Chapter 15

20Nov12

[New readers: to start at chapter 1 click Archives / November 2012 on right hand side]

Looking at the white oak reception desk, the leather seating and the modern art on the walls, Ludovic reflected that the only thing that a private scientific research facility and the university archaeology faculty had in common was a prestigious central London address.

They both signed their names in the visitors’ book and the receptionist handed them each a plastic visitor’s card on a purple lanyard. The receptionist invited them to take a seat.

Ludovic hung his visitor’s card around his neck and turned it to look at the engraved image. It looked like Britannia holding a trident and standing on a globe. He turned it outwards to show Belacar.

“I’ve already seen it,” said Belacar dismissively. “They sent a blank over to the station so we could compare the image. It’s a very good match, just the bottom half.” He looked around the lobby. “This is a bit flash. I thought scientists were short of cash.”

“It’s privately funded,” explained Ludovic. “The money comes from industry, probably energy companies or pharmaceuticals, judging by the type of research. They don’t publish much. The findings go straight to their sponsors. And the patent office,” he added.

The lift doors hissed open and a tall woman in a dark suit stepped out.

“Miriam Flatt,” she said, holding out a slim hand with a silver bracelet at the wrist. “You must be Detective Sergeant Belacar.”

She shook Belacar’s hand and turned to Ludovic.

“This is Dr. Vestas,he’s an archaeologist,” said Belacar. “He is providing me with some expert knowledge in our investigation.”

The Professor ushered them towards the lift. “Yes, the investigation. I’m looking forward to hearing about it.”

In the quiet, wood panelled office on the sixth floor Ludovic looked out of the window at the construction site before taking a seat at the low table. Belacar explained to Professor Flatt that they had uncovered part of an i.d. card along with some other items on the site opposite. He said that it was possible that a crime had been committed. Ludovic noticed that Belacar did not say anything about the skeleton.

“As I mentioned to your assistant on the phone,” Belacar continued smoothly, “we would like to know whether any of your security passes have gone missing.”

Professor Flatt turned a page of a notebook on her desk. “We have checked our records. We have only been using these cards for the last six months. They are all numbered.” She looked at a sheet of paper. “Only one card has not been returned. That was issued to our cleaning contractor. My assistant called them this morning and they said that they still have the card and they are returning it this evening.”

“Have any of your staff gone missing?” Belacar asked bluntly.

Miriam Flatt looked surprised. She hesitated. “No. No they haven’t. We don’t employ a lot of people here. They are specialists in their field. None of them are missing.”

“What is it that you do here?”

“This is a research institute. We commission and conduct scientific studies and experiments.”

Belacar leant forwards. “What sort of studies?”

“Our primary area of expertise is physics. We try to develop practical applications from emerging ideas.” Ludovic could see that the Professor was launching a familiar patter. He could picture her pitching the institute’s offer in the boardroom. “Our sponsors are leaders in their industries and they invest in taking new ideas into production and winning patents ahead of the market. The Osborne Reynolds institute has been helping turn technology into trade for the last fifty years.”

Back in the Ford Focus Belacar looked serious. “She didn’t tell us everything.” He said suddenly. “The only time she looked uncomfortable was when I asked if someone was missing. She was confident about the i.d. cards. We can easily check them.”

Twenty minutes later, Ludovic was just stepping out of the car when Belacar said, “if you are free on Tuesday I’ve found another textile expert. He should be able to tell us a bit more about the cyclist’s raincoat.”

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