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:
Redd paced the length of the yew tree grove. Tess had not made contact yet. Did they have sound jammers in the mansion? Maybe they’d blocked her? Talking into the tiny phone on his lapel, he called Amanda Green. ‘Hi, Green – any sign of Tess?’
‘Yes, boss, she’s in the drawing-room at the back of the mansion at the moment. All seems okay.’
‘Right, I haven’t heard from her.’
‘I will keep her under surveillance. Hang on, Sir – I think right now they’re making a move.’
‘Any communications from the other officers?
‘Tomkins has managed to find a cubby hole down in the tunnel. So he’ll be able to see them go to the church and back.’
‘Good. Call terminated.’
At that moment, his phone beeped. ‘Yes – Redd here.’
‘Sir, I have a call from Lugh Roberts… I am redirecting the call to you now.’
‘Yes, Lugh – how can I help you?’
‘Well, I don’t know if it means anything to you, but I’ve had some news through the grapevine. ‘
‘It seems that some of the neo-druids are starting their fires earlier. They forecast rain this evening. They all synchronize the time of the fires, so they all start at once. It gives more energy to the occasion. ‘
Redd gritted his teeth. ‘Fuck – doesn’t give us much time.’
‘Just a point, dear boy. The sacred hours are three, six, nine, and twelve. I think they may well go with three pm.’
‘Thanks, Lugh – sorry about the language – it’s one o’clock now, so it doesn’t give us much time.’
‘Don’t worry, only natural. I’ll phone if there’s anything drastic going on.’
‘Thanks, Lugh. Bye.’
Clicking off the phone, Redd spoke immediately into the lapel. ‘Green … we’ve got a problem – just had a call that the Solstice fire ritual may be early; three PM. It’s one PM now. Communicate this to the others. Any more movement?’
‘Boss, Bessie tells me the general public is only being admitted to three of the main rooms today. So our group is now in the library.’
Visualizing the plans, Redd said, ‘That means they’re on their way to the cellars which lead off the library. So get on it, Green.’
‘Yes, boss, PC Dickens is on the alert in the tunnel. I except they’re on their way to the church. We have an officer in the upper gallery of the church, Sir.’
‘Good work, Green.’
Tess followed the others down the steps to the cellars. Lotte clutched her hand, whispering, ‘Isn’t this exciting – this really is a mystery tour.’
The guide called up, ‘People be careful, keep your hands on the rail, we don’t want any accidents.’
Standing at the bottom of the steps, he waved people through to the main cellar. As the group assembled, chattering, some giggling, the drugs now working through their systems, the guide said, ‘These cellars hold a multitude of secrets. This was part of an escape route for priests. So many were persecuted in the Reformation – King Henry the Eighth period. We’ll now take you through the tunnel to the Church.’
Tess kept to the back, glancing over her shoulder – not a sign of a police officer. Then, reaching the Church, she heard Trewitt’s excited voice, booming over the babble, ‘My goodness – a veritable feast.’
Tess took the champagne from the waiter looking around the derelict church, smart in a starched shirt and black trousers. Tess held her glass attempting to smile, the blood thundering in her ears. Still no sign from Redd. Something was wrong – very wrong. Lotte grabbed her hand, almost dragging her to a pew. Clinking glasses, she cried, ‘Cheers – here’s to a great day.’
Tess clinked glasses, then as Lotte’s head turned, she tipped the contents under the pew.
The young police officer, his spotty face pale, crouched still and silent up on the gallery, unaware of a figure moving towards him. Then, in one stealthy move, the figure leapt, pulling the officer’s head back by his hair, the knife sliding across his throat. Silently, the figure crept away, leaving the officer prone on the floor, blood spreading on the wooden boards.
‘Come on, Tess, let’s get some of that scrumptious food.’
‘You go, Lotte. My stomach’s still bad.’ Then, holding up the empty champagne glass, she said, ‘This has helped, though.’
