Beth Willis knows death better than most. Now she’s next in line.
Beth Willis speaks for the dead, but when she is given a message from a dead medium, she steps into a world beyond death, into the spirit realm.
D.I. Coleridge is a man marking time, until a call from Beth gives him a lead on an elusive killer who takes trophies from his victims. A killer who walks through both worlds, taking lives like he was born to it. A man with powers no mortal could possess. A man, but something else, too.
If Coleridge and Beth are to survive, they must understand him...but some men cannot be fought. Some creatures cannot be bested.
Death comes to all, but if they are to win, they have no choice but to call on him.
Sample Chapters (1-3)
I slept with faith and found a corpse in my arms on awakening; I drank and danced all night with doubt and found her a virgin in the morning.
The Book of Lies
High priest the mesmorous, the soul auctioneer,
Sells scorpion tightropes, while surfing on fear
Death in Vegas
Shimmy on down baby
Shimmy on down
II. The High Priestess
Monday 10th November
Some time after the killing started, some time before it ended, Beth Willis sat at her kitchen table with a glass of whiskey. Beth needed a focus for meditation. She preferred a whiskey tumbler. It worked best if it was full. It worked better still if it was full to begin with, empty later on.
She stared at the still liquid, her brow drawn tight, cross, but not really knowing why. What was the point at being angry with the dead?
She didn’t want to meditate, but spirit was a demanding bastard.
It didn’t matter that this was stupid. It didn’t matter that she was probably wasting her time, or that her son had kept her up playing the x-box long after last night’s binge should have put her to sleep.
Breathe out, breathe in. Relax. Let calm wash over her.
Damn she wanted to drink it. Focus on that. Let it go where it will.
The theory behind meditation was easy enough. Some people counted. Some people focused on a candle flame and said ‘Om’ while their legs went numb from sitting in stupid positions. Meditation was supposed to be comfortable, but she had a hangover and was liable to fall asleep. So she sat.
Theory was fine, but above all, don’t fight it.
She had a kind of a guide, who she spoke to. Most of the time, she got a message, it came from him. She didn’t often sit and stare at nothing like she was pretending to be Yoda, way back when her son had been into Star Wars and not Lara Croft. Angelina Jolie, mind, not some pixelated bimbo.
But this call hadn’t come from her guide. This was straight up lightning. You couldn’t fight that no matter how you tried. You can’t catch lightning.
Breathe. Watch the liquid.
It was no use, she thought, but then she was staring slack-jawed at the ceiling rose. It had a stringy cobweb dangling from it, swaying in the draft from the rattling windows. She didn’t see it. Her kitchen didn’t exist for her anymore. She could have been dreaming, but for her eye being open, staring into space, seeing beyond the four walls. Seeing a man’s house. An unfamiliar house but it didn’t shock her. It was just somewhere else to be. Interesting, perhaps, but just another house.
There was a dresser against a wall. A short thing. Maybe it was called a sideboard. She didn’t know. A candle burned within a glass tube. The tube was red. The room took on a ruby glow that should have been soothing, but then the man’s hands came into view. It didn’t seem soothing anymore. It looked like blood.
The man flicked cards. Tarot. Rider-Waite cards. Just like the ones she used.
They weren’t his cards. They were the victims.
Flick, and the card flew through the air onto a table she didn’t see. Just the cards. They started face down but landed face up.
The Tower, flames licking the upper windows. The Tower, and man and a woman falling, robes and dresses fluttering as they plummet to their end. The Tower, a storm on a black night. Lightning crashes.
Over and over the cards land, though there was only one Tower card in the deck.
The man’s hands were strong, nails pared short, no scars. The backs of his hands were covered with thick black hair. Deft hands. But these weren’t healing hands. These were killer’s hands.
Steady and perfect. Building a tower of cards. Building a tower, but the tower wasn’t about building. The TOWER, the card said. The sixteenth card of the major arcana.
It wasn’t about building at all. It was about falling, burning, destruction.
The end of things.
As hard as it came, the vision fled. She fell forward so hard she cracked her favourite glass with her forehead. She watched dumbly as blood dripped and mingled with the spilt whiskey on the table cloth.
Her heart was pounding and she was panting like she’d run half a mile.
She didn’t scare easily, but seeing a killer making a house of cards like that, a vision so powerful...she didn’t know what it meant but it was bad medicine and she didn’t want any of it.
“But you’ve got it, Beth. And you know damn well what it means.”
Spirit had called her out. They didn’t do that for no reason. She might not know the why’s of it, but she knew who the hands belonged to.
He’d been in the paper every day for the last three weeks.
She stumbled on the way into the hall, holding her hand to the cut on her forehead. She’d knocked herself a pretty good one, but she could still see straight enough to read the phone book.
She got the central police switchboard, then the run around. Finally she got through to the local station. A detective named Coleridge picked up and by the time she’d finished talking with him, her life was well on the way to turning to shit.
“Coleridge,” he said in a big man’s gruff voice.
She took a deep breath and dived right in, just like when you plunge into a cold sea.
“I’ve been trying to tell someone about a...a vision I had. About the killer in the paper.”
She felt like a fraud all over again.
“Let’s run thought it, OK? You want to give me what you’ve got?”
“I’ve never done this before.”
“Anything that’s useful, we use. We don’t talk about it, but we often have calls from mediums. Just give me what you’ve got and don’t worry. I’ll be straight with you. I don’t believe in God, but just because I don’t believe in something don’t mean it in’t real. So you don’t mind what other people think and give me what you’ve got.”
“Just a picture, really. A tarot card. Well, a deck of tarot cards, but one in particular.”
“You know tarot?”
“If you would, ma’am,” he said, and she got the impression that he knew well enough what she was going to say.
“The Tower, Detective. That’s what I saw. That’s it.”
When he spoke again his voice was different. Softer.
“Thank you. That’s very helpful. Nothing else?”
Nothing else? Nothing else, Beth? But she couldn’t say what else, because it was insane and she was already telling a policeman that she had visions.
“No, just that.”
“Can I ask, how did you know to call us? I mean, that on its own?”
“I see the papers. I know about the killings. Detective Coleridge, I knew two of the people who were murdered. I just know it’s got something to do with them. Something to do with tarot, maybe. They’re mediums, right? It just made sense. I know it’s relevant. I just don’t know why.”
He didn’t say anything for a while. Thinking. She could hear him breathing. Laboured breath, like a fat man.
“Ma’am,” he said, eventually. “Can I take your details again? If we get anything else, I’d like to be able to call you. If that’s OK with you?”
She agreed without thinking it through. She had many failings. Most she knew. Some she forgot.
“Yes,” she said, and the damage was done. She was involved. She wasn’t just some crackpot woman in a little cottage by the sea. She wasn’t just the embarrassing town drunk anymore.
She didn’t think it through. She never did.
After she made the phone call Beth put on her coat and took some money from the bread tin.
“Miles! I’m going to town! Don’t break anything!”
She pulled on a coat and stepped outside onto the sand. She brushed it away from the path, it blew back. She gave up about two years ago. She’d given up most of the house maintenance. A lick of paint on the door the previous year had been about the last thing she’d done that hadn’t been essential.
The sea took its toll. Storms rolled in off the North Sea, bringing hard and bitter winds. The salt air cracked paint and brick and wood alike. The gutters rusted, tiles flew off. But her two-bed cottage would be around a while yet.
The sea was high, a hundred metres or so from her home. It came as close as fifty metres sometimes, when there was a big swell. She hadn’t flooded yet. She didn’t think she would.
Sand crunched under her feet, coarse and full of sharp biting crushed shells. It was easier going when she reached the road. In summer the road would be dangerous to walk on, with all the traffic. The Norfolk coast was heaven in the winter, hell in the summer. Hell wasn’t other people. It was just tourists.
A couple of cars passed, but she stepped from the road into the sand and let them go. The town sign rattled in the wind. A bird drifted on a gust, not flapping, just hanging there. Some kind of black bird, maybe a crow, or a raven. Out of place by the sea. She watched it until it sank out of sight behind the big warehouses on the edge of town. Ugly things, all grey metal. The sidings rattled in a high wind, sometimes loud enough for her to hear even though she was the better part of a mile from town.
There were a few mini roundabouts, but crossing them was pretty easy now the weather had turned and the tourists had left. Her closest shop was on Cliff View, an ugly endangered street that ran along the cliff. Nice view from the houses cliff side, but they weren’t worth a penny. They were probably only a decade away from falling into the sea.
She picked up a loaf of bread, a tin of beans, a litre of whiskey and a packet of fags. It took the best part of twenty quid to do it.
“How are you, Beth?” asked Jean from her perch behind the counter.
“I’m alright. Getting cold.”
“That’ll warm you up.”
Same conversation, except in the summer.
“Cheaper than heating. See you.”
“You see the paper?”
Beth hadn’t even thought to read the headlines. Just thinking about her next drink, her next cigarette. Something to eat, too, just for form.
It didn’t matter, because like it or not Jean always told her what was in the paper.
“Been another killing. Down the road. Happened in a little church in Winterton. One of them Spiritualist churches.”
Beth paled. “Did they give out a name?”
“Sure. Unwin George. Weird name, eh? Probably a wizard.”
Beth quietly let her breath out. She shouldn’t be relieved, because someone had been murdered, but she was, because she didn’t know him.
“They’re calling him a serial killer. In Norfolk. You wouldn’t believe it, would you?”
“I guess not.”
Mr. Took came in. The wind pulled the door from his grasp and it bashed into the Lottery counter.
“What’s that?” he said, cocking his head and aiming his good ear at Jean.
“Murder! In Winterton.”
Jean was warming to the topic. Beth reckoned when she started to flush high across her cheek bones, the conversation from her end was done.
“Beth,” he said. Nodded. Disapproving, but she could give a shit.
“I better go, Jean. See you.”
“Oh. Bye then.”
Beth made sure she pulled the door closed behind her. The plastic bag with her medicine in it flapped in the wind.
“Nothing else?” the policeman asked.
“Sure,” she said, talking to herself as she walked back along the coast road, ignoring the swelling sea and the grit from the beach scouring her face.
But really, how did you tell a policeman something that sounded completely nuts?
“Sure, Mr. Policeman. I’m a medium, don’t you know. I see dead people. That’s funny, right? I see dead people. I don’t see living people. So, it’s funny, see? Because I can see the killer’s hands.”
“What’s that you say, Mrs. Willis?” she replied to herself in a gruff voice.
“That’s right, Mr. Policeman. Mr. Coleridge. What is your damned first name, eh?”
“Never mind that, Mrs. Willis. Get to the point will you?”
“I see dead people, you stupid fucking copper, and I saw the killer. How’s that?”
And that was the thing she couldn’t tell him. She could tell him sometimes she put her left foot in a bucket of cold water to meditate, but she wouldn’t. She could tell him she saw dead people every day, and sometimes they clamoured and shouted for her to tell their loved ones things that they could let go. She could tell Jean that she saw her grandfather over her shoulder, and that he thought she was an idiot. She could tell Coleridge that when she spoke to him on the phone a man came and stood in front of her and he had a hole right through his face. She could tell Coleridge, hey, I have your partner here, he blew his head off, with a shotgun? Right. Well, he wants his watch back. Seriously, you couldn’t rest after death and you came back to tell your old partner you want a watch back?
Sure, she could tell him all that and more. But what she couldn’t tell him was that the man who was killing mediums across the county was dead.