20th September 2006
Another busy week. I've been trying to do too much as usual. Had my hair cut on Monday. My hairdresser's such a wag. He cheers me up every time I go there. But this time he had some bad news. His cat had died. I was very sad for him. I'm going up the coast to a place called Toowoon Bay. I love it there. Hope to enjoy some sun, swimming, walking on the beach and just veging out.
Here's my next draft on my Stephane story. I have noticed some of my formatting goes crazy when I copy and paste it here. There's nothing I can do about it. If you like what you read, please, please send it to any publishers you can think of. And thanks very much if you do.
Life is but a single grain in a bed sand.
Some are larger and make more of an impression.
Most are small, lost amongst the crowd.
Some are blown about by wind to settle where fate drops them
Others seek temporary escape in the river of life
The best are warmed by the sun and enjoy love and friendship
Which grain are you?
Bye for now.
© Olga Segal 2006
He waited inside his van until the streetlights came on and the evening dusk became night. A Californian sea breeze came up and set the oak trees rustling and throwing dancing lamp lit shadows on the sidewalk.
He reached for the bottle of water beside him, and took a mouthful; all the while, he watched the house opposite. A light came on in what seemed like a bedroom, and then went off. He opened the car door with care so as not to make any noise. Then he walked casually across the road, skirted the large oak tree at the side of the drive, and whispered across the lawn and down the side of the wooden front porch.
The soft flickering glow from a television seeped under the curtains at the back living area. Satisfied that someone was home, he retreated across the lawn to the garage, crept down the side nearest the house and looked for a door, and he stumbled on the uneven pathway.
He did not curse; he was too focused on his mission. The darkness, like an enveloping blanket blinded him and he pulled out a tiny pocket flashlight and shone the beam low on the garage wall. He located the back entrance to the garage and killed the light.
Once inside, he shone the light on the Ford, opened the door as quietly as he could and waited. No one came.
Then he reached under the driver’s side to release the hood. He slipped out and shone his flashlight on the engine. When he found the hydraulic brake fluid line, he pulled a spanner from his back pocket and loosened the nut on the clamp holding the line in place so the next time the vehicle was driven, it would fall off.
Once the job was done, he returned to his van. Climbed in and waited. It took about an hour before the external lights to the home went on. A man and his son came outside. The man opened the garage door, secured the child into the passenger seat, and then reversed the car.
He smiled to himself as the Ford disappeared down the road.
Little did Stephanie Kelly know that her life would be challenged by a simple thing like a mail delivery.
When the buzzer outside the glass security door to the laboratory sounded, Stephanie looked up to see the mail girl in the hallway with a wad of letters in her hand. She turned the light off on the microscope, set down the slides of tissue cultures she had been checking for signs of necrosis, peeled off her disposable gloves, and undid her mask and cap as she walked to the door,
They exchanged small talk for a few minutes as she accepted the letters. Stephanie let the heavy door close, pushed back a stray lock of thick-black hair from her face, and went back to her office.
Her research on fibrocystic and stromal breast tissue had kept her busy at the Los Angeles branch for the previous five years until a fire burnt down the laboratory and some of the offices, and made her move to their branch in Arizona, a subsidiary of Rigby Research Inc. She worked in tandem with Dr. Richard Dixon ran the Arizona labs.
Greed did not propel them to delve into a sphere where there was much money to be made, but a genuine concern that they could make a difference to women. Only this excited her and gave her a reason to live. The other reason had been severed so suddenly a year ago that it festered in her mind like a parasite.
She roughly sorted the mail into bills and advertising. The latter she threw into the wastebasket without opening it. Why did they bother?
Some of the actual mail was for Richard. The rest was for her, as she looked after the day-to-day purchase decisions in the laboratory. Most was from companies from which they ordered stock but there was one envelope, without a return address or company logo, addressed to her: Stephanie Kelly, Senior Tissue Engineer, Rigby Research Inc, Scottsdale, Arizona.
Richard walked in. “Any mail for me doc?”
“Stop that stuff. Just because I have a few letters after my name…”
“I like to tease you,” he grinned.
He was a full head taller than her. She stared up at him as he finger combed his wavy black hair. “Perhaps I should call you Professor Dixon?”
“Now…now. I see you’re still getting loads of readdressed stuff from our Los Angeles branch?”
