A fully-trousered Professor Johnny D. Johnson III waited nervously with Miss Mabel Middlebottom at the entrance to BIRD-FLU as the grey Bentley of Sir Henry Montague Ponsenby-Brown pulled up to park outside for the second time in as many days.
Sir Henry had called the previous evening to inform them that NATO were closing the centre until the business with Professor Greenwood was cleared up. With the exception of the mice, the animals were all on their way back to Bristol zoo, which had kindly agreed to put them up at short notice. The other staff had also been sent home. It was just left for Professor Johnson to oversee the lock-up and transfer of the security responsibilities from the usual base staff to some NATO guards. With guns.
Johnson gulped. Although he considered himself as American as Apple Pie (i.e. with European ancestry), guns made him feel distinctly uncomfortable. (He preferred the tridents of the Retiarii or the gladii of the Secutores, although he could appreciate that a Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun was considerably more practical.)
He instinctively straightened as Alec Watson opened the rear door to the saloon and Sir Henry emerged. The bureaucrat surveyed the scene and gave a small nod of satisfaction at the sight of the NATO guards, who were already in place. A few strides then took him to the double doors to BIRD-FLU. This time, they were open and ready. Two guards flanked the entrance and gave crisp salutes, which Sir Henry acknowledged with another small nod.
“Sir Henry,” greeted Johnson, extending a slightly sweaty hand for a shake.
The hand was ignored as Sir Henry passed his gaze over the reception area. “I trust all the arrangements are in place, Professor?”
Johnson gulped again. His throat was suddenly very dry. He knew that he had done nothing wrong but still somehow felt like a schoolboy in front of a headmaster. “Sure are, Sir Henry.”
“All gone bar the mice,” confirmed Johnson. “We are making arrangements in case they need to go too. Some of them are GM and so the licenses for moving around are more complicated.”
“But in hand,” he added as he saw Sir Henry’s frown.
“And the staff?”
“Sent home. Myself and Mildred are the only ones here now,” Johnson told him. “We’ll be leaving as soon as you are satisfied. The guards have been briefed to let in no one except myself and the animal house technician - he’ll need to come in once a day to look after the mice.”
Johnson found his stare drawn to the machine guns. “Umm, Sir Henry, are all the guns really necessary? I mean we don’t even know even something has happened to the director.”
Sir Henry opened his mouth to answer but was interrupted by Alec Watson hurrying up with a mobile phone in his hand. The scowl that was beginning to form for the American academic was instead directed at full force at his Cambrian chauffeur.
“You are going to want to take this call, Sir Henry,” Watson insisted.
He took the proffered phone. “Sir Henry Montague Ponsenby-Brown.” Pause. “You are quite sure?” Another pause. “Excuse me a moment.”
Sir Henry lowered the phone for a moment and turned back to Johnson. “Regrettably, Professor, it would appear that you are quite wrong.”