Each Sunday, Cal Smyth‘s social media thriller Like, Love, Kill is serialised via Crime Cymru.

Here is episode 7…

 

27

Kel, Caitlin, Irina and Mike are being balled out by Inspector Christie. With the four of them sitting around a desk in the library and Inspector Christie standing over them, it feels like being back in school. Each of them has had their individual statements taken down. Now, the inspector has them all together, his voiced raised as he says:
‘Do you realise how much more difficult you have just made catching the killer? I’ve now got all four of you to cross check with fingerprints at the scene. Not to mention time wasted taking statements about how you came to be in the victim’s flat and then finding out your plan might have in fact instigated the victim’s death.’

Kel understands Inspector Christie’s anger. They’ve fucked up. Or she has. Quite obviously, Toby isn’t the killer because he’s as dead as a dodo. She could point out that she has led the police to another victim. On the other hand, as the inspector pointed out, maybe it was the Facebook group chat which lead to Toby being killed. Kel can honestly say she no longer has a fucking clue what is going on.

She’s not the only one to remain silent. Caitlin is so pale, she looks like she’s going to faint. And Irina has a frown on her face, deep in her own thoughts. Only Mike tries half-heartedly to answer back:
‘Well you don’t need my fingerprints as you already thought it was the black guy.’
Inspector Christie turns on Mike, says:
‘I don’t care what colour any of you are. I should haul you all in for breaking and entering. At least that would keep you out of harm’s way. Instead, I’ve got to provide protection because of the danger you’ve put yourselves in. And whoever notified the media, that has also really helped.’
In response to the inspector’s sarcastic last sentence, Kel wants to say ‘it wasn’t us’, but that sounds too childish. It’s true that the media arrived on the scene at the same time as the police, so someone alerted them.

It was three in the morning when the police came, the campus strobed by flashing blue lights. In all the residence blocks, one light after another came on. Half an hour later, the whole campus was awake.

It’s now four thirty. Kel, Caitlin, Irina and Mike are drained. Inspector Christie shook his head in disbelief when he heard their plan. But Kel can guess the real reason he is so furious is that also has no clue as to who the killer is. The gang of four are given a reprieve by a police officer coming into the library and saying:
‘Sir, er, you’re needed.’
Before following the officer outside, Inspector Christie says:
‘When I come back, the four of you will be escorted back to your residences.’
Kel turns to the others. None of them meet her eyes. Mike is already on his phone. Irina comes out of her thoughts and takes out her phone. Caitlin just stares at the phone in her hand. Kel shrugs, hits up the internet on her phone. It’s already national news:
‘Serial Killer Stalks Uni Campus.’
With four people dead, it doesn’t take much deduction to work out this is the work of a serial killer. But the next headline makes Kel frown:
‘UCASS murders the work of social media serial killer.’
A live feed provides constant updates. Scrolling to the latest post, Kel reads her own theory:
‘A source from the University campus has said all four of the victims had the same mutual Facebook friends. Apparently, there are six more on a list of ten.’
Kel stops reading and looks up. She doesn’t think any of the others even had time to contact the media, but she has to ask:
‘Did any of you tell the media?’
Caitlin shakes her head. Mike says:
‘Not me.’
Irina is still frowning as she says:
‘I am just reading the coverage. This is very disturbing. It wasn’t any of us and there are only two other people who knew your theory.’
Kel says:
‘I’ve already got a text from Seb saying it wasn’t him and asking if we are ok, so that leaves Sarah.’
Caitlin shakes her head, says:
‘I got a text from her too. She said it’s not her either.’
Mike says:
‘Either of them could be lying.’
Irina says:
‘So could any of us four.’
Kel says:
‘If all of us are telling the truth, it means someone has access to our Facebook accounts.’
Mike says:
‘Not difficult to hack these days.’
That gives them all pause for thought. Irina is the first to speak:
‘What does the killer want from us?’

None of them have an answer. Kel is no longer confident to provide any ideas. With Toby being the latest victim, Kel’s theory about killed for Facebook likes doesn’t hold water. Toby was less popular than anyone else. And unless the killer is Seb or Sarah, he or she isn’t on the list of ten mutual Facebook friends. It’s Mike who asks the question:
‘Do you think Seb or Sarah could be the killer?’
Kel answers:
‘Sarah’s only just out of hospital after a breasts removal op. There are photos of her in a hospital bed only a few days ago. It physically wouldn’t be possible for her to murder.’
‘Seb then?’
‘I really can’t see it. But then I’m not sure of anything anymore.’

Once more, they all go quiet. The only thing they know for certain is that four out of ten are dead. It seems likely one of them will be the next victim no matter if they are liked or not. One by one, they retreat back onto their phones. As Kel reads, the news is now more detailed:
‘Police have been scouring UCASS campus for the last hour in the hope of finding the killer. No clues have so far turned up. There is now a heavy police presence to provide a sense of security. The Dean of UCASS has said that the university is working closely with local police to ensure the safety of all its students. A spokeswoman for Gloucester Police has given a statement that all available officers have been deployed. It is our understanding that a serial killer profiler is being brought in. We have also just heard that The Metropolitan Police are sending a new investigative team.’

It had to happen, thinks Kel. As much as she likes Inspector Christie, four students have died under his watch and he is no nearer to finding the killer. She looks up from her phone to see the inspector walk back into the library, followed by three officers. Inspector Christie says:
‘Ok, each of you will be escorted back to your residences to make sure it’s safe inside. We’ll leave by the fire exit to avoid the press. Kel, if I can have a word first, then I’ll accompany you.’
Inspector Christie waits until the others have left the library. He turns to Kel, says:
‘Look, a profiler is being brought in and a new investigating team will take over so I’m not going to have a say on the case for much longer. This isn’t for me, but so that I can have anything to pass on that might be useful. What else have you found out?’
Kel shrugs:
‘Nothing I haven’t told you. The ten of us have the same mutual friends on Facebook, that’s true. Four of them are dead. That’s also a fact. But nothing else makes sense. Toby’s death means the victims aren’t only female and not only people who get a lot of likes. All six of us have said we didn’t go to the media. So the killer must be someone outside the group who has hacked into our accounts.’
‘Unless one of you is lying.’
‘Yes, unless that.’

 

28

Kel watches as Inspector Christie checks out her flat. The only places to hide are in the shower, in the wardrobe and under the bed, so it doesn’t take long to give the all clear. Kel can’t help feeling a little privileged that while the others got officers, she has the inspector.

An image comes into Kel’s mind and she has a sudden urge to push Inspector Christie onto the bed. Kel isn’t sure she can feel any vibes from the inspector, but why has he come instead of sending an officer? Doesn’t he want the same? To fuck each other senseless in a bout of passion and forget all the shit?

As Inspector Christie faces Kel, she leans in towards him, kisses him on the mouth. The inspector is taken aback and backs off. He raises his hands, says:
‘That can’t happen.’
‘Don’t you fancy me?’
It’s not a fair question. Kel can see by the bulge in his trousers that he’s aroused. She internally reasons. The poor guy has already been taken off the case. He doesn’t need to lose his job. Kel gets it. Doesn’t stop her from giving him a hard time though:
‘Better get back to your investigation.’

Kel lets Inspector Christie make his own way out. Left alone, she slumps onto her head and puts a pillow over her face to cover the humiliation. She’s just tried to seduce a police inspector twenty years her senior and had an epic fail. What was that seduction anyway? No flirting, no glimpse of her body, no laughing over a glass of wine. Just straight for the jugular. No wonder he ran a mile. She would have done the same.

It’s her dad’s fault. Fucker. Giving Kel a complex so that she needs validation from older men. She recalls the card her dad sent on her thirteenth birthday, her dad sending it from prison. She can recite it word for word:
‘Dear Kel, Now you are 13 you must be old enough to realise what you did. For five years, I’ve wondered how I could be betrayed by my own flesh and blood. Maybe you will come and visit me some day and explain. Your dad.’
How would that not fuck up any thirteen-year-old girl? No ‘Happy Birthday’. Just one big guilt trip. It’s not her fault he murdered a man in front of his ten-year-old daughter. He was so drunk, he didn’t even think of telling her to say she hadn’t seen anything. Her mum always said to tell the truth so when the police questioned her, that’s what she did.

The only good thing that can be said about her dad going to prison is it inspired Kel to become interested in criminal minds and actions. Why did people commit crimes? And how could criminals be caught? She’s been driven to work within criminology since an early age. And how’s that career choice working out for her?

Kel takes the pillow off her face so she can breathe. She wants to sleep but just stares at the ceiling. All she can think about are her mistakes. Forget about the failed seduction. Trying to catch the campus killer, she’s got it wrong time after time. First, she fingered Mike, then suspected Amy and finally was sure Toby was guilty. Mike is innocent and the other two are dead. Maybe she’s not cut out to be a criminal investigator.

In a moment of nostalgia, Kel feels the need to go through her own history. The laptop is too far away on her desk, so she digs the phone out of her pocket, goes onto her Facebook timeline.
Scrolling back through time, Kel reaches her posts as a fourteen-year-old:
‘Happy Birthday to me. Dad sent a card from prison. Guess there’s not many fourteen year olds who can say that.’
Oh, the sarcasm. Her mixed emotions and fluctuating self-esteem can be repeatedly seen, as one post demonstrates:
‘I will never understand why so many people close to me in my life will blatantly read and ignore messages I’ve sent them. It literally gives the impression you think you’re better than the other person. It may not seem a big deal, but for someone with low self-esteem, that kind of rejection is not a good thing.’
As always, Kel’s mum was full of support:
‘Plenty of us who think you’re fab. You don’t need friends like that. You’re my best one.’
I’m your only one thinks Kel, but smiles as she sees the love her mum has always provided. Thinking of love, Kel also had a teenage crush on William Petersen, the actor who plays Gil Grissom in CSI. Photo after photo of him. The guy is not Leonardo Di Caprio. But Kel has always had a strange taste in men.

Kel loved that programme. She used to binge watch a whole series over a weekend. It was partly because of William Peterson but she was also drawn to the idea of tracking criminals through forensic investigation. She knows of course that in real life, crimes are not so quickly solved in this way, but she can credit the TV series for sparking an interest.
When she was 16, Kel delved into a small-time criminal underworld herself. Nearly going off the rails with a drug-dealing boyfriend fifteen years older. That wasn’t on Facebook, so people like Seb don’t know about that period of her life.

At first, it was cool. Sex and coke just like in the movies. But then the guy started to think he was Pablo Escobar not Ian Clarke from Bristol. All the coke went to his head, making him think he could do anything. The initial chem-sex was a real high, but when Ian wanted Kel to take part in sex parties, she drew the line. So to speak.

Kel might have been tempted, but Ian’s tactics were all wrong. He tried playing mind games, just like her dad used to. Ian saying he thought Kel was cool, but obviously she wasn’t. The implication being that if she didn’t take part in the sex parties, she was boring. That stuff had the opposite effect with Kel.

She left Ian to it. She’d grown out of him anyway. It was good research for being a criminologist, she told herself. Primary source investigations, as university professors would say.

Getting back on track, Kel read a lot and studied hard at college. When Kel got the place in UCASS, she was overjoyed. As a Facebook post from three years ago shows:
‘Can’t believe it. Got a place to study criminology at UCASS.’
Her mum commented:
‘You deserve it! So proud of you.’
‘Thanks mum for all your support. Love you so much. XXX.’
Kel does owe her mum. Bringing Kel up as a single mother can’t have been easy. Being from a single parent family meant Kel had a chance of a scholarship, which she got. Her mum was so proud when she dropped Kel to Uni the first time.

So why, when Kel owes her mum for all the love and support she gave, does Kel still feel fucked up by her dad’s actions? Do people naturally focus on the negative rather than the positive?

And what is she doing going through her timeline? What exactly is she looking for? A clue as to why she’s driven to investigate crimes? She knows why.

Her dad messed her up but also gave her inspiration. Now she’s messed up. She tried her hand at a real-life investigation and didn’t get it right. She should stick with the academic side, except she’s well behind in her dissertation. Maybe she should just pack it in and get a job in Tesco. Hopefully the police will catch the killer at some point in the future so she can work the till without living in fear.

A call on her phone distracts Kel from more morbid thoughts. It’s Caitlin, but she can’t face answering. Caitlin doesn’t give up though, calling a second time. Kel answers:
‘Hey Caitlin, what’s up?’
‘Just seeing if you’re ok.’
‘Not really, but what can you do.’
‘Come on, I know what you’re like. Don’t beat yourself up. We all agreed with you. And no-one has a clue who the killer is.’
‘So I’m just as clueless as everyone else. Doesn’t make me feel any better.’
‘I think we’re all a bit shaken. I know I was. I’m going for a walk. Want to come?’
‘A walk?’
‘Come on, let’s get off campus for a few minutes. Take our mind off things.’
‘Off campus where?’
‘By the canal is where I usually go when I need to clear my mind.’
‘Wow, the canal. Amazing escape.’
‘Ok, up to you. Stay inside and mope.’
‘Fine. Meet you at the entrance in ten.’

