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The Devil's Witches

The Devil's Witches

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The Devil's Witches

163 pages
1 hour
Oct 17, 2017


Benjamin Coffey would like to retire from homicide. But when the corpses of teen-aged girls are found in the forest with black veils covering their faces, he decides to stay just this last time and solve the case.

He finds that the enemy he's facing is more dangerous, more infallible than any he's ever met.

It threatens to destroy him and the people around him.

Oct 17, 2017

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The Devil's Witches - Madeleine McLaughlin

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Horror by Madeleine McLaughlin

Benjamin Coffey would like to retire from homicide. But when the corpses of teen-aged girls are found in the forest with black veils covering their faces, he decides to stay just this last time and solve the case.

He finds that the enemy he's facing is more dangerous, more infallible than any he's ever met.

It threatens to destroy him and the people around him.

The Devil's Witches © 2017 by Madeleine McLaughlin

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, or events, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

MuseItUp Publishing

Cover Art © 2017 by Charlotte Volnek

Layout and Book Production by Lea Schizas

eBook ISBN: 978-1-77127-947-5

First eBook Edition *October 2017

To Casey McLaughlin

The Devil's Witches

Madeleine McLaughlin

MuseItUp Publishing

Chapter One

It's never easy when the phone rings in the midst of a solid sleep. Being a detective means there’s no turning it off, no matter how much I need to. Even if I was the type of man to push my face deep into the pillow and wrap it around the old head to get some extra winks, my lovely wife would surely boot me out of bed at the jangling intrusion. It's always four in the morning and, while I would just as soon let this early hour pass by in dreams, police need to go when they’re called.

A birdwatcher, up at first light, found a female corpse in the woods. For crimes like this I'm always on call. My old body may groan as much as it likes, but at fifty-two I've become accustomed to pushing myself. I have to go. A dress suit is already set out. After so many years, my habit of arranging my next day's work clothes is so ingrained I don't even think about it. You don't show up at crime scenes in sweat pants, it's disrespectful.

My feet smack on the floorboards—my wife doesn't like rugs—and I hope I don't wake her. There's no stopping the thump, thump of my heels but I make it over to my clothes without her stirring. As hard as it is to dress neatly when you're in a rush, over the years, I've gotten my routine down to a science and I'm ready in five minutes.

The dawn is just filtering into the kitchen when I walk in. Just enough to illuminate my portable coffee cup and make it shine. It's right beside the ever-present carafe my Claire uses for coffee. She always has a pot on, the bitter brew ready to pick up whenever a call comes in.

Reaching over to fill the cup, my mind is seared with an image. A dead girl. This has been happening a lot lately, mental pictures of death assailing me. Stop shaking hands. The carafe feels like it might break under the strain of my fingers grasping it. Even the heat of the liquid is not bothering my skin. For a moment my instincts feel as if there's someone outside. Every cop has a lot of enemies. I release the carafe on the counter and move over to the door.

First, the window. The curtains look harmless but what will be outside, just beyond the privacy? The glass needs cleaning. The curtains fall back into place when released. No one's outside the house. A familiar foolish feeling floods my body yet so many murders could be prevented by a locked door. Claire is not going to die like that.

As soon as I pass through the door another vision of dead women assails me. Twelve years as a homicide detective has scarred me. Push it away. But I can't. Not anymore. The lock crashes into place behind me without me noticing right away that I've nicked my knuckle. Moving around the house just to make sure there's no one around to hurt Claire calms me down some, as does jumping into the car. I enter, lock the doors, and start the engine.

A few joggers are out, running down the streets. How many people have I chased in my career? So many bad guys. There's a neighbour but why wave, with the feeling of tragedy straining my heart? The city limits pass outside the car window. It's not hard to find the street that goes through the downtown core. Homeless men sleep on the sidewalk. So sad. But all anyone can do is drive past. A lot of these men have been in trouble with the law. The first happy feeling is leaving the downtown area.

Right outside the city, I go up an overpass, an underpass and all sorts of loop-de-loops to find the dirt road leading off into the woods. It's bumpy, I'm grumpy and the dust rises and covers my vehicle. Why does this always happen when I've just washed the car?

A mouthful of coffee blitzes my system with energy-giving caffeine. This wake up drink revs me quite nicely. I've gotten quite a lot of sleep this week and it's time to go to work.

The forensic car is parked at the side of the dirt road. This edge of the forest is turning into a gathering. Men and women from law enforcement. Blue uniforms against green backdrop. All sorts of trees waving like a farewell party on the shore. I slow and park right behind a van.

Detective Coffey? An officer approaches my window. His pale face bobbles down to my level. I remove the seat belt and climb out of the car. I'll take you to the body, he says.

Remarkably, it feels like babes in the woods to be following this kid through the trees. His neck, it's red. A farmer's son. So chubby faced and serious, with a neat buzz cut for his auburn hair. His will start to grey soon, like mine did. It's hardly dark at the sides anymore. The crunching of the leaves stop when he halts before the crime-scene tape. It's all I can do not to run into his back.

