Death Marks: Chapters 37, 38, and 39

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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Death Marks

Chapter 37

Seated beside Redd, Tess felt an overwhelming sense of space as they flew over the canopy of trees shrouding the Downs. If it were not for the tragedy of the crimes, it would have been a glorious day, but now it was mired in death.

Redd glanced over to her. ‘We’re coming up to the perimeter of the Medbury estate, so start looking for a break in the trees.’

Surprised, Tess said, ‘He must own most of West Sussex.’

Redd shook his head. ‘No, but he does have vast acres, hamlets, villages, new-build estates. Look out for large barns as well, near to the woodland.’

‘How long have you been flying?’

‘Oh, years, Esther and I …’ His voice trailed off as he realized he’d said his wife’s name. After an abrupt pause, he murmured, ‘Flying is in the blood.’

Tests wondered when he would talk about his wife; she knew now from the office rumours that his wife and son suffered a terrible death. He must still be grieving deeply.’

‘I love it, but it’s not a career; my dream was always to go into the Force. My father died; he’d been suffering for years. I knew I had to get a job; I just couldn’t bum around. I decided to go straight into the police force after university.’ He glanced over to her briefly, ‘It was cancer.’

Tess said softly, ‘I’m so sorry. It’s hell; I thought my sister would beat it.’

Redd looked over to see her gripping her hands together. He took hold of her fingers with his free hand. ‘Do you get to see her often?’

‘As much as I can.’

Redd went quiet for a few moments. ‘I’d like to say take some time off, but we need you, Tess.’

Tess went silent; her brow furrowed. ‘I know, but she’s still fighting – it’s not … God, I can’t say it. I just hope for a miracle.’

‘I know what you’re going through – not that that’s any help.’ Breaking the subject, he said, ‘Look down there – see it?’

Tess looked to see a clearing in a stretch of forest, nestling between fields of grazing sheep. Taking the plane lower, Redd scrutinized the clearing. ‘Just bundles of logs.’

Nodding, Tess said, ‘Try the grounds of the Manor; they’ve got wooded areas there as well.’

As the building appeared below them, she said, ‘See over there, a grove of yew trees, deer, a lake – stream – maybe for salmon. Looks quite significant. The only thing is, it’s almost an exact copy of the other estates, I suppose.’

‘Yes, but it gives an idea – hey look over there – in that clearing, by a copse of silver birch.’

‘Oh my goodness, sculptures – no sign of a Wicker Man being built though.’

‘Hmm, quite a few estates have stone sculptures and wood carvings. It’s a tourist draw, plus the estate owner can play patron to local artists.’

Redd grimaced. ‘Okay. We could fly over and see how Jack and Dove are doing at the graveyard. If they do find anything, then it will point the finger at the earl or someone close. There’s the field nearby; I can land here.’

It was just a few minutes’ walk from the farm to the graveyard. Redd saw Dove dressed in a bunny suit standing by an open grave, hands on hips, lips pursed. Seeing him, she shouted over, ‘Hey boss, looks like we found them – quite a few coffins busted open and empty. Seems a desecration.’

The forensic team carefully stacked the mutilated coffins, each tagged with information; other officers logged pieces of decayed wood broken off by the grave robbers. They could pick up vital information, DNA, fingerprints – fibres. Redd felt a rush of hope in his chest; perhaps, at last, they were getting somewhere.

Engrossed, DS Tomkins exhibits officer, compiled an inventory. He lifted his head to Redd as he said, ‘Once they’ve done with these, sir, I can store them at the Exhibits Office. Give us more to work on.’

‘Well done, Tomkins. Have we got the room?’

‘Yes, sir, they’re almost in bits anyway, and we have three basement rooms almost empty.’ Then, the officer looking immaculate, even in a bunny suit, beamed as he went back to the stack of ancient coffins.

Smiling, Redd strolled over to Jack, ‘We found a group of sculptures in the grounds of Medbury Manor. But, no sign of anything significant. However, I think we should pay the earl a visit, ask if any of his staff has reported anything unusual on the estate. At least, it’s a way in.’

Jack frowned. ‘I think we should also put him under discrete surveillance.’

‘Yeah, look, I’ll see you at the meeting with the DCC tomorrow. Looks like Tits and his toe rag will be present. I just hope the ACC isn’t pressing to have Tits put in charge. We’ve got to come up with something fast Jack.’

‘Don’t let the bastards get to you. Keep it cool, you’ll think of something. Don’t forget Maddeley’s on your side. Titmouse is just trying it on.’

‘Yeah, well he can go fuck himself.’ He stopped short, as he saw Tess walk to his side. Giving her a sheepish grin he said, ‘Hey, how about dinner. I know just the place.’

Chapter 38

Gemma Rodenbury flipped the eggs over. Luke mentioned he liked them over easy, so as he was such a dish, she decided to cook him a full English breakfast. After all, it was Sunday, time to relax – have fun. It had been a late-night – a night of lust from which she still quivered. They’d been dating for a couple of weeks, exchanging kisses that became more heated as the days went by, but last night was dynamite. Luke was a hunk, a sex bomb on legs, and apart from that, he was interesting. They’d talked for hours until finally succumbing to an incredibly delicious meal of oysters followed by steak tartare, washed down by a 1998 Shiraz. They shared the strawberries, nipping them from each other’s teeth. The coffee whiskey liqueur had them lounging on a spacious settee. Minutes later, a trail of clothes, boxer shorts, and a sexy thong led to the bedroom from which they did not emerge.

Opening the door from a steamy shower, Luke smelt the eggs and bacon frying. His mouth salivated; not only was she sexy, but the woman could also cook. Usually, all he managed was a coffee on the hoof and an energy bar. While dressing, he idly glanced at Gemma’s entire wardrobe, a four-door affair, the length of one wall. She certainly loved clothes – one expensive lady. Then he noticed a white outfit with a yellow belt around the hanger. It looked oriental – was she into martial arts? Surprised, he wandered into the kitchen to find Gemma busy piling up his plate with bacon, eggs, hash browns, fried bread, black pudding, and sausages. Good God – he thought he’d better marry her.

Cutting up his bacon, he said, ‘I must say you’re looking particularly delicious this morning. You should have joined me in the shower; I was waiting sponge in hand ready to soap that glorious body of yours.’ He grinned, brown eyes sparkling. ‘And by the way, I just happened to notice a martial arts outfit. Do I have to be wary of you?’

Gemma laughed. ‘Oh, that’s my dogi – Aikido outfit. I managed to get a yellow belt.’

‘Didn’t know you were interested in martial arts – you’ve never mentioned it.’

‘I wasn’t actually, but my friend married a wife beater and wanted me tol go with her to Aikido.

Munching on the fried bread, she said, ‘Changing the subject, I’m worried about the presentation tomorrow. I just hope I don’t seize up.’

Putting down his knife and fork, Luke grabbed Gemma’s hand. ‘Of course, you won’t – you’ll be your usual confident self – elegant – poised and beautiful – you’ll smash it.’

Gemma grimaced. ‘Let’s hope you’re right.’

‘Come on, Gem, this isn’t like you.’

‘I know; it’s just the responsibility. We need their funding; without it, we’re finished.’

‘Aw, come on, we’ve had significant results – they’ll be as excited as hell. We’ve taken cloning to another level. These people will be jumping at it, triple the funding – you watch.’

‘Luke, this isn’t just about presenting results – it’s about people’s jobs – their livelihoods – families – mortgages.’

‘Look – you’re just hedging – it’s nerves – it’s Trewitt who’ll be shitting himself – not you. Be positive – you should be glowing, babe; these results will put us on the world stage.’

‘Now you are frightening me.’

‘Just think about the research – be positive – pretend it’s just another day in the lab. Remember, your responsibility is to science; just keep that in your mind. Oh yes, and your somersaults tonight.’ He beamed, relishing the idea of great sex and another great breakfast to follow.

Gemma could not help grinning. ‘I’ll remember that.’

‘Now, how about me driving you in today?’

‘No thanks, Luke – I really don’t want the whole lab whispering about us. And as for Trewitt, you know what an old woman he is.’

‘I don’t know so much about that; the guy eyes up all the women.’

‘No, he doesn’t – he’s an old prude.’

‘Huh, it’s the way he does it -sneaky. You women have no idea. Anyway, are you sure you don’t want a lift?’

‘Absolutely – I need to do a bit more practicing before I go in.’

‘Right, so just as much as I love sitting here talking to my Goddess, I have to go. I promise you, I shall have the front seat, admiring your curvy butt.’ Standing up, he pushed away the tall stool and strode over to her, a glint in his eye, cupping her breast in his large hand. ‘Or, you could decide to put the whole thing off and come back to bed with me – one glorious fuck. What’d you say?’ As his hand pulled up her skirt, she pushed him away, laughing.

Watching her lover drive off, she bit her lip, just enough time to go over the presentation again. She would face an elite team of specialists – the whole thing was hush-hush – a three-year programme into cloning, and the results did look exciting. Taking a deep breath, she spread the papers over the kitchen table. Luke was so supportive; even though they’d only been together a few weeks, he was sensitive to her moods; knew that she wasn’t the elegant figure she put out to the world. Behind this persona, her self-esteem was low.

Pointing her remote control at her newest baby, a cream-coloured Volvo, the door opened while the latest stereo system switched on some smoothing music. It was a dream of a car with all the latest safety controls. It almost had a mind of its own. Once inside, the air conditioning switched on automatically. She couldn’t believe it was really hers, a child from a tenement, now owning a swish car and living in a detached house in the Downs.

Snug, in the stream of traffic, she began practicing her speech. Okay, so it looked like she was talking to herself, but then while driving, she often saw people singing along to the radio or having a conversation on the intercom. Smoothly, she made a right turn into a minor road, leading to a country lane and the Downs. She felt quite privileged to work in an area between the downs near the sea – idyllic.

The car jerked, slowing down, almost coming to a stop. Frowning, she checked the petrol; she filled it up last night after leaving work, so that was fine; everything looked okay on the gauges. To her horror, the engine stalled. What was happening? She couldn’t afford to be late. As she’d said to Luke, the future of the Research Lab hung on this meeting. With the Government cuts into research, they had little hope of finding another sponsor.

Frowning, she got out; it was no use checking the engine; she didn’t know a darn thing about cars. She tapped in the number of her local garage; the car mechanic there was top-notch. As she stood talking into the phone, a smart black BMW pulled up. In his fifties, a man in his fifties, dark haired smartly dressed in a navy business suit, got out and strolled over, a look of concern on his face.

‘Everything okay?’

Gemma shrugged her shoulders as she clicked off the BlackBerry. ‘No, the darned thing is broken down – damn nuisance – I’ve got an important meeting.’

‘Let me have a look at the engine.’

Why that’s very kind of you. I’ll go and pop up the bonnet.’

As the man bent to examine the engine, he said, ‘This is superb, funny it should play up. It’s a new car too.’

‘Yes – I’ve only had it a few weeks.’

‘Hmm – at least you can claim on the warranty.’

Gemma looked over his shoulder, murmuring, ‘I must admit I don’t know anything about cars.’

‘You’re lucky; it’s one of my hobbies tinkering around with engines.’

She raised her eyebrows; he didn’t look the type, what with the slick suit, pale hands, and manicured nails. ‘Well, it’s really good of you to take the time. I hope I’m not holding you up.’

‘No, not at all.’

He leaned further over the engine. ‘Hah, I see what’s wrong – look – just there.’

Gemma stepped nearer, peering over the streamlined engine. ‘I don’t know what I’m looking—’ Her words were cut off as he turned abruptly towards her, a white handkerchief bunched in his hand. Her mind raced, oh dear God – chloroform; she’d made a fatal mistake. Raising her hands to ward him off, she kicked him in the shin. Snarling, he stumbled as she turned to run. The road wasn’t far off, but she saw another car parked across the road barring any traffic from entering the lane to her terror. A strong arm grabbed her by the waist, lifting her off her feet. Shrieking for help, she felt the cloth against her face. Twisting, she fought not to breathe in the lethal fumes while trying to stomp on his feet. Her cries became whimpers as darkness descended.

Gemma came to consciousness when her head bumped against a rigid surface. Opening her eyes to darkness, panic rose in a scream. As her body rolled and then jolted, she reached out her hands to feel a surface only inches above her. Oh God, where was she? Was she in a box? As she became more aware, she recognized the hum of a car engine. Realizing she was in a car boot, she tried to quell her terror. She felt around for the catch but in vain. Gemma tried to calm down; she had to think of something – a wrench, yes, some kind of tool. Her only chance lay in surprising him as he bent to get her out of the car. Her fingers scrabbled over the felt floor – nothing.

Chapter 39

edd tapped his foot in irritation; Titmouse and Seaton were late. He looked over to Bill Maddeley, his genial expression now tense. The ACC, John Mainwaring, was applying pressure, trying to hand over a significant part of the investigation to Titmouse. He just hoped that he could make a good argument for keeping hold of the investigation. They had made some significant steps now, with the discovery of the disturbed graves. The finger was pointing more and more to the Earl of Medbury. He just needed time to search the grounds – time to locate a possible place where the perpetrators would build the Wicker Man. But, as Maddeley was subordinate to the ACC, he may be forced to concede to Mainwaring’s wishes. Yes, they did need another team, already they had Bognor, Littlehampton, and Worthing on it. Still, that didn’t mean giving control to Titmouse; damn politics -muddying the waters of a major crime investigation.

The beep of the intercom interrupted his thoughts. The plum tones of Maddeley’s secretary came over the intercom. ‘Sir, a message from Sergeant Dixon, Brighton Station.’ Maddeley’s face tightened even more as he listened. Then, clicking off the phone, he looked over to Redd, his voice grim. ‘Gemma Rodenbury, Head of Research, Brighton Hospital, is missing. Her car was found abandoned just off the A 27.

Redd felt his stomach clench. ‘Since when?’

‘Yesterday, she left to go to work – never made it. A passerby reported it – thought it was a breakdown. He was a bit suspicious, as it was unlocked. Uniforms traced it through the DVLC. She also left her briefcase with important papers in the car.’

‘Sounds ominous – research – same as four of the victims – fits the profile.’

‘Yeah, the boyfriend reported her missing late yesterday afternoon. She was giving the results of a significant research programme to some bigwigs in pharmaceuticals. He thought she opted out of attending, as she was particularly nervous about the presentation. He ended up delaying it. By six o’clock, he was hammering the duty sergeant on the desk, insisting they start a search.

‘Did they?’

‘No, the sergeant stuck to the initial forty-eight hours – but then the boyfriend got onto the ACC. Mainwaring wasn’t too pleased, I can tell you.’

Redd’s brows beetled. ‘This could be fucking serious; there are four victims so far that we definitely know are in research. The other one was a member of the sect, but now another researcher. So, for God’s sake, what’s the matter with this desk sergeant – bloody fool?’

Maddeley frowned. ‘Five victims now possibly six; that’s why we’re having the meeting, the ACC, the CC, and the town mayors are screaming for results. The ACC’s on my back. I can only argue for a bit more time. I don’t know that I can refuse Dan.’

‘The case is beginning to crack, Bill; I just need a few more days.’

‘Okay, that’s all I can give you, then it’s out of my hands.’

‘We’re getting there. At the moment, we’re devising a way to infiltrate a suspect’s estate.’

‘So who is it?’

‘The Earl of Medbury.’

‘Come on – you’ve got to be kidding me.’

‘No – I’m serious Bill – he’s a suspect. We’re keeping it under wraps until we’re sure. I only saw him as a possibility yesterday afternoon. I sent you the report.’

‘I haven’t had time to read it yet. I’m snowed under here – what with the fucking cuts. My secretary’s tearing out her hair lost the two typists. We’re operating on fifty percent at the moment. First to go were the office staff, community officers, and then uniforms. But, you think it could be Medbury?’

‘We need more evidence – but more and more it’s looking like him.’

Bill frowned. ‘Well, he’s in the wars now; the dowager was rushed into hospital last night – she’s delirious -poor old girl, suffers from Alzheimer’s and Vascular dementia.’

Redd raised his eyebrows; he didn’t know the DCC was that close to Medbury.

Seeing the quizzical look, Bill said, ‘Been friends for years, well with the Dowager, really.’ He turned, pointing to a dark canvas painting, filling the far wall. ‘Because we’re friends, I have to be polite. Look what I have to put up with. The earl officially presented it to Mainwaring, but he said he didn’t have wall space. So, I’m lumbered with it. That’s all I want is a fucking monstrosity, fucking morbid.’

Redd listened quietly; Bill’s language could be quite colourful when roused. Bill continued, ‘But, it doesn’t do to get on the wrong side of the earl, so I’ll have to put up with it.

Redd turned around to the painting, a landscape some six feet by eight feet. His heart leaped to his throat. Rising to his feet, he walked over to it. ‘My God Bill ….’ Lost for words, he examined the scene before him, Medbury House, with its spacious wings either side stood in the background, to the foreground were deer grazing on cropped grass. At the entrance to a dark grove of yew trees, a white hind hovered, one dainty hoof lifted towards a slanted gravestone on which perched a raven. Further into the trees stood a skeleton with bony fingers pointed to a line of hooded figures walking through the trees towards a beautiful woman dressed in white. In a slender hand, she held a salmon with a giant green toad at her feet.

Bill came and stood beside him. ‘Have you ever seen anything like it? The artist must be demented.’

Redd went nearer, stooping to read the inscription on the gravestone, murmuring, ‘They look like some form of code, a load of marks on straight lines – Christ – it’s the bloody Oghams again.’ Then, standing back, he said, ‘Medbury’s made a big mistake, or he’s so bloody arrogant; he doesn’t care.’

Crossing his arms, studying the painting, Bill said, ‘Arrogant?’

‘He’s telling you – putting the message right under your noses. The Oghams are used on every message left with the bodies, ancient Gaul alphabet. God, he must be enjoying this. Has Titmouse sent you Dr. Davies’s reports? ‘

Bill shook his head. ‘The Symbolist? No – and if he did, I will have to take his word or yours for it. As I said, we’re chocker block here.’

‘This is very much like a Masonic painting; it’s symbolic – only here; the symbols refer to the druids. This confirms the Vicar’s remarks, the Earl of Medbury is a Druid, no doubt about it.’

Bill countered, ‘But you will find these symbols in any gothic painting. It’s just a macabre iconic style, a fucking monstrosity. I said, being friendly with the Medbury’s. I didn’t want to insult them by refusing it. They do a lot for Head Office one way and another.’

Shaking his head, Redd replied, ‘So how d’you find the earl?’

‘Eccentric – I have more to do with the Dowager really; she’s a patron for quite a few charities, including our own for injured policemen. But, sadly, as I said, she’s losing it now.’

‘Uh, sorry to hear that. So, getting back to the painting and the Oghams, it’s too much of a co-incidence. In addition, the druids revere the raven, the white hind, let alone the oak tree and the yew tree grove. Then to top it all, there’s the salmon – the most sacred symbol.’

Maddeley laughed. ‘Salmon? Sorry, Dan, it just tickled me – a fish?’

‘Yes – but my symbolist will tell you more.’

Bill stroked his clean-shaven chin. ‘How the hell are we going to deal with this -Medbury may just have inherited the damn thing.’

Redd took out his notebook. ‘I’ll just jot these down and get them to our symbolist. I’ve also got to get to the research labs as well. All five victims were employed there, including Rodenbury.’

‘You’ve got your hands full.’

Redd looked squarely at the DC. ‘I have to say this Bill, with due respect, if Medbury is involved, why did he present this to the ACC and then go on a killing spree? Is Mainwaring involved as well?’

‘I don’t know that we should suspect any ulterior motives here. After all, the ACC did try to palm it off onto me. He wasn’t hiding anything.’

Frowning Redd said, ‘In view of this, I really think we should keep this to ourselves. It may be that Mainwaring is completely innocent, but prudence is needed.’

Maddeley nodded. ‘In this instance, yes. We’ll have to keep an eye on him. So get going, Dan, I’m cancelling this meeting. You’re on a countdown – as I said – a few days – that’s all.’


Copyright © Katy Walters

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