Part 1 of a little short story I have written.
It took me quite a while to find the ringing phone. It happens quite a lot, and sometimes people haven’t got the patience to wait. Tough luck! On the other hand, people who have seen my office know it can take a fair while. It’s not that I don’t want to talk to people, sometimes I just can’t seem to find the bloody phone.
My office is a far cry from being neat and organized and if a stack of books or papers should tumble – well...I once found a Christmas cake under a stack of magazines I had to pick up because I had to use one of them. It was sometime in august as I recall. Oh well – the phone!
Sounds classy, right? In actual fact, it’s two rooms in a cellar without windows, and institute is a bit much I suppose. There is only me in the old and rundown house I inherited 12 years ago from an old uncle of mine. It was filled with books from top to bottom. It actually took me several months to clean up the mess enough for me to move my own stuff in, and actually live in the place.
”Grimes, DNA-laboratory. Good Evening!”
Now that was a bit off a surprise! I work with all kinds of mysterious phenomena, so I’m used to strange phone calls, but this was a bit out of the ordinary. It isn’t every day you get a call from the director of a world famous scientific institute, a director who several times in public had said that I was a charlatan, a fraud who should be banned from calling himself a scientist.
”Oh Good Evening, Claire” To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure? Fancy
hearing your gentle voice on a grim and dismal night like this. It’s almost half past ten. Haven’t you gone home for the day? Or are you afraid of leaving your test tubes all alone?”
” Very funny”! Claire Grimes’ calm and controlled voice lowered the temperature of my telephone several degrees. She was not known for her sense of humour, nor her merry disposition.
”I’ve got a problem, and I think you are the only one who can help me.”
”Me? Help? Me – a fraud, a hack, a travesty of a scientist, and various other colourful expressions you have used regarding me during the years. Should I be able to help the world famous leaders of the worlds leading DNA-lab with anything?”
”That’s enough of that. There is quite a lot about you and your methods I don’t like, but I have to admit, that you are generally recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on fabulous creatures. And I happen to know you have worked for the Natural History Museum, the police and several wealthy independent clients. That’ll have to suffice. I’ve got an object and I want you to take a look at. Can you come see me at the laboratory tomorrow at ten?
”If it’s such a mystery, and an important one, why don’t you come over? I’m a night owl anyway. But watch the road works, the whole street looks like a quarry.”
She didn’t bother to answer. She just said she would be there in 35 minutes and hung up.
My doorbell rang exactly 35 minutes later. Precision had always been one of Claire’s most fundamental traits. When we were students together at the university, she always had everything under control. Her assignments were always in on time, where exactly as long as the professor had wanted, and always answered whatever questions the professor had posed.
She hadn’t changed much since then. Short, dark and tough as nails. She hated wasting her time, and she was a staunch opponent of everything even remotely irrational, illogical or in any way alternative. She did have a few redeeming features though. One of them was a smile, though rarely seen, that could melt a rock, and a set of eyes, although with a rather reptilian greyish colour, could radiate more warmth than a couple of high voltage lasers. Luckily she was also one of the few women I know, who could appreciate a good whisky, so I had already poured her a generous glass of Old Pulteney.
”Good evening and welcome to my den of various vices – to what do I owe the honour at this late hour – oh fair maiden?”
She gave me a rather stern look, but entered without any acid remarks, and ventured into what I like to call my creative chaos, but what most other people refer to as complete mayhem.
The only place that is always passable is the library. I inherited an enormous collection of books from my uncle, which, added to my own, rather large one, have created a fairly big library, which is actually a bit bigger than most of the public libraries in the area where I live. I take my books seriously, so there is always a free space on the big old table I found at a flea market, and the two matching, ancient, enormous, ugly but extremely comfortable chairs. They are perfect for reading, of which I do a lot, and the armrests are wide enough for a glass of whisky.
It was a pleasure watching Claire sitting down. I am positive the chair was completely straight in relation to the table, when she was finished. She put a long narrow box she had been carrying under her arm parallel to the edge of the table. Took out a folder with papers and placed it in front of her seat, placed a shiny pencil next to it, and placed the glass of whisky I gave her so she could reach it with her left hand without any problems.
She took a tiny sip of the whisky and raised one eyebrow in acknowledgement. Then she put back the glass and started talking without further ado.
”As you probably know, the Duke of Bedford died last year, and left the family’s entire zoological collection to the university.”
”Oh yes, it was front page news. And you actually didn’t get all of it. He willed a few
bits and pieces to me as well.”
”You knew the Duke?”
”I worked for him a couple of times, and he left me a bit of zoological literature he felt I could find some use for – but please, continue.”
”Yes, well, as I said it was an enormous amount of material. And I was given the task of going through the lot together with the director of the museum. A lot of it has great scientific value, so it is now part of the museums collections. On the other hand there were almost 400 boxes of all kinds of unsorted objects, probably bought from all over the world. Most of it has not been labelled, so it has only limited value. That includes for two big boxes of horns, antlers and teeth from all kinds of animals. One of them was a very long but broken narwhal tusk, as well as another shorter one, but with rather strange colours. I didn’t think about it at the time, but decided to use the stuff for training purposes. I’ve got at student at the laboratory who’s about to begin a study of whale DNA, so I thought she could practise on the two tusks. There’s still a bit of tissue attached to the roots of both.”
”This is the analysis of the long tusk.”
Claire handed me two sheaves of paper from the folder.
I glanced at the many rows of letters.
”I am no expert in this, but it all looks quite normal to me.”
”It is – perfectly normal narwhal DNA. But look at this one.”
The results of the analysis of the second tusk the small one, was considerably more interesting, if nothing else because Claire had also done the DNA analysis herself – twice. Both the student and Claire had realised, that the DNA sequence in absolutely no way fitted the pattern of a narwhal. The only two other types of DNA even remotely resembling this one was a species of goat from the Caucasus Mountains, and the Mongolian Przewalsky horse.
”A horse?!?” I asked with quite a touch of doubt in my inflections.
”Yes, a horse. And perhaps you can understand now why I want you to tell med what this is.”
Then she lifted the lid of the narrow box and pushed it across the table towards me.
To be continued.....