The discovery of the dead professor in his lab that morning had sent the whole institute into a spin. The cafeteria was empty, young PhD students and researchers were walking around in a daze, and the corridors were eerily silent. The CEO had called an urgent board meeting and had locked himself in his office. The undertakers had removed the
body and taken it to the morgue in the hospital next door. Professor K’s personal physician had been notified and was on his way to examine the body and issue a death certificate.
Pacing nervously up and down in his lab, Cavendish was considering what to do. Making a copy and putting the notebook back in the safe wasn’t an option. If the material was as valuable as he suspected, it was critical it disappear without a trace. The material could then safely resurface elsewhere, disguised as a new ‘discovery’ without arousing suspicion or being linked to Professor K’s work in any way.
Macbeth’s last words had triggered alarm bells that refused to stop ringing. Because Cavendish had always dealt with faceless intermediaries, he had no idea who he was doing business with. Neither Macbeth, nor Blackburn Pharmaceuticals had ever been mentioned. However, because the stakes were so high, and the money involved outrageous, he realised that serious pharmaceutical interests had to be present. Industrial espionage in scientific circles was not uncommon. He also realised he was playing a dangerous game that could not only cost him his career, but also send him to jail. In a strange way, however, he found the danger exciting, and the secrecy and cloak and dagger meetings in gay clubs exhilarating and empowering. And on top of all that, was the money …
The first approach had seemed harmless enough. Cavendish had met a young American in one of the gay bars he frequented. They had a brief affair, and his new lover introduced him to a friend – a South African – who appeared to know a lot about Professor K’s work. All of this happened shortly after an article by Professor K describing his groundbreaking work was published in Nature two years earlier. After that, one thing led to another. Lavish dinners in gay clubs and an all-expenses paid holiday for himself and his lover in an exclusive Fijian resort prepared the way.
At first, Cavendish supplied only little snippets of information about Professor K’s research. The payments in return – always in cash – were outlandish and quickly had a significant impact on his lifestyle. After a while, Cavendish was put on a monthly ‘retainer’, which was more than double his salary at the institute.
After that, there was no turning back. Any significant piece of information attracted a six-figure ‘bonus’. Scientists aren’t well paid. The new car, a Bondi beach apartment, expensive clothes and holidays were all very easy to get used to. Cavendish’s status and reputation in the gay community soared. Corruption had become a way of life.
Dr Delacroix’s unexpected appointment came as a major blow. Professor’ K’s illness was no secret and his death not unexpected. However, Cavendish had been certain he would be the one to succeed him. The French interloper had changed all that. His cash flow and lavish lifestyle were now both under threat. Cavendish realised there was one last opportunity to make some serious money: he had to secure Professor K’s notes and demand a big payment. He also knew that if he wanted to succeed in this, he had to act swiftly before things returned to normal. Confusion was always a good cover.
As a senior staff member, Cavendish had ready access to all the labs and offices in the institute. He used to visit Professor K’s lab frequently, as they had worked together on many projects over the years and shared information. His presence in Professor K’s lab, even on this tragic day, would therefore appear perfectly normal.
Carrying his notepad and a computer printout, Cavendish walked down the deserted corridor leading to Professor K’s lab and stepped inside. A quick look around told him that the professor’s notebook wasn’t in its usual place on the workbench. It seemed unlikely he would have taken it home – which he used to do occasionally – because he had barely left his lab during the past week. It has to be in the safe, thought Cavendish, running his fingers nervously through his hair, unless someone has already secured it! He had watched the professor open his safe on many occasions and made a mental note of the combination. From time to time, the professor would change the combination according to institute policy. Cavendish had even helped him do it. They had often laughed about this. ‘Who on earth could possibly be interested in a few notes?’ the professor used to joke. ‘I can hardly understand them myself.’
Cavendish walked over to the small wall safe, put on a pair of latex gloves and punched in the combination. The door opened with a beep. That’s when he heard it: footsteps outside, approaching! Alarmed, he spun around and tried to busy himself with a few papers lying on the desk.The gloves, he thought, his heart beating like a drum, but it was already too late. The door, which he had left ajar, opened slowly.
‘Good morning, Doctor Cavendish,’ said the late professor’s assistant, a young scientist named Akhil from Sri Lanka. ‘Shall I come back later?’
‘Give me a couple of minutes, I won’t be long,’ replied Cavendish, trying to appear calm. Smiling, Akhil withdrew. Taking a deep breath, Cavendish reached into the safe and pulled out Professor K’s familiar notebook. Relieved, he slipped it into the pocket of his gown, closed the safe, took off the gloves and quickly left the lab. The fact he had just betrayed a dead colleague and stolen from his employer didn’t cross his mind.