They found the man they call John in an abandoned warehouse, surrounded by four dead bodies. Who he is or what he was doing there, the police do not know, even John does not know. D.I. Carl Grant recruits Professor Catherine Lamb to help get John's memory back and find out who really is, but events take a dark turn. There are a lot of people who seem to want John dead before he recovers his memory, and Carl Grant wonders whether John is the good guy or the bad guy.
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CHAPTER 1 - OUT OF THE DARKNESS
What is it about the dark that makes us so afraid? Is it just the absence of the light that fills us with anxiety? Is it the fear of accidentally touching something horrific, something disturbing, or is it just the loss of a sense that we have come to take for granted? Fear of the dark and the unknown filled him now as he crawled across the cold stone floor. His only guide was his sense of touch and his hearing amongst the absolute silence. He felt bitterly cold, but sweat streamed from every pore of his skin. He wiped his forehead with his hand and felt for his right leg. His muscles ached with pain as he tried to move. It was as though he had never used his legs or arms before. His head ached and he could not be sure whether the dripping liquid from his nose was sweat or blood. He moved to his left as best he could with nothing to confirm his direction and eventually found a wall. He ran his hand across the surface of the wall. It was smooth and every bit as a cold as the floor. He grunted as he strained to get to his feet using the wall as support. He managed to get upright and leaned, breathlessly, against the wall. As he stood there, shaking, his ankles throbbed with the pain of supporting his weight. He stood against the wall for what must have been ten minutes, scared to move in case his feet and legs failed him and he fell crashing to the floor. He might not have the ability to see, but there was nothing wrong with his hearing. He slapped himself lightly on the side of his thigh, relieved to hear the sound of his hand hitting his skin. He turned his head around slowly, listening for anything that might provide a clue for an exit or some aid. His neck muscles cracked in response to the turn and he gasped at the stabbing pain, which came with each twist. Despite the stiffness he felt, the tingling sensation in his limbs informed him that the blood was returning to them, bringing his body back to life. He gritted his teeth and pushed one foot forward, moving away from the wall. To his relief, his legs managed to support him, and as he continued his movement, his confidence grew and he quickened his pace. He walked across the room in a straight line, searching for the opposite wall, using his right hand to protect himself from any unseen obstacle that might cause him to fall. Eventually, his hand found contact with the surface of the opposite wall, and he rested for a while longer, smiling to himself in the darkness as the strength returned to his body. He was confident now. What he was doing here and why he was here he did not know, but he did realise that he needed to find a way out. He moved forward once more, this time keeping close to the wall, as he searched for the exit.
He cursed as his feet hit something solid on the ground and sent him tumbling to the concrete floor. He expected to experience more pain as he hit the ground but was shocked when he fell on something altogether softer and warmer. His hands explored the object that caused his collapse and he was shocked to discover the soft flesh of a human body. His first impulse was to pull his hands away and get to his feet, looking for an exit with more urgency, but he needed answers and this grim discovery could present a way out of his dark prison. He wondered why the body felt different to his. He was smooth and cold, but this was textured and warm. His right hand slipped from the still form and hit the floor. His hand slid through the warm fluid next to the body. He raised his hand and smelt it. He did not know what he expected to achieve by smelling his hand, it just seemed the thing to do. As he tried to get to his feet again, his hand found another body. He crouched down on his haunches and slowly searched around in the darkness. He found two more bodies, all surrounded by the same warm fluid, which hinted at death. His survival instincts kicked in and he jumped to his feet, finding the wall once again, walking along it slowly, resuming his search for an exit. As he progressed along the wall, he heard the click of a door opening. Now he could hear the sound of men moving and shouting. They sounded hostile and, like him, they seemed afraid. A thin bright line of light on the floor gave away the location of a door and he moved towards it, but the door swung open before he reached it and the light poured in, revealing his naked form to the men. He shielded his eyes from the blinding light with an arm. He had been so desperate to find light, and now that he had done, all it gave him was more pain. The men streamed into the room, bringing more light with them. They scanned the walls and floors, shouting in alarm as they saw the bodies on the floor. Then they focused their light upon him and they shouted warnings, pointing their metal sticks at him. He understood when they told him to get down on his knees, but he did not understand when they roughly forced his hands behind his back, clipping them together with cold steel. As they dragged him from the room, one of the men flicked a switch and the room flooded with light. He turned his head to see four bodies lying on the floor in a pool of deep red liquid. He wondered what they were doing there. What was he doing here and what part had he played in their death? More worryingly, he wondered who he was?
"The freak is naked," said one of the men to another, as they bundled him into a van.
