In a change of pace, this month’s short story is not a short story at all. What you find below is the first raw, unedited, unrevised chapter of a book in progress. Its working title is “Imaginary.” I hope you enjoy it. Post your thoughts. Thanks!
Chapter 1: Baltimore, February 1991
As an olive-skinned brunette wearing tight-fitting leather pants and a leather jacket with enough zippers and pockets to meet his extensive needs, he drove his Ducati right up to the boxy building, crossing the white-frosted strip of landscaping and the sidewalk in the process. Despite the snow and cold outside, amid the ravishments of the dandruff and split end season, his hair spilled back in rivulets of juicy and vibrant walnut as he removed his cursory helmet. His eyes, which beheld the Johns Hopkins genetics lab sign, were just a beam or two short of blue lasers. The pouty mouth and the slightly upturned nose seemed to tease and invite while being a hair too sterile and perfect. Fuck me, get the fuck away, the face said. He looked like the catalog model whose essence, otherwise referred to as a soul, he had recently acquired.
Kimaris made a fine-looking woman. Just try, though, and tell him that, and you would likely not take another breath. He might have had to go by Kim, but he didn’t have to like it.
His job came with many perks but was more challenging than one might think. Humans, even those driven to madness by passion and ambition, tended to step back, reflect, and want to hang on to their souls. Even the avowed atheists. That one always blew Kimaris’s mind. It was the autumn of 1881, he reflected, when he offered Karl Marx a revolution in the man’s lifetime. It should have been the realization of Karl’s most fervently held dreams and desires in exchange for the price of nothing. The old man refused. It gave Kimaris more satisfaction than usual to see the so-called great man self-destruct and die friendless and penny-less after he had killed Jenny von Westphalen. Of course, he had made Karl watch.
Kimaris left his helmet on a handlebar and walked in.
He wiggled his pretty nose at the smell of stale urine and something else, something worse. Poorly drawn graffiti covered the walls, and Kimaris thought that, on the whole, the attempt at art was an improvement over the patches of unadorned wall covered with peeling paint the color of feces. Having given the elevator enough time to become sure it was beyond even his demonic powers of resuscitation, he took the stairs to the fifth floor, unzipping the jacket as he climbed. He went bra-less on purpose, and now each step made his full breasts bob up and down rather uncomfortably.
The panels of glass, set across the full length of the corridor, revealed the laboratory. A lay person would be impressed by the complexity of the machinery and the walls of spinning data banks. Kimaris knew this junk was old and surplus to requirements at the new lab where the real, NIH-sponsored, Pentagon-observed and NSA-snooped human genome work actually took place. Doctor Richard “Dick” Johanson was equally spurious, a small, balding, defeated figure in exile from his department and his family. No one had wasted a spook for him in a long time.
Kimaris knocked, and Dick, after a mostly suppressed twitch of startlement, shuffled over to unlock and open the door.
“Kim Aries, with F.A.C.,” Kim introduced herself, fully assuming the persona. “We have an appointment, doctor Johanson,” she added, not certain of the man’s memory.
“Ah, yes,” Dick answered after a moment’s worth of checking her out. It was already working. “Please come in,” he said and stepped aside.
Johanson led her to a small office with a computer screen on a cluttered desk, with a couple of chairs left askew around it.
“Please, sit down. Coffee, tea, water?” the geneticist offered.
“Some coffee, black, would be fantastic,” Kim said with a grateful smile.
“Of course. Just a minute while I finish saving my work, a moment to get some coffee, and I’ll be right back,” Dick said in the direction of her boobs.
Waiting, Kim studied the sheets of paper strewn across the desk and completely obstructing its surface. Most were computer printouts with numbers, graphs and bars. Kim wished briefly she had studied up on genetics and bioinformatics. It could help dealing with this nerd if she could speak the language. There was nothing for it now, though, she was here and had not a clue what any of this meant. Her body and the money needed to be enough.
Johanson returned with a couple of cups filled to their brims with steaming liquid, his attention for once focused on something other than her chest as he placed them on some of the presumably less valuable papers with delicate, trembling hands. He sat on the other side and, making an effort, looked her in the eyes.
“Here you go,” he gestured to the cup. “The coffee is actually pretty good.”
Kim took a dainty sip and nodded.
“Indeed, quite good,” she agreed. “Thank you for seeing me,” she said, leaning a bit forward.
“Yes, I believe you mentioned you wanted to discuss an opportunity?” Johanson asked, his attention returning a few inches below her face.
“Yes, doctor Johanson—”
“Call me Dick,” Dick interrupted and smiled thinly.
Kim realized now why the man seemed so familiar. That grating little guy who’s been in all the movies lately. Rick something or other. She had to admit he could be funny sometimes, though, especially playing that bumbling scientist who shrunk his kids. Dick and Rick could be twins.
“Of course, if you call me Kim,” she said with her most fuckable smile. “Oh, but where are my manners. Here is my card.” She extended her hand holding a conservative, black and white business card, leaning over even further toward Dick in the process.
Dick accepted the card and studied it for a short moment.
“I became partner after my former husband died,” Kim added. “We are in the business of funding ventures we think can change the world and bring us a good return, both.”
“What can I do for you?” Dick asked, putting the card down.
“The question is, what can we do for each other?” Kim corrected doctor Johanson with another smile. “Tell me though, if you don’t mind, what is the main topic of your research right now?”
As Dick launched into an explanation, Kim stopped paying attention. It didn’t matter, she knew the answer already.
He sputtered to a halt twenty minutes later, short of breath. Panting. This stuff really got him worked up.
“Thank you, Dick,” Kim said, “that was fascinating.” She paused for a moment to put on her thoughtful face. “That’s even more exciting than I expected,” she lied. “Decoding the building blocks of humanity. Correct me, though, if I’m wrong, isn’t there another group here also working on it? ‘The Human Genome Project,’ or some such, isn’t it?”
Dick’s ears reddened instantly.
“Yes, they are. But they’re going about it all wrong. It’ll take them another fifteen, twenty years before they get anywhere with it,” Dick said.
“If you really want to know, I got shunted to this crappy lab because I disagreed. I’ve got tenure so they couldn’t completely get rid of me.”
“I like your spirit, Dick,” Kim said. “Down, but not out. True to your convictions. I should come clean, too, then. Our firm is aware of what has transpired here, all the NIH bureaucratic shenanigans…We agree your direction was the more promising one. Was. Could be again if you got the right resources. Have you considered the commercial applications of your work?” She finished with a question and another smile.
“Well, they’re boundless,” Dick answered, a shade of tone short of a “duh.” “Anywhere from cures for cancer to designer babies to assisted evolution. The defense angle could be interesting, too….But with the crap I’m stuck with around here, and no qualified help….I won’t get there any sooner than those bumbling, shortsighted NIH bastards. If ever. That’s the plain truth.” His shoulders drooped.
“Let’s say, theoretically, you could get your hands on the most advanced equipment and a couple of supercomputers, solely for your needs, two or three genius-type PhDs…. How long then?” Kim asked, and leaned back in the chair, withholding her bosoms. Dick’s face came a few inches forward, as if he were a raggedy marionette controlled by invisible strings attached to her nipples.
“Two years, three on the outside,” Dick answered, and he finally sounded like the scientist once voted the most likely to become the youngest Nobel Prize laureate ever.