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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Swiftly, they entered the tunnel, wired for lights. Redd looked up at the slightly domed ceiling a foot above them. ‘They’ve obviously strengthened the roof, and the walls are shored up – must have used these a lot.’
Tess nodded. ‘But for what?’
Jack said, ‘Away from prying eyes – especially if they’re conducting pagan orgies.’
Eagerly, Sweetpea ran, stopping only to whine in places, his nose almost boring into the dirt wall, until he reached the door, his paws scrabbling on the latch.
Tess turned to Redd. ‘Seems she came this way.’
Immediately, he ran forward to open the door. The dog bounded up the steps into a vestry. Once again, Jack gave Sweetpea the clothes to sniff. Then, on Tess’s, command, the dog loped, nose to the ground, along a narrow corridor that led into the Church. Running to an altar atop a stone bench, the dog growled, sniffing oak and yew leaves strewn across the marble slab. Again, Sweetpea sat, raising his paw, panting, his long tongue hanging out from the side of lethal-looking jaws.
Tess said, ‘Someone or something was on the altar. It doesn’t look good, does it?’
Redd shook his head; striding to the altar, he peered at the leaves. ‘No signs of blood, but I daren’t touch anything – could be traces of DNA or something here.’
Tess almost whispered, ‘Oh dear God, they didn’t—’
‘It’s not the summer solstice yet. Maybe they carried out some kind of ritual.’
Jack said, ‘What about the trestle tables then? Looks like they’ve been laid for a banquet.’
Nodding, Redd walked over. ‘Linen clothes, candelabra – maybe preparing for the Mystery Tour?’
Tess murmured, ‘It’s a thought – if Gemma was supposed to be going on it, plus the other victims were from the labs; it’s a possibility.’
‘Maybe they’ll just show them around the mansion and then make their way over here for a buffet. It certainly is an ancient church; it would be interesting.’
Frowning Redd said, ‘One thing is for sure; Gemma was here. I’ve got a good mind to get the Forensic team out now. However, we’ve just not got enough to go on.’
Tess said, ‘There’s Sweetpea’s tracking, and the dowager does give quite an uncanny description of the M.O.’
Jack muttered, ‘She has dementia, Tess – not even circumstantial evidence. As for Sweetpea, we might believe in his tracking skills, but he is not a trained police dog. All it’s done is to give us some leads. However, we do have Sweetpea reacting to Gemma’s clothes. Again, he’s not police trained, but I think it’s enough now to persuade Bill.’
Tess narrowed her eyes as she picked up a twig of yew. ‘Maybe they will bring the guests here and then take them elsewhere – but where? Maybe there are other cellars or caves.’
‘If it’s going to be a human sacrifice, the earl and his cohorts are not going to build a Wicker Man in the grounds or anywhere else in the open, for that matter. But, unfortunately, Lugh, the Arch Druid of my Grove, is building a large one in the grounds of his old mansion, but he hasn’t got anything to hide.’
Shadows gathered in the corners of the old church as twilight deepened. Jack got the plans out of his briefcase, laying them on the trestle table. ‘Let’s have a look.’
Redd watched as Jack traced the tunnel. ‘Nope – there’s nothing else on here. But I can’t get the Dowager’s words out of my head; she rambled on about the pit, and the Devil living under the mansion, that she could hear him breathing – devil’s music.’
Tess said, ‘There’re only the two cellars, and they’re not very big – cluttered as well. But she is confused – demented.’
Jack shrugged. ‘Maybe, but she can be very clear – coherent. I mean, she even remembered The earl’s friend – the coaches.’
‘Yes, it’s a past memory. People with Alzheimers do remember the past vividly; in fact, as the disease progresses, they move more and more into the past. It’s the present that’s the trouble; they cannot retain anything for more than five minutes, sometimes even less. So this must have been going on for quite a while.’
Redd scratched his chin, ‘So where in hell is she talking about?’
‘So far, we’ve only found the cellars – they’re far too small and full of wine or clutter. They know we’re on to them, so no way can they pull it off in the open air.’
Tess walked to the first pew and sat down. ‘Like I said earlier, the druids packed the Wicker Man with humans and animals. It was so important, Dan.’
‘Yeah, but twenty?’
