Sampler: Everything to Lose by Gordon Bickerstaff

Must he die to prevent exposure of a 60-year-old secret capable of world-changing and power-shifting events? 

While chasing down illegal sports drugs, Gavin and Zoe stumble into the greatest unresolved mystery of World War 2.

University researchers claim their new product will boost the performance of every athlete in the world. The Lambeth Group send a scientist, Gavin Shawlens, to investigate the claim.

The product is stolen, top athletes disappear, and the research team is unaware that their product has a dangerous side effect. Gavin must stop the product launch before more people die horribly.

When Gavin disappears, Zoe Tampsin, from the Lambeth Group, must find him before he becomes the next victim.

As if Zoe hasn’t got enough on her plate. Past events in Gavin’s life catch up with him. A powerful US general has decided that Gavin must die to prevent exposure of a 60-year-old secret capable of world-changing and power-shifting events.

Gordon Bickerstaff

Sampler: Everything to Lose, Chapter 33

Zoe and Gavin were five minutes away by car from Rolley’s flat. When they arrived, Gavin banged on the door while Zoe found the spare key. She had a key for each of the three flats.

Inside, they found Rolley lying on his back, naked at the end of a trail of water that led from the bathroom. ‘Has he been shot?’ Gavin asked Zoe.

‘Check his pulse. I’ll start CPR,’ Zoe ordered as they dashed over to his body.

Gavin put his fingers on Rolley’s carotid artery.

‘Jesus!’ Gavin recoiled as a flash of yellow light escaped from Rolley’s open mouth.

Zoe placed her hand on Rolley’s chest, ready to lean down. Strong heat nipped her fingertips, and before she could withdraw her hand, his chest exploded. Flames and boiling fat splashed onto her hands and clothes. Burning fat set her jacket sleeves on fire. She ran to the bathroom and found the bath full with cold water. She plunged her arms into the water to put out the flames.

Gavin recoiled, and stared at the hole in Rolley’s chest as flames, gasping for air, lashed out from inside. A crackling, sizzling noise reminded Gavin of a spit roast he’d seen as a child.

Zoe plunged a bath towel into the bath and placed the soaking towel over Rolley’s chest to smother the flames. The choking smell became worse, and Zoe extended the bath towel over his head to smother the flames in his mouth.

Toni and Scott bounded into the flat, weapons drawn. Scott collided with Rolley’s bike, parked in the hallway. With hand signals, Zoe directed them to check other rooms in the flat.

Gavin closed the front door.

Zoe lifted the towel to check the flames had extinguished. A plume of white smoke escaped into the air, and an acrid smell of burning flesh caught her throat. She covered her mouth while she examined the damage in Rolley’s chest.

Gavin stood against the wall near the door and fought hard not to throw up.

Zoe examined the numerous small red embers still smouldering in his body. Toni fetched a bottle of water and poured it over them. The water frizzed and hissed as it doused the hot embers.

Zoe inspected the four-inch hole in his chest, then peered inside. As far as she could see, his major organs were destroyed.

‘Boss, what the hell happened here?’ Toni asked Zoe.

Zoe shook her head. ‘Unknown. His body appeared intact when I arrived. I saw no entry wound on his chest. The fire escaped when I leaned on it to start CPR.’

Gavin’s mind had blanked. He couldn’t concentrate while he stared at the hole in Rolley’s chest. The other three were unaffected for the moment. They were soldiers in automatic mode, and had seen much worse in battle.

Zoe regarded the shock on Gavin’s face. ‘Are you okay? Maybe you should sit down.’

Scott called in to report the loss of Rolley. He handed his phone to Zoe, and told her Cairn wanted a word.

Zoe paced around the room, and told Cairn what she’d seen.

‘A forensic team will be here soon,’ Zoe said, then returned Scott’s phone.

Scott scanned the flat for signs of forced entry or disturbance. He shook his head at Zoe when he found nothing.

Toni found Rolley’s spandex racing clothes, and his cycling shoes scattered on the bathroom floor. There were no other clothes. Toni surveyed the scene, then said, ‘Looks like he came in from a bike run, and ran a cold bath.’

Zoe nodded. ‘He told me about a regional road race running today. He planned to race against his brother.’

Toni said to Scott, ‘With the bath full, and the trail of water, it looks as though he tried to cool himself, then got out. The bath water looks greasy and oily.’

Scott knelt beside Rolley to have a closer look at the hole.

‘What are you thinking?’ Zoe asked.

‘When I worked in Fire and Rescue, one of the old guys showed me a picture he had in his locker. The remains of an SHC,’ Scott recalled.

‘A what?’ Zoe asked.

‘Spontaneous human combustion,’ Scott replied.

Zoe turned to Gavin to get eye contact. ‘You’re the scientist. Is that even possible?’

Gavin got his mind into gear. He asked Scott, ‘What did it look like?’

‘A pile of ash where the body lay. One foot and two hands were all that remained of the torso. Furniture nearby hadn’t been touched by fire, and no fire damage to walls or ceilings.’

Gavin said, ‘I don’t see how. To burn a human body, you need at least one thousand degrees C for cremation. That’s going to set a house on fire.’

‘The old fireman said they thought it worked by some sort of wick and candle effect. Slow burning fat,’ Scott said.

Zoe shrugged. ‘Even so. Could that reduce bones to ash? I don’t think it’s possible.’

Gavin said, ‘I saw Rolley’s body fat burning, but what actually started the fire? It takes a lot of heat to get fat up to its ignition point. Think of a pan of boiling fat for frying.’

‘Fat burning produces a lot of smoke, doesn’t it?’ Toni added.

Gavin shook his head. ‘Cooking fat does. Human fat is a different kind of fat.’

Scott pondered. ‘If I came in here now, I’d say someone tried to set him alight, but I can’t smell any alcohol or accelerants. It doesn’t make sense.’

Gavin pointed at Rolley. ‘When we arrived, the fire had already started inside him.’

‘Find his SEM phone. I want to track his last movements,’ Zoe ordered.

Scott found Rolley’s phone in the bedroom, and handed it to Zoe. She tried to override his security, but couldn’t do it.

The four of them stood over Rolley, heads bowed. Zoe said, ‘Rolley was a good man. Let’s think about him for a minute.’

Anger welled up in Zoe’s mind. She had deployed Scott and Toni to shadow Shawlens. She hadn’t assessed any risk to Rolley, and if he’d discovered something at the cycling club that got him killed; she’d failed him.

Zoe told Scott to stay in the flat until the forensic people took over. She ordered Toni to cover her and Gavin as they returned to their flat.

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