“ONLY ANOTHER FOUR of these trips and we’re done,” Davenport shouted to his friend, as he looked back at the jagged cliffs rising out of the ocean on the bleak leeward side of the Ile de l’Est.
“Thank God! Don’t ever ask me to sign up for anything like this again. After the year we’ve spent down here, I’m sure we’ll both be exempt from having to do any further voluntary research for a while,” Hawthorn replied.
Dawn was just breaking over the windswept isles, as the old wooden fishing boat chugged out of the make-shift port on Ile de l’Est, one of six islets that make up the French Crozet Islands in the Southern Indian Ocean. The sub-Antarctic archipelago – part of the French Southern Territories since 1955 – was uninhabited, except for a small research base on the main island, Ile de la Possession.
“You know Adam, I could think of better things to be doing during my gap year. Monitoring penguins and sea creatures doesn’t feature high on the list,” Hawthorn said, turning the boat towards the sampling zone.
“Don’t forget it’s your turn to update the catalogue with whatever marine samples we find,” Davenport shouted, throwing the well-used notebook across the deck to his friend.
Adam Davenport and James Hawthorn had been based on the main island, Ile de la Possession, along with five other research scientists for the last eight months, and were now embarking on the final four months of their placement as part of an international monitoring team, studying the many different species of penguins, seals, birds, flora and fauna unique to the archipelago. The islands were in fact one large nature reserve, since being declared a national park back in 1938. The two researchers felt long forgotten by the outside world. The monthly food drop, by small plane from the French Kerguelen islands – some thirteen hundred kilometres to the east – was their only real comfort.
The boat’s bow rose up on the crest of a wave as they motored out of the protected inlet toward Ile de la Possession, and the buoy that marked the research area, some two kilometres out from the eastern shore.
“It sure is calm out today,” Davenport said, looking out over the horizon. A group of five petrels circled above the boat as they arrived at the marker buoy. Hawthorn cut the engine, letting the boat drift toward the orange buoy. “Pass the rope so I can tie her up,” he yelled.
Davenport threw him the frayed end of the rope, which he secured to the chain on the buoy. The boat bobbed up and down on the light swell as Davenport went to retrieve his packet of Marlboro’s from the wheelhouse. “How many pots are we supposed to be pulling up today James?” He shouted over to his friend.
“Looks like we dropped eight overboard last week,” Hawthorn replied, flicking through the scruffy, worn notepad which dated back to the 1960s. “It’s going to look like seafood pick and mix by the time we haul them all up.”
Davenport lent over the side of the boat, taking in a deep breath of sea air. He pulled a Marlboro from the packet, licked the end of it, and placed it between his lips. “There’s a very strange smell on the port side,” he shouted to Hawthorn, who was getting the sampling kits ready to drop overboard.
He flipped the top of his Zippo lighter open and struck the flint. Before Hawthorn could answer him, a flash of light and heat exploded around them, completely engulfing the wooden fishing boat.
Hawthorn felt the force of the explosion as he was thrown into the shattered wheelhouse, followed by an instant of agonizing pain, then darkness.
Davenport opened his eyes. He was in the water, surrounded by flotsam and covered in burning oil. He tried to swim through it, but the task was futile. He screamed, and dived under the water. The last thing he felt was a searing pain in his lungs as he sank into the freezing depths.
London, April 15
DR. DALE STANTON sat at his desk in the darkening room of his Russell Square apartment staring blankly at the glowing computer screen, his eyes tired and sore. His face was impassive, except for the visible, nervous twitch in the corner of his mouth, which revealed his gathering thoughts.
He was putting the finishing touches to the presentation that he would be giving to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change conference in Oslo, Norway, in a little under a week’s time. Stanton had been working on his current project for almost eight months, and the conclusions he’d reached, he had little doubt, would concern the scientific world. Reaching over, he turned on the desktop lamp and rubbed his eyes, before leaning back in his chair to stretch his aching neck.
Looking back at the monitor, he started reading over the salient parts of his presentation to check it one final time before finishing for the evening. He resumed typing; making what he hoped was the final amendment to his paper.
We know the Ocean Thermohaline Circulation is an important Atlantic current powered by both heat ( thermo) and salt ( haline ) which brings warm water up from the tropics to northern latitudes. Without it, the Eastern Seaboard of the USA and climate of Northern Europe would be much colder. I have been re-analysing all the data amassed by the RAPID-WATCH program and my calculations reveal that the measuring devices have been incorrectly calibrated. Twenty-five of the thirty devices used to measure ocean flow were set by the manufacturers to measure fresh water. When calibrating the data to factor in measurements for denser salt water, the figures revealed…
Stanton jumped, as the telephone on his desk rang. He took a deep breath, and sighed as he reached over his laptop to pick up the phone.“Hello!” There was no answer. “Hello!” Again, silence. He replaced the receiver. His train of thought interrupted, he sat quietly for a moment before completing the final sentence, then saved the amendments and closed the program down. He clicked on his private finance folder to check an insurance policy he knew was about to expire, and as he did, accidentally opened the file containing a copy of his will. Perusing it, he reminded himself to amend the charitable legacies clause in order to make a gift to the team down at RAPID. God knows, they would need all the help they could get.
He’d had the will prepared after receiving a large sum of money from his father two years earlier. A colleague had recommended a local firm specialising in environmental law with a promise that one of the firm’s senior environmental lawyers, a Mr. Robert Spire would be appointed as a co-executor. He closed the file, reminding himself to have the will amended when he returned from Oslo next week.
Stanton reached across his desk and pulled the research book he’d been using from the shelf to double check a couple of facts. He flicked through the pages to a section entitled The Younger Dryas period.Around 12,900 years ago – just as the world was slowly warming up after the last ice age – a rapid descent back to colder conditions occurred in as little as ten years or so, a mere blink of an eye, in climactic terms. A shut down of the Atlantic Ocean Thermohaline Circulation was thought to have been a possible cause of the rapid chill. Stanton’s hair stood up on the back of his neck as he considered the possible ramifications of his latest research.
He closed the book, turned off his laptop, and ran his hands through his lank brown hair. As he got up from his desk, he looked out of his window at a deserted Russell Square and closed the blinds. He realised he’d been working for almost six hours, and it was now coming up to five P.M on Saturday evening.
He enjoyed living alone in his two-bed terraced townhouseapartment in London’s Russell Square, one of only a few private residences left overlooking the park. He had noticed various businesses, as well as the University College of London taking over most of the area during the last twenty years. The district was dotted with restaurants and bars, and in a couple of hours he would be meeting up with an old friend for a well-earned drink in the Hotel Russo, not far from his apartment.
He briefly took hold of the memory stick containing his presentation, before putting it back down gently. The facts, figures and details of his paper were spinning around in his head. He knew he wouldn’t be able to relax until he had given his talk in Oslo. He’d been over the calculations at least ten times to ensure they were correct. He walked into the bathroom. Unbelievable; how could they have failed to check the calibration on the measuring equipment?
Just as he was about to get in the shower, the phone rang again. He picked up the receiver, “Hello!” There was silence on the other end. As he put the phone back down he heard a click on the line. Not again. He shrugged, and stepped under the shower.
Stanton was in the middle of drying himself when a text message came through from Mathew confirming the arrangements. They would be meeting in the King’s Bar at the Hotel Russo; a warm intimate wood-panelled bar, and one of his favourite local watering holes. He finished drying and put on a white linen shirt and glanced in the mirror. He looked and felt tired. He splashed some aftershave on his face, locked the door to the apartment and headed down the hall stairs and wandered out into the warmth of a mild spring evening.
