Chapter One: Bye Bye Birdie

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London, England

Tower of London

18 October, 2022

After the 400th execution at the Tower of London in 1941, The Crown stopped the practice of such a punishment.

Until today.

Except this time, it wasn't done by the order of the Royal Family.

"DCI Vale," the ranking Yeoman Warder—a royal guard of Her Majesty's forces who protected the Tower—said as he stuck his hand out.

"Yes, hello," she accepted his handshake and noticed his white dress shirt sleeve poking out from under the red and black coat. She continued, "This is my Sergeant DS Michael Walker, and you are?"

He tipped his matching hat and said, "Colonel Auster of the Yeoman Warders, ma'am. Shall I take you to the body?"

She nodded and stuck her topaz brown hands deep into her trench coat, shielding as much of her bare skin from the cold London winds. The three of them walked across the graveled stone path, past the building that housed the Crown Jewels and towards the doors that led into White Tower itself. While uniformed cops would normally be guarding the entrance to a crime scene, the Queen's Royal Guard stood at attention this time around, their assault rifles tucked tight against their body. Meena slipped underneath the yellow police tape and caught the hard stare of one of the soldier's, his eyes peeking out just enough from below the black bear fur.

Unforgiving and calculated.

Hardened.

Light seeped through the iron barred windows, painting deep black, crossed shadows along the stone brick. Most of the hall was bare, except for the scaffolding and workmen tools. Anything of value had been moved away before the maintenance work had started though. While the Tower might not be in prime condition anymore, the chairs, chandeliers, weaponry, and other historical pieces still held major importance.

Colonel Auster led them up a narrow spiral staircase, only a few archer slits lighting the way towards the top. With each step she took, only one question passed through her mind.

What would the body look like?

When this case had been 'dropped on her desk', her DSU said that there was an execution at the Tower. Not a murder. An execution.

Meena stepped into the room. Into the crime scene, where past and present collided. Four yellow floodlights sat in each corner of the small annex, illuminating the body. Just the body. He was slumped over a chopping block that had recently received a fresh coat of red paint. Before Meena went to examine the corpse, she took a look around at her surroundings. Compared to the stone brick room and the rusting iron chandelier, she felt out of place. Like a time traveler who got stuck. She then focused on the way they got here, wondering if that would play a role. It did, she decided. There was no blood on the steps or anywhere before the body. That mattered.

"Victim's name?" DCI Vale asked.

"Tyler Winlock. He is—was—he was a technician here," Auster said, stepping aside.

She repeated the name in her head over and over again. She saw his head. Laying on one side, blood dripping from the neck and forming a pool. His eyes bled as well. Red streaks cascading down his plaster like skin. A touch of deep blue and violet marked his cheeks. DCI Vale turned her attention back to the body, focusing on the stump where the neck and spine used to be. Now, ghost white maggots feasted on the exposed flesh and veins.

"Have there been any reports of a missing broadsword from your collection?"

The Colonel shook his head. "We checked the cameras. Nothing was out of the ordinary. We didn't even see Winlock enter the Tower."

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