‘The Aztecs slaughtered thousands. These perps are fanatics; they’ve proven that with the dismemberment and decapitation of the victims. Maybe this is their grand finale – to shock the world. The rites are sacrosanct.’
Jack came back to the altar. ‘What say we put someone on the tour? They could wear a tracking device and carry a mobile; we could track by a digital device or triangulation.’
Redd nodded. ‘Good idea, trouble is the Earl will know us, as will Mainwaring or Titmouse, that’s if they’re in on it.’
Tess put down the twig on the altar. ‘I could do it.’
‘No, Tess – too dangerous. I couldn’t allow it.’
Brushing a lock of ebony hair off her brow, she said, ‘Come on, I’ll be quite safe, I mean if I have the tracking gear on.’
Jack raised his eyebrows. ‘What about Dove? She can take care of herself.’
Redd shook his head. ‘Nah – they know her – they’ve seen Tess with me at the crime scene, but I don’t think it was long enough to take precedent. I hesitate—’
‘Dan, there are twenty people’s lives at stake here. You will have people in the grounds, the cellars, and the church. What can go wrong?’
‘The fucking tunnel – that’s what could go wrong.’
‘The largest spaces for a Wicker Man are in the cellars, the tunnels are far too confined, but they won’t use the cellars – they’re too small, and we’ve been there.’
‘Yeah, but there could be somewhere we just haven’t discovered yet. Fuck, we need more time.’
Jack sat down on the pew, ‘How about DC Green? She’s good.’
‘Titmouse knows her, Jack. If they see her, they’ll call the fucking thing off.’
Sighing, Tess folded her arms across her chest. ‘Look, there’s no other way. At least I’ll be alert to anything going on. As you say, I’ll have the tracking devices and mobile. There’s only a tunnel, and you could be down there in a shot.’
Jack got up from the pew, ‘Hang on a minute, this will not work, he might remember you. Police have keen eyes – training.’
‘I don’t think Titmouse saw me, and if he did it would only have been for a second or two – he wouldn’t remember me Jack. So look, I’ll wear a hat, better still I’ll wear a wig – change my make-up. I’ve actually got some blue contact lenses. I use them for clubbing – not that I do that very much now.’
Redd grinned, ‘Great – blues eyes – blond – sounds great.’ Then the thought clutched at his heart – Esther – blonde hair drifting in the breeze. Taking a breath, he said, ‘You’ll be wearing the latest tracking devices. Make sure you don’t drink or eat anything there on the day; it could be drugged.’
Tess nodded, excitement in her eyes, as she grinned. ‘Understood. So let’s do it.’
Redd knitted his brows. ‘First thing though, is a team meeting. And I’ll have to arrange for SWAT that’s if Maddeley is agreeable.’
Jack put his hand on his shoulder. ‘He will be – I’ll be with you – we’ll talk him around. Anyway, the team and SWAT will be invisible until they’re needed.’
Redd checked over his files as he rushed to the Incident Room. The night before, he’d insisted on driving Tess back himself. But, even now, he was worried sick about letting her do it. ‘You know I don’t think you should do this, hell if anything happened to you…’
As she unlocked the door, he grabbed her, holding her close. ‘If those bastards lay one finger on you, I’ll be tearing off heads.’
‘Well, before you do that, who’s going to come over and fix me up for Sunday?
‘Bessie Owen. She’s very amenable and very sharp. So just go with what she says, okay. She’ll be fixing a digital device in the heel of your shoe and an earring.’
‘Sounds painless. ‘She turned to him, cupping his face in her two hands, raising her lips to his, she kissed him gently. Responding, he crushed her to him, his tongue flicking through, tasting her sweetness.
The odours from the incident Room washed over him, stale hot dogs, pizzas, cold coffee, cigarette breath, and unwashed clothes. Voices buzzed, officers sprawled on chairs or lolling against tables, as he moved to the whiteboards.
Redd looked up at the fresh faces of the victims, smiling eyes lit with the glow of youth. Beside them were photos of the crime scenes, the vics’ flesh now grey, arms and limbs dismembered, torsos mutilated, a couple headless. He looked over to see Dove writing on the other board, making a list of items to be discussed.
Grabbing his stick from the rack, he said, Thanks. Let’s get started.’
