Story Experiment (Memphis Garrick) pt 1
Premise: To be drip fed over time — lets see where it goes…
Year: 1542 AD
The man with long black hair emerged in panic from the early morning mist clutching a wooden box to his chest. Every part of his body ached from an urgent run that had taken him out of town towards the only location he could think of at such short notice. He stopped for a moment and rested against a fence post gasping for breath. The cold morning air stung his face and his lungs with a burning freeze. He staggered onwards, scrambling to the brow of a steep hill where he turned to gaze back at the town below. There wasn’t much to see; the fog all but obscured the view. He listened hard for sounds of danger. All seemed to be quiet. Swallowing hard, he pushed on. He had to bury the box. If it were discovered and they traced it back to him — which they surely would — the consequences were clear. They’d burn him to death. He half jogged half ran up another steep rise and then, as the road evened out, began the last mile on the old Roman Road towards Taylor’s Field.
His hair, wet now from sweat, clung to his face like a matted web. He kept the box tight to his body, lurching this way and that, until he finally covered the distance. He pushed past the old rusty gate that guarded the entrance to the field and went deep inside.
Dr. Memphis Garrick felt odd. The mist had descended quickly and obscured much of the landscape around him. He was cold and wet and walking slowly. He glanced downwards, realising that the damp, spongy earth was clinging to his toes, which meant he was walking barefoot, a fact he had not realised up to this point, but one that didn’t worry him overly. He was feeling strangely detached and distant from the world as if observing what was happening to him rather than taking part in it. Moving onwards now, he realised something else too. He had no real conscious thought about where he was going or how he might get there, yet he knew he was where he was for a special reason. His eyes searched the landscape hoping to identify a familiar landmark, or a patch of hedgerow he recognised but most of it was obscured by damp mist. Then a sound came drifting towards him. Low in volume at first, but louder as he neared. A scratching sound like an animal digging up the earth. He peered through the haze trying to locate the source of it, but the mist cover was too thick. He moved forwards and the noise increased — definitely earth being dug up; but something else too, breathing, heavy and laboured. Suddenly a tree reared up at him and the mist briefly melted. About twenty feet away, was a figure; a man, down on his knees, stooped over a hole in the ground, digging it out with an implement that looked like a trowel. Garrick judged him to be about the same age he was, his hair was long, dark and wet, yet there was something else; something unusual about him. His clothes were old fashioned. Ridiculously so. His jacket was black and sleeveless, he wore tight black trousers with white socks covering his lower leg and dark shoes. What did they call garb like that? The jacket was a doublet, wasn’t it? Clothing from Tudor England. Was he an actor? Garrick watched the man place a painted wooden box into the hole he’d made in the ground and then scoop the excavated earth back on top to bury it. When it was completely covered he tapped the earth down with his palms and pulled some leaves and twigs over the raw patch of dirt to camouflage it. He sat back on his heels for a moment, before rubbing the earth from his hands. Garrick moved forwards to get a better view, coming right up to the long haired man’s shoulder. Then, without warning the man spun around and grabbed Garrick’s arm. Pulled him close, his eyes burning deeply into him.
‘Find me,’ he whispered.
He was pulled upwards.
‘Memphis? You okay?’
The voice was distant and muffled.He was rising fast.
His eyes squinted to the place where the voice came from. Tried to focus on it. Then he realised to whom it belonged.
‘Holly,’ he said softly.
She was perched on the desk in front of him and smiled. ‘You were dozing.’
He glanced around his deserted Cambridge lab trying to place what just happened.
‘Dreaming too by the sound of it,’ she said.
He nodded. ‘A weird dream.’
‘You were making some weird noises.’
He rubbed his face with the backs of his hands. ‘Sorry about that.’
‘Don’t apologise. It was rather cute.’
He leaned back in his chair and tapped his face to clear the fog. Holly laughed. She had a nice laugh. Holly Ruffel was an attractive girl. A bright twenty-five year old post-doc working on the Digitol project, which Dr. Memphis Garrick headed up. She had a Scandinavian look. Blond with angulated bones in her face and colbalt blue eyes. She hopped down from his desk. ‘I’m off,’ she said. ‘I’ve closed down the equipment for the evening, but we’re all set to go again tomorrow.’
