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:
Tess watched some sheep munching away in the fields as the car sped through the rolling landscape; the lambs have now grown. It was an idyllic scene marred by the unspeakable atrocities. The country lanes now gave way to the small village of Tillington. As they drove past terraced stone and Tudor-style cottages, their wattle and lime walls leaning over tiny pavements. Passing a modest shopping parade, Tess said, ‘Take the next right. You’ll see a pig farm, and then the church is about five hundred yards up a small track. We’ll have to walk from there.’
Redd nodded. ‘It’s not that far from Kingley Vale. As you say, we’ve almost done a complete circuit.’
‘Makes you wonder if the perps live nearby. It all seems concentrated in this area.’
Parking the car in the layby, they strolled to the Church. Redd picked at some cowslips, their white-feathered heads lounging over the tiny pebbled path, ‘So getting back to it, you don’t think it’s a psychopath?’
Tess shook her head, ‘No – not really; the psychopath doesn’t get involved in crimes of a religious nature. They appear charming, intelligent, but they have an intense inner rage, and they would carve you up with a smile. They kill for the sheer joy of it and have no remorse. They are highly organized, though, just like this group. But, they have no guilt complex, no remorse. Their motive for killing is pleasure, not for some religious or moral purpose. They get a kick out of seeing people suffer.’
‘As you say, vicious – but these crimes have a moral or religious motive.’ He laid a hand on Tess’s slim waist, guiding her through the decaying oak gate with an overhead arch. Overgrown trees and bushes hid the church ahead.
Waiting as he closed the gate, she said, ‘Exactly, now besides the psychopath, you’ve got the sociopath, and this one is a real snake in the grass. Your sociopath is even more dangerous as they appear so normal. They can be anyone, your mother, father, co-worker, even your best friend, and you won’t have any idea. Not all are killers though, it depends on their purpose.’
She stumbled, her feet churning on loose pebbles. Redd caught her, his arms slipping around the curvaceous body, her head lifted to his. He gazed at the pearl pink lips, moist, glistening.
Taking a breath, she said, ‘Now where was I? Yes, sociopaths are expert liars and can even outwit a lie detector. They feel they’re entitled to everything and do not feel love or have any time for it. They crave excitement and get bored very quickly, shifting from one event to another. They usually have a history of juvenile delinquency. Another telling sign is they will never take the blame for anything.
‘So, where exactly does this group fit?’
‘I think we’re looking at a co-morbid personality. There’s been a lot of research into combining pathological personalities. I really do think our unsub has schizophrenic, psychopathic, and sociopathic tendencies. He had the power to charm his followers, get them to trust him while plying them with hallucinogenic drugs.’
‘Jesus – how the hell do we recognize someone like that?’
‘I believe the only way is through the symbols; these people are on the genius level, or at least a couple is.’
As the path wound through overhanging rhododendrons, Redd saw the derelict remains of a Saxon church. The nave soared up with the original stonework and some signs of flint knapping. Two small towers, the nave and main body of the church still stood.’
Tess clutched at his arm, ‘Beautiful isn’t it? Redd could see most of the windows were missing, giving an eerie look in the deepening twilight. The Saxon square tower with missing stones reared up like ragged teeth biting the clouds. Redd said, ‘So how do we go about finding this individual?’
‘Well, you’ll have your own methods; mine is just an addition, really. However, I should imagine they are wealthy; otherwise, they couldn’t carry out these practices. They need somewhere obscure within reach of groves. Take the leader now; he may have a country estate in the Downs. His land would have a grove of yews and a circle of oak trees. If he is wealthy enough, he will have deer. If he has a white hind in the herd, that is a direct signal – it’s absolutely sacred to the druids.
Tess nodded. ‘Yes, it’s the oldest animal for the druids, an ancient spiritual tradition in many cultures. It appears in Welsh and Irish mythology, Hindu – the Vedas, Babylonian, Sumerian, to name a few and of course, the Christian faith, and later the Philosopher’s Stone.’
‘Quite a history – I’ve heard of the fish in the Christian faith, the fisherman, five fishes.’
‘Yes, both Buddha and Christ were referred to as fishermen. Now the druids seek the Salmon of Wisdom, which is deep in the universal consciousness.’
‘So, this guy could have a salmon stream or something on this estate? It’s going to be difficult without a warrant, and without probable cause, we haven’t got a hope in hell of searching these estates.’
Stepping around some stones, Tess said, ‘Well – yes. I’ve looked up the various estates, and yes, you can find salmon farms and fishing in the South West. There are other animals the druids held as sacred or helpful in their quest for wisdom and divination, including protection.’
‘I can’t recall them all, but they’ll be in the report.’ There’s the Owl, for instance, a guide to the underworld, who will hunt out your enemies, then the Swan – very mystical, the druids used them for ritual feathers in their cloaks. They also help with the interpretation of dream symbols and spiritual evolution.’
‘So we should be looking for these on the estates?’
Tess stopped to look at some shattered remains of an ancient gravestone. ‘Yes – it is an idea, not only are they symbolic, but druids would keep them as pets, dogs and cats, for instance, are very important, as is the horse.’ Stooping, she tried to read the date on the stone. ‘You know these are ancient; the dates are in roman numerals.’
Redd bent to look. ‘Hmm yes, shame they’re broken up, it’s a piece of history, really. But, coming back to what you’re saying, that’s one hell of a menagerie. We should be looking for a zoo, not an estate.’
‘I know, but the druids looked upon them as their brothers, part of their world, their very being.’
‘Yet they’ll readily kill them to read their entrails?’
‘Yes, but that was a noble death; the animal was honored, as were the humans. They also predicted the future with the calls and flights of birds.’
He turned to see an old man bent back and carrying a spade shuffle around the corner of the tower. Coming to a halt, screwing up his eyes, he peered at them. ‘Not often we ‘ave people ‘ere.’
Redd nodded. ‘Good to see you, just the person we need.’
‘Oh … and how’s that then?’
Pulling out his ID, Redd introduced himself, ‘Detective Chief Inspector Redd. We’re here on police business.’
‘Oh….’ the old man scratched a grizzled chin ‘We ain’t had no trouble ‘ere. Just some varmints messin’ like.’
‘Have you had any graves disturbed?’
‘Nah, only the young uns messing, running across the graves they do – no respect these young uns – not like the old days. No one dared to tread on a grave – holy ground, not that they care nowadays.’
Tess spoke up, ‘D’you mind if we have a look around?’
‘Nah, go ahead, not as you’ll find much – the church is dyin’ – been years since we had a service here; the place is falling to bits. Old Vicar Jenkins would do his head in if he saw the old place now.’
‘So you knew the Vicar?’
‘Yeah – he be long gone – don’t come near now – it’s his legs, you see. Same as the Dowager and the Earl, don’t see hide nor hair of them now. ‘I know the dowager is quite bitter about it all. I mean, the man even suggested that he perform a natural burial for her when she dies. He’s obsessed with some peculiar cult – Druid’s – with all this in the papers, he must be feeling quite awkward.’
Tess raised her head to look over to Redd. ‘Druids?’
The odor of unwashed bodies, stale cigarette breath, overnight pizza, and doughnuts swept over Redd as he entered the Incident Room. Jack was already there with Dove, helping DS Price, the Office Manager, to sort out the latest photos from forensics. Price turned to another whiteboard stacked against the wall, bringing into line with the existing two, full of photos, well-thumbed maps, and finger-smudged reports. As usual, the Incident room overflowed with officers working twelve-hour shifts, with continuous scrolling through endless lists of door-to-door searches, interviews, websites, and pagan groups.
‘Jack, I’ve arranged the dig at the Church with Forensics for two PMs. Could you cover that with Dove?’
Jack grinned. ‘Yeah, let’s hope we find something.’ He was delighted; he would have Dove to himself for a whole afternoon.
Dove fumed, dammit, so Tess would be with him again. Wasn’t she supposed to be his partner?
‘Boss, I thought we would do that together?’
Seeing her frustration, Redd took to one side. ‘What’s on your mind, detective?’
‘I thought I was your partner, but you always seem to be more with her.’
‘By her, you mean Dr. Davies?’
Dove flushed and nodded.
Well, detective, I think you’ve forgotten that you stand in for Jack as well. He’s helping us out here. With the budget cuts, we can’t afford the luxury of permanent partners. Besides, I need Dr. Davies’s expertise on the search; she’ll be able to pick out important areas.’
Dove hung her head. ‘I just wanted to be more part of it.’
‘You are Dove; the dig is extremely important, and I want you to oversee that with Jack. So get to it, we need to get the officers seated; time’s marching on.’ His tone was gentle, his eyes sharp.
Knowing she was just about to overstep the mark with him, Dove turned away, ignoring Jack’s smile.
Leaving her to get the officers in order, Redd turned to Hugh Price.
‘So now, Price, I assume the investigation team has the reports on the latest victim?’
‘Yes, boss, I’ve also given out copies of Dr. Davies’s report to the primary investigating team; they arrived by special courier this morning.’
‘Good, she must have worked all night on that.’
‘Yeah, dedicated young woman, Sir.’
Redd enthused, ‘Brilliant girl, knows her stuff – don’t know what we would do without her.’
Price shot him a knowing look. ‘I saw her at the site yesterday, boss. How’d she take it?’
‘Very well – she held her own.’
DS Price smiled quietly; things could get interesting in the love department.
Redd turned to face the assembled officers. ‘Attention everyone. As you are all aware, we have yet another victim; the perps surpassed themselves. Significantly, it was one of their own – a young man by the name of Kevin Stewart. They took his face but left his head. Fortunately, the Forensic department reconstructed the face using the F.A.C.E software. We put out another news flash, and someone called in within minutes.
Going to his file, he pinned up a crime scene photo of the victim. Tapping it, with a long snooker cue, he said, ‘This is an example of the Blood Eagle; you will see an explanation of it in your reports. For the sake of the other officers not in the first investigating team, these butchers carved the eagle into the Vic’s back and cut through to the spine and ribcage. They pulled out the ribs, and then the lungs through his back to form blood-stained wings.’
He paused for the officers to get to grips with the horror before them. On studying the photos, one female officer left the room abruptly holding her mouth. Another seasoned male officer didn’t make it, projectile vomiting into a waste bucket. Coughing and spluttering, he carried it out of the room.
In the ensuing silence, Redd said, ‘We’re dealing with the devil himself. In addition, there is a major festival coming up from June twenty-first to twenty-second, the Summer Solstice. The neo-pagans are preparing for it now, building bonfires. These sadists, however, will be dreaming up another horror. We have reason to believe it will be the Wicker Man.’
Watkins stroking a stubbly ginger chin, said, ‘Wasn’t there a film about the Wicker Man? Some years ago now.’
‘Yes, Watkins – unfortunately, but if we are correct, they are planning to sacrifice more than one victim. We envisage it will be twenty feet high.’
Bessie Owen frowned. ‘Gruesome. But at that height, wouldn’t it be easy to spot?’
‘Not if it’s on a private estate—’
Redd turned back to the board, pointing to a map Price had just pinned up. As you will read in your reports, we now have some intel’ that points to the Medbury Estate. Covers thousands of acres, as you can see. Not any concrete evidence yet, but something to investigate.’
O’Connell said, ‘Need a lot of wood. Where they gonna get that from then?’
Redd nodded. ‘There’s plenty of forest land around here. They’d use silver birch; it’s pliant and also one of the major sacred trees with the druids, besides the Oak and Yew. Study your reports from Dr. Davies. Unlike many reports from academics, her text is concise and easy to read. You’ll learn a lot about Druid lore, festivals, and purposes of the sacrifices. You need to know this. You need to know your adversary; start getting a few ideas.’
Watkins spoke up, ‘Can’t ever know a bloody maniac.’
‘You can try to anticipate them, Watkins – think outside of the box.’
Dove said, ‘Wouldn’t the land Forestry Commission keep an eye out for people logging them?’
‘No, not really, they haven’t got the staff resources to cover the vast woodlands we have here in the Downs. However, we are going to do aerial searches from this afternoon. ‘Gonna use your Cessna Boss?’ O’Connell smiled; he knew the Inspector was a keen pilot and kept a small plane on Tangmere airfield.
Redd grinned, ‘No chance; we’ll be using a helicopter.”
Looking over to Amanda Green’s partner, he said, ‘Crosby, can you give an update on the pagan members? Have you made any inroads?’
‘Yes, boss, there are hundreds of groups, with over forty thousand members in the Pagan Federation and well over ten thousand druids. Amanda and I are in touch with over three-quarters of the group leaders. We hope to have contacted them all by e-mail this evening.’
Green, lifting her pointed chin, said, ‘They’ve all been asked to contact us about any members whom they think should be investigated further. So far, we have well over a thousand reports from the pagan groups and one hundred and fifty from the druids. But, no-one has heard even a hint of the unsubs.’
‘Well done. Now the drug websites, Papworth? Any luck?’
Fingering his pony tail, he said, ‘I’ve had a team working on that boss. It’s frustrating, as we’ve reported before, so many seem to close down overnight, and then new ones appear.’
Redd queried, ‘Could be the same ones just changing their addresses. Have you checked their IPS?’
‘Yes and no luck. I think they just go on to new servers.’
Redd nodded. ‘Good try. So anything at all?’
‘We did trace one to Bucks Row, a tiny hamlet, a couple of miles from Tillngton.’
Copyright © Katy Walters
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Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here: