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                        Three Little Maids

 A 'Dennis Marks' investigation.





ISBN 9781910565964


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                     Original Cover Artwork & Design by Lewis Bates


After his run-in with Eric Staines and the IPCC, Dennis Marks is plunged back into the real world of policing with an intriguing mystery. The killing of a teacher at a local school comes hard on the heels of one of his toughest challenges setting a real puzzle, both for him and his DI, Peter Spencer.

The team of Marks, Spencer, and Groves is supplemented this time by Professor Groves’ deputy, Kevin Henson, as the Home Office pathologist takes some hard-earned time off.

As always, here are the Prologue and Chapter 1.




Peter Spencer nervously fingered the envelope in his inside pocket as he strode through the squad room. Marks was already in his office, and had been there since before eight. He stopped at his own desk and sat down momentarily. He and Pauline had been over and over the scenario many times the preceding week, and it was only now that he had summoned up enough nerve to go through with the plan which they had been discussing. His transfer request was burning a hole through the jacket, and his mouth was drying by the second.

As Marks’ DI, he had had one of the best teachers within the Metropolitan Police, but the personal risks which he had taken in supporting his boss through his investigation by the IPCC had taken its toll. From a professional standpoint, he would have stood to lose everything if his actions had come to the attention of Eric Staines, the Superintendent leading the enquiry. On a personal level, however, the cost could have been much higher, and Pauline, his wife, had made her position perfectly clear – it was time to leave the Met.

“Peter!” The DCI had spotted him through the glass, and was waving him into the office.

“Good morning, sir.” Spencer smiled as he opened the door.

“Well, sit down, man.” Marks frowned. “You look like you’ve got the troubles of the whole world on your shoulders.”

“Thank you, sir.” He took a deep breath. “There’s something...”

His well-rehearsed speech was interrupted by the shrill buzzing of the telephone on the desk, and Marks smiled and held up a finger as he picked it up.

“Marks.” He paused. “I see; where was this?” He grabbed a notepad from his drawer and began scribbling furiously. “We’ll be there right away.”

“Sir...” Spencer began again.

“It’ll have to wait, Peter.” He was out of his chair. “Come on, it would seem that we have a dead teacher at the Lainsford Grammar School in Edmonton. You can tell me about it later; will it keep?”

“Yes, sir. Of course.”

Spencer sighed, and followed in the wake of DCI Marks as he led the way at a fast march down to the garage area. Pauline’s plans for a better life outside the capital would have to be put on hold for a little longer.


The scruffily-dressed, middle-aged man checking into the ex-cons’ hostel off the Bayswater Road bore nothing which would attract the casual observer’s attention, and that suited him perfectly. He took the room key from the chain-smoking, unshaven, guy at the front desk, along with a letter which had been delivered for his attention a day or so earlier. His reservation was on the second floor of a dingy boarding house which had been taken over by the prison service for just such as him.

The room was small, contained a rudimentary bed, a small chest of drawers which had seen better days, and a wardrobe with one door hanging loose. There was a dirty sink in one corner, and he had the use of a shared toilet and bathroom. Light was provided by a single dirty sixty watt bulb. The entire room was the epitome of drudgery. He was not bothered in the slightest, and had no intention of sticking around to make any complaints to the landlord.

Throwing his case on the bed, he took out a packet of Silk Cut, lit up, and leaned back against the pillow. It was the first proper cigarette he had seen in quite a while. Taking three long draws, he blew out the blue smoke at the light bulb and sighed. He sat up. Tearing open the envelope collected from downstairs, he tipped the contents onto the bed. It contained one piece of paper and a photograph. The message was clear and unambiguous.

‘Don’t miss. £10,000 now, £10,000 when it’s done. Don’t even think of double-crossing me.’

There was also a safety deposit key. The first payment and the weapon needed would be there. He looked at the photograph; he knew the man well. He should do - the guy was responsible for the five year stretch from which he had just been released.

The face of Dennis Marks looked back at him from the picture. He smiled – this was going to be good. Revenge and a payment at the end to put icing on the cake. Doubtless the gun supplied by Harold Shaw would be untraceable, and the Thames was a very large river. There may, however, be other methods to try before resorting to something so crude. Shoving the case under the bed, he rolled over and closed his eyes.

The botched robbery which had taken him and some of the team to Wormwood Scrubs had, they had all believed, been planned meticulously. Yes, they had all carried firearms, but at no point had there been any intention to use them. The security van had turned up right on schedule, and after following it on its return journey to the depot, two vehicles blockaded it outside Enfield. The driver, a member of the team, opened up after coshing his mate; they were in and out in minutes, and clear of the entire area within half an hour. Transferring to a stolen Audi at Scratchwood services on the M1, the whole team was miles away from the scene by the time the heist was reported on the BBC early evening news. A smug, self-satisfied feeling permeated the group as they set out to celebrate, but Robertson had reckoned without the tenacity of Dennis Marks, and the speed with which he was on their trail.

A single fingerprint, left on the steering wheel, had been enough to tie them all in to the job, and once one member of the gang cracked it was all over. Robertson’s main worry was for his younger brother, Jack.

“Let me in on the job, Harry.” He had pleaded. “Go on, I’ll be alright.”

“No. Too dangerous.” Robertson had shaken his head. “I promised Mum that I’d look after you, and this isn’t the way.”

The conversation ebbed and flowed for days before the robbery and, in the end, it was only Jack’s driving skills which tipped the balance. One of the other members of the team had been pulled in by the local plods for an unrelated offence and they were suddenly short-handed. Against all of his instincts he had relented, and the youngster was allowed in. There was no allowance for his inexperience after the trial, and he went down with the rest of them for the maximum term permitted for the offence.

“Stay close to me and you’ll be alright.” Harry had tried to reassure his younger brother, blithely believing that they would end up in the same nick.

The sudden realisation of what would lie in wait for Jack hit Harry like a thunderbolt when they were split up. His incarceration was scheduled for Wormwood Scrubs – Jack was sent to Parkhurst. It was six months later that the news of Jack’s death reached his ears. Left to fend for himself, he was powerless against the hardened criminals at the Isle of Wight jail. Falling foul of one particular gang, the youngster was subjected to a reign of terror, and hanged himself in his cell.

This, then, was the source of Harry Robertson’s vendetta against Dennis Marks. The money from Shaw was a sweetener, no more; he would have done the job for nothing just to get even. Like most criminals, he absolved himself of all responsibility for his brother’s fate, choosing instead to pin the blame upon those charged with maintaining law and order. The DCI had been instrumental in their prosecution and incarceration, and must now be held to account for what had happened to Jack. Robertson would ensure that his fate would not be a pleasant one.


Chapter 1

The piano accompaniment took three bars of common time to start off the trio, and this was one of Clive Battersby’s favourite Gilbert and Sullivan pieces.

“Three little maids from school are we, pert as a schoolgirl well can be. Filled to the brim with girlish glee. Three little maids…”

“No, no, no, ladies.” Battersby rose from the Steinway, the music tailing away abruptly. “That note was way too short.”  He smiled, and all three smiled back. This was the effect he always had.

“…filled to the brim with girlish glee-eeeeee.” He paused. “See what I mean?” The looks on their faces told him that they didn’t.

He sighed and stood there, deep in thought for a moment. The school’s annual Gilbert and Sullivan production was only weeks away, and now three of his main characters in The Mikado appeared to have lost the way in their introductory number. He suddenly brightened, held up a finger, and disappeared into his stockroom, re-emerging a few minutes later holding up a CD.

“I knew I had a copy somewhere.” The sleeve read ‘The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company’. “Listen to the way the three voices blend perfectly.”

Battersby inserted the disc into the player which he brought out of the stockroom, selected the correct track, and closed his eyes briefly. The three girls listened closely to the trio and frowned. It became clear very quickly what Clive had been talking about, and after the first two verses he stopped the player.

“Do you see, Lucy?” He asked. “You are Yum Yum, the maid who’s going to be married, and the principal subject of the song. You are the soprano, and the other two, as mezzos, support your lead.”

“Yes, Mr Battersby.” She smiled, slyly. “I do now.”

“Right; let’s give it another go.” He sat down at the Steinway again. “And try to put a little more pizzazz into it this time.” He looked up. “Don’t forget that long ‘Eeeeee’, will you?”

Closing his eyes, he set off into the introduction and smiled as they began with perfect timing and pitch. The smile widened as the long ‘Eeee’ came in right on cue, and he swayed to and fro with the harmony which the girls produced. He was on his feet at the end of the song, as all three finished together.

“Excellent!” He beamed. “We’ll make singers of you all yet.”

The extra session with the girls had been prompted by the absence of Wendy Barks from the previous rehearsal. Her role of Pitti-Sing, and that of Mary Cutler as Peep-Bo were pivotal to the seventh song in Act I. Without her, they were unable to perform ‘Three Little Maids from School’, and Battersby had been able to organize their being excused from normal lessons for the half hour required to polish the trio. Now happy that any rough edges had finally being ironed out of the song, he looked at his watch.

“Okay.” He clapped his hands in appreciation. “I think that’ll do for today, but don’t forget the scheduled rehearsal on Wednesday evening. Full cast, and I think the costumes might be arriving this week, so we’ll be organising a full dress rehearsal for the week before the first night.”

Picking up their bags, Lucy, Wendy, and Mary made their way to the door. A whispered conversation at the threshold out of the earshot of Clive Battersby had one of their number standing guard whilst the other two slipped silently back towards the storeroom. The music teacher had busied himself by putting away some of the equipment no longer required after the morning’s lessons, and he did not hear their approach.

Moments later, amidst Battersby’s manic thrashing around the storeroom, they ran for the door, collected their bags and the third of their number, and made their way down the stairs as calmly as they could in the circumstances.

“What the hell was all that?” Mary Cutler asked. She had been the one standing guard.

“Don’t ask!” Wendy Barks hissed. “And you, Lucy, saw nothing. Understand?”

“Of course!” Lucy snapped back. “What do you take me for?”

The three of them cast a quick glance upwards and to the left as they crossed the netball court. The face at the school library window remained completely impassive as the group made their way down the steps at the far side of the court and down towards the maths room.



Battersby had watched the three of them as they picked up their school bags and made their way to the classroom door. He shuddered involuntarily as they passed out of his sight, and closed his eyes, reliving, briefly, the time that he had spent with each one in the back store room. He was certain that none of the three had any idea of the activities of the other two, and breathed deeply to savour the memories. Gathering up some of the smaller musical instruments left out from the morning lessons, he had stepped into the aforementioned store and was currently standing with his back to the door. He was completely unaware of the soft footsteps approaching his position, and the sharp pain in his neck was the first warning of something untoward. His head began to spin, and a chair appeared behind him as both legs gave way; he sat down hard and stared uncomprehendingly at the face now inches away from his own.

“Don’t worry.” The voice was fuzzy, and Battersby was struggling to focus his eyes. “The dose isn’t lethal, and you’ll be able to see clearly in a minute.”

The music teacher blinked several times as a chair was dragged across the floor and placed before him. A figure sat down and, as his vision began to clear, a look of complete surprise flashed across his face. He opened his mouth to speak, but the voice cut him off abruptly.

“Just shut up and listen; it’ll all be over in about twenty minutes, and you won’t have to worry any more after that.”

The syringe used to administer the immobilizing agent was put away and replaced by another, full to the top.  Battersby frowned, his facial muscles appeared to be unaffected by the first injection, and he now focused on the second dose as his tormentor waved it before his eyes.

“This, my dear Clive, will be my revenge. I’m going to make you suffer the way I’ve suffered, and maybe the physical pain that you’re going to feel will make you understand, in the short time that the drug takes to work, what you’ve made me go through.”

Battersby flickered his eyes and tried to look towards the open store room door. Perhaps there was still someone in the classroom block, someone who may have heard the sound of the chair being dragged across the floor, someone who could stop this nightmare.

“Oh dear.” The voice laughed. “Not getting squeamish, are we? There’s no-one around; no-one to come to the rescue. You’re at my mercy the way I was at yours; you can’t escape. I needed this twenty minutes, the last twenty minutes of your life, to explain why this has to be.”

The preceding ten minutes, having passed in the blink of an eye to the incapacitated schoolteacher, left only a further ten for an explanation to be given and yet, at the end of that time, Battersby’s face was wet with the tracks of the tears now falling uncontrollably from his eyes. It was only when the first feelings of recovery began to stir within his limbs that a ray of hope flew through his mind. The spasmodic movement in his legs was to prove his downfall, and the early warning for his assailant.

“Time’s up, Mr Battersby.” The syringe was held up to the light – one final display of its potency. “You really are a sad little man.”

Battersby closed his eyes as the sharp pain of a second hypodermic hit his neck.



Clive Battersby lay where he had fallen after emerging from the music storeroom. The incapacitating agent had now completely worn off, leaving him free of the confines of the chair which had seemingly held him at the mercy of his tormentor. The syringe sticking out from the left hand side of his neck, and just below the ear, had been embedded too deeply for his frantic efforts to remove it. That effort would, in any case, have been in vain as the poison started to take effect as soon as the plunger had been depressed. From that instant on he was a doomed man, and the disarray around the store and classroom served only to indicate the severity of his death throes. Now gone, concealed within the clothing of his killer, it would have been the crucial piece of evidence leading to a conviction.

He had come to Lainsford Grammar School five years earlier from a similar establishment in Yorkshire, where he had served in his first appointment after graduating from the Royal Schools of Music in London. Gaining the FRSM accreditation had given him access to the best teaching posts on offer and this, together with a stature approaching that of an Adonis, had female eyes of all ages cast admiringly in his direction. This, and this alone, had been the cause of his downfall at the Causton School in Harrogate. Leaving the establishment with only a cursory reference could easily have derailed his career, but he was fortunate to encounter, in Ralph Stodwell, a headmaster who trusted his own judgment to the exception of all other factors. With a smile and a handshake after perusing Clive’s qualifications, they embarked upon a tour of the school, and his employment was confirmed, by letter, one week later.

Thus the reason for his somewhat hasty departure from Causton was never investigated, and Lainsford’s board of governors happily went along with the recommendation which Stodwell placed before them. Those five years gave him free access to a range of young females passing through his classroom, and there was a ready supply of naïve young ladies upon whom he could feast his eyes.


Copyright © Neal James 2017 



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