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.

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