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Authors: Gordon Bickerstaff

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

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9

 

Home
Office
,
Whitehall
,
London

 

The Lambeth Group VC, Sir Christopher Aden-Brown sat with Alan Cairn Head of CPNI in the Aden-Brown's office. It was an old traditional office on the third floor of Peel Building at the Home Office in Marsham Street. They sat deeply in comfortable brown leather Queen Anne high back wing chairs facing each other.

On
the brown leather covered coffee table between them were spread the files of people they intended to pull together to form a team for a new investigation. It was late in the afternoon and they had spent the past three hours preparing a briefing for their team.

Sir Christopher Aden-Brown was a retired Vice-Chancellor with a shock of
short white hair befitting his seventy years of age. He was six foot tall, thin and gaunt-looking with pronounced jowls and sagging bags under his eyes. His hands were covered with liver spots and he wore glasses with thick lenses for severe myopia. He was the link between the Home Office and all the University Vice-Chancellors in the UK and Commonwealth.

"I'm
sorry but we have to go with Shawlens," Alan concluded.

"As
I've said he's walking and talking like normal but he's not all there in terms of full mental capacity."

"Well
he'll have to snap out of it," Alan said more harshly than he intended.

"Are
you sure Zoe's fit for this duty? I read the mission report on the Barscadden business at Ardwell Point. It was bloody impressive stuff taking out these WRATH people. Just a tad unlucky with Barscadden. I would have allowed more time for her wound to recover. Maybe we should consider another."

"You
were the one insisted we had to have someone from the top drawer to look after Shawlens. Well Sir Christopher she's the one!"

"I
see," he sounded unconvinced.

"If
Barscadden's people come after Shawlens. She'll spot them and take them out long before they spot her. Trust me Sir Christopher; Zoe is perfect for this covert close protection work. This type of babysitting is her speciality and she's the very best."

Aden-Brown
pressed the intercom and asked his PA Irene if the team had arrived. She confirmed everyone had arrived and they were waiting in briefing room A.

"Okay
Alan let's get this briefing done."

Aden-Brown
was not convinced Gavin and Zoe were fully fit for action but then the hard operational decisions were down to Alan Cairn.

Cairn
was 56 years old and overweight at 76 kg. His portly silhouette was instantly recognisable in the corridors of the Home Office. His gruff northern take-me-as-you find-me-manner put many people on edge. In a small room or a large hall it was always his voice that was loudest and grandest. His oval face was made pointy by a goatee beard that merged with a thick moustache and complimented a set of bushy eyebrows over his dark blue eyes. His hair was combed back from the hairline and it curled up over his collar. The brown hair on his face and head had started to turn grey at the edges.

 

* * *

Gavin
Shawlens had attended briefings in HOBRA before so the smell was familiar. It was a room with no windows and ineffective air conditioning. The smell was a complex mixture of human odour, eau de toilette and dust in the air from a recent flick-over. He also noted an orange smell from the leather seats from the spray fluid used to clean leather.

The
room was bright with concealed ceiling lighting over a conference table in the centre with seating for sixteen. The table and matching wall panelling were built with distinctive hard rock maple similar to that used to floor bowling alleys.

Gavin
stared into the burls, leaf figures and bird's eye figures he could see in the grain. Around the table sat two men and two women.

None
of them knew each other so they sat in silence. They exchanged polite hellos and smiles but none of them had introduced themselves, which was understandable given the secrecy of the Lambeth Group.

Gavin
fought his mind to stay on focus. He didn't want to be there. He pleaded to deaf ears for more time to deal with his grief. He still felt suicidal. Thoughts of Emma Patersun ebbed and flowed during the day and flooded his mind at night.

He
had vivid images of her funeral and people reflecting on her life. Every part of it still raw in his thoughts. No-one knew what she meant to him. He spent endless days studying methods of euthanasia. He wanted to run after Emma to meet up with her. He wanted something fast and painless like flicking off a switch.

He
tortured himself analysing and evaluating doses and procedures trying to judge pain levels. He had taken a few chemicals from the lab that would do the job. He was still alive because he worried that if he took his own life there might be some divine rule that would prevent him from being reunited with Emma.

Aden-Brown
and Alan Cairn entered and immediately took command of the room.

"Good
afternoon and welcome back to the Home Office. Thank you for coming at such short notice. Now can we quickly go around the table please," Aden-Brown said as he looked at Gavin Shawlens.

"Dr
Gavin Shawlens, biochemist, University of Kinmalcolm. I manage an enzyme technology research group. This will be my eighth backfire," Gavin said then turned to the person on his left and nodded to indicate he was finished.

His
voice sounded distant, lacking purpose, making it obvious to others he didn't want to be there. Aden-Brown and Alan Cairn exchanged eye contact, as they knew Shawlens was feeling particularly low.

"Zoe
Tampin, Senior Field Officer with the Security Service. On temporary secondment to the Lambeth Group. Based here in London and this will be my second backfire investigation," she said confidently like a commander.

"Hello
everyone I'm Dr Rolley James Morgan. I'm a team leader at the Central Institute of Advanced Physics, Oxford. I'm a specialist in complex energy systems. I lead a team of four postdocs and six technicians. My team has published groundbreaking research in Nature and Scientific American. This is my first research project backfire."

"Elaine
J Hodderman. I'm a Head of Section with the Security Service. I'm based in this building. I'm a specialist in rapid analysis and like Rolley I'm new to the Lambeth Group."

"Welcome.
Thank you all. Now would anyone like more tea or coffee before we begin?" Aden-Brown said.

Shawlens
joined Morgan at the coffee trolley and with their eyes and facial expressions they formed a tenuous academic clique as they refilled their coffee cups.

Zoe
watched Gavin and matched the person with the file she'd read. He was five eight, thirty-six years old and weighed 65 kg. A little cocky but unthreatening with soft-features and a warm beauty about his face. His deep blue eyes twinkled with mischief. He seemed more gentle and passive than rugged and macho. His thick hair had a dark straw colour but was not well groomed. His appearance was not his highest priority and not untypical of academics she's met before.

He had not shaved for some time so a short and untidy beard covered his face.
His accent was Scottish although all trace of Glasgow dialect had been smoothed out. She returned her gaze to the table and decided that although he was easy on the eyes, the untidy beard would have to go.

"I've
called you here today because we believe we have discovered a new research backfire. The expertise gathered around this table is best suited to deal with the particular issues that seem to be involved. The designation for this backfire is SLIPFIRE. Alan will you please introduce SLIPFIRE," Aden-Brown announced.

Alan
handed out buff coloured folders to each team member. The word confidential was emboldened on the front cover above the word 'SLIPFIRE'.

Alan
picked up a remote control unit as a large interactive computer screen flickered into life. He dimmed the room lights as the screen settled down. On a banner across the screen the heading was SLIPFIRE. He dragged a strip of photos from a side bar onto the screen.

He
touched the first photo. It enlarged and revealed the University of South England, Hampshire. He touched another photo and it revealed the website of the Department of Sports Biology. He dragged a table onto the screen, which displayed the latest research ranking of UK Universities. He highlighted the top twenty.

"This
University is one of the most highly respected in the country with an international reputation for research excellence. In the past six years alone it has received 315 million in research funding. The Department of Sports Biology has received 55 million over the same period and for twenty years research in the Department has been rated excellent," Alan said while reading from a document.

"In
fact they are world class. They publish in top journals," Gavin added.

"A
particular set of research papers from the Department of Sports Biology have been under investigation by senior researchers at CASTER. They have found irregularities and we now suspect the Sports Biology research has backfired," Alan said.

"CASTER,
I don't know them," Rolley said.

Alan
Cairn explained the role of the Committee for Accountable Science and Technology Ethical Research in identifying rogue research.

"It's
similar to the US Office of Research Integrity except that while they will publicly jump on your head. Ours is more gentlemanly. We keep CASTER in a cupboard under the stair in this building," Gavin said with a cynical look aimed at Rolley.

He'd
made his point several times in the past that as a researcher he preferred the American method of policing research.

"What
irregularities?" Zoe asked.

"Ghost-writing
and unreal results are indicated. Various issues are noted in your folder," Alan said.

"Ghost-writing?"
Elaine repeated.

Aden-Brown
fielded her query to Gavin Shawlens.

"They
might have published results they didn't generate so in effect publishing for someone else. Someone could have given them results or someone invented them and passed them off as genuine.

Unrealistic
results could be results obtained from equipment or methods that are not capable of generating the results. Like saying you got ninety mpg out of a car engine when the maximum you could possibly get in a perfect world is fifty mpg," Gavin explained.

"Thanks
for that Gavin," Elaine nodded to him.

"How
did CASTER become aware of these problems?" Rolley asked.

"Editors
of key research journals are required to notify CASTER of any research they think is suspicious," Aden-Brown said.

"If
an editor thinks some research is suspicious, why not just refuse to publish?" Elaine asked.

"Innocent
until proven guilty, for God's sake! Some idiot would need to repeat the research and show that it's faulty. I don't have time to waste on that kind of stupid work," Gavin said aggressively and impatiently.

Suddenly
Gavin felt anxious as if he was about to pass out. His face turned white. Perspiration formed on his forehead. He got up from his chair and almost fell back into it. He stumbled back from the table. He heard someone ask
are
you
alright
?

"Excuse
me a minute," he replied.

Gavin
Shawlens hurried out of the room in a state of distress and headed for the men's room along the corridor.

 

10

 

Home
Office
Briefing
Room
A

 

Everyone in the room heard the anguish in Gavin's voice. Clearly he was a man in trouble. Zoe moved to go after him but Alan Cairn motioned his hand for her to sit back down. Elaine wondered if he would put the team at risk. Rolley wondered if he's had a rough night on the tiles.

In
the men's room Gavin held on to the wash-hand basin while his body shook. He felt dizzy. He broke out in a cold sweat and grabbed some paper towels to mop his face. His hands were trembling. He felt hungry. Nervously he ran his hand through his thick light-straw-coloured hair.

He
realised his blood sugar was low because he had skipped breakfast and lunch. He depleted the carb stores in his liver and muscle. His body was running on gluconeogenesis metabolism to make sugar from fat. It's a backup system. Not designed for sprinters. He had arrived late, run up and down stairs and along corridors before he reached the meeting room.

Raised
anxiety in the room dropped his blood glucose below the seventy threshold, the point of no return. His brain had to tell him it was not happy. His blood glucose had dropped below 70 mg per 100 ml blood. The brain needs six grams of glucose each hour, every hour of every day, to supply energy for continuous brain activity.

It
doesn't trust you to remember. It checks your blood glucose and if it detects falling blood glucose. It will kick your backside to remind you it has needs. Gavin's backside had been well and truly kicked. He had slipped into hypoglycaemia and he knew what to do.

"We
are tasked to find out if research in the Department of Sports Biology has backfired. If it has, we need to find out who is involved, close it down and deal with any consequences," Alan said.

"Serious
damage will be inflicted on all UK research if it becomes public that a world class UK University is cheating at research. This could cause a collapse of confidence in UK research with significant loss of overseas research income. In the last financial year that was worth 19.8 billion," Aden-Brown said.

"Are
they aware of the CASTER investigation?" Rolley asked.

"No
it's confidential. That of course gives us an investigative edge," Alan said.

Gavin
slipped back into the room and moved to the tea trolley. He gathered a handful of sugar sachets to pour into his coffee. He downed the sweet coffee quickly and the colour started to return to his face. He smiled to each person in turn to let them know he was okay.

Alan
dragged a set of three photos onto the centre of the screen. The CASTER team have identified three researchers associated with the suspicious research.

"Professor
K R Buzzwall, Professor J L Kwan and Dr S B Griffan."

Alan
pointed to each one in turn and ran through their backgrounds.

Buzzwall
was a middle-aged man with receding hair and an intimidating expression. Kwan was a Chinese man, late thirties, with a shock of black hair combed back lying flat. Griffan was a young woman with a face and bright smile similar to grown-up Emma Watson from the Harry Potter films.

"The
CASTER group have produced a briefing paper that explains their concerns. All three are named on eight research papers that the CASTER group are worried about."

"Have
there been any consequences?" Gavin asked.

From
his experience of past backfires Gavin knew that a Lambeth Group team wasn't assembled until a backfire had produced one or more unfortunate consequences.

"There
are two consequences we know about," Alan said.

Alan
Cairn pulled another photo onto the screen. He dragged and enlarged the photo then told the team that it was a photo of Jemard Patrick Edmond, Jamaican national, aged twenty-three.

Alan
told them Jemard was an Olympic medal contender and postgraduate research student in the Department of Sports Biology. Jemard was a named contributor on three of the suspicious research papers.

"What
brought him to attention?" Rolley asked.

Alan
Cairn explained that registry offices in all UK universities were required to notify the Home Office of all foreign student dropouts and disappearances as part of an anti-terrorist and illegal immigrant-tracking programme. Jemard Edmond was automatically reported absent from his research studies.

The
Home Office followed up and the Department reply said Jemard was taking time off in Europe to train and take part in racing trials. Elaine said she had checked with the Department and they confirmed that Jemard is in regular text and email contact with his supervisor Professor Buzzwall as he travels around Europe.

"So
he's gone walkabout as students do," Zoe said.

"Home
Office have no passport record of him leaving the country. Interpol have no record of any passport appearances anywhere in Europe. He's off the grid and we can't find him," Alan said.

"Buzzwall
is lying and the question is why," Aden-Brown said.

"You
said there were two consequences," Zoe affirmed.

Alan
pulled another photo onto the screen. He said it was Oliver Mansole.

"Three
weeks ago Professor Wood, head of Sports Biology, informed HR that one of his technicians Oliver Mansole had left his job without notice. Seemingly he has vanished and can't be contacted," Alan said.

"Oliver
Mansole was one of Professor Buzzwall's research technicians," Elaine added.

"Very
peculiar coincidence or the pigeons are getting scared," Zoe said.

"I
don't believe in coincidence. Never have. A research team suspected of publishing false research. A top student involved in this research disappears. Now a technician also involved in this research has run off. Come on!" Alan Cairn said.

"Buzzwall
is our person of interest but we want everyone involved," Aden-Brown said.

"What
is the status of police in this investigation?" Zoe asked having noted no police representative around the table.

"Good
point Zoe. Local police have opened a mispers report file for Oliver Mansole. I've told the head of Missing Persons Taskforce that he's under investigation, so mispers enquiries are on hold. Jemard isn't officially missing so there is no police interest. Interpol will continue to look out for him in Europe," Alan said.

"What's
our cover?" Zoe asked.

Aden-Brown
explained the RAE that determines where six years of government funding will go to support research excellence. As part of U.S.E.'s preparations for the next RAE he said he had arranged for Gavin to work in the Department of Sports Biology on the pretext of developing new research collaborations.

"Zoe
is team leader for this backfire. Gavin will go in as himself with support from his technician Christine Willsening. Look for links to Jemard Edmond and Oliver Mansole. Oliver Mansole was on the University judo team so Gavin will join the judo club.

Rolley
will go in as himself to the Department of Physics as a visiting lecturer. Look for any issues outside of Sports Biology that might shed some light. Jemard was a star cyclist so Rolley will join the cycling club.

Elaine
is already in place in the HR Department and will ensure that your legends stand up to any scrutiny. Elaine will have full access to all personnel and backroom files. Any questions?" Alan asked.

"What's
this about Christine? I wasn't told I needed Christine," Gavin asked and his face reflected concern.

"Zoe
will go in as Christine Willsening. Christine is named on many of your research papers so her credibility as research support is good," Alan said.

"It'll
be fun. I haven't played with test-tubes since school," Zoe said to Gavin but he didn't look happy.

"I'll
need to double check with Christine and make sure she doesn't have friends or colleagues at U.S.E."

"Elaine
has already prepared the ground for your arrival," Alan said.

"I'm
in HR as Ruth Winters, deputy director, with a fully backstopped twenty-year legend of experience in academic human resources. If you run into any trouble just call HR and ask for Ruth. In your folder you will find a legend for each member of the team. Thoroughly familiarise yourselves with each other. Let's not have any identity slip-ups please," Elaine said.

Zoe smiled. She knew that Elaine was talking to the two academics.

"You'll find allocated accommodations in your folders, plus credit cards and the usual contact details. Any questions at this point?" Alan asked.

"Given
these disappearances. Are there any risks I should be aware of?" Rolley asked.

"Unlikely
but keep to your check-in protocols and I will know when anything is wrong. Keep sharp and you'll be fine," Zoe said.

"Well
ladies and gentlemen we kick off immediately. Hampshire is a lovely part of the world. Let's make sure it stays that way. Keep your SEM mobile glued to your hip and report regularly," Aden-Brown said as he rose from his seat.

BOOK: Everything to Lose
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