Chapter 17

22Nov12

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

“We need to see Professor Flatt again,” Belacar had announced in the car on the way back from Uxbridge. “At the moment the i.d. card is the only piece of evidence that connects to anything. The proximity of the institute to the site seems significant and I have a feeling that she is not telling us everything.”

The next morning Ludovic met the detective outside the Osborne Reynolds institute. They signed in again, collected their lanyards and passes and were shown up to the sixth floor by a harassed looking secretary.

Miriam Flatt was in a less helpful mood. “I’m sorry,” she said sharply as they were shown into the office, “I’ve only got forty-five minutes. I’ve got a conference call with Switzerland.”

Belacar was calm and polite. “We’ll try to be as quick as we can, Professor,” he said. “We are a bit puzzled about one or two things.”

“Well let’s get started,”said the Professor as she bustled around her desk collecting a pile of papers.

“Dr Vestas,” said Belacar turning suddenly to Ludovic, “where did you say the fragment of the i.d. card was found?”

“It was about one metre eight-five centimetres below the most recent ground level in the former car park of the Osborne Reynolds institute, approximately one hundred and eight metres  west of this building.”

“As an archaeologist, what can you tell me about it?”

Professor Flatt had stopped shuffling papers at her desk. She sat slowly into her chair.

“The fragment was found very close to a number of early seventeenth century artifacts at a level consistent with that period of history. The ground directly above the fragment showed few signs of disturbance.”

“What about the fragment itself?”

“The plastic looked aged and was brittle. We don’t often study plastic objects so I couldn’t say how long it had been in the ground.”

Belacar looked at Professor Flatt. “Professor, you say that you have only been using the embossed identity cards for six months and none of them are missing?”

“That’s right.”

“Is there any reason why someone might forge one?”

Miriam Flatt looked thoughtful.

“I suppose if they wanted to gain access to the building,” she said.

“Is that likely ?”

“Detective Sergeant, I’m a scientist not a businesswoman, but if I was to speculate, I suppose that industrial espionage might be a possibility.”
“And is that probable?”

“Well we are doing some very advanced research here. We have developed some specialised equipment for our clients and all industries are very competitive.” She began to speak more quickly, as if the idea was developing. “We are bound by some very strict non-disclosure agreements. In most cases our clients require our staff to be vetted.” She paused. “So, on balance, yes it is probable that someone might want to spy on our activities.”

“Professor, could you let me have a list of your clients?”

Professor Flatt leant back in her chair and held her hands up palms facing the detective. “I would not be at all happy to do that,” she said tersely. “Our clients are extremely sensitive about the disclosure of commercial information.”

Belacar sighed, “Professor, this is a police investigation into what might be a serious criminal activity. I could easily ask for a court order to get the information. That could be expensive for both of us.”

There was silence in the room. Outside an engine burst into life and there was a clanking noise followed by a deep metallic thud as a piledriver swung into action across the road.

“Very well,” said the Professor, her voice tense and angry. “I’ll ask my assistant to send you a list of the clients that have engaged us in the last twelve months. Will that be sufficient?”

“That would be perfect,” said Belacar smoothly as he stood and picked up his coat. “Thank you Professor.”

Five minutes later Ludovic and the policeman were walking along Cheapside.

“If you found a spy and you were very anxious about protecting your clients’ interests,” Belacar asked Ludovic, “what would you do?”

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