The Prodigy

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Chapter 17

Josh, Kevin and I start working around the clock on Monday. At lunch the day before, Kevin told us about the program he created to run multiple algorithms to identify common amino acid peptide sequences among subgroups of the pedophile data. Kevin and I are accustomed to spending long hours in a laboratory as we both had limited social outlets at our former schools. We could immerse themselves in data without any awareness of the outside world. Josh becomes the de facto leader of the group, as he is the most practical and naturally charismatic. When Kevin and I veer into more esoteric realms, he pulls us back on course. He also corrals us together for meal times.

Two of the perks he managed to wrangle out of his mother was an advanced gaming system for Kevin and yoga classes for the rest of the team. Kevin utilizes the gaming system when the other members of the lab are taking yoga classes, as a break in the early evening. Marcus and Jiang are thrilled with the classes. Marcus had been making snarky comments the prior week about how close Josh, Kevin and I functioned. The other group’s inclusion in the yoga classes seems to mollify Marcus. Jacki begged off taking the classes, as she wanted to work through the early evening and get home at a reasonable hour. Josh also had sweet-talked the chef in the cafeteria to make us family friendly meals, delivered to our personal lounge. When Katharine Lucas found out, she came down to talk to Josh about not taking advantage of the chef as workers in the other labs were starting to take notice. However, she was more than thrilled with the progress we had made.

With the program Kevin had developed, I was able to look at the data more thoroughly. I believe I may have found another on/off gene in the limbic system for dopamine that differs between normal controls and the pedophilia subjects. Josh and I spend the week examining the DNA sequences of that particular gene and Kevin uploads the data we discover into his program. He is also doing a broad based search to see if that same gene has popped up in other research trials.

By Wednesday, I start to worry that mom is lonely without me. We only see each other early in the morning and have not been able to catch up on what is happening in each other’s life. My mom mentioned she has continued running and had met someone in the justice department who is trying to locate dad through official circles. The way she said it made me think there is more to the story, but so far there has been no opportunity to delve more deeply into that conversation.

As we are winding down on Wednesday, Josh asks me to take a walk on the balcony overlooking the Hudson River. I can hear the traffic approaching the George Washington Bridge and the horns of boats passing up and down the river. I love to come out here at night after everyone has left for the day. I love it even more when I’m with Josh. We had left Kevin in the lab while we took a miniscule break. As we walk out the door to the balcony, Josh puts his arm around me. Reflexively, I look around to make sure we aren’t seen.

“Relax. No one is here. You do realize we can’t keep up this work pace indefinitely. Kevin and you function like machines but the others feel compelled to stay after hours because our little group stays late into the night.”

“Really? I’m sorry. I feel terrible. I don’t want to annoy the other group. I just become extremely focused when I start a project.” I’m disturbed by this revelation. “Does it bother you?”

“No, I have no problems with it. I still get to spend time with you. I just think we have to take a break occasionally. Besides, I like spending time with you outside of this place.

“I know what you mean. I only see you here and I have been feeling guilty about barely seeing my mom. It’s just that when I start working on a complicated problem, I become engrossed in the work. I just feel we are so close to unlocking the answer. It is like a puzzle: we found two key pieces and if we just find a few more everything will fall into place. I am becoming convinced we are looking for a network of on/off genes controlling the sex drive. As for Kevin, I think he is happy as a clam right now. He needs friends and thinks we are it. But it would be good to get him out of here. He is actually very sweet.”

“That’s because he has a thing for my girlfriend. I may have to find a girl for him soon.” Josh says cryptically.

I smile to myself at the term girlfriend. “I don’t think he has a crush. He’s just lonely. It’s a good idea to introduce him to other girls but perhaps we should take it slowly. I don’t want him to get hurt. He has gone on a few dates that ended disastrously in the past.”

“We will make it a fall project. Besides, NFL preseason is starting in a few weeks and we are working on a fantasy football team.”

