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Chapter 1 of Island of Bolay - thriller by Patrick Dixon. Published originally by Harper Collins, sold in Airports and bookshops, now available on Kindle Germ warfare agents have fallen into terrorist hands. An air ambulance doctor is soon running for his life, after discovering the deadly truth...

10.23    Tuesday 7 May 2013        Epsom District General Hospital, near London

Side room E4 on Elizabeth Ward was barely four metres square and packed with people in masks, gloves and green gowns: a full surgical team of Consultant, registrar and two junior doctors. The medical registrar, head of microbiology and ward sister also stood by.

Professor Richard Robbins pulled down his mask, stripped off his gloves, dropped them carefully into the yellow plastic-lined bin for biohazard waste. He removed his bifocals. No one else moved.

“Worst I've ever seen. Usually one every two or three years at the most. But four cases of necrotizing fasciitis in two weeks. What do you think Gerald?”

The microbiologist piped up from the back in faltering, hesitant speech.

“I, er, well, it is unusual to get a cluster like this - every ten or twenty years. Perhaps there is a hidden vector.”

“A carrier?  But can anyone survive such a virulent strain without it being obvious they are infected?”

“Possibly. As you know we carry strep in our throats. It lives there without a problem until the delicate balance of protection and growth is disturbed. Only then does it invade.”

“And you swabbed the throats of every person in the hospital after the last case?” asked the Professor.

“ Yes sir. No sign.”

“Do it again.”

Sister beckoned to another nurse and began gently rolling the soiled sheet off the corpse of the large body builder, discarding it into another yellow plastic bag. Two junior doctors jumped aside.

The pulped paper and plastic sheet beneath had absorbed some of the liquified tissue but the rest formed a dark brown stain on white linen. There was a strange aroma in the room. The bones of the knee and lower leg were exposed where flesh had fallen away. In stark contrast the other leg was thick and healthy. Even as they watched, the infection appeared to be devouring more at the margins of normal living flesh.

“What the hell does that to a man?” exclaimed the Professor.

“Sir, the press are waiting outside.”

“To hell with the press. Where's his wife?”

“On her way. She left home twenty minutes ago. She’ll be here in half an hour.”

“Sister and I will see her when she arrives. Get me the Minister of Health on the phone, and the Chief Medical Officer. Worse than anything I have ever seen. The speed...” He shook his head,  made for the door and turned back.

“Sister, don't move the body. Clean him up for his wife to see. And for goodness sake do something about his face. He looks like he died in agony. At least he was unconscious.”

10.34        Ministry of Defence

Field Marshall Sir John Bradley GCB froze as his eyes scanned the flat computer screen, laid into the surface of the polished oak desk at one end of the cavernous MOD office. He read the text four times, trembling from head to foot and hit the intercom.

“June, get me Parliamentary Private Secretary for the Minister of Defence as soon as you can please. Very urgent. And tell Radford to come here right away.”

Precisely groomed grey hairline, fifty year lean frame, immaculate grey suit, regimental tie, red silk handkerchief, Bradley stood leaning on the desk. Radford entered at the double.  Radford glanced as he always did at the Matisseoil paintings from the national collection.

“Door,” barked Bradley.  Radford fumbled with the brass knob. The polished mahogany clicked.

“Get me the last six months on Porton Down laboratory immediately.”

“Yes, sir.”

The intercom buzzed and Radford was dismissed.  “Line one,” came June's voice. Bradley plucked the handset to his left ear just as the door closed.

“... John here. I have an urgent matter of national security.”

Ministry of Defence

Date:        Tue, May 7 2013 at 10:15 AM   
To:        Field Marshall Sir John Bradley
Chief of Defence Staff
From:        Dr H F Stafford
Director,  Porton Down Germ Warfare Defence Research

Re:        Explosion at Porton Down

The situation here is increasingly grave.  We will have extreme difficulty maintaining silence about today’s events. Herewith a summary as requested.
Just had a report of an explosion at Porton Downs - cause unknown.

Three casualties with exposure to adenovirus R1.3 and streptococcus S27 are in medical wing under strict isolation.  One is very sick.  A fourth is unaccounted for.
No evidence of environmental release.  They say that due to the need to isolate E block they cannot confirm that remaining biotech stocks are still intact.  Nor can we access the stock records which are inside the Lab.

11.20                MI5, Vauxhall, London

The ugly monolithic red brick MI5 building squatted on the South Bank of the Thames. The grey morning light cast a melancholy hue over the great river, flowing on a full tide under the arched spans of Vauxhall Road Bridge.

Heavy traffic was crawling round the busy junction by MI5. Three red double-decker buses were grinding along in convoy over the bridge heading South from Westminster They stopped bumper to bumper at the busstop next to the high wall around MI5, then pulled out, belching unburnt diesel, leaving a solitary man in a dark raincoat and an umbrella.

As he walked round towards the big gates and imposing glass entrance to the building he paused to look up and back away from the river at the main railway lines to Waterloo, raised on a brick viaduct.  Out of sight he knew more than a dozen cameras were watching:  MI5, Russia, China and others perhaps, all logging the faces of every person to enter or leave MI5 - or loitering outside. It was beginning to rain.

They were waiting for him in the Secure Room. A long inner sanctum without windows, insulated from the outside world by half-metre, concrete walls, lined with steel. The “boardroom” was also without decoration. Drab, anonymous, white, sterile, cold.  The long, polished mahogany table stretched to a massive portrait of the Queen. Her eyes and ears witnessed daily events that were then sealed in vaults for fifty years.  Matters too sensitive for any Prime Minister to hear.

At one end sat three grey-haired men in dark suits. Senior executive of MI5. They focused on the bulky visitor opposite. He attempted to remove his jacket, a feat made more difficult by his obesity and by the fact that he was rammed into a civil service standard issue boardroom chair with arms.   They watched impassively as he gave up the struggle. Larry Contestano was from Texas.  Forty five, hairy, bursting out of his open-necked checked cotton shirt. The caesium atomic clock above them clicked precisely.

“Fellers, Sigma’s leaking data, seriously leaking!”  They said nothing. He lit a cigarette, poured Caledonian bottled spring water into a glass, broke open a packet of paracetamol.  His fingers shook. A tablet fell to the table, skittered across to the others. Jet-lag was killing him and he had cramps in his chest.  His blood-pressure was high. Surgeons were ready to unblock a coronary artery the minute he got home.

“Thank you for the information you sent yesterday.”  The curt, British, public school voice of Peter Graylingwell whipped his senses and he blanched. Head of MI5 for the last three years.

“Twelve times now, our listening posts in Europe have re-intercepted UK/US transmissions,” Contestano wheezed. “Decoded into plain English, less than eight seconds after sending them across in to you.”  He cleared his throat, dropped two tablets into spring water, watched them hiss. “Encryption codes have been leaked.”

“Cracked, not leaked.”

“Leaked.  Two  thousand and forty eight  bit multi-layer digital encryption keys. Unbreakable inside three months. Someone in this building is leaking new codes every day.”

Graylingwell twiddled with an MOD pencil and shifted his papers.  “We have traced every send and receive since the day Sigma Vega was commissioned.  Every one correctly verified.  Our agents don’t get codes without full security procedures.”

Contestano shoke his head. “This is not a technology problem.  This is a human problem.  The leaks are so fast I’ll wager you ten thousand dollars it’s someone who sits at a desk not fifty yards  from where we’re sitting. Someone big enough to have first access of the day.  Sigma Vega 3 is dead.  The whole system.  I’m here to tell you the Pentagon are going to shut your side down.”

“The Prime Minister requests that the system be used as normally as possible for at least another week.” (A lie, but then how should Contestano know? The Prime Minister has not the faintest idea that MI5 had penetrated the most dangerous group in Europe. Managed it by flogging inside access.) Graylingwell suppressed the flicker of a frown.

“Twenty four hours that whole darn system will be inoperative.”

“As you are well aware,” said Graylingwell with slight disdain, “we are in the middle of a major security alert.”

“Aware? We alerted you guys in the first place.  Mossad tip-off to our boys about multiple thefts from germ warfare labs all over Europe. World Power as the name of the group.”

“We suspect this group have access to codes.  It is absolutely vital that they suspect nothing while we close in.  If you close down Sigma it will destroy our entire operation.”

“That don’t cut no ice with the military.”

Contestano drained the sediment of paracetamol from the bottom of the glass, cleared his papers into a thick leather briefcase and got up, tucking in damp shirt tails.  He shook hands firmly, not warmly, and was shown out by Daniel Grimmonds, Head of Intelligence.

Graylingwell shut the door and leaned on it, his features sank as colour drained from his face.  He was wrecked.  He turned toward Marcus FitzGerald who had been taking notes.

“Pity we couldn't say.  Your Scottish friend using Sigma Vega equipment with sanction from this very department.”

Marcus twitched a pencil nervously between his fingers.

“Best chance we have.  By the way,  I checked with MOD.  As requested they imposed a news blackout on both Porton Down and the necrotising fasciitis cases.  Porton Down confirmed that the causative organism is theirs. Gene typing identified it precisely.”

Graylingwell gathered his papers together. “We haven’t much time. How many cases?”

“Three more - but that’s only what we know from informal surveillance - team of twenty phoning round hospitals.  Could be more. Hard to say when  news is suppressed.”

“Three  this morning.  Ten last week across England and Wales.  Twenty so far this week including Glasgow and Edinburgh.”

“What exactly does the PM know?”

“That recent cases of necrotising fasciitis may be related to a genetically engineered strain from Porton Down.”

“Does he know about the other losses?”

“You know very well that it’s not my job to tell him.  That’s for the Minister to decide.”

“Whose job’s on the line already.”


“Compromised by the fiasco over Iran.”


“Cover-up allegations. MPs on all sides baying for blood.  Champagne if he resigns.”


“He’ll not take the risk.  Last thing he’ll want.  Especially if he thinks the risk of agents falling into terrorist hands is a small one.”

“Which he does.”  Graylingwell shivered.

“Well then?”

“Tomorrow.  I’ll ring his office tomorrow.”

“Then your own job will be on the line,”  retorted Marcus.

“Deniability is everything. By the way, what is necrotising fasciitis? You’d better get me properly briefed.”

“I’ll find out.”

“And while you’re at it, see what else you can dig out about European Air Ambulances.  Throw the net wider than just Air Call International.  If the Scottish connection dies on us…. “

Chapter 1 of Island of Bolay - thriller by Patrick Dixon. Published originally by Harper Collins, sold in Airports and bookshops, now available on Kindle Germ warfare agents have fallen into terrorist hands. An air ambulance doctor is soon running for his life, after discovering the deadly truth...


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