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Marks Trilogy Part 3 - Footsteps in the Darkness

Short story By: Phil Neale 1952
Mystery and crime



With the discovery of the location of Thomas Weston's final resting place, Dennis Marks believed that he had finally been able to pay his respects to the ancestor he never knew. Why then did the mysterious writing appear on the headstone, and what did it mean? His detective's insticts kicked in once again and set him of on the last stage in the mystery of the old man's murder...............who was the owner of the foosteps in the darkness?


Submitted:May 17, 2008    Reads: 140    Comments: 2    Likes: 2   


It had been two years now. Two years since the facts about Thomas Weston had finally been revealed to him by the man calling himself Michael Roberts. A shadowy figure operating in the background of the security services, Roberts exuded an air of menace with the subtle smile of the predator about to consume its prey. They had crossed paths on a couple of occasions, and each time Marks had come away from their encounters unscathed, but with the uneasy feeling that he was treading upon very thin ice. Their last conversation had revealed the location of the body of Weston who was, apparently Marks' grandfather Gordon, and Roberts' parting remarks left him in no doubt that the case should now remain firmly closed. However, he was a detective and his natural instincts told him that the jigsaw puzzle was one piece short. He had no idea what shape it was or any clue as to its colour, but it was missing, a loose end and he hated the damned things.

He had visited the graveside on a number of occasions, and each time had placed a pebble upon the memorial. Taking the tube of superglue from his pocket he fixed another alongside those already there - glued so that weathering would not remove them, and also so that a permanent record would be made of each visit. The wording on the headstone was simple and to the point:

Here Lies Thomas Weston

Born 14th January 1912

Died 2nd November 2000

Rest in Peace

Until Dennis Marks stood back, he didn't notice the additional inscriptions which had been appended at the bottom right hand corner of the headstone since his last visit. He couldn't read the text and moved closer to get a better look. It was not in English and although he had suffered a year of Latin at school, very little of it had sunk in. Nevertheless Latin it was, and taking his notebook out he wrote it down word for word. There was only one person he could trust with the information and that was George Groves, chief pathologist and known Latin scholar. A call to his office was enough to set up a private meeting that evening. It was 8.30 when he rang the door bell at Marks' home. His wife answered the door.

"Evening June, is the old devil at home?"

"Yes, come in George. Let me take your coat, he's in the front room."

Groves had built up a familiarity with the Marks's over the last few years, and this had developed into an easy friendship with both of them, built on mutual trust and understanding. Dennis had been compelled by circumstances to put June in the picture regarding Thomas Weston, and knew that it would go no further. They sat down to dinner shortly after George's arrival and the talk moved almost immediately to the inscription on the headstone.

"I didn't notice it last time, so there's no telling when it was put there but here it is."

Marks passed the sheet from his notebook bearing the transcription of the two phrases and Groves put on his glasses. He studied the note for a moment and then replaced the spectacles in his pocket.

"Well, what is it then?"

"Not very good Latin I'm afraid, but the first phrase, 'Peto quod vos vadum reperio', roughly translated means 'Seek and ye shall find'. The second is a little better - 'Non solus es' comes out as 'You are not alone'."

"What the hell does that mean, and why in Latin?"

"No idea my friend, but it looks to me as if somebody is trying to tell you something. As for the Latin it's anybody's guess, but probably to prevent the casual observer from suspecting anything. Anyway, you're the detective and I'm the pathologist, it's over to you I'm afraid."

They passed the rest of the evening in more general and non work-related conversation, and when Groves' taxi arrived just after 11.30 the mood was considerably lighter. After they had tidied up for the night and gone to bed, June asked her husband what he intended to do about the subject of their earlier conversation. He had to admit to being confused, but intrigued by the message but hadn't a clue how to make contact with whoever had left the inscription. Despite a pleasant dinner in George Groves' company he spent a restless night tossing and turning, with those involved in the Weston affair flitting in and out of his mind. As it turned out he didn't have too long to wait for an answer to the riddle of the Latin message.

The team had been working on the case of a young woman found in a patch of woodland. She had been robbed and strangled and the body had been left with no identification at all. Marks was in the office early to find documents from the forensic lab already on his desk, and after a visit to the coffee machine he commenced his usual scrutiny in search of anything to point them in the right direction. His gaze was drawn to the brown foolscap envelope protruding from the pile about half way down. It was almost as if it had been deliberately placed in such a way so as to attract his attention and he withdrew it, pushing the rest of the documents to one side. There was nothing on the back or front to indicate a destination and it was completely out of place amongst the remainder of the paperwork which bore the meticulously presented style of George Groves' department.

Uncertain whether or not to treat the package as suspicious and summon the bomb squad, he nevertheless carefully examined it and, taking a deep breath, carefully slit the top edge with his letter opener. It contained a single sheet of paper bearing a photocopied section of a street map. There was a red cross at the intersection of Ramsey Road and Norris Street, with a message which read 'Tonight, 10.30pm - come alone'. There was no-one else in the office at that time of the morning, and the desk sergeant downstairs had not seen anyone unfamiliar on the premises since the start of his shift. Marks rang George Groves.

"George, the forensics you sent over, anything odd about them?"

"Odd, I don't know what you mean. What's wrong?"

"I don't know. Can't talk now, but I'll see you later - same place as last time."

This was a coded message of the type to which Groves had become accustomed since the death of Thomas Weston, and he knew exactly where and when to meet. The park bench was empty, not surprisingly during the winter, and guaranteed them complete privacy. Marks showed him the envelope and its contents and asked for discreet tests to be carried out for possible DNA traces with comparisons to staff in each other's departments. Someone had clearly intercepted the batch of documents between the lab and CID, and that someone must have known of Marks' connection to Weston. Groves bagged the envelope and its contents after ensuring that no-one else apart from themselves and the courier had touched it, and told Marks that he would have the results the following day.

Back at the office, the rest of the team had assembled and Pete Spencer was conducting the morning briefing on the current case. He stepped aside as Marks entered the room, making way for his boss to take over.

"No, it's OK Pete you carry on; I've already been through the file."

He sat down, ostensibly re-reading the forensic reports delivered that morning whilst listening to Spencer's briefing, but his mind was focussed on the message in the envelope and the day seemed to drag as time wound slowly around to the appointment that night. The crossroads of Ramsey and Norris was marked by the presence of a telephone kiosk, and as Marks approached on foot from his car three streets away, the phone was ringing. Picking up the receiver he was greeted by a distorted and impatient voice.

"I said 10.30, it's now 10.35. Where've you been?"

"Traffic" said Marks in a matter-of-fact manner. "Who are you, and what do you want?"

"Never mind that, just shut up and listen. There's a key taped underneath the shelf in front of you. It opens a locker at the station. Take the contents away with you and don't hang about. Roberts is not the man you think and the contents will prove that. You are in danger and this thing is bigger than you could possibly believe."

With that he hung up, and in the distance Marks heard the sound of footsteps receding into the darkness. The person, whoever it was, had been watching from a distance and the detective was still no closer to getting to the bottom of the Weston matter than he had been eighteen months ago. No that was not true, he now had a key, a key to who knows what information about Michael Roberts, and there was no telling where it would lead without the contents of the locker at the railway station. He decided that there was no time like the present. Retracing his steps back to the car he headed for them town centre and one of the NCP car parks.

The left luggage lockers were at the end of the entrance hall and to the left. It was now 11.15pm and the station appeared to be empty. Marks made his way casually to the unmanned locker room and inserted the key into its lock. He half expected that it would not work, and a sense of nervous anticipation ran through him as the door opened to his touch. Inside was a large, plain, unmarked white envelope and looking round like some schoolboy stealing an apple he slipped it inside his coat and walked away, leaving the only evidence of his visit, the key, still in its slot ready for the next customer. He had, of course, wiped it clean. Trying to remain anonymous, and hoping not to bump into any colleagues, he returned to his car and drove home arriving there shortly before midnight.

He had made no attempt to examine the contents of the envelope at the station, but now in the privacy of his lounge and behind closed curtains, he tore it open. The contents took him by surprise, for there before him was the very same file which had been recovered from Thomas Weston's house on the day they discovered his body. Marks was certain of that fact, as it still bore the small cross which he had put on the back cover before handing it over to Harris and the 'suit' that afternoon. The 'TOP SECRET' stamp stared defiantly out at him as it had done before, but this time he had no qualms about opening it, after all someone had taken the trouble and the risk to put it into his possession.

The contents were old, dating back to WWII, and it was a while before the names rang any bells with him. When they did, he sat down in amazement - Lidice, Heydrich, assassination and Ravensbruck all flew from the pages like thunderclaps. Reinhard Heydrich was one of Hitler's closest allies and Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia. He was assassinated by Czech patriots in May 1942. Retribution was swift and brutal - of the inhabitants of the village of Lidice, all the adult males were executed, the women were transported to the concentration camp at Ravensbruck and the children taken away to be 'Germanised'. The village was then razed to the ground. Marks had seen pictures of the place some years ago, and the whole episode was a chilling reminder of the ability of the human race to stoop to the depths of depravity. The term 'ethnic cleansing' did not exist during WWII, but its acts certainly did. This was all pretty dreadful stuff, but what did it have to do with him?

He flipped through most of the detail and came to a slimmer file relating to one Kurt Daluege. This was the man charged by the Nazis with extracting revenge for the killing of Heidrich, a task which he carried out with enthusiasm. Apart from a brief summary of the man's military career and family history, there was nothing to connect him to the present, but Marks' attention was then drawn to three pages of hand written notes headed up 'Ranier Guttman', together with a black and white photograph of a man in the uniform of am SS officer. He had served as deputy to Daluege at the time of the Lidice massacre, and pages one and two gave a biography from his birth in to his execution at the end of the Nuremberg War Trial at the end of the war. It was not until he turned to the third and final page that marks let out a gasp of surprise.

Guttman had a son by the name of Mannfred born in 1940 and amid all the confusion and movement of refugees at the end of the conflict, the boy and his mother disappeared. The notes claimed to have tracked them down to Oxfordshire in the 1960s where she had remarried to one Maurice Roberts and the boy's name had been changed to Michael. He had been educated at the local grammar school, and joined the civil service where he rose quickly in the hierarchy and ended up working in the Home Office early in 1983. Marks read and re-read the name before him - Michael Roberts, and attached to the top of the page was a colour photograph which, if there remained any, removed all doubt from his mind that he and Rainer Guttmann were one and the same person. The consequences were obvious. If this news were to become general knowledge, the career and life of Michael Roberts would be utterly destroyed - he would surely go to any lengths to conceal it. The final and clinching fact for Marks was the signature at the bottom of the report 'Thomas Weston'. Had Roberts therefore either killed or arranged the killing of Weston to protect his own identity?

The fact that he was now in possession of the file once more indicated that someone else had more than a passing interest in Weston. Marks decided to conceal the documents in a place known only to himself and await any further contact from the mystery caller. Things were quiet for a couple of weeks as the department carried out its work on the latest homicide enquiry, but then a call out of the blue set him back on the track of Weston and Roberts. The voice was similar to that of the night at the phone box and Marks transferred it to his private office, closing the door behind him.

"Marks?" It was a familiar voice, obviously muffled and Marks could not say definitely whether it was male or female.

"Speaking"

"Get the file?"

"Yes. I've read it several times, but what has it got to do with me?"

"The links are there, you're a detective aren't you? How can the son of a war criminal be working for the British security services?"

"What I am supposed to do, take on the whole of MI5 and MI6 on my own?"

"Roberts will know by now that it's missing and the trail will lead to you. Weston got hold of the file and was blackmailing him, that's why he was killed."

"So you are putting me in the line of fire. Why can't you do it?"

"Too close to him and I need to stay under cover until the matter's resolved. Look, when Roberts contacts you he'll want a meeting. Specify the place, insist that he comes alone and call me on this number, it's untraceable and I'll know it's you."

The line went dead and Marks' head was spinning. How the hell had he allowed himself to get involved in this? He was a copper not a spy and was now dealing with shadowy figures playing by rules that he didn't even know existed. The fact that he now had the file again gave him no option but to play along with the caller's instructions. He was certainly on his own now, and there was no point to be gained by involving George Groves again

When the call came from Michael Roberts, Marks noticed a definite change of manner. His voice was hard and clearly threatening, and he spoke with a clipped tone. Gone was the friendly dialogue of their previous meetings and his question regarding the secure nature of the line revealed his concerns for secrecy.

"I want that file back, Marks" This was the tiger stalking its prey, and it was imperative that the detective remained calm.

"I'm not surprised, but did you have to kill Weston for it?" This was a gamble, but it paid off.

"The old fool thought he could blackmail me, but in the end he had no idea who he was dealing with. Hand it over before you get hurt."

"What if I do?"

"Then the whole thing goes away, the file gets destroyed and you return to your games of cops and robbers."

This nettled Marks and he could feel himself rising to the bait. Nevertheless he stayed in control and arranged a meeting for that evening at the intersection of Ramsey and Norris as before, and for the exact same time. The irony of it was lost on Roberts if he made the connection, and the call ended. Picking up the receiver again Marks called the mobile number given to him earlier and the response was immediate.

"Marks?"

"Yes, Roberts has been in contact. The meeting is arranged at the same place as last time. What now?"

"I'll be in touch."

Later that afternoon, a call from the Chief Superintendent's office had him hurrying to the top floor of the building. In the room were the CS himself and two other individuals. One of them he recognised as George Watkinson, a senior figure in government circles with whom he had co-operated in the case of Philippe and Danielle Moureau. The other was a young woman who took him completely by surprise.

"Wallace, what are you doing here?" The DC from Marks' department smiled at his reaction.

"Wallace works for me" said Watkinson "I'm sorry for the subterfuge, but it was vital in the circumstances. Look, we needed you to flush Roberts out after we discovered his secret. Weston had stolen the file and Roberts had him killed in an attempt to retrieve it. He must have thought Christmas had come when you handed it back. It was Wallace who returned it to you, and now we need your help to end the matter and rid ourselves of Roberts once and for all."

Much as he disliked all this cloak and dagger behaviour, Marks agreed to co-operate. He was wired with a listening device and instructed to goad Michael Roberts into a repeat of the admission made earlier. Special Branch officers would be positioned to ensure that no harm came to him, but they had 'shoot to kill' orders on Roberts if things got out of hand.

Aware that his movements may be under scrutiny, Marks made his way home and retrieved the file. He knew that Watkinson's men would be tailing him and that he could be intercepted at any moment but he made the location at the exact time agreed. The street was deserted and it wasn't until a further fifteen minutes elapsed that he heard a distinctive 'click' of footsteps in the darkness as someone approached from his right. Roberts stopped ten feet short of Marks and pulled a pistol from the inside pockets of his coat - it was fitted with a silencer.

"Is that the one you used on my grandfather?" Marks steeled himself at this opening gambit.

"Weston was never your grandfather. That was a ploy to keep you from digging into the real truth of what you had stumbled across, but yes this is the gun. He was an easy target once he had been located. Now hand over the file."

Marks reached into his own inside pocket and noticed as Roberts levelled the gun barrel at him. Withdrawing the package he reached out to his former benefactor.

"Put it on the ground and step away."

Marks placed it carefully down and retreated a further ten feet, now wondering why Watkinson's people had not stepped in to arrest the man. He was alarmed to see Roberts raise the gun a little further so that it was pointing at his forehead.

"My report will show, Inspector, that you rang me to arrange this meeting and records will be arranged to support it. This gun has no serial number and in the struggle when I attempted to disarm you, the weapon went off killing you. The only fingerprints on it will be your own, and the whole matter will be quietly forgotten - just one more corrupt policeman in a force which the public no longer trusts."

The 'pop' which Marks heard to his left a single entry wound in the side of Roberts head and he collapsed to the ground. Several black-clad figures emerged from the shadows, removed the body and all evidence of the encounter, and disappeared. Dennis Marks was left standing alone as the rain started to fall, when he heard the now familiar sound of footsteps in the darkness. George Watkinson appeared before him and waved him arm towards the black Mercedes which had pulled up silently at his side.

"If you wouldn't mind please, Inspector."

In a nondescript office somewhere in the city, they sat over coffee as George Watkinson revealed the full extent of the Michael Roberts story to the bemused detective.

"Thomas Weston was never your grandfather, and that is the only truthful thing which Roberts told you in the end. Gordon Marks was a highly decorated soldier killed in the line of duty, and really is buried in the churchyard at Roermond where you and your wife found him."

"OK" said Marks "But what about Walter Price? He saw my grandfather and swore that he was still alive."

"Money will buy the most convincing information at times, and I am sure that Roberts paid him to say that. Sadly I cannot prove that now, as Price died six months ago from a heart attack whilst his daughter was out. Odd isn't it?"

"What about Weston?"

"A sad but ambitious man, totally out of his depth, completely unaware of who he was dealing with and the danger into which he had placed himself. He was a minor operative who had stumbled across Roberts's identity in the aftermath of the war and routinely reported it along with other information which he had collected. He later saw an opportunity to cash in, as it were, and stole the file but the gamble cost him his life."

"So that's it?"

"I'm afraid so. You have been terribly helpful, but unfortunately none of this can be officially recognised. You may, of course, rest assured that you and your family are now completely safe from harm."

Watkinson stood up, put on his coat, shook hands with Marks and left the office, the now familiar footsteps in the dark echoing along the corridor and down a set of stairs. As Marks prepared to leave, another figure stepped into the room. It was DC Wallace.

"I'll be leaving the department to return to MI6." She said "Sorry for all the confusion, but it really was necessary."

Marks smiled and they left the building, together for the last time.

In a churchyard across town, the casket of Captain Gordon Marks was lowered, with full military honours, into its final resting place before a small crowd of family and friends. Funds had been made available by an unnamed source to relocate the remains from Belgium, and the headstone now bore the details of the man's military career together with the honours he accumulated during its progression. As the sun broke through a grey blanket of cloud, a volley of rifle shots split the air in final salute to a fallen hero.

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