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Authors: Patricia Scott

Dark Ritual

BOOK: Dark Ritual
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© Patricia Scott 2007

 

Patricia Scott has asserted her rights under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.

 

First published in 2007 as
Demise of a Dollybird
by Wings ePress Inc.

 

This edition published 2014 by Endeavour Press Ltd.

 

To my husband, Ronald, and Clive, my family and very good friends who have always supported me.

 

 

Prologue

 

The full moon glinted silver on the slender blade of the knife as it rose sharply and plunged down, again and again, into the defenceless, naked body which lay in the middle of the intricate crop circle.

On the top of the wooded hill, overlooking the fields below, campfires burned down low and blazed up again as fresh fuel was added. And torches flitted and flashed lights like fireflies amongst the trees as the protesters moved around the campsite made up of small tents which looked like coloured toadstools above Lower Milton.

A flaring gas lighter ignited the dry corn stalks around the body, and the hooded figure backed away slowly as the blood-stained corn stubble around the body began to crackle, hiss and flame into life and the pungent blue smoke weaved and rose up into the warm night air.

A fox barked and slipped quietly along the grassy verge under the protection of the nearby flowering leafy hedgerows. An owl flying out of barn across the fields hooted and the calls echoed overhead and mingled with the sound of music wailing eerily from speakers on the hill. In the crop circle, the crackle and snap of the red sparks flew up high in the air and the smouldering, smoking corn stalks burst into raging flames and disturbed the silence gathering again in the field.

A flash of lightning zipped across and lighted up the sky, followed by a rumble of distant thunder. Raindrops fell, splashing down heavily onto the congealing blood in the wounds, hissed on the burning stubble and put out the fire.

In the distance out in the road, a noisy car engine started up, rasped, choked, turned over and drove away.

 

 

One

 

Dead bodies were far removed from Viviane Trent’s mind that showery July morning. They were usually found in the crime novels on the library bookshelves in the green mobile van. That is till it drove slowly round the bend of the narrow winding lane where the police were busy at work erecting a plastic shelter in the middle of Farmer Maddock’s corn field.

The scene of crime officers in their white overalls, like mobile snowmen, were already well in evidence and there was an ambulance and a huddle of police vans and assorted cars parked out on the puddled road. Viviane spotted the familiar lean face of Detective Inspector Bob Fowler, who was speaking to the local policeman PC Colin Powell by the gate, diverting the traffic.

Fowler looked up when the van reversed and turned back to take the longer road round into the village. He smiled and raised a hand in greeting. She smiled and nodded but resisted the inclination to wave back.

“Hey — what do you reckon that was all about, Mrs. T.?” Nick Barnes, her young driver said glancing back quickly at the incident scene. “Is there a dead body in there? Did you see anything?”

“Of course not. The shelter is used to keep out prying eyes like yours, Nick,” she said with a chuckle.

He grinned. “You reckon?”

“Most of the local police are tied up with the new bypass where the protesters are involved at the moment. So they’ll have their work cut out dealing with this. If it’s a homicide, I wonder what time the body was found. And by whom?” she added thoughtfully.

“It’ll make things really buzz today in Lower Milton. And at least it’ll take their minds off the bypass for a bit, won’t it?” Nick said, as he glanced over at her. As a mobile driver he was still new, learning the ropes and taking over from Stan Towner who had just retired. Viviane hoped they would make a good team; he had only done this trip once before but already he was well conversant with the village and their readers.

They swung round the lane quickly, and swerved, narrowly avoiding a schoolboy on a bike racing full pelt towards them.

“Watch it! Keep your eyes on the road, Nick, or we’ll be taking a trip to the mortuary, too.”

“Sorry. I bet that kid was going to take a look at the scene of the crime.” He looked thoughtful for a moment as they drove down the twisting road, splashing through the puddles into the village. “Your husband Steve was in the police force, wasn’t he, Mrs. T.? I heard that he was a Detective Sergeant in the Met. Is that right?”

“He was. And I’d much rather you didn’t call me Mrs. T.” She smiled. “Viviane or Viv will do nicely while we’re working together on the round, Nick.”

“Righto, that’s fine by me, too.” He grinned back at her cheerfully. “By the way did you know the officer in charge back there? He looked as if he knew you.”

She smiled and nodded. “He does. He’s DCI Bob Fowler, Steve’s colleague and friend. He took over in the homicide squad afterwards,” she said quietly, keeping her eyes on the road ahead as a red farm tractor bowled along slowly towards them.

Nick cast a quick look at her but said nothing more.

