A Newspaper, a Dark Story and a Special Sleuth Desperate to be Born.

This is the story of how Sleuth Holly came to be. There I was, coming on eight years ago, working in the kitchen. I was turning steaks with tongs in both hands when my head chef entered with a her newspaper folded open to a page. She lays it on the side, and begins to work. Whilst washing my hands, I look at the paper and there is an interesting article. A story competition requesting a dark crime/horror story, using the word ‘remnants’ as a prompt. An idea for a story struck this budding storyteller at once.

The next day before work, I began writing and soon had my story, ‘The Remnants of Murder’ in the works. Little did I know, who about to be revealed to me. I’d created DCI Derek Ward and his sixteen-year-old daughter Carrie, those of you who’ve read Holly Ward Investigates, Holly’s Story will know them both as Holly’s mother, and grandfather. Then, I had no plans for sequels, I wasn’t going to write any more stories, and Carrie wasn’t ever going to have a daughter. I just wanted to finish and enter the competition. Yet somebody had other ideas. As I wrote Carrie into the story, I saw some familiar icy blue eyes and a playful smile. I didn’t know who this girl was, I just knew she wasn’t in the story I was writing. So, I finished my story without her, as you’ll see below. I went to work and got home late. As midnight came and went, I entered the competition, then tried to sleep. I didn’t sleep much that night, those pretty eyes had returned, the girl had appeared in my mind and through those broken dreams, she introduced herself. By morning, I knew she was Holly Ward, and that she’d been raised to solve crimes by her grandfather DCI Ward. I knew she had a footballer boyfriend, and that she worked as a waitress in her mother’s Workhouse Restaurant. Well, I was buzzing, I took the weekend off work to work with Holly. I’d already been shown what I was told were workhouse wardrooms below the restaurant and had ideas for a tale based on that. Now I had more than one story lining itself up. That weekend Holly became real to me, and her series of Mysteries now known as Holly Ward Investigates was born.

Below is the story that started Holly’s saga. Beware it’s a little dark, in its criminal ways, but it is the tale that Holly came to me whilst I wrote. I hope you enjoy it.

The Remnants of Murder

Ever lived in a quiet town where nothing interesting ever occurs? DCI Derek Ward certainly hadn’t, at least until the last couple of months.

“Six stinking weeks! And not one murder, suicide, or accidental death. Has everybody suddenly grown a bloody conscience, and learned to be careful,” he complained his authoritative voice sounding irritable He was a man that loved to be in the midst of an intriguing case. He just detested being sat there and doing nothing. Today he sat with his feet on his desk, newspaper on his lap and mug of steaming coffee in his hand.

“Look, Jones. Even the tabloids have so little bad news to print, that they’ve resorted to stories of old ladies doing wonderful things in their communities.”

“Good grief, Derek. Cheer up, something will crop up sooner or later, I expect.” replied the young officer watching the detective preparing to leave for the day.

Yet another boring, empty day was passing with no action. That was until Derek climbed into his shiny white Citroen to head home for a bath. He yawned loudly as he adjusted his seat back a little and switched on the engine.

“Good Evening, Ladies and Gentleman! Your local news today is full of cheer. As we celebrate the rescue of a tabby cat from a tree by, Tom Baker, and congratulate Mary Bennett on her fundraising efforts.” The radio presenters voice had filled the cab as it clicked on with the ignition.

“I am so bored with this place!” Derek thought as he found first gear and edged out from between a Mercedes and a Jaguar, both owned by the chief of police. He steered the car towards the exit ramp and slammed on the brakes, having seen the precinct door fly open. It allowed a black bin to come bolting out of it, in the grasp of an overweight, bespectacled crime scene analyst.

“Detective, Ward. Wait for me please,” he yelled.

“Bloody hell, Elliot. Would you mind telling me what the hell you’re doing please?” Derek called back out of the window, he swung his car back into a bay and climbed out in a hurry.

“Sir, I think you will want to see this lot!” Elliot arrived at the car breathless and sweating from his run through the police headquarters. He banged the metal bin down on the bonnet of the car and tipped it a little for Derek to see. “There what do you make of that?”

