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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Adakan waved a hand at the cavernous space. ‘The DCC and Inspector Redd are suspicious, but I don’t think they have a clue as to our true venue.’ Looking piercingly at Ondujor, he added, ‘Nothing must go wrong now.’
Smoothing a lock of dirty blond hair over his bald pate, Titmouse answered, ‘My Lord, they’re moving fast now. Folkvadr warned DCC Maddeley that Redd and Cummings had forty-eight hours – then Seaton and I would take over the case. Since then, the DCIs have been clutching at straws. Both DCI Redd of homicide and DCI Cummings from vice are now working on the case. He’s going to the mansion tonight to interview your mother as soon as they get hold of the plans. They are also getting some of our Chosen’s clothing now for the tracker dogs, so I assume they’ll try and do a sweep of the mansion and the grounds.’
‘Mama does not have a clue about our Grove or where we will celebrate the Solstice. Neither do Redd and Cummings. Anyway, I will not permit them to search—’
‘Don’t arouse their suspicions. They won’t find anything; it’s too well concealed.
Assured, Adakan said, ‘So be it. It will be the beginning of a new era. Our sacrifice will go global; they cannot stop the rise of the Druid Order. We have powerful politicians in office on our side, doctors, bankers, economists, business entrepreneurs – we cannot fail. Avebury and Stonehenge are gathering forces, as are Cerne Abbas, Gloucester, and Warwick. These, too, will begin the sacred sacrificial rites, albeit we are the only ones using humans. But, after our glorious sacrifice, they will follow, give others the honour of sacrifice. Druidism will take its rightful place.’ His face mottled as he clenched his fists, raising them above his head. ‘Together, the Groves will rise as one to reign once more over England. We will be a force few can withstand, our message travelling worldwide.’
Beaming, Folkvadr raised his fists in unison. ‘There will be a Druid Grove in each county. The gods will walk the earth. So now, let us refine the last details. Let us be ready to move the Sun, to save the earth. The time is coming when people will bow down and worship the Goddess, the Oracle – be honoured to be chosen for sacrifice.’
Ondujor asked, ‘Will Alfhildr join us this evening?
‘No – my daughter will not take part.’ Adakan frowned, ‘She is suffering some misplaced grief over her fiancé’s execution. Until she regains her senses, she will be held with the Chosen One. But come; let us go over the final plans for the ceremony and the sacrifice.’
The flares in sconces flickered on the flint walls as he rolled out the sheets of parchment on the roughhewn table. ‘The guests of the Mystery Coach Tour will arrive in the grounds of Medbury on Sunday. They will then disembark, have refreshments, and shown around the grounds, then use the tunnel to the Church. We will make the pretense of showing the ancient interior as part of the tour. We will have a buffet of tea and hors d’oeuvres laid out in the main part of the church, before the altar. Quite fitting I think.’
‘It’s a good thing we’re reaching our goa; thee Ovates are clamouring for more and more drugs. I can hardly control them.’
Nodding, Ondujor said, ‘Soon we won’t have to. Soon we will be sitting at the feet of the Gods. Then, the whole world will know of our sacrifice. They will carve our names in stone.’
Adakan punched the table. ‘We will herald a new world order, nature will be restored to her former glory, the Industrial Age will give way to the Elysian.’
Gemma raised her head, sighing with relief; she’d drifted in and out of consciousness for days. But, her head was now clear, her thoughts sharp. But, where was she? She felt a foam mattress beneath her, felt straw strewn across a dirt floor. A dim glimmer of light glowed from a candle encased in a glass lamp. To one side was a door, the wood black, the upper part chiselled out to hold iron bars. She stiffened; oh dear. God, she was a captive in some kind of cell.
She remembered a man approaching her, dark hair, a business suit … yes … a BMW … Black. Her car broke down; she had a meeting to go to … Luke? Yes, she’d spent the night with Luke; he’d gone on ahead. Then she was leaning over, peering into the bonnet of her car only to be grasped from behind, and lifted off her feet. She was helpless, kicking, scratching at strong male hands, trying to scream, a rag pressed over her face … darkness – nightmares. Part of the time, she knew she was dreaming, could even to some extent direct the dream world, knowing that somehow she might squirm up into reality.
She looked over to see a figure lying over the other side of the cell, silent, unmoving. Her voice sounded weak, cracked. ‘Hello – hello?’
