificing dozens to propitiate the Gods. At the same time, the Druid was an intellectual, the finest brain in the land.’
Redd smiled. ‘You know your stuff.’
She laughed. ‘I’m fascinated; as I said, my ancestors are Welsh and Irish – so it’s in my blood.’
‘I’m a mongrel, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish, with a bit of French, I believe, way back. Look, the crime scene is just ahead; see the yellow tape?’
‘Yes, and look, there are plenty of oak trees and a few silver birches – all sacred to the Druids.’ Tess felt her heart quickening as she stooped beneath the tape. To her surprise, Sweetpea came back to her, growling, hackles raised along his sleek black spine. ‘What is it?’ She looked up to Redd, ‘He’s sensed the evil here – smelt death. A dog has a far deeper sense of good and evil than us.’
Ducking beneath heavy branches of the Yews, Redd said, ‘Mind these now, they’re quite thorny, I’ve cut myself badly in here. Every bit of the yew tree is poisonous except for the berry and cone, the red fleshy part.’
‘The Druids see the yew tree as the passing from life to death. Maybe that’s why they placed the bodies here.’ She stooped over the indented graves, becoming aware of the somnolence of the branches dipping into the ground, seeming to sprout up again through the peat, a continuous serpentine-like shape.
Plucking at a couple of damp oak leaves from the indented earth, Tess whispered, ‘This is Druid. Seeing the surroundings and the photos of the wounds, now I’m quite sure you’re dealing with people re-enacting the ancient rituals and sacrifices.’ Her voice fell to almost a whisper, ‘For them; the Gods live – the devil is an infant in their eyes. These aren’t neo-druids out for love and peace – these are the “Cult of the Severed Heads.”‘
‘Right – so now we can start searching some of the neo-druids, try and pick up if any have any inkling of this grove.’
‘Yes, and you’re looking at a group Inspector – err … I mean Dan.’
‘Did they name you after “Tess of the D’Urberville’s?” I expect you get asked that often.’
‘Yes, I do. Thomas Hardy added in his book, “A Pure Woman,” my Irish grandmother loved the book. But I can’t say that I’m a pure woman.’
Grinning, Dan murmured, ‘Now that sounds interesting. So what dark secrets do you harbour?’
Flushing, she said, ‘None that I’m telling you, that’s for sure. Anyway, this group has stripped off centuries of civilization. Remember the wounds? They’ve used a kind of crosscut wound, pulling out the entrails to read them and to do the markings. You said yourself; there is a Triskelion marked on the livers and the hearts. That is a prominent sign of the ancient Druid, the three bent legs swirling in a stick or lance. I just had to see everything together.’
Redd shook his head. “Fucking monsters – why would they do this?’ He stopped as he heard the whirring drone of helicopter blades above them. Peering up, he said, ‘Bet that’s the media still snooping around, a bit over the top sending a helicopter though.’
‘The rain is tipping down now; once we clear the trees, we’ll get drenched.’
‘There’s a pub up the road. It’s not far.’
Walking down the Station corridor to the Conference room, Dove heard the buzz of voices; the reporters were already there. She wished she could have got out of it but didn’t make too much of an argument with Redd; she had to prove worthy of being his partner, and this was a bridge she was going to have to cross many times in the future. Nevertheless, she felt as if sand churned to cement in her stomach as she neared the door. Walking in, she saw Titmouse with a group of reporters in an animated conversation. What was he doing here? Pushing in as usual. He really ate up the limelight, he aims to climb the ladder as quickly as possible. Seeing her enter, he waved the reporters away and strode towards her. ‘Hah, there you are; I see Redd couldn’t make it.’
‘He’s gone to consult with a Profiler, sir.’
‘Well, I’m here now.I told the Assistant CC he’d be here. Should have made a show. Profiler eh? Very convenient.’ He smiled, showing pointed rats teeth.
Dove glowered, so much for preparing her statement, Tits would ride over everyone. In a way, she felt relieved; now, she wouldn’t have to speak, just sit there and nod.
He turned towards the table. ‘Let’s get this show on the road. We have to keep the decapitation under wraps; we don’t need a panic at this time. We can leak the full information later. As far as TV and press are concerned, it’s a double homicide with no details.’
Dove gritted her teeth; he didn’t need to keep on repeating it; they already knew that. He was like a record player, treating them like morons. Joining the two detectives at the table, she saw Amanda Green preening in front of the cameras, whilst Crosby sat mute, fear tensing his usually cheerful face. Sitting beside him, Dove gave him a quick smile. He managed a weak flick of lips, a grin that didn’t reach his eyes. ‘Bloody hate this, guv. Last place I wanna be.’