“Watch my bloody paintwork. Now, what’s with this bin full of photo negatives?”

“Sorry, sir. These are only the remnants of films. We only have the last exposures from each film. They each contain a double exposed picture of a different teenage girl.”

“So why bring them to me?” Derek’s agitation rose, he really wanted to slip into a nice warm bath. Although his intrigue made him stay where he was for a moment longer.

“Well, each girl has been strangled with different ligatures, and in different poses. I don’t know if these are real, but if they are, we have a serial killer on the loose.”

“Maybe so. I expect anybody with knowledge of photography and ligatures could pose the girls well enough. Then take the shots, couldn’t they?”

“Of course. However, it’s not the strangling that raised the alarm, it’s this one that did.” Elliot pushed his glasses back up his nose, before extracting a negative containing two pictures, and handed it to Derek. The negative contained a picture of a girl of about seventeen. She was hanging limply from a rope tied around her neck. She had the words ‘catch me if you can!’ daubed on her bare abdomen, in a black marker. Derek’s face broke into a grimace tinged with excitement.

“This is awful, but it’s a proper case at last.” he grabbed the bin and ran all the way back to his office. Once there he grabbed his notebook and pen. Then shot into the nearest situation room, where he tipped the contents of the bin on to the table and set to work. He had already sifted through a stack of the film remnants by the time Elliot staggered in, out of breath.

“Elliot, get your gloves on and start sifting for anything we might use. We need faces to identify, clues to locations, anything that might tell us something about the photographer.”

“Yes, sir!” Elliot nodded, slipped into a swivel chair and set to work.

Two hours passed by in that room, sifting evidence.

“I count twenty-four different girls, in multiple poses here, I also see a board in this picture with writing on it,” Derek said having leaned back on his chair, lifting it onto two legs.

“Yup twenty-four. What do you make of this smudge here, boss?” Elliot handed him a negative showing a brunette girl. She was attached to a bedpost by a belt around her neck. The negative had a rounded greasy looking mark across one side of it.

“Hmm, fingerprint maybe. Have it analyzed, will you?”

“Sure boss, I’ll do it now.” Elliot dashed off leaving Derek to pour over his findings. He selected pictures with clear faces of each girl and had them printed and enlarged in the photo lab. Within an hour, he had them all pinned to his evidence board. Copies of each were sent out to uniform in the hope they might find some of the girls whilst patrolling too.

Derek sat at his computer and brought up the automated face recognition software. He quickly inserted scans of all the faces into it, then set it to work.

“I thought you went home, Ward.”

“I did, but a case came up, Charlie,” Derek replied in terse tones. He poured himself, his fourth coffee of the evening and returned to the computer as the phone rang.

“Derek, I’m really worried. Carrie hasn’t returned home yet.” said a quavering female voice.

“Don’t worry, Jo. I’m sure she’s just stopped at a friend’s house. Call a few of them, ask if they’ve seen her. By the way, I’ll be very late home.” Derek said goodbye to his wife and hung up. Returning to his computer, he was amazed to see that the software had delivered him some surprising results; each and every girl was a student at the University of Modern Art. Reading through the results, Derek soon realised his victims had one thing in common; they didn’t live in Broadland City, they only came to study at the university.

“Sir, I must apologise for overhearing, but doesn’t Carrie go to the university you have on the screen there?” Charlie asked as he handed the detective some papers and a coffee.

“She does, and I don’t want to think about it!” Derek replied despite being very worried about her just then.

It was precisely nine o’clock in the morning, when Derek rapped noisily on the Deans office door, at the university. His temper was frayed and his mind racing a fretful beat. His daughter hadn’t made it home last night, her friends hadn’t seen her since she left the university at three in the afternoon.

“Yes, do enter,” instructed a posh voice from inside.

“Derek let himself into the cosy office. He was confronted by a tall sallow man with neatly parted hair. He looked quite wealthy in his black suit.

“I’m DCI Derek Ward. I must converse with you about a case, please.”

“Certainly detective. I’m Cuthbert Singleton the man in charge of the campus.” The Dean shook his hand and indicated a chair at his desk. The two sat and Derek explained his visit as quick as he could.

“So, can you tell me anything useful about these girls. Anything that might help me find them.”

“Well, they are all first years. They are all taking advanced photography and history of art classes. My records show that they have all been missing classes ranging from a week to three weeks ago.”

“What about this girl?” Derek showed the dean a picture of his own daughter. She had her shiny black hair in a ponytail, and looked out of pretty blue eyes.”

“Ah, Carrie Ward from the hairstyling courses. No, she hasn’t been missed and her grades are excellent,” the Dean replied.

“Print those records for me. Then I need to see these classes please, Cuthbert!” Derek stood and waited impatiently for him to get the request done. Then he followed the Dean across the courtyard, his eyes scanning the records as they headed to the lecture room. Looking up he got a quick view of the lake, before going indoors again.

“Here we are. This is where they do most of their paperwork. They use the studio next door for practical.”

“Thanks, may I have a look around?” Derek pulled on his leather gloves and began to scan his thoughtful hazel eyes around him.

“Of course, I’ll leave you to it, Detective.” the Dean disappeared back along the corridor as the detective set about exploring the two rooms. There was evidence everywhere, that the girls all used the rooms, from registers to signed paperwork, and even photographs of them, taken and developed in the darkroom next door. Derek was just giving up his search when the door to the darkroom swung open.

“Morning, Derek. The fingerprint turned out to be from a wedding photographer by the name of Kris Burchett, and the board in the negative is his advertisement board.” Elliot reported eagerly. He handed over the address and photographs pertaining to the evidence.

“Great work! Have uniform meet me there. The university came up blank, for now. Will you see if you can spot anything with your forensic equipment?”

“Sure, I’ll let you know the moment I find something.”

“Thanks, I’ll speak to you soon.” Derek whisked away with a flap of his trench coat.

Derek was excited again, he ran out of the university and dived into his car. Wheels spinning, he screeched out of the gate and threw the car on to the road outside. His haste caused a Peugeot to swerve out of his way. Within minutes Derek had made the mile journey to the photographic studio. He was surprised to find himself outside an apartment block, instead of a business. He walked about and soon found the right door. He was knocking upon it when two uniform officers came up behind him. One officer came with a search warrant in hand.

“Mr Burchett, open the bloody door! I have some very important questions for you,” the detective looked through the letterbox. Silence was the only reply.

“Ok, boys. Execute my warrant, please.” Derek stepped aside as the officers hefted their enforcer ram, and forcibly opened the door with a loud crack.

“After you, sir!” Jones coughed as he took out his baton, raised and readied it. Derek walked with caution into the studio. He began to look about as the officers cleared the scene. The studio was in fact, just an ordinary maisonette-style apartment. Derek had entered into the lounge, the kitchen was directly in front of him, and bathroom to the left.

“All clear, sir!”

“Thanks. Boys. Watch the door will you!”  Derek searched through the whole place. Finding nothing he climbed the red-carpeted stairs. “Two bedrooms, all normal. Ah, dark room!” he said to himself as he opened the third room with a blackout blind across the window. He switched on the light, illuminating a room filled with photographic paraphernalia. A shelf containing multiple cameras and lenses, a desk loaded with developing chemicals, a key marked basement, and a rather nice canon camera. Photos were pegged up everywhere. There was nothing connected to the case. Derek sighed this was another dead end, in the case. Derek left the room and headed for the stairs it was there a movement caught his eye. There hanging from a picture of a horse was a long blonde hair. Derek carefully bagged the hair, ensuring its follicular tag remained intact.

Back in the lounge, he found a short young-looking man with a bad case of acne waiting for him.

“Ah, you must be Kris Burchett, I presume.”

“No, sir. I’m Colin Hove. What’s going on?”

“Well, I’m investigating the possible murders of twenty-four girls. Do you know anything about that?”

“No sir, I’m only lodging here while I do my photography course.”

“Ah, yes, your name is on the class register,” Derek said having scanned the list in his notebook. He fanned out the photos of the girls to show the student. “Know any of these?”

“Er, yeah, all of them actually.” A smirk slid across Colin’s face. “Bedded several of them, in fact,” he added making Derek think him a cocky pillock.

“Think you’re a clever little jock, don’t you, boy? These girls are probably all dead, and only remnants of films like those in your room, tell us why?” Derek lent in really close to the boy’s face. “Tell me what you know, now.”

“I know nothing, honestly.” Colin looked scared now.

“I found a blonde hair upstairs. A fingerprint on one of the negatives lead me here, and I find you instead of Kris Burchett living here, but you know nothing.”

“Well, I definitely don’t know any Burchett, anyway.”

“Jones, arrest his hide for murder please.” Derek stalked out of the maisonette feeling vexed. He felt he’d missed something but was too angry to put his finger on it just then.

Back in his car, Derek’s phone was ringing before he had a chance to drive away from the studio.

“Sir, I’ve spoken to the parents of the girls. They’ve all been told; their daughters are on a photographic expedition in Wales,” Charlie told him.

“Call the university and try to confirm that will you?” Derek rang off, he knew that was a lie, the dean would have told him earlier.

Derek drove flat out, heading for the police headquarters. St Elmo’s fire was rocking out of his radio, and he was and his head was banging.

“Nothing! No clues or evidence,” he fumed. Without warning a red sports car pulled out into the road, causing him to jam on the brakes. With his keys jingling loudly, he swerved away from the offending car, hit the curb, and swore as he forced the car back under control.

“Who told you, you can drive! You —” Derek froze and looked at his dash realisation was striking home. Sweat was pouring from his forehead, from his efforts in avoiding the collision. He wrestled the car around and mashed the accelerator. Topping sixty miles an hour he called for uniform and Elliot to meet him back at the studio apartment.

“You’re going senile, Derek,” he said as he looked at himself in the mirror. “You looked right at it, and never saw It.”

Back in the building Derek shot up to the apartment and met the officers.

“Wait here, and be ready with Elliot.” Derek ran straight up to the darkroom and snatched the basement key from the desk. With it, he dashed back down the stairs into the community area.

“Afternoon boss,” Elliot called as Derek dashed past.

“Hi, Elliot, basement,” he replied in a breathy voice. Walking fast he looked at every door until he found a red door marked caretaker only. He put the Yale key into the lock and smiled as it clicked and the door opened.

“Struth, what’s that smell?” An officer called as he reached them.

“Decomp’ something died in there,” Elliot replied looking knowingly at Derek. “I hope we don’t find, Carrie,” he added with concern welling in his eyes.

“I appreciate that, Elliot.” The men made masks from their handkerchiefs and put on gloves before descending into the dank basement, the air was thick and heavy with the overpowering smell. They entered into a large storeroom, with a table in the centre and boxes along one wall. Two doors were visible on the other side of the room.

“Jackpot,” Derek murmured grimly. The table contained a collection of ropes, pet collars, and various other ligatures. Three boxes by the table contained photos matching the remnants from the bin. Behind the table was a wardrobe, its door half open. Derek peered inside before opening it fully, revealing one of the missing girls still hanging from the clothes rail, by a hanger.

“Oh hell, no. She’s been dead at least four days by the look of her.” Elliot said looking sickened by it.

“One down, twenty-three to go,” Derek replied his voice low and full of disgust. He walked across to the first of the doors.

“I hope not.” Elliot put down his kit and began photographing the evidence.

“Gawden Bennett! It’s worse than the bloody morgue, in here.” Derek called. He had gone into the first room and discovered two cling filmed bodies side by side on the floor. There were more rolls of cling film in a box, baring a delivery label addressed to the university. He left the room and called for the coroners, and some back up for Elliot. This was going to be a long crime scene clean-up.

He turned his attention to the second door and entered. Initially, he thought the room was empty. He flashed his torch about. Then spotted a blanket with a body bump on the floor. He approached with dread fueling his veins. With care, he knelt and rolled the cover down. He realised the figure was another girl, this one, however, was still breathing.

“I need paramedics, right now,” Derek yelled at the top of his voice. His blood running cold for she had black hair. He gently rolled the shivering girl into the recovery position and felt tears prick his eyes.

“Carrie, oh no, please no!” he said. It was a few minutes before the paramedics arrived on the scene. Derek stood and allowed them to work. A tear ran down his cheek as staggered almost drunkenly back to the main room and found Elliot.

“That murdering swine got my daughter.” A whirlwind of emotions washed over him, and he laid into the wall with his foot.

“Derek, let me do my job. I’ll catch the scumbag, for you,” Elliot said in soothing but determined tones, as he watched the detective from a distance. Derek’s lips worked soundlessly as he replayed and reviewed everything he’d seen over the course of the investigation, within his sharp mind.

“Got you, scumbag,” he said without warning. He quickly phoned his wife and told her to meet his daughter at the hospital.

“Come with me,” he said as he grabbed an officer.

“Derek, who have you got? Where are you going?” Elliot stammered in confusion. “What do I do?”

“I know who Burchett is,” Derek replied. “Do me a favour, process this scene, make sure you have the evidence ready to put his rotten hide away for a long time.” Derek stalked back to his car and screeched away along the road once more. The officer sat beside him looking ill. He was feeling as if he were riding a roller coaster doing eighty miles per hour.

On route, Derek put in a request over the radio. Driving straight through the university gates, he stopped right in front of the main entrance. Taking the stairs two at a time he raced up to the Dean’s office. This time he didn’t wait for an answer, he flung the door open with a crash.

“Afternoon, Detective,” Cuthbert Singleton said in an airy voice.

“Hello, dean. Enjoy killing those girls, did you?”

“Hallo, he’s gone nuts. You better arrest him, officer!” Cuthbert said with a laugh. Derek walked right up to the desk and leaned in close to the Dean.

“Listen to me you evil creep. Those innocent girls came here to learn, and you took advantage of them. You sent out the letters telling their parents that they were partaking in a trip. You kidnapped and took them to the apartment of one Kris Burchett. From there you escorted them one by one into your basement of horrors, where you hung, posed and photographed them, as you watched them die,” Derek accused his eyes filled with fury. “Didn’t you.”

“I demand, you get out, now.  You can’t prove any of this.” Cuthbert replied climbing to his feet with a flare of anger or was that fear in his eyes.

“Oh, can’t I? Number one, Cuthbert is a direct anagram of Burchett. Number two is the fact that; if Kris Burchett took those photographs, he has the same fingerprints as you. Number three, I just proved that you have the deeds to the building where you killed them all. That pal is arrested, judged and imprisoned for the rest of your life!” Derek stepped back allowing the officer to arrest the Dean. “What I don’t understand is why?”

“Ha, what a smart ass!” Cuthbert smirked. “I have cancer, my life is slipping away, like the remnants of a fire. My life was ending before I could make a masterpiece to show for it. So, I had to create it. I decided that I should capture pretty girls at the moment their lives ebbed away, and well you know the rest.” Cuthbert fell silent as he was led away.

“Officer, wait.” Derek caught up with the murderous dean. “Where are the rest of the girls Cuthbert?” getting no reply, Derek grabbed the man by his shirt collar. “WHERE ARE THEY?” the Dean’s face broke into a smile as he spoke.

“I got the idea from a book called Skyline Virtues, by Keith Nale. Good luck, Detective.” from that moment the dean never spoke another word until his death.

Eight hours later, a content Derek, slipped into his warm bath. His daughter was fine and he’d successfully captured another evil fiend. He’d even discovered the location of the rest of the girls. All in all a good day for a good detective. 

I will leave you to discover the final location of the girls, and remember a puzzling brain is a sharp one.

The End

So, that’s it, now you know how our special Sleuth, Holly came into being. We’ve written a large collection of her mysteries, and while they may not make it to a place where you can read them, they have been a joy for me to write.  On behalf of Holly, Thank you for reading.

2 thoughts on “A Newspaper, a Dark Story and a Special Sleuth Desperate to be Born.

Add yours

  1. It was a special couple of days once Holly got her hands on me, that’s for sure. I’m glad she did though. Writing her stories with her was a real joy.

    Liked by 1 person

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