Scare Me to Death
A homemade bomb exploded mid-air, killing 214 people on board.
Thirteen people survived.
Sixteen years later one of the survivors is found brutally bludgeoned to death. It looks like a crime of passion but DC Lucy Davies knows something is wrong. They were trying to find the bombers.
Lucy’s search for the killer brings her into conflict with her long-lost father – who has his own secrets. Dangerous secrets which Lucy must expose so she can confront a vicious murderer with only one thing on their mind.
To keep on killing to stop the truth from being revealed.
I was inspired to write the book after a somewhat hair-raising BA flight which involved three aborted landings and a final emergency landing at another airfield. My experience made me think about what I might do if I was in a plane that was forced to crash land, and how I’d react if I discovered my aeroplane had been sabotaged.
Also, I wanted to understand aerotoxic syndrome. Although many in the aviation industry are adamant it doesn’t exist, there are others who believe it is responsible for long-term sickness, and even death.
There was a girl in my seat. A teenager. Ripped jeans, red tassel top, bangles on both wrists. Auburn hair twisted into a knot. Her hands had been painted with geometric henna designs. She was absorbed in her paperback which, I saw, was the bestseller of the year, The Da Vinci Code.
‘Excuse me,’ I said. ‘But I think this might be my seat.’
She didn’t look up.
Even though I knew I hadn’t made a mistake, I double-checked my seat assignment: 27C. Aisle seat towards the rear of the aircraft. Near the rear exits. The safest place to be.
‘Anna asif sayidi…’ I’m sorry, sir…
I backed up for the flight attendant wanting to pass, and tried again, this time moving so that I edged into the girl’s personal space. ‘Hello?’
She glanced up, obviously irritated at being interrupted. Her eyes were an extraordinary vivid green.
I showed her my boarding pass. ‘Maybe we’ve been allocated the same seat. If that’s the case…’
‘No, no.’ Her irritation immediately gave way to mortification. ‘It’s me, sorry.’ She was already closing her book and getting up. ‘I thought it might be free.’ Sliding out of the seat she glanced over her shoulder. ‘I was trying to get away from my extremely annoying little brother, that’s all. Sorry.’
Her accent was clear-cut English, and I assumed the small boy with tousled hair the same colour as hers, who’d suddenly appeared over the headrest behind her, was the brother.
‘Told you so.’ His face was triumphant. ‘Told you someone would come and kick you out. Now you’ll have to play with me.’ He vanished briefly to return with two toy cars which he proceeded to race along the headrest, making loud vroom-vroom noises.
‘You’re the Nissan. I’m the Ferrari.’
The girl gave a long-suffering sigh and rolled her eyes.
‘You think that’s a fair race?’ I asked the boy.
He paused to look at me.
‘I’m assuming you’ve got the Nissan 350Z,’ I said. ‘Three and a half litre six-speed manual, naught to sixty in 5.3 seconds?’
The boy stared at me, round-eyed.
‘The Ferrari, however…’ I bent and had a closer look. ‘…is a lot older than the Nissan. It’s the 308 Dino. It does 7.7 seconds naught to sixty. If I were you, I’d have a re-think about which car you’re going to race against.’
‘Are you a racing driver?’ he asked. His eyes were the same colour as his sister’s and just as arresting.
‘I have raced, yes.’ I didn’t think it wise to tell him that my last race had been in London’s rush hour, chasing a terrorist suspect who’d been hell-bent on attacking the Underground with ricin poison.
The boy turned the Nissan over and looked at its underside. ‘You’d have this one? Seriously?’
‘It may not look as sporty, but the performance is actually pretty good.’ I held out my hand. The boy put the Nissan in my palm. I don’t know what it was, whether it was his solemn expression, reminding me of my own boyhood and my passion for cars, or if it was simply because I was exhausted after the past few days and needed a mental break, but I moved to take the empty seat next to him, raising my eyebrows at the girl to ask if that would be okay.
The girl looked astonished, then delighted. ‘Be my guest.’ She dropped into my seat fast, burying herself back in her book in case I might change my mind.
As I made to settle next to the boy, the woman on his right, sitting next to the window, sprang up. ‘Bub, get back into your own seat right now.’
‘This gentleman shouldn’t be hassled into doing what you guys want.’
‘He offered!’ the girl protested at the same time as the boy wailed, ‘Mummy, but he wants to play! He’s a racing driver!’
‘Okay, Josh, Bubbles, just cool it. Both of you.’
Both kids fell silent. I turned to see the man I took to be their father studying me. Sandy hair, freckles and laughter lines edged a pair of eyes the same colour as his kids’. He had the seat across the aisle, which meant the family would have been in the same row if the daughter hadn’t debunked.
‘I don’t mind,’ I told him. ‘Honestly.’
He stared a second longer before giving a shrug. ‘Your funeral.’
‘Yesss!’ Josh punched the air as I sank next to him and gave him his first lesson in the technique of motor racing.
‘What’s the most important quality the would-be driver should have?’ I asked.
‘To drive really fast.’
I looked into his shining face. ‘Absolutely. But it’s more than that. And it’s a quality you already have, which is great enthusiasm. Next, you need courage. And mastery over your nerves…’
As flight attendants began closing overhead lockers and preparing for push-back, we played with our cars, the boy asking me questions while I did my best to answer them, and after a few minutes I noticed the girl had risen and was watching us over the headrest. ‘Are there any female racing drivers?’
‘Some of the best drivers are women.’
‘Ha!’ The father snorted.
I ignored him. ‘Check out Sabine Schmitz. She won twenty-four hours of Nürburgring. Twice. And what about Danica Patrick? She’s one of best NASCAR drivers around and the only woman to win an IndyCar Series race.’
‘Girl power.’ Bubbles grinned at me, raising a hand for a high-five. We clapped palms. Everyone smiled. Inside my chest, I felt muscles beginning to relax. This was just what I needed. To be part of a normal, happy world, with normal, happy people.
Usually I keep myself to myself. I blend in and make sure I don’t do anything that anyone might remember. But I’d just finished an intense week and not having to think about it felt as good as a holiday on a tropical island. Eight bombers had bombed five places in Marrakech last week and I’d been brought in because one of those bombers had been British. The Moroccans hadn’t taken my appearance kindly and although to my face they’d been perfectly polite, they’d been purposely unhelpful. Even though I’m known for being excessively even-tempered, by the end of the week I was anything but. I could have happily strangled the lot of them.
With a final check from the flight attendants making sure we were buckled up, our tables stowed away, we began rolling down the runway and lifting into the sky.
Minutes later – we were climbing through three thousand feet or so – the plane fell suddenly straight down and gave a shudder.
Someone let out a small scream.
For a moment, I thought we might have suffered a bird strike but then the oxygen masks dropped and at the same time, I smelled smoke.
Quickly I snapped my mask into place. Checked that Josh and his parents had also put theirs on. I couldn’t check on their daughter Bubs, but since it appeared she’d pulled down her mask, I had to assume she was okay too. Josh looked at me, pale-faced and frightened. I winked.
Smoke began to fill the cabin. Acrid, filled with chemicals, it swept from the front like a black tidal wave. Somewhere, wires were melting. A fire was taking hold.
My pulse increased. This didn’t look good. I forced myself to concentrate on my breathing. In. Pause. Out.
The intercom came on. A female voice told everyone to keep calm, assuring us that we were returning to the airport and that we would be landing safely and that the fire emergency services were already standing by. She sounded breezy and confident and I promised myself that if we came through this okay, I’d shake her hand because there was no way she’d know any of that. There’d been no time. She was improvising. Doing her job.
The smoke thickened until I could no longer see Josh’s mum or dad, Josh or my feet. If the fire had started in the avionics bay, which I suspected, then the pilots would be in an even worse situation. They would have donned their full-face masks straight away, but if they couldn’t see their instruments…
I willed myself to keep calm but my heart was hammering, sweat springing over my body.
I thought of my parents. Pictured us on the skiff sailing across Plymouth harbour, Mum’s hair flying, Dad’s eyes alight. I didn’t want them to hear I’d died. I didn’t want to die either. I was only twenty-four. I had my life ahead of me.
My mouth turned dry as the flight attendant began to tell passengers they needed to prepare. As everyone assumed the brace position I turned to Josh, made sure his seatbelt was as low and tight as it would go. He couldn’t reach the seat in front of him, which meant he had to put his arms around the back of his legs, his head on his knees.
Everyone fell quiet. Totally silent.
Seconds ticked past.
I checked Josh again, pushing his head down a little more, making sure his knees were pressed together.
Engines screaming, the plane made a sickening lurch to the side.
I leaned close to Josh. ‘If anything happens, I want you to hold on to my hand and I’ll get you and your sister, your mum and dad—’
My words were snatched from me as we ploughed into the ground.