1.9 Professor Ducru Ideates

1.9.1: Professor Ducru begins his Day

Château Mourey, Chezelet

About 5 h Wednesday 2 April 1987

Meanwhile, in tranquil Chezelet, Professor Paul Ducru snapped awake in the predawn darkness. He felt a tingling at the back of the neck, a sign that his conscious mind was about to receive an idea.

The idea bloomed. He reached out and grabbed the sleek replacement of the old fashioned black telephone that he'd junked years earlier, and vexed the newest member of Institute Ducru's international biochemistry research team, a post-doc from MIT. As always when he was thinking science, his mind had slipped automatically into working in English--a particular version of English he’d picked up sixty-eight years ago as a post-graduate student in Texas.

"Hey, son!" he brayed into the handset, "I’s got'n ah-dee about this-'ere sequence we’s bin talkin’ ‘bout. Soon’s the couriers bring in them Scottish tissue samples...." Cutting short the respectful though resentful mumblings from the other end of the line, he set out his idea in a few concise phrases that went straight to the essence of the matter, and signed off. He knew talking Texas cow-man was childish, but still it amused him--always good to get a rise out of young whipper-snappers out of MIT and Harvard.

Moments later, admiring the bright-eyed monkey face in the bathroom mirror: "Yup, a pretty good ah-dee." He applied a shaving lather and began dexterously guiding a razor over his myriad facial wrinkles. From time to time he paused to chortle again, "Yup, a pretty good ah-dee...."

A good idea, but he didn’t dwell on it overlong. While his razor zeroed in on odd bristles sprouting where they weren't supposed to, his thoughts turned to his eighteen-year-old self, Paul D Beaucaillou, French chemistry prodigy newly awarded a research grant for study in America. (The award was for for advisory services to the US Army concerning defense against poison gas, but that was a story long relegated to the back of his mind.)

Life then had seemed jam-packed with the potential for flashy  achievement, meaning the sort of thing that causes other scientists to slap their foreheads and cry out--Why didn't I think of that? He'd suffered setbacks, but from his early discovery of the carcinogenic potential of animal milk, through later less far-reaching but still substantial successes, his life in biochemical and now biotechnological research had worked out for him much as he'd hoped in his most extravagant juvenile imaginings. Yet it was that earlier part of his life, with its mistakes and surprises and heartache, that lived most vividly in his imagination.

As was his habit after shaving, he pressed a hot, moist towel to his face, and as usual in that instant of warm comfort he had a sense of Edith's spirit near. Edith! She was the love of his life, Madame de Berney to his Balzac. But their association had been brief. When she became pregnant--she was by then practically assured of the Presidency--she'd reluctantly arranged for the OSS to keep him out of the public eye. And immediately after the birth of their child, to forestall unfavorable publicity she had them escort him secretly out of the country under a new identity--

His vex sounded, jolting him back to present reality. The gal. Ada'd be coming, fixing to move in with a lover and stay maybe a month or two. Arriving about noon Friday. She'd be wanting  lunch, private note private. Well, she could have lunch, but not private. She'd have to put up with the neighbors, Aristotle Aligoté and whichever young'un he was sex-mentoring these days. Ari had an excellent sense of mouth feel. Couldn't do without his feedback....

Snapping back to his everyday routine, he rinsed his face and inspected the shaving damage. Not bad, just a few nicks that would heal in good time before the upcoming tangle with his La Catalane, Madame Cava, or as he preferred to call her, the Cat. That would be--he paused to consider--the day after tomorrow, on Friday, market day in Richelieu. As usual, in the Cat's apartment above her Soy Products shop in Richelieu.

The Cat had many virtues. Short and wiry, smart moves. Willing partner for high-tech high jinks in HV Opera Minus Two, "The game that plugs you right into the action with the lead soprano / tenor of your choice." The Cat was all that, and by virtue of her stranglehold on the National Assembly, a mighty handy ally whenever the National Research Center's budget came up for renewal.

Also, in this instance, she gave him a good excuse to avoid Ada. Though he accepted his responsibilities to her as his only child, and he never had anything against her except for the custody battle over Georges, he really didn't like her much....

The vex again--the Cat. Scrub Friday's Opera Minus Two. Instead, lunch to help size up a couple of new American  PROFATPOL interns. A doctor and a media type.... 

He said okay, and signed off. He was relieved at the new arrangement. Lunch with new interns, though likely tedious, seemed to him far preferable to another solo encounter with the Cat. For some time now she seemed to be losing her pep. Sagging figure, occasional vaginal dryness--maybe she'd taken to sampling the Substances they used as bait in those PROFATPOL sting operations she sponsored.

Another downer--the operas she liked: Wagnerian sex scenes--exhausting! She never wanted to do operas like Carmen, Othello, Wozzeck, where he got to kill her at the end....

Maybe I should get a young'un, he mused. Like Ari....

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Note to readers: The  following is material held over, possibly to be recycled.

As in a holovision special running in compressed time, he saw himself at work on his very first research project. It was sponsored by the Texas Cattlemen's Association. Its aim was to prove that  best to feed to calves after weaning, to make them big and fat and ready for slaughter for beef, was what the TCA had plenty of--milk. Flash forward to Paul D Beaucaillou exhibiting columns of figures proving the proposition. Also to Paul D Beaucaillou not exhibiting evidence that the , exas Cattlemen's he ainmer,

Especially  At the start, though, it seemed unpromising. It was sponsored by the Texas Cattlemen's Association, and the aim was to discover what, and as quickly and cheaply as possible. The desired answer, as the rookie researcher was emphatically informed in advance, was cow's milk, and indeed his diligent efforts showed cow's milk far better than the other trial feeds when it came to packing on the poundage in a hurry. Though this was not the stuff to make scientists sit up and take notice, the Cattlemen were pleased. Mighty pleased.

But their smiles turned to thunderous grimaces at another result of the study: the milk-fed cattle suffered significantly more cancerous tumors than the control group. Clearly, cancer-riddled carcasses could not be safely marketed as prime beef, they'd have to marked down for hot dogs. And of course there would be an image problem. So the Cattlemen quickly resolved to do the right thing: shut down the research project. And shut down the researcher as well--permanently.

Anticipating that reaction and mindful of his personal safety, the target of the Cattlemen's wrath high-tailed it Washington with the idea of putting himself and his laboratory notebooks at the disposal of the nascent pro-Prohibition pro-Women's Suffrage political party MA'AM (Mothers Against various things including especially Animal Milk) that had been founded by Edith Bolling as the first step in her ultimately successful drive to succeed her husband, Woodrow Wilson, as President of the United States.

He did better than he'd dared hope, eventually delivering his research results to Edith Bollings herself. Standard bearer of the MA'AMs, de facto Chief Executive since her husband had suffered a debilitating stroke several months earlier, Edith Bollings Wilson (as she was then) immediately grasped the implication: unnaturally rapid growth achieved by feeding milk to young animals beyond weaning age--"young animals" including young humans--means higher probability of cancer later on. And soon after that, in personal contact with the young Paul D Beaucaillou, she grasped the larger concept that reason and science is the surest path to human advancement.

They took him to the Falklands, and from there he moved to the far-northerly isles of Scotland--in both places persisting in his work on animal milk. Back finally in his native land, with his French citizenship restored Until at last he returned to his native land after receiving word that President Bolling had had the Cattlemen rounded up and punished with reasonable severity for their crimes against Prohibition.

Back in France but still fearful of the Cattlemen and still going by his new name, Ducru, he became a recognized authority on biochemistry in its application to human diet and health, registering a near-miss of the Nobel for the animal milk-juvenile diabetes link, Légion d'Honneur for truffle propagation, et cetera. And now he was into a new thing--the correlation between health and the sensual enjoyment of food. He had a whole flock of new ideas to try out....

First, however, breakfast. Breakfast including, or rather consisting of the illegal-substance potion, or "fix" in substance-user argot, that Professor Ducru regularly relied upon to open the floodgates of inspiration in in tackling any ambitious intellectual project: a slug of cow’s milk, diluted, or in criminal argot "cut," in a cup of freshly brewed Assam tea.

He prepared his fix in his kitchen alcove, a sky-lit space with walls tiled in bright geometrical patterns, a table and a couple of chairs of spare, functional design. First the tea, itself legal but frowned upon--its use a misdemeanor, in fact, for its association with milk. He entered a code on a special keypad that was an inconspicuous part of a wall-tiling based on Dutch painter Mondrian’s colored-squares arrangement called Broadway Boogie Woogie, and a panel slid aside to reveal a small tin labeled "Assam" and tea-making paraphernalia--kettle, teapot, cups and saucers. He prepared the brew, placed the cup and saucer on the table and poured the tea as usual, but on this occasion he did not immediately make any move to add the milk. Instead, he gave in to a sudden need to sit down for a time.

He felt jittery. It was Ada--always felt jittery when Ada was coming. She must wonder why he invariably contrived to avoid her. The fuss over custody. And the Cat, of course. And that other point of contention--his addiction to milk. If Ada found out about his habit, then what would she say? He cringed at the thought. It was true, he was a loathsome milkic, a criminal Substance user, an agent of the anti-Gaea harmful to the earth and to his own health, dulling his palate to boot....

But neither of those was the real reason. The real reason was his cowardice. He was still spooked by the Cattlemen, long after their bluster had been neutralized and, for all he knew, they had all died prematurely from assorted CHAOS AND OUCH conditions. He still lacked the courage to resume his real name, Paul D Beaucaillou. He still felt he should have resisted--put up some kind of fight when the OSS agents escorted him away from his Edith and their new-born....

Painful thoughts flitted through his mind. He knew, better than almost anybody, that milk—to be precise the principal milk protein, casein—promotes various cancers. He'd been mighty lucky to have escaped that dread cluster of diseases. He also knew that milkics were especially prone to immune system malfunctions, diabetes, osteoporosis, the whole CHAOS AND OUCH schmear. He had so much to live for, so many projects. He ought to summon up the courage to quit.

Can quit right now, he told himself. He lifted his cup of tea and inhaled the aroma. He registered the rugged tannic edge and malty character characteristic of Assam tea. He took a sip of the fragrant, deep amber liquor. Yep, a great tea to cut your animal exudate of choice. No wonder they'd made it an ancillary substance, purchase of over 100 gram a punishable offence....

But Assam tea is smooth enough to be enjoyed plain, too. It would be a pleasure to drink the whole cup, without any milk at all. Hey, it was plumb easy to quit. He could quit any old time, no sweat. He felt a lightening of spirit. He was free!

Reveling in his freedom, he stood up, looked around to make sure he was not observed, and entered code in another keypad hidden in the Broadway Boogie Woogie tiling. A panel slid aside to reveal a white-walled refrigerated cabinet containing a bottle full of a white fluid. It was labeled PUS.

Pus--a euphemism, of course. While the carton indeed contained plenty of pus and other relatively harmless animal effluvia, hormone residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and possibly mad-cow prions as well, basically the content of the bottle was the dyed-in-the-cotton milkic’s substance of choice, the genuine casein-stuffed white and deadly.

He reached for it with a trembling hand.