By the time Sam had arranged coffee and raided Anna’s biscuit tin, the file was on her computer.
“Okay. Open it up and let me read.”
After about a minute his face went flinty, then he started to swear. Anna let him get it out before touching him lightly on the arm.
“How bad is it, Sam?”
“About as bad as it can get. And multi stranded. Do you want to call Jim and put it on speaker? I don’t think I want to say this more than once.”
Anna nodded. Twenty seconds later Jim was answering his phone.
“It’s bad, Jim.” Sam grated. “Fucking evil. I haven’t read more than a tiny bit but I have identified several illegal revenue streams. Just a couple of examples. Unlicensed slimming drugs: possibly killers and almost certainly addictive. Old people dying once they have been persuaded to leave a nice lump of money to their doctors. Cosmetic surgery offered at knockdown prices because the practitioners have been struck off. I could go on…” His voice ran down.
“No need. I get the picture. Sounds as if this lot make Harold Shipman look like a fucking philanthropist. Question is how we stop them. It won’t be easy. Let me think.”
It went quiet for a minute, then Anna spoke.
“We need a excuse to get into the computer system in the private wing of the hospital, don’t we?”
“We do. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Oh yes. But from where?”
“That’s where I come in. A man in Russia owes me a favour. Do half a dozen private hospitals? Just another anti-capitalist protest. And who will get called in to sort it? Good old Jim Cracksman.”
“And once I’m in there’s no telling what I might find.”
“Precisely. We agreed then?”
“Oh yeah. And I’ll have a pint with mister plod tonight and give him a heads up. When can you get the virus started?”
“I’ll text you.”
And Jim was gone.
“Budge over, Sam. I need to send an email.”
Bewildered but trusting, Sam budged, and Anna sent a very brief message. She sat back.
“And now we wait. I’ll explain soon. I promise.”
Sam shook his head and grinned.
“I don’t suppose I’ll understand when you do. But that’s OK. I trust you. Implicitly.”
They didn’t actually wait very long, as Anna’s computer gave a strange little bleep almost before Sam had finished speaking. A message flashed up on the screen very briefly. It said 3 sent, 4 within eight hours and was gone almost as quickly as it had appeared.
“That wasn’t an email. Was it?”
“Sort of. But it won’t have left a trace. And it ain’t sitting in my inbox somewhere in hyperspace waiting to be seen by unfriendly eyes. Lemme just text Jim.”
Her fingers flew.
“Right then. Explanation. We need an excuse to get into the computer system at the hospital. We just got one. The private wing at Cheltenham, and six other private medical facilities in the west of England, are about to catch the Dali virus. Oh. Don’t look so shocked Sam. It’s actually harmless but a complete bastard to eradicate. They will try all they know to get rid, but by the middle of the week they’ll be in such a mucking fuddle they’ll call in Cracksman Security. Once Jim is in he’ll find all the naughty stuff, and hand it to an acquaintance of ours in the police. Job done.”
“Good. But. Two questions. Why is your pet virus called Dali? And why are you so sure Jim knows how to eradicate it?”
“It’s called Dali because it makes everything on screen look like those melted clocks he painted. And Jim knows exactly how to deal with it because he wrote the thing – with a bit of help from yours truly.”
Suddenly Sam found himself laughing.
“For barefaced effrontery that just about takes the biscuit. You two buggers write a virus, then arrange for it to be delivered, then Jim gets paid for eradicating it. It’s fucking perfect.”
“Is,” she announced in a voice full of false modesty. “However, we do only use it to flush out bad guys.”
“Yeah. I guess you do. But doesn’t that take some of the fun out of it?”
“Some. But catching bad guys has its own satisfaction. Now I have something much more interesting to show you.”
She got up and left the room.
Sam pulled himself together with an effort. He took a sip of his coffee, to find it stone cold. Picking up both mugs he crossed to the sink where he disposed of the cold coffee and rinsed the mugs before filling a metal jug with cold milk and putting it under the steam nozzle of the coffee machine. When Anna returned, he was just pouring two mugs of cappuccino, she grinned.
“Who is a very clever orthopaedic surgeon then?”
“Me,” Sam agreed happily. He carried the mugs over to the table and snaffled a chocolate chip cookie from the untouched plate. “So. What you got behind your back?”
Anna turned a delicate shade of pink.
“Just a little thing I made…”
“Well show me then. Don’t be shy love.”
“Thing is. I dunno if you’ll like it.”
“And you won’t know if you don’t show me.”
“I guess I won’t.”
She put a card on the table in front of Sam. On the front was a picture of Sam playing ball with Bonnie. The camera had caught Sam mid throw, and Bonnie mid jump. It was full of movement and joy. Underneath the picture it said. Life Laughs at Numbers. Sam opened the card to find it contained a wittily-worded invitation to his fortieth birthday party. He stood up and pulled Anna into a fierce embrace.
“You,” he said, “are not only beautiful, clever and sexy. You are also exactly right. If I’d spent a year trying to figure out a perfect party invitation I still wouldn’t have managed to come up with anything this brilliant.”
She managed a tremulous smile.
“I’m so happy you like it. There are two versions. One to print. One to email. We can get them sorted this minute, now I know you approve.”
Sam’s own grin grew wider.
“Not precisely right now” he said as he nipped at the side of her neck with his strong, white teeth. “I have a sudden, urgent need.”
Anna would herself around him like a vine. “What a simply excellent idea.”
He picked her up and turned towards the door, but she stopped him with a half growl.
“You said urgent didn’t you? So. No time to go anywhere. Here. Now.”
He perched her bottom on the edge of the table, obviously deeply excited by the idea of sex in the kitchen.
“I’m glad you are wearing a skirt,” he growled “jeans might take too long.”
“Stop talking and do something,” Anna demanded.
And that was another cup of coffee gone cold…