Meat Machines - Chapter 5

Meat Machines

Chapter 5

It takes me some time to crack the code but when I finally manage it I can see why the cops think the murderer has to be someone who worked with Naismith. More than that, I can see why they think it's got to be Karl. So as far as the cops are concerned, they know who it is and all they need is proof. At least now they don't think it's me. I hope it turns out not to be Karl, because of Rose.

I try to remember the silhouette I saw, the tall man standing in the doorway of Naismith's office at Quiller Supplies. The man who killed Louise. It was dark and he had his back to me. I couldn't honestly swear in court that it was Karl. But I couldn't say I'm sure it wasn't. Of course Rose can't believe it's him: he's her boyfriend. But what if the police showed her the decoded letter? Would she continue to insist on his innocence? I think she would. But perhaps it would plant a seed of doubt in her mind. And one day he might say something, or she might remember something, which lets doubt grow into distrust. If I know Rose, she'll find it very hard to hide her suspicions. And he'll be watching her, waiting to see if he's got away with it. As soon as he thinks her belief in him is shaken, Rose will be in danger.

The best way I can see for Rose to be safe is for the police to catch the killer really quick, whether it's Karl or not. Because of course the cops could be wrong, and Naismith and Louise were both killed by someone who was after the papers Louise was searching for, and that's all there is to it. Could these mysterious papers be the notes Naismith made for the ground breaking article he intended to publish? The notes that both Karl and Rose are still searching for? If they are, I hope the killer's already got them. Because if they're still missing, and Louise was killed to stop her finding them, Rose could still be in danger.

That makes me think it might be partly my fault, if she's at risk. Would it help the cops if I told them what happened the night Louise died? If it helps them get him sooner, I should go to Vincent Penney right now and tell him everything I know. Of course he'll shout at me, but he probably won't actually lock me up. Or at least, not for long.

So on Monday I stop work at about six and start to walk over to the police station. But when I get about half way I have second thoughts. On reflection I decide Vincent Penney's capable of locking me up just for climbing through a window into Quiller Supplies. When he hears I saw the murderer weeks ago and said nothing, he's going to be furious. He'll probably insist that I'm charged with every little thing he can dredge up. I'll still go through with it if it will make Rose safe. But if the cops get it wrong and arrest the wrong man, then she'll still be in danger and I'll be locked away where I can't help her. I need to know more before I tell all. So I change my mind and instead I walk towards the pub. On the way I phone Rose.

"I'd like to talk to you about all this stuff that's been going on. I had to go and see Penney yesterday. There's something I could tell him, but I'm not sure if I should. I will if it will help, but please, can I talk to you about it first?"

"Of course you can, Nate, if it's important. Shall I come to the studio now?"

"I've finished work for the day. There's a pub called the Green Dragon, it's just off the high street. I'm on my way there now. I'll text you the address."

"I know where it is. It's near where Gilbert lived. Karl and I went there with him once. I'll get there as soon as I can."

As soon as I walk into the pub, it suddenly hits me why I keep thinking Karl looks familiar. He was in the Green Dragon one night. Not with Naismith, with a guy in his thirties. From his accent I'd say he was American. I remember this bloke because he nearly beat me at pool. It was down to which one of us potted the black first. Karl didn't play, he just sat there.

Rose gets there just as I'm finishing my first pint, so I get us both a drink. When we sit down we look at each other. I can see she's impatient to know what's going on, what it is I've been keeping from the cops. But she doesn't say a word, just looks at me through those round glasses. I know I'm going to have to tell her everything.

"There's something I haven't told you, Rose," I start. "I met Louise Davis once. It was on the day she died."

For a second Rose just stares at me. Then she reaches for her beer. "Go on," she says.

"I met her outside the old Quiller Supplies building. The police were in there, this was soon after Naismith was killed. Penney called me in and questioned me because I had some stuff about nanomachines on my website. He recognised my name because I'd been involved in another case he was working on a few years ago. Anyway, when I came out, Louise was hovering outside as if she couldn't make up her mind whether to go in or not. I told her she should avoid the cops and she asked me to come back there at night and help her to break into the building. I can't think why I said yes; it was a crazy idea. But she said she couldn't do it without me, so I went back and met her again at midnight."

"I've seen Louise do that," Rose said when I paused for breath. "She was always pulling that helpless little girl act. It works on most men, believe me. And I suppose she was very pretty. She was fun to be with as well. I miss her. It's only me and the boys, now."

"It was easy getting in, in the end. We climbed in through a window. She wanted to look for some important papers of Naismith's; I suppose the ones you told me about. We split up and went different ways. I didn't really know what I was looking for and anyway I didn't find anything, so I went back to where I thought Louise should be. But when I got back, I heard her talking to someone. A man. They didn't see me."

"Did you see him?" Rose's voice shook as she asked.

"I saw him from the back. It was dark, Rose, there's no way I could identify him, if it came to that. He could stand right here in front of me now and I wouldn't recognise him."

"And you think this man killed Louise?"

"I know he did. I heard the shot. And like a coward I ran away."

I wish now I'd run straight to the police station. Then they might have caught him that night and it would all be over by now. Or they might have wasted time locking me up for breaking into the Quiller Supplies building and let him get away. Or they might have thought I was making the whole thing up and locked me up for being drunk.

"I don't blame you!" Rose is looking at me with concern. "He could have shot you!"

"That occurred to me. So I ran home and I've never told anyone about it until today. I lied to Vincent Penney, told him I was at home all night. Rose, you know more than me about what's going on. You know about these mysterious papers that seem to be the cause of the trouble. I'm worried you might be in danger if the murderer isn't caught soon. If you think I should do it, I'll go to Penney now and confess everything."

"No, you mustn't do that. I can't see why anyone would want to hurt me. All I want is the notes for the paper Gilbert was planning to publish. I mean the work on nano array synthesis, that's the part of his research that Karl and I were working on. It was Louise who worked on the secret stuff."

"Secret stuff?"

"Yes, the military application. I don't know the details, but it was basically a way of getting nanolevel biosystems to trigger small precisely targeted nuclear missiles. That would have been written up in a separate report."

"So you think it's that report the murderer was after?"

"Yes, I expect so. Nate, you won't tell anyone about this, will you? Gilbert told us all not to talk about it. Only Gilbert and Louise worked on the project and the rest of us were careful not to ask questions. All we knew was that the project brought us a generous grant. We weren't supposed to tell people even the bare fact that we were doing this kind of work in our lab. I don't want to get in trouble for leaking military secrets!"

"Of course I won't tell! Rose, I'd never do anything to put you in danger."

She smiles and takes a sip of her beer. I look round the pub. There's no-one close enough to have heard what we were saying, not over the music which tonight is a bit louder than usual. I swig down my pint and take a furtive, paranoid glance over my shoulder. Is that guy over there looking at Rose? I don't want him to see I've noticed him and anyway I need another pint. So I ask Rose if she wants a drink and I go up to the bar. While our drinks are being poured, I turn and lean on the bar and from here I can get a good look at him. He's sitting at a table at the back, on his own, with a direct line of sight to our table. For as long as it takes to fill up our two pints, he doesn't take his eyes off Rose.

When I get back with the drinks I say, "Rose, don't make it obvious you're looking, but do you see a guy, tall, thin, light brown hair, keeps looking at you?"

"You mean apart from you?" she says with an impish grin.

"I mean the guy sitting at the back. No, don't let him see we've noticed him."

"Don't think I've ever seen him before."

"He can't keep his eyes off you. Could he be the cop who was following you?"

Rose risks another glance. "Wait a minute, I think I have seen him around somewhere. He was hanging around outside Gilbert's flat one night. He must live around here somewhere."

"He can't be a regular in here or I would have seen him before. You've never noticed this guy watching you?"

"No, I've only seen him that one time."

Perhaps I'm being too suspicious. This bloke could be a totally innocent neighbour of Naismith's who's just popped in for a pint. I've just happened to catch him looking at Rose, probably puzzled as to where he's seen her before. But when I next glance round, he's still staring at Rose. As soon as he sees me turn towards him he looks away. I don't like this at all. Is it so paranoid of me to think he must be a cop?

To take Rose's mind off everything that's been going on I suggest a game of pool. For once there's no-one on the table. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised when she turns out to be really good, and I don't even mean good for a girl.

"I don't get much practice these days," she says. "Karl doesn't play. I've tried to talk him into it but he's just not interested."

I suspect the real reason is he knows he hasn't got a hope of winning. "I'll play you whenever you want," I offer. With a bit of practice she might end up beating me. After the first two games I take a look towards the back of the pub. The mystery man, cop or not, has disappeared. So I can relax and enjoy the rest of the evening.

I don't want to let Rose out of my sight until the murderer is caught and I can feel she's safe again. So I go home with her and stand across the road as she goes into the building and up to the flat she shares with Karl. A light comes on in an upstairs window. So now I know exactly where she lives. I start to walk away, then turn for a last look back. A shadow moves and I see a man come out of the alley where he's been hiding and stand right in front of Rose's window, looking up. I take out my phone.

"Rose," I whisper, "There's a man outside, looking up at your flat. Probably a cop, but just in case, don't open the door to anyone."

"I wish all this would just stop! I've had enough of worrying who's going to be murdered next. And the cops aren't much help. Why can't they catch him and leave us in peace?"

Rose sounds more upset than I've ever heard her. Shall I offer to go up and stay with her? "Now I've had a second look at him, I don't think he can possibly be the man who killed Louise. This man is shorter and heavier than the man I saw that night. I expect he's a cop."

"Sounds like he could be the one I shook off earlier," Rose says, sounding relieved. "And I've just had a text from Karl, saying he'll be home soon. Don't worry, Nate, I'll be all right."

Just in case, I stay where I am, hidden in the shadows on the other side of the street, until Karl finally gets back about half an hour later.

The day after he retrieved his nanogold sample from Harrison's lab, Alan got a phone call from Roxy. He realised they had not spoken for the past few days. Hearing her voice reminded him of something.

"Roxy, did you write to me a few days ago, saying you were in trouble and needed my help and asking me to meet you at Waterloo station?"

"No, why would I do that? I'm not in any trouble. I'm calling because the professor wants to see you, to talk about your progress with the nanogold. He told me to ask you to come as soon as you can, and to bring your sample with you. He's got a new idea for a way to test it."

"That's strange." Alan's mind was still on the mysterious letter that had taken him away from home on the day of the break-in. "I got a note which looked like it was in your handwriting, signed with the initial R."

"Alan, it certainly wasn't from me. Now when can I tell professor Bergman to expect you?"

"Oh, tomorrow, I suppose. I'll be there in the morning. I expect I'll see you too, won't I Roxy?"

"Of course. I'll be here, as usual."

"And perhaps we could go out to lunch? To the Italian place?"

"Oh, yes, Alan, that would be lovely."

That gave him one more day to work on his sample before he took it to Bergman. As he had guessed, the note had been a forgery, written by some minion of Harrison's to get him out of the way. No doubt there would be another attempt soon. He thought he would ask his mentor to look after the sample for him. Then even if Harrison broke in again, he wouldn't find it.

Alan set off for Bergman's house early the next day. He put his stunbeam gun in the pocket of his coat, in case Harrison's men attacked him on the way. He was going to keep the nanogold sample safe at all costs. But nothing happened on the journey and he soon arrived at the professor's house. Roxy greeted him at the door. He thought she looked lovelier than ever.

"Let me take your coat, Alan," she purred.

She showed him through to the study. But there, sitting behind the desk, was not Bergman, but Harrison! A determined expression on his face, he was holding a biopellet gun in one firm hand, pointed straight at Alan.

"You! What are you doing here? What have you done to Bergman?"

"You don't need to worry about the old man," Harrison said in a taunting voice. "Just give me the sample and no harm will come to anyone."

"Don't you dare hurt Roxy!" Alan turned to see her standing in the doorway, arm raised, her hand holding a stungun. It was aimed at his head.

"There's no way out, Alan," she said in the voice that Alan had once found so appealing. "We don't want to hurt you. You might as well just give him the nanogold."

"Roxy! How could you?" Alan took a step towards her and her finger tightened on the trigger. The last thing he saw before he collapsed to the floor was her beautiful smile.

Alan woke to find himself lying on the beige carpet of Bergman's study. The old mahogany desk towered above him. He tried to sit up but found himself unable to move. He couldn't even raise his head. If you'd told him someone had nailed his head to the floor he'd have believed you. He had the worst headache he'd ever had in his life. The only part of him that seemed to still be working were his ears.

"A million pounds. It's worth that to you, and more." The voice was Harrison's.

"A million? I don't have anything like that much! I can give you fifty thousand." Bergman. Thank God, the old man was alive. When he had seen Harrison in Bergman's chair he had feared the worst.

"Bergman, I know you'd give anything for the nanogold. You want it; I've got it. You're going to make it worth my while, or I swear I'll keep it all for myself."

"A hundred thousand then, and that's the most I'm prepared to pay. You're making me a beggar, Harrison!"

"You could sell this house, and I know you've got plenty in the bank. I'm taking everything you've got, old man."

Harrison was evil beyond belief. Blackmailing poor old Bergman! The professor would be robbed of his home and his savings because of his desire to bring the world the benefits of nanogold. Alan was determined not to allow that to happen. Again he tried to raise his head. But the effort was too much for him. The beige carpet grew dark before his eyes and he heard no more as unconsciousness claimed him for a second time.

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