This was no ordinary murder. None of them have been.
Jacob Livingstone was the fourteenth person to die in the space of three months, in the exact same fashion. The police and media claim they were all victims of gang warfare, but the evidence suggests something different entirely. Every single death has been identical: the victim stabbed multiple times and then hanged upside down near the scene of murder. The bodies have been found either on the same night or the morning after.
What's more, no witnesses have come forward claiming they saw gang members. In fact, gang-related activity has never been lower in these parts, nor were any of the victims affiliated with gangs in any way. The only clue we have is the leaked CCTV footage of the latest victim, Jacob, coming home from a night spent drinking with his friends. There were five of them and only space for four in the Uber, so Jacob, knowing he lived only a couple roads away, volunteered to walk.
The CCTV footage shows him taking a shortcut through the alleyway behind the club. A hooded figure follows him into the alleyway. And neither of them leave. That should be evidence enough.
If you have any doubts, I've left a link to this footage above. You can see it for yourself. The biggest question, though, is why none of us have seen it being played on the news. Why aren't the police looking for this mysterious hooded person? Why have they come up with a more convenient excuse?
It sounds to me like a cover-up. And that begs the question: Why? The answer to that is hidden to us, for now. But the truth will come out.
No one can know for sure, not yet, but all the signs point to this being the work of a serial killer. I would bet everything on it. A man, or woman, is killing people on the streets of London, in the dead of night. If somehow we can join the dots and find out how all of the victims are connected, we might be able to save the next one.
Whoever you are, if you are still reading this, be sensible and stay safe. There is a killer on the loose and the police, for lack of a better term, don't seem to give a toss.
"Shay, hurry up!" Rosheen shouted up the stairs. "We're going to miss free entry!"
I stared at the photo of Jacob Livingtone at the top of my blog post. Blond hair and sickly thin, but with eyes that seemed to watch me through the pixels. I shook my head then hit the 'publish' button, snapping my laptop shut. Usually I'd stare at the screen for another couple hours, waiting for comments to pop up, but tonight we had plans.
I gave myself a quick spritz of aftershave, then checked the mirror. I liked to call the patchy stubble on my face a five o'clock shadow, though I knew that might be a bit generous. There was no excuse for the bird's nest on my head though. It'd have to do—Rosheen wouldn't wait around for me to shave and style my hair.
I slipped into my brother's room and swiped his ID from the pile beside his computer. He was spending the night at his girlfriend's and mum was working the night shift. With any luck, I'd be home before either of them.
"Did you find Sean's ID?" Rosheen asked as I ran down the stairs to meet her. As usual, her makeup was immaculate and her black hair was straightened without a strand out of place.
"Yep." I flashed her my brother's driving license. "He really shouldn't make a habit of leaving it in the house."
"You wouldn't be able to go clubbing with me if he didn't." She winked. "Now lock up and let's get going! The Uber's been waiting, like, ten minutes."
I nodded and rushed to check all the windows and doors were locked. Rosheen locked the front door behind us as we stepped outside, then threw me the key. I entered that car first, helping her clamber in behind me. Whenever she wore heels, it was like she'd only just learned how to walk.
"Sorry about the wait." she apologised to the driver. He waved his hand as if to say 'no big deal'. "Any chance you could drive a bit faster than normal? We need to get there by eleven."
The driver chuckled.
"Only if you give me five stars."
"Done!" Rosheen grinned. "Now-" she turned to me, "You said you'd let me put eyeliner on you. We didn't have time in the house so I'll have to do it now."
She reached into her purse.
"Uh..." I stuttered, "No thanks."
She squinted. "You agreed. I told you eyeliner would make the green in your eyes pop. I specifically asked if I could put some on you before we go clubbing. You nodded."
"Oh, Rosie." I couldn't help but give a cheeky grin when I used her childhood nickname. "I won't lie, whenever you open your mouth, I just sit there and nod."
"Prick!" she punched me on the shoulder and I laughed.
The driver glanced at us through his rear-view mirror. "You two goin’ to Cavern then?"
"Yeah," Rosheen replied, "and it's this twat's first time clubbing."
"Cavern's decent to be fair. Good place to start out."
"Totally. I can't wait to get absolutely smashed."
I zoned out as Rosheen and the driver went back and forth, swapping stories about the club. She had gone out drinking every weekend since she turned eighteen in September, and even a few months before that. I was turning eighteen in December, which was next month. A more responsible person would have waited until then, but I wasn't going out just for fun. This was important.
The remainder of our college friends would be waiting for us there, having made free entry. Given how fast the driver was going, we would just manage to make it, unless the queue happened to be too long. Then Rosheen and the rest of them would get drunk out of their minds, party into the early hours of the morning, and probably go home just to drink more. That wasn't my idea of fun, but I would have to put up with it. It'd be worth it. Because Elijah Livingstone would be there.
Jacob Livingstone's older brother. Only one week after his murder, Elijah was already out partying. I guess people deal with their grief in different ways. Elijah's way must be drinking himself to death. I'd seen him making plans to go to Cavern when Rosheen was swiping through her Snapchat stories yesterday, and suggested that I tag along with her. She was more than happy to agree, having tried to convince me to come clubbing ever since she turned eighteen.
I had it all planned out. I'd wait until Elijah was too drunk to walk properly, then approach him when he's alone. If he could answer any of my questions, I might be one step closer to finding out the truth. Surely, Jacob's own brother would have some sort of idea, however small, as to why he was killed. Maybe he was even involved in gangs somehow, like the police claimed, but I doubted it. Still, if anyone knew anything about it, it would be Elijah.
"Thank you!" Rosheen's enthusiastic tone interrupted my thoughts. I'd been so distracted by them that I hadn't realised we'd arrived outside Cavern.
I left the driver a tip then climbed out of the car. A glance at my phone showed the time, 22:54.
"The queue's pretty small," I said, "so we should still make free entry."
Rosheen sighed, "Hopefully. Fifteen quid just to be able to walk in is such a rip-off, so if they don't let us in we're going to Unit 13 instead."
Shit! Unit 13 was another club a few roads away. It didn't generate much of a crowd since they only played heavy metal, but they never charged for entry. But Elijah wouldn't be at Unit 13, obviously, and I had no way of explaining to Rosheen that Elijah was the only reason I wanted to go clubbing with her. No doubt, she'd be upset.
I looked down at my phone again, tapping my foot and silently begging the queue to go faster. Every time the two bouncers at the door checked a person's ID, they also checked their own watches, keeping track until it became the moment they'd begin charging for entry. Shit, shit, shit.
"Stop looking so stressed." Rosheen elbowed me gently. "They'll get suspicious that you're underage. Don't worry, you look exactly like Sean; they won't be able to tell the difference."
I nodded and tried to stop fidgeting as the person in front of us walked into the club, but I wasn't worried about not being able to get in. Sean and I were often mistaken as identical twins, even though he was four years older. The only thing I cared about was not missing free entry: Rosheen would refuse to pay, and I couldn't abandon her. My eyes widened when I looked back at my phone. 23:01.
"ID?" the bouncer asked in a monotone.
We handed them over to the two of them. They seemed to recognise Rosheen, since they waved her in without even pretending to look at hers. But the bouncer before me scrutinised Sean's ID with his torch, looking down at it then up to me.
He grunted, "Your hair's a different colour."
"Yeah, I dyed it black."
"Hmph," he handed Sean's ID back to me. Please don't look at your watch, I begged. "Fair enough. Black suits you better than brown anyway," He winked. "Come on through."
I held in a sigh of relief until I made it past the club doors, then let the breath out.
"Told ya." Rosheen grinned.
I gave an uneasy smile. "I think the bouncer tried flirting with me."
"Yeah, you're gonna get a lot of attention here," she said, then mumbled under her breath, "More if you'd let me put the fucking eyeliner on you."
The confusion must have been visible on my face because Rosheen raised an eyebrow. "Wait... you know Cavern's a gay club, right?"
"Of course!" I lied. With all my obsession for research, and I somehow didn't know that tidbit of information. It was almost ironic, I supposed, but it wasn't a good sign. I was starting to miss obvious details.
I tried not to overthink it. Right now, all that mattered was finding Elijah. After a second set of doors, we found ourselves walking down stairs to a lower floor: Cavern was an underground club after all, hence the name. The walls were plastered in leopard print and probably looked horrible during the day, but under the blue lights you could hardly tell. I could faintly hear the music, though I could feel the thumping beat beneath my trainers.
The bottom of the stairway opened up to the main floor. It was the music that hit first—like a punch to the face—remixed pop that was so loud I could barely hear myself think. Rosheen poked me on the waist, then her mouth moved.
"I can't hear you!" I enunciated my words so she could read my lips.
She shook her head then pulled out her phone, typing something for me to read.
First round's on you. I'll be on the dance floor.
Might even ask Darren out if I get drunk enough.
I laughed. Darren from Physics class was a complete wanker, but even I had to admit he was a handsome one.
As Rosheen made her way to the dance floor, I went to the bar at the side, apologising every couple seconds as I bumped into someone. It had just gone eleven o'clock and half the clubbers were already too drunk to walk in a straight line. Finding Elijah in the middle of this wouldn’t be easy.
I folded my arms at the bar, waiting for a server, when I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Hi…” the man next to me slurred. He was probably in his early twenties, with long brown hair and beer stains on his shirt.
I pursed my lips, “Hello.”
He was standing awfully close—the bar wasn’t even crowded—and I had to resist the urge to push him away. It didn’t help that he was shouting into my ear so I could hear him over the music.
“You’re really cute. I haven’t seen you around before,” he paused as if to think what to say next, “But you’re really cute,” he repeated.
“Like, I’m straight so I’ve never been with a guy but you’re really cute.”
Fucking hell. I did not come here to hook up with a stranger. My eyes darted around, trying to find Elijah, but a server blocked my vision.
She leaned in and asked, “What you havin’?”
‘Straight-guy’ replied before I could open my mouth, “Two vodka-cokes!” he said while wrapping his arm around my shoulder. “You strike me as a vodka-coke kinda guy.”
The server made eye contact with me while waiting for Straight-guy to pull out his wallet. I gave a small shake of my head. She winked, then went to pour the drinks and I noticed her only pretending to put a shot of vodka in mine. Servers sure are perceptive.
“So, like, I’m straight,” he said again, “but do you want a snog?”
Right, that’s it. I pulled his arm off my shoulder and grabbed my drink, then motioned for him to come closer so he could hear me. He nodded, way too eager for what was to come.
“If you want to snog a guy, you’re not straight: you’re in denial. You’re in a gay club and you’re not fooling anyone. And to top it off, you’re a fucking creep so leave me alone.” I couldn’t help but smile as he recoiled. “But thanks for the drink!”
I raised my plastic cup then turned and walked away, quickly losing him in the crowd. I couldn’t let anything distract me from finding Elijah. But even so, it was almost impossible to make out someone’s face from more than a few feet away. I’d never been in a place where there were so many lights—reds and oranges, blending into purples, blues, and pinks—but still so much darkness.
As if in answer, the lights all switched off in sync with the bass drop, then harsh strobe lighting took their place. The entire hall was filled with white light, a split second at a time. Now was my chance! I scanned the room, eyes darting from one corner to the next, trying to match the face I saw on Rosheen’s Snapchat to any of the ones here.
Off to one side, Elijah sat at a table with a girl’s hands in his lap. Just as I caught a glimpse of him, the music changed and the lighting went back to normal. But I knew which direction to go in. I left my drink at a nearby table so I wouldn’t have to worry about spilling it and slipped through the crowd. When I arrived at Elijah’s table… he was gone. The same girl he was with sat alone.
“Did Elijah leave?” I asked.
She squinted, not able to hear me. I stepped closer and shouted over the music.
“Did Elijah leave?!”
“How do you know him?” she said. She seemed defensive… Maybe strangers had approached him before and he’d had enough of it.
“We went to primary school together,” I lied. “I recognised him and came to say hello.”
She watched me for a moment, trying to figure out if I was trustworthy.
“He’s gone out for a smoke.” she pointed up to the stairs.
I went back to pushing my way past sweaty bodies, then climbed the stairs. The bouncer from before sat behind a booth near the exit. He waved at me.
“Sorry, I’m busy.” I blurted as I threw open the doors.
And there he was. Elijah Livingstone, leaning against the wall, cigarette in mouth. He looked nothing like his brother; where Jacob had been sickly thin, Elijah was bordering on the opposite; while Jacob’s eyes had stood out like blemishes on otherwise perfect porcelain, Elijah’s were dull and dreary.
I must have been gaping at him because he turned to me with a scowl.
“Do I know you?”
I almost replied with the same lie I’d told his girlfriend, or whoever she was, then caught myself.
“No.” I extended my hand. “My name’s Shay Cable. I run a blog site called The Second Face of London.”
He looked at my hand as if it was covered in shit, then took another drag of his cigarette, “And?”
“Right now, I’m covering the murders in the East End. Specifically, that of your younger brother, Jacob.” I pulled my phone out to record the audio. “Can you confirm that Jacob Livingstone was not affiliated with any gangs?”
I didn’t see the punch coming until I was face down in the concrete. Elijah stood over me, fists balled and breathing heavy. I tried to sit up but my head throbbed; it must have hit the ground hard. He muttered something but I could barely hear him over the ringing in my ears. I just shook my head, hoping that was the correct answer.
It seemed to be right because he walked back inside the club, leaving me to spit blood on the pavement. I realised then, I’d never been punched in the face before. Was my nose broken? I checked with my fingers. No. But my bottom lip felt numb, then burned when I went to touch it. It’d probably swell to the size of a ping-pong ball come morning.
Well, that went well.
What was I thinking, being so blunt like that? I expected a negative response but I thought I’d be able to sweet talk some usable answers out of him. Not a fat lip and grazed hands.
I pulled myself to my feet, using a nearby lamp post for support. The painful ringing in my ears drowned out the music leaking from the club entrance. I hope I don’t have a concussion.
Rosheen. I needed to text Rosheen. Tell her I was cutting my night short. I checked my pockets but my phone was missing. It had been in my hand when I spoke to Elijah. I must’ve dropped it. My eyes scoured the pavement: where was it?
I tried to take a step forward and stumbled into the wall. Dizziness, ringing ears, blurred vision. Yep, I had a concussion. And now I’d lost my phone. As if this night couldn’t get worse.
Maybe an angel was listening because the next thing my eyes saw was a phone in the middle of the street. My phone. How did it end up there? It didn’t matter, I just had to get it.
I took deep breaths—it seemed to help with the dizziness—and pushed myself off the wall, almost tripped on the curb, and landed on my knees on top of my phone.
Then everything went silent. I could hear my heartbeat and the whoosh of air in my lungs. Time seemed to have come to a stop as I raised my head. A car was an inch away from my face. Its headlights were off. I couldn’t hear its engine. I remember thinking, as my face was level with the front bumper, that a Honda, a Honda, was about to take my life.
It was as if I was watching myself from a few feet away. A boy, on his knees. Time, slowly speeding up. A car, slamming into him, shattering his ribs.
It felt like someone had swung a baseball bat into my chest at full speed, except the baseball bat was the size of a refrigerator. It was happening so slowly, I could describe every tiny detail, yet in truth it was happening too fast for me to react. My body flung backwards, but not very far. Because my left arm had caught under one of the tires. The sharp edge of the bumper cut into my shoulder, right through the flesh.
And the pain. I couldn’t hear myself scream. Or maybe that’s all I could hear. I tried to say something, anything, but warm liquid was crawling up my throat, drowning the words before I could let them out. The last thing I remember was the smell of blood and gravel: copper and dirt. And a fear. A fear of death.