 

29

Caitlin is waiting for Kel with two lattes from Starbucks. She hands one to Kel, says:
‘Not like the coffee from Campus Café, but it’s all we’ve got.’
‘Thanks.’
Kel takes her take-away cup. The aroma of coffee rises through the drinking slot in the plastic lid, gives Kel a lift.
At eight in the morning, the campus is semi-alive. With all that went on in the early hours, other students are also walking in a zombie-like state. Police officers can be spotted on various corners and several media vans are parked up by the main entrance. People are starting another day. The killer can’t strike in broad daylight with the police monitoring and media ready to capture any event live.
Caitlin says:
‘Almost like any other day.’
‘Apart from the police and media presence, plus the knowledge that four people are dead and a serial killer is in our midst.’

Kel and Caitlin slip through the gap in the fence, onto the canal path. A few steps and it’s like they’re in another world. Birds chirrup as they fly in and out of the hedgerows. Frogs plop into the water. And plastic police tape is tangled in the undergrowth. A reminder that this is where Charlene drowned.

As they walk, Caitlin tries to take Kel’s mind off the killings:
‘So what happened when Inspector Christie went with you to your flat? No juicy gossip?’
‘Only if you want to hear about my epic fail of a seduction.’
‘Of course!’
‘Basically, without any warning I kissed him and he ran a mile.’
‘You just went up to him?’
‘Pretty much. It was really embarrassing Caitlin. Don’t know what I was thinking.’
‘But he must have given you some kind of indication he was up for it, no?’
‘Not really. He was checking the flat was safe and as soon as he turned around, I tried to eat his face. Must go down as the worst seduction ever.’
Caitlin bites her lip so as not to laugh. Kel smiles:
‘It’s ok, you can laugh. I’m laughing at myself.’
‘Can’t believe a forty-year-old guy didn’t fall at the chance to go with a beautiful twenty-year-old. What’s wrong with him?’
Caitlin drinks her latte while Kel answers:
‘Oh, he was aroused alright. Had a huge hard-on in his trousers.’
Caitlin almost spits out her coffee. Kel smiles:
‘So I guess I had some effect on him.’
‘Wonder how he returned back to his colleagues in that state?’
‘He’s being taken off the case anyway.’
‘See, why do you need to be with a loser like that.’
‘Think it was his vulnerability that appealed to me.’
They both drink their coffees as they carry on walking by the canal. Kel says:
‘I’m laughing, but to be honest, I feel shit. Not about the stupid kiss. But I’ve started to question everything. Not just my misjudgement with Inspector Christie, but I got it wrong with Mike, Amy and Toby. I thought I was doing professional research when actually I was jumping from one wrong conclusion to another. And talking of research, I’m so far behind with my dissertation, I feel like giving up. Really.’
Caitlin sighs, says:
‘We all go through these stages Kel. You’ve been getting a lot closer than the police. I hate to say it, but the killer is clever. And as for your dissertation, it would be really silly to quit now. I felt the same only one week ago, thought that my writing was quite frankly, crap. You know how I got inspired to start a completely different novel? By taking a walk along this canal.’
‘Well all this canal makes me think about is that this is where Charlene was found. She was the first person to be killed even if it was ruled an accident.’
‘For what it’s worth, I think you’re right.’
‘You know, if the killer’s someone from outside of Uni, how have they gained such easy access to campus? Ok, anyone could have lured Charlene out here. But to get into Campus Café and kill Grace, then inside Amy and Toby’s flats to murder them, surely that requires inside knowledge.’
‘It could be someone who knows the campus but is off our radar. A caretaker, IT technician, lecturer…’
‘It could be, but then why are ten of us connected?’
‘Are we definitely connected? We only know that four are for sure.’
‘Do we have to wait until the next six are killed? I can’t rise from the dead and say ‘I told you so’.’
Kel told herself not to think about the killings any more, but she can’t stop. Her and Caitlin come to a stop. Caitlin says:
‘Well we said it’s almost impossible for the killer to be Sarah. And as you said, it’s hard to believe it could be Seb.’
‘Almost impossible means still possible. Could Sarah have hired a killer?’
‘But why?’
‘No idea. A grudge against women who have breasts and against men who make fun of her blog?’
Caitlin pulls a sceptical face, says:
‘You think?’
‘Just exploring possibilities. Maybe Seb’s persona is fake. He’s the only other person who wasn’t with us. Or could it be Irina as part of some sick art as death stunt? Maybe she killed Toby before me and Mike went to her studio. Maybe her and Mike are part of a killing team, taking it in turns.’
‘With that same logic, it could also be you or me.’
‘Maybe.’
Caitlin smiles, says:
‘See, you’re still full of ideas.’
‘Yea, shit ones.’
‘Don’t give up Kel.’
‘I thought only yesterday you wanted me to stop investigating.’
‘I did. But now I don’t. There’s a serial killer on campus and I think you have a better chance of catching that person than anyone else. I know you like Inspector Christie, but he hasn’t really done much. And yes, the police are bringing in a profiler and a new investigating team, but by the time they are up to speed, the killer could have struck again. You need to keep working on the case.’
Kel finishes her coffee, shrugs and says:
‘The problem is I don’t know where to start again.’
‘Start with what feels right. That’s what I did with my writing. Initially, I wasn’t sure how to structure it or what style to write in, but I was sure the idea was good. So I pursued it.’
‘Then what I need to do is go back to the list. Sarah, Seb, Irina, Mike. I need to question them.’
‘Then do it.’
Kel and Caitlin hold each other’s look, nod and head back to campus.

 

30

Back at her flat, Kel realises she has been awake for twenty-four hours. She doesn’t feel tired though. The walk and talk with Caitlin has invigorated her.

Caitlin gave Sarah’s number to Kel, so Kel sent a text as she left the canal:
‘Hi Sarah, Caitlin gave me your number. I’m going back over the campus killings. Ok if I give you a video call in a bit?’
Sarah texted back:
‘That’s fine. I will be online for another hour.’
So now at her desk, Kel video calls Sarah via WhatsApp. She wants visuals as well as audio to help her gauge Sarah’s reactions.

As the call connects, Kel sees Sarah is dressed and sitting in a small bedroom. Sarah says:
‘Hi Kel, how are you after everything? It’s unbelievable with all the killings. And it’s all in the news.’
Kel replies:
‘Yea, finding Toby murdered wasn’t what I expected. I’m ok now though. How are you feeling?’
‘Terrified if I am honest.’
‘Did the police come and check you were safe?’
‘Yes, they came and checked the area, but they can’t provide twenty-four-hour protection when no direct threat has been posed. Out here, a murderer could lurk anywhere.’

Sarah turns her phone so that it faces a window. Kel gets a shaky view of woodland outside. Sarah turns the phone back on herself, says:
‘I’m leaving in half an hour. My husband is coming to pick me up.’
This raises suspicions within Kel. Sarah genuinely seems to be afraid and it would be a huge bluff if she was in fact behind the murders, but Kel has to question every move. She asks:
‘So you’re not going to stay and write?’
‘No. I seem to have developed writer’s block.’
Sarah turns the phone again to show an image of her closed laptop. Next to it on the bed, Kel can see a packed suitcase. So Sarah is definitely leaving. Turning the phone to herself again, Sarah says:
‘I don’t know what has happened. The words won’t come. I mean, I can think of some, but they are meaningless. With all these deaths, who wants to read about my ordeal with cancer? At least I am alive. Four young people are dead. And this is what people want to read about. They want gossip. They want YouTube. They don’t want the thoughts of a middle-aged woman.’

Kel can hear that Sarah has lost her drive. Probably needs a pep talk like Caitlin gave to Kel. But it’s not Kel’s problem or role. She just wants to find out if Sarah has enough hidden anger to have hired a killer. It seems less and less likely with every minute of their conversation. Kel still probes though:
‘Do you think people are to blame?’
‘I don’t blame anyone Kel. I am just sad as I’m not sure I understand human behaviour. There are wars in Syria and Sudan. In UCASS campus, young people are being killed. And my daughter is suffering online bullying. Why people have to act in such ways I have no idea. I do understand that life isn’t easy. People want up to the minute news to keep their minds busy.’
Kel thinks that unless Sarah is the best actress that ever existed, she’s not displaying any signs of wanting to kill people. Kel asks:
‘So what are you going to do now?’
‘I’m going home. Back to my previous roles. I’m going to be a mother and wife again. I’m not sure I am cut out to be a writer. I don’t have a tough enough skin. Family is the most important thing. And I don’t want to be alone out here.’
‘It’s not a bad idea. Maybe we should all go home to our families.’
‘I think you should Kel. You and Caitlin and Irina. Get off that cursed campus and go home to your families so you are out of danger. We don’t want any more young women to lose their lives. Mike too. It doesn’t matter if he is objectionable. Nobody deserves to be killed. It’s a basic human right. Seb I presume has a home and partner to go to. I don’t like the idea of him being in danger either.’

