Part 1: Chapter 8
The Biomedical and Biological Research Center was one of the most expensive buildings to run in Westchester’s S.H.I.E.L.D. compound. Part of that reason was because one of the men in charge of the building was Dr. Hank McCoy. He oversaw the going-ons in both research centers and had a hand in all the grant writing, both federal and private. Not to mention, he was not very efficient or organized, and he spent money rather extravagantly. The result was the building had superb, up-to-date laboratories with all the latest technologies and was also very appealing to look at. The downside was that Hank assumed that with all the interesting equipment surrounding them, his team would want to shift around readily, as he would, trying out everything. Therefore, work went somewhat slowly, because Hank passed out the assignments according to who was available to him, not with any regard to who might be better suited for a job. Hank said repeatedly that all skills are worth learning and he requires passion for knowledge rather than brilliance in his laboratories. Though, he was always quick to add, that both was even better.
Reva Manning had worked for the Westchester headquarters since it was opened and knew everything there was to know about the place, and everything else, it seemed. Some suspected she was psychic, but no one asked and she wasn’t telling. She had initially worked in the main office at the Academy, but as soon as Dr. McCoy had seen her, he had to have her for his own building. He was sweet on her and she was an excellent baker. In her fifties, her hair was completely silver-gray and she didn’t bother dying it. Today she was dressed in a tailored brown skirt suit and she wore a burnt orange colored blouse, for the fall season, perhaps, considering she also wore dangling leaf earrings, a cheap plastic ring that was shaped like a turkey and a broach that was a cornucopia. Where she got her jewelry no one knew.
The door opened, bringing in a little of the wintry air and her seventh visitor this morning – Agent Remy LeBeau. “Well, if it isn’t my favorite Avenger,” she said, opening up her sign in book and handing it to him. “How are you honey?” Reva was divorced and was known to be currently dating a professor from The Xavier Institute. That never stopped her from openly flirting with any man she wanted to.
“Better now that I’ve seen you,” he said, with a smile, bending down to sign and initial the book. Indicating the ring, he asked, “Your boyfriend get that for you?”
“Oh, you hush,” she said. “He knows by now plastic’s not going to work.”
Remy laughed. “I thought the size didn’t matter the second time around.”
“No, that’s the first time, honey. When you’re all young and dumb and in love. Now, we know what we want, don’t we?” Reva was one of the few people that even remembered that Remy had been married once. Or maybe one of the few who felt comfortable talking to him about it. Granted, it was the flash in the pan variety. Husband and wife had not even lived together in holy matrimony for a year. And she moved back to Louisiana before the divorce and annulment were even finalized.
He handed her the book. Somewhat sardonically, and maybe too wise for his age, he said, “Yeah. Save your money and live together in sin.”
She laughed too. “Sounds good to me,” she said and winked. “Oh, and speaking of sin, I have cookies.” Before he could protest, because he would have, she put two homemade double chocolate chip cookies into a napkin, then after a pause, put two more.
Remy took them, because his manners dictated that he should. But Reva knew better. “Don’t you give those to Dr. McCoy, now,” she warned.
“No ma’am,” he reassured her, though lying. He headed in the direction of the elevators.
As an afterthought, she called after him, “I hope you brought your hat and gloves with you. My bones are telling me the snow’s going to hold tonight.”
Her ‘bones’ were seldom wrong. “Aw, now why’d you have to go and ruin my day?”
“How long have you lived in New York, handsome? Five, six years? You should be used to it by now.”
If he didn’t bow out now, he’d never get out. He pressed the elevator button. “Maybe you’ll start making me hot chocolate then. Have a nice day, Reva.”
For having absolutely no background in science other than the required courses in high school that he had passed only through luck, Remy spent a lot of time in the lab, and knew his way around, though he knew he’d never feel comfortable there. As usual, the work spaces in the large, state-of-the-art biomedical research lab were covered in reference manuals, petri dishes, table centrifuges, ELISA trays and boxes of slides. Elton John played quietly in the background, and most of the white-coated people looked younger than he was. A pretty blonde, who Remy saw quite frequently but had never been formerly introduced to, smiled at him and told him he’d find Dr. Grey in the large microscope room.
Very newly minted Dr. Jean Grey, whose expertise, if any, was in general medicine, was as of late, working to find out how Mutant Growth Hormone worked in the body. And today, she was doing microscopy work on fish scales.
The petite redhead had her back to him, peering into a microscope and adjusting the fine knob to suit her slight nearsightedness. But, she didn’t need to hear him or see him to know he had come in. The unplanned empathetic bond between them, stronger for her, was enough. “I hope you’re taking a decongestant,” she said as a way of greeting. “Before you end up with sinus troubles.”
