Hylton H Smith
Published by Promethean
Copyright by Hylton Smith 2012
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage or retrieval system, without the permission in writing from the publisher,
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters and incidents are products of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.
Cover Image Courtesy of Matt Hale
D.S. Stephanie Baker reeled away from her workstation, pushing her chair over as she fled to the restroom. She was retching as she passed colleagues, who were alarmed at the expression of terror on her face. The disturbance brought Jack Renton out of his office.
“What the hell’s going on?” It was D.I. Ben Adams who brought everyone’s attention to her work-screen. The images were still playing on a loop. The camera was annoyingly zooming in and out of focus. The corpse was horrendously disfigured. A few more officers turned away from the workstation and Renton asked one of the females to check on Stephanie. The concentration within the huddle was lanced by Renton’s phone ringing.
“Jack, it’s Greg, if you haven’t got your system up on the screen yet, you’d better do it now.”
Renton replied quietly to the Medical Examiner. “We have it running Greg. At least I assume we’re watching the same thing. How did you get on to this?”
“A colleague from Lincolnshire called me to say it popped up when he booted up the system at 7.25 this morning. Apparently it’s all over the country.”
Renton tried to gather his thoughts, while he was still watching the loop. There was no audio commentary, but text had been embedded in the video, acting like subtitles. This message was also on a loop. ‘Do not judge before evidence is assessed. It is being delivered to Tynemouth Priory as you watch. Click the link before you depart.’ Renton responded.
“How can it be all over the country?”
“Come on Jack, even I know that the system is designed as an Intranet as well as having an internet capability to Google for information in the public domain. It looks like the former has been compromised. My colleague rang because of the reference to the Priory. Your phone is going to get hot any time now.”
“Ok, thanks Greg.” Turning back to Ben Adams, he passed on Greg Watson’s assertion regarding the impending maelstrom into which they were going to be sucked. Adams nodded and said they should be careful about clicking any links.
“It could crash the whole system, or plant a virus, or God knows what. We don’t even know if this is genuine or some kind of hoax.” The entire gathering was gripped by inertia as Stephanie returned; she looked pale and drawn but declared it was due to the over-indulgence in breakfast rather than a direct reaction to the butchery. Nobody believed her; they had all been a little forewarned when Ben Adams had conveyed that there was something horrific on screen, before they actually saw the video. Stephanie had been hit with it unexpectedly. The debate over clicking the link was abruptly resolved when Chief Constable Bernard Cousins rang from the Durham H.Q.
“Jack, I have been called by one of my technicians. If you haven’t already done so you must sw….”
“We have Sir, and we’re just taking in the possible consequences of clicking the link.”
“Well don’t wait, my guys have already done this and it goes to a website. You need to check it yourself and note all relevant details. It’s self-explanatory and very worrying. Get back to me as soon as you’ve got the details.”
Adams clicked with some trepidation.
‘Welcome to Frankenstein.com. This site is for updates on the ‘corpse’ which is about to be discovered in Tynemouth Priory. The police have been informed, so they can’t deny what is fact. However, they will not reveal evidence until they are ready. This site will provide that evidence and update it regularly. It must be appreciated that the site will only be accessible until the server is forced to close it down. Fortunately, by using fragmented domain names and relevant meta-tags, it will pop up somewhere else. The internet will take over control. Once the hits reach a certain level, the world-wide appetite will predominate over the cumbersome spider-crawling by search engines. That is the beauty of the net. It has already started – the stats are changing so fast that analysis is pointless, and the police have yet to collect the bodies.’
Renton slumped into a chair and buried his head in his hands. He looked up just as the phones began their chorus. He saw everyone staring at him, expecting some direction. All he could do right now was to get to Tynemouth. Even though the locals were now at the scene, they would have to respect forensic and medical examination priorities. He asked Stephanie to hold the fort while he and Adams set off for the coast. He checked with Greg Watson again and was assured that Clive Donoghue’s forensic team were on their way. Watson had something to add.
“The producer of the video was helpful with the inclusion of a sophisticated magnification device while the loop is paused. The resolution capability was incredible. It suggested two things which we will have to check at the scene, but it means that anyone who has seen this video on our Intranet or the website can also conclude precisely what I have. I think I should travel with you on this occasion Jack.”
Renton asked Adams to pick up Greg at the mortuary. He knew all hell was going to break loose and it was just as well he could use the trip to Tynemouth to gather his thoughts on how to handle things. Watson shifted Renton’s perception by his declarations.
“It seems quite obvious from the magnification that the butchery has been performed by a novice, if one assumes they were trying to convince the observer that this was the corpse of a single person. First impressions were that it was a transsexual. I doubt that very much. The second point is, in my opinion, of more concern. Every amateur sleuth, pathologist, or psychologist will join in the fray. Subject to getting the remains back to the lab, I estimate that there are potentially parts from at least five different people involved. However, the video is cleverly shot in black and white, with flicker patches to make it appear very old. That’s why my estimate may be proved wrong.” Adams swerved unconsciously and Watson reminded him that it would be wise to slow down and maintain his focus on getting them to the priory in one piece.
“The torso, head, arms, legs and genitals don’t match up visually. This is where my assumption will be tested. At the joints, the red meat is pared back to reveal the connecting bone. It’s either a ploy to hint that the job is roughly done, or the intent is to actually make sure we test all available DNA to reveal how many bodies we are talking about.”
Renton was quiet. Then he drew the attention of the others to the final part of the message on the website.
“It stated that the police had not yet ‘collected the bodies.’ The statement was – bodies – plural.”
The rest of the journey was completed in silent contemplation. Renton’s mind wandered to how the conviction of the serial killer, beginning with the murder of Alistair Banks in 2018, had been pivotal in bridging the rift between his professional and private lives. His wife Jane had initially blamed his dedication to his work as the root cause of their problems, now she was encouraging him to continue. He had enjoyed this period so much. Although he still lived apart from Jane and his son, Daniel, they had all grown closer. When he suggested he was ready to take early retirement in a couple of years, she resisted it, saying that she had been affected badly by having to bring Daniel through his childhood alone. Now that their son was almost ready to apply to university, things were so much easier. The two intervening years had been blissful, and now he began to feel a cold sweat at the thought of another high profile investigation trashing all that had become precious in his private life. The words of Ben Adams while driving into the Priory car park echoed loudly in his mind.
“This case will be played out in the living rooms of the world – just like modern warfare. Welcome to the third decade of the twenty-first century.”
The ‘goods’ were thankfully undisturbed, but there was already a crowd of local residents and reporters to contend with. A coffin awaited them. They were expecting a bag, a container, or a blanket to contain the prime exhibit. A simple, but expensive casket was puzzling. Donoghue and his squad were already busy, and had marked off the various areas of access for the relevant expertise. “The coffin is yours Greg,” said Donoghue, “we’ll open it for you and take pictures before the contents are disturbed. Once you have what you want loaded on to the transport vehicle we’ll grab the coffin.” The biting December onshore wind completed the grisly scene on this day, the fifteenth of the month, 2020. On a warm summer’s day the ruin conveyed an image of comfort, a sentry against the ancient foes from the North Sea. Today, in the march toward winter, it spoke of the utter futility of resisting the elements.
As the lid was carefully eased off, the shivering officials were met with yet another surprise. There was a hole in the chest where the heart should have been and it seemed to have the hallmarks of an electric routing tool. The organ itself was wrapped in a sheet of greaseproof paper, as if it was something the village butcher would have provided for the evening meal. There was no note or instruction – nothing to indicate why this had been done after the video had been uploaded. For now, they decided to refer to the heart as a trophy taken and then passed on. Greg Watson did not need to elucidate on his observations from the film being accurate. The head was that of a woman aged around 40-50, with dense black hair, probably artificially coloured. The torso was also female, but much younger looking, judging by the shape, very slender frame and youthful, wrinkle-free skin. The breasts were cosmetically enhanced according to those who professed to know about such things. The arms were almost certainly male, being very hairy and muscular. The length also suggested someone over 6 feet tall. The legs were also deemed to be male, judging by the misalignment to the female pelvis, and they were each adorned with a small tattoo, which were partly obscured by the longish red hair on both thighs and calves. These observations would have to be backed up with laboratory data in the coming days, but the genitalia only needed visual assessment to declare separation from a male of the species, with blonde hair. The probability of Greg Watson finding anything to refute his earlier statement that five different bodies had contributed to the joined-up human jigsaw was remote. Ben Adams muttered through his freezing lips.
“Frankenstein.com - that must be the chosen trade mark of the killer.” Both Renton and Watson tried to speak at the same time, and the D.C.I. gave way.
“Don’t be too sure that this is a single killer acting alone here Ben; there’s a lot of work involved in making the movie and overseeing its distribution, then there is the small matter of procuring five corpses, performing the dismemberment, and then joining the bones in a crude but effective way, with chain links. Also, it would have been a monumental task to get this coffin and its contents here in such a relatively good condition.” Adams nodded as Renton added his insight.
“Didn’t the myth suggest that Frankenstein took parts from people who were already dead before he subjected them to high voltage? This atrocity we’re looking at must surely be constituted by poor souls who were killed in order to participate.” He then decided he should switch on his mobile and open the flood gates.
The first message was from Stephanie. ‘The website has attracted so many hits that the server has crashed, so it is now out of action, even before it was closed down. Cousins’ technicians are frantically trying to discover how Frank, as they are now calling him, hacked into the Intranet and informed the entire countrywide force, within an instant of anyone booting up the system at any time, from any location. Uncle Bernard is going ape-shit, not a pleasant sight. The really bad news is that Frank is still ahead, because people around the world are inviting him to place content on their sites and linking them to others. Our phones are overloaded and we’ve been tipped off that a delegation from London is headed north. Hope you won’t be too long in returning as there’s something potentially recognisable on the video, through a skylight. I first thought it was the outline of the top of a building but with higher magnification it turned out to be a computer generated image the sender included for our attention. It is a gothic-shaped gravestone with a number on it where you would expect a name.’ Renton stifled his concern over the London squad and reflected once more on the 2018 case. He concluded that he was about to experience the subtle differences between a serial killer and mass murder, whether the latter was carried out by one or more perpetrators.
There was also a message from Jane. ‘We heard about your case on the news, and Daniel was straight on to the website. I couldn’t watch the video. He was mad that it went off before he had texted his friends. It’s awful, ring me when you can.’ He could not banish the conversation they had a year ago. He had been offered a gentle step toward retirement in the statistics department. Jane taunted him by saying he wouldn’t last five minutes.
‘You have a problem with authority Jack, you’d be as miserable as hell. Just stay in your present job until they either throw you out or they find you something more acceptable.’ He had to admit he felt proud to have been a part of Ben Adams’ step up from Detective Sergeant to Inspector, and Stephanie’s consequent recognition. He had also managed to prise D.S. Sam Gibson, who had contributed so much to the Alistair Banks case, from the Middlesbrough branch of the Three Rivers force. It was frustrating that Sam was currently on vacation. He rang Cousins.
“I have the details from the video and they check out with the ‘creation’ at the Priory. I’m going to wait a while longer to have a word with Clive Donoghue before returning to Newcastle. I understand your technicians are trying to determine how Frank got into the system. My question right now is how to handle Frank going forward. Even if we could shut him or her out of the Intranet, he or she has the rest of the world on the team in terms of letting everyone know what has been done or about to be done. Our normal way of not releasing certain information to the public is under serious threat. Frank’s going to play chess with us. We won’t come out of that too well unless we can maintain the Intranet as our prime contact point with Frank. This is just a thought Sir, and ties in with my next question. Who is going to handle the press and the ‘bomb disposal’ squad from London?”
“Yes, I also see this as a tricky call, and the London delegation will not be open to allowing an external presence to operate within the Intranet. The fact that it has been penetrated already will count for nothing with them, even though they have apparently accepted that the Trojan horse gained access at their core, before the regions were uplinked. As far as the press is concerned, I’ll handle those on our patch. I can’t say what will develop nationally as yet, but this will be discussed with the bomb disposal squad, as you refer to them, and I’ll handle them for as long as I can so that you can get on with due process of the evidence.”
“Thank you Sir, I want to check with Watson on return, with regard to how long each of the five victims has been dead. It strikes me that it’s likely to have been some time in the planning and maybe we should get on to missing persons lists ahead of the DNA results coming in.” C.C. Cousins was happy with this approach and Renton hailed Ben Adams to the car.
“What do you think about splitting our efforts along the lines of communication with Frank as one task, and the hard evidence as the other?”
“It sounds good if I get to do the evidence.”
“I knew you would get your preference in first. Ok, you work with Sam, and see if you can get him to postpone his leave. He doesn’t go away anywhere and he has no family other than his daughter in New Zealand. I’ll work with Steph – Sam is better at the detail and she has more to offer in lateral thinking.”
“Lateral thinking? It was always called disobedience when I cut my teeth. You’ve got a deal.”
“So will you get right on to Sam?”
“No need Boss, he texted me to say he had heard like everyone else, he’s at his desk.” Renton managed a painful smile as they climbed out of the car, despite Adams’ manoeuvre, and the wind progressing to a gale.
Greg Watson was not hopeful, even with his fancy new ‘time of death’ equipment, that he could be as precise as Renton hoped.
“I agree with your opinion that these people may have been dead for some time, and that could be our problem. Their parts are in good condition, and if that means they have been frozen for a long time, it would affect our new technique. In general, both methods we use are more helpful when we’re talking hours rather than weeks or even months. It may require your lists of missing persons to go back some way Jack.”
Renton turned back to Adams. “Well, what are you waiting for? Get over and see if Donoghue has anything of interest yet. If he hasn’t we can get out of this bloody wind and head back. I’m depending on you being proactive with the evidence Ben; I’m no longer directing it. That was the deal unless you are having second thoughts.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m on it.” Donoghue was surprised at Adams’ explanation of his temporary role, and his eyebrows testified as much. He shouted to one of his assistants.
“Angela, go ahead, show D.I. Adams your little discovery.” She scuttled back to the coffin and motioned for Adams to follow her.
“Help me turn the lid over.” On the underside, two lengthy numbers had been carved. They each had ten digits. Angela was having difficulty making herself heard because of the rising wind, even though they were inside the tent. She mumbled something, and then produced an instrument which lit up the numbers with a soft glow.
Frankenstein.com by Hylton Smith / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 1.9 out of 5 / Based on30 votes