- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
VENTURE. In her hometown of Sydney, Australia, bio-chemist and DNA expert, Lydia meets John, a British scientist working on a top secret navy project. After an intense couple of weeks together, he is called back home, and learns he has been fired.
Lydia persuades John to return to Sydney to develop a radical new invention of his. She helps him get his invention working. Life seems sweet until she discovers she must contend with his former girlfriend and a shady Russian outfit ...
VENTURE. In her hometown of Sydney, Australia, bio-chemist and DNA expert, Lydia meets John, a British scientist working on a top secret navy project. After an intense couple of weeks together, he is called back home, and learns he has been fired.
Lydia persuades John to return to Sydney to develop a radical new invention of his. She helps him get his invention working. Life seems sweet until she discovers she must contend with his former girlfriend and a shady Russian outfit posing as venture capitalists who are trying to steal the invention.
When the Russians play hardball, Lydia realizes she must literally put her life on the line to save everything they have built for themselves. ***
"When I told my friend Mark I was thinking of writing a novel he suggested a few plot lines. I went with one of them and set it Sydney, Australia, where he lives. This gave me the excuse to visit him and to research the locations. The heroine, Lydia, is a composite of several intelligent, beautiful, single-minded women I have known.Venture is a fast paced and often humorous romance story set against the background of industrial espionage." ~ Bill ~
Lydia Newton left the Rexx-Pharm building at a swift trot and crossed the parking lot to her SUV, unlocking it on the run with her remote. She hopped in, tossed her bag onto the passenger seat and then carefully placed her laptop on the floor. She mopped her forehead, sweating from the brief burst of energy. It was rare for her to miss an opportunity to go into the aerobic zone even when there was no apparent reason to do so.
Lydia lived in a small town north of Sydney called Avalon, a forty-minute drive from the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Forty minutes, provided you avoided the worst of the peak hour traffic. And she had. Lydia rarely left work earlier than seven o'clock.
But mentally she was still at work, churning over the data that she'd been entering into her computer ten minutes earlier. Watch-out, you idiot! Her brain had processed the mental imagery of the fast approaching taillights of the car ahead. She jammed on her brakes and just avoided rear-ending a car that had stopped on a red light. Phew! Concentrate on the road, she told herself. Now it was green again. She accelerated past the guy and kept her foot down all the way home.
Lydia dumped her bag on the floor and put her laptop on the kitchen counter. She sat down at the counter and hurriedly captured the long sequence of characters that defined the gene patterns she'd been processing in her head. Got it, now you can relax.
Lydia had a Ph.D. in genetics, her thesis delving into the recognition of DNA patterns in humans. At Rexx-Pharm, she was engaged in testing drugs. She'd approached her boss one day and told him that the current drug she was testing, a decongestant, code-named A379, hada curious side effect on certain people. "Well what do they have in common?" he had asked, an obvious question, but not easy to answer.
"I'll find out," Lydia had replied.
She sat back, comfortable in the knowledge that the computer's memory was in synch with hers. Now she could put the kettle on for a cup of tea and concentrate on what she thought she'd discovered in the DNA strings.
After work on Friday nights, John and the rest of Hammerhead team generally headed down to the Red House Inn, on the outskirts of Portsmouth, on England's south coast. The landlord had turned it from a spit-and-sawdust dive into a trendy singles bar by the simple expedient of employing busty, cheerful girls who were barely eighteen. John had dated one of them a few months earlier. However, when he met Ingrid there, he had been temporarily partner-less
John's routine had been documented in Ingrid's briefing notes. She drove around the block until he arrived. He usually parked his car in Devonshire Lane two hundred yards away. After several laps, Ingrid spotted John's old MGB pulling up to park. She drew up behind him, just as John stepped out of his car. As he walked towards the pub, Ingrid shoved her car door open, almost hitting him. She swung her legs out of her car and stood up.
"Oops, sorry," she said. "Didn't hit you, did I?"
John cast his eyes over her. She wore a tight silk blouse and a black, polished-leather mini-skirt. "No, I stopped in time."
"Going to the pub?" she said.
They walked towards the pub. John broke the awkward silence. "Oh, my name is John, by the way."
"John By-the-way, that's a name I've not heard before."
"A sense of humour and beautiful," John said. "A rare combination."
"Yes, that's me. And modest, too."
They reached the pub.
He ran around in front of her. "I'll get the door."
"Oh, thank you. There are a few gentlemen left, I see."
"No, I'm the last one actually."
She laughed. "I didn't introduce myself, did I? My name is Ingrid Tallennin. What's your real surname?"
"Day, John Day."
She held out her hand. "I'm pleased to make your acquaintance, John."
"Are you meeting anyone here?" he asked.
She smiled again. "No point in chatting me up if I'm meeting the captain of the local rugby team. Is that what you're thinking?"
"Yeah, something along those lines. By the looks of you, it's a distinct possibility."
"I am meeting someone, a girlfriend. But I'm not sure if I'm in the right place. I couldn't remember if she said Red Lion or Red House. I've never been to either of them."
"The Red Lion is about a mile down the road to Chichester. Didn't she give you the address?"
"No. She said I should head down the Chichester road and I couldn't miss it."
John must have been distracted by the woman's beauty, because he didn't query this rather odd explanation. The Red House Inn, unlike the Red Lion, was barely visible from the Chichester road. "Call her. If you're in the wrong place tell her you met a charming guy who offered to buy you a drink, and you'll be along shortly."
John led the way into the pub. A couple of his colleagues were already seated and halfway through their first pints of the evening. "I'll join you in a minute," he said to them. They didn't acknowledge him, staring instead at Ingrid.
John and Ingrid took a seat at the bar.
When Lydia returned to her analysis of the DNA strings, it didn't take her long to complete the puzzle. "Ah," she said to the empty room. "So that's it."
The phone rang, and she looked at clock in the bottom right corner of her computer screen. She closed her laptop, and picked up the phone.
"Where are you?" It was her friend Karen.
"Just on my way over,"
"A likely story. You were supposed to be here half an hour ago."
"Got home late," Lydia replied.
"Well, what can I order for you?"
"Any seafood pasta will do, and buy a bottle of wine for the three of you while you wait."
"We've already consumed a bottle."
"One more won't hurt you," Lydia said and hung up.
The girls patronized Mozzies Café for coffee, food, or a late-night drink. It had a verandah on which the customers could savor the late evening breezes from the ocean. But only in the summer.. This was winter so they occupied a table inside. Lydia's friends expected her to be up to an hour late for almost everything. They were well acquainted with the fact that she was a chronic workaholic, a disease none of them had so far caught from her.
She decided that there was just enough time for a quick shower. She leapt up and executed a mobile striptease, treading her clothes into the carpet on the way to the bathroom.
Still damp, she slipped into a light-blue cotton dress and took a last look at the slender body in the mirror. A gaunt, athletic face stared back. You look fine, the mirror said. Accepting the advice, she set off on the quarter mile stroll to the village center. She reached Mozzies just after nine.
"Sorry, work," Lydia said.
"Nooooo," Karen, Shirley and Muriel replied in unison.
Almost as soon as Lydia sat down, a server appeared with a steaming plate of pasta.
Lydia had known the girls since the beginning of high school. Now in their late twenties, they met frequently to compare notes on life and swap invitations to barbecues, parties and weekends away. They knew that Lydia would rarely bring a partner but they kept inviting her anyway.
"Hey, Lydia," Shirley said," We were just chatting about the big software conference in town in a few weeks. Have you thought about going?"
"Sort of. Tim phoned from Canberra last week and begged me to partner him to one of the social events. In exchange, he offered a pass to a couple of the more interesting talks."
"What did you tell him?" Shirley said.
"I didn't, because I wasn't in. He left a message on my machine."
"Tim phoned me too. He said you were his first choice, but you hadn't got back to him. He also said that the social do was good enough to go partner-prowling. Besides, there will be a lot of scientist types there," Shirley added.
"I assume what you are getting at is that you think I'm only comfortable in the company of eggheads, as you like to call them."
Shirley rolled her eyes. "You are."
"But they'll be mostly out-of-towners," Lydia said, a pleading tone to her voice.
"Don't be negative. Not all of them will be. You can't let Tim down."
Tim had been Lydia's and Shirley's long-time entrée to social events normally closed to them. Whenever he needed a girl on his arm, he'd phone them. It started back in university and Tim usually delivered an entertaining outing for his partner. More importantly, for Tim it was convenient disguise when necessary. Tim was gay.
"The Indy Car Grand Prix, the Comedy Festival and the New South Wales surfing finals certainly produced a hat-full of local male talent," Lydia said sarcastically. She'd chosen to select some of Tim's less successful invitations.
"Well, this is different. It's the reception party for the foreign guests and the corporate sponsors. It sounds vaguely interesting. I'll go if you won't, but none of this lot are interested."
"We're not geeky enough," Karen said.
"Okay, I'm sold. I'll phone Tim." Lydia said, reluctant to admit that it did sound more interesting than usual. "It would be nice to meet some intelligent males for a change."
"It's next week!" Shirley said. "Sorry to sound frantic about this, but I'm afraid that you'll forget to phone Tim back until it's too late."
"But you'll go with him, won't you?" Lydia asked.
"Yeah, but I'd prefer to have some female company. I know you can squeeze an extra invite out of him."
"I said I'd phone him!"
Karen waved her arm up and down in between Lydia and Shirley. "If I might interrupt you two getting your social life organized for the upcoming non-events. You are coming down to Jojo's place tonight? He's having a party, remember?"
"Go ahead. I'll catch you up. I haven't finished eating yet," Lydia replied.
"I'll wait with Lydia," Shirley said.
"Don't be long," Karen replied, accepting the offer immediately. She and Muriel got up from the table and headed towards the door. Lydia watched them go, as did most of the men in Mozzies. The pair would be a welcome addition to any male gathering: attractive, natural blondes, expensively dressed and lively party girls.
Shirley ordered another margarita. "You spend too much time working and not enough time having fun," she said.
Lydia looked up from her pasta. "I'm coming to the party, aren't I?"
"Yes, but when you get there you'll spend most of the time brushing guys off."
"That's because most of them will be bozos," and then with not a little venom, she added, "often both."
"What are you looking for: brains, bank account or body?"
"All of the above and I'll know when I meet him."
Shirley wouldn't let it go of it. "That's a start. I'll send some candidates over."
Lydia smirked. "Ah-ha, I guessed as much, matchmaking again. You three are incorrigible." She loved to catch Shirley and the others out on this point. All of them had boyfriends: some serious, some not so serious, although none of their boyfriends would be at the party that night. It was girls' night out. "Actually it's not a trio, it's a quartet of matchmakers, if you add my mother. I tell her not to bother because you three are already scouring the pubs, clubs and beaches for a potential partner for me. Which by the way is part of the problem, because it's unlikely I'll meet anyone suitable in any of those places."
Shirley laughed. "Right, I deserved that. I'll start looking in the libraries, museums and art galleries."
"You could do worse."
Why do most of my boyfriends always leave me cold, or just leave me? Lydia smiled as she asked this question of herself, as she had done many times before. Malcolm, for example, good-looking, a great body, polite and reasonably presentable, but he was a beach bum. Conversationalist, he was not, so sooner rather than later, he went the way of the others, relegated to her I'll-call-you-sometime list. The list she'd be pretty desperate to have to use.
"I sense that I've lost you," Shirley said.
"No, I was just thinking about what you said."
"What about your work? No good-looking scientists there?"
"There are a few I've dated, but strangely enough I got the feeling that they were intimidated by me," Lydia replied. She had a serious look on her face but couldn't hold it. The two of them burst out laughing.
When their giggling fit had subsided, Shirley said, "My philosophy in life is that the social event I don't go to is the one where I would have met Mr. Right."
Lydia smiled. "Hey, for the second time, I will call Tim to get those tickets."
John woke suddenly, sweating and sat bolt upright. "Yes, that's it," he said. He experienced only a few different types of dream and this was one of them, the frustration nightmare, the one that haunted him most often. Almost exclusively the dream had a work setting, like trying to solve a problem before time ran out.
He glanced across at Ingrid. The faint light of dawn was sufficient to discern that his sudden movement had not woken her. Ingrid faced away from him, her body tucked into the fetal position. Looking at her one couldn't tell she was naked under the duvet, because she had pulled it tightly up around her neck. John leant over and retrieved his Personal Digital Assistant from his bedside table. He switched it to handwriting mode. He kept his PDA close at hand, night and day. On it he captured ideas that otherwise tended to disappear like a game of tic-tac-toe played in the sand on a rising tide. He started writing furiously in case he lost the thread.
"What are you doing?"
"Sorry. Did I wake you?"
"I'm a light sleeper," she replied. "Do I rate an entry in your little black book?"
"Of course. I've written: has the sweetest smile, possesses a divine body, and screams loudly when having an orgasm."
"I don't believe you."
"Here, have a look."
He gave her the PDA, back-lit so that she could read it. Ingrid studied it for a moment. It displayed the symbols used in calculus.
She laughed. "Okay, so you use code in your little black book. But seriously, what is it?"
"Just a problem at work. The answer must have come to me in my sleep."
She seemed to accept this explanation for she snatched the PDA from his hand and tossed it onto the bed. Pulling him closer, she put her hand down between his legs and whispered, "I can tell you haven't quite solved the problem."
"Oh?" He replied, retrieving the handheld electronic device and checking that she hadn't accidentally erased anything.
Ingrid smiled. "Mr. Clever-dick is still raised to the power of zero."
"I'm not ready to multiply just yet."
"That's a minus, because I bought a whole six-pack of condoms and they're not finished yet."
"I give up. If you promise no more mathematical puns, I'll make love to you."
"Wow, what a smooth talker. Can you convince me you're not still thinking about your work?"
John put the PDA back on the bedside table. He pulled her close to him again and put his lips on hers. She opened her mouth and their tongues fought each other. He withdrew from the kiss and buried himself in her breasts, then moved lower.
Finally, she pulled John's head up by his hair, "Okay, I'm convinced."
The following morning, the couple dozed until the alarm radio broke into their consciousness with the weather forecast. The weatherman cheerfully announced, "It is going to be warm today but possibly turning cooler later. Early morning sunny spells might give way to the occasional shower."
"How is that different from every other day of the year?" Ingrid asked.
"It usually starts cool and turns warm later," John replied.
She slid out of bed and threw a pillow at him. "I'll be in the bathroom for a while. You might as well make breakfast."
John reflected that when he was rich, all the bedrooms in his house would have en-suite bathrooms and there would be an extra one just in case the others were occupied. Wearing his bathrobe, he wandered downstairs to the kitchen.
While John waited for the percolator to finish gurgling, he pulled out the PDA from his pocket. Waking up in the middle of the night to capture his thoughts was a common occurrence. But often, the next morning, he would wonder why he'd bothered recording such drivel. Not this time though. It still made sense. He read it through one more time, committed the contents to memory and erased the PDA's electronic copy of the data.
John was excited about his overnight revelation and, what was more, he'd had sex with his divine new friend and he could now sit down to enjoy a leisurely breakfast. It was a great day already and it was only eight o'clock in the morning.
John lived in a small house in suburban Portsmouth. He'd bought the place shortly after getting the job with the Royal Navy. It satisfied his two criteria in that it convenient to work and the Red House Inn, his favorite pub, the one where he'd met Ingrid.
He dated her regularly for a couple of weeks, and she'd often sleep over. On weekday mornings he'd drop her at her office near the ferry terminal. He'd then head north towards Portsdown Hill where the Advanced Tactical Weapons Establishment was located.
John turned his car off the main road and into the ATWE driveway. The compound was enclosed by a high brick wall and protected by an elaborate system of infrared sensors and cameras.
Having checked John's security badge, the guard raised the barrier and saluted, always in that order.
The security badge automatically tracked John around the facility. Thus, as John reached his office, Commander Smythe was able to intercept him. "John, can I speak with you for a moment." Although grammatically this was phrased as a question, it was not articulated as such.
Smythe led the way to his own office further down the corridor. "No interruptions, Jenkinson," he said to his administrative assistant, Petty Officer June Jenkinson. "Close the door, John."
Commander Smythe was in charge of the personnel on the Hammerhead project. He was in his late forties and now completely gray. Battleship gray, he liked to say. He attributed his hair coloring to the fact that he had to nursemaid a bunch of civilians with no concept of command structure and military discipline. "John," he said, forcing himself for the umpteenth time to use this very unmilitary form of address. "How's the guidance system coming along?"
"It's going to work in the amount of space we've budgeted for and it will be ready by the end of the month," John replied, matter-of-factly. Then added, just in case Smythe had forgotten, "The prototype is already working to spec."
John knew that his boss would recognize the understatement.
"Good, but that wasn't what I wanted to chat about. You know that because of the sensitive nature of this project we have to be continually on the lookout for possible espionage?"
Smythe had posed a rhetorical question. All of his staff were well aware of the sensitive nature of the Hammerhead project without him reminding them. But the fact that he was mentioning it was starting to make John nervous. He wondered where this conversation was heading.
"I understand that you're currently having a liaison with a certain Ingrid Tallennin?" Smythe made it sound as if Ingrid Tallennin was an endangered species. However, this time it was a question, and he waited for the answer to it.
"We have reason to believe she is a possible intelligence threat."
John's heart rate shot up and the skin on his face felt as if it was burning. "That's not possible."
"Did you check before you started..." Smythe searched for the words, "...started seeing her?"
"Check what? What do you want me to do? Ask her to fill out a questionnaire?"
"Take this matter seriously please, John. She's a foreign national and hence we have to assume she could be after something."
"She's from Finland, a friendly country. Why is she automatically suspect?"
Smythe ignored the question, "You're supposed to inform us."
"I only met her two weeks ago," John stuttered, his mind racing back to the meeting in the pub.
The frown on Smythe's face told John he was not in the mood for excuses. "That's long enough to file a report. Couldn't you tell right away she was a foreigner from her accent?"
"No. When I first met her I didn't guess she wasn't British. It wasn't until she told me where she was born that I knew."
"And when was that?"
"A couple of days ago."
"Apparently she has been living in England for quite a few years," Smythe added. He seemed to know more about her than John. "Has she lost her accent enough to sound British?"
John thought about this for a moment. Ingrid did have a faint accent, but he was too busy in bed with her to connect an accent with anything sinister. When he had joined the project, he'd seen a Navy training film depicting ten different ways foreign agents can infiltrate themselves into a target organization. The film was a throwback to the cold war days, but one of the ways the film mentioned looked similar to the way Ingrid approached him in the pub. It was somewhat careless of him, really. "Yes, I suppose my guard was down."
"Are you seeing her again?"
"That was the plan, yes. You don't suspect her of anything specific do you?"
"If I told you that, although she was born in Finland, her father is of Russian descent, would you suspect her of anything?" Smythe had a never-ending supply of questions that didn't require answers.
"What do you want me to do?"
"Have you told her anything about your job?"
"No..." He remembered the hieroglyphics on his PDA. Ingrid had seen what he'd written, and he wondered if she'd understood any of it.
John related the sequence of events. "It wasn't a complete set of formulae," he explained. "And had nothing to do with the guidance system."
"What was it?" Smythe probed.
"I've been doing some thinking about how the power supply might be improved."
"Where is the stuff now?"
"I erased it. It wasn't significant."
"But it probably confirmed to her that she was on the right track."
"On the right track? Are you saying she's definitely a spy?"
"We have to act in a manner appropriate to the circumstances." Smythe had avoided answering the question again.
"What do you want me to do?" John repeated.
"Just keep on seeing her," Smythe replied. "Make sure you charm her enough that she doesn't get suspicious. I gather you're rather good at that," he said with a smile.
John wondered what he meant. Had they been constantly watching him and monitoring his social life?
"Look, John, your part of the project is almost finished and you haven't taken a proper holiday since you joined us."
"You want me to take some time off?"
"Yes, but why don't you take in a conference. That way you can charge some of it to expenses."
"There's one coming up in Sydney," John said.
Smythe gulped, but then the smile returned to his face. "Go ahead. You deserve it."
"It'll cost a fortune."
"Thank you for pointing that out. Losing military secrets is expensive, too." He rose from his chair, which John took to mean the interview was over. "It will come out of the training budget. You haven't spent your share, nowhere close."
John made his way back to his office, stopping at Petty Officer Jenkinson's desk. Smythe's administrative assistant was a slightly overweight, pale-skinned woman of twenty-seven who spoke as if she had been to a private school. As well as being pretty, she had a warm and lively personality, typical of women who were confident of who they were and the education to back it up. John had taken her out to dinner once but never gone beyond that first date. Too upper-class, he had told himself.
"Can you book me into a conference in Sydney, please, June?"
"Ooh, lucky you. When is it?"
"Next week! Are you traveling on standby?"
"Wouldn't care to take me with you, I suppose?"
"Smythe needs you here," John replied, rather too quickly.
"Right. It's a bit short notice, but I'll get you the best seat I can find near the back of the plane. And I'll see if I can put you close to someone traveling with young children."
"I'll rely on it, thanks. And by the way, I'm taking two weeks holiday straight after the conference." John didn't wait for her reaction to that piece of information, and returned to his office.
"I want it all in writing, charge code, everything," she called after him.
Smythe popped his head round the door. "Get Hughes over here right away, Jenkinson."
Lt. Hughes, the ATWE security liaison officer, arrived at Commander Smythe's office in less than two minutes.
"I've just had a little chat with Day," Smythe said, by way of introduction, although none was needed. Lt. Hughes was well acquainted with the situation and had been expecting the summons. He'd asked to be present at the encounter, but Smythe had wanted the meeting with John to be commander-to-subordinate, one-on-one.
"Did he realize she was a Possible?" Hughes asked.
"Said it hadn't occurred to him," Smythe said, sighing as though he was a schoolteacher discussing a recalcitrant pupil with the parent.
"Did he ask why we were on to her so quickly?" Hughes asked.
"No, hopefully he doesn't head down that path, otherwise he'll realize what you fellows do for a living." Smythe said, alluding to the fact that Hughes's activities included checking up on all of John's recent girlfriends.
In the short time John had been at ATWE this had been quite a task. Hughes's favorite was Zoë, a brilliant actuary who worked for an insurance company in London. Zoë was a member of a witches' coven in her spare time, and supplemented her income by telling fortunes. From a security point of view, she was quite above board, so Hughes took the opportunity to have his palm read. She had told him he was going to be dealing with matters of national importance. "When?" he had asked. "Quite soon, and it will involve a friendly country." That was six months ago, but such was Zoë's intensity that the lieutenant had not forgotten the young lady and her prediction.
"And he didn't think the girl's accent was a give-away?"
"Apparently not," Smythe replied. "She might have taken pains to disguise it."
"She probably only had to perfect a few phrases like, 'Yes, take me now,'" Hughes said with a smirk.
"Quite." Smythe frowned, seeming not to be amused. "I've told Day to take some time off. He's going to Australia."
"Won't that delay Hammerhead?"
"No, it'll just give the others a chance to catch up," Smythe replied, and then added, "If they can't then we might be reviewing the whole thing."
"Oh, it's reached that point has it?"
"Nothing official yet. Now tell me. With John off enjoying himself, what's the plan for Ms. Tallennin?"
"Five has assigned a chap called Robinson to the case. He'll work with Special Branch. They will probably be doing some heavy-duty checking of her friends, relatives and also her employer."
"Will they be paying Ms. Tallennin a visit?" Smythe asked.
"Yes, they will need to talk to her."
"Won't that scare her off?"
"We'll have to see how she reacts," Hughes replied. "One way or the other we'll be pretty certain if she's a genuine threat."
"Do I need to meet the MI5 officer assigned to this?" Smythe asked.
"Robinson? No, I'll brief him."
"Oh, and one other thing, Hughes," Smythe said, getting up out of chair, "Is anyone going to keep an eye on Day while he's down under?"
"Yes, we'll get someone in Canberra to do it."
"Nothing too expensive, I presume?"
"No. One of our lads at the High Commission will take care of it," Hughes said as he exited.