Chapter 32, in which we get a peek into the Professor's deadly lab
THE CAT’S AWAY
Professor Schnelling downshifts his durable 1960 Volvo 210 station wagon as he winds his way towards Santa Maria Bay on the north side of St. Thomas. The ruins of an abandoned 17th century sugar plantation, accessible via the narrow dirt road Schnelling is negotiating, provide the perfect cover for his lab. Most of the materials for the lab, and the crews to construct it, were brought in by water more than two years ago to avoid detection by the locals. Schnelling sold the idea to the young but well-positioned Yevgeny Kasparanov after becoming convinced he could produce a strain of the polio virus resistant to all existing vaccines. He took full advantage of the Soviet Union’s desperate and to-date unsuccessful attempts to match America’s nuclear arsenal by offering the promise of a physically and psychologically devastating weapon that could be produced and deployed at a tiny fraction of the cost of either nuclear or conventional forces. He relied on Kasparanov to do the rest and he was not disappointed.
The compact but sophisticated laboratory sits on the smallest of rises at the east end of the bay. Dense tropical growth covers the ruins making the lab, built within the walls of the old sugar boiling house, virtually undetectable from the air. In the unlikely event a traveler finds himself on the single, unimproved road leading to the bay, his chances of seeing the lab from the ground are no better. An overgrown footpath leading from the road to the lab more than 50 meters in from the road is the only evidence that anything other than wilderness surrounds Santa Maria Bay.
Schnelling stops at the footpath and gets out of his car. He had always intended to remove the written records of his work from the lab for safekeeping once the formula was perfected, but the sudden appearance of Kropotkin on the island caught him off guard. Since Kropotkin’s arrival Schnelling has been living in fear of the threat to his personal safety the theft of his records would represent. He is certain they are his only security; he is also certain that Kropotkin has been ordered to destroy that security by gathering whatever information he can from Schnelling and his lab. He guesses correctly that Kropotkin’s preference is to bypass what’s on paper in favor of extracting what he can directly from the professor by any means necessary.
The specter of Kropotkin’s presence on the island stalks Schnelling as he makes his way through the weeds and ruins to the sanctuary of his workplace. He curses himself for stupidly underestimating the cold brutality of his coconspirators.