Chapter 12: Thursday, Oct. 26

In which Worried reveals the ugly truth about two dead bunnies and Malachy Morin talks big bucks and brass plates.

Published July 25, 2001 7:00PM (EDT)

I have received an e-mail from Worried that confirms what Professor Tromstromer told me about missing research animals.

Dear Mr. Ratour:

I found out what happened to the guy that asked me to bury the rabbits. He's still around town and I'd give you his name but then he'd tell you who I was and I don't want to get involved in this thing anymore than I already am. So I called this guy and asked him about what was going on. And I think he's telling the truth because I told him I was getting pressure from the cops and that if he didn't come clean with me he'd have to deal with them. Anyway, he tells me that the rabbits weren't part of any experiment, just a couple left over from a thing they were doing on hair-grooming. So one morning he comes into work and there are the two rabbits, a male and a female, dead in a cage together. He says it looked like they had been fighting. He says there's some kind of state regs that make you find out what happened when an animal dies for no reason even when they're not part of some experiment. He says it's a pain in the ass. You got to have them examined. You got to do paperwork. You got to file the thing in triplicate. So he cleans out the cage, puts the things in a bag, and gives them to me. Anyone asks questions it's hey, maybe the Haitains took them. I mean that's the joke around here with the cleaning ladies. When anything's missing, rats, mice, anything, the Haitians took them, you know, for lunch, for voodoo, for whatever. Anyway, I think the guy's telling me the truth. I'll let you know if I hear anything else.

-- Worried

I think tomorrow I'll print out a copy of this and take it over myself to Nicole Stone-Lee. She might find it useful. Perhaps I'm being overcautious, but you can't be too careful about these things falling into the wrong hands.

Speaking of which, despite my initial reservations, the meeting I had this afternoon with Malachy Morin and two gentlemen from the University Development Office left me quite enlightened. I say gentlemen advisedly, as they struck me as the lodge member types, full of that heartiness which is always ready for a good laugh. Indeed, the individuals involved, taking their cue from Malachy Morin, carried on in an underlying tone of risibility that I find puzzling and disturbing in retrospect. Perhaps it's just that I find the annoyance of it all distracting and am in much need of distraction.

We met in the offices of the Wainscott Next Millennium Fund, which are located in the upper reaches of Grope Tower, that architectural wart that ... but you've heard me on that topic already. "We're here, Norm, to help you and the Museum," Mr. Morin began portentously. "We're here, Norm, to make you a player in the Fund. We're here to make you an offer you can't refuse." To which his two colleagues supplied what sounded to me like canned laughter.

One of them, a Mr. Jeff Sherkin, a short, plump young man with black mustache, fresh complexion, and nervous blue eyes, professed amazement that the Museum did not have a development program of its own. This, for some reason, got a frown from Mr. Morin.

"I'm not sure we need one," I said. "We have income adequate to our purposes."

"Development isn't just about raising money," put in the other, a Mr. Peter Flaler, his voice condescending. The apparent Mutt of this duo, Mr. Flaler was thin, tall, and apparently unable to relieve his narrow face of a supercilious smirk. He went on to explain in the manner of one speaking to a dullard, "People of substance like to and want to give to worthy institutions."

"Yes, and to receive due recognition, of course," chimed in Sherkin.

"Okay, it goes like this. Instead of the plaque on, say, a reception desk, stating 'This desk given through the generosity of Dick and Dotty Dickhead,' it just has a nice brass plate that says 'Dickhead.' Because if you put up all that other stuff, it looks like someone just coughed up the bucks to get their name there. But if it just says 'Dickhead,' it makes you stop for a minute and think, oh yeah, that Dickhead."

I shook my head. "I really don't see the point of trying to be remembered by people who don't know who you are or what you were."

Mr. Morin snorted. "Maybe that's because the people they knew wouldn't want to remember them."

Mr. Sherkin then turned on what he must have taken for charm, telling me, "Your museum, Mr. Ratour, is virgin territory. I took a walk through it the other day. It was disorienting to find hardly anything named for a hit ... I mean a benefactor."

I nodded and dissembled a quiet excitement as a plan began to form in my mind. I asked, "What's the actual mechanism for getting people to make really big contributions?"

Mr. Flaler inhaled sagely. "The approach. Asking for money is like asking for love. You have to do it right. Mostly, you get the rich to ask the rich. People with a lot of money need reassuring."

"You have to schmooze them," Mr. Morin put in.


"Give them drinks and praise. Glad hand and glad mouth them. Talk up the vision thing."

"Like we said, people like to see their names chiseled on buildings."

"Yeah, it's like the whole thing becomes their tombstone. Only it's not in the cemetery."

"Right. And buildings need names." I shook my head. "We have a policy at the Museum. All gifts must be anonymous and with no strings attached. We are willing to consider naming a room or gallery or library after someone whose achievements in his or her field, Mason Twitchell's, for instance, merit such consideration."

Mr. Sherkin frowned. "Any gifts to the University need to be channeled through the Development Office."

I grimaced a smile at the man and said nothing.

Mr. Morin cleared his throat. "Look, Norm, we're making you an exceptional offer. Everyone wants a piece of the Next Millennium action, but the deal is strictly limited."

"And what does the Museum of Man have to do in return for this privilege?"

"Simple. You get your Board to agree to a closer association with the University. Then we can cut out all this crap in the courts."

"I might even bring it up with the Board. And now, gentlemen, you'll have to excuse me. I have a museum to run."

It took me a while to extricate myself. Thanking them each graciously and shaking their hands, I picked up the impressively designed three-ring binder titled "Development Goals for the Museum of Man in the Next Millennium." It could well serve as the basis of a fund drive of our own.

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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