© Kevin Chilvers
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The car park was heaving: police cars, an ambulance, three fire-engines and a plain white transit van all abandoned in a seemingly haphazard tangle. Fire crews were busy rolling hoses and stowing them on the trucks. Paramedics sat idly in their cab chatting. Four shapes dressed in white boiler suits dragged boxes of gear from the back of a the transit van.
Simon Hawkins threaded his hire car through the mess and parked beside a familiar Bentley. It was empty. He turned to face the woman in the passenger seat. Her loose fitting lumberjack shirt hid a slim figure and her mischievous smile ceased a boyish pixie-shaped face shadowed by a fringe of short curly dark hair. She looked more like a truculent adolescent than a 34 year-old undercover customs agent. ‘Your father and his chauffeur must be inside,’ Hawk said.
Samantha slid from the passenger seat in reply and he paused to admire her lithe form before extracting himself from the car. Two years older than Samantha, he too looked younger than his years. He moved with a fluidity honed from a recently ended career as a Royal Marine Intelligence Officer in the Special Boat Service and caught her as they strode towards a three-storey building that reminded him of a 1960s secondary school. Not that he’d ever attended one; his education was delivered in a series of military boarding schools, courtesy of his father’s career in the Royal Air Force and his mother’s early death. They mounted a set of wide shallow steps to a pair of glass fronted doors. A sign above welcomed them to the Stone Foundation for Medical Research. A police constable guarded the entrance.
‘Good morning, Constable. I’m Simon Hawkins and this is Samantha Kingsley. Admiral Kingsley is expecting us.’
‘Just a moment, Sir.’ The policeman checked on the radio before opening the door and admitting them to an open-plan foyer illuminated by subtle high-level lighting.
In contrast to the dated exterior, clusters of comfortable modern-styled chairs surrounded low tables to form islands between mobile notice boards displaying the history of medicine.
The white-suited team were setting up a workshop on one side of the foyer; overseen by a short solid built man with a receding hairline. He wore a suit and a frustrated scowl beneath a creased forehead.
‘Hawk, Samantha you’re here a last.’ The voice boomed around the foyer as a short, grey haired, wiry man stormed towards them.
‘At last! It’s still only eight-thirty in the morning, George. Two hours ago I was nicely asleep on the other side of the country. What’s the crisis?’
Admiral Sir George Kingsley (retired) glanced around the throng of people circulating the foyer. ‘A crime that could have catastrophic consequences. Let me introduce Chief Inspector Clive Green. He was the first man on the scene.’ George indicated the solid built man. ‘Chief Inspector, this is my daughter Samantha, an undercover customs agent, and Simon Hawkins from the Hawk Security Consultancy. They are on contract to the Government and will conduct the investigation.’
Clive crossed to the rear of the lobby towards a pair of lifts. On the way he stopped by a half-moon reception desk that occupied the space front and centre and pointed. Hawk slid behind the barrier to examine an electrical panel. The lid hung open. ‘Someone’s disabled the security and fire-alarm systems.’
‘Exactly. Luckily a passer by walking their dog saw the main door was open and called it in. Now we must go upstairs but they haven’t dusted the lifts for prints yet so we’ll take the stairs. Top floor I’m afraid.’
‘Were both lifts on the ground floor when you arrived, Chief Inspector?’
‘It’s Clive. They were and nobody’s touched them.’ He pushed through a door in the wall to the left to a stairwell.
Their footsteps echoed on wide polished wooden steps as they zigzagged up two flights to the first landing. Hawk checked through a wired glass porthole in a fire door and pushed it open. The carpeted corridor was empty, heavy with silence. Six classrooms on either side were deserted. Well it was Saturday.
‘What’s on the middle level, Clive?’
‘Offices and administration. Our interest is the next level.’
The top level was different. The fire door opened to a narrow corridor, Lino not carpet, which ran across the building instead of along its length. A featureless door to his left concealed a long narrow cupboard. It held cleaning equipment. To the right the passage crossed to the front of the building where a window overlooked the carpark. It turned through a right angle and ran the length of the building. The place was quieter than a Carthusian Monastery during evening prayer. Only three doors this time and they were set farther apart than the lower floors. These were obviously bigger rooms.
Samantha wrinkled her nose and whispered. ‘Something’s burning.’
An acrid stench of burnt plastic tainted the air. ‘You mean was burning. There’s no smoke. I guess that’s what the fire brigade was for.’
The nearest door was locked. A small box mounted on the wall resembled the machine the cashier at a supermarket used to swipe his credit card. A nameplate said Professor G. Randall. A similar set-up on the next door with another box but a different name. This was also locked. ‘What’s inside?’
‘Laboratories,’ George answered from the rear. ‘We want the last one.’ Figured. It was at the far end of the building; where the smell was strongest.
The name, Professor H. Beckler, was familiar but Hawk couldn’t place it. Clive stood to one side and waved Hawk forward to the open door. It was undamaged; unlike the rest of the room. It reminded him of his school science lab; except the vast array of scientific equipment arranged on solid looking wooden benches was more sophisticated and obviously expensive. No one was there – well not living anyway.
A security guard, recognisable from his crumpled uniform, lay face down on the floor. The scorched ring of Lino beneath a pile of ash and cremated paper beside him identified the source of the burning odour.
Hawk avoided a pool of congealed blood and knelt beside the body, guessing it was not worth checking for a pulse: the killer had pulped the back of the guard’s head with a fire extinguisher that lay beside the body. ‘We don’t need an autopsy to confirm he was murdered, George. He took a pen from his pocket and gently sifted the papers. They crumble to ash.
Hawk glanced over his shoulder as Samantha stepped into the lab, glanced at the body and wrinkled her face. ‘Where did all this paper come from?’
He pointed to the corner. ‘The filing cabinets, I guess. Whoever did this took time to empty each file and feed the individual sheets onto the fire.’
George turned to Clive. Apart from you, who else has been up here?’
The Chief Inspector shook his head. ‘No one. The fire was out when I arrived and my Chief ordered me to keep everyone clear until you arrived.’
‘That’s good. Since you are now involved, you will work for me until this matter is concluded. If anyone asks, there was a small fire in the lab and the security guard fell and hit his head.’
George dialled a number on his mobile and moved out of earshot.
Hawk continued his conversation with Clive. ‘Change the nameplate on the door and I’ll get a Government forensics team up here. George ended his call and addressed Hawk. ‘Clive can deal with this. Collect Samantha and come with me: we have to meet someone.’
The Admirals chauffeur weaved his Bentley through the traffic on Exeter’s ring road. ‘Do you think Beckler killed the guard, Hawk?’
‘The name rings a bell but I don’t know anything about Henry Beckler yet,’ George.
‘Henry is acknowledged as the World’s leading authority on genetics. He’s respected in both the medical world and in elite social circles. It will most certainly create a stink if he is linked to the security guard’s death. That’s why the PM has asked us to investigate this.’
‘I’ll go and see the professor when we’ve finished here. In the meantime let’s wait for the forensics.’
The Bentley passed through a suburb near Exeter University, turned off the road and approached a pair of electrically controlled gates. They swung open. A gravel drive led between manicured gardens to a large modern house set in extensive grounds.
‘Who are we meeting?’
‘The Director of the Stone Foundation.’
Damien Winter was a lean man with wisps of hair that clung to his balding head like kelp to rocks in a storm. He showed them into a study which obviously doubled as his den. When George told him about Beckler’s lab the colour drained from Damian’s skin.
Winter pulled himself from the chair. ’I’d better get there at once. Is Henry all right?’
Hawk spoke. ’The professor isn’t there, Mr Winter. There’s nothing you can do until the police have finished gathering evidence. What was he working on?’
‘I have absolutely no idea. He’s been very secretive about it.’
‘Surely he would tell you as Director.’
‘I suppose he would if I asked but I doubt I’d understand. I’m merely an administrator and Henry usually keeps his research to himself until it’s complete.’
Does anyone else have access to his work?’
‘Only Jason, his assistant.
‘I’ll ask him for details then.’
‘I doubt he can help you. Jason Holloway is an odd job’s man; not a scientist. He may have an idea what went on but I doubt he’d know the technical details. That’s the way Henry wanted it.’
‘What about the security guards? They have access to the lab.’
‘They do but everything is locked away at night and Henry encrypts his notes using his own special code.’
‘It sounds like he’s paranoid.’
‘Oh, he’s not, Mr Hawkins. All the major pharmaceutical companies have offered eye-watering packages to entice him to work for them exclusively. Henry rejected them as always. He did seem more excited about this discovery than normal though but all he’d say was that it’s something that will save many lives. If a company could publish first and patent something like that they would make billions. You have to understand that Henry has always insisted his discoveries be freely available to help everyone. He is due to release his findings to the GMC at a conference in London next Wednesday.
‘Did the professor seem normal when you last saw him?’
‘A little nervous but he’s worried about his speech. Henry is not a vain man and doesn’t like speaking in public but, apart from that, he was his normal jovial self when I spoke to him yesterday.’
‘When did he announce his work was complete?’
‘About two months ago. He would have preferred to leave it to the last minute but the GMC have a closing date for entries into the conference.’
Then I’d better speak to the Professor and his assistant. Do you have their addresses?
An overhanging Holly tree partially hid the Georgian post box Winter had described and they almost missed the turning into a country lane leading to the isolated valley on Exmoor where Henry Beckler lived. The metalled road ran in a woody dell up a shallow hill with the mirrors on the hired Land Rover scraping Honeysuckle hedges. Occasionally they receded to reveal clusters of idyllic country dwellings set back into clearings beneath the trees.
Then the hill steepened and they ground up onto heather covered, rock strewn, moorland littered with stunted Blackthorn bent by the wind like old men with a dodgy backs. After this they saw no more dwellings and Hawk could see why Damian Winter had advised a 4WD vehicle. The track undulated through numerous dips where streams tumbled down from the moor and the lowest gear was needed on several occasions. Speed was not an option.
After several miles they topped yet another crest. Wind shredded scudding dark cumulous on rocky crags on the hilltops and rocked the Land Rover. Ahead, the road snaked down into a steep-sided valley like a silver ribbon.
‘So much for the picture postcard image they paint in the holiday brochures,’ Hawk said and started the steep descent to a cattle grid and a big white farmhouse that sat beside the track in the valley bottom. It started to rain.
They passed the farm and a lay-by where footpath beside a gate led uphill between sloping fields of pastureland grazed by sheep. Beyond it the road morphed into a rutted farm track strewn with stones that clattered in the wheel arches. For another three miles, it ran on a ridge above a stream until the track swung hard left, crossed a stone bridge and passed a carved wooden sign welcoming them to Brook End. The Beckler residence nestled in a bowl at the head of the valley.
Hawk parked in a cobbled courtyard enclosed on three sides by flint-walled stable buildings. The mournful bleat of sheep filtered down through a blanket of mist as Hawk climbed from the car and he sympathised with their plight and tugged the collar of his cagoule tighter against the persistent drizzle. He dived through open double garage doors set into the centre of the left wing with Samantha on his heels.
There were two Land Rovers parked side by side. One black and one red. They looked new but 01 plates suggested otherwise; a credit to the Becklers. Both cars were unlocked but apart from a small patch of dried mud on the driver’s mat of the black car they were clean and uncluttered.
A pedestrian door in the corner looked like it would take them into the central wing of the house and he was disappointed, but not surprised, when the shiny brass key refused to turn in the rusty iron lock. ‘I guess we’ll have to get wet.’
Huge drops danced on the cobbles as he raced Samantha across the courtyard to an ivy-infested porch set across corner where the other wings met. Samantha beat him but still looked half-drowned. She was still smiling.
He tugged a rope attached to an old ship’s bell hanging from a wooden beam and waited. Nobody answered the clang and a gentle push swung the door inward.
‘Hello! Hello anybody in?’ He stepped into a scullery with a tiled floor.
Waterproof Barbour jackets hung on a coat-rack over two pairs of Wellington boots which nestled beneath a Victorian Butler sink. The waxed material was dry.
An inner door stood wide open. ‘Maybe they’ve gone for a walk,’ Hawk said.
‘Without boots and coats in this weather?’
‘Then we’d better take a look.’
Arches led left and right into each wing of the house. He chose left into the middle section of the stable block and found a large open plan lounge and kitchen separated by a counter. Two half cups of cold tea rested on a coffee table between two armchairs. These were positioned either side of a stone fireplace in one corner. Logs stacked in recesses added to the cosy country theme. A pad and pen rested beside the glass. He sniffed the contents. ‘Brandy.’ A copy of Danielle Steel’s “Miracle” had fallen to the floor beside the other chair. Otherwise, the house was clean and tidy. He placed his hand close to a pile of ash in the grate; it was cold.
His eyes wandered along the wall. Although windows overlooked the courtyard, there was no sign of the door to the workshop. It had been sealed and papered over. Photographs featured the couple at social events. They looked at each other with a sparkle in their eyes and held hands in many. Other pictures showed the professor mixing with famous faces at numerous award ceremonies. The result was a well-respected professional man who had seen success in his career and an ageing couple who looked very much in love after a long successful but apparently childless marriage.
There was no window in the rear wall but an arch led into a conservatory. This was an impressive room fitted out as a study built across the width of the cottage at the rear. Double-glazed patio doors provided a view over a tidy garden that butted against a low cliff. The rain had slowed to a drizzle and sunlight knifed through the cloud like a searchlight lifting the mist to expose a steep hill to the top of the moor. ‘What a magnificent view.’
Samantha wrapped her hand round his bicep. ‘It’s a magnificent house, but we’re here to find Henry and Eileen.’
Floor to ceiling bookshelves lined the inner wall. Professor Henry Beckler was the author of a good number of the leather-bound medical tomes on the bookshelves.
Samantha picked a few screwed up balls of paper from a waste bin and smoothed them out. ‘Beckler was writing a speech.’
Hawk read over her shoulder. Distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen. I bring to you today the results of five-year radical research that will change medicine as we know it and save many thousands of lives. ‘It looks like he was planning to attend the conference and announce his new discovery so where is he?’
Samantha delved into drawers in an antique walnut desk. ‘Just stationary. Nothing interesting except…’ she looked at him. ‘There are no personal papers.’
‘Uncanny. I was thinking exactly the same thing. Perhaps he keeps them in his bedroom.’
‘Then let’s look in the other wing.’
The corridor had four doors.
Samantha opened the nearest. ‘It’s the airing cupboard.’ She rummaged through housed towels and spare bedding stacked on shelves and shook her head.
Something clicked and Hawk peered in. A modern water and central heating boiler emitted a soft roar. The thermostat pointer settled at twenty-four degrees centigrade.
Next was a luxurious bathroom but this needed no more than a glance. It was immaculate. Two toothbrushes hung in a rack over a shiny sink, a pair of dry towels hung on a rail and razor and foam sat on a shelf over the bath. I don’t see anything to explain what happened at the lab.
Two doors remained and he was still unsure if they’d found anything useful. The nearest was a guest bedroom with the twin unmade beds. It was a room devoid of personal items but the last, the master bedroom on the end of the block, was obviously the Becklers’ domain. Glass sliding doors in the outer wall opened to a private patio with an impressive vista over wild moorland and hills. This time the bed was made; the room show-house tidy and the air tainted with Jasmine.
Samantha slid back mirrored doors and revealed a space big enough for another room. The walk-in cupboard was divided: HIS on one side with drawer units and hanging space containing three suits and numerous casual but smart trousers and shirts and HERS on the other with more hanging space filled with flowery dresses, formal evening-wear and a collection of low-heeled shoes. A cushioned box between them provided a seat.
Hawk lifted the hinged lid, lifted a pile of blankets and shut it again. ‘Nothing here. We’ve missed something.’
‘Like this?’ Samantha’s face crinkled in a smug grin and she bent down and pointed beneath a line of hanging dresses. A recess in wall housed a foot-square modern Chubb safe. ‘Do you think Beckler has the key with him?’
‘More likely he’s hidden it in the house. You search here while I’ll look in the study.’
Hawk started with the antique walnut desk. After emptying the drawers, he pulled them clear and checked the base. Nothing taped to the wood. He replaced them and examined the bookshelves. These were fastened to walls. He walked the line looking for wear on the spines hoping to find books that were constantly withdrawn. Nothing obvious.
He returned to the lounge and dismantled the stacks of logs. Great for spiders but not flush with keys. Where else? Somewhere accessible but well hidden. He scanned the room. Perhaps the kitchen: the fridge.
A clash of cool air flooded his feet as he opened the door and pulled out two cartons of milk; one open, a fresh salmon marinating in a dish of lemon and tarragon and various jars of pickles and dressings. He opened them. No key. He replaced the food and repeated the exercise with the freezer compartment; same result. Nada.
He emptied every cupboard and drawer and exhausted all possible hiding places without success. Where else? Taped to the back of the photos? Nope. Not in the lounge. That left the study. Hawk pictured the wall of books and groaned. Finding a safe was one thing but a key was a different matter entirely. He could almost hear the shelves groaning under the weight of books; each one was a potential hiding place.
An hour later the floor looked like a model of Monument Valley. He removed the last book and flicked through the pages. No cut out middles. No key. Nothing. He added it to a pile and sat surrounded by stacked books.
‘Have you checked the toilet cistern?’ He asked when Samantha slumped down beside him and reported a similar failure.
‘Of course. Women watch movies too you know.’
“Ouch!” He set about re-populating the library. When he’d finished he returned to the lounge feeling incredibly weary.
‘Perhaps Henry keeps the key in his car,’ Samantha said.
Hawk pictured the garage, slapped his forehead, levered himself to his feet and groaned. Asafa Powell would have been amazed at his speed as he sprinted out of the cottage.
‘Hidden in plain sight,’ he said, returning less than a minute later waving the brass key from the rusty lock. He slid it into the slot on the safe, glanced at Samantha, swallowed hard and twisted.
The tumblers moved with a soft click and he swung safe open to revealed two shelves. He emptied them and spread the contents over the carpet: official looking papers, a jewellery box and a pile of twenty pound notes. ‘A couple of grand cash here and, according to these statements, Henry and Eileen have over a million in savings.’ He pocketed the latest statement, returned everything else, locked the safe and was thinking hard as he followed Samantha to the cobbled yard. ‘I’ve a bad feeling about this, Samantha. Where is Henry? Does he know what happened at the lab?’
She stood and looked around. ‘They could have gone away for a few days.’
‘Both cars are in the garage.’
‘Perhaps a friend picked them up.’
‘Perhaps, but the front door was open, there’s fresh fish in the fridge, two toothbrushes in the bathroom and the heating is set to twenty-four degrees centigrade.’
On the way out, he returned to the garage, replaced the safe key in the rusty lock. Let’s see if the neighbour knows where they’ve gone.
Hawk pulled the Land Rover into the farmyard beside the white house. He hauled his coat up over his head against the drizzle and thumped the heavy iron knocker.
A dog barked. Bass not soprano: big not small – marvellous. After a delay, the door swung open. A portly woman with rosy cheeks beamed a smile at them and grabbed a black Newfoundland by the collar. She spoke with a soft West Country accent ‘Don’t you go worrying ‘bout Bonnie ‘ere, she’s as soft as Ma’s butter. Now what can I do for you Mr…’
‘Hawkins. Simon Hawkins and this is my partner Samantha Kingsley.’
‘Come in. You two look like you could do with a cup of tea.’ She ushered them into the porch out of the drizzle. ‘I’m Martha by the way. I s’pose this about the strange men I saw.’
‘Er… absolutely. Tell us about them.’
Hawk glanced at Samantha and raised his eyebrows as Martha led them into a cosy room. She pointed to a worn sofa before vanishing through an open door. Hawk and Samantha sank into the upholstery and listened to the rattle of crockery. The dog snuggled over Hawk’s feet and refused to budge. Martha returned a few minutes later with a tray laden with steaming mugs of tea and a plate of scones. She set it down on a table between them and flumped into an armchair opposite.
Under the dog’s pleading gaze, Hawk bit into one of the scones. Fresh cream and jam oozed out. ‘Wow! That’s good.’
The woman beamed. ‘Made them me ‘self.’
‘Tell me what happened this morning, Martha.’
‘Well... Me and Bill, that’s me ‘usband. We went up to the field to check on one of the ewes about four this morning. ‘Tis lambing season you see. It was a breech birth and I was up to me elbows when a car comes up the lane and parks beside the gate. We gets the odd tourist up here thinking they’re Ernest Shackleton but never in the early hours so I wondered what they were doing...’ Well, two men gets out and they take something heavy out of the back and carries it up the path to the moor. I couldn’t see what ‘cos I was on me knees...’ Martha ordered the dog to lie down. It ignored her and continued nuzzling Hawk’s hand.
‘Is Bonnie bothering you?’
‘No, she’s fine. Tell us what happened next?’
‘Well, about ten minutes later, the men come back down the path without the parcel and put something in their boot. It looked like a rag.’
‘How long were they gone?’
‘Not long. About thirty minutes, I reckon. Well, They drove off down the lane towards Henry and Eileen’s house which I though was odd ‘cos it doesn’t go anywhere. They returned a good while later and headed back towards the main road…’ She glanced at the clock on the wall and cupped her chin in her hand. ‘Five past six that would be. I remember the time, cos I was frying sausages for breakfast and watching the clock.’
‘Can you describe the men?’
‘Ay. A thin scruffy, weasel man who looked like he needed feeding up a bit and a bigger one that was uglier than Bertha.’ Martha chuckled and pointed through the window to a Vietnamese pig in a pen at the side of the drive.
‘What about their car?’
‘A blue Mitsubishi Shogun if that’s any help. We have one just like it in the garage. Sorry I can’t help more but that’s all I can remember.’
‘You noticed more than I would at six in the morning. Were Henry and Eileen in the car with the men?’
‘I couldn’t see. It had tinted windows. But it didn’t seem right. I thought they were fly-tipping so I called the police station.’
‘Well, I’m glad you did, Martha. We’ll go and check it out.’
It was a gruelling climb up a steep gradient between two fields lined with barbed-wire fences. Samantha led and soon pulled ahead avoiding the stones with the dexterity of a goat on a scree slope. Hawk plodded behind with stinging thigh muscles and a tinge of envy. She waited with hands resting on slim hips scanning a rugged landscape when he emerged onto the moor. There was no sign of breathlessness. He joined her and studied the lie of the land. A worn footpath continued ahead. It climbed steadily as it snaked towards a craggy peak on the skyline about three miles distant. She glanced at her wrist. ‘It took us ten-minutes to get up here and we’re both fit. That means the men had about ten minutes to dump their package.
Hawk pointed to a less defined footpath which contoured the slope where the fence turned a right angle in each direction to run along the top of the fields. A number of Gorse thickets littered the area.
‘I suppose we’ll have to check them all,’ Samantha said.
Hawk knelt and studied the ground. ‘Freshly trampled grass stalks; they turned right.’
The first two clumps of Gorse were too small to conceal much but then they saw a large round thicket with a domed centre. It resembled a miniature version of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Hawk circled the perimeter. It was about forty paces in diameter and stood a little over head height in the centre. Thick spiny branches formed a formidable barrier. Samantha went ahead and called. ‘Here, Hawk. There’s an animal track and someone’s been here recently.’
Hawk examined broken branches. They wept sap. He bent double, pushed into the thicket on the animal trail and wished it had been made by a bigger beast. He paused to pull thorns from his sleeve and examined the ground.
Samantha bumped against him. ‘What is it?’
‘Scuffed earth. It looks like someone swept it.’ He sniffed. ‘Can you smell that?’
‘Yes and it’s not pleasant. Something died in here.’
‘Perhaps you’d better wait here.’
‘No. Now get on with it.’
The thought of what could lay ahead dried Hawk’s mouth as a clearing bathed in eerie green light appeared ahead and the scent of death grew stronger. He took a deep breath and crawled the last few yards into a round space in the centre of the thicket. It was worse than feared.
A child’s body lay in the dirt staring up at knurled branches of aged woody shrub which curved overhead to form a roof. The poor lad was naked apart from a leopard-skin loincloth. The earth was undisturbed.
Hawk left Samantha by the animal track and circled the perimeter to the far side of the chamber before crossing to kneel beside the remains. Once again there were no footprints.
He brushed the loincloth with a finger. The coarse fur scratched against his skin. He opened the boy’s mouth. Teeth tinged yellow tinge. No fillings. The skin on the child’s chest was cold. When he lifted a hand, the arm was stiff. He glanced at Samantha. ‘Rigour mortis. He died within the last day, maybe two. A post mortem will narrow it down.’
A shallow incised cut across the lad’s forehead had scabbed. The neat cut on the head contrasted with several irregular, jagged wounds on the kid’s torso, arms and legs. These showed no sign of healing. He considered rolling the body but decided to leave it and let the forensic guys and girls work their magic and he returned to Samantha.
‘This looks like some kind of sick sexual thing or a tribal ritual gone wrong,’ Samantha’s voice had a sad ring. ‘Do you think it was the men in the car who sbrought him up here?’
‘It fits. Unless he levitated into the thicket someone killed him elsewhere and swept the place clean when they dumped the body. There’s no blood on the ground so the boy was already dead. I’ll get Clive up here with the forensics team.’ He pinched the bridge of his nose. Closed his eyes. The image of the boy remained. Why does it always have to be kids? He added it to a growing collection and crawled back through the tunnel.
They gathered in the admiral’s suite later that evening. Clive arrived last carrying a folder.
He threw it onto the table. ‘The child’s body has gone to the morgue but there’s nothing useful at the scene. This, however, is the forensic report from the professor’s lab. It’s damning. He murdered the security guard.’ Clive took several sheets of paper from the envelope and slid them across the table. ‘Beckler’s fingerprints are plastered all over the switch panels in the lobby and over the murder weapon. It looks like he faked a burglary to destroy his files; possibly to cover up failed research and when the security guard caught him in the act he panicked and whacked him over the head with the fire extinguisher.’
‘Did you find any other prints?’
‘None. Only Beckler’s.’
‘Okay. What about on the lift buttons?’
‘No. He wiped them clean.’
Hawk shook his head. ‘It’s a nice theory, but the evidence has more holes than a wedge of Gouda cheese.’
‘Yes, Clive. It does.’
The Chief Inspector sighed. ‘Why?’
Hawk ignored the question. ‘I take it the card reader outside the lab controls access to the room?’
‘Yes. Each employee has their own coded card programmed to limit entry to specific areas.’
‘Is every entry recorded?’
‘Of course. On a central computer. The last person to enter the lab was Professor Beckler at 07:30 this morning.’
‘Then how did the guard get in?’
‘I suppose he used his own card.’
‘You just said the last entry recorded was Beckler’s, so the security guard didn’t use his card?’
‘Er... No. The professor must have left the door open and he...’ Clive stopped speaking and stared open mouthed.
‘Exactly Clive.’ Hawk tapped the back of his head. ‘The guard was hit from behind. If he walked in and caught the professor with his hand in the sweety jar, Henry had to be standing in front of him. There are other inconsistencies. Take the fingerprints. Henry’s an intelligent man so why would he wipe them from the lift but leave them on the electrical switches and the murder weapon? Isn’t it too convenient? Then you said the only prints found on the fire extinguisher and switch panels belong to the professor. Where are the residual prints from maintenance engineers and cleaners? The only way they can be absent is if someone wiped them before Henry handled them.’
Clive sighed. ‘So the professor is innocent.’
‘I didn’t say that.’ Hawk took a deep breath. ‘Clive, look at the evidence more carefully. The guard was struck from behind, which means there were at least two people. Henry and Eileen are missing but there are two cars in Beckler’s garage so they must have left with the men in the Mitsubishi and they most likely dumped the child’s body on the moor. The evidence in is too neat. Hawk paused. ‘It’s a classic fit-up. What if Henry and Eileen have been kidnapped?’
Clive spluttered. ‘How do you jump to that conclusion?’
‘Because Eileen has also disappeared.’
Clive exhaled loudly. ’Why would anyone want to kidnap Henry Beckler?’
‘For his research. The director told us there are billions of pounds at stake and that Henry kept everything in code. If someone stealing Henry’s new discovery found they couldn’t read his notes they would need him to decipher them. Eileen could be a hostage to ensure he cooperates.’
‘I still don’t buy it. If any of the big pharmaceutical corporations suddenly come up with Beckler’s research we’d know they were guilty.’
‘Except no one knows what his research was, Clive. The fire saw to that.’
‘This is pure speculation.’
‘Agreed but Henry and Eileen could be in danger so we need to find them quickly.’ Hawk stood. ‘I’m going to talk to Henry’s assistant. You, Clive, need to put out an alert for the Becklers and trace the pale blue Mitsubishi. It has tinted windows but I’ve no idea about the registration.’
Clive gagged. ‘Do you know how many hits that’s going to get?’
Hawk rested a hand on the Chief Inspector’s shoulder. ‘Think of the overtime. We’ll meet back here in… say two hours.’