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 3 chapters every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday.
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As he walked into the office, Redd saw a message from DS Williams. Picking up the phone, he dialed through. ‘Redd here, what can I do for you?’
The detective sergeant’s voice almost trembled, ‘Sir, I’ve checked HOLMES2 while you were at the crime scene; West Yorkshire Police report another one. Two young people, male and female, the girl decapitated.’
‘Christ. Same injuries?’
‘Yes, Sir, eviscerated, oh and a pile of bleached bones by their side. They don’t go into much detail, though.’
‘Thanks, Williams, good work. I’ll get onto them. Have you searched Interpol for parallels?
‘Yes, sir, nothing to report as yet.’
‘Stonehenge may be another target – keep an eye out for that. Okay, thanks, Williams.’
Picking up the phone, he asked Michelle to put him through to DCI Babbings at the West Yorkshire Station.
He heard the thick Yorkshire accent of Babbings, the short vowels. ‘Good afternoon Redd, I happen as I was going to phone you meself. It’s a rum do, a rum do. Not summat for a weak stomach.’
‘I know, it’s one of the worst cases I’ve encountered, your worst bloody nightmare.’
‘Fucking true. Shoot the bastards on sight, I would.’
‘Look, I’ll send you through a report of our victims’ injuries; perhaps you could compare?’
‘Aye, I’ll do that. Looks like we have a serial killer on our hands.’
Redd grunted, ‘Beginning to look more like mass murder. Let’s hope I’m wrong.’
‘So how old were the victims? Twenty-one and twenty—two, young woman missing her head.’
‘Was a note left?’
‘Aye, a scroll with a piece of rough old parchment; it had some strange markings on it. We got a professor from the local University to translate it for us. He says it’s the Ogham, ancient language of the Trees, used in the Old Irish and Brythonic language, some say the Gauls. I’ve got it here, “The Oracle Speaks.” A load of nonsense – blood-curdling though.’
Redd felt his stomach muscles tighten; they were getting somewhere. ‘The notes left on the bodies here also referred to the Oracle, but in a negative way. We’ve also got two missing people, just recently attained their degrees as lab research technicians. Because of their occupations, there’s a strong link. Have you any leads so far?’
‘None, but our two were both lab researchers. From what you say about your victims, it seems they’re out to kill anyone to do with research labs.’
‘Yeah – it’s looking that way. I’ll send you a report on what we have so far. Perhaps you could do likewise.’
‘Be pleased to.’
As he put down the phone, Titmouse entered, the perpetual smirk on his florid face. As usual, he was immaculate with a white shirt, silk tie, and buttoned waistcoat despite the temperature being in the mid-seventies.
Pulling a chair towards Redd’s desk, he sat down, straightening his jacket. ‘So, I hear we have another murder on our hands. I’ve got ACC Mainwaring and DCC Maddeley on my back. Seems even the local MP is calling for action. Wouldn’t be surprised if the Prime Minister isn’t next.’ He paused, sneering, ‘I think it’s time I put Seaton in – get things moving.’
Redd clenched his jaw, ‘I’m acting on the instructions of DCC Maddeley; I report to him, sir.’
‘We’ll see Redd, we’ll see, so far you’ve got fuck all. As for that report from that profiler, load of bollocks. We’re dealing with a maniac – find him.’
Dove sat in the back seat, fuming. The ride to the Druid Lodge took over half an hour; she’d been looking forward to a cozy chat with Redd. Why in heaven’s name did Tess have to come along? It was a bit much after all; the woman was at the crime scene yesterday as well. Soon she’d be taking over.
Redd broke through her thoughts. ‘One thing, before we get there, we should not discuss the state of the body we found yesterday. I understand the modern Druids follow a philosophy of peace and balance, revering nature.’
Dove said from the back, ‘You mean to save the planet – green peace.’
‘In a way, yes. They are also strong on the spiritual quest of man, exploring the inner nature and man’s unity with all things.’
Tess felt a rush of warmth as she listened; he really had studied modern-day philosophy and respected it.
Dove commented, ‘Thing is the world would collapse if we returned to nature. We can only evolve – find better ways of living – saving our planet.’
Tess murmured, ‘I agree, the world population is exploding – that creates huge problems – issues of birth control – freedom of choice.’
