The prologue and first chapter of Milly Reynolds’ first book, The Woolly Murders.
A few weeks ago we brought you news that the creators of Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes – Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah – had revealed that they were working on the third iteration of beloved supernatural-tinged procedural. During a live watch-along of Life On Mars, Graham issued a number of tweets that revealed […]
The latest Mike Malone Mystery
This is the latest in the Mike Malone series.
There are now over 20 books in total for you to read, 16 of which are in the Mike Malone series.
“So I’ve set the chart for 2.13 pm, look at this.”
Mary understood the meaning of this birth chart. “It’s him to a tea, isn’t it? The Moon rising in Leo, all that drama and creativity in his personality. And then the Sun and Pluto locked together in Pisces in the eighth house, he just had to be this shadowy, mysterious and strange individual, a spy – a man wearing a mask! It’s funny, but some say the image of Shakespeare in the First Folio looks like he’s wearing a mask.”
“And look at the well-developed Mercury, in good aspect to that Jupiter Saturn conjunction. He was a born writer too.”
Mary sat up. “Ah yes, of course, the birth and death of kings, that’s true. This conjunction is associated with that. And I would argue that Marlowe’s Edward the Second was really the first history play, very much along the same lines that Shakespeare would continue to write and develop later on.”
Elena then noticed something else. “He died on May 30 1593, didn’t we find out?”
“Look, if I put in the transits for that very day, Pluto is closely conjunct his midheaven and Neptune is hovering close to his ascendant, just like it is in mine right now.”
“Curiouser and curiouser.”
Elena was beginning to feel more than a twinge of excitement. “Pluto on his midheaven might mean his career was rocked to its foundations, destroyed even, but it could also mean it goes underground, to become a career in disguise. And Neptune dissolves his personality. It’s like a kind of death.”
Mary eyed her friend. “Yes, either way he disappears forever. It is all very Faustian.”
“What do you mean?”
Mary picked up the book with the picture of Marlowe in it. “Maybe his play Faustus was not only a warning us about getting mixed up with magic, it was in part autobiographical too. Maybe he’s been in some kind of limbo ever since he died, a place from where he can at least contact us through the medium of dreams.”
Limbo maybe, but Elena still couldn’t figure out the other mystery. “So are we any nearer explaining the initials on that oak tree, I wonder?”
Mary thought for a few seconds. “Not yet, but give it time.”
Elena took the pregnancy test as a precaution, she knew pretty well what the result would be: positive. Michael too had his suspicions, though neither of them had intended starting a family just yet. Although privately pleased, even with the continuing morning sickness, she kept it to herself.
So it was with mixed feelings that Elena booked a doctor’s appointment, somewhat surprised to get an appointment that same day due to a cancellation. She had been sick again that morning, several times, and didn’t feel too good while she sat in the waiting room. It concerned her that she couldn’t see her own doctor. Instead she had been given an appointment with a locum, Dr Kim Parris. At least it was a woman, she much preferred to see female doctors.
Half an hour later, she was still waiting, the appointments evidently running quite late. Elena was wondering whether she should go to the toilet, when the light on the screen flashed. It was her turn. Taking a deep breath, she stood up and walked briskly to the surgery door, ignoring the slight sickness she was feeling once more in her stomach. She knocked on the door.
Some women had rather deep voices, she figured. She opened the door to find no one.
“Please, sit you down,” came a voice from behind a white screen.
Doctor Parris emerged. He was putting on a jacket, his hair swept back. He was clean shaven and smirking. Elena blinked a few times during those few seconds. They seemed to be gilded with a semblance of eternity.
“Elena, what a lovely name,” he said, sitting down in front of her. “That’s Italian for Helen, isn’t it?”
Around eleven, just after she had re-opened Mary’s book, she turned the page – and her heart skipped a big beat.
Before her was a painting and a very familiar face. She knew those eyes, as cute as a dog’s, but as sharp as the devil. And those lips, too, and particularly the thick, flowing hair. Even his shirt, or coat, black with the strange gold stripes and buttons; she recalled it from that dream in the church. He had his arms folded, with a slight but telling smile, as if he knew something. On the top left of the portrait was a date, 1585, and what appeared to be his age, 21.
There was a knock on the door. Elena knew who it would be. She got to her feet slowly and walked to the door.
“Mary, you’d better come in and look at what I’ve just come across.”
Without saying a word, Mary followed into the living room, where Elena handed over the open book she’d borrowed from her friend.
“Mary, this is him, I’m sure.”
“Damn and blast, I haven’t got my specs with me,” Mary held the book a little further away from her. “Oh, my… are you sure, Dear?” Mary immediately sat down and drew a deep breath.
“I should’ve known this, something was bugging me.”
Elena walked over, pointing at the portrait. “My Latin is very rusty, what does this verse mean?”
Mary had gone almost white and was holding her chest. “I’m too old for this. Let me see. Oh, Elena.”
“What is it?”
“It means, ‘what feeds me… destroys me’.”
“He said that I had destroyed him.”
Elena sat down beside her friend. “Last night, and then he died.”
Mary lay the book open on the coffee table and took her hand. “You poor girl. I’ve seen this portrait so many times before, why didn’t I think of it?”
“Where have you seen it?”
“Didn’t I tell you? I went to Corpus Christi College Cambridge in the late seventies. And this, my Dear, is the notorious, even infamous playwright Christopher Marlowe, though he was often called Kit.”
Elena’s shock was now turning to embarrassment. “I don’t think I know too much about him, if I’m honest.”
Mary was shaking her head. “No, if you don’t have a strong interest in literature you might not have.”
“So what do you mean by notorious?”
“Oh, he was supposedly a brawler, a bragger, highly controversial, but a literary genius as well.”
“How does that work?”
“Well, for one thing I don’t believe all the stories.”
“It’s a long story, but he was said to be an atheist and a counterfeiter, despite the fact that he spent six years at Cambridge studying divinity. But his first play, Tamburlaine, rocked the Elizabethan stage around the mid 1580s. It was so popular, he had to do a part two.”
“Mary, I never knew this.”
“And he wrote other plays, great plays, like Edward the Second, The Jew of Malta and Faustus. Ah, Faustus.”
“I’ve heard of that one, the name.”
Mary’s gaze assumed its own dreamlike quality. “It’s probably his most well known play today, and it’s still performed from time to time. It’s about John Faustus who sells his own soul to the devil in exchange for earthly knowledge and magical power.”
“It sounds like pretty heavy stuff to me.”
“Oh, it is, he even manages to conjure up people from the past like Helen of Troy, in the flesh. Which reminds me, I must read the Iliad again, it’s so important.”
Elena began to smile. “Now I’ve read that, such a great story, but so brutal. I can see why Kit Marlowe would use references from it.”
Mary stood up, looking restless. “A war that lasted ten years, all over Paris of Troy kidnapping Helen of Sparta, but maybe that’s a sounder pretext than some of our modern wars.”
“It’s all so tragic.” Elena was playing with her hair. “But tell me, if Marlowe was so great, why don’t I know more about him? What happened to him?”
“He was murdered, Dear.”
Elena looked shocked. “But wait, I saw him die, in bed. I think. Assuming it was him…”
“It seems poor Marlowe overstepped the mark one too many times, in his own way a bit like poor John Faustus. He died in a supposed tavern brawl in London in 1593, I believe.”
“Right, but then what could he have meant when he said that I destroyed him?”
“I think he was referring to this verse.” Mary was pointing again at the portrait. “It’s the reverse of what a phoenix does.”
Elena looked back blankly at Mary.
Mary moved over to the fireplace. “You see the phoenix, in mythology, rises from its own ashes.”
“I get that, but Marlowe is saying it in reverse?”
“Kind of, Dear, kind of. I’m pretty sure it can’t be a mistake.”
“You wouldn’t go to all that trouble of having your portrait done with a mistake on it. But what does he actually mean? It’s very negative and obscure.”
Mary looked back at the portrait. “You see his pose, the folded arms? In Elizabethan portraiture this pose means ‘I keep secrets’.”
“It means precisely that. That’s his real career, if you like, he was as an intelligencer.”
