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Authors: Gordon Bickerstaff

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers, #Medical, #Conspiracies

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BOOK: Everything to Lose
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Laraine's
elderly mum helped although she was living near the borderline on a meagre pension. Laraine knew her mum was doing without food and heat to help her and Jess. The thought made Laraine feel sick with worry but she swallowed her pride to put on a face for Jess. She was still to tell her mum about the impending eviction. She was still to ask if she and Jess could move into her mum's small pensioner flat. It would mean breaking the council's tenancy agreement. Her mum will panic. It will stress the three of them.

Even
her friendship with Oliver Mansole had turned sour. He had always been a good friend. He had access to a van and offered to do the removal when the time came to give up the house. Now even he had abandoned her and she had to deal with the thugs looking for him and his drugs.

Laraine
lay on her bed staring up at the ceiling. The rain was still beating against the window. A series of TV commercials running through the movie had pleaded for help to support the homeless. She remembered a year ago when she saw the same commercial and thought it must be really horrible to be homeless.

If
someone had told her then that she would soon be homeless she would have laughed in their face. Never in her life did she think it could happen to her, never. The pitiful images in the commercial replayed in her mind and filled her with anxiety. A dreadful feeling of panic writhed in her throat. The beginning of a scream surged from the pit of her lungs but she smothered it and it came out as a loud gasp.

 

6

 

University
of
Kinmalcolm
,
Central
Scotland

 

The annual October start of the academic year is a time for infectious fun and excitement. Many new student faces appear on the horizon, keen as mustard, exhilarated with thoughts that they have somehow found a new freedom.

Despite
the rising tide of fresher fun the mood in the Enzyme Technology Research Group was tense. More tense than normal as they walked along the corridors of the Alexander Fleming building from their lab to the small seminar room in the next building. It was almost five p.m., break time for some, going home time for others. It was not untypical of Gavin Shawlens to call a meeting at the end of the day.

Dr
Frank Morrus led the way followed by Sharon, Ike and Yee, the postdoctoral researchers then Bethany, Erin, Michael and Wincy, the postgraduate research students. All of them except Frank wore white lab coats. He wore a dark green polo shirt and neatly pressed beige coloured slacks with moccasin-type casual shoes. His hair an uncombed brown mess.

They
met a crowd of students spilling out of a large lecture room. The corridor filled with noisy students hurrying to catch buses, trains, and lifts home. It was raining heavily outside so lots of umbrellas were drawn like swords from their scabbards. Frank knew it was safer to stand against the wall in a single file and let the hoard push past.

Dr
Gavin Shawlens had called the meeting at short notice and they all knew it was not a seminar or a Group catch-up meeting. They chatted and voiced their guesses on what Gavin Shawlens was going to say.

The
rumour mill was red hot with suspicions that either the University was clawing back space so the lab would have to close, or Shawlens had run out of funding, or Shawlens was giving up research because of his recent stomach transplant. Some were panicking that they would be made redundant. Sharon Bonny was the only one unconcerned as her rich New York family paid all her costs.

Gavin
Shawlens and his research technician Christine Willsening walked from his office to the seminar room. He spoke to her in a grovelling apologetic tone and she was holding back a pot of simmering anger.

"I'm
sorry Christine. I just didn't think."

"What?
That I should have a boyfriend."

"No
not that. Okay Christine I shouldn't have turned up at your door. I was worried."

"So
I'm not allowed a life outside your lab."

"I'm
sorry. I'm sorry it won't happen again. If you want I'll apologise to John."

"No."

"Let me speak to him. I'll explain. I'll apologise."

"Forget
it Gavin. He won't speak to you."

"You
can still go. God knows you've plenty of holiday leave outstanding."

"It's
done now, forget it. Leave it alone now. Please."

"Good
news about your brother Simon. Eh?" Gavin said but she didn't answer.

A
few days ago Christine had done something completely out of character. She phoned the HR office and told them she was sick and would be off for a few weeks. Christine is never sick and never takes time off work so Gavin Shawlens went straight over to her flat.

He
found her and her new boyfriend John preparing for a secret romantic holiday to the Lake District in England. There was a blazing argument on the doorstep. Gavin Shawlens instantly disliked John. Thought he was too creepy and too sleekit. Christine saw his disapproval and reacted angrily.

Gavin
was worried she was ill and Christine felt guilty at being found out. Her boyfriend John was furious that his planned romantic holiday had been discovered. The following day, today, Christine reported for work.

Her
secret holiday was off and boyfriend John went on holiday by himself. He and Christine argued for most of the night then split. John was livid with Christine for not making sure their tryst could not be broken.

Gavin
tried to mend the bridge by mentioning Christine's older brother Simon Willsening who had just been promoted to Deputy Editor of the Scottish daily newspaper the Glasgow Herald. He was ten years older, permanently busy and they only really saw each other at family reunions for births, weddings and deaths.

Her
brother mixed in very high profile circles while she as a loner didn't mix with anybody. In fact her new boyfriend John confessed he was a loner like her and that's why he asked her out on a date. He told her they would understand each other.

Christine Willsening
provided technical services for the research team. She prepared their reagents for them and maintained stocks of chemicals and consumables. She kept their laboratory equipment calibrated and accurate and conducted experiments under supervision.

Christine
and Gavin had started working together six years before and had become a close-knit team. He enjoyed working with her and she in turn enjoyed his company. They agreed almost at the start that his work and their friendship were too special to spoil by having an affair. That didn't stop them tantalising and flirting with each other like two sixteen-year olds.

Christine
had a stocky build and was the same height as Gavin Shawlens. She had long gloriously frizzy light brown hair that looked like a Davy Crockett hat when it was tied back. She had a round face with large green eyes. Her wonderfully broad smile sprang into place with such precision it seemed to be pinned to each ear with an elastic band. She always looked good in photographs.

Gavin
followed Christine into the seminar room. She sat with the PhD students and he took a seat at the front to face his research team. He didn't like these awkward meetings where he had to tell them he was leaving for a sabbatical. He didn't like leaving them to their own devices.

He
wanted to tell them that the Lambeth Group bought their new equipment, paid their salaries, funded their research and that he had to go and do some work for them so they could all stay in their jobs and work with the best equipment but he couldn't.

"OKAY.
Okay let's get this started," Gavin said over the chattering noise.

"First
the new ultracentrifuge is being installed next week so there will be some disruption as a new three phase power supply is installed. The installer will commission the machine and give detailed driving instructions, safety and best practice so everyone must attend."

"Power
will be off to all the lab benches for at least half-a-day. We need to avoid opening the minus eighty freezers to protect the samples," Frank added.

"As
you know the University is crushed for space so I have some bad news," Gavin said as he opened a folder and picked out a piece of paper to read.

In
the silence everyone except Sharon Bonny felt trepidation washing over them. This was the bad news they were expecting. Was the whole Group going to fold or if one or two had to go, who was it going to be.

"I've
had to give up some office space. Frank will now need to share his office with Yee. I'm sorry but Sharon and Ike will need to give up their offices and share a desk in the new open office," Gavin said.

"What
open office?" Sharon asked.

"The
University has converted an old dining hall into an open-plan office."

"Hang
on bud. Don't we get a say in these moves?" Sharon demanded in her NY drawl as her eyes scanned the other researchers for support.

"Afraid
not. All space belongs to the University and the space management group have reduced my office allocation."

"No
offence Gavin but I want to make representation to these outer space managers. I need my own room," Sharon said.

"You
can do that if you wish but if it were me, I'd keep quiet."

"Well
you see bud us Americans don't do quiet. We do a war dance on their face."

"The
three offices are going back to the University. If you convince them you need your own space then they'll put you in one of the portable offices in the old car park. Mind you the rain beats on the flat roof like a drum, wind howls through the windows like a banshee and the floor makes a good trampoline. In winter the windows steam-up like a sauna, the …"

"Okay
enough already, I hear you," Sharon growled.

"Gavin,
how many people do you think will be in the hall?" Ike asked.

"I
don't know but the rumour is twenty-five to thirty."

"But
we'll have our own desk."

"No
it's hot-desking on a first come first served basis."

"Jeesus
it'll be like a bloody call centre," Sharon said.

"Not
as bad because to keep noise and distraction to a minimum; there won't be any phones on the desks," Gavin read from his paper.

"No
phones," Sharon blasted.

"External
calls will be received in the office. If the office staff can't find you they'll take a message. Calls out can be made from one of the phone booths in the hall. So it's important to let the office know where you are during the day," Gavin explained.

"This
is crap. There treating us like kids," Sharon said to the others.

A
noisy discussion immediately took hold as Sharon orchestrated annoyance and reaction to the space proposal. Gavin let them vent out for five minutes.

"ONE
OTHER piece of news," Gavin raised his voice over them.

"I'll
be away on a research sabbatical. I will be at University of South England down in Hampshire for up to three months."

"When?"
Ike asked.

"Next
week."

"NEXT
WEEK!" Several of them exclaimed at once and looked stunned at each other.

"Gavin
that's really short notice," Christine said.

"I'll
be contactable and I'll try to get back for a few days once a month. While I'm away, Frank will manage the team. Everything will be the same except he will be in my place. Frank will keep me updated and bring any problems to my attention."

"What
about purchase orders?" Yee asked.

"Frank
will sign off purchase orders for chemicals and consumables but any equipment purchases must be emailed to me for approval. Frank is your first port of call for any health and safety issues," Gavin said and Frank nodded to acknowledge his extra responsibilities.

"Is
this a new line of research?" Sharon asked.

"Yes
enzyme applications for sport so I'll be based in the Department of Sports Biology. This isn't a holiday for me or you. I expect all of you to meet the research targets I have set. Any questions?"

"What
about our supervision?" Beth asked on behalf of the students.

Gavin
told the postdocs that PhD projects were planned out for the next three months and he expected all of the postdoc researchers to support the research students.

"Don't
worry Beth I'll make sure that you have everything you need," Christine said.

"Okay
boys and girls let's get back on the trail of ground-breaking research," Gavin said.

As
they filed out of the room Gavin saw Sharon Bonny hang back for a private talk. He prepared himself for more aggravation about office space. She was from Buffalo, New York with a heavy downtown New York accent plus mega attitude.

Her
designer jeans were tight fitting with a broad belt around her hip and a peach coloured clingy top hugged her upper body shape. The scoop-necked top highlighted her well-shaped bust and also drew attention to her broad shoulders.

Sharon
was thirty-three with an attractive Latina face and her hair was shoulder length dark auburn. She was the needle in his head and he regretted taking her on. Sharon had her own funding from a major brewer in the USA owned by her family.

She
was being schooled to head-up the research and development laboratories in the family brewery and joined Gavin's research team to gain research experience. She worked on a project using protease enzymes to eliminate chill-haze effect in beer.

She
was working on existing technology rather than new research but it was fully funded and it was an international collaboration that added kudos to his research lab. But OMG she was a constant pain in the neck. She was also a poor researcher who made basic laboratory mistakes and produced very few viable research results.

Sharon's
brewing family weren't concerned and Gavin Shawlens reckoned she had at least learned one key lesson; she was better suited to management than research. He put up with her because as an R&D director of a major brewery she would be in a position to push some extra research funding his way. When they were alone Sharon stood beside him and looked closely at his face.

BOOK: Everything to Lose
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