Authors: Simon Kernick
One week, three digital shorts.
The final part in a direct to digital short-story in a murder mystery three-part thriller from the bestselling author of
The Final Minute
Six people met together on a remote island and with a killer on the loose, only four remain.
Three have been brutally murdered in front of their eyes as a punishment for their actions on a night over twenty years ago.
But as the old school-friends start to turn on each other, will any of them leave the island alive?
is one of Britain's most exciting thriller writers. He arrived on the crime writing scene with his highly acclaimed debut novel
The Business of Dying
, the story of a corrupt cop moonlighting as a hitman. Simon's big breakthrough came with his novel
which was the biggest selling thriller of 2007. His most recent crime thrillers include
The Last Ten Seconds
Simon talks both on and off the record to members of the Met's Counter Terrorism Command and the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, so he gets to hear first hand what actually happens in the dark and murky underbelly of UK crime.
I still had my knife and I knew that if I moved fast I'd just be in time to stab the crossbowman when he emerged round the corner into the back garden. But that's the kind of thing that brave, decisive people â or those who aren't afraid of death â do. I wasn't one of those people. I was just a scared forty-something woman flung into the middle of a waking nightmare and the fear was crippling me.
He was coming. Jesus, he was coming.
And then I heard the back door being unlocked from the inside and saw Crispin's face in the window.
âLet me in! Now!'
He released the final bolt and pulled the door open and I pushed past him to get inside. âLock the door for God's sake!' I yelled, stumbling against the washing machine but, as he went to lock it, a shadow appeared through the glass.
âFuck, it's Luke,' said Crispin and let him in too before flinging the bolts across and turning the key in the lock.
Luke looked scared and relieved, which I'm sure was pretty much how I looked. I noticed he didn't have his knife. Crispin's was sitting on top of the washing machine â a long paring knife with a good, sharp blade â and he grabbed it now.
âDid you see anyone behind you?' I asked Luke. âI was being chased by the guy with the crossbow.'
He shook his head. âNo, I didn't see him.'
I wiped sweat from my brow and walked through the utility room and into the kitchen. The rain was coming down hard now and the back lawn looked forlorn and bedraggled, and thankfully empty. I pulled the curtains shut and switched on the light, before grabbing an empty glass from one of the cupboards and pouring myself a glass of water.
The other two followed me in.
âWhat happened to you and Marla?' I asked Crispin.
âWe just ran, same as you guys, then doubled back through the woods.'
âYou managed to stick together, then.' I was conscious of the note of accusation in my voice.
He nodded, ignoring my tone. âYeah, we did.'
I pulled my pack of cigarettes and lighter from inside the sleeve of my hoodie and lit one, taking a long, much-needed drag. âSorry, but under the circumstances, I'm not going to smoke outside.'
Crispin gave me a half-smile. âIt's fine. Have you got a spare one?'
I lit one for him, ignoring Luke's dirty look. âIs this place secure?'
Crispin nodded slowly and once again I found myself surprised by how calm he was. âAs secure as it was when we left, but it's not impregnable. The good thing is there are four of us, and a crossbow's not going to be much use to him in here.'
âHe's got all the time in the world,' said Marla, who'd appeared in the doorway. âHe can pick us off one by one. I mean, it's not as if we're going anywhere, is it? Do you think it's Charlie? It's almost impossible to believe it could be himâ¦'
I took another drag on the cigarette, beginning to get my breath back. âIt's not Charlie.'
âHow do you know?' demanded Marla. There was an accusing tone in her voice too.
âBecause I saw his corpse.'
That shut everyone up.
âIt was pinned to a tree with crossbow bolts.' I told them how I'd discovered it.
Marla put a hand to her mouth. Crispin frowned deeply. Luke, thoughâ¦ he looked sceptical.
I glared at him. âWhat? Don't you believe me?'
âWell, it's funny that of all the places his body could have been hidden in that wood, you managed to find the exact tree.'
âWhat the hell are you insinuating? That I'm making it up? Why the fuck would I do that? I saw him clear as day. He had a bolt through his throat and one through his chest. If you don't believe me we can go down there and take a look. It's not very far away.'
He didn't say anything.
âCome on,' I said, shouting now. âLet's go and have a look.' I don't think there was any way I'd have gone back out there but I was genuinely furious at being treated this way, after everything I'd been through.
âOK, I'm sorry,' he said. âIt's just it's difficult to believe that Charlie's dead too. I think I'd convinced myself that he was behind all this. You know, he had the opportunity to kill Louise. Somehow it's easier to think of him being the killer.'
âIt must be the man I saw at the window last night,' said Marla.
I nodded. âIt's got to be Pat. Charlie was dressed when I found him so he obviously went outside voluntarily. Maybe he went to meet Pat.'
âThat's all well and good,' said Crispin, âbut Charlie said that Pat had left the island. So why would he go out to meet him if he didn't know he was there?'
I shrugged, trying to come up with a viable theory. âMaybe he went for a walk and ran into Pat. Pat threatened him with the crossbow, took him into the woods and shot him.'
âBut what's Pat's motive?'
âI don't know. The note we found makes clear the motive's revenge, and that must mean revenge for what happened to Rachel. Maybe Pat found out about what happened and decided to act.'
âIt's a bit unlikely, isn't it?' said Crispin. Which, to be fair, it was.
Marla shook her head dismissively. âI can't see Charlie just going out for a morning stroll when he knew Louise had been murdered and didn't think it was one of us who'd killed her. He'd have been too scared.' She frowned. âThere's something else too. When I went to the toilet last night during dinner, I was sure the window was shut, and I've checked again and it definitely locks automatically if it shuts, so I don't see how the killer could have got in.'
âWhy didn't you say anything before?' I asked.
âBecause I was still in shock, and at the time I wasn't entirely sure, but now I've had time to think about it, and I am.'
Crispin sighed. âWhich brings us back to the fact that it could be one of us who killed her. Except we know it can't have been because we all saw the man in black back in the woods.'
The room fell silent as everyone tried to work out what was going on. If no one had broken in last night then one of us must have killed Louise. Charlie had been the obvious suspect but now he was dead, so there had to be another killer.
Luke eventually broke the silence. âIt doesn't really matter, does it? What matters is that we get the hell off this island.'
âThat's a lot easier said than done,' grunted Marla.
âI don't care. I'm going, even if I have to swim for it.' But I noticed Luke was making no move to go.
âCome on, Luke,' said Crispin. âYou've seen the sea out there. It'll be impossible to swim it, and the water will be freezing. Even if you don't drown you'll die of hypothermia.'
âWell, I'm not fucking staying here!' He shouted the words and hit the wall so hard, the crockery on the dresser rattled. I remembered that he could be aggressive sometimes. Something of a hard guy, or at least he thought he was. He'd talked about going after Danny Corridge when Corridge had beaten up Charlie, but he'd never managed to put his words into actions, and looking at him now, he reminded me of a frightened and frustrated little boy.
âWe could set alight to the house,' I said. âThen climb up on the rocks. They're bound to see the fire from the mainland.'
âThat's a real last resort,' said Crispin. âIt's very risky and we could end up being sitting ducks.'
âHave you got any better ideas?' said Luke.
âYes. Right now, let's stay put. The place is pretty secure, and we've got food, so we can play a waiting game too. The only way the killer will be able to get us out is if he burns this place down, so let's make sure we draw the curtains, seal off the letterboxes, and wet some towels so we're ready for any eventuality.'
Crispin's coolness under pressure seemed to galvanize everyone. He was the leader now and everyone recognized that. His words should have made me feel better but, as I went through to the lounge to pull the curtains, my heart beating in my chest as I passed the spot where Louise had been murdered, I thought back to the horrors I'd witnessed that morning. Louise's severed head with the note sticking out of her mouth; the man in black with his loaded crossbow, stalking me; Charlie's ruined corpse pinned to a tree. But there was one thing that stuck in my mind above any other. Those five words the killer had written.
LEAVING THE VERY WORST TILL LAST.
He'd had me in his sights. He could have killed me earlier. Easily. But he hadn't. He was leaving me alone. But that wasn't what frightened me the most.
What frightened me the most was how he knew I was the worst.
The rain rained and the day dragged.
Crispin's plan was for us to stay together downstairs and make sure that no one was left in a room on their own, but it didn't quite work out like that. People got restless. They moved around. It's impossible to relax when you're trapped with individuals you haven't seen for years in a house in the middle of nowhere, knowing that outside is someone who wants you dead for something you were involved in over two decades ago. Someone who, it seemed, was able to sneak into the house and murder Louise without her making a sound or making any effort to escape.
At one point, I fell asleep on the sofa, out of pure exhaustion, and when I woke up I was alone in the room. I found Luke in the dining room peering out through a gap in the curtains, a long kitchen knife in one hand. He turned my way when I came in but didn't say anything, and I left him there.
I looked for Marla and Crispin but I couldn't find them anywhere downstairs. In the end, I felt a bit of a panic coming on and I stood at the foot of the stairs and called their names.
They appeared a minute later, fully clothed, and Crispin told me they'd been watching over the wood from upstairs and apologized for disappearing like that. âYou were fast asleep,' he said. âAnd we didn't want to make too much noise and disturb you.'
âNo problem,' I said with a forced smile.
a problem. The fact was I was jealous. I didn't like the way they were acting with each other. They were intimate. Close. It made me wonder how often they'd seen each other since uni and what their relationship was. In my paranoid state it also made me wonder if they had something to do with all this. Either one of them could have killed Louise. And by the same token, either or both of them could have led Charlie outside this morning and killed him, without Luke or me being any the wiser.
Unfortunately, the theory fell apart the moment you took the man with the crossbow into consideration. But maybe the three of them were in it together? It was hard to believe, of course, especially as Crispin had once been my boyfriend, but then this whole situation was hard to believe, and that didn't mean it wasn't happening.