The Rosie Project Page 62

\Next Saturday,\ I said, truthfully, not bothering to tell her that it was not a social occasion - we had scheduled the afternoon to analyse the DNA.

She seemed satisfied.

I was eating lunch alone in the University Club, reviewing the Father Project file, when Gene arrived with his meal and a glass of wine and sat opposite me. I tried to put the file away, but succeeded only in giving him the correct impression that I was trying to hide something. Gene suddenly looked over at the service counter, behind me.

\Oh God!\ he said.

I turned to look and Gene snatched the folder, laughing.

\That\s private,\ I said, but Gene had opened it. The photo of the graduating class was on top.

Gene seemed genuinely surprised. \My God. Where did you get this?\ He was studying the photo intently. \It must be thirty years old. What\s all the scribble?\

\Organising a reunion,\ I said. \Helping a friend. Weeks ago.\ It was a good answer, considering the short time I had to formulate it, but it did have a major defect. Gene detected it.

\A friend? Right. One of your many friends. You should have invited me.\

\Why?\

\Who do you think took the photo?\

Of course. Someone had been required to take the photo. I was too stunned to speak.

\I was the only outsider,\ said Gene. \The genetics tutor. Big night - everyone pumped, no partners. Hottest ticket in town.\

Gene pointed to a face in the photo. I had always focused on the males, and never looked for Rosie\s mother. But now that Gene was pointing to her, she was easy to identify. The resemblance was obvious, including the red hair, although the colour was less dramatic than Rosie\s. She was standing between Isaac Esler and Geoffrey Case. As in Isaac Esler\s wedding photo, Case was smiling broadly.

\Bernadette O\Connor.\ Gene sipped his wine. \Irish.\

I was familiar with the tone of Gene\s statement. There was a reason for him remembering this particular woman, and it was not because she was Rosie\s mother. In fact, it seemed that he didn\ know the connection, and I made a quick decision not to inform him.

His finger moved one space to the left.

\Geoffrey Case. Not a great return on his tuition fees.\

\He died, correct?\

\Killed himself.\

This was new information. \Are you sure?\

\Of course I\m sure,\ said Gene. \Come on, what\s this about?\

I ignored the question. \Why did he do it?\

\Probably forgot to take his lithium,\ said Gene. \He had bipolar disorder. Life of the party on a good day.\ He looked at me. I assumed he was about to interrogate me as to the reason for my interest in Geoffrey Case and the reunion, and I was thinking frantically to invent a plausible explanation. I was saved by an empty pepper grinder. Gene gave it a twist, then walked away to exchange it. I used a table napkin to swab his wine glass and left before he returned.

29

I cycled to the university on Saturday morning with an unidentifiable, and therefore disconcerting, emotion. Things were settling back into their normal pattern. The day\s testing would mark the end of the Father Project. At worst, Rosie might find a person that we had overlooked - another tutor or caterer or perhaps someone who had left the party early - but a single additional test would not take long. And I would have no reason to see Rosie again.

We met at the lab. There were three samples to test: the swab from Isaac Esler\s fork, a urine sample on toilet paper from Freyberg\s floor, and Gene\s table napkin. I had still not told Rosie about the handkerchief from Margaret Case, but was anxious to get a result on Gene\s sample. There was a strong possibility that Gene was Rosie\s father. I tried not to think about it, but it was consistent with Gene\s reaction to the photo, his identification of Rosie\s mother and his history of casual se*.

\What\s the napkin?\ asked Rosie.

I was expecting this question.

\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\ it? You got a sample for Geoffrey Case.\

It would have been easy to say yes but identifying the sample as Case\s would create great confusion if it tested positive. A web 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 an excellent candidate. He was committed to getting married to someone 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 such an obvious thing to have checked. Gene had once given me an exercise to do at conferences: \If you want to know who\s sleeping with who, just look at who they sit with at breakfast.\ Whoever Rosie\s mother had been with that night would likely be standing next to her. Unless of course he was required to take the photo.

\My intuition versus your logic. Wanna bet?\

It would have been unfair to take the bet. I had the advantage of the knowledge from the basement encounter. Realistically, I considered Isaac Esler, Gene and Geoffrey Case to be equally likely. I had mulled over Esler\s reference to \people involved\ and concluded that it was ambiguous. He might have been protecting his friend but he could equally have been hiding behind him. Though, if Esler was not himself the father, he could simply have told me to test his sample. Perhaps his plan was to confuse me, in which case it had succeeded, but only temporarily. Esler\s deceptive behaviour had caused me to review an earlier decision. If we reached a point where we had eliminated all other candidates, including Esler, I would test the sample I had collected from Margaret Case.


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