Sarah really seems to be growing back into her mothering role. Kel is as sure as she can be that Sarah has nothing to do with the killings. She just wants to check about the media leak, so says:
‘You might be right. I’ll talk to the others and suggest they get off campus. I just don’t know how the media got hold of my theory about the ten of us being connected.’
‘I can promise you it wasn’t me. I wasn’t happy that you carried out your plan without police protection. But I didn’t tell anyone about it.’
It’s hard to look someone in the eyes on a WhatsApp video call, but Kel doesn’t think Sarah is lying. She’s heard enough and wants to finish the call so says:
‘Well thanks for talking to me. Keep safe.’
‘You too Kel. Please think about staying with your family for a few days.’
‘Will do.’

Kel ends the call. She knows she won’t be leaving the campus. It would be the sensible thing to do. If the murders only occur on campus and she’s on a list of possible victims, it makes sense to get the hell out of there. But Kel is staying until she discovers who the killer is and gets them arrested.

As she sits there, Kel thinks she must open her mind to any lead while questioning Sarah, Seb, Irina and Mike. What if Sarah’s husband carries out revenge in his wife’s name without her knowing? Maybe he’s angry at the world because his wife no longer has breasts and they don’t have sex any more. The sensible thing to do would be to get a mistress, but a killer would think differently.

Going onto Sarah’s timeline, it doesn’t take long for Kel to find the husband’s name: Keith Albright. Kel copies his name into the Facebook search, but his timeline is open only to friends. Kel goes back to Sarah, finds the name of the oldest daughter: Erica.

With Erica, everything is open to the public. She’s clearly going through a tough time with online bullying, but still sticks to her peers rather than her parents. Her mum, dad and younger sister are dissed frequently. It seems like pre-teen rebellion to Kel rather than any indication that Keith Albright is a father by day, murderer at night. His daughter even unwittingly gives him an alibi. At the time of Toby’s murder, he was in the cinema with his youngest daughter, Erica posting:
‘Dad and sis to movies. Finally a few hours peace.’
Kel gets off Facebook. Sarah’s husband is a dead end. She needs to focus. And the next person to question is Seb.

 

31

Kel knows where Seb is residing because he posted it on Facebook. Strangely, since arriving on campus, Seb hasn’t posted anything else. Kel wonders what this means. That he’s so busy providing mindfulness guidance, he doesn’t have time to go on Facebook? That like Sarah, he’s scared out of his wits and is keeping a low profile? Or that he’s the killer and is preoccupied with his murderous plans?

On the intercom, Seb seems hesitant:
‘Hello?’
‘It’s Kel. Can I come up?’
Kel is buzzed in.
Seb is waiting for Kel with his door open. He gestures for her to enter, says:
‘Welcome to my humble abode.’
As Kel enters, she thinks Seb’s usual tranquillity has been inflected with a hint of sarcasm. For all Seb’s apparent humbleness, maybe he doesn’t realise that the tiny flat is identical to her and every other student’s living quarters. The difference is that this one has no books or posters, no clothes over chairs or dishes in the sink. It’s been unlived in until Seb took up residence yesterday.

