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Thursday, March 27, 2008

First Chapter of my Stephani


I spend the Easter break tidying up around the house but still managed to get in some writing time.
I haven't heard from the publishers in England yet.
This week I worked too many hours and didn't get to see if the sun was shining or not as our business is in an arcade. We are still short staffed at work and I haven't had time get my newsletter out on skin care for our club members. I received some good responses on the last one on weight loss.
My chiro loves to inflict pain and started on me today by digging his elbow up and down my spine. It helps to release the muscles he said. While he pushed and pummelled my head was stuck between two round things and my cheeks felt squeezed up somehow. Can it be good for getting rid of facial wrinkles? I'll suffer it if that's the case.

I've rewritten my first chapter again of my Stephani story. I should be working on my chick lit but my Stephanie story won't get out of my head.

The buzzing continued relentlessly outside the security door to the glass-walled laboratory. “Okay. I’m coming.” She lifted her head from the microscope and let her eyes refocus from the slides of tissue cultures she had been checking for signs of necrosis, snapped off her disposable gloves and cap, and tugged at the face mask ties that often got stuck in her thick-black hair as she strode to the door. The impatient mail girl was in the corridor with a wad of letters in her hand.
Stephani told the girl to resist the temptation to keep her finger on the button. That once was enough. That she wasn’t deaf. The girl just sort of smiled, didn’t apologise although Stephanie thought she should have, and said that she still had loads to deliver, handed them over and continued down the corridor to some more laboratories.
She let the heavy door close, and exited the laboratory into a short, glass-walled hallway that led to a bank of three offices. Entered the middle office, and reached for the coffee she had left on her desk earlier. Yuk. It was stone cold and bitter. She threw the junk mail into the wastebasket and sorted the rest into addressee: Richard Dixon or for her. There was one pink envelope without a return address or company logo for her:
Doctor Stephani Kelly, Senior Tissue Engineer
Rigby Research Inc
Strange. Seemed like an invitation to something.
Richard strolled in from his office next door, and leaned over her shoulder. “Any mail for me, doc?”
“Stop that stuff. Just because I have a few letters after my name.” After the graduation ceremony at Berkeley, her mother had said as she hugged her all those years ago that she’d been so proud of her. Stephanie wished she could have been proud of herself too but wasn’t.
“I like to tease you,” he grinned.
She glanced up at him as he finger combed his wavy black hair. “Maybe 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.
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 had tried to destroyed her dream when the the lab and some of the offices had burnt down. To continue her research, which she would not give up for anything, she moved to their branch in Arizona, a subsidiary of Rigby Research Inc. and joined Dr. Richard Dixon who ran the Arizona labs. Their studies into growing breast tissue had taken her into undiscovered realms. This excited her and gave her a reason to live.
“Obviously none of them are as organized as you.”
“Oh yeah, sure. How are the RT241 trials looking so far?”
“It’ll be another thirty-six hours before we know anything.” She opened the envelope without a return address and found two photos inside. She pursed her full lips. One photo was of her playing catch in the park with her niece, Dionne, and the other of her stepping out of her silver Honda dressed in her duck-egg blue jacket and pencil skirt. It was the one she’d worn to work last Friday. Dumbfounded, she fell into the gas-lift chair hardly aware that she had edged backwards around her desk .
“What’s that you’ve got there?”
“Nothing.” She shoved the photos back into the envelope
“You sure? You’ve gone pale.” Richard raised an eyebrow.
“I’m fine, really.” She wanted him to leave so she could look at them alone. Try to make some sense of them. Her heart was thumping, thumping. Swallowed. She fumbled with the jumble of envelopes trying cover the one with the photos inside but everything slipped to the floor.
“What’s wrong?” Richard glanced at her quizzically. Then he bent over and gathered them from the beige tiled floor.
“Don’t. I can do that.” Dismayed watched him pile them onto her desk, and swallowed as one photo fell out.
He picked it up. “Is that your niece throwing you the ball?”
“Dionne. Yes. A few weekends ago.” She hadn’t noticed anyone with a camera hanging round.
“Who took this?”
“I…am…don’t know.” Her voice came out in a little girl whisper.
“Are you serious?”
“Yep. There’s another one as well.” She prised open the envelope and pulled out the last photo. Handed it to Richard. “What sort of person would do this? Watch me? And Dionne? Maybe, it’s some sort of joke? There’s something on the back.” Stephani brought her hand to her mouth when she saw the sticker label on the back of the one where she was playing catch with Dionne. She read it aloud. “My Princess. My one and only love.”