Dove patted his hand, ‘You’ll do it, Crosby, if it’s any comfort, I don’t like this kind of thing either. So let’s get to it.’
The room quieted as Titmouse sat down, a lock of his dirty blond hair swept over his bald pate, framed against the dark green banner enriched with the gold insignia of the Brighton Police. To one side stood a whiteboard on which were pasted Delle Woodhouse and David Baker’s photos.
Folding his arms, he tapped the mike inches away from his mouth. ‘Thank you all for attending. We now have names about the double homicide, Mr. David Baker and Miss Delle Woodhouse, aged twenty-two and twenty-one, respectively. Their families are informed. The couple, as you know, went missing a week ago – their bodies found by two youngsters walking through Kingley Vale. If anyone can give us any information on the couple’s whereabouts in the last two weeks, please contact the Brighton Police Station. An officer will be ready to receive their calls. Any questions?’
The room burst into action, hands waving, cameras flashing, grey microphone brushes weaving through the air. Reporters left their seats, making their way to the front. Questions rent the air.
Dove blinked rapidly, almost blinded in the flashing lights; no wonder they gave out warning notices on epilepsy. She saw Titmouse grasp his hands together, the knuckles white.
‘Ladies – gentlemen – order – order. Please return to your seats. I will answer your questions one at a time.’
A reporter from the front row raised her hand. ‘Got any leads yet?’
Titmouse pursed his lips. ‘We are investigating the matter.’
A well-known anchorwoman stood up, her crew thrusting the microphone brushes over the heads of the seated reporters. ‘How did they die?’
Titmouse stood with a smarmy smile. She packed a lot of punch, best to get on the good side of her. She could kill careers with a few well-appointed sentences from the TV news desk. ‘We cannot reveal that information, ma’am, but two young people were brutally murdered. We need the public to come forward.’
Another voice called from the middle row, ‘Were they shot, strangled?’
‘Again, I cannot give any information on that as yet. It is an on-going investigation.’
‘How are their families taking it, ma’am?’ The question was directed at Dove from a man in a wool hat pulled down to his eyebrows, long brown hair spiking on a grey jacket. As she went to speak, Amanda tried to join in. Felicity said across her, shooting her a glance out of narrowed eyes. Continuing, she gave minimal information, as ruled by Titmouse. ‘The families are informed.’
As she sat back, a voice with the gravelly tone of a life-long smoker said, ‘Ma’am, how was the girl decapitated?’
An ominous silence filled the room, blood pounding through her head; someone in the department leaked the information to the press. Thank God Regina had already identified her daughter, already knew of the decapitation. Dove swiveled around to see Titmouse rise to his feet, his face waving his hands. ‘We refuse to answer any more questions. I am terminating this interview now. Good day, ladies and gentlemen. He made to move from the table. Dove sat frozen in her chair as shocked reporters sprang forward almost as one, a tornado of questions, raging through the room.
‘Come on, guv – give.’
‘Yeah, the cat’s out the bag now – come on.’
‘This is serious – we have to run with this, Chief Superintendent.’
Titmouse boomed, ‘That is classified information. For the sake of the families and the investigation, this should be kept out of the press.’
‘No way,’ someone shouted from the back. ‘This is now public information.’
‘We’re not stupid.’
‘Someone here is gonna talk.’
A woman screamed out, ‘Speak for yourself – some of us have morals.’
Two voices cried out, almost at once, ‘Yeah, you’re not dealing with the gutter press.’
Seated quietly in the front, an eminent newspaperman said, ‘Someone’s going to run with this Chief.’
Titmouse waved his hands. ‘There’s been a serious leak somewhere, ladies and gentlemen. This is classified information.’
Someone quipped, ‘Not now, mate.’
The reporters began packing their equipment, a few texting; some spoke into cell phones whilst others made for the doors. However, others sat where they were, stunned. Another popular anchorwoman from a regional TV channel said, ‘We can’t suppress this now, Chief Superintendent. Is there anything you can say to add to this leak?’
‘I cannot enlarge further on this. If you must, go with what you have.’
Sitting down by Dove, he murmured, ‘There’s a fucking rogue in the department. Funny how DCI Redd isn’t present.
Dove wanted to punch his lights out; instead, she took a deep breath.
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © Katy Walters
All rights reserved
Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here: