Direktlänk till inlägg 7 maj 2011

At the last moment

Av lucyshanxu lucyshanxu - 7 maj 2011 03:45

MIRANDA OXENFORD ordered a cappuccino Viennoise, with a pyramid of whipped cream on top. At the last moment she asked for a piece of carrot cake as well. She stuffed her change into the pocket of her skirt and carried her breakfast to the table where her thin sister Olga was seated with a double espresso and a cigarette. The place was bedecked with paper chains, and a Christmas tree twinkled over the panini toaster, but someone with a nice sense of irony had put the Beach Boys on the music system, and they were singing "Surfin' USA." Miranda often ran into Olga first thing in the morning at this coffee bar in Sauchiehall Street, in the center of Glasgow. They worked nearby: Miranda was managing director of a recruitment agency specializing in IT personnel, and Olga was an advocate. They both liked to take five minutes to gather their thoughts before going into their offices. They did not look like sisters, Miranda thought, catching a glimpse of her reflection in a mirror. She was short, with curly blond hair, and her figure was, well, cuddly. Olga was tall like Daddy, but she had the same black eyebrows as their late mother, who had been Italian by birth and was always called Mamma Marta. Olga was dressed for work in a dark gray suit and sharply pointed shoes. She could have played the part of Cruella De Vil. She probably terrified juries. Miranda took off her coat and scarf. She wore a pleated skirt and a sweater embroidered with small flowers. She dressed to charm, not to intimidate. As she sat down, Olga said, "You're working on Christmas Eve?" "Just for an hour," Miranda replied. "To make sure nothing's left undone over the holiday." "Same here." "Have you heard the news? A technician at the Kremlin died of a virus." "Oh, God, that's going to blight our Christmas." Olga could seem heartless, but she was not really so, Miranda thought. "It was on the radio. I haven't spoken to Daddy yet, but it seems the poor boy became fond of a lab hamster and took it home." "What did he do, have sex with it?" "It probably bit him. He lived alone, so nobody called for help. At least that means he probably didn't pass the virus to anyone else. All the same, it's awful for Daddy. He won't show it, but he's sure to feel responsible." "He should have gone in for a less hazardous branch of science— something like atomic weapons research." Miranda smiled. She was especially pleased to see Olga today. She was glad of the chance of a quiet word. The whole family was about to gather at Steepfall, their father's house, for Christmas. She was bringing her fiance, Ned Hanley, and she wanted to make sure Olga would be nice to him. But she approached the subject in a roundabout way. "I hope this doesn't spoil the holiday. I've been looking forward to it so much. You know Kit's coming?" "I'm deeply sensible of the honor our little brother is doing us." "He wasn't going to come, but I talked him round." "Daddy will be pleased." Olga spoke with a touch of sarcasm. "He will, actually," Miranda said reproachfully. "You know it broke his heart to fire Kit." "I know I've never seen him so angry. I thought he would kill someone." "Then he cried." "I didn't see that." "Nor did I. Lori told me." Lori was Stanley's housekeeper. "But now he wants to forgive and forget." Olga stubbed her cigarette. "I know. Daddy's magnanimity is boundless. Does Kit have a job yet?" "No." "Can't you find him something? It's your field, and he's good." "Things are quiet—and people know he was sacked by his father." "Has he stopped gambling?" "He must have. He promised Daddy he would. And he's got no money." "Daddy paid his debts, didn't he?" "I don't think we're supposed to know." "Come on, Mandy." Olga was using Miranda's childhood name. "How much?" "You should ask Daddy—or Kit." "Was it ten thousand pounds?" Miranda looked away. "More than that? Twenty?" Miranda whispered, "Fifty." "Good God! That little bastard pissed away fifty grand of our inheritance? Wait till I see him." "Anyway, enough of Kit. You're going to get to know Ned much better this Christmas. I want you to treat him as one of the family." "Ned should be one of the family by now. When are you getting married? You're too old for a long engagement. You've both been married before—it's not as if you have to save up for your trousseau." This was not the response Miranda was hoping for. She wanted Olga to feel warm toward Ned. "Oh, you know what Ned's like," she said defensively. "He's lost in his own world." Ned was editor of The Glasgow Review of Books, a respected cultural-political journal, but he was not practical. "I don't know how you stand it. I can't abide vacillation." The conversation was not going the way Miranda wanted. "Believe me, it's a blessed relief after Jasper." Miranda's first husband had been a bully and a tyrant. Ned was the opposite, and that was one of the reasons she loved him. "Ned will never be organized enough to boss me around— half the time he can't remember what day it is." "Still, you managed perfectly well without a man for five years." "I did, and I was proud of myself, especially when the economy turned down and they stopped paying me those big bonuses."

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She ran the footage forward, stopping again as Michael moved away from the rabbit rack. "How many rabbits in the top right-hand cage?" "Two, damn it." Stanley looked perplexed. "I thought your theory was that Michael took a rabbit out of the lab. You've shown him bringing one in!" "A substitute. Otherwise the scientists would have noticed one was missing." "Then what's his motivation? In order to save one rabbit, he has to condemn another to death!" "Insofar as he was rational at all, I imagine he felt there was something special about the rabbit he saved." "For God's sake, one rabbit is the same as another." "Not to Michael, I suspect." Stanley nodded. "You're right. Who knows how his mind was working at this point." Toni ran the video footage forward. "He did his chores as usual, checking the food and water in the cages, making sure the animals were still alive, ticking off his tasks on a checklist. Monica came in, but she went to a side laboratory to work on her tissue cultures, so she could not see him. He went next door, to the larger lab, to take care of the macaque monkeys. Then he came back. Now watch." Michael disconnected his air hose, as was normal when moving from one room to another within the lab—the suit contained three or four minutes' worth of fresh air, and when it began to run out the faceplate would fog, warning the wearer. He stepped into a small room containing the vault, a locked refrigerator used for storing live samples of viruses. Being the most secure location in the entire building, it also held all stocks of the priceless antiviral drug. He tapped a combination of digits on its keypad. A security camera inside the refrigerator showed him selecting two doses of the drug, already measured and loaded into disposable syringes. "The small dose for the rabbit and the large one, presumably, for himself," Toni said. "Like you, he expected the drug to work against Madoba-2. He planned to cure the rabbit and immunize himself." "The guards could have seen him taking the drug from the vault." "But they wouldn't find that suspicious. He's authorized to handle these materials." "They might have noticed that he didn't write anything in the log." "They might have, but remember that one guard is watching thirty-seven screens, and he's not trained in laboratory practice." Stanley grunted. Toni said, "Michael must have figured that the discrepancy wouldn't be noticed until the annual audit, and even then it would be put down to clerical error. He didn't know I was planning a spot check." On the television screen, Michael closed the vault and returned to the rabbit lab, reconnecting his air hose. "He's finished his chores," Toni explained. "Now he returns to the rabbit racks." Once again, Michael's back concealed what he was doing from the camera. "Here's where he takes his favorite rabbit out of its cage. I think he slips it into its own miniature suit, probably made from parts of an old worn-out one." Michael turned his left side to the camera. As he walked to the exit, he seemed to have something under his right arm, but it was hard to tell. Leaving BSL4, everyone had to pass through a chemical shower that decontaminated the suit, then take a regular shower before dressing. "The suit would have protected the rabbit in the chemical shower," Toni said. "My guess is that he then dumped the rabbit suit in the incinerator. The water shower would not have harmed the animal. In the dressing room he put the rabbit in the duffel bag. As he exited the building, the guards saw him carrying the same bag he came in with, and suspected nothing." Stanley sat back in his seat. "Well, I'm damned," he said. "I would have sworn it was impossible." "He took the rabbit home. I think it may have bitten him when he injected it with the drug. He injected himself and thought he was safe. But he was wrong." Stanley looked sad. "Poor boy," he said. "Poor, foolish boy." "Now you know everything I know," Toni said. She watched him, waiting for the verdict. Was this phase of her life over? Would she be out of work for Christmas? He gave her a level look. "There's one obvious security precaution we could have taken that would have prevented this." "I know," she said. "A bag search for everyone entering and leaving BSL4." "Exactly." "I've instituted it from this morning." "Thereby closing the stable door after the horse has bolted." "I'm sorry," she said. He wanted her to quit, she felt sure. "You pay me to stop this kind of thing happening. I've failed. I expect you'd like me to tender my resignation." He looked irritated. "If I want to fire you, you'll know soon enough." She stared at him. Had she been reprieved? His expression softened. "All right, you're a conscientious person and you feel guilty, even though neither you nor anyone else could have anticipated what happened." "I could have instituted the bag check." "I probably would have vetoed it, on the grounds that it would upset staff." "Oh." "So I'll tell you this once. Since you came, our security has been tighter than ever before. You're damn good, and I aim to keep you. So, please, no more self-pity." She suddenly felt weak with relief. "Thank you," she said. "Now, we've got a busy day ahead—let's get on with it." He went out. She closed her eyes in relief. She had been forgiven. Thank you, she thought.


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