Shakespeare's Dark Lady
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CHAPTER EIGHT


Then soul, live thou upon thy servant's loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more.

Sonnets, 146
William Shakespeare



Daniel gave the photograph a furtive kiss and tucked the edge under the frame of the mirror. It showed Amelia sitting on a dry stone wall, laughing into the camera.

His A-frame, if a little on the spartan side, was bigger than most. He tried out the double bed they'd installed in place of the futon and found to his surprise that it was long enough for him. The comforter was ethnic, Peruvian or something, fashioned from "natural" fabric too rough to provide anything approaching comfort.

The small stucco building next door had been converted into his lab. It was marked down on his map as the House of Jacob and stood well apart from the main complex, linked to it by a four-wheeler trail called Jesus Way. All the buildings were shrines named by Father Joshua after saints and philosophers. The property of the Holy Order of the Resurrection was also known as the temple, though the Cherubs, the PR girls who had shown him around, seemed to call it the Holy City.

He unpacked his things and changed into jeans. His watch showed nearly 8:00, only half an hour till the special service they were holding to welcome him. The lights dimmed and brightened again -- the place evidently generated its own electricity.

He'd overheard on the plane's radio that Bruce Hazard's crowd from St. Stephen's Hospital in London were now at the second stage of testing a prototype AIDS vaccine based on an artificial protein. And here he was about to force himself to kowtow to an over-hyped cultist in the hospitality suite of an building called the House of Solomon.

At 8:25 a Cherub who said her name was Rebecca showed up to lead him to a packed auditorium, where he was garlanded with flowers by a smiling young woman in a white jumpsuit. A handsome older woman robed in white silk stepped forward and introduced herself as Martha. She was, she explained quickly, head of the Coordinators-the small circle of women who ran the temple and channeled Joshua's spiritual energy to the followers.

Then came a hearty embrace from Joshua himself, wearing white linen and flashing gold via the cross around his neck and a toothy smile. A very lovely and very young blonde hovered beside him. Joshua introduced her as Polly Ann, "my handmaiden."

Daniel listened to the speeches of welcome, seated cross-legged on a podiumlike structure that faced Joshua's throne, with his back to the disciples. Joshua sang his praises to the assembled masses, his eyes hypnotic, his body scarcely moving apart from the hands, the delicate fingers fluttering in the air to illustrate a point. A trace of something fragrant floated in the atmosphere.

"And now, my beloved friends," he said, "someone to cherish in your midst . . . a learned man from England."

Daniel turned to face the welter of upturned faces. Beside him on the floor of the podium sat Marcus in Ungaro jeans, crocodile loafers, and the monogrammed salami-red knit shirt he'd changed into during the flight.

"Here, my friends, you are not shut off from reality," Joshua was saying. "The world of the body and the world of the spirit are both real. One cannot function without the other."

An appreciative murmur rose from the disciples.

"You are free to follow the divine essence within each one of you. Deep within we are all gods, all one in the Holy Spirit."

Daniel noticed the sandals peeping from under Joshua's robe. They had lifts.

"Our guest is an authority on sexually transmitted diseases. . . Here we take no chances. Make love, my friends in Jesus, with someone you truly care for. . . "--he paused, his face alight with mischief--". . . carefully."

There was a tide of laughter.

"Our other guest is no stranger to many of you who have done the Rostrum Training." He grinned at the all-American guru. "Marcus Freeman and the World Health Rostrum are responsible for the Shakespeare Search and the laboratory we have set up for Dr. Bosworth."

Marcus sprang to his feet and plucked a microphone from its holder, adjusting the impedance like an old pro.

"My friends, Joshua and I go back a long way. We want each of you to be responsible for Dr. Bosworth's freedom and privacy while he's here. I empower you to share that responsibility. Do you accept?"

"Yes," the disciples roared back in chorus. Joshua let out a guffaw and clapped his hands.

Daniel squirmed and looked around but everyone else was watching Marcus, whose eyes were positively smoldering. So this was the famous charismatic cultspeak. He saw Joshua's eyes follow every movement Marcus made as he paced up and down.

"There's a special place, a context waiting for all of you. Zen monks call it mushin, the place that is no-mind. I call it a context for transformation. If you choose to make a difference in the world, isn't it time you stopped holding onto your ego and went out of your mind?"

Daniel figured the audience understood more of what Marcus was on about than he did. But the voice was spellbinding. Phony or not, the man had stage presence.

"Politics is a lie. The old religion you were fed at home is a lie. The daily news on TV is a lie. All truth is a lie except your truth, the truth that changes all the time, every moment, every second. Your experience is always becoming. It never is. There is no universal truth. The only truth is satori that lies beyond samsara in a place where you are the universe. Where you are your experience. That is truth, the great Dharma of god within you. . . ."

He was beginning to get a pain in his backside and cramps in his thighs from sitting cross-legged.

The audience sat silent as water in a pond, not a murmur, not the tiniest of movements.

"Did you ever run a mile . . . or a risk? In the end it's the same thing. In the summer are you scared to swim in the sea around Mendocino because of the great white sharks? So swim in the lake. Play it safe. No risk. You want to die? Go swim in the lake."

Still no murmur or movement.

"Or take a risk tomorrow. Open up and give all of you away."

Holding the mike between both hands at knee level, he bowed to the audience and then to Joshua--amidst a deluge of applause.

Joshua beamed from Marcus to Daniel, who pushed himself shakily to his feet. Polly Ann, the handmaiden appeared from behind Joshua's throne, took the mike from Marcus, and passed it to Daniel with a whispered "Your turn". He stood looking blank, wondering how an Englishman could produce any kind of act to follow the showmanship of a world-class American salesman.

"Followers of Joshua, good evening . . ."

Afterward Joshua motioned to Daniel to sit directly at his feet. Then he laid his hand on Daniel's head while he chanted a litany of holy-sounding phrases. At the end he intoned, "Blessed are those who surrender themselves unto the Spirit. Dr. Bosworth is now an acolyte."

Daniel looked uncomfortably at the holy man's knees. Joshua was putting a silver cross around his neck. It hung on a string of sandalwood beads.

He turned helplessly and faced Marcus.

"Welcome to the club," Marcus said softly. "You just got the Sacrament of Baptism." As if to explain something, he added in an even lower voice, "They've given up the lake. The last guy drowned. "

Half an hour later Daniel was lying on his bed dozing. He rolled over, sat up and pulled his clothes off in a daze. He unclasped the cross and placed it underneath his socks in the second drawer.

His watch showed it was almost ten o'clock. 1:00 a.m. in Massachusetts. He looked at Amelia's photograph and tried to imagine her asleep .

"Hail Joshua."

Joshua inclined his head, slowly. On his head he wore a cap, one of hundreds knitted for him in white wool by his disciples around the world. He sat cross-legged on a white satin cushion in the middle of a dais, in front of which Polly Ann was kneeling amongst the petals of white flowers scattered at Joshua's feet. The canopy over their heads was festooned with hand-sewn images of brightly winged seraphim. In the center looking down was Gabriel the Archangel.

"I praise the Spirit who created the world," Polly Ann intoned, "for the Spirit is like a filament in the flower of Heaven."

"May the Almighty be with you." Joshua's laugh boomed around the marble walls and floor of the House of the Prophet. "Did you feel the energy of the Spirit inside you in your healing group?"

Polly Ann nodded. "Just being around you, the Spirit moves in me. Now I feel like I'm connected to you."

"Connected how, my child?" His eyes were grave.

"My whole body feels like it's vibrating," she said, eyes closed. "It's like I'm a violin string and you're the bow."

"I have many strings to my bow," Joshua said in his rich voice. "Now we must talk of the Path, my child. The Path and the Spirit are one and the same. Spiritual truth is being and becoming, for the journey and the arrival are all the same. In the flower of our meditation everything is one. There is no separateness from the Father. Give up attachment."

Polly Ann opened her eyes and looked up at him.

"In the Scriptures of the Apocrypha, my child, it is written that your spiritual father is your mirror. But when you look in that mirror you will not see the self that you see in the bathroom mirror every day.

"Your spiritual father is the catalyst who enables you to witness the Truth of God." He was groping under his tunic. "As the Spirit awakens, the mirror grows brighter. The Spirit rises like a tongue of fire, opening the doors of your soul till the seventh door bursts open upon the Divine Truth and you behold the nectar of the Holy of Holies pouring forth as a clear liquid light. Then your mirror will shatter. The opposites within you will unite in the harmony of the Body of Christ. The divine ambrosia will be yours.

