The Satan Bug, p.11Alistair MacLean
“Hardanger is wrong on both counts. Dr. Baxter didn’t break into Mordon that night for the sufficient reason that he hadn’t left it earlier that evening. The man behind this killing—a man working with a considerable organisation, I should say—has kidnapped the children of Bryson and Chipperfield, the farm managers. The fact that the kids are not where their parents say they are, with their grandmother in Kent, is all the proof I want. Bryson and Chipperfield were given their choice— co-operation or dead children. They co-operated. They carried crates of animals into number one lab on the afternoon of the killings. They were old regulars— the guards would never have thought of inspecting the crates. Inside two of these crates were two men fairly skilfully made up to resemble Dr. Baxter and someone we can call X.
“Eight crates were carried in that afternoon and Bryson and Chipperfield followed their usual practice of not disturbing the lab work too much by bringing in all the crates first and leaving them in the corridor, just outside the lab, before carrying them all in. This, of course, is conclusive proof of highly-detailed inside information. While the crates were there, one of the men inside—the one disguised as X—nipped smartly out into the adjoining cloakroom used by the scientists and technicians in number one. He probably hid in a locker. The other man—the one disguised as Baxter—was carried into the animal room. A dozen places where a man could hide there.
“Our enquiries show that the scientists and technicians drifted off singly that evening—they usually did. One of them—X—takes his chance of going into a momentarily empty cloakroom and changes over places with the impostor to whom he hands his security tag. The fake X now leaves by the main gate, handing in his tag and forging the name. It was a pitch dark night and he’d only be one of hundreds crowding out. He was pretty safe.
“X goes back into the lab when the coast is clear and sticks a gun into Baxter. More likely this has already been done by the man dressed to impersonate Baxter. Anyway it doesn’t matter. Baxter was always the last to leave, he was responsible for setting the combination and so they nailed him. By and by the impostor ‘B’ takes off and hands in Baxter’s card at the gate.
“X, of course, can’t just pocket the viruses, knock off Baxter and remove himself. As far as the gate guard is concerned, X has already checked out. He can’t check out a second time. He knows it won’t be safe to move until the last of the security rounds have been finished at 11 p.m. He waits till then, takes the viruses, belts Baxter over the head with his gun-butt and leaves, throwing a virus toxin at the unconscious man. He has to kill Baxter, because Baxter knew who he was. He didn’t know, as we did, that Clandon was keeping a binocular watch every night on the corridor in ‘E’ block, but it’s highly likely that he suspected he might. He’s not the man who would leave anything to chance. He must have known that this was the one possibility that might upset his plans. Hence the cyanide sweet. When Clandon came up after X had shut the door, X must have spun some yarn and got Clandon to accept the sweet. He obviously knew Clandon well and Clandon knew him.”
The General rubbed his moustache thoughtfully. “Ingenious, if nothing else. Basically, you must be right. But there’s something wrong about that cyanide business. Far wrong. Clandon was looking for a man that had been stealing virus supplies and he must have suspected that X was the man. I just don’t see Clandon accepting this butterscotch. Besides, X was carrying a gun, probably silenced. Why not that? Why the cyanide?”
“I don’t know, sir.” I felt like adding that I hadn’t been there.
“How did you get on to this in the first place?”
“The dog, sir. It had a couple of barbed wire tears in its throat. It seemed likely that there might be blood on the wire itself. There was. It took me an hour to find it. On the inner wire. No one broke into Mordon that night: someone broke out.”
“Why didn’t Hardanger discover this?”
“He’d no reason to suspect what I did. I knew that Baxter hadn’t broken in and a check with the gate guard showed that Baxter had his face covered with a handkerchief and talked thickly through a cold when he left. That was enough. Besides, Hardanger’s men did get around to examining the wires. They concentrated on the outside one for an hour or so and then moved to the inner fence.”
“And found nothing?”
“There was nothing to find. I’d removed the blood.”
“You’re an unethical devil, Cavell.”
“Yes, sir.” That was good coming from him.
“Then a visit to Bryson and Chipperfield. A couple of steady reliable characters drinking like fish at five-thirty in the afternoon and spilling it when they poured. Mrs. Bryson smoking like a factory chimney—she’s never smoked in her life. General air of quiet desperation, well concealed. But all very obvious.”
“There’s General Cliveden and Colonel Weybridge. Cliveden was in London at the time of the killing but although he’s only been in Mordon two or three times since taking over he has two things against him. He has access to the security files and may have known of Hartnell’s financial troubles—and it was strange that such a gallant soldier didn’t volunteer to go into the lab instead of me. It was his place, not mine—he bosses Mordon.”
“The two words ‘gallant’ and ‘soldier’ are not necessarily synonymous,” the General said dryly. “Remember he’s a doctor, not a fighting man.”
“That’s so. I also remember that two of the handful of double V.C.’s ever won were won by doctors. It doesn’t matter. Same two arguments apply to Weybridge, with the additional two factors that he lives on the premises and has no alibi. Gregori, because he was too insistent for what I regarded as insufficient reason to have the placed sealed off for keeps. But the fact of the insistence itself, being so obvious, may remove suspicion, as does the fact that the virus locker door was opened by a key—and Gregori had what was thought to be the only key. What do we really know about Gregori, sir?”
“The lot. Every step he’s taken from the cradle. The fact that he’s not a British national made his screening twice as intensive as normal. That’s from our side. Before he came here he was doing highly secret work in Turin for the Italian government and you can imagine the thorough going over Gregori got from them. He’s absolutely in the clear.”
“Which should make me pretty reluctant to waste time on him. Only trouble is, judging from past records, everyone else seems in the clear also. Anyway, these are the first three suspects—and I think Hardanger is beginning to have ideas about one or more of these three.”
“The ideas he got from you, eh?”
“I don’t like it, sir. I don’t like it because Hardanger is as straight as they come and it goes against the grain to operate behind his back. I don’t like saying or doing things which amount to deliberately misleading and deceiving him. And I don’t like it because Hardanger is very smart indeed and to keep him from tumbling to me I’ve got to devote almost as much time to keeping Hardanger reasonably satisfied as to investigating the case itself.”
“Don’t think I like it either,” the General said heavily. “But it has to be. We’re up against clever and determined men whose main weapons are secrecy, cunning and——”
“All right then. Secrecy, cunning and violence. We must meet and destroy them on their chosen ground. I must employ the best weapon that comes to my hand. I know of no man who could or would presume to instruct you in any of those three. Secrecy. Cunning. Violence.”
“I haven’t been very cunning so far.”
“You haven’t,” the General admitted. “On the other hand, when I said to you that you’d made a mess of things, I was being less than fair. The initiative invariably rests with the criminal. Anyway, what matters is that you are essentially a loner, a one man band, while Hardanger is just as essentially an organisation man. With an organisation comes delegation of authority, dispersal of concentration, blunting of initiative and lowered secrecy: and any and all o
“He’s not going to like it when he finds out, sir.”
“If he finds out, Cavell. And that’s for me to worry about.”
“The four technicians. Barely possible. All of them were seen moving around during the evening at one time or another and on the assumption that the killer was holed up in the lab between six and eleven o’clock that lets them out. As far as the murders were concerned. Hardanger is carrying out a minute by minute check of their late evening movements—one of them might have been a decoy. So might a thousand others—the decoy doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with number one lab. Hartnell would appear to be in the clear—his alibi is so hopeless that it would seem to have to be genuine— but for all that I have a feeling that there’s something queer going on there and I’ll be calling on him again.
“Then there’s Chessingham—a very big question mark. As an assistant research chemist his salary is no shakes—but it seems he can afford to run a big house, have a maid and keep his sister at home to look after his mother. The maid’s been there only two months. His mother, incidentally, is in a very bad way from a health view-point. Her doctor says that a shift to a warmer climate might add years to her life. She herself maintains that she doesn’t want this shift, but that’s probably only because she doesn’t want to embarrass her son who she knows can’t afford it. Maybe Chessingham would like the money to send her abroad. I’m sure, in fact, They’re a pretty close family. I don’t want Hardanger on this. Can you arrange to have Chessingham’s bank account checked, a monitoring watch kept on all incoming and outgoing mail, a check made with local authorities to see whether a driving licence has ever been issued in his name, a check made with the army unit in which he did his National Service to see if he ever drove a vehicle and, finally, a check on all the local money-lenders to see if Chessingham’s on their books. He’s certainly not with Tuffnell and Hanbury, the biggest sharks in the area, but there are a dozen others within twenty miles—and Chessingham never strays far from home. He may be borrowing money by mail from some London firm.”
“Is that all you want?” The General was heavily ironic.
“I think it essential, sir.”
“Is it? How about this excellent alibi he provided—the pictures of the transit of Jupiter or whatever it was—that could prove his presence at home down to a second, more or less. Don’t you believe it?”
“I believe those pictures would show exactly when they were taken. I don’t necessarily believe that Chessingham was there when they were taken. He’s not only a fine scientist but an uncommonly clever lad with his hands. He built his own camera, radio and TV set. He built his own reflector telescope even hand-grinding the lenses. It would be no great trick for Chessingham to rig up a mechanism to take pictures automatically at pre-selected intervals. Or someone could have done it for him while he was elsewhere. Or the photographs themselves could have been taken elsewhere with a corresponding time allowance made for longitude differences so as to give the same effect. And Chessingham’s far too intelligent a bird not to have spotted right away that those photographs would have provided an alibi—yet he pretended that it only occurred to him while I was talking to him. He’d have thought it would have been too obvious and suspicious if it had all been cut and dried in advance.”
“You wouldn’t trust St. Peter himself, would you, Cavell?”
“I might. If there were sufficient independent witnesses to testify to any alibi he might have, that is. Giving anyone even the faintest shadow of the benefit of the doubt is the one luxury I can’t afford. You know that, sir. And Chessingham isn’t getting that shadow. Nor is Hartnell.”
“Hmm.” He peered at me under the tufted grey of his eyebrows and said inconsequentially, “Easton Derry vanished because he played it too close to the cuff. I wonder how much you are holding back from me, Cavell?”
“What makes you say that, sir?”
“God knows, I’m a fool to ask you. As if you’d tell me anyway.” He poured a whisky for himself but placed it on the mantelshelf without tasting it. “What’s behind all this, my boy?”
“Blackmail. Of one kind or another. Our friend with the Satan Bug and botulinus virus in his pants pocket has the finest blackmail weapon in history. He’s probably after money—very large sums of money. If the Government want back the bugs, it’ll cost them a fortune. Additional blackmail is that if the Government don’t come across he’ll sell the bugs to a foreign power. At least, that’s what I hope. What I’m afraid of is that we’re dealing with not a criminal but a crackpot mind. Don’t tell me that a crackpot couldn’t have organised all this—some crackpots are brilliant. If it is a crackpot it’ll be one of the ‘Mankind must abolish war or war will abolish Mankind’ brigade. In this case the threat would be on a smaller scale—you know ‘Britain must abolish Mordon or I’ll abolish Britain.’ That sort of thing. Probably a letter in the post right now to one of the big national dailies telling them he has the viruses and what he intends doing with them.”
The General picked up his whisky glass and stared down into it with all the rapt attention of a soothsayer looking for an answer in his crystal ball. “What makes you think that? About the letter, I mean?”
“He’d have to, sir. Pressure is the essence of blackmail. Our friend with the viruses must have the publicity. A terrified population—and how right they would be to be terrified—would bring such terrific pressure to bear that the Government would have to accede to any demands made upon them or go out of office at once.”
“Where were you between five minutes to ten and ten o’clock tonight?” he asked abruptly.
“Where was I——” I looked at him, long hard stare for long hard stare, then went on slowly, “In the Waggoner’s Rest in Alfringham. Speaking to Mary, Hardanger and a plain-clothes constable by the name of Johnson.”
“I’m getting old or senile or both.” The General shook his head irritably, then lifted a sheet of paper from the mantelshelf and handed it to me. “You’d better read this, Pierre.” The “Pierre” made it very bad indeed: and it was very very bad indeed. It couldn’t have been worse. A Reuter’s dispatch sheet, the message in typed capitals.
“Mankind must abolish war or war will abolish mankind,” the typescript began. “It is now in my power to abolish the most dreadful form of war this world has ever known or ever will know—bacteriological warfare. I have in my possession eight ampoules of botulinus toxin which I took from the Mordon Research Establishment, near Alfringham, Wiltshire, twenty-four hours ago. I regret that two men were killed last night, but have no deep sorrow: what are two lives when the lives of mankind are at stake?
“The contents of any of those ampoules, suitably dispersed could destroy all life in Britain. I shall fight fire with fire and destroy evil by forces of evil.
“Mordon must cease to exist. That stronghold of the anti-Christ must be utterly razed so that no stone be left standing. I order that all experiments in Mordon cease forthwith and that the buildings in which this evil work is carried out be dynamited and bull-dozed to rubble.
“You will broadcast acknowledgement and compliance on the B.B.C. news at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning.
“If I am disregarded I shall be compelled to take steps the effects of which I dare not contemplate. But those steps I shall take. It is the wish of One who is greater than all that war upon earth shall cease for ever and I am His chosen instrument.
“Mankind must be saved from Mankind.”
I read through it again and laid the sheet down. This was the real McCoy—no one outside Mordon knew that eight am
“A nut,” I said. “Completely off his trolley. Mind you, he has a rather nifty line of prose.”
“Good God, Cavell!” The General’s face was set in hard lines, cold, grey eyes angry. “A communication like that and all you can do is—is to make feeble——”
“What do you want me to do, sir? Get out the sackcloth and ashes? Sure, it’s terrible—but we were expecting it—or something like it. If ever there was a time to use our heads and not our hearts—well, this is the time.”
“You’re right.” The voice was a sigh. “Of course you’re right. And damnably accurate in your forecast!”
“This came by phone call from Alfringham? Between five to ten and ten o’clock tonight?”
“Sorry about that too. I’m even ready to suspect myself. The message came to Reuter’s in London. Dictated at slow speed. Reuter’s thought it a hoax but telephoned Alfringham just in case. The news of the theft and murders hasn’t been officially released yet—typical army stupidity for half of Wiltshire knew about the murders hours ago and so does Fleet Street. All Reuter’s got was a denial but the reaction to their questions convinced them that they were on to something very hot indeed. For two hours, believe it or not, they argued back and forth as to whether or not this item should be released to the Press. The decision not to communicate came from the very top. They notified Scotland Yard, who notified me. By that time it was well after midnight. This is the original copy. A crackpot, you think?”
“A screw or two loose but all the rest of his mental machinery is working just fine. He knows he has to have publicity to generate sufficient terror to bring pressure to bear, and to generate even more terror he gives the impression that he doesn’t know three of the eight ampoules in his possession contain the Satan Bug. If the public really thought he had the Satan Bug and might use it in mistake they’d scream for him to be given anything on earth just so long as he returned it.”
The Satan Bug by Alistair MacLean / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes