فصل 17

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فصل 17

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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

The bee

At Hunter Products, the receptionist welcomed Jane and Pete with her usual humourless expression. She would try tо get Mrs Keane but as far as she knew Mrs Keane was busy all day. Jane had to lean on the counter and bark an order so that the receptionist jumped slightly and did as she was asked.

‘What a cheerful, helpful person she is!’ Pete remarked.

‘Isn’t she?’ Jane agreed. The receptionist stared at them furiously. After a few moments, Jo Keane arrived through the door into the reception area. Today the elegant business suit was an eggshell blue, matching the arctic eyes.

‘What can I do for you?’ she enquired politely.

‘Well, we’d like to have a look around the factory, if you don’t mind,’ Jane informed her.

A curious expression moved rapidly across Jo Keane’s perfectly made-up face, and there was a brief pause. ‘I’m afraid that’s out of the question,’ she announced finally. ‘Visitors are not allowed into the factory area for health reasons. We have to maintain the strictest standards of cleanliness or we would lose our licence. Unless, of course, you have a search warrant?’ The ice-blue eyes seemed to harden as they met Jane’s and the words contained an unmistakable challenge.

After the smallest hesitation, Jane said, ‘You produce animal vaccines here, don’t you?’ 

‘That’s correct,’ Jo Keane replied.

‘I suppose then you must carry out experiments on animals?’

‘Yes, that’s true,’ Jo Keane said. ‘In fact, that’s the reason why we have such tight security. Other companies similar to ours have had a lot of trouble with animal rights protesters. We don’t want anyone to break in and free all the animals - the mice, rabbits and so on. It would be disastrous.’

‘Oh well, no, of course. You can’t be too careful, can you?’ Pete commented cheerfully.

‘Would it be possible to have a quick word with Jack Peck before we leave?’ Jane asked.

‘I’m terribly sorry, but he’s out of the office at the moment. He’ll be in tomorrow, if you’d like to call back?’

‘Not to worry, then, we’ll try again,’ Jane said. ‘Might I just use the ladies’ on my way out?’

‘Of course,’ Jo Keane said and showed her where to go.

Inside the ladies’ toilet, like everywhere else in the factory, it was spotlessly clean. Jane glanced up at the security camera fixed high up in one corner. As she did so, she suddenly noticed a bee crawling sleepily up the wall. For the second time in twenty-four hours the hair on the back of her neck felt electric and she had to work to control her fear. Why did there seem to be bees everywhere she went?

Looking up again at the camera which had moved its watchful stare across to the other side of the room, Jane quickly found a handkerchief and trapped the bee inside it. It buzzed pathetically, too sleepy to protest much as she placed it carefully inside her bag. She would send the bee oil to one of the Government’s forensic laboratories, together with the floppy discs from Rose’s cottage. Perhaps someone would be able to make sense of it all. The camera was beginning to swing back again towards Jane. Quickly she looked in the mirror, made as if to adjust her hair and then left the room.

Outside, Pete said, ‘Well, that wasn’t very productive, was it?’

‘No, it wasn’t. We really need to get inside that factory and see what they’re up to. We’re going to have to get a warrant, but I’m not sure there’s time now…’ Jane paused. ‘Anyway, look what I found in the ladies’ loo.’ She showed Pete her handkerchief from inside which a weak buzzing sound was coming.

‘What on earth…?’ Pete began.

‘I’ve no idea,’ Jane said.

Back at the station Jane shut herself in her office. She needed to make a phone call in private.

‘Hello, Elisa, Jane here again,’ she said. ‘I’m hoping you’ll be able to help me with another little job. Tonight.’ When she told Elisa what she had in mind, there was a long silence. But as Jane had guessed, Elisa was more than willing to help out.

No sooner had she put the phone down than another call came through. It was Susan Peck, wanting to talk to her confidentially. Jane arranged a meeting in a pub not far from Susan’s house for that evening, and didn’t get back to her flat until after ten. As soon as she opened the door the phone rang. It was Pete.

‘Guess what, ma’am!’ he announced. ‘There’s been an animal rights break-in at Hunter Products. They somehow got through the security system, tied up the night watchman and let out all the animals.’

‘Did they really? Good heavens,’ Jane said.

‘Yes,’ Pete went on. ‘We had an anonymous phone call…’ There was a pause. Then he stammered, ‘You d… d… didn’t… ?’

‘Didn’t what?’ Jane asked. ‘Didn’t what?’

‘Oh… er… nothing.’

‘It’s time we got Operation Wasp going, isn’t it? All these break-ins…’ There was a noticeable groan at the other end of the line. ‘Come and pick me up in about ten minutes, will you?’ Jane told him.

Outside the south-west wind had stopped blowing for once, and the clear night sky was as black as coal and dotted with silvery stars, as Jane and Pete set off for Hunter Products.

‘Life has not exactly been quiet since you arrived down here, has it, ma’am?’ Pete remarked. ‘Two murders inside a week, and now a major break-in here. I suppose it’s just a coincidence?’ The question hung in the air.

Jane smiled. ‘It’s good to keep busy, don’t you think? Come on, let’s go in and see what this place is all about,’ said Jane, thinking that at last they were able to look around the inside of the factory.

The first room they tried was full of TVs, wires, video recorders, red and green flashing lights. Pete gave a low whistle. The equipment was the best that money could buy for the purpose of spying on visitors, factory employees and their activities, anything and everything inside and outside the building.

Jane and Pete stood in front of the bank of screens and stared in silence. In some of the rooms the pictures showed what looked like large metal containers - similar to those used for making beer, as Pete said afterwards - connected to each other by a network of large pipes. In one or two of the rooms, boxes that looked like small animal cages were piled from floor to ceiling, though it was impossible to see what was inside them.

They left the security control room and found themselves next in the animal vaccine research section where the rooms were filled with microscopes, bottles, white gloves and other pieces of equipment. Jane examined the lines of bottles carefully. After a few minutes her eyes fell on a large bottle labelled: ‘Ketalar - contents: ketamine hydrochloride’.

‘Go and tell the SOCOs to check this for fingerprints, would you?’ she told Pete.

Looking further round the room, she saw a filing cabinet and rapidly opened the drawers. She was in luck. At the front of one of the drawers there was a file named Samson. She pulled out the file and glanced though the papers. Among them was a letter from an African Colonel. It read: We look forward to receiving the Samson supplies in the next month. $1 million has been paid into your account in Switzerland as agreed. The balance is to be paid on receipt of the goods.

Jane put the letter in her pocket.

Suddenly she became aware of a soft movement behind her and almost screamed when she turned round: the room was full of creatures - rabbits, mice and rats, jumping and unning around, exploring their new-found freedom. Behind the animals, Pete was grinning in the doorway.

‘Where the hell did they come from?’ Jane yelled.

‘Animal liberation,’ said Pete laughing. ‘The SOCOs are still trying to round them all up, poor things. Come and see what I’ve found.’

Jane followed him down to a room they had seen on the security cameras - the one lined with small cages. Jane peered into a cage from which an odd buzzing sound seemed to be coming.

‘Mosquitoes?’ she queried.

‘I reckon so,’ Pete replied, in his dreadful Texan accent, which Jane tried unsuccessfully to ignore.

Then she remembered - Rift Valley. That had been the name of that virus disease on the TV the other night. The one carried by mosquitoes. In a strange kind of slow motion, the true nature of the work being done at Hunter Products began to dawn on her, and she realised with sickening horror that she needed to act very fast.

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