Alternative3 - Chapter 3
February 6, 1977. Sir William Ballantine kept looking nervously at his watch. He couldn't understand why Carmell hadn't telephoned. That, quite specifically, had been the arrangement. He should have telephoned - and fixed the meeting - as soon as he arrived in England.
From his study window, stark against the unseasonably bright blue of the afternoon sky, Ballantine could see the gigantic listening saucer of the Jodrell Bank radio telescope.
He stared at it now, trying to stifle the conviction that something had gone dreadfully wrong. For days he'd had this premonition that somehow they had discovered what he was planning, that time was draining fast away.
It had been a mistake, a terrible mistake, to have kept the tape a secret for so long. He should have told the public, months earlier, what was really happening in space. He should have done it that day when - at NASA headquarters in America - he saw the undeniable proof.that men had achieved the impossible.
But, there again, who would have believed him? The facts were so fantastic that, despite his international standing as a radio astronomer, there would have been skepticism. Particularly if NASA denied the story - and Harry Carmell had warned him that NASA would deny it most emphatically.
Carmell had helped him. He'd been nervous about doing so, but - without seeking permission from his superiors - he had helped. He'd played Ballantine's Jodrell Bank tape through one of the NASA electronic decoding circuits. And then they'd seen, just the two of them, the astounding pictures that were suddenly flowing from the unscrambled tape.
Carmell, immediately, had been terrified. "Don't yap about this - not to anybody," he'd said. "These bastards would kill us if they knew what we've seen. Take a word of advice, friend, and destroy that damned tape..."
We have those words, exactly as they were spoken, for they made a big impression on Ballantine. Enough of an impression for him to record them in his 1976 diary.
Ballantine did not speak of what he'd seen at NASA. He tried to forget. But, of course, he couldn't forget.
On Wednesday, January 26, 1977, Ballantine got an unexpected telephone call from Carmell in America. Most of Ballantine's telephone conversations contained such a mass of technical information that he taped them for future reference. He taped this particular one, and now, by permission of Lady Ballantine, we are able to present it:
CARMELL: Did you do like I said...? Did you destroy that tape?
BALLANTINE: I haven't told anybody about it...but I've still got it safe...
CARMELL: Thank Christ! Then we can burst the whole f---ing thing...
BALLANTINE: I'm sorry...what are you talking about?
CARMELL: Batch consignments...that's what I'm talking about...I tell you, friend, it's incredible what these goons are doing...
BALLANTINE: Batch consignments...? I don't know what that means...
CARMELL: Stinking atrocities...that's what it means ...But I don't want to say more, not on the wire...I'll tell you when I get to you...
BALLANTINE: You're coming to England?
CARMELL: By the first damned flight I can...I've quit NASA, and I've borrowed a baby jukebox...
BALLANTINE: I don't think I caught that...
CARMELL: A jukebox...you know...a decoder like we used last year...I've got one, and I'm bringing it to England...
BALLANTINE: But what's happened...? And what are batch consignments?
CARMELL: Wait till we meet, friend, and it'll blow your mind...Jesus, I knew these bastards were evil, but I never imagined...look, I'll ring you when I get to London, okay?
BALLANTINE: You expect to get here tomorrow?
CARMELL: Can't rightly say...they know I've got this baby, and they're looking for me...so I gotta play it smart. I might go through Canada and out that way...give me till...well, let's say a week Sunday...I should have made it before then...
BALLANTINE: You know, I find this very hard to credit...you really are in some danger?
CARMELL: Not some danger, friend...the worst danger possible...but I couldn't stand by and just let them do what they're doing...now, look, I gotta go...so a week Sunday at the outside, okay?
BALLANTINE: That'll be February 6...
CARMELL: Yeah...but with luck it'll be earlier...if you haven't heard from me again by February 6 - let's say by four in the afternoon - you'll know it's all screwed up...
BALLANTINE: And what does that mean?
CARMELL: That I'll be dead, friend, that's what it means.
BALLANTINE: Good Lord!.but if that were to happen...what should I do?
CARMELL: If you give a damn about decency or human dignity...you'll go right ahead and expose the whole stinking shebang...there's a guy in Geneva who'll help you...his name is...
That was the core of the conversation. We are not printing the name mentioned at that stage by Harry Carmell, for it is that of the man we now refer to as Trojan. In view of the way Trojan has helped in this investigation, his life would be in acute danger if he were in any way to be identified in this book.
So there was Ballantine in his study on February 6. It was nearly 4:45 in the afternoon. And there was still no call from Carmell.
Maybe, he thought, Carmell had been caught. Maybe he'd been caught and killed. It all bordered on being outrageously impossible, but, after what he had seen at NASA, Ballantine no longer considered anything impossible.
Obviously he ought to contact the man in Switzerland. He'd promised Carmell that he would. Well, he'd more or less promised him. But even that wasn't as simple as it seemed. Carmell had given him no address or telephone number. Only a surname. And Geneva was rather a large place.
By 5:30 he was convinced that Carmell was dead. He was also convinced that there was serious danger for himself. Carmell's words kept running through his mind: "I knew these bastards were evil but I never imagined." And now Ballantine's own imagination was churning over. They probably already knew about his tape and about what he intended doing with it..."
He took the tape from the drawer, knowing that he had to get it to somewhere safe. That was when he realized there was one friend who might be able to advise him - John Hendry, the London managing editor of an international news agency.
Kendry, to start with, had a staff reporter in Geneva - and he would almost certainly trace the man named by Carmell. Hendry would also be able to tell him the best way to break the news - for it was essential to make as big an initial impact as possible. He'd pull the whole bizarre business right into the eye of the public. He'd also force a thorough investigation into the disappearance of Harry Carmell.
He checked his watch again. Early Sunday evening. Chances were that John Hendry was still at his office. They worked odd hours in Fleet Street. It was worth trying.
He was lucky. He caught Hendry just as he was preparing to leave. Here, again with Lady Ballantine's permission, is a transcript of that telephone call:
BALLANTINE: John...? This is William Ballantine.
HENDRY: Well, what a happy surprise! How are things a Jodrell?
BALLANTINE: I've got a problem, John...rather a serious problem...and I need your help...
HENDRY: Certainly, you know full well that any help I can give...what sort of problem?
BALLANTINE: Can I meet you this evening?
HENDRY: You in London?
BALLANTINE: I'm calling from home...but it wouldn't take me long to drive.
HENDRY: Well...I was just about wrapping up for the night...
BALLANTINE: It is important, John...and I promise you, it's the biggest story you've seen this year...
HENDRY: So how can I say "no"? You want to come to the office?
BALLANTINE: I'll be with you as quickly as possible. Oh - and John - I'm also putting a package in the post to you...but I'll explain that when I see you...
HENDRY: I don't follow...why not bring it with you...?
BALLANTINE: Because I've got a feeling...a premonition if you like...that events are starting to move rather fast...and I want it safely out of my possession...
HENDRY: And that's supposed to be logic? William, what is all this about?
BALLANTINE: Just wait for me...then you'll understand everything.
The sequence of events that immediately followed the conversation has been described by Lady Ballantine. We met her on July 27,1977. Here is the statement she made then:
I entered the study just as my husband was replacing the receiver, and I couldn't help noticing, right away, that he was in a state of agitation. This extremely self-possessed man. He never allowed himself to get flustered. He had been behaving a little strangely, a little out-of-character, for about a week - ever since he had a phone call from some man in America. He wouldn't discuss it with me - which, again, was unusual - but he seemed to be very much on edge.
However, I'd never seen him quite as he looked when I went into his study. I had the distinct feeling - and I don't think I'm dramatizing with hindsight - that he was frightened.
I asked him what was troubling him, for it was obvious that something was, but he kept shaking his head and saying there was nothing.
He told me that he had to drive to London immediately for a meeting...
Lady Ballantine became rather distressed during this part of the statement, and we waited for a while until she had composed herself. She apologized for crying and said she was anxious to continue because she wanted to assist. Our investigation, she pointed out, would have had the fullest endorsement from her husband. She went on:
He took a package from the drawer of his desk and sealed it into a large envelope that he addressed to Mr. Hendry in London. He put stamps on it and asked me to take it straight away to the post box. He said it was most urgent, and, although I pointed out that there was no collection that evening, he was quite adamant that I should take it then.
He said that he would probably be back from London in the early hours of the Monday morning, but, as you know, I never saw him again.
Why did Ballantine act so strangely over that tape? It would have been more logical, surely, for him to have taken it with him to London. Getting his wife to post it - so ensuring it would be delayed before reaching Hendry - seems to make little sense. We confess we do not have the answer. Unless there is one to be found in that transcript of his conversation with Hendry...
"I've got a feeling...a premonition if you like..." That's what he said. And it could be the key. We now know that the tape would never have reached Hendry if it had gone into Ballantine's car. But then, borrowing an expression from Lady Ballantine, we do have the benefit of hindsight.
Ballantine's death, as you may recall, made all the front pages. The splash headline in one of the tabloids read FREAK SKID KILLS SCIENCE CHIEF - and that seemed to sum it up. There was no obvious explanation for his car having careered off the road on that journey to London. Ballantine was a competent and steady driver who had traveled that route often before. He would have known about that awkward bend and about that terrible drop beyond the protective fencing.
And, even in an agitated state, he would almost certainly have approached it with caution. A freak skid. Yes, that seemed to say it all.
Only one photograph of the crash was made available to the Press and television. A whole series were taken by agency cameraman, George Green, but only one was ever released. It showed part of the wreckage - and a blanket - covered shape on a stretcher.
We asked Green what was in the other pictures. Why had they been confiscated?
"I've been ordered to keep my trap shut," he said. "But I'll tell you this...you ought to ask that Professor Radwell why he lied at the inquest. Now I'm saying any more...it'd be more than my job's worth. He's the boy you want to talk to."
Professor Hubert Radwell was the pathologist who gave evidence at the Ballantine inquest. He had reported that the body had been "extensively burned." That in itself was puzzling, for there had been no fire - and Radwell had not been pressed for an explanation.