THE HOTEL RUSSO was situated just five minutes from Stanton’s apartment on the opposite side of Russell Square. The park, one of the square’s main features looked empty, but the early evening traffic was picking up, a mixture of commuters leaving work late and taxis, collecting and dropping off their fares.
He arrived at the hotel with its imposing Victorian red brick facade just after seven-twenty, walked into the bar and scanned the room, but didn’t see his friend. He should be here soon, he thought, as he sat down on a stool near to the bar.
“Can I help you sir?” an impeccably dressed barman inquired.
“I’ll have a pint of bitter please.”
Stanton, at forty-nine, looked a good five years younger than his age. He likened himself to Basil Rathbone from the classic Sherlock Holmes films, but not quite as tall. It had been a while since he’d been out, his heavy work load over the last eight months had made it impossible.
As he was halfway through his drink, he noticed an attractive dark-haired woman sit down on one of the bar stools to his left. Dressed in a smart grey pencil skirt, white blouse and grey suit jacket, he surmised that she might be a stockbroker or banker. He realised he had been staring at her a little too long, as she glanced at him and smiled, whilst shifting on her stool. She ordered a drink, some kind of cocktail, and he noticed that she had a subtle accent which he couldn’t quite place. Possibly Eastern European, or maybe Russian, he considered.
He glanced at the time: it was now seven-fifty. Odd, Mathew wasn’t usually late.
He finished his drink and looked around the bar. The oak-panelled room was intimate with soft lighting. A group of men were drinking in one corner, and two women were chatting over cocktails near to where he was seated, but that was it. A few large brown leather chairs faced away from the bar in the corner, surrounded by lush green yucca plants, but the chairs looked empty from where he was sitting.
He went to order another drink, and just as he was about to attract the barman’s attention he heard a lightly accented voice come from his left.“Hello, would you mind if I join you for drink?”
Stanton looked toward the attractive woman, somewhat taken aback by her advances. “Of course…um, I am waiting for a friend, but you are welcome to join me. Can I get you a drink?”
“Please, a mai tai would be great”
“My name is Dale,” Stanton said, offering his hand.
“Hello Dale, I am Victoria,” she said, taking his outstretched hand.
Stanton ordered a mai tai and another pint of bitter for himself, his throat feeling even dryer than it had earlier. He hadn’t met such an attractive woman in a long time, but her sudden interest led him to believe that she was probably a high-class escort. It had been difficult for him to meetanyone with the time he’d been putting into the RAPID project, and he knew that his socialising skills had become a bit rusty. He tried to think of something to say that would clarify her intentions. “So, Victoria, are you here on business or pleasure?”
“Well, I was supposed to be meeting friend, but she cancelled on me at last minute…I wanted drink, so I stay,” she said, in broken, but perfectly understandable English.
“Well, I am glad you did,” Stanton replied.
Victoria smiled, and sipped her cocktail.
Stanton sat there for a moment admiring her silky shoulder-length dark hair, and her slim, athletic figure. Her high cheek bones and angular face betrayed her Eastern European heritage. “Excuse me a moment, I should really try and call my friend again.”
He called Mathew’s number, but there was no response. He rejoined Victoria at the bar. “So, Victoria, what is it you do?” He asked, anticipating the worst.
“Well, I am photographer…freelance for ladies fashion magazine.”
“Ah, really,” he said, relieved at her response. “I’d have put you down for a banker or stockbroker myself.”
Victoria gave a little laugh. “I will take that as compliment, Mr. Dale, but I know nothing about that sort of thing. Anyway that sounds boring, no?”
“I guess so,” Stanton replied, somewhat embarrassed at what she might think of his line of work.
“So, where is your friend?”
“I really don’t know, tied up at work I guess. He should be here shortly.”
Victoria placed the straw from her cocktail between her lips and took a long drink. She then took hold of the end of the straw, and used it to mix the ice at the bottom of her glass. She looked at Stanton, her green eyes glinting as she moved her head to one side. “I don’t wish to sound forward, Mr. Dale, but I haven’t eaten yet, and wondered if you like to join me for dinner? The restaurant here is very good.”
Stanton liked the fact that she called him Mr. Dale. He wasn’t sure if she had misunderstood his name or if it was her broken English, but it sounded kind of charming. The thought of joining her for dinner was too much to resist. He summoned the barman over and gave a description of his friend, telling him he’d be next door in the restaurant if he showed.
“No Problem, Sir,” the barman said, as he mopped up some spilled beer with a cloth.
Stanton paid the bill and followed Victoria next door into the hotel’s restaurant, where they were shown a table near to the door. He began to feel slightly aroused as he looked across the table into Victoria’s green eyes. She gave him a long smile.
“So, Mr. Dale, what is it you do for job?”
Stanton cleared his throat from the bread roll he’d just eaten. He didn’t want to bore her with his research, but couldn’t think of anything entertaining to say. “Well, I’m actually a climate scientist for the Met Office in London, but I’m currently working on a project down at Southampton University.”
“Ah really, I have read about this global warming. It is a bit worrying, no? But, where I come from, we could do with things a little warmer, the winters are very cold.”
“Oh and where is that?” Stanton asked.
“Novosibirsk, in Siberia.”
“Really? You’re a long way from home,” Stanton said, leaning back in his chair.
Victoria smiled. “I haven’t lived there for six years or so Mr. Dale, but I still visit family whenever I can. I have only been based in London for the last eight months. I enjoy my job, but I find city so big and tiring. Back home is much easier way of life, but not much to do there for girl like me.”
I bet, Stanton thought.
The waitress appeared at the table and filled their glasses with water. Stanton perused the wine menu that had just been handed to him.“Chardonnay OK for you?”
“Perfect, I like French white…but you choose.”
Stanton ordered a bottle of Pouilly-Fuissé, and after a short while the waitress returned with the chilled wine and filled their glasses.
“Well I guess we should drink to something,” Stanton said, holding up his glass.
“Yes, here’s to…an unexpected evening,” Victoria replied, raising her glass.
Stanton took a decent drink; the fresh, delicate flavours soaked his palate. The waitress then returned with their orders.
“So, you said you have read about global warming issues. Do you know much about the subject?” Stanton asked, picking up on her earlier comments.
“Oh, a little, but the subject is a little depressing, no?”
There was an awkward silence. “This pasta is very good. How is your fish?” She asked.
“Great,” Stanton replied, realising she clearly didn’t wish to talk about the topic. “Well, it doesn’t look like my friend is turning up,” he said, checking his watch.
“I don’t think so, but you don’t look like you are missing him too much?”
Stanton smiled. Half of the Chardonnay remained in the bottle in the ice bucket. He went to refill Victoria’s glass, but she quickly raised her hand and placed it over the top.
“Not for me, Mr. Dale. I already feel little bit drunk.”
Stanton smiled and filled his glass. “Well, it’s been a real pleasure meeting you Victoria.”
“The pleasure is all mine, but we don’t have to say goodnight yet. Maybe we could go for a coffee somewhere?”
Stanton was quiet for a few seconds. He felt a little nervous, and no doubt it showed. “We could go back to my apartment, perhaps? If you would like some coffee, I mean,” he said, awkwardly.
“Wonderful. Do you live far from here?”
“Just across the square,” he replied, relieved at her response.
The waitress appeared with the bill, and Stanton instinctively took out his wallet to pay.
“No, Mr. Dale, I pay for dinner.”
“Don’t be silly, I really don’t…”
Victoria cut him off mid-sentence. “Please, I insist,” she said, taking a roll of notes from her purse.
In the corner of the King’s bar the smartly dressed barman and a customer were trying to lift a man who was slumped in one of the large leather chairs. The man, who was in his early forties, was out cold, and had been since around seven that evening.