Through the gloom, the figure stirred, rising slowly. ‘Yeah? You’re awake … at last. Who are you?’
‘Gemma – Gemma Rodenbury and you?’
‘Julia Medbury. We’re prisoners’
‘My father is insane – he thinks he’s a fucking reincarnation – an Arch Druid.’
‘It’s a long story – bastards. They’re gonna murder us all.’
‘Sacrifices to their Goddess. They believe they’re reincarnated druids, calling each other by ancient Norse names, carrying out rituals. They’re all fucking insane – drugged up to the eyeballs. The drugs are scrambling their brains. First of all, it was okay, but then the hallucinations got worse and worst; some of them are off their fucking heads now.’
Gemma felt ice cubes slither down her spine. ‘You’re talking about the killings – the ones on the news?’
‘Yes, it didn’t start off like that; it was okay – fun. Just a group of people having an excuse to have great sex, or so I thought. I didn’t know my father was taking it seriously. I mean, I disagreed with it initially, but it was exciting, so I gave in. But then the drugs got severe; that’s when the murders really started, not just abductions – murders.
‘Why didn’t you just leave?’
‘I wanted to – so did my fiancé. ‘Her voice became small, a whisper, ‘They killed him, you know? They ripped open his back with a butcher’s knife and pulled his ribs through his spin; they looked like two bloodied wings – an angel. The druids called it the Blood Eagle.’
‘What? But that’s monstrous.’
‘It’s true, but it won’t be in the papers – it’s too soon, too gruesome, there’d be full-scale panic. They forced us to abduct the first couple – I said it was criminal – that we wouldn’t, but that’s when they told us what they would do to us. They made us attend a sacrifice – one of their own, he’d defiled the first victim – Delle. She was supposed to be the oracle -they cut off her head. I won’t tell you what they did to him.’
Gemma gasped, ‘Isn’t there any way out?’
‘None, we’re in a small cellar next to the Grove; it’s a subterranean cavern. We’ll never get out; they’ve got alarms everywhere.’
‘So what can we do?’
‘If you believe in any God – pray.’
Redd smile; at last, the dowager was home. It was leaving it fine, but there was still not enough evidence for a warrant. He glanced into the rear mirror, watching Sweet Pea sway to the rhythm of the car, his huge head just missing the roof. Surprisingly, the dog was well behaved. It seemed it was only in greeting people that he went berserk.
Owen and McDonnell reported frequent visits by Mainwaring and Titmouse and the owner of the coach tour company, Terry Sparke. Still, they could hardly be had up for going to dinner with the Earl. It may not be enough for a warrant, but it was enough for him. ‘Jack’s meeting us at the gates; he’s got the plans and the last victim’s clothes. I think I could persuade the dowager to allow us to search the grounds; I mean, she is on our side. Just depends if the Earl is there. He’ll try to obstruct us, play for time, insist we get a warrant, and I don’t think we’d be successful. Tess frowned. ‘Can’t you do it at night, or do they have guards or something?’
Redd looked at her. ‘You have a point there, but it could put my job on the line. You’d better come in with us, calm the old girl down if necessary.’
‘Yes, of course. Be glad to help.’
‘Look, there’s Jack, and he’s got a bag. Pulling up, Redd lowered the car window. ‘Hi there, did you get some of Gemma’s clothes.?’
‘Yes, there are quite a few things here, so let’s hope your dog is a good tracker.’
‘How about the plans?’
‘Yeah, got them her—the council offices area warren. We found them eventually in one of the basements. It looks like they’ve got a derelict chapel in the grounds past that grove of yew trees. It’s hundreds of years old. The interesting thing is Dan, underneath the chapel, there’s a tunnel.’
Redd felt excitement like ants scratching his stomach, ‘We need to search it.’ However, as he said the words, the claustrophobia hit him, the ants turning to scorpions attacking the stomach wall. Catching the change of expression, Jack said, ‘You’ll be okay man, I’m with you. I’ve got some whiskey under the dashboard.’
‘Thanks – but I’ve got old faithful.’ His hand went to his pocket, fingering the bottle of diazepam. ‘Look, we’ve got the dog in the back here, so you’d better follow us up the drive.’ Looking up at the t wrought iron gates blacker than charcoal etched clouds, he saw the camera perched on the listing column. The lens glinted like an eagle’s eye. ‘I’ll just buzz the gate.’
