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Still not hackneyed enough

October 16, 2011

A Thousand Untold Stories Slumbering in Liquid Nitrogen

The precinct had been out of money for a long time. Every piece of furniture in there was a mismatched piece of bulky waste. The press called them ‘donations’. Most of those gracious gifts had to be ridden of the bugs though. Both listening devices and insects.

Detective Sarah Mulligan had been five minutes away from the end of her shift, as the call came in.

“Yes, I understood you perfectly, officer.”, she said into her cellphone. “I am just not convinced he is one of the bad guys.”

“Yes, we do not know where those children came from. It’s just that I am looking at the man’s record right here or lack thereof. Never been arrested, never been charged with or suspected of anything. Biochemist. And that I know from Google.”

“Yes, alright. If it makes you sleep easier, officer, I will lead the interrogation. We can hold him until we can figure the identity of these kids.”

She hung up. Detective Mulligan was one of those people who never said polite goodbyes on a phone. Cellphones felt more like dropping in on someone in the office.

Sarah Mulligan sighed. Nothing waiting for her, but an empty apartment and TV dinner. She could live with staying away for another hour or two.

Little did she know that two hours would eventually become two weeks.

* * *

The man was in his forties. The tiniest hint of gray in his black hair. His brown eyes watched the world around him over a pair reading glasses. The very look Sarah had always imagined a biochemist to have. Like he was watching two chemical compounds connect: Quiet expectation.

Most men were nervous or relieved when they were placed in the interrogation room or made an active effort not to show either. Doctor Gustavo de la Fuerte was curious, almost excited, like being interrogated by the law for seventeen potential kidnappings was nothing more than a new experience for him.

The table in the interrogation room did not match the chairs and the chairs did not match each other. They had made the best out of that situation. The suspect’s chair was uneven. Not all the legs had the same length. The result was that whoever was interrogated would never be comfortable, never quite at ease.

Sarah gave the man her best smile, as she entered the room. Of the four neon tubes, two were still doing there jobs, casting clinical twilight into the small room.

“Doctor, Fuerte. Good evening.” Sarah extended her hand, the doctor took it. “I am Detective Mulligan, the lead Detective on your case.”

There was a reason she was always asked to do those things. Sarah loved them. She would never know what they panned out to be. Put the right person on the chair, ask the right questions and there was no limit to what one could uncover.

“Do you wish to have an attorney present, doctor?”

Translation: Can I go home now?

“I do not think that will be necessary.”

The accent in the doctor’s voice was Boston, not Latino. Also Sarah would not have to bother asking the captain to sign of on over time. The answer was no. Period.

“I agree.”, said Sarah. “You are obviously not in trouble. Perhaps you would like to explain some irregularities in your paperwork?”

“Alright.”, he said. He pushed back his glasses.

“To be honest, I only have one question. Where do the children come from?”

“Ah.” The man leaned back. “I’m afraid, that will be difficult to answer.”

“I see.”

Silence.

Silence makes people uncomfortable. Compells them to fill it. Half the work is just getting people to talk.

The doctor just looked at Sarah expectantly.

Minutes passed.

“Well, I see you did not major in criminal law.”, said Sarah, “So let me refresh your memory. You have rented a house, providing a home for exactly seventeen children of different ethnicities. All of them roughly the same age.”

“Correct.”

“Whose children are those?”

Silence.

“Doctor Fuerte, the penalty for kidnapping is life. If those children have been sexually abused-”

“They have not.”

Anger. Excellent, thought Sarah, she could work with that.

“If those children have been sexually abused we will find out eventually. We will find the evidence we need to convict you, no matter whether you talk to me or not.”

“The children have not been sexually abused. I have done my best to raise them as my own.”

Progress.

“You know, doctor. I believe you. You clearly don’t seem like the type.” She leaned in. “All I need to know is, where their parents are. Clearly they must miss their parents.”

“I doubt that.” The doctor’s voice sounded positively amused. He sounded like the smart kid in school, making sarcastic remarks any time one of his class mates got an answer wrong.

Sarah got the chills. This man had to be mentally ill. By all accounts either an organized nut job or a complete psychopath.

“They were abused? You did them a favor?”

The doctor shook his head.

“They never met their parents.”, he said.

“I don’t get that.”

“My sympathies.”

Rule number one: You run the interrogation, not the suspect. Never let them get to you.

“In other words you are an infant snatcher.”

“Also no.”

“Then please enlighten me doctor. Where do these children come from?”

“Yes, where do children come from? The answer would no doubt surprise you.”

“You must think this is a game-”

“On the contrary. What you have here is the most serious thing I have ever done in my life.”

“So-”

“Find the parents. That’s what I am telling you. Find the parents and you will have found the answer to your problem.”

“Why don’t you tell me?”

“I do not need to.”

“You do if you want to avoid jail time.”

“Detective Murray-”

“Mulligan.”

“My apologies. Detective Mulligan, I have about six months left to live. Tops. Chances are, I will never see the inside of a jail cell no matter what you charge me with today.”

* * *

It was the conference room. The air smelled of sweat and cheap chemical detergents. They sat around a cracked gray table, paint flaking off it. It was at least a hundred and fifty years old. Six generations of law enforcement.

It was way past nine. The captain was at home, so Sarah sat at the head end. Around were the arresting officer and his partner, both of them sporting walrus mustaches, the child psychiatrist, her elegant woman’s blazer decorated with finger paint, and Detective Howard Caldwell. Nobody had a clue how he managed to stay thin. Howard was famous for combining google-fu with smooth talking, so he could get all the information he needed over the phone. Somebody didn’t pick up? Call the relatives. Something happened at a certain time on the streets? He would produce the numbers of everyone who lived or worked on the block and have all their statements in less than two hours. An impressive feat. Also a very comfortable one. Especially on icy November nights.

“Can you check out the man’s medical records, Howard?”

“Not without a court order.”

Sarah drew out the piece of paper she had the good doctor sign. Full access to all his medical records. Address and phone number of his oncologist on the back.

“I can’t do that over the phone.”

The officer to Sarah’s left sighed. Howard had made it a habit of pawning off everything he couldn’t do himself.

“I appreciate your support, officer.”, said Howard.

“Would the man have signed it if he didn’t have cancer?”, said the uniform.

Sarah didn’t think so. And Howard seemed positive it was true, before Sarah had even told him about the waiver. Work with someone long enough and you can read all their tells.

“We still have to check it out.”, said Sarah. “What can you tell me about the house?”

“Clean. Mostly two kids per room with bunk beds. The living room looked like a kindergarden. No sofas, no TV, just tiny furniture, board games, crayons and the like.”

Sarah addressed the psychiatrist.

“Are there any sign of abuse?”

“No indicators so far. The children don’t have injuries or any major scars and – apart from two of them – seem to be remarkably well developed.”

“And the other two?”

“Mentally handicapped. I only talked to them very briefly, so I couldn’t reach a definite diagnosis.”

Sarah nodded. “Did they mention their parents?”

“As far as I was able to to discern, they have accepted Mr. de la Fuerte as their sole parent. No mother, no other types of family.”

“Anything else?”

“Some of the kids have been able to give me their birthday. Provided Mr. Fuerte did not lie to them, it could help with the identification.”

The psychiatrist handed her the list.

“That is odd.”

“Indeed. All of the children have been born July 2014. And as I said, if they are indeed five year olds, they show indicators for high intelligence. In three years I could run IQ tests and reach a more precise conclusion.”

“Thank you, doctor.”, said Sarah. Then she looked at the policemen. “What else do we know?”

Howard cleared his throat.

“I have dug up a few things in the doctor’s past.”

“That fast?”

“Telephones know no jurisdiction.”

Sarah didn’t ask if Howard impersonated someone on those long distance phone calls of his. And as long as she didn’t ask, Howard would not tell her and make her an accomplice in something south of a legal gray area.

“Go ahead, Detective.”

“The good doctor resigned from a research position at MIT in the year 2012. There were some inquiries concerning the lack of results. Apparently some people were not exactly unhappy he was gone.”

“Why is that?”, asked one of the uniforms.

“You go ahead and run a multimillion dollar research grant into the ground. Produce no results what so ever, see what people think about you.”

“What did they think?”, asked Sarah.

“They thought it was the cancer. He had quit his job two weeks after his diagnosis.”

Do I still have to check, asked the eye’s of the officer. You still have to check, Sarah’s look telegraphed back.

“Then he started traveling.”, said Howard. “All over States. All over Europe. It finally took him as far as India.

“Then he came back here. If what he says is true, he has been treated for his cancer.”

“And while in town, he abducted seventeen children?”, said Sarah.

“They were not from this town or anywhere in a twenty mile radius.”, said Howard. ” People would have noticed. And if he did abduct them, then he didn’t do it by airplane or train and without a driver’s license.”

“Beg you pardon?”, said the uniform. This time it was the partner.

“He must obviously be on very strong pain medication.”, said the psychiatrist.

“And who abducts seventeen children that were for all we know all born in the same month?”

“A mass kidnapping in a neonate station?”, volunteered one of the uniforms.

“Or one of each, so it would still seem low profile.”, said Howard.

“Weird.”, said Sarah. “Weird is good. Weird means we have a strong lead.”

She gave the orders: Find out the birthday’s of the other children, check Amber alerts for babies gone missing in July ’14 and lastly let the machine brew another can of coffee. Somewhere out there are thirty-four people missing their children. Sarah would not go home until she found them.

* * *

Another neon tube in the interrogation room had given up the ghost. Making it almost completely dark. Sarah brought an old LED desk light with her. A shame they were now prohibited from shining them into the suspects’ faces. The island of light cast deep shadows on Gustavo de la Fuerte’s face. Less than an interrogation, more like an evening around the campfire.

“Ectogenesis.”, said Sarah. “Care to translate that word into layman’s terms?”

“You do have Google, don’t you?” Even now the doctor did not seem worried. The grim reaper’s hand on his shoulder must have terrified him more than any police officer could.

“Enlighten me.”

“Ectogenesis refers to the concept of an artificial uterus. Human embryos developing outside of a human body. The Japanese have developed something usable about eighteen months ago.”

“You were on a research position for the MIT. As far as my science guy tells me you were pretty close to developing one yourself.”

“Your science guy is right.”

“That would be about six years ago. Wouldn’t you concur?”

“Six years. Give or take.”

“You see I’m a police detective. Our minds seem to work in weird ways. We just see… connections in the unlikeliest places.”

De la Fuerte shrugged.

“Scientists are not that different.”

“Is that so?”, said Sarah. “Then help me figure something out. A man is diagnosed with cancer. I’m sure you can relate.”

De la Fuerte grinned.

“I do have a vivid imagination.”

“That man is a researcher on a multi-million dollar project. A brilliant man. His work on Mei-… Meity-…”

“Meiosis.”

“Thank you. His work on… you know… has shortlisted him for the Noble Prize.”

“Is that so?”

“I do hope so. That man was a brilliant and compassionate man. He had given children to women that would have otherwise been infertile.”

This time de la Fuerte was silent.

“So this brilliant man has cancer. And what he does is he takes off, travels the world for a bit and comes up with a plan. Let’s build a lab somewhere. Let’s build a lab with seventeen of those artificial uterusses-”

“Uteri. And there were eight.”

“Costing millions of dollars.”

The doctor nodded.

“Six point five.”

“The man creates – perhaps fathers, we are still waiting for DNA results – seventeen children and spends his remaining ill gotten gains on a house in which he raises them.”

“You are still asking yourself the wrong questions. The DNA results should prove to be interesting, though. I can save you some time and tell you I was not the biological father of those children.”

“Who are the biological parents, Gustavo?”

“Yes.”

“Yes, what?”

“Yes, that is the right question.” He leaned back, folding his hands over his stomach. He did not look sick. But as his medical records showed, the tumors were on the inside. “I am tired now. Perhaps I should go to sleep. Perhaps I should not wake up again.”

“I don’t buy it.”

“Hm?”

“I don’t buy your act. If I was in your position, I would be scared, shitless.”

“Everything is done. My children are being carried off to foster homes and new parents. I was becoming too ill to care for them. Why do you think I gave the anonymous tip to the police?”

“Why did you do it?”

“I told you, I am quite ill. Most healthy people would have trouble giving seventeen children their attention.”

“No, I mean, what possessed you to steal all this money and father that many children. Two or three not enough for you?”

“I had to be sure.”

“Sure of what?”

“We live in a troubled world, Detective Mulligan. We have caused so many problems for ourselves. Global Warming, three worldwide economic meltdowns, world hunger, wars, diseases running rampant, green energy not up to the speed it should be. We have gotten ourselves into deep trouble. We may never get out of it on our own.”

“I agree with you, doctor. Just what are we to do about it now?”

“You seem like a good person. Judging from the few conversations we had. Could you take care of the children for me?”

“I am doing that right now.”

“No.” He slowly shook his head. “I mean check in on them once in a while. Make sure they have everything they need. If you promise me that, I have something else for you.”

“I promise.”, she said. She had hardly slept for three days trying to find the childrens’ parents. Of course she would check in on them.

“Have you ever wondered what would have happened if say, Srinivasi Ramnoujan, one of the most brilliant mathematicians who ever lived and Marie Curie, one of the most brilliant physicists who ever lived had a baby?”

Sarah chuckled.

“Can’t say I have.”

“Well, I heard you have met her just yesterday. Her name is Komala or more precise Komalatammal, after her biological grandmother.”

“The Indian girl?”

“Half-Indian Half-French. Yes.”

“The daughter of Marie Curie?”

The doctor nodded.

“That’s impossible.”, said Sarah.

“Meiosis.”, said the doctor. “Your body consists of billions of cells. Each of them contains a complete set of your DNA. In a process called mitosis one cell doubles all it’s organelles, creates a copy of its DNA to eventually split in two.

“You see the difficulty in human cloning” A chill went down Sarah’s spine as he spoke that word. “is that there are a lot of mechanisms we still don’t understand. Dolly, the sheep, was conceived after a few hundred tries. For a human clone this rate would not only be impractical, it would ethically speaking, be completely unacceptable.”

“What did you do?”, said Sarah. Something in her stomach tied to a knot.

“Meiosis is different from mitosis. Mitosis is normal cell replication. One cell into two cells. Meiosis is the creation of egg cells and sperm cells. From normal DNA, sperm or egg DNA is created. That process is what I have perfected in two decades of my life.”

“So when you were traveling the world…”

“Yes.”

“You collected the DNA from their graves.”

“Yes, I did.”

“This feels like rape.”

“It really is not. The dead cannot be hurt, Detective Mulligan. Mankind needs a genius.”

“One or seventeen?”

“Intelligence is not directly hereditary. It’s partly nature and partly nurture and to another part, chaos or luck or-”

“Fate.”

“If that’s what you want to call it.”

“Two of these children are mentally handicapped, though.”

“I have raised them as my own never the less. They are my responsibility. Besides, it teaches gifted children to respect their fellow humans. It teaches them compassion.”

“Did you create them intentionally?”

“I would never do that.”

“Jesus Christ.” Sarah rubbed her eyes. The sleep deprivation had given her a headache.

“Of course there is nothing you can do about it. The children are in the system now. American citizens. And I am just an old man, on heavy medication, talking a bunch of nonsense into a microphone.”

“That man, that we talked about. He created seventeen children because he had eight uter…. uteri.”

“One of the cells split, creating triplets. The children developed OK though.”

“But that man would not have created just seventeen cells, would he?”

The doctor gave her a long and thoughtful look.

“I think it is time you switch of the audio recorder.”

* * *

A thousand untold stories. That’s what he had called them. A thousand untold stories, sleeping in liquid nitrogen, dreaming of the future. Somewhere in a basement in Utah.

Driving over the Interstate she knew, instinctively she knew, just why she was going through all the trouble. Her career had eaten up her private life. No time for family. No time for married life. Some mis-wired part of her brain had wanted her detective shield more badly than a steady relationship.

She hated herself for this.

But she knew she would do it anyway.

Maybe she had finally found a man who was up to her unrealistic standards.

* * *

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