“Actually we can’t find him. We’re investigating a number of odd phenomenon that started before Christmas. We’d appreciate any help you can give us.”
“Oh, Lord. Come in. Sorry about the dust, but I really did just get home.”
Two suitcases were sitting beside the stairs. The townhouse had the kitchen and a single large room downstairs, bedrooms presumably up. He glanced in the slightly ajar door under the stairs. Powder room and laundry. “Nice place. You own it?”
“Just renting. I didn’t think . . . well. I was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago. Mastectomy, chemo and radiation and the works. Then at my appointment last fall—stage four already—in the lymph system . . . Then after Christmas, it was all gone. Not just in remission. Gone. Is that the sort of phenomenon you are investigating?”
“Yes. And you think your, umm, Psycho Santa is the cause?”
“Yes.” She cocked her head at him. “How about you?”
“I’m sure of it. I’ve spent the last four days interviewing the parents of the kids that visited your Santa.”
The doorbell rang.
“That’s probably my equivalent from the CDC.”
She walked over and opened the door. “Hi, come in. Inspector Green just got here. So, you want to know about Eldon? Heh. Join the club.”
“Eldon? What’s his last name?”
“I don’t know. I hired him in a panic when my first Santa quit in the middle of the day. He was so weird, I hired a different guy the next day, but he only made it an hour. Eldon was sitting off to the side, watching and, well. I hired him. Paid him every day in cash, I was asking for a dollar donation from parents, so that worked for me. Umm, as I told Mr. Green, I had terminal cancer. I didn’t expect to live long enough to give a damn about filing taxes and so forth.”
The CDC guy sighed. “Figures. Did he say anything about what he was giving the kids?”
“Oh sure. He babbled what I thought was nonsense every time I shrieked over it. ‘Von Neumann multi-biorepair in a support medium.’ Which just happened to be red wine.”
“Von Newmann!” The CDC guy recoiled.
She shoved off the couch and walked to the refrigerator. “He poured some in my coke. I shoved it in here when I got home, and forgot about it. Then when I kept feeling better, well I bought some red wine and poured some in. Then I poured some back in the wine. And took it to my cancer support group. ‘I’m in remission, Cheers!’ They’re all better now, too. The head of the onocology department has the wine.” She pulled a plastic glass out of the fridge and held it out. “Want this?”
The CDC guys took the cup like it was the Holy Grail, or possibly radioactive, and started darting looks toward the door.
“Go ahead. I’ll ask all the rest of the questions. Scientists. Bet he’s up all night with that. I’m Chris Green, by the way. Have you spread it very far?”
“Yes. My parents, some of their neighbors, old friends. This isn’t something that can be kept quiet. It’s not something that can be studied for years before trials, before licensing. It’s what we need right now, and I’m making sure it gets off to a good start.”
Green sighed. The Boss is going to scream. “I really hope it has as few side effects as it seems, so far. I mean, what does it do to a healthy person? What will it do if there’s nothing to fix?”
She bit her lip. “Is anyone that perfect? I haven’t tried any since. Some friends of mine claimed it was energizing. Would you like to try some?”
“No way in hell. And once we can identify it, I suspect it’ll land on the illegal drug list.”
“That’s what I was afraid of. This miracle drug falls into our hands, and we run and hide under the bed. Declare war on it. Well, so far as I know, eighteen doctors have samples, and close to a hundred other people. I won’t let anyone stop this. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get my dog out of the kennel before they close tonight.”
Green allowed himself to be ushered out the door. “Please wait, before you spread it any further. Let us find out if there are any side effects.”
She scowled. “I’ll think about it.”
He hesitated. “These puppies, do you know how many he gave away?”
“When he handed over the first one, he said there were only fourteen. If he was telling the truth, that’s the most he could have handed out. When he handed me, mine, he said ‘Last one.’ And then he ran away before I could hand her back.”
“I see. You kept her, so you must have . . .”
“Wanted a dog?” She curled a sarcastic lip. “Certainly not. Last thing I needed with a hospice and a funeral in my near future. But by the time the doctor admitted he couldn’t find a trace of the cancer, I was a bit attached to her. And she’s such a smart dog! It’s a bit scary.” She picked up her purse and car keys and stood watching him for a moment. “This is where you get up and leave. I have things to do.”
He yielded reluctantly, letting her usher him out of the townhouse. Close enough that she didn’t notice the bug he dropped in her purse.