Beyond The Precipice - Sample Chapters


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Beyond The Precipice - Sample Chapters

  1. 1. Copyright © 2012 by Eva Blaskovic. All rights reserved.Cover Artwork Copyright © 2012 by Jody Bronson All rights reserved.No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or byany means, except as permitted under the Canadian FederalCopyright Act, and the United States of America’s Federal CopyrightAct, including electronic or mechanical, hand-written, photocopying,recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, withoutwritten permission from the publisher. For information address Ashby-BPPublishing, 217, 11350-104 Ave. NW, Edmonton, AB, T5K2W1, Canada.All Persons Fictitious Disclaimer: All characters appearing in this workare fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purelycoincidental. An Ashby-BP Imprint Alberta, Canada California, U.S.A. www.ashby-bp.comISBN-10: 0988163812 ISBN-13:9780988163812 BISAC: LiteraryFiction/ Teen FictionFurther information about this book can be found at:http://ashby-bp.comPrinted in the United States of AmericaFirst Edition, 2012 Pre-release excerpts may be reproduced or shared for thepurposes of review, critique, or general interest. this excerpt may not bereproduced for commercial purposes without express written consent of thepublisher.
  2. 2. “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.”—Plato
  3. 3. The Cello GirlIn the hallway of the university music building thatafternoon, he followed the lone cello, a ribbon ofsound that compelled him forth as his eyes stilladjusted from the brightness outside. He had nobusiness wandering around by the practice roomsafter first year registration—especially now thathe’d fulfilled his promise. It was done. The course ofhis future was set, his father’s last wishes honored. Except the cello resonated in his heart,drowning out the hunger rumbling in his stomach.It was Beethoven’s 9th, after all—“Ode to Joy”—something that simply could not be ignored. His cell phone bleeped with an incomingtext. “Where are you?” “Still on campus. Be back soon,” he typedback to Scott, sent it, and pocketed the phone. Itwouldn’t have been so annoying having hisroommate check up on him if his brother, Drake,wasn’t doing it all the time. Stepping into the rectangle of sunlight thatcast into the hallway, he saw the girl. She drew herbow across the cello, eyes on sheet music, face stern,jaw set, fingers working the vibrato. Her bodyleaned into note after note—until she noticed him. The eyes, green as jade, flicked up for thebriefest moment, and she frowned. Her fingersfumbled and she shook her head, finally addressinghim with an edge in her voice. “Hi. Coming in topractice?”
  4. 4. . Practice? Him? “What instrument do you need?” she wenton. He walked up to a violin case that layflipped open on a chair beside her. “Can I play this?” “Sure. It’s the Faculty’s. You can play ituntil Elise gets back.” He ran his finger across the strings. It wasmostly in tune. Dropping his backpack on the floorwith a thud, he took out the violin and finishedtuning it. “Beethoven?” he said, casting a sidewaysglance at her. “Sure.” She positioned her bow. “Want thenotes?” “No.” She raised an eyebrow at him. “Okay…” He stood with the violin on his shoulder,bow at the ready. She began the cello segment, bowflowing like silk, and he came in, taking over themelody; smoothly, fluidly gliding with her counter-melody until the crescendo gave way to crisp,powerful downbows and retakes, the instrument anextension of himself, moving effortlessly throughthe medium of musical harmony. Now that—that was Beethoven! So muchbetter than when he played it alone. “Hmm,” she said afterward, her lipsworking into a hint of a smile. “You put a lot offeeling into your playing.” Even as something in his chest fluttered, achill clenched his lower spine. “How many years of music do you have?”she asked.
  5. 5. . “I don’t know. Lots.” “What do you mean you don’t know? Whatprograms did you take?” “I didn’t. I’m self-taught.” She squinted at him. “Really? So how’d youget into this program?” “I’m not in Music.” “You’re not? What are you in then?” “Science.” “Oh.” She looked down at her cello, herfinger tracing its form. “What are you going to dowith it? Go into Med School or something?” “No. I don’t know.” She shuffled her music, shaking long bangsclear of her eyes. “How about you?” he went on. “I’m going to try to get into the CalgaryPhilharmonic.” “Holy crap!” “Yeah. Pretty good goal, eh?” “I’ll say.” “So why are you in Science if you don’tknow what you want to do with it?” He shrugged. “It’s bound to leadsomewhere.” “That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.Ever thought of switching to Music?” He started laughing. “Have I thought aboutit? Of course I’ve thought about it!” Her stern look shared none of hisamusement. “Then why don’t you?” Turning to face her straight on, he bracedhis arm on the seat’s backrest. “Because it’s not thatsimple.” Her eyes locked with his for a moment,
  6. 6. .then were drawn away as an Asian girl entered, herobsidian hair glistening all the way to her waist. He stood, holding the violin out by theneck. “Yours?” Elise reached for it. “Thank you.” “I was just on my way out.” He flipped hisbackpack over his left shoulder and started towardthe door. “Do you have a name?” the cello girl said. “Bret. It’s Bret.” He gestured a greeting toboth of them. “Nice to meet you, Bret. I’m Nicole.” He gave the slightest nod and stepped out,continuing onward until he was out of the building.He’d just forget he was ever there. It neverhappened. Except that every time he blinked, he sawgreen eyes focused on cello strings whose notes hestill heard in his head, mingling with the sound of aviolin. The progression of cars with their hazardlights flashing stopped traffic on Whyte Avenue. Helooked past the hearse, forcing his quickened breathback into a steady rhythm as he did during a run. Atthe corner he turned away, instead taking the nextstreet over through an old residential neighborhood,where some of Edmonton’s tallest trees lockedbranches in an arch overhead. Lone yellow leaves,blinking as they swayed in the breeze, warned of theapproaching fall like lighthouses tracing a perilousshore. His father had worried too much. If only hecould have seen this day. Bret kicked a stone intothe grass.
  7. 7. . At the apartment, Scott looked ratherscholarly in a button-up shirt and his steel-rimmedglasses. “So? How was registration?” “Fine.” He filled the espresso maker withwater and finely ground coffee. He still couldn’tbelieve his mother had let him take her belovedmachine. “Really?” Scott said, studying him. “I cansee you chickened out. Serves you right. You’ll liveto regret it.” “I’d regret it either way.” His cell phone went off in his pocket. Heflipped it open to find his brother’s name displayed,as the melody of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony in Dchimed on in his hand. Scott rolled his eyes. “Checking up on youalready?” The ringtone played out the entire segmentand started again. He could see Nicole in deepconcentration, small fingers spreading wide as theywalked up and down the neck of her cello, a vibratoon every note. “Give the man a medal for perseverance,”Scott said. He snapped out of it and pushed theanswer button. “What?” “Registered?” “No, Drake. I just walked to campus andback for the fresh air.” There was a measured silence before Drakespoke. “Did you do what you were supposed to?” “I might’ve.” Drake exhaled audibly. “You’d better have.” “Science, okay?” It was more interestingthan Business. But, more importantly, it would keep
  8. 8. .him clear of Uncle Galan. “Oh, you would make Dad proud.” Inside the espresso maker, the pressurizedwater neared its boil. “Shut up, Drake. I just might change it.” “You know that wouldn’t be a good idea.” He took a deep breath to loosen the vice onhis chest. “Anyway,” Drake continued. “Why I’mcalling. One of the gutters is coming loose and Momcan’t reach it.” “No need to check in with me, Drake,really. I have complete faith in you.” “You’re such a dick.” “You’re already there, so fix it.” “Ah, ah, ah. That’s not part of ouragreement, now, is it, Little Brother? Besides, Ialready told her you were coming by and would bemore than happy to do it.” Tarry liquid dripped into the four-cupcarafe. “Your thoughtfulness is unsurpassed.” “Tell him to go screw himself,” Scott cut in.“You live here now.” “Don’t push me, Bret,” Drake continuedinto the phone. “You really don’t want me in a badmood. I tend to—lose judgement, you know? Mightaccidentally say things.” Steam rose into the air and the espressomaker exhaled its last breaths as the carafe filled. “Fine! I’ll be there tomorrow.” He hung up. Scott spread his arms out in a “What thehell?” gesture. “It’s nothing, Scott.” “When will you ever stand up to him?”
  9. 9. . “Don’t worry about it.” “No, really. When will you?” Bret busied himself by opening the fridgeand retrieving the milk, half filling his mug with it,and adding the market honey. Hunger rumbled inhis stomach but he had lost his taste for food. Notthat he had much in the fridge anyway. “Just leave me alone, Scott.” He poured thecoffee into the prepared mug and took it to hisroom. “Did anyone ever tell you that puttinghoney in coffee is weird?” Scott called down thehall. Bret closed his door. On the dresser, thephotograph stared back at him. The last photo ofthe four of them. 
  10. 10. Galan’s VisitHe glanced up from his cereal. Scott Lère’s bedroomdoor had opened, casting morning light into thehallway. A tomcat grin was on his roommate’s face.Good. Whoever he talked to last night would keephim focused on his own matters. Scott flicked his bangs off the top of hisglasses. “So—you know that chick I met last week?Well, I called her last night.” He pauseddramatically. “Dinner and a show this weekend. Shesaid yes!” The eyebrows rode up and down hisforehead a few times. “That’s great.” Bret rinsed his dishes andreturned the cereal box, which was marked with thedate he opened it, to the cupboard. “Knock yourselfout.” “She has friends, you know. Hot ones.” “How many of them do you need?” Scott rolled his eyes. “I meant for you.” “I know what you meant.” “So?” “Thanks for the thought, but not thisweek.” “That’s what you said last week. You know,I think I remember a time when you were fun.” Bret peered across the top of his coffee cupat his roommate. “Give it some thought, man,” Scott wenton.
  11. 11. . “I thought you were gonna crack down andfocus on getting into Law School.” Scott shrugged. “Yeah. Can’t work twenty-four seven though.” “Well, if you’re not doing anythingSaturday morning, want to go to the market?” “You just go to see the buskers. Admit it,Mozart.” “I need more honey.” “I bet you do. Well then. Depends on whatkind of honey you have in mind.” “Give it up already.” Scott shook his head and ducked into thelower cupboard, where he tugged the frying pan outfrom under two other pots, tipping them over andsending them clattering off the shelf. Bret squeezed his eyes shut against theassault on his ears. Scott righted the pots and slammed thecupboard door on them, then set the pan on thestove’s element and took the egg carton out of thefridge. “So are you going in to play with the lab toystoday?” “Mm-hm.” “That Willoughby guy is pretty highprofile, eh?” “What do you mean?” “Like, half the campus knows his name.” “I feel much better now about walking intohis lab knowing jack shit.” Scott rolled his eyes and smiled lopsidedly.“So speaketh the gifted one who never has anythingto worry about.” Bret’s jaw clenched. “I told you never touse that word.”
  12. 12. . “Oh, puh-lease. You act like it’s some kindof sentence or something.” He threw more coffee down his throat. “Itis.” “Yeah. Sure. That’s because you don’t knowwhat it’s like for the rest of us mere mortals.” Scottstuck out his palm to prevent any backtalk. “Butyou know what we should do, Mozart?” “Stop calling me that.” “We really should give some thought tostarting up a new band.” “Then you’re going to want to play forpeople.” “Yeah. Yeah, usually that’s how it works.” “Mozart was a genius, Scott. How manytimes do I have to tell you? He wrote music in hishead and it came out—well, finished.” “He could also play anything he heard.” “I still don’t see how it applies.” “Stop fricking hiding from yourself.” Bret twisted his face up at Scott and wentfor his shower. Before going to meet Lauren at theuniversity for his first day of training, he pulled upin front of his mother’s bungalow to fix the gutter.He wore his oldest clothes, but at the lab theywouldn’t care what he wore. He’d made hisimpression, and now it was time to heed thewarnings about acid drips and other casualties thatclothes met in a lab. He leaned the aluminum ladder against theside of his mother’s house and climbed up, blockingthe sun with one hand. The gutters and downspoutsneeded to be replaced, but that wasn’t about to
  13. 13. .happen anytime soon. Reattaching this one wasn’t areal problem except that he had to erect the ladderon a slope that dropped into the alley, making thetop of the bungalow feel a lot higher. In spite of hismother’s firm grip on the base, electric sensationsran from the bottom of his feet through the lengthof his legs and into his stomach, where they coiled.His fear of heights had held him back in just abouteverything, even well-paid construction jobs. Evenclimbing in the Rocky Mountains with his father. When he climbed down, his mother wassmiling. Her whole face smiled, especially her browneyes, and, for that single moment, it always madethe world a better place. Red highlights caught inher chestnut hair, now probably colored to hide thegray. She passed the ladder to him and he retractedit. “Thanks for coming out to do this. I askedDrake but he’s been so busy.” He carried the ladder effortlessly into thegarage, where he hung it up on its hooks. “Come and have something to eat.” He welcomed this, as it was her food, afterall, that had inspired his own interest in cooking. Itwas peaceful in the house without Drake around,except for the cologne that lingered in severalrooms—a constant reminder of his presence. Bret sniffed the air, scrunching up his face.“That’s bloody awful.” “You know Drake,” Mom said tactfully. He rolled his eyes when she couldn’t seehis face. “I hope it was important.” “I suspect it’s a girl. He left all done up,new clothes and everything.”
  14. 14. . He would have made some gesture ofvomiting if he were talking with anyone but hismother. “He’s always got new clothes. That doesn’tmean anything.” She had made bacon, eggs, and homemadescones, which he gulped down as fast as they hitthe table. “I’ll give you some of these to take towork,” she said, setting some aside. “Are you sureyou’re getting enough to eat?” She paused to studyhim. “Yeah, fine,” he said quickly with hismouth still full. “Well, if you need anything, call me.” “I’m eighteen, Mom.” “That doesn’t mean you stop being myson.” He knew he’d never ask her for food, astempting as it was sometimes. When the doorbell rang, she left the tableand went to answer the front door. He listened fromthe kitchen. “Galan! What a surprise!” His heart fell through his stomach. Hestopped eating at once, and wiped his mouth withthe back of his hand. “Hello, Kyra,” came the elated voice. “I wasin town, so I thought to myself, ‘I should go see howKyra’s doing!’ So, here I am. May I come in?” “Of course,” his mother said. Bret stepped around the wall of the kitchenand stood at the edge of the living room with hisarms crossed across his chest. “Hello, Uncle Galan.” Looking at his uncle was like seeing areflection of himself. Galan’s hair was dark and
  15. 15. .neatly cut. The brown eyes, straight nose, and solidfeatures were probably considered handsome,except his build seemed to get chunkier every timehe saw him. He could have passed for his mother’sbrother, but he was, in fact, his father’s. “Drake said something about you movingout,” Galan said. “I’m just visiting. No worries. I’ll be on myway soon.” “That’s a shame.” Galan’s eyes locked withhis briefly before they looked away. “Anyway, I’msure Kyra can spare a few moments for her brother-in-law. Mmm, something smells good!” “Sit down, Galan, and have something toeat.” “Don’t mind if I do!” Galan stepped intothe kitchen and looked around. “Where’s Drake?” “He’s out for the day,” his mother said. “Oh, that’s too bad! I really wanted to talkto him. Well, perhaps he can call me.” No need to use the phone. Drake wouldhear him all the way from Leduc. Galan sat down without hesitation. Momquickly got him a plate and cutlery, and he reachedfor the bacon and eggs at once. “Mmm. These are just a little cold. Wouldyou mind warming them up, Kyra?” Bret had to turn away. “So, what’s up with you, Bret? Mommy’snot around to look after you so you dress like crap?” “I had such a hard time deciding whichdesigners to wear,” he said. “You know how it is.” “Galan!” Mom snapped. “Don’t start. He’shere for yard work.”
  16. 16. . He leaned against the counter and juststared at his uncle. “I’ll let that one go.” Galan’s voice groundlike machinery choked by sand. “For your mother’ssake.” “Don’t forget the scones, Galan.” Shepushed the plate closer. “They’re homemade.” “Character building, yard work is.” Galan’smuted voice struggled around a mouthful of scone.“Good for you, Kyra.” As his uncle cleared all the plates, makingthe meal but a memory, his mother’s eyes warnedhim. He hid a balled fist under his arm. When Galan could find nothing else toconsume, he turned to Bret. “’Cause, you know,people do actually pay attention to how you presentyourself.” “Tea or coffee, Galan?” “Tea would be just lovely, Kyra.” Of course Galan wanted tea. He drankboth, and there was coffee in the coffee pot, butwhy use that? Kyra could just run around and waiton him hand and foot, after all. “With cream, if you have it.” “I didn’t know you were coming, Galan.Milk is all I have.” “Ah, well,” Galan said. “I’ll just make do,then.” Bret had heard enough. “I’m heading out.Enjoy your stay in town, Uncle Galan.” Galan mumbled something unintelligible. His mother wrapped some scones she’drescued in tinfoil and followed him to the frontdoor. “Hey, you still working at that useless little
  17. 17. .drugstore?” Galan called from the kitchen. Bret’s eyes locked with his mother’s as hereplied. “What if I am?” She shook her head. Galan presented himself in the living room,wiping grease from his face with a napkin. “Youreally should look into something else. That kind ofjob won’t get you anywhere in life.” Bret stroked the stubble on his chin.“Hmm. Are you sure? I thought I was living mydream.” “Galan, Bret really has to get going,” Momsaid. She turned him toward the door, stuffingthe wrapped scones into his hands. Galan’s expression darkened. “Kyra, I’mtalking about the boy’s future. With his fathergone—” Bret’s heart sped up involuntarily. “He’s not a boy, and he’s doing just fine,but thank you for your concern.” “Oh, Kyra, you just don’t see what’s infront of you. As always.” Bret stiffened, and resisted his mother’sforward motion. “Ignore him,” she whispered. But when he looked back over his shoulder,Galan was already walking towards them. “Self control was never one of yourstronger traits, was it, Bret? A man can achieve a lotby controlling his own impulses. Often the fate ofothers rests with a single phrase, a single deed—asingle act of cowardice—” Bret’s throat tightened, cutting off hisbreath.
  18. 18. . “Honestly, Galan. No need to get sodramatic,” his mother scolded. His breath returned as Galan lowered hiseyes. “Insult me all you want,” he said, “but stopinsulting my mother. She’s not your personalservant!” Galan laughed. “Oh, Bret, honestly. Suchtough words. Kyra, I must commend you on the jobyou did with Drake, but for whatever reason, thelesson about respecting one’s elders seems to havebeen lost on Bret.” “Galan, you promised,” his mother saidthrough pursed lips. Bret fought to do nothing, say nothing. Asmuch as every ounce of him resisted the idea, heknew he had to walk away quietly. Galan sighed audibly. “I did, didn’t I?” “Goodbye, Uncle.” Bret stepped toward thescreen door. As he glanced back, Galan moved. Bretcaught his mother flinch and then relax, as if shewere overriding a reflex. He blinked, hesitated,unsure of what he saw. Galan stood close besideher. A sick feeling stirred in the pit of hisstomach—some old unpleasantness, a vaguememory or dream, or something. He couldn’t placeit. But he was overcome by the urge to fight it off,beat it down into its dark hole, and put a lid on it. He took long strides to his car. His mothercame down the steps after him. “Will you be all right with him here?” heasked her.
  19. 19. . She smiled. “It’s not your job to protectme.” He dropped into the driver’s seat, but setthe wrapped scones on the seat beside him withcare. He rolled down the window before closing thedoor. “I can handle him.” She leaned in andhugged him. “Look. I know you’re fed up.” He rolled his eyes. “Why didn’t you tell him about the campusjob?” “Why should I?” “It would have been honest.” She kissed histemple. “Call me if there’s a problem.” “There won’t be a problem.” She patted hisarm and withdrew from the window. “Thanks forcoming out.” Galan was showing up more often. Heseemed to be particularly interested now that Drakewas twenty-one. Bret started the car but didn’t put it ingear. “Can’t you ditch him?” His mother squeezed her eyes shut, and atonce he regretted his utterance. “Honey—” “I know, I know. I’m sorry.” “We owe him.” “Yeah,” he said quietly, shifting into gear. 
  20. 20. Kern’s LabSeveral people passed him in the hallway of MedicalScience. Some ignored him as the stranger he was,while others glanced his way, inspecting this newarrival in their department. The hallway was long,tiled, and the color of butter. Even the institutionalpaint had yellowed into a dingy pallor, but over thesummer the tiles had been buffed to a shine. “Bret, come in,” Dr. Willoughby motioned. He returned the gaze of the Indiana Joneslook-alike, who peered at him over the top of hisreading glasses. With a head full of disheveled hairstill more sandy than gray, only the glasses, sittingslightly askew part way down his nose, betrayed hisage. Bret felt a presence at his shoulder, andturned. Lauren, who was likely in her mid-twentiesbut only reached his chin, hooked bangs behind herear as she listened in. “Lauren will show you everything you needto know,” Dr. Willoughby said. “I have to run acrossto the hospital.” He nodded as the doctor stepped aroundhim. “Thanks, Dr. Willoughby.” “Kern,” the doctor said, clapping a hand onhis shoulder. “It’s Kern.” With a wave to both of them, the doctordisappeared out the door. “No one around here calls him Dr.Willoughby,” Lauren said.
  21. 21. . Bret’s eyes converged on her ski-jumpnose. It added a playfulness to her sophisticationthat made her easier to approach. “He says that’s for patients.” She led him toa rack of lab coats, took one off a hanger, andhanded it to him. “How much of Kern’s research areyou familiar with?” “Just what I could find online.” He tried thewhite coat on. She smiled. “Does it fit?” He checked the length of the sleeves anddid up some of the snaps. “Yup.” She kept smiling. “What? Does it look funny?” “No, it’s perfect.” “Then what?” “Kern likes you. Now I can see why.” He stopped moving, not sure how torespond. Lauren didn’t know a thing about him. Ordid she? And why was she telling him this aboutKern? She stretched up to look taller, put onehand on her hip, and waved a finger in the air.Making her voice deeper, she said, “‘You’ll like him,Lauren. He didn’t bullshit me. He has no experience,but it’s nothing you can’t handle. Besides, he has agood handshake.’” “You’re kidding me.” “Kern knows people. He can tell thingsabout them.” A shiver ran down his spine. “So, that said, I expect you’ll ask if youdon’t know something rather than dump twohundred dollars’ worth of enzyme down the sink.”Her tone grew more sober with each word.
  22. 22. . “Did someone do that?” “You would marvel at the stories from ourHall of Shame, some of which, I’m sure, you’ll hearabout. Let’s take a walk.” She motioned with herhead for him to follow. “These garbage cans here,with the orange bags, are biohazard. Any cell ortissue culture we use goes in there when we’re done.There’s the fume hood,” she pointed. “Bunsenburners and gas lines there. Just make sure the gasis always shut off properly. Glove boxes are on thebenches, but if you need more, they’re all kept inhere.” She opened a lower cabinet and closed it,then pointed to various glass door cabinets andlabels. “Petri dishes, pipettes, glassware. If you needsolutions and buffers, they’re in here. Pipette tipboxes are up there, sterile of course, so don’t leavethem open, and the culture plates are in the coldroom. Agar and nutrients to make them up are inthis cupboard. And you’ll need weigh scales.” She walked him over to a separate counterwith digital scales accurate to four decimal placesthat were encased in glass with sliding doors. “Weigh boats, tin foil, and all that stuff arein this drawer.” She glanced up at him. “So that’sbasically it, to start with. What you’ll be doing iscollecting the glassware and washing it down in thedishwasher room. You’ll also be autoclaving some ofit. But we can get you making sterile plates, media,and stock solutions as well. How familiar are youwith that kind of stuff?” “In theory only. In practice? Not so much.” She hooked her hair behind her ear. “Well,that’s fine. You can shadow me and you’ll catch on.Let’s start with prepping tips and glassware forautoclaving. Media and other liquids will go in
  23. 23. .separately, and you’ll have to make sure you leavethe lids loose so they don’t explode. We can tightenthem once they’ve cooled. Not to insult you, but youdo remember your gas expansion and contractiontheory, I assume?” He stifled a laugh. “Yeah, it’s real funny until someoneforgets.” “I meant no disrespect. I was just—imagining things.” He couldn’t quite remove hissmile. Lauren studied him. “A creative thinkerwith an imagination. Good.” She took him by thesleeve, dragging him behind her. “But we’ll get tothe liquids. Let’s start with the dry stuff.” Good? That’s exactly what got him intotrouble at the last job. She showed him how to fill and stack thepipette tip boxes, how to tear tinfoil into squaresquickly and efficiently using the edge of a counter,how to use it to cover the openings of theErlenmeyer flasks, and how to wrap pipettes andburettes in foil for the autoclave. She loosened thescrew caps on some 500-milliliter and one-litermedia bottles and placed them in a separate plasticautoclave tub. He followed as she wheeled the cart downthe hall to the autoclave room and showed him howto operate the machines, which were each the sizeof a large fridge with heavy, stainless steel doors. Before his shift’s end, he went through thelab’s safety procedures, loaded the carts with dirtyglassware, filled all the empty tip boxes, andautoclaved enough glassware to refill the cupboards.
  24. 24. .Lauren made media and they autoclaved it together,and finally, because he asked, she let him pourplates. “Leave them on the bench to cool.Tomorrow, we’ll bag them in these.” She opened adrawer and showed him the empty Petri platesleeves. “If you insist on bagging them yourself,make sure you put them in upside down and storethem that way in the cold room.” “Why upside down?” “To prevent the condensation from runningonto the agar.” “Oh. That’s smart.” She grinned. “And we’ll know soon enoughif you contaminated them. If not, you may end updoing so many of these that you’ll be seeing them inyour sleep.” Crisp staccato skipped into the night, thensmoothed into a streamer of fluttering energy.Notes undulated with dizzying haste, changeddirection, teased, leapt over strings: a game of tagaround pillars of fire. When he first discovered the Devil’s TrillSonata, he had to learn it at once, if only for thechallenge. The flitting notes ricocheted inside theold Ford—something trapped and agitated, in afrenzy to escape. He had driven out to his old school yard,and practiced in the back seat with the windows upto contain the noise. At least his neighbors at theapartment had nothing to complain about.
  25. 25. . A police car drifted past and registeredsomewhere on the fringes of his awareness. Hisfingers fumbled and he restarted the segment. Headlights pierced the car’s interior,unveiling him from the protective darkness, and acruiser rolled to a stop behind him. He dropped his violin into his lap andwaited to see what the cop would do. The police officer stepped out. He cranked the window down. The cyclingof the police car’s engine drifted in with the breeze.Slow, deliberate footsteps crunched across thegravel. “Hi. How’re you doing?” the officer said. Too pleasant for the situation. And copsalways had that look. Like a mask. “Fine, thank you.” “Can I see your license, please?” They were trained to sound non-confrontational, yet had that “Don’t mess with me”expression. Something about the eyes. “Sure.” He twisted around to reach his backpocket. The bow rolled off his knees and landedsomewhere on the floor. His instinct was to rescue itfrom the dirt down there, but he fought the urge,and pulled the license from his wallet. The cop took it. “Thank you.” He bent over,panning his eyes over the interior of the car. “Who’sin there with you?” “No one.” “Waiting for someone?” “No.” “So what brings you out here at one in themorning?”
  26. 26. . He held up his electric violin by the neck. The cop’s eyes flickered for a split secondas he examined the strange metal form. “Is that aviolin?” “I’m practicing. This is the only place Iwon’t disturb anyone.” “I see.” The cop scanned the inside of thecar again, this time with his flashlight, revealing thefallen bow, open violin case, battery operatedamplifier, and a couple of empty coffee cups. The cop clicked off the flashlight and tookthe license to his car, turned on the interior light,and did some checking. While he waited, his heart pummeled in hischest. He did not know why, since there wasnothing to find. Finally, the cop returned. “Go home. Stophanging around schoolyards in the middle of thenight. It makes people nervous.” He handed backthe card. “Have a good night.” “Thank you. You too.” The officer walked back to his car andwaited until he pulled his Ford out onto the street.Only then did the cruiser drive away, irradiating thesleeping subdivision with its arc of departure. His heart still thumping, Bret watched theschool, where he’d finished sixth grade seven yearsago, recede in his rear view. The teacher who’dfought to promote his talents had long since movedon. 
  28. 28. website: www.ashby-bp.comcontact: