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Chapter 29
I cycled to the university on Saturday morning with anunidentifiable, and therefore disconcerting, emotion. Things weresettling back into their normal pattern. The day’s testing wouldmark the end of the Father Project. At worst, Rosie might finda person that we had overlooked – another tutor or caterer orperhaps someone who had left the party early – but a singleadditional test would not take long. And I would have noreason to see Rosie again.
We met at the lab. There were three samples to test: the swabfrom Isaac Esler’s fork, a urine sample on toilet paper fromFreyberg’s floor, and Gene’s table napkin. I had still not toldRosie about the handkerchief from Margaret Case, but wasanxious to get a result on Gene’s sample. There was a strongpossibility that Gene was Rosie’s father. I tried not to thinkabout it, but it was consistent with Gene’s reaction to thephoto, his identification of Rosie’s mother and his history ofcasual sex.
‘What’s the napkin?’ asked Rosie.
I was expecting this question.
229/290‘Retest. One of the earlier samples was contaminated.’
My improving ability at deception was not enough to fool Rosie.
‘Bullshit. Who is it? It’s Case, isn’t it? You got a sample forGeoffrey Case.’
It would have been easy to say yes but identifying the sampleas Case’s would create great confusion if it tested positive. Aweb of lies.
‘I’ll tell you if it’s the one,’ I said.
‘Tell me now,’ said Rosie. ‘It is the one.’
‘How can you know?’
‘I just know.’
‘You have zero evidence. Isaac Esler’s story makes him anexcellent candidate. He was committed to getting married tosomeone else right after the party. He admits to being drunk.
He was evasive at dinner.
He’s standing next to your mother in the photo.’
This was something we had not discussed before. It was suchan obvious thing to have checked. Gene had once given me anexercise to do at conferences: ‘If you want to know who’ssleeping with who, just look at who they sit with at breakfast.’
Whoever Rosie’s mother had been with that night would likelybe standing next to her. Unless of course he was required totake the photo.
‘My intuition versus your logic. Wanna bet?’
It would have been unfair to take the bet. I had the advantageof the knowledge from the basement encounter. Realistically, Iconsidered Isaac Esler, Gene and Geoffrey Case to be equallylikely. I had mulled over Esler’s reference to ‘people involved’
and concluded that it was ambiguous. He might have beenprotecting his friend but he could equally have been hidingbehind him. Though, if Esler was not himself the father, hecould simply have told me to test his sample. Perhaps his planwas to confuse me, in which case it had succeeded, but onlytemporarily. Esler’s deceptive behaviour had caused me toreview an earlier decision. If we reached a point where we hadeliminated all230/290other candidates, including Esler, I would test the sample I hadcollected from Margaret Case.
‘Anyway it’s definitely not Freyberg,’ said Rosie, interrupting mythinking.
‘Why not?’ Freyberg was the least likely, but certainly notimpossible.
‘Green eyes. I should have thought of it at the time.’
She interpreted my expression correctly: disbelief.
‘Come on, you’re the geneticist. He’s got green eyes so hecan’t be my father. I checked it on the internet.’
Amazing. She retains a professor of genetics, an alien ofextraordinary abilities, to help find her father, she travels for aweek spending almost every minute of the waking day withhim, yet when she wants the answer to a question on geneticsshe goes to the internet.
‘Those models are simplifications.’
‘Don, my mother had blue eyes. I have brown eyes. My realfather had to have brown eyes, right?’
‘Wrong,’ I said. ‘Highly likely but not certain. The genetics ofeye colour are extremely complex. Green is possible. Also blue.’
‘A medical student – a doctor – would know that, wouldn’tshe?’
Rosie was obviously referring to her mother. I thought it wasprobably not the right time to give Rosie a detailed account ofthe deficiencies in medical education.
I just said, ‘Highly un likely. Gene used to teach genetics tomedical students. That’s a typical Gene simplification.’
‘Fuck Gene,’ said Rosie. ‘I am so over Gene. Just test thenapkin. It’s the one.’ But she sounded less sure.
‘What are you going to do when you find out?’
This question should have been asked earlier. Failure to raise itwas another result of lack of planning but, now that I couldpicture Gene as the father, Rosie’s future actions became morerelevant to me.
231/290‘Funny you should ask,’ said Rosie. ‘I said it was about closure.
But I think, subconsciously, I had this fantasy that my realfather would come riding in and … deal with Phil.’
‘For failing to keep the Disneyland promise? It would surely bedifficult to devise a suitable punishment after so much time.’
‘I said it was a fantasy,’ she said. ‘I saw him as some sort ofhero. But now I know it’s one of three people, and I’ve mettwo of them. Isaac Esler: “We must not revisit the past lightly.”
Max Freyberg: “I consider myself a restorer of self-esteem.”
Wankers, both of them. Just weak guys who ran away.’
The lack of logic here was astounding. At most, one of themhad deserted her.
‘Geoffrey Case …’ I began, thinking Rosie’s characterisationwould not apply to him, but if Rosie knew about the mannerof his death she might interpret it as a means of escaping hisresponsibilities.
‘I know, I know. But if it turns out to be someone else, somemiddle-aged guy who’s pretending to be something he isn’t,then time’s up, arsehole.’
‘You’re planning to expose him?’ I asked, horrified. Suddenly itstruck me that I could be involved in causing great pain tosomeone, very possibly my best friend. To his whole family!
Rosie’s mother had not wanted Rosie to know. Perhaps thiswas why. By default, Rosie’s mother knew more about humanbehaviour than I did.
‘Correct.’
‘But you’ll be inflicting pain. For no compensatory gain.’
‘ I’ll feel better.’
‘Incorrect,’ I said. ‘Research shows that revenge adds to thedistress of the victim –’
‘That’s my choice.’
There was the possibility that Rosie’s father was Geoffrey Case,in which case all three samples would test negative, and itwould be too232/290late for Rosie to wreak her revenge. I did not want to rely onthat possibility.
I turned off the machine.
‘Stop,’ said Rosie. ‘I have a right to know.’
‘Not if it causes suffering.’
‘What about me?’ she said. ‘Don’t you care about me?’ Shewas becoming emotional. I felt very calm. Reason was incontrol again. My thoughts were straight.
‘I care about you enormously. So I can’t contribute to youdoing something immoral.’
‘Don, if you don’t do the test, I’m never going to speak to youagain.
Ever.’
This information was painful to process, but rationally entirelypredictable.
‘I’d assumed that was inevitable,’ I said. ‘The project will becomplete, and you’ve indicated no further interest in the sexualaspect.’
‘So it’s my fault?’ said Rosie. ‘Of course it’s my fault. I’m not afucking non-smoking teetotal chef with a PhD. I’m notorganised.’
‘I’ve deleted the non-drinking requirement.’ I ............
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