She watched Lotte join the others as she fingered a sausage roll. She wished she could warn her, get her away from here. Tess took deep breaths, fighting the fear threatening to overwhelm her. She mustn’t panic – not now. She just wished Redd or someone would contact her. The babble reached a crescendo; a girl with black shoulder-length straight hair sat jiggling the keys of the organ. A young man with small pebble glasses was in the pulpit giving a blasphemous speech. Others crowed around the altar, picking up oak leaves whilst others twirled the yew tree sticks. Still another couple now sat in a tight embrace, lips locked.
‘I think it is time now. Let’s take them through.’ The guide persuaded the young man to leave the pulpit and, taking his place, clapped his hands, ‘Okay folks, now we have another treat in store for you. Listen everyone – listen.’
The group quieted. ‘That’s right – now listen. It’s not only Rome with the catacombs – we’re going to take you to see some right here, in this very estate. The catacombs holding the mummified bodies of the Medbury ancestors, going back through the centuries.’ A dark-haired woman with very large breasts shrieked with delight, jumping up and down, ‘Catacombs – yes – catacombs.’ The others joined her, shrieking louder.
Tess knew they were in trouble; Redd was out of contact. Shafts of glass seemed to cut her stomach; she knew something terrible was happening. Glancing around, still seated in the pew, she drew the penknife from her pocket. Taking a deep breath, gritting her teeth, she jabbed it into her thumb. Pulling her hand from her pocket, she spread some blood on the seat. To her dismay, there was hardly any. She knew she’d been a coward; she had to slice her thumb deeper. Her head whirled as she put her hand back in her pocket, trying not to cry out or groan, the knife slicing through her flesh. Please, Sweetpea – find me – find me.
The guides and assistants guided the guests through an arched door in the sidewall of the church. Once through that door, she knew they were lost. Pretending to speak to Lotte, now walking glassy-eyed towards the door, she whispered, ‘Redd – can you hear me? It’s the side door in the church, the side door.’
Lotte turned her head, her voice slurring, ‘Door … door – yes.’
Smiling expansively, the guide shouted, ‘Take care now; we have lights, but the stones are slippery.’
The noise in the small corridor was tumultuous; some were now dancing along, some singing, whilst others made ghostly noises. Giggling, Lotte moved towards the entrance with an insane look in her eyes. Tess danced to the other side of Lotte, away from the guide, stooping slightly; her hand went out knee-high onto the wall, the blood mingling with the lichen.
They’ll be coming for us soon.’ Julia raised herself on one elbow. ‘I’m sorry, Gemma – so sorry.’
Gemma shook her head. ‘You did all you—’
‘I would have taken your place if I could, but he’s my fucking father. I hate him – hate him.’
Gemma’s bones ached from the midnight ceremonies, a nightmare from which she’d thought she’d never recover. She wanted to die as they dragged her, spitting and screaming to the effigy. There in front of the huge grotesque form of The Wicker Man, she was forced across the altar, her limbs spread out on the stone slab. For an hour, the devils chanted, swaying to the beat of half a dozen drums, men and women dancing, gyrating falling to the floor, copulating. They were insane utterly depraved. When the chief Druid marched up to the dais, she saw the men rise to follow him. Her heart pounded as she screamed at him, her body writhing when he climbed onto the altar, his tattooed body slick with sweat.
Julia interrupted her thoughts. ‘One of the guards told me it was going to rain early today, so they’ve brought the ceremony forward.’
‘Oh dear God. Isn’t there—’
Two women entered the small cell, ‘Time ladies, come you’ll have to put these cloaks on.’
Her heart leaping into her throat, Gemma stood; she could take them both out, but what was the use? Beyond the cell was a huge cavern, guards everywhere. Clad in a black hooded cloak, she followed Julia down a narrow corridor to large doors over six feet high. The doors opened onto a lift and a steel walkway high above the cavern with steps down. The lift had a glass wall that gave them a view of the cavern. People were putting the last-minute touches on the Wicker Man. Around it, Ovates were busy placing cages in a circle.
As the lift doors opened, Gemma said, ‘What are they for?’
