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The Witch Hunter... second excerpt

If you haven’t red the first excerpt yet go here before reading this one.

~~~

“Inspector Douglas, do what do I owe this visit?” Simon asked upon entering his study.

“My apologies for disturbing you, Lord Peregrim, but I believe I am in immediate need of your expertise.”

“Sit and tell me how I may be of help.” Simon pointed to a pair of tapestry-covered chairs with thick mahogany arms capped with roaring loin heads that sat angled in front of his desk

The man did not sit until Simon had taken his seat behind the desk. He was acquainted with Inspector Todd Douglas having worked with the man on two occasions.  A short, thin man with a slim moustache and brown hair that he kept fastidiously groomed so that not a single hair touched his narrow lip. He was pragmatic and dedicated to his profession and a staunch believer in the new age of science.

Inspector Douglas sat on the edge of the chair, his manner direct and his tone respectful. “I would be grateful for your assistance in what I believe to be a ritual murder.”

“I would be only too glad to help.”

“I also must request that any information I share with you regarding this investigation be kept in strict confidence.”

“I understand perfectly,” Simon said.

“You are aware of the death yesterday of Lord Dirrington’s daughter Margaret?”

Simon nodded. “An unfortunate riding accident, from what I hear.”

“It was not an accident,” the Inspector said. “His daughter’s body was found sprawled across a stone altar in the woods on his property. She had been stabbed. Lord Dirrington believes it involves witchcraft and insists on a discreet investigation.”

“Understandable.  Witchcraft does contain a social stigma and is legally punishable and I am sure Lord Dirrington wishes to protect his family’s good name.”

“I agree, which is why everyone believes Margaret’s death is due to a riding accident. If in fact witchcraft was involved with her death, particularly a ritual murder, my concern is more may follow.”

“There is a good chance you are correct,” Simon agreed. “Ritual murders often involve a sacrifice to the devil or one of his dominions in exchange for any number of desired things. A coven, composed of a group of people practicing witchcraft, work together in conjuring and performing rituals. It can often take more than one ritual to achieve the desired goal. You must, however, be aware that human sacrifice in witchcraft is rare and only those knowledgeable of the dark side would even consider practicing it. And to leave the body where it could easily be found is not something a practitioner of the dark arts would do.”

“Then I look for a madman who thinks himself a witch?”

“A dabbler perhaps, someone who fancies himself a practicing witch, though actually has little knowledge of the craft.”

“Would he be working with a coven?”

“That is difficult to say for certain,” Simon said. “He could be involved with a coven while dabbling in the dark arts on his own. Until I learn more about the ritual itself, I cannot be sure if it is one person or a coven. What can you tell me about the area where the victim was found?”

“That is a problem in itself,” the Inspector said. “The body was moved and placed in the house before my arrival.”

Simon nodded understanding how difficult it was for the Inspector to deal with titled gentlemen who believed the law did not apply to them and only pertained to the menial class; therefore, they were not obliged to cooperate with him.

“Did you see the altar?”

The Inspector nodded. “A large flat stone resting upon two heavy boulders. Blood stained the middle of the altar and the ground beneath.”

“Footprints?”

“Many and all from the men who helped carry Margaret’s body to the house.”

“Were there ashes near or on the altar?”

“If there were then they were lost to the many footprints and hands that disturbed the area,” the Inspector said.

“I would like to take a look for myself and perhaps speak with the person who found the body. Then I may be able to tell you more.”

“That can be arranged.” Inspector Douglas stood. “I appreciate your help. Your expertise in the occult lends credence to the fact that no true witches exist. And that through careful investigation and establishing motive and facts all crimes can be solved rationally. I look forward to working with you on this case, Lord Peregrim, and I will bother you no more this evening.”

Simon went to the sideboard in front of the tall narrow window after the Inspector left and took hold of the crystal decanter of brandy. The clip-clop of horses’ hooves on the cobblestone street caught his attention and he watched as the Inspector’s carriage pulled away from his townhouse.

A fine mist hovered around the streetlights and drifted in patches along the cobblestones and he wondered over Miss Thornberry.  Had she made it home safely? And was she truly safe at Bothwell Manor?

He put the decanter back down and paced in front of the window.  As soon as the Inspector had told him where Margaret’s body had been found he knew that Miss Thornberry had stumbled upon the murder scene. Dirrington land sat adjacent to Bothwell land and Miss Thornberry had unknowingly strolled onto Dirrington property. And she had discovered a vital clue, the ring that probably had gone unnoticed in the rush to remove the body.

He considered telling the inspector of the ring but then thought better of it. It would mean involving Miss Thornberry and that he did not think was wise.

With her curiosity overriding her sensibility she was bound to get herself into trouble. She would think the murder proof that the Bothwell family harbored a witch and investigate on her own. And if there was someone in the family who fancied himself a witch, or rather a warlock, one who practiced the dark arts, Miss Thornberry could find herself in a serious situation.

He would need to pay her a visit tomorrow and convince her to leave this matter to him. Her stubborn nature would surely have her protesting but he would persuade with patience and have her agreeing in no time.

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