by Steven Cuffari
Gary was sitting at his microscope and computer comparing samples of chicken DNA with that of dinosaur eggs when his lab partner, Kurt, came rushing over to him shouting.
“I did it dude! I did it! I found the fucking missing link!” he shouted waving a tablet around.
Gary’s face went white. His face was normally white anyway, but it got even whiter. He took off his glasses and rubbed his face, thinking, this can’t be happening. “Are you sure?” he asked, grabbing the tablet from Kurt.
“I’m fucking certain, dude! Do I get a bonus for this?” Kurt shouted.
Gary groaned and his face became red now. “Oh my god, you did do it. I can’t fucking believe this,” Gary whispered. His hands began to shake when Kurt grabbed the tablet back.
“Why can’t you believe it? You think you’re a better scientist than me?” asked Kurt, whose face quickly turned angry.
Before Gary could answer, Kurt continued to shout. “Ha ha! It’s just luck anyway! And I’ve got the million-dollar lottery ticket right here!” Kurt did a little dance for himself and spun around on one foot. “Aren’t you gonna say something, Harry? Don’t you wanna congratulate me?”
Gary was speechless. He stared off into nothingness. It was as if Kurt wasn’t even there.
“Whatever, it was a team effort, right?” asked Kurt. He put his hand up for a high-five, but Gary was still shocked.
His body went numb, and his ears began to hum and heat up with the rapid pounding of his heart.
Kurt grabbed his cell phone and called the lab manager to tell him the good news. He continually tried to get Gary to join in the celebration, but Gary was stunned. He remained so until it was time to go home.
That night, Gary went to bed with his eyes wide open. The discovery that he had longed to make his whole life had slipped right between his fingers. As the hours seemed to tick by like minutes, Gary could only stare at the ceiling of his bedroom. Soon, his harrowed mind finally allowed his eyelids to droop over his eyes, and he fell asleep.
The next morning, his alarm clock woke him up as it had every day for the past five years. But today, he had no real reason to get up. Still, he forced himself out of bed, tired from lack of sleep and left the house for work.
As he pulled his car into the parking lot of the complex where the lab was, he saw Kurt pacing back and forth in front of the entrance. The lights were out and it seemed like the door was locked. Gary got out and walked over, chugging a second double cappuccino to wake himself up. Kurt was finishing up a call with what seemed like the lab manager. He hung up just as Gary was tossing his empty coffee cup into the trash.
“Morning, Harry. You’ll never believe this shit,” said Kurt.
“You can sequence DNA and steal the most important discovery of my life from me, but you can’t remember my goddamned name after five years?” asked Gary under his breath.
“What?” asked Kurt. “Whatever. You’ll never believe this. They’re shutting down the project. They’ve cut all our funding. Can you believe this shit!” he shouted.
For the second time in less than twenty-four hours, Gary was in shock. “I don’t believe this,” he groaned. He took off his glasses and rubbed his face. “Fuck!” he shouted, clenching his fists and punching the air.
“Whoa, take it easy, bro!” said Kurt. “Who cares anyway? They still have to pay us for this month. And I mean, really, who cares about the origin of the chicken species? Seriously. It’s like a fucking joke. Which came first, the chicken or the egg!”
Gary growled and muttered, still punching the air. “Fuck!” he shouted again.
“Dude, take it easy,” said Kurt.
“Take it easy? Do you know what you did to me? And now this? I’ve been dying for the answer to that riddle my entire life.”
Kurt snickered and covered his face to hide it.
“It’s as close as we’ll ever get to the meaning of life!”
Kurt composed himself and tried to be serious. “Listen man. Even though we identified that egg as being one of the first chickens ever, it doesn’t mean shit. It was still half dino-egg, brah! And anyway, when it comes down to it, calling it a chicken and not an egg is just semantics.”
Gary’s eyes went wide and his hands began to tremble at his sides as he clenched his fists. He was about to burst.
Kurt watched, and his eyes went wide too. He took a step back and raised his hands. “Dude, you got issues. I’m outta here. Nice knowing you, Harry.”
As Kurt walked away, Gary continued to clench and tremble until he couldn’t hold it in anymore. “My fucking name’s Gary! Gary! Gary!” He shouted his name that final time, stretching it out until he had no breath left. When he was done, he gasped for air and crouched to his knees, covering his head with his hands.
Later that night before he went to bed, Gary wrote a furious email to the company that had been funding the lab, United Poultry Systems, Inc. The light of his computer screen reflected off his face and glasses as he typed away in the darkness. His eyebrows were angled tightly down as he infused his anger into every keystroke. When he was done, he finished his nightly glass of milk and wiped the white moustache off his lip and went to bed.
The next morning, Gary woke up oddly refreshed. He had gone to sleep thinking about the lab and woke up thinking about it. He was not satisfied having only written an email. He jumped out of bed and got dressed without showering. He checked his phone for the address of United Poultry Systems and slammed his front door behind him, determined to have a face-to-face with whoever was in charge.
When Gary arrived at the address, he parked his car on the street and looked up at the enormous tower where United Poultry Systems was headquartered. “Here I come, you bastards,” he muttered and marched on.
Inside, he went straight for the elevators as if he owned the building. No one stopped him.
On the 59th floor, he made a bee-line toward the pretty, red-lipped receptionist with tightly-bunned black hair. She sat in front of giant silver letters that spelled out U.P.S, Inc.
She smiled at him as he approached. “Good morning, Mr. De Recurso,” she said and continued to smile.
“What? No. My name is Dr. Orbro, and I want to speak to the person responsible for the lab in Millbrook. My lab.” Gary took off his glasses, polished them then put them back on, waiting for a response.
For a split-second, the receptionist cocked her head at him, then she burst out laughing. “Oh, Mr. D, you almost got me! You look so…” She hesitated. “Different today that you almost got me. So silly,” she said, waving him off.
“Mmm… I’m sorry Miss. But you’ve got me confused with someone else. My name is Dr. Gary Orbro.” He pulled his license out of his wallet and placed it in front of her.
She picked it up, and her face became serious when she looked at it. “Oh, I’m so sorry, Mr. Orbro.”
“Dr. Orbro, I’m so sorry. How can I help you?”
“You can help me by bringing me to whoever is responsible for closing the Millbrook lab. My lab. I think someone is making a big mistake, but they haven’t realized it yet.”
She blinked at him a few times and then took a deep breath before speaking. “I’m sorry, but that would actually be Mr. De Recurso, and he is not available right now. Can I take a message?”
Gary leaned over her desk and pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “No, you can not take a message. I want to speak with him now.”
She smiled at him and squeezed the edge of her desk, backing away slightly. “Just one moment, Doctor,” she said and moved the mouse pointer on her computer screen, making a few clicks. A few moments after that, two large men in black suits appeared and nudged themselves in between the reception desk and Gary. He stepped away from them, and they began to corral him into the next available elevator.
“No, you don’t understand,” Gary started.
The two men were stone-faced.
Without saying a word, they got into the elevator with him, and they rode it down together to the lobby.
“I know you’re just trying to do your jobs, but…” Gary began, as they stepped out.
He didn’t offer any resistance and merely groaned as they coaxed him out of the building. He went to his car, muttering harsh epithets all the way and drove off.
Later that afternoon, Gary went back to his computer, thinking to send another email, when he remembered that he had remote access to the lab. He went to the intranet portal and typed in his credentials. “Eureka!” he whispered. He found and clicked on the Contacts link and typed in the word, Recurso. Only one result appeared. Mr. Greg De Recurso, CSO. There were two addresses underneath his name. One was the address of the U.P.S. headquarters, and the other was an address that Gary recognized as being about two-hours away in the countryside. He copied and pasted it to his computer and synced it to his phone, then rushed out the door.
Two hours later, the sun was going down and Gary was arriving at De Recurso’s address. There was a farm there, and Gary carefully pointed his car down the gravel road to the house on the property in spite of the No Trespassing signs. When he got out of the car, he looked around. There was a light on in the house and the smell of horses, cows and chicken coops filled the night air. It reminded Gary of his childhood growing up in the very same countryside. Without an ounce of fear, he continued up the gravel path to the front porch. He raised his hand to knock, but the door opened before he could do so. Gary was stunned to see the familiar face in front of him. It was his face.
The man before him didn’t seem so surprised. He looked tired, worn-out and old. He held the door open with one hand and a full glass of whiskey in the other. “I can’t say I’ve been expecting you. But I always had a feeling you’d come.”
For the third time in less than seventy-two hours, Gary was shocked and speechless.
“You must be looking for me. I’m Greg De Recurso. Come inside,” he said.
There was a fire crackling in the living room, a leather couch and a small mahogany bar with a built-in liquor cabinet. De Recurso offered Gary a seat on the couch and downed the whiskey in his glass. He went over to the bar and pulled out another glass, filling them both. He brought them over and sat down.
“I’m sure you have lots of questions for me, but you seem befuddled by this whole mess. I know the feeling, so I’ll just cut to the chase. I don’t have any answers for you, G… George? No? Gary, then?”
“Gary,” continued De Recurso, handing him a glass and raising his own. “This has happened before, and I’m sure it’ll happen again. If not to me, then to you. Maybe even to both of us. I really don’t know. I guess that depends on why you came here. For me, it started a few decades ago. I’m assuming you are obsessed with chickens.”
De Recurso laughed. “It all sounds so ridiculous now. I was obsessed with the chickens too. It started at a young age. Even before I heard that silly song.” He took a deep sip from the glass. “Which came first the chicken or the egg, the egg or the chicken or the chicken or the egg,” he sang.
“This is too much,” said Greg finally.
“I’m glad you say that. It’s the first step toward curing this… this condition. You know, if the dragon chases its tail long enough, sooner or later it will catch it! And start consuming itself. That’s what you’ve got to understand. Don’t chase what’s behind you. Not like how I did. You’ve got to stop it here before it starts. And like my old friend Kevin used to say, it’s just semantics.” He raised his glass again and began to take a long sip.
De Recurso’s last words rang in Gary’s head. His ears got hot, and they began to buzz. Gary couldn’t control himself. He stood up, and his hands began to shake. “Semantics?” he whispered. Then he shouted, “Semantics!” He swung the glass of whiskey at De Recurso’s head, and the old man fell face first onto the floor. Gary grabbed the bottle from the bar and swung it down onto the prostrated man’s unconscious skull over and over until there was nothing left except a sticky puddle of whiskey and blood. Gary looked down, wide-eyed at what he had done. He didn’t feel remorse, not then. He felt justified.
He quickly ran out of the house and instinctively found the garage. He siphoned gasoline out from the tank of the car there and brought it back into the house.
He drenched the headless corpse and the furniture with the fuel and grabbed a lighter from the bar. Making a trail of gasoline out to and down the gravel path, he ripped off a piece of his shirt and wrapped it around a broken branch he found on the ground. He doused the shirt with what was left of the gasoline and lit it. Without a second thought, he lowered the flaming branch to the ground, and the flames crawled up to the porch and into the house lighting up everything in its path. As he watched, he smiled. After a few moments of admiration, he flung the branch toward the house and turned back toward his car.
To his surprise, there was a man behind him, with his face, but slightly younger. The man’s hands trembled at his sides, and in one of them, he held a large, jagged rock. Before Gary could react, the man crushed his skull, killing him instantly.