“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
“‘Once upon a time, there was a microbiologist’ — Okay, I’m gonna stop right there.”
“What, too folksy?”
Detective Taylor wrinkled his nose, causing his mustache to scrunch up, which made his face look like a very small, squished walrus. “No, it’s that no one wants to read a story about a microbiologist, Henri, they’re boring.”
Henri blinked her rather bulbous eyes. “But I’m a microbiologist, Dan.”
“So you know, then.”
Dan flipped through a few more pages of the manuscript, shaking his head. Then he frowned. “What’s this green stain?”
“Dunno, some test material, probably,” Henri said, barely glancing at it. She looked forlorn.
“Is this thing a biohazard?”
“I mean, probably not.”
“Love is a burning thing, and it makes a fiery ring. Bound by wild desire, I fell in . . . ” sang Dan’s cell phone. He picked up, gingerly placing Henri’s “book” on his desk.
Tuning out the conversation, Henri picked up her manuscript and looked it over. She pulled out a pen from her lab coat pocket and drew a little sad face on the cover. Then she flipped to the first page and began crossing out words, starting with, “Once upon a time.”
“Okay, great, I’ll be right there.” Dan stood, drawing back Henri’s attention. “What do you know about burglary, Henri?” he asked, tugging on his jacket.
“Uh, very little.”
“Well, on one hand, you’re useless to me. On the other, that means you’re probably not guilty.” He gestured to the doorway. “You’re probably gonna wanna see this.”
The lab was in complete shambles. Shattered test tubes and flasks were scattered across the floor, equipment had been tipped over and broken, and papers were absolutely everywhere; some were even caught in the air conditioning vents and were flapping noisily.
Dan patted Henri’s shoulder sympathetically. “We’ll find whoever did this. I promise.”
She was too stunned to reply. She walked into what was once her sanctuary, shoes crunching over glass and paper. Taking off her glasses, she cleaned them a few times on her coat, as if that would somehow make this nightmare go away.
“W-what did they take?”
Dan took a folder from a passing security officer. “We’re still trying to figure that out. Your assistants are being questioned right now.”
“As suspects?” Henri asked, alarmed.
“Just standard questions for now.” He raised a shoulder. “Gotta see what exactly happened here.”
The shock dulled in her eyes as she took this in. She did a little 360 spin, looking everything over. “Maybe they were after my book . . . ”
“No one is after your book.”
It was a few hours later when Dan finally returned to his office. Henri was already there, waiting as instructed. She stood when he walked in. “Any news?” she asked.
He didn’t say anything at first, just waved at her to sit down. He hung up his coat, poured a fresh cup of coffee, and then sat down heavily at his desk. He gazed at his friend for a few moments.
“It’s a sort of good news / bad news kind of situation,” Dan said at last.
Henri blinked. “What’s the good news?”
“Bad news,” he said grimly. He leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. “Turns out that you were right: the thieves were after your manuscript.”
Dan glanced at Henri to see her try, and fail, to not look flattered.
“Oh,” was all she said.
“So like, congratulations, I guess,” he went on. “But I’m afraid I’m going to have to confiscate it. Evidence reasons, you understand.”
“Oh . . . ” she said again. She looked crestfallen. “I’m not quite done with it yet . . . ”
“Believe me, I don’t think it’s the words they were after.” He waved at the manuscript Henri was holding on her lap. The open page was full of crossings-out and margin notes. She slowly handed it to him.
He flipped to the page that had the stain he’d noticed earlier on it. “See?” He pointed at — though was careful not to touch — the blotchy green mark. “Whatever this is, whatever you were working on, that’s what they wanted.”
“But it’s probably nothing,” she said, frowning. “I don’t even remember what —”
“Doesn’t matter,” Dan interrupted. “Perhaps they think it’s dangerous. Priceless. Who knows how these people’s minds work.”
Henri was still frowning.
“I’m sorry, Henri,” he said kindly. “I’ll try to get it back to you as soon as I can. Maybe our forensic guys only need the one page. I’ll make copies. It’ll be all right. Your public only has to wait a few more days, a week tops. Not to mention the intrigue of what an exciting publication journey it’s had . . .”
She looked reasonably pacified by this, if not downright exhilarated. “All right. You know best, Dan.” She smiled.
“Great! I’ll keep you updated.”
Dan waited quite a lengthy time after Henri had left his office before reaching for his cell phone.
“Sir, I got it . . . Right here on my desk.” He gazed at the manuscript and its stain, then carefully closed it up. He went over to a filing cabinet and pulled out a thick manila envelope.
“Yes, I’m packing it up right now,” he said, slipping the book inside. “And you’ll send someone to pick it up? . . . Right. I’ll wait.” Dan sealed up the envelope and set it back on his desk. He glanced at the door.
” . . . I don’t feel good about this, sir. Staging a break-in is one thing, but she’s my friend.”
” . . . Yes, I do understand. National security, sir, I know . . . Thank you, Mr. President.”
“Oh, by the way, don’t read any of it.”
Originally, this was going to, ah, have a sticky end for Henri, but I decided to go for a more humorous take. I CAN WRITE NOT-SAD ENDINGS, YOU GUYS.
This story was inspired by a prompt found in this book: Write the Story
“testTubes” by University of Liverpool Faculty of Health & Life Science is licensed under CC BY 4.0.