“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Dr. Sebastian Inklestaz’s mouth appeared to believe what it was saying. His eyes, on the other hand, betrayed less certainty. He had the look of a man harassed by a conscience progressively eroded by secrets. The kind of secrets the conscience had never approved of, and the worthy Doctor had never been good at keeping.
Joe decided the best way to proceed was to sit in stony silence. The kind of silence that presupposed that the man who’d asked the question already knew the answer. He took a sip of his coffee and tried to look as much like a piece of polished granite as he could.
Inklestaz’s nerves began to shred. This silence was most vexatious. Earlier, this Joe Smote character had been talking non-stop. A lot of that talking had seemed to be to himself. Even disapproving looks had been unable to shut the man up. Perhaps, thought Inklestaz, if I admit to knowing a little bit about monkeys in general? “Of course,” he said, “I do know a little bit about monkeys in general.” Seriously, Inklestatz really sucked lemons in the dissimulation department.
Joe sensed an opportunity. “Perhaps, then, you could tell me something about monkeys in general?”
“Like what, for instance?”
“For instance,” Joe pretended to search for a question, “perhaps you could tell me how you came by the genetic material to produce Orson Jimson’s monkey clone?”
“Oh, well, that’s quite interesting, actually. You see, that material came from–” Inklestatz stopped, the realization of what he’d just admitted by accident seared scarlett in his cheeks. Damn you conscience, he thought. Then he thought: Bugger.
“Yes?” said Joe, taking another sip of coffee in an attempt to stop himself bursting into monologue – he was unsure why it was such a struggle to do so. Almost as much of a struggle as it was to drink the coffee. This was by far the most watery, foul-tasting blend that ever had the misfortune to make it into a ceramic receptacle. The mug that held it was nice, though. It was one of those novelty items so popular with fathers and certain ironic teens whose ambition was to attend a ‘good school’. It had an image of a double helix on it, with the slogan ‘It’s all in the genes’ written underneath. The double helix was wearing a pair of jeans. Joe thought this very droll. “You were saying that it’s interesting?”
The Doctor sighed. It was a deep, mournful sigh of defeat and regret. This was not how he’d thought his life would turn out. Well, part of it had turned out the way he’d thought it would. He had attended a school that promoted itself as a good one. He’d done well too, one of the youngest PhDs his thesis supervisor had ever mentored. In those days, when he was a young graduate student, he’d shown great promise. He’d been full of passion, and would change the world; probably by helping cure cancer through the creation of cutting-edge gene therapies. If not cancer, perhaps he could tackle that most pernicious of human viruses: herpes. He would write books and articles that were lauded and widely read. He would win very noble prizes. He would be adored by women, envied by lesser colleagues, and be the most famous public intellectual who had ever lived. Not ending up as a public intellectual had been the worst disappointment. He’d been looking forward to expounding on subjects in which he had no training or expertise, and thus really had no right to speak about publicly. But this was not to be.
Instead, he’d taken a job in the private sector. It was the early days of biotechnology, and he’d been recruited by a private research institute while he was still a freshly minted doctorate. He hadn’t really wanted the job – private sector work was anathema to his ideals – but he’d been unable to secure full scholarships for his expensive education. This meant that, while he’d been congratulated on the originality and genius of his thesis, he’d received more than his fair share of commiserations as regarded his soul-crushing student debt. For all his love of ivory towers, Inklestaz was a practical man. He needed money, and the private work would pay off his debt quickly. I mean, who wouldn’t do the same in a similar position? It’s not like it would be forever, right?
It had, though, felt like forever. A forever of non-disclosure agreements, research that was proprietary, and a distinct lack of any publications that shone Inklestaz’s genius onto the world or talkshow audiences. Much of his work, and consequentially his life, had become one of secrets. Much of his life, in fact, was not his own anymore. He even had to apply to Human Resources for permission to go on a date. Which had also made his life lonely, as he’d hardly ever been able to get any potential date to urinate in a cup to finish the ‘date-application protocol’. Was it too late to take some of his life back?
“I’m sorry Mr. Smote, I really don’t know what you are asking me. I also have no idea why I said that this thing I don’t know about was quite interesting.” Yet again, his mouth seemed convinced by what he was saying. This time, however, his eyes yelled: ‘Don’t believe a word of what I just said – I know things‘. The eyes were backed up by his left hand, which had written a note. A note it then slid across the desk to Joe:
I can’t talk here. Meet me in the PARK CAFE in ONE HOUR.
“Okay then,” said Joe, “if you don’t know, then you don’t know. Can’t be helped. By the way, you should do something about the coffee here; it’s as weak as a consumptive dentist. I’m going to get a good cup from a cafe.” Joe tapped the cafe mentioned on the note to let the Doctor know his message had been understood. Joe hoped that the cafe did have better coffee than the stuff he’d just been drinking. Humorous mug aside, it tasted like someone had pissed in it.