“Yup. And it’s been three months since I transferred here. Don’t they ever update their contacts? I emailed the companies before I left,” she said.
Melissa, her co-worker told her that Richard, a Harvard graduate, had been headhunted by most of the major companies. The reason he settled for Rigby was probably more to do with the freedom he had with his research projects, and being able to work with the best equipment money could buy than with the high salary he drew. She admired him for that.
“Obviously none of them is as organized as you.” Richard gave a cheeky grin.
“Oh yeah, sure. How are the RT241 trials looking so far?” She opened the envelope without a return address and found two photos inside.
“It’ll be another thirty six hours before we know anything…what’s that you’ve got there?”
“I don’t know. It must be someone’s idea of a joke.” One photo was of her walking through the park with her niece, Dionne Sarlos, and the other of her stepping out of her silver Honda dressed in a duck-egg blue jacket and pencil skirt. That suit she had dropped off at the cleaners yesterday. She wore it to work only days ago. What was going on? Dumbfounded, she sank into the gas-lift chair hardly aware that she had edged backwards around her cedar desk to do this. Stephanie glanced beyond the glass wall at the other three white-coated colleagues in the laboratory. Could one of these people sent these images to her? “What the hell?”
What did she know about her co-workers anyway?
Fred Lincoln, the biomedical-engineering wizard. She had heard about him on the grapevine when she studied at Berkeley. While there, five years earlier, he had written a significant paper on rogue cancer cells. And he still lived at home.
“What’s wrong?” asked Richard.
She let the photos drop onto her desk and glanced at Nina Mumczuk. The woman had befriended her the day Stephanie moved here from L.A. three months ago. Nina was kind and considerate. No…her friend couldn’t have done this.
“Take a look,” she handed them to Richard and slipped off her lab coat. “Do you think these shots are some sort of a joke?”
And what about Melissa Toomy: the tissue-engineering graduate fresh out of university who often seemed empty headed and dreamy, but sometimes showed that there was a brain under that bottle-brunette hair. Could she have sent these photos?
Beyond those details, Stephanie knew little more about her co-workers. “Why would anyone bother to take these shots and send them to me?”
“I’d be worried if someone sent these to me. I’d be thinking when’s the note going to arrive? You know, blackmail or something.”
“Don’t scare me. I’m trying to be logical about this.”
“You can analyse this away but I don’t like it one bit. What we’re doing here is too important.”
“I played catch in the park with Dionne two weekends ago.” Then Stephanie saw the self-adhesive label on the back of one of the pictures. It read, ‘My Princess. My one and only love.’ “Holy shit.”
“Now I’m thinking stalker?” A worried frown creased Richard’s forehead.
“No one’s been following me. At least I don’t think so. But then I didn’t see them take the photos.” She shrugged and tried to shake off an uneasiness that had seeped into her thoughts. “Maybe someone here is a practical joker?”
“Let’s ask them?” He opened the glass door and went into the laboratory with her one step behind him.
“Can I have your attention please? Does anyone know who sent me these photos?” Stephanie waved them at the other co-workers as if this was some sort of practical joke, although this invasion of her privacy worried her.
Nina’s blonde bob fell across her high-cheek-boned face as she slid a tray of test tubes into the autoclave. “What are you talking about?” she said as she straightened.
Melissa, as usual, seemed to be daydreaming as she stared through the window at the desert landscape. Probably about her boyfriend, Stephanie guessed.
Fred added incubation media into a machine that would inject a measured amount into a dozen test tubes and did not look up.
“Have a look at these. Someone has been taking photos of my niece and me, and sent them to me.”
Nina stared open mouthed. “That is terrible.”
Nina was a doctor of medicine in the Ukraine but not recognized as such in the States. She was undertaking a part-time, degree program, at the local university. She was married to a civil engineer--his degree was not recognized here either--who worked as a janitor to help make ends meet. They rented a small apartment in Mesa.
“Tell me about it,” said Stephanie.
“What’s the problem?” Melissa closed the fume hood and peeled off her disposable gloves, skirted the white bench, and came over. “You’re very photogenic. I wish I had thick black hair like you. Something I’ve been meaning to ask you? Are your parents Greek?”
