Authors: Charles Christian
“That one,” says the DCI pointing at the web address
listed in the browser history. “Isn’t that the title of an old Rolling Stones’ album?”
“You’re thinking of
Their Satanic Majesties Request
,” replies Dannii, “but Sebastien wasn’t into the Stones. Besides, I think that’s one of those Pirate Bay/Silk Roadie-type illegal file sharing and downloading sites.
“Used to conceal illegal activities, such as copyright infringement?” asks the sergeant.
“Exactly,” says Dannii. But it is irrelevant anyway for when she hits the
button, the browser throws up a
404 Page Cannot Be Found
“Now what?” says the DCI.
“Sebastien was bragging how he’d found a play-now-pay-later site that allowed you to rip and burn tracks for free.” replies Dannii. “You remember Dad, we were arguing about it over breakfast the other day. I said he must be mad because those sites are run by out-and-out criminals and there is always a catch. And a price you might not like to pay.”
“Wasn’t that the day he cut himself on a knife?” adds Dannii’s father.
“Oh yes, he managed to get blood all over his muesli,” replies Dannii, trying not to snigger.
Later the next day, back at the Woodbridge police station, where the incident room had been set up, the DCI is discussing the case with his sergeant.
“Weird. Apart from some animal tracks, cloven-hoofed so it must have been sheep or goats or something, there was just the one set of footprints at the scene and they belonged to the deceased. The way the grass was all flattened and bloodied, it looked like he’d just danced and danced and danced around in circles until he dropped down dead.”
“Drugs?” the sergeant suggests.
“My first thought as well, particularly as he must have been in agony as the flesh on his feet started to strip away but the blood tests and toxicology all came up negative. However forensics did find abnormally high levels of lactic acid in the body.”
“That’s a by-product of excessive exercise. It’s called anaerobic respiration, or something,” says the sergeant. “But don’t you normally get a bad bout of the cramps to warn you to ease off?”
“Exactly but he just kept on going and going until a combination of heart failure and the shock from the blood loss killed him. How on earth did he manage to keep on dancing?”
“There are also those curious marks on his wrists: heavy bruising consistent with something tightly gripping him there. I suppose that whatever caused them could have kept dragging him round?” suggests the sergeant.
“But we’ve already been over this, there were no other footprints found at the scene,” her colleague replies, before slumping back in his chair to finish his mug of tea and the last remaining
biscuit in the packet.
“Let’s just go over the known facts one more time,” says the DCI, as he and the sergeant discuss the case. “This kid has a brand new iPod. He was still wearing it when we found him. Yet the battery was fully discharged and there was not a single tune to be found in any of his playlists despite the fact we know he had spent some of the previous day downloading files? So does this mean he spent the entire night dancing himself to death listening to an empty MP3 player? Or that on the point of death he somehow contrived to delete his entire playlist?”
“I’m not sure you can even do that with the iPod Nano model Sebastien had with him,” interrupts the sergeant. “You need to have it connected up to a computer and running the right software or else synced with iTunes. Well something like that. Perhaps the player was defective?”
“No,” her colleague replies, “forensics checked that out too. Apart from the dead battery, it was in perfect working order.”
“Aren’t there some other weird stories associated with Rendlesham Forest?” the sergeant asks.
“You’re thinking of the UFO sightings in 1980? You are not suggesting the culprits were little green men?” says the DCI.
“Well, you do hear these reports about people being abducted by aliens and subjected to medical experiments and of cattle mutilations at the scene of flying saucer sightings?”
“Don’t even think of going there. We’ll have a media circus, and the chief constable, down on our heads like a ton of bricks faster than you can say alien anal probes. Next thing, you’ll be telling me all those Saxon burials at Sutton Hoo were really just sacrifices to Ancient Astronauts and early extraterrestrial visitors!”
“Well, it does makes you wonder.”
The two officers sit back and crack open another packet of
“What about the step-sister Dannii? She’s a right stroppy little madam. If she’s like that now, she’s going to be a total pain in the arse if she ever qualifies as a lawyer and gets to appear in court. She also seems to know an awful lot about the dark side of the internet, all that stuff about illegal download sites.”
“Keep your hair on sergeant. With hindsight, I don’t think we handled her as best we could or should have. It wasn’t until we were halfway through the interview that the penny dropped and I realised where I’d heard her name before and who she was. By the way, she’s had a change of heart. She phoned up a few minutes ago to apologise. Said she was sorry for the way she behaved yesterday but had been under a lot of stress at home recently, what with the awkward relationship with her stepmother and now Sebastien’s death.
“She also said she’d thought of something else that might help us with our investigation and would be coming over here later today. Funny girl, there’s something odd about her but I still feel sorry for her. There again, her mother is a witch.”
“What! You are kidding me? I know when I first put in to transfer up here to the Suffolk Constabulary, my old muckers in the Essex force warned me I’d be going back in time to a land that modern policing had forgot. But I didn’t think witchcraft was still on the charge sheet. So tell me, what is the mother like? All slinky in revealing, black satin nightgowns and gold pentacles, casting runes wherever she goes? Like Caroline Munro out of a 1970s Hammer Horror movie?”
“I’ll choose to ignore that remark about the land that time forgot but you couldn’t be more wrong if you tried. Dannii’s mother’s not into Black Magic. No, she claims she’s a hedge-witch practising Green Witchcraft. You know, making potions and lotions from plants and herbs found growing in the hedgerows and fields around here. She’s what people in this part of the world used to call a
. All harmless stuff although I think she’s actually more interested in getting high on magic mushrooms and home-grown wacky-baccy. As for slinky black satin! More of a New Age Traveller happy-hippy Earth Mother type. Hair in dreadlocks, smelling of patchouli oil. You know the sort.”
“Oh yes, I’ve had to deal with more than my fair share of them! But go on, don’t hold out on me. Tell me more.”
“Well,” says the DCI, it was a couple of years ago. The mother had pretty much split up with Dannii’s father by then and was travelling to all the festivals and raves, flogging home-made love potions and casting magical spells out of the back of a converted horsebox. One of those old wooden bodied ones with some living space in the front.
“Anyway somebody decided to hold an illegal rave on the beach at Dunwich to celebrate Midsummer and next thing we knew there was a New Age Travellers’ camp squatting in the local car park. We were called in to help the bailiffs when the court granted them the eviction order. That’s when I first encountered Dannii’s mother. Rapped on the van door to tell her to move off the site but someone inside shouted ‘Fuck off, you fucking pig’ so I went inside. She was lying in bed, half out of her head smoking a joint. But, when she saw me, up she leapt and started whacking me over the head with a wooden stick.
“Naturally I nicked her for possession, as well as assaulting a police officer in the course of his duty and she got three months for her trouble. Funny thing was that when her case came up before the magistrates, she seemed more worried about what had happened to the lump of wood she’d been hitting me with. I’d bagged it as evidence however she said it was her magical staff and that if we didn’t return it, she’d take us to the European Court of Human Rights for discriminating against the religious beliefs of Wiccans.
“Unfortunately, this is where it all kicked off for Dannii. Until then the parents had been playing pass-the-parcel, shuttling her between the family home, where her father was already shacked up with Xanthe, and her mother’s horsebox. After the mother was sent down, the father began divorce proceedings and as part of the settlement he was awarded custody of the kid. Not that he had much choice in the matter, as otherwise social services would have taken Dannii into care. I bet having Dannii move in permanently went down like a cup of cold sick with Miss Xanthe del Monte. By the way, what kind of name is that for a woman with a Geordie accent?”
“Actually inspector, I checked her out on the Police National Computer. Guess what, she has form. She has a Geordie accent because she’s a Geordie chancer. First nicked when she was fourteen for shoplifting
mascara from a Newcastle branch of Boots. She was just plain Sandra back then.”
“She’s smart, that’s what. Realised she could scrub up well and started sleeping her way up the social ladder. The usual. Footballers and Z-list celebrities. Somewhere along the way, Sandra became Sandie and finally Xanthe. Struck lucky with her first husband, he was into computer software and when they split, she scored herself a nice settlement, as well as a trust fund for the lately departed Sebastien.
“As for Dannii’s father? He’s into property development though possibly not as well-heeled as he’d like to make out. Caught out by the property market crash and now sitting on a pile of negative equity. Let’s hope Xanthe never discovers that thanks to his life insurance policies, he’s currently worth a lot more dead than he is alive.”
“Yes, let’s hope so indeed,” says the inspector with a faraway look in his eyes. In fact he is so distracted that he fails to notice the
he’d been dunking in his tea has started to dissolve.
Dannii hates it when that scheming, gold-digging tart Xanthe refers to her mother as a
. How dare she? Of course her mother is a witch but that isn’t the point. It is the derogatory way Xanthe talks about her, completely ignoring the fact her mother belongs to an ancient tradition dedicated to easing human suffering and bringing joy into the world.
She smiles to herself. As much as she loves her mother, Dannii knows most of the stuff she spouts about witchcraft is just New Age bollocks. As for bringing joy to the world, her mother had become a bit of a sad sap whose main interest was bringing joy into her own life, ideally by getting high.
“And whose fault is that?” asks Dannii to herself. “Her bloody weak-willed father and that bitch Xanthe, that’s who! If they think my mother is a troublesome witch, then by
they ain’t seen nothing yet. I’ll give them a lesson in troublesome witchcraft they’ll never forget.”
All that time Dannii had spent rattling around in her mother’s crappy horsebox hadn’t been entirely wasted. She’d watched carefully as her mother had mixed her magic potions, crafted her spells and cast her runes. Late into the night, when everyone thought she was fast asleep in the space above the horsebox’s cab, Dannii had listened to her mother discussing magic with other members of her craft. She’d also found and read from cover-to-cover three books, containing what her mother quaintly referred to as
, that had been hidden away from prying eyes in a secret compartment beneath the horsebox’s front seat. It was the same compartment her mother used to hide her best quality marijuana.
It might not have been an ideal initiation into the world of witchcraft but a surreptitious surfing of Google and some other less discerning search engines to be found on
, TOR and the darker reaches on the internet rapidly filled out the gaps in Dannii’s knowledge of the magical arts, whether white, green or black.
Of course Dannii understood from the outset the cost she’d incur in obtaining those good A-level grades and the university scholarship. She also knew she’d run up a huge debt that one day would have to be settled but Sebastien had proved to be an acceptable down-payment and now she had an idea where to find the next instalment.
There is a gentle tapping at her bedroom door, followed by her father gingerly popping his head around the doorway.
“Dannii, dear,” he says, “I realise things haven’t been that great between us since the divorce. And I know you and Xanthe don’t get on but she’s totally desolate over the awful thing that happened to Sebastien and I’d be really grateful if you could try to be nice to her.”
Dannii loathes it when her father calls her
in that wheedling voice he always uses when he’s looking for a favour but this time she is prepared to let it ride because she has an idea.
She’d been sitting at her desk when he’d knocked at the door and, pausing only to palm a drawing pin, which she then presses deeply into her thumb until she’s drawn blood, she spins round on her chair and greets her father with her most sorrowful face.