Extract from Chapter one of Deadly Motive
Ted Sanders crept along Parks Road, keeping to the shadows. It was eleven pm and quiet, but he knew he needed to avoid the spying eyes of the surveillance cameras.
When he reached the junction, he stood still for a few moments and tried to slow his breathing. He needed to be calm tonight.
He lowered his bag onto the pavement, circled his shoulder to relieve the ache and felt the blood tingle back into his arm.
He looked towards the University of Oxford’s science area. Sandstone university buildings decorated with grimacing grotesques lined the road. The perfect image for a tourist postcard of Oxford.
But not for long.
Ted saw his target on the opposite side of the road and smiled. He pulled the hood of his sweatshirt forward to hide his face. He had chosen the navy-blue, hooded sweatshirt and black jeans so he could blend into the darkness.
A friend told him the university had installed an extra twenty security cameras when they started construction on the new animal house. Ted knew where they were.
He crouched down and snatched up the carrier bag. He needed to get on with it. Tonight, timing was everything.
Looking down, he saw a deep red stain on the pavement. He felt a stab of fear.
He lifted the bag and scowled at the red liquid oozing from a hole in the plastic. Some spilt on his hand, and he rubbed it between his thumb and forefinger. It felt sticky.
He saw red splashes on his trainers. He looked behind him to the path he had taken along Parks Road. He knew he had left a telltale trail. It didn’t matter. No one would notice it tonight in the dark.
A sharp cry carried over the night air and Ted stopped to listen.
Although the protest should have been over hours ago, chants from animal rights protesters echoed in the distance. That meant some of the protesters were hanging around on the outskirts of the science area, but they wouldn’t interfere. The university had an injunction that banned them getting too close to the science area.
They wouldn’t even see Ted tonight.
He turned right into South Parks Road and passed the Dyson Perrins Laboratory and the Inorganic Chemistry building on his left. The old buildings stood tall. Blue plaques on their walls detailed their history and listed the names of scientists who had worked there.
Tonight, he had no interest in these historic buildings. Tonight, he was heading to one of the newest buildings in the area.
The Chemistry Research Laboratory stood opposite the older science departments. It looked as if it had been constructed entirely of glass. The red brick Dyson Perrins Laboratory, on the opposite side of the road, reflected in its dark glass walls.
His friend, Alex, worked in the huge glass building and had kept Ted supplied with information. Some details were more useful than others. He told Ted about the high security involved when the Queen attended the official opening of the glass building last year.
Ted stared at the stark, cube-shaped building. He wondered what the Queen thought of it. According to Alex, the building had won an architectural award, but it was a perfect example of the type of architecture Prince Charles hated, which was almost enough to make Ted like it.
But all that had nothing to do with why he was here tonight.
Ted had chosen this building because it stood on the corner of Mansfield Road, directly opposite the construction site for the new animal house.
Hoarding and a high, spiked, steel fence surrounded the site. He would not be able to get anywhere near it. It would be stupid to even try; and even if he could, what would be the point? No one would be able to see his work through the barriers.
Security was tightly controlled at the site and the entrance opened only twice a day for the construction workers and trucks transporting the building materials. He had watched them for weeks, plotting and waiting for the perfect opportunity.
The construction workers turned up every morning, wearing balaclavas to hide their faces while they worked. They were ashamed of their involvement.
But not ashamed enough.
Alex assured him the chemistry department did not use animals in any of their laboratories, but Ted didn’t think that would weaken his message. It was still a university building, after all, and the side facing the new animal house had an expansive white wall. A blank canvas. Everyone who saw it would understand his message.
Ted crouched at the side of the building. He wanted to make sure no one could see him from inside.
The lights from one of the labs shone down over the courtyard. Someone was working late. The labs had motion-sensing lights that switched off automatically when the lab was empty.
He felt a line of sweat travel down to the small of his back. He hadn’t planned on this. The labs were supposed to be empty.
But the occupied lab was on the top floor, so it was unlikely they would see or hear him, and a security check usually took place at midnight, which meant he couldn’t wait.
He would have to take a chance and do it now.
Inside the Chemistry Research Laboratory, Ruby Wei walked into the lab’s write-up area, waving her arms wildly over her head to trigger the lights.
The motion-sensing lights were part of the new chemistry building’s eco-drive: if there was no one in the room, there was no need to waste electricity on lights. This worked fine during the day when lots of people were in the lab, but at night when it was quiet, the lights would turn off if you sat still for more than five minutes.
A split second after her manic arm-waving, the lights flickered back on. She pulled a chair up to her computer and logged into her email account. She was supposed to be writing up an experiment, while her cells were incubating, but she couldn’t concentrate.
She stared at the computer screen. She needed to reply to her father’s email, but she had to choose her words carefully. Over the last few weeks, she hadn’t been calling or emailing her parents as regularly as usual.
Her parents had sent an email, saying they understood it was because she was so busy in the lab trying to finish her PhD.
It wasn’t true. Well, maybe it was partly true; she was nearing the end of her project. But if she were honest, she avoided speaking to her parents because she didn’t know how to tell them she wasn’t coming back to China. At least not yet.
Ruby stood up, yawned and walked between two desks towards the huge windows that ran along the edge of the laboratory and overlooked South Parks Road.
What was that? A movement? Was someone out there?
She stared out into the darkness.
The bright fluorescent strip lights inside the laboratory made it difficult to see anything outside. The orange glow of the street lamps looked dull in comparison.
She stood by the window for a moment, looking at her own ghostly reflection staring back at her, and pressed a hand to her chest. She could feel her heart thumping.
She waited until she was absolutely sure there was no one out there. She was imagining things. The protests against the new animal house had made her nervous; that was all.
She turned away from the window and glanced back at the computer screen. She had to find the courage to tell her parents that she wanted to stay in Oxford.
Ruby had left China aged sixteen, and she had studied for her A-levels, her degree and now her DPhil in the UK. As each year passed, she became more attached to her adopted country and less connected to her homeland. That didn’t mean she never wanted to go back. She would go home someday. There were things she missed.
Since leaving China eight years ago, she had been home only once, to spend Chinese New Year with her relatives. It had been a wonderful trip, and she enjoyed visiting her extended family and telling everyone about her life in the UK, but it was just a trip, which was very different from going back permanently.
Of course, she loved her parents, and she knew her parents loved her. They were extremely proud of their only child’s achievements. They loved her, but they didn’t really understand her.
A year or so into her DPhil at Oxford, over video chat, she tried to explain to her parents an exciting result she had found in her research. She had been working on a human protein and trying to discover its structure. In the lab, they’d used a method where they grew crystals of her protein and bombarded it with X-rays.
The pattern of the diffracted X-rays were then analysed by computer, using all kinds of complicated mathematics, which, if Ruby was honest, she didn’t fully understand yet. Then, just weeks later, to Ruby’s amazement, she sat in front of her computer screen and saw the loops, the ribbons and the perfect helices that made this protein.
She just sat there for ages, staring at it, mesmerised by the idea that, although this protein existed in the blood of every single living person, she was the very first person to see it.
At that moment, no one else in the world knew what it looked like.
When she tried to describe the feeling to her parents, there was an awkward pause before her father asked if that meant she would get a good grade.
Soon, she would be able to tell them about the post-doctoral position she hoped to get, working in Dr. O’Connor’s laboratory. She hoped he would confirm it this week so she could tell her parents that she had a good job lined up.
Good career prospects were important to her parents, and the job offer might soften the blow when she told them she wanted to stay in Oxford.
Ruby glanced at the window again. Working at this time of night gave her the creeps. The fact that no one could enter the building unless they had an access card was reassuring, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t someone lurking around after the protest this afternoon.
When the light directly in front of him flickered on, Ted froze.
His muscles tensed, ready to run, but he forced himself to stay crouched on the floor. The light came from a ground floor lab, only a few feet away.
He felt his breath quicken as he squinted towards the lab and realised he recognized the person who had triggered the lights.
Ruby Wei, the Chinese student in the same research group as Alex, stood silhouetted by the window and was staring straight at him.
Ted pushed his body back against the wall, away from the light. The darkness should protect him. If he stayed still, she probably wouldn’t recognize him or even see him.
She just stood there, staring out of the window. Had she spotted him?
If she had seen him, she would have shown some reaction by now. Almost a minute passed before she moved away from the glass. He watched her walk away from the window and pick up a white lab coat.
Why was she in the lab at this time of night? Didn’t she have a life?
He glanced at his watch; he had to get on with it because security would be here soon. He took a deep breath and then smiled.
He would do it now, right under the silly cow’s nose.