On Redd lifting his badge to the security video camera, the gates swung open. ‘Right here goes – it’s like the entrance to Hades.’
As they drove, Tess wondered why Redd didn’t have treatment for the phobia. He certainly needed it. Tucking the subject away for another time, she said, ‘The Downs are riddled with tunnels – so many digs for prehistoric sites, besides the chalk and flint mines. You never know; they could lead to other sites.’
‘Well, let’s hope we can persuade the dowager to let us search the grounds.’
The great oak doors opened to reveal a pompous butler, his potbelly straining against the buttons of his formal tailcoat. ‘How may I help you?’
Redd raised his badge again. ‘We’re here to see the dowager.’
The butler inclined his head slightly. ‘Your card?’
Redd sighed, reaching into his inside pocket.
As they waited, Tess muttered, ‘It’s almost as if you’re requesting an audience with the Queen.’
Redd smiled. ‘The dowager seems quite approachable; the Earl is another matter.’
The butler reappeared, his lips a light purple in the plum-shaped face. ‘This way, please.’
Following him into the mansion, Tess admired the mahogany panelled walls, the heads of great stags mounted like sentinels, their eyes, soft, glowing in the lights of an immense crystal chandelier. Earls through the centuries posed from canvasses blackened with age. Some in military uniform clasped swords, whilst others sat astride a favourite warhorse.Sour-faced matrons with fat black ringlets glared from high lace collars gracing bombazine dresses. Between them, angelic young women surrounded with impish cherubs, gazed down with melancholic eyes. He almost winced, as they passed a dark painting. The light dimly outlined a cloaked figure, the hood revealinga gaunt face. A tattooed hand grasped a rusty scythe; the only sign of a Druid so far.
After some minutes of walking through the opulence of rooms furnished with antiques, the butler knocked gently on the door, before opening it. He announced them in haughty tones, ‘Milady the police.’ Waving them in, he said, ‘Chief Detective Inspector Daniel Redd, Chief Detective Inspector Jack Cummings, and….’ He paused looking at Tess, ‘I’m sorry madam; I didn’t get your name.’
Tess said quietly, ‘Doctor Tessa Davies.’ The butler turned back to the dowager, ‘Doctor Tessa Davies milady.’ Bowing to no one, in particular, he left the room.
Seated in a Queen Anne chair, the dowager tapped her silver-headed stick, observing them,hawk-eyed. ‘Sit gentlemen, sit.’
Before taking a seat, Redd stepped forward, ‘Milady, we spoke with you in the hospital. You told us you were concerned about your granddaughter.’
‘Concerned?’ she shrilled, ‘Concerned? Is that what you’d call it? I told you the other day, young man, my son, the murdering bugger, cut up my granddaughter into little pieces and put them in a black plastic bag – and you say I’m concerned?’
Surprised she’d remembered, Redd said, ‘I’m sorry, milady; I didn’t mean to upset you.’
‘Upset? I’m terrified – distraught, I tell you- dear God – they’re demons.’ Her voice raised, ‘Demons.’
‘Can you tell us a little more about these demons?’
‘More – what more can I say? They cut off her head. Do you want me to describe it? Have a heart attack? We’re not talking about biscuits here; we’re talking about bits of my granddaughter. Find her. Find her murderer. Find my son.’
Redd remained standing. ‘Is the earl here tonight?’
‘No, he’s off as usual. I’m ashamed of the company he keeps; a tradesman – something to do with lorries and coaches. Such a common person, his language is abhorrent. I am ashamed. My son went to one of the finest schools in the Downs – a boarder. At least I got rid of him for the school terms. Thank God, he’s still friendly with Mainwaring – he’s got quite a prestigious position in the police force you know.
Redd tried to keep; his face composed. ‘Mainwaring? The Assistant Chief Constable?’
‘Yes – so why he has to have that common little man here, I don’t know.’
Redd gently interrupted, ‘You say you were with a nurse?’
‘Did I? A nurse? Ah yes … her name is? Oh dear, what the hell is her name? I haven’t seen her since. It’s disgraceful; these nurses come and go. Wait I’ll ring for Nurse Phillipa – yes Phillipa. She’ll know.’
Ringing the bell imperiously, she placed it on a marble side table, tapping her stick impatiently. Within seconds, a woman in her early fifties entered the room Her rich brown hair was swept up in a chignon, her eyes, like hard amethysts, the lips, a scarlet red scar across a plump face.
‘Nurse, tell these people, tell them Freddie murdered … err … Ju…. Tell them. You saw it, saw the legs and arms, the head on the pedestal – tell them.’
Redd did not question the dowager, knowing that she was referring to her granddaughter.
The nurse gazed hard at Redd. ‘And you are?’
‘CDI Daniel Redd, Chief inspector Jack Cummings, and Doctor Tessa Davies.’
‘I see; if her ladyship insists there’s been a terrible murder, we must act on it.’
Thumping her stick on the ground, the dowager almost screamed, ‘Tell him – tell him about the bits, the legs, the arms – tell him.’
Casting her eyes to the floor, the nurse said carefully, ‘We must pay attention to what her ladyship is saying.’
Something in her voice made Redd pause; he’d heard it before, somewhere? Where was it? Ignoring it, for the moment, he said, ‘Can you tell us where her ladyship’s granddaughter is?’
‘Lady Julia has gone on vacation with friends.’
‘What?’ the Dowager roared, ‘How dare you – you lying bitch – get out – get out now – you’re dismissed – dismissed. Seeing the old lady stagger, Tess ran to her. ‘Please, Ma’am, come – come and sit down.’ Struggling, the dowager shouted at the nurse, ‘You’re dismissed – leave this house – now.’
Almost forcing the Dowager’s frail body into the chair, Tess stroked the gnarled hand, the papery skin covered in age spots. ‘Please milady be calm, be—’
Mollified, the dowager almost smiled, ‘You remind me of one of my cousins; he married an heiress from America. Then, turning abruptly to the nurse, she said, ‘go-go – now – you – you traitor.’
The nurse turned, addressing Redd, ‘Excuse me.’
His heart jumped, as he remembered her voice at the hospital, the voice that talked to him at the end of the phone. It confirmed his suspicions. He had not been talking to the granddaughter at all; he had been talking to this woman – an imposter. He followed her outside, ‘I take it you will be leaving, nurse?’
‘Oh no, this is just another tirade. She’ll forget all about it; the Alzheimer’s advanced.’
‘At the hospital, she insisted it was her granddaughter. I spoke to Julia on the telephone as well. I gather from your guarded answers that you did not witness any crime?’
‘No – indeed. The Dowager does not leave her room at night, let alone search the cellars. She can hardly walk, Inspector.’
‘I see; thank you for your time. So you’ll be here if I have any more questions?’
‘I don’t have your full name?’
‘Nurse Phillipa Trent.’
As he turned to go, he said, ‘One more thing nurse, the dowager talks of another nurse, is she still here?’
‘No, Inspector. She left in the middle of the night. Most probably couldn’t take anymore of milady’s tantrums. An Alzheimer’s patient is not easy to nurse.’
Redd returned to the room. ‘These cellars milady, where are they?’
‘Underneath the mansion of course, where else would they be?’
Redd curbed a grin, at times; this lady was sharper than honed steel despite her dementia. ‘Of course – but how do you reach them?’
‘There’s a lift to the ground floo; the cellars are in the East Wing.’
Jack said, ‘Milady, it has come to our notice that you have a chapel in the grounds.’
‘Oh yes, we attended services regularly, you know. Now it is derelict. Such a shame; what is the country coming to? People are no longer attending the church; goodness knows what is happening to the morals of today. I mean they do not even get married these days; they have partners – I ask you – partners? We used to attend St Stephen’s church, but even that is falling down. The Vicar there was so kind. Such a lovely man.’
Nodding Redd said, ‘Then you won’t mind if we have a look over the mansion and the church?’
‘Of course I don’t mind – I’ve been telling you, Ju – Juju is here, Nurse … I’ve forgotten her name, oh, dear, never mind; she’s here too. Look, I’ll be happy to show you the cellars.
‘No – no milady we don’t want to put you to any discomfort.’
‘Don’t insult me. Discomfort? You are talking to an athlete, an ex-Olympian. I would have you know I won eight gold medals – eight, so do not tell me about discomfort. I can run circles around you – you young pup.’