Viviane thought of the police and the Forensics team now at work in the field behind them. She shivered and tried to shake off the angst she felt as they drove into Lower Milton, despite the sun drying up the puddles and warming up the honey colored stone of the Cotswold cottages with their flower adorned windowsills gathered like a daisy chain along the main street.

Ahead of their arrival, a slow, orderly procession of villagers, most elderly, walked towards the mobile van on the green, over the medieval stone bridge, spanning the river, which meandered through the village, dividing it into two halves. Those who had transport used the Central library in Cheltenham. But these were her faithful flock of regulars. They’d made their Monday morning visit to the post office; this was the source of their animated conversation. And Viviane didn’t need to be told that it wasn’t about the weather.

Nick Barnes grinned as he leaned up against the side of the green van biting into an apple as Viviane waited for them behind the counter inside.

“And here she comes now. We know what old Mrs. Doughty will have to talk about as a current topic this morning, don’t we? What’s the betting that the old dear will be able to tell you the victim’s age and sex in full detail? What kind of knickers she was wearing. Who found the body, and what state it was found in, without batting an eyelid?”

Viviane chuckled. “So you think it’s a woman...”

“Sure to be, the law of averages says so,” Nick said tossing the apple core aside onto the wet grass. Then spotting her frown, he picked it up and put it carefully into the van’s waste basket as he climbed up the steps into the van to stand behind her. “There are women for the asking here amongst those road protesters on the hill. And what’s the betting she’s been strangled and assaulted?”

“We’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we, Nick?”

“Now if you ask me, Stella, I reckons she got all that she deserved an’ that’s a fact.” Eighty-year old Mrs. Doughty, who was deaf and relied on a hearing aid, was speaking loudly as she climbed the steps slowly up into the van.

Close behind her came Miss Stella Pope, the elderly church organist whose reed like figure in her ice blue pantsuit and daffodil yellow plastic Mack was as thin as the older woman’s was stolid and stout. The two old men, Josh and William Chidgeley, brothers who’d worked on the Maddock farm waited patiently behind them on the steps. Now retired and in their late seventies, they were generally to be found sitting together like a pair of owl book ends on the long wooden bench outside the Fox and Goose pub in the summer and at either side of the large open hearth inside in the winter.

Josh took out and read westerns and crime avidly and William read gardening and travel books all the year round.

Viviane opened up the library computer and checked in the books. Breathing hard, Daisy Doughty piled up the colourful paperbacks in front of her on the counter and gave a hacking, chesty cough, filling the van with the strong scent of aniseed drops as she did so.

“Morning, Mrs. Trent. Cutting it a bit fine, weren’t yer? You’re ten minutes late.”

Nick grinned behind Viviane as she greeted this comment with a smile.

“Good morning, Mrs. Doughty. Sorry we’re a bit later today. We had a slight hold up. Traffic was bad with the road protesters causing problems for us again. And how are you today?”

Mrs. Doughty grimaced and sighed heavily as she leaned her elbows over the counter. “Still got the screws bad, Mrs. Trent. Somethin’ chronic. This damp weather don’t help my old bones or my chest. Did you spot the police as yer drove in?” she added eagerly.

Nick and Viviane exchanged amused glances. “We did, Mrs. Doughty.”

“So you know about the dead body that were found in the Maddock’s field this morning?”

“I guessed that it might be something like that. Who told you about it by the way, Mrs. Doughty?”

Nick sniggered and cast Viviane an amused look over his shoulder as he cleared away the books from the counter onto the trolley ready to shelve.

Oh dear. A fatal mistake for her part. The old lady didn’t need any encouragement to unload all she knew on her captive audience.

Mrs. Doughty nodded her plastic capped head sagely, and clicking her dentures for emphasis said, “Reg Godsell, our postman. It were him who found the body. He said it were a young woman an’ stripped to the buff she were. Not a stitch on her.” She looked to her friend for corroboration. Miss Pope nodded.

“Stabbed to death she were, Mrs. Trent,” Mrs. Doughty added ghoulishly. “According to Reg worse than a slaughtered pig. An’ whoever did it must have got her blood all over ‘em,” she said shaking her head and the few remaining raindrops over the books on the counter as she did so.

Despite her reservations about it Viviane was curious and asked as she wiped the books off carefully with a duster, “So — how did Reg find her? When he was doing his postal round?”

Mrs. Doughty nodded. “He said he’d finished it. He’d delivered a parcel to Ted Maddock on the farm and was on his way back to the post office. He took his usual short cut through the field and then took a fancy to take a closer look at that crop circle. Maddock’s made a packet on it since it were photographed in the newspapers. An’ then he found her...”

