فصل 13

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فصل 13

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Ashton’s work and Benson’s secret

From America Penny wrote to say that the operations on Gillian’s face were going well. She said that Gillian wanted me to pass this news on to Peter Michaelis, as she could not write herself.

In her next letter Penny asked me to meet her at Heathrow Airport and that made me feel a lot better. If she had decided not to marry me, she would not have asked me to meet her.

When I met her she was very tired, but I took her to her new flat in London and we sat talking for a while. She told me about her visits to several American universities.

‘They’re doing very good work with PV40,” she said.

‘What’s PV40?’ I asked. ‘Something to do with genetics?’

‘Oh, it’s a virus - but it’s harmless to human beings,’ she laughed. ‘I keep forgetting that you don’t know anything about genetics.’

Suddenly the little worrying thought at the back of my mind expressed itself.

‘When your father was alive, did you talk to him a lot about your work?’ I asked.

‘Oh yes’ Penny replied. ‘All the time. He knew quite a lot about it and he understood things very quickly. He even made some suggestions which surprised Professor Lumsden.’

‘Why was that?’

‘Well, Daddy never did any experiments in genetics. He learned things from talking with me. But some of the ideas he had were very clever. They were unusual, but they worked when Lumsden and I tried them out in the laboratory.’

I felt like a man who has just found a key after looking for it for many weeks.

The next day I went to see Ogilvie.

He had been very suspicious of my ideas about the model railway, but he had agreed to investigate it. The railway had been moved to a secret place and the computer experts had begun work on it. At first they thought it was a great joke, of course, but after a while they realized that it was definitely a computer and that the timetables were detailed programs. Unfortunately, they had not been able to understand the programs yet, but at least I was not $31,000 the poorer.

I told Ogilvie about my latest idea.

‘I think we can guess what Ashton’s computer programs are all about. The date of the first one is about the time Penny started her research in genetics. I believe Ashton taught himself genetics because that was what his daughter was studying. He used her books and her notes, and didn’t need to buy anything which would tell outsiders what he was studying. She could keep him up to date with the latest developments without anyone ever suspecting that he was busy learning the subject - probably even better than Penny herself knew it. And all without ever going near a laboratory.’

‘If you’re right,’ said Ogilvie, ‘what do we do about it?’

‘Talk to Penny, of course,’ I said. ‘Tell her what we think; see if she agrees. Let her tell us what she knows.’

‘No, that’s too risky,’ he said. ‘We’d have to tell her too much about her father and why he wanted to hide what he was doing.’

‘But you can’t keep this secret from her, not if you want to understand it. She’s a part of it now. He learned everything from her,’ I said angrily.

‘Calm down, Malcolm. I didn’t say anything about secrets. I just said we’d have to be very careful about what we say. You can leave that side of things to me, so don’t worry about it.’

After that meeting I had a strange suspicion that Ogilvie was not being completely honest with me. It was the first time I had ever felt that about him, and I didn’t like it.

I went to see Penny that afternoon at University College. As I passed Professor Lumsden’s office, Lord Cregar came out. He looked very surprised and demanded, ‘What are you doing here?’

I didn’t think it had anything to do with him, and replied, ‘Just visiting.’

He stopped and said, ‘You know the Ashton case is closed?’

‘Yes, of course,’ I replied.

‘Then you know you shouldn’t be coming here to ask questions.’

‘I’m sorry, Lord Cregar, but I don’t think I have to ask your permission when I want to visit the girl I’m going to marry.’

‘Oh!’ he said. ‘I’d forgotten.’ His eyes changed and lost their suspicion. I’m sorry about that. I’d forgotten that you’re engaged to Dr Ashton. I wish you both every happiness. But now, I must go, I’m in a bit of a hurry.’

As he hurried off along the corridor, I wondered why his first thought on seeing me was to think it had something to do with the Ashton case.

That evening Penny invited me to dinner in her new flat. After dinner, as we were sitting having coffee, she said quietly, ‘When would you like us to get married, Malcolm?’

That night the coffee got spilt on the carpet, and I stayed for breakfast.

The next day Penny had to go to Scotland because she was still involved in arguments about the safety of the laboratory there. For me the rest of the week went by very slowly. I bought some tickets for the theatre for the day when Penny was due to return, and I went on with my work. I had learned nothing new about Benson, and the computer experts were not making much progress towards under-standing Ashton’s programs. Ogilvie seemed to be avoiding me, but I did learn from him that Lord Cregar was now trying to persuade the Minister to transfer the work on the computer programs from Ogilvie’s department to Cregar’s.

That worried me a lot. Cregar’s special interest was in biological and chemical weapons. If Ashton’s programs were really about genetics, as I thought they were, they could be very useful to Cregar - and he would make sure they were kept very secret. Perhaps that was why Ashton had hidden them so well - to keep them from dangerous people like Cregar who would use them only to increase their own power.

Penny was expected back on Tuesday and I went round to her flat. I waited, but she did not return. Early the next morning I rang Professor Lumsden, who said he had not heard from her for several days. When I asked for her telephone number in Scotland, he said he was not allowed to give it to me. I was rather puzzled. There seemed to be another mystery here and I began to get worried about Penny.

When I got home I found that the suitcase which I had left behind in Sweden had finally been sent back to me by the Swedish police. That gave me an idea and I drove out to the Ashtons’ house at Marlow. The cases which Ashton and Benson had taken to Sweden had also been sent back. I looked at everything very carefully, took everything our of the cases and examined it thoroughly, but found nothing. As I was putting Benson’s clothes back into the case, his wallet fell on the floor. I had already examined it once, but this time, when I picked it up, I noticed that the silk lining was torn. I examined it more closely; the lining had been very carefully cut and hidden inside was a piece of paper. I pulled it out. It was a letter: ‘To Whom It May Concern This letter is carried by Howard Greatorex Benson. If anyone has any doubts or questions about his honesty, his actions or his motives, please contact me immediately.’

The date on the letter was 4th January 1947, the day Ashton and Benson had left the army. The letter was signed by James Pallton - who was now Lord Cregar.

I was getting more and more suspicious about Cregar. Why did his name keep coming up in the Ashton case? I could now see that there was a strong connection between him and Ashton’s probable work on genetics - and now Lumsden and Penny. What exactly was going on in Scotland? I went to see Lumsden and asked him to ring Penny in Scotland. When he refused, I got angry. He would not tell me where the laboratory was, or what work was being done there, or even who ran it. I was now very suspicious and finally got Lumsden to admit that Cregar was the man in charge. Cregar was in a hurry to get results. Penny had insisted on a P4 laboratory which was much more expensive and would take much more time to construct.

‘But that was because she was worried about safety,’ I said.

‘Yes, but Cregar thought she was being too careful. He was pushing Carter hard to get results fast,’ replied Lumsden.

‘Who’s Carter?’ I wanted to know.

‘The Chief Scientific Officer.’

There’s something wrong at that laboratory, I’m sure of it,’ I said. ‘Please telephone Penny - but I don’t think they’ll let you speak to her.’

He hesitated for a long time, but then made the call. As he dialled, I watched his finger and carefully remembered the number.

‘This is Professor Lumsden. I’d like to speak to Dr Ashton. Yes, I’ll wait while you get her.’ He put his hand over the telephone and said, ‘They’ve gone to get her. They think she’s in her room.’

‘I don’t think they’ll find her,’ I said.

Suddenly Lumsden spoke again to the telephone. ‘Yes?… on the mainland. I see. Will you ask her to telephone me as soon as she comes back?”

He put the phone down slowly. ‘They say she’s gone to the mainland.’

‘So the laboratory’s on an island?’

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘They could be right, you know. They might be telling the truth.’ But I could tell from his voice that he did not really believe his own words.

‘I don’t think so,’ I replied. ‘Something has happened to her, and I’m going to find out what it is.’

Feeling very worried, I left Lumsden and went to see Ogilvie. I marched straight into his office. He was not pleased.

‘I didn’t send for you,’ he said coldly.

I paid no attention. ‘I’ve discovered Benson’s secret,’ I said. He was Cregar’s man.’

Ogilvie’s eyes opened wide. ‘I don’t believe it.’

I put the letter on his desk. ‘Read that. You’ll see how Benson was Cregar’s spy on Ashton for thirty years. Even when Cregar was no longer responsible for Ashton, he still had his spy watching. That’s why Benson’s records disappeared from the computer.’

‘It all fits together,’ admitted Ogilvie, ‘but I still can’t believe it. There must be another explanation.’

‘Well, I’ll get it out of Cregar, even if I have to beat it out of hun. Penny Ashton has disappeared and Cregar has something to do with it.’

‘What on earth are you talking about?’ he demanded.

I told him about Penny’s work in Scotland and how Cregar was involved in this secret laboratory. I gave him the phone number and said, ‘See if you can find out where that telephone is.’

Five minutes later he had the answer in two words, ‘Cladach Duillich’.

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