Chapter no 13

The Rosie Project (Don Tillman, #1)

Before abandoning the Father Project, I decided to check Rosie’s estimate of the number of father candidates. It occurred to me that some possibilities could be easily eliminated. e medical classes I teach contain numerous foreign students. Given Rosie’s distinctly pale skin, I considered it unlikely that her father was Chinese, Vietnamese, black, or Indian.

I began with some basic research—an Internet search for information about the medical graduation class, based on the three names I knew.

e results exceeded my expectations, but problem solving often requires an element of luck. It was no surprise that Rosie’s mother had graduated from my current university. At the time, there were only two medical courses in Melbourne.

I found two relevant photos. One was a formal photo of the entire graduation class, with the names of the 146 students. e other was taken at the graduation party, also with names. ere were only 124 faces, presumably because some students did not attend. Since the gene shopping had occurred at the party or after, we would not have to worry about the nonattendees. I verified that the 124 were a subset of the 146.

I had expected that my search would produce a list of graduates and probably a photo. An unexpected bonus was a “Where are they now?” discussion board. But the major stroke of luck was the information that a thirtieth anniversary reunion had been scheduled. e date was only three weeks away. We would need to act quickly.

I ate dinner at home and rode to the Marquess of Queensbury. Disaster! Rosie wasn’t working. e barman informed me that Rosie worked only three nights per week, which struck me as insucient to provide an adequate income. Perhaps she had a day job as well. I knew very little about

her, beyond her job, her interest in finding her father, and her age, which, based on the fact that her mother’s graduation party was thirty years earlier, must be twenty-nine. I had not asked Gene how he had met her. I did not even know her mother’s name to identify her in the photo.

e barman was friendly, so I ordered a beer and some nuts and reviewed the notes I had brought.

ere were sixty-three males in the graduation party photo, a margin of only two over the females, insucient to support Rosie’s claim of discrimination. Some were unambiguously non-Caucasian, though not as many as I expected. It was thirty years ago, and the influx of Chinese students had not yet commenced. ere was still a large number of candidates, but the reunion oered an opportunity for batch processing.

I had by now deduced that the Marquess of Queensbury was a gay bar. On the first visit, I had not observed the social interactions, as I was too focused on finding Rosie and initiating the Father Project, but this time I was able to analyze my surroundings in more detail. I was reminded of the chess club that I belonged to when I was at school: people drawn together by a common interest. It was the only club I had ever joined, excluding the University Club, which was more of a dining facility.

I did not have any gay friends, but this was related to my overall small number of friends rather than to any prejudice. Perhaps Rosie was gay? She worked in a gay bar, although the clients were all males. I asked the barman. He laughed.

“Good luck with that one,” he said. It didn’t answer the question, but he had moved on to serve another customer.

• • •

As I finished lunch at the University Club the following day, Gene walked in, accompanied by a woman I recognized from the singles party—Fabienne the Sex-Deprived Researcher. It appeared that she had found a solution to her problem. We passed each other at the dining room entrance.

Gene winked at me and said, “Don, this is Fabienne. She’s visiting from Belgium and we’re going to discuss some options for collaboration.” He winked again and quickly moved past.

Belgium. I had assumed Fabienne was French. Belgian explained it.

Gene already had France.

• • •

I was waiting outside the Marquess of Queensbury when Rosie opened the doors at 9:00 p.m.

“Don.” Rosie looked surprised. “Is everything okay?” “I have some information.”

“Better be quick.”

“It’s not quick, there’s quite a lot of detail.”

“I’m sorry, Don, my boss is here. I’ll get into trouble. I need this job.” “What time do you finish?”

ree a.m.”

I couldn’t believe it! What sort of jobs did Rosie’s patrons have? Maybe they all worked in bars that opened at 9:00 p.m. and had four nights a week o. A whole invisible nocturnal subculture, using resources that would otherwise stand idle. I took a huge breath and made a huge decision.

“I’ll meet you then.”

I rode home, went to bed, and set the alarm for 2:30 a.m. I canceled the run I had scheduled with Gene for the following morning to retrieve an hour. I would also skip karate.

