Sneak preview: Chapter 1 from our soon-to-be-released Silent Fear (A novel inspired by true crimes)

Posted: July 3, 2017 in SILENT FEAR novel
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For lovers of crime-thriller-horror novels with a touch of sci-fi here’s Chapter 1 from the upcoming novel Silent Fear — co-authored by the writers of The Orphan Trilogy, Into the Americas  and White Spirit.

First, here’s the storyline in brief:

Detective Valerie Crowther is assigned to investigate the murder of a student at a university for the deaf in London. The murder investigation coincides with a deadly flu virus outbreak, resulting in the university being quarantined from the outside world. When more deaf students are murdered, it’s clearly the work of a serial killer. The stakes rise when Valerie becomes the killer’s next target and the deadly virus claims more lives.

 

Silent Fear – Chapter 1

London, like the rest of England and most of Western Europe, was unseasonably hot. Summer had only officially arrived a week ago and already the capital’s maximum temperatures had topped 29°C. Forecasters were predicting the nation’s record high of 38.5 would topple before summer was over.

On this particular weeknight, in West London’s Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the pubs and bars were full to overflowing as office workers and residents mingled over a few drinks of the alcoholic variety as they endeavoured to assuage their thirst.

In the posh district of South Kensington, not far from Old Brompton Road and only ten minutes’ walk north to Hyde Park or fifteen minutes south to the River Thames, take your pick, an elderly gent emerged from his favourite local bar and weaved his way unsteadily across a busy street. He’d clearly had one or two drinks too many. He came to the attention of a passing cop a few minutes later when he stopped to address the larger-than-life statue of Lord Chester Wandsworth, which towered over the entrance of the university he founded over a decade earlier.

Wandsworth University was no ordinary educational institution. It was a university for the deaf community. Correction. It was the university for the deaf community – in Britain at least, and, if those responsible for the running of similar institutions elsewhere were honest, it was probably the university for the deaf community anywhere. Its student fees certainly reflected that, and it attracted deaf and hard of hearing students from throughout the world.

Lord Wandsworth was no ordinary individual either. Partially deaf himself, he took it upon himself to champion deaf students and see to it that they had the same education opportunities as those of normal hearing. The end result of this benefactor’s generosity was a state-of-the-art educational facility whose stellar reputation was known and admired worldwide.

Unfortunately, Lord Wandsworth was in no condition to enjoy the fruits of his generosity. Since suffering a serious brain injury in a horse-riding accident, the good lord had been confined to bed at his private estate in South Cambridgeshire. But his statue at least continued to watch over the university 24/7.

Looking up at the statue, the elderly bar patron had no idea the gentleman it was named after was still alive. Not surprising given death usually comes before the commissioning of a statue in someone’s honour. Such was Lord Wandsworth’s reputation and popularity the tribute had been fast-tracked.

The bar patron usually had a word for Lord Wandsworth on those evenings his wife allowed him out for a tipple, and tonight was no different except that he’d imbibed more than was customary and so was somewhat more talkative than usual. “I’ve always looked up to you, guv,” he shouted, looking up at the stern, stony features of the man he addressed. “But then… I s’pose everyone looks up to you.” He chuckled at his attempt at humour and nearly fell over when he stepped back into the gutter.

“Are you alright, sir?” a gruff voice enquired.

The elderly gent turned around to see a police car had pulled up nearby. The driver, a fresh-faced young cop, asked again if he was alright.

“Aye, I’m fine,” the old man assured him. Not wanting to get offside with the law, he resumed his homeward journey, bidding both the cop and Lord Wandsworth a good evening as he went his merry way.

The cop watched the gent’s progress for a moment before gazing up at the impressive statue and the even more impressive multi-storied campus building behind it.

Wandsworth University was six storeys high and spanned the length of one entire block. Its top floor was ablaze with lights, and the silhouettes of its occupants could be seen at many of the windows.

The cop took one last look at the building then drove off. He drove with all the windows down, preferring natural ventilation to air-conditioning to cope with the evening’s heat and with the humidity that accompanied it.

#

In Wandsworth University’s student common room young, trendy, deaf students of various nationalities chilled out, played pool and watched television. Others ate at a bistro at the far end of the crowded room. Their lightweight attire left no doubt they, too, were feeling the heat.

Most conversed in sign language, their hand signs almost too fast for the eye to follow. Some wore hearing aids, others high-tech cochlear implants. Some even conversed in spoken language while those who were profoundly deaf either relied on their devices or sign language to communicate. More than a few flirted with each other, as to be expected in a gathering of so many young singles.

They were a mixed lot, ranging in age from late teens to mid-thirties, and they were in the main from well-heeled families. They had to be well off to afford the steep fees. There were exceptions, however. Some of the students were sponsored – most by charitable institutions in their own city or country, and a few by Wandsworth University itself by way of scholarships. Lord Wandsworth had expressed a desire that well deserving students from lower socio-economic backgrounds be accommodated as much as possible, and the uni’s board members had honoured that to the best of their ability, or to the extent their budget allowed at least.

A casual observer wouldn’t have picked it, but the normally animated students were more subdued than usual. And it wasn’t because of the oppressive heat. They, along with the rest of the nation, had received concerning news in recent days.

Many crowded around a big screen television set, watching a BBC news report and reading the subtitles that ran along the bottom of the screen as the newsreader delivered the latest sobering instalment of news.

“The World Health Organisation reports the death toll from the Monkey Flu virus has risen to twenty thousand worldwide,” the newsreader said.

More students stopped to watch, engrossed, as disturbing images from around the world flashed across the screen.

Off screen, the newsreader continued, “Although still in its early stages, the pandemic is already more potent than the 2009 Swine Flu outbreak.”

Images included overcrowded New York hospital wards, mass cremations in Mumbai, emergency medical meetings in Moscow, mass burials in Cape Town, panicked citizens wearing face masks in some unnamed Latin American country, sheet-covered bodies on stretchers lining hospital corridors somewhere in Australia, and the bodies of victims being wheeled into Tokyo morgues.

Still off screen, the newsreader said, “In addition to severe flu symptoms, those who contract the virus suffer blurred vision, which almost invariably leads to blindness.”

The BBC news report then cut to distressed Monkey Flu patients in a hospital ward in Brussels. Most of those in the foreground were looking straight at camera and many seemed to have a white film over the pupils of their eyes. Some appeared to be blind. It made for difficult viewing and some students had to look away. For members of the deaf community, blindness was something too awful to consider.

The newsreader continued, “World Health Organisation doctors describe the alarming symptom as a never-before-seen flu ailment and a type of ON, or Optic Neuritis, which is inflammation of the optic nerve and is often associated with multiple sclerosis. Unlike regular Optic Neuritis, many victims display cloudy, cataract-like symptoms in their eyes and invariably end up blind.”

Wandsworth’s dapper fifty-year-old chancellor Ron Fairbrother chose this moment to enter the room. A distinguished-looking West Indian Brit, immaculately dressed with fashionable glasses and a hearing aid, Fairbrother joined his students and watched the news. His sudden arrival was nothing out of the ordinary. The personable chancellor’s management style was very hands on, and he regularly mixed with students and staff in and out of normal working hours.

“No cases of Monkey Flu have been reported in the UK,” the newsreader continued. “The Secretary of State for Health attributes this to the rigid anti-virus strategies in place.”

Britain’s Secretary of State for Health appeared onscreen, looking slightly anxious, but determined. “We are one of the few countries left without a single confirmed case of the virus,” the stressed official said. “This is likely the result of our decision to close the UK’s borders before any other country in the world. You’ll recall this unpopular decision was referred to by some media as paranoid or alarmist, but even they can see it is now paying dividends.”

The newsreader reappeared onscreen and resumed speaking to camera. “Massive disruptions are resulting from the government’s decision to seal off our borders. Tens of thousands of British citizens are stranded overseas due to the ban on all arrivals into the UK.”

That bit of news was especially sobering for the students. A few British students had parents who were overseas on holiday or on business, and some foreign students had relatives who had been preparing to fly to London to visit them. For students affected – especially for those away from home for the first time – the arrivals ban wasn’t good news.

Fairbrother had heard and seen enough. Before departing, he inserted himself in the eye-line of students and waved his arms overhead. Most students caught the movement and turned their attention to the chancellor. Signing, Fairbrother advised them the board would be meeting tomorrow to make a decision about suspending classes. “Until then, we remain open as usual,” he signed. He repeated himself, using regular speech for the benefit of those with hearing aids who may not have been able to see him. His perfect English hinted at his privileged upbringing and his university education. Smiling, he added, “That means your mid-semester deadlines still stand.”

Students nodded resignedly. There were a few glum faces, but the students couldn’t complain. Fairbrother was strict but fair, and he was generally popular with students and staff alike.

#

Two floors below the student common room, in the privacy of his room in the resident male students’ quarters, Welsh student Jamie Lewis typed an email on his laptop at his desk. The nuggetty twenty-one-year-old was drafting a weekly report for his parents. They liked to be kept informed about what he was up to. Jamie, an only child, was close to his parents, so it was no chore at all to keep in touch regularly.

The room was snug but well appointed. Identical to the others on the floor – and near-identical to the rooms in the female quarters on the floor above – it was fully carpeted and comprised a single bed, bedside table, desk and chair, free-standing wardrobe and a bookshelf, which, in this room at least, was fully stocked. All the books bar one were reflective of the subjects Jamie was studying, the one exception being a book on Welsh rugby, his big passion. In his hometown Cardiff he’d played rugby through all the junior and senior grades at school, and here at Wandsworth he was considered a sitter to crack the uni’s First Fifteen in the coming winter.

Not surprisingly, one entire wall was decorated with posters and photos of the Welsh rugby team, including action shots of his favourite players.

Deaf since birth, Jamie was one of a number of students enrolled at Wandsworth who was considering whether to receive a CI, or cochlear implant – that miraculous electronic medical device, which, in theory at least, allows a deaf person to hear. Jamie’s parents were very keen for him to receive a CI, but he was in two minds. He was mindful the CI issue was highly political in the deaf community, and deaf adults who received an implant were oftentimes perceived as traitors and shut out of that community. The political tension that existed between CI surgeons and the deaf populace – in the recent past at least – was legendary. Jamie had witnessed some of that tension first hand, and he wasn’t at all sure he wanted to receive an implant. He was happy as he was.

That’s what he was trying to relay to his parents by email. It wasn’t easy. They were convinced a CI would be the solution for his problem, as they somewhat insensitively called his deafness.

The specialists said he was profoundly deaf, but he wasn’t certain that diagnosis was one hundred percent correct: he suffered tinnitus, and regularly heard the sounds associated with that annoying condition. Those sounds included a ringing, whistling, hissing, buzzing and even chirping on occasion. The tinnitus was intermittent, sometimes disappearing for days on end, and in between bouts his inner world was reduced to a deathly silence – as was the case now. Even then, though, he often imagined he heard something. Or perhaps it was just wishful thinking.

Jamie was so engrossed in his typing, he didn’t notice the handle of the unlocked door behind him slowly turn. If he had, he’d have seen the door open a few inches and he’d have seen a gloved hand on the handle. The glove was black leather fashioned in the style of snug-fitting driving gloves.

A male intruder entered the room. He wore a lightweight, hoodie-style sweatshirt with the hood all but concealing his face, and he carried a shoulder bag in one hand.

The intruder carefully closed the door behind him, locked it and then stepped behind the free-standing wardrobe.

Some sixth sense made Jamie look around. All seemed normal and he returned to his email.

Still behind the wardrobe, the intruder reached into his bag and drew out a steel claw hammer. In three quick strides he was right behind Jamie.

Only now as the intruder’s shadow covered the desktop did the Welsh student realise he wasn’t alone. Surprised, he spun around too late to avoid the hammer the intruder brought down on his head. The blow was delivered with sufficient force to knock Jamie out. Senseless, he slumped forward in his chair, his bloodied forehead coming to rest on the laptop’s keyboard.

Jamie’s attacker glanced up at the smoke alarm on the ceiling above the bed. He climbed onto the bed, reached up and disabled the alarm before returning to his victim’s side. Then he reached into his bag again and pulled out a tin of lighter fluid and two blue ear candles of the type used for outer-ear hygiene. He unscrewed the tin’s cap and doused the still unconscious student before returning the now empty tin to his bag. Next, he inserted the candles in Jamie’s ears and then, as calm as you like, he removed the glove from his right hand, reached down inside the tracksuit pants he wore and began fondling himself.

The sadistic intruder was soon groaning with pleasure.

A fluttering of the eyelids signalled that Jamie was regaining consciousness so the intruder donned his discarded glove, reached into his bag yet again and pulled out a length of rope and a scarf. The latter item he used to gag his victim, the former to tie him to the chair. His actions were clinical and efficient. It was as if he’d rehearsed this a thousand times. In fact, he had – in his mind at least. He wasn’t one to leave anything to chance and, in the days and weeks leading up to this moment, he’d thought of little else.

Without further ado, he pulled a lighter from his pocket and lit each candle. He became momentarily mesmerised by the dancing flames, cocking his head as if awaiting some reaction from the now semi-conscious student. There was no reaction for the moment. Not that he noticed at least.

Finally, Jamie moaned as the candles burned down closer to his ears. Fumes rose from the lighter fluid and then ignited with a whoosh. It took a few moments before the student became aware he was gagged, tied up and on fire.

The intruder watched, entranced, as his victim struggled to escape the flames that enveloped him and the bonds that tied him to the chair.

Jamie was now writhing in agony. The flames were fierce and his skin was visibly blackening by the second. Such was his desperation, he overbalanced in the chair he was tied to and ended up on his back on the floor. He now resembled a fireball. A human fireball. So hot was it that his attacker had to take two steps backwards.

The intruder became excited and felt himself hardening again as he observed his victim’s pain and terror. Jamie was now in his death throes, and his movements, so vigorous a few seconds ago, were slowing with every passing moment.

For the intruder, the need to make haste and quit the scene suddenly became the priority. He’d been here long enough. He lifted his shoulder bag from where he’d left it on the bed and took a final look around the smoky room. He was anxious not to leave behind any DNA or other evidence that could incriminate him.

By this time Jamie was unrecognisable and very dead.

Satisfied he’d overlooked nothing – the leather gloves he wore meant he didn’t have to worry about leaving any fingerprints behind – Jamie’s killer signed “Game over, asshole” to the still burning body as he departed, turning the light switch off as he exited the room.

#

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https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35626239-silent-fear

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