Ahmanson Bio Research Center, USC, Los Angeles…2009
Judy Looney pulled off her specs and tossed them wearily onto the desk in front of her. Glancing quickly at her wristwatch she groaned audibly. It was 2am and she couldn’t believe that she had been working non-stop since lunch, again! It was the third time this week and she was beginning to feel every one of her forty something years. Thank God for Maxwell House and Folgers she thought; the lab’s java choices. Choices based entirely on cost versus taste of course. Lab rats are predominately poorer than the average rodent, a sad fact of life. But who cares, after the eighth or ninth cup nobody really tastes anything anyway. Hot, black and strong are the only criteria for double and triple shifts.
Sure, the teaching gig paid the rent, but that only accounted for 6 of the 18 hours she put in most days. It was her passion for research that kept her in the lab until the wee hours. Students would come and go but finding a cure for the big “C” was what she was all about. Being a Fellow at this school was a big deal. A bigger deal was being a part of the Regenerative Medicine / Stem Cell Research team at USC; now that was a huge honor! It was what put the spring in her step and the shit eating grin Edward’s face, her traditionalist Scots/Irish old man (father). He was a tough as nails retired longshoreman who emigrated from Glasgow to the United States during the cold war, 1962 to be exact. He brought his new bride straight from the Chapel to the Port of Los Angeles where he put in thirty five years loading and unloading containers from around the world. The young couple called San Pedro their home and settled in a small five room cottage within spitting distance of Ports of Call. It was a little dicey fitting into their Cabrillo St. neighborhood with its thick Yugoslavian population. In May of 1968 his wife Trudy bore him a daughter, the apple of his eye, and his pride and joy. They named her Judith Theresa Looney, after his great Aunt who had raised him. His own parents had been killed during the London blitz in 1943. Tragic really, and tragedy had followed him to the new world as well. Trudy would later die in child birth, two years after Judith’s arrival. While that child, also a wee girl whom they called Cassie (short for Cassandra) would pass at the tender age of eight after a short and fierce battle with cancer.
That was the defining moment in Judy’s life. It changed her forever. It drove her to medicine. It was also responsible for her Looney Tunes nickname the one we all love to tease her about. I should explain that. You see, prior to Cassie’s death Judy could have been best described as a wallflower, shy and reserved to the point of appearing autistic. For whatever reasons, reasons only she could know, the old Judy was buried with her sister on that day as well. The pre-teen that emerged became a hellion of legendary proportions. The shy little girl whom Edward sometimes worried about became a fearless woman child that filled him with pride one minute and something between terror and anger the next. Fast forward a few decades and here she sat, thirty miles from where she grew up, still Daddy’s little girl, when she allowed it, and working non-stop on the cure that would fulfill a promise she made to a ten year-old one cold and stormy night in 1978.
Judy punched off her desktop, watched as it powered down then swiveled around 180 degrees to make her getaway for home. Standing slowly she yawned and did a big girl stretch, her arms reaching high for the ceiling as her lungs filled with air. In mid-exhale the phone rang loudly, startling her into a freakish leap, like a garden gnome on crack.
“SHIT,” she shrieked, spinning around quickly to lunge for the offending piece of office equipment! She picked up the handset and screamed into the receiver.
Slamming the handset back into the cradle she sat back down to catch her breath and waited for the phone to ring again. She knew it was me; nobody else would be calling at this hour expecting to get an answer. She also knew that I wouldn’t sleep until she told me what I needed to know. She watched the phone with an unblinking stare and drummed her fingers on the desk impatiently. I didn’t disappoint her, and she picked up a millisecond after the first ring.
“What Whitey, WHAT?”
“Take it easy doll, don’t get your panties in a bunch,” I replied defensively.
“Hey, leave my underwear out of this DICK, and why are you bugging me at this hour anyway?”
“I just want to go home, feed my cats and crash for a couple of hours before the freaking alarm screams at me to get up and do this all over again!”
“Hey, hey, just because you coaxed that family secret outta me in a weak moment doesn’t mean you can throw it back at me whenever you please. Besides, you promised never to call me that Judy. A promise is a promise!”
That felt a little pathetic and I could tell by the silence on the other end of the line that Judy picked up on my self loathing. I heard her stifle a giggle and waited for a sarcastic come-back line. I didn’t have to wait long.
“Awww, sorry bout that Nancy, maybe we can chat about that when you’re done with your period,” she said with a grin that I could feel through the phone line.
“Funny Judy, you’re a real riot! Look, just tell me what you know about those threads I left you this morning and we can both call it a day,” I snapped.
“Alright Whitey, this is getting boring anyway. So, about the threads, well, you were right. They’re off a LAPD uniform. Whoever was wearing it was a male with O positive blood. He is likely over forty and is graying slightly. I can’t tell you height, weight, or shoe size, but I can tell you that he smokes and that he likes his sandwiches with brown mustard. How’s that for a freebie? This is a freebie, right Whitey?”
“Ah, natch on the freebie doll, I’ll have to owe you for now, you know how it is.”
“Yeah, I know, gumshoes don’t make dick, no pun intended.”
“Okay, I deserved that. But I have to know, how did you glean all of that from three tiny threads?”
“It’s not rocket science Whitey. The threads must have been off a shirt sleeve, near the cuff I’m guessing. Since its December the LAPD is dressing out in their winter gear, right? I figured near the cuff because the hands are next to almost every action we take. Like for instance, eating, smoking, drinking, washing up after you take a leak, or mixing it up on the job with a feisty perp. Am I right?”
“Sounds plausible, I guess that makes sense?”
“Trust me, it makes perfect sense.”
“Still, humor me,” I pleaded.
“Sheesh Whitey, you’re a piece of work,” replied Judy! I could hear her reacquiring a comfortable position in her chair. She yawned deeply and then began her dissertation.
“Alright gumshoe, by the numbers then. ONE, three blue cotton fibers, no great stretch, easily traced to the manufacturer, who by the way has an exclusive contract with the city for the fabric; which I identified by lot through the dye in the material. TWO, blood type recognition, also a no brainer. The fella may have got a paper cut issuing a citation or maybe cut himself shaving, I don’t know, but the samples tested as O positive and had traces of testosterone in the sweat also found on the fibers. THREE, the gray hair was a lucky find as one of the fibers had a small follicle on it, likely from his arm. That was another indicator that we are dealing with a male subject here, well that and the testosterone. FOUR, the age is an educated guess based on the follicle. FIVE, traces of nicotine were on the follicle as well as the threads. And finally SIX, the fella must have gone to the same charm school as you did because this little piggy likes his deli with spicy brown mustard. Just like you, right Whitey? There, is that enough detail for you?”
I offered up my praise with a long and low whistle over the telephone line and I could hear her snicker tiredly on the other end.
“Very impressive, you’re just too cool for school Miss Looney, why aren’t we sleeping together anyway?”
“You’re a class act Roode, unfortunately you’re also an asshole. Besides, I’d rather do the deed with your ex, you know that.”
“That’s right; you two are still thick as thieves aren’t you. Thanks for rubbing it in.”
“My pleasure, on both counts,” she replied softly.
“On that note I’m hanging up and going to bed,” I said, half hoping she felt like talking more. I always had a soft spot for Looney Tunes even if she was a rival of sorts.
“Okay, I’m doing the same. G’nite Whitey, hope that helps you earn a buck or two.”
“Yeah, well, we’ll see. G‘nite…”