She paused for a moment for effect, gaining everyone’s full attention. “He weren’t feeling any too good afterwards, I can tell you. So it were damn lucky he’d delivered everything by then.”

Jo Stevenson, the Vicar’s young wife parked her baby son sleeping in his pushchair outside and joined them all in time to remark, “Amen to that, Mrs. Doughty. Our daughter Penny was waiting impatiently for her birthday cards this morning. She’s six today. She would have been upset if none had been delivered. So do tell us, Mrs. Doughty, what Reg Godsell had to say about it?” she said with a mischievous wink for Viviane, who groaned inwardly.

And for the next ten minutes or so they heard the crime regaled once again in rich, gruesome detail and much clicking of Mrs. Doughty’s teeth. “Reg said he thought at first that someone had lit a bonfire in the field. One of them protesters, them hippy vandals from the hill, pr’haps. An’ then he saw something had been dragged through the corn into the middle of the circle... an’ then,
an’
then
, he saw it.

“There were this young woman’s body lying on top of that stinking, smoking pile...” Her voice sank low now into a cracked eerie whisper over the counter.

“You said she was naked...” Jo interposed quickly.

“She were that — an’ Reg being a First Aider, he looked closer like to see if she were dead and thought he recognized the girl. She’d bled freely from them terrible knife wounds. Horrible it were.” Mrs. Doughty’s faded blue eyes sparkled. “Reg said her throat were cut like a pig’s an’ her skin blackened, toasted to a cinder like she was roasted. He reckons whoever killed her wanted to burn her body. The rain must have put it out in the end.”

Nick’s eyes grew larger, and Viviane gulped and covered her mouth quickly with her hand.

“Daisy...” Miss Pope protested weakly.

“So Reg took a good look while he was there then. He didn’t touch anything? He could have messed up any clues the murderer left behind,” Jo Stevenson chipped in again.

“He had to check on her, didn’t he, Mrs. Stevenson? He’s done first aid and he didn’t know if she were still breathing. He could have given her the kiss of life.”

“With her throat cut! And roasted! You must be bloody joking!” Nick chimed in. “Er — sorry — beg pardon, Mrs. Doughty — Viv. Everybody...” Jo Stevenson smothered a giggle.

The old woman glared balefully back at Nick, then continued with her story. “Like I said Reg is a First Aider. An’ a very good one. It shook him up something cruel for a bit. Poor devil,” she said shaking her head. “In a real bad way he were, Mrs. Trent. He told them in the post office, when he got back an’ they phoned PC Powell who called in all this new lot...”

“You said that he thought he recognized the victim, was she a local girl?” Jo Stevenson fired the question at her. “Are you quite sure about that? It could be one of those protesters, couldn’t it? No one will really know till she’s identified.”

Mrs. Doughty sniffed deliberately, untied her plastic hood, and shook out her long, putty grey curls, which uncoiled like Medusa’s snakes around her damp head, and in turn released a strong smell not unlike a combination of mothballs and lavender.

Viviane smothered a giggle. If evil looks could turn you to stone Jo would’ve been a statue by now.

“Begging your pardon, Mrs. Stevenson. Reg thought she looked like Sandra Peterson.”

“Sandra Peterson... Really?”

“Yes, the girl the Petersons adopted from the Council’s Children’s Home. She’s always been in trouble one way or the other. He could have been wrong of course, but we all knows that she’s been seen knocking about lately with them layabouts on Kilernee Hill. Them rowdy lot of New Age protesters or whatever they call themselves. I spotted her on TV the other night; she stood out like a bright beacon amongst the rest of them hippies and ragamuffins. Half of ‘em look an’ smell like them could do with a good bath.” Mrs. Doughty snorted.

Miss Pope nodded. “Yes, you couldn’t miss her, could you? She had that lovely silvery fair hair, Mrs. Trent. So unusual and it was natural too. She had it as a child. I saw her in the village only the other day, such a pretty girl. But strong in her political views as I remember,” she added gently.

“Well what took her into Maddock’s field with no clothing on, I’d like to know? She weren’t doing no political protesting then, were she?”

The old woman looked around for confirmation of this remark and then moved off at last.

“We’ll have to see what the police have to say about it, Mrs. Doughty. I’ve renewed that book you still have at home, Miss Pope.”

“Thank you, dear. Has the latest Minette Walters come in yet? I reserved it last month. I do like a good crime novel.” She smiled appreciatively.

“It’s your lucky day, Miss Pope: I’ve brought it in with me this morning. Pick it up when you’ve finished choosing some others.”

“Thank you, my dear. So kind. I shall so enjoy reading that.”

“My pleasure. Your books please, Will?”

BOOK: Dark Ritual
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