"Come, it is time to follow the left-hand Path. You will experience the fullness of love in the Spirit as your soul is united through me with the Godhead."

Polly Ann stood up and moved toward him. She wore the white robe of the renunciate. As she reached the last step she untied the garment at each shoulder and let it fall to the ground. Her blond hair reached nearly to her waist. Around her neck hung a string of wooden beads. A plastic bubble in the locket hanging between her breasts contained Joshua's photograph. Laminated inside the back of the bubble was a lock of his hair--a special gift from her leader so she could carry the physical manifestation of the Spirit with her at all times.

She lowered her eyes and cast a reverent look toward the holy man's spigot of a phallus. He had pulled off his own tunic, beneath which he wore only a white bulletproof undershirt done up with eight buttons: seven black and one red, the third one down. This garment he now removed. He made a come-to-me gesture, indicating she should lower herself into the hirsute cradle of his legs with its becondomed centerpiece.

She stepped forward to straddle his legs, lowered herself and worked the nub of the twitching organ into her soft inner folds, now running with the honey of her adoration. Her legs wrapped themselves around his waist and her ankles crossed in the small of his back.

A groan came from Joshua's lips. Polly Ann rocked back and forth, her rump nestled in the center of his loins, her cheek couched in the gray hairs of his chest. Joshua's eyes were closed, his body motionless, his hands resting beside him on his knees, index finger and thumb circled in an 'O'. The tips of her breasts rubbed up and down against the rotunda of his belly.

After several minutes tears streamed down Polly Ann's cheeks and her body shuddered as the bliss of the Spirit swept over her. Joshua opened his eyes for a second and took a deep breath.

"The Blessing," he said, and intoned a short prayer under his breath.

Only one day away from Amelia, and it felt like a month when he heard her on the phone first thing on his first morning in the Holy City. Her voice came to him like a lifeline from heaven.

"Daniel, lover, I can't wait till after commencement and I can fly out to be with you. How is it there?"

"I got the big welcome routine. And according to Marcus I got baptized. That's twice in my life."

Amelia laughed.

"How are the news stories at your end?"

"Barbara Walters called you the next Messiah, didn't she? 'A zealot of the new genetics out to preserve the world from Armageddon' -- wasn't that how she put it?"

"All very flattering, only she asked eight million viewers to consider whether I was a crackpot or a crusader."

"Well," Amelia said, "her closing comment was certainly true. You are practically as big a celebrity as Shakespeare. And go on, admit it, Marcus's campaign looks like a total winner so far."

Up to that moment every word she said had made him feel less alone in this godawful place. For a second the mention of Marcus's name grated. He saw how perfectly Marcus fitted -- and he didn't -- into a set-up like the Holy City. If only Amelia could be with him right now.

He sighed. "I miss you, your angel voice. The phone just isn't the same as the real thing."

"You'll survive."

"With you to help me. Has anyone connected the two of us yet? Any reporters prowling around Hungerford House?"

"Not yet, and I grilled Maria. Not that I have much hope it won't come out eventually."

They talked on until he reminded himself there was a mountain of work to be done if his new lab was ever to become operational.

"Just one thing, lover. Tell me, what do you think of Joshua?" she said.

He dropped his voice. "He's a frigging old fox."

"Keep on side with him and you'll be safe where you are. Now tell me, are you going to phone me every day religiously, or do I have to make all the calls?"

"Let's just phone whenever either of us wants to talk to the other . . . or just feels lonely," he said. "I miss you madly right now."

"Me too," she said. She snuffled softly down the line. Then, with a "Luvya, lover," she broke the connection.

Twenty minutes later he pushed open the door to his new lab. Everywhere, half unpacked, lay test tubes, high-tech equipment, bottles, a light screen, packs of latex gloves, petri dishes--a morass of color. In one corner, between an electronic microscope and a pathogenic microbe cabinet, squatted the two DNA computypers built by DuPont under license from Caltech, with their shiny green globes on top. The stately shape of a top-of-the-line IBM biological computer stood inside the door with a couple of monitors perched on the bench beside it, next to a laser microscope, a gift from Biorad

He was unimpressed with the people who did the unpacking--evidently without knowing a lot about genetics. Certainly not the earlier crew sent in by Dr. Walter Nieberg of the Institute of Molecular Biology in New Jersey, hired by Marcus to equip the lab for a substantial fee. Daniel had only met Nieberg once before, but he seemed to have done a competent job. Nieberg's crowd had even constructed a room with hermetically sealed doors. All he needed now was his own crew -- they'd have to start with quite a bit of tidying up.

