Authors: Simon Kernick
One week, three digital shorts.
The second part in a direct to digital short-story in a murder mystery three-part thriller from the bestselling author of
The Final Minute
Six ex school-friends met together on a remote island being stalked by an unseen killer, and unable to contact help.
But who is after them and why?
As the body count mounts, it becomes clear that at least one member of the group can't be trusted.
And the surviving members need to figure out who it is before it's too late.
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.
For a good minute I stared, unblinking, at the huge knife jutting out of Louise's chest, the shock striking me in powerful, intense waves, just as it had that terrible morning when I'd first seen Rachel's battered corpse. I wanted to cry out, to be sick, to throw open the front door and run away, but I was unable to move. I could feel myself shaking as a panic attack began, and knew that if I didn't do something soon I'd succumb to it.
âHelp!' I yelled, my voice reverberating round the house as I finally broke free from my torpor. âGet down here now! It's Louise!'
And then, for the first time, the fear factor kicked in as I realized that the murderer could still be here. What if he'd killed everyone already and was just about to come for me? I swung round fast in case he was sneaking up on me, already yelling some more, but the room was empty, and it was clear that people were still alive because I could hear the sound of doors opening upstairs and then rapid footfalls on the staircase.
The first one through the door was Charlie and he immediately switched on the main light, making me squint against the sudden brightness. He was dressed in old silk pyjamas and was pulling on a dressing gown like something Hugh Hefner would wear. He was closely followed by Luke in a T-shirt and boxers.
For a couple of seconds neither of them seemed to compute what had happened but then, as I stepped out the way and they both caught sight of Louise in the chair, their mouths gaped open in shock.
âOh, Jesus,' said Charlie as he approached the body. âWhat happened?'
âFucking hell,' said Luke, moving in behind him.
I stared down at her too. She looked like a waxwork dummy, her eyes half-closed, a blank expression on her face. The knife jutted out of her chest like a stage prop, only the handle and an inch of blade showing, surrounded by a single uneven stain of blood no bigger than the size of a man's hand. I thought of her two children and it made me want to throw up.
At that moment there was a commotion in the doorway as Marla came in dressed in a baggy nightshirt, skimpy white panties and pink socks, somehow managing to look incredibly sexy for someone who'd just leaped out of bed. She put a hand to her mouth and let out a muffled scream. Behind her a sleepy Crispin trailed in wearing the clothes he'd arrived in. The sleepy expression vanished as soon as he saw what we were all staring at.
Charlie leaned down and â rather unnecessarily, I thought â felt for a pulse before shaking his head and retreating.
The five of us stood there, scattered about the lounge, keeping a distance from our murdered friend and for several minutes, maybe even longer, no one spoke.
It was Crispin who finally broke the deafening silence, his voice shaky. âIt looks like she's been dead a little while. The blood looks pretty dry and there's not much of it. I read somewhere that the heart stops pumping blood the moment it stops beating, which means she must have died very quickly.'
âThat knife looks like it was plunged straight into her heart,' said Charlie. âBy someone who knew what they were doing.'
âFucking hell,' said Luke again, seemingly unable to tear his eyes from Louise's corpse.
âDo you think it was the same guy I saw at the window?' asked Marla, looking round anxiously. âHe could still be here.'
âWe need to check the house for any signs of forced entry,' I said, fighting to stay calm. âHe didn't come in the front door. It was bolted from the inside.'
âHe didn't come through the windows here either,' said Crispin. âThey're all locked.'
âAll the windows automatically lock when they're shut,' said Charlie. âThere are only two doors in and I bolted them both after Crispin arrived, so no one got in that way.' His words had lost all their usual power and he looked pale and drawn. He seemed devastated by what had happened to Louise, but for all I knew, it could have been an act. Charlie was a politician so he was used to lying for a living.
He saw me watching him and looked away. âWe'd better take a look round the ground floor and see how he got in.'
I wondered who Charlie meant by âhe' since he'd made a big deal about the fact that Pat had gone back to the mainland and we were alone on the island, but I didn't say anything. Instead I followed Charlie as he led us out of the room in a long, fearful line. En route he picked up a bronze sculpture of an African tribesman, which he clutched in front of him like a club, in what I suppose for him passed as an aggressive pose but which I couldn't help thinking was unlikely to scare any cold-blooded killer in our midst.
He found the open window quickly enough. It was in the downstairs toilet and, although it wasn't the biggest opening in the world, it would have been easy enough to get through. There were streaks of dirt on the toilet seat that looked like they'd come from the sole of a boot.
When we'd all taken turns to have a look, Charlie shut the window and we retreated to the dining room well away from Louise's body.
âI'm getting a nasty sense of dÃ©jÃ vu,' said Marla as we stood round the table. âSeeing Louise like that reminded me of Rachel.'
âWe need to call the police,' I said. âI'm assuming you've got a landline here.'
Charlie nodded. âI have, but let's not be hasty about making any calls.'
âWhat do you mean, don't be hasty?' I demanded, trying not to lose my temper. âOur friend's just been murdered in your house. We have no idea who her killer is, or even if he's still here in the house somewhere.'
âDo you think I don't know that? I was just talking to Louise about her kidsâ¦' Charlie's voice was a hoarse shout. âThe problem is if we call the police, we risk having to explain what we're all doing out here. Don't you think it'll look extremely suspicious coming just after Danny Corridge has been released from prison?'
âRight now that seems to be the least of our problems,' I said. âThere's a killer on the loose. We can say we were just here for a reunion. The timing might be iffy but it's not proof we did anything wrong. What do you think, Crispin?'
âI think we should call the police,' said Crispin.
âSo do I,' said Marla. âLuke?'
âI don't know. Charlie's right. We need to think about this.'
Marla looked aghast. âOur friend's lying dead with a knife in her heart and you need to think about it?'
Crispin looked thoughtful. âI don't see who could have killed her. The only other person on this island is Pat. How well do you know him, Charlie? He looked a bit of a strange guy.'
âHe's worked for me for three years. I know him well. I can't see why he'd suddenly turn into a murderer and kill a woman he's never met before. And he shouldn't even be here. He was going back to the mainland.'
âWell, who the hell does that leave?' said Marla.
No one said anything for a moment. Then I spoke. âOne of us,' I said simply.
Everyone looked at me and the room seemed to grow colder as we all took that rather grim statement on board.
âLook, someone broke in,' said Charlie, but he no longer sounded like he believed it.
âThat could have been faked easily enough,' I said, a new authority in my voice. I was scared â God, I was scared â but I was also angry because it was probable that someone in this room was Louise's killer. âWho was the last person to see her alive?'
âCharlie was,' said Luke. âI left the two of them down in the lounge. That was about half past midnight.'
Charlie nodded. âIt's true. We carried on talking for about another ten minutes or so. I finished my drink before she did and told her I was turning in. She said she'd make her own way to bed, and when I left her she was sitting where you found her.'
Luke looked puzzled. âWhy would one of us want to kill her?' he asked, aiming the question at me.
âGod knows,' said Charlie.
I looked at them both. âWell, it wasn't random, was it? Louise was murdered for a reason and it looks like she was taken completely by surprise, before she could cry out. And from the position she was sitting in, she would have been able to see anyone she didn't know coming through the door, so there's no way they could have crept up on her. Which means she would have had time to cry out or at least make a break for it, and she didn't.' I paused for breath. âSo I think she knew her killer.'
When I'd first started speaking, I don't think I truly believed that one of us had murdered our old university friend, but now that I was laying everything on the line, it was becoming more and more obvious that someone in this room had done it. I looked at each of them, trying to prise out any signs of guilt, but the faces that stared back at me were full of shock, confusion and, of course, fear.
âAnd you were the last person to see her alive, Charlie,' said Marla, glaring at him. âYou could easily have done it. Louise wouldn't have stood a chance.'
Charlie looked exasperated. âBut why? What would have been the point?'
âBecause it's one less witness to worry about,' I said.
âYou organized this whole weekend, Charlie,' continued Marla. âAlmost immediately someone ends up dead and, lo and behold, you were the last person to see her alive.'
We were all looking at him now and he took a step back.
âIf you're fucking us about, Charlie, and you killed Louise, then you are a dead man,' said Luke, leaning forward threateningly.
Charlie cringed away from him. âI didn't do anything, I promise. I invited everyone here to get our stories straight. That's it. I'm no killer. I'm just a bloody politician.'
âAnd someone with a lot to lose as well,' said Marla. âRemember, it was your idea to cover up Rachel's murder all those years ago.'
âHold on,' said Crispin. âWe were all involved and we all agreed to the cover-up.'
âBut it was still Charlie's idea,' continued Marla. âAnd let's not forget: one of us in the house that night twenty-one years ago killed Rachel. Now I know I didn't do it. And I know I didn't kill Louise tonight. I'm innocent and I'm prepared to stand up in court and say it too because I've had enough of this, and there's no way we can cover up two murders. Let's call the police, like Karen says. Now. I'm not staying in this place any longer than I have to.'
Luke cursed. âJesus, what have we got ourselves into?' He turned to Crispin. âWhat do you think we should do, Cris?'
âMarla and Karen are right. We've got to phone the police. Where's the phone, Charlie?'
âIn the hall,' he answered reluctantly.
âI'll make the call.' Crispin walked past him, displaying an authority I hadn't seen in him before, and disappeared into the hallway.
I followed him out, watching as he turned on the hall light and located the phone before dialling 999 and putting the handset to his ear. He frowned then looked down at the keypad, pressing more numbers, and I felt a growing sense of dread.