Michael R. Linaker
Les Mason, reporter for the Long Point News, is close to finishing an expose on the Long Point Nuclear Plant. But before he can slot the final piece of the jigsaw into place, he dies an agonizing death as the result of some sort of sting. The doctors are baffled - and there are similar cases to follow…
Chris Lane, his girlfriend, and organizer of the Long Point Protestors, discovers Mason’s notes, and decides to find out for herself what the plant has to hide…
For Carola Edmond and Nick Webb - who gave me the chance to write this book and who also gave help and encouragement. Also for my wife, Marlene, who knows why.
The sudden pain was intense, catching him completely unaware, and it made him gasp. He snatched his left hand up out of the deep grass, shaking it violently, as though the action might make the pain go away. He stared at his hand, seeing the angry red spot at the base of his thumb, wondering what had caused it. He glanced down at the ground but couldn’t see a thing, and decided that it must have been a wasp or a bee. He swore softly at the unseen creature that had caused his suffering.
Les Mason took a handkerchief from his trouser pocket and wrapped it round his hand. Poking around in the grass with his foot, he located the lighter he’d dropped. Cautiously he bent and picked up the lighter with his good hand, dropping it in his pocket, the desire for a cigarette forgotten. He turned and began to retrace his steps up the long, grassy slope, following the high security fence that marked the perimeter of the Long Point Nuclear Plant. Through the fence, almost a quarter of a mile away, he could see the smooth, glistening dome, the complex of stark, white, impersonal buildings that surrounded it. Gazing at the plant, he saw again how out of place it appeared, as if the entire establishment had simply been lowered into position one dark night to clash with the natural environment. An alien intruder despoiling the tranquil beauty of the Kent coastline. Mason turned and looked back down the slope to where the land gave way to high cliffs, and beyond to the sunlit waters of the Dover Straits.
It was a damn shame, he thought. Acres of rich land taken away for what? So that the scientific establishment could have their lethal toys to play with! It wouldn’t have been so bad if something useful had come out of Long Point, but nothing had. The place was designated as a Special Development Establishment, which meant that the white-coated boffins had been given a free hand to play around with their Atoms For Peace. Mason grunted sourly. It was nothing but a load of balls!
He strode on, making for the black strip of the coast road. As he neared the crest of the slope Mason picked up the sound of chanting voices. Reaching the grass verge he stood and watched the group of people walking along the road in the direction of the plant’s entrance-gates. Mason smiled, pulling a thick notepad from his jacket. He counted at least thirty people in the crowd, men and women of all ages. As he headed along the road to catch up with them he glanced at his watch. Dead on time! That would be Chris, he thought. They couldn’t have picked a better organizer for the Long Point Protestors. Christine Lane was a local resident, and she was also Les Mason’s current girlfriend. It was a satisfactory relationship. With Chris being in charge of organization, Mason had firsthand knowledge of forthcoming protests, and that meant that he was able to keep his editor happy. The
Long Point News
served the small town of Long Point and the surrounding community, and as well as being a reporter Mason was personally against the nuclear plant: he did everything he could to publicize the group’s activities.
It was why he was here, this hot summer morning. Chris had told him days ago that they were planning another protest, and Mason had made certain he could be present.
Falling in at the tail end of the group Mason flipped open his notepad and started to reach for the pen in his pocket.
He glanced round at the familiar voice, smiling as he spotted Chris.
‘I was beginning to think you hadn’t made it,’ she said.
‘Miss the chance of seeing the Long Point action group doing its stuff!’ Mason grinned. ‘You ought to know better than that.’
Chris brushed stray dark curls back from her face. She was an attractive girl in her mid-twenties, with a full-breasted, slim-hipped figure. She had the knack of being able to look good no matter what she was wearing, and today was no exception. Even in faded jeans, a clinging T-shirt and a zip-fronted jacket, as far as Les Mason was concerned she looked great.
‘I wish we’d had a better turnout,’ she said, glancing over her shoulder at the straggling group of people trudging along the road.
Mason shrugged. ‘I gave you all the publicity I could in last week’s article. But be fair, Chris, considering it’s the middle of the week the turnout isn’t so bad.’
‘It could be better.’
‘People have their jobs to think about,’ Mason pointed out.
‘That’s no excuse,’ Chris said sharply. ‘Something like this should take first place!’
‘It’s hard to think that way when you’ve a family to support and a mortgage to meet each month.’
‘Come on,’ Chris snapped. ‘Don’t invent reasons.’
‘Chris… calm down.’ Mason reached out to touch the girl’s shoulder then gasped and jerked his hand back.
‘Les! Are you all right?’ Chris spotted the handkerchief wrapped round his hand. ‘What have you done to your hand?’
‘Bee sting or something,’ Mason said, gritting his teeth against the vicious pain that seemed to be flowing through his hand, up towards his arm. He’d almost forgotten the injured hand. The pain had started to subside, settling down to a dull throb, but the second he’d gripped Chris’s shoulder it had seemed to explode.
Chris stared at his white face. Beads of sweat glistened on his forehead.
‘Les, are you sure you’re okay? You look awful.’
He forced a casual grin. ‘I love you too,’ he joked.
‘Be serious,’ Chris told him. ‘Maybe you ought to get back to town. Let someone have a look at that.’
Mason shook his head. ‘It was only a little sting, Chris. I’ll be fine. You’d better get moving or you’ll miss your demo.’
Chris glanced round and saw that the main group had reached the plant’s main gate. She turned again to Mason, her face full of concern.
‘Go on,’ he insisted. ‘I’ll catch you up.’