They sit across from each other at a table. Seb says:
‘As you will see, my new dwelling is sparse, which is fine as mindfulness requires no clutter. Not that anyone seeks my guidance. I presume you are not here for that reason either.’
‘No. There are things bothering me about the killings on campus so I’m asking everyone questions to get the picture clear.’
‘I have to admire your indefatigability. You simply refuse to give up.’
‘Thought you would tell me to stop being obsessed.’
‘No Kel. Each person must react in their own way. I don’t know how I would have reacted coming across three dead people as you have done. I’m not sure I would have retained my mindfulness.’
Seb seems to be questioning his own philosophy of life. Kel isn’t going to get into it. She asks:
‘Did you ever meet Toby?’
‘No. I PM’d him recently because I felt that his comments bordered on the misogynistic. He made it clear he wasn’t interested in my guidance, using sarcasm and crude jokes as a defence mechanism.’
‘I thought he was the killer until we found him with a scissors in his throat.’
Seb winces, says:
‘Do you have to be so graphic Kel? Simply having knowledge of the murders is disturbing enough.’
Kel looks at Seb. She doubts very much that he is putting on an act, but has to be open to all possibilities in her investigation. She says:
‘If my theory still holds, there are six of us left who could be the next victim.’
‘If you are trying to scare me, mindfulness helps ease the fear of death. I will admit however, that I wouldn’t like to be killed. It’s a horrible thought.’
‘So why don’t you leave the campus and go back home?’
Seb opens his arms, says:
‘There is nothing or rather no-one waiting for me there. Neel has left. He said I was too focused on my job. Ironically, I came here to facilitate mindfulness for any students who require it in these dire circumstances and since the first person, nobody has come. I completely understand. For most people, it won’t be the answer. They seek the comfort of friends. However, it leaves me in limbo. Knowing I am not needed, but staying in case I am. Not wanting to be a possible victim, but not desiring a return to my empty apartment in town.’

Seb finishes his monologue. Kel guesses what he said makes sense. Unless he’s lying and the real reason he’s remaining on campus is to kill. How can she tell? She asks another question:
‘Have the police been in touch?’
‘Yes, they checked I was safe. And their presence on campus does provide a sense of reassurance.’
‘What about the media?’
Seb nods, says:
‘They tried to contact me, but I didn’t respond. In fact, I’ve turned my phone to silent and turned off my laptop. There is no point offering online guidance. It simply gets drowned out by the constant news updates.’
Kel thinks Seb sounds a bit depressed. Is there anything on his conscience he needs to confess? She tries to encourage him:
‘This morning I was ready to give up. Both at Uni and finding the killer. I blamed my dad for messing with my head when I was younger. But then I talked to Caitlin and it felt good to get things off my chest. It helped me to continue.’
‘I am truly glad for you Kel. Though it is another indication that I am no longer useful. As you have demonstrated, it is friends people turn to in a time of need.’
Kel isn’t getting anywhere. Seb is too focused on self-pity. She might as well ask him straight:
‘So what did you do while the rest of us were waiting for Toby?’
Seb almost smiles, says:
‘You really do sound like an investigator. Are you questioning where I was at the time of Toby’s murder?’
‘So I can rule you out, yes.’
‘About that time I was having a long WhatsApp conversation with Neel.’

Seb reaches for his phone, scrolls to the right messages and shows them to Kel. At a glance, Kel can see that the conversation went on for over an hour. Calculating the time, it was just after Toby’s last Facebook comment and went past the time Kel sent Caitlin to keep a watch on Toby. So Seb has an alibi. And Kel feels she has breached his privacy. The conversation shows that Neel no longer feels loved by Seb. And although Seb doesn’t want Neel to leave, he doesn’t do enough to make him stay. Kel passes the phone back, says:
‘Sorry, I had to check.’
‘You’re doing what you have to do. We all have our life missions. I’m just not sure mine is still viable.’
‘Well, I have to get on. I want to talk to Irina and Mike too.’
As Kel gets up to leave, she wonders about Seb’s partner. Could he harbour a grudge against students because they take up Seb’s time? She says:
‘What about Neel? Would he have it in him to kill out of jealousy?’
‘Neel? He is unable even to drink dairy products because he feels it is taking from an animal without asking. He would rather help a spider out of the shower than wash it down the plughole. If he was the murderer, I can safely say I am no longer able to judge any human being.’
‘Not questioning your judgement, but killers can be incredibly deceptive.’
‘You saw the messages. He could hardly have a conversation with me while killing someone.’
‘True.’
‘And he was with me all the other times. Ah, maybe I should have been more attentive. Life’s roadmap is not always clear.’

Kel leaves Seb to his morose mulling. What is happening to everyone? The killings have made people fearful. That’s understandable. But Sarah and Seb are both questioning their roles in life. Kel shrugs. It’s not her problem. She knows her role. And the next person to question is Irina.