“A spy, in other words, Dear. The English secret service was in its infancy then, all tied up with the on-going conflict with imperial Spain and other Catholic countries. He would play roles, portray himself as someone he was not so he could infiltrate enemy organisations and find out about their plans. That’s why I don’t believe all the negative stuff written about him, you can’t necessarily take the things he said and did at face value. And he was doing this sort of thing while he was still at university.”
“So he probably worked for the government.”
“Yes, for his queen and they certainly protected him more than once, got him out of some sticky situations which were all to do with his role as an intelligencer.”
“And all these plays you’ve told me about, he did all that in his spare time?”
Mary chuckled. “It seems that way, but, then ‘I know not what seems’, my Dear.”
“Which reminds me.” Elena, opened her laptop and searched for Christopher Marlowe. “Hm.”
“What is it?”
“He was christened on February 26 1564 in Canterbury.”
Mary pointed a finger at Elena. “The number twenty three you saw in your first dream. Was this dream, this ghost, or whatever he was, trying to tell you he was born on February 23, three days before his christening?”
“Isn’t it true that babies were baptised within a few days after birth back then.”
Elena continued on her laptop, using astrological software which calculated birth charts. Allowing for the change over back to the older Julian calendar still being used in late Elizabethan times, she brought up the midday chart for February 23, 1564, set for Canterbury, where Christopher Marlowe was born.
“I don’t believe it.” Elena was ushering Mary towards the chart.
“Incredible, Dear, simply incredible. Pluto, Hades himself, almost exactly conjunct his Sun in Pisces when he was born. What are the chances of that?”
She put down the laptop.
“Are you alright, Elena?”
“I’m sorry, I’ve just had one of those shivers go up my spine. I’m like you, I don’t believe in coincidences either. It’s as if he really was speaking allegories to me from beyond the grave, four hundred years after he died. But why? And how is any of this real?”
The room was dark, quite small. Long curtains were closed, just a peep of light came through a gap. Outside there were distant voices, so she opened the curtain a touch to see. It was the canal or river she had seen before, though there was less activity this time, as if it might be evening. As she turned away, she noticed a mirror with an ornate frame on the right wall. Keeping the curtains open, she looked at it. Elena had the clearest blue eyes, a smooth, ivory complexion. She brought a hand to her face, touching the soft flesh.
“I am… quite beautiful,” she whispered.
She recognised the room, the bed in the corner where someone was lying. Walking up to the bed, she recognised him, though he made no move, as if he was asleep. She peered more closely; then he opened his eyes, slightly.
“Elena,” he croaked, weakly, “you have destroyed me.”
She stepped back as he reached out, trying to touch her. “What’s the matter with you? Is it something I’ve done?”
“Elena, you have destroyed me.”
She felt a sudden unease. “What have I done?”
He tried to smile, though it seemed to be difficult. There was pain written all over his face, emotional as well as physical discomfort.
“Just… tell me who you are.”
His hand fell limply by his side, a weak gaze remaining fixed on her where she stood.
Kneeling down she put a hand in front of his face. There was no breath. She checked the pulse on his wrist: nothing. His candle had burned out. Elena closed his eyes, reached forward and kissed his cheek. Then she sat on the chair next to the bed. Tears began to well up in her eyes, though she wasn’t sure why. Did she know this man? And if so, how?
“I want to come out of this dream now,” she said out loud, wiping her eyes. Yet she remained in the room, apparently present in some time which may have been four hundred years ago. She began to feel queasy, quite strange in fact. So she stood, but had to sit down again, feeling quite faint. She bent down on all fours and was sick into the empty chamber pot by the bed. There was no cloth or tissue to use, so she wiped her mouth on the bed sheet. Suddenly without the strength to get up, she lay on the floor, closing her eyes.
Elena felt the gentle stroking of her hair. Opening her eyes, Michael’s concerned face was examining her own.
“It was quite a shock to find you lying here.”
“Where am I?”
“The toilet, I see you’ve been sick. Something you ate last night, was it?”
“No,” she said, faintly, “I don’t think so. What time is it?”
“Six o’clock. Have you been like this before, recently?”
Elena thought for a few seconds. “A little yes. I thought it was the lack of sleep.”
Their eyes met, instinctively, though neither dare ask that most pertinent question. Michael helped her to her feet and led her back to bed.