One of the men inside the van was speaking to him. He was saying something about his rights. He did not understand what he meant, but he nodded his head in his acknowledgment. He felt the van move and leave the area. One of the men threw a blanket over him and muttered something about the cold. He paid no attention to them. All he knew was that he was in some sort of trouble, and he had a feeling that, normally, he would be used to this. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat as the gaze of the two men in the back of the van burned into him. Only when the van stopped moving and the doors swung open did they look away from him.
They dragged him out of the van and ushered him through driving rain into a well-lit building.
"Get this bloke something to wear and put him in a cell," one of them shouted to the man behind the desk.
He was escorted into a small room and thrown a bundle of clothes.
"Here put these on," said a man. "Someone will belong to interview you in a minute."
The cell door closed and he picked up the clothes. He took off the blanket and dressed quickly. The warmth of the new clothes comforted him as he looked around his new home. He tried to make sense of his surroundings, but none of it was familiar. He lay back down on the small bed and stared at the ceiling. The door of the cell swung open and a man in a blue uniform escorted him to a warmer and slightly friendlier room. As he walked through the door, another man told him to take a seat. He sat down and the man began to talk to him in a formulaic fashion.
"I am the custody officer," he said. "I just need to go through a few things with you."
The custody officer waited for a response, but when none was forthcoming, he continued.
"Is there anyone you want us to inform of your arrest?" he asked.
"Arrest, what do you mean? I do not know anyone to inform," said the man.
"Do you have a solicitor or would you like independent legal advice?" asked the custody officer.
"Solicitor? Independent legal advice? I do not understand," said the man.
The custody officer sighed and stared at the man for a moment.
"You have the right to consult and view the Code of Practice," said the custody officer. "You are allowed to make one phone call to inform someone of your arrest. During the interview process, you have the right to take a break every eight hours."
The custody officer looked at the suspect. He did not seem to have any understanding of the situation he was in. He paused for a minute or two before standing up and walking to the door.
"Wait here," he said, before closing the door behind him.
He did not have to wait for long. The door opened and a younger man entered the room and sat in front of him.
"I am Detective Inspector Grant," he said. "Can I ask you what your name is?"
The man stared at him.
"Name?" he asked.
"Yes. Your name. What do you call yourself?" asked Grant.
"I have no name. I do not call myself anything," he replied.
"You must have a name," said Grant.
"Why?" asked the man.
Grant took out a pen and read the man his rights. When a second police officer entered the room, he started to record the conversation.
"For the purposes of this interview, I will be calling the interviewee, John," said Grant.
Grant looked at the man.
"Is that okay with you?" he asked him.
"John. I like John," said the man.
"John. What were you doing in that warehouse?" asked Grant.
"Warehouse?" asked John.
"Yes. The warehouse where we found you naked, surrounded by four dead bodies," said Grant.
"You mean the room?" asked John.
"If you like," said Grant. "What were you doing in the room?"
"Trying to get out," said John.
"How did you get in?" asked Grant.
"I don't know," said John.
"You don't know how you got into the room?" asked Grant.
"That is correct," said John.
"Why were you naked?" asked Grant.
"Because I was not wearing any clothes," said John.
"That much I can figure out for myself. What I'm asking you is why you were not wearing any clothes?" asked Grant.
"I don't know," said John.
"What happened to the other people in the room, John?" asked Grant.
"I don't know," said John.
"Do you know how they were killed? Do you know who killed them?" asked Grant.
"I do not," said John.
"You were in a locked room with four dead people, and you expect me to believe you don't know what happened?" asked Grant.
"I don't remember," said John.
"John. Are you saying that you have no memory of what happened there?" asked Grant.
"I remember some things, but not the things you are asking me," said John.
"Tell me what you do remember, John," said Grant.
"I woke up in darkness. I tried to find an exit. My body ached, I remember that. I fell over the bodies on the floor and then some men entered the room and dragged me outside," said John.
"That's it? Nothing else?" asked Grant.
"I remember nothing else at all," said John.
Grant bowed his head and looked at the desk, considering his options. After a while, he looked up at John.
"John. You say you don't know your name? Do you remember anything about yourself before you woke up in the room?" asked Grant.
John shook his head.
"It's as if I was born in the room," said John.
"Interview terminated," said Grant, standing up and stopping the recording. He looked at the other officer, shaking his head in disbelief. He turned back towards John and leaned on the table.
"John, we're going to need to get a doctor over here to take a look at you. You'll stay here whilst you wait. Can we get you a coffee or something to eat?" asked Grant.
"I am hungry, but what is coffee?" asked John.
"A warm drink," said Grant.
"I would like that," said John. "Thank you."
John ate and drank until the doctor turned up and examined him. When the doctor left the room, John requested another coffee and sipped it slowly, still wondering what was going on here. Grant stood outside the room talking to the doctor. John could see them both through the small window in the door.
"Well, what's the verdict, doctor?" asked Grant.
"Physically he's fine. In actual fact, he is in great shape," said the doctor.
"And mentally?" asked Grant.
"Well, there's your problem," said the doctor. "It's not my area, but he doesn't seem to know who he is. I think you have a man in custody who is suffering from some sort of amnesia."
"Or he could be pretending," said Grant. "Using it to cover his guilt."
"With all due respect, Detective Inspector, that is not for me to determine, it is for you. You may need specialist help," said the doctor.
"We can run a lie detector test on him," said Grant.
"And if he passes the lie detector test?" asked the doctor. "How long can you hold him?"
"Thirty-six hours at a stretch," said Grant. "What do you suggest?"
"You need someone who understands this condition. Someone who can tell whether his condition is real or faked," said the doctor. "There is a woman at the university who is very talented in this field. A Professor Lamb. I suggest you acquire her services. Unfortunately, she is not cheap."
"Nothing ever is these days," said Grant.
Grant walked the doctor to the exit and looked at the rain outside. As he stood there, two officers ran through the door, almost colliding with Grant.
"Damn rain's coming down so hard it stings you. Even through these things," one said, pulling at his coat.
"I've never seen rain like this before, have you?" asked Grant. "Did they forecast it?"
"Did they hell," said the officer. "They should sack the bloody lot of them. I'm soaked."
Grant watched the two officers as they strode through the station. Everywhere they walked, they left a huge puddle of water in their wake. Seconds later, they come rushing back past him.
"Emergency?" asked Grant.
"Warehouse fire. A big one," said one. "Whole damn fire service is on it."
"Where?" asked Grant.
"The old Macken building. Some of our guys were in there when it went up," said he said.
"No, no, no," hissed Grant.
"Someone you know in there?" asked the officer.
"I was there earlier tonight," said Grant, running for his coat. "Mind if I come with you?"
"No problem, detective," said the officer. "Just hold onto your coat. It's brutal out there."
The patrol car weaved through the streets until it reached its destination. Grant jumped out of the car and ran to the fire chief who was directing the operation.
"DI Grant. What happened?" asked Grant.
"We don't know for sure yet. According to reports, one minute it was quiet and the next it was in flames. Some sort of giant fireball. It's set some of the other buildings alight as well," said the chief.
"We had people in there. Do you know if any of them got out?" asked Grant.
"I thought this place was abandoned," said the chief. "You say you had people inside?"
"There was a multiple murder inside there tonight. We had a whole team in there," said Grant.
The fire chief looked at the ground and shook his head, before looking at Grant and placing a hand on his shoulder.
"We haven't seen a soul. I'm sorry, but you'd better prepare yourself for the worst," said the fire chief. "We'll get inside as soon as we can, but not until we know it's safe."
Grant watched the flames licking around the building, occasionally jumping to land on another building, sending desperate fire crews running to douse the flames. The officers who brought him here were right. The rain stung like hailstones when it hit your skin and even through his thick coat he felt the impact, and yet it had no effect on the inferno in front of him at all. All he could do was stand and watch the building burn to the ground, and wait to the retrieve the bodies of the poor unfortunates inside.
By the time the fire was extinguished, there was nothing left of the warehouse. The rescuers searched through the debris of the building, looking for survivors, periodically stopping to drag a charred corpse from the wreckage. Grant had been here all night, watching the gallant efforts of the fire crews. The rain had eased now, turning into a slow relentless drizzle. He felt cold and helpless, unable to continue his investigation, but he was running out of time. If the man back at the station knew anything, anything at all, Grant had to find out what. He grabbed a lift back to the station and had barely stepped foot through the door when he was summoned to the Chief Inspector's office. Chief Inspector Roger Howard looked gaunt and anxious.
"Carl," said Howard, looking up from his desk. "Are you all right?"
"No, not really," said Grant.
"We didn't lose everyone?" asked Howard.
Grant nodded his head.
"Not one single survivor," said Grant.
"You think the fire was deliberate?" asked Howard.
"There was nothing in that warehouse. Nothing that would cause it to combust like that," said Grant. "I think someone came back to clean up the mess they left and took out our people as well."
"Then we'll get the bastards," said Howard. "Whatever it takes. What about our guy in the interview room?"
"He says he doesn't remember anything, not even his own name," said Grant.
"Ah, convenient amnesia," said Howard. "We haven't heard that one before, have we?"
"The doctor examined him and said he was fine physically, but we should get someone else in to see him," said Grant.
"For the amnesia?" said Howard. "Well, we can run it through the usual channels."
"He suggested someone in particular," said Grant. "Some professor at the university. A Doctor Lamb, I think he said."
"Well go and get this guy," said Howard.
"It's a woman actually," said Grant.
Howard smiled and stood up from his desk.
"I don't care if it's an alien or a talking polar bear. If she can get inside this guy's head and get something out, get her in here yesterday," said Howard.
"Will do, sir," said Grant. "I'd like to see the man in custody again before I go. If that's okay?"
"Don't ask, Carl. Just do. Asking takes up too much time. This baby is yours to handle in whatever way you see fit. Just keep me informed," said Howard.
"I will," said Grant.
He left the office and made his way to the custody room, weaving in and out of shocked police officers who were just taking in the news of the inferno. He entered the room and shut the door quietly behind him, to see John staring at him.
"Can I ask you a question, without recording it?" asked Grant.
"Of course," said John.
"When you were inside the room, did you see any explosives or something that could cause a fire?" asked Grant.
"It was dark. I could not see my own hands in front of me," said John.
"Of course. Stupid question, but I had to ask," said Grant.
"I could smell something, though," said John.
Grant sat down in front of John.
"You smelt something? Can you describe the smell?" he asked.
"Yes. It was musty and acrid," said John.
Grant stood up and shuffled around in his pockets, eventually producing a box of matches. He lit one and put it out immediately.
"Did it smell like that?" asked Grant.
"Yes. It smelt exactly like that," said John.
"Sulphur," said Grant. "Thank you, John."
John was going to ask Grant for another coffee, but Grant was through the door before he could speak.
Outside the rain still drizzled down. Grant pulled the collar of his coat up as he walked out the door and paused on the steps of the building. He had to get inside John's head if he really was telling the truth. If John was not telling the truth, he would live to regret it. He wished he had chosen a different day to give up smoking because today was clearly not a day where he would succeed in kicking the habit. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a packet of cigarettes. He smiled to himself at his own denial. If he was serious about giving up smoking, why did he carry a packet of cigarettes around with him? He lit one up and inhaled deeply. As the smoke floated up upward, he could not help but think of the people taken in the warehouse fire. He looked to the sky and swore to bring those responsible to justice.
He finished the cigarette and threw what remained of it into the road, starting to walk down the steps.
The sound of a crack on the window behind him caused him to turn around sharply. The glass was cracked where something had plainly hit it. Grant looked around for a stone or a rock, but all he saw was a dying and broken bird wriggling around on the floor, desperately trying to raise itself and fly away again. He ducked as another bird narrowly missed his head and hit the window, this time causing a splatter of blood to stain the window.
"Jesus Christ," muttered Grant, leaning down to look at the bird.
He jumped back up when another bird hit the window, then another until a rapid procession of what were now clearly blackbirds threw themselves to their death against the glass panes. He moved away from the window and looked down at the steps, which were now covered with the writhing bodies of the birds.
"What the hell?" he said.
He looked up and saw a huge flock of blackbirds approaching in the distance.
"No way," he said.
The black cloud swirled around in the air, hovering above the station, before their cries filled the air and they swooped down, hitting the windows at the same time. The windows exploded from the force of the impact, sending glass shattering inward and causing people to shout in fright and dive for cover. It was over in a second. A crowd gathered outside the station to view the extraordinary sight, whilst inside a shocked police force, tried to clean up the mess. Grant made a cursory check to see if everyone was okay, before walking around the block to the car park. The sooner he got to the university and got some help with this, the better.
The crowd gathered in the street, despite the best attempts of officers to get them away from the building. The officers gave up all hope of clearing the crowd when the press arrived. At the back of the crowd, an old man with a brown trilby hat stood watching the chaos with a smile on his face. He made his way slowly to the front to see the dead birds being hurriedly cleaned away. As reporters increasingly annoyed the officers cleaning up the mess, a young man next to him stared at the rolled up cigarette hanging out of the side of the old man's mouth.
"Hey? Have you got a light?" asked the young man.
"Sure," said the old man, producing a lighter.
The young man took the shabbiest looking packet of cigarettes from his pocket and took out a crumpled cigarette that was barely still joined to the filter.
"Thanks," he said, as the old man lit it for him. "I was gasping."
"No problem," said the old men.
"What happened here?" said the young man.
"I don't know," said the old man. "But the birds know."