“What do you mean working on it? Remember what happened to Kevin the last time he did something like this?”

“Relax. We are entering our team into a pool at my athletic club, not running it. Kevin is really excited about it and he plans to work all weekend on the stats. Although, it would be nice to have a football pool here.”

“So, that is what you two have been whispering about. By the way, before you petition for more perks, my most pressing request right now is for a neuroradiologist.”

“That is your most pressing request?”

I stare at him and lean in for a kiss. “Only in the laboratory.” I kiss him again. It is a first for me being the initiator. “Actually, speaking of working more reasonable hours, my mom invited us to an art gallery exhibition down in Chelsea. She knows the owner from years ago and saw him last Sunday. His name is Jeff Trembly. I don’t know much about art but my mom says he throws, or at least did, the greatest parties.”

“I’ve heard about him. He was a fixture on the social scene for years. Do you really want to go?’

“As you said, we don’t get out much. I’ve never been to something like a gallery opening. But, we don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”

“I will go wherever you want. That party sounds like it could be fun.” Josh pulls me into a hug.

“I think you two need to take a break.” At the sound of her voice, I jump several feet away from Josh and look back to see Katharine Lucas sitting in the shadows. I feel like a kid caught with her hand in the cookie jar. I’m mortified.

“Mother, you should have made your presence known.” The sarcasm in his voice is unmistakable. I watch the exchange between the two of them with fascination and a strong desire to slink away. It makes me grateful for the relationship I have with my mother.

“I didn’t mean to intrude. In any event, I did want to talk to you about the findings you have made so far. Your group has made more progress at this stage than Wes and I had initially projected. You will be presenting your findings at the International Genetics Epidemiology Conference in Milan, Italy. The conference is at the end of September.”

I can’t believe I’m hearing this. I look at Josh. “Do you think the research will stand up to scrutiny at this stage?” Josh shrugs his shoulders. But his face is set in a grimace. “We still have to verify the data for each test subject.”

Before Josh can answer, Katharine jumps in. “I think what you have now would be more than sufficient. But knowing your work ethic, I am sure you will do the verifications. Just set aside a week to put the presentation together before you leave. I am sure you will do an excellent job and Wes will help you be effective in your presentation. He will be making the announcement tomorrow. Go home and get some sleep.”

“Is the whole lab going Dr. Lucas? I ask.

“No. It will just be the two of you and Kevin. And Josh, do not get Kevin in trouble with illegal betting. I would bail out Kevin, but not you.”

Katharine turns, opens the doors and walks to the atrium. As she walks away, she calls out. “Don’t worry, Analia, I have a neuroradiologist from Hopkins coming Monday morning at eight.” I stand there in shell shock. When I try to speak, Josh puts his hand behind my back, leans in close and whispers for me to be quiet and follow his lead. He steals one more kiss before he releases me.

“Do you think we will be ready for Milan?” Josh asks me.

“I don’t know. It makes me nervous. Before I present any findings as fact, I like to triple check everything. When I made presentations before, I would work on it for months. I also have to take care of another issue as well. I don’t have a passport.”

“We’ll go next week and get it. Normally, it takes two months to process a passport but there is an expedited process you can pay for.”

“As nervous as I am about this presentation, I am excited about Italy. The whole idea is so romantic.” I break out in a big smile. “Just so you know, I will bail you out if you get arrested. But I would give you grief for not listening to me.” We walk through the corridors to the lab.

“Good to know I am in your hands. Come on.” He takes my hand. “Let’s go tell Kevin. He will probably do an immersion course in Italian when he finds out. He loves to be prepared.” I laugh softly.

“Do you think Marcus, Jiang and Jacki will be upset that they were not invited?” I don’t want any tension with the other group. Jacki and I have been having quite a few conversations when we can find a few minutes to spare in the lab. Jiang also joins us in her quiet manner. I only had the one girlfriend, Ella, back at Stanford. I would prefer not to jeopardize the few female friends I have now.

“Maybe a little. Not so much Jacki or Jiang, but I think Marcus may get annoyed. He tries to hide it, but he is fiercely ambitious.” Josh raises his eyebrows as he says this and I get the distinct impression that Josh thinks Marcus is the mole.

We arrive at the lab and find Kevin hunched over his computer. Josh whispers that we had left him in that exact position a half hour ago. Josh calls out to Kevin. “Hey, it is time to move before your shoulders become permanently attached to your ears. We have some news for you.”

Kevin looks completely bewildered by Josh. “Why are you saying that about my shoulders? Analia, I need to show you another pattern I discovered.” Kevin looks incredibly excited.

Josh starts laughing and I elbow him. “Kevin, the chairman just told us that we are presenting at the International Genetics Committee in Milan, at the end of September.”

“Do you mean our recent findings? That is only two months away. How can we possibly be ready?” Kevin’s right eye starts twitching.

Josh answers first. “We know. We have a lot of work to do and not much time. Dr. Morehouse will help us I’m sure. Don’t worry, we are all in this together. Do you have a passport Kevin?”

“Yes. I went to London two years ago for a conference.” Kevin starts pacing the lab, murmuring to himself about all the checks he will have to run. Josh and I exchange looks of concern.

I go and stand next to Kevin. “Kevin, look at me.” Kevin stops in front of me. “It will all work out. We’ll have to really grind it out, but we can do this. What has you the most concerned?”

“I don’t want to give a verbal presentation. I became very flustered during one last year and it was disastrous. People started laughing at me.” Kevin is red-faced as he says this and I want to comfort him. But Kevin is averse to touching.

“If you don’t want to present, Analia and I will do the talking. It will be fun to get out of New York. Do you like Italian food?”

“Well, yes I do very much.” Kevin starts considering the possibilities and relaxes slightly. He sits down, stiffly. “Why did your mother do this without checking with us? Usually the scientists are at least asked first if they are ready, as a matter of courtesy.”

“I don’t know, Kevin. My mother is extremely ambitious and doesn’t give a damn about how anyone feels. Just think about the food and the sightseeing. There is no pressure.”

“Can Analia sit next to me on the plane?” My eyes widen at this request.

Josh leans down and whispers in my ear. “I told you so.” I elbow him again. “How about we take turns sitting next to Analia? Let’s go home now.” We walk Kevin to the hallway that leads to the Institute’s living facilities.

As we say our goodbyes, Kevin asks again. “Why are they pushing this conference so early in our discovery? It makes no sense.”

I ponder the question before answering. “I don’t know Kevin. It is pushing the envelope. It is possible another research institute is looking at the same issue and Dr. Lucas wants to stake her claim first. The silver lining in all of this is I believe Dr. Morehouse wouldn’t let us present if he had serious doubts. Get some sleep.” I give him a smile.

“You’re the best Analia.” Kevin turns and starts down the hallway. Josh just shakes his head and mutters again. ”I told you so.” I resist the urge to elbow him a third time.

After we drop off Kevin, we head for the train. The ride home on the train is turning out to be my favorite time of the day. I melt into Josh’ shoulder and forgets all the tensions from the last fourteen hours. Josh walks with me to my apartment building and we agree that we will leave from work for the party the next day.

Mom is on the phone in the corner of the sectional couch when I walk in. She motions for me to sit next to her. I notice she has painted a border around the ceiling in the living area and added a few throw pillows in yellow and white. The apartment is starting to look like home. It seems incongruent; there is a strong likelihood we will be disappearing at some point in the coming months. It is a sobering thought. Mom ends her phone call and leans over and gives me a hug.

“Hello stranger. It is good to have you home before midnight.”

“I’m sorry mom. I know these hours have been crazy and I just learned they are not going to get much better for the next two months.”

