You’ll Never Believe A Man Can Fly, Part 3

Posted: 9 January 2013 in fiction, writing, You'll Never Believe A Man Can Fly
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Chapter Two

The Guardian, 12th November 2003
We gave the impression that Beverley Baxter was a woman in Curtain up, G2, page 17, yesterday. Sir Beverley was a Tory MP from 1935-64 and editor of the Daily Express from 1929-33.

Davies wasn’t sure where to look first. The acrid smoke rising from the remains of the two vehicles that were burning, the human shaped lumps of mess on the ground in front of the vehicles, or his suit. But since the suit was the thing that most personally affected him, he chose the latter.

At that moment, the primary thought running through his head was that living in a city made one incredibly selfish. At any other time, his first considerations would have been those of concern and pity for those who had obviously just died. Did they have families? Were there people who would mourn them?

And yet, instead, what consumed his mind was the simple “Shit – I’m going to have to get a new suit”, convinced that the goop covering him would never wash out. However, to his astonishment, as he looked at it, the condensed mist covering his suit seemed to dissolve and evaporate. A second later though, any mild concerns vanished (almost as quickly as the mess covering him did) and in their place was a growing feeling of serious worry. The liquid wasn’t melting away as he had first thought. It was disappearing through the suit and the rest of his clothes. He could feel his skin grown cold as the liquid hit it and then, equally surprisingly, a feeling of great warmth ran through his body and he realised that the liquid had vanished entirely.

Quickly, he took off his jacket, and looked at it. There were no stains, well, none that hadn’t been there before, at least. That small grease spot on the lapel that four different dry cleaners had been unable to shift was still there, as was the equally small ink stain on the elbow, caused last week when he’d absent-mindedly leaned on his open fountain pen. But no other stains. He lifted the jacket to his nose and smelled: no residue of any sort that he could detect.

His body felt warm, hot. But even as he thought it, he shivered, just the once, and the warmth vanished. He was freezing cold. Another shiver. And then he just felt… normal.

Then his right hand twitched. He flexed the hand, formed a fist, then opened it flat. No pain, no tenderness. Nothing out of the ordinary.

He knew, in a small part of his mind that he should be worried about what else was occurring around him, but he wasn’t. Not at all. Shock, he thought, and gave into his growing curiosity.

His arm itched; he rolled up his right sleeve and saw that it looked just a tad too monotonously healthy. The scar was gone. He’d had a scar on his forearm for fifteen years, ever since a dart had rebounded badly from the dartboard in The Rose and Crown and had torn out a thin lump of skin. It had healed but had always left a slender jagged scar in the epidermis, about an inch long. But it wasn’t there now.

Now that was just plain weird. Hurriedly, he checked for other marks and blemishes that he knew were there. There was no mirror handy, so he had to guess, but he felt over his chin for the shaving cut from earlier. It wasn’t there. Nor was the spot on his nose that had plagued him for two days and had been responsible, he was convinced, for Tracey Andrews turning him down for a date. For a brief moment, he wondered exactly what was in the stuff that had briefly covered him, but for no more than that. If what it had done was to clear up his skin and get rid of a few scars, then he could live with that.

He shook his head to clear it and walked on towards the bank, now hardly glancing at the throng of police cars that had turned up in the last couple of minutes and were surrounding the burning vehicles. As he walked past the bank, sirens made him look up and he saw the familiar red of two fire engines as they entered the street, looks of determination upon the fire officers.

Davies turned away from them and continued his walk to work, knowing at least that now he had both a good reason for being late and a cracking story to tell his colleagues. He enjoyed his job, which was unfortunate, because when he lost it, less than forty-eight hours later, it would have been nice if he’d have gleaned some comfort from doing so.

– o –

One would have thought that the people most concerned about the liquid that had escaped from the vehicle would have been the police and other emergency services on the scene. Failing that, possibly one would have supposed that Ian Davies would have been the best guess as to who was very worried.

Well, one would have been spectacularly wrong, since the person who was most concerned was a woman by the name of Rosemary Clooney (no relation). Or, to be precise, and to give her her full name and title, Dr Rosemary Clooney (no relation). It was she who was responsible for deciding that the package should be sent by East End Deliveries and it was she who had thought that there was no material risk in doing so.

It was also she who was, currently, running down a corridor in Dance-Oliver Medical Research as if the devil himself was after her.

She flung open the doors to her lab and ran inside. Since the lab was only about twenty feet by ten feet, this might have seemed to some people a slight over-reaction, but she didn’t care. ‘Some’ people didn’t have a clue as to what was in that package. Though, as she admitted to herself wryly, that only made them part of a growing crowd, including Dr Rosemary Clooney herself.

She stopped in front of a large door, eight feet tall and six feet wide. Upon it were the stencilled words “Do Not Enter”. Some more words, in a faded black marker that no one had bothered to clean off since 1982 when they were added, were written underneath: “Abandon every hope, ye that enter”.

Way too late, thought Clooney, as she had thought a hundred times before, and she punched that week’s password into a code pad by the side of the door. With a slight puff of air that indicated the release of the airtight seal, the door moved outwards and then, with surprising gentleness given the size, swung open. A click as the door reached the full length of the arc indicated that the magnetic lock had engaged. Clooney stepped through the space and immediately turned and punched another set of numerals in to an identical code pad inside the room. The lock disengaged and the door moved, equally smoothly, and locked in place. There was a brief movement of air around Clooney and a light situated next to the number pad turned from red to green, letting her know that she was sealed in.

She moved quickly through the door at the back of the room to a shower area, stripped off and showered, sniffing at the smell of the water from habit. The day that she didn’t do this was the day to worry about, she knew, since it would show that she’d grown careless. When she walked out of the cubicle, she stepped into another; this one detected her presence and warm air dried her body.

Clooney grabbed one of the paper uniforms hanging by the side and put it on. It was pretty meaningless as protection, but the paper had been soaked in a chemical that would react to radiation, and in the event of a tear in the heavy and bulky suit she was now putting on, it would show where the breach had occurred.

All of these safety mechanisms could protect against was radiation and infection. And who they could protect was the person wearing the suit. And the theory was that this would protect the wearer against anything that they were likely to encounter in the secure area. Unfortunately, the creators of the suits, when designing them, had neglected to build in protection against the sheer, unfettered fury that was a boss who had discovered that you’d screwed something up. Clooney’s sole remaining hope was that the suits they were both wearing would blunt both the attack from her boss and the reaction of her body to it.

It was, of course, a forlorn hope, one that died on the vine as soon as her immediate superior saw her enter the secure area.

“Dr Clooney,” her boss said, turning to look at her as if inspecting a particularly loathsome bacterium on a slide. And, Clooney acknowledged to herself, that was a pretty fair description of how Toster regarded her. As well as having no sense of proportion, no sense of humour and an attitude to his employment that would make the most jobsworthy lending officer at a bank seem like a spendthrift fool, Mark Toster was, simply, an unpleasant man. It was purely natural, no talent involved, but Toster was someone who relished his unpleasant reputation. It was rumoured among those who didn’t know him well that he lived his life according to Charles Colson’s dictum: when you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.

Clooney who knew the man well, also knew that was a fallacy: Toster thought Colson was a wimp.

It was a far shorter meeting than she had expected, but how long does it really take to receive the dressing down of your life? She didn’t even get the chance to explain herself before he’d ordered her out of the secure area with instructions to pull her notes on the material and report to him that afternoon, at four o’clock, where she would account for her actions, and the resulting situation, in full.

As she left the area, she was covered in sweat. She needed to confirm her growing suspicions that the material was more dangerous than she’d previously thought. It certainly, she realised, had the potential to end her career.

– o –

© Lee Barnett, 2013

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