Cornwall, England

DR. IAN SMYTHE looked at his watch, half past six. He and his research nurse, Rupinder Patel, were the last to leave the Cornwall Women’s Clinic in southwest England. They waited until their coworkers left to begin their task. Ian was frightened, but determined to see this through. He pulled the hood of his green Barbour coat over his head and lifted the box of files from the table beside the rear door of the clinic. Ian hurried to his dark blue BMW 525i, rain pelting him in the face, threw the box in the trunk beside the others, got into his car and waited.

That afternoon he received a call from an unidentified man with a two pack-a-day voice. The man warned him that if he followed through on his plan, there would be severe consequences, not just for him, but his nurse, too. Before Ian could respond, the man hung up.

He watched Rupinder lock the clinic door and dash to her car. After a couple of minutes, she pounded her fists on the steering wheel. He drove to the parking space alongside her, lowered his window and shouted. “What’s wrong?”

Rupinder opened her door enough to be heard. “It won’t start. Can you take me home?”

“Of course.”

Rupinder ran to Ian’s car and got in. “I live between the Land’s End Aerodrome and St. Just.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Across the street from the clinic, Max Larkin sat in his car, the driver’s side window lowered just enough to allow cigarette smoke to flow outside. He had an unobstructed view of the two cars parked near the rear entrance to the clinic. He watched Ian put the boxes in the trunk of the BMW and smirked when Rupinder got into his car after hers failed to start. After they pulled out of the clinic parking lot onto the road, Larkin eased into the flow of the traffic, several cars behind.

* * * * * * * * * *

A few miles from Penzance on the A30, Rupinder pointed to the turn for Crows-an-wra. Ian turned onto the unlit, paved country lane. Windswept hedgerows eight to ten feet high bordered both sides of the meandering, one-lane road, crowding to the very edge, and in some places intruding onto the lane. These ancient barriers, present on the English countryside since the Roman occupation, form a thick intertwined mesh of thorny plants as impenetrable as barbed wire.

“Did you have a chance to talk to Dr. McGee about Mrs. Chapman?”

“No,” said Rupinder. “The time slipped away. Before I knew it was too late to call.”

“You don’t care for him, do you? Dr. McGee may be an arrogant bastard, but he’s a good physician. I need to know how she’s doing.”

“I’ll phone before I leave home tomorrow morning. He gets into the office early before he goes to the hospital to check on his patients. Did you get all of the files?”

“They’re in the boot.” He paused for a few moments before proceeding. “How did we get ourselves into this mess, Rups?”

“I don’t know,” she said, looking straight ahead, shaking her head almost imperceptibly. “I’m so stressed I can’t sleep. I lie awake thinking about it.”

“Tomorrow, I’ll drive to London and give David Tomlinson the files and explain what happened. I only told him I had some serious concerns I needed to discuss with him alone. I was afraid if I said any more, he would feel obligated to include others in the meeting.”

“What’s going to happen?”

“Going to him now, instead of waiting until the outcome of the regulatory agency inspections, should work in our favor. Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine.”

“I want it to be over,” she said.

“Me too.” He glanced over at her. The stress was evident in her brown almond shaped eyes.

Ian hired Rupinder to be his research nurse a month before a clinical research study was to begin. One evening, they set aside an hour to go over the clinical research study protocol in preparation for the start of the new study. Three hours later, they left the clinic. What began as innocent speculation during the meeting had turned into something they believed was a foolproof plan from which they and the clinic would benefit.

The wipers swept every few seconds, clearing the rain from the windshield, as they drove on the lane toward the B3306. Through the spray coming off the roadway behind them, Ian saw the headlights of a car approaching fast from behind. He pulled into a lay-by, a point in the lane where it widened a few feet, to allow the car to pass. When it didn’t, he looked in the rearview mirror. The car was stopped 50 yards back. “That’s strange.” He pulled out of the lay-by and continued driving. The other car resumed and increased its speed until it was only a couple of car lengths behind.