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Chapter no 19

The Rosie Project (Don Tillman, #1)

For a week, I did my best to return to my regular schedule, using the time freed up by Eva’s cleaning and the cancellation of the Father Project to catch up on the karate and aikido training that I had been missing.

Sensei, fifth dan, a man who says very little, especially to the black belts, pulled me aside as I was working the punching bag in the dojo.

“Something has made you very angry,” he said. at was all.

He knew me well enough to know that once an emotion was identified, I would not let it defeat me. But he was right to speak to me, because I had not realized that I was angry.

I was briefly angry with Rosie because she unexpectedly refused me something I wanted. But then I became angry with myself over the social incompetence that had doubtless caused Rosie embarrassment.

• • •

I made several attempts to contact Rosie and got her answering service. Finally I left a message: “What if you get leukemia and don’t know where to source a bone-marrow transplant? Your biological father would be an excellent candidate with a strong motivation to assist. Failure to complete the project could result in death. ere are only eleven candidates remaining.”

She did not return my call.

ese things happen,” said Claudia, over the third coee meeting in four weeks. “You get involved with a woman, it doesn’t work out . . .”

So that was it. I had, in my own way, become “involved” with Rosie. “What should I do?”

“It’s not easy,” said Claudia, “but anyone will give you the same advice.

Move on. Something else will turn up.”

Claudia’s logic, built on sound theoretical foundations and drawing on substantial professional experience, was obviously superior to my own irrational feelings. But as I reflected on it, I realized that her advice, and indeed the discipline of psychology itself, embodied the results of research on normal humans. I am well aware that I have some unusual characteristics. Was it possible that Claudia’s advice was not appropriate for me?

I decided on a compromise course of action. I would continue the Wife Project. If (and only if ) there was further time available, I would use it for the Father Project, proceeding alone. If I could present Rosie with the solution, perhaps we could become friends again.

Based on the Bianca Disaster I revised the questionnaire, adding more stringent criteria. I included questions on dancing, racquet sports, and bridge to eliminate candidates who would require me to gain competence in useless activities, and increased the diculty of the mathematics, physics, and genetics problems. Option (c) moderately would be the only acceptable answer to the alcohol question. I organized for the responses to go directly to Gene, who was obviously engaging in the well-established research practice of making secondary use of the data. He could advise me if anyone met my criteria. Exactly.

In the absence of Wife Project candidates, I thought hard about the best way to get DNA samples for the Father Project.

e answer came to me as I was boning a quail. e candidates were doctors who would presumably be willing to contribute to genetics research. I just needed a plausible excuse to ask for their DNA. anks to the preparation I had done for the Asperger’s lecture, I had one.

I pulled out my list of eleven names. Two were confirmed dead, leaving nine, seven of whom were living overseas, which explained their absence at the reunion. But two had local phone numbers. One was the head of the Medical Research Institute at my own university. I rang it first.

“Professor Lefebvre’s oce,” said a woman’s voice.

“It’s Professor Tillman from the Department of Genetics. I’d like to invite Professor Lefebvre to participate in a research project.”

“Professor Lefebvre is on sabbatical in the US. He’ll be back in two weeks.”

“Excellent. e project is Presence of Genetic Markers for Autism in High-Achieving Individuals. I require him to complete a questionnaire and provide a DNA sample.”

Two days later, I had succeeded in locating all nine living candidates and posted them questionnaires, created from the Asperger’s research papers, and cheek scrapers. e questionnaires were irrelevant but were needed to make the research appear legitimate. My covering letter made clear my credentials as a professor of genetics at a prestigious university. In the meantime, I needed to find relatives of the two dead doctors.

• • •

I found an obituary for Dr. Gerhard von Deyn, a victim of a heart attack, on the Internet. It mentioned his daughter, a medical student at the time of his death. I had no trouble tracking down Dr. Brigitte von Deyn, and she was happy to participate in the survey. Simple.

Georey Case was a much more dicult challenge. He had died a year after graduating. I had long ago noted his basic details from the reunion website. He had not married and had no (known) children.

Meanwhile the DNA samples trickled back. Two doctors, both in New York, declined to participate. Why would medical practitioners not participate in an important study? Did they have something to hide? Such as an illegitimate daughter in the same city that the request came from? It occurred to me that, if they suspected my motives, they could send a friend’s DNA. At least refusal was better than cheating.

Seven candidates, including the younger Dr. von Deyn, returned samples. None of them was Rosie’s father or half sister. Professor Simon Lefebvre returned from his sabbatical and wanted to meet me in person.

“I’m here to collect a package from Professor Lefebvre,” I said to the receptionist at the city hospital where he was based, hoping to avoid an actual meeting and interrogation. I was unsuccessful. She buzzed the phone, announced my name, and Professor Lefebvre appeared. He was, I assumed, approximately fifty-four years old. I had met many fifty-four-year-olds in the past thirteen weeks. He was carrying a large envelope, presumably containing the questionnaire, which was destined for the recycling bin, and his DNA.

As he reached me, I tried to take the envelope, but he extended his other hand to shake mine. It was awkward, but the net result was that we shook

hands and he retained the envelope.

“Simon Lefebvre,” he said. “So, what are you really after?”

is was totally unexpected. Why should he question my motives?

“Your DNA,” I said. “And the questionnaire. For a major research study.

Critical.” I was feeling stressed and my voice doubtless reflected it.

“I’m sure it is.” Simon laughed. “And you randomly select the head of medical research as a subject?”

“We were looking for high achievers.” “What’s Charlie after this time?”

“Charlie?” I didn’t know anyone called Charlie.

“All right,” he said. “Dumb question. How much do you want me to put in?”

“No putting in is required. ere is no Charlie involved. I just require the DNA . . . and the questionnaire.”

Simon laughed, again. “You’ve got my attention. You can tell Charlie that. Shoot me through the project description. And the ethics approval.

e whole catastrophe.”

en I can have my sample?” I said. “A high response rate is critical for the statistical analysis.”

“Just send me the paperwork.”

Simon Lefebvre’s request was entirely reasonable. Unfortunately I did not have the required paperwork, because the project was fictitious. To develop a plausible project proposal would potentially require hundreds of hours of work.

I attempted an estimate of the probability that Simon Lefebvre was Rosie’s father. ere were now four untested candidates: Lefebvre, Georey Case (dead), and the two New Yorkers, Isaac Esler and Solomon Freyberg. On the basis of Rosie’s information, any one of them had a twenty-five percent probability of being her father. But having proceeded so far without a positive result, I had to consider other possibilities. Two of our results relied on relatives rather than direct testing. It was possible that one or both of these daughters were, like Rosie, the result of extrarelationship sex, which, as Gene points out, is a more common phenomenon than popularly believed. And there was the possibility that one or more of my respondents to the fictitious research project might have deliberately sent a false sample.

I also had to consider that Rosie’s mother might not have told the truth. It took me a long time to think of this, as my default assumption is that

people will be honest. But perhaps Rosie’s mother wanted Rosie to believe that her father was a doctor, as she was, rather than a less prestigious person. On balance, I estimated the chance that Simon Lefebvre was Rosie’s father was sixteen percent. In developing documentation for the Asperger’s research project, I would be doing an enormous amount of work with a low probability that it would provide the answer.

I chose to proceed. e decision was barely rational.

• • •

In the midst of this work, I received a phone call from a solicitor to advise me that Daphne had died. Despite the fact that she had been eectively dead for some time, I detected in myself an unexpected feeling of loneliness. Our friendship had been simple. Everything was so much more complicated now.

e reason for the call was that Daphne had left me what the solicitor referred to as a “small sum” in her will. Ten thousand dollars. And she had also left a letter, written before she had gone to live in the nursing home. It was handwritten on decorative paper.

Dear Don,

ank you for making the final years of my life so stimulating. After Edward was admitted to the nursing home, I did not believe that there was much left for me. I’m sure you know how much you have taught me, and how interesting our conversations have been, but you may not realize what a wonderful companion and support you have been to me.

I once told you that you would make someone a wonderful husband, and in case you have forgotten, I am telling you again. I’m sure if you look hard enough, you will find the right person. Do not give up, Don.

I know you don’t need my money, and my children do, but I have left you a small sum. I would be pleased if you would use it for something irrational.

Much love, Your friend, Daphne Speldewind

It took me less than ten seconds to think of an irrational purchase: in fact I allowed myself only that amount of time to ensure that the decision was not aected by any logical thought process.

• • •

e Asperger’s research project was fascinating but very time-consuming.

e final proposal was impressive, and I was confident it would have passed the peer-review process if it had been submitted to a funding organization. I was implying it had been, though I stopped short of forging an approval letter. I called Lefebvre’s personal assistant and explained that I had forgotten to send him the documents but would now bring them personally. I was becoming more competent at deception.

I arrived at reception, and the process of summoning Lefebvre was repeated. is time he was not holding an envelope. I tried to give him the documents and he tried to shake my hand, and we had a repeat of the confusion that had occurred the previous time. Lefebvre seemed to find this funny. I was conscious of being tense. After all this work, I wanted the DNA.

“Greetings,” I said. “Documentation as requested. All requirements have been fulfilled. I now need the DNA sample and questionnaire.”

Lefebvre laughed again and looked me up and down. Was there something odd about my appearance? My T-shirt was the one I wear on alternate days, featuring the periodic table, a birthday gift from the year after my graduation, and my pants were the serviceable pair that are equally suitable for walking, lecturing, research, and physical tasks. Plus high-quality running shoes. e only error was that my socks, which would have been visible below my pants, were of slightly dierent colors, a common error when dressing in poor light. But Simon Lefebvre seemed to find everything amusing.

“Beautiful,” he said. en he repeated my words in what seemed to be an attempt to imitate my intonation: “All requirements have been fulfilled.” He added, in his normal voice, “Tell Charlie I promise I’ll read the proposal.”

Charlie again! is was ridiculous.

e DNA,” I said, forcefully. “I need the sample.”

Lefebvre laughed as though I had made the biggest joke of all time.

ere were tears running down his face. Actual tears. “You’ve made my day.”

He grabbed a tissue from a box on the reception desk, wiped his face, blew his nose, and tossed the used tissue in the trash can as he left with my proposal.

I walked to the trash and retrieved the tissue.

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