Julia frowned. ‘They’ve designed individual wicker cages for each of the guests. Each one will be strapped in. Oil soaked tapers run from The Wicker Man to each of the cages, as it catches light, so will the cages.’ She laughed dryly. ‘A carousel of fire.
Gemma shivered as she followed the women to the Wicker Man. A guard, naked, except for a sword, motioned for her to climb the central steps into the body of the effigy.
Julia followed, her face pale; as the daughter of the Arch Druid, she would die in state. She looked at Gemma’s eyes, wild with terror. ‘Don’t give them the satisfaction; they thrive on fear.’
At those words, the earl appeared, naked except for a lustrous blue velvet robe; beside him, Titmouse stroked a stray lock of dirty blond hair across his bald pate.
The earl stretched a hand out to stroke Julia’s hair, the titian lights glowing. ‘You are honored; you will die with me; you will attain a high place in the other world. The Gods will look kindly upon you.’
‘Oh fuck off.’ Julia tried to kick him.
The earl smiled, ‘You will be able to choose your next reincarnation, such is the honor bestowed upon you.’
Julia snarled, ‘Shut the fuck up.
Tess followed the others into a stone corridor, listening to the running commentary from the guide, the assistants waving them through. ‘We’re now coming to the mausoleum.’
Tess jabbed the knife into her finger, the thumb still throbbing from the other cuts. Squeezing it lightly, she touched the door as they entered a small, dank, dark room, the only light coming from a tiny window of stained glass. Coffins lay on shelves reaching almost to the moss-covered ceiling; even the drugged guests became silent, cognizant they were in direct contact with the dead.
The guide’s voice boomed over the crowd, ‘Now we’re entering the British version of the catacombs.’
A woman squealed as they went deeper underground, ‘Oh my God, these aren’t in coffins, look, there’s a mummy.’
Tess peered at the sides of the deep tunnel, her heart almost leaping into her throat, as she saw the body of a small child, shreds of skin clinging to a small skeletal face. The hair was a dry mass of yellow curls flowing down a mildewed grey silk dress.
More of the group cried out in horror, others laughing hysterically as they passed more bodies, brittle old men, other bodies wrapped in decaying cloth. Tess wondered how they would have reacted without the drugs; this was one morbid tour. Slipping to the back of the throng, her finger dripping blood, she forced herself to stroke the bony fingers of what once was an elderly matron. The body clutched a moldering bible, the skeletal grin revealing blackened teeth, a mop lace cap tattered and musty, the skin scabrous. She nearly retched as the smell of old roses wafted up, covering a deeper, darker smell of decay. God, she was mingling her blood with the dead.
Up ahead, the catacombs ended in a stone wall. The guide stepped into a circular space. ‘Gather round people, come along now.’ As the guests assembled around him, he grinned, lifting his hand. ‘Now, ladies and gentlemen, for the coup d’état, this will amaze you. Let me introduce you to the eighth wonder of the world – a subterranean cavern. You are now about to witness an ancient ceremony.
Grinning, his voice trailed off as he pulled a lever to one side of an arched stone wall. People up ahead gasped as the wall slid sideways to reveal a lift door of gleaming glass with a smaller glass door to one side.
The young man with the bow tie cried, ‘Look at that – a bloody great big cave, underground – never heard about it.’
A coarse gravel voice shouted, ‘Hey, what’s that down there?’
‘It’s a bloody big wooden statue,’ a woman shrilled, stretching her dark head forward.
The guide corrected her, ‘It’s the Wicker Man, ma’am.’
Tess dug the knife deep into her finger as she saw Lotte look around, waving her forward. She shook her head; she was determined to stay at the back. It was her last chance to leave something for Sweetpea.
‘Now those of you who would like to go down in the lift, please step forward; we only have room for fifteen of you; the others can take the steps.’
‘So come in – come in.’ The guide led the others into the lift with two assistants following. Tess decided to take the steps, but she had to leave more blood at the arch; it was perhaps the only sign that she had gone through this way. An assistant smiled as she approached.
Tess suddenly winced. ‘Oh, my side – I’ve got a stitch.’ Holding a hand to her waist, she stumbled forward, grasping the arch with her right hand.
The young woman frowned in concern. ‘Just take it easy. I think you’d better take the lift, don’t you?’
‘It’s gone now, just missed it.’
‘We can wait for it to come up again.’
‘No – no – it’s easing now.’ Tess tried to smile. ‘Phew, that was awful. I think I twisted my side further back there, stumbled on some stones.’
‘Okay then, look, I’ll walk before you, just in case you fall.’
Tess felt as if a scalpel picked at her brain; at least the woman hadn’t sussed anything. Then she looked at the Wicker Man; it must be over twenty feet high. Her fears were genuine; sacrifice by burning. No one would find the bodies here. Where was Redd? It had all gone terribly wrong. Would he even think of a subterranean cavern this huge?
Trewitt’s voice boomed, ‘What a sight. Hey, are those people naked? Now, who would have expected that?’ High on the drugs, he caught hold of Sandy as he did a little jig.
A thin, lanky man in stonewashed jeans stroked a dreadlock. ‘Why is everyone naked?’
His companion, a young woman with waist-length sandy tresses and a long printed skirt, said, ‘All part of the show.’
Yeah – nature man – nature. I wonder if we’re supposed to get our kit off.’ Trewitt laughed, ‘Too true young man.’ Without hesitation, he peeled off his tweed jacket. Sandy watched simpering, a hand over her mouth, as he shucked off his trousers, then his white y-fronts.
A couple of the other guests followed suit, one, the woman with the ample breasts stripping to her thong. ‘I ain’t taking that off.’
The guide seeing them divest themselves of their clothes, encouraged the others to follow. ‘Come on, folks, let’s join in the party. We’re now ancient Britons, so let’s dress like them, or should I say undress.’
Tess looked up to the Wicker Man to see two women naked with tattooed bodies standing in the loins of the effigy. Would the guests realize what was happening? Could they save themselves? As she looked at the people working on the cages, she noticed they wore swords hanging from leather belts. No chance, they were prepared. Redd, where are you?
Sir, I couldn’t get any reply from the PC in the Church, so I got a couple of uniforms to climb up to the windows. It’s empty; they’ve disappeared. I’ve got officers in the tunnel, but no sign of them.’
‘Fuck – fuck – get some more officers in there – just bust in – call terminated.’
Racing now to the Church, he heard Green’s voice, urgent, ‘Officer down boss, up in the gallery, throat cut. I’m calling the ambulance.’
‘Okay, I’m contacting the SWAT Team and K9 Unit. I’m on my way.’
He spoke into his lapel, ‘Jack-Jack – come in – come in now.’
‘Okay, Dan – Jack here. What’s up?’
‘Officer down at the church – bastards cut his fucking throat. The guests have disappeared. We need the SWAT Team.’
‘Okay – we’re on our way.’
‘Get the bloody dogs in.’
‘Already contacting K9 – be with you in a couple of minutes
‘Make sure Tess’s dog’s with them.’
‘Come on, Dan – he’s neurotic – he’ll fuck it up.’
‘Jack, he tracks her blood for Christ’s sake.’
‘I know – I know – okay, I’m on it.’
Redd touched the bulge of the Glock in his jacket; he wouldn’t hesitate to use it. People scattered as he ran, fuck – fuck – shit – fuck – fucking fuck. He shouldn’t have let her do it. He saw her face, her eyes, her lips, shit – he’d bloody kill them – kill them.
As he raced into the church, Green called to him from the gallery. ‘Up here, boss.’ Redd bounded up the stairs, stopping short as he nearly stepped in bright blood pooling around the young officer’s head. Fuck – poor bugger – he was only a kid – only a fucking kid. They’ve jammed the wires. We’ve lost Tess.’ He pulled the Glock out, espying the uniforms searching the gallery – bugger all. Taking the steps two at a time, he reached the stone floor as Jack burst through the door. ‘Hey, man, put this on.’
Jack threw him a Kevlar vest with neck, arms, and groin reinforcement. Gritting his teeth, hating every moment that kept him from the chase, Redd rammed the thing on.
Jack said, ‘And take this,’ throwing him a Heckler & Koch MP5.
Redd hefted the assault rifle, feeling the weight before strapping it to his shoulder. He also had the Glock; he could shoot on the run. Hearing the barking of the K9 Unit, he stopped. His face brightened just for a moment – Sweetpea. The mutt irritated him at first, all that licking and slobbering, but now, he felt a rush of warmth – he’d find her scent.
As he gathered the handlers and dogs around him, Sweetpea sat down on his haunches and howled. The handler shook him gently, but Sweetpea howled even louder, leaping and gnashing at the lead.
Redd muttered, ‘Okay; you’ve given them Gemma’s clothes?’
‘Yes, Sir – ready to go on your command.’
Clumping up to him in her hardened combat boots, Dove looked particularly ferocious in her bulky SWAT gear. ‘Any ideas, Sir?’
‘Nah, it’s up to the dogs now. This place is riddled with secret doors, tunnels, and cellars. God knows where they’ve gone.’
Dove nodded. ‘Look at the dogs; they’re everywhere.’
‘Yeah, I expect Tess’s been in few places here.’
Standing with her and Jack, he watched as the dogs chased around the church, sniffing pews, the floor, the altar. To his amazement, Sweetpea shot off to a door in the far side of the church, standing on his hind legs; he scratched at the latch, then backed off and leaped, throwing his total weight against the wood. Christ, the dog could batter it down. He was lethal. A few dogs now joined him but sat quietly, paws lifted towards the door.
The handlers opened the door for the canines, who now rushed through in a pack, barking and whining down a stone corridor, with Redd and the teams following.
Redd muttered, ‘This leads to the mausoleum.’
Dove running steadily beside him, her boots thumping on the stone floor, said, ‘But it’s too small – wouldn’t hold twenty people and a bonfire.’
The handlers raced to the dogs, sniffing around the edges of the door to the mausoleum. Already feeling the pinching fingers of claustrophobia creep over him, Redd searched desperately for signs of blood. He mustn’t panic – not now. Christ – shit. He remembered Tess’s words, to breathe slowly and deeply. It was hard; the dogs were frantic, their heads dipping and rising as they sniffed frantically. He dived into his pocket for the diazepam, just two, that would stave off a panic attack. As the door opened, snapping and growling, Sweetpea, caught in the middle of the pack, fought to get to the front place, definitely an alpha male.
Crowding into the small burial chamber, they shone torches on the dust-ridden coffins – nothing. Sweetpea shrieked, gulping air, as he pawed at the exit door almost as tall as the handler. As the door opened, he raced with the pack down the steeply sloping tunnel.
Redd caught his breath; Tess had left blood for them to follow. He heard a K9 officer shout, ‘Bodies – loads of bodies down here.’
His heart thundered as he looked up to see the ceiling sinking down, the walls closing in on him. Stifled, he gritted his teeth; the diazepam would kick in soon. With his heart in his mouth, he ran with Jack to see mummified remains of bodies on shelves hewn from the rock.
Dove gasped, ‘It’s like catacombs – Christ, it’s eerie.’
Redd saw Sweetpea sniffing the bony fingers of a skeletal elderly woman in a mildewed fob cap, her clothes moldering. He went over to see blood darkening the bones. For once, Sweetpea was not licking, head bowed, his nostrils sensitively twitching; he examined the bones once more, gulping air before racing on ahead.
Catching up with Jack, he saw the K9 handlers facing a stone wall. A tall officer traced the wall with his hands, feeling for edges. ‘Bugger it Guv. Dead end.’
Redd went over to see the dogs sniffing eagerly at the rough stone. Sweetpea went on his hind legs, frantically scratching at the stone. An Alsatian growled his nose flat onto the wall at a stack of stones.
Jack went over the arch, stone by stone. ‘Got to be here somewhere Redd, a false wall – got to be.’
A handler reached in among the wet noses and gnashing teeth of the dogs. ‘There must be a pressure point somewhere here.’
Copyright © Katy Walters
All rights reserved
Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here: