I’m back home and this story has been sitting on the back burner for a few months, waiting for some more to be written.
The trouble is, there are also other stories to write, and I’m not very good at prioritizing.
But, here we are, a few minutes opened up and it didn’t take long to get back into the groove.
Chasing leads, maybe
I leaned back in the chair and shuddered. It was not so much the cold as the stark realization before me, well, before all of us really.
The USB was gone.
But it was going to be impossible to convince any or all of Severin, Maury, and Nobbin. Or for that matter Monica. None of them were going to believe the explosion in the café was a deliberate act.
But it did raise a question.
“How did whoever placed the bomb in the café know you and your contact were going to be there, and, for that matter, that either of you might have the USB?”
O’Connell seemed lost in thought. After prodding him, I asked the question again. His hesitation seemed to suggest that what he’d told me might be a lie, or a half-truth because the more I thought about it, the more implausible it sounded. The other side of that was, what did he have to gain by lying? Of no doubt, there was more to this story.
“There are more people involved in this than what you know. Dobbin had me looking into a biological laboratory, one that was reportedly doing research on cures for various coronaviruses, like SARS. The thing is, they had a store of nasties they were using as candidates for finding cures.
“The laboratory had been getting funding from the military so that to me meant they’d been working on weaponizing one of those nasty viruses, but there had been containment breach leading to a review, and they lost their funding.
“That, in turn, leads to the head of the company seeking funding from elsewhere, and that it was going to be an overseas government institution, one which they claimed commercial confidence so the donor could not be released. Of course, our intelligence services went into a spin, thinking the worst, that it was either Russia or the Chinese, or some other rogue regime, and if they got their hands on those candidates, well, you can imagine the paranoia.
“There was also the problem of hacking, where various countries and/or individuals are looking for information to use for their own benefit, or to sell to the highest bidder. That as far as I can tell is what happened here; it was not a case of external hacking, this was internal by one of the staff, downloading sensitive information onto the USB and smuggling it out.
“As soon as the breach was discovered, it triggered an internal review, which had a member of the military on the panel, and it concluded it was one of three ex-employees. Dobbin gave me the three names, and I tracked them down. One of the three had stolen the data, but far from stealing it to sell to the highest bidder, he had stolen it to pass on to a newspaper reporter, the person I was going to see.
“He could see the information was not the sort to be disseminated to the general public and wanted it returned. I was going to get it.
“So, in answer to your question, it was possible that someone else had done the same as I had after I had visited each of the three, and decided to deal with the problem decisively. But it would have required planning and an organization with infinite resources to pull it off. Top of my list is the owners of the laboratory, simply because, they were not interested in getting the copy back, and the fact they didn’t want to have any witnesses, which meant the reporter and had to be silenced.”
“And the person who stole the information?”
“Burned to death in a house fire. The fire department concluded it was a gas leak.”
“Helped by a person or persons unknown.”
“Given the distribution list of that final report, unless Dobbin has been moonlighting as an assassin, there’s only one other name on the list.”
No need to say it out loud. That left one question, and probably a hundred others that wouldn’t get answers.
“What’s it to do with Severin and Maury?”
“That’s not their names. Severin is really David Westcott, and Maury is Bernie Salvin. Both used to be in the security detail at the company about three years ago when several biological entities were being researched, both of whom were assigned by the military to keep an eye on their investment.
“When the accident occurred, they were reassigned, but I suspect, at the time, they knew exactly what had happened, and what is involved. It’s not a leap to come to the conclusion they had a shift in allegiance and may have helped the person who stole the information because there was no way the person who stole it had the knowledge to get it out.
“It was not something he would tell me. That, he said, if he told me, would sign his death warrant.”
Which it did. Was the original thief killed before or after the explosion?
“Do we Assume Severin is the man in charge?”
“No. They’re basically blunt instruments, giving orders, and doing what they’re told. We all are, to a certain extent. This operation had someone else, someone far more clever, and connected.”
“But they did create a whole unit and train them in an existing facility without anyone knowing.”
“Is that you they told you? And you believed them? Nothing goes on in that place with an official sanction. No. Your operation was created on the books, but on the quiet so if anything went wrong, they could disavow any knowledge of it. It went south and what happened?”
“They disavowed any knowledge of it.”
“And kept you on, only reassigned?”
“Those of us who survived, yes.”
“Then I suggest you watch your back and keep all of them at arm’s length. You’ll only be useful until the USB is found, so you have to keep them believing it’s missing.”
“We’re not going to be able to do that forever.”
“No. Which makes it imperative we find out who Severin and Maury’s bosses are and chop of the head.”
All while pretending he was dead. Easier said than done.
© Charles Heath 2020-2021