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Undercover secrets, p.9

Undercover Secrets, page 9


Undercover Secrets

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  ‘So, are you researching something in particular?’

  ‘I’m trying to isolate certain genes. At the moment, I’m doing a study to find the gene for asthma. Asthma affects about one person in ten in this country.’

  Anna thought about this for a moment. ‘So, what do you do, once you’ve isolated the gene?’

  ‘Eliminate it.’ Simon waited for her reaction. Slowly, it lit up in her eyes.

  ‘You could do that? You could get rid of asthma?’

  ‘That’s what we’re aiming for. The technology isn’t quite there yet, but we’re not far off. Once we know what the gene looks like, and how it works, we’re hoping to begin work on what’s known as gene therapy. We’ll attempt to take the asthma information out of people’s genetic make-up. It’s a bit like looking for a computer virus. You go into the program, search for the defective codes that are causing all the problems, and alter them until the program runs smoothly again.’

  She looked stunned. She shook her head slightly. ‘That’s incredible. To think you could wipe out asthma, just like that.’

  Simon was gratified to see her so impressed. It was good to be able to tell someone about his studies, for a change. The only downside to working at the Institute — and it was a small, selfish one — was that he would never receive the recognition he deserved. But then again, who needed awards and interviews in the medical journals? There were different rewards at the Institute.

  ‘Could this gene therapy be used on anything else?’

  ‘Oh, yes.’ Simon nodded eagerly. ‘Any disease that’s hereditary. Any allergy. Anything that’s contained in the genes can be engineered.’

  ‘That’s absolutely amazing,’ she gasped. ‘Think of all the diseases that could be wiped out… all the millions of people that your research could help… Simon, this is so exciting!’

  ‘It is, isn’t it?’ He walked towards her, pleased to be able to share the buzz he got out of his work. ‘Just think, Anna,’ he said, raising his clenched fists for emphasis, ‘the possibilities are endless. People’s lives could be changed for the better, for ever. In a hundred years’ time, asthma will be part of history.’ He ran his fingers through his floppy hair, pushing his long, heavy fringe out of his face. ‘I love this job, Anna. I love having the chance to make a difference.’

  ‘Well, I can understand that,’ she said. ‘It must be so satisfying to know that what you’re doing is going to help so many people.’

  He perched on the corner of her desk. ‘It is. And now you’re a part of that, too.’

  She seemed pleased, her eyes wide and shining. ‘How long have you worked here?’ she asked.

  ‘I’ve been here ever since Dr Galloway founded the Institute, three years ago. I was the same age you are now, with no direction in life and a job I hated.’

  ‘Doing what?’

  ‘I was working in the same field, genetic engineering. But I was working on fruit and vegetables.’

  She arched an eyebrow. ‘You were? What on earth for?’

  He rolled his eyes. ‘I was part of what was known as the “Tomato Team”.’ He grimaced at the memory of it. ‘We worked for a lab which was owned by a supermarket chain. Our job was to isolate the genes controlling redness, growth rate, susceptibility to bruising, resistance to insects…’ His voice trailed off and his eyes glazed. ‘The aim was to create the perfect tomato — one that was bigger, redder and more juicy than ever before. God, it was boring. Coming here was the best move of my career. Of my life, actually,’ he added, thinking of the extra-curricular perks.


  He waved his hand around the spotless laboratory. ‘This is a scientist’s dream, Anna. A lab to myself and the best equipment money can buy. I’m charting unexplored territory here. I make breakthroughs every day. But do you see anyone breathing down my neck? Do you see a senior scientist telling me I can’t possibly do it like that, because it’s never been done before?’ He shook his head, realising once again what an amazing opportunity he had been given. ‘This is the only place I’ve ever worked where I’ve been left to my own devices. If I want to try something new, I try it, even if it is crazy. Because Peter Galloway understands that science is like art. The artist has to be creative, to learn to think on different levels, to challenge himself. And only by following his instincts can he create a work of genius. A work of perfection.’ He slapped his hand down on the table. ‘Perfection, Anna, that’s what we’re searching for.’

  Anna seemed taken aback by Simon’s sudden burst of evangelical zeal. ‘It’s nice to see someone so happy in their work,’ she said at last.

  ‘It doesn’t happen often,’ Simon agreed. ‘Most of us go through life doing uninspiring jobs for ungrateful bosses. We’re lucky, Anna. The Institute is a very special place.’

  She smiled warmly. ‘I can see that.’

  Simon got to his feet and went back to the bench where he’d been working. Anna returned to her task, entering data into the computer. For the first time since she had started work in the lab the previous day, she seemed to drop her act and relax.

  From time to time, Simon glanced across at her. She was a hard one to figure out. She was friendly and outgoing, and yet she seemed the tiniest bit reserved, as if she was holding something back. She worked hard; she laughed along with his jokes; she did everything that she possibly could to fit in. But behind her smile, he suspected, there was something on her mind. Yesterday, when he’d asked her about her family, she had been reluctant to talk. And yet, according to Peter, she was neither reluctant nor reserved when it came to playing along with his games. She had certainly responded to Simon’s gentle flirting.

  Still, he thought, that was no reason for Peter to suspect her of ulterior motives. Simon had wolf-whistled at her in the lecture theatre, and then knelt between her legs and made her come. That would be reason enough for any woman to assume that he liked her. The Institute attracted lots of young people like Anna; people with no family ties, no career success, and more often than not a problem they were running away from, whether it was the law or a disastrous relationship. Whatever Anna’s reasons were for being there, Simon was convinced they were innocent. Her eagerness to please could simply be put down to her desire to pass her trial and stay on at the Institute.

  He glanced up at her again and their eyes met. She was smiling slightly, secretively.

  ‘What is it?’ he asked, flattered to find her watching him with such an alluring expression on her face.

  ‘I was just thinking.’ She laughed. ‘My interview was quite… unusual.’ Her eyebrows flickered suggestively.

  ‘I was imagining you, in your interview, and wondering whether Joan gets the job of selecting the male recruits.’

  ‘I didn’t have an interview,’ Simon said. ‘I was headhunted.’


  ‘All the scientists here were head-hunted when Peter founded the Institute. He scoured the world, looking for the right people. A lot of the doctors here are leading authorities in their fields.’

  Anna tucked her hair behind her ear. ‘It was stupid of me, I suppose, but I assumed everybody came to an open day, like I did.’

  ‘Most of the staff did. But not the scientists. It’s highly specialised work that we’re doing here. Peter had to be sure he was getting the right quality of staff. He poached three of us from my old company.’

  ‘Did you know straight away that this was the job for you?’

  ‘Oh, yes. When Peter told me I’d have the chance to make history — well, you don’t turn down opportunities like that every day. But it wasn’t just the job that attracted me. The perks were tempting, too.’

  ‘Such as?’

  Such as things you couldn’t begin to imagine, he thought to himself. ‘Such as, having the freedom to explore new possibilities.’ The vagueness of his answer amused him. He laughed to himself, and moved on before she could question what that meant exactly. ‘Such as having attractive female assistants. Coming to lun

  Anna tapped a couple of buttons on the keyboard and stood up, straightening her uniform. ‘Are your assistants always female?’ she asked.

  ‘Always female, always attractive.’ He held the door open for her. ‘Some more attractive than others.’

  As she approached, Simon moved into the doorway, leaving Anna little room to get past. Clocking what he was up to, she paused, meeting his eyes. Holding his gaze in a way that would have made some men weak at the knees, she brushed purposely close to his body. The tips of her breasts just touched him as she squeezed through the gap. Then, without a backward glance, she set off down the corridor, her hips swaying slightly as she walked.

  Simon let out the breath he’d been holding in, and he silently thanked his lucky stars. Following her, he watched her glorious arse as she slunk down the passageway. And he thought of the colleagues he’d left behind at his old job.

  Right now, they would be on their way to lunch in the canteen with their lab technician. Without a doubt, he would be male, adolescent, dedicated and dull. Meanwhile, Simon was on his way to a gourmet lunch with Anna. And to think his colleagues had scoffed at him when he’d handed his notice in.

  ‘Suckers,’ he said to himself.

  By Friday afternoon, the atmosphere in the laboratory was simmering away nicely. Simon had developed a flirtatious rapport with Anna which they were both enjoying. They laughed a lot. They talked about films and books and music, and discovered that their tastes were very similar. Simon took every opportunity to brush past Anna when she was working, especially when she was poring over his notes, leaning over the bench. By the end of the week he was being blatant, hesitating as he pushed by her, savouring the wonderful feeling of his cock rubbing against her taut buttocks. And she was playing along, just as Peter had predicted.

  A bond was beginning to form between them. Simon, as much as he would have loved to, didn’t allow himself to do more than tease her. It was important that Anna liked him, as a friend and a potential lover; it was important that their relationship was different from the one Anna had with Peter. Peter could play the domineering boss, which was what he did best. But Simon had to reach Anna on a different level. So when she was sitting at the computer, her beautiful breasts almost bursting the top button of her dress, and what he wanted most in the world was to unzip his trousers and rub his erection between her tits, he didn’t. He smiled or winked at her, and kept his lurid thoughts to himself. He would have her later, when the time was right; when Peter said that he could.

  Right now, it was time to test Anna’s curiosity. Simon handed her a dossier of notes; her workload for the afternoon. Anna’s reaction to what was inside would be interesting.

  Less than a minute later, she glanced up. Her pretty green eyes were serious. ‘Simon?’

  He looked up from his computer. ‘What is it?’

  She seemed uncertain, her mouth opening and closing as she glanced down again at the notes. ‘Well… can I ask you something?’

  ‘Of course you can.’

  She swallowed, as if she were nervous. ‘These results I’m putting on to the computer… this experiment… I don’t understand the reason for it.’

  ‘The reason for what?’

  She picked up a sheet of paper and read from it.

  ‘”Study to isolate and replicate the gene for eye colour.”’ She stared at the words for a moment, as if they might explain themselves. Then she peeled her attention away and smiled half-heartedly at Simon. ‘Why on earth would you want to find the gene for eye colour?’

  He shrugged nonchalantly. ‘Why not? We study genes, Anna. We need to gather as much information on all the different gene types as possible, to make sure our research is complete.’

  ‘But why would you need to replicate eye colour?’ Her smooth brow furrowed. ‘In what situation would you need to do that, Simon?’

  She was smiling, but her voice was tighter and more urgent than usual. Simon shrugged again. ‘I don’t know, Anna. Not every experiment has a reason.’ He bowed his head, focusing back on his work.

  ‘Doesn’t that bother you?’


  ‘That you’re doing experiments without knowing what they’re for?’

  ‘Why should it?’

  ‘Well, it seems odd, as well as being a waste of your time.’

  He kept his eyes on his work. Please shut up, he was thinking. Please don’t be a spy. ‘No experiment is a waste of time, Anna. Everything has its use. If not now, perhaps in the future.’

  ‘Hmm,’ she said — not the sound of someone convinced.

  ‘I found the eye-colour gene by accident,’ Simon told her. ‘I decided to do some work on it. Like I told you, we’re allowed to follow our own agendas here. So I took some time to look at the gene, to find out everything I could about it. In the future, if anyone needs that information, it’s held on our database. Or at least it will be, when you get round to entering it.’

  ‘Sorry,’ Anna said, going back to her word-processing.

  ‘It’s all right, Anna. It’s good that you show an interest.’

  ‘You heard all that?’ Simon closed the door behind him.

  ‘What do you think?’

  Without lifting his attention from the monitor, Peter motioned for Simon to sit beside him. ‘What do you think, Simon?’

  Simon sat down in front of the bank of screens. He looked at the one Peter was staring at. The tiny camera hidden in the laboratory light gave a bird’s-eye view of Anna, sitting at the desk. She was just as he’d left her, typing away. Simon shook his head and sighed. ‘I don’t know, Peter. She was certainly concerned about the eye-colour experiment. But does that make her suspect? I mean, anyone with half a brain would be curious to know why we wanted to duplicate eye colour.’

  Peter’s eyes bored into the screen. He leant in closer to the image. ‘She’s a spy,’ he said, under his breath and almost to himself. ‘I just know it.’

  ‘I’m not so sure. I mean, this trap we’re setting for Anna is all very well, but it’s not exactly a controlled experiment, is it? None of the new recruits ever step inside a lab until they’ve done their first month. By that time, they know all about our research programme. You’ve thrown Anna in there straight away, and given her one of the most sensitive jobs in the Institute. I’m telling you, Peter, anyone would be interested if they saw those experiments. Anna’s new to this place. If you had just arrived, and you were going to live and work here, don’t you think you’d be keen to know what we were up to?’

  Lost in his thoughts, Peter shook his head slightly. ‘Anna’s not like the other recruits.’

  ‘No, she isn’t. But the fact that she’s asking me questions doesn’t mean anything. You can’t compare her to the others, because the others go through the normal training procedure. Anna’s an intelligent woman. You’re showing her things she wouldn’t normally see until her trial period was over — and you’re expecting her not to be interested?’ He tutted. ‘I don’t know how you’re going to find out anything this way.’

  Peter turned to Simon, anger glinting at the edges of his grey eyes. ‘Are you questioning my judgement? Do you think I haven’t thought this out properly? I’ve got it all planned, believe me. Now that we’ve aroused Anna’s curiosity, we’re going to take it a step further.’

  ‘We are?’

  ‘You are. You’re going to become her confidant. You’re going to tell her that you’ve got worries about the research, too.’

  Simon nodded, a bubble of warm admiration expanding in his chest. Peter was so clever, so masterful. ‘Shall I…fuck her?’ he asked hopefully.

  ‘No. No fucking.’ Peter broke into a wicked smile at the sight of Simon’s disappointment. ‘This woman is used to fucking. You will make love to her.’

  ‘Yes, Peter.’ Simon got up to go.

  ‘Wait.’ Peter stopped him, grabbing his wrist. ‘Let’s leave her alone for a while, see what she does.’

  Simon sat down aga
in. He tried to concentrate on the television, but it was difficult, with Peter’s fingers tight around his wrist. Galloway’s presence was almost overpowering and, as Simon’s thoughts tangled, it was impossible to tell whether it was Peter’s cruelty or Anna’s softness he wanted more.

  Anna felt like she was being watched. She wasn’t, she was certain of it — she’d had a good look around the lab during the past week, and there definitely weren’t any cameras there. But a strong sense that she wasn’t alone, combined with her increasing paranoia, kept her in her seat after Simon left the room.

  She continued with her work, her fingers running on autopilot while her mind occupied itself with other things. There would be lots of mistakes in her typing, but she could always go back and correct them later. Right now she had to use the opportunity of being alone to figure out what to do next.

  This eye-colour thing was very worrying. Simon’s explanation hadn’t washed with her. If there had been a legitimate medical use for locating the gene, Simon would have said so. He’d been very keen to explain the benefits of the asthma experiment.

  Anna wondered what other pointless research had been done here. Studies designed to help mankind control diseases and allergies were admirable; but studies into eye colour? She could only think of one possible reason for those. And, if her hunch was correct, then Mike had been right when he’d said this was potentially the biggest story the Undercover programme had ever investigated.

  She kept glancing at Simon’s notes, to keep up appearances should anyone be watching or walking by. But she’d given up on her work now, and was trying to find a way into the computer’s records. She saved the database she was working on and clicked the mouse on to the computer’s main menu. Quickly, she scanned the options. ‘Records’ seemed to be the obvious choice.

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