∗ ∗ ∗
In an unintentional twist of coincidence, the Park Cafe was in an actual park. In a further twist, one unlikely to be coincidental, it also served coffee: good coffee. Joe had been on his third cup by the time that Dr. Inklestaz had joined him at the table he’d to selected for their conversation. A good table: outside under a large tree, far enough away that the substance of their conversation couldn’t be easily overheard, but close enough to amenities that Joe could easily dash to the restroom. Joe was geared up to drink a lot of coffee; close proximity to a room-of-rest was likely to be important.
As he took his seat opposite Joe, Inklestaz’s head did its best impression of a surreptitious scan of the surroundings. It was not a very good impression. It made the Doctor look as though he was up to something dodgy. A passing police officer stopped and stared at him with a look that said: ‘I think you maybe up to no good’. The officer only moved on after Inklestaz’s head stopped twitching.
“I’m sorry about my behavior at the Institute, Mr. Smote. It’s not that I don’t want to be helpful; only…” Inklestatz trailed off.
“Only… never mind. Look, I don’t have much time, but I’ll do my best to answer your questions. What would you like to know?”
Joe thought about this. He still wanted to know about the monkey’s provenance, but Inklestaz’s earlier evasiveness, and the hasty set up of a cafe meeting – with less than sophisticated spy craft – had made him curious about something else. “First, I’d like to know what’s going on here?”
“I thought you wanted to know about the monkey?”
“I do. But currently I’m puzzled by why you couldn’t tell me anything in your office. I set up an appointment, and I’m working for Jimson; why not answer my questions then? I mean, as far as I know, I’m authorized to be ‘read-in’ to anything monkey-clone related. It was my understanding that it’s Jimson’s money that funds the institute.”
“Yes, that’s true. Jimson called me personally give you access, but…” Inklestaz fidgeted uncomfortably, “I got another call, right after, that said I was to tell you nothing.”
“I don’t understand? Jimson changed his mind?”
“No, the second call was from someone else; someone quite scary.”
“There’s someone more frightening than Jimson? Seriously? I mean, I’m pretty sure that when he fires his staff he dips them in bronze and keeps them around as ornaments. Kind of like a molten-metal fondue; only without the eating… and the bread… and–. You know what? That’s a terrible simile, but I judge by the waxen terror on your face that you get the idea.”
“Jimson really does that?”
“I suspect he does, but I’d deny it to his face. Not because I’m worried about offending him, but more because he has very nice expensive drinks. So long as I’m working for him, I’d prefer not jeopardize my chances of receiving his expensive drinks by accusing him of miscellaneous acts of statuary.”
“So why did you take this job? What if he fires you?”
“I like getting paid; It’s amazing what I’ll do for money. Just ask my ex-wife, she has lots of opinions on how amazing I am, financially speaking. But we’re getting a little off topic. Tell me about this ‘second call’. Who was it from?”
“Don’t you mean, whom was it from?”
“Nobody speaks like that in real life, and you know what I mean. I sense a bit of deflection on your part. Doctor, who made the second call? Or, if you prefer, by whom was the second phone call made?”
“I don’t know his real name, but he calls himself Mutual Friend.”
“You’ve talked to him before?”
“No. Well, not directly; this was the first time I’ve received a call from him. Mostly, he contacts me through letters, or intermediaries. That’s partly what made me so cautious about talking to you in my office. I suspect he can hear anything I say there, and he’s never talked to me personally before. He made such horrible threats, Mr. Smote.”
“What kind of threats?”
“He said that he’d publicly discredit me, and have me stripped of my PhD.”
“That’s frightening for you?”
“It’s just, that doesn’t sound so ba–“
“And then he’d have me privately stripped of all my limbs.”
“Okay, I agree; all of those things together do seem like they would be unpleasant.” Joe reflected on the threats made by this ‘Mutual Friend’. “It sounds like something gangsters would do. Do you think Mutual Friend might be someone important in organized crime? Do you think they are responsible for the monkey’s disappearance?”
“I think M.F. and his organization are far worse than the kinds of criminals you find in organized crime. I think he’s in Government.”
Yet another reason, thought Joe, that his policy of being so hungover on election day that he was unable to vote was a defensible democratic position. Yep, ‘hung-over-vote-day’ was the most responsible political choice. “And the monkey? You think they took it?”
“No, but I think they are also looking for it. I think they are the ones that had it made. Or rather, I think they had all of them made.”
“Them? There’s more than one monkey?”
“Most definitely; a lot more than one monkey.”
“How do you know this?” It was obvious, of course, but Joe wanted to hear it anyway.
Inklestatz sighed, was he really going to have to answer that question? The inference to be drawn was perfectly clear. “I know, because I developed the technology to create them. Also, I created them.”
END OF CHAPTER 5