The yellow tape is wrapped around a big area. Openings in the plant life, as it were. It should be peaceful out here, like nature's slumber land but there's so many people moving around. Forensic guys cross and re-cross each other with careful steps, not wanting to disturb anything that might be evidence. Forests just don't seem right with crime-scene tape enclosing the flora.

The early morning sun is cutting through the trees and seeds are floating through its rays. It's the type of scene I would usually love to wander about in but today's a day of death out here. I rub my fingers along the dew on a fern. It's slippery on all the undergrowth.

There she is. She's partly on her side as if the culprit was turning her when the birdwatcher made his enthusiastic way through the forest. There's a wedding veil, dyed black and wrapped around her head, and black silk ribbons trailing from her hair and wrists.

Who is she? She's obviously young, her hair is jet black at the back but in the front, peeking out from the side of the veil is crimson hair. My first impression is of a teenager. Imagine all those ideas that originated in this girl are gone. Hopes have been truncated. Fantasies have slipped somewhere into the void. Still, she looks soft, like a downy dream. I look around for a purse.

Have you found any ID? My voice sounds as damp as the forest feels. The forensic guys stop their work for a moment.

Nothing, they answer.

Bending over the corpse I feel the same questions assail me. Who were her friends? What kind of person was she? Where is she from?

There's no knife wounds, no bullet holes. She could have been drowned, smothered or strangled. If I could see her eyes and peer into them, for the little red veins that give strangling away. But no, her face is covered.

Drowning? There's no wet ground, no puckering of the skin. The autopsy should tell us. Not for the first time I wish we could track like indigenous people do. How wonderful to be able to go right back to where the crime took place. It's doubtful whether it happened here, there doesn't seem to be any sign of a struggle.

Just as I'm leaning over to see the ground better, just in case there's a footprint, a person behind me brushes against a bush.

What the boombah is this? This question explodes right near my ear. It's Mavis Dunn, the best partner I’ve ever had. We've been together for the past seven years. She looks out of place with her pumps and long nails but she's a pro. She always makes me feel secure; her roman nose just looks patrician, of course, like she's in control. Concentrate on the scene.

This is how she was found. A walk in the woods gives plenty, it seems. I can't think of anything better to say.

She looks like she's the same age as Melissa. It's odd that Mavis mentions her daughter when she works. Her fists are clenched and somehow I know it's not just the murder getting to her. Call it instincts. Something’s bothering her. That wide jaw is set like a brooch diamond and Mavis's meaty body looks like it wants to fold into itself and shudder. I try not to reflect on it.

Focus. Lock eyes with the scene.

Maybe it's not nice to stare but that’s what I do. There's a lot of browns and greens, a few flowers in bloom. There's no smell yet something bothers me. It's like a bower in here. Like this place was picked for a certain reason.

Come on, concentrate.

It takes time but I finally see some twigs tied together, making an upside-down cross. Moving towards it, I direct the men with the shovels to dig underneath the sticks.

Before long there is a smell and another female with a black veil, and in half-an-hour there are two more, all with the silk and accoutrements of a wedding, except one thing. They are all naked.

Chapter Two

Paperwork. Lots of paperwork now. Not the favourite part of any detective's day. Writing short, choppy descriptions mirrors the feelings flapping at the side of my mind. Broken, wounded emotions. Wood handle, clear stain. Steel shovel part. That's all the words to come out of my mind. Steady, hands. Fighting with the pen gives the cursive script dips and wiggles. Hopefully others with be able to read it.

Can't stop it. I toss aside the pen and pick up the phone. Have you fingerprinted the handle yet? As long as concentration is impossible, it's just as well to talk to the lab. It was close to the first if the perp heard the birdwatcher and threw it down. Perhaps the dew of the morning will blur it. No? Okay, but as soon as you get done, phone me. Hopefully the perp will be in the system. It occurs to me the birdwatcher said he didn't hear anything, and swears it.

I type the birdwatcher's name into my computer. Clean. No criminal behaviour at all. We can probably clear him pretty easily.

Across from me Detective Morrow is wolfing down a muffin, his huge body jiggling when he bites down. A cross dangles from the wall beside him. His religious training might come in handy here. I call over to him.

Frank. Why would someone turn a cross upside down? My hands are still shaking, distracting me from Morrow's answer. Those young girls, so new, almost on the threshold of their own lives.

I'll have to ask my priest. I'll call him when I've finished my muffin. He reaches for his phone as soon as he's done wiping crumbs off his hands. I can hear but move closer. Anything to counter the nerves overwhelming my body and mind. There’s something about this case.

Father Baker. Hi, it's Frank at the station. He's almost shouting into the phone as if Father Baker is deaf or there's a lot of noise going on. I need to ask a question. It's professional. Why would someone turn a cross upside-down at a burial?

He listens and then nods.

Okay, thanks. That's very helpful. Bye.

What did he say?

"He said it sounds like a black wedding...I didn't even mention the veils... there were veils you said earlier, right? These women were likely killed

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