Monday, 26 February 2007

Chapter 18: One Step Behind

There was time to reflect on the day’s events as I drove us along the haze-covered streets towards Doctor Owen’s house. We had gathered the following facts so far: last night someone walked into the Mantek building carrying a bomb. He or she, most likely a he, killed the security guard at the front desk with very little resistance then went into the lab, broke the lab assistant’s neck and set off the bomb, which was much more powerful than a regular Joe could easily lay their hands on.

The question was why? That would surely lead us to the killer. The answer had to lie in the work being carried out in the lab, which only Doctor Owen or Doctor Forrest would be able to shed some light on. Doctor Forrest was also still missing so my hopes for a quick resolution lay with Doctor Owen.

Agent Simpson had been repeatedly trying to call Doctor Owen on the phone numbers that her colleagues had provided us with, but there was no answer at his house and his mobile number went straight to voice mail.

Why can’t we contact him? Is it because he doesn’t want to be contacted or was it because he can’t get to a phone? Is he in danger? Surely he isn’t responsible for last night’s attack, is he?

I’ve known some detectives to go crazy during complex investigations. There are so many questions, so many possible scenarios that it can feel like the pieces of the puzzle will never fit together. If you couple that with the pressure put on you by senior officers and a detective’s own sense of urgency, a case can get very stressful very quickly. I’ve learned to keep my questions and suspicions in the back of my mind and only draw conclusions when I have plenty of facts and evidence.

Jumping to conclusions in this business is very dangerous, especially where people's lives are concerned. It’s not an approach that is always appreciated by my superiors: they want results and I’ve known other detectives to plant evidence just to get a conviction to meet their targets, but I want to get my man the right way every time.

Since Sarah’s death, I’ve had a one hundred percent record. It’s the one thing in my life that makes me proud of myself.

‘His car’s in the drive,’ Agent Simpson remarked as we pulled up outside Doctor Owen’s three-floor townhouse. This was one of the less dangerous parts of the city. Homicide investigations don’t lead me to this area very often. Most of the time I’m sneaking around dark corners in the projects looking for gang-bangers. This upper class area was a lot easier on the eye but the job in hand was not very different.

We got out of the car and I led the way. In the corner of my eye I could see curtains twitching in the next-door neighbours’ house as we walked up the drive. I had forgotten the different effect that a police presence has depending on the area. In the projects, everyone in the neighbourhood runs into their homes, locks the door and keeps their heads down but in a nice area like this, the residents can’t wait to see their neighbours get taken away by the cops.

I knocked on the door a couple of times but there was no answer. I couldn’t hear a sound coming from inside so we headed round the back of the house. I peered through a window to see that bookcases had been thrown to the floor and cushions were ripped open. I couldn’t see any signs to tell me that anyone was still in the house.

Something was happening in this city and it was happening very quickly. I got the feeling we were going to stay one step behind all day unless we got a major breakthrough.

Agent Simpson looked over my shoulder. ‘Oh my God, what’s going on, Detective?’

‘Looks like someone beat us to it,’ I said as I drew my gun.

I kicked in the door at the side of the house on the first attempt and we made our way inside, into the kitchen. The place was a complete mess. All the cabinet doors had been ripped from their hinges and it looked like anything not nailed down had been smashed on the floor.

‘Anyone there?’ I shouted and waited a few seconds.


‘We’d better not move any further,’ I said, ‘it’s likely the bomber has been here so we need to get forensics down here. Do you have a picture of Doctor Owen?’

‘Yes, I got one from Mantek. Why?’

‘We need to put the word out to all units. We’ve got a missing person to find. I just hope that whoever is doing this hasn’t got to him first.’

Friday, 23 February 2007

Chapter 17: Shadows

Two more black vans belonging to The Brotherhood bounced over the speed bumps on the long drive up to a large house shaded by tall trees. On the outskirts of the city as the suburbs turns into countryside, another squad of soldiers had only one objective in their collective mind.

Find Doctor Forrest.

No one had seen or heard from Mantek’s head of research for a long time. Any time The Brotherhood had tried to dig deep into the life of Doctor Forrest, it appeared that he didn’t have one. No family. No friends. Just his work and nothing else, which is always encouraging when he was working for them, but when he goes missing it is very difficult to track someone down that no one knows.

Lieutenant Curtis sat in the passenger seat of the leading van, gripping his rifle tightly. He had his sights set on a captaincy and if this mission was a success, he had a good shot at getting a promotion. His radio fizzed and he heard the familiar voice of Captain Stein.

