Each Sunday, Cal Smyth‘s social media thriller Like, Love, Kill is serialised via Crime Cymru. Here is the final episode…
As Kel steps out of the art studio, she mentally goes over her previous notes on Irina. Just in case there is anything she has missed. Is there someone who would know Irina’s contacts and would bear a grudge? A name jumps out at her: Rupert Wilkinson, former art patron of UCASS. After Irina’s art-sex video, she gained renown while he lost his position. The man just might have vengeful feelings.
Kel googles Rupert Wilkinson on her phone. The most recent reference to his name is in a Gloucester Evening Post article a year earlier. The headline is:
‘Former UCASS Art Patron Vanishes.’
Kel reads the article:
‘Rupert Wilkinson, former art patron of UCASS, has been declared missing after he failed to turn up to court for divorce proceedings. His estranged wife, Camilla Wilkinson filed for divorce following a video of Mr Wilkinson having sex with artist Irina Zhivova. The video was part of an art work by Ms Zhivova, who is highly respected in the art world. Mr Wilkinson was forced to resign from his position and banned from entering UCASS campus. On several occasions, police were called to the Wilkinson family home to deal with Mr Wilkinson’s erratic behaviour and he was ordered to stay away from the premises. Police are not treating his disappearance as suspicious, but are asking for him to make his whereabouts known.’
So, thinks Kel, the man’s life was really fucked up by Irina’s video. One day, he’s a respected art patron. The next, he’s lost his position, home and wife. How could he not be angry?
Kel turns around and knocks on Irina’s door again. Irina opens up, gives Kel an impatient grunt. Kel says:
‘What about him?’
‘Don’t you think he might harbour a grievance?’
‘Rupert? I haven’t seen him since one year ago.’
‘Nobody has. Do you know that he was kicked out of his home, then didn’t turn up to court when his wife filed for divorce? He just vanished.’
‘What happens to his life is of no consequence to me. There is no sympathy from my side. In the name of art, I allowed him to use my body. If he was not able to foresee the consequences, it is not my fault.’
‘I’m not questioning what you did. But don’t you think it gives him motive for revenge?’
‘That’s a possibility I guess. But then why would he kill others instead of me?’
‘Maybe he holds a grudge against UCASS. He can no longer be here, so murders those who still are. He would know the campus well to get to people.’
‘But if he was seen on campus, the police would be called.’
‘Maybe he’s in hiding nearby and sneaks in at night. Did he have a place he liked to go to near here?’
‘He was not my lover Kel. It was a one-off event for my MA. We didn’t have a lover’s dacha we went to regularly.’
‘Did he mention any place he went with his wife?’
‘Not that I can recall. He used to have a desk in the gallery office. Perhaps we could search his belongings for clues. He never collected them, so they are still in boxes.’
‘Ok, why not.’
Irina shuts the studio door behind her and walks with Kel to the gallery in the adjoining building.
Entering through the sliding glass doors, the first thing Kel sees is a huge, blown-up photo of Irina standing in the empty gallery, Irina’s back to camera as she faces a space on the wall where the photo now hangs. It’s part of a series, depicting Irina as ‘The Unknown Artist’.
It’s the first time Kel’s been into the gallery, not really being into art. She thinks she would feel self-conscious with so many photos of herself on display. Irina, however, strides through the empty gallery without a glance at her own art.
With Kel on Irina’s tail, the artist opens a door marked ‘Gallery Manager’ and walks straight in. A hippyish looking woman in her late forties looks up from her phone that she is hunched over. She smiles, says:
‘Oh hi Irina, I didn’t know you were coming in today. Is everything…?’
Irina cuts the gallery manager short:
‘We are looking for the boxes belonging to Rupert Wilkinson.’
‘Oh, right. They’re in the cabinet…’
While Irina heads to the cabinet, the gallery manager puts her hand out for Kel, gives her a bright smile as she says:
‘Hi, I’m Kath. I’m the gallery manager. This is why I love working here. You simply never know what new idea an artist might come up with. Better than looking at Facebook. All that stuff about the campus killer, it’s quite mind-boggling.’
The woman is obviously a chatterbox who spends a lot of time on her own, thinks Kel. She turns to help Irina with the boxes. As they open them the boxes up, Kath says:
‘I know I’m going to sound as if I’m loopy, but sometimes I swear the boxes have been moved around in the cabinet. And when I open the cabinet, I get a smell of old socks. Did you smell it?’
Kath wrinkles her nose to show what she means. Kel looks at her askance, thinking yes she is a bit loopy. But then Kath says:
‘Then again, I also think my food goes missing from the fridge. I mean, I know there’s no-one else working here, so who could take my cous cous salad? Must just be me forgetting where I left it.’
Kel and Irina share a glance. Kel says:
‘I know what you are thinking. Let’s process the idea first.’
‘His boxes are moved, the smell of old socks, food missing. He’s hiding on the premises.’
‘We have misjudged before remember. And without wanting to cause offence, I am not sure Kath’s memory is the most reliable.’
Kath is looking between Kel and Irina, her eyes wide as she says:
‘You think Rupert Wilkinson is here?’
‘Does the gallery have a storeroom, something like that?’
‘Yes, it’s in the basement.’
‘Who has the keys?’
Kel and Irina turn to Kath. She looks at the other two women, says:
‘Yes, yes, I have the key. I hardly ever go down there. In fact the last time I went to the basement was with Irina when we were getting her exhibition ready.’
The three women make their way to the basement door. Behind Kath’s back, Irina takes out her scalpel. Kel gives a nod of acknowledgement.
Kath opens the door and flicks on the strip lights, which stutter on one by one, brightness illuminating the basement. It’s not like some old scary basement covered with cobwebs. With UCASS so new, the place is filled with potential gallery equipment that has never been used. There are moveable screens, several projectors and unopened boxes marked ‘illuminators’, ‘adhesives’, ‘labels’.
‘Half of this stuff has never been touched.’
‘It was all ordered when UCASS opened. There has been one resident artist per year, so most of it hasn’t been needed.’
Kel thinks the stuff must be worth thousands. Maybe that’s where some of the Uni fees have gone. She turns her head, says:
‘Did you hear that?’
‘A kind of shuffling sound.’
Kel picks up a staple gun from a shelf, leads the other two women through a corridor of boxes and plinths. She holds up a hand for the other two to stop.
Kath sniffs the air, says:
With the staple gun ready to fire, Kel edges around a display stand.
A shape is huddled in the corner, wrapped in plastic sheeting. A man’s face looks out at Kel, unkempt hair and beard covering the gaunt features. Irina looks over Kel’s shoulder, says:
The man is wide-eyed in terror. He pushes himself back against the wall, whimpers and tries to hide under the plastic. Irina strides forward, grabs off the plastic sheeting. Rupert Wilkinson cowers on the floor, curling into a foetus position. The odour of old socks wafts off him. Rupert’s clothes hang off his bones. This is hardly a man anymore.
Irina shakes her head and walks off in disgust. Kath just stares at the emaciated figure and holds her nose. Kel puts the staple gun down.
Rupert Wilkinson is so weak, he can’t possibly be the campus killer. He’s more terrified of Irina than a threat to anyone. By the look of it, he’s been holed up in the basement for a year. Malnourished, he needs to get to hospital. And after that possibly to a mental health clinic. Kel says to Kath:
‘You better call an ambulance to take him away.’
‘You’re the gallery manager.’
Kel leaves Kath to deal with the matter. Exiting the gallery, Kel sees Irina disappear into her studio. The artist has clearly had enough wild goose chases. Kel knows the feeling, but she still needs to question Mike.
Walking away from the art gallery, Kel gives Mike a call:
‘Hey Mike, look I’m going over everything. You free to have a quick chat?’
‘Sure girl. I’m in the gym if you alright to come here.’
‘Be there in ten.’
Kel rolls her eyes as she ends the call. Did he actually just say ‘sure girl’? And of course he’s in the gym. Sarah, Seb and Irina might have been badly affected by a fourth murder, but not Mike. She just hopes to fuck he isn’t going to make her ask questions while he pumps iron. She’ll drop a weight on his foot if he does. In front of all his mates.
Entering the gym, Kel is surprised to find Mike sitting by the lockers. He doesn’t even look like he’s been sweating. On the table in front of Mike is his phone, which he absently spins. Mike nods at Kel, gestures to chair and says:
‘Get yourself seated in my crib.’
‘Was a joke, yo.’
Is Mike laughing at himself? That would be new, thinks Kel. She’s tempted to walk off straight away. Because would a killer really talk like Mike? Why not? Maybe Mike’s part of some gym buddy betting syndicate, seeing who can kill the most people. Fanciful, but you never know. Kel senses a different side to Mike under his banter façade, so she sits and says:
‘So Toby’s murder hasn’t stopped you getting back on the weights.’
Mike leans across the table, making sure no-one else can hear as he says:
‘Tell you truth, I’ve been sitting here for an hour doing fuck all. Not focused to do weights, know what I mean.’
Mike points at Kel, says:
‘Yea, you were right.’
‘About the murders being more important than my grievances.’
Mike gives his phone a spin, puts his hand on top to stop it and explains:
‘I started checking stuff earlier, but then I stopped. Who’s interested in me blabbing like a baby because I was questioned by the police? No-one anymore. Four people dead is serious shit. That’s what everyone wants to know about. And another thing I can tell you, Grace’s death hurts me more than anyone knows.’
Mike pauses. Kel isn’t sure she can listen to another person’s monologue of self-pity, but Mike hasn’t finished:
‘I came here this eve, but then as soon as I saw the weights, I thought fuck Mr UCASS. That isn’t important either. Who gives a fuck full stop. I mean, we’re in the middle of some horror movie, but for real. What the fuck is happening to this campus?’
Mike’s spoken thoughts sound heartfelt, thinks Kel. A delayed reaction about his ex girlfriend’s murder is natural. And his re-thinking of what is important comes across as genuine. Kel knows he didn’t kill Charlene, Grace or Amy. So it’s just if he did Toby. She’s half-hearted about asking for an alibi:
‘Mike, I’ve got to ask. Where were you when Toby was killed?’
Mike can’t believe it, says:
‘You’re suspecting me again?’
‘I’m double-checking everyone.’
‘I was here. Anyone can tell you.’
Mike looks around, calls to one of his gym buddies, who struts over. Mike says to his mate:
‘Hey J, wasn’t I here about seven last night?’
Kel refrains from rolling her eyes at the guys’ language. She says:
‘It needs more than your mate’s word for it. Got any evidence so I can cross your name off?’
Mike says to his buddy:
‘Didn’t we video some of it?’
Mike’s buddy gets out his phone, finds the video and plays it. Kel can see Mike lifting weights. The clock on the wall behind Mike shows the time as 6.56. After a few minutes, Kel has seen enough. She can’t watch any more of Mike’s strained face or listen to his grunts. She puts her hands up in surrender, says:
‘Ok, that’s great. I get the picture.’
Mike’s buddy says:
‘You ready to do a set?’
Mike shakes his head, says:
‘Na blud, gonna have to call it quits today innit.’
As Mike’s buddy makes to leave, he looks at his phone, says:
‘Blud, check out the copycats.’
‘Yea, I saw.’
Kel asks Mike:
‘You remember the Killer Clowns hoaxes? Students started doing the same with the Campus Killer, pretending to be the killer at different Unis and scaring the shit out of people. Some sick fucks out there.’
Modern life is fucking sick, thinks Kel. And Mike seems to have gone all brooding. When Kel exits the gym, Mike is still sitting by the lockers and has gone back to spinning his phone. Kel thinks everyone has got seriously fucked up. And her investigation has yet again hit a wall.
Outside the gym entrance, Kel remembers a question she wanted to ask Mike. One rumour that previously went around was that Amy killed Grace in a lover’s tiff. Kel gave the rumour short shrift at the time. Later, Caitlin told Kel that Amy was bi-sexual and one time a girl called Nia came into Campus Café, the two of them swapping numbers. It’s a long shot, but Kel has exhausted all other leads.
Kel can’t be bothered to go back inside the gym, so gives Mike a call. She sees him through the glass entrance pick up his phone. As soon as he answers, Kel says:
‘I forgot to ask, what about that rumour of Grace and Amy being lovers. You think there’s anything in it?’
‘Not really. Amy was bi though and there’s a girl called Nia we could check up on. Do you think Grace knew her?’
‘Never heard of her.’
‘Ok, it was a tenuous link anyway.’
‘Wait a minute, I had a Tinder match called Nia. I deleted her because she was taking the piss.’
This gets Kel’s attention:
‘Taking the piss how?’
‘Said my lines were clichés.’
Kel rolls her eyes, says:
‘Not the point. You don’t start a Tinder chat only to fuck off the other person.’
Kel doesn’t think Mike having his chat up lines dissed is much cause for alarm, but she asks anyway:
‘Remember what she looks like?’
‘She was pretty hot.’
‘Er, could you be more specific? Blonde? Brunette? Petite? Big tits?’
‘Ok, ok, you don’t let up do you. She had a nose ring, I remember that.’
‘Ok, that’s something to go on. Cheers.’
Kel ends the call and sends a message to Caitlin:
‘Did the Nia who gave her number to Amy have a nose ring?’
The reply comes back:
‘Yes. First year graphic design. Big tease apparently.’
Kel doesn’t know where to find Nia, but will start with the art and design block. As she makes her way there, Kel thinks she has covered more campus ground in one day than in two and a half years at UCASS.
Outside the art and design block, a group of students vape in front of a non-smoking sign. Kel wonders if it is some kind of post-ironic statement. Kel can tell they are design students rather than say business students because each person has their hair dyed a different colour and all of them have rings on their faces. Kel steps to the group, says:
‘Hi, I’m looking for Nia, first year graphic design. Anyone know where I can find her?’
A girl with a snake tattoo on her arm and jeans which are artfully ripped in several places looks Kel up and down, says:
‘Surprised you’re her type. But then you never know with Nia.’
‘From what I hear, Nia has a few types.’
‘Anyone she can string along before laughing in their face.’
‘I just need to talk to her.’
‘That’s what they all say. You’d think spurned lovers would take a day off with a killer on campus.’
Well, that’s exactly why I want to talk to Nia, thinks Kel. She’s not going to start an explanation and has lost her patience:
‘You know where I can find her or not?’
‘Alright, don’t get your knickers in a twist. Try Professor Fisher, Nia’s latest victim.’
The word victim strikes a chord with Kel. If this Nia is going around teasing people to distraction, is killing part of her modus operandi? Kel asks the girl with the snake tattoo:
‘Too much to ask where I can find Professor Fisher?’
‘Third floor. But don’t get jealous if you catch them in the act.’
Kel doesn’t bother to dispel the idea she’s a spurned lover. She enters the building, gets the lift to the third floor. She finds Professor Fisher’s name on a door and knocks. A female voice says:
Kel checks her assumption that Professor Fisher is male. She opens the door, sees a woman in her thirties perched on a desk. Wearing denim shorts over tights, the professor’s legs are crossed provocatively.
Professor Fisher immediately adjusts her position on seeing Kel, the smile leaving her face as she asks:
‘Can I help you?’
‘I’m looking for Nia. I was told I might find her here.’
The professor is instantly defensive:
‘What do you mean?’
Kel isn’t really sure how she can re-phrase it. She thought professors were supposed to be intellectual. She says:
‘Do you know where Nia is?’
‘And you are?’
‘A friend of a friend.’
‘Well then you can ask your friend for her friend’s whereabouts.’
Kel can see she isn’t going to get much joy from the professor, but makes a final attempt anyway:
‘Could I leave a message for Nia in case you see her?’
‘Do I look like a messaging service?’
No, thinks Kel, you look like a woman who’s waiting in a sexy get-up for her young student lover. Kel says:
‘Ok, I’ll try somewhere else.’
Kel backs out into the corridor, closing the professor’s door. She waits by the lift, but doesn’t press for the doors to open. If her hunch is correct, Nia will be visiting the professor very soon so Kel will see if Nia turns up.
It’s only a few minutes when the lift comes up and the doors open. A girl with a nose ring, short skirt and deliberately torn tights exits the lift. Kel has to agree with Mike. Nia is pretty hot. As Nia glances her way, Kel says:
Nia frowns, says:
‘Could I have a quick word?’
‘The girl who died. Apparently you gave her your number a few days ago.’
‘Is there a law against that?’
‘No, but you also crossed with Mike Dunbar on Tinder. I’m wondering what the connection is.’
‘Are you some kind of stalker?’
‘No, I’m trying to find out who killed Amy, Grace, Toby and Charlene.’
‘And you think I’m part of that because?’
‘Just questioning anyone who is connected.’
‘Who do you think you are, Agatha Christie?’
‘So did you have contact with Amy after you gave her your number?’
‘No, I didn’t. I checked her FB profile and she didn’t do it for me. As for Mike, yes I wound him up because he thinks he’s God’s gift to women. Was just a little payback.’
Kel easily believes Nia dismissed Amy and played a game with Mike. Her whole manner is provocative. Keeping to the tone, Kel says:
‘Professor Fisher your next victim?’
‘Are you jealous?’
‘Nope, I just want to know where you were when Amy, Grace, Charlene and Toby were murdered.’
‘I don’t have to tell you fuck all.’
‘No you don’t. You can tell it to the police when I give them your name.’
As Nia gives Kel the finger, Professor Fisher stalks out of her room, hearing the commotion. She points at Kel, says:
‘Why are you harassing my student?’
Kel has had enough of everyone’s antagonism:
‘Student or lover?’
Professor Fisher goes red, doesn’t have a reply. Kel gesturers between the professor and Nia, says:
‘Look, maybe you can provide an alibi because you were with each other. I don’t give a shit. But either you tell me or you can tell the police.’
Nia starts to laugh. She seems to enjoy how uncomfortable Professor Fisher is. Getting out her phone, Nia says:
‘You know what, just for the laugh, I actually can show you I have an alibi.’
Professor Fisher looks at her student-cum-lover, says:
‘What’s the matter, are you ashamed?’
Nia finds what she wants on her phone, shows the screen to Kel. It’s a photo of Professor Fisher in her underwear. Nia hands her phone to Kel, says:
‘Have a scroll. You’ll see the conversation went on for quite awhile last night.’
While Professor Fisher stands fuming to the side, Kel scrolls through a series of photos and sexting messages between the professor and Nia. The time frame rules Nia out as Toby’s killer. Nia likes to provoke and humiliate her lovers, but she’s not a murderer. Kel hands the phone back to Nia, says:
‘I’ll leave you two to it.’
Kel walks with purpose back to her block. She hasn’t discovered anything new, simply ruled out four people as suspects. Eight if you count Sarah’s husband, Seb’s lover Neel, former art patron Rupert Wilkinson and provocateur Nia. Exhausted, Kel wants to be inside her flat before it gets dark. Other students are also heading to their residences, people not wanting to be outside when night falls.
Yes, there is a police presence. Unlike Seb, Kel doesn’t find it reassuring. The police can’t man every building. And the killer has the ability to enter student residences unnoticed. For the first time, Kel is fearful for her own safety.
Kel calls Caitlin as she walks. She’s not sure if it is for comfort or that she wants to confer with her friend. Either way, Caitlin doesn’t answer. Reaching her block, Kel feels relief as she enters the building.
Locking her door, Kel wonders if the new police investigating team have made any progress. And what has the profiler come up with? She checks for updates on her laptop, reads a newspiece:
‘With the investigation taken over by The Met, the police have confirmed they are looking at a serial killer on UCASS campus. According to criminal profiler, Robert Glynn, the killer is clever and able to fit in with his or her surroundings without being noticed…’
No shit, thinks Kel. She could have told the police that. She reads on:
‘Residents on campus have been urged to stay inside at night and not let anyone they don’t know inside. The Metropolitan Police will be releasing a statement shortly.’
Kel shakes her head at the screen. The killer is someone the victims know. She’s sure of that. It’s the only way the killer can get up so close to the victims. At the same time as breaking news scrolls across the screen, Kel gets several Facebook notifications on her phone. She checks the news first:
‘Curfew imposed on UCASS campus from 7pm.’
A glance at Facebook tells Kel that the curfew is what everyone is talking about:
‘Curfew! Keep the Campus Killer out!’
‘Curfew? What is this, a Uni campus or a Nazi camp?’
‘Is it Nazi to keep the killer away? Police just trying to make us safe.’
‘LOL. Police have no idea how to catch the killer.’
‘All curfew does is make us sitting targets while the police stand around outside!’
So the curfew hasn’t gone down well. But Kel bets everyone sticks to it. A quick look out of her window and she can see the campus is almost empty already. Kel calls Caitlin again and again gets no answer. She starts to worry for her friend, hopes Caitlin’s inside her student residence.
Could Caitlin be the next victim? Or has she already been killed and that’s why she isn’t answering? Kel checks the time. She has an hour before curfew. She could go to Caitlin’s place, check her friend is ok.
And then another thought enters Kel’s mind. A horrible feeling of dread spreads through Kel’s body. Caitlin is the only person on Kel’s list of ten that she hasn’t researched or questioned. Caitlin has never been suspected because she would be the least likely killer. But everyone must be checked.
Kel goes onto Caitlin’s timeline. As with Sarah, Seb, Irina and Mike, Caitlin hasn’t posted anything since yesterday. Kel doesn’t have long before curfew, so needs to search for any suspicious activity quickly.
Caitlin only has a few hundred friends, all from Uni by the looks of it. She’s never been a frequent poster and her comments are thoughtful, not sparking any heated debates. Doesn’t matter if the topic is Brexit, Trump becoming President or the sexualisation of women, Caitlin never offers a very strong opinion. Kel always had Caitlin down as a thoughtful person, but actually she is incredibly passive. There is nothing to arouse suspicion at all. This is suspicious in itself, thinks Kel. Everyone has some secret or gets angry about something.
The only time Kel detects a hint of ire in Caitlin is to do with a shared post about the Young British Novelist Awards, entitled:
‘If your novel isn’t diverse, it won’t be eligible for a YBN Award.’
The post garners a lot of comments, so Kel checks the link and reads:
‘In an incredibly bold move, the Young British Novelist awarding body announced that works which do not demonstrate inclusivity will no longer be eligible for nomination. From 2017, characters and themes must appeal to underrepresented readers if an aspiring author wishes to be considered for the prestigious prize.’
Someone has commented:
‘Does diverse just mean black?’
Another person has replied:
‘Inclusivity is much more broad, hence the term. It is not just about the colour of a character but also themes such as LGBT.’
It’s here that Caitlin chips in:
‘I think inclusivity and diversity are both vital, but to play devil’s advocate, what if I would like to write a novel about a white working class community, say for example in a former coal-mining village where the main characters are all heterosexual males. Should I as a writer be discriminated against? Do I have to write about certain characters and themes because YBN demands it?’
This gets a slightly scathing reply from the previous poster:
‘Some young authors will no doubt lean on the tired crutch of ‘artistic freedom’ to label YBN as intrusive. They will simply be proving they’re not quite as imaginative as they claim to be.’
There is no strong comeback from Caitlin:
‘Not my opinion, just putting myself in some writers’ shoes.’
And that’s the end of that literary argument. Kel wants to laugh at how tame it is. If it was her, she would have told the other person to use her imagination about where she could shove her inclusivity. Kel doesn’t care what colour, race or sexuality a person is, but thinks the world has gone politically correct crazy.
Kel tries to remember how her and Caitlin became friends. Who friended who? If she recalls, Caitlin liked a comment of Kel’s and after that they started chatting. Caitlin is easy to talk to. Everyone likes Caitlin. Though she’s not superliked because she isn’t sexy or outrageous or successful. There is nothing Kel can glean from Caitlin’s timeline.
And then Kel spies the anomaly.
Caitlin’s Facebook page has existed for less than three years, basically since she started at UCASS. There is nothing about Caitlin’s past or family or friends before Uni. Thinking about it, Kel realises that they’ve never had a conversation about Caitlin’s past. Caitlin talks about her writing, books and lectures, but mostly she’s a good listener. Kel doesn’t even know where Caitlin is from. If Caitlin’s past is hidden, maybe her present is a lie.
Kel hates to admit it, but Caitlin fits the killer’s profile. She is undoubtedly clever. She’s also someone that everyone would let into their residence. Kel has no idea what Caitlin’s motive would be, but right now that’s not important. Checking the time, Kel sees she has ten minutes before curfew. She calls Caitlin a third time. Again there is no answer. Kel has to get to Caitlin’s flat. Whether to find Caitlin has been a victim or is in fact the killer, Kel doesn’t know.
Kel jogs fast to Caitlin’s block, daylight fading by the minute. There are no other students out. A police officer on the corner watches Kel, but she doesn’t stop until she reaches Caitlin’s building.
Getting her breath, Kel presses the intercom buzzer. Caitlin doesn’t answer. Kel tries the flat number next to Caitlin’s. A female voice answers:
‘Hi, I’m trying to see Caitlin, but she’s not answering.’
‘Do you live in this block?’
‘Then you need to go to your residence.’
The intercom cuts off. The curfew is working. People are scared and not letting anyone in. Kel thinks. She has a fellow criminology student who lives in the block. Erin’s her first name. What’s her surname?
Kel scans the intercom box. Stokes, that’s it. Kel presses the intercom buzzer and Erin comes on:
‘Who is it?’
‘Hey Erin, it’s Kel. I was too far from my flat so need to get inside before the curfew.’
‘Going to stay with Caitlin but she’s not answering, must be in the shower.’
Erin buzzes Kel in.
Kel runs up the stairs to Caitlin’s second floor flat, stops in the hallway. Caitlin’s door is half open. Normally, student residence blocks are filled with the sound of music, laughter and fucking. Tonight, it is silent. Remaining in the hallway, Kel pushes open the door and calls:
There’s no answer. Stepping inside the flat, Kel can see Caitlin’s laptop is open and on. Next to it on the table is Caitlin’s notebook. There’s no running water, but Kel checks the shower anyway. Caitlin isn’t inside.
Kel squats, looks under the bed. Nothing. She strides to the wardrobe, yanks open the door. Only clothes. As Kel knows from her own flat, there is nowhere else for someone to hide or be hidden.
There is no body and there are no signs of a struggle so it doesn’t look like Caitlin has been a victim. But where is she? Why is her laptop on and the front door open?
Maybe Caitlin has gone to a friend in another flat. In which case, Kel just has to wait. She can’t knock on every door. But Kel is too impatient. She looks at the laptop screen. A word document is up, displaying a title page:
Like, Love, Kill.
A Social Media Murder Mystery
Kel reads the opening page. It depicts a scene in Campus Cafe, Caitlin and Amy bantering as they look at a photo on Facebook of Charlene in a nightclub, Amy saying she’d kill to have as many likes as Charlene. Kel doesn’t know if this a scene that really happened or how Caitlin imagined it.
Skipping to the end of the chapter, Kel reads the conversation she had with Caitlin as she realised it was Charlene in the canal. That was exactly the conversation they had. Kel looks at the start of chapter two, reads about herself on the canal. That too is pretty accurate, though she doesn’t think she was so upfront with Inspector Christie.
Kel goes to the end of the document. Caitlin has written nine chapters. The last lines describe Kel finding Grace with a knife in her heart. Has Caitlin documented everything that happened on campus, turning reality into fiction? Or is something more evil at work here? Has Caitlin murdered people so she can write about it?
Kel turns her attention to the notebook. Caitlin’s immaculate handwriting covers every page. Kel’s blood runs cold as she reads what’s on the open page:
‘When to reveal who the killer is? Depends when Kel discovers the truth.’
This is so fucked up, thinks Kel. Flicking through the notebook, she sees Caitlin has made notes about scenes Kel was actually in. She has become a character in Caitlin’s sick fiction.
Kel focuses. If Caitlin is the killer, who is the next victim? It’s not Sarah. She’s with her husband. Mike is too strong for Caitlin. Irina would also put up a fight and Caitlin knows Irina likes to keep a scalpel on her. So it’s Seb. Kel calls him, gets no answer. She calls Inspector Christie, gets his voicemail too. Kel leaves a message:
‘The killer is Caitlin. The next victim is Seb. I’m going there now.’
She just has to hope Inspector Christie acts on her words, not dismisses them. She could run out and get the attention of a police officer, but it will take too long to explain. She has to get to Seb before he’s killed. And she has to do it in the curfew. Kel makes her way down to the exit when a call comes through from Caitlin.
Kel hesitates. She wants to be composed and not reveal what she’s found out. Kel answers:
On the other end of the phone, Caitlin whispers:
‘Kel, it’s Seb. He’s the killer…’
‘What? Where are you?’
The phone goes dead. Kel calls back but it’s straight to voicemail. Caitlin’s words have completely thrown her. As if that’s not enough of a mindfuck, a text from Seb bleeps on her phone:
‘If you would like Caitlin to live, come to my place. 5 mins. Alone.’
As Kel exits the residence, the entrance light clicks off, making her jump. She calms herself, stays still in the dark, lets her eyes adjust to night vision.
Kel peers around the wall. She knows a police officer is stationed by Tesco, which is lit up. She can’t attract the attention of any patrolling officer or she won’t meet the deadline. It’s too complicated to send Inspector Christie another message, saying that in fact Seb is the killer and Caitlin the next victim. If that it is even true.
There was something false about Seb’s text, didn’t seem like the language he would use. Is Seb really the killer or is Caitlin pretending to be a victim? Which of them has been lying all this time? There’s no time to think about it. Kel just has to get to Seb and Caitlin.
Kel feels like she is in some old black and white noir film as she keeps to the shadows. She makes it beyond Tesco and sets off at a fast pace. Heading down the side of the library, she’s sure she hears other footfall. Kel stops. Was that an echo of her own footsteps or is someone following her?
It could have been a trap by Seb or Caitlin to lure Kel into the darkness so that one of them can kill her. There are no longer any guidelines about who will be murdered.
Maybe Seb is working in tandem with his partner. All the messages with Neel might have been for show to put Kel off the scent when in fact they have some sort of fucked up lover’s pact to go on a killing spree. By that same logic, Seb and Caitlin might be in cahoots, the phone call and text part of a hoax. Again, a ploy to get Kel out in the open.
Kel keeps moving. She can’t let her imagination run riot. As Kel speeds up, she definitely hears other footsteps. She snatches a glance over her shoulder, thinks she sees movement in the darkness. Not looking where she’s going, Kel runs into a bin.
Kel swears under her breath, looks around wildly. A figure jumps out of the darkness, Scream mask on his face, and shouts:
Kel raises her fist, ready to lash out. But the figure dashes off, laughing as he vanishes into the darkness. A hoax. A fucking prankster. What the fuck is wrong with people? There’s no time to answer her own rhetorical question as torch light seeps around the corner, police officers alerted by the shout. Kel turns on her heel and runs.
Making it to the block Seb is housed in, Kel slips into the entrance. She takes a breath, presses the intercom button. No-one answers, but the front door is buzzed to unlock. Kel enters.
Did Seb let her in or Caitlin? Which of them is being held as the next victim and who is lying in wait as the killer?
In the hallway, all the doors are shut. Kel moves cautiously towards Seb’s door. She realises she doesn’t have anything on her to use as a weapon in case she needs to defend herself. Neither Caitlin or Seb should be underestimated. All Kel has is her phone. If thrown hard in someone’s face, it will at least cause a distraction.
It seems a stupid thing to do, but Kel knocks on the door, then calls:
It’s not Seb who answers, but Caitlin:
‘Come in Kel, we’re waiting.’
Kel holds the phone in her right hand, ready to throw. She uses her left hand to open the door.
Inside, Caitlin is standing behind Seb. With one hand, she holds his head back. With her other hand, she holds a knife to his throat. Caitlin says:
‘Are you planning to use that phone as a weapon or to capture the event on Facebook live?’
Kel doesn’t answer. She remains motionless in the doorway, computing the situation. So it was all a bluff by Caitlin, who smiles and says:
‘It’s ok, you don’t have to answer that. I have a better question: Are you in time to save Seb’s life?’
Seb stares at Kel with fear in his eyes, his hands under his thighs. Kel can’t help thinking mindfulness isn’t helping him right now. Caitlin says:
‘I told Seb if he says a word, I’ll slit his throat. Think you’ll agree, I’m a bit of an expert at that.’
Kel has to find a way to talk Caitlin down. She finds her voice:
‘Come on Caitlin, why do you want to kill him? It’s not going to change the story.’
‘You started my novel then?’
‘I read a bit, yea.’
As Kel read in her notes from criminology lectures, the longer she can keep Caitlin talking, the more chance Seb has of surviving. If Caitlin talks, she won’t be so impulsive and will maybe lose concentration. It also gives Inspector Christie time to arrive as backup, if he bloody makes it. Kel says:
‘You haven’t finished the novel, so the ending is open.’
‘True. And things can always be re-written. Though a bit difficult once a real life character is dead.’
‘This isn’t the Caitlin I know.’
‘Oh, there’s so much you don’t know about me. Not everything’s on Facebook Kel.’
‘I realise that.’
‘Well, to give you some background information, I was brought up on a smallholding by parents who decided to quit society. My mum was a failed novelist and my dad was a failed poet and in their wisdom they thought it was a good idea to do home-schooling, so my only friends were the animals we had. Incidentally, this is how I learned to kill. If a goat or chicken needs to be slaughtered, you need to get the knife right in the jugular. Anyway, as soon as I could escape their isolated life, I did. I didn’t want to be like them. Of course, I could be bullshitting you and making this up as backstory, but I want my novel to be a success.’
‘You killed four people so you could write a book about it?’
‘Why not? People post everything about their lives on social media, so why not turn real life murder into fiction. The whole social media thing was just one big red herring. I had to have a theme. See, I was a good student, took my lectures on board. I actually enjoyed playing Caitlin the Literature student. The glasses I’m wearing? Fake. I have 20-20 vision. Just part of getting into character. Never judge a book by its cover. Etc.’
‘You planned this before you started at UCASS?’
‘Actually no. I really did like being at Uni. But I was so bored with the novel I was going to write. There was no way it would be a bestseller. The idea came to me when I was walking along the canal at night. Charlene saw me go there and drunkenly followed. You know what happened? She slipped in her heels and fell in the water. On the spur of the moment, I simply kept her head under. From that moment, I was inspired.’
‘And then you set me up to investigate your murders?’
‘You should take it as a compliment. I chose you as a hero, not a victim. Though you took your time working out it was me. So, how do you think the story should end?’
‘I think there’s been enough murder.’
‘Pity I’m the author.’
Caitlin slices the knife across Seb’s throat. Blood spurts out and Seb’s eyes go wide. He tries to put a hand up to stop the blood, but Caitlin yanks his head back, opening the cut further.
With no other option, Kel throws her phone at Caitlin, who raises her arms in defence. Kel throws herself at Caitlin, the two women falling to the floor while Seb slumps forward onto the table.
The momentum is with Kel and she pins Caitlin down. The knife is still in Caitlin’s grasp. Kel grabs Caitlin’s wrist, but Caitlin is stronger than she looks and forces Kel to use all her strength. The two of the locked in a stalemate.
At the sound of footsteps, Caitlin lets go of the knife, says:
‘She’s crazy. She killed Seb and then attacked me.’
A shoe kicks the knife out of reach. Caitlin looks up to see Inspector Christie standing over them. The inspector looks between the two women. Relaxing from the struggle, Caitlin laughs:
‘Just kidding. I’m not going to relinquish my role at this stage. Come on inspector, be a hero.’
Inspector Christie cuffs Caitlin, says to Kel:
Kel nods, says:
Kel stands and turns to Seb. He is not ok, he’s dead. From her prone position, Caitlin says:
‘I know, you’re thinking why did I kill him. It was finally a chance to put some graphic violence on the page. I couldn’t before because I would have revealed who the killer was. Don’t beat yourself up Kel. You didn’t prevent a fifth murder, but you did get the killer arrested.’
Kel shuts her suitcase, looks around the flat. Her residence is bare, ready to be vacated. She sits on the bed with her laptop open, waiting for the skype call with Caitlin in five minutes’ time.
Summer has started and Kel is one of the few remaining students on campus. Final year students have left for good. First and second year students are on holiday. Kel was given an extended period to finish her dissertation due to exceptional circumstances. She submitted it this morning. She’s also been offered a traineeship with Gloucester Police as a criminal investigator. She will have two weeks’ holiday before starting her new role.
Not like Mike, who is on a six-week cruise around the Caribbean. Photos on Facebook every day of himself surrounded by a bevy of bikini clad babes. Mike didn’t compete for Mr UCASS and didn’t complete his final project. It doesn’t matter because his dad his given him a job in the family business.
Sarah also hasn’t completed her dissertation. Like Kel, she’s been given an extension, on medical grounds. But she spends her time posting photos of her ‘wonderful’ daughters rather than writing her blogs. As she comments on Facebook, domestic matters take up so much time, she’s not sure if she’ll ever be able to finish her book of blogs.
Irina has re-found her art. The owner of a gallery in New York saw Irina’s work online, loved the ‘immediacy’ of it and commissioned an exhibition. Irina spent three months madly at work and has just flown over. If her artwork is appreciated over there, she might permanently reside in the USA.
And Caitlin’s novel has become a hit summer read as an ebook. With three months in prison, Caitlin was able to write every day without distraction. A publisher snapped up the book. With all the furore on social media, publicity has hardly been needed. In an online interview, Caitlin explained about the writing process:
‘The worst thing is when you have to kill off a character you like. Take Grace for example. It would have been nice to see her and Mike’s conflict develop, but I felt it would be more shocking for her to suddenly be murdered.’
Reading the interview, Kel doesn’t know if Caitlin or the whole world is mad. It’s as if people haven’t actually been killed, Caitlin talking like they are just characters in a book. Kel has read Caitlin’s novel. She didn’t want to, but it was strangely compelling to read about herself and the others. Kel carries on reading the interview with Caitlin:
‘I had the setting of UCASS campus, I had all these amazing characters around me and I had conflicts that already existed between them. All I had to do was find the plot. I’ve always loved a murder mystery. Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes etc. So I thought I would update it to the social media era.’
Kel stops reading as the skype call comes through. She’s not sure why she agreed to it, but she accepts the call.
Caitlin appears on screen. Without her glasses and her hair back, her sharp features come to the fore. Kel thinks Caitlin could have attracted a lot more male attention if she wanted. In the cell behind Caitlin is a pair of legs belonging to a prison guard. Caitlin smiles at the camera, gestures over her shoulder and says:
‘The call is being monitored in case you’re thinking of stripping for me.’
‘I wasn’t planning on it.’
‘Pity. I never got to see your breasts.’
‘Caitlin, I’m leaving campus in half an hour. So say what you want to say.’
‘Ok, ok. It’s just my new role. You know, Lesbian Prison Bitch. Though I did always fancy you a bit. Men never really did it for me. So did you read the book?’
‘Yea, I read it.’
‘And what do you think?’
‘I think it’s sick to write about murders you committed.’
‘Come on, apart from Grace, they all deserved to die for being so fucking annoying. Toby was a woman-hating nerd. Seb did my head in with his mindfulness bullshit. Charlene was a dopey bitch. Amy, if I saw another of her fucking selfies, I would have killed her anyway. Even Grace, constantly posting about how successful she was, got on my tits. Made me sick, I tell you.’
Kel is not sure she wants to carry on the call. Professional curiosity, she tells herself. She listens as Caitlin continues:
‘It was so easy to murder them all. Not one of them suspected non-descript Caitlin to be the killer. And they were all so obsessed with their social media presence, they didn’t notice I knew them inside out. I think I captured everyone pretty well, don’t you?’
‘I didn’t kiss Inspector Christie or touch myself in the shower.’
‘So sue me. Artistic license baby. I had to throw in a bit of sexual tension.’
‘Why did you want to speak to me?’
‘Well, I’ve been offered a deal. Graduate film students from UCASS want to turn the book into a webseries. Obviously, I won’t be allowed to act in it, but I thought you would be perfect for the part of Kel.’
‘You want me to play myself based on a character which is basically me?’
‘Cool eh? It’s like post-reality TV. I’ve already made you a heroine in a novel. Now I can make you an online star.’
‘You are so fucked up.’
‘So, no. I’m starting my traineeship to be a criminal investigator. That’s my role in life, not to be an actress.’
‘Ah well, they’ll have to get someone else to play you. Hey, when you get a big case to investigate, tell me about it and I’ll turn it into a book. How’s that for a deal?’
Caitlin laughs, says:
‘Such a tough nut. Ok, my time’s up. Love you!’
Caitlin blows Kel a kiss and vanishes from the screen. Kel shakes her head as she shuts her laptop. SMH, she thinks, SMH.
1st December 2019