“They are. But they’ve lived in the States since before I was born. Are you going to ask me about the clothing I’m wearing in it as well?”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Accepted.” Stephanie showed her the message on the back.
Melissa laughed. “Some creepy admirer you’ve got.”
Stephanie shook her head. “Don’t say that. That makes me feel uncomfortable.”
“Some people are so strange. I wouldn’t like it either,” said the brunette.
Do you know anything about this, Fred?”
As he lifted his head, a clump of lanky brown hair slipped free from the disposable cap. He pushed it back inside and then he pulled down his mask. “What?”
Stephanie held up the photos. “They came in today’s mail. Do you know anything about them, Fred?” she repeated.
He raised his caterpillar-like eyebrows. “As if I would. I’m here till eight o’clock most nights. When would I have time?”
A typical answer from someone who still lived with his mother and wore pants up to his waist with two pleats on each side. “Sorry I asked.”
“I don’t like it. I think you should call the police,” said Richard.
“In the Ukraine where I lived, the policemen did not help anyone much unless you had money.” Nina shook her head. “They were corrupt.”
“Someone will own up soon enough. Perhaps one of the guys downstairs might have an idea who sent them? It could be a prank,” said Stephanie trying to convince herself that it wasn’t something more sinister.
“A damn stupid one if it is. Irresponsible of them,” he said.
“I’ll ask the mail girl when she makes her delivery tomorrow. She seems to know all the gossip around here.”
“I don’t know. You’re making light of this. I hope it’s not anything more serious.”
“Me too. I don’t want to think about it. Anyway we have work to do. How are the RT251 tissue cultures coming along?” Stephanie asked Richard.
“They do look promising. Still, it’s too early to say for sure.”
“And the lymphoma cells?”
He grimaced. “Don’t even ask. I’m doing a full comparison report this afternoon. I think we need to enrich the mixture. I’m to going start with a quarter of a millilitre at a time.”
Fred picked up the tray of test tubes that were partly filled with media. “We have to just keep at it. It may take years to get the formula right before we can start testing it on mice.”
Stephanie sensed that, to Fred, the challenge was the best part. Once it was over, he would lose interest.
When we do perfect the formula, you two get all the glory and make a fortune. You’ll be famous.” Melissa said to Richard and Stephanie. She put on her gloves and mask and then loaded two test tubes into the centrifuge.
Dixon screwed up his face. “Glory? You mean fight off the sharks clamouring for a story, and truckloads of people wanting money from us. I can do without that. What do you think Stephanie?”
“Paparazzi? They’re a menace. ” Stephanie tapped the photos in her hand. “I still don’t get why someone would do this?”
“I thought you said you didn’t want to think about them?” Richard said.
“I’m trying not to.”
“If we don’t get this sorted by tomorrow…I’ll ring the police if you don’t,” he said as he strode back to his office.
“It’s a deal.” She slipped the photos into her lab coat pocket, and went back to study the slides of tissue cultures she analysed for necrosis before the mail delivery. The results of the cultures were disappointing. Too many of them had decayed. Even the samples that showed signs of remaining pink and healthy yesterday had blackened overnight. Damn, she thought she was on to something when the last batch showed an improvement. She shrugged, mystified.
Stephanie went back into her office and sank into her chair and sighed. She pulled off her disposable cap, and pushed her fingers under through her thick black bob while she tried to think. What was wrong? Was the mixture too rich? Had the cell structure decayed while being kept in the cryogenic freezer after harvesting? No. She discounted that; it had tested as normal and healthy at the start of the trials. When they seeded the cells, had the process somehow contaminated it? She must send a few samples to an outside lab for testing for mycoplasma and acholeplasmas.
The phone beside Stephanie rang. She answered it. The receptionist told her that Jack Theed, the representative from West Labs Equipment was downstairs at the reception waiting to see her.
She shrugged out of the lab coat, hung it over a stool, and started to open the heavy glass security door. The photos were still in her pocket. She went over to her coat and retrieved them. Why would someone do this? She slid the photos into the envelope they came in. Why take candid shots of her with Dionne? It didn’t make sense. Her muscles at the base of her neck tensed with worry and she rubbed them.
She let herself out and strode to the elevator. Her black pumps clicked on the beige tiled floor. When the metal doors opened, she stepped in and travelled down to the ground floor to meet Jack.