Chapter 3: Monday, Oct. 2

In which Worried sends a video of a well-fleshed blond and two gentlemen indulging in intimate calisthenics.

Published June 29, 2001 8:00AM (EDT)

Dear Mr. Ratour,

I got your message loud and clear. Maybe I should have told you this sooner, but nobody around here, not on the maintenance crews, anyway, thought that the Ossmann-Woodley thing was suspicious. I mean the researcher types get up to all kinds of things you wouldn't believe. Back in August one of the security guys was going over a tape from a camera no one knows about and he found footage of one of the research assistants, a really good looking babe, doing two guys at once. Anyway, he modified it and put it out on the Internet as one of those things you can e-mail to people. Home movies stuff if you know what I mean. You can click on the icon down below and watch it yourself though I don't think its evidence of anything. Anyway, everyone around here just thought the two professors that died got carried away and you know shit happens. But now that the newspapers are saying it's under investigation and all that stuff, I maybe ought to tell you that about a week before it happened, I heard Professor Ossmann arguing with another researcher. Ossmann kept saying things like the core discovery is mine and you know it. The other guy who sounded like he was from Minnesota kept answering something about how he figured out the experimentation and without that they wouldn't be where they were. Doctor Penrood, he's the English guy who complains about tea bags all the time, tried to act like the referee. I don't understand him that well because he sounds like he's talking through his nose but he kept saying something about it being a team effort. But I don't know what they were talking about. I'll let you know if I find out anything else.


I confess it was at the expense of some qualms that I clicked on the icon and watched the nearly ten minutes of indistinct but quite graphic video footage that unrolled on my screen. I scrupled that the possibility of its being evidence in the Ossmann-Woodley case outweighed any invasion of the already violated privacy of the individuals involved.

I found it oddly moving, inasmuch as amateur erotica can be far more stimulating than the professional stuff Elsbeth, who has a weakness for the meretricious, occasionally finds on the so-called adult channels. The woman involved in this incident, a well-fleshed blonde, knelt away from the camera on all fours fellating a man whose face was obscured in shadow. The second gentleman, back to camera, copulated vigorously with the woman au chien, so to speak. I thought it would be interesting, for forensic purposes, to hear what they were saying, if anything. Perhaps the tape could be enhanced enough for us to learn who the three individuals are. I am not being prurient in this matter. For a sleuth the most seemingly incidental knowledge can be crucial. Nor am I interested in the morals of these individuals. Regarding affairs of consensual activity among adults I subscribe to the dictum of my friend Israel Landes: Keep it private and don't scare the horses.

I did venture another e-mail to Worried, asking if there was any possibility of an enhanced version of "the tape," perhaps with sound. I have to risk that he may think me interested for pornographic reasons.

I also called Dr. Rupert Penrood's office and arranged to meet with him Thursday morning after he gets back from London. Penrood is the director of the Institute, and I have yet to have a really good chat with him about the incident. It might be helpful to find out exactly what Professor Ossmann and the gentleman with the Minnesota accent were arguing about.

On my own initiative, I moved last week, with the backing of the Seaboard Police Department, to secure those offices and files Professor Ossmann and Dr. Woodley maintained in the Lab. Because it is not yet officially a murder case, the SPD balked at the cost of hiring a forensic biochemist to examine the lab notes, work in progress, computer files, and anything else of relevance to the case left behind by both researchers.

I have come up, I believe, with an elegant solution. It turns out that Nicole Stone-Lee, the daughter of my good friends Norbert Stone and Esther Lee, is not only a doctoral candidate in biochemistry but is quite knowledgeable about the areas in which both Ossmann and Woodley were involved. After an interview that went very well, I hired her as a special consultant to the Museum. She is to report any findings both to me and to the Seaboard Police. I'm sure that if the University Counsel gets wind of this arrangement, all hell will break loose. But frankly, I don't care. Were I to wait on their acquiescence, any important data would be long gone.

Quite as an aside, I must say I was quite taken with Ms. Stone-Lee. What a gorgeous race of hybrids we are breeding! With her combination of animation and repose, with that delicate molding of the face and with a reddish tinge to her features, she makes me feel my own genes are just a bit dated. She is also a distinct pleasure to work with.

Which is more than I can say about the University's Oversight Committee. While I have acceded to the Committee's entreaty to meet with me on the Ossmann-Woodley matter, I remain concerned about that body prying into the affairs of the Museum. I have gone on record, I have put it in writing, that the Museum desires to maintain "cordial and mutually beneficial relations" with the University. Indeed, as a token of our goodwill, I have continued to sit on the Committee in an advisory capacity, at the same time informing the University that the Committee's warrant where the Museum is concerned likewise remains advisory.

The fact is that the Oversight Committee, hypersensitive to every ingenious whim of group disgruntlement, has become little more than a tool of the Consolidation Committee, whose sole purpose, as I see it, is to take over the MOM lock, stock, and barrel, through any means whatsoever. Indeed, they might have achieved their goal had there not been a series of serendipitous events, chief among them our financial independence.

For this I can thank no one more than Felix Skinnerman, who was referred to me by Robert Remick, the chair of the Museum's Board of Governors. In the wake of "The Cannibal Murders," we were in desperate straits. The Onoyoko Foundation, which had indirectly been subsidizing a lot of our operations, withered to a mere name with the virtual collapse of Onoyoko Pharmaceuticals. It is no exaggeration to say that we were on the brink of total capitulation to the University. And our submergence into Wainscott would have left us without a shred of real identity.

In this crisis the Board gave me complete discretion and some sound advice. Bob Remick, who spends most of his time now in the Virgin Islands, not only referred me to Felix Skinnerman, a young Seaboard attorney of his acquaintance, but told me to take careful stock of the Museum's assets and possibilities before consigning them to the University.

I have to confess I had my reservations about taking Felix on. In the course of a routine background check, I found he had been fired from his father's company. Izzy, who knows the family, told me the story. After finishing law school, Felix reluctantly joined the family's gift business, a firm, apparently, to whom people of means "out-source" their present-buying for holidays and special occasions. It appears that Felix, bored with employing his considerable talents handling consumer complaints, inserted a bogus ad into the firm's on-line catalogue for a "tastefully embossed gift certificate for the services of Dr. Jack Kervorkian, the perfect present for that elderly loved one who has lingered too long."

It caused quite a row in the family, according to Izzy, but also generated a good number of serious inquiries. It was only the first of several pranks. The next Christmas, apparently, he listed in the catalogue a "Cheeses of Nazareth," which he called a "selection of dairy products from the Holy Land tastefully packaged on its own cheeseboard in the shape of a cross."

Felix, who has the charm of being slightly oblivious to his immediate surroundings and the marred, rugged good looks of childhood acne, told me at our first meeting to sign nothing until we had done the assessment advised by Bob. How the scales fell from my eyes! True, we had debt, but people were coming in droves to see the Diorama of Paleolithic Life, so that, as Felix put it, gate receipts were up. More than that, he convinced me we were sitting on a gold mine. We had "name recognition," office space to rent in the Pavilion, and state-of-the-art systems already installed in the Genetics Lab.

It was on that basis that we began negotiating with the Ponce Research Institute. The terms include a share of the royalties on any new treatments developed in the Lab by the Polymath Group, its main research arm. The Institute moved in and within days was hiring, on a consulting basis, researchers from the Medical School and Wainscott's highly respected Department of Biochemistry, many of whom had previously worked for the Onoyoko Foundation.

Not only does the Institute pay us a princely sum for renting the premises -- it is a four-story structure, after all -- but we have already received substantial royalties on NuSkalp, a biosynthetic hair transplant available in what the literature calls "designer tints." The Ponce has already moved into human testing of ReLease, a morning-after medication for hangovers that has, admittedly, caused some controversy.

The University threw an absolute fit in the course of all this, and the after-shocks of its fumbling attempts to coerce us into a misalliance by resorting to legal measures can still be felt. The University even tried to keep its faculty from signing up, but to no avail. So all in all the MOM is doing quite well, but we must remain ever vigilant.

On quite another topic, the whole Raul Brauer escapade continues at full tilt. Readers of the account of what happened a couple of years ago will recall that Professor Brauer and several other Wainscott worthies admitted to cannibalizing a youth on the Polynesian island of Loa Hoa back in the early seventies as a part of a "re-creation" exercise in anthropology.

Just when that ruckus created by the publication of Brauer's book, "A Taste for the Real," was receding, Amanda Feeney-Morin of the Bugle tracked down Marilyn Knobbs, the woman whose high school graduation picture was found among the effects of the young man murdered and eaten on that remote island so many years ago. Ms. Knobbs of Beaumont, Texas, no longer young, of course, remembered the boy, saying he was one Richard "Buddy" Waco, also of Beaumont. Well, there was this thing staged on television between the family of the victim and the three gentlemen who, in the name of science, had eaten parts of the boy while participating in a ritual among the Rangu.

There, in front of the whole world, Brauer, Alger Wherry, who is Curator of our own Skull Collection, and Corny Chard, both renounced and related with unseemly relish their parts in the sordid affair. Brauer, his head gleaming like some oversized billiard ball, actually hugged the poor old mother and then the thing generated into a regular tear fest. One of the victim's sisters demurred, accusing the men of being murderers, but even that seemed staged, as though there had to be some kind of conflict, some ruffled feathers for the show's hostess, a woman with an iron face and awful voice, to soothe over. The word tasteless does not do it justice. While I am no longer quite the old stick in the mud I used to be, thanks largely to Elsbeth's influence, I found the event quite simply hors concours.

Now, according to this morning's Bugle, a film is in the works, something that will only reignite what had been a media conflagration. The film, I'm sure, will star some Hollywood notables and lots of brown native women running around in the buff, as we used to say.

Well, I have finally convinced Elsbeth to go to Keller Infirmary for a checkup. She has been feeling poorly for more than a week now. And as ghastly as the food was at the Green Sherpa, surely its effects couldn't persist for that long. So, I must make my way homewards and try to be of some comfort. Although, worried as we are, it seems that she does more reassuring of me than I of her.

By Alfred Alcorn

Alfred Alcorn, formerly a journalist at the Boston Herald and CBS, is also the former director of the travel program at Harvard's Museum of Natural History. In addition to "The Love Potion Murders (in the Museum of Man)," he is the author of two previous novels, "The Pull of the Earth" (Houghton Mifflin, 1985) and "Murder in the Museum of Man" (Zoland Books, 1997). He lives in Belmont, Mass.

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