'You come in here with some story about the blood of Christ, and you '
'No one said we had the blood of '
' expect me to be your guinea pig?'
'Please, Mr. Coleman . . .' Murkoski swallowed. He appeared to be regrouping, trying to start again. He threw a nervous look at O'Brien, who sat beside him in one of the three fiberglass-molded chairs. They had been in the attorney/client room with Coleman for only thirty minutes, and the killer already had Murkoski on the ropes, looking like a fool.
And not just Murkoski. O'Brien had underestimated the man as well. They had carefully researched him, studied his psychological profile, medical workup, X rays, blood chemistry; they had even run covert EKGs, EEGs, PETs, and a CAT scan on him last summer. Clinically, they knew everything they could know about the man.
But, like most people, they had erred in assuming that multiple killers were ignorant animals with underdeveloped mental skills. After all, here he sat ribs taped, nose broken, one eye still swollen shut. How could somebody like this possibly be an intellectual equal? Unfortunately, neither of them had taken into account an inmate's worst enemy: time. Next to sleeping, the best killers of time were reading, writing, and learning the skills of fellow prisoners. Whether it was the careful, step-by-step procedure for making a bomb, courtesy of Hector Garcia, or the intricate nuances of the Nebraska legal system, garnered from the books in the prison library, years of reading and listening had sharpened Michael Coleman's intellect to a razor's edge. Then, of course, there was the psychological gamesmanship he'd acquired in running the Row. All this to say, that in less than half an hour, he had reduced Murkoski, the boy genius, into an agitated knot of frustration.
The kid was flailing; O'Brien decided to step in. 'Mr. Coleman. Regarding the identity of the blood. We can only say that it is extremely old, and that '
' 'A couple thousand years,' you said.'
'Yes, but '
'So how were you able to keep it from disintegrating? And don't tell me you found it inside some mosquito embalmed in tree sap. I saw that movie, too.'
O'Brien took a long breath, but before he could answer, Murkoski jumped back into the fray. The kid never gave up. 'The blood was sealed in candle wax. A small section of vine with fragments of bloodstained thorns was encased in the substance. We suspect it was revered as some sort of religious artifact for centuries. Kept on an altar where dripping candles inadvertently covered and sealed a portion of it.'
'And what altar would that be?'
'The southern deserts of Egypt. A monastery. The same one that claims to house St. Mark's bones.'
'No, it wasn't convenient. Not at all, Mr. Coleman.' Murkoski's voice rose, trembling. 'A lot of people risked their lives to bring it to us, and if you're not interested in helping, then we'll find somebody who is. In case you don't know, there are three thousand other inmates on death row.'
Coleman opened his hands and closed them quietly. 'Three thousand twenty-six. Perhaps you should contact one of them.'
Murkoski blinked. Coleman had just called his bluff. Of all the nerve. Murkoski appeared livid, but O'Brien was more impressed than angry. Coleman had no idea how many months they'd researched him, nor the time constraints they were now working under. And yet he'd uncovered Murkoski's vulnerable underside, pressed all his buttons, and taken control of the conversation in record time. The man was far more clever than they had imagined.
O'Brien cleared his throat and tried again. 'Mr. Coleman whoever's blood it is, and we can't say for certain, we do know that this individual had a genetic makeup slightly different from the rest of us.' He could feel Coleman's eyes searching him, looking for a crevice, for a weakness to take hold of. But he held Coleman's stare and kept his voice even as he went into the details. 'Human DNA molecules consist of over six billion base pairs. If strung out in a line, that's enough to stretch to the moon and back 16,000 times. In the ancient blood sample we have, most of those have not survived. But what portions we do have, those that have remained intact, have proven quite interesting.'
This was the hard part. The part O'Brien rarely shared. But it was Coleman's body they were asking to experiment on, and it was certainly his right to know. 'As far as we've been able to tell, the blood contains all the usual maternal genes, but there are some fairly unusual genes we've discovered on the male side.'
Coleman raised an eyebrow, waiting for more.
Murkoski moved in. 'Certainly a man of your intelligence knows about X and Y chromosomes?' It was a patronizing question, and it was met only by Coleman's silence. Murkoski continued. 'Two X's together make a female, while an X and Y chromosome determines a male?'
'The X chromosome carries up to five thousand genes, while the lowly Y chromosome, that which makes us men, contains only a little over a dozen. So far science has only determined the function of one of those dozen-plus genes, the one that tells the embryo to develop testes instead of ovaries. The remaining male genes appear totally useless.'
'Until now,' O'Brien corrected. 'We don't know how or why, but for some reason the portion of those Y genes that we were able to recover from the blood have a totally different makeup than any other male gene.'
Murkoski leapt to the punch line. 'Whoever's blood this was could not have had a human father.'
Silence settled over the room. O'Brien watched Coleman. Not a muscle moved. Murkoski, on the other hand, leaned back in his chair, obviously assured that the playing field had once again been tilted to his advantage.
The silence continued. O'Brien coughed slightly then resumed. 'Most of these new genes still appear useless, but one in particular has stood out. When it is introduced into other organisms when we replicate it in the blood of say, mice, the creatures' behavioral patterns shift dramatically.'
Coleman's voice grew strangely quiet. 'You've done this with other animals?'
'Yes. Mice first, then more recently primates.'
'The mortality rate has been higher than we'd like, but for those who have survived, the results have been staggering.'
Murkoski continued. 'They are no longer concerned with what's best for themselves. Instead of focusing on their own needs, they act in a manner that's best for their community.'
Coleman sat motionless. Although he didn't take his eyes off the men, it was obvious that wheels were silently turning.
Unable to endure any silence for too long, Murkoski continued. 'And now we're ready to take the next step. To introduce this blood into a human being.'
she stomped good and hard just in case he had missed her point. More training from Gary.