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Fiction

Private Investigations, Part III

From the LabLit fiction series

rpg 23 March 2008

www.lablit.com/article/363

I could never go home again, so I started sleeping in the dark room, eating in the canteen

Editor’s note: We are pleased to present the third episode of a four-part story about the adventures of a very special scientist-for-hire.

Do you know what a post-doc is?

They’re what you get if a student survives a PhD. They cost more, but they get more done. They’re already trained, they know the system, they don’t have terminal conversations with chemicals so often. And they know it’s too late to get a real job, so they have to work hard, to chase the dream of their own lab. Sometimes you see them, late at night, trying to complete an experiment for the fifteenth time or simply stealing reagents from other labs.

We had some post-docs in our lab. I was one once. They came from all over the world; Japan, Germany, Australia, Scunthorpe. The Japanese one was smart, really sharp. Smarter than a Saville Row suit. So sharp you could slice bacon with him. Used to work all night, and most of the day. No one knew where he came from, and he didn’t have any family here. Some said he escaped from a Japanese game show, and was on the run, preparing for the day when a hit squad of specially trained ninjas would drag him back to Takeshi’s Castle. Others said there was a girl, and that he joined the MRC to forget.

There’s always a broad. But you never forget.

It didn’t matter to me, or to the rest of us. He worked, he worked hard, and you could rely on him to get the job done, no matter what, who, how dirty or for how much. And that’s why Bruce was trying to clone him.

He'd been working on it alone, but I figured a job like that needed real muscle. I went to see Mr Big again. I told him I wanted fifty greenbacks a day, plus expenses, on top of my retainer. He said, “Shure." I said I needed a state of the art cloning facility. He said “It'sh yoursh." He said “Anything elshe?” I said “No.” He promoted me.

As I went home I realized I never said what I wanted to do. But he seemed to know. I figured he knew about Bruce’s experiments. I figured that if Mr Big knew, then the Germans knew, and they knew he knew, and he knew that they knew he knew, and they didn’t like it. I knew that. And they still didn’t have a sense of humour. My head was spinning, which is how I noticed I’d picked up a tail.

I turned into Downing Street, and watched him follow. I swerved to avoid a pedestrian and turned up Corn Exchange. I took the next left, then left and left again. The lights turned amber as I approached St Andrew’s. I accelerated and turned right, tyres squealing on the tarmac. He shot through on red. I pulled an illegal U-turn and sped up Emmanuel, then down Parkside. As I passed the cop shop I checked over my shoulder; he was still following. I mounted the kerb, scattering pigeons and lovers like dandelion clocks, and tore across Parker’s Piece, wheels leaving muddy furrows in the grass.

At the lights I went diagonally across the road. There was a squeal of brakes and a crunch behind me, but I turned up Lensfield and then across the Chemistry car park without slowing down. Coming out on Trumpington Road I checked behind, but I had shaken my tail. I was shaken too, so I dumped my bicycle and caught a bus back to the lab.

I could never go home again, so I started sleeping in the dark room, eating in the canteen. It was hell, and I was the damned. I worked on the cloning project. It was a bit below my usual rate for experiments, but I figured it would be worth the effort; a loss-leader. I just had to keep the experiments quiet – stop the Germans finding out any more, keep an eye on Mr Big and supervise the rest of the lab.

I was running out of eyes. Luckily, I found a book of matches, and slipped it into my lab coat pocket.

One morning I found the quiet one and the fixer whispering in my office. I could tell from their faces that something was wrong. The smashed equipment and torn papers gave me another clue. Someone had rifled through my drawers, and it looked like it wasn’t a sniper. It looked like someone had machine-gunned my office, and then called in an air strike.

The quiet one said something. I asked him to speak a bit louder.

“They took everything, Chief.”

“Everything?”

“Everything.”

He was lying. They had left my desk and the filing cabinet.

“What sort of everything?”

“All the proteins, Chief.”

“Stop calling me Chief. You’re not cowboys and I’m not an Indian.”

“Sure thing, chief.”

“That’s better.”

The fixer turned to me. “They took every protein we’re working on. And that’s not all.” He handed me a piece of paper. I checked for doughnuts, but it was clean.

“This paper’s blank!”

“Other side, chief.”

I turned the paper over. I looked at the fixer. He looked at me. I looked at the quiet one. He looked at the fixer. The fixer looked at the quiet one, and they both looked at me. I looked at the paper again.

“But that’s impossible. It’s like they never existed.”

“All the databases say the same thing, chief. All the proteins we’re working on, it’s like they never existed.”

“I just said that.”

The fixer frowned. “We both said it. That can only mean one thing.”

“What?”

“It’s like they never existed.”

The quiet one said something, but we didn’t hear him. The fixer leaned against the wall.

Then everything went dark.

“Sorry about that, chief.” The fixer took his hand off the switch and the lights came back on.

I went over and pulled the files on everyone who might have the balls to pull off something like this. A name caught my eye and hit me with the force of the 8:27 from King’s Cross.

“There’s only one person with the power to pull off something of this size,” I said, my mind reeling from the shock of being hit by a train.

“What?”

“I think you mean, ‘Who?’”

“Yes, sorry. Who?” At least he had the grace to look embarrassed.

“Three guesses.”

“The Germans?”

“They’ve got the muscle, but they don’t have the gall. Or the sense of humour.”

“You don’t mean –?”

“Yes, I do.” I left the office. I never did find out their names, but it didn’t matter; I never saw them again.

But now I knew who was behind all this: who ran the PhD program, who disappeared Bruce, who stole the proteins. And I knew where his office was.

[Continued next week]