Feeding the fantasy, Redd said, ‘An Olympic champion, I am impressed. I would like you to come along milady, but we have special exercises to carry out; however, we will report back to you.’
Mollified, the Dowager nodded. ‘Then startstraight away, there’s not a moment to be lost. I shall ring for the butler to show you the lift and cellars.’
His shoulders straight, coattails swinging the man escorted them to the lift. ‘There’s not enough room for us al; I’ll meet you at the bottom and show you the cellars.’
In the lift, Jack murmured, ‘We’d better go over the plans.’
Nodding agreement, Redd turned to Tess. ‘Time to get Sweetpea. I’ll just go find the butler. Won’t be long.’
Minutes later, Tess charged through the main doors with an ecstatic dog straining at the lead. ‘For God’s sake Sweetpea don’t let me down.’
Jack grinned; this was his first experience of the Greater Swiss Mountain dog, and he was electrified. ‘My God, he’s a monster.’
Struggling, Tess said, ‘Don’t I know it? Now calm down – calm down.’ She shook the dog’s lead. ‘Sit – sit.’ At which command, in his effort to get to Redd, he almost knocked over the butler. Ruffling the dog’s fur, Redd looked up at the astonished man, who hurriedly brushed some dog hairs off his coattails. ‘We’ll be okay now thanks. It’ll take a couple of hours, I guess, to complete the search.’
Bowing slightly, eyes askance, the man hurried away.
Entering the cellar and switching on the lights, Redd said, ‘Okay, let’s do it. Mind the steps, Tess, they’re quite steep.’
The musty smell of moss and lichen assailed them, as they entered the empty space. ‘Right, now we’re alone, a couple of important points. First, did you both hear the dowager rattling on about the Earl’s friends – the common little man -coaches and lorries? That’s Terry Sparkes, he owns a fleet of coaches. Owen and McConnell have seen them here several times.’
Jack nodded, ‘Yeah – so Sparkes would tie in with the Mystery Tour. Then there’s Mainwaring – the list of suspects grow.’
Turning to Tess, Redd said, ‘Let’s get Sweetpea to smell the clothes.’
Taking the clothes from his briefcase, Jack bundled them under Sweetpea’s twitching nose. Sniffing them, the dog sat down and whined. Puzzled, Jack said, ‘What’s he doing?’
Tess grinned, ‘He’s waiting for me to give the word, once I do. There’ll be no stopping him. Sweetpea. Search.’
Immediately, the dog leapt into action, his nose almost sweeping the ground, as he padded along the sides of the walls until he reached the far corner. He then sat and raising his head, whined, one paw raised.
Tess whispered, ‘She’s been here – look; he’s pointing.’
Jack went forward. ‘Jesus – that was quick – he should be in the K9 unit.’
Nodding, Redd walked over to join Tess. ‘The corner is swept almost clean. Look here, the lichen has been rubbed off the wall.’
Jack grinned. ‘Looks like we’re getting somewhere.’
Redd grimaced. ‘Still only supposition. We need a significant cause to tear this place down.
Tess looked closely. ‘Yes; I see what you mean; it’s certainly disturbed here. But where would they have taken her?’
Tracing the plans with his finger, Redd muttered, ‘There’re three doors, the one to the left leads to the grounds, the other to the tunnel and two cellars, and the other to some stairs.’
Jack murmured, ‘They may have used them for meetings. This one leads to the tunnel and the Church. It must have been a priest’s escape route – Queen Elizabeth the First.’
Nodding, Jack said, ‘Let’s have a look in the cellars first.’
The first door offered no resistance, having only a rusted iron latch. Entering, Jack said, ‘Wine cellar, got some good vintages here of course.’
Walking along rows of wine racks, Red whistled, ‘Must be worth a fortune. Okay, nothing here, let’s try the other one.’
The second cellar proved more difficult. Unperturbed, Redd pulled out a small bunch of pins and keys. Choosing a pin, he inserted it in the lock, twisting it. Finally, the door swung open to reveal a room cluttered with discarded furniture.
Tess peered in, ‘Some good antiques and collectibles here. That chair over there is definitely Queen Anne and that vase there is beautiful. Look, they’ve got a bookcase cabinet full of old books. They should be in a library.’
Redd touched her shoulder. ‘No dismembered limbs here – let’s try the tunnel.’
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: