Hallenbeck Echo

Preface

Friday 26th January 2007. The deserted St Mary Cross Animal Research
Unit, Skelmersdale, Lancashire

A horrific and tortured squeal erupted from within the building. Every last drop of blood drained out of
Naomi’s face. She snatched her mobile from her ear, wheeled around, and stared wild-eyed at the locked
doors and mirrored windows.
A second screech followed by an agonised wail launched her heart rate to stratospheric levels, and she
started to back away. And then something big and heavy slammed into the inside wall, opposite her.
Not daring to take her eyes off the building, she lifted the mobile phone back to her ear and said, “Holy
Christ Helen, did you hear that? They told me that this place was deserted.” She waited for a response but
heard nothing. She looked at the phone and saw that she’d lost the signal. She gasped and said, “Right –
just what I need…”
Deep in the trees at the end of the facility, the man with the gun was just as shocked; he too couldn’t
take his eyes off the rear elevation in case something smashed its way out.
Naomi heard the sound of an approaching vehicle and began to run towards the gates. She heard the
engine slow, and realised that the security guard had returned. As he appeared at the top of the drive, she
charged up to him and half-yelled, “I thought you said this place was deserted!”
The guard looked up and said, “It is.”
“It bloody well isn’t!”
The shocked guard said, “It is, I assure you. Nobody’s occupied the place for at least five years.”
“Then how the hell do you explain a God-awful, tortured screech coming from within the building?”
“What?”
“A screech, a gut-wrenching wail, and then something big slamming into an inside wall?”
The guard frowned, looked at the building and said, “What, in there?”
“Yes in there!”
The guard looked back at Naomi and said, “That can’t be; show me where.”
Naomi led the guard to the rear of the building.
The man in the trees watched their approach and removed a silenced pistol from his jacket pocket.
Naomi reached the place where she’d heard the sound and pointed to a window. She said, “It was in
there.”
The man in the trees lifted the pistol and took aim.
The guard said, “No way! Inside there are just old labs filled with junk. They’re completely empty.”
Naomi said, “I am not lying, and I was not hallucinating! Something is inside there and it let out a
horrible shriek!”
The guard looked back at the building, and didn’t know what to say.
Minutes later, as Naomi and the guard walked back to the entrance, the man in the trees pocketed his
pistol and took out a mobile phone. He dialled a number and said, “Something’s seriously wrong here
boss, the weirdest thing just happened…”

Chapter 1

11:30pm Thursday 11th January 2007.

Slaidburn, Lancashire

Rain, rain, rain: Harry Appleton cursed the never-ending deluge that cascaded down the windscreen of
his van as he turned off the narrow country road and pulled up at the security gate of the Slaidburn coalfired
power station.
The security guard put his raincoat on, walked out to the car and said, “Evening sir, filthy night isn’t
it?”
Appleton flashed his pass and said, “You can say that again.”
The guard pulled his peaked cap lower down and bent to the driver’s window. He said, “We were
expecting you earlier Mr Appleton.”
Appleton peered out of the small opening and said, “Yes, I’m sorry about that; this bloody awful rain
hasn’t made it easy to see where I was going – and I was held up at Ferrybridge C before coming here.”
“Ferrybridge? Good grief, you haven’t driven from there have you, sir?”
“Yes, and when I finish here I have to get home to Manchester.”
The security guard expelled a long breath and said, “Rather you than me, sir.” He shook his head and
then said, “Right, best not to keep you chit-chatting,” he touched the peak of his cap, returned to his hut
and pressed the switch that opened the barrier.
Appleton smiled, nodded, and drove through to the station.
It had been four days since the catastrophic lightning bolt had shut down the enormous Drax Power
station in North Yorkshire, and the torrential rain still hadn’t abated.
Massive pressure had been applied by the public and Government to get the power restored, but the
engineers still hadn’t fixed it. As a result, Drax Power had had to fall back onto its emergency
contingency plan.
Some power had been restored to commercial enterprises and a few homes with the aid of the
Ferrybridge C power station in West Yorkshire, but, and much against the advice of the senior engineers
of Drax, an executive decision had been taken to re-fire the standby Slaidburn station until the repairs had
been completed, and all the safety tests had been run.
Malcolm Ridyard, the engineer first despatched to Slaidburn, stared at the computer printout given to
him by Appleton and then looked back at the bank of switches on the dull, grey, fifties-style console. He
said, “This doesn’t match.”
Appleton didn’t respond. He continued to scrutinise the banks of old-fashioned dials and switches until
he heard Ridyard speak again.
“Harry, did you hear what I just said?”
Appleton turned and said, “No, sorry, what was it again?”
Ridyard pointed to the computer printout and said, “This doesn’t match what we’ve got here.”
Appleton frowned and said, “What doesn’t match what?”
“This,” said Ridyard, “come and see.”
Appleton cast a last cursory look over the array of dials and then walked across to Ridyard. He
glanced at the printout and then said, “Sorry, I’ve had a long day, what am I supposed to be looking at?”
“According to this printout, we have six switches to throw to restore power to all areas of the station’s
capability but, here we have seven switches.”
Appleton looked up and saw where Ridyard was indicating. He looked down at it and then back up.
He said, “Bugger …” He turned the bulky printout to face him and then said, “This is all we need. The
instruction says to throw the six switches, but it doesn’t enumerate, and there aren’t any numbers or letters
on the actual switches telling us which ones are the right ones.”
“Exactly,” said Ridyard.
Appleton expelled a long breath, stared at the switches again, and repeated, “Bugger!” He looked at
his watch, saw that it was 12:35 a.m., and he knew that his boss would be in bed. He looked back at the
switches and then turned to Ridyard.
“Do you live far from here Mal?”
“Miles – in Lancaster.”
“Me too, Manchester.”
“Blimey, I thought I had it bad, why?”
“Because we’re both miles from home, tired, hungry, pissed off, and we’ve been given a bloody
printout that’s incorrect. That’s why.”
“And your point is?”
Appleton looked at the array and then turned to Ridyard. He said, “We have a decision to make. Do we
pick six random switches, throw them, and hope that we’ve got the right ones, or do we throw all seven?”
Ridyard looked back at the switches and then down at the printout. He said, “I don’t know Harry …”
Appleton pondered and then said, “What harm would it do if we threw all seven? Each of the switches
turns on a specific area of Lancashire and West Yorkshire so it’s not as though we’ll overload anywhere.
When these controls were designed they all had fail-safe systems built into them, so even if we were to
double the output to any given location, we couldn’t overload the system because one or the other would
shut down.”
“So what are you suggesting?”
“That we throw all seven, wait half-an-hour, and then if no red lights start flashing and we get no
panicky calls, we go home and get some well-earned rest.”
Ridyard thought for a few seconds and then raised his eyebrows. He said, “It sounds like a plan to
me.” Appleton nodded, double-checked that they hadn’t missed anything in the printout, and then watched the
white lights turn on one-by-one as he threw the switches.
They waited for the prescribed half hour.
They saw no indication that anything was amiss, they didn’t receive any telephone calls, and they
concluded that everything was running smoothly.
At 1:35 a.m. they bid the Slaidburn security guard a ‘good night’ and returned to their individual
homes.

Chapter 2

Friday 12th January 2007.

McCready House, Hampstead Heath, London

Michael Werm or ‘Bookie’ to his friends and colleagues – had gained his nickname through his love of
reading and the obvious connection to his surname. He was a painter and decorator by trade and though he
always got on well with his fellow tradesmen, he never joined in any of their sporting lunchtime games.
Every day he would take his food and drink along with a good book to a quiet place and immerse himself
in whatever took his fancy at the time.
The contract at McCready House had commenced in September 2006, when the property had been
purchased by a private developer from one Lady Jocelyn Fitton-Kearns who had relocated to a luxurious,
cliff-top apartment overlooking Bournemouth’s seven miles of sandy beaches.
McCready House was a brick-built, three-storey, terraced, Georgian-style property. On the façade, the
front door was situated between two reception rooms, whilst to the far left, was a small integral garage. A
garage that may have housed cars up until the 1960s, but as the design of cars had widened, it had become
a storeroom for all of those unwanted or redundant items that ‘may have come in handy’ whilst Lady
Jocelyn’s husband, Lord Frank of Godley, had been alive, but in the end they had not.
Two rear reception rooms mirrored the front rooms on the ground floor, and to the rear of the small
garage lay the kitchen, scullery, and pantry. Running up from the front door to the top of the house was the
staircase and landings that led to the first and second floor bedrooms and bathrooms.
One-by-one the contractors had moved in, moved out, and made way for the next skill, until it had been
the turn of ‘Masters & Lowe, Painters & Decorators Ltd’.
The proprietors, Richard Masters and Dan Lowe had been friends and business partners for many
years, and whilst Dan’s acerbic tongue kept the staff well and truly motivated, Richard kept his
accountant’s eye on the finances often to the disdain of those feeling the results of his financial restraints.
Bookie had waited until his co-workers had finished their lunches and had moved outside to kick a
football around, and then he’d picked up his beloved lightweight cane chair and taken it into the front
room at the far end of the central hall.
As soon as he walked in to the unpainted room, he was beset by the same odd feeling that he’d had
each time he’d been there. He looked all around, up and down, but as per each of his previous visits, he
couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary
He set the cane chair down by the front window, looked around, and wondered if it might be something
to do with the internal dimension. He walked back to his toolbox, removed his tape measure, and
measured the room’s length, breadth, and height. He then walked up the stairs and did the same to the two
rooms directly above. They were identical in size.
With a resigned sigh, he walked back downstairs, sat in his chair, and put the thought out of his mind.
Minutes later he was lost in the fictive realm of his novel.
His allotted half hour passed too soon, he closed the book, stuffed it into the voluminous pocket of his
white overalls, and bent over to pick up the chair. As he did so, he heard a sound. He stood up, remained
stock still, and listened. Seconds later he heard it again. It sounded like a bleep; a faint distant bleep. He
looked around and wondered if somebody had walked down the hall towards him. He ambled over to the
door and peered outside. Nobody was there. With a puzzled expression on his face he turned to go back,
but stopped when he heard the familiar voice of Dan Lowe.
“Time’s up Bookie – we want this room done before four o’ clock so that Bronzy John can get away.”
Dan was about to turn away when he saw the look of puzzlement on Bookie’s face. He said, “Anything
up?”
“I thought that…” he looked into the room, realised that he hadn’t heard the sound again, and then said,
“…never mind, it’s nothing.”
Dan said, “Okay, come on then.” He turned to head back to the kitchen and then heard a voice say, “Oh
for Christ’s sake – tell me that this isn’t happening!” He leaned around the door of the other front
reception room and saw Basil, Bookie’s mate, holding up a box of rolled wallpapers. He said, “What’s
the problem?”
“Who ordered these?”
“Richard.”
“Typical! Why is he always trying to cut back? When I say I want twenty rolls of paper, why do I
always get eighteen? Doesn’t he think that I can count? And what the fuck is he doing ordering the paper
anyway? He knows…”
“Alright, alright,” said Dan, “calm down, I’ll give him a call.” He turned back and saw Bookie looking
into the far room and said, “Bookie! Come on! We haven’t got all day!”
Bookie walked back into the unpainted room, picked up his cane chair and got half way to the door
when he heard it again. He stopped, listened, and was about to put the chair down when he heard Dan
call, “Bookie – get your ass in gear and come on!”
He frowned, cast one last glance around, and then walked back to the other front room.