Chris turned and ran up the road. She reached the group and elbowed her way to the front. The high gates were closed and a number of men in dark uniforms were staring impassively through the steel mesh at the assembled protestors.
‘Anything happened?’ Chris asked.
A thin, bearded young man shook his head. Jack Webster was the group’s main spokesman.
‘I’ve asked to see Doctor Meacham,’ he said. ‘But they give the usual runaround. He’s too busy… we haven’t the authority to stage a protest…’
Chris sighed with frustration. It was always like this when they came to the plant. Meacham, the plant’s director, when he wasn’t threatening them with legal action, simply refused to even listen to what they had to say.
‘Hey, it’s time you lot moved on!’
Chris glanced through the gates at the speaker. She felt her anger rise as she found herself face to face with the plant’s chief of security. Vic Condon was a dedicated pro-plant man, and displayed a deliberate antagonism towards the protest group’s activities.
‘Well, well, Mr. Condon,’ Chris said. ‘Our own homegrown Hitler!’
‘Chris!’ Jack Webster warned. The last thing they needed was one of Chris’s scathing attacks on Vic Condon. Webster didn’t like Condon either. The man was a bully in uniform, a man who enjoyed hurting people. If he was honest with himself, Webster thought, he was more than a little scared of Condon.
Condon had already moved close up to the gate. He stared unswervingly at Chris.
‘One day,’ he said softly, just loud enough for Chris to hear. ‘One day, sweetheart, you and I are going to meet up without these gates between us!’
Chris smiled, almost too sweetly. ‘If I was you, Condon, I’d forget it. It takes a lot more than just a uniform to make a real man!’
Condon’s angular face darkened with anger. He controlled himself with an effort.
‘Why don’t you people stop wasting everybody’s time,’ he snapped.
‘You think it’s a waste of time trying to preserve the environment?’ Anger blazed in Chris’s eyes. ‘Even you can’t be so indifferent!’ She moved closer to the gates. ‘Doesn’t it bother you - what’s being done to the world we live in? How the whole ecological balance is being disturbed?’
Vic Condon digested Chris’s words at some length, his face betraying nothing of what was going on inside his head.
‘Balls!’ he said finally, and turning abruptly he moved away to talk to a group of security guards.
Chris gave an exasperated sigh. She glanced at Webster who shook his head slowly.
‘You ought to know by now that provoking Condon is even less productive than banging your head against a brick wall,’ he said.
Chris smiled. ‘I know, but he gets under my skin.’
‘Condon, or not,’ Webster said, ‘we’re going to stay here until Meacham shows his face.’
Chris looked around for Mason but she couldn’t spot him anywhere amongst the jostling, chanting crowd.
‘I’m just going to have a word with Les,’ she said to Webster. He nodded, lost in his own thoughts.
Pushing through the crowd Chris stared along the road. For a moment she thought he’d gone - then she saw him slumped on the grass verge. Something in the way he was hunched over alarmed her.
‘Les?’ she called as she ran towards him. There was no response. ‘Les…?’
It was only as she reached him that he moved, lifting his head with a great deal of effort.
‘That you, Chris?’
His face was a sickly white, the flesh stippled by huge beads of perspiration.
‘God, you look awful!’ Chris gasped as she knelt beside him. ‘What’s wrong, Les?’
‘I don’t know,’ he croaked. He cleared his throat in an attempt to regain control of his voice. ‘I was following you when this sick feeling hit me. I just had to sit down.’ He raised his arms. ‘Look at my bloody hands shaking!’
‘Is it that sting on your hand?’
‘I suppose it must be,’ he said. ‘Jesus, a bloody bee sting!’
‘If that’s all it was,’ Chris said.
‘Oh, come on, what do you think it was? A King cobra?’
Chris ignored his sarcasm. ‘Where’s your car?’
‘Car… oh, just back there, off the road.’
‘Give me the keys.’
‘Because I’m putting you in it and taking you home.’ Chris held out a hand. ‘The keys!’
‘Don’t fuss,’ Mason grumbled. ‘I’ll be all right.’
‘Stop arguing and give me the damn keys!’ Chris demanded. ‘The best place for you is bed - and that’s where you’re going!’
‘I love it when you dominate me,’ Mason said, trying to grin. He fumbled his keys from his pocket and handed them to Chris. ‘Do it some more when you get me in bed!’
‘You can forget all that,’ Chris said. ‘It might be bed for you, lover, but not for me!’
Mason watched her head off along the road towards his car. Jesus, though, she’s right, he admitted. He’d never felt so sick and weak in his life. He managed an inward chuckle. If he did manage to get her in bed with him, in his present condition it was unlikely he’d be capable of raising even a laugh - never mind anything else!
A couple of minutes later Chris drew up alongside in his dusty, five-year-old Triumph Spitfire. She climbed out and came round to him. Mason tried to stand up on his own, but he was finally forced to accept Chris’s supporting hand. She got him into the passenger seat, closed the door, and resettled herself behind the wheel. She put the Spitfire in gear and eased it up to the fringe of the crowd. Leaning out she spoke to a plump girl in creased white trousers and a multi-colored blouse, then she drove slowly through the crowd. Once the road was clear she put her foot down, and the highly tuned engine hurled the car along the empty coast road.
Les Mason recalled little about the drive. He kept drifting into a restless half-sleep, confusing thoughts meandering back and forth in his mind. He jerked upright in his seat as Chris braked at the traffic lights on entering Long Point’s main street. He stared out through the windscreen, not really seeing the busy street ahead. The lights changed and Chris moved off. Mason sank back against the seat headrest.