Chapter 9

An old business associate, and coincidentally the Professor Emeritus of Vertebrate Biology at Cal State Davis, invited me and a select few other of the institution's Platinum Club contributors to a formal dinner honoring the return of one of the school's most distinguished alumni. We gathered in a fine old Victorian on Faculty Row after Dr. O'Riordan's speech at the auditorium. She had talked about the sketchy data that had been gathered during the abbreviated experiment but, like an old astronaut, she was chomping at the bit to get back in there. "It's like we've gone back to Genesis and created a whole new world for ourselves," she cooed at one of her applause lines. "So clean, so pure, so...virginal." She answered questions at the dinner table with the bubbly zeal of a new convert; she would lightly touch her breast and, with glints in her bottle green eyes, breathe huskily that, "The whole experience is like being born anew, its the way we're supposed to live." She answered everyone's questions but mine -- me she stared at in a flinty silence. It wasn't until after dinner, when I'd had the chance to get her alone on the portico, that she unloaded on me like I knew she would. It was one of those made-to-order California nights, the distant whisper of the surf and the briny taste of the air. Eucalyptus perfumed the evening and the warmth of the air softened

everything’s edges. I hoped it would soften O’Riordan’s attitude toward me as well. "Don't misunderstand, Mr...." "Cowboy. Just call me Cowboy, even the Professor does." She dropped her chin and raised her eyes at me, as if to say ...Cowboy? "Okay ...Mr. Cowboy, its not that I have anything against you personally. I don't know much about you other than that the Professor tells me that you are obscenely wealthy. And don't misinterpret that. I don't have anything against wealth either, as long as it’s properly applied." A pregnant pause, a knowing look down that beautiful angular nose at the robber baron, right on cue. "It’s just that I will not work for the private sector. Philosophical reasons more than anything." "Because you feel that government is better equipped to provide benefits to society as a whole because the profit motive is absent, that the free enterprise system is somehow incapable of so doing, is that it?" "Your words, not mine. But I won't argue." She took a delicate sip of her champagne, as if to celebrate a point won. I assumed an attitude of deepest sincerity, calling forth all my con man’s skills. I knitted my brow, opened my hands, molded my body’s posture. "If I could somehow convince...no, convince is too strong a word. If I could present the possibility that the project I have in mind is benign or even socially responsible, would you at least consider lending your assistance?" "I have an open mind, if that's what you mean. But people like you have wasted billions of dollars on Madison Avenue trying to convince a gullible public that your motives are pure, dollars that some feel would have been better spent elsewhere. And I must warn you that I have a very sensitive propaganda detector. So you’ll have to convince me that you’re not simply coming on to me like a tobacco company. If you have something to me by tomorrow night, I will promise that I will read it on the plane. End of promises." I sensed that I’d exacted as much as I would get tonight. I knew that I’d convinced a very skeptical woman who’d already told me, “No” to reconsider and say, “Maybe”. And like any good

backseat Romeo, I knew that, “Yes” lives just down the street from, “Maybe”. She was so beautiful in that moonlight that I could almost overlook a heart that was so hard toward me that it had to be measured on the Mohs scale. Still, I was determined to find something in her that would respond to logic, reason, the spirit of scientific inquiry, anything. If all else failed, I still had Tyrone's offer to fall back on, his offer to persuade her using his own proven methods. "I appreciate that. Honestly. So, tell me why you chose your field, what is it about little animals that would interest a woman like you?"

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