Roderick Tillman, the dynamo from his Oxford lab who'd joined in the secretive process of cloning Shakespeare's genes, was due at the temple in a few days time on a healthy stipend from the Rostrum. Tillman was a retrovirologist with an international reputation at the sharp end of the game: genetically engineered viruses. He and Daniel would concentrate their energies on a vaccine for AIDS, working alongside John Fryer, a researcher in monoclonal antibody technology from the University of California School of Medicine, San Diego.

Alistair Cunliffe-Jones , his grave-robbing accomplice was the other heavyweight coming. C-J's recent research at Oxford and Caltech in biotechnology had been crucial to Hitachi's third generation of high-speed gene sequenators. From genetic linkage mapping he'd gone into more advanced development work in automated DNA scanning and typing. He'd be in charge of the daily search for the green lamplighter, manning the lab's two computypers with the help of half a dozen lab technicians, all molecular biology graduates from the University of California, Berkeley. They'd be working around the clock in shifts, hunting for a descendant in Shakespeare's bloodline.

He patted the green globe of one of the computypers. Gene-typing devices had improved dramatically since the days when Geoff Alton and he toiled with manual procedures for days on end in the mid 80s: fumbling RFLP techniques to get DNA sliced and into the old agarose gel that was the only way back then. These days, linked to a biocomputer, lasers could scan thousands of pieces of DNA in nanoseconds and detect a single gene in under three minutes, in a process known as electrophoresis.

Personally he was still more comfortable with the manual method, but thanks to C-J's expert instruction he was learning how to program computyping equipment. Actually using it was simplicity itself. Though DNA computypers weren't essential to his vaccine work, he was painfully aware that without them there would be no Shakespeare Search or samples for him to work on in the confines of the Holy City.

Before leaving the lab he picked a handful of plastic straw off the vinyl floor and stuffed it in the wastebasket.

The mess everywhere. He kicked the wastebasket . Marcus wasn't even there to complain to, having flown out at dawn, bound for his Santa Monica headquarters.

The sea was less than two hundred yards away. He could smell the tang of ozone carried on a light wind. The grass was ankle-deep, wet with dew. It was just after eight. He sat on the step outside the lab door soaking up the sun in the balmy air and examining his crumpled map.

All around him were signs of industry: dirt roads and irrigation ditches being built, crops being planted, A-frame units going up. Wildflowers swaying in the breeze carpeted the grass as far as a wall of fir trees. On the edge of the ocean a lighthouse perched beside a white structure with a russet roof. Not far off, solar panels lined up in neat ranks in front of three whirling windmills. He got to his feet and set off for the central complex in the distance.

Joshua's followers smiled as he passed and one called out, "Dr. Bosworth." From his right came a cry of "Hey dude," followed by easy laughter. Then a true California Girl hovered in front of him: very long sun-streaked hair, flawless honey-colored skin, a strawberry mouth. Bursting with vitality.

"Hi, I'm Polly Ann, remember? We met last night. Joshua said you need someone to help, y'know, generally. I had spare time on my agenda so I got the job."

"Hi," he said. "Where do I find food around here?"

"I'll take you. Breakfast's in the House of Eden."

She was almost skipping beside him. Her cross bounced over a thin white T-shirt. Her baggy meditation pants failed to hide a trim waist and strong thighs. In the wind her hair flew into unclouded bright blue eyes. He put her at nineteen or twenty.

"What's your name, besides Dr. Bosworth?"

"Daniel."

"Hi, Daniel." A grin and a brazen appraisal. "Love your English accent."

"I like yours," he said. "So what's it like here?"

"It's great being around Joshua," she said. "You pick up on his spiritual energy. Did you know he's a prophet?"

"How come?"

"It's like he's a perfect master, someone who's totally enlightened. That means you're kind of high the whole time you're here. Joshua generates all this divine energy in the space around him and it gets focused in the cross you wear. It kind of collects there and it heals you."

"Sounds too scientific for me. What do you do all day?"

"I've just done a prayer group."

"Does praying do a lot for you?"

"It helps me get closer to God, y'know."

"Is that what people come here for?"

"Oh, some come to take the teachings and stuff."