Dove took a seat in the front row with Jack close beside her.
‘Okay, folks, I know it’s late, and I’ve got some of you from your beds, but we have a couple of leads.’ He paused as he looked at the officers, faces gouged with fatigue, skin sallow, eyes flat.
A voice graveled with a lifetime of cigarettes growled, ‘No sweat Guv, we’ve gotta get these fuckers.’
Hugh Price, the office manager, coughed, shocks of grey hair uncombed. ‘Yeah, bust their fucking balls.’
‘That’s the spirit. We only have one day before the Summer Solstice. As you are aware, everything points to the Earl of Medbury as the leader of this Druid group of maniacs. All the victims, including the latest, Gemma Rodenbury, are from the research labs. We know the rest of the research workers are being treated to a Mystery Tour by an anonymous donor.’
‘Sir, why don’t you cancel the tour? Makes sense.’
‘Can’t be done, Williams; we only have our suspicions. We have no evidence to the contrary. But, anyway, it will give us an opportunity – give them a chance to hang themselves.’
His craggy brow, even more, furrowed, he said, ‘can’t you warn the researchers?’
‘No – we’d be had up in court for slander.’
But, first of all, everyone, you talk to no one outside of the team. It’s sensitive – we have reason to believe we have a couple of rogue cops – high up. We’re a close team, and we’ve been through some complex cases together, so you’ll understand until we know more, I can’t discuss it. So let’s get on. I hope you’ve all got your notes, reports, and files. We need to tie this case up. Now Bessie – what’ve you got?’
Bessie pulled the top straight over her stomach. ‘As I said, Sir, the mystery tour was paid for in cash. No receipts – no records.’
‘Details of the coach company?’
Rifling through her report, Bessie said, ‘Private company, been going some years now – got a place on the Trading Estate – hangars housing lorries and coaches – two managers, five office staff and fourteen workers. Upfront firm, as far as I can make out, Sir. The owner, Terence Sparkes, belongs to the Masons – goes to lots of civil functions. Quite high up in social circles.’
‘So, did you find any connections to the Earl of Medbury?’
‘Yes, Sir, Sparkes and the Earl attend the same functions at times. Sparkes also goes for dinner at the mansion about twice a week, as does Chief Superintendent Titmouse. However, he always goes through the back of the estate and across the grounds to the kitchen. This last week though, they’ve been there nearly every day at one time or another. On Thursday, Sparkes stayed for the afternoon and evening – and Titmouse turned up for the evening; they both left about two am. Sparkes’s was waiting – took them both. They were quite drunk or high on drugs too.’
‘Great work Bessie.’
Turning to her partner, he said, ‘McConnell – you also took up the trail of the drugs.’
The detective brushed a hand through his mop of unruly ginger hair, ‘We only got the derelict cottage Sir, but nothing else. We got a constable in plain clothes there every day, but nothing has been dropped there.’
‘Now I’d just like to say here, the Littlehampton team have been investigating hundreds of pharmacists literally – so far nothing. They thought they had a lead with someone at Brighton University, but it didn’t lead anywhere. Now the Bognor Regis team has a surgeon under surveillance, but he has not done anything for us to pick him up. One hopeful sign is he too visits the mansion.’
‘Okay – Green – Crosby – anything on the Earl?
Amanda Green straightened up. ‘Err – no Sir, he hasn’t left the mansion for a couple of days.
‘Really? We were there yesterday – talked with the Dowager, no sign of him.’
‘Well, I picked an inconspicuous spot by the front gates, Sir, been sitting there for hours, no movement. He hasn’t left the grounds unless there’s a secret entrance.’
‘Okay, so that confirms he was there all the time we were searching the cellars and the grounds – sly fucker must have been watching us.’
He looked over to Papworth, who sat puppy-eyed admiring Amanda. ‘Papworth – hey – Papworth, get your dick back in your pants.’
The officers hooted or snickered as a startled Papworth bolted up straight. ‘Sir?’
Redd let them laugh; it lightened the mood in what was a dark, gut-wrenching case. ‘Come on, Papworth – I’m sure Green will speak to you later, won’t you Green?’
Amanda snorted, her lips pursed, ‘Hell will freeze over first.’