“Thanks, doc,” he responded sarcastically, not even questioning how she should know what she knew by now.
She turned, leaning against the sleek and standard black laboratory tables, and gave him a quick once-over, as if she needed to. “How’s your thumb?” she asked, taking his hand and examining the wound. It no longer looked as if it were in danger of being infected, but it wasn’t pretty.
“It hurts when you poke at it like that,” he said. Her index finger pushed at his thumb, testing its mobility, and he noted that it was smaller than his pinky was.
She looked up at him; at barely five-five, she was at least nine inches shorter than he was, and smiled. “Big baby,” she said. “Just how big was this monster that bit you? Yay big?” she indicated a height up to her hips.
“She was small, yeah,” he said, with a smile of his own, “But her mouth was bigger than yours, if you can imagine.”
She nudged him with her elbow, not even hard enough for him to move, and she turned towards the microscope. It was connected to a camera that fed its images to a laptop computer next to it. On the computer screen was an enlarged image of what Remy assumed was a fish scale.
“How close did you examine these?” she asked.
“I pulled them out from under the bed and that was about it. Why?”
“Well, I had to pull a picture of Sammy from the Institute, and then went into his medical files, too. These are his, Remy. Exactly forty six scales that he, or someone, took from his body and stored in a box.”
Remy might have responded with ‘gross’, but he didn’t need to, because it could be read from his face. Instead, he said, “Maybe that makes more sense, I don’t know. Though it still doesn’t explain why the hell he’d do such a thing.” Remy coughed against his fist and then slid his hands into his pockets.
“Not my area,” Jean replied, which meant she didn’t want to think about it. “I can tell you though, that when Emma says ‘moldy’ it is a bit of a misnomer.”
“She was only looking at the pictures,” Remy said, somewhat in her defense.
Jean ignored it, and continued, “I suppose that is what she suspected caused the smell Anna Marie said she smelled.”
“Yeah. I’ve been wondering what might have caused her to react the way she did.”
“She has a pretty good nose, obviously,” Jean said. “You will find on Sammy’s arm, or leg, a wound, not all that old that I would bet required a trip to the emergency room. However, I found nothing of that in his medical records.”
For clarification, Remy asked, “So, he has been cutting off his scales and apparently got a large chunk of skin with it, and it started decomposing?”
“It doesn’t appear that he cut off most of them. Maybe he pulled them out, maybe they fell out. But the cause of the smell is decomposing flesh.” She left the room, returning quickly with a Styrofoam box with the cause of the stench inside it. She had put on a fresh pair of gloves and she handed him a pair. He withdrew his hands from his pockets reluctantly and slipped them into the gloves. It never failed; something always itched whenever he put on gloves, usually on his face. He sniffed and resisted the temptation.
Both Jean and Remy had grown up in a coastal environment, Remy, of course in Louisiana and Jean was from Bayville, New York. Her father owned a boat named Lady Grey and Jean had helped him steer it plenty of times. Each had caught a fish and filleted their catch. But, staring at this piece of fish flesh that was decaying was somehow not the same.
With that little index finger, she pointed at slight marks at what remained of the fish flesh. “Hesitation marks. A squeamish cutter, as my dad might say.” Inappropriate as it might have sounded, Jean meant it seriously. When she caught her first fish she had hesitated a lot as if trying to spare the dead fish more pain. It would be a much different experience for Sammy, and the hesitation marks were more about not wanting to hurt himself.
“So, this wasn’t an accident?” Remy asked, touching the slight marks with his gloved hand. “He meant to cut deeper this time?”
“It appears that way. Unless, by chance, he slipped a few times, when trying to get this particular scale out.”
“Do you think it’s possible his scales hurt him? Maybe they get ingrown or something?” He turned away from her and stifled a sneeze into the crook of his arm, and then quietly excused himself.
“Bless you, and don’t do that,” Jean scolded. “Unless you want a sinus infection. To answer your question, I guess it’s possible. There’s so much we still need to learn about every individual mutant, and some things, like such, we don’t think to ask.”
She placed the piece of fish flesh with the attached scale back into the Styrofoam box. It didn’t look like a takeout box, but when it closed, it sounded like one.
Remy believed it. There was a lot they didn’t know, maybe even a lot they would never know. He took off the gloves and tossed them into the trash and then rubbed at his nose. Referring to the Styrofoam box, he said, “I’m glad it’s not that close to Lent.” He and Jean were also both Catholic. He didn’t want to have to eat fish on a regular basis for a while, at least.
She smiled, not nearly as squeamish as she would have been if not for her job. “Me too. But mostly because I’m not ready to give up French fries.”