The barman felt for the man’s pulse. “Well, he’s not dead,” he said to the man helping him. “Perhaps I’d better get an ambulance.”
“I think so; he’s either drunk himself into a stupor, or something’s seriously wrong. He’s unconscious.”
The barman walked briskly over to the phone on the wall behind the bar and dialled for an ambulance. At the same time, the customer felt for the man’s wallet. He found it, and searched through the contents to reveal a driving licence. Printed under the photo I.D was the name Mathew J. White.
Stanton and Victoria arrived, arm in arm, at his apartment. As they ascended the steps to the front door, an ambulance came into view with its sirens blaring, the busy London traffic appearing to ignore it.
Stanton fumbled for his key, and opened the door. He led Victoria up the hall stairs in silence. As they reached the top, Victoria put her arm around his neck, pulling his head toward hers, and kissed him. It was a long, passionate kiss and the taste of her lips and scent of her perfume was subtly intoxicating. She pulled her head back. “Time for that coffee you promised, Mr. Dale?”
“Ah yes, coffee. I’ll put the kettle on just as soon as we get in,” Stanton replied.
He was thinking of other things, however. It was the first time in months that he’d allowed himself to be distracted from his work. He opened the front door to his apartment, flicked on the lights and walked into the lounge off the main hallway, his guest following behind.
Habit forced him to glance over towards his laptop, and the memory stick, as he went into the kitchen to put the kettle on. He grabbed two coffee cups from the cupboard above the kettle and pulled the plunger from the French press, which was thankfully clean. It wasn’t long before an aroma of Colombian coffee wafted through the kitchen.
Victoria appeared and walked toward him, speaking in Russian, her accent soft and exotic. Stanton hesitated for a moment, a puzzled look on his face.
“Ah, sorry, sometimes I do that.” She smiled. “May I use bathroom?” She asked, her Russian accent more obvious this time.
“Sure, it’s down the corridor, off to the left.”
Stanton admired Victoria’s shapely figure as she walked down the corridor to the bathroom. He felt a combination of unease and excitement as he thought about the beautiful stranger he had invited into his apartment. He pushed the coffee press down, aroused at the prospect of the sex that he hoped would follow. His stomach turned over, as nerves started to get the better of him. He heard a click from the bathroom door as Victoria unlocked it.
He searched for the remote control and hit the play button for the CD player and the melody of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Boxer’ drifted out of the speakers.
Victoria walked back into the room and Stanton handed her a coffee.“Here’s to a fantastic evening out,” he said, studying her svelte figure.
“Fantastic,” Victoria repeated, as she put her cup down on the table by the side of the leather sofa and moved closer to him. He went to drink his coffee, but Victoria pulled the cup out of his hands and placed it down next to hers. She placed her left arm around him, and pulled him towards her, kissing him passionately. He felt her warm, soft lips on his, and experienced an excitement he hadn’t felt in a long time. The nerves he’d had only a short while ago evaporated, as lust took over. The kiss was interrupted by a sudden stabbing pain in his upper left arm, and almost instantly, he felt unwell.
Victoria pulled away from him. At the same moment he began to feel nauseas, and then a burning sensation developed in his throat, followed by rapid breathing. Twenty seconds later, darkness enveloped him. He tried to reach for the phone, but his limbs no longer supported his weight, and he fell to the floor, sucking in his last breath.
Victoria stepped back and stood there for a moment, looking at Stanton lying on the floor in a pathetic heap, his mouth still open. Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The fifty-ninth Bridge street’ song had just started to play. She looked down at him. You don’t look like you’re feeling groovy now doctor.
She quickly gathered her things and left the apartment, quietly closed the door behind her and descended the hall stairs and walked out onto Russell Square. Apart from a group of drunken students staggering noisily along one side of the park, the square was deserted. She checked the time; it was one-twenty A.M. Unnoticed, she hurried towards Endsleigh Place where her dark Saab was parked.