Geneva, April 1988
Jutte Hahn opened the bedroom door quietly and looked in at the sleeping figure of Sean MacLean. She smiled and flicked the hair back from her face. Anyone seeing the look in her eyes would have been in no doubt about the love that was there. She and MacLean had lived together for nearly a year now and every day seemed like the first. MacLean moved in his sleep and rolled on to his left side. Jutte came over to the bed and sat down on the edge. She ran her finger gently down the contours of his bare arm and smiled at the slight movement she induced. She stopped at his hand and thought how much she loved his touch. Strong, tanned wrists led to long sensitive fingers, surgeon’s fingers, for that was what MacLean was.
There was a gold ring on the second finger of his right hand; it had been his father’s wedding ring. She could make out the letters, JM on it and a tiny emblem, which she knew was a thistle, but could not quite see in the early light filtering through the still-closed blinds. MacLean was fiercely proud of his Scottish origins. Woe betide anyone at the clinic who called him English. Jutte smiled at the thought. MacLean was so gentle about everything else.
Jutte had met MacLean on the ski slopes above Zermatt. He had been having a weekend away from the clinic and she was employed to instruct parties of school children in the fundamentals of skiing. She had been taken aback by his directness when he came straight up to her and asked if she would have a drink with him when classes were over for the day. Her immediate instinct had been put him down but there had been something about his openness that had made her think twice and then agree. Far from being a sophisticated operator, which had been her first thought, MacLean had a quality of childlike innocence.
When she thought back to that first evening she reflected on how easily it could have been their last. MacLean had spoken about nothing but his work. The company he worked for had come up with some new compound, which affected the kind of surgery MacLean was interested in and he was filled with such enthusiasm for it. She hadn’t understood much at the time but the one thing that struck her was that MacLean’s concern for his patients was genuine. When he had driven her home that evening she had expected him to make some kind of pass but instead he had suddenly apologised for being so boring. He had kissed her fingertips lightly and asked if he might be allowed to see her again.
After seeing each other regularly for two months they had decided to live together. If Sean MacLean had suggested they fly to the moon Jutte would have agreed without a second thought; she had fallen so much in love with him. He had become everything to her. She ran her fingers lightly along his forehead and curled a lock of dark hair. She wished with all her heart that she could do something to help him with what he was going through right now. Things had gone wrong with the project at the clinic and trials on the new compound had been abandoned. There had been a death and MacLean blamed himself.
Jutte continued to trace her fingers lightly round the contours of MacLean’s face, pausing only when he showed signs of stirring. She brought them underneath his chin and up against the stubble on his cheek to circle the edge of his ear. MacLean moved as if annoyed by a fly and Jutte stopped until he settled again. She touched his ear and MacLean brought up his hand. He kept it against his ear. Jutte ran her index finger gently up the spaces between his fingers in turn. She knew that he liked that.
‘Monster,’ murmured MacLean.
Jutte laughed out loud and MacLean opened his eyes.
‘Do you know what time it is?’ she asked.
‘Not only do I not know what time it is,’ replied MacLean sleepily, ‘I don’t care.’
‘It’s seven thirty,’ said Jutte.
‘It’s also Saturday,’ said MacLean. He turned over on to his front and put both hands up on the pillow. Jutte rubbed his shoulders in a circular motion.
‘That’s nice,’ purred MacLean.
‘You should have been a cat,’ smiled Jutte.
‘Next time around,’ said MacLean.
‘What would you like for breakfast?’
‘Instead of porridge?’ mocked Jutte. ‘What would your Scottish granny say.’
‘Granddad would understand,’ growled MacLean, turning round to pull her down on top of him.
Jutte squealed in mock protest then kissed him full on the lips.
‘Have I told you lately how much I love you?’ said MacLean.
‘Not lately enough.’
‘Then I do.’
‘Say it,’ demanded Jutte.
‘I love you.’
‘Good,’ said Jutte, freeing herself and standing up. ‘Then you won’t have forgotten your promise?’
‘Promise,’ said MacLean uncertainly.
‘To go up to the mountains this week-end.’
‘Ah,’ MacLean replied thoughtfully.
‘You promised,’ insisted Jutte.
‘Very well, I promised,’ conceded MacLean after a moment’s thought.
‘Then up you get and into the shower with you.’
‘Jutte, I don’t think I feel like… ‘
Jutte put her finger to his lips. ‘We are going,’ she said. ‘You need to get away from here for a bit; we both do. It will help to take your mind off things.’
MacLean considered and then conceded. He said, ‘All right, we’ll go.’ He got out of bed.
‘While you are in the shower I will drive down to the bakers and get some of Madame Renaud’s croissants.’
‘Wonderful,’ said MacLean.
‘Can I take your car?’
‘The keys are by the door.’
‘Won’t be long.’ Jutte put on a pale blue jacket over her blouse and picked up the keys. She kissed MacLean on the cheek and was gone.
MacLean went into the bathroom and took off the boxer shorts he used as pyjamas. He examined himself in the mirror and grimaced as he saw the beginnings of loose flesh around his middle. He needed more exercise. Being over six-foot tall and broad with it, he could carry spare flesh without it showing too much but he didn’t like it. He would start running again soon. He had stopped it when things had started to go wrong at the clinic and had been drinking more that was good for him but he would have to get a grip on himself. After this weekend he would get back to a stricter regime.
He stepped into the shower and made a slight adjustment to the regulator but, as he reached for the soap, an explosion rocked the building and the apartment was filled with the sound of breaking glass. MacLean threw a towel round his waist and rushed through to find that the balcony doors had been blown in. Ignoring the glass underfoot and filled with fear and trepidation, he moved outside to look down. His Mercedes was now a heap of smouldering wreckage. Metal was strewn all over the road and a tyre was burning. The air was filled with smoke and what looked like pieces of paper were floating silently down. One of the pieces landed on the balcony and MacLean picked it up slowly as if in a trance. It was a small piece of pale blue material.
Zurich, June 1988
Lisa Vernay opened her eyes cautiously as the morning sun caught her face on the pillow. It was just after six. She turned over and let her arm drop lightly on to the space beside her. A few months ago the emptiness would have rekindled the hollow feeling and maybe even have brought tears but not now. Jean Pierre had gone and she had accepted it; she had moved on. She had left Geneva to find a new job working at the Klausman Clinic in Zurich and with it had come a new apartment, a white Volkswagen convertible and a growing new circle of friends.
Among that circle was Jeff Edelman, an American surgeon at the clinic who seemed more than a little interested in her. Lisa liked him but was in no hurry to form any close relationship. She would keep him at arm’s length for the time being — at least until the hurt healed. Besides, she suspected that he was several years younger than she was. But maybe that was a consideration of another age.
Jean Pierre had been very generous to her at the time of the break-up, a generosity born of guilt but nevertheless she had no need to seek security. She could afford to take things slowly. In her heart she had forgiven him and could even wish him well but as for the little bitch who had stolen him away… that was quite another matter.
Lisa got out of bed and opened the curtains. She basked for a few moments in the warmth of the sun coming through the glass before sliding back the door and stepping out on to the balcony. The air was already pleasantly warm. Ten floors below her she could see the sunlight sparkle on the clear blue water of the apartment swimming pool. There was only the tiniest ripple on its surface and the surrounding gardens were deserted. It looked so inviting and she did not have to be at the clinic until nine. The first lab samples wouldn’t start arriving until half past; there would be plenty of time.
She slipped out of her nightdress and padded lightly across the floor to the closet where she kept her swimsuits. Of the three in the top drawer she chose the navy-blue one-piece with the band of lighter blue running diagonally up to her left shoulder like a fork of lightning. She made it fit perfectly with her fingertips, running them round the inside of the elastic and smoothing it over her still-firm buttocks.
She examined herself in the full-length mirror door of the closet and was not displeased at what she saw. At the age of thirty-five her stomach was flat, her breasts arrogant and her hair was still jet black without assistance. She could pass for mid to late twenties. She threw a bathrobe round her shoulders, packed a towel and her keys into a duffel bag and slipped her feet inside the rope sandals she’d bought in Saint Raphael last year. She paused as she reached the door then ran back to the kitchen to switch on the electric kettle for when she came back. That would save a few minutes.
Lisa dropped the robe from her shoulders on to one of the poolside chairs and kicked her sandals underneath. She walked to the head of the pool and looked down at the water. An onlooker might have expected her to dive in but she didn’t. Lisa never dived into pools. She hadn’t done that since she was fourteen years old when she’d tried to emulate her older brother Paul by diving into the sea from the rocks near their holiday home in Brittany. She had mistimed the swell and hit her head on the bottom. The remainder of the holiday had been spent in hospital.
Lisa touched the mark on her forehead subconsciously as she walked up the side of the pool to the centre ladders and climbed down. The water was cold but she held her breath and continued to descend until the water lapped below her chin. She pushed herself away from the side and floated on her back for a few moments, gazing up at the unbroken blue of the sky, enjoying the scents from the surrounding shrubs. She turned over on to her front and started to swim up and down in a lazy crawl. It felt good to stretch her limbs.
As she started to tire, she decided on a final length of breaststroke to take her down to the shallow end. She pushed off with her feet and stayed under the surface with her hands by her sides as long as possible, rejoicing in the feeling of moving through the water like a fish but when she broke the surface she became aware of a man waiting at the end of the pool. He was wearing overalls and leaning on a rake.
‘Bonjour,’ said Lisa as she stood up, wiping the water from her eyes.
‘Bonjour Madame,’ replied the man. ‘You swim well.’
‘Merci,’ said Lisa coldly. She could not recall having seen this particular gardener before and thought his comment on her swimming prowess a little too familiar. She climbed up the steps and was surprised to see that the man had moved to the head of them. He was blocking her way.
‘Would you mind moving?’ she said.
The man looked down at her. His mouth smiled but his eyes did not. He didn’t say anything and he didn’t move.
Lisa’s throat began to tighten. The shallow end of the pool was screened from the apartment block by shrubbery. She felt afraid.
‘Are you stupid?’ she demanded. ‘I asked you to move!’
The man continued to smile.
Lisa was about to sink back down into the water when the man suddenly reached down and gripped her under her right arm. He pulled her clean out of the pool and clamped his other hand over her mouth. She was carried, kicking and struggling but completely mute into the dense shrubbery and pinned on her back. The man slowly relaxed the hand over her mouth, his eyes warning her not to scream.
Lisa was consumed by terror. ‘I have money,’ she gasped. ‘I’ll give you it. Anything you want, just don’t hurt me. Please, please, for God’s sake don’t hurt me.’
The smile returned to the man’s lips but his eyes were like stones. He turned Lisa on to her side and curled his arm round her neck to grip her chin. For a moment she could not understand what was happening but then with hellish insight it became clear. ‘Oh my God!’ she gasped. She opened her mouth to scream but the man tightened his grip and gave her neck a sudden sharp twist. He turned Lisa’s lifeless body over on to her back and left it to return a moment later with a stone. He traced out an area on her forehead with his forefinger then brought the stone down sharply on it. The death was to look like an accident: that was the agreement. Satisfied with his handiwork, he pulled Lisa’s body out of the shrubbery and slid it silently back into the water.
Paris, September 1988
Kurt Immelman left the Peripherique at the Porte D’Orleans and coaxed the Porsche through increasingly heavy traffic as he headed north on Avenue du General Leclerc. He checked his watch and saw that he had plenty of time. Professor Jaffe did not expect him until ten.
A particularly stunning young woman dressed in a close-fitting white dress crossed in front of him as he came to a halt at traffic lights. He eyed her appreciatively and smiled when she glanced in his direction. She smiled back. People had been right about Paris, he reflected. There were more beautiful women in this city than in any other and they had the poise and confidence to go with it. A woman would not have smiled back in Geneva.
Kurt had been in Paris for seven months and had enjoyed all of them. The city had style; it had an undercurrent of excitement, which acted like a drug. You missed it when you went away for any length of time. The young were constantly aware of their sexuality and used it in a sophisticated game. Smiles, glances out of the corner of the eye, apparently casual brushing encounters were the opening gambits. Dinner in left bank cafes, holding hands by the Seine and kissing in the shadow of Notre Dame came next. Making love in his apartment in Montrouge or hers in Montmartre… but maybe time was running out. On his birthday last Friday Kurt had become thirty-eight years old.
His appointment as chief plastic surgeon at the Le Monde Hospital had marked the end of a very long apprenticeship as assistant surgeon at some of the finest clinics in Europe. He was now his own boss. There would be more time for other things. Things like finding a wife, because, at thirty-eight, he was in danger of becoming set in his ways as a bachelor, a fact which his mother had pointed out to him in a letter enclosed with his birthday card. He had believed that only unmarried daughters received maternal complaints about being denied the joy of grandchildren. As an only son he had been proved wrong.
The simple truth was that since medical school he had very little time at all to consider courtship and marriage. Surgery was a demanding speciality and if you really wanted to succeed at top level it demanded all your energy and attention. Kurt wanted to succeed; he wanted to be the best. He had moved all over Europe to ensure that he worked with the best, picked their brains, studied their techniques. Now it was beginning to pay off. His reputation in the medical world was growing fast. This morning he had been called in as consultant on a case in one of the most exclusive hospitals in Paris.
The patient was the son of an Arab Sheikh who had been badly burned in a car accident. He had been trapped inside his car when it had overturned and caught fire. The notes said that the left side of the boy’s face had been severely damaged and forty percent of his torso had sustained second degree burns. His genital area was also affected. No expense was to be spared to restore the boy to as near normal as could be done.
Kurt brought the car to a halt in the parking lot at the rear of the hospital and saw the attendant walk towards him. The man glanced at his windshield then became aggressive. ‘No permit, no parking,’ he said.
Kurt eyed the man with distaste. He had an intense dislike of petty officialdom. ‘I’m here at Professor Jaffe’s request,’ he said, getting out the car.
The man stiffened at the name Jaffe. ‘You are Doctor Immelman?’ he asked.
‘The Professor said you would be coming. You are to go directly to the seventh floor.’
Immelman nodded and walked towards the front door. He was wondering what Jaffe would be like. He had never met him.
The elevator was smooth and fast. The doors slid back silently and Immelman stepped out into a seventh floor corridor. He almost tripped over a tool bag, which had been left by an engineer who was working on the other elevator. The man’s legs were visible in the opening: he was working on the roof of the car. A triangular metal stand held a card saying that the elevator was temporarily out of service.
Kurt turned away and started to look for an indication of where Jaffe would be found. His name did not appear on the staff board. He walked slowly along the corridor until he met a nurse coming the other way.
‘Excuse me, I’m looking for Professor Jaffe.’
‘Not on this floor Monsieur,’ replied the girl. ‘Professor Jaffe’s unit is on the second floor.’
‘The second!’ exclaimed Kurt. What on earth was the fool in the car park talking about? He returned to the elevators and found that the engineer had moved to the one he had come up in. The metal sign seemed to be placed ambiguously between both cars.
‘Is it all right to use this one now?’ Kurt asked, pointing to the second elevator.
The engineer did not turn round. He was rummaging in his toolbag and crouched over it with his knees splayed apart but he did answer, ‘Oui.’
Kurt got in and pressed ‘2’. It was the last conscious thing he ever did. The elevator parted company with its counterweight and pulley wheels and plunged straight down the shaft. A scream had barely left Kurt’s lips when the car smashed into the concrete base and an eerie silence ensued. There was no explosion, no fire, just a single horrific crash then silence. High above, the engineer gathered his tools, removed his sign and left the building by the fire escape.
Madrid, November 1988
Max Schaeffer held out his right hand in front of him and saw the shake in it. He brought it down and rested it on his knee. It was no good, he needed a drink. This had become the single overriding factor in his life since Geneva. At the beginning everyone had been understanding but people were people. There was a limit to how far good will could be stretched even where wives were concerned. Janine had stood by him through the nightmares and the inability to hold down a job but the drinking had proved too much for her. In the end she had left him too.
The initial shock of her leaving forced him into an attempt to pull himself together. He had signed in to a clinic for the treatment of alcoholism and spent three months drying out, clinging to the hope that Janine might come back to him. When it was over he found that she needed something more than promises. She insisted that he find a job as proof of his commitment before she would even consider returning.
Looking for a job in research with a history of alcoholism was not the easiest thing Max had ever done. Employers seemed sympathetic, particularly in view of his earlier research career when he had proved himself as a talented, maybe even brilliant, developmental chemist. But when it came to gambling research budgets on a reformed lush they inevitably fell at the final hurdle. Then came the offer of the Spanish job.
Spanish science was still in the act of catching up with the rest of Western Europe after being resurrected after a long period of stagnation under Franco. Keen to establish its own pharmaceutical division, a large Spanish chemical company had decided to take a risk on Max, hoping it would be a short-cut to catching up with the Swiss based giants. They had furnished him with a well-equipped laboratory, a staff of fourteen and a generous budget to carry out basic research in the broad area of cardiology. Heart pills were big business.
Janine came back to him and they moved to Madrid. It seemed like a perfect new beginning. They had a nice apartment; they enjoyed the Madrilenean lifestyle of tapas bars in the early evening and dining late. They walked in the Parque Retiro on Sundays and laughed a lot but things did not stay that way. The Spanish company grew impatient and started to pressurise Max for results. He could not convince them that basic research took time. His bosses were accountants not scientists.
Increasing pressure from above led to Max working all the hours that God sent. This in turn led to complaints from Janine that he never spent any time with her. Eventually something had to give. Max was driven back to the bottle and Janine left him again. It could only be a matter of weeks before his small staff stopped covering for him and his research would be wound up. The abandoned project would be used by the accountants as a tax loss.
Max poured himself a large gin and threw it down his throat. It had the effect of stopping the shake in his hands and he immediately felt better. He felt ready to bluff his way through another day.
The Castellana was overhung with exhaust smoke as Max walked to where he kept his car. The sun was just above the fug; he could feel its warmth but this morning there was a temperature inversion over the city. It would remain shrouded in mist and fumes until it cleared. He rounded the corner and stopped dead in his tracks. The car had gone. He rubbed his forehead in a nervous gesture as he anticipated the time and effort involved in reporting the theft to the police but then he remembered. The car had not been stolen at all. It had been picked up by the garage for servicing as arranged a few days ago. He smiled at his stupidity but the smile faded as he conceded that alcohol was destroying his memory. He walked back to the Castellana and hailed a cab.
The morning passed without incident until his senior post-doctoral assistant brought in the results of the latest series of experiments. They were all negative. Max threw the papers down on his desk and cursed. ‘Not a single damned compound,’ he complained. ‘Not one out of how many?’
‘One hundred and eleven Senor,’ replied the post-doc.
Max repeated the figure and cursed again.
‘Maybe there is a problem with the basic idea?’ suggested the man tentatively.
Max turned on him with venom. ‘How dare you!’ he stormed. ‘There is no problem with the basic idea! The problem lies with the clowns I have to rely on to carry out the work!’
For a moment it looked as if the man might be ready to answer back but the moment passed and he left the room to continue his work. Max’s anger evaporated to be replaced by remorse. He slammed the heel of his hand against his forehead. ‘What’s the use?’ he sighed. ‘What’s the bloody use?’ They had tested one hundred and eleven compounds without finding anything remotely useful. Their last chance had just gone. If they had come up with just one which showed the possibility of being therapeutically effective it might have kept the bean counters off his back a little longer but now his fate was sealed. Max put his jacket back on and went out for a drink. He didn’t come back until four in the afternoon. When he did there was a note on his desk. It requested that he contact the company’s research director right away.
The meeting between Max and the research director was brief and acrimonious. It could only have had one outcome. Max cleared his desk and was escorted from the building. He decided to walk back to his apartment; it was five miles but he had to clear his head and think about what he was going to do now. If only he had Janine to help him. At least life would have some meaning. He felt sure he could straighten himself out if only he had Janine. He would try once more to persuade her. First thing in the morning he would go to the travel agent and get himself on a plane back to Geneva. He would talk to her face to face and tell her that he felt sure they could work something out. He looked at his watch. There would actually be time to catch the travel agent this evening if he got a move on and if his car had been returned by the garage. It had.
He cursed as he was held up at the second set of traffic lights in a row. He over-revved the engine and squealed the tyres at take-off only to see the third set of lights start to change against him. His right foot hesitated then slammed down hard on the accelerator. He charged through the intersection then swung the car hard over to join the southbound traffic on Serrano, the broad avenue leading into the heart of Madrid. The outer lane cleared and Max moved out into it. He accelerated and was doing nearly fifty miles an hour downhill when he saw the lights at the foot of the hill change to red. He cursed and put his foot on the brake. Nothing happened.
‘Christ!’ he screamed, pumping the pedal but to no avail. Pulling the hand brake on was equally useless. The cable snapped at the first hard tug. He slammed his hand down hard on the horn but the traffic ahead seemed oblivious to it. Blowing car horns was a way of life in Madrid. His last scream harmonised with the horn as he slammed head-on into an oncoming bus.
Edinburgh, Scotland. February 1991.
MacLean paused at the railings, his back to the bitter wind. He looked at the dark grey Victorian building and felt his yesterdays return in a slow, numbing nostalgia. All these years ago — he did the calculation in his head. He was thirty-seven so it must have been thirty-two years ago when his mother had brought him here to school as a well-scrubbed, bright-eyed five year old. The fabric of the building did not appear to have changed much at all. Perhaps the stone was darker but maybe even that was because of the leaden sky above.
The minutes ticked by but MacLean was oblivious. He stood motionless with his hands on the cold metal as memories of a time gone by were uncertainly resurrected. They were of children of another age, reduced to faces without names after all these years but still with smiles and personalities.
MacLean’s life had been such a nightmare for so long now that the border between dreams and reality had become indistinct. The surrealist thought that a class of children of thirty-two years ago might still be inside the grey building, lingered longer in his head than it should have done. The saving grace was that he recognised this as sign of the mental stress he had been under. People under great strain often started to believe in something simply because they wanted it so much to be true. They sought subconscious escapism, escape from a reality that had become too much like hell to bear.
Despite his attempts at rationalisation, MacLean found himself walking through the gates and crossing the playground. He climbed the stone steps to the entrance marked ‘BOYS’ and pushed open the door. It was just as he remembered, tiled walls and green paint and a vague smell of disinfectant. The source was a bucket and mop propped up against the wall by the door.
He started to walk along the corridor, following the sounds of an echoing piano and young voices. He remained unchallenged and stopped only when he came to a pair of brass-handled swing doors. On the other side was the assembly hall. His fingers touched the brass uncertainly. The handles were the original ones. He had touched them before.
The piano sounded a long chord and the children in the hall began to sing. MacLean closed his eyes. They were singing it! They were singing the very one. ‘In the bleak mid-winter, frosty wind made moan
…’ Seven year old voices lagged behind an insistent piano. The sound was pathetically thin on the cold air, fragile like happiness. ‘Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.’
MacLean looked along the rows of scrubbed faces, then, realising what he was doing, he put his hand to his forehead and acknowledged the fact that he was looking for faces he knew. He swallowed hard and got a grip.
The hymn ended and the pianist, a beefy woman in her fifties, began to thump out a Sousa march. Her eyes were fixed on the music in front of her, head held back at an angle so that she could see through the bottom lens of her bifocals. Her ample breasts shivered in time to the insensitive thump of her hands on the keyboard. The music was the signal for the children to troop out the far end of the hall in twos.
As the hall emptied and the music stopped, MacLean entered through the swing doors and paused to look up at the high ceiling. It made him feel small again. At the other end of the hall the pianist returned for something she had forgotten; she caught sight of MacLean and asked, ‘Can I help you?’ The tone of her voice demanded to know what he was doing there. She came towards him, music clutched to her bosom and filled with the confidence of being on her own ground.
MacLean’s expression did not change. His social programming no longer functioned.
‘Did you hear what I said?’ demanded the woman. The fact that she was challenging an intruder, broad and well over six-foot tall did not seem to occur to her.
MacLean looked at her, the cold morning light etching the pain lines round his eyes. ‘I’m taking a last look,’ he said quietly.
‘A last look at what?’ snapped the woman.
MacLean looked at her distantly then he said quietly, ‘My life.’
The woman appeared bemused. MacLean turned on his heel and left without saying any more. He did not look back as he walked up the hill away from the school but he did pause to pull up the collar of his overcoat. He had to bend his head against the wind which seemed determined to deny him progress.
He came to the canal bridge at the top of the hill and stopped again. The Union canal, the canal that had played such an important part in his childhood. Its banks had once been the most exciting place on earth. Here summer days had been longer, hotter and happier than they had ever been since. Despite the sub-zero temperature he could almost feel the sun on his back and the rough grass on his knees as he knelt down long ago to stare down into the still, dark water.
He left the pavement and climbed down the steep muddy path leading from the bridge to the towpath. The mud had frozen to the hardness of concrete. The canal itself was solid and a light dusting of snow lay on its surface. He started walking but suddenly remembered the tree. There had been a tree on the other side of the bridge from which he and his friends had once dangled a rope swing. He retraced his steps and walked under the bridge to find it still there. In February it was stark and bare, a black skeleton against a grey sky, but come spring, it would be reborn and in the summer its full leafy canopy would shelter another generation of ten year old jungle adventurers.
MacLean started out on his walk again. A mile along the towpath and he reached the playing fields of his old high school, netless tennis courts and the shuttered and silent pavilion. The smell of wet earth was carried on the wind and brought back memories of rugby games of long ago. He saw steam rise from the backs of scrimmaging forwards as he stood anxiously in the back line waiting for the ball to emerge from the melee and arc towards him. He recalled the surge of adrenaline as the three-quarters moved forward together like a single delta wing The sense of relief at having moved the ball out towards the wing before the opposing flankers reached you, the pain of being hit if they were too fast or you were too slow. That was when you smelt the earth, when your face was close up against it, being pressed into it by anonymous hands and feet.
MacLean continued walking. He saw that the surface of the canal was strewn with stones where children had tested the strength of the ice. He had to find out for himself. Keeping one foot on the bank he lowered the other to the surface and began a slow transfer of weight. Ten of his thirteen stones were on the ice before it protested with a loud crack and a chorus of ancillary creaks. The question had been answered. He rejoined the towpath.
The canal ceased courting the line of the main road and started to meander off into rural isolation. MacLean continued until it began to forge a level path through steepening ground on either side. There was more shelter from the wind here. There was also a wooden bench seat in an alcove in the hedgerow where he rested for a moment. A robin came to investigate and sat on the ground in front of him as if it instinctively knew that he posed no threat. Its breast seemed spectacularly red against the frost on the grass. MacLean held out his hand invitingly but the robin was not that trusting.
He recalled the last time he had come this far up the canal. He must have been thirteen years old and it had been in the school summer holidays. He and a boy named… the name eluded him for the moment but floated tantalisingly near the tip of his tongue until he had it. Eddie! Eddie Ferguson. He and Eddie had paddled their way up through the reeds in a canoe owned by Eddie’s brother. His brother had not exactly given permission but as he had gone off to Scout camp this was seen as being just as good. At that age the journey had held all the excitement of a search for the source of the Nile. He remembered the sound the fibreglass canoe made when it brushed up against the reeds.
MacLean was startled out of his preoccupation by a woman’s voice.
‘Carol! No! Don’t! Come back!’
There was so much fear in the voice that MacLean could not ignore it. He got up off the seat and rounded the bend of the towpath. He was in time to see a small child of six or seven, dressed in wellingtons and a red, plastic raincoat dash out on to the ice, her face alive with mischief. Her mother who had been chasing after her came to a halt at the edge of the bank. MacLean could tell that she was fighting to control her voice. ‘Carol! Listen to me. I want you to walk towards me… now!’
The child turned and smiled. ‘Look Mummy,’ she said. ‘I’m standing on the water.’
MacLean was thirty yards away. He stood stock still lest he break the spell between mother and daughter.
‘Walk towards me Carol,’ said the woman. There was no mistaking the anxiety in her voice despite her measured calmness. MacLean could almost feel the fear.
The child herself suddenly appeared to sense that something was wrong too. Her smile faded and she showed signs of being afraid as she started towards her mother. She took two steps and the ice sent out singing cracks in all directions like spokes radiating from the hub of a wheel; she stopped moving.
‘Come on Carol,’ said her mother.
The child took one more step and the ice opened up beneath her. She disappeared through the hole in an instant and her mother screamed out loud. MacLean broke into a run. There was no sign of the child, just a black hole in the ice like the jagged mouth of a shark.
‘Do something!’ screamed the woman. ‘For God’s sake do something!’
She was hysterical. She gripped MacLean’s lapels as she implored him to help. MacLean took her hands away and looked around for wood. There was none. For a moment his eyes must have reflected the hopelessness of the situation. The woman saw it and screamed again, ‘Oh God no! Please God no!’
MacLean could not bear the agony of being unable to do anything. He broke free of the woman and jumped down heavily on to the ice at the edge. He went straight through and landed on the ledge that lay half a metre below the surface. The icy water numbed his legs as he threw off his over coat and started to lash out at the ice in front of him with his feet, first with his right and then with his left. There was nothing ungainly about it. He retained perfect balance and put all his weight behind each strike. To the woman, the only thing that mattered was that MacLean was making good progress. He had rekindled hope in her. ‘Go on!’ she urged.
MacLean reached the second shelf of the canal and sank to a metre in the icy water. He could no longer use his feet. Without considering the consequences he started to attack the ice with his fists. The ice continued to give but now it was being splattered with blood from cuts to his hands. MacLean’s concentration was total, his features remained set and he ignored the pain until he had created a big enough opening in the ice. With a brief look back at the woman on the bank he sank down into the dark water beneath the ice.
On the bank, the woman was left feeling more alone that she had ever thought possible. Both her daughter and the stranger had disappeared. It was as if they had never been there. Even the wind had dropped away to nothing. Broken ice and black water was all that there was to see. Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone…
MacLean’s body erupted from the opening in the ice. In his hands he clutched the body of the little girl in the red raincoat. He couldn’t speak; the agonising cold had all but paralysed him. He waded and stumbled his way to the bank and handed over the bundle before collapsing on to the frosty grass. He could feel the water on him turning to ice.
The woman was in a state of panic. She had the lifeless body of her child on the ground in front of her and was trying to coax the water out of her lungs.
‘No!’ croaked MacLean. ‘She needs air… Breathe into her…Water later… ‘
The woman’s eyes sought reassurance from MacLean.
‘Do it!’ he ordered. He tried to reach the child himself but exhaustion and the numbing cold had robbed him of all energy. The woman started to give the child mouth to mouth resuscitation.
‘Yes,’ said MacLean in a voice that was barely a whisper. ‘Keep on. Don’t stop.’
Icicles were forming on MacLean’s face, stabbing at his eyes and ears. He tried to clear his vision with the back of his hand but only succeeded in adding grit to the problem. He cursed and tried again before crawling towards the pair. At that moment the child spluttered and coughed. Her mother cried out in elation, ‘She’s alive! She’s alive!’
‘Now the water!’ croaked MacLean.
‘The water?’ repeated the woman.
‘Get the water out of her lungs now,’ insisted MacLean, angry at having to repeat himself when every syllable caused him such pain.
The woman rolled the little girl on to her front and put her head to the side, She started to pump the water out of her lungs. There was a lot more spluttering and coughing but it was the most beautiful sound in the world.
The girl was now sitting up. The woman turned her attention to MacLean and said, ‘Are you all right?’
‘We just live up there. Can you make it?’
MacLean nodded again.
The trio made their way up along a mud path to a pretty white bungalow, partly hidden by pine trees and rhododendron bushes. The woman opened the door and carried the child inside. MacLean followed but as soon as the warm air hit him he felt consciousness slip away and slumped to the floor.
When he came round he found he was in bed. Turning over slowly, he looked about him to discover that he was in a small bedroom with pink flowery wallpaper. How long had it been since he’d been in a bedroom with pink, flowery wallpaper? he wondered. A different world. Hotels and motels and rented apartments always went for neutrality, like banks and building societies. The linen sheets were clean and crisp on his bare shoulder and when he looked under the covers, he saw that he was naked. He stretched out his legs and recoiled slightly as his foot came into contact with something warm. He tried again and found that it was a hot-water bottle. A smile found its way to his lips despite his cheek muscles trying to prevent it. ‘Ye gods,’ he thought. ‘I’m in Gingerbread cottage in the heart of the woods.’
Flickering shadows appeared on the wall and drew his attention to the window. It had started to snow outside and large flakes were drifting silently past. For the first time he realised that his hands were bandaged. The thought of frostbite alarmed him into trying to move all of his fingers and toes in turn. They all worked. His feet were free of pain but there was quite a bit of discomfort from his hands. That would be from bruising caused by the ice.
The woman must have dressed his hands, MacLean thought as he examined the white gauze bindings, conceding that she’d done a good job. He tried to attract attention by coughing. The door opened and the woman came in.
‘Hello, how are you?’ The voice was warm and friendly, a controlled, gentle voice now free of the earlier fear.
‘I’m fine,’ replied MacLean. ‘I must apologise for… ‘
MacLean was interrupted by the most beautiful laugh he had ever heard. ‘You must nothing of the sort,’ she said and then more gently she added, ‘I owe you my daughter’s life.’
MacLean did not know what to say. He looked away.
The woman looked behind her and said, ‘You can come in now.’
The little girl entered the room, staring resolutely at her feet and with her left thumb hovering near her mouth. She raised her eyes briefly to meet MacLean’s but then dropped them again.
‘Well, say it,’ whispered her mother.
The child smiled shyly then said, ‘I was a very silly girl. I’m very sorry and thank you very much for getting me out the water.’ She turned to her mother and clung to her skirt.
MacLean said, ‘I’m very glad you’re all right Carol.’
‘Carrie!’ corrected the girl. ‘It’s Carrie!’
‘Carol when I’m angry,’ smiled her mother, ‘I’m Tansy Nielsen by the way.’
‘MacLean. Sean MacLean.’
‘Pleased to meet you Mr MacLean,’ said Tansy. It sounded ridiculous and they both knew it and laughed.
‘How about a nice hot bath?’ asked Tansy. ‘Your clothes should be just about dry by the time you’ve finished.’
‘Sounds good,’ said MacLean.
Tansy went off to run the bath. When she returned she removed the temporary dressing from his hands and screwed up her face. She said, ‘They must be awfully sore.’
MacLean looked at his raw, damaged knuckles. The bruising had not had time to develop fully but a purple tinge was already in evidence. ‘There’s nothing broken,’ he said. ‘They’ll be right as rain in a few days.’
‘Mr MacLean… ‘ Tansy began. She wanted to express her thanks for what he had done but words failed her and she ended up by simply saying, ‘Your bath’s ready.’
The bathroom was ringed with Carrie’s toys. One of them, a bright yellow plastic duck, fell into the water and bobbed about in the suds. MacLean left it where it was and looked up at the window to see that it was still snowing. The grey light suggested that there was still a lot to come. Tansy had the radio on next door or maybe it was a record playing. He could hear the sounds of Fur Elise and he lay back and closed his eyes. When the music ended he would start thinking about returning to the outside world but for the moment his mind was about as active as his yellow plastic companion.
The doorbell rang and startled MacLean out of his reverie. He cursed himself for having relaxed so completely. Who was at the door? Had the woman called the police? God! It must be the police! He sat bolt upright, his pulse racing as he looked about him. He remembered the gun! It must have been the gun that did it! The woman must have found it in his coat pocket when she undressed him! She had called the police!
MacLean looked to the window as a possible means of escape then felt foolish as he remembered he had no clothes. They were being dried. He was trapped. Any moment now the bathroom door would leave its hinges as uniformed bodies crashed through to arrest him. He could do nothing. He lay paralysed as he heard the front door open. A deep male voice was saying something but he could not make out the words. The door closed again and he heard Tansy call out, ‘Carrie! Dr Miller’s here to see you.’
Was it a ruse? he wondered. This was the way he’d learned to think over the past two years. He could not accept that it was really the family doctor calling until he had heard Carrie speak. There hadn’t been time to prime the child for a role in any play. The water had grown cold but MacLean lay back again and let out his breath slowly. He had been wrong but all the same, Tansy Nielsen knew about the gun.
MacLean heard the doctor leave and shortly afterwards Tansy’s voice outside the door said, ‘I’m leaving your clothes outside the door Mr MacLean. All right?’
‘Thank you,’ replied MacLean as matter of factly as he could. He got out of the bath and dried himself quickly before opening the door slightly and snatching his clothes in to search anxiously through the pockets. As he feared, the gun wasn’t there. He supposed there was an outside chance that it could have fallen into the canal when he was under the ice but it was much more likely that Tansy had found and removed it.
Tansy smiled as MacLean entered the room. ‘Feel better?’ she asked.
‘Our doctor was here to see Carrie. You probably heard him?’
‘Yes,’ agreed MacLean.
‘I considered asking him to have a look at you while he was here but then I changed my mind.’
MacLean read in Tansy’s eyes that she had indeed found the gun. ‘No, I’m fine,’ he said.
‘Will you join us for supper, Mr MacLean?’ asked Tansy.
MacLean shook his head and said, ‘I think I’d better be going.’
The directness of the question took MacLean aback. ‘Nowhere,’ he confessed.
Carrie defused the embarrassment. She said, ‘Please stay. You can mend my train.’
MacLean looked at her and smiled. ‘I could certainly take a look at it.’ Looking at Tansy he added, ‘Thank you, I’d be happy to stay for supper.’
Tansy went off to the kitchen and Carrie disappeared to fetch her broken train. MacLean felt uneasy; the situation was unreal. The bungalow was warm and cosy and he was surrounded by signs of domesticity and a kind of life he had almost entirely forgotten. He was annoyed at fate for reminding him at a time like this. He looked to the window and the fading light. Outside was where he belonged, in the cold grey reality of a world which was dependably hostile, not here in Tansy and Carrie’s world in a house that was clearly a home. It had a life of its own. It almost seemed to breathe.
MacLean had almost decided to get up to leave quietly when Carrie returned carrying her train.
‘The wheel,’ she said by way of explanation. She held a wooden locomotive in one hand and one of its wheels in the other.
‘I think I see the problem,’ said MacLean. He took the train from her and sat down again. The pin securing the wheel to the hub had been lost. He looked about him and saw a little dish by the hearth, which contained odds and ends. Among the predominant drawing pins he saw a few paper clips and selected one to thread it through the hole in the axle. He broke off the excess by bending the wire backwards and forwards until metal fatigue did it for him. The wheel was now safely retained.
‘There,’ he said to Carrie. ‘Good as new.’
Carrie tried out the train on the rug and seemed well pleased with the result. She grinned and said, ‘Thank-you so much.’
‘You’re very welcome,’ said MacLean.
Carrie stopped playing with the train and said, ‘I like you… you didn’t say girls don’t play with trains.’
Now that Carrie had overcome her shyness, she chirped and chattered her way through the meal. MacLean was grateful because it relieved him of having to make any social contribution other than the occasional exchange of smiles with her mother. He constantly reminded himself that he was an interloper. He had made his decision; he must not let himself be distracted. The sirens of warmth and happiness were there but he would tie himself to the mast. This was all a momentary aberration. It would soon be over.
Despite his resolve MacLean could not help but notice the strong physical resemblance between Carrie and her mother. They had the same auburn hair, the same wide, generous mouth that could change to smiling so easily and the same dark eyes. Where was Carrie’s father? he wondered. He was annoyed at himself for even thinking about it. It was none of his business and it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered.
Carrie went up to bed and Tansy accompanied her with an armful of toys, which she had collected from the floor. MacLean sat alone by the fire, looking at the flames and hearing Tansy and Carrie exchange muted bedtime banter. A final giggle from Carrie and a last exhortation from her mother that she get to sleep quickly and Tansy returned. Without asking, she filled two glasses with brandy and brought them over, handing one to MacLean as she sat down to face him. MacLean started to feel uneasy again. Until now, Tansy had been Carrie’s mother but now she was a beautiful woman who was clearly appraising him. He felt her gaze probe his defences and prepared to defend himself with banality.
‘Well, Mr MacLean,’ said Tansy softly. ‘When and how are you planning to do it?’
‘Do what?’ said MacLean but the question had cut him deeply. Tansy knew it.
‘Kill yourself,’ she said without taking her eyes off him.
MacLean took a breath to protest but capitulated immediately. ‘Soon,’ he said quietly. ‘How did you know?’
‘Your eyes,’ said Tansy. ‘I read it in your eyes on the canal bank. I’ve seen that look before. Keith, my husband, Carrie’s father, took his own life.’
‘I’m sorry,’ said MacLean.
Tansy smiled wistfully and said, ‘So am I. He was a lovely man but things just got a bit too much for him. Our son died of leukaemia when he was seven. He was the apple of his father’s eye; he was everything that Keith ever wanted; the pair of them were inseparable. All Keith’s dreams for the future were tied up in Paul and then quite suddenly he wasn’t there any more. Keith was never the same again. I got over it but he didn’t. Then when the business started to fail, Keith started to drift further and further away from me. It was as if he was in a small boat drifting out to sea. I stood on the shore and watched him. He was out of reach before I even realised that… ‘
‘He was drowning not waving.’
Tansy nodded and said, ‘Just before he died his eyes had the look that yours did today. Officially he was overcome by exhaust fumes in the garage while he was working on the car but I know different. That morning he came into the kitchen just after breakfast… He kissed me on the cheek and looked at me with such sadness in his eyes that I remember holding my breath and being totally at a loss to understand. I said something silly about getting something different for lunch at the shops and he said that would be nice. When I got back he was lying dead in the garage. He faked it to look like an accident so that there would be no problem over the insurance.’
‘I’m sorry,’ said MacLean. It seemed inadequate.
Tansy looked at the fire and said, ‘I’ve relived that moment when he kissed me a million times. I should have understood. I should have realised what he intended to do. All the signs had been there for months and yet I failed to see what was going to happen.’
‘You can’t blame yourself,’ said MacLean. ‘If his mind was made up he would have done it anyway. Maybe not on that day but on some other.’
Tansy looked directly at MacLean in a way that made him feel uncomfortable. ‘But you, Mr MacLean are still alive,’ she said. ‘And I am a stranger. Perhaps if you were to talk about it… ‘
MacLean shook his head and said, ‘No. No more talking, no more running, no more hiding, no more anything. I must be going.’ He got up from the chair.
‘Sit down Mr MacLean,’ said Tansy. She said it quietly but something in her voice made MacLean feel compelled to comply. He sank slowly back into the chair.
‘How long have you been running?’
‘Three years,’ he said. He felt himself start to lose the battle to remain detached. The warmth of the fire and exhaustion from his earlier tussle with the ice were conspiring to give the woman the upper hand.
‘Tell me about it,’ she said.
‘It’s a long story,’ said MacLean. He leaned his head on the back of the chair and closed his eyes for a moment.
‘There’s no hurry,’ said Tansy softly, ‘Begin at the beginning.’
‘I’m a doctor,’ said MacLean.
Tansy looked at him questioningly. She said, ‘You carry a gun, you smash your way through ice with your bare hands and you’re a doctor?’
MacLean smiled sadly at her reaction. ‘Maybe you’re right,’ he conceded. ‘I used to be a doctor. So much can happen in three years.’
‘Go on,’ said Tansy.
‘I was born and brought up here in Edinburgh,’ said MacLean. ‘I played on the canal banks out there. I fished in the water for tadpoles; I skated on it when it froze over in winter and I fell into it from rope swings in the summer. I went to the local schools with the rest of the kids from round here and then, when I was nineteen, I spread my wings and went south to study medicine in London.’
‘I was a good student, a lad o’ pairts, as they say up here and it was what I wanted to do. Don’t get me wrong, I had as much fun as the next student but I never lost sight of the main goal and that was to become a doctor. Six years later I achieved my ambition.’
‘Then what?’ asked Tansy.
‘After my pre-registration year I was determined to become a surgeon so I set off on that road. In time I decided to specialise in plastic surgery.’
‘Nose jobs and face-lifts?’ said Tansy with ill-disguised disdain.
‘No,’ replied MacLean evenly. ‘In my last year at medical school my closest friend was burned when some idiot threw paraffin on a barbecue fire. He was badly disfigured and had to give up any idea of being a doctor because of the damage to his hands. I’ve never forgotten how he looked when I went to see him for the first time after the accident. I wasn’t prepared and it must have shown on my face. His eyes told me that he’d seen the revulsion; I can still feel the guilt to this day when I talk about it. Anyway, that was what decided me that I should go into plastic surgery. I thought, if I could make a difference in improving the lot of such patients then it would be a life well spent.’
‘And did it work out that way?’ asked Tansy.
‘It was frustrating,’ said MacLean. ‘Everyone knows about the dramatic results in cosmetic surgery but repairing accident damage is a completely different story. Patients can go through dozens of operations over many years and still end up looking not much better than they did in the beginning. I wanted to do better for them.’
‘The way forward is always through research. I heard that Lehman Steiner, the Swiss-based Drug Company, was working on tissue regeneration so I wrote to them. I sent them my c.v. and after a couple of interviews they offered me a job on their research programme.’
‘Just what you wanted,’ said Tansy.
‘Exactly what I wanted,’ agreed MacLean. ‘I moved to Geneva and everything went like a dream. The facilities were magnificent, the research went well and I liked living in Geneva. Within three years I was made head of surgical research.’
‘You must have been young?’
‘I was thirty-one and on top of the world. I had a penthouse flat, a Mercedes car and complete job satisfaction. Then came Cytogerm.’ MacLean paused as if a dark cloud had come over him.
‘Cytogerm?’ prompted Tansy gently.
‘It was our biggest breakthrough, a brand new compound that aided tissue regeneration. Treating burns cases with Cytogerm reduced tissue damage by eighty-five percent. We could hardly believe it at first but the early indications were proved right. Suddenly we had the power to perform miracles.
‘It sounds wonderful.’
‘It was, until the nightmare began,’ said MacLean, his eyes beginning to show painful memories. He paused and Tansy remained silent, unsure if he would be able to continue.
MacLean looked at her distantly and said slowly, ‘We were all sworn to secrecy until full clinical trials were carried out.’ He paused again and Tansy could see that tiredness was overtaking him. She put a finger up to his lips and said, ‘Stop there. Continue in the morning.’
MacLean was prompted into saying, ‘No, no more, I have to go.’
Tansy restrained him gently. ‘No you don’t,’ she whispered. ‘Your room is ready.’
MacLean woke to the sound of Carrie’s laughter. She was playing in the snow in the garden. He listened to Tansy giving her advice on snowman building. After a few minutes he got up and went to the window to be struck by the brightness of the snow and the vivid colours of Carrie’s outfit. He was startled when Tansy saw him and waved a greeting. It wasn’t a film scene after all. He was really here.
Tansy came back into the house and announced breakfast. MacLean came to the kitchen and hovered uncertainly in the doorway.
‘How are you feeling?’ Tansy asked.
‘I’m fine,’ replied MacLean.
‘Well, sit down,’ directed Tansy with girl-guide bossiness and MacLean did as he was told. She put a plate, heaped with bacon and eggs, in front of him and added toast and a jug of steaming coffee to the table. ‘Eat up before it gets cold.’
MacLean knew that Tansy was mounting a rescue operation. There was nothing subtle about it. She was doing it with a disarming innocence that was much more effective than anything more sophisticated might have been. A part of him insisted on clinging to the belief that this was all just a momentary respite in a continuing nightmare but, as he ate, another part of him was beginning to waver ever so slightly.
With breakfast over, Tansy re-charged his coffee cup and her own and suggested they would be more comfortable by the fire. Carrie was outside working on her snowman.
‘You were telling me about Cytogerm,’ said Tansy.
‘I was,’ agreed MacLean, pausing for a moment while he considered whether or not to continue. He couldn’t see an easy way out of it and the expectant look on Tansy’s face pushed him into continuing his story.
‘The clinical trials were conducted in secret at an exclusive private clinic in the mountains. Burns cases at category five or worse — that’s severe disfigurement — would be referred to us with the approval of their relatives. All expenses would be paid by Lehman Steiner on the condition that the visiting rights of relatives were waived, an offer eagerly accepted by all. Burns treatment is a long, expensive business.’
‘But not to be able to visit your wife or husband… ‘ said Tansy.
‘Disfigurement cases are difficult for everyone,’ said MacLean. ‘You may not think so but pretending you’re not horrified when your husband looks like a boiled puppet can be an unbearable strain. Paper-thin smiles while guilt eats your insides out.’
‘I hadn’t considered,’ said Tansy.
‘The trials went like a dream. We would cut away damaged tissue, apply the Cytogerm compound and put on the bandages. Three weeks later the gaps would be filled with brand new healthy tissue as smooth as your cheek. The only scars would be where I’d cut away damaged skin at the junction, minor scars easily covered with cosmetics. It was a world away from the old skin graft routines over many months if not years. We were working in a surgical Camelot.’
‘So what went wrong?’ asked Tansy.
‘After the initial success it occurred to me that the treatment could have wider applications.’
‘If Cytogerm could be used to repair accident damage then I thought we might be able to use it to repair deliberate surgical damage.’
‘Deliberate?’ asked Tansy, puzzled at the notion.
‘I suggested to the company that we might be able to treat people with bad birthmarks and congenital disfigurement.’
‘It worked,’ said MacLean. ‘I could simply cut away the offending area and let Cytogerm do the repair work. I felt like Jesus Christ making the blind see, only better. He would have taken it for granted.’
Tansy smiled. ‘Go on.’
‘Up until then we were a relatively small part of the company’s empire. Research and Development is always a gamble — the part of the business that spends money rather than makes it. Now we were suddenly flavour of the month. The potential returns from Cytogerm were plain for all to see. I was summoned to meet the company’s directors at the Stagelplatz Hotel in Geneva.’
‘Why a hotel?’ asked Tansy.
‘Lehman Steiner owned it. In fact it was quite difficult to find something that they didn’t own or control. Hotels, apartment blocks, restaurants; they made the soap in my bath, the toothpaste on my brush. Once a month the directors met at the Stagelplatz to decide what the world should pay for relief of its aches and pains.’
‘So you were summoned by the gods,’ said Tansy.
‘Gods in charcoal-grey suits who smiled but never stopped watching me. It was as if they were looking for weaknesses, searching for flaws in my character. Any word out of place would be questioned. Any ambiguity had to be cleared up immediately. Their philosophy was quite simple. You either made money for the company or you didn’t. If you didn’t you were out. If you did then the question became, how much more could you make?’
‘But surely your team were given credit for what they’d achieved?’ said Tansy.
‘Oh yes,’ replied MacLean. ‘They congratulated me on our research and flattered me till I beamed like the school clever-dick on prize-giving day.’
‘Then one of them almost casually wondered out loud what Cytogerm could do for ageing skin… ‘
‘Oh,’ said Tansy as she saw the significance of the question.
MacLean smiled ruefully and said, ‘Until that moment I had not even considered that angle of Cytogerm. The commercial implications were enormous and I hadn’t even seen them. If crows’ feet could be removed from ageing eyes and wrinkles from the necks of dowagers then Cytogerm was liquid money.’
‘How did you feel about that?’ asked Tansy.
‘I was apprehensive. I insisted that our research into the repair of accident damage must remain a priority but they were prepared for that. “Of course.” they smiled. But the more money Cytogerm made the cheaper it would become and the cheaper it became the more accessible it would be. More patients would benefit in the long run. Could I not see my way into making a very preliminary study of the potential of the drug?’
‘Is that true about the cost?’ asked Tansy.
‘In general yes,’ replied MacLean. ‘When a new drug hits the market all the research and development costs have to be recouped before it starts to make money for the company. Consequently new drugs are usually very expensive.’
‘Did you agree?’ asked Tansy.
‘In the end I did. I asked for a volunteer at the clinic and Eva Stahl, our theatre sister offered herself. She was a very pleasant, intelligent lady who was approaching middle age with the trepidation that many women feel at that time. She jumped at the chance of losing the sagging skin under her eyes and having her neck rescued from a nno domini and too much sun.
‘What happened?’ asked Tansy.
‘Four weeks later she could have passed for twenty-five. She was beautiful. Not only did she look good but also her personality changed to match. The fact that she looked good was making her feel good. It was like being reborn.’
‘It sounds miraculous.’
‘Flushed with success, we admitted six more volunteers. I operated on three, my assistant Kurt Immelman on the others.’
‘You could delegate?’ asked Tansy.
‘That was one of the great things about the treatment,’ said MacLean. ‘A Boy Scout with a penknife could have done the surgery. It was Cytogerm that performed the miracles.’
‘Five of the six were brilliant successes just like the first but the sixth wasn’t.’ MacLean took a sip of his coffee. ‘Her name was Elsa Kaufman. She was thirty-eight and the wife of one of our production managers in Zurich. Two weeks after her operation and before the bandages were removed she began to complain of pain in her face. I didn’t think too much of it at first. Post-surgical pain is quite common but it continued and started to get worse. I didn’t want to disturb the bandages at a crucial stage in tissue repair so I treated her with broad-spectrum antibiotics in the belief that she had picked up an infection. If I’d removed the dressings there and then she might have stood a chance.’
‘What was wrong?’ asked Tansy gently.
‘A few days later when the pain became unbearable, I took her to theatre and removed the dressings. It was as if… ‘
‘As if what?’ prompted Tansy, seeing that MacLean was suffering at the recollection.
‘It was as if her face wasn’t there any more,’ he said. ‘It was completely covered with a livid red tumour, a hideous cancer that had eaten her features away. Mercifully she died within a few days when it reached her brain.’
‘How awful,’ whispered Tansy. ‘Was it Cytogerm that did it?’
‘That was the multi-million dollar question. We took samples from the tumour at autopsy but couldn’t classify it. It was different from any other kind of cancer we’d ever come across before. It grew so fast! In cell culture it grew eight times faster than any other reported cell line.’
‘What’s cell culture?’ asked Tansy.
‘We can grow cancer cells in test tubes,’ said MacLean.
MacLean returned to the story. ‘The clue to the whole thing was the speed of its growth. We had been using a compound which speeded up the growth of healthy tissue and here we were faced with a fast-growing cancer. There had to be a link and it had to be Cytogerm.’
‘Oh no,’ said Tansy.
‘I’m afraid so. Cytogerm was awakening dormant cancer cells and turning them into rampant tumours. Many people have moles or other small blemishes on their skin. They can be localised cancers. We think that was the problem with Elsa Kaufman. She had a mole on her upper lip. It must have been a melanoma. Cytogerm triggered it into uncontrollable growth.’
‘End of Cytogerm?’
‘End of Cytogerm,’ agreed MacLean. ‘Or so I thought.’
Carrie came into the room and announced that she was having trouble with the finishing touches to her snowman. Could she have some help?
Tansy smiled as she realised that the request was actually directed at MacLean. Feminine wiles at the age of five, she thought. She waited for MacLean’s reaction, ready to step in if he showed reluctance but he didn’t. His only concern was in being thought rude at interrupting the conversation. Tansy said, ‘Why don’t you two go out into the garden and I’ll have a think about lunch.’
‘His name’s Mr Robbins,’ said Carrie, ‘but his head won’t stay on.’
MacLean removed the blob of snow that served as Mr Robbins’ head and laid it on the ground. ‘I think it will be easier if we give him a mouth and a nose and eyes while his head is down here. What do you think?’
Carrie was clearly pleased at being asked her opinion. Grown-ups didn’t usually do that. They told you things. ‘Yes,’ she agreed.
‘We need pebbles for his eyes,’ said MacLean and Carrie scampered off to find some while MacLean re-shaped the head.
Carrie returned with a handful of pebbles of various sizes.
‘Well, what do you think?’ asked MacLean.
Carrie put her tongue out to aid concentration and examined the stones to pick out two. ‘These,’ she said.
‘Good choice,’ said MacLean. He inserted the pebbles as eyes.
‘What about his nose?’ asked Carrie.
MacLean thought for a moment then said, ‘If you ask Mummy very nicely she may give you a carrot.’
Carrie’s eyes opened wide at the thought. She dashed into the house and returned in triumph with a carrot, which she handed to MacLean.
‘No,’ said MacLean gently, ‘You do it.’
Carrie pushed the carrot into place and stood back to admire her work.
‘Excellent,’ said MacLean and Carrie flushed with pleasure. He picked up the remaining pebbles and formed them into a grinning mouth for Mr Robbins. Carrie beamed as MacLean lifted the head into place. She ran inside to fetch Tansy who came outside and made admiring noises. Her offer of a cap and scarf for Mr Robbins was eagerly accepted by Carrie.
After lunch Carrie announced her plans for the afternoon. She said to MacLean. ‘I’m going to build a glue house.’
‘A glue house?’ repeated MacLean.
‘Like the Eskimos.’
‘Oh,’ said MacLean softly, ‘an igloo house.’
‘Yes an igloo house,’ Carrie agreed, looking out of the corner of her eye for any sign of ridicule. She didn’t find any.
‘You’ll need snow bricks.’
Carrie looked at him questioningly.
‘We need an empty cardboard box.’
Carrie shot off and came back with two. ‘Can we go now?’ she asked.
‘First the dishes, young lady,’ said Tansy.
Momentary dissent from Carrie gave way to resignation and she buckled down to assisting with the washing up but, as soon as it was finished, she was off out into the garden like a red-wellingtoned greyhound. MacLean showed her the rudiments of snow brick construction and came back inside. Tansy smiled at him and thanked him for being so patient.
‘I enjoyed it as much as she did,’ MacLean confessed.
‘You seemed to suggest that there was more to the Cytogerm story?’ said Tansy.
MacLean nodded and accepted a cup of coffee. ‘Three weeks after the closure of the Cytogerm project I received a letter from the directors. It said simply that a Dr Von Jonek would be calling on me and that I was to afford him every co-operation. Two days later he came to call.’
‘Who was he?’
‘One of the most unpleasant people I’d ever met. He was overbearing, rude and arrogant. He demanded all the research files on Cytogerm and all relevant case histories. I refused, partly because he’d put my back up and I was determined to be as obstructive as possible, but mainly because he wanted the originals as well as copies. He wouldn’t even tell me why he wanted them. He just informed me that I had my orders and that I should obey them. I’m afraid I got rather rude at this point.’
‘Oh dear,’ said Tansy.
‘The next day I was summoned to the Stagelplatz to explain myself. I decided to go on the offensive and went in to the meeting with all guns blazing. The Cytogerm project was the brainchild of my division I insisted and no petty bureaucrat was going to tell me to hand over my files without explaining why.’
‘How did they take that?’ asked Tansy.
They smiled and nodded like these little dogs you see in the backs of cars. They were niceness itself and apologised for Von Jonek’s rudeness. It rather took the wind out of my sails. Von Jonek was the company archivist, they explained. It was unfortunate that he had such an abrupt manner but he simply wanted the information for the company’s records.’
‘I felt pretty stupid and to cover my discomfort I asked innocently where they kept these records. They took this as a sign of disbelief on my part. The temperature suddenly fell ten degrees and all the smiles round the table faded like snow in summer. One of the directors got up and came round from behind the table. He came right up to me and leaned down until his face was less than inches from mine. I could even admire the bridgework on his teeth when he spoke.
‘Dr MacLean,’ he said. ‘I think we’ve finished with you. Get out.’
‘What did you do?’
‘I got out.’
‘Did you have to give them the files?’ asked Tansy.
MacLean smiled ruefully and said, ‘I didn’t get the chance. Shortly afterwards, there was a fire at the clinic. Officially, the records were destroyed.’
‘The fire was started deliberately.’
‘To cover up the fact that the clinic had been broken into and all the files on Cytogerm removed.’
‘By the company?’ asked Tansy.
‘I was too stupid to realise that at the time. I thought some outside agency must be interested in Cytogerm. I even reported this to the directors.’
‘Oh dear,’ said Tansy.
‘Oh dear indeed,’ agreed MacLean.
The silence grew long and Tansy said softly, ‘What happened then?’
MacLean sat looking at the floor but not seeing anything as he was forced to rekindle memories that he would much rather have left undisturbed. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘No more.’
Tansy put her hand on his shoulder and squeezed gently. She said, ‘Occupational therapy Doctor.’
‘I’m sorry?’ said MacLean.
‘I’m prescribing occupational therapy for you… an igloo?’
MacLean got the message and nodded. He got up and went out into the garden to help Carrie. Tansy was right about the therapeutic value of physical distraction. MacLean directed all his energy and concentration to the construction of Carrie’s igloo and she was delighted. Grown-ups usually got bored after half an hour and said that they were going for a cup of tea and, in her experience, they seldom came back. The pair of them stayed in the garden until the light became a leaden grey and the orange glow from inside the bungalow beckoned them indoors.
Carrie went off to her room to change her wet clothes and MacLean joined Tansy in the kitchen. ‘I have to go,’ he said.
Tansy did not turn round but she stopped what she was doing. ‘Why?’ she asked.
‘This is not my world,’ said MacLean.
‘Why not?’ asked Tansy.
MacLean found the question difficult. He searched for an answer but only came up with, ‘Because it isn’t. You and Carrie are just two people I bumped into by accident yesterday.’
‘You saved Carrie’s life,’ said Tansy.
‘I happened to be there that’s all,’ said MacLean. ‘There is no obligation on you because of it.’
‘It has nothing to do with obligation,’ said Tansy. ‘You are welcome here in this house. You build snowmen in the garden with my daughter. You sit at our table and by the fire and we like having you here so why rush away? You have nowhere to go… so stay.’
MacLean shook his head. The resolve he had built up while out in the garden had all but gone.
‘Just one more night?’ said Tansy.
MacLean’s stony expression relaxed. ‘Very well,’ he said. ‘One more night.’
MacLean found himself being manipulated into telling Carrie a bedtime story but he didn’t resist. He had moved from constantly reminding himself that this was not a real part of his life to momentarily wishing that it were.
With Jack safely back down the beanstalk and everyone living happily ever after he joined Tansy by the fire. She asked, ‘Do you like music?’
Tansy put on the music and sat down again. She said, ‘The day is over. No more questions. Just relax.’
MacLean sank down deeper into his chair and watched the flames in the fire subside into glowing embers as time passed and the warmth and the music washed over. He was mercifully free of all anguish when the music finally ended and silence filled the room. He was in the margins between sleep and wakefulness when Tansy got up and stretched out her hands towards him. ‘Come,’ she said softly.
MacLean got up and looked questioningly at her.
‘Come,’ she repeated, leading him with both hands to her bedroom. She kicked off her shoes.
MacLean could not take his eyes from her. ‘I don’t understand,’ he said gently. ‘Why?’
Tansy put her finger against his lips and said, ‘No more questions
… remember?’ She undid his shirt buttons and kissed his chest lightly while her fingers began to move over his arms and shoulders.
MacLean felt himself shiver slightly at the feel of Tansy’s hair on his skin. As desire grew he tried to find her mouth but she drew back slightly and said, ‘Lie down.’
MacLean lay back on the bed while Tansy stood in front of him and undressed. He was conscious of her body but his eyes never left hers. He was looking for an answer but all he found was a distant smile. Tansy sat astride him and undid his belt buckle then, moving backwards a little on her knees she undressed him completely. MacLean made to take her in his arms but again she stopped him saying, ‘No, lie still.’
Tansy moved her mouth expertly over MacLean’s body until he felt he couldn’t bear it but each time he made to move he was pushed back and told to lie still. The sweat was running freely down his face when Tansy suddenly rolled over on to her back and said, ‘Now; take me now.’
MacLean felt himself penetrate deeply and Tansy’s gasp made him want her all the more. Her soft cries made him thrust himself deeper and harder into her as if driven by a will to hurt her for causing him so much confusion. His head was full of questions but his body insisted they wait. Tansy gasped again and said, ‘Now Dr MacLean, that is what it feels like to be alive… Don’t knock it.’
Post-coital drowsiness washed over MacLean like the waves of some summer ocean. ‘I don’t understand,’ he whispered in Tansy’s ear as he snuggled close to her. ‘Why?’
‘I told you,’ whispered Tansy. ‘I saw Keith in your eyes. Now go to sleep.’ She suffixed what she’d said by burying her fingers in his hair and massaging his scalp gently.
Long after Tansy had taken away her fingers MacLean could still feel them. The affection that had been in them lingered on until exhaustion insisted he close his eyes and sleep.
As the first light of morning, made unnaturally white by the snow outside, crept in through the window, MacLean got up and collected his clothes. He tiptoed out of the bedroom and dressed quickly in the cold of the living room where the fire had gone out. He was putting on his jacket when Tansy spoke from the bedroom. The voice was even and controlled. ‘No sugar in my coffee,’ she said.
MacLean froze for a moment, staring at the bedroom door and wondering whether Tansy realised his intention to leave or not. He looked to the front door through the hall then back at the bedroom. He relaxed with a smile of resignation and took off his jacket again. ‘How about milk?’
MacLean brought Tansy her coffee and she sat up in bed.
‘Did you sleep well?’ she asked.
MacLean looked for signs of accusation in her eyes but found none. ‘Like the proverbial log,’ he replied.
‘How are you feeling?’
MacLean saw that the question had a deeper significance. ‘Better,’ he said.
‘Good,’ said Tansy. ‘Will you tell me the rest of the story today?’
‘If you like.’
Carrie came into the room. She was trailing a teddy bear by the arm and rubbing her eyes. Their voices had woken her. MacLean felt uncomfortable at being caught in her mother’s bedroom but the child did not see anything amiss and MacLean reminded himself that she was only five years old. Tansy, however, noticed his discomfort. ‘The world stops outside that door Mr MacLean,’ she said. ‘It’s mores and morals have no place in here. We are people who like and care for each other, that’s all
MacLean nodded but still felt uneasy.
Tansy added, ‘And to answer your unspoken question, no, I do not usually sleep with anyone who cares to call. In fact I have not slept with anyone at all since Keith died.’
‘No, I know you didn’t but I thought I’d say it anyway.’
‘Can I have my cornflakes?’ asked Carrie, breaking the silence.
MacLean and Tansy relaxed. ‘If you show me where they are Carrie,’ said MacLean and followed her through to the kitchen.
It was mid-morning when MacLean resumed his story. Carrie, intrigued with the possibilities that snowbricks offered, had decided to build a wall round Mr Robbins. MacLean was watching her from a corner of the window when Tansy prompted him to tell her more about Cytogerm.
‘At the time,’ said MacLean turning away from the window, ‘I was living with a girl called Jutte Hahn. She was a ski instructor I had met in the mountains. I’ve probably conjured up an image of a blonde-haired bimbo, but that would be doing Jutte the most terrible injustice. She did have blonde hair and she was beautiful but there was so much more to her than that.’ MacLean paused as he remembered. ‘There were lots of beautiful girls around but Jutte was special. She had a serenity about her, which I found completely captivating. It almost bordered on detachment but it wasn’t. I found it intriguing but it was something I could never completely fathom. I think in Scotland we used to call it being fey. She seemed to see things differently from the rest of us, more clearly somehow. She had a wonderful sense of what was really important and what wasn’t. They say that when you know everything there is to know about someone the relationship must die but there was never any possibility of that with Jutte, not if we’d lived for a thousand years.’
‘You were obviously very much in love with her,’ said Tansy.
‘But you didn’t marry?’
‘I think we were both scared we’d destroy the magic. We didn’t even dare speak about the future. Happiness can be the most ephemeral thing in the world.’
‘And the most elusive.’
‘When the Cytogerm project collapsed I took it badly. I blamed myself for the death of Elsa Kaufman. I told myself I should have realised what the drug might do to cancer cells.’
‘But you couldn’t possibly have foreseen that,’ said Tansy.
MacLean smiled and said, ‘Everyone could see that but me. Jutte persuaded me we should go up to the mountains for a break. On the morning we were due to leave she went off to the local baker while I took a shower. She took my car.’ MacLean paused. ‘When she turned the key it exploded.’
‘Oh my God,’ whispered Tansy.
‘The police said that it was a terrorist bomb. The intended target had been an Israeli diplomat who lived in the same apartment block and also drove a Mercedes. They had wired the wrong car.’
‘How awful,’ said Tansy.
‘And how wrong,’ said MacLean. ‘It had nothing to do with Israeli diplomats or Palestinian terrorists. I was the real target all along.’
‘How did you come to that conclusion?’ asked Tansy.
‘Lisa Vernay was the next to die,’ said MacLean. ‘She was the immunologist on the Cytogerm project. She was found in her swimming pool with a broken neck, an accident they said. She had dived into shallow water. Then Kurt Immelman had an “accident”.’
MacLean nodded. ‘He was a good surgeon. He had moved to Paris and was doing well in his new job when one day he got into an elevator on the seventh floor of a hospital building and it plunged to the basement.’
Tansy said gently, ‘I know you don’t think so but couldn’t these deaths have been an unfortunate coincidence?’
‘Four people knew how to formulate Cytogerm,’ said MacLean.
‘You, Lisa Vernay, Kurt Immelman… and one other,’ said Tansy.
‘Max Schaeffer. He was the developmental chemist on the project.’
‘Not him too?’ asked Tansy with trepidation.
‘He crashed his car in the centre of Madrid. He had been drinking, witnesses said.’
‘Too many coincidences,’ conceded Tansy.
‘It was obvious the company was killing anyone who knew about Cytogerm,’ said MacLean. ‘They had removed all the records and now they were killing the people who had worked on it.’
‘But surely you went to the police?’ asked Tansy.
‘Of course, as soon as I realised just what was going on,’ said MacLean. ‘I knew I was the only one left of the research team. They were just biding their time because of the first botched attempt but I would be next. Nothing was more certain. I blurted out everything to the police. If nothing else I thought it would gain me time. The company couldn’t afford to kill me when I had just predicted it.’
‘At first the police thought I was some kind of lunatic but after they had checked out my credentials they agreed to investigate. We all went along to the Stagelplatz to confront the directors.’
‘What did they say?’
‘They sat there and smiled; they said they had been worried about my health for some time. I had been working too hard; I hadn’t been able to come to terms with Jutte’s tragic death. I needed a holiday. The more I lost my temper the more plausible they sounded and then I saw a green dragon.’
‘A green dragon. It flew in through the wall of the building and started fighting with the purple serpent that had been masquerading as a carpet.’
Tansy was at a loss. ‘I’m sorry…’
MacLean smiled wryly and said. ‘In keeping with their air of civilised urbanity the directors asked at one point for coffee to be brought in. Mine must have been laced with LSD. To all intents and purposes I had a nervous breakdown right in front of the police. They were only too happy to accept that I had a “mental” problem.’
‘What happened next?’
‘I was admitted to one of the company’s clinics to recover. Luckily, they still couldn’t afford to kill me so close to home. Several weeks later I was retired on medical grounds. The lease on my flat was revoked and it was made very clear to me that I would find it very difficult to find another job in Switzerland.’
‘It sounds like a nightmare,’ said Tansy.
‘That’s exactly what it felt like,’ agreed MacLean. ‘I was filled with such anger but it was all so useless. It simply turned to frustration. I could do nothing. They’d killed Jutte, destroyed my career, murdered my colleagues and I could do nothing! The simple truth was that the company could do what they liked.’
‘What did you do?’
‘I went to Paris. I had a good friend there who worked at the Pasteur Institute. She put me up for a while till I got my act together.’
‘And what did you decide?’ asked Tansy.
MacLean put his hand to his throat.
‘Dry?’ asked Tansy.
MacLean nodded and Tansy went to the kitchen to return with a glass of chilled lemonade. She paused to look out of the window to check on Carrie before handing it to MacLean.
‘At first I spent all my waking hours thinking how I could make Lehman Steiner pay for what they had done. I wanted justice; it became an obsession. I spoke to a succession of lawyers and private investigators but they advised me to forget the whole thing and concentrate on re-building my career. It only made me more bitter until I realised the truth.’
‘The truth?’ asked Tansy.
‘Ostensibly they were advising against any kind of action because of legal reasons, lack of evidence, witnesses and so on, but that wasn’t the real reason at all.’
‘Then what was?’
‘They simply didn’t believe me,’ said MacLean. ‘They thought I had imagined the whole thing.’
‘It does sound pretty incredible,’ said Tansy.
‘There was worse to come,’ said MacLean. ‘In my innocence, I thought that Lehman Steiner had finished with me. They had wrecked my career and my credibility. What I hadn’t reckoned on was the fact that they still wanted me dead.’
‘They tried again?’ asked Tansy with wide eyes.
‘I was walking home one evening in Paris when a car mounted the pavement and came directly towards me. It would have killed me but for a bollard on the pavement which the driver had overlooked. One of the front wheels struck it and it was forced off course. It missed me by inches.’
‘Were there no witnesses?’ asked Tansy.
‘Lots. They all testified to the fact that a drunk driver had mounted the pavement and nearly killed me.’
‘Drunk?’ asked Tansy.
‘That’s what it looked like to them,’ replied MacLean. ‘They had no reason to think it was a murder attempt.’
‘But the French police? Didn’t you tell them?’
‘Everything,’ said MacLean. ‘They telephoned their colleagues in Geneva and then started humouring me. I was on my own.’
MacLean took a sip of his lemonade. ‘At least I now knew that Lehman Steiner were still after me. My French friend would be in danger so I fled the country. I hitchhiked to the channel ports and crossed on the ferry. I couldn’t contact former friends in this country for fear of putting their lives in danger but luckily I still had some money in a British bank. It enabled me to rent a flat and start looking for a job. Eventually, I got a registrar’s post in an east London Hospital and started to rebuild my life.’
‘No more thoughts of revenge?’ asked Tansy.
MacLean smiled bitterly and said, ‘It’s strange how anger can be eaten away by hopelessness. In time I came to accept that I was no match for the company. The anger was gradually replaced with emptiness, an empty void where once love had been and then anger and finally, nothing.’
‘But you had a job. You were back in medicine,’ said Tansy.
‘It lasted exactly three months. It was a Saturday afternoon when it happened. There was a light drizzle and Ella Fitzgerald was singing Moonglow on the car radio as I drove to the hospital. The traffic got held up because of some kind of political march or rally up ahead. A crowd of youths were waving union jacks and holding clenched fists in the air while the police tried to maintain a barrier between them and another group brandishing anti-fascist slogans.
There was a lot of hatred around but I remember it all leaving me cold. I sat there, watching them hurl abuse at each other while the police, caught in the middle, linked arms and had their helmets knocked askew as they fought to contain the mob. Press photographers were climbing on top of cars to get the best shots of the violence.
A woman, pushing a pram got caught up in the whole thing and was trying to find shelter in a shop doorway. She took the child from the pram and was holding it in a corner to protect it from the stones that were starting to fly but one of them hit her on the back of the head and she fell to the ground. I got out the car and ran to see if I could help but a policewoman got to her before I did. Luckily, she was not seriously hurt and the policewoman said that an ambulance was on its way so I went back to the car. I got in and found two men in the back. They had detached themselves from the union jack brigade and one of them had a gun.’
‘Good God,’ exclaimed Tansy.
MacLean nodded and said, ‘It was the first one I ever saw one close up. I found the small black hole in the end of it quite hypnotic; it was pointed at my chest. I was told to do exactly what I was told.’
‘When the trouble up ahead cleared and the traffic started to move again, I followed their directions which took us to a quiet spot by the river where we all got out. They had a brief discussion about my identity and one of them produced a photograph. It was my Lehman Steiner staff photograph.’
‘My God! What possible connection could there be?’
MacLean shook his head and said, ‘I’ve no idea. But with no further doubt remaining about my identity they told me to face the river. I stood there waiting for a bullet to crash into my spine. I remember the smell of the grass and the sound of a seagull crying overhead. I could see every ripple on the water and hear every gurgle by the bank. It was as if all my senses had been heightened. These were the last things I was to see and hear on earth.’
‘But they obviously weren’t.’
‘For some reason, maybe the noise factor, they didn’t shoot me. Instead, they hit me over the head with the gun barrel and pushed me into the water. By rights I should have drowned but I survived. An angler fishing a few hundred yards downstream pulled out my unconscious body and called an ambulance.’
‘You were lucky,’ said Tansy.
MacLean looked at her as if what she had said was debatable. ‘I didn’t come round for four days; I had a fractured skull but I was alive. I was also a nervous wreck. I had cheated death three times, there probably wasn’t going to be a fourth.’
Tansy nodded and touched the backs of MacLean’s hands.
‘When I was well enough to leave hospital I decided to disappear. I changed my name, my address and my job. I became Dan Morrison, itinerant labourer.’
‘There aren’t too many jobs you can get without papers and identity checks but working on a building site is one of them.’
‘That must have been quite a change.’
‘It was,’ agreed MacLean, smiling slightly at the recollection. ‘For the first few weeks I had to go straight to bed when I got in at night; I was so exhausted. When I got up in the morning it seemed as if every muscle in my body was screaming at me. But gradually it got better. I became fitter, leaner, harder. I regained confidence in myself because the intense physical effort was giving me relief from mental anguish. I was always too tired to dwell on the past for very long. I even started to make plans for the future. I would be Dan Morrison for two years. After that time I reckoned that Lehman Steiner would have given up on me and it would be safe for me to go back to medicine as long as I maintained a low profile.’
‘So you stayed on the building site,’ said Tansy.
‘For a while,’ said MacLean. ‘But the talk among the men was of the big money to be made on the North Sea oil platforms. It sounded like something a single man with no ties like Dan Morrison would go for. Apart from that, who would think of looking for a plastic surgeon on an oilrig in the North Sea?’
‘Good point,’ said Tansy.
‘I left the building site one Friday and headed north to Aberdeen. By the following Thursday I was a roustabout on the Celtic Angel rig, two hundred miles north-east of Stonehaven.’
‘Good Lord,’ said Tansy.
‘It was cold, hard and lonely. I didn’t know a soul on the rig and I didn’t have anyone on shore to come home to. The work was heavy and the weather was appalling. The North Sea has a malevolence in winter that words just cannot do justice to. The wind howls down from the Arctic with nothing to get in its way and the sea can look like a mountain range on the move. It got so cold at times that if you touched anything metal on deck without gloves on, your skin stayed there.’
‘It sound awful,’ said Tansy.
‘These chaps earn their money,’ said MacLean. ‘Don’t ever let anyone ever tell you otherwise.’
‘How long did you stick it?’
‘Eighteen months,’ said MacLean.
Tansy was surprised. ‘A long time,’ she said.
‘I know it must sound strange after what I’ve just said but in some ways it was one of the best times of my life. As time went by I made friends, good friends among men I wouldn’t have normally met. There was something very satisfying about living a life completely free from all petty social veneers and pretensions. There’s no room for airs and graces on the drilling platform in a force eight gale. Equally there’s no room for slackers or incompetents. Mutual respect and honest endeavour were the rules of the game.’
‘So you worked hard,’ said Tansy with a question mark in her voice.
‘All right,’ agreed MacLean, ‘We played hard too if that’s what you mean. But it wasn’t the meaningless waste I’d always assumed that to mean. Drink helped us to relax and we deserved that. In fact it was essential to unwind. The alternative might have meant a real nervous breakdown.’
‘And you were free of Lehman Steiner?’
‘Yes, I was finally free of Lehman Steiner. I reckoned on spending six more months in the North Sea and then returning to medicine. Then came the accident.
We were working on the drilling platform in atrocious conditions. The wind carried away any words almost before they left our lips so we had to communicate by hand signals. There was a misunderstanding and chains started to fly everywhere. Two of the gang were hit and seriously injured. There was no possibility of a helicopter landing on the rig in that weather so I had to do what I could for them. We had a well-equipped sickbay on board but the men needed more than first aid. I took over from the attendant and performed a tracheotomy on one of them to help him breathe.’
‘That must have raised a few eyebrows,’ said Tansy.
‘There was more to come I’m afraid,’ said MacLean. ‘The other man went into cardiac arrest and stopped breathing. Mouth to mouth and cardiac massage failed to re-start his heart. Even the paddles had no effect.’
‘Paddles?’ asked Tansy.
‘For electric shock,’ replied MacLean. In the end I cut open his chest and started his heart with my hand,’ said MacLean.
‘My God,’ said Tansy. ‘What a risk.’
‘Luckily it paid off. Both men recovered when they were eventually flown off but I had blown my cover. The gang worked out that I had something more than a first-aid badge from the boy-scouts. I had to come clean and admit that I was a doctor. I asked them to keep my secret.’
‘They were great. They said that they understood perfectly. To be working on the rig I must have been struck off for taking advantage of my female patients while under the anaesthetic. They would do the same given half a chance.’
MacLean said, ‘I managed to convince them that I hadn’t been struck off but that my life might be in danger if stories of a doctor working as a roustabout on the rigs were to get around. They promised that my secret would be safe with them and I believed them. There were no men on earth I would have trusted more. They also offered their help in solving my “problem”. I declined of course, but then I thought of a way in which a couple of them could help me.’
‘How so?’ asked Tansy.
‘Throughout the whole Lehman Steiner affair I had been plagued by feelings of helplessness. Fear, anger, frustration had all played their part but the feeling of utter helplessness was the worst to bear in the long term. I could get angry, I could get mad, but I couldn’t do anything about it! I’ll never forget the feeling of complete impotence I had on the riverbank while I waited for the National Front yobs to kill me. I just stood there doing nothing, meekly waiting for death.’
‘You couldn’t have done much in the circumstances,’ said Tansy.
MacLean became animated. He said, ‘But don’t you see, Lehman Steiner were sending people to kill me and all I could do was run? Run or hide; these were my only two options.’
‘What else could you do?’ asked Tansy.
‘Fight,’ said MacLean. ‘I could fight back but only if I knew how.’
‘And that’s where your friends came in,’ said Tansy.
‘Yes,’ nodded MacLean. ‘I hoped that I was free of Lehman Steiner for good but just in case I wasn’t I wanted to know how to do a bit more than just run scared.
‘Go on,’ said Tansy.
‘I knew that a few of the gang had been in the services. One, Mick Doyle, had served with the SAS and another, Nick Leavey had been a sergeant in the Paras.’ I asked them if they would teach me how to look after myself.’
‘And they agreed to teach you the ancient art of knocking nine bells out of somebody else?’ said Tansy.
‘More or less,’ agreed MacLean. ‘Not the Wednesday night at the YMCA stuff, but the real thing, every dirty trick in the book. As it turned out, my own knowledge of human anatomy and physiology helped a great deal. Doyle and Leavey knew what to hit and I knew why.’
‘When you broke the ice with your feet… ‘ began Tansy.
‘La Savate,’ said MacLean. ‘It’s a French martial art, something Nick Leavey taught me.’
‘So you became an expert,’ said Tansy.
‘You could say,’ replied MacLean. ‘I set out to learn everything there was to learn but something else happened too. As I became more competent I also became more confident. I began to resent the fact that Lehman Steiner had taken away so much of my life.’
‘You wanted to get your own back?’ asked Tansy.
MacLean shook his head. ‘No,’ he said. ‘I’d long given up nurturing notions like that. I simply wanted my life back. I wanted to be back in medicine. I didn’t want to wait any longer. Time had run out for Dan Morrison. Sean MacLean had become restless.’
‘Sean,’ said Tansy. ‘I didn’t know your name was Sean. It suits you.’
MacLean leaned over and kissed her gently. It was a spontaneous gesture of affection that MacLean himself did not really understand. But there was so much about the last two days that he didn’t understand. Tansy didn’t draw back but she didn’t respond. She reached up and touched his cheek gently saying softly, ‘Go on.’
MacLean continued. ‘It was a spur of the moment decision to leave the rig. We had just flown in to Aberdeen at the end of a two-week stint. We hit the pubs as we always did on the first night back on shore and as usual, the men drifted away one by one to return to their girlfriends and families. By eleven o’ clock there were just three of us left, Doyle, Leavey and myself, the three who had nobody to go home to. It was then that I told them I wasn’t going back. I was returning to medicine even if there was a chance that my enemies might still be trying to track me down. They wished me well and as a parting gift Mick Doyle gave me the gun you found in my pocket. The “equaliser” he called it if the odds should ever become too great. He spent most of his leave teaching me how to use it. When he returned to the rig I practised on my own. I had plenty of time because I had to let my hands recover before I could think of applying for a medical job. Two years of hard labour had not been kind to them.’
Tansy looked at MacLean’s hands and saw what the canal ice had done. She lifted one and kissed it. ‘I’m sorry,’ she whispered.
MacLean shook his head almost imperceptibly.
‘Would you like to break for a while?’
‘I’ll have to do some shopping. I’ll take Carrie with me. You will be here when we get back won’t you?’
MacLean nodded but Tansy needed more.
‘Promise?’ she said.
‘Promise,’ said MacLean. He watched the Mini pull away from the drive and smiled at Carrie who was kneeling on the back seat waving to him.
MacLean could almost touch the silence that descended on the house. It had been a living, breathing place when Tansy and Carrie had been there but now it was just a house, an inanimate pile of bricks and mortar. He found that he could think clearly again. His stay there had been, as he had really known all along, a temporary diversion from what he had to do. He started to look for his overcoat. It wasn’t on any of the pegs in the hall where his jacket hung. Tansy had put it away somewhere.
As a last resort, MacLean tried the large wardrobe in Tansy’s room. He found his coat hanging in the left side; it was the only thing there. Was this where Keith had kept his clothes? he wondered. He removed it and replaced the metal hanger, which jangled against the others like Tibetan prayer bells for a very long time. He stared at the emptiness he’d left then closed the door. He put the coat on and turned up the collar.
MacLean paused at the gate and looked back at Carrie’s snowman and the igloo. ‘Good-bye Mr Robbins,’ he whispered and started towards the canal towpath. He would walk back to town the way he had come.
With every step of the way the colours of the last two days faded into the cold grey of reality. The canal was still frozen; the towpath hard as iron and the sky was becoming more leaden by the minute. MacLean was sure it was going to snow again but when it did come it was hail. Icy rivets were driven into his face as he hurried to the shelter of a stone bridge. He waited under the arch, looking down at his feet and listening to his breath coming in uneven pants. He plunged his hands deep into the pockets of his overcoat and came across something that he could not remember being there. It felt like an envelope.
MacLean brought it out and found it was a plain, white envelope, sealed but with no writing on it. He tore it open untidily because of the numbness in his fingers and withdrew a single sheet of paper. On it were the words, ‘You promised!’
Just when he thought he had broken the spell and escaped, Tansy had reached out and touched him. MacLean rested his forehead against the cold stone of the bridge and tried to find his resolve. No good could come of any further delay he told himself. He would only bring hurt to innocent people and yet… he started back along the towpath towards the bungalow. The wind was now behind him. He was uneasy about his decision but he had made it.
When he reached the house MacLean could see that Tansy and Carrie had returned. Carrie was standing in the garden looking lost. She looked up when she heard MacLean reach the head of the path. ‘You’re back!’ she cried and then to her mother, ‘He’s back! He’s back!’
Tansy came out into the garden and looked at MacLean standing there. Her eyes told him that she knew what he’d intended.
‘I thought I would get some fresh air,’ he lied.
Tansy nodded without taking her eyes from his. ‘Come inside. I’ll make coffee.’
Did you get back into medicine?’ asked Tansy as they sat down by the fire.
‘Yes,’ replied MacLean, holding his hands out to the flames and rubbing them to restore circulation. ‘I moved to Glasgow, rented a flat in my own name and re-established contact with the BMA. I told them I had been abroad for some time and apologised for losing touch. I had three missing years to catch up on so I spent my mornings in the university medical library going through the journals and my evenings with the latest text books.’
‘What about the afternoons?’ asked Tansy with a smile.
MacLean took the question seriously. ‘The afternoons were for keeping fit. I would either run or swim.’
‘Not much social life,’ said Tansy.
‘It wasn’t all work,’ said MacLean. ‘I joined a couple of societies, mainly for conversation. It had been a long time since I’d been in company that spoke about anything other than money or women.’
‘What kind of societies?’
‘Conversational French,’ said MacLean.
‘You wanted French conversation?’ asked a surprised Tansy.
‘I pretended to myself that the language didn’t matter it was the subjects that were important and I could speak French well.’
‘But there was an ulterior motive?’ said Tansy.
MacLean admitted, ‘I needed to remember what it was like to be with Jutte. In the beginning she was always with me; I could remember every single thing about her but gradually the memories started to fade; I felt guilty. It had been nearly three years since I had heard or spoken French. I wanted to hear it again… use it as a trigger, make it re-kindle old memories, keep Jutte alive in my mind.’
‘Did it work?’
‘In a way,’ smiled MacLean. ‘But no matter what you do or how hard you try to cling to old memories they start to fade and drift out of reach.’
‘It’s part of the healing process,’ said Tansy. ‘If it didn’t happen, none of us would ever get over anything.’
‘What about the other society?’
‘English literature. I wanted to come out of the closet.’
‘What?’ exclaimed Tansy.
MacLean smiled and said, ‘When I first went to work on the rigs I had three books of English poetry in my bag. I kept them hidden. They kept me sane in a world of bulging biceps and monosyllabic grunts. My bunk was where I escaped to read them. My secret world.’
‘I can understand why you kept it a secret,’ smiled Tansy.
‘I was wrong about that,’ said MacLean.
‘In what way wrong?’ asked Tansy.
‘Wrong to judge by appearances. When I got to know them, one of the men turned out to be lifelong student of Greek mythology, another did the most beautiful water-colours of sea birds.’
‘It’s amazing what people do when their heart is in it,’ said Tansy.
‘Absolutely,’ agreed MacLean.
‘So you joined the English lit club. You took tea with the ladies of Kelvinside, ate home-baked scones and discussed the relative merits of Byron and Keats. You politely applauded Mrs Williams’ offering on the lark,’ said Tansy.
‘It was a bit like that,’ MacLean conceded. I didn’t stick it very long. I decided that it had better remain a personal thing after all. How did you know?’
‘I tried it too and came to the same conclusion,’ said Tansy. ‘Not in Glasgow of course, but here in Edinburgh. It was after Keith died when I was being encouraged to go out and “join things”. I joined a poetry society.’
‘You like poetry?’
‘Elizabeth Barrett Browning when I’m in love, Phillip Larkin when I’m in pain.’
‘Doesn’t that just exacerbate the condition?’ asked MacLean.
‘Yes,’ smiled Tansy. ‘Go on with the story.’
‘Eventually I got a job in the burns unit at Queen Charlotte Hospital.’
‘Right up your street,’ said Tansy.
‘In a way,’ agreed MacLean, ‘but it was so depressing to go back to long, painful skin grafting regimes for the patients after the magic of Cytogerm.’
‘Can I ask a silly question?’
‘Was there no way that patients could be screened for dormant cancers before being given Cytogerm treatment?’
MacLean smiled and said, ‘That’s not a silly question at all. It’s one I asked myself a thousand times in Geneva but the answer always had to be no.’
‘The risk was too great?’
‘The best figure we could come up with suggested that one in twelve patients would die from Cytogerm side-effects. No drug company could contemplate applying for a license with statistics like that and no government in its right mind would grant one. Mind you… ‘
Tansy waited for MacLean to continue but he hesitated. ‘Go on, say it,’ she prompted.
‘It’s a purely personal view but assuming there were no legal problems, I think if my face was burned beyond recognition and someone offered me a chance of complete recovery at these odds I might just say yes.’
‘Just what I was thinking,’ said Tansy. ‘So why didn’t the company hold on to Cytogerm?’
‘I suspect the legal problems would have been too great,’ said MacLean. ‘Apart from that the drug would not have made any money for the company under these circumstances. It couldn’t be used for cosmetic purposes. In fact, it couldn’t have been used for anything but the very worst burns cases.’
‘That doesn’t explain why the company wanted all traces of the drug eliminated,’ said Tansy.
‘No it doesn’t,’ agreed MacLean. ‘I’ve had a long time to think about that and I’m still no nearer an answer.’
‘Is money always the prime consideration with a new drug?’ asked Tansy.
‘In a word, yes,’ replied MacLean. ‘With the best will in the world you cannot run a drug company for anything other than profit. That’s just a fact of life. The best companies will take on some charitable commitment and the worst will not but profit is the first motive for them all.’
‘I’ve never been able to understand how drug companies can sit on mountains of drugs while people all over the world are dying of the very diseases they could cure,’ said Tansy.
‘That’s a very simplistic view,’ said MacLean. ‘In our society you can no more give away drugs than you can TV sets.’
‘You sound as if you support them?’ said Tansy.
‘I’m a realist,’ said MacLean. ‘If the last three years have taught me nothing else, they’ve taught me that. Only governments have the power to give away drugs.’
‘So why don’t they?’ asked Tansy.
‘I don’t know.’
Tansy smiled and apologised. ‘I’m sorry, I’m giving you a hard time. Go on. You had this new job?’
‘Everything seemed to be going well and then it started all over again. It was August, one of these beautiful summer evenings when the air is still and the grass green, the trees hung heavy with their leaves and the whole world seemed a haven of peace. There had been a brief shower of rain about seven o’clock, but just enough to feed the flowers and make the grass smell fresh. I left the hospital about nine and started to walk home, feeling good. As I turned the corner into the street where I lived I noticed a man standing on the other side of the road. He was looking in a shop window. I’d walked another fifty yards or so before I realised that I’d seen him before.
‘You knew him?’
‘No, but I’d seen him. He’d been looking in the same shop window on the previous evening.’
‘Maybe he was waiting for a bus?’ suggested Tansy.
‘I went through the list of possibilities too,’ said MacLean. ‘But I’d arrived home at a different time on the previous evening, so he couldn’t be waiting for the same bus. My instincts had been sharpened by Doyle and Leavey. I had to at least consider the possibility that he was from the company.’
‘What did you do?’ asked Tansy.
‘My first reaction was to panic,’ confessed MacLean. ‘I couldn’t believe that they were still after me. I didn’t want to believe they were still after me! I jumped on a bus and went down town, giving myself time to think. I wandered round aimlessly for a couple of hours and came up with a thousand innocent reasons why the man should be waiting near my flat but in my heart I knew different.’
Tansy put her hand on MacLean’s shoulder.
‘When I got back I approached the flat from a lane that ran along the back of a public park near where I stayed so that no one would see me coming. Sure enough, he was in a doorway opposite my apartment. He hadn’t bothered to follow when I went down town because he knew where I lived. He knew I’d be coming back; he had followed me before. He was doing his homework, establishing the patterns of my life, biding his time, waiting for the right moment. This was no skinhead waving a union jack. He was a professional and I was scared. Nick Leavey used to say, “Don’t bother about the leather-jacket mob. They come out of slot machines in packets of five; knock one down and they’ll all wish they’d stayed home and watched telly. Real pros look like bank managers. They don’t have to look hard; it’s a positive advantage not to.’
‘Did you go to the police?’ asked Tansy.
‘Tell the Glasgow Police a man was following me?’ said MacLean with a smile. He shook his head.
‘You could have told them the whole story,’ said Tansy.
‘I had tried the Swiss police and the French,’ said MacLean. ‘Ours would have been no different. All police forces are uncomfortable when asked to investigate the established order of things and Lehman Steiner was certainly part of that. It’s much easier for them to write off one individual as a head case than rattle any cages in the realms of power and influence.’
‘I think you do them an injustice,’ said Tansy.
‘Like I said, I’m a realist,’ said MacLean.
‘So you didn’t go to the police,’ said Tansy. ‘But you obviously survived. What happened?’
‘The man underestimated me. It was his only mistake and it wasn’t really his fault. He had done his homework. He knew who I was, where I lived and where I worked. There was no way he could have known about my year with Doyle and Leavey. He also didn’t know that I had spotted him. It was time to put what my friends had taught me into practise.’
‘How did you feel about that?’ asked Tansy.
‘Nervous,’ confessed MacLean. ‘I felt as if I had learned to swim from a book and was now going to dive into the water for the first time.’
‘I can imagine,’ said Tansy.
‘No you can’t,’ said MacLean without smiling. ‘I deliberately altered my routine every day so that he couldn’t plan to make the hit along the route to the hospital. It would be too dangerous for him to attempt anything actually in the hospital so I was forcing him to opt for the flat. That meant the evening. For four nights in succession I watched him from behind the curtains standing in the shop doorway across the street. On the fifth night he was carrying a briefcase. I knew he was going to make the hit.’
‘The tension must have been unbearable,’ said Tansy.
‘When I saw him cross the street to enter the building I thought I was going to be physically sick. When the doorbell rang I was so paralysed with fear that he had to ring a second time before I answered. I opened the door slowly and casually, gambling that a pro would not shoot me on the public landing. He introduced himself as Mr Miller from the Prudential Assurance Company. He wondered if I was interested in life insurance.’
‘Good God,’ said Tansy.
‘A nice touch,’ agreed MacLean.
‘He held out his card and I pretended to take it. Instead I grabbed his wrist, twisted his arm up his back. He reacted well. He nearly took my head off with his other hand but I knocked him out and dragged him into the flat.’
‘You didn’t kill him did you?’ asked a shocked Tansy.
‘No, I searched him and found the gun in the briefcase; it was already fitted with a silencer. There was no identification on him so I waited till he came round before I stuck his own gun in his face and suggested that he tell me everything.’
‘Did he admit that he was working for Lehman Steiner?’ asked Tansy.
‘He admitted nothing,’ replied MacLean. ‘It was almost as if he found the whole thing funny in some way.’
‘Funny?’ exclaimed Tansy.
‘I know it sounds ridiculous,’ agreed MacLean. ‘My hands were shaking and my pulse rate was topping a hundred and fifty and he sat there smiling as if in some way resigned to everything that was happening.’
‘Surely he said something?’
‘Nothing that made any sense,’ said MacLean. ‘He said, ‘You surprised me, Doctor but it’s no use. You can’t win. Der Amboss is too big.’
‘What did he mean?’
MacLean shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘I don’t know.’
‘You must have called the police at that point? You had the man and the gun as evidence,’ said Tansy.
‘I tried,’ said MacLean.
Tansy looked puzzled.
‘I went out into the hall to call them and I had got to the second nine when I felt a breeze on my cheek. Someone had opened a window. I rushed back into the room to find that my guest had left.’
‘He escaped?’ asked Tansy.
‘In a way,’ replied MacLean. ‘I lived on the fourth floor… When I looked out I saw him spread-eagled on the road below.’
‘He jumped out the window?’ exclaimed Tansy in horror.
‘Fear,’ said MacLean.
‘Again, I don’t know.’
‘What did you tell the police?’ asked Tansy.
‘Nothing. There had been no one around when the man arrived. I closed the window and gambled on no one having seen him fall from my apartment. I hid his gun and briefcase and sat tight.’
‘But the police must have come to your door?’
‘They were very polite. They asked if I knew a Mr Henry Miller. I said, no.’
‘And they didn’t ask any more?’ asked Tansy in amazement.
‘I was Doctor MacLean remember? A pillar of the establishment,’ said MacLean, driving home his earlier point about the police.
‘But you still had the gun and the briefcase,’ said Tansy.
‘I added a couple of bricks and dropped the lot in the Clyde next day.’
‘You sound like one of these “professionals” yourself,’ said Tansy.
MacLean stared at her and Tansy sensed that she had said the wrong thing. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t mean to… ‘ she began but MacLean stopped her with a shake of the head. Tansy sensed that he wanted to say something but it wouldn’t come. She silently willed him to try.
‘I suppose I was,’ said MacLean. ‘Doyle and Leavey had taught me well and I had passed the test. But… ‘
‘Go on,’ said Tansy gently.
‘It was… wrong. I could play the game but it felt so wrong… ‘ MacLean looked at Tansy with eyes that appealed for understanding. ‘The truth is I spent a great deal of time being sick in the toilet and reliving every moment with the man from the company. I was Sean MacLean, a doctor not a killer. I couldn’t sleep; I couldn’t eat. I came to question what the hell I was doing and the answer didn’t help. I was simply waiting for the next hired killer to come along so it could start all over again. There would be no end to it unless I stopped it myself. Does that make any sense? Can you understand?’
‘Now that I know what you’ve been through, I’m afraid I do,’ she said quietly. ‘It’s the last thing on earth I should be saying to you but I do. It all sounds perfectly hellish.’
‘A good choice of word,’ agreed MacLean.
‘So you decided on taking your own life,’ said Tansy quietly.
‘I decided to let the next assassin do it for me. If I didn’t run I reckoned I wouldn’t have to wait long before he turned up. When he did, I would make it easy for him. It would be over quickly and probably with no pain.’
‘Less than two weeks. He was sitting doing the Times crossword when I came into the hospital restaurant one day. Smart suit, muted tie, spectacles, looked like an administrator. I started to establish a repetitive pattern to my life to make it easy for him to plan the hit. I even picked the place.’
‘How?’ asked Tansy.
‘Every night at nine I would leave the flat, have a beer at the local pub and then take a walk by the river. It was dark and secluded down there and usually pretty deserted at that time. It was an obvious place for him to pick.’
‘Why did you do that?’
‘I liked the spot; it was quiet and peaceful. Grass, trees, the river, all the things I liked. It was a good place to die.’
‘But you didn’t,’ said Tansy.
‘And I still don’t know why,’ said MacLean.
‘He didn’t try?’ asked Tansy.
‘Oh yes,’ said MacLean distantly, ‘I heard the gun go off. It was silenced but I heard it. I even stood there like an idiot waiting for the lights to go out but nothing happened.’
‘I couldn’t believe it. For a pro to have missed at that range was impossible.’
‘I was confused,’ said MacLean. ‘I lost my nerve. I couldn’t do it again. I took to my heels and ran. I didn’t stop till I was back in the flat and the door was locked behind me. I remember standing there in the dark with my back against the door, feeling the sweat trickle down my face, trying not to breathe too hard so I would hear his foot-steps on the stairs. He didn’t. Next morning the papers led with a story of a man being found dead by the river walk.’
‘He shot the wrong man?’ exclaimed Tansy in amazement.
‘That’s what I thought too,’ agreed MacLean. ‘I hadn’t seen anyone else down there but that seemed to be the only conceivable explanation. The paper said that the dead man carried no identification but the police had issued a description. It sounded familiar.’
MacLean continued, ‘I went down to the city mortuary and pretended that I thought the description of the missing man fitted that of my neighbour whom I hadn’t seen for several days. They let me see the body.’
‘Who was it?’ asked Tansy.
‘It was the “administrator” himself.’
Tansy’s mouth fell open. She shook her head as if unable to cope with what she was hearing. ‘You mean he’d shot himself?’ she asked.
‘Not through the back of his head he didn’t,’ said MacLean. ‘Someone else did it. The best I can come up with says that there were two hit men detailed to eliminate me — not unreasonable after the failure of a couple of weeks before — and that one shot the other for whatever reason.’
‘But you don’t really believe that?’ said Tansy.
‘No, but I was past caring. I resigned my job, put my affairs in order as they say and caught the first train to London.’
‘Running again,’ said Tansy.
‘Only temporarily,’ said MacLean. ‘I needed a bit of time to recover enough nerve to do the job myself. I started to wonder if there was anything I wanted to do before I died. I found I had this hankering to visit the haunts of my childhood, go back to the neighbourhood I was brought up in, see the schools, the parks, the canal.’
‘That’s what you were doing when you saved Carrie,’ said Tansy.
MacLean nodded. ‘Now you know everything.’
Tansy stayed silent for a moment then she rolled her eyes upwards and let out her breath in a long sigh. ‘Quite a story Dr MacLean.’ She took both his hands in hers and said, ‘And what now? What happens now?’
MacLean looked away and said quietly, ‘Nothing’s changed Tansy. The nightmare is still out there. I’ve just had a few days off that’s all.’
‘Stay,’ said Tansy. ‘Stay here with Carrie and me.’
‘I can’t,’ said MacLean. ‘I would only bring death to this house like I did to Jutte. They would find me.’
‘But they only found you when you stayed openly under your own name and worked as a doctor. No one found Dan Morrison. You could be him again!’
‘It wouldn’t be right,’ said MacLean.
‘Rubbish!’ exclaimed Tansy. ‘Stay!’
MacLean held up his hands and said, ‘Wait! I have to know why you are doing this. I have to understand.’
Tansy looked him in the eyes. She said, ‘I’m not sure myself. I only know that it feels right.’
MacLean considered for a seemingly endless moment.
‘Just give it a try?’
MacLean wavered then finally nodded.
The cold, sterile winter yielded to a hesitant Scottish spring. Buds sprouted on the trees by the canal and sunshine sparkled on the raindrops on their branches. The garden of the small, white bungalow awoke and demanded attention which MacLean and Carrie were happy to give it. Three months had done much to repair the damage to MacLean’s mind. He’d learned to laugh again. The haunted look had gone from his eyes and his cheeks had begun to fill out. All three of them had found a happiness and contentment, which they jealously guarded from the outside world as if it might suddenly disappear like morning mist. No plans were ever made and the future never mentioned.
Tansy gradually withdrew from her former circle of friends, which made MacLean feel guilty but she insisted. ‘Do you know what I heard one of them call you behind my back?’ she said. ‘My bit of rough!’
MacLean found it funny, particularly as Tansy was so angry.
‘Well, I am a labourer,’ he smiled.
‘But you are far more intelligent than any of them!’ stormed Tansy. ‘You’re kinder, more gentle and… ‘ She was lost for words and MacLean held her in his arms. ‘There, there,’ he soothed. ‘Don’t be too harsh on them. They’re just people. They need someone to look up to, someone to look down on and they’re probably jealous of what we have together.’
Tansy thumped her hands against MacLean’s chest and said in mock anger, ‘Why do you have to be so damned understanding?’
They both dissolved into laughter.
Carrie had become used to the sound of laughter around the house and she liked it. It made her happy too. She liked MacLean. She particularly liked the way he didn’t talk down to her. He didn’t put on a different voice, pull silly faces and say stupid things like most grown-ups did. She could talk to him. She could ask him things and he would give her sensible answers. He wouldn’t begin by laughing at her questions and rubbing her head like Uncle George always did and he wouldn’t tickle her tummy incessantly like Aunty Jane.
MacLean liked Carrie. Through her eyes he saw the canal again as he had in childhood. The canal ran from a basin in the heart of Edinburgh out to Falkirk, a small town some twenty miles to the west. It had ceased to be used commercially even before MacLean had been born and so had become an unofficial nature reserve outside the city limits. Nearer the city it was used by schools and the like for recreation purposes. Children were taught to canoe and earnest students would row in harmony while track-suited coaches cycled along the towpath yelling encouragement.
On Saturday mornings MacLean and Carrie had a routine; they would go exploring. Armed with a glass jar and bamboo canes tipped with small nets, they would investigate the woodlands near the bungalow and the water margins of the canal and bring home nature’s secrets to Tansy. Tansy would welcome them home with hot chocolate and say, ‘Ooh’ and ‘Ah’ at appropriate intervals as Carrie, clad in her yellow raincoat and favourite red Wellingtons, lectured her from the middle of the kitchen floor.
MacLean enjoyed Carrie’s lectures. He would lean on the corner of the door and admire the animated performance, made all the more endearing because of occasional childish malapropisms. He and Tansy would exchange glances and find some excuse to bring the proper word into the conversation without offending their instructor. It was clear that Carrie was growing in knowledge and confidence and it pleased them.
The relationship between MacLean and Tansy was also growing. Scarcely a day would pass without one of them discovering some new strength or sensitivity in the other to deepen an already considerable affection. There was no question of blotting out the past. Tansy spoke openly of Keith and her life with him and MacLean spoke of Jutte and found doing so therapeutic. For both of them grief had mellowed into fond memories. Neither saw the other as a substitute
It had been agreed from the outset that they should live as individuals so as not to create pressures which one or both of them might find difficult to cope with. MacLean had his own room. Tansy kept hers. This was not to say that they did not have a sex life. Feeling the way they did about each other, it was inevitable and all the more enjoyable because of the ‘illicit’ feel that room hopping had to it.
Separate rooms were maintained for times when one or the other felt the need to be alone; they were sanctuaries which would not be invaded by the other without invite. In the beginning it was MacLean who felt the need to be alone. He suffered from recurring fears that what he was doing was wrong and that, in the end, he would bring tragedy to Tansy and Carrie. But as time went by and largely thanks to Tansy’s reassurances, these fears started to subside. Dan Morrison was taking over from Sean MacLean and his nightmare world. He was a labourer. It was hard work and the pay was nothing to speak of but inside his head, things were a whole lot better.
MacLean opened his eyes and remembered that it was Saturday, expedition day with Carrie. He wondered momentarily why she had not already woken him but then he saw on the bedside clock that it had just turned seven. A shaft of sunlight had found its way through a chink in the curtains and played on his face to wake him. He was relieved that the weather was fine because, although his expedition agreement with Carrie had a ‘whatever the weather’ clause written into it, he much preferred their outings when the weather was fair and it had rained on the last three occasions.
Trying not to wake Tansy, he slid out of bed and replaced the covers on her shoulder. She moved slightly and he made a soothing sound to lull her. He sat for a moment just watching her sleep, thinking how peaceful she looked and how much she had come to mean to him. ‘I love you Mrs Nielsen,’ he whispered.
MacLean went through to the kitchen and turned on the electric kettle to make coffee. He looked out of the window while he waited for it to boil and saw the yellow, spring sunshine highlight the reedy marshland at the back of the house. There was a slight breeze and the grass bent synchronously as if in response to some unseen conductor. White, cotton wool clouds drifted across the sky and prospects for the day seemed good.
He was finishing his coffee when he was joined by Carrie, accompanied as ever by her Teddy bear. ‘It’s Saturday!’ she announced.
‘Ssh, you’ll wake Mummy,’ cautioned MacLean.
Carrie hunched her shoulders and put her finger to her lips in an exaggerated pantomime of guilt. She started taking large silent steps round the room.
MacLean smiled and asked if she wanted breakfast.
‘Yes please,’ she replied in a stage whisper.
‘All right Carrie, let’s not overdo it,’ said MacLean.
Carrie sat down at the kitchen table while MacLean poured out her cereal and added milk from the fridge. Carrie swept up a few stray flakes from the table and popped them onto her mouth.
‘Do you think we’ll catch an octopus today?’ asked Carrie.
‘No,’ replied MacLean.
‘There aren’t any in the canal,’ said MacLean.
‘Oh,’ said Carrie but then seemed satisfied with the reply.
When Carrie had finished eating MacLean sent her off to the bathroom to wash her face and hands and clean her teeth before dressing. He said that he would pay close attention to her ears when she returned. When she came back she was already wearing her raincoat and the inevitable red Wellingtons. MacLean made a play of inspecting her ears saying, ‘I could grow potatoes in there!’
‘No you could not!’ insisted Carrie. ‘I washed them.’
MacLean conceded that maybe she had.
‘What are you two fighting about?’ came Tansy’s voice from the bedroom.
MacLean and Tansy looked at each other guiltily. ‘Sorry,’ said MacLean. ‘We didn’t mean to wake you. Coffee?’
‘Please,’ replied Tansy sleepily.
Carrie pranced into the bedroom with news of the day. MacLean followed shortly with a cup of coffee. Tansy propped herself up on one elbow to take it from him.
‘Can we go now, Uncle Dan?’ asked Carrie.
‘I think so,’ replied MacLean, his eyes asking Tansy if there was anything that should delay them.
Tansy smiled and said, ‘Off you go then. Have a nice time.’
Carrie planted a large, wet kiss on Tansy’s mouth and scurried out of the room.
‘See you later,’ said MacLean.
MacLean carried the bamboo fishing poles while Carrie led the way. She parted the tall grass, which in many places was taller than she was and kept glancing behind her to reassure herself that she was not alone. MacLean remembered what it was like to be that height in long grass, flickering sunlight and the constant threat of claustrophobia, the smell of damp straw and the unpleasantly hard texture of the reeds as they brushed your face. Carrie gave a double skip to celebrate breaking out on to the clear ground of the towpath. She turned and smiled.
They followed the line of the path until the high, grassy bank gave way to a cobblestone apron where Carrie could approach the water safely. She lay down on her stomach and wriggled up to the edge of the water to look down. MacLean squatted down on his haunches beside her, half looking at the water but more interested in Carrie’s facial expressions. She had an air of intense concentration about her; she wanted to know all there was to know about a world which for her was still very new and full of wonder.
Carrie looked up at MacLean but something else caught her attention and she looked past his left knee.
‘There’s that man again,’ she said, casually turning back to the water and lowering her jar into it.
MacLean thought he’d misheard. He looked in the same direction as Carrie had but saw nothing. All the same, his spine was tingling with apprehension.
‘What man Carrie?’ he asked. He had to clear his throat. It had gone tight.
‘The man at the school railings.’
‘Tell me about him, Carrie,’ said MacLean, trying to sound casual.
At first Carrie ignored the request. She was concentrating on enticing some creature into her jar.
MacLean’s pulse was racing. He couldn’t wait. ‘Tell me about the man Carrie,’ he repeated. His voice was harder.
Carrie caught the unusual nuance and it alarmed her. She turned to look at him uncertainly.
‘Did he speak to you Carrie?’
‘He asked about Daddy,’ said Carrie.
‘And what did you say?’
‘I said that Daddy was in heaven.’
The childish reply made MacLean realise that he was frightening Carrie. She was looking at him very unsurely. He swept her up into his arms and hugged her and she responded by nestling contentedly on his shoulder.
‘What’s wrong Uncle Dan?’ she asked.
‘You mustn’t speak to strangers Carrie,’ said MacLean.
‘Sorry, Uncle Dan.’
MacLean’s mind was full of nightmare possibilities. He tried to eliminate them by considering a more ordinary one. The man lived locally; he was picking up his own child from school and had simply asked Carrie where her daddy was. MacLean wasn’t convinced. He moved on to the darker ones. The man was some kind of weirdo who hung around school playgrounds. The third possibility loomed like a black cloud across the sun. It said that the man was from Lehman Steiner. They had found him.
‘Are you all right, Uncle Dan?’ Carrie asked.
MacLean looked at her and tried to smile reassuringly. ‘What did this man look like Carrie?’ he asked.
Anything over eighteen, thought MacLean. ‘Can you tell me any more?’
‘He was a bit like Uncle George,’ said Carrie thoughtfully.
‘And what is Uncle George like?’
‘Important,’ said Carrie.
‘Uncle George is in charge of pots of money. Mummy told me. He works in a bank.’
The man was wearing a suit and a tie, thought MacLean. That did not automatically make him one of Leavey’s ‘professionals’ but it certainly didn’t rule it out.
MacLean felt as if his limbs were weighed down with lead as he walked along the towpath behind Carrie. He couldn’t concentrate on anything the child was saying. Self-recrimination played a major role. He had foolishly allowed himself to start believing that a new life was possible and now he was going to have to pay for such stupidity. The merest suspicion that he had been found by Lehman Steiner meant that he would have to leave Tansy and Carrie immediately. They would be in great danger if he stayed and they had come to mean so much to him. Idiot! He should have known better.
Carrie stopped to look down into the water again and MacLean watched her. This would be their last expedition together. The dreams he had begun to nurture about being around to see her grow up had turned to nothing. The love he had come to feel for Tansy was just a cruel quirk of fate, one last twist of the knife. He would have to be on his way and soon.
Carrie knew that something was wrong. She didn’t know what but that was usually the way with grown-ups, she had found. They went quiet and didn’t seem to hear what you said. MacLean had not been involving himself in her discoveries like he usually did. He had not even bothered to look at what she had in the jar and he kept looking at his watch.
Carrie felt uneasy. She wanted to cry but didn’t because she didn’t know what for. She didn’t protest when MacLean said that it was time to turn back but she didn’t run on ahead as usual. She stayed beside MacLean and took his hand, looking up at his face from time to time, hoping to find a smile of reassurance. MacLean was aware of the warmth of Carrie’s hand in his. He wanted the moment to last. He was filled with sadness and anger.
Tansy turned round from the sink where she had been peeling potatoes and prepared herself to meet Carrie’s verbal onslaught but it didn’t materialise. Carrie smiled but said nothing as she put her jar down on the kitchen table. Tansy looked to MacLean for answers but found only darkness there. The water from her wet hands dripped on the floor as she waited for him to say something.
MacLean asked Carrie to put the fishing nets away in the garden hut and she complied without saying anything. As soon as she went outside MacLean told Tansy about the man on the canal bank. Tansy searched for innocent explanations but MacLean’s face told her that he feared the worst. ‘I must go,’ he said, ‘You and Carrie could be in great danger.’
Tansy’s eyes were shining with frustration as she tried to find an argument, ‘You can’t just disappear from our lives,’ she said. ‘There must be another way. You don’t know for sure that this man is who you think he is.’
Carrie returned and caused the conversation to stop. Tansy held MacLean’s eyes in a silent plea. Carrie joined in the silence and Tansy turned to her and asked her to put away her raincoat and Wellingtons. Carrie did as she was bid, again without saying anything.
‘Aren’t we worth fighting for MacLean?’ said Tansy.
MacLean looked troubled. ‘That’s not the point,’ he began but Tansy interrupted him, ‘That is exactly the point! You should at least find out who this man is before you ride off into the sunset like some self-sacrificing martyr. Don’t we matter to you?’
‘Of course you do,’ snapped MacLean, needled by what Tansy said.
‘Then find this man! Find out who and what he is. Even if he turns out to be one of your “professionals” you are a match for him; you said so yourself. Fight MacLean! Don’t just run away! Fight for us!’
MacLean was wavering. Tansy had got through to him. ‘But the danger to you and Carrie… ‘ he protested.
‘We’ll take the chance if you will. We mean a lot to each other, wouldn’t you say?’
‘An awful lot,’ said MacLean.
‘Good,’ said Tansy, eyes still shining with emotion. ‘Where do we begin?’
All vestige of suicidal complacency left MacLean. Tansy and Carrie wanted him as much as he wanted them. He would find this man and find out just who the hell he was and if he should turn out to be from Lehman Steiner… God help him.
Tansy had expected MacLean to go out and start looking but instead, he played a waiting game. If the man was who he feared he was there was no doubt that he would come to him. He would bide his time.
The loft of the bungalow had been converted into two rooms. One, Carrie’s bedroom had a dormer window. MacLean decided that this would be the best place to keep vigil from. He moved the bed over to the window and positioned it so he could lie along it and keep watch on the garden. If anyone was interested in the bungalow and its occupants they would have to approach from that side. He steeled himself to lie there until dark if necessary.
In the event MacLean had been keeping watch for just over two hours when he saw a movement in the trees. He felt his muscles tense but didn’t move in case he altered some reflection in the window which would alert the intruder. The top half of a man appeared from behind one of the conifers outside the garden fence. MacLean made mental notes. He was around five ten with dark hair, a swarthy complexion and was wearing a dark business suit. He had come from the right side of the tree, holding back the branches with his left hand; he was possibly left-handed.
There was no need to ask Carrie to confirm that this was the man she had seen at school. The mere fact that he had come to the house told MacLean that his worst fears were being realised. Lehman Steiner had found him. He remained perfectly still until the man had moved back into the undergrowth then he moved quickly. He had the initiative; he mustn’t lose it.
MacLean ran downstairs and gripped Tansy lightly by the shoulders. He told her to keep Carrie inside, lock the door behind him and do nothing until he had returned. He checked the gun and put it back in his inside pocket. Adrenaline was coursing through his veins. He didn’t say anything more to Tansy nor she to him. Tansy closed the door behind him and locked it. She rested her forehead on it for a moment, breathing unevenly because of fear, until she became aware of Carrie looking up at her. ‘Come on,’ she said, ‘Come help me in the kitchen.’
MacLean ran swiftly to the bottom of the garden and vaulted the fence. He dropped to his knees and listened, holding his breath so that he would not miss anything. He heard movement somewhere ahead of him and guessed at twenty metres. Good! If he had heard nothing there would have been a different game to play, a game, which said that the opposition was waiting to see if he was being followed. There was no reason to believe that the man would have any reason to suspect this but MacLean considered every possibility. The stakes were very high. The comforting snap of twigs up ahead told him that he was still holding all the aces in this encounter.
The man was heading for the towpath. MacLean thought ahead to where he would confront him. He decided on the far side of the first stone bridge. He would circle round and wait for him to emerge on the other side. He headed off at an angle to ensure that he reached the bridge first. He did and pressed himself up against the cold stone to wait and listen.
He heard muted footsteps on the earth of the towpath and waited for the change in sound when the man moved on to the cobbles under the bridge. The change came and MacLean tensed himself. As the man emerged from under the bridge MacLean shot out his hand and gripped him by the neck. He swung him round hard and slammed him against the weeping stonework before twisting his left arm up his back and applying all his weight to keeping him immobile while he searched him. He found the gun in a shoulder holster under his right armpit. He had been right; the man was left-handed.
‘You’ve got it wrong!’ spluttered the man, almost incoherent because his face was being pressed up against the wall.
‘Oh, no,’ hissed MacLean, ‘You’re the one who’s got it all wrong.’
‘You don’t understand!’ insisted the man.
‘I understand only too well,’ growled MacLean. ‘I want to know who in Lehman Steiner paid you; I want to know where and when. I want dates, times, places and I want to know why?’ Is that clear? I do hope so because if you don’t start talking within the next thirty seconds and I am going to place the muzzle of this gun inside your mouth and I am going to pull the trigger. In short, I am going to blow your head off! Now is there anything there that you don’t understand?’ MacLean tightened his grip on the man’s arm until he cried out in pain. ‘No! I saved you… in Glasgow… I saved you from Der Amboss.’
The name had an almost hypnotic effect on MacLean. He relaxed his grip slowly but still kept the gun trained on the man. ‘Who are you?’ he demanded.
‘Jacques Vernay, Lisa’s brother.’
MacLean was dumbstruck. He lowered the gun. ‘Lisa Vernay’s brother? Lisa, at Lehman Steiner?’
‘Yes,’ said the man, holding a hand up to his grazed cheek.
‘What’s your connection with all this?’
Vernay rubbed his arm where MacLean had twisted it and said, ‘I am a policeman Doctor. When my sister was found dead in her swimming pool I didn’t believe for one moment that it had happened as they said. Lisa would never have dived into the water at any depth, let alone at the shallow end of the pool. She hated diving. I was convinced that she had been murdered and said so to my superiors. They instigated an immediate investigation. Three days later it was abandoned. No explanation was given. I was simply told that the case was closed. I couldn’t accept that. I decided to pursue the investigation on my own.’
‘If my own people wouldn’t help I decided to try the other side,’ said Vernay.
‘I don’t understand.’
‘The underworld, Doctor. I used my savings to buy information about my sister’s death.’
‘What did you learn?’
‘I came up with the names of the two professional assassins who had been hired to kill Lisa. I took the information to my superiors expecting them to apologise and re-open the case immediately.’
‘And did they?’
Vernay smiled bitterly and said, ‘I was dismissed from the force for consorting with criminals. I now had no job and no sister. Lisa and I were twins you know.’
‘I didn’t,’ confessed MacLean. He hadn’t known Lisa Vernay well.
‘I decided to seek my own justice. I went after Lisa’s killers on my own and I caught up with one of them in Paris. To my shame I “persuaded” him to talk.’
MacLean did not enquire how. ‘What did he tell you?’ he asked.
‘Nothing,’ said Vernay.
‘But you said you made him talk.’
‘He didn’t know anything, Doctor. That’s often the way with these people. They are told only what they have to know. He had no idea why his employers wanted Lisa dead only that it was something to do with something called, Der Amboss.’ Vernay watched MacLean’s reaction when he said the word. He saw that it meant something.
‘That’s what the man in Glasgow said,’ said MacLean. ‘He said that Der Amboss was too big. I couldn’t win.’
‘The man you threw out of the window?’
‘I didn’t,’ said MacLean.
‘Whatever,’ said Vernay. ‘What else do you know about Der Amboss, Doctor?’
‘Nothing. Tell me.’
‘It’s a German word. It means “the anvil” but it’s some kind of code for an agreement between Lehman Steiner and ultra-right wing political factions. My sources say that this includes a group in the United Kingdom.’
‘Is that why you’re here?’
Vernay shook his head. ‘No I was following the second of the two assassins who killed my sister.’
‘The man who fell from the window?’
‘The man you led to the river,’ said Vernay.
‘Ah,’ said MacLean, suddenly making sense of what had happened by the riverside walk.
‘When I saw you lead him there, I assumed you had some plan,’ said Vernay. ‘It was only at the very last moment that I realised that you were going to let him kill you. I shot him instead.’
‘Thanks,’ said MacLean, embarrassed at how strange it sounded.
‘Why do Lehman Steiner want you dead Doctor?’
‘I don’t know,’ said MacLean. ‘But if it is any help, it’s for the same reason that they wanted your sister dead. We both worked on Cytogerm.’
Vernay looked blank.
‘Lisa didn’t tell you about her work?’ asked MacLean.
‘We had an agreement not to speak about each other’s work,’ said Vernay.
MacLean balked at telling Vernay the whole story. He was mentally exhausted and Tansy would be worried.
‘Perhaps we could continue our talk at the house?’ suggested Vernay.
‘No!’ said MacLean with a vehemence that took Vernay aback. ‘I don’t want anything to do with this business in the house.’
‘Very well,’ said Vernay. ‘What do you suggest?’
MacLean thought for a moment before saying, ‘Meet me here tomorrow evening at eight.’ Almost as an afterthought MacLean asked, ‘Why did you come here? When you shot the man in Glasgow, your job was over. You had found both of the men involved in your sister’s death.’
‘These men were just tradesmen Doctor. I want to find the men who gave them their orders. I want to find out about Der Amboss. I thought you could tell me.’
Tansy flew into MacLean’s arms and they held each other tight without speaking. Carrie still didn’t understand what was going on but she thought that she would cuddle MacLean’s leg anyway. MacLean acknowledged her by reaching down to press her to him.
‘What happened?’ asked Tansy, her voice filled with trepidation.
‘He wasn’t from the company,’ said MacLean.
Tansy looked up at him with relief showing on her face. ‘Then it was a false alarm?’ she asked, the tone of her voice willing him to say yes.
‘Not exactly,’ said MacLean.
‘I don’t understand.’
MacLean told her about Vernay and why he had come.
Tansy’s eyes, which had been filled with happiness a moment before, began to cloud over. She shook her head, as if unwilling to accept what she was hearing. ‘Policemen, professional killers, revenge killing, right-wing politics… ‘
MacLean held her close again and said, ‘The main thing is that Lehman Steiner has not found me. We are still safe.’
Tansy responded to MacLean’s hug and said, ‘You’re right. I’m sorry. Why did Vernay come here? What did he want with you?’
‘He thought I knew more than I do. He thought I could tell him about Der Amboss.’
‘I see,’ said Tansy but MacLean sensed that she was thinking about something else. She seemed to withdraw from him mentally. She went off to the kitchen and pretended to do things for a few minutes before coming back and saying, ‘I think I’ll go out for a walk. Carrie! Stay with Uncle Dan please. I won’t be long.’
MacLean nodded and felt helpless as he watched her go out through the door without turning.
Carrie was close to tears. She looked up at MacLean in the silence, her eyes tortured by uncertainty.
‘You’ve got mud on your nose,’ said MacLean.
Carrie rubbed her nose ineffectually with the back of her hand. The gesture had an air of defiance about it. MacLean beckoned her to him. He removed the smudge with a tissue and said, ‘There, that’s better.’
Carrie suddenly broke into tears when the dam of emotion that had been building up inside her broke. MacLean rocked her in his arms, trying to assure her that all would be well.
‘What’s wrong, Uncle Dan?’ Carrie asked tearfully. ‘I don’t understand.’
MacLean felt a lump come to his throat. He didn’t know what to say. ‘Life is sometimes very difficult for grown-ups Carrie. We make a terrible mess of things and then we get unhappy. But, if we all work at it, the unhappy times will pass and everything will be all right again. What do you say you fetch your train and we’ll play with it till Mummy gets back?’
Carrie went off to get her train, happy that at least someone was speaking to her… even if she didn’t understand a word of it.’
MacLean did his best to concentrate on playing with Carrie. He was aware that she was watching him for signs of distraction and equally aware that he was over-compensating for this by laughing a little too loudly or exaggerating his movements in the game. He felt relief flood through him when he heard Tansy put her key in the door.
Tansy stood in the doorway and smiled at the sight of the pair of them on the rug. Carrie ran towards her and was swept up into her arms. Tansy looked over Carrie’s shoulder to MacLean and said, ‘I’m sorry, I just had to be alone for a bit.’
‘You two must be starving,’ said Tansy taking off her jacket. ‘Let’s see what we can do about that.’
The three of them played at being one big happy family until it was time for Carrie to go to bed. Carrie had been the only genuine player. When Tansy came back after tucking Carrie she looked at MacLean uneasily as if suffering from pangs of guilt. MacLean said gently, ‘It’s all right you know, I understand. You found out this afternoon that you’d bitten off more than you could chew.’
Tansy smiled weakly and said, ‘True. I discovered that I wasn’t nearly as brave as I thought I was. When that man came to the house and you went outside with a gun…’
‘Suddenly it all seemed so close to us! Before it was a story, far away. Something that happened somewhere else. I was so afraid this afternoon. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared.’
‘There’s no shame in that,’ said MacLean softly.
‘Even when you came back and told me he wasn’t from the company the only thing I could think was, if he found you, so could they!’
‘Now you know why it’s better that I go,’ said MacLean.
‘No!’ replied Tansy vehemently.
MacLean looked at her questioningly.
‘I made a decision when I went for my walk. We will see things through together. I discovered that I’m not the bravest person in the world but I’m not the weakest either. We stay together.’ Tansy put her head back on the chair and said, ‘God, I feel exhausted.’
‘Go to bed,’ said MacLean gently.
‘Join me?’ asked Tansy, reaching out her hand for MacLean who took it and kissed the back of her fingers. ‘Soon,’ he said.
Tansy went to bed leaving MacLean with his thoughts. She had been wrong in supposing that Lehman Steiner could find him just because Vernay had. Vernay had destroyed any direct link when he had shot their man in Glasgow. On the other hand, any prolonged contact with Vernay was something to be avoided. He had seen the look in Vernay’s eyes when he spoke of the death of his sister. The man was on a mission. That could make him a liability. He wished that Vernay had never appeared on the scene but then felt guilty at the thought. Vernay had saved his life. If it had not been for him he would be rotting in a Glasgow grave.
MacLean decided that he would have to keep his meeting with Vernay but that there should be no more contact between them. He would not join Vernay on his crusade against Lehman Steiner. He would simply tell him about Cytogerm and ask him to be on his way. In the back of his mind he suspected that the company were not going to take the loss of their men lying down. However uncharitable the thought, he had no wish to be discovered by accident by men hunting down Vernay. With any luck Vernay would be on his way by Monday and Dan Morrison could go back to being happy.
Tansy seemed much recovered after a good night’s sleep. She was even keen to discuss what Vernay had told MacLean.
‘Why would Lehman Steiner be involved in politics?’ she asked.
‘Big business is always interested in politics,’ replied MacLean. ‘They have to be. Politicians control the environment in which they operate. They set the levels of taxes and subsidies and make the conditions that affect company profitability. It’s not at all unusual for companies to donate money to whatever party will create the best environment for them to trade in.’
‘But why would Lehman Steiner be interested in the politics of other European countries? Surely they couldn’t hope to influence every country’s affairs?’
‘They’re an international company,’ said MacLean.
‘So what’s the connection with Cytogerm?’
‘I wish I knew,’ said MacLean. ‘Maybe there isn’t one. Maybe it’s just that the company uses the same bullyboys for a variety of reasons.’
‘I’ve been thinking about Cytogerm,’ said Tansy.
‘I think they’re still using it.’
‘And hiding the corpses?’ said MacLean sceptically.
‘I didn’t mean using it generally. I meant for special purposes.’
MacLean could see that Tansy had some ‘special purpose’ in mind. ‘Go on,’ he said.
‘Well, since right-wing politics have been mentioned… it occurred to me that Cytogerm might be being used for plastic surgery on criminals.’
‘Nazi war criminals,’ said Tansy quickly.
MacLean looked at Tansy as if she had said something funny. He was trying to suppress laughter and she felt mildly annoyed at not being taken seriously.
‘Tansy, do you realise how old these war criminals are?’ asked MacLean.
‘I suppose they must be getting on a bit,’ Tansy conceded.
‘They are geriatrics! No one would recognise them now anyway! That’s assuming they’re still alive and even that’s doubtful,’ said MacLean. ‘But if they are, they will be broken, old men stumbling towards their graves with every prospect of eternal damnation looming before them. Being made to look like Tom Cruise isn’t going to help!’
‘All right,’ conceded Tansy, feeling foolish. ‘How about international criminals. Surely they would pay a lot to have their looks changed? And with Cytogerm it could be done in a matter of a couple of weeks, you said so yourself.’
‘I don’t question the feasibility of it,’ said MacLean. ‘It’s just that it wouldn’t make sense for a giant like Lehman Steiner to be involved in something like that. There can’t be that many Mr Bigs needing the treatment.’
Tansy agreed in silence.
‘Sorry,’ said MacLean, ‘But if Cytogerm is involved in anything it would have to be something really big, something worth many millions of pounds.’
Tansy nodded and dropped the subject. She walked over to the window and looked out at the sunshine. After a few moments she turned and asked, ‘Feel like a walk?’
MacLean kept his appointment with Vernay at eight that evening. The afternoon walkers had all gone home leaving the towpath to the gathering dusk and the occasional stray dog. The air was still but there was a suggestion of a blue haze and a smell of burning leaves. MacLean guessed that it came from the house about a mile further along the canal. It had a large beech hedge round it and with beech, falling leaves were always a bigger problem in the spring than in the autumn. It had been a fine day; the owners had probably spent it tidying up the garden.
Vernay was waiting for him when he arrived at the bridge. They shook hands and started to walk slowly along the towpath. MacLean had his hands in his pockets; Vernay kept his behind his back like a Royal personage. MacLean told him of his time at Lehman Steiner, the euphoria over the early results with Cytogerm and the bitter disappointment that was to come with the death of Elsa Kaufman.
‘Four of us died after the project was wound up,’ he said. ‘Kurt Immelman, Max Schaeffer, Lisa and Jutte who died instead of me.’
‘Then you must feel the same way towards the company I do,’ said Vernay.
MacLean could sense that the question was loaded. ‘There was a time,’ he admitted, ‘when I was desperate for revenge. Like you, I thought I could take on Lehman Steiner and win because… ‘ MacLean paused and smiled wryly. ‘Because right was on my side and good always triumphed over evil.’
‘What changed your mind?’
‘Three years of hell. I lost everything. Jutte, my home, my job, my friends and, in the end, I… simply lost hope.’
‘That explains your behaviour in Glasgow,’ said Vernay.
MacLean nodded and said, ‘But thanks to you I survived. Now I have a home, a job and happiness with Carrie and Tansy. I am no longer interested in the past, only the future. If you expect me to wrap a prayer scarf round my head and go crashing into the might of Lehman Steiner on some kamikaze mission you can forget it. I loved Jutte but she’s dead and nothing can bring her back. Tansy and Carrie are alive and they need me that way. They are the only things I will fight for now.’
‘And that explains your reaction at the bridge yesterday,’ said Vernay rubbing his arm and touching the graze on his cheek.
‘I’m sorry. I thought you were from the company,’ said MacLean.
‘I could have been,’ said Vernay.
‘That’s why we mustn’t meet again,’ said MacLean.
‘And Jutte is to go unavenged?’
MacLean did not rise to the bait. ‘I told you, I am not interested in revenge.’
‘I understand you wanting to defend what you have,’ said Vernay, ‘But the best method of defence is attack, is it not?’
‘Not with the odds loaded as they are in this case,’ said MacLean.
‘Do you think you can hide forever?’ asked Vernay, changing tack.
‘Maybe they won’t look for ever,’ replied MacLean.
‘Two of their agents died not sixty kilometres from here.’
MacLean wished that Vernay had not said that.
‘So you won’t help?’
‘I’ve told you all I can. I want you to go now,’ said MacLean.
Vernay shrugged his shoulders in a peculiarly Gallic way and said, ‘Well, at least I know that my sister’s death had something to do with Cytogerm. Maybe I will be able to forge a link between it and Der Amboss. What do you think Doctor?’
‘I wish you luck,’ said MacLean.
Vernay took out a pack of cigarettes, conceding defeat. He lit one and asked, ‘Will you do me one last favour?’
‘Depends what it is.’
‘Will you meet me one more time?’ Vernay held up his hand to divert the refusal he sensed on MacLean’s lips. ‘The last time, I promise. I still have some contacts in the police force back in Geneva. I’d like to ask them what they can come up with on Cytogerm. They may request more information and for that I would have to ask you. What do you say?’
MacLean was reluctant. He had already played out the scene in his head where he went back to Tansy and told her that Vernay had gone, they could now get on with their lives.
‘It’s not much to ask,’ prompted Vernay.
MacLean imagined the unspoken rider, “And I did save your life.” ‘All right,’ he said, ‘But somewhere well away from here. I don’t want you anywhere near this area again. Understood?’
‘Agreed,’ said Vernay. He gave MacLean details of where he was staying. He had rented a small flat in the city. They agreed to meet there in eight days time.
‘I always seem to be doing this,’ said Tansy as she welcomed MacLean back with a big hug.
‘I’m not complaining,’ said MacLean.
‘He’s gone?’ asked Tansy, expecting a ‘yes’.
‘Not quite,’ confessed MacLean. ‘I agreed to see him again.’
‘But why?’ Tansy was disappointed.
‘It seemed the least I could do,’ said MacLean quietly. ‘I owe him my life.’ He told her the reason for the second meeting.
They sat in silence for a while before Tansy asked, ‘You are not having second thoughts about helping Vernay take on Lehman Steiner are you?’
‘No!’ exclaimed MacLean. ‘All I really want is for everyone to go away and leave us alone!’
Tansy was left in no doubt as to the sincerity of what MacLean had said. She said, ‘I need you to be sure. If you fought and won you could become a doctor again and that would mean a lot to you.’
MacLean was still adamant. ‘I’m happy as I am!’ he insisted. ‘I don’t want anything to change. I’ve never been more contented in my life. It’s what goes on inside your head that really matters.’
‘Fireside philosophy,’ smiled Tansy.
‘I’m serious,’ said MacLean. ‘You and Carrie have become so precious to me. You’re all that I care about now.’
Tansy’s expression softened. She said, ‘I’ve noticed Carrie adopting you as her new father.’
‘Do you mind?’
Tansy smiled and said, ‘I’m delighted.’
Tansy took MacLean’s face between her hands and said, ‘Let’s take everything as it comes?’
MacLean agreed with a grin and said, ‘OK.’
‘You woke me up, ‘ said Carrie appearing in the doorway.
‘Sorry,’ said MacLean.
‘Can I have a drink of water please?’
‘Of course. Would Mr Bear like one too?’ he asked.
Carrie was pleased. ‘Yes please,’ she said.
MacLean took Carrie back up to bed and tucked her and Mr Bear under the covers. He kissed Carrie gently on the forehead and got up to go.
‘And Mr Bear,’ said Carrie.
MacLean kissed the bear and switched out the light.
The following week passed uneventfully but the weather was abysmal throughout. Continual drizzling rain dampened everyone’s spirits and kept Carrie indoors when she would much rather have been outside. When Sunday came and the sun shone. MacLean and Tansy decided to take her to the zoo.
Carrie chattered to the monkeys, walked like the penguins and stood uncertainly in front of the tigers at feeding time. She had a ride on an elephant and learned how to milk a goat in the children’s farm. She drank lemonade and ate ice cream and generally scampered around to the delight of both Tansy and MacLean.
‘I think this counts as the first family outing since Keith died,’ said Tansy as they watched Carrie try to attract the attention of a lion who seemed more interested in sleeping on a rock.
‘First of many,’ said MacLean and Tansy squeezed his hand.
They watched the polar bears dive for fish in their pool and Tansy said they made about as much mess as Carrie at bath time. They all laughed. It was that kind of a day. The coming meeting with Vernay was not mentioned until late that evening. Tansy asked, ‘How do you feel about tomorrow?’
‘I’ll be glad when it’s over,’ admitted MacLean. ‘I can’t really tell him any more about Cytogerm than what I’ve done already.
‘You’re going straight from work?’
‘Yes,’ said MacLean. ‘I should be home by seven.’
MacLean knew from the address that Vernay had given him that it was a predominantly working-class area. He would not look out of place coming directly from the building site in work clothes. He found the number he was looking for and walked straight past. He crossed the road a little further up the street and came back down on the other side. It was a simple precaution that Doyle had taught him. He was in luck; there was a fish and chip shop almost opposite Vernay’s building. He went in and bought something to eat. Using this as an excuse he was able to keep an eye on the entrance across the way for nearly ten minutes. Nothing happened to arouse his suspicions: he crossed the road and entered the building.
Vernay’s flat was on the third floor. MacLean rang the bell and waited. Nothing happened so he rang once more and then a third time. He heard a door open on the landing below and cautiously looked over the railings. An old woman was looking up at him. She seemed disappointed when she didn’t recognise him. ‘Oh dear,’ she said. ‘I thought it was Mr Vernay.’
MacLean thought she sounded distraught. Is something wrong?’ he asked.
‘Mr Vernay must have a leak,’ said the woman. ‘Water’s coming through my ceiling.’
Alarm bells went off in MacLean’s head. His first thought was to break down the door but the woman was a problem. He made sympathetic noises and asked if she had a screwdriver he could borrow. Anticipating some remedial action the woman went off to find one.
As soon as she was out of the way MacLean took a couple of steps back from the door then, lifting his foot he crashed it into Vernay’s door just below the Yale lock. He leaned his shoulder against the door and it swung slowly open.
It was dark inside. There were no windows in the hall and all the room doors were closed. MacLean could hear the sound of water pattering on to the floor. He followed it. He called out Vernay’s name but knew there would be no reply. He did it to release some of the tension that was building inside him. The floor was wet beneath his feet and the sound of the waterfall was becoming louder. He took care not to slip on wet linoleum as he opened the bathroom door.
The room was lit solely by the light coming in from a street light. Vernay was in the bath. His huge dead eyes stared up at him from below the surface of the water. MacLean swallowed the bile that rose in his throat and leaned over to turn off the water. He recoiled as he saw that two of Vernay’s fingers had been cut off from his right hand.
‘Yoo hoo! Are you there?’ came the old woman’s voice from the hall. MacLean suddenly realised that she was coming in and it shook him out of his trance. He came out of the bathroom and closed the door behind him. He stood in front of it as the woman came towards him. ‘I’ve found the trouble,’ he said. ‘My stupid friend left the taps running in the bath and the overflow seems to be blocked. I’ll have a strong word with him when he gets back and tell him in no uncertain terms that he is responsible for the damage to your ceiling.’
The woman seemed pleased at the attention MacLean was giving her. She offered to help him clear up the mess.
MacLean ushered her to the door kindly, ‘I’ll have it cleared up in no time,’ he insisted, breathing a sigh of relief when the door was closed behind her. He steeled himself to examine the other rooms of the flat. He needed to understand what had happened.
There was no evidence of a struggle in any of the rooms. Vernay must have been taken by surprise, thought MacLean. He found nothing out of the ordinary until he went over to the kitchen sink and saw the wooden chopping board with Vernay’s missing fingers on it. MacLean turned away for a moment and suppressed the urge to retch. He looked back and saw with a professional eye that something heavy had been used to cut them off, an axe or a meat cleaver.
It was clear that they had tortured Vernay to make him talk. He would have told them everything he knew. Lehman Steiner knew about Tansy and Carrie. They could even be on their way to the bungalow right now.
A gun! He had to have a gun! Vernay had carried one. Maybe it was still in the flat. MacLean started searching like a man possessed. He pulled open drawers and threw open cupboards until he found what he was looking for under a mattress. The pistol was still in Vernay’s shoulder holster. MacLean took off his jacket and slipped it on. The gun was under the wrong armpit for him but it didn’t matter. It was much more important that he was armed.
MacLean took the stairs three at a time and burst out on to the street. A taxi driver looked the other way when he tried to flag him down. His dress and the way he was behaving said that he was a bad risk. A second one stopped but looked sceptical. He was waiting to hear if MacLean sounded drunk.
‘Craiglockhart canal bridge! As fast as you can!’ said MacLean getting into the back and slamming the door.
‘Aye, ah saw that picture too,’ said the man laconically.
MacLean took out money from his wallet and waved it in front of the driver. ‘I mean it. I’ll pay double if you move it!’
The taxi took seven minutes. MacLean watched all of them pass on his watch. He urged the driver to greater efforts, despite being thrown from side to side at the current rate of progress. The cab screeched to a halt on the bridge and MacLean rammed a handful of notes into the driver’s hand and leapt out. The driver shook his head but MacLean was gone.
There was a black Ford saloon parked thirty yards down the hill from the bridge. How many? MacLean wondered. How many of the bastards? He ran down the slippery earth to the towpath and started to run along it. It was dark but he knew it well enough and reflections on the water helped.
MacLean saw the lights of the bungalow appear through the trees. Carrie would be upstairs in bed. Tansy would be in the sitting room or maybe the kitchen preparing the evening meal. Please God! Let there be time!
There was a movement in the trees ahead and MacLean dropped to one knee. Another movement and this time he saw the silhouette of a man against light coming from the sitting room window. He was holding something in his hand. MacLean thought at first that it was a gun but then he decided it was too big for that. The man drew back his arm and MacLean suddenly realised he was about to throw something. He yelled out a warning to stop but the missile left the man’s hand and crashed threw the French windows of the bungalow. The world was silent for three seconds then an explosion rocked the night as the incendiary grenade went off. A vivid sheet of flame shot skywards.
The man had not heard MacLean call out. He was standing directly in front of him at the bottom of the garden, framed in the firelight. MacLean pulled out the pistol from under his arm and levelled it at the silhouette. He shot the man without compunction, putting three bullets into him before he hit the ground.
He ran towards the flames, which were ripping through the bungalow, sending showers of sparks up into the night sky, continuing to run towards them, oblivious of the heat which seared his eyes but not of a scream. It was a woman’s cry but more of anguish than of pain. It came from Tansy!
MacLean followed the sound on all fours as the intense heat threatened to set his clothing alight. He found Tansy kneeling on the grass staring into the flames. She looked to MacLean as if she had lost her mind, her wide eyes refusing to accept what she saw before her. ‘Carrie!’ she cried out, ‘She’s still in there!’
MacLean tried to pull Tansy back from the flames; she struggled and resisted. ‘Carrie’s upstairs!’ she screamed. ‘Do something!’
The whole ground floor of the house was ablaze. There was no way in for MacLean. He looked up to Carrie’s window and saw black smoke billow out from it. Not only was Carrie going to die, he was going to have to stand there and watch it happen. Tansy tried to break free and rush towards the flames. MacLean held her back. ‘Let go of me, damn you!’ she cried.
An explosion from inside the house shook the ground and MacLean saw the dormer window of Carrie’s room break away from the roof and crash to the ground in a shower of sparks. Through the hole left by the window he caught a glimpse of a small white bundle and knew it was Carrie in her nightdress. She was unconscious or worse. If only he could get on to the roof he might be able to reach her but the heat was intense and he had no ladder.
The joists in front of Carrie’s room had burned away and suddenly the floor of Carrie’s room tilted down towards the roof. The little white bundle started to slide downwards across the tiles. MacLean rushed forward to catch her but it didn’t happen. The child’s nightdress caught in the guttering above him leaving her hanging there, unconscious and out of reach.
MacLean, singed and sweating but with adrenaline driving him on as never before, dragged over some of the debris from the fallen dormer and stood on it to stretch up. He was still half a metre short and cried out in frustration.
There was no time to build a proper platform. The flames had almost reached the child and the heat and smoke was threatening to overwhelm him. He bent his knees and prepared to leap upwards. It would be an all or nothing attempt. There would be no question of him landing on his feet to try again. The pile of debris he was standing on was too frail.
MacLean jumped and the woodpile gave him just enough purchase to bridge the gap. He grabbed Carrie and they both crashed backwards to the ground. MacLean held the child close to him and rolled over and over till they were away from the burning building. He didn’t stop until his cheek touched cold wet grass where he let go of Carrie as Tansy took her from him, searching anxiously for signs of life. Tansy was in shock; she cradled Carrie in her arms, gasping, ‘Oh God. Oh God, no.’
MacLean crawled over to Tansy and took Carrie from her. She was completely black from soot and the earth. He searched for a pulse and found one. ‘She’s alive,’ he said.
‘Thank God,’ gasped Tansy, ‘A hospital! We must get her to a hospital!’
Although it was difficult to do by firelight MacLean examined Carrie for injury and started to feel ill. The soot was obscuring some very real damage to Carrie’s face. What he initially thought was a smudge of carbon at the corner of her mouth was, in fact, a hole. The left side of Carrie’s face had been badly disfigured.’
There was no one to raise the alarm. The bungalow was too isolated. They were all on their own. Tansy was in deep shock and Carrie was badly injured. MacLean made the decisions. He left Carrie in her mother’s arms and found the corpse of the man he had shot. He rifled the pockets until he found the keys to the Ford. He emptied all the dead man’s pockets, removed a medallion from his neck and a signet ring from his finger.
MacLean put all the dead man’s belongings in his haversack and pulled the corpse by its heels towards the flames. He stopped when the heat became too intense. The body weighed around ten stones, not too heavy for what he had in mind. He grabbed hold of one arm and one ankle and lifted it off the ground to swing it round in an arc. After the third revolution he accelerated and gave a mighty heave before letting go. The effort knocked him off his feet but he saw the body sail into the holocaust.
Tansy was oblivious to what had been going on. She knelt on the grass with Carrie in her arms, rocking back and forward as if in a trance. The flames were reflected in her eyes. MacLean who felt numb inside saw that Tansy was sinking even deeper into shock. ‘Let’s go Tansy,’ he said gently. ‘Let’s get Carrie to a hospital.’
MacLean took Carrie from Tansy and cradled her in the crook of his left arm while he took Tansy’s hand with his right. They moved as fast as they could along the towpath, tripping and stumbling as they went, until they reached path up to the road and to where the black Ford was parked. MacLean drove to the hospital at breakneck speed and screeched to a halt outside Accident and Emergency. Leaping out, he burst through the swing doors and called out, There’s been an explosion. I need help out here!’
Two porters came running and helped MacLean get Carrie and Tansy out of the car while a third brought a trolley. They were joined moments later by a posse of nurses and a doctor.
‘The little girl is badly injured,’ said MacLean. ‘Her mother is suffering from shock and bruising.
The medical team, concentrating all their attention on Carrie and Tansy wheeled them inside, leaving MacLean alone in the car park with one of the porters.
‘Who are you?’ asked the man.
‘I was passing at the time,’ said MacLean. ‘I heard the explosion and saw the fire.’
‘You look as if you could do with some attention yourself.’ said the man. ‘You better come inside too.’
MacLean looked at him without expression and then said, ‘No, I’ll be all right.’ He got back into the car and drove off.
MacLean drove round in circles. Tansy was so deeply in shock that she did not know what was going on around her; he too was in shock but could still function, albeit like an automaton. He obeyed all the rules of the road, observed the speed limit, slowed at every GIVE WAY sign and came to an obedient halt at every STOP command. He had no idea where he was going or why.
When he eventually pulled into the side of the road and looked at his watch it was three in the morning. He put both hands over his face and started to weep.
MacLean’s breathing started to even out; he could think clearly again. The spectre of Carrie’s damaged face was still uppermost in his mind. Of all the hellish quirks of fate it had to be an innocent child who got hurt while he himself remained unscathed. Tansy would recover but Carrie? That was another matter. And even if she did, what would she look like?
It started to rain and MacLean switched on the wipers briefly to clear the screen. He had parked in a quiet street in a residential district on the south side of the city. He could not sit there much longer before unseen eyes behind lace curtains started to entertain notions of informing the police that an uninvited stranger was unpleasantly close to their possessions. He started the engine and moved off slowly, still trying to formulate a list of priorities.
With a bit of luck Der Amboss were going to think that Sean MacLean had died in the fire, at least until their own man failed to return. Even then it might take them long enough to work out what had really happened, provided, of course, that he himself remained out of sight. First he would have to get rid of the car, somewhere where it wouldn’t be found for a long time, preferably never. Next he would need somewhere to stay and that meant money.
MacLean stopped the car again and brought out his wallet. It contained thirty-five pounds. He would need more than that. He remembered the bill- fold he had removed from the pockets of the bomber and searched through his haversack to find it. It contained a hundred and sixty pounds in sterling and five hundred US dollars. That would do for the moment. He looked for ID in the back of the billfold but found none. There had been a leather key holder in the man’s pockets however. MacLean opened the zip and found two Yale type keys. The trademarks on them said that they were of French or maybe Swiss/French origin. There were no clues to identity. He wondered who would be waiting behind the door they opened. A wife? A girlfriend? They would be waiting for a man who would most definitely not be coming home.
MacLean headed out of the city. There were a number of secluded small lochs to the south of Edinburgh, which he knew well enough from the fishing trips of his youth. The plan was now to get rid of the car in one of them. He decided on one with a long track leading away from the road to the waters’ edge. He wanted to be out of sight of the main road in case stray headlights should pick him out.
Choosing this particular loch left MacLean with one major problem to overcome and that was the water-keepers cottage. To reach the loch he had to pass it. In his favour was the fact that the house nestled near the foot of a steep hill. He wouldn’t need to have the engine running to pass it. When he reached the top of the hill leading down to the cottage, he turned off the ignition and the lights and waited for a few moments to let his eyes become accustomed to the gloom then he started to free-wheel down slowly.
His heart was in his mouth as he passed the dark windows of the cottage. The curtains were closed and an old van was parked in front of it. That would help to muffle any sound as he passed. MacLean held the Granada’s momentum in check, praying that the brakes would not squeal or the tyres crunch loudly on gravel. He drifted slowly past and eased his foot off the brake pedal to let the car to run a little more freely. As soon as he had rounded the bend at the foot of the hill he turned the ignition on again, pushed the stick into third gear and took his foot gently off the clutch. The car slipped smoothly into drive.
MacLean followed the perimeter road until he came to the gate he was looking for. He knew that beyond it was a grassy bank about fifteen metres above the surface of the loch. The main attraction was that there was no gently shelving bank here. The water went straight down for forty metres. He parked the car as near the edge as he dared and got out to take a look below. There were no obvious obstacles that he could see in what moonlight there was so he let off the hand-brake and heaved the car over the edge. For one awful moment he thought that it was going to stick, with the ground acting as a fulcrum under its middle but with a little persuasion to the rear bumper, the Ford tipped up and plunged down into the water.
Clouds passed over the moon and MacLean had to wait until it slid out again before he could see that the car was floating. It bobbed gently up and down on its nose. ‘Sink!’ he hissed. ‘For God’s sake, sink!’
Gradually, the water started to bubble and the car stopped bobbing. Very slowly and with great dignity it slipped beneath the surface. There was a brief boiling on the surface as it disappeared then everything was calm again.
MacLean stood up and came to terms with the fact that he was ten miles from the city and had no transport. His clothes were filthy. He was covered from head to foot in soot and ash and mud and he felt as if he had just run a marathon. He looked up at the sky and felt the first drops of rain on his face. All he needed but the truth was that discomfort and pain didn’t matter. They were a welcome diversion from what was going on in his head.
He was close to exhaustion by the time he reached the city. The rain had done much to clean the soot and mud off him but cold and wet had robbed him of what little energy he had left and he was dog-tired. It was the morning rush hour. People were scurrying past but the heavy rain ensured that no one paid him any close attention. He managed to get on to a crowded bus heading towards the centre and got off when he saw the sign for the Royal Commonwealth Pool. It had given him an idea but first he would need to do something about his clothes.
He knew there was a branch of a large chain store in one of the neighbouring streets but came across an Army and Navy store before he reached it and decided it was a better option.
‘Get caught in the rain?’ asked the assistant.
MacLean nodded and attempted a smile in reply. He listed what he wanted and left the shop carrying two plastic bags. He made his way to the Commonwealth Pool and asked for a ticket to the Sauna Suite.
‘Just off the night shift?’ asked the attendant.
MacLean wanted to tear off his filthy, wet clothes but no longer had the energy. He had to take his time and do it slowly. The chrome tap below the showerhead seemed like the key to paradise. He turned it on and let the warm water cascade over him, soothing away the agony of the past few hours. He appeared to be the first customer of the day and entered one of the three Sauna cabins to spread out his towel and lie down on the wooden slat bench. The dry heat invaded his limbs like a healing balm.
When he’d had enough, MacLean showered and wrapped himself in the sheet he had been given. He settled down in one of the loungers in the recovery area and fell asleep. He was still sleeping some three hours later when the attendant did his rounds. By rights, he should have woken the sleeping man to tell him his time was up but the place wasn’t busy; he let him be.
It was three in the afternoon when MacLean finally woke. He bought some shampoo and a disposable razor from the attendant who made a point of telling him how he had disobeyed the rules to let him sleep on. MacLean was suitably grateful. He shaved, dressed and put his old clothes into one of the plastic bags. Tipping the attendant the price of a beer he left feeling ravenously hungry.
There was a pub across the road from the pool. MacLean dumped his old clothes in a convenient trash bucket and made for it. He ordered a beer and a couple of sandwiches left over from lunchtime. He saw that the barman had a first edition of the Edinburgh Evening News and asked if he might take a look. The barman slid it towards him. The story had been too late for the morning papers but here it was splashed over the front page.
‘Bad business that,’ said the barman.
There was a photograph of the smouldering remains of the white bungalow. ‘Man Dies in City Fire Tragedy’, said the headline. MacLean could feel his heart thumping as he read the story. The man, thought to have been a Mr Dan Morrison, believed to have been lodging with Mrs Tania Nielsen and her daughter Carol, had perished in the flames after a mystery explosion tore through the quiet bungalow by the Union Canal. Gas Board officials were investigating the cause of the explosion. Mrs Nielsen’s daughter was said by hospital authorities to be critical while she herself was still in a state of deep shock. It was the second tragedy to have befallen her in recent times. Only last year her husband had been found dead while working on his car. Police had no comment to make at this stage.
‘Bloody Gas Board,’ said the barman.’
MacLean returned the newspaper and left.
The sky was beginning to cloud over; it would start raining again soon. MacLean started looking for lodgings in the area he was in. It was convenient and it was sensible because of the proximity of the university. This made it the heart of bed-sitter land, home to a large, ever mobile and largely anonymous population.
He walked down the main road looking at the signs in windows of the various houses.
MacLean found it hard to put a label on the locality. Normally it was possible to generalise about an area of the city. It was either upmarket or down, decaying or recovering. But here, there seemed to be such a mix that no such generalisation was possible. There were dark, brooding villas that hadn’t seen a lick of paint for years and there were bright, renovated properties which flaunted their refurbishment. There was a girls’ private school and a two star hotel advertising Friday night dinner dances.
MacLean passed an old folks’ home and shuddered at the name. He could see the inmates seated round the walls of a large ground-floor room, sitting in high-back chairs, gazing unseeingly at a television whose back took up pride of place in the bay window. Sunset Valley? The thought of it was enough to make you shuffle off your mortal coil without further ado, thought MacLean. He stopped at a sign that advertised ‘Quiet Rooms to Let’. It was the word ‘quiet’ that made him ‘enquire within’.
The landlord was a west highlander with a soft accent and a slowness of speech that MacLean could have found irritating if conversation were to be prolonged. It was his intention that it shouldn’t.
After a monologue on the rules of the house and a look at a couple of the rooms available, the man said, ‘You’re a bit old for a student I’m thinking.’
‘I’m a visiting lecturer,’ lied MacLean. ‘Chemistry.’
‘Now that’s very interesting… ‘
‘Would you like some payment in advance?’ asked MacLean swiftly.
‘A week if you please.’
MacLean counted out the money and the man smiled and gave MacLean his key. ‘I’m Mr MacLeod, I live just there.’ He pointed to a ground-floor door. ‘Let me know if there’s anything you require.’
MacLean lay down on the bed and listened to the receding footsteps. A downstairs door closed and there was silence. The room was cold and the ceiling blank and featureless, a good thing to concentrate on while he considered what to do next. Until yesterday, he believed that he had plumbed the greatest depths of despair that were possible for any man. Now he knew different. He was personally responsible for what had happened to Carrie and the thought brought such anguish to him that his body developed a slight tremor. He clenched his fists to stop the shaking but that only worked until he relaxed them again. He had to find out how Carrie was but first he had to know if Tansy had recovered from shock.
He wondered if Tansy would remember much about what had happened. She had already been in shock when he found her kneeling on the grass in the garden. The chances were that she had been blown out of the house by the explosion. It was possible that she might not have registered much happening around her after that. She might even think that he really had died in the fire.
For a moment MacLean considered that it might be a good idea to let her continue to believe it and take the chance to disappear from her life altogether but he couldn’t do that. It was too late. The worst had already happened and Tansy and Carrie meant too much to him. He would call the hospital.
He feared that they wouldn’t tell him much if he admitted he wasn’t a relative. Things would not be that much better if he said that he was, but at least he should be able to discover whether or not Carrie was still alive.
MacLean could see that the rain had started again as he waited for his call to be transferred to the relevant ward.
‘Are you a relative?’ asked the nurse.
‘Mrs Nielsen’s brother.’
‘Victor Nielsen. I’ve just arrived back from the United States.’ MacLean remembered that Carrie had spoken of an uncle Victor and Tansy had added that he worked in the USA.
‘Mrs Nielsen is improving,’ said the sister. ‘She has no serious injuries and she will probably be released in a day or so.’
‘And her daughter?’ asked MacLean, feeling sweat break out on his brow.
‘Carol’s condition is serious but stable. She’s been transferred to a burns unit at another hospital.’
‘Has my sister been told?’ asked MacLean.
‘Not yet,’ replied the nurse.
‘Can I see her?’
The nurse hesitated and said, ‘I really don’t thing that’s a good idea at the moment. Mrs Nielsen is heavily sedated. Might be as well to give it a day or two.’
‘I’d like to leave my phone number for her if she improves before then. Is that all right?’
‘Of course. When she’s well enough I’ll tell her you called.’
MacLean put down the phone. At least Carrie was alive.
On Thursday evening MacLean was lying along his bed, fully clothed and with a glass of whisky in his hand. He had read nearly every word in the evening paper and was now reduced to reading the business section. He was looking at the share prices of pharmaceutical companies when the phone rang.
‘Victor?’ said Tansy’s voice uncertainly.
MacLean felt his throat tighten. The pause seemed to go on and on before he could summon the courage to say, ‘Tansy, it’s not Victor. It’s me… Sean.’
‘Sean!’ exclaimed Tansy with a sob in her voice. ‘They told me you were dead! The papers…’ A torrent of disjointed words flowed from her. ‘They told me but I knew… I knew from the dreams… You pulled Carrie from the flames… I saw you… You weren’t in the house. Oh Sean!’ She broke into more sobbing.
MacLean did his best to soothe her until she began to calm down.
‘But if you didn’t die in the fire. Who did?’ said Tansy.
‘Lehman Steiner’s man. They found me, Tansy. They sent a man to fire bomb the house. It was his body they found.’
There was a long pause before Tansy asked, ‘Where have you been Sean? Why didn’t you come to the hospital?’
MacLean heard the note of accusation in her voice. He said, ‘It was best to let people think it was me who died in the fire. Lehman Steiner will see the newspaper reports. They’ll stop looking for me and we can be free of them forever, the three of us.’
MacLean hoped to prompt Tansy into saying something about Carrie but she didn’t. He had to ask, ‘Have you seen Carrie since the fire?’
‘No, they transferred her to another hospital but she’s out of danger, thank God.’
MacLean knew from Tansy’s voice that the hospital hadn’t told her the full story. ‘Did they tell you why they were transferring her?’ he asked.
‘No,’ replied Tansy innocently. ‘I supposed they were taking her to the children’s hospital. Why?’
MacLean screwed his eyes tight shut and said, ‘They’ve taken her to a serious burns unit Tansy.’
‘Oh my God!.. Oh God no! Not her face!’
MacLean heard a hysterical note creep into Tansy’s voice. The distance between them was like iron bars. It would have been so much better to be able to hold and comfort her. ‘It’s early days yet,’ he said. ‘It’ll take a couple of weeks to assess the damage properly.’
‘You must know!’ accused Tansy. ‘You saw her when you brought her out of the fire.’
‘It was dark and she was covered in soot. I couldn’t really tell,’ said MacLean.
Tansy calmed down and MacLean did his best to reassure her in spite of his own misgivings. He gave her his address and asked her to come there as soon as she was discharged from the hospital. He would warn the landlord that his wife would be joining him this weekend.
In the event Tansy arrived at ten-thirty next morning. There was an awkward moment when she and MacLean faced each other in the hallway for the first time since the fire but it passed when MacLean took her into his arms and they held each other tightly. The tears ran freely down Tansy’s face. ‘When they told me you were dead I just wanted to die myself,’ she whispered.
MacLean wiped away her tears and started to lead her upstairs with his arm round her shoulders. He noticed his landlord had his door ajar and was watching them. ‘Don’t see each other much then?’ he asked.
MacLean pretended he hadn’t heard.
Tansy asked the questions and MacLean filled in the blanks in her memory.
‘So Vernay told them where we stayed?’ said Tansy.
‘They tortured him,’ said MacLean, remembering the awful scene in Vernay’s apartment.
Tansy shook her head and said in exasperation, ‘It was all going so well. We were so happy, the three of us together and now…’ Her expression changed to one of deep sorrow. She asked sadly, ‘Do you think we’ll ever be able to get it back, Sean?’
‘If we want it enough,’ said MacLean softly. ‘We can do it.’
His words seemed to give Tansy strength. She started thinking positively. ‘We could rebuild the bungalow with the insurance money,’ she said and then almost immediately realised why that was not a good idea. ‘No,’ she said distantly, ‘It would have to be somewhere else. No matter, as long as the three of us are together.’
The mention of the three of them brought Carrie into the conversation again. Tansy started to probe MacLean about Carrie’s chances of a complete recovery. She asked how long the treatment would take. Would there be much pain? Would she miss much schooling? MacLean fended off the questions saying that there was no way he could answer them without seeing Carrie.
‘I’m being allowed to see her next Wednesday,’ said Tansy. ‘Will you come?’
‘Of course,’ said MacLean.
MacLean and Tansy spent the weekend together and separated on Monday morning. The fire at the bungalow had caused many of Tansy’s former friends to ‘rally round’ as they put it. She had told them that she was being discharged from hospital on Monday morning rather than the previous Friday so that she could steal the weekend with MacLean but, on Monday morning, she dutifully appeared on the hospital steps to be picked up by Nigel and Marjorie, friends from what seemed like a hundred years ago when she and Keith had been members of a local tennis club.
In the event, Nigel turned up on his own. He had taken the morning off work — he was a solicitor — to mount a grand stage production of ‘The Good Samaritan’. He leapt from the car to put an arm round Tansy. ‘What can I say Darling?’
Tansy was helped into the front of the car as if she had lost the ability to walk and Nigel kept up a constant stream of sympathy and mock anguish all the way home. Tansy dutifully said at intervals, ‘This really is most kind of you Nigel but she was on the verge of asking him to stop the car so that she could get out and run away.
Marjorie appeared at the door of the house and swept over Tansy like an incoming tide, repeating much of what her husband had said in the car. ‘Our house is your house, you know that my dear. And poor Carrie, you must be so worried about her. Out of your mind probably and who can blame you? You mustn’t worry about the insurance though, Nigel will deal with all that won’t you Nigel?’
Nigel agreed that he would.
Tansy noticed that at no time in the conversation was Dan Morrison’s name mentioned. Her ‘bit of rough’ had died in the flames as far as Nigel and Marjorie were concerned, something not even worth acknowledging. A social embarrassment had been cleared up for them and now Tansy would return to the fold. She’d soon be back at dinner parties and there were lots of eligible chaps to be asked along. Tansy knew that she should be grateful to her former friends for the trouble they had gone to but at that moment she hated them.
On Wednesday, Tansy drove out to Carrie’s hospital in Marjorie’s Mini which she insisted she borrow. MacLean took the bus and met her at the foot of the drive. Neither said very much as they walked up the long gravel path. Tansy knew that they were going to remove the dressings from Carrie’s face. MacLean surmised as much.
The spring sun was warm on their faces and there was a smell of blossom in the air. Tansy felt twinges of panic. She started to hope that they would never reach the entrance. She even invented a reason for delaying by stopping beside a bush and saying, ‘What a gorgeous scent.’
MacLean nodded and said, ‘spring is really here.’ He put his arm round Tansy’s shoulders knowing what she was going through.
They did not have long to wait before being shown into a small office where a bald man wearing a white coat sat behind a desk. Half framed spectacles sat on his nose and he was finishing some writing. The nurse closed the door behind them and the doctor looked up. ‘Ah, Mrs Nielsen,’ he said. He turned to look at MacLean. ‘And?’
‘I’m Carrie’s uncle,’ said MacLean.
‘Ah yes, Mr Nielsen being deceased.’
‘I’m Doctor Coulson, Carol’s consultant. Please take a seat.’
Tansy smiled deferentially. MacLean remained impassive.
‘Let me tell you what is going to happen. Carol has been sedated to permit painless removal of her dressings. The nurses are preparing her at the moment but I have to warn you that, from our preliminary findings, it seems certain that Carol will require a degree of remedial surgery.’
A lump grew in MacLean’s throat.
‘What about her eyes Doctor?’ asked Tansy.
‘Her eyes are undamaged; she can see perfectly well.
Tansy looked at MacLean and he gave her a reassuring smile. It was a time for clutching at straws.
The nurse who had shown them in earlier came into the room and said that everything was ready.
‘Good,’ said Coulson. ‘First, perhaps I should warn you… ‘
Tansy had started to get up from her chair; she sank back down again.
‘You may find this distressing. Skin burns can be… unpleasant.’
Tansy had gone rigid. Her knuckles were showing white as she listened to Coulson, her eyes filled with trepidation. MacLean reached over and put his hand on hers.
‘I’m ready,’ said Tansy, her voice almost a croak.
Coulson said, ‘Carol is heavily sedated. There is no need to put on a brave face for her sake.’
Coulson led the way along a long corridor with glass on one side, which allowed them to look out at lawns in the sunshine.
‘First we go in here.’
They entered a room where two nurses took their outdoor clothes and helped them into surgical gowns and masks. MacLean wished that there could have been more contact with the nurses for Tansy’s sake. She needed womanly comradeship.
‘Carol’s in here,’ said Coulson opening an adjoining door and leading them into a small side-ward with half-closed Venetian blinds. Carrie was a small bundle on the bed, swathed in white bandage and flanked by two nurses who were arranging an instrument tray. MacLean’s heart went out to her. She seemed so small and vulnerable. He nudged Tansy to move along a bit, pretending that he needed more room but he was really trying to ensure that she saw more of Carrie’s good right side.
The nurses went to work with scissors. Periodically they would stop and apply saline soaked swabs to deal with any stickiness in the dressings. MacLean looked at Tansy out of the corner of his eye and saw that her eyes were like saucers above her mask. He tried to take her hand but she drew away.
The preparatory work was done. Coulson took over and started to unwind strand after strand of gauze. He dropped them silently into a steel dish. There was now nothing left to remove save for the two dressing pads. Coulson removed the right one and MacLean felt emotion well up in him at the first sight of the familiar little face. He saw Tansy’s eyes start to moisten.
Coulson had more trouble with the other pad. It was sticking. It took several applications of saline before it was freed and he lifted it clear. The left side of Carrie’s face was in partial shadow but MacLean could see the damage. It was horrific. The tissue from just under her left eye to well below her jawline had been utterly destroyed. As he had feared, Carrie’s mouth had been badly affected. She would probably not be able to speak.
Tansy was transfixed with horror. Coulson started to say something but she turned on her heel and flew out the door.
‘Nurse!’ said Coulson.
‘I’ll go,’ said MacLean.
Tansy was running blindly back along the corridor; she sent two nurses spinning. MacLean saw her burst out of the door at the end of the corridor. He followed and found her clinging to a cherry blossom tree in full bloom. She had both hands on the trunk but she was not weeping or making any sound at all. MacLean moved up slowly behind her and placed his hands gently on her shoulders
Tansy spun round on him like a gun turret. ‘You did that!’ she hissed. ‘You did that to Carrie! It’s your fault!’
The words tore through MacLean. He offered no defence. What Tansy said was true. She was now hysterical. She thumped her fists on MacLean’s chest while he stood there with tears running down his face while the sun filtered through the blossom above him.
Quite suddenly, Tansy’s blind anger was spent. She collapsed in floods of tears on to MacLean’s chest, begging him to forgive her. He held her close and ran his fingers through her hair telling her there was nothing to forgive. He knew well enough that what she’d said was true and said so.
‘No, no, no,’ cried Tansy. ‘I asked you to stay. I practically begged you to stay.’
The nurses had now caught up with them and were coming across the lawn. MacLean signalled with his hand that they should stay back. He wrapped his arm round Tansy’s shoulder and led her further away from the building so that they were completely alone.
‘I didn’t know what I was saying,’ sobbed Tansy. ‘When I saw Carrie’s face… ‘
‘I know,’ soothed MacLean. ‘I know.’
‘Oh Sean, what are we going to do?’ asked Tansy. She looked up at MacLean with eyes filled with pain and hopelessness.
‘I am going to make you a promise,’ said MacLean.
Tansy’s eyes asked the question.
‘I am going to give you Carrie back just the way she was. I can do it but I will need your help.’
Tansy’s eyes grew wide and confused. ‘I don’t understand,’ she said. ‘You saw her face, her mouth… ‘
‘I can repair the damage with Cytogerm,’ said MacLean.
‘But that’s all in the past,’ said Tansy.
‘I’ll get some,’ said MacLean.
The first flicker of hope appeared in Tansy’s eyes but she said, ‘Even if you could, Carrie’s face is so bad… ‘
‘I’ve seen worse. I can do it.’
‘But how will you get it?’
‘I’m going back to Geneva. I’m going to steal it from Lehman Steiner.’
‘You’re crazy!’ exclaimed Tansy. ‘They’ll kill you!’
‘They think I’m dead,’ said MacLean. ‘And even if they didn’t they wouldn’t think of looking for me right on their own doorstep.’
‘But how d’you know that it still exists?’
‘I don’t,’ admitted MacLean. ‘That’s one of three gambles we must take.’
‘First we have to presume that Lehman Steiner will still have supplies of Cytogerm; second we have to gamble that Carrie will have no dormant cancer cells in her body at the time of surgery and thirdly, this venture may cost a lot of money.’
‘I’ll have the insurance settlement on the bungalow.’
‘We may need that.’
Tansy sobbed. ‘Every penny, every last penny.’
Tansy and MacLean rejoined Coulson in his office where Tansy apologised for her outburst.
‘I was afraid your daughter’s appearance would be quite a shock to you,’ said Coulson, gathering the papers in front of him and opening his desk drawer. ‘But it’s amazing what we can do these days.’
Coulson outlined the procedures he had in mind for Carrie while continuing to clear his desk. He spoke of a series of skin grafts.
MacLean listened with a heavy heart; Tansy hung on to every word. ‘What period of time are we talking about?’ she asked.
‘Several years I’m afraid,’ replied Coulson.
Tansy felt her heart sink but her expression didn’t change. She knew she had to consider what would happen if MacLean could not get hold of Cytogerm but she was asking questions like an automaton. ‘Where would you get the tissue to rebuild Carrie’s face?’ she asked.
‘Basically, from other parts of her body,’ said Coulson, ‘Thighs, buttocks etcetera. We’ll use this.’ He picked up what looked like a deflated balloon from his desk. ‘We insert one of these under the patient’s skin and inflate it gradually over a period of time. New skin is forced to grow over the device providing a surplus supply for grafting.’
Tansy nodded but she was thinking about something MacLean had once said when he was telling her about the magic of Cytogerm. The thing she remembered was that, ‘grafting backsides on to faces was never that effective’.
MacLean was remembering the same comment and wishing he’d never made it.
Coulson looked at his watch and sat upright in his chair as a signal that the meeting was at an end. ‘Are there any more questions?’ he asked.
‘I don’t think so,’ said Tansy. She turned to MacLean.
‘Presumably the first operation is still some way off?’ said MacLean.
Coulson nodded. ‘She has to be stabilised first. We’ll see how things go and then take it from there.’
‘Good. You won’t do anything without telling Mrs Nielsen first, will you?’
Coulson looked at MacLean strangely. ‘Of course not,’ he said.
‘Good,’ said MacLean.
‘What was all that about?’ asked Tansy as they walked away from the hospital.
‘I didn’t want him doing anything to Carrie without telling us first,’ said MacLean.
‘Doesn’t he need my permission before he can do anything anyway?’
‘Officially, yes. But sometimes relatives are seen as little more than a nuisance. It’s not unknown for surgeons to do what they want and have the paperwork filled in later.’
‘Don’t the relatives kick up a fuss?’ asked Tansy.
‘It’s the easiest thing in the world to bamboozle relatives into believing that whatever was done was for the best.’
‘I see,’ said Tansy.
‘I was just making sure he knew we were the kind to make a fuss,’ smiled MacLean.
‘I’m learning a lot,’ said Tansy. ‘To think I used to have such faith in doctors…’
MacLean had given Tansy what money he possessed when he moved in with her and Carrie. Now he needed something to live on. Tansy had anticipated this and handed him an envelope. ‘When will you need real money?’ she asked.
‘I need time to think,’ MacLean answered. ‘I have to work out a plan.’
‘Will I see you?’
‘Come round tomorrow evening?’
Tansy nodded and asked if he would like a lift back to town.
MacLean declined. ‘Better not,’ he said. ‘We have to be careful.’
Tansy put up a hand to his cheek and asked, ‘You do think there’s a real chance for Carrie don’t you?’ Her eyes held all the vulnerability of a little girl. She was willing him to say, yes.
‘Yes I do,’ said MacLean.
‘Take care,’ said Tansy.
MacLean watched the Mini disappear and stood for a moment, feeling the sun on the back of his neck. He felt that he had just taken the first step on a journey with no clear horizons. Although he was apprehensive about the dangers to come he was perfectly clear about one thing; there would be no turning back. The sooner he applied himself to the practical problems of what lay ahead the better.
He decided that the first hurdle to overcome was how to get back into Switzerland. He still had a passport in his own name but using that would be asking for trouble. There was no telling how widespread Lehman Steiner’s network was, but if they could find him within weeks of him starting work in a British hospital, Swiss passport control was hardly going to be a problem.
MacLean got round to thinking about Tansy’s husband Keith. From what she’d said he had been about the same age as he himself. If Tansy still had his birth certificate then he had the makings of a plan. He would apply for a British visitor’s passport in Keith’s name. Travelling as Keith Nielsen should present no problem in the short term. The next question was, did Tansy have the certificate or had it been destroyed in the fire? On Thursday night he asked her.
‘All our papers were kept in a safety-deposit box at the bank,’ she said. ‘They still are. Why?’
MacLean told her.
Tansy said that she would get the certificate in the morning and asked if he had made any other plans.
‘I’m going to play it by ear,’ admitted MacLean. ‘I’ll fly to Geneva as soon as I sort out the passport. I’ll book in to a small hotel and then do some phoning around. I need inside information.’
‘That could be dangerous,’ said Tansy. ‘Someone might talk.’
‘I need to know what’s been going on at Lehman Steiner over the past few years,’ said MacLean, ‘I’ll concentrate on just one contact to start with. Eva Stahl, she was my theatre sister.’
‘I remember,’ said Tansy. ‘You gave her a new face didn’t you?’
‘Can you trust her?’
‘I think so. We got on well.’
‘And she owes you a favour?’ said Tansy.
‘That sort of thing,’ smiled MacLean.
‘She might not be with the company any more,’ said Tansy.
‘True,’ conceded MacLean. ‘But she might be able to tell me someone useful who is.’
‘Do you have her address?’
‘It’s four years old but it’s a start.’
There was an awkwardness between MacLean and Tansy, which made both of them uncomfortable. It was due in part to the aftermath of Tansy’s outburst at the hospital. She still felt guilty about what she’d said and MacLean still felt uneasy because it had been true. He had brought disaster to Tansy and Carrie as he always feared he might and now there was tremendous pressure on him to put things right. The other factor in the equation was the prospect of great danger.
With the best will in the world, MacLean found it hard to think of anything other than what lay ahead. It was this that bestowed on him an air of remoteness which, although he regretted, he couldn’t help. Tansy, in turn, knew that it was she who had forced MacLean into this situation. Her growing love for him was now at odds with her love for Carrie and it was eating away at her.
‘I’d best be getting back,’ she said awkwardly, ‘Nigel and Marjorie will be wondering where I am.’
They looked at each other for a moment then Tansy said, ‘Oh, Sean.’ She put her head against his chest and closed her eyes She felt so relieved when he put his arms round her and kissed her hair. ‘I wish there was another way,’ she said.
‘Everything will be fine,’ whispered MacLean. ‘I promise.’
They arranged to meet in the morning after Tansy had been to the bank to get her husband’s birth certificate and MacLean had obtained suitable passport photographs of himself to go with the application form he’d obtained from a post office. He’d forged signatures on the back of the photographs to testify to his identity as Keith Neilson which matched the false details he’d entered on the form. He and Tansy set off for the main Post Office with Tansy coaching him all the way.
MacLean waited anxiously in line. He was usually impatient in queues but on this occasion he was not unhappy that the man in front of him appeared to be asking a string of questions that the counter clerk seemed unable to answer. While he waited, he looked at the photographs of himself and re-examined Keith Nielsen’s birth certificate. Nielsen had been born in Aberdeen and his mother had been called Christabel. He was reflecting on how nice the name sounded when the clerk said, ‘Next.’
MacLean pushed the documents and the photograph under the glass partition and tried to look casual. It was difficult when he felt the clerk compare him to the photograph. The truth was he didn’t look that much like himself in the photograph let alone Keith Neilsen. He concentrated on the posters on the wall until the unsmiling man looked back down and continued writing. Why did post-office clerks never smile, he wondered. He looked along to the other queue and saw another dour individual stare balefully up at the customer he was serving. Were they trained to show no emotion? Did they practise that vinegar stare? Maybe that was why they closed the office for half an hour on Friday mornings. Staff training. He pictured a row of clerks with dead eyes being trained to say, ‘Next.’
The thump of a rubber stamp broke MacLean’s train of thought and told him that he was getting his passport. The clerk slid the document under the glass and returned Keith Nielsen’s birth certificate. MacLean put the papers in his inside pocket and said, ‘Thank you.’
The clerk looked through him and said, ‘Next.’
MacLean and Tansy separated but met up for lunch together in a small cafe behind Princes Street. MacLean had been to a travel agent.
‘Any problems?’ asked Tansy.
‘When will you go?’
‘There’s a flight on Tuesday.’
‘Will I see you before then?’
MacLean shook his head. ‘It’s best that we don’t meet again. Your friends might get suspicious.’
Tansy opened her mouth to protest but MacLean held up his hand and said, ‘I have to be alone for a bit. I need to prepare myself. I’ll call you as soon as I get back.’
‘You will take great care won’t you,’ said Tansy with sad eyes.
MacLean nodded and smiled. ‘You bet,’ he said.
MacLean spent the weekend in hard physical exercise. He wanted to feel fit for whatever the future held in store for him but there was also a therapeutic value to be had in pushing himself to his limits. It cleared his mind for the duration and freed him from the anxiety that was otherwise constantly with him. His training ground was the Pentland Hills, a range of hills skirting the southern fringes of the city.
On Saturday morning early, MacLean climbed the steep path to the top of Turnhouse Hill and started running along the Pentland Ridge. He traversed its entire length, clambering over the tops of Carnethy, Scald Law, and East and West Kip before he allowed himself a break of fifteen minutes to eat his two chocolate bars and recover. Then it was all the way back again, fighting against the pain but courting it at the same time because it blotted out everything else. His level of physical fitness was acceptable but his mental state posed questions.
Only a few months before, he had been on the verge of suicide. How complete was his recovery? His growing love for Tansy and Carrie had done much to heal the wounds but had he recovered sufficient grit and resolve to take on Lehman Steiner and all that might imply? He reluctantly had to conclude that there was no way of knowing. Just like in life no one really knows who is going to be a hero and who is going to be a coward until the real test comes. For most men it never does but MacLean suspected that, in the next week or so, he personally would be sitting the exam.
He reached the end of his run and allowed himself to collapse exhausted on the slopes, high above Glencorse Reservoir, his chest heaving and his heart thumping against his ribs. He lay on his back in the rough grass and watched the clouds race towards the Firth of Forth. Visibility was good; he could see an oil production platform being towed out of the estuary towards the North Sea. It brought back memories.
On Sunday, MacLean repeated the same punishing schedule, this time with the added burden of stiffness in his limbs from the day before. On the return journey along the ridge he altered his route to take him through a pinewood west of Caerketton. This would be his final self-imposed test. He was again close to exhaustion, a state when physical co-ordination was at its worst but that was what he wanted. Now he would see if Nick Leavey’s assertion that mental strength could overcome physical problems were true. All it needed was concentration.
Making sure that he was alone, he chose a branch some three inches thick and standing two metres off the ground. He turned his back on it and closed his eyes for a moment, picturing where the branch was. Still with his eyes closed he took out a coin from his pocket and threw it up in the air in front of him. When he heard it land he whirled round on his left heel and struck out with his raised right foot at where he remembered the branch to be. His foot made contact and the branch broke with a loud crack and fell to the ground.
He was pleased; he moved on through the forest, picking out imaginary enemies in the form of branches to the left and right of him and making his feet deal with them. As he neared the edge of the wood he picked out four final ‘enemies’ all to be taken out within a self-imposed five-second window. He took one long deep breath and hit the first with an eye-level kick from his right foot, the second he struck with his left hand, the third with another right foot kick and the fourth and final branch succumbed to a blind strike from the heel of his right hand.
MacLean emerged from the wood and found two hikers in red kagoules sitting less than ten metres away. They were in their early twenties and had stopped eating their sandwiches to stare at him. They had obviously witnessed his last ‘battle’.
For a moment the three looked at each other, the two hikers motionless with their sandwiches in mid air, MacLean with his chest still heaving from the effort, unshaven, hair soaked with perspiration and with his sweat shirt clinging to his body. Finally, MacLean broke the silence. ‘Another fine day,’ he said and walked off.
At four thirty on Tuesday afternoon MacLean’s flight landed in Geneva, its wheels sending up clouds of spray. It was raining, but then it usually was in Geneva. He paused for a moment at the head of the steps to look at the familiar terminal building and felt that in some ways it should have been like a homecoming but it didn’t feel like that at all. The universal greyness held a menace that reached out and caressed his skin as he descended the steps. The stewardesses smiled at the passengers but saw none of them. The uniformed passport controller took his document with an air of lethargy and asked the purpose of his visit. ‘I’m a tourist,’ said MacLean. The man waved him through with a casual wave of the hand. He was back.
MacLean had time to reflect on the past on the ride into the city. The sight of familiar buildings and restaurants forced him to remember the career and lifestyle he had enjoyed before the Cytogerm affair. From being a top surgeon to roughing it on a North Sea oilrig had been a hard road to travel. The thought made him sad but not angry any more. There had been compensations along the way for a lost career but there could be no compensation for a lost life, he thought, as they passed the shop where Jutte used to like buying clothes. MacLean looked at the lifeless mannequin in the window and felt a stab of sadness.
The taxi passed the Stagelplatz Hotel and MacLean looked up at it without emotion. He reminded himself for the umpteenth time that personal feelings must not play a part in this. It was something that Doyle and Leavey had always stressed. ‘If you let it get personal, you can start digging your grave,’ were the words he remembered. ‘Identify exactly what it is you want, plan and execute. Don’t change the plan unless you absolutely have to.’ He had come to Geneva to obtain Cytogerm. That was the sole reason for his visit. There would be no lingering in Memory Lane, no settling of old scores.
The cab stopped outside his hotel and MacLean paid the driver. It looked perfect; it was small, clean and anonymous. He checked in and made himself coffee in his room while he considered how best to contact Eva Stahl. He looked at his watch and decided against phoning. He would shower, change his clothes and go round to the last address he had for her. It was only three miles from the hotel and he needed the walk.
The rain had stopped but the streets were still wet as MacLean started walking through the early evening crowds of well-heeled, well-dressed people. Geneva had an elegance in the evening. He passed a brightly-lit cafe and savoured the aroma of coffee and cigar smoke that lingered round it. Someone opened the door and the sound of laughter came from within. It was a nice sound, thought MacLean but it could have been a million miles away.
He found the street he was looking for and remembered that he had been there before on some social occasion, probably a party given by Eva and her husband. He hadn’t remembered because such occasions were all the same wherever they were held. The door to the building was open; he entered the hall and summoned the elevator to take him to the fourth floor but when he got out he couldn’t remember whether to turn left or right. He chose right and found the name ‘Stahl’ on the third door along.
A man answered. MacLean remembered him as Eva’s husband and smiled. ‘I don’t suppose you will remember me,’ he said. ‘Eva and I used to work together.’
Stahl moved forward to get a better look at MacLean. His movement and the impolite way he stared through narrowed eyes into MacLean’s face suggested that he had been drinking. It was just after seven in the evening.
‘Oh yes,’ he said quietly. ‘I remember you all right.’
MacLean felt embarrassed as Stahl continued to stare at him without saying anything.
‘You’re the one who changed her face and made her beautiful.’ The word was a sneer.
‘Is something wrong?’ asked MacLean.
The man threw back his head in bitter laughter. ‘Wrong?’ he exclaimed. ‘What could possibly be wrong?’
‘Perhaps we could talk inside?’ suggested MacLean.
Stahl took a step back and brought his arm down in front of him in a mock bow. ‘Come in dear Doctor, the least I can do for the man who turned my wife into a whore is offer him a drink.’
MacLean did not go inside. Instead he said, ‘Can I take it Eva no longer lives here?’
‘Eva no longer lives here. We were divorced two years ago.’
‘Have you any idea where she is living now?’ MacLean asked, determined not to be swayed from his objective.
‘Not the slightest,’ slurred Stahl, adopting an expression of smug satisfaction.
‘Then I’ll say good-night,’ said MacLean turning on his heel and starting back along the hallway.
‘Don’t you want to know all the details?’ Stahl called after him.
‘I don’t think so,’ replied MacLean without looking round. Stahl was of no further use to him.
MacLean had a drink in a hotel bar while he considered what to do next. If Eva had remarried or was living with someone else then he might never find her. On the other hand, if she had not remarried and had her own apartment she might be in the phone book.
There was an Eva Stahl listed at 67, Rue Martin. MacLean scribbled down the number on the edge of a beer mat and dialled from a booth in the hotel lobby. His hopes rose when a voice he thought he recognised said, ‘Eva Stahl.’
‘Is that the Eva Stahl who used to work for Lehman Steiner?’ asked MacLean.
‘I work at Lehman Steiner. Who is this please?’
There was long pause before MacLean heard, ‘Sean? Is it really you?’
MacLean assured her that it was.
Eva sounded quite emotional. She made several false starts before managing to say, ‘Sean, I can’t tell you how good it is to hear from you. I had no idea what happened to you. They told me you had some kind of nervous break-down but when I tried to find you, you’d already left Geneva.’
‘Can we meet?’ asked MacLean.
‘Of course,’ replied Eva enthusiastically. ‘How about this evening?’
‘I hoped you’d say that,’ said MacLean. They arranged to meet by the floral clock in the Jardin Anglais in an hour. MacLean was only ten minutes away; he had another drink.
When MacLean saw Eva approaching he couldn’t help but feel a twinge of professional pride. She was wearing a dark blue suit, which emphasised her fairness. Her hair was swept back and clasped revealing the classically beautiful contours of her face. Eva noticed him appraising her. ‘Well, what do you think?’
‘Stunning,’ replied MacLean and meant it.
‘And all thanks to you,’ said Eva. She took MacLean’s arm and they started to walk. ‘Do you really mean that?’ asked MacLean.
‘Of course I do,’ replied Eva. ‘Why would you think otherwise?’
MacLean told her of his visit to her old flat.
‘Oh I see,’ said Eva. ‘You’ve been speaking to Peter and he told you that I was the whore of Babylon?’
‘Something like that,’ agreed MacLean.
Eva sighed and said, ‘It’s ironic really. There never were any other men while I was married to Peter. I loved him; I didn’t want anyone else but he simply couldn’t come to terms with the way I looked after the operation. He became pathologically jealous and suspicious. If I was late in getting home it was because I was seeing someone else. If I had to change my shift it was because I wanted to be with “him”. If we got a wrong number on the phone it was “him” finding out if I was alone.’ It finally got so bad I couldn’t stand it any more; I had to leave him and find a place on my own.’
‘Peter and I are divorced.’
‘Yes, he told me.’
”The answer to your next question is, yes, there is somebody new in my life. His name is Jean-Paul and we’re very happy.’
‘I’m glad,’ said MacLean. ‘How about Lehman Steiner, you said you still work for them?’
‘Yes I do,’ replied Eva. ‘Is that why you’re here? Are you coming back to work for them too?’
MacLean shook his head and took his time in answering. He had to be careful because he did not want to involve Eva in the nightmare any more than necessary. On the other hand he had to tell her something if he expected her to help. He told her that it was imperative that no one at Lehman Steiner should know he was still alive let alone here in Geneva. For the present he was using the name, Keith Nielsen.
Eva looked puzzled but agreed to keep his secret. MacLean asked her about Cytogerm.
‘That was all over before you left,’ protested Eva.
‘And you haven’t heard of it since?’ persisted MacLean.
‘Of course not, it was lethal, remember? I was one of the lucky ones.’
MacLean nodded and realised that he’d have to tell her more. ‘I think Lehman Steiner might still be using it,’ he said. ‘I don’t know why and I don’t know what for but I’m pretty sure they are.’
‘What makes you so certain?’ asked Eva.
MacLean told her of the fate of the Cytogerm team and watched her eyes fill with horror. ‘I knew Kurt had died but I didn’t know about the rest,’ she said. ‘God, this is terrible.’
‘The only thing we had in common was the Cytogerm project,’ said MacLean.
‘And you’re back here to expose them?’ asked Eva.
MacLean shook his head and said, ‘No, Eva, I need to get my hands on some Cytogerm and I need it badly.’
‘Surely you’re not going to use it?’ gasped Eva. ‘It’s far too dangerous.’
‘There’s no other option in this case,’ said MacLean, ‘I promise you.’
Eva looked at him and saw the pain in his eyes. ‘Tell me,’ she said gently.
MacLean told her what had happened to Carrie, how he felt the ‘accident’ was his fault.
‘I’m so sorry,’ said Eva, giving MacLean’s arm an extra squeeze. She said that she would make enquiries about Cytogerm.
‘Oh no you won’t,’ exclaimed MacLean, horrified at the thought. ‘You mustn’t even mention it!’
‘But how can I find out anything if I can’t mention it?’ protested Eva.
MacLean asked her if she remembered a man called, Von Jonek.’
‘I do indeed,’ replied Eva with a wry smile. ‘That was one of the few times I ever saw you really angry. He came to the clinic didn’t he?’
‘He came for the Cytogerm files,’ said MacLean. ‘Did you ever see him again?’
Eva thought for a moment then said, ‘Do you know, I believe I did, but for the moment I can’t think where. Is this important?’
MacLean said that it was. He had reason to believe that Von Jonek’s whereabouts might be the key to finding Cytogerm. ‘The company told me that he was some kind of archivist but I didn’t believe that. He had more than a historical interest in Cytogerm, I’m sure of it.’
‘So you would like me to find out about Von Jonek?’ said Eva.
‘I’d be grateful,’ said MacLean. ‘But please be careful. Don’t ask questions of anyone directly. Try to use computer files and lists.’
‘All right, I’ll see what I can do. Anything else you want to know while I’m at it?’
‘I’d like to know if Lehman Steiner have a project code-named, Der Amboss.
Der Amboss,’ repeated Eva. ‘The anvil.’
‘So I believe,’ said MacLean. Again, don’t ask any direct questions. Just see what you can pick up.’
Eva nodded. ‘Anything else?’
‘Any current gossip or scandal,’ said MacLean.
‘From the nurses’ locker room?’ asked Eva with a smile.
‘Where else?’ agreed MacLean.
‘I’ll do my best.’
‘I know you will,’ said MacLean with affection.
‘Come to dinner tomorrow night?’ suggested Eva. ‘You can meet Jean-Paul and I can tell you what I’ve managed to find out.’
MacLean agreed readily and made a note of her address.
As he lay in bed, MacLean reflected on his first day in Geneva; he was well pleased with the way things had gone. The only sour note had been struck by Peter Stahl and he considered briefly that he might bear some responsibility for that situation. On the other hand, it was only a vague recollection but he thought he could remember not liking Stahl the first time they had met. Perhaps he and Eva would have broken up anyway. Apart from that there was no room left in his head for any more guilt. Space was at a premium and Stahl didn’t even make the queue. He started to think about tomorrow and hoped Eva would remember where she had seen Von Jonek and under what circumstances. With what he could recall of Von Jonek’s features swimming before his eyes, he fell asleep.
A few miles from MacLean’s hotel, Eva Stahl was also thinking about Von Jonek. She was lying awake; annoyed at herself for not being able to remember where she’d seen him last and the harder she tried the more difficult it became to concentrate. She sighed and turned for the third time in as many minutes, this time eliciting a grunt of protest from a sleeping Jean-Paul. Eva steeled herself to lie still and concentrate. It was a full half-hour before it came back to her but when it did, she smiled in the darkness and turned over to cuddle into Jean-Paul’s back.
MacLean was relieved to find that Jean-Paul Rives was in his early forties. He had considered the possibility, albeit unlikely, that Eva’s looks might have attracted the attentions of much younger men and that the new man in her life might turn out to be a twenty year old pop star in leopard-skin trousers. Instead he was tall, balding, bespectacled and charming. He made MacLean feel immediately at ease and fixed him a drink while they waited for Eva to emerge from the kitchen.
Eva entered, licking her fingers and requesting that Jean-Paul make her one too. She came over to MacLean and kissed him on the cheek, saying, ‘How are you two getting on?’
Rives handed her drink to her.
‘Jean-Paul works for Lehman Steiner too,’ said Eva.
The smile struggled to stay on MacLean’s face. Eva saw and she put her hand on his arm. ‘Don’t worry,’ she said. ‘Your secret is safe with both of us.’
‘Mother is the word,’ said Rives, putting a finger to his lips.
MacLean smiled. ‘Are you a doctor or a scientist Jean-Paul?’ he asked.
‘Neither,’ replied Rives. ‘I’m an accountant.’
‘But he’s no better with the housekeeping money than I am,’ said Eva.
‘We manage,’ smiled Rives and Eva linked arms with him to agree. MacLean could see that they were good for each other.
Over an excellent meal, Rives told MacLean how he had come to meet Eva when she was in the throes of her divorce from Peter Stahl. ‘I was in charge of financing a new clinic, which the company was setting up to work on infertility problems. Eva was seconded to recruit nursing staff.’
‘You stopped being a theatre sister Eva?’ asked MacLean.
Eva nodded. ‘When Cytogerm failed, the company started to wind down surgical research to concentrate on other things,’ she said. ‘I saw which way the wind was blowing and applied for the job of head nurse at the new infertility clinic. It was a good move; I enjoy the work.’
‘What sort of service does the clinic offer?’ asked MacLean.
‘The whole range,’ replied Eva. ‘From initial counselling sessions to in-vitro fertilisation and implant procedures.’
‘Here we go again!’ exclaimed Rives in mock horror. ‘We never have a meal in this house without discussing other peoples’ insides.’
MacLean smiled and apologised but Eva interrupted him saying, ‘Don’t apologise, Jean-Paul likes to pretend that he’s an outsider but he knows well enough what implants are.’
‘Oui,’ said Jean-Paul with a Gallic wave of the hands. ‘Mother and father make love in a test tube and you people put baby back in mummy. No?’
‘Couldn’t have put it better myself,’ said MacLean.
‘Ugh, whatever happened to romance?’ said Rives.
‘All he really cares about are numbers,’ said Eva.
‘Ah, numbers,’ agreed Rives. ‘In the right hands figures can make such beautiful music. A balance sheet in harmony is like a waltz by Strauss, a sonnet by Shakespeare, a painting by Cezanne.’
MacLean smiled. He liked Rives.
MacLean waited until the coffee before broaching the subject of Eva’s inquiries.
‘I was wrong about Von Jonek,’ she said. ‘I hadn’t seen him again.’
MacLean could scarcely conceal his disappointment.
‘But I had heard from him,’ added Eva. ‘That’s what made the name seem familiar.’
‘Go on,’ said MacLean.
‘First, you were right. Von Jonek is not an archivist; he’s some sort of scientist. Two years ago, just after the clinic opened, we received a request from him.’
‘What did he want?’
Eva smiled and said, ‘The staff thought it was quite odd too. Preliminary screening of husbands at the clinic involves testing their sperm. Von Jonek wanted the samples when our lab was finished with them.’
‘Did he say what for?’
Eva shook her head. ‘No. As I remember there was something of a staff competition to provide suggestions.’
‘You probably won!’ exclaimed Rives.
‘No I didn’t,’ said Eva, giving Rives a playful slap.
‘You couldn’t trace the request letter could you?’ asked MacLean.
‘I already did,’ replied Eva, ‘but it wasn’t much help. It was written on Lehman Steiner paper but there was no unit address, just the reference, X14 for internal mail purposes.’
‘X14,’ repeated MacLean.
‘I think I can help with that,’ said Rives. ‘When a new research project is initiated it is allocated an “X” number. The “X” stands for experimental, of course, and the number fourteen simply means that it was the fourteenth project to be funded in that particular financial year.’
‘You see how he removes the drama from everything?’ said Eva.
MacLean asked Rives if there was any way he could find out what the X14 project had been concerned with.
‘I’m afraid not,’ replied Rives. ‘The best I could do would be to find out if the project was successful enough to warrant further funding as a fully fledged research unit.’
‘And if it was,’ said Eva enthusiastically, ‘We would be able to find Von Jonek’s address from the company list.’
‘That would be marvellous,’ said MacLean.
‘Very well,’ said Rives. ‘I’ll try.’
Later that evening, MacLean telephoned Tansy to let her know that things were going well. She, in turn, told him that Carrie had been allowed out of bed at the weekend and that she had walked with her in the grounds of the hospital. They had stood together under the cherry trees where she and MacLean had talked and she said that, for a moment, it had seemed that he had been there with them.
Carrie’s face was still heavily bandaged but she had started to communicate through hand gestures. MacLean remembered Carrie’s lunchtime lectures after their trips along the canal and a lump came to his throat.
The arrangement was that MacLean should wait until he heard from Eva. She would contact him at the hotel, either directly or by leaving a message, when Rives had something to report. In the meantime he occupied himself with walking the streets and drinking interminable cups of coffee in pavement cafes.
MacLean was in the shower when the call eventually came. He hastily wrapped a towel round himself and took it sitting on the bed, with water still dripping from his hair.
‘Jean-Paul has found out something important about X14. It’s better if we meet.’
‘Dinner this evening?’
‘Where?’ asked Eva.
MacLean mentioned the name of a small Greek restaurant that he remembered from his time in Geneva. ‘Is it still there?
‘Yes. We ate there a couple of months ago. What time?’
‘See you then.’
MacLean arrived early at the restaurant and nervously sipped gin and tonic while he waited. The table was by the window so he saw the white Citroen draw up and Eva get out. Rives waved to him through the windscreen and went off to park the car. When they were finally all together, MacLean summoned the waiter and ordered drinks for his guests while they looked at the menu. He was dying to ask what Rives had found out but contained his impatience until they had ordered and the waiter had left.
Eva said, ‘Would you believe it, he has not even told me?’
‘I thought I would tell you both together,’ said Rives.
‘Well, come on, tell us!’ urged Eva.
Rives, his eyes shining like a schoolboy about to impart some adult secret to his class mates said, ‘I checked the X14 file for the year Eva’s clinic got the request but there was no X14 file for that year!’ Rives paused for effect but all he got was a snort of disappointment from Eva. ‘That’s it?’ she said.
‘Not quite,’ said Rives knowingly. ‘There was no X14 file for the year before either.’
‘Amazing,’ said Eva sarcastically. But MacLean could see that there was yet more to come. Rives was just playing the overture. Eva caught the look in Rives’ eye and said, ‘You really are the most exasperating man. Tell us!’
Rives said, ‘The year before that there was an X14 file. It was registered to a Dr Hans Von Jonek with an experimental budget of ten thousand US dollars.’ He sat back in his seat with his arms folded.
MacLean felt a twinge of disappointment but from the look on Rives’ face he suspected that he had missed the significance of something along the way. ‘So if there was no X14 project listed in the following two years does that mean the Von Jonek was given a full research unit?’ he asked hopefully.
‘No,’ said Rives.
MacLean shook his head in confusion. He recapped, ”Von Jonek was given 10,000 dollars to set up an experimental project.’
‘Correct,’ said Rives.
‘But the fact that there was no X14 project listed a year later and that there was no full research unit set up either suggests that Von Jonek’s research came to nothing, is that right?’
‘Yes,’ said Rives.
Eva and MacLean looked at each other then Eva said, ‘Then why are you looking so pleased with yourself?’
Rives leaned over the table and said hoarsely, ‘Because that is exactly what we were meant to think.’
Eva and MacLean were still bemused.
Rives said, ‘There were two things I found puzzling. Firstly, Von Jonek’s research budget was for one year only, yet Eva’s clinic had a request quoting the X14 reference some two years later when officially, X14 had ceased to exist. To me this suggested only one thing: that the original X14 project set up four years ago by Von Jonek was still in existence.’
‘And is it?’ asked Eva excitedly.
‘It is,’ said Rives. ‘I traced it through the computer code for its initial budget allocation; the number was unchanged.’
‘How about the budget?’ asked MacLean.
Rives looked at Eva and said, ‘This man knows the right questions to ask. The budget figure for X14 this year my friends, is 18 million US dollars.’
When she could speak Eva said, ‘Lehman Steiner is spending 18 million dollars on research that nobody knows about?’
‘Precisely!’ said Rives, with the air of a man who has just pencilled in the last word to a crossword puzzle.
‘But if the company are spending all that money, why on earth does Von Jonek not have full research unit status?’ asked Eva.
‘I think I can answer that too,’ said Rives. ‘Research units have names and addresses; they have payrolls; they have staff lists. They are both visible and accountable. “X” rated projects are by their nature much more informal. Budgets are allocated as single block grants so that only minimal accounting is necessary. Having said that, I should also point out that the average “X” budget is around twenty thousand dollars and usually involves just one person.’
Eva said, ‘I am having visions of Lehman Steiner handing over 18 million dollars in a brown paper bag!’
MacLean smiled and said to Rives, ‘I’m very grateful to you. This tells me I am on the right track.’
‘What will you do now?’ asked Eva.
‘I have to find Von Jonek,’ said MacLean. ‘He is a scientist with an 18 million-dollar budget. Cytogerm is mixed up in all that somewhere I’m sure.’
‘I don’t suppose you could find out any more?’ Eva asked Rives.
Rives shook his head slowly and said, ‘I suspect not. Money is transferred by numbers. One set of numbers credits another set of numbers and it is all over. There is no need for names and addresses.’
‘That’s what the Swiss are famous for,’ joked MacLean.
‘That and cuckoo clocks,’ said Eva, who was Austrian by birth.
‘In theory it would be easier to trace Von Jonek’s whereabouts through Personnel,’ said Rives.
‘Don’t you know anyone in Personnel?’ asked Eva.
The conversation seemed to be reaching an impasse when Rives looked at MacLean and said, ‘Eva told me about the child and how important this is to you. I’ll see what I can do.’
MacLean nodded his thanks.
Jean-Paul Rives edged his white Citroen out into the morning traffic, attracting, as he did so, an angry honk from a little green Renault. Once more he had become a participant in the silliest show on earth, the rush hour, playing in all major cities and with matinees on most days. He glanced in the rear view mirror as the line drew to a halt and saw the Renault driver gesticulating angrily. ‘My God, did you really want to be ten metres further forward that much?’ asked Rives under his breath. He fumbled along the fascia till he found the cassette he was looking for and pushed it into the mouth of the player. Vivaldi would help.
Rives had been awake since the early hours of the morning, wondering how to find out more about Von Jonek without arousing suspicion. The truth was that he had not come up with any good ideas at all. He had said to MacLean that he would do what he could but, in the circumstances, that was almost tantamount to a promise. He was beginning to feel the pressure. It was a bit late to start cultivating friendships in other departments and far too risky just to walk in and start asking about Von Jonek. But what else could he do?
Rives parked the Citroen in his usual space in the underground car park and walked to the staff elevator. Perhaps inspiration would visit him during the course of the morning. The elevator took him swiftly to the third floor where he stepped out on to the green carpeted floors of Accounts.
Rives’ in-tray was full enough to occupy his complete attention for some time. Large International companies like Lehman Steiner were constantly obliged to review their pricing policy in individual countries to take account of local developments. He was currently working on the pricing of the company’s products in Belgium, making projections of the likely movement of the Belgian economy and re-pricing their goods accordingly.
Rives typed in his personal identity code to the computer terminal and asked for the company’s current holding in Belgium. The screen blinked then provided him with the figures. He matched them to the data sheet listing all Lehman Steiner’s assets in Belgium. The present position was satisfactory but he asked for spreadsheet predictions of profit margins and found that figures would still be within acceptable limits unless anything really untoward happened. He wrote his recommendation on the front of the file, ‘No action required’ and flipped it into the out-tray.
Rives was about to clear the screen when an idea came to him, a mathematical idea, the kind he was most at home with. The screen was showing him one side of an equation, the company’s investment in Belgium while the Belgian asset sheet was giving him the other side of the equation; what the company had to show for their money. One side matched the other; left hand equalled right hand with perfect balance. There were no embarrassing leftovers to send audit clerks scurrying into action like ants at a picnic.
Eighteen million dollars was a lot of money even by Lehman Steiner’s standards so, somewhere in the system, it must be responsible for quite a remarkable imbalance. If only he could find out where. Such a sum must involve a lot of people, he surmised, so there was little chance that an operation of that magnitude could be covered up here in the Swiss research labs. The X14 project was most likely located in another European country and this was where his idea came in. By conducting an assets versus holdings survey for all the company’s European holdings he just might be able to spot the country which harboured an 18 million-dollar imbalance.
Rives was excited at the thought but reminded himself that there was still a possibility that X14 might be based at one of the company’s many out-of-the-way clinics in Switzerland. If that turned out to be the case he would be stumped. Swiss accounts were the province of ‘Home Accounts’. His department was only concerned with Lehman Steiner’s foreign interests.
Rives brought sandwiches to his desk at lunchtime but that still didn’t give him enough time to carry out the survey he planned; he decided that he would have to work late. He went back to working through his in-tray so as to prevent anyone noticing a log jam developing on his desk. When he had cleared that he would get back to doing equations. At four thirty in the afternoon he telephoned Eva at the clinic to say that he would be late home. A secretary said that she would pass on the message.
As dusk crept over Geneva and the office became deserted, Rives turned on his desk light and buckled down to his task. He was oblivious to the fact that darkness was gradually surrounding him like a silent ocean leaving him on a small island of light in the shadows. At eight o’ clock he thought that he had struck gold. He had found a large imbalance in the French equation. True, it was not as much as 18 million dollars but sizeable nevertheless. He re-checked the numbers and currency conversion figures and found them accurate. There was no mistake, the computer still said that the company had much more invested in France than the asset list would warrant. He checked the date on the survey and saw that it was five days old. The sheets were updated once a week so it was possible that the company had spent a lot of money in France in the last week but on what?
Rives racked his brain then thumped the heel of his hand against his forehead in annoyance as he remembered. On Pharmacies! That’s what! He had just remembered reading in the financial press that Lehman Steiner had been bidding for a controlling interest in a chain of French Pharmacies because they wanted their own retail outlet in France. The computer was telling him that the company’s bid had been successful. The chain had simply not yet been listed in the company’s French assets. Failure let tiredness gain an edge on Rives. He needed a drink and he was hungry. He would try the equation for the Netherlands and then call it a day. He was home by nine thirty.
Eva was excited when Rives told her what he had been doing and her enthusiasm went some way towards re-kindling his own. He had been feeling depressed on the way home but maybe it wasn’t such a crazy idea after all. He rubbed his eyes and said, ‘Do you know, when you look at a computer screen all day long everything starts to look pink
Eva, who was standing behind his chair massaging his neck, switched to running her fingertips gently along his eyebrows. Rives sighed in appreciation. ‘Do you think I should call your friend and tell him?’ he asked.
Eva thought for a moment then said, ‘Let’s leave it until tomorrow. Who knows? You may have something more exciting to tell him.’
MacLean was restless. He kept telling himself that he had made good progress since his arrival in Geneva but the fact remained that today had been a day when nothing had happened. The minutes had passed like hours, each one laden with the accusation that Carrie was lying in hospital while he was doing nothing. But there was nothing he could do. His best chance of finding Von Jonek currently lay with Rives and he’d heard nothing from him or Eva. He wondered if he should call them but knew that Eva would have called him if there had been any progress. For him to call would be an invasion of their privacy and he’d already been guilty of that.
He walked over to the window and took in that it was still raining; it had rained all day, making him feel like a caged animal in the hotel room. He poured himself a tumbler of whisky and drank it more quickly than was good for him but it took the edge off things. By the time he had downed a second glass, he felt like sleeping.
When he woke the sun was streaming in through half closed curtains. There were still raindrops on the window and he could see their pattern reflected on the wall opposite. The last time he had looked at such a pattern it had been made by falling snow and he had been in Tansy’s bungalow but he couldn’t allow himself to dwell on this; it would only lead to more self-recrimination. Instead, encouraged by the sunshine, he got up, showered and dressed. He left the hotel without eating breakfast, wanting to be out in the fresh air before the traffic started to build but, after an hour, the smell of coffee and freshly baked bread in the air reminded him that he should eat. He stopped at a small cafe near the Cathedral St Pierre and ordered orange juice, scrambled eggs and coffee. The waitress was a smiling girl who asked if he was a tourist. MacLean wondered briefly what made her think that before deducing that it must be his clothes, smart but casual. He was neither a workman nor a professional and his French, although good, was accented. He agreed that he was and the girl suggested some places nearby that he might like to visit. MacLean thanked her and set off when he’d finished eating in the direction of the Rue de Rhone.
He found reminders of his past life as he walked past the jewellers where he had bought Jutte’s birthday present only the week before she died. He paused briefly to look in the window and rested the tips of his fingers lightly on the glass for a few seconds before moving on past other expensive shops, which had once contributed significantly to his lifestyle: they now seemed very alien. He turned his back on them and set out to find freedom down by the shores of the lake. As he waited to cross the busy road, a white Citroen was in the parade of cars that passed by. Unknown to him, it contained Jean-Paul Rives and the music of Vivaldi.
Rives spent the entire morning working on a revision of the price of Lehman Steiner products in Italy. Serious instability in the Italian government had meant that company profit margins had been stretched to their limit. Something would have to be done and it was his decision to recommend a ten- per cent rise across the board. He further decided that this should be implemented over a period of three months and gave a grunt of satisfaction as he closed the file and leaned back in his chair to stretch his arms in the air.
‘Lunch?’ suggested a colleague.
Rives shook his head, saying that he was going to get some fresh air and grab a sandwich.
After ten minutes spent enjoying the sunshine and taking deep breaths, Rives returned to the Lehman Steiner building with his sandwich and a plastic mug of coffee, which threatened to burn his fingers by the time he got to the third floor. He had to run the final few steps before hurriedly depositing it on his desk and blowing his fingertips.
He had been working on Italy all morning so Rives set up his test equation for that country. It took forty-five minutes to go through the analysis and for him to be satisfied that there was no serious imbalance in assets against investments. With a sigh he consigned Italy to the waste-paper basket and moved on to the next country.
Fifty minutes later Rives was looking at a serious imbalance. Excitement grew as he checked again, cautioning himself that he had been caught out once before and a perfectly rational explanation was possible. This time however, there was no chain of Pharmacies in the pipeline to account for the discrepancy in the figures. There really was an imbalance and what was more; it amounted to approximately 18 million dollars. He’d found the country where X14 was located.
Rives’ throat went dry with excitement. He drained the dregs from his coffee cup and couldn’t stop staring at the screen. He had come this far; was it conceivable that he could find out a bit more? Could he ask the computer to account for the imbalance? He typed in the question and the computer confirmed what he had just worked out for himself. The impassive lettering on the screen said, ‘X14 Account’.
Rives’s colleagues were all back from lunch and he had to return to the demands of the day. He decided he’d work late again and, for the moment, put X14 out of his mind while he worked on an appropriate price rise for Lehman Steiner’s products in Sweden. He also added a recommendation that one of their shampoos, which was selling very badly, be withdrawn altogether from the Scandinavian market. He tried twice to reach Eva during the course of the afternoon but once more had to leave a message with the clinic secretary to say that he would be late home.
By six thirty Rives was all alone in the office and had worked out his next plan of action. He would request access to the X14 file but would not really expect to get it. If and when that failed, he would go back to the original account numbers given to the X14 project. He had access to these and he knew that they had not been changed. Now that he knew which country was involved, there was a good chance he could trace which bank in that country was dealing with the financing of X14. Once that was established, a bank sort code might lead him to the city where X14 was located.
Rives requested access to the X14 file but the word, RESTRICTED, appeared on the screen followed by a request for his personal password. Without thinking, Rives typed it in and again was told, RESTRICTED. This time he was asked for his priority code number. Thinking that this might grant him access, Rives typed in the number and waited. NO ACCESS said the computer and Rives shrugged his shoulders. It was back to the numbers game.
There were sixteen relevant banks in the country Rives was interested in; two nationals and fourteen merchant banks with which Lehman Steiner did business. Rives wrote down the sorting codes for each and set out to find if any of them appeared in the account numbers he had listed for X14. By nine o’ clock he had found out which merchant bank was involved and by half past, he knew exactly where X14 was located. He phoned Eva at home and told her of his success. She was delighted and excited, saying that she would call MacLean immediately and ask him round to hear the good news. ‘How long will you be?’ she asked.
‘About half and hour.’
As Rives was clearing his desk, he suddenly had the feeling that he was not alone. He paused as he imagined that he’d heard the squeaking hinge of a door somewhere along the corridor but there was nothing but the hum of the air conditioner and an intermittent buzz from a strip-light that needed replacing. He continued clearing things away and was fastening the clip on his briefcase when he heard movement outside in the corridor. ‘Is anyone there?’ he called out into the darkness. There was no reply.
Rives berated himself for being so jumpy. He put it down to the darkness and the fact that he had been doing something the company would rather he hadn’t. There was nothing quite like guilt for distorting things out of all proportion, he concluded. He checked his desk for the last time and walked to the elevator. Somewhere far above, the winding gear whirred into life and the indicator lights above the door flashed silently on and off as they tracked the rise of the car.
The doors slid back and he was about to step inside when he was suddenly joined by two men, one on either side of him. They appeared to have materialised out of nowhere. Rives was startled and blurted out something about not realising that there had been other people working on the floor. Neither man replied but all three got into the elevator. Rives pressed the button for the basement garage and his companions seemed content with that.
Rives was afraid. The two men did not look like any members of staff he’d seen before in the building. The taller of the two had a distinctively yellow complexion, almost jaundiced, he thought, while the other was short, squat and fair with a squarish head that seemed to grow directly out of his shoulders. Both men stared into the middle distance as the elevator descended.
The doors opened and the smell of petrol and car wax heralded their arrival in the garage. Rives was just beginning to think that he had been worrying about nothing when he felt his elbows being gripped and he was steered quickly towards a black, Mercedes estate car. He protested and started to struggle but the short man held up a pistol to his head and motioned with the barrel towards the car.
The yellow man drove while the other sat with Rives in the back, holding the gun on him but still not saying anything, making Rives feel like the Invisible Man. All his questions about who his captors were and where the hell they were going were ignored by two men who did not even bother to look at him. Outside in the street he could see people smiling and talking. They didn’t even know he was there.
The Mercedes drew to a halt outside a building in the fashionable district of Sacconex and Rives was told to get out by the driver who came round to open the door. He was prodded along by the gun and directed down a flight of stone steps to a side door. The yellow man opened the door and all three entered to find a man obviously waiting for them. He was younger than Rives, well groomed and well dressed. He might have been an executive in Sales or Marketing.
‘Ah, M. Rives,’ the man smiled. ‘Sit down please.’
‘What is going on?’ Rives demanded. ‘I protest! This is outrageous! I can only assume that there has been some sort of ridiculous mistake.’
‘No mistake M. Rives,’ said the man evenly. ‘Why did you request access to the X14 file?’
Rives’ insides turned to water as he realised what must have happened. The X14 file had a security monitor on it. When he’d been asked to enter his personal details, it had not been for purposes of granting him access. It had been to identify the person making the request! The man questioning him no longer looked like a sales executive. His eyes were devoid of emotion and promised nothing but bad news unless he talk his way out of the mess he had got himself into.
Rives claimed that it was his job to monitor the company’s profits in European countries. By chance he had come across a discrepancy in the company’s assets versus investments in one of them. The computer had told him that something called X14 was responsible. He had thought it his duty to investigate further so he had simply asked for the file on X14.
There was a silence in the room that threatened Rives’ nerves. He watched as the man in front of him tapped his pen slowly end over end on the arm of his chair.
‘So you had never heard of X14 before today?’ asked the man.
‘No,’ answered Rives.
‘Then how do you explain this,’ said the man, removing two pieces of paper from his inside pocket and handing them to Rives who accepted them like a writ. He knew what they were before he looked at them. The crumpled nature of the paper said that they had been taken from his waste-paper basket. They were his notes from two days ago when he had found the connection between Von Jonek and X14. Rives said nothing and looked at the floor.
‘I’m waiting,’ said the man.
‘All right,’ conceded Rives. ‘I was trying to find Dr Von Jonek.’
There was another agonisingly long pause before the man said, ‘Why?’
‘Because someone asked me to.’
‘Schmidt, Karl Schmidt. He and Von Jonek were students together a long time ago. He’d heard that Von Jonek was working for the company and asked for my help in tracing him.’
‘Then why didn’t you say this at the beginning?’ said the man with an air of benevolence that Rives found disarming.
‘I didn’t want to lose my job,’ said Rives. ‘I enjoy my work.’
The yellow skinned man came from behind Rives and stood at the shoulder of Rives’ interrogator, who looked up at him and said, ‘What do you think Rudi?’
‘I think he’s lying in his teeth,’ said yellow skin.
The seated man rested his elbows on the arms of his chair and brought his fingertips together thoughtfully before saying slowly, ‘Then perhaps we should do something about his teeth?’
Rives started to shake with fear as he anticipated the pain to come. He felt himself being gripped from behind by the squat man and cringed away from yellow skin who was coming towards him. He closed his eyes against the expected blow but felt himself being manipulated into a headlock. He opened his eyes to see that yellow skin was holding a pair of electrical pliers in his hand.
Rives’ mouth was forced open and, at the third attempt, yellow skin managed to lock the pliers on to Rives’ right incisor and lever it horizontal to the gum.
Rives had never known such pain. He screamed and started to shake uncontrollably as the taste of blood filled his mouth
‘At the risk of repeating myself M. Rives,’ said the man calmly. ‘Why did you request access to the X14 file?’
With a desperate courage which Rives had never even suspected that he possessed he maintained that his story had been true.
‘Well Rudi, what do you think now?’
‘I think he’s lying to his fingertips,’ said yellow skin with plain meaning.
Rives’ tormentor did not have to say anything this time. He simply watched the horror register on Rives’ face.
Rives’ courage gave out. He told his torturers everything they wanted to know.
This time the man seemed satisfied. He looked to the squat man and nodded. The man screwed a silencer on to the end of his pistol.
Rives’ body was loaded into the back of the Mercedes and the three men set off to visit Eva Stahl.
Rives had told them about the man named Keith Nielsen who used to work with Eva at Lehman Steiner but had not been able to tell them what hotel he was staying at. No problem. Eva Stahl would tell them.
By nine thirty in the evening MacLean was convinced that this was going to be another day with no word from Eva. Frustration was building up inside him so he decided just had to get out for a while He had just left the hotel when Eva called. She left a message with the desk that he should phone as soon as he returned. MacLean came back just after ten and made the call from the desk.
‘Wonderful news,’ said Eva. ‘Jean-Paul has traced X14. He knows where Von Jonek is!’
‘Come on over and we’ll tell you all about it.’
As soon as you like. He should be home at any moment now… actually he’s a bit late as it is.’
‘I’m on my way,’ said MacLean. It sounded like a celebration might be in order later. He checked that he had enough money in his pocket and also that he was carrying his passport. This was routine and the result of another of Doyle’s rules. When you’re in the field, stay mobile and solvent. MacLean tossed his key on to the desk at Reception and ran down the steps outside to hail a cab.
A black Mercedes was leaving the rue St Martin as MacLean’s cab turned into it. MacLean paid it scant attention; he was looking for Rives’ white Citroen as a sign of his return. He didn’t see it. Still tingling with anticipation he reached Eva’s apartment and rang the doorbell: there was no reply. He rang again and this time the continuing silence spawned a hellish flashback to what he’d found at Vernay’s flat in Edinburgh. Fear gripped at his stomach as he rang again with still no response. He put his ear to the door and thought that he could heard a sound. He listened again and heard a distinct moan coming from inside.
He put his shoulder to the door and entered to find Eva lying on the floor in a pool of blood. She had been badly beaten. He cradled her head in his arms and began wiping the blood away gently with a handkerchief. Eva opened her eyes and tried to speak. ‘Told them your hotel… didn’t tell them you were… Sean MacLean…’
The effort was causing her agony but she was determined to continue. ‘Jean-Paul is dead…’
MacLean swallowed; he could see that Eva herself was close to death. The blood in her mouth was coming from her lungs, probably punctured by broken ribs. There was no point in breaking off to call an ambulance; it was more appropriate that she should spend her last few living moments in the arms of a friend. He kissed her gently on the forehead and she responded with the merest shadow of a smile.
‘I’m so sorry,’ whispered MacLean but it seemed desperately inadequate.
Eva tried to speak again. ‘Your little girl,’ she murmured. ‘May Haas… X14… May Haas.’
‘Who is May Haas, Eva?’ MacLean asked.
May Haas is… ‘ Eva tried to take a breath but failed. Her head fell to one side.
MacLean laid her gently down on the floor and closed his eyes for a moment. ‘I’m so sorry,’ he whispered.
MacLean stood up and tried to think rationally. The opposition must be on their way to his hotel. In fact, they would probably be there by now. What would they do when they found out he wasn’t there? The answer seemed clear enough. They would wait for his return. They would have no reason to suspect that he’d been on his way to Eva’s apartment. They would be waiting for an unsuspecting Keith Nielsen to return from wherever.
MacLean saw two options. He could go straight to the airport and, with a bit of luck, be out of the country by the time the opposition got fed up waiting at the hotel. Or he could go back to the hotel and even up the score for Jean-Paul and Eva. The element of surprise would be on his side because the hunted were under the mistaken impression that they were the hunters.
The warning voices of Doyle and Leavey whispered to him. ‘If you let it get personal, you can start digging your own grave.’ Was that what he was doing? Was he thinking purely of personal revenge or was there some advantage to be gained from going to war with Eva’s killers? The objective: he had to remember the objective. He was here to get Cytogerm for Carrie.
MacLean poured himself a glass of cold water in the kitchen and gulped it down. He’d come so close to finding out where Von Jonek and Cytogerm were but it had all gone horribly wrong and all he was left with was a name, May Haas. She was the only link he had to go on and he would have to find her on his own. On the other hand the opposition knew that a man named Nielsen was interested in the X14 project. They did not know that Nielsen was really Sean MacLean but to all intents and purposes, it would now be as dangerous to travel under the name Nielsen as it had MacLean.
It didn’t look good but that part of the opposition who knew about Nielsen were currently sitting outside his hotel. They would have gone directly there after leaving Eva’s apartment so there was a chance they hadn’t yet reported back to their employers. If he could get to them first, Keith Nielsen’s identity would be safe and he could continue using the name while he searched for May Haas. It seemed like a good reason to go to war.
He searched the flat for anything that might be useful in the coming conflict. He couldn’t hope to find a gun, which was what he really needed, but kitchen knives were better than nothing. He selected two and started a little pile to which he added scissors, a screwdriver, pepper, matches, a candle and a tube of superglue. A cupboard under the sink yielded two butane gas cylinders for a camping stove and some plastic tubing from a home winemaking kit. A torch and some clothes pegs completed the inventory. He packed the lot into a plastic bag and left the apartment, closing the door quietly behind him. He hailed a cab to take him to a hotel which stood about half a kilometre from his own. Making a show of entering the hotel for the driver’s benefit, he turned as soon as the man had driven off and started out on foot for his own hotel. He used the shadows intelligently, flitting in and out of doorways, circling, criss-crossing and approaching in turn from both sides to see what he could see. He did not know how many men he was looking for and he didn’t know whether they would be waiting for him inside the hotel or outside.
MacLean’s attention came to rest on a black Mercedes estate car. It was parked in a narrow lane opposite the hotel in the perfect position to observe comings and goings. He could see two men sitting in the front of the car but his view of the back was obscured. He would have to circle round behind the car to see if there were more in the back. He back-tracked and entered the lane from the far end, moving swiftly and quietly from doorway to doorway until he could see that the Mercedes, which was parked with its nearside wheels up on the pavement, held three men. There was a third man sitting in the middle of the back seat. All three were watching the hotel entrance. Two were smoking.
MacLean felt sure he was looking at the opposition but how best to tackle them? They would be armed and he couldn’t hope to take on three armed men with a couple of kitchen knives. He decided that the car was their weak point. All three were sitting down and close together; they were vulnerable and unawares. But first he had to make sure they were the killers. He decided to offer himself as bait. He moved away from the car and retreated back down the lane. He ran down the neighbouring street until he neared his hotel and stopped, knowing that when he moved on a few steps, he would become visible from the lane. The men in the car would be bound to see him.
MacLean gambled that they would not rush him. There would be no point in creating a commotion in the street when they could deal with him quietly in his room in the hotel. He steeled himself to take the next step and prayed that the men in the car saw it that way too.
He walked on, making sure that they got a good view of him by pausing under a street light to pretend to check something in his plastic shopping bag. He walked up the steps of the hotel to the entrance and into the hall to collect his key from Reception. He got into an elevator but got out again on the first floor and ran quickly back down the stairs to keep watch on the hotel entrance through the glass panel of the door leading to the stairs.
He did not have long to wait before the three men from the car came casually through the front door and asked the Reception clerk something. They walked over to the elevators and got into one which had just been vacated by four people who were laughing and joking as they crossed the hall to the exit.
The elevator doors slid shut and MacLean ran quickly across the hall, using the four laughing people as a shield between himself and Reception. He did not want the desk clerk to see him leave. Once outside, he sprinted across to the Mercedes in the lane and prayed that it had been left unlocked. It had.
The question now was, did he have enough time to booby trap the car with what little resources he had at his disposal? The men would get no answer at his room and find the door locked. They would check with Reception that they had the right number and try again before finally forcing the door. MacLean reckoned that he had five minutes max.
He got into the back of the Mercedes and emptied the contents of his plastic bag on to the seat beside him. The butane cylinders were going to play a starring role in this production. He forced the length of plastic tubing from the wine kit over the nozzle of one of the cylinders and then cut off half to fit on to the other one. He then used a kitchen knife to cut an opening into the base of each of the front seats.
The cuts were just large enough to permit the insertion of the ends of the tubing. The cylinders themselves he pushed out of sight underneath the front seats. He wanted a reservoir of gas to build up in the car but it would have to be contained in some way so that it was not flushed away when the doors were opened. The seat squabs would prevent this.
Next, MacLean needed to find the car’s flexible fuel line. It was an estate car so there was a chance he could reach it from inside the car providing he could pry off the side panels in the rear luggage space. He pulled one of the rear seats forward so that he could climb through the gap into the back. Unfortunately the backspace wasn’t empty and he had difficulty finding enough room to kneel down and turn round. There was something under a tarpaulin, which was awkward to push to one side. He struggled to get both his arms under the bundle and froze suddenly when it made a sound. Sweat broke out on MacLean’s brow; he recognised the sound. It was the sound a corpse made when trapped air was expelled from its lungs.
With his heart thumping in his chest, MacLean withdrew his arms slowly from beneath the tarpaulin and pulled it back. The bloody face and staring eyes of Jean Paul Rives looked up at him. MacLean swallowed and replaced the tarpaulin. He steeled himself to carry on.
Time was running out but any lingering doubt about the identity of the three men as the killers had just been removed. He wrenched back the side panel in the luggage space and found the flexible fuel line. He cut through the underside in a place where fuel would start to leak out through a drainage hole on to the road and form a puddle in the gutter. The car had its wheels up on the pavement: the gutter was practically under its middle.
MacLean got out of the car not a moment too soon. He had just made it to the shadows on the other side of the lane when he saw the three men emerge from the hotel. Their voices were loud: they were arguing about something. He watched as they approached the car and knew that the next few seconds would be critical. Would they simply get in or would they stand around arguing? The gas cylinders must be about fully discharged, he reckoned. Any delay and the concentration in the seat squabs would start to fall. At last the three men stopped talking and got into the car.
MacLean readied himself with matches and lighter fuel but was not convinced that there would be enough petrol vapour in the gutter to trigger off the gas inside. He would wait as long as possible. The men had started to argue again and there was an air of despondency about them. He saw the driver take out a pack of cigarettes and put it to his mouth to draw out one with his lips. MacLean froze in anticipation.
The driver held up a lighter to the end of his cigarette and flicked it open. MacLean saw a flicker of yellow flame lick out from it before the car erupted in a butane flash fire. This in turn ignited the heavy petrol vapour outside and a violent explosion rocked the car. There was no question of anyone surviving the conflagration. Jean-Paul Rives was cremated along with his murderers.
MacLean walked away: he walked for two blocks then took a cab to the far side of the city and did not return until late. The night porter at the hotel told him all about the excitement he had missed, obliging him to spend a few minutes asking the questions he could be reasonably expected to ask. He then went to his room and drank whisky until whether he was asleep or unconscious was a matter of medical opinion.
MacLean plied his hangover with black coffee and faced the fact that last night had not been a nightmare; it had all happened. His friends were dead and he had murdered three men out there in the street. The burnt-out shell of the Mercedes had been removed by the police — this was Switzerland after all — but there were scorch marks on the walls of the lane nearby. He was all alone with only the name May Haas to cling to. Who was she? What was she? Presumably she worked for Lehman Steiner but as what? Doctor? Nurse? Scientist? Personnel would know but would they tell him?
At eleven o’ clock MacLean phoned Lehman Steiner and asked to speak to the chief personnel officer. There was a pause before a woman’s voice answered and asked what he wanted.
‘I wonder if you can help me,’ said MacLean. ‘My name is Dieter Haas, I’m trying to find my niece, May. I believe she works for your company?’
‘This is a very big company,’ replied the woman. ‘And we are not allowed to give out… ‘
‘Yes, I’m sorry,’ interrupted MacLean, ‘but you are my only hope. I’ve spent the last twenty years in Leipzig. My brother and I were separated many years ago by the Berlin wall. We never saw each other again. I’ve learned since that he died two years ago and that his wife is also dead. But they had a daughter, May. She is my only living relative and I would dearly like to find her. I’ve been told that she works for Lehman Steiner so I wondered if perhaps you could see your way to help me?
‘I see,’ said the woman; she sounded concerned and genuinely sympathetic. A nice person, thought MacLean; he hated conning nice people.
‘We don’t usually give out this sort of information but as this is obviously a special case… What exactly does Fraulein Haas do with the company?’ asked the woman.
‘I’m afraid I’ve no idea,’ confessed MacLean.
‘Oh dear,’ came the reply.
‘Is there a problem?’ asked MacLean in trepidation.
‘Sort of,’ said the woman. ‘It’s just that if you don’t know what type of employment she has with us then it could take some time to trace her. Perhaps I could call you back?’
MacLean thanked the woman but said that it would be better if he were to call her.’
‘Very well,’ said the woman. ‘I realise how important this must be to you. Give me an hour.’
‘Thank you,’ said MacLean. He spent most of the following hour pacing up and down the room. On the stroke of ten thirty he called back.
‘I think there must have been some kind of mistake,’ said the woman when she came on the line.
‘Mistake?’ asked MacLean with a sinking feeling in his stomach.
‘We have no one with the name of May Haas working with the company in any capacity.’
‘I see,’ said MacLean slowly.
‘I’m so sorry,’ said the woman.
‘Thank you, ‘ said MacLean, putting down the phone in slow motion. Where did he go from here?
The sun was shining but MacLean didn’t notice as he walked the city streets, deep in thought. He saw the Cathedral St Pierre appear in front of him and, on impulse, went inside. It was cool and dark with a comforting smell of age and furniture polish, its solid stonework keeping out the sounds of the street. He hadn’t realised how long he had been walking until he sat down in a pew and felt his legs appreciate the rest. The gloom and the sheer size of the place afforded him a welcome anonymity, encouraging him to stay a while and get his thoughts in order. Walking round in circles wasn’t the answer. He needed a plan of action.
The trouble was that the situation was almost too painful to contemplate. Eva and Jean-Paul had given their lives to get him a name but he had been unable to do anything with it. If May Haas really didn’t work for Lehman Steiner then he had little or no chance of ever finding her; he wouldn’t know where to begin. There was, of course, a chance that the Personnel Department at Lehman Steiner had been lying or even unaware that May Haas worked for the company, especially if she had some connection with Von Jonek or the X14 project, but MacLean could not see a way around this.
On an earlier occasion, he remembered that Jean-Paul Rives had suggested that the best way to get to X14 would be to trace Von Jonek through Personnel. Maybe this was still a possibility. At least he knew that the man worked for the company. He wondered what would happen if he asked Personnel directly about him. He needed to think of a safe way of doing that.
From talk in the hotel bar he had learned that a tall, silver-haired gentleman, staying on holiday with his wife on the floor below, was a police chief from Lyons. A police chief would always carry his warrant card, he reasoned and such a man would hardly be the sort to be easily intimidated. MacLean made a point of finding out the man’s room number. When he’d done this, he called Lehman Steiner and announced himself as Professor Phillipe Pascal. He would like to be put in touch with his old colleague, Dr Hans Von Jonek.
‘One moment please.’
For one heady moment MacLean thought that he was about to be put through to Von Jonek but the woman came back on the line to say that she was transferring him.
‘Can I help you?’ asked the new voice.
MacLean repeated his request and was asked to wait again. When the woman spoke again she asked, ‘What name was that?’
‘Von Jonek,’ replied MacLean.
‘No, your name,’ said the woman.
‘One moment please.’
MacLean was becoming nervous. He started to wonder about the company’s capacity to trace a telephone call?
‘I’m afraid Dr Von Jonek is not available at the moment,’ said the voice. ‘If you would care to leave your address and telephone number, he will be informed of your call.’
MacLean gave the name of the hotel and the police chief’s room number, then he moved a chair over to the window and sat down to wait. Fifteen minutes later he watched a blue BMW pull up outside the hotel and two men get out. From the way they looked about them when they stepped out the car MacLean reckoned that they were the people he had been waiting for. He gave them time to reach the police chief’s room before going downstairs and walking along the corridor. He heard the commotion before he saw it.
The tall policeman was almost shouting that he was not named Pascal and that he didn’t know anyone who was. No, he would not be going anywhere with his visitors. He was a policeman, not a professor, and a chief of police at that. He knew his rights and who the hell was asking him all this anyway? He wanted to see ID and he wanted to see it now.
‘Is something the matter?’ asked MacLean innocently as he approached.
One of the men from the company, becoming anxious that he and his colleague were beginning to attract a serious amount of attention, put his hand on the policeman’s chest to back him into the room. The policeman’s wife immediately started screaming and another resident looked out and said she’d call for the local police. MacLean watched the pantomime grow. He now knew exactly what happened when you asked Lehman Steiner about Von Jonek. As the local police arrived, he checked out of the hotel and found another.
Three in the morning is the hour when troubles double and prospects halve. For MacLean, lying awake in the darkness, it was the time when a myriad self-doubts formed themselves into a crack regiment and marched through his head. How could he possibly hope to find Von Jonek if Lehman Steiner sent round heavies at the mere mention of his name? He could hardly break into the company’s offices and start rifling through filing cabinets.
The church clock in the square struck five and brought MacLean perilously close to admitting that he didn’t know what to do. Time was passing and he was no nearer being able to get Cytogerm for Carrie. Five people had died since he had come to Switzerland and all he had really found out was that Von Jonek was a scientist and that he was in charge of a research project with a budget of 18 million dollars. Whether it had anything to do with Cytogerm was still his guess; it had not as yet been confirmed. And of course, the name of a woman, May Haas.
‘Don’t change the plan unless you have to,’ repeated MacLean to himself in the darkness. The question was, did he have to? How could he find Von Jonek if he didn’t know how to go about it? The answer was simple when it finally came to him: he needed help; he needed expert advice about cracking Lehman Steiner. He needed someone to tell him how to go about getting the information he required. There were two people in his past with that kind of expertise, Doyle and Leavey. He would have to find them.
MacLean checked post restante at the main Post Office and found a letter from Tansy waiting for him. She had finally snapped under the strain of being nice to Nigel and Marjorie and had moved out into a rented flat on her own. She was worried about Carrie because the surgeons were beginning to make noises about starting surgery and she did not know if she could stall them much longer. Could he possibly phone her? Now that she was living on her own, it would be quite safe. The number was written at the foot of the letter in black marker pen as if it had been added just before posting.
MacLean called Tansy in the early afternoon and had to swallow at the sound of her voice. He told her that he was coming home on the first available flight.
‘You’ve got it?’ said an excited Tansy.
MacLean confessed that he hadn’t and screwed his eyes tightly shut because of the disappointment he knew he was inflicting. ‘It’s a bit more complicated than I thought,’ he said.
‘I see,’ said Tansy. ‘Perhaps I shouldn’t be stalling the surgeons after all?’
MacLean heard the flat note that had crept into her voice and dug the fingernails of his left hand into his palm in a subconscious attempt to inflict pain on himself rather than her. ‘I haven’t given up,’ he said. ‘It’s just a change of plan.’
MacLean’s flight was fifteen minutes late in getting in to London Heathrow; not a lot but just enough to ensure that he missed the British Airways shuttle connection to Edinburgh. He caught a British Midland flight an hour later and consoled himself with gin as they climbed out of the murk and mist shrouding London to find blue skies and sunshine.
Another hour and the aircraft crossed the eastern fringes of the Scottish capital to bank steeply above the Firth of Forth and start its final approach. His seat on the left side of the aircraft allowed him to see the two mighty bridges that spanned the estuary immediately below him, the old, Victorian rail bridge with its dull red maze of intricate ironwork and the road bridge with its simple suspension design. He had seen this view many times but, even now, with his troubled mind, it gave him pleasure.
He called Tansy from the airport and was relieved to hear that she sounded better. He had been afraid that his failure to get Cytogerm for Carrie might have pushed her into deep depression but it seemed that she had come to terms with the news. She gave him her new address and he said that he would be there in twenty minutes, just as soon as he found a cab.
Tansy flung her arms round MacLean’s neck as soon as she opened the door and they held each other for a long time before either could speak. When they did break apart Tansy said, ‘Thank God you’re all right. I was so worried about you. I should have told you that on the phone but when you said you hadn’t got the damned stuff all I could think about was Carrie and the consequences.’
MacLean held her tight again and said, ‘It’s all right, I understand. I feel the same way and I meant it when I said it’s not over yet.’
Tansy looked at him questioningly.
‘It’s going to be more difficult than I imagined,’ said MacLean. ‘I’ve come back to get help. I can’t do it on my own.’
‘Then you know where to get Cytogerm?’ asked Tansy.
MacLean told her what he had learned in Geneva, stressing the positive aspects first. Lehman Steiner were spending 18 million dollars a year on a research project headed by Hans Von Jonek, the man who had demanded the Cytogerm files from him under the pretext of being an archivist. It was odds on that Cytogerm must feature in this research. Jean-Paul Rives had discovered where Von Jonek was carrying out this research but had died before he could tell him.
‘Died?’ asked Tansy, as if she was afraid of hearing the answer.
MacLean almost balked at going on with the story but felt he had no option but to tell Tansy the full horror of what had happened. He saw her visibly pale.
‘All these people,’ she whispered, shaking her head. ‘I can’t believe it.’
‘I know,’ said MacLean softly. ‘But there’s no going back.’
‘But your friends were innocent people and now they’re dead,’ protested Tansy with tears in her eyes.
‘They didn’t just die Tansy,’ said MacLean. ‘They were murdered. They were murdered by Lehman Steiner, just as Jutte and all the rest were. That’s the measure of what we are up against. Eva and Jean-Paul died trying to help Carrie. We must go on, we owe it to them.’
Tansy wiped her eyes and took several deep breaths before she could speak. ‘Just what is it you intend to do?’ she asked in a low monotone.
‘I’m going to find Doyle and Leavey,’ said MacLean.
‘The men on the oil rig?’
‘Like I say, I can’t fight Lehman Steiner alone.’
‘Do you think they’ll help?’
‘When I tell them why, yes.’
‘I hope so,’ said Tansy, looking up at him. ‘I can’t bear the thought of you being in such danger. She broke into tears and MacLean held her close to him.
In the morning MacLean phoned the Oil Company that he had once worked for and asked to be put through to Offshore Personnel. He asked to speak to a member of staff he knew vaguely and, after an exchange of pleasantries, he enquired about Doyle and Leavey. Leavey still worked on the Celtic Star rig but Doyle was no longer on the company register. MacLean asked about work schedules and learned that Leavey would be flying into Aberdeen on Thursday, two days away. This was a stroke of luck it could have been two weeks away. He write down the ETA of the helicopter at the company’s helipad in Aberdeen, accepting the ‘weather permitting’ proviso as a matter of course.
On Wednesday, Tansy and MacLean went to visit Carrie at the hospital. MacLean did so with some trepidation but his fears about how Carrie would react to him proved groundless and in the end it turned out to be the best day he had for a long time. Carrie’s eyes sparkled when she saw him and she immediately took his hand in proprietorial fashion as the three of them walked round the grounds together. It felt like their old Saturday morning expeditions. True, Tansy was with them but she was happy to take a back seat in the proceedings, enjoying every moment and rejoicing in the fact that all three of them were together again.
Carrie’s chatter was, of course, missing but her enthusiasm and love of life was all around them. When they got to the cherry trees MacLean turned to look at Tansy. He nodded as if to re-affirm the promise he had made to her there and she smiled to camouflage her tears.
Their walk in the grounds was a prelude to their planned meeting with Dr Coulson, Carrie’s consultant. MacLean knew that this was going to be difficult because he felt sure that Coulson was going to announce the scheduling of a first operation on Carrie’s face and put them in the difficult position of raising objections. The onus would fall mainly on Tansy as the child’s mother while he, as Carrie’s ‘uncle’ could say very little.
‘Dr Coulson will see you now,’ announced the young nurse and the three of them trooped into Coulson’s office. Coulson, as usual, gave the impression of being a man in a hurry, anxiously moving papers around his desk while Tansy and MacLean sat down on plastic chairs in front of him. It seemed that speaking to relatives was a necessary evil for Coulson, to be got over as quickly as possible. MacLean noted the golf clubs in the corner.
‘We have pencilled Carrie in for surgery next Wednesday Mrs Nielsen,’ said Coulson, expecting routine approval.
‘I’d rather you waited a bit, Doctor,’ said Tansy.
Coulson looked surprised and paused with his pen in mid air. ‘I don’t understand,’ he said.
‘Carrie is just beginning to get back to being her old self. I’d like her to have a week or two to build up her strength?’
Coulson adopted a patronising smile and said, ‘I really think that I am the best judge of your daughter’s readiness to undergo surgery Mrs Nielsen.’
‘I don’t question your professional competence Doctor,’ said Tansy. ‘But I’m Carrie’s mother I know my daughter. I’d like you to wait.’
MacLean, who was sitting in enforced silence, was filled with admiration for the way that Tansy was handling the situation.
‘Mrs Nielsen, the sooner we get started the better Carrie’s chances will be,’ said Coulson.
‘Of what?’ asked Tansy.
Coulson was becoming annoyed. He spread his hands and blurted out, ‘Of regaining some semblance of a face… ‘ He left out ‘you stupid woman’ but it was implied.
‘Some semblance of a face,’ repeated Tansy quietly.
MacLean closed his eyes and dropped his head on to his chest. Coulson had been pushed into saying it. With one slip of the tongue he had destroyed hope in his patient’s mother and now he tried to justify his stupidity by saying, ‘Well, the damage to the child’s face is extensive.’ He did not look Tansy in the eye.
MacLean hoped to defuse the situation by asking exactly what Coulson intended to do.
Coulson launched into what MacLean could only think of as a ‘popular surgery for the masses’ routine. He spoke down to them, using words he thought his audience might understand, pausing frequently to ask if he had made himself clear. MacLean found himself becoming alarmed, not at the man’s manner — pompous oafs were ten a penny in any profession — but at what he was saying. Coulson was outlining surgical procedures that had been out of date for years, techniques that had been pioneered on burned pilots in the Second World War. Pomposity was one thing, incompetence was quite another. MacLean found that he could not hold his tongue any longer.
‘Wasn’t that technique superseded by the Gelman Schwarz operation some time ago?’ he interrupted.
Coulson stopped talking as if he had run into a brick wall at speed. ‘I didn’t realise… ‘ he began uncertainly.
MacLean backed off to let Coulson out of the corner. It was very tempting to keep him in it and slowly nail him to the wall but he cautioned himself that that would be counter-productive. The objective was to delay commencement of surgery, he reminded himself. ‘I read a lot,’ he explained. ‘I thought I should find out a little about Carrie’s prospects.’
Coulson’s confidence was restored. Like so many ‘experts’ he relied a great deal on the ignorance of others. It was important to keep a comfortable distance between himself and the layman. Any signs of relevant knowledge in the masses was a worry. ‘I see,’ he said slowly. ‘Actually medical opinion is divided on the matter.’
Oh really? thought MacLean without saying so. It must be divided into those who don’t want their patients to end up looking like plastic Pinocchios and those who haven’t bothered to read a textbook in the last twenty years! ‘Medical Opinion’ was such a convenient cop-out for so many. It tolerated fools so well. MacLean had come to an easy decision; there was no way Coulson was going to lay a finger on Carrie.
Tansy did not know what was going on but she was grateful that MacLean was now involving himself in the conversation. She could see that there was an undercurrent of anger bubbling inside him and that a change had come over Coulson. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it but for some reason he had become vulnerable.
Coulson finished his talk and glanced at his watch. He said to Tansy, ‘I hope you can now see why we should start surgery on Carrie as soon as possible Mrs Nielsen.’
With a quick glance at MacLean to signal her uncertainty Tansy opened her mouth to reply but MacLean took over. He said to Coulson, ‘Doctor, the reason we would like you to delay surgery for a little while is that Mrs Nielsen is considering sending Carrie to the Mannerheim Clinic in Zurich. No reflection on you of course, but Dieter Klein’s work on facial reconstruction is world famous and we would like to do the best we can for Carrie. I’m sure you’re familiar with Dr Klein’s work?’
‘Of course, ‘ stammered Coulson. ‘You should have said so at the beginning. When will you know?’
‘We expect to hear from Dr Klein within the next two weeks,’ lied MacLean.
‘Then we will put everything on hold for the moment,’ said Coulson.
‘Thank you Doctor.’
When they were out of earshot Tansy said to MacLean, ‘Coulson seemed impressed with the name.’
‘It was enough to stall him for the time being,’ said MacLean. ‘And keep his paws off Carrie.’
Tansy looked at him strangely and wondered about the choice of word but she didn’t say anything.
MacLean in turn did not tell her that Coulson wasn’t so much impressed with the name as embarrassed. The man was so far behind the times that he had obviously never heard of Dieter Klein. He probably hadn’t read a medical journal in years.
The helicopter bringing the men back from the Celtic Star rig was not due in to Aberdeen until four thirty in the afternoon so MacLean took a mid-morning train from Waverley Station which would still afford him plenty of time to get to the heliport. The wind had been rising steadily from daybreak and now it had started to rain as the train rattled out on to the Forth Bridge on its journey north.
Once out of the shelter of the land MacLean could sense the full force of the wind as it drove the rain against the carriage windows and obscured any view to the west. The carriage was practically empty so he crossed the aisle to the other side and got the view eastwards to the oil loading terminal at Hound Point. He looked up and smiled as he saw an aircraft coming in on its approach to the airport. Sometimes it was nice to see things from both angles. He returned to his seat and began to worry about the weather being too bad for the chopper to lift men off the rig.
By the time the train reached Aberdeen however, the sky had lightened and the wind had dropped a little, although it still tended to gust uncomfortably, making life difficult for the ladies of the granite city to cope with umbrellas as they struggled down Union Street with heads bowed. He put off some time drinking coffee in a small cafe which smelled of wet clothing and then some more by walking idly round a department store before eventually hailing a taxi and asking to be taken out to the heliport.
The sound of the helicopter’s blades was loud but uneven as the wind stole it away in recurrent gusts. MacLean shielded his eyes from the stinging rain and watched the big yellow Chinook bounce gently on to the tarmac to be met by ground crew looking like field mice in their large ear protectors. After what seemed an age the men began to disembark, all looking much alike in their yellow survival suits and carrying kit bags. Leavey was one of the last men to emerge; he was carrying the green holdall he had used when MacLean worked with him on the rigs.
MacLean waited for a moment to see if he was with anyone in particular but he didn’t seem to be. He crossed the tarmac at an angle to intercept him before he reached the terminal building.
‘It’s been a while, Nick,’ he said.
Leavey turned and took a moment to recognise the figure, huddled against the wind. ‘Good God, Sean MacLean!’ he exclaimed. He transferred his holdall to his left hand and reached out to shake hands with MacLean. ‘What on earth are you doing here?’
‘I fancied a pint,’ said MacLean.
‘You and me both,’ smiled Leavey.
Someone up ahead shouted to Leavey and Leavey waved him on saying that he would catch up. He looked at MacLean and said, ‘So is it a reunion with the lads you’re after or something quieter? His expression seemed to suggest that he already knew the answer.
‘I’d like to talk,’ said MacLean.
Leavey nodded and said, ‘I’ll just get organised and signed off. How about “The Anchor” in five minutes?’
MacLean walked the two hundred metres or so to the ‘Anchor’ bar and found that it was just opening for the evening. The wooden half-doors shook as unseen hands behind them undid reluctant bolts and swung them back to secure them with hooks on either side. The barman, a bald, thickset man with a ruddy complexion made even more ruddy with the effort of bending down to unlock the doors, looked up at MacLean and said, ‘Just off the rig?’
‘Not this time,’ said MacLean and followed him inside. The bar was cold and the ashtrays had not been emptied from lunchtime. There was a smell of stale smoke and a suggestion of salty dampness about the place.
‘What’ll it be?’
MacLean ordered a whisky for himself and one for Leavey and looked at the pictures behind the bar while he waited for his friend to arrive. One was of a lifeboat ploughing through stormy seas. Another two were of helicopters and there was one of the ill-fated Piper Alpha platform being consumed by fire.
Leavey arrived and smiled at the whisky waiting for him on the bar. ‘First for a fortnight,’ he said. ‘Remember that feeling?’
‘Well enough,’ smiled MacLean. ‘It’s good to see you again.’
‘Good to see you too,’ said Leavey He drained his glass and ordered up two more. This time they left the bar counter and sat down. ‘This is not a social visit; is it?’ said Leavey.
MacLean agreed with a smile. ‘No, I need help,’ he said. ‘I had hoped to find Mick Doyle here as well but they told me he didn’t work for the company any more.’
‘Mick doesn’t work for anyone any more,’ said Leavey. ‘He’s dead.’
MacLean was shocked. ‘What happened?’ he asked sadly.
‘Accident on the rig, washed overboard in a force nine, no chance.’
‘One of the best,’ said Leavey. He raised his glass and toasted, ‘Absent friends.’
MacLean raised his own glass silently.
‘What’s your problem?’ asked Leavey.
‘You must be dog tired,’ said MacLean. ‘Maybe you would rather wait until tomorrow?’
Leavey examined MacLean’s face and said, ‘So time is not a factor then?’
‘Actually it is,’ said MacLean.
‘Then tell me now.’
MacLean told Leavey about Carrie and how the attack had been intended for him. He told him that there was a chance that he could repair the disfigurement if he could get his hands on Cytogerm but that was proving difficult.
Leavey sipped his drink and began to recap on what MacLean had told him. ‘If I understand you right, you have to steal this Cytogerm from this drug company but you don’t know where they keep it. You do know the name of the guy who’s in charge of it so you want to break in to the company’s offices to find out where he works. Your only alternative is to find this woman, May… ‘
‘May Haas, but you have no lead to her either. On top of that the opposition doesn’t think twice about killing people. How am I doing?’
‘About sums it up,’ agreed MacLean.
Leavey examined the bottom of his glass in silence then said; ‘There is another way.’
‘You mentioned a regular meeting of the company’s directors at a hotel in Geneva?’
‘The Stagelplatz,’ said MacLean.
‘These men must know the whereabouts of X14. We could grab hold of one and ask him.’
MacLean had to admit that the idea was simple and straightforward and that he hadn’t thought of it himself. They didn’t even have to use the Stagelplatz meeting place because the names and addresses of the directors were no secret. They could get to most of them without too much trouble he reckoned. Then he saw the drawback and told Leavey. ‘I can’t believe that all the directors are involved in this affair,’ he said.
‘You mean we might approach the wrong one?’
‘Precisely, and once we’d done that the cat would be out of the bag. We couldn’t keep an innocent man quiet.’
Leavey nodded as he took MacLean’s meaning. ‘So it’s back to breaking and entering in Geneva.’
‘I think so.’
‘This kid of yours, she’s really bad? I mean, there’s no other way of fixing her up?’
MacLean shook his head and said, ‘There’s skin grafting but she will be severely disfigured for the rest of her life. Cytogerm surgery is her only chance of being restored to normality.’
‘How old is she?’
‘Shit,’ said Leavey. He suddenly drained his glass in one go and said, ‘All right, count me in. I’ll have a double.’
‘Thanks Mick,’ said MacLean. ‘You can have as many doubles as you like.’ He got to his feet to go to the bar but Leavey stopped him saying, ‘Not just yet, I have to go out for about fifteen minutes. Wait till I get back.’ Without saying any more, he got up and left.’
True to his word, Leavey returned fifteen minutes later but not alone. He was accompanied by a short, smiling man with a barrel chest and thinning fair hair who MacLean thought he recognised from somewhere but couldn’t remember where. Unfortunately the look on the man’s face said that he knew him well enough. MacLean’s embarrassment was cut short by the man opening the front of his shirt to reveal a jagged scar. ‘Willie MacFarlane,’ he said. ‘You saved my life.’
‘Of course,’ exclaimed MacLean. ‘You got hurt on the rig; I never saw you again. How are you?’
‘Right as rain, Doc,’ said MacFarlane, fastening up his shirt and sitting down at the table. ‘I never got a chance to thank you properly.’
‘No need,’ insisted MacLean. ‘I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. He got up to go to the bar but MacFarlane stopped him with a hand on the arm. ‘The very least I can do is buy you a drink,’ he insisted.
MacLean agreed with a smile and MacFarlane went to the bar leaving Leavey and MacLean alone. MacLean asked the question with his eyes and Leavey said, ‘I think he would be useful to have along.’
‘I’m perfectly serious,’ said Leavey. ‘Willie can open locked doors with his feet. He sees every lock as a personal challenge and what’s more, he’s moved with the times. As electronic protection systems have got better so has Willie. On one occasion he even managed to break into a safe that was monitored by close-circuit television 24 hours a day.’
‘How did he do that?’
‘He took along a video recorder, cut into the close-circuit cable and recorded the picture. The he connected the video playback to the cable and cut it beyond the join. He emptied the place while the guards watched a video of a closed safe.’
‘Ingenious,’ admitted MacLean but he had doubts about taking MacFarlane along and it showed.
Leavey said, ‘Face it Sean. We can go a long way together but when it comes to breaking into locked buildings equipped with fancy alarm systems we’re going to be babes in the wood. We need someone like Willie.’
‘We don’t know that he’d go,’ said MacLean.
Leavey smiled and said, ‘There are two things in this life that Willie MacFarlane would die for. One of them is Rangers Football Club and the other is you. He’s never forgotten what you did for him out there.’
‘I suppose I should say, I don’t want him coming along out of a sense of obligation, but the truth is, I need this stuff real bad. I’m prepared to play any card I’ve got,’ said MacLean. ‘That’s something you have to consider too.’
Leavey put his hand on MacLean’s arm. ‘I already have.’
MacFarlane returned with the drinks. The bar was beginning to fill up and the sound of male laughter reminded MacLean of his own time on the rigs. The first night back was always something special, a shower, a change of clothes and off to the pub with plenty money in your pocket. Even the married men would come to the pub before going home. Domestic bliss could wait; there was an important male ritual to be observed. The earlier damp smell of the place had given way to after-shave and cigar smoke. Faces were animated: eyes were bright.
MacFarlane did most of the talking at the table, keeping them laughing with a seemingly endless fund of stories from the rigs. Much of the humour was directed against himself and MacLean found himself warming to the man. He noticed that, at intervals, Leavey would slip in a question relating to MacFarlane’s personal circumstances. It was done so cleverly that MacFarlane did not realise that he was being interrogated So far, Leavey had established that he was married but had no children. He had also exposed an undercurrent of bitterness in the man.
After a few more drinks Leavey said, ‘So you’ll be off home to the wife then Willie?’
MacFarlane’s eyes said not. He dropped his eyelids and said, ‘No… she’s left me.’
‘God, I’m sorry,’ said Leavey, exchanging glances with MacLean.
‘I got a letter. She’s been seeing this other guy; he’s got his own business.’
Leavey and MacFarlane exchanged glances again. ‘Have you been married long Willie?’ asked MacLean.
‘That’s tough, man,’ said Leavey.
‘To think I gave up a perfectly good “career” so that she could say that she was married to an honest man!’ fumed MacFarlane. ‘I’ve been freezing my arse off on the rigs while she’s been…’
‘Have another drink, Willie.’
MacFarlane looked at his watch and shook his head. ‘No, I must be off. The last train to Glasgow leaves in fifteen minutes.’
‘So, you’ve something planned then?’
MacFarlane looked at Leavey as if it was a trick question then said as if he had only realised it himself, ‘No, not really.’
‘Then why don’t we all go back to my place. We can talk over old times and you both can stay the night. There’s plenty of room.’
MacFarlane agreed after only a moment’s thought.
‘Fine by me,’ added MacLean.
Leavey’s flat in Aberdeen turned out be on the third floor of an unprepossessing tenement block not far from Union Street. The greyness and the rain made it appear more unwelcoming than it might have done in sunlight but MacFarlane admired the quality of the locks on the door as Leavey undid them. Leavey said by way of explanation, ‘I’m away a lot,’ and they all smiled.
When they got inside MacLean could see immediately why Leavey was so security conscious. The apartment was beautifully furnished with the most expensive of materials. Leavey apologised for the coldness adding that there was no point in having the heating on while he wasn’t there.
‘Have you won the pools or something?’ asked MacFarlane in admiration. He was examining the stereo system.
‘I don’t have anything else to spend my money on,’ said Leavey. ‘Besides, when you spend most of your working life up to your arse in shit, it’s good to have somewhere nice to come back to.’
MacLean nodded in agreement.
‘Maybe I’ll get myself a place like this too,’ said Willie. ‘Now that I’m single again.’
‘Why not,’ said Leavey.
Leavey and MacLean sat on facing armchairs, sipping Laphroaig whisky while MacFarlane did the same from one end of a matching settee. Miles Davies was playing quietly on the stereo. ‘So what brings you back to Aberdeen, Doc?’ he asked. ‘You’re not thinking of coming back to the rigs?’
‘I’ve got a problem Willie; I need help,’ confessed MacLean.
‘If it’s something I can do, you just have to say the word,’ said MacFarlane.
‘So’s crossing the road.’
‘I mean it. You could end up in a foreign jail or even dead.’
‘That dangerous,’ exclaimed MacFarlane in a muted voice.
‘I owe you, Doc. You can count on me.’
MacLean held up his hand and said, ‘You owe me nothing but I’m not a big enough person not to ask you.
MacFarlane looked at Leavey and asked, ‘Are you in on this?’
‘Why?’ asked MacFarlane.
‘It’s a good cause,’ said Leavey matter of factly.
MacFarlane turned back to MacLean and said, ‘Tell me about it.’
MacLean told him the story and when he had finished MacFarlane said distantly, ‘Poor wee mite. You know, I always wanted a wee lassie myself.’
After a few moments silence Leavey said, ‘Well, in or out?’
‘I’m in,’ said MacFarlane. ‘Most definitely in.’
‘When do we start?’ Leavey asked MacLean.
‘As soon as possible.’
‘I’m ready,’ said Leavey. ‘How about you Willie. Is anyone going to miss you in Glasgow?’
‘Only the bookie.’
MacLean suggested that they travel south to Edinburgh in the morning. They could stay at Tansy’s place until they had arranged their travel to Geneva and then set off from there. Leavey asked him how the operation was being funded and MacLean told him about the insurance money from the bungalow.
‘That’s rough,’ said Leavey.
MacFarlane agreed and offered to carry out a ‘wee funding operation’. MacLean declined with a smile but thanked him anyway. They decided on a late morning train to allow MacFarlane time to go shopping for some ‘bits and bobs’ he thought he might need. MacLean said that he would accompany him and pay for the tools and equipment but MacFarlane wouldn’t hear of it. ‘Just a few wee odds and ends,’ he insisted.
Despite the lateness of the hour, MacLean phoned Tansy to say that he had finished in Aberdeen and that he would be home with two friends by mid-afternoon on the following day. Tansy assumed by ‘two friends’ that he meant Doyle and Leavey and was shocked to hear of Mick Doyle’s death. ‘Death suddenly seems so close to us,’ she said sadly. MacLean, anxious to divert her attention to something more positive, asked her to go up to the airline offices in the morning and pick up some information on scheduled flights to Geneva.
‘Consider it done.’
MacLean knew that he had drunk a great deal of whisky over the course of the evening but still felt stone cold sober. It told him something about the state of his nerves if he could burn off alcohol that quickly. He opened the door of the bedroom Leavey had told him was his and stopped on the threshold. It was like stepping into a different world. The room was decorated in traditional Japanese style and had a Futon in place of a bed in the middle of the floor. He was surrounded on all sides by Japanese screen-walling, depicting scenes from long ago while Japanese lanterns provided subdued lighting.
MacLean removed his shoes and proceeded to examine his surroundings. He found the control panel for the lighting in the room and with it some extra knobs with a musical symbol beside them. He pressed one and the room was filled with the soft tinkle of oriental music and a background sound of running water. The room was an escape from reality, which MacLean acknowledged with admiration for its creator. He undressed and sat cross-legged on the futon to look at the charcoal drawings on the screen walling.
Weeping cherry trees reminded of him of his promise to Tansy in the hospital garden, not that he needed reminding. It had become his raison d’etre. In front of him a Samurai warrior reminded him of Leavey himself, not physically, but in spirit. Leavey had that enigmatic inner strength which defied definition and went beyond bravery. He knew that he could trust Nick with his life but he also knew that he could never get close to him. No one could.
MacFarlane was very different, being as open as the day was long. He was a generous man with a big heart and a stubborn streak; in many ways he personified Glasgow. He took Leavey’s word for it that Willie was as skilled as he said he was and, if that was so, MacLean decided that he could not wish for two better companions for what lay ahead.
The next panel of screen-wall showed a vase with three flowers arranged in classical Ikebana style; Ten, Chi, Jin. Jutte had once explained to him the significance of the configuration. The longer he examined the flowers the more he imagined that Chi and Jin were intermingling as if life was returning to the earth. It unnerved him. He’d experienced the same feeling in Geneva when he’d sabotaged the car and watched three men die. He had taken an irrevocable step and nothing could ever be the same again. He’d crossed his own personal Rubicon and there could be no going back, just a relentless ongoing test of strength and courage ahead of him until an end was achieved. He looked back to the Samurai and could have sworn that he saw a smile on his face… or maybe the whisky was having an effect after all. He fell asleep.
‘It’s years since I was last in Edinburgh,’ said MacFarlane as they walked up the steep hill out of Waverley Station and into the sunlight on Princes Street. ‘I must have been fourteen at the time. I remember I was with a girl called Karen, my first real love. We came to Edinburgh for the day, which is about as much as any true Glaswegian can stand of the place. We climbed that.’ MacLean pointed to the Gothic spire of the Scott Monument, towering up out of Princes Street Gardens.
Leavey said, ‘I didn’t realise you had an interest in Scottish architecture Willie?’
‘I haven’t,’ said MacFarlane. ‘I thought I might get a flash of her knickers if she went up the steps first.’
‘And did you?’ asked Leavey with a smile.
‘It was too dark, damn it.’
Tansy served roast beef for dinner. MacLean knew that she had been nervous about meeting Leavey and MacFarlane but watched her warm to them as the evening progressed. MacFarlane in particular was an asset to the party with his easy-going nature and lack of self-consciousness. His determination to be on his best behaviour and be mindful of his language in Tansy’s presence made his stories sound even funnier.
When Tansy went to the kitchen to make coffee MacLean joined her leaving Leavey and MacFarlane to pursue some obscure argument. He put his arms around her waist from behind and kissed her hair. ‘All right?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ said Tansy. ‘They’re nice people.’
‘Then what’s troubling you?’ asked MacLean, keeping his arms around her and nuzzling her hair.
‘I… Oh it’s nothing,’ said Tansy.
‘Tell me,’ insisted MacLean.
‘I keep wanting to thank them,’ said Tansy, ‘But I can’t find the words and it makes me feel so awful. I should be able to say what I feel, especially now, but I can’t. I just can’t.’
‘Don’t worry about it,’ said MacLean. ‘They understand.’
‘No,’ insisted Tansy. ‘There’s more to it than that. I keep making comparisons between these men out there and the people I used to consider were my friends, the Nigels and Marjories of this world. My kind of people. How could I have been so wrong?’ Tansy turned to face MacLean. Her eyes showed bewilderment. ‘Nigel and Marjorie made me feel so beholden to them over a few nights bed and breakfast while these two men are going off to risk their lives for my daughter with no more fuss than if I had asked them to change a tap washer! Help me; I just don’t understand.’
MacLean smiled. ‘There’s no great mystery. You’ve just made the same discovery I did after I went to work on the rigs. There’s a basic goodness in ordinary people which most of us in our own sheltered, prejudiced little worlds never even suspect, let alone see. Some might suggest it only comes into its own when evil is around. Don’t worry about it. You’ve just become one of the privileged few. You’ve seen the light.’
Tansy said softly, ‘Thank you Sean MacLean. I’m so glad I met you.’
MacLean kissed her gently on the lips and said, ‘And I you, my lady.’
Tansy used a piece of kitchen roll to dab at her eyes and said, ‘I got the flight information you asked for.’
‘Good,’ said MacLean.
‘Looks like Monday or Tuesday.’
MacLean had the advantage of knowing the Lehman Steiner building from the inside. He drew a map from memory and pleased MacFarlane when he added the underground car park. ‘That’s our best bet for entry,’ he said. ‘I can go to work on the staff elevator.’
‘I think we have to face the fact that most of the Personnel files will be on computer discs not lying about in filing cabinets,’ said Nick Leavey.
‘That’s no problem unless they are protected,’ said MacFarlane.
‘Protected?’ asked Leavey.
‘Password access,’ said MacFarlane.
‘I think we can safely assume that any file connected with X14 will be protected,’ said MacLean.
‘Then we’ll need the passwords.’
‘Won’t they be kept in people’s heads?’ asked Leavey.
MacFarlane said not. ‘Big companies insist on all passwords being written down and stored somewhere safe. It gives employees too much power if individuals have sole access to company files. If they fall out with the management they might refuse access to their superiors.’
‘Blackmail,’ said Leavey.
‘Or even if a code holder falls under a bus it could mean lots of valuable data lost for ever,’ said MacFarlane.
‘So where would a company keep these code words?’ asked MacLean.
‘In a company safe,’ said MacFarlane.
MacLean could not help with the location of a safe in Personnel.
‘We’ll find it,’ said Leavey.
Leavey quizzed MacLean about his last trip to Geneva, asking whether or not he could be sure that his ‘Keith Nielsen’ alias was still safe. MacLean had to admit that there was no way he could be absolutely certain but the fact that he had successfully left Switzerland using that name suggested that it was still okay.
Leavey nodded thoughtfully and said, ‘I’m just trying to look into the minds of the opposition. They think that Sean MacLean is dead so we have no worries on that score and, from what you say, it seems a pretty safe bet that they don’t know about Keith Nielsen. They have however, been alerted to the fact that someone is interested in the X14 project so they’ll be on the look out for nosy parkers. Three of their people were taken out in Geneva but, as far as we know, none was left to tell the tale. That means that they don’t have much to go on but on the other hand they’re certainly not going to be asleep.’
‘Lehman Steiner is a very big organisation,’ said MacLean.
Leavey gave him a look that said, ‘So?’
‘I was thinking it wouldn’t be possible for them to tighten up security everywhere. As they don’t really know where the threat is coming from maybe the wisest thing for them to do would be to tighten up security around the X14 project itself and leave it at that.’
‘Good thinking,’ said Leavey.
‘You mean they won’t be expecting a raid on Personnel?’ said MacFarlane.
‘Unless Rives was already trying that angle when he got caught,’ said Leavey.
‘No,’ said MacLean. ‘Jean-Paul did think of it but he told me that he didn’t know anyone in Personnel. He was trying to find X14 through accounting records.’
‘Does that mean he was looking for a place and not a person?’ asked Tansy, speaking for the first time.
‘Yes,’ agreed MacLean. ‘And he found it. He just didn’t live long enough to tell us.’
‘Only the name of the woman, May Haas,’ said Tansy thoughtfully.
On Sunday, Leavey and MacFarlane diplomatically went off on their own leaving MacLean and Tansy to spend their last day together. MacLean had booked the three of them on to a flight to Geneva on Monday. He and Tansy visited Carrie in the afternoon and then walked by the shores of the Forth in the early evening. They stopped at Cramond, a pretty village, which had seen the legions of Rome come and go, and had a quiet drink at the inn. MacLean didn’t say much and Tansy didn’t prompt him. She knew from earlier experience that tension was building and he would not want to talk but, before they got up to leave, she said, ‘There is one thing I must ask you before you go. How long has Carrie got before a start must be made on surgery?’
‘It would be best if things got under way within four weeks,’ said MacLean.
Tansy wrung her hands uneasily then dropped them below the level of the table to disguise the fact. She began, ‘If… ‘
MacLean interrupted her, saying, ‘If for any reason I should not return, I’ve left a letter for you in the flat with the name and phone number of a Glasgow surgeon you must contact. Ron Myers is one of the best. Give him the sealed letter I’ve included and let him arrange the rest. On no account let Coulson touch her.’
Tansy’s eyes were full of uncertainty. She took MacLean’s hands in hers and whispered, ‘Come back to me… please.’
MacLean did his best to reassure her. He said softly, ‘I intend to. I also intend bringing Cytogerm home with me.’
They left the inn as darkness fell and the moon rose above the treetops. MacLean said, ‘Remember it’s the same moon above us wherever we are. Look at it and wish; I’ll do the same.’
MacLean and his two companions boarded the night train to London. It had been Leavey’s idea to use the train rather than fly to Heathrow on the grounds that it would be one less security check to go through. MacLean knew better to ask why this should be a consideration but he had noticed Leavey taking particular care over what appeared to be a series of metal camera and lens cases when packing his holdall.
Waverley Station was like all stations at midnight, grimy, dark and lonely, a place where no one wanted to be. Embarking passengers were anxious to be on their way, arriving ones wanted to be home and the despair on the faces of the destitute who were planning to spend the night there was plain to see. They didn’t want to be there either but they had nowhere else to go.
An emaciated figure wearing a grubby overall and cap pushed a trolley up and down the platform outside the London train hoping to sell a few last plastic sandwiches. A guard scuffled to and fro, studiously regarding the ground in preference to the passengers who stood by open doors in last minute conversation with friends and relatives.
MacLean watched a soldier say good-bye to his girl friend and a mother and father say farewell to their daughter. In a few more minutes all signs of emotion would be wiped clean from their faces. Impassive neutrality would replace it as sons and lovers became passengers on a train. The station clock said that they were already four minutes late when a whistle blew, doors were slammed and the train slid out into the night.
MacLean knew that his own nerves were being shared by the others. He had not known MacFarlane stay so quiet for so long before and Leavey chose to read rather than chat. He imagined this must be the feeling that troops had before they went into battle, sitting in landing craft as they ploughed through waves towards a hostile beach or waiting in the darkened fuselage of an aircraft for the signal lights to come on and the drop to begin. Leavey would know but now was not the time to ask.
Leavey fell asleep after two hours and MacFarlane shortly afterwards, leaving MacLean awake and resting his head on the corner of the window. There was very little to see out there in the blackness but every now and then he would see a light on in a house and wonder why at that hour. A sick child? Bad news? Insomnia? He would never know and they would never know he’d wondered.
A new day had already been born in London. For most people there was no reason to believe it would be significantly different from any other but they still rushed out to greet it. Kings Cross Station was alive with noise and bustle and people in purposeful motion. MacLean and the other two watched the world pass by from the station buffet where they took breakfast.
MacFarlane looked at the rush-hour crowds and said, ‘There’s something to be said for the rigs after all.’
‘I suppose they get used to it,’ said MacLean.
Leavey just watched.
They put off time until the worst of the rush hour was over before taking the tube to Heathrow Airport. There was still some two hours to flight time so they checked in at the desk which had just opened and waited for a bit before going through passport control. Leavey said he wanted to buy another book for the flight and MacFarlane said that he would have a look at the magazines. MacLean opted for a wash and shave so they agreed to meet up again outside the bookstall.
MacLean had just sluiced warm water up into his face when the public address system crackled into life. ‘Would Mr Keith Nielsen, a passenger on British Airways’ flight to Geneva, please report to the British Airways flight desk… Would Mr Keith Nielsen… ‘
MacLean listened for the second time and no, there was no mistake. The woman repeated what he feared she had said the first time. He dried his face quickly and put his shirt and jacket back on. Leavey and MacFarlane were already waiting outside by the bookstall.
‘Who knows about us?’ asked Leavey whose eyes said that his brain was working overtime on the possibilities.’
‘Maybe some problem with the tickets,’ said MacLean. ‘I’d better go see.’
Leavey put a restraining hand on his arm and said, ‘Maybe someone wants to see what Keith Nielsen looks like; maybe someone carrying a description from Geneva. Maybe even someone who would recognise Sean MacLean.’
The announcement was repeated again.
‘I’ll go,’ said Leavey. ‘My face isn’t in anyone’s scrapbook.’
Before anyone could argue he had walked off.
Leavey approached the British Airways desk and said, ‘You were paging Keith Nielsen?’
‘Yes Mr Nielsen,’ said the peaches and cream complexion with the company smile. ‘We have an urgent telephone message for you.’ She handed Leavey a sealed envelope. Leavey thanked her and returned to the others; he gave the envelope to MacLean who ripped it open.
MacLean stood staring at the message until the other two were becoming impatient. ‘I don’t understand,’ he said in bemusement. ‘It’s from Tansy. It says… “Don’t go to Geneva”.’
‘Don’t go?’ exclaimed MacFarlane. Leavey just shrugged his shoulders.
MacLean looked at his watch and said, ‘We’ve still got thirty minutes. I’ll call her.’
MacLean was convinced that something awful must have happened at home for Tansy to send such a message. Something connected with Carrie was his fearful guess. His fingers felt like thumbs as he punched in Tansy’s number and waited. After the fourth ring he hoped that Tansy was in the bathroom, after the seventh, that she had been in the bath, after the tenth he accepted that she wasn’t there. He put down the receiver slowly and turned to face Leavey and MacFarlane. ‘No answer,’ he said.
‘What now?’ asked MacFarlane.
‘We’re going back to Edinburgh.’
They flew back to Edinburgh on a British Airways shuttle, which left forty minutes later. Leavey and MacFarlane were subdued, with a sense of anti-climax about them. MacLean was preoccupied with worry over what might have happened. As soon as they landed MacLean called Tansy again but found that there was still no reply. It did nothing to reassure him.
‘I think we better just go to the flat and wait,’ he said.
It was nearly five in the evening when Tansy arrived home and found the three of them camped on the doorstep. ‘Good,’ she said, ‘I see you got the message.’
MacLean was bemused. ‘Where have you been?’ he exclaimed.
‘I spent the morning in the local public library — I sent you the message from there — and this afternoon I’ve been at the hospital seeing Carrie,’ replied Tansy.
‘What’s wrong? What’s happened?’
‘Nothing’s wrong and nothing has happened,’ said Tansy evenly.
‘Carrie is fine.’
‘Tansy will you please explain,’ said MacLean, frustration getting the better of him.
‘I’ve just been doing some thinking that’s all. When you said the other night that Jean-Paul Rives had been looking for a place and not a person I got to wondering how he came up with a woman’s name.’
‘May Haas,’ said MacLean.
‘Precisely. It’s been niggling away at me. There was also the fact that Lehman Steiner were adamant that she’d never worked for them. This morning I worked it out. May Haas is not the name of a woman at all, it’s the name of a place.’
‘A place?’ exclaimed MacLean.
‘I was so sure of it that I spent the morning searching for it through the atlas in the library.’
‘For a while I thought I was barking up the wrong tree but then I mentioned to the librarian what I was doing. She’s been doing Spanish classes at night school. She thought the name could be Spanish and suggested a likely spelling. I found it. It’s a small town in southern Spain. It’s spelt, M-I-J-A-S but it’s pronounced, May Haas. ‘
There was silence in the room until Leavey said, ‘That makes a lot of sense.’
‘You’re absolutely right,’ agreed MacLean. ‘Eva told me that Jean-Paul’s search had been successful. She wouldn’t have said that if all he had come up with was a woman’s name. Tansy, that was brilliant.’ He gave her a hug.
Tansy brought out a map of Spain, which she’d gone into town to get after leaving the library. She spread it out on a low coffee table and the others crowded round. She traced her finger along the south coast of Spain, exaggerating the contours as she searched for Mijas. ‘There!’ she announced. ‘A few miles west of Malaga and three or four kilometres up into the mountains.’
‘Is there an airport at Malaga?’ asked Leavey.
‘Yes,’ replied Tansy. ‘I’ve been to the airline office as well.’
‘Well done,’ said MacFarlane.
‘We can’t use it,’ said MacLean.
‘But why not?’ asked MacFarlane.
‘Lehman Steiner would pick us up right away.’
‘But we’ve only just found out about the place!’ said MacFarlane.
‘If X14 is located in Mijas, Lehman Steiner will be watching the local airport.’
‘You’re right,’ said Leavey.
‘Apart from that,’ continued MacLean, ‘Jean-Paul must have confessed that he had found out the location of X14 before they killed him. Lehman Steiner would have to assume that he passed the information on even if he said he hadn’t. They’ve probably been wondering what’s taking us so long! They don’t know we’ve had to wait for Tansy to figure it out for us.’
‘So they’ll be lined up ready for us,’ said Leavey.
‘Geneva is beginning to sound attractive after all,’ said MacFarlane.
‘Our only edge is that they don’t know who we are or what we look like.’
‘And the fact that we haven’t turned up yet,’ said Leavey. ‘Maybe that will work in our favour. They must be starting to think by now that maybe Jean-Paul didn’t pass on the right information after all.’
‘So what do we do?’ asked MacFarlane.
‘We certainly can’t risk flying in to Malaga,’ said MacLean. ‘Three men arriving together…’
‘What about a holiday charter flight?’ suggested Leavey.
‘That’s a possibility. The south coast’s a popular holiday area but it still leaves us with the problem of being three men travelling together. Lehman Steiner might be monitoring charter flights too.’
‘Valencia!’ exclaimed MacFarlane out of the blue.
‘What about it?’ said Leavey.
‘Rangers are playing there on Wednesday night in the European Cup.’
There was a stunned silence before MacLean said what he and Leavey were both thinking. ‘Perfect! Absolutely bloody perfect!’ They rushed back to the map and found Valencia.
Leavey put his finger on it and said, ‘We could rent a car and drive from there down to the south coast.’
MacLean agreed but asked whether or not it would be possible to get on to supporters’ plane at this late stage.
‘Leave it to me,’ said MacFarlane, asking Tansy with exaggerated politeness if he could use the phone.
‘Of course Willie,’ she said with a smile.
The sound coming from the hall suggested that it was not going to be as easy as MacFarlane had thought to get them on the flight. Tansy, Leavey and MacLean had no trouble filling in the missing half of the conversation.
‘Aw c’mon Rab, there must be room… I know it’s a big game and it’s a bit late but… Rab! You owe me a few favours pal… ‘ There was a long silence before MacFarlane spoke again. This time he said, You can? Magic! I won’t forget this Rab. Right, let’s have the details.’
MacFarlane came back into the room to an expectant audience. He smiled and said, ‘We’re going. Wednesday morning at Glasgow Airport; Rab will meet us at the check-in.’
‘Well done Willie,’ said MacLean. Tansy and Leavey echoed their praise.
‘Now we have to get the gear,’ said MacFarlane.
‘Aye. Scarves, bunnets, rosettes. You know, the colours…’
Tansy hid a smile behind her hand.
As the three of them stood in the departure lounge at Glasgow Airport, MacLean looked around him and blessed Glasgow Rangers Football Club’s involvement in European competition. The cover of travelling to an away match was perfect: they would be as inconspicuous as grains of sand on the beach. His initial reservations about wearing a scarf and Tammy had worn off and he now saw them as badges of immunity, protection from officials who waved on the many-headed beast, anxious to see the back of football supporters.
There was a carnival atmosphere in the lounge, full of optimism and anticipation, amplified by booze and encouraged by camaraderie. MacFarlane brought over three large brandies from the bar and said, ‘Might as well enter into the spirit of things eh?’
MacLean swallowed a comment about the hour before it reached his lips and chased it down with brandy. Willie was right, he decided. There would be little enough time for relaxation when they arrived in Spain and who was he to lecture men like MacFarlane and Leavey when they were risking their lives for a child they’d never even met.
They were joined by MacFarlane’s contact. He was a big cheerful man with shoulders like an ox and a grinning red face. He shook hands with Leavey and MacLean, asking them how they had managed to get time off work.
‘We’re on the rigs too,’ said Leavey. ‘Like Willie.’
‘Works out handy sometimes,’ said the red-faced man. ‘I’m burying my mother-in-law. Come to think of it, it’s the third time since Rangers got into Europe!’ He pulled out a wad of tickets and documents from an inside pocket and asked MacFarlane, ‘Who am I doing business with?’
MacFarlane nodded towards MacLean who said, ‘How much do we owe you?’
The red-faced man pointed to the slip of paper on top of the wad and held by an elastic band. MacLean paid him in cash and the big man got up, saying, ‘I’d best be getting back to the lads. If I don’t see you guys later, enjoy the game.’ He clapped MacFarlane on the shoulder.
‘Cheers Rab,’ said MacFarlane.
‘Nae problem,’ said the big man.
MacLean detected an air of apprehension behind the company smiles of the stewardesses as they filed past them to board the aircraft. One of them had held her smile too long and the corner of her mouth was starting to twitch in protest. It seemed to MacLean that they had little to worry about because good humour was still the order of the day.
The subdued boarding music of Mozart had little success against sporadic outbreaks of club songs. Several probed the air until one caught the mood of the moment and an impromptu male voice choir filled the plane. MacLean noticed that one of the men across the aisle from him had gone very pale; he recognised the symptoms as fear of flying. Unfortunately for him his companions had caught on too and were making the man’s life a misery. Several cracks on the wing were ‘discovered’ not to mention ‘bits’ on the runway.
The cabin went quiet for take-off but noise and banter resumed as soon as the warning lights were extinguished. Periodic announcements from the Captain regarding speed and current position provided fuel for the wags until, as they crossed the northern coast of Spain, the soothing tones of the captain gave way to an ill-at-ease Glasgow voice. The supporters’ club secretary had an announcement to make. He began by blowing into the microphone. This was rewarded by loud cheers from the cabin. As an encore, counting from one to three proved equally popular.
‘As secretary of this here supporters club…’ Loud boos.
‘I feel it’s incumbent on me…’ Loud cheers.
‘A fiver each way on incumbent!’ yelled a man from the back to loud laughter.
‘… tae warn yoose people aboot behaviour in Spain, or Espana as our Spanish friends call it. In particular, I feel I should reiterate
More loud cheers.
‘I’m goin’ for a double wi’ incumbent and reiterate!’ yelled the man at the back.
‘… the request of our club chairman that the Spanish Police…’
Very loud boos.
‘… should be treated with all due courtesy and consideration. The club will not countenance…’
‘Ah think you’ve got a promisin’ treble there Jimmy!’ called out a man at the front.
‘This guy’s magic!’ replied the voice from the back.
‘… any repeat of last time.’
The aircraft landed at Valencia in brilliant sunshine and the sound of the engines gave way to the banging of overhead lockers and people stretching their limbs as they stood up.
‘I need tae go,’ said a man across the gangway.
‘You’re too late,’ said his companion.’
‘What d’you mean, too late?’ asked the man indignantly.
‘You canny go while the plane’s standin’ still,’ explained his friend. ‘The next wan’ll skid on the runway.’
Everyone laughed except the man with the problem.
MacLean was relieved to find the Spanish officials as reluctant to prolong their acquaintance with football supporters as their Scottish counterparts. He could see that the passport controller was merely waving through the stream of paperwork that was waved at him.
MacLean and Leavey emerged together from the terminal building to find a warm breeze ruffling the fronds of the date palms lining the perimeter road.
‘So far so good,’ said Leavey. ‘What now?’
‘We travel with the rest into the city and then melt away,’ said MacLean. ‘Have you seen Willie?’
Leavey shook his head and said, ‘He’ll be talking to somebody.’
MacFarlane emerged from the building, deep in argument about the relative merits of several football players. He saw Leavey and MacLean waiting for him and broke away to join them. ‘Sorry about that,’ he said. ‘I got carried away.’
‘No problem,’ said MacLean. ‘The more we fit in the better. We’d best get on the bus.’
The buses taking them to the centre of Valencia were met by loud cheers from other supporters who were already there and mingling round the main square. It seemed as if the town centre had been taken over entirely by Scots wearing red, white and blue. MacLean, Leavey and MacFarlane joined their compatriots but, while stories of adventures en route were being exchanged, MacLean and Leavey were looking for signs of officialdom.
There was a strong police presence in the vicinity but, for the moment, it was maintaining a low profile. Jeeps and vans were parked up side streets; their sunglassed occupants keeping watch like guards over a chain gang in a spaghetti western. Leavey and MacLean noticed that most of the shops were closed. ‘Siesta time,’ said MacLean.
‘With no hope of being able to hire a car for the next two hours MacLean and the others went to eat. They found a small pavement cafe, which seemed less favoured by their compatriots and sat down under the welcome shade of an umbrella to order tortillas and ice-cold beer. Time passed slowly in the heat of a Spanish afternoon, especially when the initial laboured exchange of views over the outcome of the match with the owner of the cafe petered out through a lack of verbs on both sides. Nouns and hand signals could only take you so far.
After a particularly long silence MacFarlane said, ‘I feel as if I’m waiting for a train.’
‘The one bringing the bad guy back to town,’ smiled MacLean.
‘They’re starting to open,’ said Leavey, nodding across the street to a trader who was removing the shutters from his window.
‘Let’s make a move,’ said MacLean. He settled the bill with the owner who smiled and said that he hoped they would enjoy the match whatever the result.
They started to drift away from the centre with the intention of getting rid of their scarves and paraphernalia. At first they ambled along slowly but as soon as they had turned off into a side street they quickened their pace. They had gone about two kilometres when a police car drew up behind them. Two policemen got out and slammed the doors in unison. Neither looked friendly.
‘Where you go?’ asked one.
Just taking a look around,’ said Leavey evenly.
‘No look around. You go back this way,’ said the policeman, pointing towards the centre.
‘Och, we’re not doing any harm, man,’ said MacFarlane with a smile that wasn’t returned.
‘They want to keep us altogether Willie,’ said Leavey. ‘We’re easier to control that way.’
‘Si,’ said the policeman, smiling for the first time but there was no humour in it. ‘Just like the animals… ‘
‘Now wait a minute!’ said MacFarlane angrily.
‘Cool it Willie,’ said Leavey through his teeth.
Leavey’s intervention wasn’t enough to satisfy the policeman who resented the fact that MacFarlane had started to face up to him. ‘You go back now!’ he hissed, ramming his baton into MacFarlane’s midriff.
MacFarlane doubled over and Leavey put a restraining hand on the policeman’s arm saying, ‘Easy, there’s no need for that. We’re going.’
Leavey and MacLean helped MacFarlane to his feet and they started to move back towards the centre of town. ‘Arsehole!’ gasped MacFarlane as he got back his breath.
‘Wait!’ commanded the policeman. He had heard what MacFarlane had said. His companion said something rapidly in Spanish, which MacLean interpreted as an exhortation to let it go, but the man had other ideas. He poked MacFarlane again with his baton. Again Leavey intervened, holding up his arms in a gesture of conciliation. ‘We’re going, we’re going,’ he crooned.
‘No!’ rasped the policeman. ‘Empty your bags.’
Leavey looked for a moment as if he had run out of patience but MacLean said under his breath, ‘Bite the bullet! Do as he says.’
All three emptied their holdalls on to the pavement while the surly policeman examined their belongings with the toe of his boot, a gesture that added to the intended humiliation. His colleague moved uneasily from foot to foot, unwilling to be a part of it but without any power to stop it.
Leavey tensed when the policeman made a point of grinding the sole of his boot on one of his shirts but did nothing.
‘What’ this?’ asked the policeman, pointing with his toe to one of Leavey’s camera cases.
‘A telephoto lens,’ replied Leavey evenly but he exchanged a glance with MacLean which said that it wasn’t. MacLean prepared himself for the worst.
‘Open it!’ said the policeman.
‘Please Senor,’ said Leavey. ‘We are very sorry for all the trouble we have caused. Please let us rejoin our friends and we’ll be no more bother.’
‘Open it,’ said the policeman, sensing that he was on to something.
Leavey shrugged his shoulders in apparent acquiescence and made as if to bend down for the case. Instead he straightened up and hit the policeman with a short right to the jaw. The man slumped to the pavement. MacLean, who had been expecting it, hit the other policeman almost before the man realised what was happening and he too fell to the ground.
‘That’s torn it,’ said MacFarlane.
‘Let’s get our gear and get out of here!’ said MacLean.
They scrambled up their belongings, stuffing them back into their bags and started running back towards the centre and the safety of the crowds. After a few minutes the sound of a police siren told them that they were not going to make it in time. They stopped at a junction and looked both ways for inspiration. There was a group of twenty or so football supporters quite near. The decision was made for them. They joined the group and got their breath back but they were still vulnerable; the group was too small for anonymity.
The sound of the siren grew louder until they saw a police car cross the junction where they had turned off. Leavey looked anxiously at MacLean as the sound of the siren died in a long slow wail. The car had stopped on the other side of the junction. They waited for the whine of reverse gear and were not disappointed. The police car reversed back to the junction and turned slowly into their street.
Leavey indicated that MacFarlane should stay with the crowd and the little man nodded, pulling his Tammy down a bit further and sinking into his scarf.
‘In here,’ said Leavey to MacLean. It was a leather goods store, which seemed suitably dark inside. They made for the furthest corner and examined whatever they found there. It turned out to be watchstraps.
‘Si?’ said the assistant.
MacLean pointed to his wrist. ‘New strap please,’ he said.
The assistant looked at MacLean’s watch and began pointing out suitable kinds. The police car was drifting past the window.
‘Morocco?’ said the assistant. The police car had passed the window.
Car doors slammed.
MacLean saw peaked caps and sunglasses pass the window. ‘I think I like this one,’ he said.
‘Would you fit it for me?’
‘Si Senor,’ replied the assistant with less enthusiasm this time.
MacLean, aware of a commotion starting outside, fumbled at his watchstrap in order to delay as much as possible. The noise outside seemed to reach a crescendo and then fade as car doors slammed again and an engine roared into life. A car moved off and MacLean prayed that it was the police car. He paid for the watchstrap to an assistant who was clearly bemused as to why he had just replaced a perfectly good watchstrap but was too polite to question it. ‘Muchas gracias, Senor.’
Leavey and MacLean rejoined the crowd, anxious to find out what had been going on. They saw with relief that MacFarlane was still among them but now he was the centre of attention.
‘You guys missed all the fun,’ said one man.
‘Why? What happened?’ asked Leavey.
Half a dozen voices wanted to relate the story at the same time but eventually MacLean gathered that the police had identified MacFarlane as one of the three they were looking for but the others had prevented the police from taking him away.
‘Two big guys against the wee man here just wasn’t on!’
‘They’ll be back in numbers,’ warned Leavey.
‘Let them come,’ said one hero who looked as if he couldn’t run for a bus.
‘Our best bet is to get back to the square and join the others,’ said Leavey.
‘Aye, safety in numbers,’ agreed one man.
‘Plus the fact that someone in the police with brains might work out that it might be best to let the whole matter drop rather than cause a riot.
A murmur of agreement carried the motion and they all started to move quickly back to the square.
MacLean sat down on a low stone wall that circled a fountain in the square and was joined by Leavey and MacFarlane. The fountain itself was dry and the layer of dust and dirt round the base said that it had been a long time since water flowed in it but the thought was there. The numbers of blue scarves in the vicinity was comfortably back in the hundreds and the police chose not to make their presence felt in the square itself. They remained content to cover all the exits making sure that the foreigners were confined to the one area until match time.
‘What do you think?’ asked Leavey.
‘We’re trapped,’ replied MacLean.
‘Our best chance of breaking away will come later when they start herding us to the stadium,’ said Leavey. ‘They’ll be posted along the route but they’ll assume we’re all going to the match anyway.’
‘The trouble is it’ll be too late to get a car by then,’ said MacLean.
‘We could borrow one,’ suggested MacFarlane.
‘It may come to that,’ conceded MacLean. ‘But we’re in enough trouble with police assault charges if they catch us without stealing a car if we can possibly avoid it. They fell to silence again until MacLean’s gaze fell on the large hotel at the east end of the square. It gave him an idea. ‘We could rent a car through the hotel,’ he said to Leavey.
Leavey looked at the Plaza Hotel with its row of international flags along the front and said, ‘We’d have to be resident.’
‘It looks big enough for most of the residents to be anonymous anyway. We could give it a try?’
They agreed that it was their best chance and made a plan. When the moment seemed right they would get rid of all the accessories that marked them out as football supporters. Leavey would cross to the hotel and take a seat in the lobby. A few minutes later, MacLean and MacFarlane would enter to be greeted by Leavey who would appear to have been waiting for them. All three would then start walking along the lobby to the right. From the location of the front door they knew that there had to be one. They would pretend to be in conversation but actually taking in as much about their surroundings as possible. When they were safely out of sight of Reception they would stop and compare notes.
Leavey removed his hat and scarf and passed them to MacLean who stuffed them down a crack in the wall he was sitting on. He was about to start out for the hotel when MacLean stopped him. ‘Wait!’ A police jeep had appeared at the entrance to a lane running up the side of the hotel. It was too close to the main entrance for comfort. If either of the two policemen in it should turn out to be those of previous acquaintance Leavey would be recognised. Leavey swore under his breath and cursed his luck.
A few minutes later they saw the jeep turn and move off, its occupants bored with sitting. ‘I’m going,’ said Leavey and the others watched him cross to the hotel and disappear through the front doors. Six minutes later MacLean and MacFarlane joined him. The plan worked well and the three of them stopped at the end of the hotel shopping arcade to compare notes. They pretended to be intent on examining the Lladro figures in the last shop window while they spoke.
‘No one gave us a second look,’ said MacFarlane.
‘Good,’ said MacLean. ‘What did we see?’
‘The lifts and a cocktail bar were to the left as we came in,’ said Leavey.
‘Two tour operators’ desks at the start of the arcade and a Herz car rental desk,’ said MacLean.
‘But unmanned,’ added Leavey.
‘One of the tour operators’ desks was manned,’ said MacLean. ‘And it was English.’
‘Sunkist Tours,’ said MacFarlane.
‘Worth a try,’ said Leavey. ‘You or me?’
‘Me,’ said MacLean after a moment’s thought. ‘Follow me back to the desk and chat in the background.’
MacLean took a deep breath and walked purposefully back to the tour operators’ area with the other two in his wake. ‘Ah, there’s our girl,’ he announced in a loud voice as he approached the Sunkist desk.
‘Can I help you sir?’ asked the girl in the company red blazer.
MacLean noticed that she was wearing a lapel badge with her name on it. ‘Yes indeed Vera,’ he said, incorporating familiarity into his act. ‘We thought we might take a trip down to Alicante for a spot of fun at the casino. Trouble is, we need transport and the Herz desk is closed. Any chance of some help with car hire?’
‘No problem,’ replied Vera, accepting them as her own and feeling guilty about having forgotten their names but then she couldn’t remember everyone could she? ‘I can have one here for you in about half an hour.’
‘Splendid,’ said MacLean.
‘Small or large car?’
‘Something in the middle I think,’ laughed MacLean, keeping up his ‘loud businessman on holiday’ act.
‘A Seat Ibiza?’ said Vera.
‘You’ll have to remind me of your room number,’ said Vera, giving MacLean a bad moment.
‘We’ll just wait in the bar Vera,’ said MacLean pretending to be preoccupied with something Leavey or MacFarlane had said in the background.
‘I need your room number sir,’ repeated Vera. ‘For the bill.’
MacLean breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Oh, I think I’ll just pay cash,’ he said. He leaned on the desk conspiratorially and stage-whispered, ‘The company’s paying for us chaps to have a bit of a break but I don’t think they’ll run to cars and casinos, eh?’
‘Very good sir,’ said Vera dutifully.
MacLean gulped down a brandy at the bar as Leavey and MacFarlane congratulated him. ‘That deserved an Oscar,’ said MacFarlane.
‘As long as it deserved a car,’ replied MacLean.
At six o’ clock precisely a blue Seat Ibiza was delivered to the front door of the hotel and Vera signed the driver’s docket. She finalised the paperwork with MacLean and ushered the three of them to the door, reminding them that it was the Sunkist barbecue on Saturday.
‘Wouldn’t miss it for the world Vera,’ said MacLean with a big smile as he accepted the keys.
‘Good luck at the casino.’
MacLean waited until another car just passed the hotel entrance before nursing the Seat out behind it to thread through the milling football supporters and out of the square. Leavey and MacFarlane ducked down below window level and MacLean held his breath as they slowly passed the police patrol guarding the bottleneck at the head of the square. The policemen paid them no attention. ‘Okay,’ he whispered as they picked up speed. ‘We’re out.’ A few moments later they picked up their first road sign and started following the route to Motorway 7. Ten more minutes of town traffic and they were heading south on the Mediterranean Highway.
The initial euphoria at being out on the road and back on course gave way to quiet reflection on what might have been. They had come perilously close to falling at the very first hurdle. ‘We were lucky,’ said Leavey and no one disagreed.
It was dark by the time they saw the lights of Alicante twinkling up ahead. MacLean checked the fuel gauge and found no immediate problem. He asked if there was any other reason to stop and took the silence as a negative.
‘We have a decision to make,’ said MacLean. ‘The motorway ends soon. We can either follow the Med Highway right round the coast or we could turn off and head up into the Sierra Nevada; that would be shorter but presumably slower. What d’you think?’
Leavey went for the coastal route and MacFarlane agreed; if they encountered problems it would be easier to deal with them on the busy coast road rather than up in the snowy mountain passes.
‘The Med Highway it is then,’ said MacLean.
They stopped in Murcia to take on fuel and have something to eat at a local cafe. ‘How far have we come?’ asked MacFarlane as he leaned back in his seat to allow the waiter to place a small plate of tapas in front of them. ‘About two hundred miles,’ replied MacLean, helping himself to a black olive. ‘Only three hundred to go.’
Leavey returned from the toilet and they placed their order, all of them going for steak with Rioja red to wash it down. Leavey declined any more wine after one glass, saying he would take over driving when they left. MacLean didn’t argue; the events of the afternoon and the first section of the drive had left him feeling tired. He looked forward to taking a bit of a nap on the next leg.
They stopped again at Almeria on the eastern tip of the Costa del Sol. The highway had taken them well back from the coast since leaving Murcia but now it had returned to court the shores of the Med. The moon was high and they found an all-night bar with a veranda, which permitted them to sit outside and enjoy the moonlight on the water as they sipped cold beer. MacLean watched the water lap therapeutically against the rocks for a while before looking up at the moon and thinking of Tansy. Their mission had got off to a shaky start but things were now running more smoothly. He was beginning to feel less tense. He looked at his watch and suggested they might as well sit where they where a while longer. There was no point in getting to Malaga before breakfast time so they had another beer.
The sun was up and shining brightly on the cliffs of Malaga when they drove into town and looked for somewhere to park near the harbour. MacLean, not wishing to presume too much on the good nature of his friends, suggested that they book into a hotel for a bath and a decent sleep before they continued. Leavey and MacFarlane would not hear of it, insisting that they weren’t tired at all. Instead of putting off time they would have breakfast and then start shopping for maps of the surrounding district.
To his surprise, MacLean came across a booklet entitled, MIJAS, among the maps and tourist guides to Andalucia. He picked it up with a strange feeling of guilt and bemusement. In his mind, the name had come to symbolise a most secret place, the place that Jean-Paul and Eva had died to discover, the place that Lehman Steiner would kill to keep anyone away from and here it was being advertised as a tourist attraction. It didn’t seem right.
MacLean felt a thousand imaginary eyes follow him as he bought the booklet along with two other maps. As they walked back to the harbour, an awful doubt began to nag away at him. Could there be more than one place in the world pronounced May Haas? They had all been so pleased at Tansy’s deduction that none of them had considered this possibility.
MacLean read through the booklet by the harbour wall. Eventually he sighed and snapped it shut with a shake of the head.
‘Something wrong?’ asked Leavey.
‘Maybe,’ said MacLean. ‘According to this, Mijas is a pretty little Andalucian village cut into the mountains with lots of little white houses, all with geranium-filled window boxes, donkeys in the streets and the sound of guitars. Plenty of bars and cafes but as for pharmaceutical companies and research laboratories, forget it. There aren’t any.’
‘Maybe they keep that sort of thing away from the tourist area,’ suggested Leavey.
MacLean was worried. ‘It’s high in the mountains,’ he said. ‘Not exactly the location for an industrial estate.’
They got back into the Seat and set off to find the bus station in Malaga, having decided it would be unwise to drive up to Mijas. Leavey had convinced MacLean for the time being that Tansy had not been wrong and that they were on the right track. This being the case, they must continue to take all precautions.
The bus station was crowded, not with the young tourists that the summer would bring, but with the old who were escaping the misery of winter in northern Europe. Their faces were tanned and the sun was easing arthritic joints. MacFarlane found the correct queue but Leavey came up with a better alternative.
A property company was promoting sales of their villas in a new development near Mijas by running guided tours of their site. A bus would leave for the mountains in ten minutes and there was room on board for the three of them. They would tour the site, be shown around one of the company’s villas and then be given time to look around Mijas to ‘capture the atmosphere of the place’. MacLean agreed that this would be the ideal safe way to visit Mijas. They would be as near to anonymous as they could get in such a party.
The bus climbed slowly up into the mountains of the Sierra de Mijas, labouring in low gear all the way up the zig-zag road until they had reached the property development. It was located on the eastern edge of Mijas itself and afforded them a spectacular view out over the coastal resort of Fuengirola to the Mediterranean and even, their guide insisted, to the coast of North Africa beyond. MacLean shivered slightly as he waited patiently for the guided tour of the villas to end. It had been pleasantly warm down on the coast but up here in the mountains it had become markedly chilly.
Clutching their presentation packs in blue folders, the twenty or so people on the tour were taken into Mijas itself and invited to look round for themselves. The bus would leave for Malaga in an hour. MacLean and the other two had decided in advance that they would split up and search independently before meeting up again at the curiously small bullring which sat on the western edge of the village.
MacLean had to admit that Mijas was indeed pretty but the more he saw of it the more his fears were being realised. There was no way that these tiny Andalucian streets and alleys were concealing an 18 million-dollar research project financed by Lehman Steiner. With fourteen minutes left before he was due to meet up with Leavey and MacFarlane, he sat down at an outside table of a pavement cafe and ordered coffee and a Cognac. He was feeling low.
MacLean could tell before anyone spoke that Leavey and MacFarlane had had a similar lack of success in their searches.
‘Nothing,’ said Leavey.
‘Nothing,’ echoed MacFarlane.
‘Nothing,’ agreed MacLean. ‘The place is totally wrong for what we are looking for. Any kind of research establishment would stick out like a sore thumb.’
‘Not that they’d even be allowed to build it here anyway,’ said Leavey.
‘So we’ve failed,’ said MacLean, throwing a pebble into the dust of the arena.
‘I suppose we might have missed something?’ tried MacFarlane, but there was little conviction in his voice and he got no support from the others.
‘It was such a good idea,’ said Leavey wryly. ‘It deserved to be right.’
They left the bullring and circled the ramparts on the south-west edge of the town, looking out to sea over olive groves, which basked on the lower slopes of the Sierra. MacLean found it hard to think about the view when failure was weighing so heavily on his shoulders. Time was passing for Carrie and now they were back at square one with the prospect of having to go back to Geneva after all.
‘Do you know why Olive trees have a split trunk?’ asked Leavey quietly.
MacLean shook his head.
‘The Arabs say that the Olive tree broke its heart when Mohammed died.’
MacLean smiled distantly and empathised with the tree.
‘God, that sea looks inviting,’ said MacFarlane who joined them at the wall.’
MacLean looked at him and then at Leavey. He said, ‘Let’s go swim in it. We need a break. We’ll eat, get drunk and then face up to reality. What do you say?’
‘Sounds good,’ said Leavey. MacFarlane readily agreed.
They started to make their way down the mountain towards Fuengirola on foot, not only because they had missed the return journey on the tour bus from Malaga and a service bus was not due for another half hour but also because they agreed that they needed the exercise. The long journey down from Valencia had left them with a series of aches and pains, most of them derived from trying to sleep in awkward positions in the car.
At first it felt good to be stretching their legs but as time went on the steepness of the slopes began to take its toll on their knees and ankles. They stopped in the cool shade of a high white wall, which spread out on either side of an imposing black wrought-iron gate. The words Hacienda Yunque were emblazoned on the arch over the gate.
‘Not exactly a but-and-ben,’ said MacFarlane.
The others concurred with admiring glances as they walked up to the gate to look at the building. It was set into the rock face some two hundred metres away and fronted by orchards of orange and lemon trees. There was no indication of what the building was or who owned it.
They sat down and rested their backs against the wall to watch the heat shimmer off the high sierra in silence for a while and until their legs had recovered sufficiently for them to continue. In the end, it took well over two hours to complete the descent and reach the dusty, busy streets of Fuengirola.
Just as the bus station in Malaga had been, the broad esplanade of the Paseo Maritimo was thronged with the aged from the north, sweatered and cardiganed against the imagined threat of sudden chill.
‘It’s a bit like Brighton,’ said Leavey.
‘It’s a lot like Brighton,’ said MacLean.
They swam in the sea which still had the chill of winter about it but, after the heat of the afternoon, no one was complaining and it was good to rid their bodies of the sweat of the tough climb down the mountain. As they towelled themselves down, all three agreed that they had worked up an appetite.
The sea-front cafes and restaurants were busy with tourists so they took a walk along the back streets to find a better alternative. ‘Jose’s looked like the kind of place they had been searching for. It was just opening after the afternoon siesta and the owner welcomed them as his first customers.
Jose proved to be a very likeable man who, on discovering their nationality, was keen to discuss the football of the previous evening. In that, he found a kindred spirit in MacFarlane and readily accepted Willie’s invitation to join him in a drink. The match had ended in a draw so this put the conversation on an even keel. MacFarlane sat at the bar talking to Jose while Leavey and MacLean sat down at a table by the window, neither having any great interest in football.
‘What’s the plan now?’ asked Leavey.
‘We’ll have something to eat, a few drinks and then get a cab along the coast to Malaga to pick up the car,’ said MacLean.
‘That isn’t exactly what I meant,’ said Leavey quietly.
MacLean nodded and replied, ‘We may have to go to Geneva after all.’
‘So be it,’ said Leavey.
MacLean smiled at him and said, ‘Nothing gets you down does it?’
‘I don’t let it,’ said Leavey.
‘I wish I could say that,’ said MacLean.
‘Don’t lose heart,’ said Leavey. ‘We’ll get the stuff for her. One way or another, we’ll get it.’
MacLean looked at Leavey and nodded. ‘Thanks Nick,’ he said. ‘I almost believe you.’
A beautiful white Mercedes coupe, driven by an equally beautiful blonde woman drifted past the door of the cafe. It was moving slowly because the streets were so narrow and the sound of the engine was barely audible. All conversation stopped in the bar until she had passed.
‘Very nice,’ said MacFarlane.
‘Hacienda Yunque,’ said Jose.
MacLean found the name familiar and remembered that they had sat in the shade of its walls on their way down the mountain. ‘Is she the owner?’ he asked.
‘No Senor, she will be staying there.’
‘It’s a hotel?’
Jose adopted an expression that said it wasn’t a hotel but he couldn’t think of the right English word to describe it. ‘Ees for health,’ he said.
‘A health farm?’ suggested MacLean.
The bar owner made ambivalent gestures with his hands and said, ‘Ees for wealthy ladies who want to look better than God intend.’
They laughed but MacLean felt the hairs on the back of his neck begin to stand on end. He exchanged glances with Leavey who had also caught on to the significance of what Jose had said. ‘So it’s not so much a health farm, more like a clinic?’
‘Si!’ exclaimed Jose, raising his hands in the air with exaggerated relief. ‘Ees a clinic. Hacienda Yunque ees a clinic.’
‘Oh sweet Jesus,’ said Leavey under his breath.
MacLean’s pulse was racing. He had to caution himself to be calm and take his time in asking questions. Was there really a chance that Tansy had been right after all and that the Hacienda Yunque was the place they were looking for? Surely fate could not have been so unkind as to put a clinic carrying out cosmetic surgery in Mijas as an innocent red herring?
‘The Hacienda is a very beautiful place,’ said MacLean.
‘For many it was not so beautiful on the inside Senor,’ replied Jose.
‘In the time of Franco the Hacienda was owned by the government. The state police used it. Many people were brought to it for questioning. Some were never seen again.’
Jose said, ‘The whole truth never came out. Almost as soon as Franco died, foreign people came and the building became a clinic. My daughter worked there for a while when it first opened but she got scared and left.’
‘Scared?’ asked MacLean.
‘Do you believe in ghosts Senor?’
‘No,’ said MacLean.
‘Me neither,’ said Jose. ‘But many people say that at night you can hear the cries of the people who were locked up and tortured in the Hacienda all these years ago. My daughter said that she heard them too. I believe her.’
‘Is that Maria?’ asked MacLean, nodding to a pretty, dark-haired girl who appeared at intervals in the doorway leading to the kitchen.
‘Si,’ said Jose. He called to the girl who joined them at the bar. She rested her arm on her father’s shoulder while he slipped an arm round her waist. ‘We are talking about the Hacienda Yunque, Maria. I was telling the Senors that you once worked there.’
‘Briefly,’ said the girl.
The word took MacLean by surprise. It was not one he had expected to hear and had been said with very little trace of accent and clear-eyed confidence. There was clearly more to Maria than a local girl who helped out in the kitchen.
‘You’re a student Maria?’ asked MacLean.
‘Yes, why do you ask?’
‘Your English is perfect.’
‘What are you studying?’
‘English,’ replied Maria with a smile.
MacLean asked Maria about the ghost stories and she joined MacLean and Leavey at a table while her father and Willie MacFarlane went back to discussing football.
‘Do you have an interest in the Hacienda?’ asked Maria.
‘In a way.’
‘I didn’t work there for very long, just a few weeks during one vacation but it was long enough to frighten me.’
‘The sounds in the night?’
‘Not just that,’ said Maria, ‘Although I did hear something, I swear.’
‘Then what else?’
‘There’s something very odd about the place. People go missing.’
‘Missing?’ asked Leavey.
‘No less than six local girls have disappeared since they went to work at the Hacienda.’
‘But surely the police… ‘
‘No you don’t understand. They go to work at the clinic then suddenly they decide to leave and seek jobs in other parts of Spain. They send post-cards saying that they are all right but they never write letters with addresses on.’
‘Maybe they see the rich clients at the clinic and get a taste for the good life. It happens.’
Maria shook her head. ‘Not my friend Carla!’ she insisted. ‘Carla Vasquez and I were best friends. We played together when we were children; we went to school together; we told each other everything. She would never have gone off without telling me first.’
‘And you’ve heard nothing since? asked MacLean.
‘Nothing. Her mother has had two post-cards saying that she is well and happy but I don’t believe it. There’s something wrong, I’m sure of it.’
‘What about post-marks?’
‘Madrid,’ said Maria.
‘And Madrid is a very big place,’ conceded MacLean.
‘Si, and far away.’
MacLean asked about the patients at the clinic. What were they like?’
‘Rich women,’ said Maria. ‘Nearly always from the north of Europe, Germany, Holland, Scandinavia, England. Many have titles.’
‘Why do they come here? Do you know?’
‘The Hacienda has a reputation for being the best,’ said Maria. Everything is of the very highest quality. Even the most difficult patients seem pleased.’
‘What sort of treatment do they come for?’
‘Oh, the usual,’ said Maria. She cupped her hands unnecessarily under her own small breasts and made a lifting movement then she gripped her right thigh as if it was much larger than it was and said, ‘The riding breeches.’
MacLean smiled at the terminology. ‘How about faces?’ he asked tentatively.
‘A lot of face lifts,’ said Maria. ‘Noses, chins and eyes. The surgeons are very good; they never leave scars. There is nothing to tell other women that an operation has been carried out.’
MacLean swallowed. ‘No scars? Was it conceivable that they were using Cytogerm for cosmetic surgery and ignoring the risks? He balked at the thought.
‘Why are you so interested in the Hacienda, Senor?’ asked Maria.
‘Like you, I think there is something wrong about the place,’ said MacLean. ‘It’s much too long a story to tell you just now but we three have come here to find out the truth. We may need your help. What do you say?’
Maria did not hesitate. She said, ‘I will do anything that will help me find out what happened Carla.’
MacFarlane came across to the table to ask what they were talking about.
‘I think we have found what we came here to find, Willie,’ said MacLean.
‘So it is here after all?’ said MacFarlane.
‘Looks like it,’ said Leavey. ‘And from what Maria told us we were sitting in the shade of its walls this afternoon.’
The original plan to return to Malaga was scrapped. MacLean asked about the possibility of renting accommodation in Fuengirola. Maria thought that it should not be too much of a problem at that time in the season. Most of the apartment blocks along the sea front had been built for letting purposes. MacLean, anxious to maintain as low a profile as possible, asked if she knew of anything personally. He saw from her eyes that she had taken his point.
Maria said something to her father in rapid Spanish. MacLean managed to abstract the word, ‘Perla’ from the reply. He remembered that he had seen the word on an apartment block in the Paseo Maritimo. He was right. Maria said that her father had a friend who owned property in the building. He would telephone him. Twenty minutes later, after thanking Jose and Maria and saying that they would see them in the morning, MacLean got into a cab with Leavey and MacFarlane. It would take them to their new apartment in the Paseo Maritimo.
At two in the morning the three men were still sitting on the balcony of the apartment quietly discussing the swinging fortunes of the day. The air was pleasantly warm, although humid, and a moon shone down from a cloudless sky to highlight the waves as they lapped gently on the shore below.
‘Maybe we should have gone back to pick up the car,’ said MacLean.
‘Let’s just leave it,’ said Leavey. ‘It’s just another rented car that got dumped; happens all the time. It wasn’t damaged so no harm done; there’s nothing there to concern the police.’
MacLean felt reassured. He wished that he had Leavey’s capacity for analysing each situation on its merits instead of a Scottish conscience that promised disaster as a consequence of every misdemeanour.
MacFarlane stretched his arms in the air and yawned. ‘I think I’ll turn in,’ he said.
‘Me too,’ said Leavey, getting up and grimacing at the noise his chair made on the balcony tiles.’
‘Ssh! You’ll have the neighbours round!’ chided MacFarlane.
MacLean was left alone. He too was tired but a crocodile of questions was queuing up for his attention. If he took them to bed he wouldn’t sleep. He stood up and leaned on the balcony rail to look at the silhouettes of the fishing boats which had been pulled up on the beach for the night. It wasn’t that any of the questions to be answered were difficult, it was fitting all the answers together that was the problem.
If Von Jonek was using Cytogerm on wealthy, influential women for purely cosmetic reasons it must mean that he had found a way round the problem of tumour induction. But if that were true, why keep it a secret? And why was such a major advance being squandered on such trivial surgery? Von Jonek had to have found a way round the problem, hadn’t he? Surely he couldn’t be using Cytogerm with a ten- percent death rate… could he? Hell no, reasoned MacLean. The aristocracy of Europe hadn’t tolerated a ten percent death rate since the French Revolution.
It was now some time after three in the morning and tiredness was winning. It seemed an awfully long time since he’d been in bed.
It was after eleven before the three men were up and about again. MacLean was pleased that they had managed to sleep well because they had all been in need of a good rest and there was no hurry this morning. They still had quite a lot to ask Maria before they even thought of tackling the Hacienda Yunque. They arrived at Jose’s in time for lunch.
MacLean had just started to ask her some more about the workings of the Hacienda when some customers arrived and sat down at an outside table. Maria smiled and excused herself before going to serve them. MacLean liked the way she had shown no sign of irritation at the interruption. He silently congratulated Jose on his daughter.
The more MacLean learned of the Hacienda Yunque the more puzzled he became. According to Maria, there was very little in the way of security at the clinic and certainly no armed guards.
‘Why should there be?’ Maria asked.
‘Why indeed,’ agreed MacLean ruefully but the notion that X14 would be a top security laboratory facility surrounded by barbed wire and under constant surveillance was hard to get rid of. Why should an upmarket cosmetic clinic need any such precautions?
Leavey asked about local suppliers to the clinic and MacLean saw the way his mind was working. He was considering the best way to gain access to the inside.
‘None,’ replied Maria.
‘None at all?’ exclaimed MacFarlane.
‘Everything is delivered from the north,’ said Maria. ‘Local produce is not good enough for the high-born ladies of the Hacienda.’
MacLean asked about the use of local tradesmen, electricians, plumbers and the like.
‘No,’ said Maria. ‘The clinic has its own maintenance staff.’
‘But the clinic must employ some local people,’ said Leavey.
Maria realised that he was alluding to her own time there and the girls who had ‘disappeared’. ‘Of course,’ she said. ‘For cleaning and cooking. A bus takes them up in the morning and brings them back in the afternoon.’
‘All women?’ asked MacLean.
MacLean sighed and looked to Leavey who said, ‘Not much scope for slipping in unnoticed.’
‘How about the medical and nursing staff Maria?’ asked MacLean.
‘None of them is Spanish.
‘But the director is Dr Von Jonek?’ said MacLean.
‘No Senor, the director’s name is, LeBlanc.’
MacLean felt the rug pulled from beneath him. Maria had never seen or heard of Von Jonek. Did that mean that the Hacienda Yunque was not the site of the X14 project after all? A cloud of depression engulfed him. It was possible that he had jumped to conclusions on the basis of circumstantial evidence. Maria had told him that the patients looked so well after surgery so he had immediately supposed that Cytogerm was being used. If he had stopped to think for a moment he would have realised that an essential part of cosmetic surgery was the disguising and minimising of scarring. It was very different from the surgery he had been used to. The surgeons at the Hacienda Yunque had no damaged tissue to contend with. There was no reason for the patients not to look well after surgery.
Maria sensed that something was wrong and MacLean told her that maybe the Hacienda was not the place they were looking for after all.
‘But what about Carla and the others?
MacLean shrugged apologetically.
The others were reluctant to let go too. Leavey said, ‘It’s stretching coincidence a bit far to find a link with plastic surgery here in Mijas and for it not to be concerned in some way with Lehman Steiner.’
‘But where is Von Jonek?’ argued MacLean.
‘Why is this man so important?’ asked Maria.
MacLean decided to tell her a little more. He told her that they were searching for a chemical that Von Jonek had stolen from him some years before in Geneva.
‘And it’s worth a lot of money?’
‘It’s worth more than money,’ said MacLean without explaining further.
To end the ensuing silence Leavey suddenly asked, ‘What does Yunque mean, Maria?
‘It means… ‘ Maria hesitated as she tried to remember the English word. She made hammering motions with her hand.
MacLean beat her to it as it came to him in a sudden rush. ‘Anvil!’ he exclaimed.
Leavey broke into a rare smile and MacFarlane said, Coincidence doesn’t stretch that far.’
MacLean agreed. ‘This has to be the place.’
‘I’ve been thinking about what you asked me yesterday,’ said Maria. ‘There is one local service that the doctors at the clinic use. They use a laboratory service in the town for lab tests on their patients.’
Questions followed thick and fast. MacLean wanted to know all about the lab, how big it was, how many people worked there, and whether the analysts ever went to the clinic themselves.
The service was run by one man working on his own and yes, he did go to the Hacienda, twice a week to cross-match blood for patients before they underwent surgery. There was always a possibility that things might go wrong in surgery and the patient might haemorrhage. A supply of fresh blood matched to the patient’s own had to be kept in readiness.
‘What other services does this man provide?’ asked MacLean.
‘Routine clinical tests for the doctors in the town,’ replied Maria.
‘What happens if he’s ill?’
‘I don’t know, Senor.’
‘A locum will go to the clinic instead,’ said Leavey with plain meaning.
‘Quite so,’ replied MacLean. ‘If only I can remember how to cross-match blood.’
‘And the man falls ill,’ added MacFarlane.
That evening, when it got dark, MacLean and the others went round to the address Maria had given them and found the sign outside the door. The Juan Tormo Laboratorio was located on the first floor of a four storey building in a quiet street that ran parallel to the Paseo Maritimo and some three blocks north of it. MacFarlane went up to have a look at the front door while Leavey and MacLean took a walk. They turned round after a few hundred metres and met MacFarlane coming to meet them. They could tell from his grin that he had been successful.
‘It’s open. I didn’t damage the lock; I can lock up again when you’ve finished.’
MacLean wasn’t sure what he was looking for when he entered the lab and used the torch that Leavey had given him to find his way around. He just needed some kind of feel for the set-up. The lab consisted of two rooms and an office. One room was equipped for bacteriology, the other for blood tests. There was nothing ultra-modern or daunting about the equipment but what there was seemed adequate for routine lab testing in a small town.
MacLean did not waste much time on the labs. He concentrated his attention on the books and papers in the office, starting with the diary and daybook. He was encouraged when he found the initials ‘H.Y.’ pencilled opposite Tuesday and Thursday of the following week, presumably these would be the days for blood tests at the clinic. The question now was, how could he possibly go in Tormo’s place? He continued leafing through the paperwork on the desk and found letters and circulars from various learned societies.
It was becoming apparent that Tormo was a committee man. His society membership certificates were displayed on the wall in glass-fronted frames as was a photograph of the man himself dressed in academic robes. No patient would ever come to these premises so there was no call to display such items for the reassurance of others. MacLean examined the photograph and considered that he had learned quite a lot about the man, most importantly, his Achilles’ heel; he was self-important. This could be used.
MacLean flicked idly through the pages of the journal of the ‘International Society of Medical Analysts’, stopping as he came to a photograph of a man in a white coat looking suitably serious. The article was headed, ‘A Week in the Life of… ‘ The current article was devoted to Dr David Schulz who ran ‘a busy practice in Hamburg’. The reporter had followed him through an average week. This seemed to be a regular feature and it gave MacLean the idea he was looking for. He put everything back the way he had found it and left the premises to rejoin MacFarlane and Leavey.
‘Finished?’ asked MacFarlane.
‘Thanks Willie,’ said MacLean. MacFarlane went back upstairs to lock up.
‘How’d it go?’ asked Leavey.
‘I think I know how to do it,’ replied MacLean.
Next morning MacLean turned up at the Juan Tormo Laboratorio and announced himself as a representative of the International Society of Medical Analysts. He was received warmly by Tormo who turned out to be a lot older than the graduation photograph MacLean had seen on the wall. The years had turned him into a small, dapper man in his middle fifties with a dark pencil-thin moustache, which gave him the air of a silent-film villain. MacLean could not avoid an image of Tormo tying a widow to a railway track while a train thundered (silently) round the bend.
He explained that he had been detailed by the society to find a suitable Spanish candidate for their ‘Week in the Life’ spot in the journal. He had been to Madrid and Barcelona interviewing likely candidates and had come south for a short holiday before returning to the rigours of winter. He had just happened to see Tormo’s sign while passing and it had given him an inspired idea…
Tormo took the bait, modestly protesting the smallness of his operation but beaming with pleasure at the possibility of seeing his own photograph appear in the journal. His practice was small but very interesting and varied, he maintained. He thought that there was plenty here to interest the readership.
‘Interesting,’ said MacLean, pretending to take notes.
‘What exactly would this involve?’ asked Tormo.
MacLean told him that he only had a week left to spend in the south. He would call head office in Paris and if they agreed with his plan he would spend the whole week with Tormo, following his every working move. He presumed that Tormo would be visiting various surgeries etc?
Tormo began selling himself to MacLean as MacLean hoped he would. On Tuesday he would be working at the Hacienda Yunque, one of the most prestigious private clinics in the country. Tormo lingered on the exclusive nature of the clientele and MacLean realised that he had met his first Spanish snob. This was good. Snobs were always predictable. He said that he thought Tormo’s role as consultant to the clinic was fascinating and would make excellent copy. Perhaps they could get a photograph of him working at the clinic itself?
Tormo was openly enthusiastic. He obviously saw himself ending up as the chairman of every influential committee in the region. He would have to obtain the director’s permission of course but he did not foresee any difficulty as there was no suggestion of any popular-press involvement. Discretion and good taste were of paramount importance at the Hacienda. He felt sure that the International Society of Medical Analysts would be welcome but what about MacLean’s head office? Did he think they would go for the idea?
‘I don’t see any real problem,’ replied MacLean. ‘Why should people in big cities get all the coverage?’
MacLean returned with the news of his success.
‘Do you think the Hacienda will allow it?’ asked Leavey.
MacLean admitted that this might be the stumbling block but, according to Maria, security did not seem to be a big thing at the clinic. They did not behave as if they had anything to hide. MacFarlane was keen to know how he planned to look for the Cytogerm.
‘Play it by ear,’ replied MacLean, admitting that things would be a whole lot easier if Leavey were permitted to come along as the society’s photographer.
On Monday morning Leavey and MacLean turned up at Tormo’s laboratory, MacLean with his reporter’s notebook and Leavey with his camera equipment slung professionally over his shoulder.
‘Head office agreed,’ announced MacLean. ‘They’ve even assigned me a photographer.’
Tormo was delighted with the news. MacLean could see that he’d had his hair cut, just in case.
They spent the morning cataloguing the work that came in for routine analysis and Leavey took pictures of Tormo posing at the microscope and looking suitably quizzical at test tubes which he held up to the light — ‘I think my left side is better.’
MacLean had decided that he would not mention the Hacienda Yunque at this stage, gambling that Tormo would. They got to four in the afternoon without any mention having been made of it and MacLean was beginning to get anxious. Had the clinic refused permission? he began to wonder.
Tormo finished his last blood count and washed his hands. ‘Well, Senors, a typical Monday in our small Spanish town. What do you think?’
‘Absolutely fascinating,’ replied MacLean, summoning up sounds of enthusiasm.
‘And tomorrow we go to the Hacienda.’
‘Oh yes, the hacienda,’ said MacLean feigning casualness ‘The clinic had no objections?’
‘Not when they heard the name of the society.’
‘What about photographs?’ asked MacLean with his heart in his mouth.
‘There is no objection to photographs being taken provided that none of the patients appear in them. The clinic was most insistent.’
‘Quite understandable,’ said MacLean. He made a joke about it being the kind of place where women would spend thousands of dollars to come to and then pretend they’d never been there.’ They all laughed.
Late that night MacLean stood alone on the balcony of their apartment, looking at the sea and thinking of Carrie and Tansy. A breeze touched his cheek and he felt it cold. It made him shiver in the darkness. People had been saying that the weather had been unseasonably warm and that it wouldn’t last. The moon disappeared behind rolling clouds and the air started to move as if a monster had stirred in his sleep and altered his breathing pattern.
At four in the morning the storms which had been lashing the eastern Mediterranean shores of Israel and Lebanon reached the south coast of Spain on their way west. They had lost little of their venom on the journey. The wind drove the rain on shore with a fury that made babies cry and old folks cross themselves. There was no question of sleeping through the din. Leavey got up and made coffee.
‘It might work to our advantage,’ he said, as he handed mugs to the other two. If the rain persisted he wouldn’t be able to get any decent pictures of Tormo entering the Hacienda, so they might all have an excuse to go back again on Thursday, giving them two bites at the cherry.
All three of them had to put down their coffee in order to secure the balcony awnings and fasten the shutters against the night. Water poured through the drainage holes on all the balconies in the apartment block and fell like a waterfall into the courtyard below.
It was still raining when Leavey and MacLean arrived at Tormo’s laboratory and found him, as before, delighted to see them. They were his link with the recognition he so much desired. He had some specimens to attend to before they could leave for the Hacienda. There had been an outbreak of suspected food poisoning among the residents at one of the hotels in town and Salmonella was a possibility. MacLean strengthened his image by making some knowledgeable comment about the bacteriology of Salmonella infections. ‘You’ll be plating on DCA?’ he asked.
‘Si, and Selenite subculture,’ replied Tormo.
Leavey looked out of the window and tried to guess which car was Tormo’s.
It was ten thirty when they got into Tormo’s dark blue Peugeot estate car and set off for the Hacienda. Butterflies were beginning to think it was summer in MacLean’s stomach but Leavey seemed as implacable as ever. He gazed out of the window as if he were a passenger on a bus travelling a route he’d done a thousand times before.
The climb up the mountain road proved to be even more laborious than the last time, as the storm had washed mud and scree off the hillside to litter the road. In all they had to stop four times to clear obstructions from their path before reaching the great wrought-iron gates of the clinic. Tormo got out to ID himself on an entry-phone at the side. As he returned to the car an electric motor hummed into life and the gates swung slowly open.
They drove slowly up the drive and through the orchard to the house. The Hacienda looked even more impressive at close quarters although it had a brooding quality because of a large cliff overhang above it. MacLean had not realised that the house literally backed into the rock face. Leavey who had been thinking the same thing whispered, ‘No back door,’ as they followed Tormo up the fifty or so steps to the entrance. The nearer they got to the building the smaller they began to feel. It towered above them haughtily as if it and everyone in it were looking down on them.
Prompted by Leavey’s elbow, MacLean asked Tormo to pause at the head of the steps so that he could take a photograph of him entering the Hacienda. Tormo adopted a suitable pose but Leavey shook his head, maintaining that he was having difficulty with rain on the lens of the camera. He tried for the other side of the steps, crouching down as he’d once seen Patrick Lichfield do on television, but still looked deliberately doubtful. ‘A pity,’ he said. ‘This might even have made the cover.’
‘Maybe the weather will be better on Thursday,’ suggested Tormo, having taken the bait. MacLean agreed.
The door was opened by a frumpish woman in her forties whom Tormo introduced as Senora Seeler, the housekeeper. She nodded formally to Leavey and MacLean before leaving Tormo to lead the way to the clinic’s laboratory. Leavey and MacLean exchanged admiring glances as they walked through the Hacienda. This was a class act.
They passed quietly and unobtrusively through areas where residents sat, swathed in towels and robes, manicured hands holding glossy magazines, legs crossed languidly, resting on footstools which accompanied their lounger chairs. No one took notice of them; MacLean thought of the ‘invisibility’ of servants in times gone by. They paused in one of the empty rooms to admire the view from a panoramic window. They stood in silence but Chopin accompanied the vista from an unseen and unobtrusive sound system.
‘I think I want to stay here,’ murmured Leavey and MacLean agreed.
Tormo smiled and said, ‘The Hacienda is not for mere mortals Senors.’
‘Story of my life,’ said Leavey.
The small laboratory was superbly equipped but after what they had seen, they had not expected anything else. Tormo said that he was often tempted to bring up his other blood samples and run them through the automatic blood analyser; he couldn’t possibly afford one himself. The lab was the first indication that they were not in a luxury hotel because so far, they had not come across anything to suggest clinical nature of the place. There was no lingering smell of anaesthetics or disinfectant. There were no trolleys parked in the corridors and not even a nurse to be seen.
MacLean remarked on this and Tormo said, ‘All the medical and surgical facilities are downstairs. The patients don’t actually go down there until the day of their operation. The nurses on this floor do not wear uniforms. It keeps the patients relaxed.’
MacLean gradually built up a picture of the clinic and its internal layout through prudent questioning of Tormo. The patients’ suites, the communal lounges and recreation areas were on the main floor. There were two operating theatres, recovery rooms and post-operative care facilities on the floor below. All services from water to anaesthetic gases were furnished from a large basement complex. Offices and staff living quarters were on the top floor with the exception of the maintenance staff who lived in an annexe to the basement.
MacLean now had a clear objective. He had to get downstairs to the surgical and medical area where he felt sure he’d find the clinic’s pharmacy. If Cytogerm were here at all, that’s where it would be. He set himself a target for the day of finding out where the pharmacy was located. Leavey had ensured that they would be coming back on Thursday. That’s when he would try to lay hands on the stuff.
Leavey and MacLean watched Tormo carry out blood tests with Leavey taking the occasional photograph and MacLean asking the odd question as he considered what to do next. Eventually he had an idea. ‘If you are the only analyst employed by the clinic you must look after the theatres too?’ he asked Tormo.
‘I do routine monitoring of the surfaces for bacterial contamination,’ agreed Tormo. ‘Why do you ask?’
‘I was just thinking we might get more dramatic pictures of you at work in a theatre. Labs are interesting but operating theatres are more… atmospheric, don’t you think?’
‘I see,’ replied Tormo thoughtfully. ‘I take your point. I’ll have to check the theatre schedules.’
Tormo left the room and MacLean crossed his fingers in a silent gesture to Leavey. They did not have long to wait for Tormo’s return. The little man was smiling. ‘We are in luck,’ he announced. ‘No theatre is in use this morning. We can go down there now, if you like.’
Leavey and MacLean followed Tormo down some well-lit stairs and paused at the foot where they came to a tray across the floor with some wet sponge-like material in it. ‘Routine disinfecting of our shoes,’ said Tormo. ‘We have to walk through it. We will have to gown-up too. These are the rules.’ They were led into a small ante-room where Tormo told them to leave their jackets and put on the green gowns he handed them. ‘Post-operative infection at the clinic is practically unknown,’ he said. ‘They like to keep it that way.’
Tormo led them along a corridor to the nurses’ station where three nurses sat at a curved desk. ‘I’m going to do some sampling in theatre one,’ said Tormo. ‘These gentlemen are from International Society of Medical Analysts, they are doing an article about me.’
The nurse smiled and nodded.
Tormo clicked on the theatre lights and MacLean stopped in his tracks. He had expected a well-equipped modern theatre but this one had an observation gallery. He was staring up at it when Tormo asked him if anything was the matter. ‘You don’t usually see these outside teaching hospitals,’ he said.
‘The Hacienda quite often has visitors from other clinics,’ said Tormo, making MacLean even more confused. How could the clinic be using Cytogerm and still inviting the world to watch?
Tormo was confused by MacLean’s preoccupation. ‘It’s quite usual for surgeons to watch other surgeons at work,’ he said. ‘The Hacienda is at the forefront of cosmetic technology.’
‘Yes, of course, ‘ replied MacLean quickly, then seeing his chance he added, ‘I wonder: do you think I could see an operation?’
Tormo frowned, unable to see the relevance of such a request but this was tempered by his desire to please the man who was going to bring him fame. ‘I really don’t know,’ he said, shrugging his shoulders. ‘It would be most unusual. Are you medically qualified?’
‘Yes,’ replied MacLean without further explanation.
‘I would have to seek the director’s permission.’
‘It would add depth to the article,’ said MacLean. If the surgeons were using Cytogerm, there was no way they could disguise it from him, of that he was certain.
‘Perhaps we might do the photographs?’ asked Tormo tentatively. MacLean was brought back down to earth. He organised a series of tableaux with Tormo heroically testing various surfaces in the theatre for contamination while Leavey clicked away with his camera.
On the pretext of having to use the toilet MacLean followed Tormo’s directions while Leavey insisted on taking a few more pictures. He took the opportunity to look around the floor. He found the Pharmacy down a corridor to the left of the nurses’ station.
‘Can I help you?’ asked a female voice behind him. It was a nurse. MacLean replied in French, the language of the question, saying that he was lost. He was trying to find his way back to the theatre where he was working with Senor Tormo. The nurse gave him directions and MacLean thanked her.
Leavey was still dutifully snapping away at Tormo when MacLean returned to the theatre. MacLean shot him a look of appreciation and asked how it was going.
‘I think I’ve got some good shots,’ said Leavey.’
‘I didn’t realise so much went into a simple magazine article,’ said Tormo.
MacLean smiled knowingly. ‘If it’s to be a good one, shall we go back upstairs?’
Leavey packed up his camera equipment and Tormo asked MacLean how he thought the article was progressing. MacLean assured him that things were going well and reminded him to ask about permission to see one of the clinic’s operations. He and Leavey were left alone in the upstairs lab while Tormo went to see the director. ‘I found the Pharmacy,’ said MacLean. ‘It’s down from the nurses’ station on the left hand side.’
‘Was it manned?’ asked Leavey.
MacLean confessed that he had not had the chance to find out. A nurse had found him snooping around.
‘We may need a diversion on Thursday,’ said Leavey. ‘I made a mental note of where the fire alarms were.’
Tormo returned and said, ‘The director wasn’t keen on the idea at first but I assured him that you were a distinguished representative of the Analysts’ society and when he heard you were medically qualified he agreed.’
‘Thank you,’ said MacLean. ‘I look forward to it.’
Tormo glanced at Leavey and said, ‘I am afraid of course, that there is no question of allowing your colleague into the gallery.’
‘Thank goodness for that,’ said Leavey. ‘I can’t stand the sight of blood.’
‘When will this happen?’ asked MacLean.
‘The director has kindly given you a choice,’ replied Tormo. ‘There are two scheduled operations tomorrow, one for breast implants and another for thigh liposuction. On Thursday there is only one, facial surgery for the removal of crows’ feet and a double chin.’
MacLean opted for the Thursday operation. If they were using Cytogerm it would be for the face job.
‘Very well,’ said Tormo.
They returned down the mountain and said their good-byes, arranging to meet again on Thursday morning.
‘You are not coming to my lab tomorrow?’ asked Tormo.
‘We have enough information and photographs to be going on with,’ said MacLean. ‘We’ll just fill in the details from your diary for tomorrow.’
Leavey and MacLean started to walk back to the apartment, both deep in thought and saying nothing until Leavey broke the silence and said, ‘That was all just too easy.’
‘Just what I was thinking,’ agreed MacLean.
‘They were all behaving as if they had nothing to hide and I suspect I know the reason,’ said Leavey.
‘Me too,’ said MacLean. ‘They have nothing to hide.’
‘But it must be the place,’ said Leavey.
‘So what is Lehman Steiner spending 18 million dollars on and where is Von Jonek?’
MacFarlane was keen to hear their news when they reached the apartment, particularly if they had found a role for him in the proceedings.
‘We’ve no doors for you to open Willie because they’re all being opened for us,’ said Leavey, saying that he was going to take a shower and leaving the room.
‘But surely it’s the place?’ said MacFarlane.
‘We’ve just been saying that ourselves,’ said MacLean. He told MacFarlane that he was being allowed to attend an operation on Thursday.
‘Another day of twiddling my thumbs then,’ said MacFarlane.
‘Maybe not Willie,’ said MacLean thoughtfully.
‘How so?’ asked MacFarlane.
MacLean told him of Tormo’s estate car and suggested that if he could secrete himself in the back of it on Thursday morning he could gain access to the Hacienda and be free to roam around while everyone else was inside. He suggested that he could check out the basement area, something neither he nor Leavey had managed to do.’
‘What am I looking for?’ asked MacFarlane.
‘Anything and everything,’ said MacLean.
On Thursday the weather reverted to blue skies and sunshine. They stopped for a while at the entrance to the Hacienda so that Leavey could take pictures of Tormo, briefcase in hand, smiling under the archway. He was anxious that Leavey should capture the name of the clinic in every shot. While this was going on, MacLean sneaked a look into the back of the Peugeot and saw that MacFarlane had made it.
MacLean was escorted to the viewing gallery above the theatre by Tormo who had been informed by telephone that the operation would be starting shortly. Tormo returned to the lab and MacLean was left alone in the gallery. It was a strange feeling; for the first time in along time he wanted to be down there in the theatre, a part of the green-clad team who were preparing the patient. But he was an outsider now, separated from a world he doubted he would ever know again.
The patient was a woman in her mid thirties. MacLean recognised her as one of the confident, sophisticated ladies he had seen in the lounge on Monday but now she was devoid of make-up and controlled expression. She had the innocent vulnerability, which he had always found appealing in his own patients, a reminder of just how much a patient’s life was in a doctor’s hands.
The surgeon entered the theatre and acknowledged everyone including MacLean up in the gallery. MacLean nodded in reply and watched as the man began to sketch lines on the patient’s face with a marker pen. He noticed how the flabby area under her chin resisted the advance of the pen, obliging him to tighten it artificially by pinching it tight with his other hand.
With all the guide lines drawn in, the surgeon checked with the anaesthetist that all was well and made the first incision. MacLean leaned forward in his seat, anxious not to miss the smallest detail. Within fifteen minutes he knew that Cytogerm was not going to feature in the operation. The man working below him was not just a surgeon, he was an artist and his admiration for him was only tempered by his bitter disappointment at not having found what he was looking for.
He watched the man work through the tiniest of incisions so as to make the scar as small as possible and then disguise even that with the finest of needlework. What a waste, he thought that so much talent should be being squandered on such inconsequential surgery.
As the operation came to an end and the patient was wheeled out to the recovery room, MacLean caught the surgeon’s eye and conveyed his admiration with a smile and nod. What he really wanted to do was stand up and applaud. He returned to the lab upstairs and feigned interest in what Tormo was doing until the blood tests had been completed for the day. Leavey knew without being told that MacLean had failed to find the Cytogerm. When Tormo left the room for a moment he asked about tackling the Pharmacy.
‘They’re not using Cytogerm,’ said MacLean flatly. ‘There’s no point.’
Tormo finished his work at the clinic a bit sooner than MacLean had anticipated and he and Leavey had to invent excuses for delaying their departure in order to give Willie MacFarlane time to get back to the car. They were still stalling as they left the Hacienda and came down the steps to the car park. MacLean turned and looked up at the cliff face, towering above the clinic and at the massive rock overhang that ran like a lip round the top. ‘I wouldn’t like to attempt that climb,’ he said.
‘It would be impossible,’ agreed Tormo.
‘Maybe if you were to make an approach from the left,’ suggested Leavey, ‘It just might be on. You could miss the worst of the overhang but even at that… ‘
MacLean looked at him and saw with a shiver that he was serious. ‘I think I’d rather not have to try,’ he said.
When they had delayed as much as they felt they could. They walked over to the car and MacLean managed to get a look through the back window while Tormo got in. MacFarlane wasn’t there! He looked at Leavey and shook his head slightly to convey the information. Leavey reacted quickly and slapping his hand to his forehead, he exclaimed, ‘What an idiot! I’ve left my lens cap up in the lab.’
‘No problem,’ said Tormo politely. ‘Just you wait here. I’ll get it.’
Tormo ran back up the steps while MacLean looked at his watch and said, ‘He’s five minutes overdue. Something must have happened.’
Leavey nodded and said, ‘If he’s not here by the time Tormo gets back we’ll have to leave without him.’
Tormo returned after nearly five minutes saying that he had looked everywhere but had failed to find Leavey’s lens cap. Leavey shrugged his shoulders and said that he must have dropped it somewhere along the way. MacFarlane’s absence put a strain on conversation on the way back down the mountain as both MacLean and Leavey found themselves preoccupied with thoughts of what might have happened to him.
When they arrived back in Fuengirola they accepted Tormo’s offer of coffee up in his office feeling obliged to out of courtesy but they left as soon as was politely possible.
‘I hope to God he’s all right,’ said MacLean as he and Leavey walked towards Jose’s cafe.
‘He’s probably stumbling down the mountain right now,’ said Leavey. ‘You know Willie.’
MacLean wasn’t convinced.
As they neared the cafe, Leavey suddenly hissed, ‘Walk past!’ MacLean was startled because he had not noticed anything amiss, but he did as he was told. They rounded the corner, out of sight of the cafe and Leavey drew him into to the wall and said, ‘Did you see the man sitting outside the cafe?’
‘Yes,’ replied MacLean.
‘He picked up his newspaper as we approached and started reading.’
‘So what?’ asked a bemused MacLean.
‘It was upside down,’ said Leavey. ‘He was pretending. He’s been waiting for us to arrive.’
‘Oh God,’ whispered MacLean.
‘Something’s gone very wrong,’ said Leavey. ‘Did you see Jose or Maria?’
They circled round to the lane that ran along the back of Jose’s cafe and picked their way carefully and as quietly as they could through the crates of oranges and vegetables that lay there until they could see the back door of the cafe. It seemed quiet enough. They crouched down and got nearer. Leavey indicated to MacLean that he was going to try the window to the left of the door. MacLean watched as the window opened and Leavey looked inside the storeroom. He seemed satisfied and climbed in through the opening.
MacLean was left alone in the lane with only a stray dog for company and the strong smell of vegetables. There was no sound from inside the cafe. MacLean swallowed because his mouth had gone dry. He was contemplating moving up to the window himself when he sensed some movement behind the back door. It moved slightly as if someone were about to open it. He moved swiftly to the wall at the side of the door and bunched his fist in readiness.
The door opened a fraction and MacLean saw Leavey appear in the opening. He held his finger to his lips and beckoned MacLean to join him. MacLean tiptoed into the cafe behind Leavey and froze at the sight that met his eyes. Maria, her eyes full of fear, sat mutely in a high-backed chair with her hands and feet tightly bound and her mouth sealed with a gag that split her face like a crescent moon. There was a man lying on the floor with his neck at an angle that said Leavey had dealt with him.
MacLean peered through a gap between a serving hatch and the wall and saw Jose standing at the bar; he was polishing the same glass over and over again, still in the belief that his daughter was being held in the kitchen at gunpoint. The angle was too acute to see if there was anyone else in the room.
‘How many?’ Leavey whispered to Maria as he undid her gag.
‘Him and the man sitting outside the cafe?’ said Leavey, pointing to the dead man on the floor.
The immediate danger was that they might startle Jose into giving the game away. MacLean edged the kitchen door open a few centimetres. ‘Psst!.. Psst!.. ‘ The finger held to his lips proved enough to prevent Jose’s surprise translating into something louder. Leavey crawled across the floor of the cafe to the front door and stood up to flatten himself against the side of it. He looked to Jose and pointed with his finger to the man outside. ‘Call him!’ he said quietly.
Jose nodded and called out, ‘Senor!’ He sounded nervous and uncertain.
The man looked at Jose but did not move.
This time the man got up and made to come indoors. His leading foot had barely crossed the threshold before Leavey hit him behind the ear and he slumped unconscious to the floor. Leavey slipped his arms under the man’s armpits and dragged him through into the kitchen. They all started speaking at the same time.
MacLean held up his hand and said, ‘Jose?’
‘These men say they catch one and now they wait for his friends.’
‘They’ve got Willie,’ said MacLean. ‘Oh God, it was my idea he went up there today…’
Leavey said, ‘Willie wouldn’t have told them anything unless they made him. He must have found what we’re looking for.’
‘That means that what we’re looking for isn’t in the clinic itself; it has something to do with the basement where Willie was looking.’
Leavey agreed. He looked at the man on the floor. ‘He can tell us more when he comes round.’ He prodded the unconscious man with his foot but got no reaction.
‘They must know about the apartment too,’ said MacLean.
Leavey nodded and said, ‘That’s probably where these two were going next.’
Maria said, ‘My father has a boat in the marina.’ They all looked to Jose who said, ‘Si, the Erinia. She is yours.’
‘Perfect,’ said Leavey. ‘I suggest we move the gear into the Erinia then hit the Hacienda when they least expect it.’
Even with his pulse racing and his brain working overtime MacLean had to admire Leavey’s coolness under pressure. He was sometimes more like a machine than a man, cool, calculating, always weighing the odds and usually always right. He had just killed a man and yet he was already thinking ahead like a chess player. At that particular moment it seemed like the most ridiculous thought on earth but MacLean suddenly realised why Leavey had never married. He was invulnerable. He had no weakness, he didn’t need a partner to complement his own being because he was already complete. John Donne had been wrong; Leavey was an island.
MacLean asked what Leavey had in mind when he heard a scuffle behind him and whirled round to see the man who had been unconscious spring up and catch Maria from behind. A knife had appeared in his hand and the point was being held at her throat. MacLean could see a thin trickle of blood start to escape from where the point had broken her skin. Without saying anything, the man, his eyes burning with malice, began to sidle towards the door. He held Maria in front of him while the others could only look on.
There was a moment when he had to move his knife hand away from the girl’s throat in order to open the door but it was over too quickly for Leavey or MacLean to exploit it. The door opened and the man backed out into the lane, using Maria as a shield. At that moment the stray dog in the lane decided to try its luck in Jose’s kitchen. It became entangled in the man’s legs and he overbalanced. Maria broke free and Leavey made to go for him but Jose, being nearer, beat him to it. Maria closed her eyes as she saw her father raise the meat cleaver and bring it down in a scything arc. Now they had two bodies to get rid of.
Jose brought his pick-up truck into the lane. It was agreed that Leavey would accompany him to get rid of the corpses at a quiet spot along the coast while MacLean returned to the apartment to clear it out and take their belongings to the boat in the marina.
At six o’clock, he was aboard the gently bobbing cruiser, waiting for Leavey to return. He remained below in the cabin, lying on one of the bunks and looking out through the porthole at the hypnotic white speck up in the mountains he knew was the Hacienda Yunque. He sat up smartly when he heard a noise up on deck.
‘It’s me,’ said Leavey’s voice. He came below and sat down on the bunk opposite.
‘Everything OK?’ asked MacLean.
‘No problems,’ replied Leavey.
Leavey propped himself up on one elbow and said, ‘I suggest we wait until it gets dark and then we go back to the Hacienda. They won’t expect us to do that. They’ll think we’re either dead or on the run.’
‘I agree,’ said MacLean. ‘Willie must have found something big or there wouldn’t have been this much fuss.’
‘And that means Cytogerm,’ said Leavey. He swung his legs round and up on to the bunk and said, ‘It’s all or nothing time, Sean. We go in there armed and we come out with Willie and the Cytogerm.’
‘With our shields or on them,’ said MacLean ruefully. They shook hands on it.
At ten that evening they left the boat, wearing dark clothing and carrying guns. Leavey had the Colt Cobra that he had smuggled into the country in his specially designed camera case. MacLean carried the. 38 calibre Smith and Wesson that he had taken from one of the men at the cafe. They had decided to climb up to the Hacienda on foot since there would be no place to leave a car on the winding mountain road without it attracting attention. If they travelled on foot they could avoid the road altogether and scramble up the slopes of the Sierra.
After an hour’s hard going they paused for breath, leaning their backs against a large boulder to look back down on the lights of Fuengirola. Far out to sea they could see a freighter making for the Straits of Gibraltar, its navigation lights winking under a canopy of stars. All seemed serenely peaceful until MacLean felt the suggestion of a cold breeze on his cheek. He touched it and remembered the same feeling on the balcony of their apartment. ‘There’s a storm coming,’ he said.
Leavey got up to move off. ‘We don’t want to catch our death of cold do we?’
They resumed their climb.
Another half-hour and they reached the perimeter wall of the Hacienda, approaching it at the south-west corner where it was furthest from the road. Leavey scaled it first and lay horizontally along the top for a few moments before whispering, ‘All clear.’
MacLean climbed up to join him and they dropped down silently into the orchard.
The lights of the Hacienda blazed out from the cliff face like a beacon in the night as the two men flitted from tree to tree in a zig zag approach to the house. A roll of thunder overhead obscured any noise they might have made and the first large drops of rain began to patter among the trees. A fork of lightning ripped open the night sky and momentarily lit up the entire cliff face.
Leavey signalled that they make for the west corner of the building and MacLean raised his hand in acknowledgement. There were thirty metres of open ground to cover before they reached the safety of the shadows and they were right in the middle of it when lightning lit up the world around them. Both flung themselves to the ground and lay there for a few agonising moments before darkness cloaked them again. The smell of the wet turf under his face evoked for MacLean memories of the night of the fire.
They reached the comparative safety of the lower wall of the house just as the rain began in earnest. Water cascaded off the cliff face. The rock overhang made sure that it missed the Hacienda but it fell like a curtain in front of it. Leavey and MacLean were soaked to the skin by the time they reached a small, wooden door, which they surmised must lead to the cellars. Without any windows for reconnaissance, it was a moment of high tension for both of them when MacLean pulled it open, gun in hand.
They stepped on to a landing at the head of a flight of metal stairs, which led down to a lit area some ten metres below. MacLean found a catwalk to their right and indicated to Leavey that they should investigate. They crawled out along it until they could see down through ceiling pipework and observe the floor below. They were high in the rafters of what appeared to be the Hacienda’s boiler house. Below, they could see four men in overalls tending the machinery. MacLean counted four electrical generators, an oil-fired boiler and three steam sterilizers. They moved further along the catwalk and found one more man; he was sitting at a control desk with banks of dials and switches at his fingertips.
Leavey tapped the back of MacLean’s leg and signalled that they should go back. There was no room to turn round on the narrow catwalk so they had to crawl backwards on their knees and meet up again on the landing just inside the door.
‘What do you think?’ asked Leavey.
‘Looked pretty ordinary to me,’ said MacLean.
‘Me too,’ said Leavey. ‘Willie must have found something else.’
‘Let’s try the other side of the building,’ suggested MacLean.
They slipped out into the night again and moved in a crouching run to the west corner of the building, staying in the shadow of the wall. The wind was howling along the front of the building and they knew that they would meet the full force of it when they turned the corner. Even so, it took them by surprise and forced them to drop down and crawl along on their stomachs, presenting as little surface area to the wind as possible. They were close to exhaustion by the time they’d crawled along the entire front of the Hacienda and reached the shelter of the car park.
‘This is where Willie started out from,’ said MacLean when he had regained his breath. ‘Let’s try to retrace his footsteps.’
The initial choice was easy; there was only one door at that side of the building and it led to a short corridor, dimly lit by one bulkhead lamp. Two further doors led off the corridor; one had a glass panel at eye level, which revealed a flight of stairs leading up. MacLean indicated silently to Leavey that he would investigate. He pulled out his gun and held it at the ready in his right hand as he opened the door and slipped inside.
After a pause to listen for any sounds of activity from above he climbed slowly and silently to the top. There was a familiar look to the area he found himself in. A sign saying, Theatre 2, finally orientated him. He had come up in the medical flat some twenty metres away from the theatre where he had watched the operation that same morning. He returned to Leavey. ‘Willie wouldn’t have gone up there,’ he said.
Leavey opened the other door cautiously and once more they found themselves heading down into the boiler house, this time from the other end of the building. They stayed at ceiling level and moved out on to the catwalk again. ‘Whatever Willie found, it must have been here,’ said MacLean.
‘Let’s just watch,’ said Leavey.
A telephone rang below and was answered by the man who sat at the control desk. The noise of the machinery drowned out anything he said but it was obvious that he had called out something to the other workmen. Two of them stopped what they were doing and ran over to the desk to receive instructions.
The moment passed and MacLean and Leavey were left to continue a far from comfortable vigil. The metal grating of the catwalk dug into their knees and elbows and they became painfully stiff from remaining in the same position. MacLean felt his neck became agonisingly sore and turned his face to the wall for a few moments respite.
Looking at nothing but dirty brickwork made him even more conscious of the noise of the machinery. Why? he began to think with sudden insight. Why all this noise? Why on earth did they need to run four electrical generators? The Hacienda would be connected to the main supply grid; surely they would only need a generator for emergencies and then only one! This was something that Willie with his electrical knowledge must have realised straight away. He signalled to Leavey that they leave the catwalk to where it would be easier to speak.
When they had backed off the walkway and finished rubbing their knees to restore the circulation, MacLean told Leavey his thoughts.
‘You’re right,’ said Leavey. ‘They must be churning out enough juice to supply a small town!’
‘So where is it?’ asked MacLean.
‘Another basement below this one?’ suggested Leavey.
MacLean looked doubtful. ‘It’s solid rock,’ he said.
Just then they were interrupted by the sound of a lonely wail that seemed to emanate from the rock-face itself.
‘Bloody hell,’ exclaimed Leavey.
‘Maybe that’s what Maria heard,’ said MacLean.
‘What the hell is it?’ said Leavey.
MacLean shrugged his shoulders. ‘It didn’t seem to bother them too much,’ he said, nodding to the workmen below who seemed to be oblivious of the sound.
‘Maybe they’re too close to the machinery,’ said Leavey.
The sound faded. and Leavey and MacLean returned to the problem of the electricity supply. ‘We might be able to trace the route of the cables along the wall,’ suggested Leavey; MacLean agreed it was worth a try. They crawled back out on to the catwalk. It was Leavey who was to make the next discovery. He had failed to make any headway through tracing the line of cables along the wall and had switched his attention to pipework. There was something odd about one of the sterilizers, he decided. It did not appear to have a supply of steam.
He followed the main supply pipe with his eyes again. It ran along the back of the sterilizers about three metres above the ground. There was a branch pipe and reducing valve for two of the machines but none for the one in the middle. The machines were of the front-loading type and sunk into the rock face. It was time to talk again.
MacLean listened to what Leavey had to say and agreed that he was on to something. ‘Maybe we should take a look inside that machine?’ he said. They discussed the best way of achieving this and agreed that they must avoid confrontation at this stage if at all possible. ‘The fire alarm!’ said Leavey, remembering the diversion he had planned for a raid on the Pharmacy.
‘Just the job,’ said MacLean. He remembered seeing one just to the right of the top of the stairs he had climbed earlier to the medical flat; he volunteered to go.
The plan was that Leavey should return to the catwalk and wait there for MacLean. They would both remain until the boiler house had emptied and then take a look at the sterilizer with no steam supply.
MacLean gave Leavey a few moments to get out on to the catwalk before leaving the boiler house and climbing stealthily up the stairs to the medical flat. He was about to step out into the main corridor when he heard the sound of female voices and stepped back to press himself against the wall. For a moment he was convinced that they were coming towards him. He was preparing to dash back downstairs again when the sound started to fade. He stayed still for another thirty seconds before putting his head round the corner. The corridor was deserted. He broke the glass on the firepoint and rushed back downstairs to the deafening sound of the alarm. He was gambling on being able to get back and out on to the catwalk before the men working there had time to reach the head of the stairs. He made it with less than ten seconds to spare.
As the last workman left, Leavey and MacLean wriggled back to the head of the stairs and descended as fast as they could, their feet rattling off the metal treads. The final dash across the brightly-lit floor of the boiler house made them feel terribly exposed.
Leavey hit the button to open the power-driven door of the sterilizer and cursed at the agonising slowness of the response. It finally swung open to reveal, not the steel inner chamber of a surgical dressing sterilizer, but the entrance to a tunnel running back into the rock face itself. They looked at each other and stepped inside quickly, anxious to be out of the glare of the lights. Leavey found a recessed panel in the rock and pushed the button, which he rightly assumed would close the door behind them. It hissed shut with the same agonising slowness and in doing so, completely cut off the sound of the generators.
It was now possible to speak normally again although both men were too awe-struck to say much. It was clear that the tunnel led into the heart of the mountain. MacLean led the way for the first thirty metres until they came to a sharp bend. He paused to peer round the corner before signalling to Leavey that it was safe to continue. Another thirty metres and they were faced with a choice where the tunnel split into three: two shafts were lit, a third was in darkness.
The sudden sound of voices sent them scurrying into the dark option where they lay down flat. The voices grew fainter and MacLean let out his breath in a sigh of relief. Leavey switched on his torch to reveal a large wooden door covered with cobwebs and dust. Dry rot had already eaten into the lower panels and was gnawing at the lower edges of the iron lock mounting. It gave way when Leavey put his foot to it; the door creaked back on its hinges. ‘After you,’ said MacLean.
Leavey’s torch remained directed at the floor until they were both inside. Something rattled as MacLean walked into it and he recoiled, pushing whatever it was away. He was startled when it returned to hit him and he cried out involuntarily. Leavey’s torch beam flashed round to light up the skeleton of a man hanging from a rusty chain. There were seven other skeletons hanging from the ceiling.
‘Franco’s Opposition?’ suggested Leavey sourly.
They returned to the lit tunnels and continued on into the mountain. Leavey stopped and touched his face. He looked startled.
‘What’s wrong?’ whispered MacLean.
‘I can feel the wind,’ he said.
MacLean joined him on his side of the tunnel and experienced the same sensation. ‘It’s crazy,’ he murmured. ‘We must be a hundred metres into the rock.’
They followed the source of the breeze and found themselves at the head of a flight of stone steps cut into the rock. At the top they found themselves outside in the night air.
‘We can’t be!’ whispered Leavey. ‘It’s impossible!’
Both men crouched down in the darkness giving their eyes time to adjust. MacLean was first to work out the truth. He got the clue from the fact that the wind sounded much more ferocious than it felt. They were being sheltered from it. They were being sheltered by virtue of the fact that they were surrounded by cliffs on all sides. They were standing in the middle of a hollow mountain. The hollow comprised a valley about a hundred metres long and fifty across and totally cut off from the outside world.
Leavey and MacLean moved well clear of the mouth of the tunnel. As their eyes became more accustomed to the dark and, with the help of an occasional break in the clouds, they were able to make out the shapes of buildings on the valley floor.
‘There’s a complete village here!’ whispered Leavey.
MacLean’s reply was cut short by a light clicking on in the building nearest them, scattering light from the window and causing them to throw themselves to the ground. The silhouette of a young woman drifted briefly across the light and they watched as the figure put on a jacket she took from a cupboard in the room. The light clicked off again and moments later a door opened.
A torch beam appeared and started to move over the ground, illuminating the holder’s path between the building she had just come from and the one next to it. As she fumbled with the door handle the torch in her hand swung upwards and lit her face for a moment. She was in her early twenties, dark-haired and pretty. When she disappeared inside MacLean said, ‘When she comes out we’ll grab her and find out what the hell’s going on.’
Suddenly the cry of a baby came from the building. It was long and loud and echoed up the face of the cliffs.
MacLean shook his head in disbelief but before he could say anything, the baby’s cry was joined by another and yet another. Lights were switched on and Leavey and MacLean were forced to retreat from the position they had taken up in order to intercept the girl when she left. A torch beam appeared out of the darkness to their left. It was followed by another to their right. Both beams converged on the building where the noise was coming from. When they met, the light coming from the windows revealed their holders as two more young women. They spoke briefly in Spanish and went inside.
‘It’s a nursery,’ whispered Leavey.
Peace was restored over the course of the next few minutes and the lights were turned off once more. The two girls who had arrived after the start of the disturbance were the first to leave and spent a little time in whispered conversation outside the front door before saying good-night and separating. A few minutes later, the original girl left the building and turned on her torch. She started out on her journey back but had only taken a few steps when Leavey came up silently behind her and cupped his hand over her mouth. He lowered her gently to the ground and whispered reassurances in her ear until her panic had subsided.
MacLean asked gently, ‘Do you speak English?’ and Leavey relaxed his hand to allow her to answer. He kept it close, ready to smother any attempt at a scream.
‘A little,’ replied the girl.
‘Good. Who are you and what do you do here?’
‘My name is Carla Vasquez. I look after the children.’
‘Carla Vasquez? Maria’s friend?’
‘You know Maria?’ exclaimed the astonished girl.
‘She told us about you,’ replied MacLean. ‘She suspected you were some kind of prisoner.’
‘But not here,’ added Leavey, looking up at the high cliffs against the night sky.
‘Your mother thinks you’re in Madrid,’ explained MacLean.
‘We are given post-cards to write to our parents.’
‘You said “we”. How many are there of you?’ asked Leavey.
‘Twelve. We look after the children.’
‘What children?’ asked MacLean. ‘Where do they come from?’
‘I don’t know Senor. None of us knows. We get babies to look after for a few weeks, then they take them away and we don’t see them again.’
‘What happens then?’
‘We get more babies.’
‘Who brings you the babies?’ asked Leavey.
‘Dr Von Jonek.’
MacLean savoured the moment in silence. He’d found Von Jonek and the knowledge seemed to drain him momentarily of all energy. He rolled over on to his back in the grass and looked up at the sky, thinking of just how long the road had been and how hard. Leavey put a reassuring hand on his shoulder and said, ‘We’re nearly there.’
Leavey said to Carla, ‘We’ll help you escape Carla but we are going to need your help. It’ll be light in three hours and we have no place to hide.’
‘Come with me,’ said Carla. ‘I share a hut with Fernanda Murillo. You can hide there.’
Carla lit up the way with her torch beam and Leavey and MacLean crawled along in the grass behind her. They had almost reached the front door of the hut when they realised that something was wrong. There were voices coming from inside. They were raised in argument and one of them was male. He sounded drunk.
Leavey looked to Carla for an explanation. Carla was distraught. ‘It’s one of the guards!’ she whispered. ‘Sometimes they get drunk and try to bother us. We keep the door locked but I must have left it unlocked when I left!’
The sound of crying came from inside and MacLean made to move but Leavey stopped him. ‘I’ll go,’ he said and started towards the hut.
Leavey turned the handle of the door slowly and steadily until the lock was silently released. He moved the door just an inch, to make sure that it would swing easily, and then in one swift movement he opened it, slipped inside and closed it again behind him. The sound of a girl protesting angrily came from the room to his left. The sound was interspersed with coarse sounds of male assurance. He moved slowly along the wall and pushed the room door very slightly ajar. He saw a man with a large beer gut holding the girl’s hands to prevent her fending him off. In her frustration she spat in his face forcing him to let one of her hands go. The girl immediately brought her fingernails down the right side of the man’s face. He let out a bellow of pain and raised his fist to strike her. The blow never landed. Leavey dropped him with a hard blow to the back of his neck. ‘Not tonight,’ he murmured.
The girl was on the bed with her knees drawn up to her chin and her hands over her mouth. Her eyes were wide with fear and shock and she was shaking. Leavey put his finger to his lips and made a reassuring gesture with his hands before opening the door for MacLean and Carla. Carla rushed to her friend to comfort her and apologise for what she saw as her fault.
MacLean looked down at the man on the floor and said, ‘We’ll have to do something with him before daybreak. How about the tunnel?’
They conferred briefly and decided that, at that late hour, their chances of getting the unconscious man up the tunnel to the disused shaft where they had found the skeletons were good. They put the lights off, and moved the man’s body out of the front door.
It took them fully ten minutes to drag him up the shaft because of his weight but they encountered no problems and left him bound and gagged in one of the old cells. Carla made coffee and sandwiches on their return and they learned what they could from the girls.
By the time the first streaks of dawn were in the sky, MacLean and Leavey had built up a picture of life in the hidden valley. There were six separate wooden chalets where the girls lived; each housed two girls. The babies, usually about thirty at any given time, were kept together in a single nursery building and looked after by ten of the girls during the daytime and by three at night. If the babies should start crying at night however, the other girls were under orders to lend a hand in quietening them because Dr Von Jonek got very angry about the noise. ‘There is an echo off the cliffs,’ said Carla. ‘Sometimes people can hear the sound on the other side.’
‘The “lost souls” of the Hacienda Yunque,’ said MacLean.
‘How many guards?’ asked Leavey.
‘Fifteen in all, although they are not just guards; they have other duties. They are split into three groups of five. One group works in the boiler house, one does the maintenance work in the Hacienda and the third group works here.’
‘Any other people?’ asked MacLean.
‘Dr Von Jonek and two other scientists,’ said Carla.
‘And Hartmut,’ added Fernanda, exchanging glances with Carla.
‘Hartmut?’ asked Leavey.
Carla grimaced and said, ‘Dr Von Jonek keeps a strange man with him. He is not normal… not right.’
Leavey asked where Von Jonek and the others worked.
‘Somewhere inside the rock,’ replied Carla. ‘But none of the girls ever get to go there.’
Carla and Fernanda were both on duty in the nursery at seven thirty in the morning so it was agreed that Leavey and MacLean would lie low in their chalet. They would spend the day resting and regaining their strength, waiting for nightfall when they would attempt to find Von Jonek’s laboratory and the Cytogerm they had come for. In the event, neither of them slept much but the rest did them good and by mid-afternoon they felt ready for the final part of their mission.
‘When we get the stuff we’ll still have a problem,’ said Leavey.
‘You mean, how do we get out of here?’ replied MacLean.
When they had entered the tunnel through the fake sterilizer door they had found a button to close the door behind them but both had noticed that there was no obvious way of opening the door from the inside. ‘There must be a way,’ said MacLean. ‘I don’t fancy the climb.’ He looked up at the cliffs.
‘Not easy,’ conceded Leavey.
‘Even if we made it to the top, we can’t get down the other side because of the overhang.’
‘Then we’ll have to ask someone the way out,’ said Leavey with characteristic understatement.
‘And we’ll have to do it tonight,’ said MacLean. ‘They’re going to start taking the absence of one of their guards seriously pretty soon.’
Leavey agreed. They had been counting on a ‘honeymoon’ period when, although the guard was seen to be missing, innocent explanations would prevail for a while. This, they hoped, would be especially true in the case of the Hacienda Yunque, which to all intents and purposes was impregnable. The man had been hopelessly drunk when he ‘disappeared’ so it would be assumed for a while that he had not appeared for duty because of this. When a whole day had passed however, without anyone seeing him, they would start searching for him in earnest.
When the girls returned just after dark MacLean told them of the plan and asked them to prepare themselves to leave at a moment’s notice. They were not however, to have bags packed and waiting by the door because of any search that might be mounted for the missing guard. As a precaution, the four of them searched the chalet for anything that might have belonged to him, no matter how small. They found nothing.
The two men slipped out of the chalet into the darkness and crossed the open ground quickly. They made it to the shelter of the rocks and settled down to wait. The night, a complete contrast to the previous evening, was warm and balmy, pleasant to be out in but with the disadvantage of a clear, starry sky above them and the prospect of moonlight to contend with when the moon cleared the rim of the cliffs.
When they were satisfied that most of the to-ing and fro-ing was over for the day they moved nearer the tunnel that led to the Hacienda. They had already decided that Von Jonek’s laboratories must lie down the shaft in the tunnel that they had not explored. They crept up to the entrance, hugging the contours of the rock to avoid silhouetting themselves, and had a look. Everything seemed quiet so they sprinted quickly and quietly up to where the tunnel split into three. Once more the sound of voices sent them scurrying for cover in the dark, disused shaft.
From the shadows they watched five men pass by. They were arguing amongst themselves and as the sound of their voices faded Leavey said that they were probably the relief guards being summoned to assist in a search for the missing man. The two men crossed the junction and moved into new territory. There was a light coming from under the first door they came across and MacLean put his ear to it. He heard muted voices from within and signalled to Leavey that they move on. They came to another junction in the tunnel and found another door. On it in large red letters was the word, PRIVADO.
‘Do you think that applies to us?’ whispered Leavey.
MacLean smiled despite the feelings in his stomach. He watched their backs, gun raised with the barrel resting against his cheek, while Leavey dealt with the lock and let them inside. They were in a small laboratory equipped with basic glassware and general lab items but nothing to excite MacLean. He looked through drawers and cupboards in a methodical, clockwise search but still found nothing interesting. Finally, he opened a large refrigerator, letting yellow light spill out into the room. He hoped to find supplies of Cytogerm but it contained nothing but racks of small plastic tubes. He asked for Leavey’s torch and removed one of the racks to examine it more closely.
Each tube had a nametag on it. MacLean repeated the names under his breath as he went through the rack, removing each in turn. Halfway through, the names started to sound familiar. He went back to the beginning and filled in the blanks. Karman, Nobel prize winner in physics… Normark… prize winner in medicine… Ericson the finest mathematician of his generation. The list began to sound like a roll call of outstanding achievement in the twentieth century.
‘Mean anything?’ asked Leavey.
‘Quite a lot,’ replied MacLean thoughtfully.
‘Do you know what’s in the tubes?’ asked Leavey.
‘Sperm samples,’ said MacLean.
‘I’m not sure,’ said MacLean. ‘It’s not unusual for great men to be asked to provide sperm samples for preservation in deep freeze, a sort of genetic bank for future generations. But I can’t see where Von Jonek fits in to all this.’
‘Artificial insemination?’ suggested Leavey.
‘The donors would never allow it,’ said MacLean.
‘If Von Jonek’s involved I don’t see that they would have had much say in the matter,’ said Leavey and MacLean had to agree.
‘I think that must be it,’ said Leavey. ‘They are using the samples to inseminate women, maybe at the clinic?’
MacLean looked unconvinced. He said, ‘That kind of operation wouldn’t take a budget of 18 million dollars and it wouldn’t explain the secret nursery.’
MacLean opened more doors and found an incubator room being kept at 37 degrees centigrade, human body temperature. Inside there was a rotating drum full of test tubes containing a red-coloured fluid.
‘Anything?’ asked Leavey.
‘It’s some kind of cell culture system,’ said MacLean, closing the door again and opening up the door next to it. This proved to be another fridge. He almost went weak at the knees when he saw a light blue box lying on the middle shelf. It was labelled, CYTOGERM. MacLean picked it up and held it to his chest for a moment before raising it up to his lips. Carrie would have her new face.’
‘Mission accomplished,’ said Leavey.
MacLean nodded but was too emotional to say anything. Leavey asked, ‘Is there enough?’
MacLean nodded again, opening the box and stuffing the glass vials into his pockets.
Almost absent-mindedly, Leavey completed the search of the lab by opening the final door. He expected to find a cupboard; instead he found a cathedral.
The door was the entrance to a huge cavern in the rock, lit by an eerie green light. When they entered they found they were standing on a metal platform, ten metres above the floor of the cavern and part of a gallery that ran right the way around. The ceiling was another good ten metres above them.
‘It’s bloody enormous,’ whispered Leavey. ‘What the hell’s it for?’
The floor space was occupied by parallel rows of large glass tanks, each filled with liquid, as if the place were some sort of giant marine museum. Leavey led the way to a flight of steps leading down to the floor, their footsteps echoing on the metal rungs and MacLean went up to one of the tanks for a closer look.
‘What in God’s name is that?’ exclaimed Leavey with revulsion as he joined him.
‘It’s a human foetus,’ said MacLean, finding exactly the same in the next tank along and the one after that.
Leavey grimaced at the discovery but MacLean was puzzled. He couldn’t see the point in keeping so many exhibits of the same thing when they all seemed to be perfectly healthy. There was nothing of any pathological interest at all.
‘This place gives me the creeps,’ said Leavey.
MacLean thought such an admission strange coming from Leavey. ‘It’s the strangest museum I’ve ever been in,’ he admitted. He rested his fingers on the glass of one of the tanks but immediately recoiled as he found it warm. He opened his mouth to say something when suddenly the foetus inside gave a spastic jerk and both men jumped back.
‘They’re alive!’ exclaimed Leavey.
MacLean took more than a few moments to come to terms with the sheer horror of the discovery then realisation dawned. ‘My God, he’s succeeded in gestating children outside the womb.’
‘Surely that’s not possible?’ whispered Leavey.
‘I didn’t think it was either but I knew various Japanese research teams have been trying. To succeed in simulating placental function for nine months in vitro is an incredible feat.’
‘Unless your name is Von Jonek and you have an 18 million dollar budget apparently,’ said Leavey.
‘But why?’ murmured MacLean as they moved among the tanks.
‘They all have numbers on them,’ said Leavey. ‘This one has a seven.’
MacLean looked at the contents and said, ‘It’s a seven month old foetus, perfect in every way.’
‘What’s the German for “month”?’ asked Leavey.
‘Monat,’ replied MacLean.
‘I thought so,’ said Leavey. ‘The label says, Sieben Woche. That, if I’m not much mistaken, means seven weeks!’
‘That’s crazy,’ protested MacLean, ‘It’s far too well developed.’ He looked at the labels on other tanks but still had a problem with labelling. ‘There is just no way that… ‘ And then the truth hit him. It was obvious. he should have realised it at once. It was Cytogerm that was speeding up cell proliferation and shortening the gestation period. That’s how Von Jonek had succeeded where others had failed. Everything fell into place. The cell cultures he had found in the incubator room were human ova. They were being fertilised with the sperm of celebrated men and brought to maturity in the tanks with the aid of Cytogerm.
‘Someone’s coming!’ hissed Leavey and MacLean dropped to his knees beside him to look anxiously up at the gallery. They heard the sound of approaching footsteps on metal and Leavey signalled that they should get underneath the tanks. They held their breath as the sound grew louder. MacLean wriggled up into a position where he could see the entrance to the high gallery through a gap in the tank’s supporting frame. He saw a man appear and rest his hands on the guardrail to look down at the tanks.
MacLean’s first reaction was to press his face back to the ground but he found that he could not take his eyes off the man. He was well over six feet tall and dressed entirely in black, a colour which emphasised the fact that he was completely hairless and had skin the colour of alabaster. Even at that range MacLean could see the redness of the eyes. The man was an albino.
MacLean and Leavey adjusted their position under the tanks to follow his progress as he walked slowly round the echoing gallery, pausing at intervals to look over the rail like an animal sniffing the air. He made a complete circuit of the gallery and disappeared through a door, which banged behind him; the noise reverberated round the cavern.
Leavey let out his breath and said, ‘I guess that was Hartmut, Von Jonek’s little helper.’
The two men started to make their way back to the steps leading up to the gallery. MacLean paused when he got to the foot of them and looked back.
Leavey read his mind and said, ‘What do you want to do about this place?’
‘I don’t know,’ he confessed sadly. ‘I simply don’t know. When I think about the people these thugs killed in order to… do what? Create designer children? Jesus!’
‘We could alter the thermostats,’ said Leavey.
The tanks were fitted with thermostats maintaining human body temperature. MacLean looked at Leavey as if inviting him to share the moral dilemma.
Leavey pointed to a water supply valve. ‘Maybe a flood?’ he suggested. ‘When the water reaches the electrics, the system will short out.’
MacLean sought resolve for a moment in remembering Jutte and thinking about Carrie. ‘Open it up,’ he said.
Leavey failed to budge the wheel and looked around for something to provide added leverage. He found a spanner and inserted the narrow end through the spokes of the wheel, putting his weight against it, straining until the veins on his forehead stood out. The wheel suddenly gave, sending the spanner spinning to the floor and Leavey sprawling as a torrent of water erupted from the outlet to knock him over and soak him.
‘Let’s get out of here!’ said MacLean helping Leavey up.
They had barely made it back to the foot of the steps when a door opened above them and Hartmut re-appeared on the gallery. There was a moment when the three men stared at each other then Hartmut withdrew a thin silver whistle from his pocket and put it to his lips. There was no sound that Leavey or MacLean could hear but two massive Dobermans came bounding along the gallery to sit snarling at Hartmut’s heels.
Hartmut raised his arm to point at MacLean and Leavey. He let out a cry and the dogs bounded into action. Leavey traced the path of the first dog with the barrel of his gun as it coped with the difficult steps and squeezed the trigger. There was a quiet click and nothing else. ‘The bloody water!’ he exclaimed.
MacLean kept his gun on the second animal, waiting for a sure body hit when suddenly it veered from the steps and leapt over the rail at him. He tried to get out of the way of the animal but the proximity of one of the tanks stopped him. The animal hit him squarely in the chest sending him and the tank behind him crashing to the floor in a shower of broken glass and warm fluid. Somewhere in the process, the gun fell from his grasp.
His hands fought desperately for something to grip on the mound of writhing muscle that was intent on tearing his throat out and he managed to get his fingers under the studded collar. He could now keep it at arm length but knew that he could not sustain the enormous effort it required for much longer. As the animal lunged again at his face he used it’s own weight against it and slid out to one side. At least he was out from underneath the beast but the stalemate persisted and he was tiring fast.
MacLean went for one last gamble. There were several shards of broken glass around him. He removed one of his hands from the dog’s collar to snatch it up and sweep it across the animal’s throat. A fountain of warm, sticky blood rewarded his efforts.
There was no time to relax; the sounds of snarling said that Leavey was still locked in combat with the other animal. He pulled his legs clear of the limp, heavy carcass lying on them and crawled towards the sound. Leavey was still fighting but the blood on his face and arms said it was an uneven contest.
MacLean saw the spanner that Leavey had used to open the water valve and picked it up. He came up behind the dog and raised it in the air but at the last moment the beast caught sight of him and turned on its haunches to spring at him. He raised his foot to fend it off but it sank its teeth into the calf of his right leg and brought him to the floor, which was now awash with swirling water from the open valve.
MacLean was fast approaching complete exhaustion. As he fell over on to his back he caught a glimpse of Hartmut leaning over the rail above them. He was watching the contest impassively but with total concentration, like a cat watching a bird that was about to become its prey. MacLean raised his hands weakly to fend off the animal that was coming for him when Leavey, who had now got to his feet, had more success with the spanner. He brought it crashing down on the Doberman’s skull and there was silence.
‘He’s going to raise the alarm!’ warned MacLean as he saw Hartmut move off along the gallery. Leavey stood up straight and threw the spanner at the spindly figure above. It hit Hartmut on the side of his right knee and brought him down. Leavey was already half way up the metal steps before Hartmut had started to recover. He had just managed to get upright, using the rail when Leavey caught up with him. He made an attempt to defend himself but was no match for Leavey who, even in his exhausted state, took him out with two blows.
Leavey returned to the floor of the cavern and retrieved their guns before they were lost in the tide of rising water. MacLean, sitting on the steps, applied a makeshift tourniquet to his leg and was relieved to find that he could still walk, albeit painfully. Leavey finished drying out the guns and rested a hand on his shoulder. ‘How are we doing?’ he asked.
‘Just fine, Nick,’ murmured MacLean through his teeth and returned the gesture.
The men made their way back up to the gallery and along to the door that Hartmut had used because it was nearest. They hoped to find an exit route but were disappointed. The door led to a series of small chambers in the rock, which had obviously been living quarters for Hartmut and the dogs. They were about to leave when Leavey said quietly, ‘Sean, a moment.’
MacLean knew from the tone of his voice that something was badly wrong. He went back to see what he had found. Willie MacFarlane’s body was lying in a small dark cleft in the rock. He had been shot through the head. Leavey knelt down beside the body to close his friend’s eyes and MacLean shut his own for a moment in silent grief.
‘Let’s go,’ said Leavey.
They had to go right round the gallery to reach the door they had used earlier, the one leading to the lab. They took a last look at the floor of the cavern where the water level had now reached the first of the electrics and saw that sparks and smoke were coming from one of the control panels. An alarm suddenly went off and the cavern a filled with the urgent whooping of a siren. Outside they could hear the sound of running feet in the tunnel. They were trapped.
MacLean pointed to the bench and both men squeezed themselves underneath it with no time to spare as the door burst open and five men passed through the room on their way to the cavern. From his knee-level view MacLean could see that three of them were guards and the other two were wearing white lab coats. Leavey saw their best chance and flung himself across the room to slam the metal door shut, trapping the five men in the cavern. As he secured the door, an older man, also wearing a white coat and accompanied by a further guard came into the lab behind him. The guard raised his gun.
He did not see MacLean who fired from below the bench and hit him in the chest, throwing him backwards against the wall. MacLean struggled out, painfully nursing his wounded leg. Leavey now held the older man at gunpoint.
‘MacLean!’ he exclaimed. ‘You!’
‘It’s been a while,’ said MacLean.
‘Don’t you realise what you’ve done?’ snarled Von Jonek.
‘I think so,’ replied MacLean. ‘But you can fill us in on the details if you like.’
Von Jonek, prompted by Leavey holding a gun to his cheek, outlined a list of what he clearly saw as his considerable achievements. He only confirmed what MacLean had worked out for himself.
‘What happens to the children, Von Jonek?
‘The seeds of a new order have been sown. Ther’e nothing you can do.’
‘A new order?’
MacLean’s frown deepened as he listened to Von Jonek boast that the babies were placed as adopted children in the homes of ultra-right-wing families who were part of the Anvil project. Because of their genetic background and social advantages, it was believed that they would sail through their academic years to achieve positions of power and influence in every sphere of public life. Political indoctrination from an early age would ensure a commonality of purpose. The brightest and best of an entire generation would ensure the supremacy of right-wing values and lead to a politically stable right wing Europe, a suitable climate for Lehman Steiner to grow ever larger and ever more influential. Petty squabbles between European governments would become a thing of the past as the bonds formed on the Anvil proved stronger than any other considerations. Europe would become the dominant world power.
Leavey and MacLean were aghast at the sheer audacity of the venture and Von Jonek mistook their silence for admiration. He adopted a conciliatory tone. ‘You must see how much better Europe will be with strong, co-ordinated leadership?’ he asked. ‘There will be law and order, peace and prosperity for all.’
‘And if anyone should disagree with the government?’ asked MacLean.
‘Why should anyone wish to disagree?’
‘What if they did?’ insisted MacLean.
‘Naturally there must be discipline,’ said Von Jonek. ‘The law must be upheld.’
MacLean snorted his disgust. ‘You have the nerve to pontificate about the law when you’re responsible for the murder of so many innocent people? You make me sick!’’
Von Jonek moved uncomfortably in his chair. ‘You really don’t understand,’ he began. ‘In an undertaking of this size it is sometimes necessary to take seemingly harsh decisions. Some things are to be regretted of course, but…’
Leavey spoke for the first time. He said with deceptive calmness, ‘I found my friend next door.’
‘His name was Willie MacFarlane,’ said Leavey. ‘He had neither the genetic background nor the social advantages to make him a force in your brave, new Europe… but he was my friend.’
Von Jonek caught the ice-cold nuance in Leavey’s voice and his eyes showed fear. ‘I don’t understand…’ he whispered. ‘What friend?’
‘The man your thugs caught in the Hacienda. They shot him, or maybe it was you personally?’ said Leavey.
Von Jonek was now trembling, his throat had gone dry and his voice sounded hoarse as saw Leavey check his gun. ‘No, it was a mistake, an unfortunate… ‘
Leavey raised the gun and said, ‘On behalf of all these people who were subject to your “seemingly harsh decisions” I’m going to blow your head off.’
‘No, no, you wouldn’t dare… ‘
Leavey fired and Von Jonek was dead. ‘Oh yes I would.’
MacLean rifled through every drawer and filing cabinet in Von Jonek’s office, taking whatever he thought might be relevant to the authorities then he and Leavey started back up the tunnel to the junction.
With Von Jonek dead and five men still penned up in the cavern, confusion reigned over the alarm. The only guards to know of the intruders were either dead or trapped in the cavern, leaving the others up on the surface to assume that the alarm had something to do with the missing man they had been searching for. MacLean and Leavey were aware of this advantage but they also knew that the insistent ringing of a telephone without answer in Von Jonek’s office was going to merit imminent investigation. They heard running footsteps ahead of them and ducked into the shadows to wait for the runners to pass.
When the guards had clattered past Leavey whispered that he would keep them penned up in that section of the tunnel until MacLean had alerted Carla and asked her to get the rest of the girls together. MacLean had barely made it to the mouth of the tunnel when he heard firing behind him and knew that Leavey had hit trouble. He rounded the last bend and heard a cry of, ‘No!’ up ahead of him. It was Carla shouting at the girl who had been about to shoot him. All twelve girls were at the mouth of the tunnel. They had taken advantage of the confusion and absence of the guards to take matters into their own hands.
MacLean explained to Carla that he would hurry back to help Leavey. She should follow with the others but keep at a safe distance. By the time they got to the junction, the firing had stopped. MacLean approached cautiously, crawling along the floor of the tunnel on his stomach. He could see that there were two bodies lying across the junction. Both were guards.
‘Nick!’ whispered MacLean. There was no reply but a shot from the tunnel on the other side of the junction ricocheted off the rock above his head.
‘Nick! Are you OK?’
Again a shot was fired from the tunnel and splintered rock by the side of his face. This time there was a second shot. It came from his right and MacLean knew it must be Leavey. There was a groan from the tunnel and then silence.
‘Got him,’ said Leavey’s voice in the darkness. ‘I aimed for the muzzle flash when he fired at you.’
‘Thanks,’ said MacLean. ‘I think… ‘
‘Are the girls ready?’ asked Leavey.
MacLean heard the catch in his voice. He asked, ‘Are you all right Nick?’
The reply sent shivers down MacLean’s spine. He had come to think of Leavey as invincible. ‘How bad?’ he asked.
‘Losing a lot of blood…’
Again, MacLean heard the catch in the voice. Leavey was growing weaker. ‘I’m coming over.’
‘Be careful!’ urged Leavey. ‘I think there’s… still one left… ‘
MacLean crawled over to where Leavey lay and examined his wound as best he could. The bullet had entered through the upper right- hand side of Leavey’s chest and exited through his shoulder at the back. He did his best to stem the flow of blood, seeing this as the main threat to Leavey’s life. He reckoned that the bullet had missed his lung but it had shattered his scapula on the way out.
‘Senor!’ came Carla’s voice from behind them.
‘Be careful Carla!’ We’re over here,’ said MacLean.
Carla joined MacLean and Leavey without attracting fire from the tunnel and saw Leavey’s plight. She took over bandaging while MacLean rolled over on to his stomach and levelled his gun at the mouth of the tunnel, telling the other girls to pass the junction while he covered them. They filed past and waited for MacLean and the others to join them.
MacLean put away his gun and helped Leavey to his feet. He supported him on one side while Carla did her best to help on the other.
‘Leave me,’ said Leavey.
‘Don’t come that old movie shit with me,’ said MacLean.
Suddenly a figure appeared in front of them in the mouth of the tunnel. It was the guard Leavey had been worried about. He had been waiting for the right moment and was now holding a gun on them. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders. He was about to fire when one of the girls he’d been ignoring, shot him instead. Fernanda Murillo, holding the pistol she had taken from one of the guards the girls had overpowered, stood, holding the smoking pistol in two hands, her eyes wide in disbelief that she had done such a thing.
‘Well done!’ said Carla and Fernanda burst into tears. She was comforted by the others as they made their way up the tunnel.
When MacLean, supporting Leavey, arrived at the head of the tunnel with the girls they found the door open and the boiler house deserted. The panic of the fleeing guards and the uncertainty and rumour about the size of the invading force had spread to the Hacienda. A muffled explosion followed by a deep rumbling sound behind them said that someone in the Hacienda had decided to obliterate as much evidence of the X14 project as possible. They emerged into the night air to see the flashing lights of police vehicles winding their way up the mountain road.
MacLean put Leavey down gently and took Carla to one side. He explained that he did not want to wait around for official questions and explanations. He had pressing business elsewhere. ‘I want you to look after Nick for me,’ he said. ‘See that he gets to a hospital. Jose and Maria will help and I’ll be in touch as soon as I can.’
‘I understand,’ said Carla. ‘And thank you.’
MacLean knelt down beside Leavey and said, ‘I’m going to leave you this time old son, but you’ll be OK. Carla will see that you get to a hospital.’
Leavey who was just managing to hold on to consciousness smiled and said weakly, ‘You fix that kid’s face… you hear?’
‘You bet,’ said MacLean. ‘We’ll have a drink when you get back. He clasped Leavey’s hand tightly to convey his thanks for all that had gone before and with a final nod to Carla he was gone.
MacLean made his way back down the mountain using the route that he and Leavey had used for the ascent. High above him, the Hacienda was ablaze with light and above that the sky was lit with a dull red glow from the fires in the secret valley. It was still red when he edged the Erinia out of the marina and said a silent farewell to the friends he had left behind. He turned his back on the high Sierra and started heading west, hugging the shoreline but staying far enough out to be invisible from land. His plan was to follow the outline of the coast until he reached Gibraltar.
He used the intervening time going through the papers he’d taken from Von Jonek’s office, separating out anything that seemed relevant to techniques used for the X14 project. When he was satisfied that he had extracted everything he took the sheaf of papers on deck and started tearing them into shreds. He scattered the confetti on to the sea. With luck no one would ever be able to repeat the experiments of the Hacienda Yunque. He realised that it would mean the end for Cytogerm too, just in case anyone ever got the same idea as Von Jonek. God willing, Carrie would be the last person to receive Cytogerm surgery. He thought of Tansy and Carrie as the wind got up and spray swept over the bow to catch his face as the lights of the Spanish coast slid slowly by on his right.
Convincing the British authorities in Gibraltar that he was who he said he was proved no easier for MacLean than he had imagined but the assault on the Hacienda had brought him too close to physical and mental exhaustion to even contemplate making a bid for home on his own. He steeled himself for successive interviews with progressively more important people in the scheme of things, starting with the port authorities police and ending up with an aide to the governor named Hargreaves.
Hargreaves began by showing scepticism and MacLean understood. He had sailed into Gibraltar, having come through the night from the Costa Del Sol, the most notorious bolthole for British criminals on the run in Europe. His lucky break came when he mentioned the name of the Hacienda Yunque and found that Hargreaves had heard of it. The wife of one of his friends had come back from there looking ten years younger. He agreed finally with MacLean’s suggestion that he telephone the Spanish police in Fuengirola.
MacLean had to wait on his own while Hargreaves went off to make the call in private. There was a policeman stationed outside the door. His uniform was British bobby but his features were local.
‘It appears that there is something in what you say Doctor,’ said Hargreaves on his return. It seems that our Spanish friends are hearing much the same story from a dozen or so Spanish girls who were held captive in the Hacienda. The question now is what to do with you. You are travelling under a false passport and appear to have broken every immigration law in the book.’
MacLean said, ‘Mr Hargreaves, you have just discovered that what I have been saying is true. Would you believe one more thing?’
‘Try me,’ said Hargreaves.
‘It’s a matter of life and death that I return to the UK as quickly as possible.’
Hargreaves sucked in breath through gritted teeth and put his head to one side. ‘You are putting me in a very difficult position Doctor,’ he said.
‘I’m serious,’ said MacLean.
‘One moment,’ said Hargreaves. He left the room to return a few minutes later. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘It seems that this mess along in Mijas is going to take forever to sort out. We’ll confiscate your false passport and revoke the one under your own name for the time being but you can return to Britain. We’ll dress that leg for you and put you on an RAF flight in the morning.’
‘Thank you,’ said MacLean.
MacLean’s reunion with Tansy was long and tearful. Despite a reasonable night’s sleep, thanks to medication supplied by the doctor in Gibraltar who dressed his wounded leg, he appeared haggard and drawn and walked with difficulty.
‘God, I’m so glad you’re back,’ murmured Tansy through her tears. ‘I should never have let you go.’
‘I got it Tansy,’ whispered MacLean as he held her close. He took out the vials of Cytogerm to show her. ‘I got it.’
‘And Willie? And Nick?’
The look in MacLean’s eyes warned her of what was to come. ‘Oh no,’ she whispered.
‘It will all be over soon Tansy,’ said MacLean. ‘I promise.’
MacLean contacted his old surgical colleague, Ron Myers in Glasgow and asked for a favour. The favour was that he not ask questions when he requested that Myers book operating facilities at a private clinic and an anaesthetist for the next available date when Myers was free. It turned out to be two days hence.
‘Who is operating, you or me?’ asked Myers.
‘You,’ replied MacLean. ‘I’ll assist.’
‘But surely I need to know… ‘ began Myers.
‘Trust me,’ said MacLean. ‘You will know everything you need to know before you start.’
‘All right,’ agreed Myers doubtfully. ‘But this is pushing friendship to the limit.’
With Carrie safely installed in the private clinic on the eve of her operation, MacLean sat up late; he had arrived at the last hurdle. A close examination of Carrie’s skin had revealed no likely blemishes that Cytogerm might trigger but there was no way that he could be absolutely sure. He was under great stress and it showed on his face. Booze would have helped but he couldn’t risk it. He wanted to be more alert in theatre in the morning than he’d ever been in his life.
Tansy got up to join him saying that she couldn’t sleep either. She stood behind him and kneaded her fingers into his shoulders in an effort to help him relax. Her eyes kept moving to a pair of envelopes lying on the mantelpiece. She had been wondering when to show them to MacLean. She decided that it might as well be now. She gave the envelopes to him and said, ‘Nick and Willie said I was to give you these if they didn’t return. I was to open them myself if none of you came back.’
MacLean opened the envelope with Willie’s name on it and brought out the last will and testament of William David MacFarlane. In the event of his death, everything he possessed was to go to Sean MacLean or, in the event of his death too, to Mrs Tania Nielsen and her daughter, Carrie. MacLean looked to the window. Dawn was breaking. He handed the paper to Tansy who dissolved into tears.
Myers looked at Carrie’s injuries as she lay on the operating table and whispered to MacLean, ‘Are you serious?’
‘Trust me,’ said MacLean. ‘Remove exactly what I tell you and then apply this compound.’ He placed the vials of Cytogerm on a metal tray beside the instruments.
Myers looked as if he might pull out of the whole thing for a moment but the look in MacLean’s eyes reassured him. He cut away the damaged tissue from Carrie’s face as instructed and used Cytogerm instead of skin grafts to fill the areas. The only difficult bit was in the reconstruction of Carrie’s mouth but MacLean knew that Myers had more than enough skill for the delicacy required. He watched his scalpel trace out a perfect line and said, ‘First rate. Now the Cytogerm.’
Finally Myers stood back from the table, stripping off his gloves and said, ‘How was that?’
‘I owe you, Ron,’ said MacLean. ‘That was a fine job. I’ll do the dressings.’
MacLean, who had not trusted his own hands to carry out the surgery, felt confident enough to apply the dressings to Carrie’s face. It seemed the perfect end to a nightmare but there was still the wait to come.
With each passing day Tansy and MacLean grew more confident that complications were not going to arise and four weeks to the day after the operation they and Ron Myers met in a small room at the clinic for the removal of the dressings. It was a magical moment when the last pad was removed from Carrie’s cheeks and she was revealed as the pretty little girl she’d been before the fire. Tansy broke down and hugged MacLean. Carrie was unsure about all the tears and sucked her thumb.’
Myers was dumbstruck. ‘I don’t believe it,’ he murmured. ‘I see it but I don’t believe it.’
‘It’s a one-off Ron,’ said MacLean. ‘Just call it a miracle.’
The difference to their lives was the difference between night and day for Tansy and MacLean. To have Carrie restored to them was everything they had wished for. Thanks to Willie MacFarlane, they had enough money to rebuild the white bungalow by the canal and this they did. Three weeks before Carrie’s sixth birthday they moved in. MacLean and Carrie resumed their Saturday expeditions.
On the Saturday before Carrie’s birthday, MacLean took her into town to choose a bicycle. She chose a red one and was disappointed when MacLean said that it would be delivered and no, she could not ride it home through town traffic. She was still insisting on her ability to do this when she bumped into a man by the door. She said sorry, sheepishly and MacLean smiled his own apologies.
When they got outside Carrie said, ‘That man was at our house yesterday.’
MacLean reeled under the impact of the words. He couldn’t speak for a moment. When he could, he asked, ‘What makes you say that Carrie?’
‘I saw him. He came to the door. Mummy said he was selling something.’
MacLean went out after tea, telling Tansy that he had a headache and needed some fresh air. In truth he had to face the nightmare that had surfaced before him like some kraaken from the ocean. He saw the figure up on the bridge from a long way off, dark suit, metal-framed glasses, the man from the bicycle shop.
MacLean knew what he had to do. He returned to the bungalow and spent the next two hours writing and putting various documents concerning the Anvil families into envelopes. At seven o’clock he told Tansy and Carrie that he had to go out again and kissed each of them lightly on the forehead.
This time he took the car and drove up the road to the canal bridge. He saw the man keeping vigil there and got out of the car some thirty metres away so that he would be seen. The man turned to look at MacLean who stood there motionless for fully ten seconds before getting back into the car and driving off. He drove slowly until he saw that the man was following, then he picked up speed and drove out of Edinburgh to the car park at the southern end of the Forth Road Bridge. He got out and walked out on the bridge footpath. The dark-suited man followed at a discrete distance.
MacLean stopped in the middle of the bridge and looked back. For a moment the two men looked at each other without rancour then MacLean climbed up on to the parapet and balanced briefly with his hands in the air. With a last look back, he launched himself out into the setting sun to fall like a wingless Icarus to his death.
Tansy found the letter under her pillow. It read:
My dear Tansy,
To have this happen to you twice in your life must seem almost unbearable but I do what I do not out of weakness but out of the strength your love has given me. The factions surrounding The Anvil have returned to exact their revenge and I know that the only way that you and Carrie can ever be safe demands that I forfeit my life. This I do now, my darling. Consider it my last gift to you both.