“Get some sleep, I’ll take the day off, it won’t matter.”
“I’m not sure I want any sleep.”
“Hm, because of him? This strange kisser fellow?”
“Maybe,” she said, laying down her head, “though I get the feeling that I won’t be seeing much more of him in my dreams.”
“I like the sound of that. I’ll get you some water.”
copyright Milly Reynolds 2020
She still felt little fear, not knowing what to expect when she fell asleep. So she reached for her book again and began to read. Very soon, however, she her eyelids began to drop. The book fell open beside her along with the bookmark.
So where was she? This was no church, not this time. A warm light was cascading in from a very large, medieval style window with decorated stone tracery. And she felt hot. Walking up to the open window she looked out. Below her was a river, or maybe a canal, thronging with boats and people, predominantly men in strange clothes, a scene of hyperactivity. The sides of the canal were gorgeous, the multi-coloured tall buildings rising up spectacularly before her, though most looked as if they had been recently built, or perhaps restored.
Something was telling her to look behind. Yes of course, he would be there, sitting with a swan quill in hand, gently smirking at her. He was wearing a loose fitting white shirt, open a little, revealing a few dark hairs on his chest. His long dark brown hair was swept back. She looked down at her own clothes, a green dress reaching to the floor, shimmering in the bright light.
Elena walked up to him as he was dipping the quill in ink. There was a closed book with a dark red leather cover beside the ink pot, right on the edge of the table. “Please tell me what this is all about.”
“Elena, this is a dream.” She heard the voice but it wasn’t coming from his mouth, which remained closed, his dark, liquid eyes gazing up at her.
“Who are you?” She touched the table where he was sitting, it felt so real. Then he stood, pulling her gently towards him, kissing her.
“Elena, this is a dream,” she heard, as their lips parted. He was staring into her eyes, as if he was communing with her soul.
“Please just give me some signs, symbols.”
Elena looked down at the piece of paper in front of him. Reading it upside down, she could make out what looked like a large H.
“An H – is that what your name begins with?”
His expression gave nothing away, no affirmation.
To the left of the table was a rather large, yet basic looking bed, unmade, the off white sheet tossed and crumpled up by the white washed wall. On the floor was what looked like a flagon that might have contained wine. And two used and empty goblets.
Elena walked back to the window. A chorus of men’s voices working on the canal came up from below through the opening; sailors, porters, businessmen and their lackeys. A slight breeze was wafting around her face, cooling her cheeks. There was the smell of fish, meat and vegetables cooking somewhere, too. She touched her hair, it was longer, blonder, thicker, so she pulled a few strands down over the top of her green dress. Green seemed to suit her in this realm, whatever it was. To her left, she noticed a door. There was a large key in it. Walking up, she tried to open the door but it was locked. She turned the key but still it wouldn’t open. Elena eyed him. He was sitting back now, smiling while he laid the quill on the table. With that, the large book beside him slid off and thudded on the wooden floor.
She awoke with a start. The book she’d been reading must have fallen off. Michael was stirring too.
“Are you ok?” he croaked.
“I can’t sleep, that’s all.”
“Is it me? Am I snoring again?”
“No,” she lied, “it’s not you.”
Michael turned over again, leaving Elena to search for things on her phone.
“I can’t sleep anymore, Elena. Nearly forty years of teaching has burned me out.” Mary began to bite at another chocolate digestive, she said it was making her coffee ‘less wet’. There were crumbs all over the kitchen table.
Elena was staring thoughtfully out onto the cold, dormant garden. “Well, thank God I was never a teacher.”
“Quite,” Mary brushed back her grey hair, “so what’s troubling you? I can tell these things. There’s another man, isn’t there?”
“Hm.” Elena looked directly at her friend. “You may joke, but you’re right, that’s why I’ve asked you round.”
“Cripes! Thank Heaven I never married. Come on then, spit it out, girl.”
“Mary, it’s not a real man.”
Mary Allen sat bolt upright, her chewing temporarily paused mid bite. “A woman?”
“No, no. Michael and I are fine.”
“Not a real man, you say.” Mary’s eyes narrowed, quizzically. “I came across plenty of those at school. Some of those heads were absolute demons, you know.”
“I’ve met him twice in a dream, the past two nights in fact. I’m in this dark church and, well, he’s there.”
“A dream. A vicar!”
“He’s no vicar.” Elena put down her coffee mug. “He knows my name and he likes to kiss me, on the lips.”
“Ew! Now that does sound gross. Not tongues as well?”
Elena felt herself beginning to smirk. “No, I think he might be quite a gentleman at heart.”
Mary took a deep breath. “No gentleman would scare the living daylights out of you in a dark church, Dear Elena.”
“I’m not scared, Mary, that’s the thing. But last night, as soon it began to get light, he went back out like a shot.”
Mary was nodding. “Mn, typical male, misogynist, leaving the poor woman alone in a cold dark church. They’re all the same, aren’t they?”
“So I began to follow him but it got lighter and lighter as I got to the door – then I woke up.”
Mary reached for another biscuit. “Do you know what this reminds me of?”
“I haven’t got a clue. Surprise me.”
“Hamlet’s ghost, that poor old soul having to disappear at soon as the cock crowed at the dawn.”
Elena watched Mary dunk the biscuit in her coffee. “The ghost of Hamlet’s father having to return to purgatory, you mean?”
“Because he was murdered without his sins being forgiven, all those ‘imperfections on his head’, so to speak.” Mary stared thoughtfully at what remained of her biscuit, its edges still dampened by the previous dunk and bite. “But we don’t believe in purgatory, do we Dear?”
Elena looked at her. “I’m not sure what I believe, Mary, not anymore. You could say it’s just a dream but when you’re in a dream it’s the only reality you know. Your consciousness can only be in one place.”
“Yes, and it does feel real, doesn’t it? This sounds very Neptunian, don’t you think? The transpersonal world contacting you.”
Elena had to agree. “Transiting Neptune is right on my ascendant now, funnily enough. I do have a strange sense of dissolution, confusion right now. And the experiences of the past two nights have left me feeling quite faint at times.”
Mary was pointing directly at Elena. “I’ve never believed in coincidences. Never.”
copyright Milly Reynolds 2020
Was that him whispering? Or was she merely wishing it to happen?
The heavy door shut gently behind him, he began to walk slowly towards her. She remained in the middle of the small nave, not sure if she was able to move or not. She didn’t really want to try. She was able to perceive more as he got near. He was indeed just a fraction taller, his clothes as dark as the surroundings. As he got close, she could make out some odd looking line pattern on his shirt, like gold faintly shining. The buttons were shiny too. Was it a shirt? Then she began to feel cold, as if in the presence of a ghost. Elena was looking at him, his eyes. He was within a few feet of her now.
His voice was a little louder, mid range like a young man, reverberating around the cold, dark stone. He came to a stop just in front of her.
“Who… are you?” she said, falteringly. Was that her real heart racing, or some fantasy within this temporary sheath in which she found herself?
He reached out with his right hand. His eyes were kind, sensitive, yet with an odd kind of derring-do about them that she liked. The hair was almost shoulder length, groomed but very full, a wavy dark brown. Still she didn’t move. She watched his lips, they were quite full. They met hers just as they did the previous night. He tasted sweet, though there was no attempt to probe her mouth. Was she disappointed? There was an outdated sensibility about him, which spoke of a much older, more chivalrous age.
As their lips parted, she became aware of more light coming through the windows. Dawn, or its equivalent, must have been breaking in this strange other world. He let her go, turning quickly round, walking away far more briskly than he had arrived.
“What’s wrong? Who are you?” she asked, but he was gone. The heavy wooden door clattered shut.
So she began to walk after him. It got lighter and lighter the nearer she got to that door. As she was about to open it, she felt herself return instantly to bed, lying on her back. Michael was snoring beside her. She eyed the clock. Five thirty, Monday morning. That was two nights in a row. She had to find out what was going on. Just how real was all this? And who was the fellow playing this strange kissing game with her? She had a feeling that she should know who he was. Then she began to feel strange, almost queasy again. It seems her nightly escapades were draining her of physical and emotional energy.
Elena switched on the bedside light and began to write it all down in her notebook.
copyright Milly Reynolds 2020