‘Curtis, are you there?’

‘Yes sir.’

‘Have you reached your destination?’

‘We’re just pulling up now, sir. Have you made contact?’

‘Negative. There’s no one at home. We turned the place upside down but found no leads. It’s only a matter of time before the police start looking for the doctor so we have to keep moving down the list. Let me know as soon as you have control of the situation.’

‘Yes sir.’

The vans stopped in front of the stone house and the soldiers jumped out onto the gravel drive. Lieutenant Curtis led the men up to the front door and noticed it was ajar. The feeling that something might be wrong started to grow in his stomach.

they get here first?

He pushed the door open and took a step inside, feeling the cool air bite his skin. The trees surrounding the house captured the sunlight and he heard a low hum in the background that he suspected was an air conditioning machine. The interior and furniture were black and dark brown. Blackout blinds covered all of the windows. Coupled with the temperature, the atmosphere was a stark contrast to the day the rest of the city was having.

Lieutenant Cutis waved his hand and the soldiers split up and slowly moved silently into the many rooms. As the last soldier made his way into the house, a shadow shot out of a dark corner and the front door slammed behind him, plunging the squad into near darkness.

A few shots were fired, but as quickly as they had entered the house, the squad looking for Doctor Forrest were dead.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Chapter 16: "Come With Me"

“I can’t let anyone take me away. Andrew told me…”

“I know what he said, dear,” said Auntie Becky, “don’t worry, I’ll go and see who it is and get rid of them. I bet it’s just someone trying to pressure an old lady like me into changing my gas supplier. Go and wait in the bedroom.”

Without making a sound, Emily sneaked up the stairs and into the bedroom where she would have liked to have slept last night and sat on the edge of the bed. She left the door open slightly so she could hear what was going on downstairs.

It’s not as if I can do anything up here if they’ve come for me
, she thought. Andrew said they knew a lot about us but he was so sure the people he worked with would take a long time to work their way through the family tree before they got to Auntie Becky.

Becky watched Emily disappear up the stairs then went to answer the door. I’m sure this is a lot of fuss about nothing, she thought, Andrew has always been the eccentric of the family. That was the reason she didn’t put the security chain on the door before she opened it and it was also the reason she invited the man at the door inside.

“Hello officer,” she said, “what can I do for you? Do come in, it’s boiling out there.”

The policeman at the door stepped inside. “Thank you ma’am, it certainly is.”

What is she doing?
Emily thought, Andrew told her not to trust the police.

“Can I get you anything, officer? Something cold to drink? My husband was a police officer and he always hated the summer. Much preferred the winter. At least then you can get into the car and warm up. He always said it was easier to warm up than cool down.”

“Your husband sounds like a clever man. No thank you, ma’am, I can’t stay for long. I’m looking for a relative of yours, Emily Owen. Have you seen her in the last twenty four hours?”

Don’t do it, Becky. Don’t tell him I’m up here.

“I have seen her, officer. As a matter of fact, she’s just upstairs.”

Damn you, Becky.

“Do you think I could have a word with her, ma’am?”

“Of course, officer. Emily! Come down. Don’t worry, it’s the police.”

Knowing there was nothing she could do to get out of it, Emily got to her feet and edged her way down the stairs but stopped halfway.

“Hi, Emily. Is Doctor Andrew Owen your husband?”

“That’s right.”

“OK. I take it you know about the attack on your husband’s lab last night.”

Emily nodded.

“And have you seen him since?”

Emily shook her head.

“We’ve got some questions for you. Can you come down to the station?”

“Why can’t you talk to me here?”

“I don’t want to impose on your relative here. It’s best for everyone if you come down to the station with me.”

“What if I don’t want to go with you?”

“Like I said, Mrs Owen, it’s best for everyone if you come with me.”

Monday, 19 February 2007

Chapter 15: Front Door

The tyres of the two black vans screeched as they came to a halt outside a house in the pleasant leafy suburbs. The sliding door rumbled as it flew open and allowed fresh air to enter the leading van. The men inside felt some relief from the stuffiness of their uniforms.

Captain Stein stepped out onto the sidewalk and checked out his surroundings. Just as he had suspected, it was a nice area of the city. He suspected his ex-wife lived somewhere like this with that bastard surgeon husband of hers.

Keep your mind on the job in hand
, he told himself.

No one had heard anything from Doctor Owen since the destruction of the lab. Stein knew the chances of finding the doctor or his wife sitting comfortably at home were practically nil but with two missing scientists to find, they had to start at the beginning.

Stein had always had his suspicions about the doctor. Their paths had crossed several times and there was always an atmosphere between them, like they both questioned each other’s motivations. He had voiced his concerns to his superiors many times and just recently they had started to listen.

Find the doctor, then we’ll make sure his work gets back on track
, they had said.

One of his men in the van offered his rifle but Stein refused. “Leave it there. I’ve got my pistol in my belt. It’s the middle of the day. We can’t run round waving our guns about unless we have to. The same goes for all of you. Leave your rifles inside.”

The soldiers all nodded and put their rifles under their seats.

“Wait here for now. Don’t make a move unless I give you the signal or you see me draw my pistol. Got that?”

They all nodded again.

Stein walked up the drive to the front door, glancing through the windows on the way. He couldn’t make out any movement inside, but the glare of sunlight on the glass obscured his view into the house.

Faced with the front door, he popped the clip that secured his pistol in his belt with one hand and rang the doorbell with the other.

Saturday, 17 February 2007

Chapter 14: Another Cuppa

“I haven’t heard a thing from him since last night. Do you think he was hurt? Do you think he went back to the lab after he left me?”

Emily Owen was in a state of panic. Andrew’s Auntie Becky was doing her best to keep her in a positive state of mind but a lack of sleep and an overdose of caffeine were not helping matters at all. She wasn’t really Andrew’s Auntie and Emily couldn’t remember how they were related but they both thought she was sufficiently far-removed to allow her to lay low for a few days until Andrew found a safe place for them to stay.

“Watching the news isn’t going to help,” said Auntie Becky as she turned off the television. “They haven’t said anything about Andrew so he couldn’t have been caught up in it, not like that poor boy he worked with. No news is good news, Emily.”

“You’re right. But it doesn’t stop me thinking the worst.”

“I know, dear. Do you want to go into the other room and try and get your head down for a few minutes?”

“There’s no point. I feel tired but I wouldn’t be able to sleep.”

Auntie Becky looked at the empty coffee mug on the table in front of Emily.

“Another cuppa then?” she smiled.

Emily handed the mug to her. “If you’ve got any coffee left. We’ve been through a lot today.”

“You let me worry about that, dear.”

Auntie Becky left the room and Emily reflected on what a great help she’d been. She was always warm and welcoming to them but she had really gone over and above family duties in the past twenty-four hours.

Andrew had called Auntie Becky to ask for her to look after his wife and she hadn’t asked one question about the situation, even when they heard of the attack on Andrew’s lab. All she knew was that Andrew was in trouble and the people he worked with might come and want to take Emily away. Even the police weren’t to be trusted, but Auntie Becky thought that was taking the story a bit too far. Her late husband had been a police officer after all.

Emily couldn’t say anything about her real fears. If the news had reported that Andrew’s body had been found at Mantek then at least she would know what had happened. It would be tragic of course, heart-breakingly tragic, but she knew his fate could be worse. Much worse.

Many years ago Andrew had confided in her a secret that he had sworn on his life never to tell another soul. He gave her the choice to leave on many occasions but she couldn’t do it. She decided to give up what she wanted out of life to support the man who could change the world for the better. There wasn’t a day that went by when she didn’t question the wisdom of her decision but she told herself that it was for the best.

Look at the bigger picture
, Andrew always said.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the screech of tyres outside. She immediately got up and ran through to the kitchen.

“Becky, are you expecting anyone?”

“No, dear. Why?”

“There’s someone at the door.”

“Are you sure?”

At that moment, the doorbell rang.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

Chapter 13: Dead Easy

There are many things not to like about being a homicide detective: finding the body of someone you know, telling a mother her child has been killed and knowing who the murderer is but not having enough evidence to put them away, but top of the list is the autopsies.

I don’t consider myself a squeamish person. I can deal with most of the dead bodies at crime scenes but it’s the scientific detail of autopsies I find difficult to stomach. Twenty-four hours earlier, the two people in front of me were living and breathing and shared their lives with people who loved them. Now they were just clues that hopefully contained some evidence and we were going to pull them apart to find it.

I stood over the body of Jeff Jones, the Mantek security guard with Agent Simpson and Doctor Joseph Schreiber. Doctor Schreiber was our forensics expert. He was a good guy, one of the few people I work with that I might consider a friend, but we had met on too many occasions.

“Dead easy this one,” said Doctor Schreiber. I had heard that line on too many occasions as well. Agent Simpson hadn’t heard that one before though and I was sure I saw a smile in the corner of her mouth. “He was beaten around the face for a while before the neck was broken.”

I looked the body up and down and noticed something odd. “There aren’t any marks on his hands. No bruising on the knuckles.”

“You’re right,” said the doctor.

“What does that tell us?” asked Agent Simpson.

“He didn’t land a punch,” I said, “he took a beating and died without fighting back. Sitting behind the desk, he must have seen his attacker coming but was overpowered very quickly.”

“The attacker was undoubtedly very powerful and a skilled combatant,” said the Doctor Schreiber, “look over here though, the other body is even more interesting.”

We turned around to look at the partially charred remains of lab assistant Daniel Johnson. Apart from the unnatural angle his head was positioned, the top half of his body was relatively unscathed. His legs were a different story. The flesh had melted away and all that remained on the bones were the remains of charred muscles and tendons.

“As you can see, there’s not much evidence we can get from the lower half of the body but the burns aren’t as bad across the torso. The spine is broken at the neck and there is also additional dark bruising around the neck area, as you can see.”

Doctor Schreiber pointed out long and thin bruises on one side of the neck. “A large hand probably made these marks.”

“Do you think he was choked?” Agent Simpson asked.

“It looks like it,” I replied, “he must have been choked then had his neck broken before the explosion.”

“That’s right,” said Doctor Schreiber, “there are no indications here that the explosion killed him. While the burns he sustained to his legs and body are severe, he would have had a fair chance of surviving. If he had been directly in front of the blast, the whole lab would have been decorated with his body.”

I saw Agent Simpson’s nose turn up at that thought.

“So his death was not accidental,” I continued, “and the attacker was probably in the building just before the explosion.”

“I agree”, said Doctor Schreiber, “these burns were sustained to a body that had only just expired.”

I looked at Agent Simpson and saw her nodding in agreement with what we were saying. She seemed hard-working and intense which can usually add up to bloody-mindedness but she appeared to be receptive to our conclusions. Maybe working with her wouldn’t be too bad.

Her phone rang and she answered it. She took a pen and pad out of her jacket and wrote something down then hung up. “That was from the team at Mantek,” she said, “We’ve got the address for Doctor Owen.”

Things were really moving along. At this rate, we’d have the investigation tied up by dinner time. I might be able to take my vacation after all.

“Let’s go,” I said as I headed for the door, happy just to be on my way out of the morgue.

Monday, 12 February 2007

Chapter 12: The Brotherhood

About ten miles outside the city limits, in several hundred acres of woodland, stands the majestic Hartley House. The magnificent stately home was built by a local farmer called Alexander Hartley when farming was the best way to make a million, long before Lotto and reality TV shows created new millionaires every week.

The farmer became incredibly rich through years and years of toil and ended his working life a satisfied and accomplished man. Unfortunately, on his day of retirement he realised that because he had worked so hard all his life, he had nothing to spend his money on. No wife, no children, no hobbies, nothing at all.

All he had was his house, so it became his life. He made the house his reason to get out of bed every morning. He kept building and expanding the mansion, adding more and more rooms until eventually it became one of the largest private residences in the world.

Many successful business people have owned and lived in Hartley House down the years until one of the owners became unexpectedly unsuccessful and had to hand it over to the government to pay off his tax bill. It then became a hotspot for schmoozing important persons of influence who were visiting the city.

On this day, it wasn’t being used for schmoozing. In fact, you wouldn’t have set foot in Hartley House in over a year unless you were a member of The Brotherhood.

In one of the many splendid-looking halls, two men in camouflage gear and masks were fighting each other with long silver swords.

One man was noticeably taller and wider than the other and obviously more skilful with the sword. His name was Captain Stein. His opponent was Private Brown. To be fair to Private Brown, he was holding his own. Captain Stein had beaten him into submission numerous times in the twelve months they had been posted at Hartley House. He had also beaten him numerous times when they were posted at the other end of the country for six months.

Before joining The Brotherhood, Private Brown had been working in a fast food restaurant after dropping out of school. He was a damn good burger flipper back then and was determined to be just as good with a samurai sword as he was with a spatula. He met Captain Stein on the night his parents were killed and signed up to The Brotherhood in a shot.

The sparring practice followed the same pattern as it usually did between Stein and Brown: Stein was permanently on the attack and Brown spent the whole practice session frantically defending. The only difference was that it took Stein longer than usual to knock the sword out of Brown’s hands. But knock the sword out of his hands he did, and then followed up with a kick to the knees that sent Brown tumbling to the floor.

They both removed their masks and Stein helped Brown to his feet. “Good effort, Brown,” said Stein in a strong, booming voice. “Now tell me what you did wrong.”

“Same as usual, Sir,” Brown replied. “All I did was defend. I didn’t get the chance to attack.”

“Wrong, Brown. You didn’t make the chance to attack,” said Stein as he tapped Brown on the head. “Your problem’s in there. You have the ability but you’re not channelling it. We’ll try again tomorrow.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Brown.

They saluted each other and Brown left the room. He passed Commander North in the doorway. Commander North was another big, burly man like Captain Stein, only with more experience written in the lines on his face.

“I know I don’t need to ask the result,” North said as the men saluted each other. “You have a good man there, Stein. Is there any news?”

“Yes sir. The lab was bombed last night. The doctors’ work was completely destroyed.”

“What happened to them?”

“They’ve both disappeared but we’ve got a team going out to find them today.”

“I want you to lead the team. You can find them. I have every confidence in you.”

“Thank you, sir. We will leave immediately.”

They saluted each other. On the way out of the room, Commander North left Stein with a parting shot. “Remember, if you don’t find the doctors, we’re all dead.”

“Yes, sir.”

Friday, 9 February 2007

Chapter 11: On The Spot

Agent Simpson led the way into the entrance hall. We walked through a huge gap in the walls left behind by her colleagues after they had removed the glass doors to facilitate their movements in and out of the building. Inside, a body bag was being carried out by the forensic team. I asked Agent Simpson what had happened.

“That’s the security guard’s body,” she said, “He took a beating then his neck was broken. The perp did nothing to hide the body.”

“It must have been a swift operation if he left the body lying there,” I said. Agent Simpson nodded in agreement.

On the way up to the lab on the second floor, we passed several men in suits taking samples from the floor, the walls, anywhere that might hold some evidence of who did this or the type of explosive they used.

The rubber suit squeaked with every movement and the heat inside was already unbearable. I was beginning to question the wisdom of stopping home for a shower and change.

We entered the lab through an irregularly shaped hole in the wall where the door used to be. It was a complete mess from floor to ceiling. I couldn’t believe that someone had been happily working there just twelve hours earlier. A massive hole had been blown in the outside and inside walls and we could stand on the edge of the room and look outside at the people working below. Papers and fragments of scientific equipment were strewn all over what was left of the room. Ash and dust covered everything. It was going to be difficult to get any decent forensic evidence out of this room but in my experience, if you take enough samples and do enough tests, you nearly always get a lead.

I cast my eyes around the room, taking in as much as I could. It was very important to me not to judge the crime scene on the first thing I looked at. An easy trap to fall into is to pick one thing at the crime scene and focus solely on that, when there might be several other clues screaming out at you in another corner.

“What are your first thoughts?” Agent Simpson asked after only a few seconds, putting me on the spot. No doubt someone had told her I was 'the best' so she probably wanted to test this theory herself. Now it was my turn to sound like I knew what I was talking about.

“The destruction wasn’t caused by something small like a hand grenade,” I said, “Whoever did this wanted to make sure there wasn’t any forensic evidence for us to sift through. We can use the explosive residue to find out what they used but that’s going to take a long time.

“In my opinion, this explosion was intended to cover up what went on in here, not to send a message. I agree with you: it’s unlikely that animal rights protestors did this.”

Two forensics officers were carrying a body bag out of the room. “What happened to the kid?” I asked.

“His body was found behind the equipment over there,” she said, pointing to a fire-damaged refrigerator and filing cabinet, both twisted out of their natural shape, “Not all of his body was destroyed.”

“Which means that he was lying back there, either dead or unconscious when the bomb went off.”

She nodded in agreement. “His body is on the way to the morgue.”

“Good, we’ll need to get down there and take a look at it. I saw security cameras around. Has anyone taken a look at the tapes?”

“The tapes are usually stored at the front desk but they’ve gone missing. It’s likely they were taken when the perp left the building.”

“Who else works in this office?” I asked.

“Doctor Forrest and Doctor Owen are the scientists who run this research lab. We haven’t heard anything from either of them.”

“See if you can find their home addresses,” I said, “I’ll send a patrol car round to pick them up.”

“Do you think they were the intended targets?”

That seemed like an odd question to me. Not because what she was asking didn’t make sense, but because I would have expected anyone to jump to the conclusion that the scientists who ran the lab were in danger. It seemed like common sense to me.

“Whoever did this targeted this lab for a reason. They wanted to stop the research and even went so far as to kill the lab assistant and the security guards, probably only because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“Their work may have been stopped but these scientists still have the intellectual capital. They could start their work again in another lab. If the bomber was prepared to go this far, we have to assume the scientists are the next targets.”

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Chapter 10: A Meeting Of Minds

I arrived at the front gates of Mantek headquarters to find the whole place in chaos. There were reporters and TV vans all over the road outside the complex. No one from the media was allowed onto the grounds but that didn’t stop the photographers climbing the walls to get front page pictures for the late editions.

As the security guard waved me through the gate, cameras flashed like strobe lights all around me and reporters banged their microphones on the windows asking for a comment. It felt like I was driving through a riot. The car belonged to the department though so I didn’t care about the bumping and scratching as much as I probably should have.

Even from the entrance at the opposite end of the grounds from the research building, the extent of the damage was obvious. It was quite a sight. A large chunk of the Mantek research building was missing, like someone had taken a huge bite out of the corner where the lab used to be. It immediately occurred to me that it would have taken a large quantity of explosives to do that much damage.

I drove up the tree-lined road towards the research building and saw crowds of people in white biohazard suits going in and out. As I reached the end of the drive, a security guard walked up to my window.

“What’s your business?” he asked.

“Police. I’m here to meet Agent Jane Simpson,” I said.

“You’re the detective, right? She was waiting around for you but you’re late so she might be in the building.”

“Late?” I asked. Who does this jobsworth think he is, telling me when I should have arrived? I only took on the case an hour ago.

“Yeah, she was expecting you half an hour ago.” The look on his face made me think I was back in school, being put in detention for turning up late for registration. It was Captain Nash’s fault. What an asshole. He must have told them I was coming before he even talked to me about the case.

“Carry on straight ahead and park next to that big white van”, he continued, “she won’t be far away.”

I parked the car and started asking around for Agent Simpson. It wasn’t long before I was pointed in the direction of a woman talking to a group of men in white biohazard suits. For some reason I was expecting a middle-aged woman in horn-rimmed glasses but I was a little shocked when I saw her. She had dark brown hair tied in a short ponytail and was about five foot six. Her biohazard suit restricted any further assessments I could make apart from the fact that she was young and pretty. Well, younger than me anyway.

I must have looked out of place because she walked over as soon as she spotted me. “Agent Jane Simpson. Pleased to meet you,” she said and extended a hand to me. “You must be the detective.”

“That’s right. Detective Tom Ryder,” I replied as we shook hands. “Looks like you’ve got a lot of work on your hands.”

“A lot of work on our hands, Detective,” she said. “I’ve got a suit for you in the van. You’re coming in with me.”

I guess that’s the end of the pleasantries
. Time to get down to business.

“What happened here?” I asked, “I didn’t get much information at the station.”

“It looks like someone didn’t agree with the research that was going on here. The lab was being used to work on the cure for a highly contagious disease of the blood. That’s why we need to be suited up.”

“What about the hole in the side of the building? Shouldn’t that be covered up to stop the contagion spreading?” I suggested, trying to ask her something relevant.

“No, that’s not a problem. The disease isn’t airborne; you can only catch it by coming into direct contact with it.”

“What’s the disease?”

“Nothing you’d have heard of. It’s very rare and Mantek want to keep it that way.”

Nothing I’d have heard of?
She’s not scared to speak her mind. I’d probably be offended if I didn’t think she had already worked me out.

“But you know what the disease is, don’t you?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, “I’ve dealt with it before.”

“Who were the victims?” I asked.

“Two security guards and one lab assistant. We’ll need the police department’s help to perform the post-mortems.”

“That’s fine; just send the bodies down to the hospital,” I said, “Any ideas who might be responsible? Anyone got a grudge against the company or the people who work here?”

“Mantek has the same problems as any pharmaceutical company,” she said, “There are the usual attacks on employees and their families by animal rights activists but this doesn’t fit the profile. You need to see the lab for yourself. Better get suited up.”

She grabbed a white suit out of the back of the van and threw it to me. It was made from inch-thick rubber and I let out an involuntary grunt as I caught the heavy suit. The midday heat was becoming uncomfortable already but the suit magnified the temperature as soon as I stepped into it.

“Jeez, it’s going to be hot in here,” I said, pointing out the obvious.

“There’s more bad news,” said Agent Simpson, “the explosion knocked out the air conditioning system and the engineer can’t get in to fix it until we’re done.”

And the hits just keep on coming.

Saturday, 3 February 2007

Chapter 9: Reflection

Screw them all, I’m going home, I thought as I passed my apartment on the way to the crime scene. My foot hit the brake pedal and I turned the car around. I had to at least freshen up before taking on a new mission.

What the hell, I’m going to be working with the World Health Organisation for the first time. Better make a good first impression.

I would have tried to convince myself that Captain Nash might agree with that logic if I cared one way or the other.

I stopped the car on yellow lines at the side of the road and hopped out. It’s one of the few perks of the job: no one ever gives a cop a parking ticket. Well, no cop ever pays the fine anyway.

There was no air conditioning in my block so there was no relief from the heat as I walked through the front door. The lift was broken as usual so I took the stairs up to the fourth floor and had to take a second to catch my breath when I got to the top.

I really need to sort myself out if I’m going to stand any chance of doing myself justice today. I could do with visiting the gym as well. They’ve been taking my money on the first day of every month for the last two years so I should really start getting my money’s worth some time soon.

There was a familiar smell as I opened the door to my apartment. I call it home. Every home has a distinctive smell. It just so happens that I’m the only person who appreciates my apartment’s distinctive smell.

I peeled off my suit and shirt and dropped them in a soggy pile on the floor. In the corner of my eye, I caught the sight of my bare body in the long mirror on the wardrobe. I hadn’t taken a good look at myself for a long time.

I had to do a double take, I was so shocked.

Do I really look like
that? Where did that gut come from?

I prodded my stomach and it wobbled. Only a little bit but I definitely saw a wobble. Last time I looked, that chest was tight. I used to play squash three times a week for Christ’s sake! I’m sure the six pack was still under there somewhere but a soft cushioned layer had appeared from nowhere.

Looks like I’m built for comfort rather than speed these days
. I looked down and saw the dusty handle of my old squash racket poking out from behind the wardrobe. There was no doubt in my mind: I needed to sort my life out.

I walked into the bathroom and as my feet stuck to the floor, I registered the fact that I also had to sort my apartment out as well. I couldn’t remember the last time I gave the place a thorough cleaning. To be honest, I couldn’t remember the last time I even gave the place a light dusting.

I stepped into the shower and closed my eyes, letting the hot water rain down on me. I hoped it would wash away the pains like it had washed away countless hangovers over the past five years. I was sober now though. I hadn’t had a drink for over a week.

Eight days and counting.

I turned off the shower and took a second to gather my thoughts. Rubbing the water out of my eyes, I knew the pain was still in my mind. The urge to sleep for a week hadn’t subsided but the rest of my body felt a bit better than it had since last Tuesday, probably because I hadn’t had a shower since last Tuesday.

I got out of the shower, dried myself off and looked at myself in the mirror again.

At least I look refreshed even if I don’t feel like it.

In the mirror, I caught sight of a bottle of Jack Daniel’s sitting on the coffee table. It had one shot left in it. It was the only bottle left in my apartment that contained any alcohol. Gordon’s, Captain Morgan, Bacardi, Smirnoff, Jose Cuervo. They were all empty. Gone and well and truly forgotten.

All that remained was the bottle of Jack and a shiny shot glass. The day I pick up that bottle and that glass would be the day I took a step back down the path I swore I would never walk again. I hated myself when I was drunk but only slightly more than when I was sober. At least the time went quicker when I was drunk.

It was the time when I wasn’t working that I hated the most. When I was working, my mind was active and I could take my frustrations out on my surroundings, whether it was an over-zealous arrest or some argumentative banter with Dave and the Captain.

The pain really started when I was unfortunate enough to finish work early and return home with nothing to do, especially when I wasn’t tired enough to immediately pass out when I crashed onto the sofa. That was the point when my sleep needed a helping hand from my good friends Gordon, Jose and Captain Morgan.

I wasn’t the type of drunk to go out on the town, blow all my money and pick a fight. I preferred to sit on the sofa with a bottle in my hand and look at old photos, watch old home movies or just think about the happy times I shared with Sarah and wish we’d had more. Just me, a sofa, a bottle and my memories. Once I started drinking, I could find no reason in the world to stop until Mother Nature sent me off to sleep.

The reason for us not spending more time together was always me. Every time we were going out for dinner or round to friends’ houses, I would get the call. There was yet another killer on the loose and it was always up to me to find them and lock them up. Noble work to be sure, but not conducive to marital bliss.

The friends we used to have had abandoned me long ago. Needless to say they were all Sarah’s friends rather than mine. Of course, they all rallied round after she died and stuck by me for a while but I guess I should be the first to admit that my attitude probably pushed them away rather than drawing them close when I needed them most.

I kept staring at the bottle of Jack. One sip and that was it. No more work. I could start drinking now and kiss goodbye to the next two days.

The devil on my shoulder thought it sounded very tempting.

Pull yourself together, Tom!

I marched over to the drinks cabinet, picked up the bottle and unscrewed the top. I picked up the shot glass and looked at it for a second before throwing it into the metal dustbin by the door. There was a satisfying smash when it hit the bottom. I went back into the bathroom and emptied the last shot of Jack into the sink then smashed the bottle in the dustbin.

Goodbye old life, hello new beginning.

Thursday, 1 February 2007

Chapter 8: "Sorry Tom..."

It was all going too well. I knew I should have avoided talking to my boss.

“Sorry Tom”, Captain Nash started, “I’ve got some bad news for you.”

I was standing in the Captain’s office, listening to him try to tell me my vacation had been cancelled in the longest, most roundabout way possible. Another crock about me being the best detective he’s got and how he can’t do without me.

I knew what he was trying to say the second he opened his mouth: that my vacation was being cancelled and I’m sure he knew that too but for some reason he felt the need to talk around the subject for several minutes first.

If bullshit were pennies, this guy would be a millionaire.

“If I’m that great, give me a raise then, Captain,” I said once he’d finished telling his story. A completely futile suggestion but I wanted to make him squirm even more.

“Look here Detective, just about everyone who’s got a family has booked time off and the ones that didn’t have called in sick.” He was shouting at me as if it was my fault, like I was in the wrong because I had the nerve to want to take some time off work. Men with families always got the holidays they wanted and I had to pick up the scraps that were left over. That pissed me off.

I should have known though, it was a predictable situation. Good weather always causes people to call in sick. They pretend they’ve been laid up for a few days but when they get back to work they’ve got golden brown sun tans. It’s at times like this when I think the world is full of lazy bums and hard working men like me and my partner Dave are the exception rather than the rule.

“That’s not my problem, Captain,” I protested, “if half your men phone in sick on a sunny day you need to get them in here or fire them. Read them the riot act, for Christ’s sake!”

“You know I can’t do that so I’m afraid it is your problem, Tom. I’ve got dead bodies stacking up all over the city and no one to find out who put them there. God damn it, I wish the situation was different but it’s not.”

My mind was filling with anger and desperation. One emotion was about to bubble over but I didn’t know which one.

“I need some time off, Captain,” I pleaded desperately, “I’ve been working all day and night on the Lewis murder. Now I’ve cracked it, I’ve got to get some sleep. Period. You can’t ask any more from me.”

“Sorry Tom, you’ll need to try and get some sleep tonight. Right now I need you to get over to Mantek at the other end of the city.”

He could have at least tried to look like he was sorry but his expression didn’t change at all. In his mind we got to take vacation as a bonus rather than a right. There was no point arguing any more, I didn’t have any choice. If I protested any more, I’d be heading for suspension or worse. Taking this case was the last thing in the world I wanted to do.

“I heard about the attack on Mantek on the radio. What happened?” I asked, resigned to my fate.

“Someone walked in last night, killed two security guards and blew up one of the labs. A young lab technician was working there at the time.”

“Dave’s on vacation. I take it I’m alone on this one?”

“This one’s different. It falls under the jurisdiction of the World Health Organisation. Apparently the lab was being used to research the cure for some disease. The WHO have got the whole place quarantined. Your contact will be Agent Jane Simpson. She’s already on-site.”

Great. I get to work with a woman. No doubt someone else who’ll end up hating me.

The case itself didn’t sound too bad. Most likely animal rights activists and there were only two of those groups with any significant presence in the city. Shouldn’t take too long to ask around and find out who the angriest members of the groups are.

“Any suspects?” I asked.

“You now know everything I know, Detective.” I made a point of asking him for more information every time I got a case, even though he never knew anything of any importance. I thought that one day he might realise all he did was bark orders without giving me anything to work with but that day hadn’t come yet. I doubted it ever would but I hoped he would prove me wrong.

“I don’t have any choice, do I Captain?” I asked, with desperation in my voice.

“You know the answer to that one, Tom,” he said, staring deep into my eyes. “You know the score. You’re the best man for the job. I’d rather have you running at fifty percent than half the other guys running at a hundred percent.”

That would be flattering if it wasn’t a total fabrication.

“I’ll do this for today but you’d better get someone else lined up because I’m calling in sick tomorrow,” I announced.

“Sure you are,” he replied, knowing that I was bluffing.

I turned round and left his office, slamming the door behind me. That was it. Forget about your vacation, Tom. Get out there and get back to work.

It’s hard work being the best.