I reported straight to the Cavendish lab to powwow with my new bosses. The two eggheads wore white lab coats like the soda jerks at Woolworth’s back in Chicago, and introduced themselves with friendly but strained grins. Crick, English and crisp as a fried kipper, and the soft-spoken yank Watson, nicknamed Birdman due to his liking for birds, the winged type, and I’d have bet the kind that sashayed on pretty gams too. I came on like a jolly and brash young chemist, but I sensed a fog of gloom in the lab that the off-kilter grins only made heavier. The fog lay on everyone’s sprit, even mine, and I’d just arrived. “What is it, chums?” I said. “Spill it.”
They spilled it. Crick did most of the talking while the American, obviously a worrier, probed his thatch of hair with a long forefinger. What it boiled down to was, a dame called Dr. Rosalind Franklin, a knockout dish with a brain like Aristotle’s, was sitting on some critical crystallographic X-ray images of amino acids, as I twigged the lingo. She had them stashed in her lab down the hall, refusing to share them with my bosses, like a spoiled little vixen too special to be nice to fellow humans, especially male humans. My lads needed a peek at the snapshots to confirm a theory about the structure of the DNA molecule, and were dead frantic someone would chime to it first and beat them to a sure Nobel Prize. As I listened to these details, a light bulb clicked on in my skull.
Minutes later I crept down the hallway to Dr. Franklin’s lab. I silently pushed the door open, and was greeted by a reedy runt in the trim, spotless white coat that everyone wore around this place. “Are you enquiring after Dr. Franklin?” he twittered in an upper-class accent. “I’m afraid she’s not in. Come back tomorrow.”
I could see a long-legged knockout with raven tresses moving among the flasks and test tubes in the background, so I was having none of it. “Nerts to you, Clive,” I said, and dealt him a hand sandwich to the mandible, all lean knuckles and no mayo. His Fruit of the Looms kissed the floor. He was out like a defective flashlight.
“Who is it, Gosling?” the dark beauty said, gracefully moving my way to see what the commotion was. She did a double take on seeing the little shrimp napping on the floor, then turned to me.
“Your name Rosie?” I asked while she gathered her wits, taking in the lush curves swelling her lab coat in all the right places. Her lustrous, shoulder-length hair and full lips reminded me of midnight out back of my mother’s garage with the gardener’s daughter. I tried not to let her delishful exterior get to me and to concentrate on business, but hey, I’m as human as the next bodink.
“My friends call me Dr. Franklin,” she said breathily. “What have you done to my assistant?” As I set my mouth to reply, she fed me a kiss that plummeted to my arches and then rebounded up to my brainpan, where it ricocheted around for a country mile.
Before I succumbed to her wiles, I laid my cards on the table. I told her I’d come from the lab down the hall, where the inmates were desperate for a gander at her latest crystallographic snapshots of amino acid groups or whaddya call ’em, my lips stumbling over the odd syllables.
“Those hot dogs,” she scoffed, urging me toward a long sofa she kept parked in a back corner near the Bunsen burners and titration vessels. “I imagine they’ve got some shaky theory about the structure of DNA they want to confirm. Don’t those boys get that science is a gradual process, like a long, luxurious bath, and not a lucky shot in the dark?”
All the same, she pulled open a file drawer and handed me some glossy images. I couldn’t make heads or tails of them, but I knew Watson and Crick could. “Call me a sucker for your chiseled features and tapering waist,” the lady purred in my ear. “Just have them back to me tonight, shall we say at seven? I’ll be waiting for you.”
Suddenly a gat thumped “Hullo!” A speeding slug slammed into the file cabinet, neatly bisecting the space between us.
“Linus, no!” she screamed, as a highly recognizable figure scuttled out the rear window of her lab and dropped onto the surrounding yard before I could bring up my own heater.
“Was that–?” I began.
“You know it, handsome,” she said. “Linus Pauling, the father of modern chemistry. He was after my pictures too. Arrived here yesterday from California all in a lather. Soon as he spied my work he started cackling that he’d cracked the code, and spent the night here writing up a thesis to submit to Modern Molecule. Says when he garners the Nobel Prize, he and me are taking a little cruise to Miami. But if you ask me, he’s just another shot across the bow.”
“Who wants like hell to keep matters under his hat,” I said, fingering the bullet hole in her cabinet. At the same time I pictured Rosie in a bathing suit, one of those newfangled numbers with detachable straps and wire inserts. That Pauling had the right idea. I sussed that the two of them had done a lot more during the night than talk chemistry. “What’s his theory, sweetie?” I asked her, trying to sound casual. A lot depended on her answer, and to ease my nerves I flicked my thumbnail across my grizzled jaw. Flick flick. Flick flick flick.
When she said a triple helix, I didn’t show any emotion. I knew Watson and Crick were banking on a deuce, not a trey. And if the pictures I’d stuffed in my lab coat pocket bore them out, we would beat Linus, the lion of chemistry, to the Nobel punch.
Hours later my lab partners were still celebrating with beakers of hooch. They had built a toy model of the helical tidbit that coiled like an Erector Set, and almost finished typing up their report for Modern Molecule. Franklin’s pictures had done the trick, and I tried to feel their joy. I reflected that a Nobel Prize, even a third of one, was a fair day’s pay. But there was something big I still had to get off my chest.
When the smoke cleared, my intellectual pals agreed to leave my name off their script. It would only embarrass them when it came out that I was no chemist, in fact not even a college graduate. I was a lowly gumshoe from Chicago, stateside, who barely finished high school. I was there to track down one James D. Watson who had back-pedaled on a university instructor, an auburn wren with the sheaves to sky me across the Atlantic puddle to pin him. Watson went all red-faced on hearing this, but smug Crick seemed to enjoy the joke. Even geniuses have a funny bone.
The duo told me that they’d use the name Maurice Wilkins in their write-up, and leave me out completely. I knew this Wilkins character was another white coat who haunted a lab, but other than that, his involvement in the big-deal helix was over my head. Just another superbrain they owed a favor to, I guessed.
That night I made arrangements to fly home to Chicago and report to Watson’s oriole that he was still unattached and in winning form. That should cover her questions. But first I had a rendezvous at seven in Rosie Franklin’s lab. My nose told me the doctor was waiting.