Derrick’s monologue was interrupted by Anne’s phone. “Vertigo” by U2 was coming from the coffee table in front of them. Anne groaned. “That’s either Mom or Heidi. No one else ever calls me at this time of night.”
Anne sighed as she saw the caller-id showed Mom. Anne’s mother usually called once a week and over the years the conversations had become increasingly tense. The oldest daughter had repeatedly failed, at least by Mrs. Jensen’s standards to, “meet anyone,” nevertheless Anne was comforted by the thought of her mother’s concern for her that prompted these weekly chats.
The very long and boring conversation that followed was troubling to both Derrick and his hostess.
Mrs. Jensen began her phone conversations as she normally did, with a long monologue: “Anne, I just got off the phone with someone from the California bureau of investigation. Apparently my brother was involved in some secret project before he died. I thought it was a car accident, but it turns out he was murdered! The man wanted to know if we’ve had any contact from a Derrick Griffin, that he’s a prime suspect. I told him I’d never heard of the man, probably one of your uncle’s sick, gay, friends. Then he asked if I knew anything about a formula? Oh, and I’m worried about your aunt Cathy,” Mrs. Jensen continued her agitated babbling. “She’s just never been the same mentally after what she went through with her divorce and now her husband’s dead. She’s got to be in shock over this. Your uncle’s “partner” wants to come to the memorial service. I wonder if I should call her?”
“I think you should,” playing the part of grieving sister in law, oozing false sympathy, Anne knew, would give her mother something to focus on. “She probably won’t know anything about this secret project, though. Was Uncle James really murdered? I thought he was the victim of a hate crime.”
“I don’t know, I think the man was lying, you might have to call Cathy about that. My brother had some problems you know. They’ve been divorced for over twenty years now and her kids were too young to understand why James was leaving them for someone else. It was a taboo subject back in those days. I think I will give her a call. The least I can do is warn Cathy about the possibility of con artists after our family’s money. I’m sure that’s what that call was about.”
“Yes, Mom, you do that.” Anne smiled at her mother’s suspicions, as if they were celebrities with a family fortune that needed safeguarding.
Mrs. Jensen continued, “Cathy mentioned to me she’d like to come out from Modesto and visit us next month. Your cousin Jenny’s still at BYU, you know.” Mrs. Jensen’s voice became heavy with implication. “Your Aunt Cathy tells me Jenny’s been getting serious with that boy she’s been seeing. Doesn’t anyone date at the U?”
“I’ll have to drop Jenny a message on Facebook,” Anne said knowing her mother had no idea what she was talking about when it came to the college dating scene. Satisfied now that the entire mysterious phone call had probably been a mistake, Lisa Jensen changed the subject to a more pleasant topic, “Are you going over to Heidi’s on Saturday?”
“Yeah, she wants me to baby-sit again and I’ll do my laundry while I’m there.”
“Have you talked to her about my suggestion, that you should consider moving in with her and her husband? You know how I worry, you living in that apartment over there all by yourself with no job, no insurance, no income. Then you could spend more time with your new niece and Heidi would certainly appreciate the help.”
“Mom, I have a job. I’m a research assistant for one of my professors. It doesn’t pay much but I can still afford to live here, I don’t have time to pack up and move to Heidi and Andy’s. Besides, I like my space.” Anne’s normally quiet temper bristled at this overly hashed subject, “I’m doing okay. I saved up so I could get my own place, I do some tutoring on the side, you know and I have enough from my student loans to support myself.”
“But you live all by yourself!” Anne’s mom made it sound like a horrible disease, ‘Don’t you get lonely? Don’t you wonder why you haven’t met…”
“Mom,” Anne interrupted curtly, “the reason I haven’t met anyone yet is because there’s nobody to meet.” No matter how many times she repeated this, her mother never believed her.
“Isn’t there anyone at church or school you’ve gotten to know? What about that boy your sister set you up with last month? Has he called you?”
“No, Mom, he hasn’t and I’m glad.”
“What do you mean you’re ‘glad’?” She replied in outrage.
“Because we never found anything to talk about,” Anne explained patiently, “he was thirty years old, still not graduated from college and when he wasn’t working his dead-end job at a call center, all he wanted to talk about was gaming. That was probably one of the worst dates of my life.”
“He was a perfectly nice young man!” Mrs. Jensen argued.
“A perfectly nice young man who still lived with his parents,” Anne argued back.
“If only you hadn’t moved out of that apartment in Cedar City,” bemoaned Mrs. Jensen, “your roommates were always going out and socializing,”
Anne could see where this was going, “Mom,” she warned.
“…while I know you were always shut up in your room reading those books and avoiding everyone.”