 

32

On the way to Irina’s studio, Kel grabs a sandwich from Tesco. A policeman patrols the area and a news crew are interviewing students as they leave the shop. This is what life on campus has become. On the alert for more murders and at the same time gain live coverage. Kel avoids the media people, finds a bench out of sight.

As she eats her sandwich, Kel checks Irina’s Facebook timeline. Like Sarah and Seb, Irina hasn’t posted anything since last night. With no online info, Kel gets up and turns the corner, knocks on Irina’s studio door. From inside, Irina asks:
‘Who is it?’
‘It’s me, Kel.’
Irina lets Kel in, quickly shutting the door behind them. Kel sees Irina re-sheath her scalpel and pocket it. For a second, Kel is alert. Has Irina just locked Kel in so she can be stabbed with the scalpel?
Irina seems oblivious to Kel’s worry as she walks to her bed and slumps onto it. She waves at the stool in the middle of the studio, says:
‘You can bring that over to sit on.’
Ok, thinks Kel, she’s not about to be murdered by a crazed artist. But Irina likes to have the scalpel on her. Is the artist so handy with a sharp instrument that she could easily kill?

Kel brings the stool over, sits facing Irina on the bed. The situation is a bit bizarre, Kel looking down at Irina who is sat against plumped up pillows. Kel has never seen Irina be still. The artist is always on the move. It’s as if Irina has lost her verve. Kel explains why she’s there:
‘I’m still trying to work out what’s going on. I’ve spoken with Sarah and Seb. So I wanted to ask you and Mike some questions too.’
‘Ask whatever you would like. I have no projects to be busy with.’
‘Can’t you gain access to Campus Café to get your screens?’
Irina shrugs, says:
‘I could, but I don’t have the will. Yesterday, I was restless about my exhibition. Today, my energy is sapped. All I can do is re-read the same page of this book several times.’
Irina holds up a copy of The Master and Margarita. She says:
‘It is a masterpiece of Russian literature, but still. Have you read it?’
‘Never heard of it.’
Irina shakes her head:
‘Ah, British education is so insular.’
Kel wants to get the conversation back on track. She’s looking for motive, so says:
‘You must have been pretty pissed off about your exhibition not going ahead.’
‘Yes, I was. Without my art, I am nothing. This is why you see me like this.’
Irina gestures to herself, drops the book on the bed. She carries on:
‘I am the person who never stops. My mind is constantly thinking of ideas. It is how I live. This morning, something was altered. A sense of my own mortality perhaps. Or that life and death occur whether or not art depicts either. And as this is so, why should I bother?’

Kel takes it that this is a rhetorical question. She’s not inclined to answer in any case. What she can gauge is that Irina, similar to Sarah and Seb, is suffering some sort of artistic crisis. Which means there is no motive for her to be the killer. Unless Irina feels spent after each killing? Seeing as how Irina is usually so direct, Kel decides to be the same:
‘Irina, I asked Sarah and Seb. So I’m going to ask you too. Where were you at the time Toby was killed?’
Irina raises her eyebrows in surprise, says:
‘Here of course, preparing the video to provoke the killer.’
‘Do you have anything to prove that?’
Irina points at the laptop on her desk, says:
‘If you bring over my laptop, I will show you.’
Again, for a brief second Kel is alert to danger. Is it a ruse to get her to turn her back so that Irina can pounce? Keeping an eye on Irina, Kel gets the laptop.

Irina is still sitting in the same position as Kel hands over the laptop. Turning it on, Irina explains:
‘I was recording in case the killer turned up so he could be caught on camera.’
Irina turns the laptop so that Kel can see the screen. The paused image shows Irina about to type. Irina says:
‘Press play.’
Kel does as she’s told. On screen, Irina is seen typing. There’s a knock at the door. Irina gets up and asks who it is. Caitlin enters the studio. Kel pauses the scene from last night, says:
‘What about earlier.’
‘Rewind.’
Kel rewinds through the recording, sees herself and Mike come into the studio. And before that, Irina back at her laptop. Kel stops the video. She’s seen enough. It’s evidence that Irina was in her studio, not out killing Toby. Kel says:
‘Ok, that’s you, Sarah and Seb ruled out. I had to check.’
‘Of course. Nobody can be trusted. I learnt that in Russia. And the killer needs to be caught. Not just to save our lives, but so that life can continue. Until the killer is arrested, I have no art inside me. You must discover who it is.’

Episode 8…

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