He nodded. ‘Thanks.’
‘You want to get a drink?’ she asked. ‘I’m meeting some friends in The Mill. Why don’t you come along?’
He gazed at her for a short time. He and Holly had been on a few dates in the past, not long after she had joined the project. Nothing serious, and probably not strictly condoned by the university either — student and teacher relationships and all that — but it had been very innocent and he soon realised that, at 38 years old, he was probably too old for a 23 year old woman and that, despite her maturity, she needed to be in a relationship with someone her own age.
‘It’ll do you some good,’ she went on. ‘You’ve been working harder than all of us on this.’
He shook his head. ‘I’d love to but tonight is Raj night’
‘Can’t you forego it?’ she asked gently.
‘It clears my mind,’ he said rubbing his face again. ‘You know me. A solitary creature.’
‘Hmm,’ she said feigning a thoughtful pose. ‘Makes you very mysterious, Dr Garrick.’
He watched her pull her rucksack over her shoulders. There was a moment’s silence as she did so.
‘You’ve been doing some great work, by the way,’ Garrick said suddenly. ‘I’ve been meaning to tell you. Just finished reading your antibody paper. It’s impressive.’
‘You think?’ she said adjusting the rucksack straps.
He nodded. ‘Strong enough for Cell or Nature I think.’
‘Get a few more papers like that under your belt and you’ll be running your own lab.’
She clapped her hands together. ‘Ha! I’m going to drink to that. Sure you won’t come?’
She nodded and said: ‘I won’t push.’
‘Thanks,’ he said.
‘By the way, how did the last printing turn out?’
Garrick had been working on the 3D printing of a virus vector he had christened 481 simply because this was the four hundred and eighty first time he had attempted it. He had generated all of them from scratch using a complex piece of G-code he had written himself. He smiled. ‘Okay.’
She gazed at him a long beat. ‘Hold it, I know that look,’ she said. ‘When you say “okay”, do you mean more than okay?’
He smiled again. ‘A lot more.’
He nodded. ‘I think so. The code produced an exact replica.’
He had compared the general architecture of the printed virus to one taken from a natural colony grown on an agar plate, using a computer generated algorithm, and it came back with an extraordinary result. The two viruses — the one from the plate and the one Garrick had printed — were identical in structure and in composition. The first time it had ever been achieved. ‘I’ve done it once, so now I can easily manipulate the virus to infect and kill tumour cells, which is the real purpose of all this.’
‘Wow,’ she whispered.
‘I don’t know what to say,’ she said shaking her head.
She suddenly rushed at him and threw her arms around his neck. Held him close for a long moment. To Garrick the moment was both awkward and touching at the same time.
‘Well done,’ she whispered, then pulled away from him.
‘History is being made right here,’ she said pointing to the ground.
‘I hope so.’
She stared at him; searching his face. ‘You deserve this.’
He shrugged. She adjusted the angle of the rucksack on her back. ‘Okay, I’ll get off,’ she said at last. ‘Make sure you celebrate tonight, okay?’
‘See you tomorrow.’
‘See you tomorrow.’
She weaved past the lab benches then paused by the open door and turned around. ‘Thanks for telling me about my antibody paper,’ she said. ‘It means a lot.’
He waved and she disappeared into the corridor. Then he turned in his chair and settled back in. The lab was dim and quiet, his favourite time to be in it, free from the frantic rush of the day, just him and the discipline of ordering his thoughts and deciding his next strategy. His pod was in the far corner, near the door that led into the printing suite. Unlike most of the other pods, it was clean and ordered. Everything filed and squared away. A silver apple MacBook Pro was open in front of him and the glow from the screen illuminated the space around the desk. He pulled his chair closer to the computer, and resumed studying the file he had been looking at before he fell asleep. It was a gif electron scan in real time of his printed virus with the algorithm results printed underneath it.
Garrick felt so many different kinds of emotions looking once again at the results. Disbelief mixed with a feeling of validation, pride, excitement. All of it jumbled together. He leaned back in his chair, clicked some bones in his neck and contemplated a tantalising question that had been bouncing around in his head since this result hit: would the printed virus work as well as the natural one? Could it function at all? If it could, he was into water that had never been navigated before. The prospect was so exciting it was almost spine-tingling. But it could wait, at least until tomorrow. He sighed, pleased with the way things were going and flipped the lid on his Mac down. He checked his watch. It read: 8.10 pm and today being a Friday, he was looking forward to his usual solitary table at The Raj — a nice little curry restaurant on the banks of the Cam — in which he had dined every Friday for as long as he could remember. He peered out of the lab window to gauge what the weather was doing. It wasn’t doing too bad for March. No rain, no wind and the temperature in double figures. The fifteen minute walk through the town would be a pleasure. He slipped his reefer jacket on, clipped open his brown Samsonite briefcase and laid his laptop into it. Then he locked it up, swung it over the desk, and strode towards the door.
He was stopped from leaving by his mobile phone. It began to buzz in his jacket pocket. He fished it out while he walked out into the corridor and touched the screen icon. The voice on the other end was male. The tone soft and calm. ‘Garrick? Dr. Memphis Garrick?’
‘Yes,’ said Garrick. ‘Who is this?’
The man cleared his throat and said: ‘Forgive me. We’ve never met, but a friend of mine — and yours I believe — gave me your name.’
‘Dr. Peter Boffo. I believe you studied with him at one time?’
Boffo was a brilliant forensic psychologist who was briefly attached to the Life Sciences department at King’s College London — where Garrick had been an undergraduate — and taught Garrick’s cohort for a semester. Boffo’s grasp of gene expression and how, under certain circumstances, it might be used in forensic profiling had fascinated Garrick. The two of them became friends. ‘Yes, I know Dr. Boffo,’ he replied.
‘He said you would be able to help me with a rather specific problem I have encountered.’
Garrick pushed through the double doors that led out onto Tennis Court Road. The air was crisp and clean smelling. ‘What sort of problem?’
There was a pause. ‘Something that makes no sense at all. Are you free now?’
‘Now?’ repeated Garrick. ‘I’m on my way out to dinner.’
There was another pause.
‘I’ve driven up from London to see you.’
Garrick checked his watch again. Felt irritated that his solitary dinner date might be threatened. ‘You haven’t told me who you are.’
‘Ah yes, of course. Sorry about that. My name is Summer. Jack Summer. I’m a priest at Our Lady Of The Assumption in Bethnal Green.’
There was a long pause as Garrick tried to think of an excuse to put him off.
‘Look…must it be tonight? Can’t it wait until next week?’
‘Not really. Sorry to press you on this, but this is very important. Where are you eating?’
Garrick sighed. Checked his watch yet again. ‘I’m on my way to a restaurant called The Raj on Newnham Road. I’ve got a table booked at 8:30. I usually eat there alone.’
‘May I join you this once?’
Garrick hesitated. ‘I don’t want to be rude,’ he stumbled, ‘but I’ve got a lot on my mind just now and Friday evenings are something of a ritual for me; my alone time. I know that might not make much sense but — ’
‘It makes perfect sense,’ interrupted Summer brightly. ‘Rituals are very important. Take it from me, I’d be lost without rituals. So much Catholic worship is staged around rituals. Rituals of the mass, of prayer, of the rosary and so on, but,’ he said laughing gently, ‘rituals can also be stifling and confining. I think this is such an occasion. Also Dr. Garrick, I promise to be entertaining company.’
There was a long moment of silence in which Garrick found himself intrigued despite his irritation. The priest had charm, there was no doubt of that.
‘Besides,’ Summer went on, ‘I have something to tell you that I’m certain you will want to hear.’
Garrick sighed and said: ‘Okay, as long as you’re quick.’
‘Splendid — I’ll find the restaurant. Thank you for inviting me.’
Steve Davison is the author of the best selling crime novels Kill&Cure, Dead Innocent and The Hunted Kind