Chapter One

The bottle of prosecco remained half full as beads of cold water decorated it’s striking cut-glass exterior. It was a shame to waste such a delightful sparkling wine with the lively effervescence of ripe lemon, hints of green apple, and grapefruit flavours. Still, it had served it’s purpose, both champagne flutes now drained except for the smallest pool of liquid that collected at the very bottom of the vessel. However, even this miniscule remnant would be sufficient for a forensic team to detect the presence of a strong sedative in one of the glasses. Carefully, the champagne flutes were collected and placed into a zip lock bag to be disposed of away from this present location.

To an inquisitive eye, the absence of a glass for the prosecco would raise suspicions. Drinking alone on a Wednesday night would not be considered unusual, particularly now so, when the Government had taken the unprecedented decision to place the country into a lockdown to supposedly stem the transmission of the COVID-19 virus. Up and down the land, drinking and eating had become the national past time, as people were confined to their homes, working, sleeping and just existing from their enforced prisons only able to shop for essentials and partake in a daily bout of outdoor exercise. For someone who lived alone, the lack of meaningful contact with other people, led some individuals to take to the online chat forums seeking connection. In their quiet desperation they would even bend the rules and smuggle in someone not considered a member of their household. On this occasion, this tragic person had unwittingly been an accomplice to their own demise. They had made meticulous arrangements and taken precautions to ensure this visitor would remain undetected from the prying eyes of neighbours.

A third flute was retrieved from the kitchen cabinet, filled with prosecco and then the contents unceremoniously emptied into the kitchen sink. All that remained was to get an imprint from the lips of the host. The host, a fifty year old male, was now slumped over one arm of the chesterfield sofa. The open fire which was lit only an hour ago, casted an orange and yellow tapestry of colour on the man’s face giving an impression of life. His heavy build meant a little effort was required to upright the body and place the glass in one of the hands. The lips, which were now a shade of blue, were easily manipulated to form an imprint on the glass.

With the charade now complete, the flute was placed on the coffee table and the lifeless body allowed to collapse back into the bowels of the sofa.

The visitor unconsciously rubbed their wrists, a small bruise was developing from grappling with the host. Despite the host being heavily sedated, which would ordinarily comatose a person to the middle of the next day, the instinct to live had been so overwhelming that for a brief moment adrenaline overrode the drug as oxygen was being deprived to his lungs. He had tried to relieve the weight of the cushion that had covered his face, but the firm arms applying pressure were steadfast, and without his full faculties it had been a hopeless endeavour. His legs had kicked and his body squirmed, and after a couple of minutes the fingers that had bound around the visitor’s wrists loosen and fell limply to towards the floor. He had succumbed to the final darkness.

The visitor inspected the book shelves of the host which were adorned with family photos. A recent photograph was with the man and what appeared to be his young grandson walking hand in hand on a beach. On the walls were certificates of graduation from Imperial College and a practicing certificate from the General Medical Council awarded to Dr Charles Roth. The interloper looked at the latter with disdain. This doctor was a traitor to his profession and worse to humankind.

Dr Charles Roth was not only a practicing GP but also had a background in virology. He had risen to notoriety due his outspoken criticism of the Government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, that lockdowns were unnecessary, and that the medical regulatory bodies were ignoring the use of early therapeutics such as ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine so to rush to market a new MRNA vaccine and put it upon the public without extensive testing.

His position, clearly against the popular narrative, was alienating him amongst his peers. He entered a whole new stratosphere when he posted his opinions on his YouTube channel, he was barraged by commentators labelling him a conspiracy theorist and worse issuing calls for his arrest and even death. But his arguments were well constructed and offered substantive peer researched material, and he was often cited by other critics of the COVID response. He was deplatformed from social media on a number of occasions, but he would spring up again under another pseudonym and quickly amassed followers. His notoriety even had a number of Members of Parliament call for the revocation of his medical license and the pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer and Astra Zenca stopped supplying his practice with their drugs.

Despite this intimidation and pressure, he was stubborn and not easily dissuaded. He lived alone, his wife passing only five years earlier from cancer. His only family now was his son’s family who lived on the other side of the world. He had his work and what he believed now to be his calling, to speak out against the tyrannical machinations of Governments and large corporations seeking to obtain more and more control and influence over people’s lives. He was a thorn in the establishment’s side which made him a target, and tonight someone had ordained it to be his last.

His murderer continued to search his study looking for a trinket, something that would not go amiss, to claim as a prize for tonight’s endeavours even though unpalatable, it was morally justified. How many people would have died as a result of listening to this man’s fake claims? People were dying in the thousands because they refused to “follow the science” to not wear a mask or socially distance, to spurn the opportunity to take the vaccine. No, this doctor was dangerous, as malevolent as Donald Trump and his ghastly rhetoric. As naïve and wilfully blind as a climate change denier. Tonight this interloper may have just saved many from future untold suffering, and to paraphrase, the needs of the many outweigh the life of one.

There was one more job to do. This doctor, like most doctors, had a god complex and an ego to match. He couldn’t help boasting about his next video release. As soon as the fire was lit and the prosecco poured, he had gestured for them to walk over to the desk. Post it notes and scrap pieces of paper littered the surface of his desk containing scribblings of ideas, diagrams of viral interaction, names of other co-conspirators and their YouTube handles. He woke the laptop from it’s slumber and entered the password. The screen saver appeared, a photo of him and a woman with brown mousey hair with the occasional silver flashes. She had eyes set a little too closely to be considered beautiful but her face was warm and portrayed kindness and love.

Proudly he played his latest video recording from within the YouTube studio app, it had been fully encoded and was awaiting the command to upload it into the public arena. The video started with him sitting at the very desk they stood at, and in authoritative voice he began to rebuke the efficacy rates of the vaccines using the pharmaceutical companies own test data.

This man needed to be stopped, and this latest video had galvanised the assailant’s determination to complete the morbid task. After the video had concluded the doctor couldn’t help himself and had continued to monologue about the curation of the test data and the implications on the notion of informed consent. As he spoke they returned to the tattered leather chesterfield sofa, having forgotten to logout of his laptop. Now this video and his whole library of videos was at the whim of the assailant.

After a few minutes of keystrokes and intricate mouse movements, the message box appeared on the screen:

Are you sure you want to delete all? Yes / No

With a tap of the right finger the order was confirmed and a progress bar appeared removing every one of his videos from YouTube. Not only was the Doctor’s physical voice silenced tonight but also his digital one.

As the laptop screen was closed, the assailant noticed a Montblanc fountain pen. The cap and barrel was crafted in black precious resin with a hand-crafted solid gold nib. It was a symbolic item which reminded the assailant of the adage ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ and a perfect reward for this evening.

The assailant took one more look around the house, covering tracks and ensuring that nothing was left behind. Gathering a bag that contained the used champagne flutes and the fountain pen, the assailant donned a mask, not in fear of a virus, but to obfuscate the face. Now it was time to embark on the most perilous part of the plan, leaving undetected.

The house was situated in an exclusive gated community. Each house was detached and had a modest sized drive. The drive itself was formed with gravel and posed a challenge to leave without the sound of crunching underfoot. They had used the rear entrance on arrival but the neighbours that overlooked this entrance were people of routine and like clockwork were out buying their essential food supplies. Now they had returned and the risk of being seen was too high.

The street outside at the front of the house was dimly lit, one of the street lights was out of commission. Usually, it would have been repaired by now, but COVID seemed to be a great excuse for some people not to work or they were furloughed, being paid to stay at home. Ironically, it may be days if not weeks until the Doctor would be found. With no family close by, and everyone scared to call on each other, the passage of time would make it harder to determine what actually had occurred this night. Not to mention that there appeared to be some moratorium on autopsies, and if one was highly cynical, his death would be put down to COVID, a catch all to pad up the number of deaths. How schadenfreude would it be then for this anti-vaxer and COVID sceptic’s death to be recorded as due to COVID. This made the assailant chuckle as the front door was unlatched and quietly closed behind.

The assailant needn’t have worried, there was not a soul about, the closest neighbour’s house had no lights on, they had probably adjourned to the West Country to spend their isolation, and the drive had pad-stones allowing egress to be silent and quick. Still taking no chances, the assailant kept to shadows and away from the working street lights casting their tungsten glow.

Once through the pedestrian gate and onto the main road, the assailant blended in with the few people about taking their late exercise. The assailant’s car was waiting in a car park on the outskirts of then nearest town. Before the entrance to the car park were a collection of recycling bins, one of which was for glass bottles. The assailant retrieved the zip lock bag containing the champagne flutes and laid it on the tarmac. With a swift stamp on the zip lock bag, the glasses smashed, the sound of them breaking resonated into the night sky. The shards of glass were poured into the recycling bin and the zip lock bag into the one for plastics. After all everyone had to do their bit to save the planet.

Once the the car door was closed, and the car heating set to max to ward off the night chill, the assailant pulled out a burner iPhone from their bag. Apart from the indigenous Apple apps, there was only one other app downloaded to the phone – YouTube. In the YouTube search box the assailant typed “I just died in your arms tonight”. Quickly the search returned numerous videos of the same song title by 80s band Cutting Crew. After scrolling down for about a minute, the assailant stopped at one video posted by the user Serendipitous. This video had only two views and no comments. The assailant selected the option to add a comment and after typing a brief message posted it. Setting aside the phone, the Renault Zoe was put into drive, and the whining of electric motors was all that was heard as the car sped away into the night.

Out on a park hill which overlooked Dr Charles Roth housing estate, stood a lone dog walker, their silhouettes stood out against the lights from the town. There was a soft but audible ping emanating from a phone buried deep in their coat pocket. Once the phone was retrieved and unlocked, a notification from YouTube informed them a new comment had been received. The user opened the notification and read the message “It’s done” was all that was written.

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