"...the fourth... the fifth... and the seventh," Cam Mbar said, closing the last of the eight lab books and settling back with a quiet sigh that somehow expressed just how wasteful of time she considered this. "Dr. Jarvis left on the seventh, so there are no more entries," she added.
Tirrell nodded as he finished making little triangles around the dates she'd read off. "That's all the lab books you have?"
"Weren't they enough?" she asked dryly. "I could go get last year's, if you'd like."
"That won't be necessary," Tirrell said, looking over his calendar with growing interest. It had been a long-shot hunch all the way, but it had paid off. "And you confirm he's been here every weekday since the beginning of the year?"
"Every one of them—and most of the days last year, too," she confirmed tiredly. "If you're about to suggest he doesn't deserve such a long vacation—"
"Nothing of the sort," Tirrell assured her. "You might be interested in taking a look at this, though." Turning the calendar around, he slid it across the desk toward her. "The circles are entries he made in his hibernation studies book, the squares are his pituitary studies, the x's his work on that hormone I can't pronounce, the plus signs his Romo's syndrome cure, and the triangles the work with pre-teekay children."
Cam glanced at the paper, an annoyed frown spreading across her face. "You must not have been paying very good attention to me, Detective," she said. "There are at least half a dozen days in May alone that I remember that you don't have marked."
Tirrell shook his head. "I marked every date you read off. But go ahead—check it yourself."
Cam gave him a strange look. Then, clamping her jaw, she picked up the first lab book and leafed through it. Tirrell sat back, letting her take her time. It took several minutes, and when she finally looked back up her irritation had been replaced by puzzlement. "But I remember him working here these days," she insisted.
"I'm sure you do," Tirrell nodded, "and I'm not doubting your word. It would seem, though, that you're missing at least one of the doctor's lab books."
"But these are always kept in a locked drawer—" She stopped suddenly. "You think it was stolen?"
"Not really. I think Dr. Jarvis has it with him."
She opened her mouth, closed it again. "But he never takes his books out of the lab," she objected weakly.
Tirrell didn't bother trying to argue the point; she was certainly intelligent enough to see that he was making sense. "Do you have any idea what else he was working on, besides these?" he asked instead, waving at the stack of books.
"No... not really." She still looked troubled, as if she were betraying a confidence. "A lot of time he worked alone, or gave me routine sorts of tests to run. We'd all sit down together on Nultday morning and discuss the work he wanted to get done for the week, and I never heard him mention any project but these. Maybe he told one of the other assistants about it, though."
"I doubt it." Tirrell pondered a moment. Until Tonio got back from Ridge Harbor, he still wouldn't have anything Paxton would be willing to move on. But with a little ingenuity, perhaps he could circumvent the need to see Jarvis's project proposals or any other official records. "I'd like you to dig out all the supply and equipment requisition forms you can find for the past nine or ten months. Who's the best endocrinologist here after Dr. Jarvis?"
"Dr. Somerset," the woman said without hesitation.
"I'd like you to ask him to join us, too, if you would. We're going to try and figure out what exactly this special project is."
Somerset, though not especially enthusiastic about their chances, was nevertheless willing to help. Jarvis, fortunately, was the methodical sort who had kept copies of all his requisitions neatly filed in chronological order; but even so, it took Cam and Somerset the rest of the day to sort through them all. Tirrell, sitting off to one side, listened quietly and cultivated his patience.
Finally, at four-fifteen, Somerset put down his pencil and returned the last piece of paper to the pile. "I don't know, Detective," he said, pushing back his chair and stretching. "It's pretty obvious now that Matt did have something going on the side—there are drugs here that I know we haven't used on any of the other projects. But as to what that other thing is, I really can't tell you."
"Make an educated guess," Tirrell said. "Surely you can do that."
"I'm sure I can. But I'm not sure I should." Somerset eyed the detective thoughtfully. "After all, this is Matt's private work, and without an official police request, my telling you anything at all puts me on rather thin legal ice. You understand what I'm saying?"
"Perfectly," Tirrell nodded, forcing his voice to remain calm and reasonable. "At the same time, I'm sure you understand that in a police investigation time can be critically important. Of all of us here I'm probably the one most familiar with the laws concerning privacy—that's the main reason I asked Ms. Mbar to read me the dates in the lab books, instead of looking through them myself. If you'd prefer to wait the couple of days it'll take to get proper authorization, that is of course your right. But it would make things a lot easier if you could give me at least some idea of what Dr. Jarvis was doing."
He held his breath as Somerset and Cam exchanged glances, but they didn't call his bluff, at least not directly. "Why don't we call Dr. Jarvis and ask him about it?" Cam suggested. "I don't think even Dr, Ramsden could object to interrupting him for this."
"I don't think that would be a good idea," Tirrell shook his head, mind racing. The last thing he could afford was someone tipping off Jarvis that they knew he'd been running a secret project. At best, it would give him time to hide or destroy anything he didn't want seen; at worst, it could spook him into dropping into a hole so deep they might never find him. But it was clear he couldn't voice such thoughts here. "Radiophone conversations are by their nature more vulnerable to eavesdropping than regular phone calls," he said, choosing his words carefully. "If the wrong person heard what you said there could be real trouble."
Vague intimations had worked once before, but this time Somerset wasn't giving in quite so easily. "What sort of trouble?" he asked stubbornly. "You said yesterday you were trying to find this Oriana woman, but today you seem a lot more interested in Matt and his work. If we're going to help you, I think we're entitled to know what's going on."
Tirrell took a deep breath. Somerset unfortunately had a point. "All right. There's a possibility that Miribel Oriana is blackmailing Dr. Jarvis. Knowing what he's been working on may help us identify who's involved." Which was, the detective decided, as misleading a set of true statements as he'd ever heard.
And it had the desired effect. Somerset's expression ran the complete gamut from surprise to anger to determination; Cam's got stuck somewhere in the vicinity of outraged shock. "You'll understand now," Tirrell continued, "why I can't risk broadcasting any hint of my progress over the airwaves. In this game, the less your opponent knows of what you're doing, the better your chances of nailing him."
"Of course," Somerset nodded firmly. "All right. Basically, it looks like Matt was doing something involving the maturation process. Some of these drugs"—he indicated his list—"are known to slow down various aspects of puberty in earthstock lab animals. Others are synthetic androgens—male sex hormones—and some rather hard to isolate pituitary hormones, all of which seem to play a part in growth and puberty. Um... there are a couple of carriers here, too—those are relatively inert chemicals that can bond loosely to two or more complex molecules at a time. They're used when you want to get a drug to a specific but inaccessible area—the islets of the pancreas, for example—without flooding the whole system. If you choose the carrier's grabber properly, you can get the whole thing to link up with, say, the glucagon molecules in the islets' alpha cells. The drug then drops off and begins its work, while the carrier-grabber combination either disintegrates or also drops off, leaving the glucagon molecule undamaged."
Tirrell had caught about one word in five of all that, but the essence made it through the jargon. "Would this method also be useful if you wanted to get a drug within range of something spread through the whole body?" he asked carefully. "Those growth hormones, say?"
"Yes," Cam spoke up. "Dr. Jarvis has been doing that in some of his induced-hibernation work—using carriers to seek out thyroxin in the blood."
"I didn't know that," Somerset frowned.
She shrugged. "He said it was just an experiment, but it seemed to work pretty well."
Growth and puberty studies, several months for work without interruption... and Colin Brimmer, a boy whose teekay was just starting its rise. Something in the pit of Tirrell's stomach began a slow tumble. "Tell me," he said without thinking, "is it still accepted theory that the physical changes at puberty are what bring on Transition?"
The other two suddenly looked thoughtful, and Tirrell cursed his carelessness. He should have saved the question for later, when they wouldn't have been so quick to follow his line of thought. "Well," Somerset said slowly, "it's not really that simple. Transition does occur sometime during puberty, but it's not a direct result of the sex hormone activity—otherwise childhood castration should eliminate it. There's a theory that even with the testes removed the adrenal cortex puts out enough testosterone to trigger Transition, but that's never been proved." He shrugged. "But why would Matt be so secretive about working on something like that? Every endocrinologist on Tigris has taken a shot at figuring out what starts Transition. Matter of fact, he and I did some work on that four years ago."
"What did you learn?"
"Nothing really useful. We were able to extend the B and M curves—that's brain size and metabolism rate—all the way up to Transition, but that's about all. Matt got interested in artificial hibernation after that and we put it aside."
"I see." Tirrell turned to Cam. "Would you go and see if you can find Dr. Jarvis's lab book for that period, please?"
"If you'd like." She looked at Somerset, eyebrows raised.
"It'll be December and Lucember of three-oh-three and January of three-oh-four," the other told her.
Cam nodded and left. "There's really not much in that notebook worth looking at," Somerset told Tirrell.
"I'm mainly interested in whether the book is here or not," the detective told him. "It seems rather odd that Dr. Jarvis would suddenly give up on something as potentially valuable as teekay research in favor of artificial hibernation."
Somerset smiled. "You underestimate hibernation's value, Detective. For certain operations being able to slow down the patient's metabolism drastically could make the difference between life and death. And if we ever recover the space technology we had before the Lost Generation and want to go looking for other survivors of the Expansion, some form of hibernation will be vital." He waved a hand. "Besides, as I said, Transition research is a pretty crowded field these days. Even more so than teekay work generally. You have to understand that by the time teekay first appeared on Tigris the viral DNA that triggered it had had four generations to ensconce itself in our genetic structure—and that all the original physiological baseline records were destroyed in the Lost Generation. What that means is that we're working essentially blind: we know what human biochemistry is like now, but we don't know where in the system the critical changes occurred. That makes for a pretty big target for medical science generally, but for endocrinologists the only really practical starting point is Transition."
"And Dr. Jarvis doesn't like following the pack?"
"Not when the pack is nosing uselessly around a locked door, no. But if anyone ever comes up with the key to that door, odds are it'll be Matthew Jarvis."
"Um," Tirrell grunted, and for a few minutes there was silence. Somerset glanced once at his watch, and Tirrell realized with a start that it was approaching five o'clock. He'd have to end this session soon and let the others get home. He was beginning to wonder if Cam had unilaterally made that decision when she finally returned.
"There's nothing for that period in any of the file drawers," she told Somerset. "I looked through the books for at least a year on either side of the months you gave me, and there's nothing at all on Transition B and M."
"Uh-huh." Somerset looked at Tirrell. "Well, you called it, Detective, but it doesn't make any sense. Why would a blackmailer want that particular book? The B and M curves we did can be found in every book on teekay published in the past three years."
"It does seem odd," Tirrell lied. It was pretty obvious to him that Jarvis had seen something while doing the study and had hurried to quit before his coworker could also pick up on it. Did the work involve any new techniques or anything?"
"Not really. The basic method was the one Matt came up with ten years ago. We just had to figure out a way to compensate for the wild fluctuations puberty causes in most of the useful test parameters. Matt found a statistical gimmick we could use by following a group of preteens through Transition, backtracking from their adult parameters, and—well, I won't bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that we simply came up with a statistical trick which is of no particular commercial value. It's also been published, by the way."
Tirrell nodded, pursing his lips. "All right. One more quick question and I'll let you both go. I gather you had direct access to the preteens you did this study with. Did you also work directly with the children in the more recent tests? As opposed to letting someone else take the raw data, I mean."
"No, we worked with them right here," Cam said, frowning. "Why?"
"Just curious," Tirrell shrugged. "Well, I very much appreciate your time and help in this, both of you. I hope I won't have to interrupt your work again, and I'll again ask that you keep all of this to yourselves for now."
"You're welcome," Somerset said as they all stood up. "Please don't hesitate to call us again if there's anything else we can do."
"You'll be the first," Tirrell promised. "Good night."