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Chapter no 20

The Rosie Project (Don Tillman, #1)

I sat with a newspaper in the University Club reading room for the third day in succession. I wanted this to look accidental. From my position, I could observe the line at the counter where Rosie sometimes purchased her lunch, even though she was not qualified to be a member. Gene had given me this information, reluctantly.

“Don, I think it’s time to leave this one alone. You’re going to get hurt.”

I disagreed. I am very good at dealing with emotions. I was prepared for rejection.

Rosie walked in and joined the line. I got up and slipped in behind her. “Don,” she said. “What a coincidence.”

“I have news on the project.”

ere’s no project. I’m sorry about . . . last time you saw me. Shit! You embarrass me and I say sorry.”

“Apology accepted,” I said. “I need you to come to New York with me.” “What? No. No, Don. Absolutely not.”

We had reached the cash register and failed to select any food and had to return to the end of the line. By the time we sat down, I had explained the Asperger’s research project. “I had to invent an entire proposal—three hundred and seventy-one pages—for this one professor. I’m now an expert on the savant syndrome.”

It was dicult to decode Rosie’s reaction, but she appeared to be more amazed than impressed.

“An unemployed expert if you get caught,” she said. “I gather he’s not my father.”

“Correct.” I had been relieved when Lefebvre’s sample had tested negative, even after the considerable eort that had been required to obtain

it. I had already made plans, and a positive test would have disrupted them. “ere are now only three possibilities left. Two are in New York, and both refused to participate in the study. Hence, I have categorized them as

dicult, and hence I need you to come to New York with me.”

“New York! Don, no. No, no, no, no. You’re not going to New York and neither am I.”

I had considered the possibility that Rosie would refuse. But Daphne’s legacy had been sucient to purchase two tickets.

“If necessary I will go alone. But I’m not confident I can handle the social aspects of the collection.”

Rosie shook her head. “is is seriously crazy.”

“You don’t want to know who they are?” I said. “Two of the three men who may be your father?”

“Go on.”

“Isaac Esler. Psychiatrist.”

I could see Rosie digging deep into her memory.

“Maybe. Isaac. I think so. Maybe a friend of someone. Shit, it’s so long ago.” She paused. “And?”

“Solomon Freyberg. Surgeon.” “No relation to Max Freyberg?” “Maxwell is his middle name.”

“Shit. Max Freyberg. He’s gone to New York now? No way. You’re saying I’ve got one chance in three of being his daughter. And two chances in three of being Jewish.”

“Assuming your mother told the truth.” “My mother wouldn’t have lied.”

“How old were you when she died?”

“Ten. I know what you’re thinking. But I know I’m right.”

It was obviously not possible to discuss this issue rationally. I moved to her other statement.

“Is there a problem with being Jewish?”

“Jewish is fine. Freyberg is not fine. But if it’s Freyberg, it would explain why my mother kept mum. No pun intended. You’ve never heard of him?”

“Only as a result of this project.”

“If you followed football, you would have.” “He was a footballer?”

“A club president. And well-known jerk. What about the third person?”

“Georey Case.”

“Oh my God.” Rosie went white. “He died.” “Correct.”

“Mum talked about him a lot. He had an accident. Or some illness— maybe cancer. Something bad, obviously. But I didn’t think he was in her year.”

It struck me now that we had been extremely careless in the way we had addressed the project, primarily because of the misunderstandings that had led to temporary abandonments followed by restarts. If we had worked through the names at the outset, such obvious possibilities would not have been overlooked.

“Do you know any more about him?”

“No. Mum was really sad about what happened to him. Shit. It makes total sense, doesn’t it? Why she wouldn’t tell me.”

It made no sense to me.

“He was from the country,” Rosie said. “I think his father had a practice out in the sticks.”

e website had provided the information that Georey Case was from Moree in northern New South Wales, but this hardly explained why Rosie’s mother would have hidden his identity if he was the father. His only other distinguishing feature was that he was dead, so perhaps this was what Rosie was referring to—her mother’s not wanting to tell her that her father had died. But surely Phil could have been given this information to pass on when Rosie was old enough to deal with it.

While we were talking, Gene entered. With Bianca! ey waved to us, then went upstairs to the private dining section. Incredible.

“Gross,” said Rosie.

“He’s researching attraction to dierent nationalities.” “Right. I just pity his wife.”

I told Rosie that Gene and Claudia had an open marriage.

“Lucky her,” said Rosie. “Are you planning to oer the same deal to the winner of the Wife Project?”

“Of course,” I said.

“Of course,” said Rosie.

“If that was what she wanted,” I added, in case Rosie had misinterpreted. “You think that’s likely?”

“If I find a partner, which seems increasingly unlikely, I wouldn’t want a sexual relationship with anyone else. But I’m not good at understanding what other people want.”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” said Rosie, for no obvious reason.

I quickly searched my mind for an interesting fact. “Ah . . . the testicles of drone bees and wasp spiders explode during sex.”

It was annoying that the first thing that occurred to me was related to sex. As a psychology graduate, Rosie may have made some sort of Freudian interpretation. But she looked at me and shook her head. en she laughed. “I can’t aord to go to New York. But you’re not safe by yourself.”

• • •

ere was a phone number listed for an M. Case in Moree. e woman who answered told me that Dr. Case Sr., whose name was confusingly also Georey, had passed away some years ago and that his widow, Margaret, had been in the local nursing home with Alzheimer’s disease for the past two years. is was good news. Better that the mother was alive than the father: there is seldom any doubt about the identity of the biological mother.

I could have asked Rosie to come with me, but she had already agreed to the New York visit and I did not want to create an opportunity for a social error that might jeopardize the trip. I knew from my experience with Daphne that it would be easy to collect a DNA sample from a person with Alzheimer’s disease. I rented a car and packed swabs, cheek scraper, ziplock bags, and tweezers. I also took a university business card from before I was promoted to associate professor. Doctor Don Tillman receives superior service in medical facilities.

Moree is 1,230 kilometers from Melbourne. I collected the rental car at 3:43 p.m. after my last lecture on Friday. e Internet route planner estimated fourteen hours and thirty-four minutes of driving each way.

When I was a university student, I had regularly driven to and from my parents’ home in Shepparton and found that the long journeys had a similar eect to my market jogs. Research has shown that creativity is enhanced when performing straightforward mechanical tasks such as jogging, cooking, and driving. Unobstructed thinking time is always useful.

I took the Hume Highway north and used the precise speed indication on the GPS to set the cruise control to the exact speed limit, rather than

relying on the artificially inflated figure provided by the speedometer. is would save me some minutes without the risk of lawbreaking. Alone in the car, I had the feeling that my whole life had been transformed into an adventure, which would culminate in the trip to New York.

I had decided not to play podcasts on the journey in order to reduce cognitive load and encourage my unconscious to process its recent inputs. But after three hours, I found myself becoming bored. I take little notice of my surroundings beyond the need to avoid accidents, and in any case the freeway was largely devoid of interest. e radio would be as distracting as podcasts, so I decided to purchase my first CD since the Bach experiment.

e gas station just short of the New South Wales border had a limited selection, but I recognized a few albums from my father’s collection. I settled on Jackson Browne’s Running on Empty. With the repeat button on, it became the soundtrack to my driving and reflections over three days. Unlike many people, I am very comfortable with repetition. It was probably fortunate that I was driving alone.

With my unconscious failing to deliver anything, I attempted an objective analysis of the state of the Father Project.

What did I know?

  1. I had tested forty-one of forty-four candidates. (And also several of those of incompatible ethnic appearance.) None had matched.

    ere was the possibility that one of the seven Asperger’s survey respondents who had returned samples had sent someone else’s cheek scraping. I considered it unlikely. It would be easier simply not to participate, as Isaac Esler and Max Freyberg had done.

  2. Rosie had identified four candidates as being known to her mother—Eamonn Hughes, Peter Enticott, Alan McPhee, and, recently, Georey Case. She had considered the first three as high probability, and Georey Case would also qualify for this category. He was now clearly the most likely candidate.

  3. e entire project was reliant on Rosie’s mother’s testimony that she had performed the critical sexual act at the graduation party. It was possible that she had lied because the biological father was someone less prestigious. is would explain her failure to reveal his identity.

  4. Rosie’s mother had chosen to remain with Phil. is was my first new thought. It supported the idea that the biological father was less appealing or perhaps unavailable for marriage. It would be interesting to know whether Esler or Freyberg were already married or with partners at that time.

  5. Georey Case’s death occurred within months of Rosie’s birth and presumably the realization that Phil was not the father. It might have taken some time for Rosie’s mother to organize a confirmatory DNA test, by which time Georey Case might have been dead and hence unavailable as an alternative partner.

is was a useful exercise. e project status was clearer in my mind, I had added some minor insights, and I was certain that my journey was justified by the probability that Georey Case was Rosie’s father.

I decided to drive until I was tired—a radical decision, as I would normally have scheduled my driving time according to published studies on fatigue and booked accommodation accordingly. But I had been too busy to plan. Nevertheless, I stopped for rest breaks every two hours and found myself able to maintain concentration. At 11:43 p.m., I detected tiredness, but rather than sleep I stopped at a gas station, refueled, and ordered four double espressos. I opened the sunroof and turned up the CD player volume to combat fatigue, and at 7:19 a.m. on Saturday, with the caeine still running all around my brain, Jackson Browne and I pulled into Moree.

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