At 2:50 a.m. I was riding through the inner suburbs. It was not a totally unpleasant experience. In fact, I could see major advantages for myself in working at night. Empty laboratories. No students. Faster response times on the network. No contact with the Dean. If I could find a pure research position, with no teaching, it would be entirely feasible. Perhaps I could teach via video link at a university in another time zone.

I arrived at Rosie’s workplace at exactly 3:00 a.m. e door was locked and a Closed sign was up. I knocked hard. Rosie came to the door.

“I’m beat,” she said. is was hardly surprising. “Come in. I’m almost done.”

Apparently the bar closed at 2:30 a.m. but Rosie had to clean up. “You want a beer?” she said. A beer! At 3:01 a.m. Ridiculous. “Yes, please.”

I sat at the bar watching her clean up. e question I had asked sitting in the same place the previous day popped into my mind.

“Are you gay?” I asked.

“You came here to ask me that?”

“No, the question is unrelated to the main purpose of my visit.”

“Pleased to hear it, alone at three in the morning in a bar with a strange man.”

“I’m not strange.”

“Not much,” she said, but she was laughing, presumably making a joke to herself based on the two meanings of strange. I still didn’t have an answer to the gay question. She opened a beer for herself. I pulled out my folder and extracted the party photo.

“Is this the party where your mother was impregnated?” “Shit. Where did this come from?”

I explained about my research and showed her my spreadsheet. “All names are listed. Sixty-three males, nineteen obviously non-Caucasian, as determined by visual assessment and supported by names, three already eliminated.”

“You’ve got to be kidding. We’re not testing . . . thirty-one people.” “Forty-one.”

“Whatever. I don’t have an excuse to meet any of them.” I told her about the reunion.

“Minor problem,” said Rosie. “We’re not invited.”

“Correct,” I said. “e problem is minor and already solved. ere will be alcohol.”


I indicated the bar and the collection of bottles on shelves behind it. “Your skills will be required.”

“You’re kidding me.”

“Can you secure employment at the event?”

“Hang on, hang on. is is getting seriously crazy. You think we’re going to turn up at this party and start swabbing people’s glasses. Oh man.”

“Not us. You. I don’t have the skills. But otherwise, correct.” “Forget it.”

“I thought you wanted to know who your father was.” “I told you,” she said. “Not that much.”

• • •

Two days later, Rosie appeared at my apartment. It was 8:47 p.m., and I was cleaning the bathroom, as Eva the short-skirted cleaner had canceled owing to illness. I buzzed her upstairs. I was wearing my bathroom-cleaning costume of shorts, surgical boots, and gloves but no shirt.

“Wow.” She stared at me for a few moments. “is is what martial arts training does, is it?” She appeared to be referring to my pectoral muscles.

en suddenly she jumped up and down like a child.

“We got the gig! I found the agency and I oered them shit rates and they went yeah, yeah, yeah, don’t tell anyone. I’ll report them to the union when it’s over.”

“I thought you didn’t want to do this.”

“Changed my mind.” She gave me a stained paperback. “Memorize this.

I’ve got to get to work.” She turned and left.

I looked at the book—e Bartender’s Companion: A Complete Guide to Making and Serving Drinks. It appeared to specify the duties of the role I was to perform. I memorized the first few recipes before finishing the bathroom. As I prepared for sleep, having skipped the aikido routine to spend further time studying the book, it occurred to me that things were getting crazy. It was not the first time that my life had become chaotic, and I had established a protocol for dealing with the problem and the consequent disturbance to rational thinking. I called Claudia.

• • •

She was able to see me the next day. Because I am not ocially one of her clients, we have to have our discussions over coee rather than in her oce. And I am the one accused of rigidity!

I outlined the situation, omitting the Father Project component, as I did not want to admit to the surreptitious collection of DNA, which Claudia was likely to consider unethical. Instead, I suggested that Rosie and I had a common interest in movies.

“Have you talked to Gene about her?” asked Claudia.

I told her that Gene had introduced Rosie as a candidate for the Wife Project and that he would only encourage me to have sex with her. I explained that Rosie was totally unsuitable as a partner but was presumably under the illusion that I was interested in her on that basis. Perhaps she thought that our common interest was an excuse for pursuing her. I had made a major social error in asking her about her sexual orientation: it would only reinforce that impression.

Yet Rosie had never mentioned the Wife Project. We had been sidetracked so quickly by the Jacket Incident, and after that things had unfolded in a totally unplanned way. But I saw a risk that at some point I would hurt her feelings by telling her that she had been eliminated from consideration for the Wife Project after the first date.

“So that’s what you’re worried about,” said Claudia. “Hurting her feelings?”


at’s excellent, Don.” “Incorrect. It’s a major problem.”

“I mean that you’re concerned about her feelings. And you’re enjoying time together?”

“Immensely,” I said, realizing it for the first time. “And is she enjoying herself?”

“Presumably. But she applied for the Wife Project.”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Claudia. “She sounds pretty resilient. Just have some fun.”

• • •

A strange thing happened the next day. For the first time ever, Gene made an appointment to see me in his oce. I had always been the one to organize conversations, but there had been an unusually long gap as a result of the Father Project.

Gene’s oce is larger than mine, owing to his higher status rather than any actual requirement for space. e Beautiful Helena let me in, as Gene was late in returning from a meeting. I took the opportunity to check his world map for pins in India and Belgium. I was fairly certain that the Indian one had been there before, but it was possible that Olivia was not actually Indian. She had said she was Hindu, so she could have been Balinese or Fijian or indeed from any country with a Hindu population. Gene worked on nationalities rather than ethnicities, in the same way that travelers count the countries they have visited. North Korea predictably remained without a pin.

Gene arrived and commanded the Beautiful Helena to fetch us coees.

We sat at his table, as if in a meeting.

“So,” said Gene, “you’ve been talking to Claudia.” is was one of the negatives of not being an ocial client of Claudia: I did not have the protection of confidentiality. “I gather you’ve been seeing Rosie. As the expert predicted.”

“Yes,” I said, “but not for the Wife Project.” Gene is my best friend, but I still felt uncomfortable about sharing information about the Father Project. Fortunately he did not pursue it, probably because he assumed I

had sexual intentions toward Rosie. In fact I was amazed that he didn’t immediately raise the topic.

“What do you know about Rosie?” he asked.

“Not very much,” I said honestly. “We haven’t talked much about her.

Our discussion has focused on external issues.”

“Give me a break,” he said. “You know what she does, where she spends her time.”

“She’s a barmaid.”

“Okay,” said Gene. “at’s all you know?” “And she doesn’t like her father.”

Gene laughed for no obvious reason. “I don’t think he’s Robinson Crusoe.” is seemed a ludicrous statement about Rosie’s paternity until I recalled that the reference to the fictional shipwreck survivor could be used as a metaphorical phrase meaning “not alone” or in this context “not alone in not being liked by Rosie.” Gene must have noticed my puzzled expression as I worked it out, and elaborated: “e list of men that Rosie likes is not a long one.”

“She’s gay?”

“Might as well be,” said Gene. “Look at the way she dresses.”

Gene’s comment seemed to refer to the type of costume she was wearing when she first appeared in my oce. But she dressed conventionally for her bar work, and on our visits to collect DNA had worn unexceptional jeans and tops. On the night of the Jacket Incident she had been unconventional but extremely attractive.

Perhaps she did not want to send out mating signals in the environment in which Gene had encountered her, presumably a bar or restaurant. Much of women’s clothing is designed to enhance their sexual attraction in order to secure a mate. If Rosie was not looking for a mate, it seemed perfectly rational for her to dress otherwise. ere were many things that I wanted to ask Gene about Rosie, but I suspected that asking would imply a level of interest that Gene would misinterpret. But there was one critical question.

“Why was she prepared to participate in the Wife Project?”

Gene hesitated a while. “Who knows?” he said. “I don’t think she’s a lost cause, but just don’t expect too much. She’s got a lot of issues. Don’t forget the rest of your life.”

Gene’s advice was surprisingly perceptive. Did he know how much time I was spending with the cocktail book?

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