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Authors: Ken McClure

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Crisis

BOOK: Crisis
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CRISIS

by

Ken McClure

 

 

 

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

The Island of Barasay,

The Western Isles of Scotland.

19
January, 1992.

 

Lawrence Gill’s lungs demanded more and more oxygen until,
unable to comply, he was forced to his knees on the wet shingle.
He knelt there, weakly supporting himself, until the deficit had
been reduced. As soon as his laboured breathing subsided he
struggled painfully to his feet and continued trying to run on a
surface that seemed hell-bent on denying him grip. The wind
howled in from the Atlantic and whipped up the rain until it felt
like icy rivets being driven into his face. It seemed that nature was attempting to render him as featureless as the barren beach
that so begrudged him every inch of progress.

Gill’s hands were bleeding by the time he had clawed his
way to the top of the cliff and started out for the old stone cottage
where he planned to seek refuge. It had lain aban
doned for more than two years, ever since Shona’s father
had given up the unequal struggle against the elements and
returned to the mainland. Gill was hoping that there would
be enough there to sustain him in the way of shelter until the
hunt had tapered off. The rucksack on his back held enough tinned food and supplies to see him through two weeks if
necessary.

Through the rain Gill could see the outline of the cottage on
the corner of the headland. It still had a roof and that was
something of a bonus considering its location. He had once
asked Shona what had possessed her father to build a cottage
on such an exposed site. Shona had said that he had felt closer
to God there than anywhere else.

It was true that, when the sea was calm and the sky dear, you could see for thirty miles from the top of the cliff and
watch the sun sink into the western horizon like a huge ball
of orange file; but the sea was almost never calm, and the
sky was seldom dear. More often than not westerly gales
whipped up the Atlantic into a frenzy and sent huge breakers
crashing against the rocks below sending fingers of spray high into the air to clutch at the cottage as if to tear it from
its perch.

Gill moved into the lee of the back wall and rested for
a moment with his shoulder against the rough stone. The
rain had sought out the vulnerable points in his clothing and he could feel the water trickle down his back as he
once more gasped for breath. There was a back door to
the cottage. He moved along to try it rather than expose himself to the wind again by going round the front. The
handle was rusty and stiff but it did turn and Gill put his
shoulder against the door to overcome the reluctance of the
hinges.

The room he was in had been the kitchen but broken windows had allowed access to the elements and the sea
birds and it was in a mess. With a heavy heart Gill wondered
if the other rooms had fared any better. He opened the
door leading to what had been the living-room and stopped
suddenly in the doorway. Two men were standing there.
They were clad in oilskins and they looked at Gill as if
they had been expecting him. Neither said anything; the
guns in their hands were supposed to say all that needed to
be said.

Gill felt a strange, sad sense of resignation come over him. It
seemed ironic but it was almost a feeling of relief. He had been
on the run for four days and that’s all it had taken to ruin his
life completely upside down and make him the running victim
in a living nightmare. Four days to undo everything he had
worked for, career, marriage, prospects, the imagined solid
foundations for success and future happiness, had been swept away with an ease that now seemed obscene. It all seemed so
unfair.

One of the men ransacked his belongings while the other
held a gun on him. When the man kneeling on the floor looked
up and shook his head the man pointing the gun said, ‘Where
are they?’

‘You’re too late,’ said Gill. ‘They’re already in the post.’

The two men looked at each other without saying anything.
The man with the gun motioned that Gill should back out
the door.

Gill was no longer mindful of the wind and the rain; his head
was full of images of the things he would never see again. God!
he wasn’t ready to die! He was suddenly overwhelmed by panic.
He veered off to the right and ran into the wind, hoping that
his captors would have difficulty aiming with the driving rain
in their faces.

In his mind’s eye, Gill imagined a path leading down from
the far end of the cliff to the shore where he would run along
the sand with the wind behind him and get into the boat to
make good his escape. But when he got to the edge he saw
that there was nothing but a sheer drop. He sank to the
ground and lay full length looking over the edge at the rocks
far below. He felt all hope drain from him; he was left with a
desperately empty void inside. He relaxed his grip on the tufts of grass and turned slowly over on to his back to wait for his
pursuers.

One of the men signalled that he should get to his feet and he did, leaning back against the wind to keep his balance. The two
men put away their guns and each took an arm. For a moment
Gill wondered why when there was no place for him to run to, then he understood. Almost before he could cry out the
men lifted him bodily off his feet and swung him back over
the edge of the cliff. For a moment his arms flailed against
the dark sky then he plunged headlong to his death on the
jagged rocks below, his last scream of protest carried off by
the wind.

 

 

The Medical Research Council,

Park Crescent,

London

 

‘I apologise for the inconvenience caused by the calling of this
meeting at such short notice gentlemen, but I have been asked
by the Prime Minister to brief him and the cabinet on our
findings with regard to our survey on brain disease in this
country.’ The secretary of the MRC, Sir John Rowers, paused
and looked over his glasses at the men sitting round the table.

The studies are nowhere near complete, you know that,’ said
a middle-aged man with the trace of a Scots accent.

Flowers shook his head and said, ‘Won’t do Hector. We as scientists know we have to evaluate properly all the data but
the government see it as sitting on the fence. They would
like assurance that there are no major problems brewing in
this area.’

‘What they really want us to tell them is that human beings
can’t get brain disease from sick animals!’ said another man
whose ample girth was barely restrained by a waistcoat of
maroon silk material which almost matched the colour of
his nose.

Flowers gave a slight nod.

‘Why the sudden rush?’ asked Hector Munro, Director of the MRC Neurobiology Unit in Edinburgh.

‘Ever since
Mad cow disease
hit the headlines a year or so ago,
the opposition have been waiting for the right moment to cause
embarrassment to the government. The sale of British meat
and meat products to the continent has still not recovered from
the bad publicity generated at the time. In fact, they fell again
sharply last month and the agricultural lobby is up in arms. They are going to demand to know what the government is
doing about the problem. They want positive assurances that
British meat products are safe. We for our part have been
monitoring the incidence of brain disease in the country and
following the experimental work of the Agricultural Research Council,’ exclaimed Flowers.

‘There
has
been a rise in figures,’ said a thin man with
the pointed features of a bird and the appropriate name of
John Lark.

‘Has the link been established for sure?’ asked Lark.

Flowers nodded. The ARC labs have shown that cows got
BSE from eating sheep meat infected with
Scrapie.’

‘So why didn’t they get it before?’ asked Lark.
‘Scrapie
has
been round for long enough in sheep.’

The renderers changed their method of treating sheep
carcasses. The old way killed the infective agent off. The new
way didn’t. As simple as that.’

‘So there wasn’t a species barrier at all?’

‘No.’

‘Ye gods,’ said Lark. ‘But surely
Scrapie
couldn’t cross to
humans?’

Flowers held up a sheaf of papers in his hand and said, This
case suggests otherwise.’

1 have always maintained that
Scrapie
in sheep should have
been made notifiable all along, just like BSE,’ said Munro.

‘Well, if s too late to bolt that particular stable door,’ said Flowers. ‘Our problem is that not only can we not allay the
government’s fears about an increasing incidence of brain
disease but we have to inform them of the existence of a
potential disaster in the making.’


I take it lambs can be affected with the disease too?’ asked
Lark.

‘Yes,’ said Munro, ‘and to answer your next question, roasting
would not kill the agent. It’s one of the toughest viruses on
earth. It can withstand the temperature achieved in a hospital
steam sterilizer.’

‘Then I hope to God that the report is mistaken,’ said Lark.

‘Who is reporting for the Scottish region?’ asked Munro.

‘George Stoddart.’

‘Edinburgh University?’

Flowers nodded.

‘Have you spoken to him?’ asked Lark.

‘Yes,’ said Flowers.

‘And?’

‘Stoddart says that his man is adamant that the men died of
Scrapie
but there will be the usual difficulty in assigning the
cause.’

‘I’m not sure I understand,’ said Lark. ‘What difficulty?’

Flowers looked to Munro and said, ‘You’re the expert in this
field. Perhaps you would explain.’

‘Of course,’ said Munro, clearing his throat. ‘We know very
little about the infecting agent which causes
Scrapie
in sheep
or BSE in cattle for that matter. The only reliable way of demonstrating the infection is by injection of infected material
from one animal into another. In this way we can show that
the agent is transmissible and has a similar pathology.’

BOOK: Crisis
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