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So What's in the Petri Dish, Dr. Periwinkle?
By Michael Fontaine
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Michael Fontaine
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDay One
Government Accounting Office, September 14, 15:33:17 (EDT) The Periwinkle Grant: Pending
"Cut! Cut! Damn it! Now we gotta do this shit all over again! This here's a restricted area! How the hell did you get onto my set?!" ranted and raved a diminutive man wearing a flashy red tam, paisley ascot, knickers' britches, and black and white spectator shoes. "Get me Ambrose!" he carried on, stomping up and down in a childish tirade as he swore into a megaphone pressed against his mouth.
He brought an entourage with him, too: a folly of suck-ups traipsing behind, making spectacles of themselves and appearing just as confused as he was.
"Y'all think I'm playing? Somebody's 'bout to get fired!" he assured. And off they spun again—a ridiculous hoard of gofers and production people led by a dwarf with no taste in fashion and obviously serious bouts of "little-man syndrome."
His antics were obnoxious enough to discourage the most patient of diplomats. Even the "war dead" were angered by the abrupt stoppage. Many grumbled profanely for having to pick themselves off the ground and rejoin the others back at the staging area for costumes and more makeup.
Periwinkle considered an apologetic wave for what he suspected was his doing, but they would have none of it—eyes riveting, penetrating like zombies, capable of looking right through him. Nonetheless, he refused to be daunted, driven by a conviction that nothing could possibly go wrong today.
"Better watch your step, professor, or those flies are liable to mistake you for breakfast," cautioned someone else, placing a calloused hand firmly on his shoulder, startling his heart into rapid palpitations.
"What the—" Sharply he turned.
This one was colored—not so much in the Negro or black sense, but possessing considerable character; a copper contrast to a shock of white hair that matted thick against a Mongolian-shaped head. His fuzzy moustache and bushy eyebrows were funky, too, and he wore carelessly laced boots, dingy overalls, and a sweat-bandana tied loosely around his neck. He had been a victim of scoliosis sometime during a difficult childhood, evidenced by a gimp in his walk and the struggle he managed merely standing up straight.
When he rolled up a sleeve to wipe his brow, the tan lines were evidence of spending long hours working in the sun. Perhaps he could be of assistance. Periwinkle could only hope.
"To hell with it," the custodian conceded, taking a healthy swig from a water bottle. "I said watch your ass or you'll find yourself up to it in horse shit."
"Don't think I can—whoa!" he struggled, fanning his arms faster than a hummingbird's wings, desperately trying to maintain his balance. "No, no ... not today!" he pleaded.
"Damn ..." the man said with amazement. "You come this close to missing it. Say, you're mighty agile for a fat fella."
"I am not fat!" Periwinkle retorted.
"All right, all right—dietetically challenged. Look, don't cha go getting your panties in a twist. Jake said nothing about you being so sensitive."
"Dietetically challenged? Why there's no such—Jake? Who's Jake?" he paused.
"Nobody," the man repressed, perhaps having said too much.
"Well if you hadn't surprised me like that, I might have avoided it completely," Periwinkle contended, methodically dragging his shoe through blades of dew-laden grass.
"Hmm, debatable," he stroked. "My boy, you looked busier than a one-legged fella in an ass kicking contest. Life's a series of events; plenty of 'em unfortunate, too."
"Why that's mighty profound coming from the likes of you. Which professional school did you mention held your letters, sir?" Periwinkle inquired, gazing over the rim of his glasses with a condescending sneer.
"Letters? Oh ... you're talking sheepskin, ain't cha? Well, I come from the school of Licks Upside Yo' Head! Ever hear of it—Ivy-League prick?"
"Uh, uh ... sounds more like a reform school to me."
"I oughta bust your lip," he motioned, yet somehow managing considerable restraint. "I promised I'd behave, but not if you keep pissing me off."
"Promised? Promised who? Are you threatening me?"
"Seems nothing gets by you people, does it?"
"I see. In that case, I'm going to need your badge number and the name of your superior," Periwinkle insisted, removing a pen and notepad from an inner breast pocket.
"Humph, that oughta get you a cup of coffee."
"Mister, do you know the kind of trouble you're in? And what gave you the idea I was a professor?"
"Easy," he gaffed. "By the way your pants riding up your ass like that."
Periwinkle was stunned how a man of his stature found himself in a rhetorical confrontation with "the help"—totally absurd.
"You've got some nerve, know that? Or perhaps you've simply lost your mind. Have you any idea who I am?"
He knew exactly who Periwinkle was, but he was hardly intimidated, especially by intellects he considered headstrong, arrogant bastards who did nothing but looked down their noses at everyone else. And most of them usually talked more than they listened, too, defining the whole world according to their narrow-minded perspectives.
An occasional rap in the mouth usually reminded these people that they bled blood and even put their trousers on one leg at a time just like the rest of us.
Of course, if forced into an altercation, this pathetic soul would oblige, fairing surprisingly well despite the obvious physical limitations. Ah, but this would not be the first time he tangled with a Ph.D. either, but for reasons unclear to him, this one was considered special—"yellow-bus special" maybe. He was hardly impressed, but he was given strict orders from command to deliver him intact.
"Sure he's the one, Jake?" was his appeal.
"For God's sake, man, who is this Jake fellow you keep yapping about? You're becoming quite annoying, you know that?"
He mimicked Periwinkle while rummaging through his trashcan.
"Keep your shirt on, you gonna find out soon enough. Meantime, better gimme that shoe."
"What?! I'll do no such thing!"
"Suit yourself ... 'course, I'd be mindful about standing downwind," he remarked with a peculiar twitch of his nose.
"Well ... perhaps this once ..."
"Nobody moves a muscle 'til I get some answers!" the astounded director interceded following a thorough inspection of the set.
"He started it."
"You ain't listening, are you bowtie? Repeat after me, 'Me Tarzan, you Jane'—comprende? Now, just who the hell are you?"
"Me Jane, remember?"
"Very funny; it's your damn fault we're in this predicament," he scorned, eyes now fixed on the janitor.
"Don't look at me. I'm just the poor bastard who makes his living cleaning up after people like you."
His stare was suspicious, but he gave him a pass anyway. Now back to Periwinkle.
"Are you serious? Why that's none other than Oliver Wendell Periwinkle, Associate Professor of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering. He was ranked eighth in his class at Poly-Tech and heir apparent to Belvedere's Science Department. I forget anything?" asked the furrowed-brow custodian. "Ooh, ooh!" he added with considerable agitation. "And tell him about Science Quarterly and your stem cell stuff. Just wait—you gonna love this."
"Never liked that middle name," Periwinkle said with a blush.
"Well, gosh dang, Perirvvle! Think you ought a take up with your pappy?" was the director's cynicism.
"It's Periwinkle, he's dead, and today's my first day."
"And in what order might that be? Y'all hear that—his first day. That's sweet ... Mama pack your lunch?"
"I beg your—"
"Buddy, I look like I give a rat's ass about your first day?! Out of my way," he brushed him aside with a hateful looking scowl.
"I'm not your buddy."
"That was rhetorical, Peririckle."
"You'll have to excuse the mook, professor," the janitor apologized. "Shame he ain't cultivated like us."
"Us?!" Periwinkle scoffed. "Why, you're just a—"
"Shush, here he comes again. Think I ought to warn the studio one of their people overheated? Hey De Mille, better watch it. I ain't got half the brain as my friend here."
"Ah, that case, the Wizard will see you now."
"Screw yourself. Cultivated, my ass—him maybe."
"Hey, there's blood on my shirt!" Periwinkle exclaimed.
"Relax, professor, its fake."
"Fake blood, real blood, what's the difference?"
"I mention you a chemist?"
"Twice already. And that's biochemist. What I meant was I can't meet anyone looking like this."
"Okay, don't have a hissy-fit. Got something here that oughta fix you right up. Trust me."
"Now you've put a hole in it!"
"Who's gonna notice a little thing like that? Besides, blood's gone. You appear mighty antsy," was his suspicion. "Me and Jake, we don't coddle much, to antsy—you savvy?"
"I'm not, but—"
"Good. Name's Pryor," he extended, spitting a chaw of Skoal tobacco that splashed artistically about the sidewalk. He was runt-short—maybe a hair taller than the director, yet spindly-built, with waxed hair and badly weathered skin. "Been expecting you; Davis insists you a good man."
"Davis? Expecting?" he babbled. "But I thought the president's name was—"
"You think too damn much—part of your problem. Say, some consider you a celebrity 'round here."
"Really? So where's the band?" Periwinkle searched.
"You boys finished catching up?" the director interceded. "And how's Ant Bea?"
"Any chance that cannon's real?"
"Standing in front of it's a terrible way of finding out, professor," Pryor responded, with a precautionary tug. "It's a reenactment. Anybody warn you?"
"Yeah, some guy carrying a bayonet. Ever been chased with one of those things?"
"Perhaps I was wrong about you—Periripple," the director conceded.
"Yeah, yeah—whatever. Any fool can see we're filming here."
"Okay, then where are the cameras?"
"They're tied into a feed from that trailer, jerk-wad."
"Excuse me? You can't talk to me like that."
"Yeah I can, Magoo, know why? 'Cause I'm the sheriff of Tinsel Town here, that's why. Convince me you didn't think we were actually in 1865. And I'm accused of drug abuse? Listen up!" He continued, "I said somebody get me Ambrose—now!"
"Mister! Yoo-hoo, mister!" summoned a gravel-pitched voice from the distance belonging to a middle-aged white woman in sandy dreads and retro apparel. She gave a down home "howdy" then hurried up the steps, struggling at the leash of a reluctant champagne-colored pooch.
"Now what do you want?" the director appealed. "I bet Ambrose put y'all up to this, didn't he? Meddling fuck."
"I ain't got the foggiest idea what you're talking about. Well," she exasperated. "Here I am. Ta-da—your welcoming committee."
"So there's life on this planet," Periwinkle scoffed. "Take me to your leader."
"Better stop clowning. It was me or nothing—bet your endowment on that. I recognized you from the fountain. Name's Callaway. What happened to your shirt?"
"A lesson in trust. You know of my endowment?"
"Puh-lease, my gynecologist knows of your endowment—trouble?"
"Nothing I can't handle—merely a misunderstanding in the ecological food chain. Apparently this fellow's forgotten he's a bottom-feeder. Everything's under control."
"Good. Rosenbloom asked me to fetch you."
"Rosenbloom? Who's Rosenbloom? You're undoubtedly from the Science Department?"
"Shucks naw. Eastern European Women's Studies."
"Betcha it's a lot easier explaining than your cockamamie stem cell. Hmm, I hear that's some spooky shit. Say hi to Bubbles," she insisted, coddling the preoccupied animal. "Get your stuff and c'mon; I ain't got all day. One more thing ... don't cha go taking this the wrong way, but from your magazine cover you looked much—"
"I know, I know—taller, right?"
"Naw, more attractive. Geez, photo retouching gotta be one helluva technology," seemed her disappointment.
"I see. Sorry."
"Don't matter; I ain't on the prowl. So, you're the hotshot biochemist with the magic dish. Don't look like much to me. Seems not everybody's all that excited about this stem cell brew-ha-ha either, does it? Bet cha thinking, 'Where's the red carpet?' May I speak diplomatically? We've had geneticists, doctors, and lawyers—even a few Indian chiefs—traipsing through here, and every one of 'em's taken a backseat to Founder's Day. Egos big as yours are used to folks making fools of themselves. Maybe next week. Better get your ass back in line 'cause today you're just another bridesmaid."
"Diplomacy? Jesus, lady, Periweaval's better off me smacking him around a little," the director aptly noted.
"He is not ... uh, who's the imp?" she inquired.
"For the last time, the name's Periwinkle!" he barked. "And I beg your pardon, madam, I don't have an ego."
"Of course you don't, and I ain't packing cellulite in these saddlebags neither," she mused, gripping the folds of her sagging behind. "The world's in denial, professor."
He did not like her—there was no denying that. She was a tall and haunting wench with broad shoulders, deeply seated eyes, and hair as cluttered as a bird's nest. And her feet were enormous—a rambunctious Mick, perhaps of the Ireland Callaways, capable of handling herself in a barroom fight.
Bubbles—your typical ball of lint—sniffed curiously about their feet before cocking a hind leg, accurately aiming a steady stream of pee all over the director's shoes.
"Son of a—" he surrendered, angrily slamming the horn to the ground. "Well now, the coups de grace gotta be lightning striking me up the ass!"
"Bite your tongue!" Callaway chastised, snatching Bubbles out of harm's way. "Saw a guy reduced to nothing but ashes making that same claim."
"And its idiots like you who dare step on a crack, too."
"Who you calling an idiot?!"
"If the shoe fits—Callaway, is it? Comes with a matching handbag."
She took her aforementioned shoe off, perhaps to take him to task, but then reconsidered. Instead, she chanted something in tongues that sounded awfully sinister, casting a host of exotic incantations while weaving hysterically around the mystified man. Maybe she hoped to banish him from that spot, or was just messing with his mind. Whatever the case, her finale was a pirouette, landing toe-to-toe and blowing a hex in his face. That oughta teach him a lesson.
"A tic-tack doll?" he coughed.
"Excuse me, ma'am ..." Periwinkle hesitantly intruded.
"Oh, shut up. Can't you see I'm busy here? Furthermore, its doctor, doctor."
"Sorry. Only I was expecting—"
"A suit, right? Men," she fretted. "Hey you—you wait a minute! I'm not done with you yet either."
"Well I'm done with you, sister—now scram!"
"And good riddance to you, too," she bided. "Now pay attention, professor. Just for today, try imagining me as Ambassador to the Science Department. I know they're cerebral, and most of them got the social graces of aardvarks. So tell me ... which you prefer?" she asked, placing a confident hand behind her head and striking a provocative pose.
That was easy, Periwinkle thought. Who in their right mind would pass on Madam La Rue here and her pissing pooch? And how long before she made the repugnant dwarf disappear? This all seemed quite a stretch from a celebrity's reception, but perhaps just a notch above "better than nothing at all." Dr. Ambrose would hear of this.
Excerpted from So What's in the Petri Dish, Dr. Periwinkle? by Michael Fontaine Copyright © 2011 by Michael Fontaine. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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