‘The Chinese have tried,’ Redd countered, ‘With the one-child families. But, let’s get back to the Druids; what we have to keep in the forefront of our minds a rogue group is killing couples.’
Dove said, ‘They’re killing research assistants.’
Tess frowned. ‘There are many activists against lab research.’
‘Yes, particularly, genetics. Jeannette and Neil are primarily involved in that.’
Redd agreed, ‘Something to keep in mind. But, paganism is becoming a force to contend with now church congregations are failing badly. We might be able to pick up some information on the more esoteric groups. We’ll start with the neo-druids following up with the Wicca.’
Redd turned the car into a narrow country lane, the middle overgrown with grass. On either side, the grassy banks displayed an abundance of country flowers, the cowslips towering over dandelions and daisies. On the left-hand side stood wrought iron gates styled into twirling branches, and oak leaves, the face of some ancient man, with leaves and vines sprouting from his nose and mouth, with hair in long curls and waving beard positioned in the middle of each gate.
Tess said, ‘The Green Man. See the sprouting vegetation? It’s the bloodsucker head- very gothic.’
Dove leant forward. ‘I’ll open the gates for you – save you getting out.’
Redd smiled his appreciation, watching her push open the gates. He said, ‘She’s a good partner. I wasn’t too sure when I first met up with her, but now I couldn’t do without her.’
‘I don’t think she’s too happy I’m here.’
‘Really? What makes you think that?’
‘She’s got the hots for you.’
Redd saw the remark as a question, taken aback, he said, ‘Now that would complicate things. No – we’re partners, and that’s where it begins and ends. No – there’s only one – or was….’
He never finished, and Tess picking up the pain in his tone, kept quiet.
Once seated back inside the car, Dove closed the door. ‘I can see a mansion up ahead; it’s quite a way, though.’
Tess turned to Redd. ‘You went off in a rush last time we met, so I didn’t have time to tell you about the bones. Some sections of ancient Druids worshipped the ancestors, as well as the Gods. Maybe the bones are psychopomps.’
‘Psychopomps; they accompany the deceased to the Otherworld or the land beyond the stars.’
‘Never thought of that. But why bleach the bones?’
‘As a mark of respect for the purity of the ancestors.’
‘Something to think about; it’s all so bloody convoluted. I just wish we knew where they’ve come from. We haven’t received any complaints of graves being desecrated or dug up – it’s a mystery.’
He drove slowly forward through the open gates. ‘It’s just a short way now, ‘Hah, now who’s this – looks like he’s dressed up as a shaman or something.’
Dove quipped. ‘Weird.’
Tess’s heart fell when she saw the young recruit. He’d only just joined the group, and to her dismay, he was a bloody fanatic.
Tess said, ‘Hi there, err … we have an appointment with Lugh giving a rictus smile. Want a lift?’
‘Nah, just here to welcome you; the house is about five hundred yards on, in the dip. I’ll follow later.’
As they drove on, Dove tapped Tess’s shoulder. ‘So – you know him?’
‘Yes – he’s a new Ovate at the Grove.’
Dove remained silent in the back, her thoughts racing.
Reluctant to explain her involvement with the Druids, Tess said edgily, ‘I’m a member – an Ovate.’
Dove frowned; no one had taken the time to explain to her; for God’s sake, she was a prime partner in the case. ‘So, why the secrecy?’
‘That’s no excuse.’ Irritated, she blurted out the words, ‘Boss, if Tess is intimately involved, she shouldn’t be on the case. They’d throw this out of court.’
Tess turned abruptly, her tone sharp, ‘Excuse me? What are you implying?’
‘Surely you realize—’
‘Come on, Dove – I’ve already spoken to the DCC.’
Scowling Dove argued, ‘It’s still flimsy.’
Tess said tersely, ‘So if a detective’s got a killer leaving crucifixes with the body, he can’t be involved because he’s a Christian?’
‘That’s taking a bit too far. Anyway, you could have mentioned—’
Annoyed, she said, ‘Just quit now, detective. It’s personal. I don’t want to discuss my beliefs with you, neither do I have to defend myself.’
Redd kept quiet; he didn’t want to add fuel to the squabble. Tess was holding her own anyway.
Tess’s eyes spat fire as she looked at Dove. ‘I don’t want to talk about it. It’s personal – private.’
Stunned, Dove sat speechless in the back; why was she so guilty about it all?
They drove in silence the rest of the way.
The house turned out to be a derelict mansion, graceful in its decrepitude. Parts of the turreted roofs on either side of the main building rose ragged against the sun, while the absence of many windows gave the place a soulless look.
A group of people of all ages, from a babe in arms to an elderly sage, gathered at the huge main doors, the dilapidated wood panels tied up with chains. Yet, the spirit of the people waving to them more than made up for a backdrop of decay.
Surreptitiously locking the car with his remote, Redd took Tess’s arm as they went up the cracked and broken steps. An elderly man with wild white hair, wielding a carved staff, strode purposefully towards them, dressed in grey trousers with a dark blue robe, pulled in at the waist with a leather belt hung with medallions of bronze. His cloak, held around his sloping shoulders, with a clasp of coloured glass, gave an Arthurian aura. To enhance the Druid image, across his forehead, he wore a band of thinly struck pewter embedded with semi-precious stones. In all, he exuded an air of ancient dignity and authority. He held Redd’s hand in a firm grip; the skin hard and callused, his eyes, a sharp metallic grey. ‘Welcome to our Grove. Come inside.’
Entering the main hall, they walked across diagonally placed tiles of black and white marble, typical of the druid style. The walls rose in paneled walls of mahogany, in places, rotting and covered in mildew. Heads of hind and boar rose gracefully from the side panels. Their dusty fur was patterned with rainbow hues from the coloured leaded light of the remaining windows.
Trunk size logs scented with apple smouldered red with heaps of grey ash in a massive stone hearth. The grey stone lintel was carved in flora and fauna, with figures of men kneeling in supplication of some Celtic God with horns. At the foot of stairs, reaching up into a double landing on either side, stood the trunk of an oak tree from which emerged the carved figure of the Horned God. The antlers soaring some three feet from his face, benign in expression, his furred legs in repose, the hooves crossing. In one clawed hand, he held the lyre; in the other, the head of a man grimacing in pain.
Seeing the expression on Dove’s face, Tess realized she thought it was some devilish symbol instead of it being one of peace contrasting with suffering. But then, she could think what she liked.
Lugh, the Arch Druid, motioned them to carved stone seats on either side of the fire; a bundle of straw served as cushions. Wrapping his cloak around him, he sat in a throne-like chair of oak, the high-carved back sprouting gargoyles, leering like drunken angels over his shoulders.
Turning, he waved his hand at the group of people peering in at the door. As one, without a murmur, they melted away into the sunlight. In a cultured voice, soft-toned, he said, ‘I am Lugh Roberts, Arch Druid. You come in difficult times. I hear there are atrocities done in the name of Druidism.’
Redd interrupted what could be an embarrassing situation. ‘It was good of Tess to arrange this meeting; I am grateful.’
Lugh raised his hand. ‘You know, Chief Inspector; these gruesome killings cast a slur on the neo-druids. Sadly, to use the cliché – mud sticks.’
Redd nodded, ‘I know … but I just want to say that I highly respect your philosophy and beliefs.’
Lugh looked at Tess, at the anguish in her eyes. ‘Tess, this has nothing to do with our Grove. You are a beacon of light in this sordid darkness. I have every faith we can help the Inspector.’ Seeing the love in his eyes, Tess felt the tears stinging. He was the father she’d never had, the father she still yearned for. She felt his hand cover hers, felt the grief, the loneliness lessen.
‘Yes … I hate to see it besmirched like this. It’s given me so much – helped me to….’
Redd realized this girl was hurting, hurting far more than he realized.
Tess felt the anger dissipating, she had to get a grip on herself, but the pain was never far away. Taking a deep breath, she said, ‘Okay – let’s get on with this.’
Redd saw the anguish once again in Tess’s eyes; it seemed she too had her dark secrets. Looking at Lugh, he said, ‘I hope you can help us. As you know, it’s just over two weeks since we found the first two victims. The count is mounting.’ of the mutilations and markings, and the positioning of the limbs to form a Triskelion.’
Her voice now stronger, Tess added, ‘The last one was definitely an execution; the entrails were not taken out to read. And the note read, “No one defies the Oracle.”‘
Lugh closed his eyes, his face tightening. ‘By the Gods, this can’t be allowed to go on. People are dying, suffering in the name of Druidism. Hence we must find these killers; they are cold and callous, slaking their perverted thirst on the agony of innocents. They also blacken our name. Thousands of people benefit from our lores. They experience peace of mind and fulfillment. Many go on to develop in the arts or science, or philosophy, while others go onto the path of healing, psychotherapy, medicine, – social work, so much more. This is what we must fight for.’
‘I hear you still believe in magic – time-traveling, shape-shifting.’
‘Those are deep areas; in time, physicists will be able to explain them in material terms. So, think of magic as the quest for the soul, time-traveling as a different state of consciousness – even now, scientists claim that time travel is possible through the mind. However, why we have to rely on the word of science is saddening. We must listen to our own minds, the soul.’
Redd nodded. ‘It just doesn’t seem possible it could happen here and now.’
Tess interrupted, ‘I think the killers might be following the festivals as well as their sacrifices. Up to now, they are re-enacting the sacrifices used for the birth of a new grove. But, the next big festival is the Summer Solstice June 21st.’
Lugh said. ‘When the sun stops still. Yes, that is a big one – even though Beltane is usually for fire, the druids also use it to celebrate the Summer Solstice.
Redd straightened up. ‘Fire?’
Adakan looked at the diners, some already high on drugs, their bodies bloated with the seven-course meal. Tapping the crystal wine glass, he rose to his feet, his aquiline features lifted in a beaming smile, the thin lips twitching. He waved to one of the chief members sated with wine. ‘Ondujor, what news have you?’
‘They have an advisor, a neo-druid; she is feeding them information on the ancient sacred symbols and rituals.’
‘Hmm, maybe she should join us. We shall see. But, we must act soon. Thank you, Ondujor.’
The man smiled, stroking a lock of dirty blond hair across his bald pate.
Adakan tapped his glass again, addressed the group. ‘Now, after such a brilliant repast, it is time for us to honour the Goddess with our bodies, our hearts, our souls.’
Turning, he strode to the door, his dark blue robe emblazoned with silver stars, swept the floor. The Ovates rose almost as one, scraping back chairs over the parquet flooring. A couple of the females giggled, faces bright with anticipation. Hustling bodies cast huge shadows on the mahogany-paneled walls as they hurried from the room. In the dressing room, they divested themselves of their clothes, putting on robes of woad blue or rose madder red.
Rounded columns held up a ceiling soaring some thirty feet above an underground chamber, well over sixty feet long by forty feet wide. Flares glittering from wrought-iron sconces welcomed the Ovates, the stone walls scattered with embedded semi-precious gems. Above, cornices held naked nymphs coupling with long-tailed demons. Along the walls, male and female statues made love in every conceivable pose. At the far end, carved women, men, and beasts cavorted in sexual stances that belied the wildest imagination.
Adakan stood at the altar over five feet high and six feet in breadth covered with a deep red cloth glowing with swirls of gold embroidery. Raising his staff, music with a deep drumbeat filtered through, echoing against the walls. The two lines of Ovates began to sway beneath their robes as a woman appeared from the side door, naked, oiled, and glistening, her skin painted red. Long hair glittered gold, rippling to her hips. Moving her curves sinuously, she climbed onto the altar, her body moving to the slow drumbeat. Rising to her knees, her breasts prominent with purple paint, she lifted her heavy hair above her head, her hips writhing leisurely. As the drumbeat quickened, a second woman appeared, her skin the colour of moss, the body slick with oil, her hair ebony black. In a serpentine pose, she climbed onto the altar, her tongue, bright red, flicking between her lips. Standing tall, she lifted her large breasts, her legs apart, swiveling her hips to the drumbeat. The blonde moved towards her, swinging her pelvis, arms outstretched, wrapping them around the other woman. Lifting the ebony locks, she pulled her close, breast to breast, hips bucking in rhythm with the beat.
The drumbeat quickened, the men as one, threw off their robes, moving forward, roaring, hips bucking in unison with the two dancers. The two women snarled and raised their arms, moving in sinuous curves.
Just for two seconds, the drumbeat slowed as Adakan climbed upon the altar, his member long and hard. As he stepped between the two women who in turn brushed their breasts against him, the men roared. The music rose, the drumbeat fast; laughter, screams, and shouts echoed through the hall. Figures rolled on the floor or went into the shadows and the corners, lips kissing, arms stroking, hips gyrating – copulating. All through, rock music pounded from the walls heightening the tension, filling the air with sex.
As the light flares burnt down, so the movement became lax, the figures now moving slowly, others relaxing, drinking. Lazily, they raised their heads to the gong of a brass drum. Adakan, now covered in the blue robe, the silver stars sparkling, stepped behind a stone lectern.
‘Ovates, you have well and truly honoured the Goddess. She is pleased with your endeavours, your loyalty to the Wheel of Life. So now, let us eat, and rest for we shall meet again this evening to offer our gifts to the Gods. Let them hear us; let them speak through the Oracle.
The Ovates roared, raising fists in the air. As one, they shouted ‘The Oracle.’
Deep in the dungeon, Jeannette raised her head. ‘Neil … Neil … did you hear that? They’re screaming up there.’
‘Yeah … God knows what they’re doing. I just hope Julia can persuade Kevin to help us.’
‘She must, Neil. They’ll kill us. Oh, God. I’ve heard they do terrible things. One of the servants went to tell me, and Julia stopped her. But I got the gist of it. They mean to sacrifice us. Why? What have we done? Why us?’ Neil raised himself on his elbow; I just hope Julia can persuade Kevin … they’re our only hope.’
‘Trouble is, he is petrified of them.’
‘Yeah, but Julia said she just couldn’t go through with it. She couldn’t live with herself if she didn’t help us.’
‘D’you think they’d really kill us?’
‘Yeah, I do.’
‘But why? They tattooed us – the pain – it was horrendous.’
As she rose to her feet, the door opened. Julia entered, her eyes huge, fingers to her lips. ‘Ssh, we’re going to help you.’
Jeannette almost cried, ‘oh, thank God – thank God.’
‘Just keep very quiet, do everything we say.’
As she spoke, Kevin appeared. ‘I couldn’t let them… I would never live with myself. Come on – they’re all sleeping it off. But keep quiet.’
Jeannette tried to wrap a sheet around her to cover her nakedness, but Kevin stopped her. ‘Don’t just come as you are; we haven’t got time. We must move now. The servants are clearing up the hall, and the others are cooking.’
In single file, they followed Julia with Kevin leading. But, for the light of the single candle, it was pitch black. Jeannette knew the tunnels were over-run with rats; she’d heard them squeaking; a couple found their way into the cell. Now she mustn’t think about them, mustn’t scream out if one went over her foot. Scarcely daring to breathe, they moved swiftly through the first tunnel. In single file, they turned right into another tunnel slightly higher than the one they’d left. Jeannette straightened up, watching the flickering light shining on Kevin’s sloping shoulders, still hunched under the low roof.
He stopped, turning around, as he whispered, ‘Steps ahead. They’re wet, be careful, but hurry.’
At that moment, Jeannette felt the clawed feet of rats running around her legs; she pushed her fist against her teeth to stifle a scream. Behind her, Neil saw her stop, her body shuddering.’
‘It’s okay, love, just keep moving, ignore them.’
Sobbing deep in her chest, she moved forward. With the steps rising before her, her only supports were the slimy walls slipping beneath her hands. Quenching her horror, she started up only to feel webbed feet scrabble up to her knee. Flicking her leg, trying to strangle a scream, she slipped, tumbling back into Neil. Julia stopped; her face twisted in terror as Jeannette and Neil fell back to the dirt floor. Jeannette clutched her knee, her cries resounding through the tunnel.
Neil tried to lift her, but Jeannette sagged in his arms, her breath now ragged. ‘Don’t – don’t it’s broken – oh God, my leg’s broken.’
She looked up to see Kevin hurrying towards her, felt him lift her in his arms. ‘We can’t stop now; we’re nearly there. Staggering, he made his way up the steps, his toes gripping the edges of stone as the others followed in silence. He muttered, ‘Only one more….’
As he reached the top, the door swung open….
Copyright © Katy Walters
All rights reserved
Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here: