Fran, Gethin and Bridge sat in tense silence on the drive up to Vera’s house. Although, they would not know 100 percent for certain that Vera was the killer until they arrived, all three of them had that uncanny feeling that she was indeed the culprit. Following behind them was the patrol car, Fran had called upon earlier that morning.
As they pulled up outside the house, the three of them spotted Vera pottering in her jungle like garden. She was holding a pair of large gardening shears and wore a wide brimmed straw hat on her head. She waved at them cheerily, before returning to her pruning. Apparently, Vera wasn’t unnerved by the sight of the three of them and the rear vanguard of the patrol car.
Gethin felt a little jolt of satisfaction, as the three of them exited the car. The merry band was back together once again. For a number of years Gethin had struggled to find a sense of belonging. That was why he had acted up so much as a teenager. He had temporarily combated this by joining the police force but even then he hadn’t felt truly at home. He had never had any particular interest in crime. But in the last few weeks, working together with Bridge and Fran, Gethin had finally found purpose and direction, not to mention he was surprisingly good at it.
‘You ready?’ Bridge asked Gethin.
The three of them stood in front of Fran’s car, the two uniformed officers waiting patiently a few feet away. Fran gave the two men a disapproving look.
‘I still don’t think Gethin should have come. He is on temporary leave. What sort of example are we setting?’
Gethin rolled his eyes.
‘Come on Fran. You wouldn’t have known to follow up this lead if it wasn’t for my snooping around.’
‘And besides, we took Gethin off the case because of his…assault on Darren Rhion. But now Rhion is out of the picture, there is technically nothing preventing Gethin’s return.’ Bridge chimed in.
Gethin’s eyes widened in alarm.
‘What do you mean…Rhion’s out of the picture?’
Bridge drew a finger across his throat, which Fran felt was in extremely poor taste.
‘Really?’ Gethin said, stunned.
‘Well technically it was eyes, lips and genitals but you get the point.’ Bridge explained.
Gethin stroked his chin thoughtfully.
‘Same MO as Arthur?’
‘Yep.’ Fran confirmed, feeling that she had already lost a losing argument.
‘This ties in about Fran’s theory on it being a ritual killing.’
Gethin gestured at Vera, who was knelt down in the soil with her back to the visitors.
‘I don’t know how dream-catchers and wild plants fit into the equation but she is definitely some sort of crotchety witch.’ Gethin whispered, raising his eyebrows dramatically.
Fran looked sort of smug, at the fact that she had one over on Bridge. Bridge on the other hand, looked highly skeptical.
‘A witch? You do realize we live in the 21st Century and not in 1632.’
‘I’m telling you there is something odd about her. She gives me the creeps.’
Fran straightened out her coat and flattened down her hair.
‘Well, I guess we will soon find out.’
Bridge was mesmerized by the array of colours and smells that greeted him, as he stepped into Vera’s garden. Fran and Gethin were already a way ahead, having visited Vera once before but this was all new to Bridge. Either side of him walked the uniform officers, they too entranced by the wild array of plants brushing up against their arms and legs. There was something slightly hypnotic about the garden, like Bridge had just wondered into a strange dream scape.
Vera turned upon hearing her name and cupped a hand against her forehead, to better see Fran and Gethin in the bright afternoon sunlight.
‘Sergeant Thomas, what brings you to my humble abode today?’
Gethin glanced around the lavish garden. There was nothing humble about this place. Fran tried her best to keep an even smile but she couldn’t help hide her serious tone of voice.
‘Am I to assume that this is not social visit?’ Vera asked sweetly, noting Bridge approaching with the two uniformed officers.
Bridge eyed the elderly lady cagily. She appeared for all intense and purposes like a regular older woman. Her clothes, although slightly muddied from soil and sweat were almost fashionable and her skin although wrinkled and aged, looked well cared for and maintained. But there was something about her that unnerved Bridge. She felt his eyes upon her and looked directly at him. There it was. Some darkness hidden in her large emerald eyes. It was almost predatory. Like a cat, watching its prey with dangerous intent.