“Would you like some tea or a bite to eat?” I say yes to the tea and mom goes to the kitchen to make a cup. “Did you have a setback?”

“No, not a setback. More like a monkey wrench. Based on our preliminary findings, the chairman has already submitted our names for presentation at a genetics conference in Milan.”

“Milan? When?” Mom perks up with interest.

“End of September. We still have to run DNA sequences on over six hundred individuals in the database, correlate the MRI findings and personal data, and then recheck everything. I just wish we had more time. I don’t know why the chairman is pushing this fast. It would be better if we had a few more months. Kevin’s nervous tic went into overdrive when we told him.”

“ How sure are you about your initial conclusions?”

“Very. But you know what these meetings are like. You have to anticipate every possible query they can throw at you and be able to explain it. By the way, Josh agreed to go tomorrow night. We are going to go straight from the Institute. Should we go together?”

“You don’t want your mother as a third wheel. Besides, I am taking someone with me who is looking for information about your dad. I am meeting him an hour before for a drink and a chat and then heading over around eight o’clock.” I give Mom a questioning look at this news but refrain from making a comment. I’m pretty sure the jamming device is not on.

“Perfect. We will meet up with you around eight. Now, if I only had something to wear. Sadly, I have no idea what to wear to something like this.”

“Not to worry. I was down in Soho and I picked out a white, summer dress for you and silver heels. It’s on your bed.” I run into my room and let out something close to a squeal.

“Mom, it’s perfect. You’re the best.” I run over and hug her.

“I always try. I loved dressing you in pretty outfits when you were little. I miss that. So who is going to Italy?”

“Josh, Kevin and I are presenting. The other three in our lab are not included which makes me uneasy. I think Dr. Morehouse is going with us as well. We’ll learn the details tomorrow.” I turn on the water and whisper. “Josh and I were standing on the balcony talking and Dr. Lucas was there listening to us. She saw me kiss her son. I was horrified.”

“Having your boss eavesdrop on you is disconcerting. However, you are both adults and there is no company policy against coworkers dating. Having said that, I wouldn’t want my boyfriend’s mother spying on me. That would shake me up.” Mom walks back to the couch and I follow.

“I jumped five feet when she started talking out of the darkness. It freaked me out. It was creepy.”

“Put it out of your mind. She is who she is. Let’s talk about something happy. You are officially an adult on Friday.”

“Finally. I am tired of the jailbait jokes.” I stretch out on the couch and put my head on mom’s lap.

“Oh Analia, why didn’t you tell me about the jokes?” Mom chuckles. “That is the price you pay for being smart beyond your years. At least those jokes will die off now.”

“I didn’t want to worry you. I worry now that Josh will think I am a stick in the mud. All these years, I was free to work all the hours I wanted to. Our partner Kevin is like me too. Josh told me tonight that our long work hours are putting pressure on the other members in our group.”

“Well, I think it is all a measure of balance. There is nothing wrong with working hard as long as you make time for the ones you care about. As for your other lab partners, you can’t worry about their work ethic if you have a job to do. Just be friendly and polite. As for Josh, it did not look like he thought you were a stick in the mud last Saturday.”

“I guess you are right. Are you coming to the beach with us on Friday? I won’t go without you on my eighteenth birthday. We have to be together. But I would love to go to the beach. Please come.”

“Honey, I don’t think I can but we will celebrate tomorrow night.” As she says it, she hands Analia a note. The note reads.

I left the jammers off. If they get no information out of us they’ll become more aggressive. I am going to the beach but if Katharine Lucas hears I am going she will definitely send surveillance to follow us. I would never miss your eighteenth birthday. Love Mom.”

“Oh. Do you have plans?” Meanwhile, I throw my arms around mom and whisper. “I can’t wait. The weather forecast looks perfect.”

“I do. I am heading up to Connecticut.” Mom says for the benefit of those listening. We settle into a companionable silence and get ready for bed.

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