Sneak preview: Chapter 3 from our soon-to-be-released Silent Fear (A novel inspired by true crimes)

Posted: July 19, 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 3 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 3

If London’s streets were any quieter than usual, Valerie didn’t notice. The early morning rush hour seemed as chaotic as ever with eternal traffic jams and streets clogged with people driving, cycling and walking to work. Their summery attire signalled another hot day was on the way.

Valerie was in work mode now. Behind the wheel of her police car she was no longer plain  Valerie Crowther, divorcee and only child. She was First Class Detective Superintendent Crowther, of the Metropolitan Police, or the Met, as most refer to it. And no ordinary detective superintendent either: she was one of the few detectives on any of Britain’s police branches fluent in British Sign Language, or BSL as it’s commonly known. As a CODA, or Child of a Deaf Adult, she had a big advantage over most others in the force who were called on to investigate crimes involving the deaf and hard of hearing. It was an advantage she’d been quick to use as and when required, and as a result her specialised services were in quite frequent demand.

Pulling up at a set of traffic lights on the Brompton Road section of the A4, the detective became aware she was under observation from the male driver of a late model Jaguar who had stopped alongside her. She didn’t let on she knew she was being observed.

Valerie was used to being an object of attention. Tall and lithe with jet black hair, striking violet eyes and pale, porcelain-like skin, she had a natural beauty that allowed her the luxury of using the barest essentials when it came to cosmetics. This suited her profession, and she’d often go makeup-free, or as close to, in order to avoid accidentally contaminating the crime scenes she regularly visited. An added bonus was the practice allowed her to sleep in an extra fifteen minutes before arising – something her female colleagues envied.

Just before the lights turned green, she looked to her right and fastened her striking violet eyes on the Jag’s driver who turned out to be a pompous-looking, middle-aged, pinstripe-suited gent. When the lights changed she accelerated away. Glancing in her rear-vision mirror, she smiled to herself when she saw the driver trying to restart his car, which had apparently stalled on take-off.

Despite her good looks, Valerie was only mildly aware of her attraction to members of the opposite sex. It was something she rarely dwelled on. She considered there were more important things in life, such as making a success of her career, paying the bills and looking after her mother. Besides, her looks hadn’t always helped her. Whilst training to become a detective, and even when starting out as a newly qualified detective constable, she felt her appearance was more a hindrance than a help, especially with her fellow detectives. Even as recently as a decade ago, the force was very much a man’s world; females were a second class minority on the force, and pretty females were considered fair game by the dominant males. Still she survived, and, it’s fair to say, she thrived. Her seniority and her reputation were a testament to that.

The detective was well aware her rapid rise within the force still rankled with some of her colleagues. She’d deliberately cultivated a no-nonsense – some would say intimidating – persona, but if that upset anyone that was their problem. As the only child of a deaf adult she’d had to grow up quickly, interpreting for Edith and taking on responsibilities at a very young age. Being a CODA had made her fiercely protective of her mother, and had also moulded her personality to suit taking on responsibilities beyond her years.

As she became caught up in a queue of traffic further west along the A4 at Cromwell Road, Valerie reached out and switched on the iPad she’d left next to her on the front passenger seat. Jamie Lewis’s gory image reappeared on screen. As the only available detective proficient in sign language, she was the logical choice to head the investigation into the student’s murder. She glanced at the image once more then turned the iPad over, and, as the traffic began moving once more, she switched on the car radio. On air, a female talkback host was discussing the headline news of the moment with a male caller.

“Monkey Flu should be called Malaysian Flu because scientists now know it originated there,” the talkback host said.

“Right,” the caller agreed. “I believe the confusion arose because monkeys in a Malaysian zoo exhibited similar symptoms to the first humans who contracted the virus.” The caller continued, “The connection with monkeys has since been disproven, but the name stuck. In fact it originated in horses and birds then crossed over to humans.”

“Yes, that’s correct,” the talkback host said, “and I just want to repeat for our listeners an official statement issued by the World Health Organisation on this matter… ‘H7N7 is a subtype of equine Influenza A virus – a genus of Orthomyxovirus, which is the virus responsible for causing influenza.’ The organisation goes on to say that H7N7 is comprised of the surface proteins Hemagglutinin 7 and Neuraminidase 7… whatever all that means.”

The host switched to a female caller.

“This particular equine-avian strain of H7N7 is a complete mystery,” the well-spoken caller said. “H7N7 hasn’t been observed in horses since the 1970’s and epidemiologists are still uncertain about its sudden reappearance.” She spoke authoritatively and sounded like she knew what she was talking about.

Valerie turned the volume up.

“It was observed by scientists in poultry earlier this year, but not in horses for over forty-five years,” the woman said. “This means humans have not been exposed to this lineage of influenza since the Seventies. Therefore this particular strain hasn’t been included in any human vaccines, and the likelihood of acquired immunity is minimal.”

Valerie hadn’t caught the caller’s name, but thought she could be a scientist or a medical researcher. At the very least she sounded professional.

The caller continued, “Let’s hope our nation’s closed borders policy prevents any infected cases here in Britain because this unusual panzoonotic disease has the potential to become the worst pandemic humanity has ever faced. And it’s all because the scientific community did not suspect its reappearance.” She sounded impassioned. “None of us in the research sector were prepared for this strain of H7N7.”

“Why is that exactly?” the talkback host asked in a tone that almost sounded accusatory.

“Well, most of us believed it had long since become extinct. Although we know how to defend against influenza, this particular strain appears to have the ability to alter the surface proteins at a faster rate than we can create antibodies for it.”

Introducing another caller, the host said, “We now have Rick from Bristol on the line. He informs us he has a conspiracy theory about the Monkey Flu”.

Rick from Bristol coughed and spluttered into the phone before finally talking. “Firstly, let me say that I’m not a tinfoil hat-wearing bastard,” he assured listeners.

“Please remember you are on air, Rick,” the host cautioned.

Undeterred, Rick from Bristol continued, “I do my research and I always keep an open mind. And after doing my research I can only conclude one thing… The elite want to reduce global population!” Still spluttering, he said, “The planet is overpopulated and this virus is their way of getting rid of half of us! I mean, think about it… In 2016, the World Organisation for Animal Health stated they believed the equine, meaning horse, strain of H7N7 was officially extinct… Now remember, all viral strains are kept in storage, so if a long-forgotten, forty-five year old strain all of a sudden reappears in the population like this, we must question how that’s possible? Has it occurred organically in nature? Or was it leaked from some secret scientific laboratory somewhere?”

Valerie turned the radio off as she left the A4 to drive into the quieter streets of South Kensington. She’d heard enough from Rick from Bristol for one day.

It wasn’t long before Wandsworth University came into view. Though she had driven past it often enough she’d never had reason to visit it. Its size never failed to impress her, and she was looking forward to finally seeing what secrets it contained within its walls.

As she drew closer to the front entrance, she had to weave between stationary police cars, crime scene tape, clusters of curious onlookers, concerned students and jostling reporters. The murder of a deaf student was obviously big news.

More than once Valerie had to show her badge to law enforcement officers. They waved her through.

Finally, she found a spare parking space. Only as she turned off the ignition did she notice the ever-stern Lord Wandsworth looking down at her. The thought passed through her mind that he didn’t look at all pleased by the latest turn of events. Or perhaps the old boy doesn’t like the look of me, she wondered.

Climbing from the car, she mentally prepared herself for the inevitable onslaught of questions. The reporters and photographers had noticed her arrival and were converging on her.

Valerie avoided the media representatives with a curt “No comment” as she almost sprinted up the steps toward the entrance. Two burly, uniformed security men prevented her pursuers from following her through the front doors.

Inside, in the relative safety of the foyer, the first thing she noticed was the temperature was cooler. Despite the early hour, the building’s air-conditioning had already been turned on to combat the high temperatures forecast.

Valerie took stock of her surroundings. Wandsworth University was everything she’d expected and more. Its vastness and plushness couldn’t fail to impress. The expensive furnishings and fittings were obvious clues to the institution’s profitability, and all around students and staff members were going about their everyday business, albeit with an extra urgency given the tragedy that occurred overnight.

Directly ahead of her, two receptionists had their hands full trying to cope with a dozen or so people who all seemed to be talking or signing at once. Long corridors to the left and right of reception gave access to numerous ground floor facilities. Signs pointed to the chancellor’s office, a conference room, meeting rooms, communications room, a communal café, gymnasium and indoor swimming pool. A swing door opened at the far end of the west wing corridor to reveal a full-size indoor pool.

Every room, she noted, was illuminated by expensive lighting, which was so startling it bordered on spectacular. She guessed this was as much to accommodate students who used sign language to communicate as it was to highlight the plush furnishings and show them off to the best effect.

Still more signs advertising various facilities on this and other floors caught her eye. They included Lipspeaker UK lip-speaking support, Signworld Online BSL teaching materials, Definitely Theatre UK, Red Dot online video interpreting, Ai-Live captions and transcripts, Deaf Umbrella sign language interpreting, SignVideo online interpreting, 121 Captions speech-to-text services, Phonak hearing acoustics, RAD financial advice for Deaf people and Bellman hearing loss solutions to name but a few. The commercial overtones weren’t lost on her. She could well imagine corporate sponsorship contributed significantly to Wandsworth’s coffers.

Deaf students signed to each other as they walked by, and Valerie quickly established they were discussing the murder.

A group of male students walked past. One of them directed a wolf whistle Valerie’s way. The detective observed them signing lewdly to each other. She fluently signed back to them, suggesting they mind their manners.

Surprised the detective knew sign language, the students averted their eyes and sheepishly continued on their way.

Valerie spotted the lift doors and headed for them. En route, she was approached by a young, pimply student who had observed her arrival and somehow guessed she was something to do with law enforcement. In speech so garbled it all but hid his Devon accent, he asked, “Do yo-u… knoww who… who da kil-ler is yet, Ma’am?” He couldn’t hide his surprise when Valerie replied in flawless sign language, informing him her investigation hadn’t even begun yet. He seemed satisfied with the answer and wandered off.

Valerie would learn later the lad she had just interacted with was one Dale Freemantle, a first-year student at Wandsworth who, in addition to his speech impairment, was hard of hearing. She’d have good reason to remember his name.

One of four lift doors opened nearby and its sole occupant, a young, uniformed cop, caught Valerie’s eye. He’d been told to watch out for her. He motioned her over, and she hurried to join him in the lift.

Before the lift doors closed, they were joined by half a dozen students and staff members.

#

At that very moment, in the nurse’s station adjoining the sick bay two floors above, resident nurse Jean Simons took the temperature of a somewhat flushed Carol Ashmore, another first-year student. Carol, a twenty-year old freckled redhead from Cambridge, had been feeling poorly all night. She coughed and sniffled as the matronly nurse removed the thermometer and checked it.

Concerned, Nurse Simons adjusted her surgical mask as she conversed with Carol in sign. “It’s probably only a common cold, but I’d better take a swab.”

A worried Carol could only look on as the nurse donned protective gloves and proceeded to give her a nasal swab.

After swabbing the patient, Nurse Simons transferred the swab to a viral container, which she placed in a biohazard bag together with a requisition form. The nurse then removed her gloves and signed to Carol that she would forward the swab to the nearest public health laboratory.

T.B.C.

See recent blogs for earlier chapters

Inline image 1

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

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