We checked back on Trojan's transcript of the Policy Committee meeting - the one held only three days before Ballantine's death. And we studied the words used about Ballantine and Harry Carmell:
R SEVEN: As you say then, there is no room for question ...both of them have got to be expediencies.
A EIGHT: All agreed...? Good... I suggest a couple of hot jobs...coroners always play them quiet...
"Hot jobs" and "extensive" burns...and coroners "always playing them quiet." And now this cryptic statement from cameraman George Green. It all had to add up to more than mere coincidence.
Professor Radwell, at first, refused to make any comment. "The Ballantine business is in the past," he said. "Nothing can be gained by raking it all up."
We formed the impression that he was under some pressure, that he had been given instructions to stay silent. And that he was uneasy about those instructions.
That impression proved right. We pressed him to specify the extent of the burning. And suddenly, to our surprise, it seemed as if he wanted to unburden himself. "It was uncanny," he said. "Quite uncanny." He paused before adding: "They told me it would cause unnecessary alarm...that there was no point in people knowing...but now I'm not sure...I've always regarded the truth as sacrosanct." Another pause. Then, obviously having taken a big decision, he talked quickly and at length. His statement, which we will be presenting later, provides an astonishing insight into what really killed sir William Ballantine. And into what the Policy Committee mean by a "hot job."
Harry Carmell first heard the news of Ballantine's death on a radio bulletin. He heard it early in the morning on February 7, and it hardly registered.
Very little was registering with Carmell at that time. The prolonged strain of dodging out of America, of knowing he was a target for execution, had pushed him back into a habit he thought he'd kicked forever. He was back on drugs. Hard drugs.
He was in his mid-thirties but normally looked at least ten years younger. On this particular morning, in a hotel bedroom in London's Earls Court, he was more like a sick man of sixty or more. He lay fully dressed on the covers of the unmade bed, his bleached blue eyes fixed unseeingly on a crack in the ceiling. His skin, too tight over his face, had the pallor of a shroud. And he felt as if he might once again start to vomit.
His girl, Wendy, was out getting the morning papers. He lit a cigarette, tried to will himself back to normality. But his head still seemed full of fog.
Ballantine. He could almost swear he'd heard that guy on the radio mention the name Ballantine. Or maybe it was a name very similar.
It made him remember, however, what he'd got to do. He'd got to contact Ballantine. He'd got to give him the jukebox. He checked the date on his watch and swore with quiet desperation. February 7. Jesus! That had to mean he'd been blown out of his mind for three whole days - ever since he'd told Ballantine he was in a panic. He'd told Ballantine, told him quite specifically, that he'd call by February 6 at the latest. And that if he didn't call by then, Ballantine could assume he was dead.
He scrambled off the bed, started fumbling through his wallet. Where the hell was that damned number? He found it on a slip of card just as Wendy returned. He sat on his pillow to start dialing and she handed him one of the newspapers. One glance at the front page made him drop the receiver as if it was suddenly white-hot. That guy on the radio...he had heard him properly. Ballantine had already been murdered.
Fear instantly cleared his brain. "Throw your things together." He was on his feet and his tone was decisive. "We're pulling out - now."
Wendy stared at him, bewildered. "What's up?"
"I want to go on living - that's what's up." Carmell was already bundling his clothes into a leather grip. "Now come on - move."
Twelve minutes later they'd settled their bill and were out of the hotel. And as they hurried away, he told her exactly why they were in England.
We should mention here that we are suppressing Wendy's surname at her request.
She fears retaliation from the Policy Committee, and, although we consider those fears are not justified, we have agreed to respect her wishes.
We have interviewed her on three occasions and she has explained that she thought their furtive escape through Canada was somehow connected with Carmell having broken his contract with NASA.
She had not questioned him. And she certainly had no idea his life was in danger. Not until that morning in February. He told her everything that morning, as he bustled her along the pavements of Earls Court. He told her the lot.
"They'll start scouring the hotels now," he said. "So from here on we live rough. We find ourselves a squat somewhere and we live rough."
And later, in the derelict house where they slept for the next two nights, he told her he was determined to go ahead with his plan. He was going to expose them and their atrocities. And he wasn't going to be stopped by Ballantine's death.
"Maybe I ought to go straight to the Press," he said. "That's the only way to play it now..."
"But what if they don't believe you?"
"Of course they'll believe me! It's the truth, and I'll damned well make them believe me!"
"I was watching a program on TV the other night," said Wendy. "While you were...you know...asleep. I was watching a program called `Science Report'..."
"So it strikes me that a program like that would have scientific advisers...and those advisers, dumbhead, might understand what you're talking about..."
Carmell immediately got enthusiastic. "You're damned right they would...better than any newspaper reporter...Hey, I really think you've hit it. This Science Report...what station was it on?"
"I got the impression it goes out every week...but I can't remember which station," said Wendy. "I do know it had a commercial in the middle, so it couldn't have been the BBC..."
"I'll find it," interrupted Carmell, "And I'll give them the most sensational science report they've ever had..."
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