(Previous chapter links are listed at the end of this one)
The week had been kind to Neil. The ritual jamboree for shareholders had gone well. As expected the share price had reacted to the slightly lower profits than those dreamt up by the markets pundits, but they weren’t to know his reasoning. He’d have reason to worry if they did.
In spite of Deerbruckers valiant attempts to ring concessions the deal was on track. George, he knew, was annoyed by the figurehead role he was playing but on these occasions if you can’t tell all, tell nothing. Besides with the Uniclor deal George had enough to keep him busy. Today at the joint meeting between Thames, National Engineering and ICP, the sale of Deltoni to Thames and the joint venture on the water treatment and desalination plants had gone public. Neil while underlining whom the development ultimately belonged to had used the existence of the joint venture to hint at a change in ICPs corporate philosophy. As expected the announcement had the shares recovering then edging ahead by the end of trading.
Leaving early he dropped his driver off at the underground and told him he wouldn’t be needed for the weekend. Tomorrow he’d promised his parents to run them up to his Fathers sister Jessie in Ludlow. He wouldn’t be staying but it wasn’t far off his route to Runcorn.
Spienz had the energy of an excited schoolboy when he collected Neil from the gatehouse. ‘The de-commissioning of the Mannheim pilot plant is complete. No problems.’
Neil threading his way through the redundant plant wondered if he’d ever become familiar with the route asked. ‘What arrangements have you made for its disposal?’
‘I think it’s better we ship it all here. We can use most of the part for spares and by shipping it all over we don’t identify the critical parts.’ Spienz pointed towards a scattering of cars, ‘You must park here and put on a suit.’
Dressed in tinfoil Neil could hear Spienz talking to him, but the combination of helmets and accents made understanding impossible. Following Spienz into his office, Neil felt a wash of relief when he rid himself of the helmet.
‘Bloody awful things, you still worried by the corrosion factor? Because Gunter, if we get the production you predict, it wont matter if we have to renew the whole plant every two years.’
‘But it will be a big matter if we have a serious leak.’
‘Agreed.’ Neil turned to watch the tin foil men emptying cans into the holding vessel that would purge and prime the plant. For now six months of production would be enough.
McTaggart was seething, that someone with his qualifications and service should be landed with a job that would bore an idiot. The arrogant fucking Adolph ordering senior staff to manhandle the priming. He eyed the dwindling stack of crates, weighing up the lessening balance of putting up versus shutting up. Grasping the neck of the next can he unscrewed it and for the first time forgot about the poxy stiffener bracket. Sods law had decreed the combination of his height and vision level through the restrictions of the visor made sure the bracket was lost to him. Bending to see if he’d spilled, he stared at the stain that said he had. Cautiously he wiped it with his gloved finger. A globule of liquid built then broke and run. He waited for it to mark its course by etching through the paint, nothing.
Signalling for the squad to stop, McTaggart ponderously made his way down to ground level and crossed to the compounds furthest corner and spotting the beetle he let the smallest drop fall on it. Ignoring the ignominy the beetle scuttled towards the safety of home and kept on going when the experience was repeated and the gloved finger frustrated sanctuary. McTaggart raised his hood and gave the can a tentative sniff then headed for the office.
‘I need a word with you Mr Spienz.’
‘I’m busy McTaggart.’
‘Aye, I’m aware of that Mr Spienz; all the more reason for you to understand the urgency.’
Neil couldn’t see McTaggart, behind the door blinding him. Seeing the mixture of annoyance and confusion in Spienz, Neil told him to go ahead and sort whatever it was out. Hearing their raised voices, he caught Spienz screaming “Impossible” then watched Spienz fumbling into his helmet while he followed McTaggart towards the tidier stack of crates. Concern changed to apprehension as he watched can after can opened then discarded, their contents blobbing out leaving a spreading stain on the gravel. Ponderously the two figures made their way to the vessels drain trap and cracking the valve allowed the smallest drop into the trap and sealing its vitrified glass sampler McTaggart headed towards the lab while Spienz made his way back.
‘Not possible.’ Spienz pulled at the skin either side of his nose before releasing a torrent of German.
‘What’s not possible Gunter?’
‘The cans hold water.’
‘All of them?’
‘All that I tried.’
Neil felt his rage mounting. ‘I could bloody see that. I’m asking if the vessels full of water or not?’
The shrug from Spienz almost broke Neil’s control. ‘It was very crude but there’s definitely Kalex in the system. I will need to test to see how contaminated it is.’
Staring out of the window Neil tried to slow his racing brain. For now he needed facts rather than guesses. ‘Gunter, how long before you can verify the primers purity?’
Spienz slid back his glasses and glared at Neil through a massive thumbprint. Neil had the insane desire to punch the lens and the eye behind it. ‘C’mon man! And hour, two, three?’
‘I’ll know in two, maybe three if it’s bad and I need to work out how long to purge the system.
Neil nodded and started to climb out of his tin suit. ‘I’ll ring you in three hours and give you a number to ring. You will instruct a Mr Hamilton to investigate the missing chemicals and you will brief him on every detail of it’s handling and transport to here. Make sure he gets full co-operation from all departments here and in Germany; is that clear?’
‘Yes, all is clear.’
‘Do not tell Mr Hamilton the nature of the chemical and do not tell him you’re ringing on my instructions. As head of the department that’s suffered the theft you’re instigating the investigation.’
Spienz, aware he was still dangling from a hook was relieved it wasn’t being drawn into him. ‘I understand Mr Hopkins.’
‘Then you better give me your home number in case I want to get hold of you.’ Christ that was childish. Quibbling minds make petty causes; he offered his penance. ‘You have a mark on your lens Gunter.’
Driving back to Ludlow he let Mahler’s fifth suffocate the pettiness and allow his mind to identify the probabilities. There were plenty to choose from, any one of his competitors could have set it up. Shit, a scenario flashed through his mind that brought sweat to his palms and oblivion to the traffic as he swung into a lay-bye. If Deerbrucker was behind it, he’d be eight billion down and with a load of redundant plants to get rid of. It wouldn’t be disastrous for ICP; it would still be to its benefit to market the product. It would be his plans for the club that would suffer. His promise to Dickson would fall flat and he’d have to agree to Smith being approached. Far better for Smith and his National bank to be stretched to breaking point before he was invited to join. He’d another problem. If it was Deerbrucker would he shout it out or keep quiet until they run some analysis on Kalex and came up with its potential. Damn it, until he put pen to paper, Deerbrucker could be playing him for a mug.
Damn Spienz for taking two days to load, anybody with a wooden leg, glass eye and buggered prostate could have organised it. Even Greenpeace or the German Greens. Christ that would be worse, either were far more volatile and less containable. Competitors would have to down play its hazards in its raw state, the greens would trumpet them and probably go public before he could do anything about it. Reaching for the car phone he called Hamilton, telling him to expect a call from Spienz and adding a few instructions of his own. Ringing Spienz he passed Hamilton’s number to him when a scream of sirens forced him to ask Spienz to repeat what he’d said.
‘There’s only a little pollution.’
‘Good, now ring Hamilton, I’ll contact you later.’
Easing back into the traffic Neil considered he’d done everything he could for now. It was Hamilton’s job to fill the gaps and analyse the history. Proof could wait, what he needed fast was damage limitation. Another thought had him pulling in to a bus stop next to a hospital on the outskirts of Shrewsbury. Flicking through his diary he found and rang Georges number. It was ringing before he remembered George had left on Friday for the States. His diary gave him George’s hotels number. When there was no reply from George’s suite he’d to ask for him to be paged and was about to give up when the clicks convinced him he’d been cut off.
‘George it’s Neil, Everything going all right?’
‘I’m with Deerbrucker and Svenson of the Standard now. What’s the problem, its not like you to ring?’
It wouldn’t have done anything for George’s confusion had he seen the smile slowly cross Neil’s face. If Deerbrucker was wooing the Standard Bank, he was either playing the scam for all it’s worth or there was one probability less. Enjoying a returning sense of control Neil wheeled out of the bus stop and on to Ludlow.
Seven times George rang Neil on the Sunday. Neil was still in Shrewsbury, his Mother dead and his Father suffering from concussion. Both having been rushed from Ludlow after being struck by motorbikes, side by side in the same ambulance who’s screaming siren had interrupted his conversation with Spienz. Logic told him he wasn’t to know his Mother lay dying in the same hospitals bus stop he’d used to contact Esquiden. Logic while perhaps a strong mentor was a lousy comforter.
That same day John Fernyhough paid a rare visit to the Riddle Hotel. It was gone two before Paul advised him the call he was expecting was on the line. Paul’s instructions had been precise; Mr Fernyhough was detailing a legal matter. Showing the recording equipment was switched off, he left. Only then did John’s caller get his identification code.
‘It’s got indications of use as either a fertiliser or pesticide; I’ve never seen its like. The nearest I can describe it is as a super concentrated and mutated Azinphos Methyl. And that’s only an educated; no it’s less than that, a preliminary guess. It could take weeks to analyse and properly identify it’s constituents.’
John wanted answers not conundrums. ‘Does that mean it’s dangerous?’
‘Officialese would say, extremely toxic if swallowed, inhaled or by skin contact. That covers a lot of chemicals in varying degrees. This one’s off the scale.’
‘Can you be more specific?’ John could hear the sigh of exasperation down the line.
‘How about, if a small tanker loaded with this stuff were to sink in the Med, I’d need more than a note from the Pope before I’d take pollution samples, I’d need an irrevocable guarantee from his boss.’
‘That’s very emotive but what does it mean in understandable terms?’
‘You mean how to handle it?’
‘That’s easy, don’t. Seriously that’s about the only safe advice I can give. It may be that dilution would eventually render it handleable but it would need such immense proportions it’s difficult to see that as a solution. In fact if you’ll excuse the pun I’d hope never to see it as a solution. In the state it’s in now it will pollute everything it touches. If it was in a river then the river bed, its sides any structures or debris would all be contaminated. If my answer sounded trite it wasn’t. For now it’s the best advice I can give.’
John was beginning to wish they still had that choice but efficiency had already committed them. ‘Assuming we’re landed with the stuff; what’s the best way to handle it?’
‘No exposure, the best protective gear money can buy with personal breathing equipment. Filters will not be enough, and that’s assuming the cans aren’t opened.’
Thanking him, John broke the connection then spent several minutes trying to equate small ships and seas with two hundred odd cans and reservoirs. He gave up; the scale was too big though logic could equate the virus that dropped and elephant. Pat and Brian were probably regarding the containers as reasonably safe with careful handling. Yet how to do it without frightening them off. Or was frightening them off the best course. Just shut up shop and let ICP know where its chemicals were and leave them to clear up. Pat would probably be reasonable, Brian more determined and a bit of a loose cannon unless he was taken out of the equation and that wouldn’t go down well with Pat. It was their job and had to be their choice, all he could do was warn them. Reaching for the phone he rang Joanna and asked her to get on the first plane she could to Dublin.
Joanna reaction was immediate. Ringing Ascot she delivered the warning in a way that confused Brian and amused John. Her role, that of the visiting but concerned wife. ‘I’ve arrived at Joanna’s, are you managing alright?’
A confused, ‘Yes?’
‘That delivery on Saturday, it’s a surprise. I don’t want it moved or even its wrapping touched till I come home.’
Still confused Brian managed a, ‘U’hah.’
‘I’ll be home early next week depending on when I can persuade Joanna to take me shopping. Now promise me you won’t touch the package until we can all enjoy it. Promise?’
‘Bye now, be good till I get home.’
Brian turned to Pat, ‘Seemingly we haven’t to touch the chemical till Joanna turns up next week.’
Pat asked, ‘Did she say why?’
‘She sort of hinted it was some sort of surprise.’
Pat shrugged. ‘Maybe it’s to do with the next delivery, we’ve hardly enough here to make a start.’
The needful done, Joanna had a glint in her eye when she told John to pour a drink for them both. Misinterpreting the look and instruction as a promise John agreed an early night might benefit them both.
‘You can forget that, I’m going to tell you a story.’
John smiled as a sheaf of papers wrapped in cling film were waived at him, ‘So that’s what you do with the nights I’m not with you. What’s the genre, Enid or Agatha?’
‘This is the report Brian got off of Troward. Its contents are mind boggling, but it’s the freak circumstances of how she came by it that might be too coincidental to be true. Troward got it from Jane Huntington who happens to be the daughter of Sir Reginald Huntington who only happens to be Chairman of Thames water. What does that make Brian Cameron, lucky, or too clever by half?’
‘Joanna before we get paranoid, did Brian know of Troward or where to contact her if he did?’
‘I told him who I got to do his report and I’m pretty certain I gave him some background on the university she’s with.’
‘Day before he left for the States.’
‘Then he didn’t have a lot of time to set anything up and he wouldn’t have known there was any report about to be published by Thames.’
‘No John the reports not from Thames, it’s a government report covering the real reasons for their policies.’
‘Then why should Huntington have it, as far as we know he has no government function?’
‘That’s for you to sort out oh mighty brain, but the thought struck me when I started to read it that it might be possible to get proof of all or at least some of the five men having handled it.’
‘Where are we going now Joanna, which five men?’ John had no difficulty identifying who they were though Hopkin’s seemed to add to the coincidences while Laing’s definitely added to the intrigue. He was trying for connections when he realised Joanna had stopped talking. ‘Sorry I was thinking; what were you saying?’
‘I said it might be possible to get their fingerprints off the paper.’
‘If they’ve all handled it and we knew the prints we were to look for and which to eliminate, like yours, Brian’s and Pat. And we would have to assume Trowards and the Huntington girl’s are all over it.’
‘Well that’s only five to eliminate and five to identify.’
‘Oh yes, and what Machiavellian scheme have you devised to get the five identified. Always assuming there are only ten sets of prints and not legions.’
‘Well Huntington’s mightn’t be difficult if we got on the right side of his daughter.’
‘Joanna, why are we going through these mental gymnastics? It’s not a crime to read a document and whoever reads it doesn’t mean he agrees or acts on it.’
‘It is if they shouldn’t have and you haven’t read it yet.’ Joanna refilled both their glasses, ‘No, don’t start reading it now, I’ve given some thought to your earlier proposal, it’s time for bed.’
Waking at four, John eased himself out from under Janna’s legs. Feeling slightly clownish in a dressing gown and kitchen gloves he unwrapped the film off the report and settled down to read. He disciplined his mind to ignore the coincidences and try for the connections that could have a bases of fact. A business link between the four was possible though it didn’t explain Laing, unless he was lining his account by leaking government documents. Or they were some quasi committee of a government riddled with them. The first put Laing in an entirely different light to the reputation he held and the second involved Hopkins with politics. Reputedly he’d stopped ICP’s political donations.
By seven thirty he flicked close the last page and sealed it back up. He’d made plenty notes but none answered why four of the five should be involved. On one score Joanna was wrong, it wasn’t official. Would never be stamped or see the light of day as an official document. Embarrassing definitely, and totally damning if it could be leaked from an undeniable source before Her Majesty’s Government could set up damage control. Using Dublin, or any forensic source in the republic was out. If it were leaked from here its value would be less than a nine-pound note. I t had to be done by a source who’s reputation couldn’t be derided and in a position to totally embarrass Westminster. It would also have to be trusted not to use the information for it’s own ends, at least, not prematurely. Joanna’s kiss on his neck and cheerful, ‘Morning lover; how long have you been at it.’ Brought home the time to him. Turning and kissing her, ‘I’m late. Come round to the office after five we have work to do. I might take you out to dinner if you behave.’
‘Two nights in succession? John what’s got into you.’
‘Don’t count your chickens and don’t touch the report.’ Joanna’s reply was lost as he bounded upstairs. Between Brian’s job and now this it looked as though he’d a busy few weeks ahead of him. At least the houses were taken care of.
Three houses in the areas Brian had stipulated had been rented for six months with the right to extend to twelve. He’d give Joanna the details along with the dimensions of the boxes that would be stored in each of their garages and within ten days the modifications to the garages would be complete.
Ringing two local numbers both contacts agreed to meet for lunch. His third call got no reply from Senator Tim Meehan office. Trying again he rang his home and listened as the line connected then amplified a mumbled minor curse and a throat gearing up from sleep. ‘Senator Meehan’s residence.’
‘Mary, I’m sorry for the hour it’s John Fernyhough. It’s important I talk to Tim. Is he there?’
‘Hi John. If he was it would be him answering, but if it’s that important I know where he is.’
‘It’s important Mary. Could you ring him now and ask him to ring me back at my Dublin office?’
Within thirty minutes Tim’s drawl was rattling his eardrums with the information he’d be in Washington on Tuesday and he’d looked forward to John being his guest, though he would have preferred Joanna. John assured him he’d probably get it the neck from her when she found out he was going over without her.
His lunch meeting was only slightly more frequent than his trips to the states. To both professors he outlined Brian’s project, without giving any specifics. Derek Creasey already knew more than was being divulged, but if John wanted his friend and colleague Shamus Rourke brought in it could only mean there was a new development.
As John revealed the reports existence, contents and the circumstances he knew surrounding it, he could see interest sharpening in Shamus Rourke.
‘It’s crucial we know what Laing’s role is. Is he acting officially, semi officially or dubiously? Next why would four very prominent business men be interested in a report that damns a government that is very sympathetic to them?’
John suggested, ‘Perhaps they’re some sort of think tank.’
Rourke shook his head, ‘It would give them massive leverage. Far too much to be trusted to people the government can’t absolutely control. But all right, to pedantics. Does any of the five know a copy’s missing and if yes, are we in a position to check if they’re covering for the loss. In the remote possibility of it not being missed, the quicker it’s replaced the better. Meanwhile I’ll start cross checking all the data we have on the four and their business’s and see if their interest converge.’
Creasey nodded his approval, ‘John can you arrange for the copy to be replaced?’
‘I’ll have to use the two people I was telling you about and I’ll have to give them a sound reason for doing it. Political points won’t be enough.’
‘I don’t see they have much choice?’
John shook his head, ‘I wouldn’t say that Derek. They may have less choice than us, but that doesn’t make them weaker only clearer on what they need and possibly more determined to get it. Anyway it hasn’t come to that yet and I hope it never does.’
Knowing the potency of the chemicals, Derek Creasy conceded. ‘Alright, get it back any way you can and try to find out if there’s any reaction to it being returned. And when you see Meehan, ask him to make tentative arrangements should it’s authenticity and circumstances allow us to maximise its political capital.’
Roark gave a trace of a smile. ‘Now Derek that could embarrass the President with his special ally.’
‘I’ll lose a lot of sleep over that Seamus.’
John and Joanna flew together to Heathrow on the Tuesday. The promises of Monday evening relegated to the arguments she’d use convincing Pat and Brian on the necessity of the copy being replaced. Both knew it would take some convincing for them to risk their project for something of no direct value. Watching the dart of Concorde rise from the runway Joanna’s thoughts gnawed at Johns parting comment. “ We’re now involved on two fronts where each by coincidence are becoming inter- locked. This can make priorities confused and loyalties divided and the two of us are bang in the middle. Maybe you should step out of the line?’
‘No John, if anything is going to make this go pear shaped it’s if we start seeing Pat and Brian as dispensable for some dubious political gain. You steer the pundits away from the project and I’ll steer Brian and Pat off there being any political
interference. Other than that give my love to Mary and Tim.’
As she left to get a taxi Joanna felt anger beginning to simmer in her. Anger at the niggle of fear she’d allowed to worm into credence.
Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Chapter10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13, Chapter 14