It was at the Autumn meeting that the strange story of the "fang" in our "Black Museum" emerged. The museum is really a collection of oddities from round the globe where our members have worked, but "the Fang" is quite famous amongst our members, mostly for it's being among the military bits and pieces.
We'd had a damned good Dinner and the Speeches were made, presentations presented and the Port was whizzing round when the Chairman stood and asked "Any new Reports this year?" These 'reports' are just stories, really, some serious, some funny. They get recorded, transcribed and entered into the "Proceedings of the Society" annually. There were cries of "Come on Hugh -- tell the tale" from the assembled members.
Somewhat diffidently, which is unusual for him, Hugh rose to his feet and told his tale: "Gentlemen, as most of you know, my firm is in the specialised pest control business. Not long since, we had occasion to clear a certain old military site; I'm sure most of you will know where it is, so I needn't dwell on any details. The work had been going well, with good cooperation from the Army and we all got on pretty well. Then we got real problems on one building.
I'd almost expected the note. In a few short weeks, George, our foreman, had changed from being an almost fearless chaser and catcher of pests and general checker of building state to one who was very, very careful. The old base where we were working was erected in the aftermath of the war and had been one of the most secret. No civilians worked there at all. It was closed down about ten years ago and the staff had all cleared out. Rumour had it that this was done with a great many vehicles sedately driving into the night. The triple razor-wire fences were still in perfect condition. The airfield on the other side of the river continued activity with a flying club.
My firm won the contract to go and clean up, making sure that there was no let or hindrance to it being used by local manufacturing firms as part of the redevelopment of the locality in the light of the adjacent growing township.
"Dear Mr Hugh,
I'm sorry but I cannot do anything about Building No 34 on the site until I get more information. There are strange, almost metallic, noises scratching and I have heard the occasional squeak. As there are no windows, attempts to use a CCTV camera have so far failed. Adjacent buildings are no problem and work is progressing well. Please find the enclosed work sheets and progress reports. "
Building 34 was like a hangar, but set in a dip in the land, so it was almost hidden. A label on one drawing announced it to be 'Plant Laboratory No 4.' The ventilation towers on the roof indicated a lot of air cleaning for a 'Plant Lab'. There was a separate electric sub-station for just this one building and an emergency power supply in a lean-to next door. The purpose and scope of the works were, however, unknown. Whatever it was they did in there, it was more than merely 'secret'.
I had a couple of our security people make enquiries, but all they got was rumour. It was the usual stuff, UFOs, explosives, ray guns, poison gasses and heaven only knows what else.
Whatever it was, the Army was paying us a generous sum to clear the site but they were not saying anything about what work went on in Building 34. As if that wasn't enough, all our attempts at getting information were stopped by, 'classified', 'he's not available' or 'he's been posted'. Someone really did not want the purpose of Building 34 made public, even to a firm with our security clearances.
We got copies of the movement records, but all the registration numbers were military and untraceable by normal means. There was one entry I could read, with some difficulty: "Bryce Laboratories." As far as I knew, Bryce was known for making vaccines; some of their stuff had been shot into my arm when I was serving. Other documents looked strangely similar, so it was reasonable to conclude that they were fairly regular visitors. Were they, I wondered, the only ones?
On Monday morning, I took a phone call on the secure line:
"Mr Hugh? It's George."
"Yes, George. What's up?"
"There's been an accident. Henry reckoned he'd found a way into Building 34 and went onto the roof. He was lowering the camera down an old ventilator when something cut his hand; badly. We got him down and the Ambulance has taken him to St. Mary's Hospital."
"Is everything else all right, George?" I asked.
"Yes sir, but the lads are a bit anxious."
"OK George, take the rest of the day off. Get the lads down to the pub for a drink on me and I'll talk to you later on your mobile. If you can do the preliminary report, it would help."
"Right, Boss." He said as he hung up.
Such interruptions were not unusual in our game. There was often someone who wanted to know something before we could carry on, especially in the military. Looking at the file, I found the number.
"Petter," said a voice.
"Pest Control," I replied in my best, clipped military tones.
"There's been an accident at Building 34."
"Go on," said Petter, after a slight pause:.
"I've only got the basics, but it seems one of my men tried to put a camera in the roof and got bitten, scratched, or something. He's been taken to the local Hospital. I'm expecting a preliminary report any time now."
"Which hospital?" asked Petter.
"St Mary's, I'm told." I wondered why it was important to him.
"Right oh," he said. "I'll deal with it. Can you forward your report to me on this number please?"
"Will a copy of the Fax do?"
"Yes: Or forward the e-mail. By the way, are any of your men former soldiers?"
"Well," I said. "They are all ex-military."
"Right. I'll call you back a bit later." Petter hung up.
I got on with some other work. George's report came by e-mail and I forwarded a copy to Petter. It made interesting reading. Henry had fixed up to use our new miniature camera and had tried to insert it into a ventilator. Whatever it was that scratched or bit him was big and strong with very sharp claws or teeth. He was 'in agony' when the ambulance arrived and the medics had to sedate him. I filled in the medical forms for the Health & Safety people and filed them. Out of curiosity, I copied it and filed the copy in my office safe. If the military were involved, I wanted our backs well covered.
That evening I phoned George. "Are the lads OK?"
"Yes, but they are well puzzled."
"Right, I'll be down tomorrow. Expect me about 11am."
"Righty-ho," he replied.
I got in early and cleared as much off my desk as possible, although some of the clearing would depress some of the office staff. I grabbed my gear and loaded the car boot. I got into my car and drove off to the site.
I left the main roads and cruised sedately down a few country lanes and arrived at the main entrance. To my surprise, there was a military policeman with his red cap firmly at the military angle at the gate.
"No entry, Sir," he said.
"My lads are working in there," I said, producing my ID papers.
"Right Sir, they are in the old Mess on the left. Please do not go near Building 34. We've secured the area." The guard looked stolid and was not up for a discussion, so I drove to the Mess.
The Mess was about the only building that had not suffered much and was more-or-less weatherproof if a bit tatty. An overgrown garden lay at the back and a screen of trees separated it from the main cluster of buildings. There were a number of Army lorries neatly parked on what I presume had been a Parade Ground.
A few cars were outside the Mess, parked in an orderly manner. I parked the car in front and walked in. George was waiting.
"We cannot go anywhere, Mr. Hugh," he said. "The lads are in the lounge." He led me into a large room, which must have looked very nice in its heyday. Assorted chairs in various states of disrepair were scattered round. A couple of the lads were playing cards at an old table. Items of kit and personal bags were stashed neatly in one corner.
"OK, chaps," I said. "What's to do and who's in charge?"
I got the story. Henry had got the drawings and found an old ventilator. A camera, lowered on a wire could be put down and they'd all see what was inside. He got his arm in, but thought he'd gashed it on something. It cleared and he got it out, but his hand was bleeding. Fortunately, he'd got some bandages in his kit, wrapped the wound promptly and told George who automatically called the paramedics. I was glad that particular bit of the personal safety lecture had sunk in. It wasn't until he got down to ground level that it had started bleeding badly. By then the Ambulance had arrived and took him away. By the time they'd arrived on site in the morning, the Army were in full control.
"OK," I said. "I'm off to find the head honcho."
I left the Mess and walked up the weed-strewn path towards the lorries. Before I got as far as the Parade square, another Redcap stopped me.
"Sorry Sir," he said, "you cannot go further."
I got out my ID and said, "I need to speak to the senior Officer." He looked at the papers and said, "Please wait here, sir. I'll find out where he is." He spoke into his little radio. After a moment he said, "Sir, if you'll follow me, I'll take you to Captain Mallet."
He led me to a large trailer laid out like an office. There were the usual metal filing cabinets, a table and a couple of chairs. The Army might have been here only a short time, but they were hot on the paperwork already.
I'd just sat down when a young man in Army greens entered. His rank slides indicated a Captain. "Hello," he said, "I'm Mallet."
I introduced myself, showed my papers, and said, "What's going on?"
"It has been decided by those on high," he said, "that Building 34 is to be demolished. Therefore, we are here to do it. It will give the sappers a bit of unusual practice and blow it sky high."
I looked at him, and then out of the widow as a figure in Biological protective kit walked past. "I take it," I said, pointing to the figure, "that he does not exist?"
"It might be easier if you took that view." He smiled.
"And do I assume that this might have something to do with whatever it was that went on in Building 34?" I asked.
"Something like that." The smile changed to a grin.
"Is this going to affect our job here?" I asked. "Building 34 was a large part of the job and a substantial investment in kit and training: We'd hate to make a loss on the deal." It was my turn to smile.
"Oh, I'm sure that will not be a problem. There are several more contracts to come. You'll get first refusal, of course. And," he added, "at a good rate."
"Fair enough," I said. "You'll confirm this in writing sometime soon?"
There is nothing like paper for proving things that could easily be denied later. "Of course. I'll organise that now," he replied.
"When are you going to blow it?" I asked.
"Tonight, if they've got all the charges in place" he replied.
"You want our kit out now or will tomorrow do? It's all at the Mess at present apart from the camera somewhere inside a ventilator."
"Tomorrow will be satisfactory. You should be here by about 9am."
"Right, then, I'll tell the lads." I said as I walked out, but Captain Mallet was on the telephone already.
"Listen up, lads," I said as I entered the Mess. "We are done for today. We are allowed back tomorrow for our gear and to finish what we can. I'm told that we will not loose on this job." There was a ragged cheer and the lads stood up to go. George followed them out of the door.
"George, hang on a moment." George stopped and turned back to me.
"Can we find a way of securing out gear?" I asked.
"Yes, Boss." he said, turning towards me. "There's an old safe in the back. Huge thing it is, and I found a key. And it's in its own room which I can also lock. Why?" He asked.
"Safety," I said. "I don't fancy some military light-fingered Looney going through our gear."
We packed the kit into the safe, taking only some personal and sensitive stuff to my car. "Meet you here early?" I asked.
"Yes," he said. "Dawn?"
"Fine: See you tomorrow."
With a slight nod, I got into my car and drove to the office. The light was blinking on the answering machine when I walked in. Pressing the button, I listened to a brief message from Petter: "Please call me."
The call was answered almost immediately.
"Look," he said, "We'd like to check your man Henry out, so he is to be transferred to one of our places. Both you and his family will be kept fully informed and may visit when the Medics say so. We'll also fix up for a Hotel, if necessary, when they do."
"How long?" I asked
"Difficult to say at this time, but don't worry about finances. We've a fund for emergencies so the family don't suffer."
I wondered about that, but hung up the phone after the usual courtesies.
It was dark the following morning as I hit the road again. As I approached the Guard point, a redcap went through his routine again and I told him I was off to the Mess.
He let down the barrier and I drove carefully to the Mess. About five minutes later, George joined me.
"Coffee?" he asked. He handed me a mug of scalding fresh coffee and put his Thermos flask on the table.
"Please. Henry is probably in a military hospital by now."
"Makes it even more mysterious then," he said. "I brought some makings, coffee, and a kettle. Just in case, like."
It was typical of George to take information in and say nothing. Over towards the parade square, the vehicles had moved and bright work-lights lit up Building 34.
"Good thinking, George." I said, taking another sip. "Nice coffee, this."
It was very quiet in the pre-dawn. The wind was only a whisper in the bushes. After a while, the work lights went off. The sound of heavy vehicles coming our way broke the silence. They stopped in the car park behind the Mess.
"Come to see the fireworks?" Captain Mallet asked as he walked in.
"It seemed like a good idea at the time," I replied. "Coffee?"
"Not for me thanks. Just had one," he said as he stood by the window.
"We might be safer not standing at the windows. Any minute now, I think."
There was hardly time to draw a breath when the roof seemed to lift up, and a bright flash tinged with blue lit the sky. There was a short pause and a small earthquake shook our building. Building 34 seemed to lift up before falling back with a lot of dust and collapsed. The fire started but it did not last long.
"Christ," said George. "That reminds me of a thousand pounder."
Captain Mallet looked at me. "Well the RAF lent us a real bomb for this job. It was in the cellar."
"Going to be difficult sending it back then, if it was on loan." I smiled and drank the last of my coffee. "And did you also use Butane?"
"I think there may have been one or two cylinders in there already," he said, with a smile, "but we added some metal powder for safety. Peak temperature inside should have reached 4000 degrees for a short time. Give it a while to cool and you can have a look." He walked out. Butane, so often found in camping stoves, is heavier than air and at the right mixture makes a very effective bomb particularly when mixed with powdered metal. They must have got it in through a ventilator or something, but I wasn't about to ask for details.
It was mid morning before we were told we could now look. Building 34 was flat as a pancake. Little wisps of smoke curled up in the still cold air. There was a curious, almost acrid, smell about the area, as if hair or fur had burned.
Captain Mallet appeared. "We've some more work to do; checking, and so on," he said, "but you can resume work on site tomorrow. I'll let you know if there's any change. And put in a claim for a replacement camera."
"Thank you. Call the lads, please George; we'll come back tomorrow and get on."
"OK," said George, picking up his phone. He only needed to make two calls. The cascade system would soon pass the message on to the rest.
"I think we'll pack up a bit more gear." I headed towards the safe room.
George unlocked the door and we went in. The window had broken, and a curious curved shape about two feet long lay on the floor. It reminded me of the fang of a sabre-tooth tiger.
"Ah, we have a souvenir." I put the thing in a plastic sample bag from our kit.
We got our gear and drove away. The rest of the job was a doddle and we'd got it done in record time. It was a few weeks later when I bumped into a pal of mine. We'd done a job or two for him including a Zoo. "Sid, have you still got friends in the world of animals?" I asked.
"Yes, he said. " Why?"
"I've got something I want looked at." I said and showed him the 'fang'.
"'Strewth," he exclaimed. He thought for a moment and said, "You down the Golden Lion tonight?"
"I'll see you there, then," he said as he walked off. "Tarra."
When I got to the pub that evening, Sid and another bloke were in the corner.
"You got it?" asked Sid. I nodded.
"This here's Graham," he added by way of introduction. "He's my tame animal man."
"Here," I said, putting the plastic-wrapped thing on the table.
Graham looked carefully at the object. "Is this some kind of joke?" he asked.
"Why?" I replied.
"Because if it isn't you've found the fang of the largest bloody spider yet seen by man."
"And how big would that be then?" I asked.
"Oh," said Graham, "somewhere between nine and fifteen foot."
I looked at the fang. "Plant Lab" my backside, I thought. I had it mounted and I hereby present it to the Chairman for the committee's consideration as an item for the 'black museum'. "
Hugh sat down and took a health swig at his Port. There was a long queue to see the exhibit, which was contained within a transparent plastic box, mounted on a very nice bit of Mahogany. Of course, you'd have to be a member to see it.