Each Sunday, Cal Smyth‘s social media thriller Like, Love, Kill is serialised via Crime Cymru. Here is episode 2…
With the café closed up for the day, Grace gets onto her iPhone while Irina’s technicians install the video screens. Irina is a demanding artist, but Grace understands her. Irina aims high, her art must be exhibited to a professional standard. Grace isn’t artistically inclined and doesn’t feel emotional about Irina’s work, but she recognises a mutual opportunity. The exhibition will be good publicity for both of them.
As always, the café was busy all day. The campus has a Starbucks and a student union bar, but Campus Café is not part of a chain nor too grungy. With its focus on UCASS staff and students, the café is independent, sophisticated and caters to its customers’ needs. After Amy and Caitlin left, Grace snapped a quick picture to post on Facebook. It’s strange that Charlene was off, especially without notifying her, but Grace is sure there must be a good explanation.
Looking at the Facebook feed now, Grace sees Charlene’s salsa photo at the top. So maybe Amy was right and Charlene’s late night meant she didn’t wake up in time. It’s never happened before, so Grace has no problem forgiving her. Grace posts the photo she took earlier, with the caption:
‘Another great day at #CampusCafé. Thank you to all our customers.’
Inclusivity is key. Her post is high on the feed, her many followers clicking ‘like’ as soon as they see it. Until the rumours about Charlene start. And then Grace watches in horror, eyes glued to the screen as news comes through that Charlene has drowned. Without hesitation, Grace posts a heartfelt comment:
‘So shocking. My sympathies to all her friends and family. Rest in peace Charlene, a beautiful, wonderful dancing queen.’
Her comment receives a lot of likes but it’s not important. She turns to Irina, tells her the news. Irina raises her eyebrows, but the show must go on and her video screens must be installed before the morning.
Grace wonders what she can do to honour Charlene. It really is desperately sad. She feels like closing the café the next day out of respect, but knows how important the exhibition is to Irina. So instead she posts:
‘On Saturday, Campus Café will be closed in Charlene’s honour. God bless.’
Mike flexes his muscles as he looks in the floor to ceiling gym mirror, thinks he’s looking pretty fucking awesome.
He spent the afternoon listening to some lecturer talking about the ‘success of failure’. Like how can it be a success if it was a failure? WTF. Probably why the guy is lecturing in Uni instead of running a successful business. Needing to let off steam, Mike went straight to the gym. Now, an hour of weights later, he feels good again. With a self-satisfied smile, he takes a mean and moody mirror selfie, posts it on Facebook with the comment:
‘Getting in shape for Mr UCASS 2017.’
That will get the female population stirred up for the evening. Sure enough, the likes start coming in from his female admirers, mostly first year students. Because Mike is Mr fucking UCASS. Two years in a row thank you very much and going for a third.
He can get any girl he wants. Like Charlene for example, whose salsa photo from the night before is still high up on the feed. He gives it a like. It was only an ONS, but the girl was good and he can afford to be magnanimous.
Mike fucked Charlene to get at Grace but it didn’t get the desired reaction. The bitch deleted him as a friend. Hey, they’re not together anymore, so why should she care if he posts photos of himself with other women? Or is it that Amazing Grace thinks she’s above it all? Does Grace really think she can just dump him without any repercussions?
He can feel the heat of resentment lighting a fire inside him, so does another set of weights. Adrenaline released, Mike puts the weights away and sees the girl on the running machine glance over.
If he doesn’t get her number, he’ll call his latest Tinder match. But as he checks his phone, Facebook goes crazy with all these posts about Charlene. She’s fucking drowned. By the sound of it, she fell into the canal drunk. Without thinking about the reaction he’ll get, Mike comments:
‘Least I got my ONS in time.’
Amy steps out of the shower cubicle, towel around her and checks her phone. Maybe she missed something in the last ten minutes.
She swipes to the Facebook pic of her and Caitlin with donkey ears and sees that it has got a few more likes. Of course, still nowhere near what Charlene got for her salsa photo. But she didn’t expect to with such a light-hearted pic. She could post a post-shower, in-towel selfie. That would get a lot of likes among the men, but it would be too blatant.
At least she the privacy to do this. The residence halls have one kitchen per four students, but thankfully she has an en-suite bathroom. Not everything should be shared. With her hair still wet, Amy switches to Twitter, but can’t think of anything witty to say. Anyway, according to the latest thinking, Twitter is dying a death. It wasn’t so long ago that everyone said that about Facebook, but FB has stayed strong.
After putting on her clothes, Amy turns to LinkedIn. It’s important to constantly update in the professional network. She’s had one new view since yesterday, with a connection request. As the graph shows, she is under target. Obviously she is only a student so it is difficult to build a network at this stage of her career, but her projected connections were supposed to be more than they are.
Her profile was viewed by a guy who works as a foreign exchange trader. It’s not her field, so the guy has probably just added her because of her profile picture. On the other hand, every connection adds up. Should she accept the request? She’s saved from having to decide by Facebook notifications bleeping one after another.
Amy touches the Facebook icon and reads the onslaught of posts about Charlene’s death. No-one can believe it. Everyone spouts love and sympathy towards Charlene’s memory. Apart from Mike. But that is still a reaction. Amy feels a surge of irrational jealousy. Even in her death, Charlene gets more attention than she does. To calm down, Amy switches on the hair-dryer, the sound drowning out any more notification bleeps.
Dried and dressed, Amy realises it will look very strange that she hasn’t put any comment. She gets back onto Facebook, checks what everyone else has written and adds her own generic post:
‘So shocking. Can’t believe. R.I.P Charlene.’
Kel sets up her laptop, a coffee to the side as she monitors people’s reactions to Charlene’s death.
She sees Grace’s heartfelt response, Amy’s delayed reply and Mike’s sick comment. As Charlene’s boss, Grace is clearly genuine. Amy taking so long to post strikes Kel as strange because she knows Amy is always online. And Mike’s comment gets her thinking: is he just sick or is there more to it?
Kel realises she must have missed some gossip. She knows Mike is Grace’s ex-boyfriend but didn’t know he’d had a one-night stand with Charlene. Could it now be relevant?
Caitlin is the person who will know, not because she is a gossiper but because everyone tells Caitlin things. Kel calls Caitlin but gets no answer. Their apartment blocks are not that far from each other, so Kel heads back out.
Illuminated by the glow of orange lamp lights, students criss-cross along the pathways between Tesco and The Gym, both open 24 hours. Others are milling outside the student bar, exiting the library or entering the cinema. Food, entertainment and exercise are all catered for on campus.
Gym buddies strut in pairs, academics go on their solitary way and a gaggle of goths hang out. As always, several Arabic guys sits outside Starbucks. Apparently they study Business, though Kel doubts they do much studying. She’s seen the expensive cars they drive and heard how much they spend in the town centre casino. Usually, they sit and ogle girls. Not tonight though.
Whether huddled in groups or walking on their own, everyone’s eyes are locked on the screens of their phones. The atmosphere feels more electric than usual to Kel but maybe it is just her imagination. Sometimes she thinks instead of criminology she should have studied Creative Writing like Caitlin.
At Caitlin’s block, Kel intercoms to get let in. The building’s design is identical to Kel’s, the apartments Japanese in style, to go with the cherry trees outside. Caitlin blinks in the doorway as she ushers Kel inside, says:
‘Sorry I just saw your missed call. I was writing and had the phone off.’
‘Oh, I didn’t mean to interrupt but I need to check something about Charlene.’
Caitlin closes her laptop, says:
‘Time for a break anyway.’
‘What are you writing?’
‘Opening chapters of my novel.’
‘Yea, but not sure how it will develop or end. Secret for now. Writer’s superstition and all that. It’s got to be finished by June as my final project and I have only just got started. So come on, what’s bothering you?’
‘I’m just wondering about Charlene. You knew her better than me. Did she have any problems? Drink? Drugs? Men?’
Caitlin sighs, says:
‘There’s no point telling you to leave it to the police is there?’
‘You know me.’
Kel has told Caitlin a lot about her life. Like how she witnessed her father beat a man to death in front of her at the age of ten. Since then she’s been immune to gore and death. Which is how she identified Charlene without a qualm. Kel has joked that she could sit through hours of CSI without flinching. She’s driven by her childhood trauma and Caitlin knows this. Kel waits for Caitlin, who says:
‘Charlene was a good time girl. I don’t think she regretted dropping out at all. She worked hard and partied hard. I don’t think she did drugs, but she would get drunk sometimes.’
Kel notes it all down on her phone, into the role of investigator. Inspector Christie will presumably get around to questioning people, but she has the advantage of already knowing who to ask. Besides, the police seem to have written off Charlene’s death as accidental drowning. Kel asks her next question:
‘What about guys? She ever go with the wrong one?’
‘She was always going with the wrong guy.’
‘Did you see his Facebook post?’
‘No, I stopped being online as soon as I saw the news. I couldn’t face reading any more about it. That’s why I started writing, so as not to think about it.’
‘He said at least he got his one-night stand in.’
Caitlin shakes her head in disgust, but doesn’t utter any swear words:
‘What’s wrong with him?’
‘I know, sick fuck. So what’s that about?’
‘How did you miss that? It was all over Facebook a few months ago. Mike has never got over Grace dumping him. So combined with him thinking he’s god’s gift to women, he’s been flaunting his new notches ever since. One of them was Charlene. She was drunk and didn’t realise Mike was using her to get at Grace.’
‘How did Grace react?’
‘Defriended him on Facebook.’
‘What about at work with Charlene? No grudge? She seems genuinely upset about Charlene’s death.’
‘Of course she is. Grace doesn’t bear grudges. Charlene was really apologetic. And to show there was no ill will between them, they went out for a night together.’
‘Could Mike have wanted to punish Charlene in some way?’
‘For what? He got what he wanted. I know you’re suspicious, but isn’t it possible that it was just an accidental drowning?’
‘Something just doesn’t seem right to me.’
‘Everybody loved Charlene. Who would want to kill her?’
Kel nods in acceptance, but has one more person to ask about:
‘What about Amy?’
‘What about Amy?’
‘She was very late with her condolences on Facebook. Seems a bit strange. Were they close?’
‘Maybe you’re reading too much into things. Amy was probably just busy and posted when she read about it.’
Kel frowns. If Caitlin is right, no-one would seem to have motive for killing Charlene. Maybe Kel’s hunch is wrong. She gets up, says:
‘I’ll let you get back to your writing.’
Kel goes home, oblivious to her surroundings as she strides between the blocks. Back in her room, Kel knows she should leave it. But she just has to get confirmation of Caitlin’s summary. She swaps the cold coffee from earlier for a whiskey and coke.
Logging on to Facebook, Kel goes through the timelines of Grace, Mike and Amy to see where they overlap with Charlene. She sees that a month ago, Mike posted a photo with his arm around a semi-drunk Charlene. For a week after that Charlene didn’t post anything, which was unusual for her. She then went back to daily use, starting with a photo of her and Grace on a girls’ night out. This would seem to show that Grace really is above suspicion. But Mike could hold a grudge if he’s been dissed by both women. His comment certainly doesn’t display any empathy.
What about Amy? Her post also isn’t too sympathetic. And scrolling down, Kel can see that Amy made various comments throughout the day about having to do more work because Charlene wasn’t in, though never mentioned Charlene by name. Is that just bitchiness or is it more sinister? Or is Kel reading too much into things?
Without questioning people, it’s hard to know. Are Grace, Mike and Amy all posting their genuine feelings or do they hide things? Facebook can be both revealing and deceptive. Kel goes back through Charlene’s timeline.
On the face of it, Charlene seemed to be very open. She posted when she went out and who she went out with, when she was happy and when she was bored. Used emojis to show her feelings. When she dropped out of Uni, she commented that her parents wouldn’t be happy but she simply wasn’t cut out for studying. She liked going out with friends, was generous in her praise for them. And in return everybody only posted positive comments on Charlene’s timeline.
Charlene’s lack of activity after the photo with Mike suggested she felt bad, but she didn’t post anything negative about him. With previous men, she was upfront about her failed relationships, writing comments like ‘Doh! Wrong guy again’ next to an emoji with rolling eyes. With such a humble personality, what is not to like about Charlene?
Kel finishes her whiskey and coke, thinks someone would have to be full of hate to kill Charlene because she really comes across as a person everyone loved. So maybe Kel has to accept Charlene wasn’t murdered.
Charlene’s death is still top of the feed, but other stuff pops up: a promotion for Irina’s exhibition, Mike’s gym selfie, some stupid meme about an actress’s wardrobe malfunction. Life goes on. Kel takes a break. She’s tired of looking at the screen and needs to sleep. She’s aware that by the morning everyone’s lives will have to carry on.
Grace wakes up feeling alive and praises God for the beautiful spring morning. Of course Charlene’s death is still incredibly sad, but it is important to stay positive. Grace takes a photo out of her window of the cherry blossom and posts it on Facebook, unafraid to display her beliefs:
‘God’s spring gift. In memory of Charlene.’
She was taught in boarding school to believe in God and hold her head high. At first, she hated being away from her family, rebelled against the school. But she came to realise the sacrifice her family made, saving every penny to educate her.
Obtaining As in all her subjects, Grace came to study at University in the UK. UCASS was just three years old when she was given a place, a bursary covering the extortionate international student fee. She’s always been lucky, though believes it is achieved through hard work and prayer.
Grace is not surprised by how well Campus Café has done. She spent four months from June to September planning it. Twelve hours a day putting a twenty-page business plan into action. On the back of the café’s success, she has been invited to give a TED talk at the local college. As a young business woman, she is seen as a motivational speaker. She facebooks a photo of her laptop, coffee in Campus Café cup to the side with the caption:
‘Preparing for my TED talk in Gloucester College this afternoon.’
She instantly gets lots of likes. The first comment is:
‘You are such an inspiration.’
Several similar comments follow. Grace is humble, replies with a shy emoji and writes:
‘It is a privilege to pass on what I have learnt.’
On WhatsApp, Grace receives a message from Irina confirming that her feed is live and she gives it a thumbs up, choosing a black thumb from the options. It’s important to know and show your identity.
A text comes through from an unknown number. There is no message, just a photo attachment. Grace hesitates, not wanting to click open the photo. She can guess who it is from. But if she deletes without seeing it, she won’t have any future evidence of harassment. She clicks it up and burns in shame.
The photo shows her from above, giving a blow job to her ex boyfriend. She deleted Mike from Facebook and blocked him from WhatsApp but he still has her number. What’s wrong with the guy? And what is she going to do about him?
She gets the message. If he wants, he can post the photo online, let everyone see. Grace will no longer be so graceful. Will he actually do it? Should she go to the police? It’s humiliating whatever happens, but she can’t let him get to her. She must be strong, live up to being Amazing Grace. She prays that he will stop, decides to ignore it one more time and gets on with her day. As she will be busy being a guest speaker and with Charlene’s sad passing, she has to organise cover in the café.
Mike is woken by the alarm on his phone. He stretches out a hand, swipes off the alarm, checks for texts. The girl from the gym has sent kisses and a wink, with the message:
‘Thanks for last night.’
The sex was alright, but not amazing so Mike doesn’t reply. He didn’t stay the night, but was at the girl’s place until the early hours, feeling he had to perform. Now he feels tired rather than satisfied. He automatically starts swiping on tinder. It’s become a bit of an addiction. He had sex last night and has already set up a date with another girl tonight. He has no immediate need, but can’t help swiping left or right. Realising several minutes have passed, Mike gets off the app. He has to get up.
He’s got a morning tutorial to discuss his final year project: a one-stop, YouTube gym workshop. The idea is still a bit vague and is kind of already done. He hasn’t worked out the whole package yet or how to make it original. And he’s seriously behind schedule.
Maybe if he hadn’t spent the whole summer making plans for him and Grace. While all she had cared about was her business venture. How many weekend trips did he organise? And how many times was she too busy to go on them? He could have spent his time planning his project instead of on her.
Resentment lights a fire inside Mike. He can’t think straight. He clicks up an old photo on his phone of Grace sucking his dick. She didn’t know he’d taken it. He knows she’s blocked him, so he got a new phone and number. He hesitates for a second, his brain trying to rein in his hate, but he thinks fuck it and sends the photo.
She can suck on that. Feeling pleased with his actions, Mike does his morning set of press ups, sit ups and pull ups. He showers, sharpens his goatee, dresses in style. With his earphones plugged in, Mike heads to his lectures.
Amy scratches her arm as she reads the message from Grace asking if she can cover in the café. Adding emotional blackmail by mentioning that with the tragic event of Charlene’s drowning, the café is understaffed. Amy can hardly say no.
She should be getting on with her coursework and now she will have to work in the café. Charlene is dictating her life from the bloody grave. Not enough that her death is what everyone mentions. In an instant, Amy’s envy turns to self-hate. Can she really be jealous of a dead woman?
Her eyes dart to the bathroom, eyelids flickering as she pictures where her razor is. She shaved her legs yesterday, but the blade has only been used once, so it will still be sharp.
Amy slaps her arm.
She mustn’t have these thoughts. It’s been such a long time. Not since she was fifteen. Then she used to harm herself on a regular basis. Even joined an online community. Not a group like AA, encouraging you to keep abstaining. But a group that encouraged you to continue, each person displaying fresh cuts, goading others on. In retrospect, it was really sick. And not sick as in cool.
Amy gets nervous at the memory. She must keep busy. Fine, she will cover for a dead woman. Actually, it will be good to work. It will stop her from thinking dark thoughts and from checking her phone every few seconds. So in a way, Charlene’s death could turn out to be a good thing. PMA. That’s what she needs to retain. Positive Mental Attitude. She messages Grace:
Of course, Grace can’t cover because she is busy giving a talk. Amy saw the post, she’s been on and off her phone all night and morning. Hardly slept. She admires Grace, but has her suspicions. Like was the cherry tree photo really necessary? Yes, it shows sympathy towards Charlene, but isn’t it also to show Grace in a good light?
First Grace posts in memory of Charlene, then a few minutes later that she’s going to be a guest speaker. Kind of smacks of self-serving sympathy. But Amy has to hand it to Grace. It was done in a very subtle way. Should Amy have been more sympathetic in her comments? Too late now. Anyhow, not as if she has anything to sell yet.
Maybe she’s got it all wrong. Maybe Grace is a hundred per cent genuine. Maybe her thoughts are cynical and ugly. She starts to feel the self-loathing build again. Maybe she should contact Seb to get help.
Irina sits cross-legged and straight-backed in the middle of her studio, laptop open in front of her. She’s been awake since five, did a few hours’ work preparing her next project and is now updating her website.
Her exhibition in the campus gallery has received another glowing review. Irina types up a quote:
‘No other contemporary artist catches the zeitgeist like Irina Zhivova. This is living, breathing art for the post-feminist, digital age.’
Irina adds a link to the review, then switches to Facebook, where she posts the comment:
‘Updating my website. Been a busy year.’
This will have a triple effect of being a Facebook post, linking to the website and also feed into the live stream that is screening in Campus Café. There are five screens, each with a live feed. One screen shows Irina’s online activity, another follows her around throughout the day via an iphone on the end of a selfie stick. A third screen displays her studio, photos pinned up and notes scrawled on a whiteboard. A fourth screen has stationary footage of ‘The Unknown Artist’ in the University gallery, people to be glimpsed as they study Irina’s art.
The Campus Café exhibition is an idea improvised on the side, entitled ‘Artist at Work.’ It serves to highlight the plight of the modern artist. It is not just about creating art in the studio or exhibiting in the gallery but also about constant internet activity to gain awareness.
Irina is acutely aware of how she has sold her soul to social media, but that is what a contemporary artist must do to survive. Which gets her thinking, her thoughts instantly posted:
‘What is the role of the modern female artist? Inequality is alive and well in the art world. Every awarding body is dominated by the male perspective because that is what has been reinforced within society. I consider it my job to challenge this notion.’
Shortlisted for an upcoming award, she needs the acclaim. Not for her ego, but to fund the next exhibition. She has to fight to keep her hold on the campus gallery. The project is more encompassing than the others and will require expenditure. She can’t afford to lose out.
Sarah is sat up in bed, typing on her laptop. She finishes off her daily blog: A day in the life of a woman with cancer.
The blog will be turned into her dissertation. As a mature student, she’s in the third year of Creative Writing, doing the course online. As soon as she was diagnosed, she put forward the proposal. UCASS loved it. This is a woman writing about a real-life ordeal, using digital media.
Sarah clicks up Facebook and posts:
‘Out of hospital gown after final radiotherapy session! Follow up checks and scans for the next 10 years. But for now, weekend writing retreat as a treat. A blog a day keeps the pain away.’
She adds a link to the blog. Within a few minutes, she has already got several likes and comments. One person writes:
‘You are so brave.’
‘Just trying to show how all women with cancer cope.’
She responds to other comments, then leans back against her pillow. She is tired but satisfied with her morning work. Writing really is her coping mechanism. How else can she deal with the fact that at the age of forty-four she has had both breasts removed?
After the operation last week, she couldn’t face going home. So she booked a room in a country cottage in the Cotswolds for a few days via Airbnb. She writes, rests and eats the food that is left for her by the cottage owners.
Sarah sends texts to her husband, two daughters and her mother. Keith and the girls both send back kisses, tell her they love her. She almost cries in appreciation. Then her mother’s text comes through:
‘Hope you are recovering darling. Saw the girls yesterday. All fine. Keith is such an amazing, supportive father and husband.’
Sarah nearly spits out her green tea. She is recovering after a breast removal operation and taken a few days to herself. And her mother praises her husband! Sarah can’t believe it. She is so indignant, she posts about it on Facebook:
‘Following my breast removal operation, I have taken a few days to be by myself and write. My mother sends a text to say how supportive my husband is. How many years did I support him and the girls while he worked? Forget about the op, this is about how a female writer isn’t taken seriously, even by other women.’
The post gathers several comments. Many women agree with her. One or two tentatively suggest both Sarah and her husband are doing a great job. None of it appeases Sarah. What does she have to do, lose a leg as well? Have people not read her blog? Or is it that she hasn’t given enough details about how much she has suffered as a woman?
If it is going to be the truth, then even these feelings of anger need to be written. Sarah gets typing.
Toby is at his mac station in the ICT lab. Yesterday’s lecture about app design was inspiring and he has some ideas.
His dream is to be a digital nomad. As a first-year student of Games Design, this is his life. If he’s not playing on his console or watching youtubers play, he’s creating his own games. Companies like Activision are sick, but he doesn’t know if he would fit in. The workspaces are too hipster with their social interaction. Better to work in seclusion.
He’s distracted from his ideas by notifications on his phone. The video he shared has received another like. The vid shows a weather woman in Brazil who forgot to put on a bra. She’s in the middle of presenting when one of her tits pops out of her top. Probably staged rather than a natural accident but funny as shit. Other male gamer friends like the vid, but some female Facebook friends give it an angry face. Toby rolls his eyes. Bloody feminists can’t take a joke. Not that he’d ever post that as a comment. He has other online personas, like on Tumblr, where he can say whatever he wants. But on Facebook, he’ll lose friends and he only has a few hundred.
Unlike Irina, with her post-feminist art, basically artistic selfies. She has 5000 friends, of which 2800 follow her. Every single one of her posts gets 100s of likes as opposed to the twenty odd he gets. Or Sarah, with her misery memoir about having cancer. Who wants to read that shit? Apparently lots of people. See a Brazilian woman’s tit or read about a breast being surgically removed? He knows which he prefers. Then there’s Grace with everything she touches a success. How is it inspiring that she’s giving a talk about how well Campus café is doing? So she sells coffee and croissants. And? And everyone is still going on about Charlene. Well she fell into a canal and drowned. At least no more of her salsa photos thank fuck.
Toby doesn’t really know any of the women. They are all friends of friends. He added them and they accepted. Why? He knows they don’t know he even exists. It’s because they are just as needy as him in wanting ‘friends’. They like to be liked, love to be loved. It makes him sick. He imagines an animated figure with a machine gun killing off versions of these women in a console game. Which gives him a germ of an idea. He turns back to his mac.
Seb accepts the glass of orange juice from Neel, gives his partner’s hand a squeeze in gratitude and turns back to the screen.
As the Online Mindfulness Facilitator for UCASS, it is his duty to start the morning with a post about Charlene. No conclusions should be drawn yet, no sermons given. If her death was due to being inebriated that is something to touch on at a later date. Most people are shocked and sad. One or two comments such as Mike’s are a bit disturbing. People need guidance:
‘Yesterday’s tragic news affects us all. We must remember Charlene as the joyous person she was. It is a time for condolence and compassion. If any of her friends are in need of consoling, I am here.’
It is not compulsory for students to be his friend, but as soon as they enrol in the university, they receive a request from him. Most accept. And in general, students love him. His thoughtful posts are well liked and students contact him directly with their difficulties. He is available 24/7, iphone always on him and ipad in his satchel. He is dedicated to his role.
As soon as Seb heard the UCASS campus was being created, he offered his services. For a modern university in the digital age, his proposal of being an online life coach was instantly accepted.
Seb spent years making his name, as his website, Facebook page and LinkedIn profile show. He openly uses his personal experience. As a teenager, he was bullied for being gay. As a young adult, his lover committed suicide. He overcame these hurdles, shares his methods and embraces social media. It can be a tool for hate but also for spreading self-help.
It is from the internet that Seb learnt to be open about his sexuality. It is where he met Neel, on an online chatroom. Youtube fitness videos helped him lose weight. Now, as a forty-five-year-old self-help guru, he looks and feels good about life. There are always solutions in life. When he started to lose his hair, he shaved it all off, became happy with that. When he was fed up of being alone, he found love with a younger man.
He lives well from the university salary, can afford a riverside apartment in Gloucester. He doesn’t have to be on campus, that is part of being an online guide. These days, students don’t need to physically interact. They need to know he is there as an internet presence.
Scanning Facebook, Seb sees that Sarah is agitated. He posts an appeasing comment in public, but that doesn’t seem to work. He sends her a personal message, letting her know he is there if she needs.
Seb also notes Toby’s shared videos. They are not overtly offensive, but borderline. He detects anger, but is not yet sure how to approach Toby. Should he wait until Toby steps across the line? Or will that be too late?
Seb’s thoughts are interrupted by Neel asking:
‘Are you coming for breakfast?’
‘It’s ok, you start without me.’
‘You can’t save everyone you know.’
Seb offers a distracted smile. No, he knows he’s not a digital Jesus. But it is his mission. People have all this social media at their fingertips, but no clue as how to behave with it. Cyber bullying and self-hate can lead to suicide, online stalking can lead to murder. The dark side must be curbed. Seb must be there to offer guidance. A Facebook message bleeps and he sees his help his needed.
Kel should be getting on with her dissertation. She’s got three months to finish it. The title is ‘Cyber crime: How to identify online perpetrators.’
It’s such a new field that there isn’t much academic writing on the subject. A lot of Kel’s research borders on social media voyeurism. The internet is littered with real life case studies. But finding a pattern to online behaviour is not so simple. While some people blatantly display their criminal acts, others hide behind anonymity. Kel isn’t interested in being an academic, she just wants to get a job as a criminologist.
The problem is that Kel can’t concentrate on the dissertation. She’s spent all morning staring at the screen. It isn’t the lack of sleep that is distracting, she’s used to that. It’s that she can’t stop thinking about Charlene.
She heard from Caitlin earlier that the police were in Campus Café to talk with Charlene’s colleagues, that it seemed routine. No demanding questions were asked and no-one had anything suspicious to say.
Kel thinks she should make her own enquiries. She isn’t close with Grace so doesn’t have her phone number. Instead she uses Facebook messenger:
‘Hey Grace, strange question, but do you think anyone could have held a grudge against Charlene? Maybe not my place to ask but I’m not sure the police are asking the right questions.’
Kel fully realises that her message might come across as slightly conceited, but she doesn’t care. Grace actually replies quite quickly:
‘I can understand your concern, but I can only tell you what I told the police, which is that everybody loved Charlene.’
‘I know it’s really impertinent, but what about Mike? I know you and Charlene didn’t have a problem, but do you think he could have wanted revenge?’
There is a pause before Grace responds:
‘I stopped contact with Mike after he became quite controlling and a little vindictive. However, I think we should be very careful about making accusations.’
‘Not saying he killed her, but could she have been pushed to suicide?’
‘I find it hard to believe that Charlene would commit such an act. She was such a joyous person. I did not know her well though. You could try Seb. Maybe Charlene spoke with him. I have to continue with work now.’
Kel should have thought about asking Seb. She calls him and he answers with warmth:
‘Hey Kel, how are you?’
‘Good. Look, I know you’re going to say leave it to the police, but I’m looking into Charlene’s death. Something’s not right. Did she ever say anything to you that would indicate she had suicidal tendencies?’
‘You know I can’t betray confidentiality.’
‘She’s dead, so you won’t be betraying her.’
‘You really should leave it to the police.’
Kel rolls her eyes, but doesn’t give up:
‘I can see on Facebook that she got drunk too often and would sometimes go with the wrong guy, but that seems pretty normal.’
‘Exactly. To be honest with you, I hardly had any contact with Charlene. I don’t think she felt the need. Yes, she made mistakes, but only the same ones we all make. And as you pointed out, she put it all on Facebook, so there weren’t any secrets.’
‘Which confirms what I think. If she wasn’t suicidal, maybe she was killed.’
‘Kel, you know sometimes our past can influence our present too much.’
‘Don’t say it.’
‘I’m just saying that your chosen career path can be therapeutic but it mustn’t become an obsession. Don’t let your past make you suspicious of everything.’
Kel ends the call. Of course she’s aware that seeing her dad murder a guy will affect her whole life. She was ten years old. Her dad was drunk and accused a friend of staring at his wife. He then picked up a spade and smashed the guy’s head in. Who could forget that? But that really isn’t the point here. Kel’s phone bleeps with a text from Caitlin:
‘Accidental drowning. Check the news.’
Kel googles Charlene’s name and sees that the police have released a statement, confirming her death as accidental drowning. No evidence of foul play has been found. Inspector Christie is quoted as saying it is ‘a tragic accident’.
Kel immediately digs out Inspector Christie’s business card. She calls his number but gets no answer. She types the number into her phone, sees he has WhatsApp. Better than texting because then she can see if he reads the message:
‘Hi, this is Kel the criminology student who ID’d Charlene. Just saw the news. Are you sure?’
She waits impatiently. He has no obligation to reply, she knows that. She sees two blue ticks appear. So he’s read the message. But he doesn’t reply. Why should he? A police inspector doesn’t have time to answer a student he met one time. Then she sees ‘typing’.
After a minute, there is still no message. WTF. But then she smiles and shakes her head as she pictures how slow he is with his fingers. She finds it endearing. Which is slightly inappropriate. Though not as inappropriate as the sudden thought that she would like to fuck him. Yes, father issues and all that shit. She can’t wait for him to finish typing so calls again. He answers:
‘Oh, hi, I was just sending you a message.’
‘I wasn’t stalking you on WhatsApp but was hypnotised by how long it took you to type a reply.’
Inspector Christie laughs:
‘Are you always so ballsy?’
‘Only with people I like.’
‘I, uh, will take that as a compliment.’
Kel feels a strange sensation of sexual power. She’s got an experienced police inspector feeling good because a much younger woman is flirting with him. She takes the opportunity to ask:
‘So are you sure it’s accidental drowning?’
‘Why do you think it isn’t?’
Kel can hear that Inspector Christie’s police instincts have instantly kicked back in. She isn’t sure she has enough to go on:
‘Just strange that she would walk by the canal and fall in.’
‘Listen, I was impressed with your composure at the scene, so I’ll tell you this. CCTV footage from the bus shows that no-one followed Charlene. Forensics have shown there is no sign of violence and the cause of death is drowning. We’ve also talked to Charlene’s colleagues and nobody has a motive for killing her. Unless there’s something you know and aren’t saying?’
Kel wants to mention Mike, but she knows it is wrong to say a name when she has no evidence whatsoever. She feels deflated, says:
‘You’re right. Sorry to bother you.’
‘No problem. I think you’ve got a lot of potential. Maybe you should look into working with the police after Uni.’
They end the call awkwardly. As forward as she is, Kel can’t very well ask the inspector to meet for a drink. She sums things up in her mind. So Charlene’s death has been officially confirmed as accidental drowning. It’s a tragic loss of life, but life will go on. And yet, it still niggles Kel that something is wrong.
20th October 2019