‘And who is this handsome man?’ Vera said.
Fran went to introduce him but Bridge stepped forwards, offering a hand.
‘Detective Nicholas Bridge. You must be Vera Mayhew.’
Vera removed a gardening glove and shook his hand. Her grip was limp and cold to the touch. It made the hairs on Bridge’s neck, tingle ever so slightly.
‘We have a warrant to search your property.’ Gethin blurted out, producing the official piece of paper and showing Vera.
Vera gave Gethin the most venomous of look and for a moment Bridge thought she was going to lash out at the young man. However, the expression soon vanished and once again the even smile and calm temperament returned on her face.
‘Well, I guess I have no choice but to comply. I only ask you to be respectful of my belongings. My possessions are very important to me and I don’t want your men chucking stuff around willy nilly.’
Bridge noticed it for a second time. A slight fluctuation in her even tone. This woman was playing the part of a kind and polite elderly lady but Bridge could tell this was only a disguise. He may not have a degree of skill talking to people but Bridge had an uncanny ability to study people’s mannerisms and behavioral traits. And what unnerved Bridge the most was that it felt like Vera also had this uncanny ability. When she looked at him, Bridge felt as if she was looking directly into his soul.
‘Of course Mrs Mayhew, my men will treat your house with the utmost respect.’
Whilst Bridge and Fran found a spot in the overgrown garden to chat some more with Vera, Gethin and the two uniformed officers entered the witches’ lair.
‘You two start down here. I will check upstairs.’ Gethin instructed.
The two uniformed officers shared glances. Gethin sighed.
They grunted but moved down the hallway in their respective directions. Gethin mounted the stairs, his Nike trainers causing the carpeted steps to creak loudly under foot. There were a number of abstract paintings dotted along the wall. He glanced at them on his way past. There was something unnerving about the subjects of the paintings. Many of them depicting a shadowy figure in a broad landscape.
There were more of the strange, vibrant plants dotted here and there along the second floor landing. Intrigued, Gethin ran his finger along one of the leaves and cursed, as it pricked his skin and drew blood. There was nothing particularly strange about the landing itself, bar the tropical plants.
Gethin pushed open a nearby door and found himself in the upstairs bathroom. There was a low ceramic bath with one of those bar supports for the infirm. The bath mat was floral in design and one of the walls had been painted in vibrant shades of greens and blues. It was evident that Vera was a bit of an aged hippy. Gethin caught sight of himself in the mirror above the sink and paused for a moment. He smiled at his reflection. Not in a ponsey pretentious way, he had alreadtpy been through that stage of his life. It was more a acknowledgment of himself. For the first time in a long while, Gethin felt comfortable in his own skin.
Gethin’s eyes located a handle situated in the bottom left hand corner of the mirror. He pulled on it and the mirror swung open to reveal a small cabinet inside. Gethin was expecting to find a myriad of bottled pills and prescriptions like at his Nan’s house and to a certain degree that was true. However, as Gethin stepped forward for a closer look, he realized that this wasn’t your average cabinet of bottled medication. He picked up one of the clear bottles and inspected it closely. Scrawled in neat handwriting across the label was words that Gethin couldn’t comprehend. It was Latin. Gethin now regretted skipping on his Latin classes in his younger years. Underneath the Latin name, was a note advising to take twice daily, 6 hours apart.
Gethin placed the bottle back and ran an eye over the rest of the cabinet. There were different sized and shaped bottles, some with liquid contents, others with pills. Some even with small seeds and berries. All had the same writing etched on the front, a Latin name and a set of instructions. So, not your average medical cabinet then. Gethin extracted his phone from his pocket and took a series of photos, both close ups and mid shots. When he had got a suitable amount of photographic proof to show the others, Gethin put his phone away and moved back onto the landing.
He tried another door. It led into a large bedroom, the master room by the looks of it. It had that same rustic feel, as the rest of the cottage with its oak bed posts and mahogany furniture. There were no curtains but instead brightly coloured sheets and drapes that were layered upon one another to block out the light. Gethin moved into the room cautiously. There was something intense about the room. The lack of light and crowded furniture was one element but it was more then that. Gethin felt as if he was stepping into the monster’s lair. Like that scene in ‘Silence of The Lambs’, where Jodie Foster steps into Hannibal’s underground domain.
Like in the downstairs living room there were objects hanging from the ceiling. Gethin squinted, moving forward in the dim light. There was a few dream-catchers which Gethin had half expected but what was different was the other objects. Paper animals. Vera was apparently a fan of origami, amongst other things. Gethin flicked one of them absentmindedly. It was in the shape of a dog. It spun lazily on its string. Something caught Gethin’s eye and he glanced at the big chest of drawers. A row of dolls were lined up along the top. Similar to ones Fran had seen in the downstairs living room on her previous visit.
He moved forwards and studied them. There were three of them. There was something recognizable about them but Gethin couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was. He also noted that there was space at the end of the row for another one to fit in. Gethin whipped out his phone and took some photos. He also captured some of the hanging dream-catchers and origami figures. He wasn’t entirely sure of their pertinence but maybe the three of them could figure it out together. An incense holder and a pot of incense sticks were placed on one of the low bedside tables. There was also an ornate looking brass lamp with intricate markings and patterns.
Gethin started by searching through the chest of draws and wardrobe. There was nothing alerting apart from maybe the garish choice of colours. There were a few personal trinkets in the bedside draws and a couple of paperback books and magazines but nothing of notable value. Gethin sighed and sat down on the bed heavily. This was harder then he thought it would be. I mean admittedly all this stuff was weird but there was nothing incriminating that he had unearthed. One of the offices popped his head around the door.
‘Found anything?’ Gethin asked hopefully.
The officer shook his head.
‘Sorry Geth. Just some creepy dolls. She is a weirdo that’s for sure but I don’t think she’s your killer.’
Gethin nodded, looking slightly disheartened. The officer drummed his fingertips on the door frame and quickly vacated the area. Gethin fished in his pocket for his phone. As he was retrieving it, his keys slipped out and fell to the floor. Gethin sighed heavily and dropped to his knees to retrieve them. He was about to stand back up, when he noticed something poking out from under the corner of the mattress. He gave it a strong tug. It was the corner of a large hardcover book. Prizing it free, he sat back down on the bed and studied the cover. It was a book of plants. Gethin opened it a random. There were black and white illustrations and various Latin names in fancy handwriting. Some of the pages had post-it notes stuck to the top of them. There were words scribbled on them, the same handwriting as on the bottles. Gethin was just about to take a closer look, when voices made him look up.
Vera, Fran and Bridge were coming up the stairs. Gethin felt a sudden panic grip him. He didn’t know why but he felt compelled to hide the book from sight, even though they had a warrant to search the property. Hurriedly, he lifted his shirt and stuck the book down the top of his trousers. He dropped his shirt just in time for the three of them to enter the room.
‘Have you finished yet, I am not accustomed to strange men in my house?’ Vera said brashly.
Fran looked at Gethin expectantly. It was time to go. Gethin clasped his hands together.
‘Sorry to intrude Mrs. Mayhew. We will get out of your hair.’
As Gethin moved past Vera and out into the hallway, he could feel her penetrating stare burning into his back. Did she know he had the book? How could she? Gethin had stowed it away, far before she had entered the room. However, he couldn’t help the feeling that she somehow knew what he was up to. Ears burning, Gethin made his way quickly down the stairs and out the door.
It was only when he was back inside Fran’s car, that Gethin was able to relax. The book was still stuffed into the back of his trouser belt. It dug uncomfortably into the small of his back, making sitting a particularly arduous task. But he dare not retrieve the book. Not with Vera standing in the garden not ten feet away. Fran and Bridge said their goodbyes and most likely apologies before rendezvousing with Gethin in the car. They both turned in their seats to face him.
‘So, did you really not find anything?’ Fran asked, looking slightly crestfallen.
‘Can we just drive?’ Gethin said irritatedly.
Bridge and Fran exchanged uncomfortable looks. It was obvious that they thought he was just tetchy because he had turned up nothing solid. If Gethin was being totally honest, that was part of the reason but it was also the sharp edged book digging into his spine.
Desk Sergeant Paul stood up eagerly, as the three musketeers entered the lobby. If the three of them had not been so occupied by their own thoughts, they would have noticed how out of ordinary this was. There was a reason why there was a Desk Sergeant Paul shaped outline in the desk chair. He opened his mouth. Now was his moment. He would outline his importance as an asset. His previous setback had been disappointing but he would not give up that easier. Desk Sergeant Paul had always been the type of person who rolled over. He never saw the importance of fighting for something. If it wasn’t meant to be then it wasn’t meant to be. Well, where had that gotten him? Stuck behind the desk with only his own thoughts for company. This time he would fight his corner, prove his worth.
‘Not now.’ The three of them said together and disappeared through the doors to the offices beyond.
Desk Sergeant Paul stood there for a moment in stunned silence. Well, that hadn’t gone particularly well. Maybe he had caught them at a bad time. Yeah, that was probably it. He would try again at a more opportune time. He sat back down and smiled. Well at least he had tried.
Inside the offices, Fran threw her bag down on her desk and sank into her chair with a loud thump. Bridge remained standing, gnawing on the tip of his nail and pacing backwards and forwards, like an energetic school teacher. Gethin reached behind him to extract the book.
‘What are you doing Gethin?’ Bridge asked, catching sight of Gethin, as he paced to and fro.
It was awkward work but eventually Gethin managed to retrieve the stowed away book. Fran was sat like a deflated balloon, her shoulders sagging and her expression melancholy.
‘Well another dead end. And there I was thinking we were on to a winner.’
Gethin sat down at his desk and began to leaf through the book silently, his entire attention focused on the material in front of him. Bridge moved over to peer over his shoulder.
‘What do we now?’ She continued, looking to the heavens for an answer. The heavens in this case being a patch of damp on the ceiling tile above her.
Bridge pointed at the book and the two of them nodded in agreement. Fran sighed and returned to earth.
‘What are you two looking at?’ She said irritatedly.
Neither of them answered, so with a loud huff, she got to her feet and traipsed over to where they were huddled.
‘What is it?’ She asked curiously.
‘A book of plants.’ Gethin said casually.
Fran massaged her eyes with the tips of her fingers and gave a low groan.
‘Gethin dear, we know she has plants. When I last checked that wasn’t a crime.’
Gethin produced his phone and brought up the gallery of photos he had taken.
‘Do either of you know Latin?’
‘A little but…its rusty to say the least.’
Gethin handed Bridge the phone.
‘What am I looking at?’
‘Whilst I was searching around the house, I found those bottles in the bathroom. Do they strike you as odd?’
Bridge squinted at the photos, trying to make out the neat writing.
‘I’m not 100 percent sure but I think these are some sort of herbal remedies.’
Fran moved closer to Bridge to inspect the phone pictures.
‘Let me take a look at that.’ She said to Gethin, gesturing at the book.
He handed it to her begrudgingly. Fran took the book and flipped through it, glancing from the phone to the book and back to the phone again.
‘Aha.’ She said.
‘What?’ Bridge and Gethin said eagerly.
Fran placed the book down on the table and pointed at one of the diagrams.
‘Recognize the name?’
Bridge frowned and stared at the phone.
‘It’s the same as in the photo.’
‘So Mrs. Mayhew is a herbalist. I can’t say I am surprised. What’s the relevance?’
Fran flipped hastily through the pages.
‘These post-it notes detail herbal remedies that Vera has concocted. Some of them have healing properties, others particular uses…’
She paused, her hand hovering over one post-it note in particular. Gethin couldn’t stand it. The anticipation was killing him.
‘And this one details a recipe for….’
‘For what?’ Gethin persisted desperately.
‘…how too cause paralysis.’
‘Why would Vera need a recipe for paralysis?’
And then the penny dropped. Gethin and Fran looked at each other, the shared understanding needing no verbal action.
‘There’s another thing.’ Bridge said, holding up the phone.
‘Recognize these fellas.’
‘Oh yeah, those creepy ass dolls in the bedroom.’ Gethin said with a shiver.
‘Wait a minute.’ Fran said, grabbing the phone off Bridge and inspecting the screen intensely.
‘No…it can’t be. Surely.’
‘I think you will find it is. Look at the likenesses.’ Bridge advised, moving to the evidence board and holding up the phone by the pinned up pictures of the deceased victims. Gethin’s jaw hit the floor.
‘Voodoo dolls. I told you she was a witch doctor.’
The three of them looked at one another and then began to laugh.
‘We got her the son of a bitch.’ Fran said ecstatically, high fiving Gethin.
Bridge did not look as pleased.
‘Hold your horses guys, we are not out of the woods yet.’
Gethin and Fran looked at him puzzled.
‘You can’t be serious Bridge. The proof is right there.’ Gethin protested.
‘What we have is a strong case. These photos and this book build a strong case but we have no hard evidence.’
‘But…’ Fran began.
‘Plus, Gethin took this from the crime scene without mentioning it to anyone. What is to stop Vera from denying it is even hers.’
Gethin bit his lip gingerly. He hadn’t considered that.
‘There must be something we can do though.’ Fran said desperately. They had it all there in front of them.
Bridge massaged his head, deep in thought.
‘We can definitely push with this. Try and force a confession out of her or at least get her to mess up.’
‘You think that will work?’ Fran asked hopefully.
Bridge screwed up his cheek, as if he were sucking on a sour lemon.
‘It’s unlikely but we have a good case. Maybe she will slip up.’
They both looked at Gethin. He hadn’t said anything for a long while.
‘Gethin? What do you think?’ Fran said.
Gethin looked up. He had been staring at the edge of the book, turning something over in his mind.
‘How often does that food delivery service go out to Vera and Arthur’s house?’
Fran thought about it.
‘Once, maybe twice a week. I’m pretty sure they bring a few meals to last for several days.’
‘Why, what are you thinking?’
‘I’m thinking I might know who the next victim is. Bridge hand me the phone.
Bridge and Fran waited patiently as Gethin put in his phone call, both studying the relevant evidence for anything else they might be able to use.
‘Yeah thanks.’ Gethin said into the phone, hanging up.
He turned to face Bridge and Fran. They looked up expectantly.
‘Vera’s designated driver was supposed to be back from his shift an hour ago.’
‘Well, maybe he got stuck in traffic.’ Bridge suggested.
Gethin shook his head.
‘Not likely, he also didn’t make an appearance at the house after Vera’s. That was the last one on his route. Plus, he confirmed all deliveries up until Vera’s, as completed.’
The three of them exchanged worried looks.
‘And this third doll bears a remarkable similarity to Vera’s delivery driver. I remember interviewing him.’
‘Wait, so that means…she could have him there now.’ Fran said.
‘But there was no delivery van.’ Bridge highlighted.
Gethin moved to the evidence board.
‘Look at the murders she has committed so far. They are pre meditated and calculated. I don’t think she would be so careless as to leave the van lying around. Vera must have moved it before we arrived.’
Bridge glanced at Fran to see what she thought. She was staring at her own phone with a frown.
‘That’s not all. Daisy has just compared the blood reports on both the victims and there are traces of plant extracts in both the victim’s blood.’ She said and glanced up.
The three of them once again shared a look with one another.
‘Get the car.’ Bridge said in a serious tone to Fran.
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