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.
Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here:
Grabbing a few precious minutes before the meeting, Jack waded through the reports; He looked up to the white boards pushed to the far end of the Incident Room. They did not scream evidence, despite hundreds of door-to-door interviews, web searches, and dozens of calls from the public. It seemed their only lead would be from the drug Salvia Divinorum, but the Web was a mire of sites disappearing, others mushrooming overnight to take their place.
There had to be a break soon, it was definitely a Druidic theme, but they needed something more concrete. Forensics had nothing but a fingerprint on the bark from a Yew tree. It didn’t compare to anything on HOLMES or Interpol. How the hell were they to gain a foothold? The killings were macabre, the perps bloody clever. The killers used some place where they could mop up the blood, dispose of bone fragments and clothes. So far, the only clues lay in the imperfect sketch of the crime artist and the surmised occupations of the perps.
In front of him, he had a list of Universities in the area; Chichester looked promising with a professor of mysticism and religion. Now he would surely have some knowledge of Druidry and of the different Groves in the surrounding districts. Picking up the phone, he got through to Michelle, asking her to put him through to the professor.
He heard the plumy tones of an older man, ‘Professor Edmondson here – you are? I can’t quite remember the name your secretary gave me.’
‘Detective Inspector Cummings; I hope you can give us some of your professional advice about a case we’re investigating?’
‘Oh dear – oh dear. Of course – of course. I would be pleased to help. Is it to do with the latest murders?’
‘Yes, Sir. We need some background information, which may help.’
‘Oh dear – oh dear. I’m looking through my diary, and I think tomorrow would be convenient.’
‘Sir, we need your help now; every hour counts in this investigation. ‘
‘I appreciate that, Inspector, but we are inundated this year with foreign students taking the summer courses. I literally have classes all day, every day. Like you, Sir, we have to take what we can – what with these government cuts and the high fees it is—’
‘Sir, forgive me for interrupting, but we do need your help as of now. People’s lives are at stake.’
‘Oh dear – oh dear. I’m sorry, Inspector – forgive me – of course – of course. Say six PM this evening? Err … what did you say your name was?’
Jack frowned, that was still too late, but then he did have other things to clear up. ‘Thank you, Professor. Detective Chief Inspector Jack Cummings, could you give me your address and directions as to where I can find you?
‘Err; we are Block five, second floor, room eighteen. A dastardly case – dastardly case. I hope I can help you, oh dear – oh dear.’
Jack couldn’t help smiling; the man was from another era, but his repetitions must get quite irritating over time.
Rising from his desk, he went over to where Amanda Green sat, her normally straight shoulders bowed over her PC. Her erect spine now slumped in exhaustion as she concentrated on a website. ‘Got anything yet, Green?’
She looked up at him, green eyes glinting, purple shadows showing her lack of sleep. ‘No Sir, another dead-end. Like I reported, the sites are just disappearing and new ones appearing. It’s so bloody frustrating.’
‘Yes, Sir, I’m still trawling through the lists of tattooists for the Sussex area. There were over eight hundred and ninety results in one hit. I pushed it over to Papworth as he can tune it right down, picking out the right tag words.’
Jack grinned, knowing that Papworth would be over the moon; she’d even deigned to talk to him. ‘So what about tattoo parlors?’
‘I’ve got a couple of uniforms hitting all of them within a sixty-mile radius. As you said, the person who did those tattoos on the bodies must be an expert. So far, no luck.’
As he bent to look at her screen, his cell vibrated. DS Price, the Office Manager, shouted from across the room, ‘For you, Sir – Desk Sergeant.’
Jack went over picking up the phone, ‘Cummings here?’
As he held the phone to his ear, his face tightened. ‘Okay, got it. The two officers are staying there? … Fine.’ Putting down the phone, he realized all conversations had stopped; the room was deathly silent, haggard faces turned to him wrought with anxiety, eyes questioning. He looked at Price, his voice quiet, intense. ‘We’ve got another one: Devil’s Punch Bowl, Gibbet’s Hill – Celtic Cross. Get SOCO out there pronto, the Divisional Surgeon, and Mahoney – we’re gonna need him. Get the Investigating team together. Prepare yourselves; from what I’ve been told, it’s another fucking nightmare.
As he walked from the room, Price rose to his feet. ‘Okay, folks, let’s get moving on the site Green, Crosby, O’Connell, and Owen. Matthews. You’re the note taker, Tomkins – evidence, Williams – triangulation sketches and statements. I’ll get uniforms to protect the perimeter and entrance to the crime scene. Let’s move it.’
Jack bundled papers, notepads, and pens into his briefcase in his office and then picked up the phone. Tapping in the numbers he tried to get through to Redd, the number was unobtainable.
Lugh nodded. ‘Yes, it’s the festival of the Summer Equinox – an important time for the druids, Celts, or pagans, for that matter. It is the time when the Sun is at its zenith; to the pagan belief, it stops; it is literally called the ‘Standing still of the Sun.’
Redd frowned. ‘Never heard of it.’
‘Well, it’s only important to pagans. This is where the Goddess crowns the Solar God as King of Summer. In the Druid system, it is known as Alban Arthan, The Light of the Shore.’
Raising his eyebrows in assent, Redd muttered, ‘Quite awe-inspiring then.’
Nodding, Lugh said, ‘Yes. It was also a time of great sacrifice. I just hope this group is not planning one.’
Redd felt his stomach clench. ‘What form did it take?’
‘The Wicker man – a vast wooden figure of a man. They herded the chosen people into the massive limbs. The villagers danced as the effigy burnt, after which they went to the forest to couple – fornicate, honoring the Goddess of Fertility.
‘Christ – I just hope they’re not re-enacting that.’
Dove muttered, ‘Bastards, they’re deranged.’
‘For want of repetition, the ancient people believed it to be the highest honor to be chosen for sacrifice. Their worst punishment was to be banned from sacrifice; not only that, they were shunned by the villagers – outcasts.’
Redd felt dread like fists pummel his brain. ‘I just hope to God, they’re not thinking of re-enacting this.’
Lugh pushed at a fold of cloth across his knee. ‘It’s a major event. Fire sacrifices go back through eons of time, from the Stone Age. We have remnants of it today; many villages have a bonfire in the summer. The young people dance around it, girls wearing headdresses of flowers, boys whirling firebrands around their heads to form sun-wheels – ancient fertility rites.’
Tess said, ‘The Wicker Man is built from the small branches of the sacred Birch tree.’
Lugh nodded. ‘Aye, the World Tree, the Axis Mundi.’
Putting his hands to his face, Redd lowered his head. ‘How the hell can we stop it?’
Lugh frowned. ‘I can’t see them burning people.’
Redd took his hands away from his face; his eyes harrowed. ‘I wouldn’t be sure about that. We’re dealing with monsters.’
He felt the phone vibrate in his pocket, taking it from his jacket pocket; he saw it was from Jack. ‘Excuse me, I’ll just take this.’
Jack’s voice appeared strained, urgent. ‘I’ve tried ringing you but couldn’t get through.’
‘No – sorry. Maybe the signal isn’t too good. What’s up?’
‘We’ve got another one. Sounds like shit. A group of climbers found it. Devil’s Punch Bowl, Gibbet’s Hill by the Celtic Cross, couldn’t get any fucking higher. The animals have got to it.’
‘Okay, I’m on my way.’
He looked at Tess. ‘It’s happened again, I think. We’ve got another one. Jack says it’s a nightmare, different from the others.’
Tess rose. ‘I’m coming with you – you might need me.’
Lugh pushed on the sides of the old oak chair for support, struggling to his feet. ‘I’ll come as well. I read the Ogham sticks last night; there will be blood. They told me of the coming of the Eagle – of the Nordic Tribes.’
‘Look, that won’t be necessary; this is police work.’
Lugh grasped his arm. ‘You have no idea what you’re facing – I can help.’
Tess covered her face with her hands. ‘If it’s the Blood Eagle – God help us.’
Dove ran through the main doors; Redd followed, with Tess and Lugh in tow. Helping the old man down the steps, he said, ‘You can tell me in the car.’
Panting, Lugh muttered, ‘It’s a time of great evil.’
Unlocking the car, Redd stooped swiftly, tipping two pills under his tongue.
As the car sped towards the gates, Tess clung to the side of the seat. Glancing at Redd, she saw the tension working a jaw muscle into a white knot. It was a moment of strangeness; he seemed so familiar, from the scar on his cheek to the hair curling on his neck.
Ahead the new recruit opened the gates, waving them through, the smile gone from his face, aware that something catastrophic had occurred. Clearing the gates, Redd gunned the car down the road. Tess clenched her teeth; couldn’t he slow down? These were country lanes; anyone could be walking along, a child, – dog – deer. But, she kept her own counsel; the moment was too fractious, commonsense fragmented.
Redd inclined his head towards Lugh; he needed to be prepared for what was waiting at the crime scene. ‘Tess told me about the Oghams, so what is the impending evil?’
‘Last night, the Ogham spelled out the Eagle. It is a sign of great wisdom and intellect, but in this instance, it augured death, as the sticks also spelled out the word Blood.’ If it is what I suspect, then we are not dealing with pure Druidry; these monsters include the rites of the wild Nordic Tribes.’
Tess almost moaned, ‘I meant to explain that in a further report. We just haven’t had time to cover it all.’ Looking over her shoulder to Lugh, she said, ‘I just hope to God it’s not what you divined, Lugh, honestly from what I’ve seen already, this will be horrific.’
Lugh nodded, holding on to the back of the seat as Redd flew over some bumps. ‘This group is bastardizing the ancient druids; God knows they had enough to answer for, but the Blood Eagle takes many forms – it’s a violent death.’
Redd put his foot down harder on the clutch. ‘Then tell me – I need to know what we’re up against.’
‘Maybe not while you’re driving, Daniel. You’re already doing over seventy in these lanes.’
Redd slowed down immediately. ‘Okay – I’m listening.’
Lugh shifted in his seat, the light from the car window glinting on the stones in his headband. ‘The Celtic tribes, including the Gauls, were fierce people; it was different times, different mindsets.’
Redd recognized Tess’s words ‘ mindset’ as if that could explain away the atrocities. He could see the man found it difficult but remained silent.
Taking an audible breath, Lugh said, ‘The sacrifices of the druids were extreme, but the ferocious practices of the Nordic Tribes were a gift from hell. This form of execution is mentioned in the Nordic sagas. Those taken captive in the wars suffered the dreaded Blood Eagle. They threw the prisoner over a stone altar and held him down; carved the eagle into the flesh on his back, then cut through the ribs, and pulled out the lungs to resemble bloodstained wings. The captors also rubbed salt into the wounds while the victim was still alive. In Skaldic poetry, and the Norse sagas, victims of this torture, if I remember correctly, included British Kings and the Archbishop Aelfheah of Canterbury.’
Redd gritted his teeth; he did not have any beliefs at all, let alone Druidry, and especially not fortune-telling. Sticks with marks, for God’s sake. Keeping his reservations to himself, he said, ‘Let’s hope to God you’re wrong.’
Pulling into the car park, they saw the press and TV crews milling around the edge, some waving badges, swearing blind they had permission to enter. Two mobile crime scene vans already in action sat just inside the yellow tape. SOCO teams worked on gaining every piece of evidence. Redd looked over to Lugh. ‘I suggest you leave your robe and cloak here. If you want to see the site, you’ll have to wear one of our bunny suits.’
Lugh nodded, divesting himself of his headband and robes, placing them on the back seat of the car.
Tess could see the mobile units parked in the distance. Grey slate cliff faces cut through forests clinging to rolling hills; trees burgeoning with leaves of every color hung over the path to the Celtic Cross. It just didn’t seem possible that a place of such beauty could harbor tragedy and death. Yet, the name Gibbet’s Hill did give an aura of authenticity to the place. A young constable stood at the perimeter tape, ready to take their names. He looked fresh out of training college. His crisp white shirt neatly pressed combat trousers, and high-visibility jacket, boots were polished to a mirror shine.’.
Redd held up his warrant card, which the young man duly recorded. As they entered, he handed them the white overalls. Redd smiled, seeing Lugh struggling to pull the ungainly suit over his trousers. Seeing Jack walking towards them, he raised a hand. ‘Hi – how’s it going?’
Jack shook his head, his lips tight. ‘Not good man, not good – they’ve taken his face.’
‘On top of that, Tits decided to turn up with parsnip-face. It seems the Assistant CC Mainwaring decided he ought to be present.’
‘Shit – okay, let’s get on with it.’
‘The body was hung from a tree over there. SOCOs finished with it now, so we’ve laid the poor bugger onto his stomach in the tent – he looks like a mutilated angel. You’d better see it for yourself.’
Redd turned to Dove; her corkscrew curls scraped back under the ungainly hood. ‘Let’s do this.’
She turned to see Jack’s gaze fixed on her, ignoring any signals; she followed Redd up the path to the Celtic Cross looming some fifty yards down the track, the walls of the white tent billowing in the wind. Tess, Lugh, and Jack followed slowly.
Dove’s mind went blank, couldn’t – wouldn’t imagine what lay ahead; it was too horrible. She wanted to be anywhere but here. She didn’t know how Redd could be so deadbeat about it. Trying to escape her fear, she looked up at his face, composed, cops eyes flat. Dread sliced scalpel-sharp through her thoughts to the body waiting in the small white tent.
Redd felt his skin flush; the diazepam was working, the panic under control. Jack caught up with him just before he opened the tent flap. ‘Prepare yourself, mate.’
Redd said, ‘Fuck – here goes.’ Dipping his head, he entered; looking down, he groaned.
Dove whimpered. Retching, she pummeled her fist into the side of the tent.
It was a scene from hell; the young man lay on his stomach; the coppery stench of blood-streaked through their nostrils. Horror took away speech; words did not exist. On the first glimpse, crimson wings sprouted from the back of the victim. As Redd crept forward, he could make out the bloodied ribs pulled from the man’s back, on which lay the lungs, grey – glistening – a demon with wings. Lugh was right. It was a bloody parody of an eagle. A pile of bleached bones lay by his side.
Redd knelt to the body -the sweat breaking out over his brow, his mouth twisted with horror, as Dove went on her knees beside the still body, stifling her groans.
Redd choked, straightening up, finding his voice, as Jack stooped inside. ‘They’ve taken his face, but we can reconstruct it – they’ve fucked up.’
Jack nodded. ‘Get a good idea of it anyway.’
Redd raked his hair back. ‘No note this time?’
‘Nope. No explanation as to why he died.’
Dove spoke to the mutilated body, oblivious to them. ‘We’ve got you now….’
Leaving the tent, Redd walked over to Lugh and Tess. ‘I don’t think you should go in there; best you don’t see.’
Looking into his eyes, Tess bit her lip, the tears brimming. ‘Is it that awful?’
‘Worse.’ Red turned to Lugh. ‘You were right, the eagle – the wings – the hanging. We can reconstruct the face. They slipped up.’
Tess said, ‘They think they’re omnipotent. So many criminals believe they can’t be caught; it’s part of the psychopath’s psyche.’
‘Either that or they’re deranged, the drugs buggering up their brains.’
Lugh wrung his hands together, ‘I don’t know how you do it. Why is there so much evil in the world?
Seeing Jack leave the tent with his arm around Dove, he said, ‘So the bones are there again. Have Owen or O’Connell found anything yet?’
‘They’ve scoured churchyards in a fifty-mile radius, along with the help of a team from Littlehampton. There have been a few graves opened for further burials, but they investigated those thoroughly – nothing – no sign of any others dug up or interfered with.’
Tess looked up at Redd. ‘There’s a derelict church in the Downs, dating from the twelfth century; it’s all overgrown and definitely not used anymore. Very few people know about it now.’
‘Not far – Funtington way. I could take you there if you like?’
‘Yeah, we’ve got to find something – anything; this can’t go on.’
Tess clutched at his arm. ‘I think I can help; I was going to put it in a report – but now maybe—’
A voice rang out, the Irish lilt strong. ‘So will ye be telling me what those bloody druids have done now?’
Redd saw Mahoney walk swiftly towards them, the shabby linen jacket flapping open, but for once a clean shirt. Redd was glad to see him, hear his reassuring anger, his solidity.
‘Look, I’ve got to see Mahoney first, then we can talk. Okay?’
Tess nodded, her heart beating a tattoo; she had some ideas; she had to give him something.
As Redd started towards the tent, he heard Mahoney’s roar, ‘The feckin’ bastards, the poor lad, the poor wee lad.’
A tinny voice made him jump, ‘Not doing so well, are we Detective Chief Inspector? Soon be working traffic, I hear.’
Redd swung around to see Titmouse and Seaton only yards away. Stroking a lock of dirty-blond hair over his bald pate, Titmouse said, ‘I have a message from DCC Maddeley. You and I are to attend a meeting at Head Office at ten o’clock sharp tomorrow. I can promise you; heads are gonna roll.’ He laughed, an almost manic glint in his eye.
Copyright © Katy Walters
All rights reserved
Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here: