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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Jumping into the car, Redd said, ‘They’ve left the bodies at Wilmington – site of the prehistoric Long Man.’
Dove said, ‘Another pagan site.’ She visualized the huge chalk figure carved into a hillside in the Downs.
As they sped along the A23, Redd contacted the police station. ‘Hi Bessie, liaise with Papworth; I need info’ on the mystery tour organized with the research laboratories at Brighton Hospital. The trip is on June 22nd, and it’s with Terry Tours. Find out who booked it and donated the money.’
‘But Sir, what if they won’t divulge the donor?’
‘Then threaten them with a warrant. Okay – call terminated.’
Turning to Dove, he said, ‘Let’s put our foot down, detective.’ Then, thinking about the confines of the tent, he slipped a couple of diazepam under his tongue.
Dove glanced over, concern on her face. ‘It might help if you had therapy for that boss.’
Irritated, he said, ‘I don’t remember asking for your advice, detective.’
Mortified, her face flushing, Dove, muttered, ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.’
Redd remained quiet, letting her stew for a while, but he inwardly agreed that he should seek help; he didn’t seem to be getting over it. But then, how could he? Esther – Harry – the loss. Even now, he imagined he would go home, put the key in the lock to the front door, pushing it open, walk into the lounge to see Harry sitting cross-legged on the floor watching CBeebies. Esther would call from the kitchen… But, one night, the door was already open.
Taking a breath, he pushed the scene into a room deep in his mind.
As Redd and Dove walked up to the site officer and signed in, Jack strode over, his usually genial face grim. ‘Be ready, pal – it’s sick – a group of neo-druids found them a couple of hours ago. They were preparing for the Solstice festival.’
Redd nodded. ‘Where’s Tess?’
‘Already there. Forensics has just finished in the tent. The Divisional Surgeon declared the death – Mahoney is on his way.’
Face ashen, body quivering, Tess waited for them. As Redd approached, she said, ‘It’s monstrous Dan, definitely Druid – I can’t go in there again.’
Squeezing Tessa’s arm, Redd held up the tent flap and dipped into Hades; St Peter wasn’t in sight. The bodies were already in the first state of decomposition, flesh mottled purple and red, the smell like rancid fried chicken.’
Two bodies lay arranged in the Triskelion pattern; the limbs contorted around the torsos, ripped open with the intestines trailing on the ground as if dancing to an unseen God. The head of the female was missing; a dagger impaled the note to the male chest.
Jack came alongside. ‘They didn’t replace the intestines this time. Demented – forensics are right. They must be upping the drug intake – they’re out of their fucking minds.’
Redd shook his head, ‘Still looks well organized to me; insane, drugged with their own evil. From what pit did these devils drag themselves?’
Bending nearer, trying to swallow acid bile sprinting up her throat, Dove almost whispered, ‘They’ve bleached the bones.’
Redd nodded. ‘There’s no blood either; again, this is not a primary site; they transported the bodies here. Bastards. I think I’ve seen enough; let’s hear what Tess has to say.’
Searching for the slender figure, he saw her sitting on the bench, in the shade of a copse of trees. Her head bowed, writing notes onto a thick A4.
Redd sat beside her. ‘How’re you feeling?’
Tess’s lips trembled. ‘Don’t ask.’
‘Have you any ideas yet?’
‘I’ve googled the Long Man and come up with some interesting results – it tallies with the other crime scenes. Again, it’s Druid driven. I will read out what I’ve jotted down so far. The figure of the Long Man of Wilmington is two hundred and twenty-six feet high. The two staves he’s holding are two hundred and thirty feet and two hundred and thirty-five feet, respectively. He is second only to the Giant of the Atacama in Chile.’
‘Any date on it?’
‘I think he’s prehistoric, carved from the chalk. Some scholars argue he dates back three thousand four hundred years. Because of the grass growing over the chalk, the figure was outlined with yellow bricks in the seventeenth century. Still, these have now been replaced with concrete blocks.’
‘So – any leads?’
‘Yes, important stuff. It confirms our suspicions on the Oracle. It could explain why the female body was decapitated, and the body placed here.’
‘Yes. Some time ago, archaeologists discovered three stone heads found in the local church here. It’s believed they point to an ancient Celtic Head Cult.’
Dove frowned, ‘Sounds ominous.’
‘Yes, seems it’s the same group, no doubt about it. Another bit of information, in battle, the Celts cut off the enemies’ heads and hung them from their horses’ necks as they continued fighting. They also hung them outside their huts.’
Grimacing, Dove said, ‘Grisly trophies.’
Tess nodded. ‘But here’s the important part. They weren’t just trophies; they cherished them. If it was the skull of an enemy, it was used as a drinking cup, or oracles, where they would divine information as to the plans of the enemy.’
Redd said, ‘Like you explained earlier about the druids.’
‘Yes, maybe I didn’t make it clear; the druids are Celts; they weren’t a separate religion. They were part of the early Celtic culture – and even beyond that, many of their beliefs and rituals stem from Neolithic societies that were headhunters. However, these prehistoric people also worshipped the heads of their ancestors. To drink from the skull of an ancestor was to drink their wisdom.’
Redd grimaced. ‘What the hell are we dealing with?’
‘But there’s more, the Longman figure, may also be part of a Neolithic Astra religion. The Long Man plays host to neopagan religions on a Sunday, closest to the eight major festivals.’
Redd frowned. ‘Hmm – so that means the Solstice could be held here, as well as a dozen other sites.’
Jack said, ‘So what about the note? Have you any idea?’
Tess looked at her notes. ‘Again, the Ogham sticks, as far as I can make out it says, ‘The Oracle has spoken; the Gods smile upon us.’
‘So the nutters think that poor girl’s head is speaking to them.’
Dove muttered, ‘Those poor victims didn’t stand a chance.’
Shivering, Tess said, ‘That’s right. The moment they were abducted, their fate was sealed. Jeannette was the Oracle, Neil her Divine lover, filling her with the energy of the gods. Sex was highly revered. It was as normal as eating or drinking. The ancients thought nothing of copulating in front of or with others as a group. To do so was considered sacred.’
Dove, who had been standing listening, sat the other side of Tess. ‘D’you think they forced them to—’
‘Copulate? I don’t know. However, I know in the ancient rituals the pair definitely did and the rapture of the crowd. They would also put on the headdresses of their spirit animals while dancing and making love.’
Dove said, ‘You mean they sacrificed them while fucking?’
Tess nodded. ‘Yes; orgasm at the point of death was considered divine.’
Redd frowned. ‘Completely different mind to us – almost alien. Anyway, Mahoney should be able to tell us if they did have sex.’
Tess said, ‘They would be high on drugs and whatever alcohol they had, so they would be hallucinating, or at least, I hope so.’
‘They must’ve been out of their minds.’ Dove looked towards the tent. ‘I just can’t bear to think—’
‘They wouldn’t have known much about it, Felicity.’ Tess interrupted, ‘Forensic tests show the former victims consumed huge quantities of Salvia Divinorum in a cocktail of other chemical agents.’
‘The body count is mounting, Gemma Rodenbury is still missing, now this. We need some leads; otherwise, Tits and Seaton are taking over.’
Jack put his arm lightly on Dove’s shoulders. ‘There’s been a lot of evil meted out in the name of religion.’
Dove bristled as his finger stroked her neck. What the hell did he think he was doing, getting up close and personal?
Tess said, ‘It’s definitely driven by religion – the druids. Each crime scene is either on an ancient burial site or a place of pagan worship like Kingley Vale. I just wonder where they will pick next.’
Redd frowned. ‘Have you heard any more from Lugh?’
‘Yes – he contacted most of the other neo-druid groves, but so far, there’s no hint of this particular group.’
‘What about the pagan groups, the Wicca?’
‘Again, nothing. The different groups do keep pretty much to themselves except for the major festivals. But, Lugh said he would get in touch immediately he had any news.’
Jack smiled. ‘Professor Edmonson at the University gave zilch; he was to up his own arse to give anything concrete. I’m heading back; can I give you a lift?’
Dove hesitated; to her annoyance, Redd answered for her, ‘Good idea. I have to get—’
As he spoke, the phone vibrated in his pocket. Taking it out, he could see it was Bessie Owen. ‘Hi … I see … So you threatened them with perverting the course of justice … a warrant … I see. Okay. Call terminated.’
Pocketing the cell, he turned to the group. ‘Now that’s strange.’ DC Owen searched for the donor of the Mystery Tour for the Research Labs. It seems he or she paid in cash. They refused to give the name or address, even when threatened with a warrant.’ Redd raked the hair from his forehead. ‘I’ll get onto Bill Maddeley. He’ll have more power to his elbow than us.’ Looking to Dove, he said, ‘Would you arrange a visit to both victims’ parents – take the family liaison officer with you.’
She nodded. ‘Yes, boss, can’t say I’m looking forward to it.’
‘Don’t go into details until after they’ve identified the bodies.’
Dove bit her lip; how did you tell parents their child was the victim of sadistic killers; especially as the gruesome news of the other victims was now all over the media?
Redd gave a sympathetic smile. ‘I’ll have to pay a visit to the Medbury Estate, have a chat with the dowager. We might be able to wheedle more information out of her.’ Turning to Jack, he said, ‘I was thinking; it would be a good idea if we had a plan of the estate, possibly the plans of the Mansion. D’you think you could do that?
Jack replied, ‘I’ll see what I can do. They’re lodged with solicitors. I have a few favours I can call in.’
Squeezing Tess’s hand, he said, ‘Look, keep this between us. I’ve been thinking about that painting; maybe the ACC passed it over to Maddeley when he realized it could appear suspicious, especially with the mounting crimes. But, I’m even more suspicious that both the Earl and ACC Mainwaring could be involved. I’m wondering if the ACC had a hand in this mystery tour. Why? I mean, over twenty people could be involved?’
Tess interjected, ‘They would fill the Wicker man with humans and animals.’
Redd took the car keys from his pocket. ‘It’s obvious the unsubs are sacrificing people involved in research.’
Tess’s eyes narrowed. ‘They’ve revived an ancient religion to stop science tearing apart the ancient beliefs – insulting the gods.’
Dove piped up, ‘Yeah, I agree -science is a threat to them, and their belief in the power of nature.’
‘Exactly – nature – animals – humans are to be revered not dissected and cloned – changed.’
Dove said, ‘There are many people who object to cloning, and they’re not alone in this. The only thing is they don’t murder them for it.’
Jack paused at his car. ‘They could be arranging for the research workers to witness the sacrifice of Gemma Rodenbury, the Head of Research, to their ancient Gods as a form of punishment.’
Tess nodded. ‘That’s confusing the point if they’re drugged and don’t know a thing about it.’
Redd grimaced. ‘They’re still witnesses, and afterward, they would know they witnessed the sacrifice of their leader.’
‘Big message for the world.’
Dove said, ‘But surely they must know the risk of being found out?’
Tess took a step towards Redd’s car. ‘Deranged psychopaths do not acknowledge failure. They live in the fantasy that they are cleverer than anyone else is, hence the taunting, leaving poor Jeanette and Neil for us to find. The only thing is, the Earl did not count on his mother – that anyone would listen to her ravings.’
Taking the remote control out of his pocket, Jack said, ‘It’s a wonder, he didn’t kill her when she described the dismemberments.’
Tess said, ‘I know, but to him, unconsciously, she is the Goddess, the one to whom he looks for validation, always has. I think you’ll find that he is an unloved child – still is.’
Dove raised eyebrows. ‘All I know is, the bones were on his land, his mother screaming dead bodies and druids, and then there’s this Gothic painting. There’s more than enough to pay him a visit.’
Redd said, ‘All circumstantial – not enough hard evidence yet.’
Tess looked up to Redd, ‘I think it’s a good thing you’re seeing the dowager again. The Consultant Psychiatrist claims she can be quite coherent – fit enough to carry on a conversation, so she may be able to give that evidence or clues. She may well corroborate what she was saying – accusing the earl of cutting up her granddaughter.’
As they neared the cottage, Tess said, ‘Surely if the psychiatrist says she’s partly coherent; you have sufficient evidence to get a warrant?’
‘Legally no, she has dementia, but that doesn’t mean to say I won’t act on her accusations. But, really, all we have are assumptions. I still need her or the earl’s consent to let the sniffer dogs loose, let them have the run of the grounds, as well as the cellars.’
‘Why not use Sweetpea?’
Surprised, Redd raised his eyebrows. ‘Err – that’s kind of you, Tess, but I’m not sure….’ He paused, ‘I assume Sweetpea’s trained to track?’
‘Not by a professional, but I’ve spent a lot of time training him. Actually, I trained him to pick up tiny spots of my blood, as well as my clothes.’
Startled, Redd steered the car through the gates. ‘I’ve heard of dogs picking up minute traces of blood, even if it’s been washed off. Good work, Tess. We could give it a try.’
‘Okay, fine -now what about a meal? I could rustle up an omelette, or maybe, you’d like lamb or pork chops? It will have to be simple as I’m not a good cook.’
Putting a brake on, Redd beamed, ‘Good idea – like the sound of pork chops and apple sauce.’
Tess laughed. ‘You’re on.’
As he opened the car door, he could hear Sweetpea howling.
Tess grinned, ‘He knows the sound of your engine already – incredible isn’t it?’
He nodded, agreeing; he had to; she was besotted with the hound. Following her to the front door, he readied himself for the impact. As the door opened, Sweetpea was scratching at the latch, the slobbering tongue ready. However, Tess grabbed the leather-studded collar of the great neck as the dog reared up on his hind legs, almost to Redd’s height.
Tess panted. ‘Now be a good boy Sweetpea, you might have a lovely treat. Uncle Dan thinks you could be a tracker dog. How about that?’
Redd grimaced inwardly. He wished he hadn’t agreed so readily. Still, to his consternation, he realized he was grabbing at any opportunity to please her, to be with her. Now he was caught; he wilted at the thought of tracking with this demented hound.
Following Tess into the kitchen, he watched her go to the fridge freezer, bringing out a pair of succulent chops.
Tess murmured, ‘Take a chair, Dan, whilst I cook. Or would you like to sit in the lounge and watch TV or the news?’
‘Nope. I’ll sit here and chat.’ Already he was salivating as he smelt the chops sizzling in the frying pan. Then, walking over to the fridge freezer again, she took out a packet of frozen mashed potatoes and veg. She looked at him, her voice apologetic. ‘I don’t like spending a lot of time over fancy recipes.’
Redd relaxed back. ‘I must say you’re a better cook than me; at least you don’t resort to takeaways.’
Tess laughed, ‘You kidding? I have about three a week, then there’s the Chinese. I’m not fond of Indian food, though.’
‘I love a Tikka Masala or a Madras – hot but delicious.’
Her eyes narrowed. Teasingly, she said, ‘Oh, so you like hot?’
As he nodded, licking his lips, she countered, ‘They’re far too hot to me; the only Indian food I like is a Korma. At least, that’s quite mild.’
Grinning, he said, ‘I wouldn’t have thought you went for mild?’ At that point, Sweetpea slunk in and lay across Redd’s feet.
Tess stared, eyes wide open in surprise. ‘Oh my goodness, he likes you – really likes you. Now that’s wonderful.’
Redd was not so excited, but nevertheless, his calf muscles relaxed. He found the meal quite gratifying, plain as she warned but filling. He didn’t think he’d ever relaxed quite so much around a woman. At the thought, his eyes clouded, except of course for Esther – Esther. Her sweet face drifted before him, long hair glinting gold, swirling, as she lifted Harry, his baby son’s plump little hand reaching out. Had he stopped thinking of her – of Harry? Guilt swept through him. How could he – how could she ever be replaced? He glanced at Tess, just for those few moments; she’d filled the emptiness, lightened the darkness of his soul.
Tess caught her breath; he had that look again. She felt a chill. For a few seconds, he’d left her, the kitchen, his gaze turned inwards. She saw the tightening of his lips, the knot appearing in his jaw. Then, lightly, she said, ‘How about a dessert. I have a lovely trifle in the fridge. I was going to treat myself. Shall we share?’
The knot relaxed a little as he visibly fought to be pleasant; he looked up a little surprised. ‘Err – yes – yes. That would be great.’
Tess breathed a quiet sigh of relief; he was back. He could not hide the hurt in those incredible blue eyes, the thin scar tightening his cheek. She hoped he would someday share with her.
Straightening his back, he said, ‘Have you got the photo I sent you of the painting in Maddeley’s office?’
‘Oh yes, I have it in my handbag; won’t be a sec.’
Sweetpea gently licked his socks as she left the room, then, sitting on his haunches, looked adoringly at him.
Tess returned and laughed. ‘Well, it seems you’re one of the pack. He loves you.’ Leaning over him, Tess held a magnifying glass over the photo. ‘The figures on the grave are quite faint, Dan; I don’t know that I can get much from this. They appear to be wearing robes. Pausing to study the photo again, she shook her head. ‘No – sorry – I can’t make anything out of it. However, the painting is symbolic; only a Druid would understand the messages.’
‘I thought so. Well, at least we know now the Earl is mixed up in this somewhere. One way or another, we have to search those grounds – it’s only four days to the Summer Solstice. He’s the only lead we’ve got. I’m going to have to bring Bill Maddeley into this. We’ve got to start watching the Earl, Mainwaring, and Titmouse. I’m sure that bugger is in on it.’
‘Well, he did have the tattoos. But is that enough?’
‘Not really. All we have is a painting and tattoos to link Mainwaring and Titmouse to the Earl. I can’t ignore them.’
‘What about Seaton?’
‘Nah – too weak. I mean, look, he vomited when he saw the remains.’
Redd sighed; Bill was hesitant to have the Earl and Mainwaring tailed. ‘Bill, I know we stepping on glass here; I’ll keep it under wraps. It will only be a close team that will know anything about it. I really think we should watch the mansion; I suspect Mainwaring and Titmouse are involved here. I have two detectives who are very reliable – sharp too … Yes, they’ll do a good job … So I have a go-ahead then? … Right …. Of course I’ll keep it under wraps.’
Pressing the intercom, he asked Michelle to show Owen and McConnell in. At least he had Bill’s approval, but he’d have gone ahead with the surveillance anyway, and damn the consequences. They only had the slightest thread of a clue, and they had to go with that. Once the officers were seated, he said, ‘Okay, listen carefully; this is strictly undercover work. I want both of you to tail the Earl of Medbury, ACC Mainwaring, and Chief Superintendent Titmouse. You’re not to speak to anyone about this. Heads will roll, yours as well as mine.’
Bessie gulped; this was sizzling hot. She looked over to McConnell, who stared fixedly at Redd. ‘Boss – we’ll do our bloody best. When do you want us to start?’
‘Straightaway. I want you to watch the mansion. I want to know who goes in and out.
Copyright © Katy Walters
All rights reserved
Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here: