Detective Constable Jeff Clark felt a chill, but it wasn’t caused by the heavy evening mist. He had become aware of a sinister, silent shadow stalking him through the old graveyard. The words of the DCI at the briefing came back to haunt him too.
“This is not a promotion opportunity ladies and gentlemen,” he’d said. “It is a murder inquiry. We have somebody killing police officers – so do not go it alone.”
Jeff stood perfectly still in the cold and dark and realised he was holding his breath. He was also conscious of his own heartbeat. Gone was the self-assured young man who had parked up in the village. His eyes darted from side to side, but there were only layers of mist hanging in the air. He opened his mouth and concentrated on his hearing, convinced that he could hear footsteps, steady and approaching.
The mist seeped out between the trees and over the ruined dry stone perimeter of St. Bartholomew’s. ‘St. Bart’s’ as it was known locally, was a graveyard of the old style, established in 1700. Of its four sides, the rear wall had been breached long ago by the nearby woodland. Mother Nature unchecked, was reclaiming the land.
Only 30 minutes earlier, Jeff had parked his car in Kirkdale in a darkened side street. He lifted his heavy-duty torch from the boot of the car and set off for the old graveyard. As the 26-year-old made his way through the village he realised he could have parked on the main street – there wasn’t a soul to be seen. Close to the final streetlight in Kirkdale was a battered sign that informed, ‘St.Bartholomew’s – 1 mile’. The arrow pointed to the bridle path just inside the tree line so Jeff crossed the road and climbed the old wooden stile. At the point where he stepped over the structure something caught his eye. He was sure he saw a figure.
“Hello,” Jeff had said in a confident tone. He hoped to convince anyone following that they’d been seen. There was no response so he stepped to the ground and whipped his head around to look again. At that moment, a car sped by on the nearby country road and threw multiple shadows all around. Jeff was positive that among the trees was a shorter shadow. Could it belong to a human? Jeff dismissed it as anything else.
To the left, across the narrow road, the fields were deep in mist and to the right was the edge of Bartholomew Woods. At this point, there were only patchy groups of trees but the mist concealed the lack of density. It was getting dark on the pathway but it was still clear enough to see without a torch. Less than five minutes later, the mist had drifted from the fields and the woods reducing visibility to zero.
The young policeman slowed down, switched on his torch and immediately switched it off. Like a car headlight in fog, it had reflected a blanket of white back in his face. He regretted not closing one eye to guard against it as he stood there unable to see anything.
At the briefing earlier in the day, when the DCI had forbidden anyone to work alone he had looked at Jeff, knowing he was young, eager and wanted to score points.
As Jeff walked slowly into the unknown he still had no regrets. He would solve this on his own and go back to the city to receive congratulations from his regular boss. It would also give him the opportunity to show how much more efficient the city boys were compared to the country bumpkins. A shape appeared on his right side which seemed lighter than the surrounding area. He slowed and approached, reaching out with his left hand. Only when he touched it and felt the cold stone, he realised he had reached the perimeter of St. Bart’s.
It seemed unbelievable that a structure like a wall could be almost invisible at just over arm’s length, but that was the phenomenon that the policeman was witnessing. He walked on slower and put out his hand to ensure that he was still near the dry stone wall. For five minutes, the heavy grey mist drifted in waves across the path, not quite clearing. The wall ended and Jeff turned toward where it should be.
He stepped forward one pace and reached out, but instead of the wall, his fingers touched a cold old iron gate. There was a moment when he was able to focus on the large ring and bolt, so he pulled on it and then pushed the gate. Instead of opening, it didn’t move until it was pushed. It opened a few inches and then with an eerie groan leaned back at the top end and fell away from the entrance on ancient broken hinges.
“Bollocks,” Jeff muttered.
The normally fearless young man caught his breath and stepped back. For a moment he was regretting his decision to venture here alone, but he was certain he had worked out something that nobody else seemed to realise and he was desperate to show how clever he could be. He stepped forward onto the consecrated ground and felt a chill that went deeper than the mist had been creating.
From both sides as he went forward in a stealthy short pace he became aware of a variety of grey shapes standing in the shifting fog. At times there was only the blanket of mist and then momentarily, there would be several gravestones and it felt as if he wasn’t alone … as if there were others here, surrounding him.
“Get a grip of yourself,” he said aloud and moved forward clutching his torch. It occurred to him that in such circumstances, he’d have difficulty finding the clues he was looking for, but he was going to try anyway.
As he continued to walk through the overgrown area, the cold permeated the air and the mist seemed to absorb the entire place. Jeff was confident he was still on the main path because the ground underfoot was firm. He had to slow to the point where he was walking like a tightrope walker, step … pause … step … pause … step.
A dark shape was appearing to his left so he stopped and turned to look at what he thought was the largest gravestone he’d ever seen. He reached out and realised it was the gnarled trunk of a tree. The rumours back at the station were that this area was so overgrown that nobody ever ventured here.
DC Clark wasn’t local, so for him it left an avenue to investigate. As he stood in the cold and dark, he listened and for the first time had serious regrets about his plan. He was not alone. He reached into his pocket, lifted out his mobile phone and stared down at the screen. Jeff pressed a sequence of keys, but then stared in horror. No signal available.
“You can stop messing around,” he called out. “Make yourself known. I’m a police officer.”
“Not so fucking confident now, are you sonny?” It was a hoarse male voice with no distinct accent, but more importantly, it seemed to be all around in the darkness. The chill was no longer in the air – it was running up Jeff’s spine.
The unseen person continued to tread in a steady, confident manner as if he could see.
“Who are you?” Jeff asked, realising his tone lacked confidence.
“Appropriate really,” the voice said and chuckled. “Appropriate that we should meet in a graveyard … a graveyard that no one visits … Constable Clark.”
Jeff didn’t qualify the mention of his name, but it added a new dimension to his fears.
“Up until this evening,” the voice continued, “I’ve managed to bury six people here from different counties and I will not have you spoil my track record … number seven.”
“I’m hunting a police killer-,”
“Well done,” the voice interrupted. “You’ve found him, just like the last two.”
Jeff’s senses were being stretched to the extreme and he no longer felt the cold. As he continued to stare into the mist and listen, it occurred to him that his original plan was doomed , but he was still alive so there was hope. He thought for a second that there were more footsteps, but from a different area. He pressed his back to the large gravestone then watched and listened.
From no more than two paces away, a human figure appeared brandishing a large knife and Jeff raised his arms to defend himself.
“Die Constable!” the hoarse voice whispered.
A small red light appeared on the assailant’s forehead. The man with the knife stopped as if frozen and blinked rapidly. The knife was still raised high.
“Drop the weapon or I’ll fire,” DCI Kelly said in an even tone.
The blade made a metallic ping as it hit the unseen gravel path and two pairs of strong arms reached from the darkness and wrestled the murderer to the ground.
“DC Clark,” the DCI whispered close to Jeff’s left ear, “when I say do not go it alone, I mean do not fucking go it alone.”
“I realise now it was a grave mistake sir,” Jeff replied.