“What did you say?” Richard flipped it over and saw the message. “What the hell?”
She shook her head. “Who is this Princess? And…only love?”
Richard stiffened. “Some weird person’s trying to get your attention. Well, he’s got my attention too. I’d be thinking when’s the actual note going to arrive? You know, blackmail or something.”
“Don’t scare me.” She wanted to say…more than I am already. “There must be some reasonable explanation.”
“You can analyse this away, but I don’t like it one bit. What we’re doing here is too important.” A worried frown creased Richard’s forehead.
She shrugged. “No one’s been following me. At least, I don’t think so. But then, Jesus, I didn’t see them take these, did I?” Stephanie glanced beyond the glass wall at the three white-coated co-workers in the laboratory.
“Yes. We should ask if they know anything,” said Richard. “Someone in the lab might-“
“No.” This was crazy but she just wanted to go and hide somewhere safe. She fought the impulse.
“We can’t just ignore this. We should let the police know.”
Time to think this through was what she needed. “I’ve got to finish collating the results.”
“We’ve got to do something, got to start somewhere. You can’t always know what’s the right thing to do.”
“Don’t lecture me please.”
”Just trying to help.”
“Shall we go ask them?”
He opened the glass door and went into the lab with her one step behind him.
Stephanie took a deep calming breath before she spoke in a voice that belied how upset she was at this invasion of her privacy. “Hi, guys. Does anyone know anything about these photos?”
Some of Nina Mumczuk’s blonde hair had worked it's way out of her cap and fell across her high-cheek-boned face as she slid a tray of test tubes into the incubator. “What are you talking about?” she straightened and then came over.
How much did Stephani know about her co-workers anyway? “Someone’s been taking photos of my niece, Dionne, and me, and sent them here.” God. How could she even think that they would know anything about these? Well, it was too late now to back out.
Nina stared open-mouthed. “That is terrible.” The woman had befriended her the day Stephani moved here from L.A. three months ago. Nina was kind and considerate. No…her friend could not have done this.
Nina was a doctor of medicine in the Ukraine but not recognized as such in the States. Undertaking a part-time degree program at the local university.
“Tell me about it,” Stephani turned to the over made-up tissue-engineering graduate Melissa Toomy.
“What’s the problem?” Melissa closed the glass fume hood and peeled off her disposable gloves, skirted the white bench, and flounced over. She pouted her crimson lips. “Gosh. You’re niece is so pretty. She looks like you.”
“How could you? I’m freaking out about this and you think it’s funny. Did you send this?” Damn, she hadn’t meant to tell them all how much this had shaken her.
“Come on.” Melissa said. “Got no idea who did either. Something I’ve been meaning to ask you: are your parents Greek?”
“They’ve lived in the States since before I was born. What’s that got to do with these?”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Accepted.” Receiving these in the mail upset her more than she’d realised. She didn’t usually bristle when questioned about her roots. It had happened so frequently when she was growing up that she had learned not to take offence.
Stephani showed Melissa the message on the back. “Some creepy admirer you’ve got.”
“Oh thanks. I’ll be checking my back every time I go out now.” Jesus, she’d have to lock herself into her apartment at night and she hated to do that: the very thought of not being able to get out easily scared her more. Jesus, this was making her paranoid.
“Some people are so weird,” said the brunette.
“Do you know anything about this, Fred?” Fred Lincoln, the resident guru in cancer cell research, added incubation media into an injection machine, and then turned it on and a soft whizzing sound punctuated the air. Measured amounts of media were squirted into test tubes.
Stephanie held up the photos. “Fred, they came in today’s mail.”
Finally, he lifted his head, a clump of limp-brown hair slipped free from the disposable cap. He pushed it back inside and then he pulled down his mask. “What?”
Do you know anything about them?” she repeated.
He raised his caterpillar eyebrows. “As if I would. I’m here till eight o’clock most nights. When would I have time? And why would I bother?”
A typical answer from someone who still lived with his mother and wore pants up to his waist with two pleats on each side. “Well I don’t know? Why would you even care?” She turned her back to him.
“I don’t like it. I think you should call the police,” said Richard.
“When I lived in the Ukraine, the policemen did not help anyone much unless you had money.” Nina shook her head. “They were corrupt.”
“I hope someone will own up soon. It’s long past Halloween. Maybe one of the guys downstairs might have an idea who sent them?” Stephani wished that this would be the likely solution. “I’ll ask the mail girl as well when she does her rounds tomorrow. She seems to know all the gossip around here.”
“Do you think it’s just a prank?” asked Melissa.
“I don’t know. I don’t want to think anymore.” She straightened her back and pretended she was okay. “How are the RT251 tissue cultures coming along?” Stephani asked Richard.
“They do look promising. Still, it’s too early to say for sure.” He glanced at her quizzically.
“Yep. I’m fine.” She answered his unspoken question. “The lymphoma cells?”
He stared at her for a moment then said, “Don’t even ask. I’m doing a full comparison report this afternoon. I think we need to enrich the mixture. I’m going to start with a quarter of a millilitre at a time.”
“We’ll get there eventually,” said Melissa. “I can just see the headlines now. Women fighting to be first for new breast enlargement technology.”
“I just don’t get it?” said Stephani. Why did someone want to target her? She felt all trembly inside.
“It may take another year to get the formula right before we can start implanting it in mice.” Fred adjusted his mask and picked up the tray of test tubes that were partly filled with media. “Maybe they’re interested in…the child,” Fred’s voice was muffled.
“Women will be begging us to grow their breasts,” said Melissa. “I’ll bet it’ll happen soon.”
“What? What did you just say?” asked Stephani.
He moved his bulk slowly, carrying a loaded tray to the incubator.
She strode over to him “My God, Fred, what makes you think that someone is interested in my niece?”
“Pessimist.” Melissa couldn’t have heard him as she made a face at his back. “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 Stephani.
“Oh, please shut up. Tell me why Fred?” Her heart was pounding now.
“Just a guess really. If it was you, then wouldn’t you think that they’d only taken a shot of you?”
Her legs felt suddenly trembly and weak. She eased herself onto a stool. Her sister would be so worried. How would she tell Iantha? She was meant to go there for dinner tonight. It was Iantha's twenty-ninth birthday today.
Melissa blushed and turned away; put on her gloves and mask and then loaded two test tubes into the centrifuge.
“Are you okay?” Richard asked.
“I guess I’ve got to tell the police.” Clutching the photos, she hurried past the slides of tissue cultures she had analysed for necrosis before the mail delivery and let herself in to her office. Picked up the phone and suddenly realised she couldn’t remember the number. She expelled a pent up breath so her thoughts would settle. Then she dialled 911 and stared at the photos as she sunk into a chair.
She was patched through to the police department and told the duty officer about the photos. They would be over soon to get the details she was told.
She wouldn’t tell her sister just yet. Fred’s guess that her niece might be the target was only just that.
“I’m glad you did that. If you hadn’t I would have,” said Richard.
“How long have you been standing there?”
“Long enough to see those photos shaking in your hand.”
A quick glance from Nina told her that her friend was concerned about her. She smiled and put on a brave face.
“I should do something.” She left her seat and paced to the window and back to where Richard was standing beside her desk.
“Just wait for them to turn up.”
She threw her hands apart and raised her shoulders. “What and go mad?”
“Okay.” Richard hugged her briefly. “You look like you need a little support.”
Back in the laboratory, she tried to look like she was working.
“The police. Will they help?” asked Nina.
She shrugged and picked up the slides, put them down because she made them tremble too, and wanted to pick them up again but didn’t trust her unsteady hands. When was the law going to get here?
Now the microscope wasn’t working. She turned off the program and started it up again and waited. Altered the angle of the computer screen a little and then picked up the slides again and slid them into place under the scope. The images on the screen showed some bacterial growth but it was minor. Two done and another twenty two left. God, these gloves felt suddenly wet inside. Her hands were clammy. Everyone must be noticing that she was fumbling about. It was no good continuing. The slides packed up securely she deposited them into the refrigeration unit.
Retreating to the office again, she pulled off her cap, and sat and stared at the photographs as if they might yield some new information.
When the phone beside Stephani rang, she jumped and wrenched it from its cradle. Dropped it and then finally croaked a flustered, “hello!” Not the usual…Good Morning, Stephani Kelly speaking. The receptionist told her that Jack Theed, the representative from West Labs Equipment, was still downstairs at the reception waiting to see her.
“Oh, yes. I’ve been caught up. Tell Jack I’ll be down in about ten minutes. Oh, by the way, some policemen are coming to see me.”
“Oh really,” Said the receptionist.
She wasn’t going to explain. It would be common knowledge all through the building after lunch anyway unless she asked her co-workers to keep it to themselves. “When they turn up, please let me know. I’ll be with Jack in meeting room three.” After a quick inventory check, to see if the lab needed any more Petri dishes, test tubes or other equipment that West Labs carried she shrugged out of the lab coat, and hurried into Richard’s office. “Can you ask them to keep it quiet for now please?”
“I have. Aren’t you waiting for the law to get here?”
“Jack’s got an appointment. I told the girl downstairs to let me know when they arrive.”

Tell me what you think of the new version.
Cheers Olga