‘So Papworth, anything more from Forensics?’
‘Nothing Sir, not even a fibre or DNA to go on. They did think they’d get something from Delle Woodhouse, but the rapist was a non-secretor. The bones, as you know, are hundreds of years old, all Caucasian. An experienced surgeon made those cuts. Apart from that, Sir, nothing.’
‘Okay – now Williams. Anything on HOLMES? Similar crimes or anything popping out?’
‘Nothing Sir, only the one at Avebury, I’ve been in touch with DCI Babbings, West Yorkshire Police, but he said that there had not been another crime. However, they are keeping an eye out at the neo-druid’s festivals tomorrow.’
‘Good – okay. So, here’s the Agenda for Sunday. First, the officers we suspect may be present throughout the visit of the Mystery Tour. As it is an open day at the mansion, there will be members of the public there as well. You will mingle with them. We have our symbolist taking part on the mystery tour, she’ll be wearing a blond wig, long hair, so you won’t miss her. Amanda, once the coach arrives on the grounds, I want you to shadow her and keep your distance. Don’t make it obvious that you’re guarding her – you’ll be in radio contact with her. Mack, I want you to keep an eye on the back entrance to the estate. Have your walkie-talkie on at all times.’
Turning back to the list, Redd tapped at the next item. ‘We suspect the Tour guests are to be sacrificed to the Druid Gods Sunday evening. We still do not know where they plan to do this. That’s why Dr. Davies is going to be part of the Mystery Tour.’
‘Now DCI Cummings is bringing a SWAT team together. Dove, you will assist him. The mansion opens at ten a.m; for public visitors. The office manager of the Research labs informs me the mystery coach will arrive at the Hospital at ten-thirty AM.’
Tess was accepted readily on the coach by a charming older man dressed in a dated tweed suit with a fob chain; all that was missing were knickerbockers. Affecting Dickensian speech, he greeted her effusively, professing his concern for the missing woman. Then, turning, he introduced a staid woman in her early sixties with a brutally short haircut. From Redd’s description, she immediately recognized them as Mr. Trewitt and Miss Sandy Stanton.
A pleasant young woman wearing huge tortoise-shell glasses and a mop of bottle red hair waved for her to come and sit by her. Grinning, she held out a hand. ‘Lotte Mansley, a great day for a tour. The weather forecast says it’ll hit 80 degrees today?’ For the rest of the tour, she talked non-stop, sharing the latest hot gossip in the labs.
Alighting from the coach, Tess glanced around, looking for any familiar faces. To her relief, she saw Redd talking to a group of people by the lake. Due most probably to the weather, the mansion seemed particularly popular today, perfect for outings and picnics. People bagged spaces on the lawns, spreading out blankets and foldaway chairs.
Entering the mansion, Lotte linked arms with Tess as a liveried servant waved them to a muted glass door of a private function room. ‘This way, ladies and gentlemen.’ At the entrance, waitresses in frilled white aprons over black dresses, replete with broderie anglaise caps, waited to escort them to the tables.
Tess and Lotte were led to a charming table, set with crisp white linen tablecloths and silver service; the crockery of finely decorated porcelain. The finishing touch was the centrepiece, a circlet of fresh rosebuds in a silver and crystal vase. Tess heard the loquacious tones of Mr. Trewitt as he sat on the next table, ‘How perfectly delightful. This is going to be a grand tour, I’m sure.’ Beaming, he shook out his linen napkin, spreading it across his lap.
On serving the silver teapots and milk jugs, the waitresses deposited a bowl of sugar. Next, to Lotte’s delight, came an array of sweet and savoury canapés. She was completely drawn to the cupcakes. ‘Oh my, now those are my favourites.’ Lifting the teapot, she said, ‘I’ll pour, shall I?’
Tess nodded slightly, heeding Redd’s warning; she bit her lip; how was she supposed to refuse everything? Then, as Lotte filled the teacup, she put out her hand, ‘Look, I don’t want to spoil anything, but I’m allergic to tea or coffee.’
‘Oh, ask for a cold drink.’
‘No – no – I honestly couldn’t. I didn’t want to spoil it for you, but I was so sick this morning. So I’ve brought some bottled water with me.’
‘Oh poor you, never mind, more for me.’ Grinning, Lotte took two cupcakes, one covered in whirls of whipped buttercream sprinkled with silver balls, the other a deep rich chocolate.’
As a deep rich voice said, Tess jumped, ‘My dear young lady – I couldn’t help but overhear. Shall I ring for you to have some lemon or water? That might help you with the sickness. Lemon always does the trick for me.’
Tess shook her head, ‘That’s very sweet of you, Mr…?’
‘Trewitt at your service. Always a delight to help a pretty lady.’
Thank you, Mr. Trewitt, but honestly, I’ll stick with the water – thank you.’
Nodding, Trewitt went back to his savouries, piled high on his dainty plate.
Feeling perturbed, Tess hoped she hadn’t drawn attention to herself. Noticing a couple of the maids watching the tables, their hands folded across their aprons, Tess engaged an ecstatic Lotte in conversation. ‘Is it your first time here?’
Wiping some cream off her lip, Lotte grinned. ‘Oh no, my parents used to bring me here when I was little, great for picnics and things. We used to spend the whole day here. Never saw the Earl or the Countess, though. To me, it was a castle; I used to have childish dreams about meeting them, and they’d realize I was their long-lost daughter – the lost princess, that sort of thing.’
Tess managed to smile. ‘Little girl’s dreams.’
Lotte picked up her cup of tea, slurping some of it, the rest dribbling down her chin. ‘Oops, sorry – messy me.’ Grinning, she snatched up her napkin, wiping her mouth, the lipstick bright on the cloth. ‘Oh dear, I’ve dirtied the napkin. I’ll hide it.’ Laughing, she pushed it down her front, the top now bulging.
Frowning, Tess tried not to take any notice. She was acting a little weird, but then she did not really know the girl. Then, to her amazement, Lotte stuck her fingers into another cupcake, licking the cream off her fingers waving it towards Tess; she said, ‘Want some? Oh no, you feel sick, don’t you? Okay, I guess I’ll take these home with me.’ Picking up the plate, she opened her bag, squashing the cakes inside.
Tess felt her face flush, her heart beating a tattoo. God, it was happening; the drugs were taking over – so soon? She looked over to the following table to see Trewitt tearing up the savoury canapés stuffing them into his mouth, whilst Sandy poured tea into an overflowing cup. The laughter in the room heightened, the guests’ voices becoming louder. She knew she had to look a part of it, so she began to grin broadly, raising her voice to Lotte.
At that point, a man entered his suit immaculate as he clapped his hands to gain attention. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen. I see you enjoyed your tea. Now we shall begin the tour. First, let me introduce myself; you can call me John.’ Two men in dark suits stepped forward, along with three women in tailored jackets and skirts. These are my assistants who will help you on the tour.’ The guests clapped, hooting and shouting, whilst one elderly woman cried out, trails of grey hair dropping down over her face, ‘Where are we going?’
Tess got up with Lotte, hanging onto her arm swaying slightly. She needed to get the message over to Redd. All she had to do was speak the code word to let him know things were happening – the word ‘bananas’ was easy to put into a conversation. She leaned over to Lotte. ‘Enclosed rooms send me bananas; I hope we can get a bit of space.’
Lotte frowned. ‘My mum suffers from claustrophobia, but she was alright here; the rooms are so big.’
Tess nodded. ‘I think it’s everyone crowding around me.’
She waited for Redd’s voice to come through, but there was nothing. Perhaps he’d switched it off or something. They were ushered through into another opulent and large room, with Aubusson carpets scattered across an oak floor and more scattered chairs and settees. Magnificent dressers lined one wall; the shelves filled with crystal and precious ornaments. Along the opposite side were glass-encased bookshelves, the gilt on the ancient books glittering dimly.
Standing in the middle of the room, John raised his arms. ‘Attention, everybody. This is one of the withdrawing rooms; the family and guests would adjourn here for after-dinner drinks. The men, of course, would still be at their brandy and cigars, after which they would join the ladies. Now we would like to take you through to the banqueting hall and then onto the church, where we have a great surprise.’
The crowd clapped excitedly, jostling each other, spirits raised abnormally. Tess felt anxiety churn like sand in her stomach. Why wasn’t Redd answering?
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: