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       Evil Genius, p.1

           Catherine Jinks
 
Evil Genius


  BY THE SAME AUTHOR

  This Way Out

  Pagan’s Crusade

  The Future Trap

  Pagan in Exile

  Pagan’s Vows

  Witch Bank

  Pagan’s Scribe

  Eye to Eye

  Piggy in the Middle

  What’s Hector McKerrow Doing These Days?

  ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

  The author would like to thank the Spastic Centre, Anthony Jinks and Peter Dockrill (and Elijah Wood for the visual inspiration!).

  First published in 2005

  Copyright © Catherine Jinks, 2005

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The Australian Copyright Act 1968 (the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.

  Allen & Unwin

  83 Alexander Street

  Crows Nest NSW 2065

  Australia

  Phone: (61 2) 8425 0100

  Fax: (61 2) 9906 2218

  Email: [email protected]

  Web: www.allenandunwin.com

  National Library of Australia

  Cataloguing-in-Publication entry:

  Jinks, Catherine, 1963 – .

  Evil genius.

  ISBN 1 74114 459 0.

  1. Good and evil - Fiction. I. Title

  A 823.3

  Text and cover design by Ellie Exarchos

  Illustrations by Heath McKenzie

  Set in 9.5/13pt ITC Legacy Serif Book by Midland Typesetters

  Printed in Australia by McPherson's Printing Group

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  To Robert Jinks,

  without whose

  Professor Gangrene doll

  this book would not

  have been written

  Contents

  ONE

  TWO

  THREE

  FOUR

  FIVE

  SIX

  SEVEN

  EIGHT

  NINE

  TEN

  ELEVEN

  TWELVE

  THIRTEEN

  FOURTEEN

  FIFTEEN

  SIXTEEN

  SEVENTEEN

  EIGHTEEN

  NINETEEN

  TWENTY

  TWENTY-ONE

  TWENTY-TWO

  TWENTY-THREE

  TWENTY-FOUR

  TWENTY-FIVE

  TWENTY-SIX

  TWENTY-SEVEN

  TWENTY-EIGHT

  TWENTY-NINE

  THIRTY

  THIRTY-ONE

  THIRTY-TWO

  THIRTY-THREE

  THIRTY-FOUR

  THIRTY-FIVE

  THIRTY-SIX

  THIRTY-SEVEN

  THIRTY-EIGHT

  THIRTY-NINE

  FORTY

  FORTY-ONE

  FORTY-TWO

  FORTY-THREE

  FORTY-FOUR

  FORTY-FIVE

  FORTY-SIX

  FORTY-SEVEN

  FORTY-EIGHT

  FORTY-NINE

  FIFTY

  FIFTY-ONE

  FIFTY-TWO

  FIFTY-THREE

  FIFTY-FOUR

  FIFTY-FIVE

  FIFTY-SIX

  FIFTY-SEVEN

  ONE

  Cadel Piggott was just seven years old when he first met Thaddeus Roth.

  Dr Roth worked in a terrace house near Sydney Harbour. The house was three storeys high, its garden shrouded by a great many damp, dark trees. There was moss growing on its sandstone window ledges. Its front fence was made of iron, with a spike on top of each post; beside the creaking gate was a brass sign bearing Dr Roth’s name and qualifications.

  ‘That’s it,’ said Mrs Piggott. ‘Number twenty-nine.’

  ‘Well, we can’t stop here,’ her husband replied. ‘No parking.’

  ‘I told you to park back there.’

  ‘It doesn’t matter. We’ll try down this street.’

  ‘Stuart, that’s a one-way street.’

  ‘Dammit!’

  ‘I knew we’d never find a space. Not around this area.’

  ‘Just shut up for a minute, will you?’

  Mr and Mrs Piggott were not Cadel’s real parents. They had adopted him when he was not quite two years old. Mrs Piggott was thin and blonde, Mr Piggott fat and grey. They almost never agreed about anything, but that didn’t matter because they almost never met. Their busy schedules kept them away from home, and one another, a good deal of the time.

  At the suggestion of the police, however, they had both agreed to attend this interview.

  ‘We’re going to be late,’ Mrs Piggott warned her husband after they had circled the block four times in Mr Piggott’s big, gleaming Mercedes-Benz. ‘Just let us out, for God’s sake.’

  ‘I’ll park here.’

  ‘Stuart, you’ll never fit in there!’

  ‘Watch me.’

  Cadel said nothing. He sat on the back seat, dressed in his good brown cords and a lamb’s-wool jumper, staring out the window at Dr Roth’s house. He didn’t like the look of it. He thought it had a murky, ominous appearance. There were curtains drawn across all the windows, and this gave the house a secretive air.

  ‘I don’t want to go,’ he said flatly, when Mrs Piggott got out and opened the door beside him.

  ‘I know, honey, but we have to.’

  ‘No we don’t,’ Cadel retorted.

  ‘Yes we do.’

  ‘There were no formal charges,’ Cadel pointed out, in his high, clear voice. ‘It was just a suggestion.’

  ‘That’s right,’ said Mr Piggott, yanking Cadel out of the back of the car. ‘And when the police make a suggestion, you always follow it. Rule number one.’

  ‘Be careful, Stuart, you’ll wreck his clothes.’

  Cadel was so small – even for a seven year old – that he didn’t stand a chance against Mr Piggott. Though he dragged his feet and hung off his adoptive parents’ hands like a sack of melons, he was forced across the street and through the front gate of number twenty-nine. The path beyond the gate was mushy with wet leaves. There was a rich smell of decay. The door knocker was a ring in the mouth of a snarling lion’s head, painted black, like the rest of the ironwork.

  Cadel noted with interest the switchboard near the door. It was obviously ancient, full of porcelain fuses and dial meters. The Piggotts’ own house was only three years old, with a state-ofthe-art electrical system, so Cadel was fascinated by this dusty old relic.

  But he was not permitted to gaze at it for long.

  ‘Come on,’ Mr Piggott barked. ‘The door’s open.’ And he pushed against it, causing it to swing back and reveal a long, dark hallway carpeted with dingy Persian rugs. About halfway down this hallway, a staircase the colour of walnut swept up to the next floor. There were several doors to the right of the front entrance, but only the closest stood ajar.

  ‘Hello!’ said Mr Piggott, marching straight through it. He wasn’t a man who normally waited for anything. ‘We’ve an appointment with Dr Roth. For ten-thirty.’

  Gripped firmly around the wrist, Cadel had no choice but to follow Mr Piggott. He found himself in a reception area: two rooms divided by a pair of folding mahogany doors. There were two marble fireplaces and two chandeliers. Cadel noticed cobwebs on the chandeliers.

  A woman sat behind an antique desk.

 
‘Good morning,’ she said calmly. ‘What name, please?’

  ‘Piggott,’ Mr Piggott replied, in pompous tones. ‘Stuart, Lanna and Cadel.’ He looked surprised when the woman rose, revealing herself to be almost as wide and tall as he was. She had a broad, square face and small blue eyes. She was wearing a suit the colour of dried blood.

  ‘I’ll just go and tell Dr Roth that you’ve arrived,’ she declared, before lumbering out of the room. Cadel didn’t watch her go. He was more interested in the computer that she’d left behind, with its alluring glow and contented hum. The screen-saver was one that he’d never seen before: a pattern of falling dominoes.

  ‘Don’t even think about it,’ Stuart rasped when he realised what was attracting Cadel’s attention. ‘Sit down. Over there.’

  ‘Look, honey, there are toys for you to play with,’ Lanna said, nudging a large basket with the toe of her expensive Italian shoe. Sulkily, Cadel eyed the basket’s contents. He was used to the broken activity centres and torn books offered for the amusement of younger patients at his local doctor’s surgery, and wasn’t hopeful about the distractions provided here.

  But to his astonishment, he quickly spied an old voltmeter, together with a book on flies, a plastic human skull (life-sized), a Rubik’s cube and a Frankenstein mask. Further investigation uncovered a dead spider embedded in a resin paperweight, a shark’s tooth, a Galaxy Warrior complete with Thermopuncher torpedoes, and a very curious fragment of puzzle bearing the picture of a staring, bloodshot eye over a set of claw marks.

  He was puzzling over this macabre image when the sound of heavy footsteps reached his ears. It seemed that Dr Roth’s receptionist was returning, clumping down the stairs like someone wearing ski boots. Lanna, who had flung herself onto an armchair, immediately jumped to her feet.

  Stuart glared at the door.

  ‘Dr Roth will see you, now,’ the receptionist announced, when she finally appeared. ‘You can go straight up.’

  Stuart and Lanna exchanged glances.

  ‘Are you sure?’ Lanna objected. ‘I mean, does he want to discuss things in front of Cadel?’

  ‘Oh yes,’ the receptionist declared firmly. Something about her voice made Cadel look up. He studied her with care, from the top of her permed head to the soles of her brown shoes. She smiled in response, and the Piggotts all recoiled.

  Her mouth looked as if it belonged to an older, harsher century.

  ‘Why are your teeth black?’ Cadel wanted to know.

  ‘Why are your teeth white?’ the receptionist responded, wending her way back to her desk. Lanna snatched at Cadel’s hand and hustled him out of the room. She and her husband whispered together as they climbed the stairs, which creaked and groaned beneath them.

  ‘Stuart, what was the matter with . . . ?’

  ‘I don’t know.’

  ‘Do you think this is a good idea?’

  ‘ ’Course it is.’

  ‘But what about that woman? Her teeth?’

  Stuart shrugged. They had reached a landing, but it wasn’t the right one. From above their heads, a voice said ‘Up here.’

  A man was draped over the second-floor banisters. He was tall and thin, and wore a tweed jacket. His thick, dark hair was going grey.

  ‘That’s the bathroom,’ he remarked in a soothing voice with a cultured English accent. ‘I’m afraid my office is at the top, here.’

  ‘Dr Roth?’ said Stuart.

  ‘Yes, indeed.’

  ‘We’re a bit late,’ Lanna offered, a trifle breathlessly. ‘No parking.’

  ‘You should turn that front yard of yours into a parking lot,’ Stuart added, climbing the last flight of stairs. Gracefully, Dr Roth moved to push open the door of his office.

  ‘I would,’ he said, ‘if the local council would let me. Heritage listing, I’m afraid.’

  Stuart grunted. Lanna smiled a meaningless social smile. They both passed into Dr Roth’s office ahead of Cadel, who stopped on the threshold. He gazed up at Thaddeus.

  ‘Why does she have black teeth?’ Cadel inquired.

  ‘Wilfreda? I’m not sure,’ Thaddeus replied. ‘Poor dental hygiene, I should think.’ He cocked his head. ‘So you’re Cadel.’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘Come in, Cadel.’

  Dr Roth’s office surprised Cadel, because it was full of modern furniture and computer equipment. There were a number of glossy cabinets, some full of filing drawers, some with cables running out of them. Cadel’s eyes gleamed when he spotted those cables.

  ‘Sit down, please.’ Dr Roth gestured at a cluster of couches placed between his desk and a pair of French doors. Lanna chose the crimson couch, settling down onto it very carefully, her bare knees drawn together. Stuart dropped into his seat like a stone.

  ‘We brought this referral . . .’ said his wife, passing an envelope to Dr Roth. Thaddeus opened it, removed a folded sheet of paper, and smoothed the paper flat without taking his eyes off Cadel, whose attention was fixed on a modem attached to an inline filter.

  ‘The police suggested we arrange some counselling for Cadel,’ Stuart explained. ‘They also suggested that he shouldn’t be allowed to use a computer except under supervision. Responsible supervision.’

  ‘He’s far too young to understand,’ added Lanna, smoothing down her short skirt. ‘His emotional maturity hasn’t caught up with his intellect.’

  ‘He has a genius IQ,’ said her husband gruffly. ‘We had him tested.’

  ‘It’s not his fault. We would have said something if we’d known what he was up to.’

  ‘He’s not a bad kid.’

  Thaddeus raised an eyebrow. By this time he was glancing through the referral, nodding to himself. When he had finished, he refolded the paper and tucked it into his jacket pocket. ‘Right,’ he said, and cleared his throat. ‘Cadel? Would you like to use my computer?’

  Cadel whirled around. Stuart and Lanna both gasped.

  ‘But he can’t!’ Stuart spluttered.

  ‘He’s not allowed!’ Lanna cried.

  ‘Oh, I think he’ll be all right,’ said Dr Roth. ‘I’ll be interested to see if he does make a nuisance of himself. There’s some very tough security software installed on that computer.’ He smiled indulgently at Cadel. ‘Knock yourself out, kid.’

  While Cadel scuttled over to the desk, his adoptive parents looked at each other in dismay. Dr Roth sank into the couch opposite them, his long, bony hands pressed together under his beaky nose. ‘So,’ he began, ‘Cadel has been hacking into high-security computer networks, is that it? ’

  ‘The power grid,’ Stuart interrupted. ‘And a bill-paying service.’

  ‘He likes the challenge,’ said Lanna, sounding worried. ‘I’m sure that’s it. He’s bored at school.’

  ‘He knows he shouldn’t have,’ Stuart growled, ‘but I don’t think he’s aware –’

  ‘That it’s against the law,’ his wife interjected, at which point Stuart turned on her.

  ‘I was going to say that he’s probably not aware of the full implications, if you’d let me get a word in edgeways,’ he snapped. ‘It’s not against the law – not when you’re seven years old. That’s the whole point. You can’t charge a kid of his age.’

  ‘But the police thought that measures ought to be taken in any case,’ Dr Roth remarked smoothly. ‘I understand. And may I ask whether you’ve discussed these matters with the school he attends? What’s it called?’

  ‘Elphington Grammar,’ Lanna supplied. ‘We live on the North Shore, you see.’

  ‘They’ve expelled him,’ Stuart said flatly. ‘Don’t want him there. Too much like hard work, designing special programs for a genius.’

  ‘So we’ve enrolled him in Jamboree Gardens. They believe in small classes, and they nurture potential on an individual basis.’

  ‘It’s one of those tree-hugger schools,’ Stuart concluded, without much enthusiasm.

  Again, Thaddeus nodded. In the brief silence that followed, the click-clack of a h
ardworking computer keyboard filled the room. Cadel sat perched on Dr Roth’s chair, his small feet dangling, his gaze fixed.

  ‘Can you tell me anything else about your son that might be useful?’ Thaddeus said at last, and Lanna leaned forward.

  ‘We’re not his birth parents,’ she revealed in a low voice. ‘If that matters. He knows, of course.’

  ‘This wouldn’t have happened if his nanny hadn’t left,’ Stuart sighed. ‘No supervision.’

  ‘Why did his nanny leave?’ Dr Roth queried, whereupon Stuart rubbed the back of his neck, in obvious discomfort.

  This time Lanna’s voice was so low that it was barely a whisper.

  ‘He used to charge things to her credit card. She used it so much that of course he picked up on it.’

  ‘He’s a funny kid,’ Stuart admitted. ‘He’s not normal.’

  ‘Stuart!’

  ‘Well he’s not. You can’t pretend he is.’

  ‘Shhh!’

  But Cadel didn’t seem to be listening. He was peering at the computer screen, his lips pursed, his brow furrowed.

  ‘You know what he said to me the other day?’ Stuart continued. ‘Lanna and I had been arguing –’

  ‘We don’t often argue,’ his wife broke in, smiling nervously at Thaddeus. ‘You’re giving Dr Roth the wrong idea, honey.’

  Stuart snorted. ‘Yeah, well, whatever you say. Anyhow, he looked me straight in the eye, and he said, “You’re like a malfunctioning modem with her. You need to locate the right initialisation string.”’ Stuart blinked. ‘Can you believe that?’

  His wife tittered. ‘Oh dear,’ she said. ‘That is so Cadel.’

  ‘He carries the strangest things around with him,’ Stuart went on. ‘Not yo-yos or rubber frogs or stuff like that. He carries circuit boards and thermostats and ignition coils. God knows where he gets them.’

  ‘Out of my computer,’ Lanna grimaced, her face falling suddenly. ‘That’s where he gets them. Or he dismantles the security system.’

  ‘We have a circuitry room,’ Stuart confessed. ‘It controls the security system and the phone system and the air conditioning –’

  ‘We can never get him out of there.’

  ‘Half the time, when you turn on the television, the garage door opens.’

  ‘Whatever kind of lock you put on that damned circuitry room, he always cracks it sooner or later.’

 
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