Each Sunday, Cal Smyth‘s social media thriller Like, Love, Kill is serialised via Crime Cymru. Here is episode 6…
Kel and Caitlin sit across from each other in a corner of the student union bar, Kel wanting to meet so she can run her research findings by Caitlin.
The floor is sticky with spilled beer, the walls are covered with provocative murals and the place smells of bleach. Kel thinks it’s as if every Uni needs to have one grungy bar as an act of youthful rebellion. Especially on a campus like UCASS which is so meticulously designed.
Kel has a JD and coke in front of her, plus a packet of crisps. Her lunch consisted of four and a half oatcakes, so her dinner is almost an upgrade. Caitlin just has an orange juice. The bar is quite empty, only two other groups of students huddled together. In keeping with the feeling of secrecy, Kel leans towards Caitlin, says:
‘You can feel the atmosphere on campus. I didn’t see any other female walking alone on my way here.’
‘Are you surprised? People are afraid Kel. All sorts of rumours are going around. Everyone thinks there’s a campus killer who’s got it in for women.’
‘Which might not be far from the truth.’
‘Come on then, what’s your theory?’
Caitlin leans in, ready to listen as Kel proceeds to explain her day’s research. After speaking for twenty minutes, Kel concludes:
‘So Irina, Sarah and Seb are all possible future victims, with Irina being the most likely. And Toby is looking like a nailed-on killer.’
Caitlin looks at her friend, says:
‘But you have no actual proof?’
‘And if for example Seb was the next victim, it would break the pattern of deaths so far as he’s not a woman and didn’t work in Campus Café?’
‘Yes, but a killer’s modus operandi can alter.’
‘So it’s not nailed on?’
‘Have you got a better theory?’
‘You’re the criminologist. I’m just your sounding board.’
Kel gets intense, glancing over to check she’s not overheard as she speaks in a loud whisper:
‘Three women who are well liked on social media are dead. Grace was murdered without question. Even the police are now treating Amy’s suicide as homicide. And I’ve always said Charlene’s death wasn’t an accident. Toby’s Tumblr alias specifically targets Charlene, Amy and Irina for personal attacks. His Facebook and gamer accounts display misogynist attitudes. And he was there at the scene of two deaths. He could have been watching Amy’s place for all we know.’
‘But we don’t know.’
‘You really don’t think he should be considered a suspect?’
‘I admit his actions do seem suspect. But there has to be evidence to back up the theory.’
‘That’s what I plan to get.’
‘And that’s what worries me. If your theory has validity, you should take it to Inspector Christie.’
‘Inspector Christie isn’t talking to me because he thinks I leaked details to the police. He told me to stop doing my own investigative work and isn’t going to listen.’
Caitlin sighs. She drinks some of her juice while Kel takes a gulp of her JD and coke. With both their drinks back on the table, Caitlin says:
‘Ok, so what’s your plan?’
Kel clears her throat, leans in again and says:
‘I set up a group chat with all of us who are still connected. That includes me and you too. I don’t let on that I suspect Toby, but we lay the bait for him to reveal himself.’
‘And the bait is?’
‘Irina. Basically she needs to do something that will get her likes spiked even more than normal. Combined with the taunt of outlining this in the group chat, the killer, most probably Toby, will feel enraged and want to kill again. The rest of us wait in hiding and catch him in the act.’
‘Do you know how insane that sounds?’
‘Do you know how sane the killer is?’
‘I’m not even going to answer that. How do you know the others will go for it, Irina especially?’
‘I don’t, but it’s worth a try. And with Irina, I’ll message her first.’
Caitlin exhales, not knowing what else to say. Kel pushes her idea:
‘What are the police doing to catch the killer?’
‘They’re knocking on doors. Everyone in Amy’s building has been asked if they saw anyone suspicious.’
‘Nobody saw anyone they didn’t know.’
‘Exactly. The police are looking for the killer in the wrong way. If this is a social media serial killer, he needs to be caught using the tools he uses.’
‘What if it’s not Toby?’
‘Then I got it wrong and we look at the others.’
‘Getting it wrong could have serious consequences. It’s not only women who are afraid. Guys are fearful of being wrongly identified.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Didn’t you see the Facebook Live video that went viral?’
‘I spent the whole day doing research, refused to look at anything else.’
Caitlin gets out her phone, finds the video and shows it to Kel. A gang of four male students corner another guy. A fifth member of the gang videos the scene on his phone and provides voiceover:
‘We found this pervert loitering around Amy’s building. We also know it was him who first shared the photo of Charlene being taken out of the canal.’
So she’s not the only one doing online investigation, thinks Kel. They even picked up on something she didn’t. Though this gang look like vigilantes, not someone searching for justice. The cornered guy looks terrified. He’s pinned to a wall and has his phone snatched off him. The gang member with the phone says:
‘Fuck, look at this. The perv’s been searching necrophilia sites.’
Another member of the gang punches the cornered guy in the stomach, shouts in his face:
‘You like to wank over dead women? Are you the campus killer? You fuck!’
‘No, it’s not like…’
The guy is kicked in the groin, his words dying in his throat. Kel winces, turns away from the phone screen, says to Caitlin:
‘Ok, it’s enough, I can guess what happens next. The guy is beaten but it turns out he’s not the killer.’
‘You guessed right. Alibi for all three deaths. So instead, the police have arrested the other five for GBH.’
‘I get the point. You don’t want me to get someone beaten up and it turn out he’s not the killer.’
‘I won’t be naming Toby. So if I’m wrong, he won’t be harmed.’
‘You are the most tenacious person I have ever known, you know that?’
Kel shrugs, swallows the last of her JD and coke and says:
‘So are you in?’
‘Do I have a choice? You’re going to go ahead anyway aren’t you?’
‘Then keep me in the loop.’
Kel nods, pushes her empty glass to the side and gets up to leave the student union bar.
Irina is restless in her studio. She tried sitting in bed and re-reading The Master and Margarita, but after a chapter got up and went through old photos on her phone to sort out which should be deleted. With that done in twenty minutes, she made a stir-fry. Not because she was particularly hungry, but to do another activity.
She can’t sit still, has to keep her mind occupied and not dwell on frustration. She called the police in the morning and she won’t be able to gain access to the café for at least another day. Even when she gets the screens out, where is she going to set them up? Starbucks is too commercial, the student union bar too grungy.
While she paces her studio, Irina scrolls through Facebook. She doesn’t want to read any more rumours about a campus killer. She feels for the three dead women, but people sometimes have such small minds. She stops at something different, likes what she reads and shares:
‘Interesting stuff: ‘The complexity of relationships means the people we choose as our partners are often not the ones who will make our life easy, but will complicate it. This is because more often than not we are brought up with complex relationships around us, not simple ones and we seek to replicate the pattern.’ Philosopher HG Ballard.’
Maybe that explains why the ‘nice’ men Irina meets don’t do it for her. Whether there is any truth in it or not, at least it gives people something other to think about apart from a killer stalking the campus. Irina isn’t scared of the big bad wolf. And she needs to get out.
Leaving her studio, Irina walks the campus grounds. There is hardly anyone about. With her phone camera, Irina takes photos of the empty campus – cherry trees lit up in the dark by orange lamps.
Irina sniffs the air, catches the smell of cannabis. Turning her head, she spies a half open window, the glow of a joint visible. Irina strides to the window, where two guys are smoking. Irina says:
‘Can I have a smoke?’
‘Er, sure, here.’
Irina takes the joint, inhales, takes another toke. Passing the joint back, she smiles and carries on with her night walk. The two guys left watching this vision of a striking Russian woman vanish into the darkness.
She feels more relaxed now and also has a slight premonition. She’s not sure what calls her, but she needs to get back to her studio.
Mike puts the weights back on the rack. As he stands, he glances in the mirror, sees that he is frowning. He’s done less sets than usual. It’s not that he doesn’t feel up to it physically. It’s his mind which is distracted.
He got up late, had a big breakfast and large coffee in Starbucks to recover from his hangover. The night with his mates ended up being a long one, everyone buying a round. The rest of the day he spent following the rumours and gossip on Facebook. Women saying how scared they are to walk alone at night. False sightings of the killer. The guy who got beaten. Served the fucker right for being such a perv.
Still aggrieved at his perceived injustice, Mike posted his own thoughts on police discrimination. That got a lot of likes alright. Because the police really don’t seem to have a fucking clue.
His stint at the police station has made Mike even more of a stud. It’s like when a guy goes to prison and you get those women who are turned on by it, sending in photos of themselves naked and describing their sexual fantasies.
Not only has he been getting several Tinder matches, but women are posting publicly on Facebook that they’d like to ride his prison hardened cock. Ok, not exactly those words, but that’s what they mean. Thing is though, Mike for once isn’t in the mood.
Mike’s distraction is shown by another guy in the gym asking:
‘You finished with that bench mate?’
‘Er, yea, sure.’
Mike moves to the side, lets the other guy use the bench. As he makes his way to the lockers, Mike goes to the far window. He can just make out the corner of Campus Café.
He might have wished Grace harm at one point, but he never wanted her dead. He doesn’t believe the stories about her being killed by a lover, lesbian or otherwise. In fairness to her, he never heard of Grace being with anyone after him. As Grace’s ex, he feels some kind of responsibility. But he doesn’t know how he can find out who killed her.
Sarah is lying in bed, eyes open in the dark. Since the operation, she’s always gone to bed early and would normally be asleep by now. Tonight, she can’t close her eyes. She’s worrying about too many things. Her writing. Her oldest daughter. And the three dead women on UCASS campus.
The worry about her writing is what if she feels blocked again in the morning? Usually, ideas come to her at night and she’s ready to write first thing, but her mind is blank. She was saved today by the news of Amy’s death, as terrible as that is to say. If it hadn’t happened, she wouldn’t have written anything. She can’t freeze now. She’s almost there, just 10,000 more words. But the more she thinks about it, the more blocked she feels.
With her daughter, it’s the aftermath of online bullying that is worrying. Sarah’s husband texted to say that he was finding it difficult to deal with Erica’s mood swings. Sarah replied that it was probably just a pre-teen tantrum. She called her daughter and asked:
‘Hi darling, is everything ok?’
‘What do you care? All you care about is your writing.’
And with that Erica ended the call. Sarah tried calling again and sent a few texts, but got no response. She’s not going to feel guilty. She’s been the main child carer for twelve years. Keith can cope with it for a few days.
Wait until the girls go to Uni and get interested in boys, drink and drugs. Which leads Sarah to thinking about the three poor women who have died. At least two killed by the sound of it. Why do women have to suffer so much? It’s never stopped throughout history. Whether it is prostitutes being killed by Jack the Ripper or Muslim women stoned to death in Saudi Arabia. And what if it hasn’t finished on the campus? What if another young woman is killed?
Sarah curses herself. With such morbid thoughts, she’s never going to get any sleep.
Seb opens his eyes after meditating for half an hour. For a second, he’s disorientated to find himself in such a small room, but quickly realises why he is there.
He’s in a student resident flat, where he’s set up base. It’s not like his spacious riverside apartment, but that’s not what matters. Size and space are all in the mind. He’s lucky that the University had a spare room at such short notice.
Before leaving his apartment in Gloucester, Seb explained to Neel that he had to be available on campus for any students who required his mindfulness guidance on a drop-in basis. Neel said he understood. Seb could sense the opposite. He tried to part amicably:
‘When I return, we can spend some time together.’
‘When you return, you might find the space you need.’
Seb wasn’t going to pursue Neel’s meaning. There wasn’t time to get into it. So they parted without a kiss goodbye.
Now in his cramped student residence room, Seb is not going to feel regret. He is useful here on campus. People are frightened and need reassuring. One young woman has already popped in for a mindfulness session to ease her stress.
Seb has posted on Facebook that he’s available, providing the block and room number. By the online response, he can see his action is appreciated. He’s also personally offered his facilitation to a few he can see are vulnerable, for example the young man who got beaten up.
And he’s tried to stem the flow of fear and anger. The police may not have done much so far, but they are trying to do their job. Calling them useless isn’t helpful. Nor is the spreading of speculation. The rumours have continued unabated, so Seb realises his individual mindfulness session was a lot more successful than his public please for tolerance and calm.
He just hopes that the fear won’t escalate further.
Toby sits in the dark, his face lit up by the mac screen in front of him. The Facebook page he is looking at is reflected in his glasses.
He should be annoyed. The campus killer hashtag was his creation. And now everyone’s using it. He should have bloody copyrighted the phrase. He could be a rich man by the end of the week.
Toby doesn’t gripe though. No Facebook whinging from him. He’ll leave that to the Sarah’s of this world. And Amy if she was still alive. Toby bets she would have liked to think up #campuskiller. It’s a killer marketing strategy. LOL.
Thinking of good jokes, Toby has one he wants to post. Not on Facebook, where his name will be seen. He switches to Tumblr and under his Iguy alias, posts his joke:
‘Q: What do you call three female students at UCASS campus? A: Dead.’
Toby sniggers to himself. Some will no doubt find the joke tasteless. Toby is simply reflecting real life. In fact, in a strange way, he can even say he misses Amy. One less person to take the piss out of.
Of course, he’s still got Irina and Sarah. Well not Sarah anymore as she unfriended him. So just Irina and her amazing technicolour art AKA shit on a selfie stick. And if Irina goes, there will always be others to take her place. An eyebrow youtuber or snapchat idiot.
Toby really needs to utilise the deaths before someone else steals his idea. He envisages his Campus Killer console game, the hypothetical player able to choose between being the killer or a student target. It’s basically the same premise as his previous version, but set on a UK Uni campus instead of at a US High School. Toby thinks he’s onto a winner, making reality a fantasy.
Alone in her flat, Kel types the names of Irina, Sarah, Seb, Caitlin, Mike and Toby. She composes the group message and sends it:
‘Hi Guys, I’m messaging you because I think we are connected to the deaths of Charlene, Grace and Amy. This is not a hoax. So please read on. Including the dead women, the ten of us all have (or had) the same mutual friends on Facebook. My strong belief is that people are being killed because they are so well liked in terms of social media. As Caitlin can verify, I’ve done the research and am pretty sure one of us is the next intended victim. I propose that we pre-empt the killer, set up one of ourselves as bait and catch him in our trap. Of course, this is a risk, but one worth taking. If you are prepared to help, let me know. Kel.’
Kel has no idea if her plan will work. It could fail straight away. Maybe Seb or Sarah will take her message immediately to the police. Or maybe Toby will demonstrate that in fact he’s not the killer. She’s put things in place though to make it a calculated gamble. Caitlin is already primed, as is Irina. Kel sent Irina a PM first and it was as if the artist was waiting for Kel to get in contact:
‘I am not surprised you have messaged me.’
‘Really? How did you know I’d get in contact?’
‘Not you exactly, just that something would happen. Let’s call it Russian intuition. So tell me…’
Kel told Irina the plan she previously outlined to Caitlin. Without any hesitation, Irina wrote:
‘I will do it.’
‘Yes, I will start on the project now. This is emergency art, the art of life and death. If my work contributes to the prevention of more women being killed, it will be worth it.’
A notification pops up on Kel’s laptop screen. The first person in the group to reply to Kel’s proposal is Seb:
‘I understand your good intentions Kel and you may well be on the right track, but we need time to digest this. Are you sure we are all connected?’
‘You can ask Caitlin. I showed her my research.’
On cue, Caitlin writes:
‘Unfortunately, it’s true.’
Seb is still cautious:
‘If it is true, we must be very careful with this information. While we take a moment to think about it, your theory should stay private.’
‘Agree best to keep private. We don’t have time to think too much though.’
Mike enters the conversation:
‘What the fuck are you guys on about?’
‘Did you read the whole message?’
‘Not really. Something about one of us being the next victim yea? Well the killer will have a hard time killing me. Anyway, it’s like only women he’s killed so far.’
‘So far, yes. But yes, I think a woman is the most likely target. It will also be someone who gets a lot of FB likes. That rules out Caitlin and me too really. So most probably we’re looking at Irina or Sarah.’
As if hearing her name, Sarah joins the conversation:
‘I was trying to sleep when I saw all the messages. If it’s really true Kel, it’s terrifying. We need to contact the police. I am alone here in a cottage in the middle of the Cotswolds!’
Well done, thinks Kel, you’ve just given the killer a clearer idea of where you are. But she writes a more soothing response:
‘Sarah, the three deaths so far were all on campus, so I don’t think you’re the primary target.’
‘So I’m just a secondary target?’
‘Not even that if Irina is prepared to be the bait.’
As planned, Irina comes in at just the right moment and types her message to the group:
‘I will do it.’
Sarah isn’t happy for anyone to be bait:
‘Irina, this isn’t something any of us should be doing.’
Irina is insistent:
‘I think Kel’s theory is very compelling. We have a higher chance of catching the killer in this way than by leaving it to the police.’
Mike gives his input:
‘You can say that again.’
‘I can set up some provocative photos, try to get as many likes as possible. What timeframe are we looking at?’
‘If we aim for tomorrow night, we can get ourselves prepared.’
Seb tries to reason:
‘If we really do this, we should at least have police back up.’
‘They’ll never give it Seb. They’ll say it’s too risky.’
‘Which it is.’
‘You don’t have to take part.’
There is a pause in the conversation. What pleases Kel is that no-one has questioned there being a killer on campus or that the killer’s reason for murder is down to social media jealousy. Mike is the first to continue:
‘I’m in. Let’s catch the fucker.’
‘I’m sorry Kel, but I am unable to take part. It goes against the grain of mindfulness.’
‘Ok, but you can’t tell the police.’
‘Fine, as long as you keep me informed. As soon as you see anything suspicious, you call me so I can call the police.’
‘Deal. Sarah, is that ok with you too?’
‘I don’t know if I can promise that.’
‘We will have Mike, me and Caitlin waiting. Plus Irina. The killer can’t take out all four of us.’
‘If he harms just one of you, it’s one too many.’
‘The killer has to be stopped Sarah.’
‘Oh God, ok. But as Seb said, you must promise to call the police the very second you have sight of the killer.’
‘I promise. And remember, he might not even turn up. I’m the first to admit my plan isn’t fail-proof. So everyone in agreement?’
‘What about Toby?’
Kel is of course conscious that Toby hasn’t taken part in the conversation, but she’s left it to Caitlin to bring up his name. Does his absence show him up? Or does it just mean he’s not read the conversation? Toby himself answers the second question:
‘I’m here. Took me awhile to get through all the chat. So you’re planning to catch the killer by making Irina get lots of likes? And that’s supposed to drive the killer into a frenzy and want to kill her?’
‘He’s killed three well-liked women so far. He’s going to do it again. If we can provoke him, I think he’ll bite.’
‘Well let me know how it goes. My guess is the killer is a bit more clever than that.’
‘You think so?’
‘Sure of it. But good luck with your Scooby Doo plan.’
With that, Toby quits the group. How dismissive was that, thinks Kel. She must have got under his skin though. She wonders how much the others made of it. Mike makes his thoughts clear:
‘What an A-hole.’
On that note, Kel tells the others she is glad they’re in agreement and will be in touch before tomorrow night. Turning away from her laptop, Kel calls Caitlin straight away:
‘How do you think it went?’
‘Pretty much as expected.’
‘Yea. Seb and Sarah were never going to take part. Let’s just hope they keep their promise and don’t call the police. Mike’s on board, no doubt to prove what a man he is. But that’s ok because we need him. Irina is already prepping. And Toby’s reaction sets him apart.’
‘Could just mean he wants nothing to do with it.’
‘Then we’ll find out.’
‘Are you really planning for tomorrow night?’
‘No. We do it tonight. Irina’s going to post her photos any minute. I’ll message Mike so he can join me at Irina’s studio. I thought you could watch Toby’s building, let us know if he leaves it and is on his way to us. That cool?’
There is a second before Caitlin replies:
‘As soon as. Do you know which block is his?’
‘Yea, he’s in the same building as someone on my course.’
‘You’ll need to find a place to stand unseen.’
‘Right. On my way then. Let’s hope this works.’
Kel ends the call and sends a PM to Mike with the revised schedule. It’s all fine with him. Kel’s plan is in place, each person only knowing as much as they need to. She pockets her phone, gets what she needs ready.
In a police visit to one of the criminology lectures, she nabbed a pepper spray on display for a bet. She puts it in her jacket pocket. Should she bring a weapon? Apart from girl on girl hair pulling in school, Kel’s never been in a real fight. She thinks she can hold her own, but will she be prepared to kill someone if she has to?
If she brings a knife, there is more that can go wrong. There will be her, Mike and Irina. Mike is a big guy and Irina has a Russian ferociousness. Plus Irina’s studio will be full of potential weapons. Between them, they will handle Toby if he comes calling. Kel exits her flat and sets off to Irina’s studio.
Kel and Mike sit on the floor in the dark, backs against the wall. They’re hidden from the studio by a moveable screen that Irina uses to hang up ideas on. Irina is in the middle of the studio, sat on a stool as she types on her laptop. To get into the scene, she is acting as if she doesn’t know the other two are there.
Irina posted her work an hour earlier. It’s nearly midnight now, but most students are still awake so Irina’s teaser trailer is already getting a big response. The caption is:
‘Who’s afraid of the Campus Killer? Not me.’
The first image if of the empty campus at night, from the photo Irina took on her phone a few hours ago. This is spliced with an image of a sharp hunting knife Irina took from Google. The knife cutting into the darkness several times. Hitchcock would have been proud. The trailer finishes with a selfie video of Irina on her bed, her eyes closed. She opens her eyes, looks into camera and beckons with one hand. The screen goes black and words appear:
‘Catch a killer. Live screening tomorrow night.’
As always, a lot of people applaud Irina’s work. However, not everyone is drawn to it:
‘Bit too commercial Irina.’
Another person disagrees:
‘I like it. Echoes of Psycho.’
And someone else finds it offensive:
‘Irina, I love your work, but isn’t this going too far? It feels disrespectful to the three dead women.’
Irina responds to this:
‘I have the utmost respect for the dead women. It is the killer I don’t have respect for. Like all bullies, the killer is a coward. We cannot live in fear, so I am challenging the killer to be brave and show his face tomorrow night.’
While Irina is replying to comments, Kel and Mike adjust their uncomfortable positions. Kel is happy to stay silent, but Mike finds the silence daunting. In a low voice, he says:
‘Why are we here tonight if the plan is for tomorrow?’
Kel whispers back:
‘If the killer thinks the set-up is tomorrow, he will try and surprise tonight. He’s not stupid enough to walk into a trap unless he doesn’t know it’s there.’
‘I’m not stupid either. You think it’s Seb or Toby, don’t you?’
Kel shrugs in the darkness. Mike says:
‘Come on, that’s why you PM’d me, but not those two.’
‘Maybe I just wanted you here for your biceps.’
Mike turns to face Kel, tries to read her face in the dark. He can’t tell if she’s being sarcastic. He says:
‘I know it was you who lead the police to me in the gym.’
‘And I wasn’t guilty.’
‘I made a mistake. Shit happens.’
‘I could have gone to prison.’
‘Not if you’re not guilty.’
‘You think the police didn’t want to bust my black ass?’
‘Mike, give it up. You spent a few hours being questioned, that’s all. The important thing is to catch the killer, which we won’t do by chatting all night so he can hear we’re here.’
Mike gets the message. This Kel has some balls on her, way she talks. She’s not Mike’s type, but her no-nonsense attitude has made him a bit excited. A quick blow job behind the screen wouldn’t go amiss. It doesn’t take much brains though to see that isn’t going to happen. And her words have actually made him think. He hates to say it, but maybe Kel’s right. Catching the killer is more important than feeling aggrieved at the police. Mike hunkers down and waits in silence.
Kel silently breathes a sigh of relief. Mike has finally shut up. His top heavy gym body doesn’t do it for her and his fake gangster patter does her head in. She really hopes he’s not all talk, that if push comes to shove, Mike will fight the killer not just flex his biceps for the camera. If the killer turns up. Will Irina’s provocation get to the killer’s ego? That’s the question.
Irina hears Kel and Mike’s whispered voices die out. There is only the sound of her typing on her laptop as she replies to comments on her post. The response is continually growing. Irina pictures students shut up in their rooms, scared of the campus killer and unable to sleep but eager to participate online. Irina doesn’t feel afraid, but she can sense the tension. It seems to have seeped into the studio.
Irina stops typing. The studio is silent.
From behind the screen, Kel and Mike are alert in their frozen positions. Both of them thinking the same thing. Why has Irina stopped typing? Has she heard something? Seen something? Has the killer somehow managed to slip in to the studio and killed her?
On her stool, Irina starts typing again. She must appear natural if the killer does make an appearance.
In their dark corner, Kel and Mike’s bodies relax. No action is required just yet.
The waiting goes on for almost another hour. Kel stretches her legs to ensure she doesn’t get cramp. Maybe the killer isn’t going to turn up. Should she call it off?
A thump on the studio door makes all three inside jump.
Kel and Mike stay rooted to the wall, tense and ready.
Irina turns her head, for the first time feeling the fear.
The thump is replaced by a knocking. Not expecting this, Irina is undecided whether to go to the door.
To Kel, it instantly becomes clear. She’s been right. The killer is someone who knows his victims. That’s how he gains access. Nobody is frightened of him. He appears, women don’t suspect and Toby kills.
Irina walks to the studio door, puts her hand on the handle, ready to yank open the door and move out of harm’s way. She says:
‘Who is it?’
‘It’s me, Caitlin.’
Irina pulls open the door and Caitlin enters quickly. Getting her breath, Caitlin starts talking:
‘Sorry, my phone died. I couldn’t text or call. Toby hasn’t left his room all night. In fact he’s been in the same position for hours. It’s weird, like he’s asleep against his computer or something.’
Kel comes out from behind the screen, Mike behind her. Kel says:
‘What the fuck Caitlin?’
‘I’m sorry Kel. But I’ve been there for three hours. He hasn’t moved. I couldn’t go any closer to check, I didn’t want to stay there on my own any longer and I didn’t have any battery in my phone to contact you guys.’
Kel exhales. So her plan hasn’t worked. Toby hasn’t been forced to act. Unless he was acting to get rid of Caitlin. Kel shouldn’t have got Caitlin to do the job, but who else could have done it? Mike says:
‘So it’s Toby you suspect. The nerd probably fell asleep watching porn.’
‘Or it’s some kind of decoy.’
‘Well unless he turns up with a machine gun, he’s not going to take down four of us in the open.’
Kel doesn’t have a back-up plan so is unsure how to proceed. Mike is suddenly full of ideas:
‘I think we should go to his place, rouse him from his sleep, slap him about a bit and get him to talk.’
‘I might have got it wrong Mike. I don’t want him beaten for no reason.’
‘Ok, not actually slap. But four of us can put on some pressure, ask him a few questions. Like the police did with me.’
Kel nods, says her thoughts out loud:
‘And if he’s gone, we can break in. Maybe find the killer’s lair.’
Kel turns to Caitlin and Irina, says:
‘What do you two think?’
‘I don’t want to let you down. I couldn’t check on my own. But if you all go, I will too.’
Kel looks at Irina, who has been unusually quiet and deep in thought. Irina returns the look, says:
‘I can sense death nearby. We should go to Toby’s place, but with caution.’
Kel, Caitlin, Irina and Mike stalk through the campus to Toby’s block. What a motley crew, thinks Kel. As Toby said, more Scooby Doo than professional serial killer hunters.
It’s 2am and the campus is deserted. Kel wonders how much it would take for the place to be turned into a dystopian nightmare, gangs prowling at night in search of the killer while others stay hidden away in fear.
The group of four come to a stop opposite Toby’s block. Caitlin points out his flat:
‘It’s the ground floor one, there.’
They creep closer. All the lights in the building are off. Through Toby’s window, there is a faint glow of light from a computer screen. Kel edges ahead, looks through the window. A figure is slumped head down in front of the computer screen. She turns to the others, says:
‘Looks like he’s still asleep.’
‘Then let’s wake him.’
The others shrug in agreement. Kel steps forward, taps on the window. The figure inside doesn’t move. Kel bunches her knuckles, knocks hard on the glass. Still no movement from Toby. Behind Kel, Mike says:
‘He can’t be that deep a sleeper.’
No, thinks Kel, he can’t. Doubt eats at her. Is it a decoy or was she wrong about Toby? Is he a victim, not a killer? Please say she isn’t going to find another dead body. Kel puts on her phone torch light, scans the window. It’s shut, but not locked. She tries to open it, but can’t. Turning to the others, she says:
‘We need to get in. The window’s not locked.’
‘Do you think it’s safe?’
‘Caitlin, I don’t think he’s sleeping.’
‘He’s either dead or it’s a decoy. Let’s get the window open and find out.’
Mike steps forward. He grasps the edge of the window, strains to pull it open. To no avail. Irina motions for Mike to step aside. She takes out an art scalpel, inserts it between the window frame and levers the window open a few millimetres. Enough to squeeze in her fingers and open the window. Putting her scalpel away, Irina says:
‘The scalpel is mightier than the muscle.’
‘I’m not going to ask why you’ve got that on you.’
‘Do you think I would be defenceless bait for a killer?’
Kel accepts the answer. There are other things to deal with. Like seeing if Toby is dead at his computer. She climbs in through the window, drops to the floor inside. The slumped figure still doesn’t move. Kel shines her phone light on the figure and sees why.
Taking two strides forward, Kel grabs at the jacket. It’s stuffed with a pillow and held up with a coat hanger, a hat stuffed with socks on the curled hook.
Fuck, thinks Kel. She got it right. Toby has set up a decoy. She calls out of the window:
‘It’s a dummy.’
Without waiting to hear what the others have to say, Kel finds the light switch and turns it on. She buzzes the others in and opens the door to Toby’s flat. With the four of them inside the small space, Kel says:
‘Ok, so Toby’s gone and he’s set us up. Either he’s gone into hiding or he’s gone after Seb or Sarah.’
Kel calls Seb, who answers half asleep:
‘Toby’s done a runner. If he comes to you, don’t let him in.’
Kel cuts off the rest of Seb’s sentence by ending the call. She says to the others:
‘What about Sarah? I don’t have her number.’
Caitlin gets out her phone, says:
‘I have it.’
Caitlin make the call, gets no answer. While she types a text, Kel says to Irina and Mike:
‘We need to look for clues as to where he’s gone.’
Irina checks the kitchen, finds nothing apart from perfectly aligned cutlery and utensils. Mike looks under the bed, finds nothing except for an empty console box. Kel searches the desk, where there is no paper or notes. Because, thinks Kel, he kept it all on his mac. Which of course is password protected. What did Kel expect? That the walls would be covered with the killer’s evil plan? This is real life, not the movies.
Caitlin gets a bleep on her phone. She sighs in relief, says:
‘Sarah’s a bit freaked out, but she’s fine.’
Kel nods. She points over Caitlin’s shoulder to the built-in wardrobe, says:
‘What about in there?’
‘I haven’t checked.’
Caitlin pockets her phone, opens the wardrobe and shrieks as Toby’s body tumbles onto the floor. The scissors in Toby’s throat make it very clear he’s not alive.
17th November 2019