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Chapter 20
I sat with a newspaper in the University Club reading room forthe third day in succession. I wanted this to look accidental.
From my position, I could observe the queue at the counterwhere Rosie sometimes purchased her lunch, even though shewas not qualified to be a member. Gene had given me thisinformation, reluctantly.
‘Don, I think it’s time to leave this one alone. You’re going toget hurt.’
I disagreed. I am very good at dealing with emotions. I wasprepared for rejection.
Rosie walked in and joined the queue. I got up and slipped inbehind her.
‘Don,’ she said. ‘What a coincidence.’
‘I have news on the project.’
‘There’s no project. I’m sorry about … last time you saw me.
You embarrass me and I say sorry.’
‘Apology accepted,’ I said. ‘I need you to come to New Yorkwith me.’
167/290‘What? No. No, Don. Absolutely not.’
We had reached the cash register and failed to select any foodand had to return to the tail of the queue. By the time we satdown, I had explained the Asperger’s research project. ‘I hadto invent an entire proposal – three hundred and seventy-onepages – for this one professor. I’m now an expert on theSavant phenomenon.’
It was difficult to decode Rosie’s reaction but she appeared tobe more amazed than impressed.
‘An unemployed expert if you get caught,’ she said. ‘I gatherhe’s not my father.’
‘Correct.’ I had been relieved when Lefebvre’s sample hadtested negative, even after the considerable effort that had beenrequired to obtain it. I had already made plans, and a positivetest would have disrupted them.
‘There are now only three possibilities left. Two are in NewYork, and both refused to participate in the study. Hence, Ihave categorised them as difficult, and hence I need you tocome to New York with me.’
‘New York! Don, no. No, no, no, no. You’re not going to NewYork and neither am I.’
I had considered the possibility that Rosie would refuse. ButDaphne’s legacy had been sufficient to purchase two tickets.
‘If necessary I will go alone. But I’m not confident I canhandle the social aspects of the collection.’
Rosie shook her head. ‘This is seriously crazy.’
‘You don’t want to know who they are?’ I said. ‘Two of thethree men who may be your father?’
‘Go on.’
‘Isaac Esler. Psychiatrist.’
I could see Rosie digging deep into her memory.
‘Maybe. Isaac. I think so. Maybe a friend of someone. Shit, it’sso long ago.’ She paused. ‘And?’
168/290‘Solomon Freyberg. Surgeon.’
‘No relation to Max Freyberg?’
‘Maxwell is his middle name.’
‘Shit. Max Freyberg. He’s gone to New York now? No way.
You’re saying I’ve got one chance in three of being hisdaughter. And two chances in three of being Jewish.’
‘Assuming your mother told the truth.’
‘My mother wouldn’t have lied.’
‘How old were you when she died?’
‘Ten. I know what you’re thinking. But I know I’m right.’
It was obviously not possible to discuss this issue rationally. Imoved to her other statement.
‘Is there a problem with being Jewish?’
‘Jewish is fine. Freyberg is not fine. But if it’s Freyberg itwould explain why my mother kept mum. No pun intended.
You’ve never heard of him?’
‘Only as a result of this project.’
‘If you followed football you would have.’
‘He was a footballer?’
‘A club president. And well-known jerk. What about the thirdperson?’
‘Geoffrey Case.’
‘Oh my God.’ Rosie went white. ‘He died.’
‘Mum talked about him a lot. He had an accident. Or someillness –maybe cancer. Something bad, obviously. But I didn’t think hewas in her year.’
It struck me now that we had been extremely careless in theway we had addressed the project, primarily because of themisunderstand-ings that had led to temporary abandonmentsfollowed by restarts. If169/290we had worked through the names at the outset, such obviouspossibilities would not have been overlooked.
‘Do you know any more about him?’
‘No. Mum was really sad about what happened to him. Shit. Itmakes total sense, doesn’t it? Why she wouldn’t tell me.’
It made no sense to me.
‘He was from the country,’ Rosie said. ‘I think his father had apractice out in the sticks.’
The website had provided the information that Geoffrey Casewas from Moree in northern New South Wales, but this hardlyexplained why Rosie’s mother would have hidden his identity ifhe was the father. His only other distinguishing feature wasthat he was dead, so perhaps it was this to which Rosie wasreferring – her mother not wanting to tell her that her fatherhad died. But surely Phil could have been given thisinformation to pass on when Rosie was old enough to dealwith it.
While we were talking, Gene entered. With Bianca! They wavedto us then went upstairs to the private dining section.
‘Gross,’ said Rosie.
‘He’s researching attraction to different nationalities.’
‘Right. I just pity his wife.’
I told Rosie that Gene and Claudia had an open marriage.
‘Lucky her,’ said Rosie. ‘Are you planning to offer the samedeal to the winner of the Wife Project?’
‘Of course,’ I said.
‘Of course,’ said Rosie.
‘If that was what she wanted,’ I added in case Rosie hadmisinterpreted.
‘You think that’s likely?’
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