There were a lot of disciples around, many in couples--man and woman. In the light of day they looked older, more thirties than twenties. Nearer his own age. There was a lot of hugging and kissing going on.

They passed one group sitting in a circle on the grass and stopped to watch them.

"Group is really bizarre," she said as they strolled on, "but it's kind of fun, y'know."

"What kind of fun?"

She laughed and stopped walking. "See these bruises?" She lifted her T-shirt, revealing resplendent breasts as she pointed unselfconsciously at a blue-black bruise over her sternum. "That's what I got in the last one, I kid you not. It got kind of violent--know what I mean?"

"I would have thought therapy was something peaceful," he said with a gulp. It was hard to talk, faced with such breasts.

She laughed again and pulled her T-shirt down. "Not around here it isn't. I got attacked by this dweeb Joel--he even tried to bite me. Everyone was hyperventilating and kind of shaking. Then--he's a real basket case--he hit on this friend of mine called Maria and he kind of raped her."

"In front of everyone?"

"Sure. It got real wild. The girls were cheering him on, and I'm like somebody stop this guy."

"Didn't Maria do anything?"

"At first she fought like crazy, I mean it was a really shitty thing to do--like Joel almost got one eye scratched out, y'know--but in the end she was laughing and crying at the same time and that shitface Joel looked pretty weirded out."

Did he really want to hear this?

Their path led into a gaggle of unpainted buildings, one of which was a refectory with rows of tables and benches.

He liked Polly Ann. Uncomplicated, unsophisticated, direct - not to mention healthily beautiful and achingly young.

"Why are you here in the first place?" he asked.

"I dropped out of Berkeley when I got trashed on drugs. I just couldn't quit, like suddenly I was on this total kick." She made an expansive gesture with both arms. "I was such a fuckup. If I'd have done one more free-base I don't think I'd be here to talk to. This guy from the Oakland temple found me. They made me do a month of detox and rehab, then they took me in here."

He tried to picture this robust former addict snorting her way through Berkeley in her search for an existential peace until a bunch of God-squadders came along and saved her from chasing her dragon down a cul-de-sac.

He got another glimpse of the darker side of the Holy City when he asked why she always talked in whispers.

"Force of habit -- the place is wired."

"What?"

"Bugs. The Gorgons monitor all the buildings . Phones too. They have to keep a lookout for negativity."

"Who are the Gorgons?"

"Martha and the other Coordinators. Gorgons is what most of us call them."

"And negativity?"

He suddenly remembered calling Joshua a frigging old fox on the phone to Amelia.

"Sin, diabolical thinking, any shit that blocks Joshua's spiritual energy. Like getting pregnant." Her sunny face clouded for a second. "People don't get pregnant around here. If they do they get classified negative and they have to up and go."

He polished off his yogurt and got up. "Are you coming back with me? There's a lot of work you can do if you're serious about helping me."

She followed him to a counter where they dropped off their trays. "Gays are diabolical too. A couple died of AIDS, so now there aren't any."

"I suppose dying's the work of the Devil too?"

"That's not funny. We cremated them over by the lake and had a party. A few guys and a couple of girls got freaked and left after that."

"Who decides who goes and who stays?"

"Supposedly it's Joshua but mostly I think it's the Gorgons, mostly Martha."

"Her? She seems so harmless."

"I hear she packs a Smith and Wesson thirty-eight under her robe, and she's not the only one."

More good news. He didn't think he wanted to know much more just now.

Polly Ann squeezed his hand. "Everyone works eighty hours a week around here. Are you coming?"

They walked back across a meadow that sloped toward the sea. She pointed over a vegetable garden as they passed. "That's Hill's Ranch over that way." To the east were clumps of eucalyptus interspersed with Douglas firs and pine trees. From the mist below the cusp of the hills rose redwoods sutured to a jagged sky. "There's Russian Gulch State Park," she said, "and Point Cabrillo's over there." She whirled around and laughed. The wind had veered. Now the smell of resin was in the air.

He bent to pluck a few leaves from a plant and pressed them to her nose.

"Thyme," she said. "Some of the Gorgons wanted to have a herbarium, but it didn't pan out." She took him by the hand. "We've got TV in all the rooms, but all we get to watch is video movies of Joshua's sermons. Like it's totally energizing if you want to max out your spiritual time with him, but sometimes, y'know, I could scream for a good movie."

Having had Peter Dunkley check Joshua out before he left England, he knew his church had made a tax-free fortune out of shares in condom manufacturers, years ago, when he'd seen the AIDS pandemic coming before the market analysts did. He'd cornered a goodly slice of the market--which was just as well, considering how many condoms his holy cities probably went through in a day.

"Like I said, being around Joshua's kind of like being wired without drugs. He has such incredible power."

"For good or evil?"

"Just power. A master like Joshua has the power of the Spirit. He can do anything he wants. It's kind of magic, like nothing's impossible so long as it's in God's name."

Was it Lawrence or Amelia who'd said that about Marcus -- nothing's impossible?

He called Dunkley again, this time to order the dispatch, under tight security, of his database and the vital cultures he'd grown in vitro and cloned in Oxford. He learned that the news on the Scotland Yard front was still bad and the file on his mother's death still open.

On Wednesday a courier from London brought him an aluminum container. Polly Ann watched him unlock it and remove a layer of polystyrene and another of latex foam rubber. Underneath, entombed in dry ice, lay a mass of cotton his gloved hands lifted out in fist-sized bundles, each of which upon being opened revealed a glass dish.

He passed one to Polly Ann. The only identification on the dish was the initials "WS" handwritten on a label.

"What is it?"

"William Shakespeare's DNA," he said nonchalantly. She held the dish gingerly in both hands and stared through the glass at the viscous fluid.

"Goop." She made a face, then pretended to nearly drop the dish.

"It's okay, there's more where that came from. That's just genes cloned from the original."

Near the bottom of the container were more layers protecting four floppy discs and finally a dossier in a brown folder: the findings of his genetic investigation into his mother's remains.

He ignored Polly Ann's air of curiosity and hurried to shut it all away in the security cabinet with the Bard's DNA. His mother's file went everywhere he went. Her remains, after the exhumation and tests, had been cremated and properly buried in the village churchyard near the Bosworth home.

After lunch the next day they walked the grassy cliff top. Below, a glaucous sea was capped in specks of white by the westerly breeze. The township of Mendocino lay two miles off to the south.

A few hundred yards along, and Polly Ann was off in the direction of the far perimeter wall, half jogging, half skipping. He ran and caught up with her as she peered over the lip of the gray cliff that braced itself against the rise and fall of the ocean. When they reached the limit of the property they were confronted by a high stone wall with three strands of wire running above it. His line of vision followed the wall to his left up into the trees. On his right it ended at the cliff edge where a barbed-wire barricade had been rigged down the face to the sea.

"It's to keep outsiders out," she said. "I hear the Feds were trying to get in yesterday. Probably working with the IRS to get Joshua busted. Either that or we're still being investigated by the Cult Awareness Network."

The wind was cooler now and stronger. "They're supposed to have doubled the perimeter guards since I arrived," he said. "I can't see any of them."

"They patrol outside. They've got these huge Rottweilers."

"Maybe that'll keep the press off my back." The police--English or American--didn't bear thinking about. He ran at the wall and jumped to reach the top edge, but his fingers lost their hold and he slithered down.

"For shit's sake don't touch those wires!" she shouted. "They're live!"

He shivered. "Is everybody here paranoid?"

"A lot of people out there hate us," she said. "We try to love everybody but sometimes we hate them back. Sometimes you have to get them before they get you. Now we have to get passes from the Gorgons to go outside."

"Do you think I could just walk out of here?"

"I wouldn't try it, everybody has guns. Are you coming to evensong?"

"Guns for what? Would they really use them?"

"Sure, but they're only for self-defense. The Feds have guns and they wouldn't hesitate to blow us all apart. Look what those bastards did at Waco."

She set off in the direction of the House of Job. He hurried to keep up.

"If Joshua's perfect, why does he need lifts in his sandals?" he said.

"Maybe he's just more comfortable, y'know?"

"Maybe it helps with levitation."

"Don't be a smart-ass." She turned to face him. "I like you a lot. Just don't spoil it. It really bites me when people come out with shit like that."

In the days that followed the nine other team members arrived and set about the final stage of organizing the lab. Polly Ann was quick to learn and worked hard, managing things so smoothly that Daniel was freed from most of the day-to-day administration. "A good zoo-keeper," Cunliffe-Jones said Her tasks included looking after three pigtail macaque monkeys and two dozen special mice that were kept in cages at the end of the corridor. Later they would become "San Diego mice" and host a partially functioning human immune system so they could be used for short inoculation trials.

Polly Ann also cared for three rhesus monkeys and Bongo, a cuddly adolescent male chimpanzee Marcus had had flown in from Zaire. Polly Ann made a pair of white Bermuda shorts for Bongo and told everyone with a straight face that he'd been baptized. The two were inseparable.

Thanks to Marcus's PR team in Santa Monica, the Mendocino lab was in the public eye. The Rostrum handled press calls for interviews and photo opportunities, gave out media releases, and shielded Daniel's team from the outside world. When an ABC Television producer called the Rostrum to get Daniel to appear on Good Morning America--this time live--Marcus accepted in his place.

Within ten days of his arrival the first batch of specimens was flown in by helicopter, coded by numbers, and neatly packed in chilled containers that carried the Search's logo--the head of Shakespeare with a question mark on the lofty forehead. These samples all came from males who'd signed on for the weeping gene test as well as an HIV screening. The Rostrum's mobile units had already carried out the BioScience test for HIV. Roughly a third of all the specimens they got came marked HIV-positive.

C-J and five of the lab technicians carried out the testing that might lead to a green lamplighter. All specimens, HIV-positive or not, were batch-processed through the DNA computypers. Meanwhile, with the help of a lab technician, Tillman, Fryer and Daniel concentrated their energies on the seropositives C-J's team had finished with.

Since the two activities going on in the lab were kept separate, Daniel had little contact with the weeping gene crew. Though he could only nurture faith at the outset, within a month the number of HIV strains under examination would number forty-two, giving a wider spectrum than he or any scientist had had before. For a geneticist trying to obtain a complete picture of a virus's antigenic drift, they were manna from heaven.

But early hopes of a green lamplighter were not being fulfilled.

On only a few hours' warning, Lawrence arrived by helicopter on Daniel's second weekend, ostensibly to inspect the lab. After closeting himself with Joshua in the House of the Prophet, he joined Daniel in the lab for a look around. It was already late afternoon, and the two of them had the place to themselves.

He was feeling more ambivalent than ever about the old bastard. Maybe Lawrence's dislike of him and his possessiveness about Amelia were all in his imagination.

"Care to try the Shakespeare test while you're here?" Daniel said.

Lawrence's nostrils flared. "I have no illusions there." Then his voice became fractionally softer. "Though you might want to test me for HIV."

Daniel looked away in an attempt to cover his embarrassment, remembering Amelia's reference to Lawrence and prostitutes--"an antisocial habit," she'd called it.

Having sat him down, Daniel gazed steadfastly at Lawrence's venous blood as he drew one cubic centimeter from his left forearm. Then he tore off the tourniquet, washed his hands again, and put on a pair of gloves. It took three minutes to prepare a solution.

"One thing, Daniel. Whatever result you get from this test, you tell no one about it. Obviously I don't want publicity. Either way."

"Of course."

He left Lawrence waiting in the office while he disappeared into the room next door. The BioScience test wasn't something he usually did in the lab--that was up to the mobile clinics of the AIDS Campaign. But everything needed was there. The diagnosis was 100% reliable . . . almost. You never could be 100% sure.

"Negative," he said, taking the seat at his desk five minutes later. "You don't carry HIV."

"What did you expect?" Lawrence managed what seemed a genuine smile, which contrasted oddly with his tone.

Then he was rising, his features already back to their usual imperious mode. He looked at Daniel long and hard and muttered something that didn't sound like "thank you." Before Daniel could ask after Amelia, he marched outside to rejoin his helicopter. Wheeling around at the aircraft steps, he gazed across at Daniel, thirty yards away, and raised his left hand to his chin. Even at that distance Daniel could see the signet ring on his little finger, trapping the last glint from the sun on the seaboard horizon.

He stood at the lab door watching the lights rise and disappear, hearing the rotor's hammer, feeling the wind on his cheeks when the aircraft was no longer there. Then, in case the old sod wanted it double-checked later on, he placed Lawrence's serum sample in a hermetically sealed dish he marked with his initials. He placed the dish in the deep-cool locker of the security cabinet and spun the combination lock.

Worn out after a long day and the stress of the last twenty minutes, he tore off his gloves, closed the lab down for the night and headed for bed.

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