“I hardly get time to read for pleasure anymore, Mom, university life up here is much more rigorous and demanding than the one in Cedar City. I’ve even made some friends up here, if you can believe that. I had lunch today with Steve and Marissa and Tia. I get out,” she argued, “I socialize.”
“Does Steve date?”
“He’s living with his girlfriend.”
“Well, your sister seems to be happy with her own home and family,” Anne’s mom said. “What about that boy you met in Cedar, what was his name? John. Do you ever hear from him?”
“Why would he call me, Mom, he’s a married man now.”
“Oh, that’s right,” Mrs. Jensen sounded almost apologetic. Was she hinting on sarcasm? “You went out on one date with him and when he asked you out again you told him you didn’t feel like it and just wanted to stay in and read!”
Anne lowered the mouthpiece so she could exhale an exasperated sigh, as Mrs. Jensen went on, “I just don’t understand you, Anne. Don’t you WANT to meet someone and get married?” Anne’s vision became blurry with sudden emotion, remembering the situation. John had invited Anne to come on what she’d thought was a paired off, group date, hiking in the mountains, until he’d included all of her roommates in their plans and Anne, tired of hanging out in these “group dates” where girls outnumbered the boys, had backed out and let them all go alone, angry that John had turned out to be such a tool, but how could she explain to her mother that group dating in the 21st century was worlds apart from the dating scene in 1974? Nobody paired off anymore.
“Mom, I’m not about to go out and snatch up the first guy I meet just so I can get married, I’m not that desperate,” Anne told her firmly. “Just because I don’t want to rush into marriage and make the same mistakes you did with Dad, is no reason for you to keep getting on my case. I can handle living alone. I’m fine.” She said it again as if the more she repeated it, the easier it would be to believe her own lie. “I’m surviving.”
Anne knew her quip about her mother’s first failed marriage had hit a nerve, “Well, I’m just grateful to have found the good man I married,” Mrs. Jensen said. “Call me if you decide to move in with Heidi, your stepfather and I will be more than happy to come up with the truck and help you.” Her mother’s voice had an unpleasant finality to it signaling the end of the conversation.
“All right, Mom,” Anne whispered, “but,”
“I’m going to call your Aunt Cathy now, let me know if you’re coming with me to the funeral, maybe you’ll meet someone there. Bye-bye.” Mrs. Jensen hung up, offended her daughter still refused to change her scholarly ways and settle down like all the other good Mormon girls.
Anne pressed the button to end the call, “Yeah, love you too, Mom,” she said in defeat.
“Wow, your mom sounds like a real keeper.”
Anne had completely forgotten she wasn’t alone. “She not a bad person, just incapable of empathy that’s all; she’s opinionated and critical and I can’t talk to her about anything.” Recalling something Mrs. Jensen had said during the conversation, Anne asked Derrick, “Why do you think the CBI would be calling my mother?”
“Open the package.”
Anne pulled away the brown paper to reveal a flashdrive and a note. As she booted up her laptop, Anne remembered the comment Professor Erickson had made about her single status just this afternoon in his office, discussing one of the proofs of her thesis about C-4 receptors in the human body.
“You didn’t spend all last weekend here at the lab did you?” he’d inquired, handing back the paper.
“Yes, I did.” Anne had stood up, all the more anxious to appear eager to get back to work. Dr. Erickson peered over his glasses remarking in an almost fatherly way, “Anne, I wonder sometimes if this is the right field for you.”
“What do you mean?” she asked, her guard up.
“This project you’ve taken on, to go for your masters. You know, with the degree you already have, you could settle for a high paying job, I know one or two companies right now that would hire you. Then you’d have the opportunity to socialize with other singles your own age. You’re one of my brightest students but you’re also the oldest in the group. I know I’m sounding like an old fogey here, but a woman of your age should be settled down by now.”
Tears burned her eyes as she exited the office. She’d pasted a carefree smile on her face, waved off the stodgy old professor and thanked him for his concern but inside she’d been seething.
Now, her own mother had echoed those same words. Well, it wasn’t her fault every single Mormon guy in Utah came included with a ridiculous fear of commitment; not to mention ambition.
“Did I hear your Mom say something about a stepdad?”
“Yeah,” Anne replied, “Mom’s been happily remarried for years, she’s been rubbing my face in it ever since I moved out of our home in Southern Utah to go to school and drops all kinds of suggestive hints during every visit home,” her voice mimicked Mrs. Jensen’s, “’You need to date more Anne. You need to find yourself a husband of your own so you can be happy like me.’ I swear, she can be such a bitch sometimes.
“And your biological father?”
This was a sensitive issue. Anne made the unconscious decision to move her laptop to the kitchen table where the wi-fi was better by the window, “Oh, he’s been living it up in Seattle for the last twenty years, sleeping with other women and putting off paying his child support. It was grandpa that finally bought us a house and insisted Mom come home before she suffered a nervous breakdown. I’m the oldest. The transition for my younger brothers and sister wasn’t easy for any of us. Mom met Alan Jensen three years later. He’s a good man but he had children of his own from a previous marriage. Mom puts him above everything else in our life, and that, in a nutshell, is my dysfunctional family.”
“So,” she continued as she opened the file, “how did you become invisible? Or don’t tell me,” she smirked, “you have a magic ring, right? Like in Tolkien.”
“That’s very clever, but no,” there was a trace of a smile in his voice now, “this isn’t a fantasy novel. I wish it were that simple. I was a physics student at Berkley where I met your uncle.”
“You knew my Uncle James? No, wait,” the earlier words of Mrs. Jensen suddenly dawned on her, “Mom said the CBI was looking for a man named Derrick Griffin, wanted for murder!”
A groan filled the air, “Oh boy. OK, first of all I better tell you that I most certainly did NOT kill James Kemp. He was one of my favorite professors at Berkley. He was my friend, my physics mentor, just like your Professor Erickson is to you in chemistry. You have to believe me that whoever gave your Mom that information was lying. By the way, I’m sorry it upset you so much, after you learned the truth about his death. You and your Uncle must have been very close.”
“What?” Anne’s brow furrowed in puzzlement before she remembered the few tears she’d shed during her conversation with Mrs. Jensen, “Oh, that. No, mom was just being a jerk over my marital status. Uncle James did send me a few links to articles I was interested in but we never communicated in person. I haven’t seen him since last Christmas. I believe you about not being the murderer,” she added.
“Good. Did you open the file?” His voice moved to stand behind her at the kitchen table where she sat.
“The screen is refreshing. It’s a big file.”
“You’re Mormon aren’t you?”
“But you’re parents are divorced. I always thought Mormons were great advocates of the traditional family.”
“We are, but sometimes things turn sour.”
“Fair enough,” his voice shrugged.
“This is incredible.” Anne’s eyes moved across the screen, contemplating equations she’d never seen before. “A new protein that allows light to reflect off human skin. You actually tried this?”
“And it obviously worked.”
Anne could tell this was big until her stomach reminded her how many hours it had been since she’d last eaten.
She jumped as his voice spoke over her shoulder, “I’m right here.”
“Er, would you like something to eat? I was going to heat up some leftovers in the fridge, I think I have enough for both of us.”
“That would be nice,” footfalls indicated he was moving into the kitchen. “Don’t get up, I’ll get the food.”
Anne was about to demand what exactly had happened regarding this suspicious murder of her uncle but her eyes widened upon seeing her refrigerator door suddenly open by itself. Tupperware containers floated to the counter along with a foil wrapped baked potato. The dish cupboard opened and the silverware drawer provided the invisible man with a fork and knife. An invisible hand slid a covered plate into the small microwave on the counter by the stove.
“Whoa,” she whispered.
There was the hint of a smile in his voice as he quipped, “I’m a regular poltergeist aren’t I?”
Anne couldn’t help but giggle finding the humor in the situation as was her nature. “If I wasn’t seeing this with my own eyes I wouldn’t believe it. How did this happen to you?”
“I told you, there was an accident. I was exposed to Formula D, there was a flash of green light and then I must’ve passed out. When I woke up…I was reborn.” His voice was farther away, “I need something from your room, may I go in?”
“Yes, but…” her voice trailed off as she listened for footfalls. Derrick moved like a cat.
She heard her closet door slide open and, fearing what he might be up to, stood and followed, “You don’t ski by chance, do you?” she heard him call out rhetorically. She entered just in time to see a green cable knit sweater, her favorite yellow dress with the flower printed skirt and a few t-shirts being slipped from their hangers and flung to the floor. The hangers in her closet seemed to move in an invisible wind.
“Hey, stop that!” Anne attempted to rescue her brown cardigan sweater before it joined the others in the growing pile on the carpet. She gasped as her elbow bumped something hard in midair.
“That was my head.”
“I’m sorry, but,”
“I’m sorry too, but I really need something to put on, your apartment’s freezing.”
Anne found an old discarded winter jacket on the other side of the closet and handed it to him.”
“Thanks,” Derrick said as the shapeless item shrugged itself over his invisible form; then she remembered an old pair of insulated ski pants.
“Here, my youngest brother left these here when he came up to snowboard. They should fit.”
Derrick put them on and they returned to the kitchen where he rejoined her at the table.
While they ate, Derrick told his story.
“James and I were working on a theory and formula. After exposure to ultraviolet radiation, this formula would render living tissue completely invisible.” Derrick hesitated asking, “How much do you know of the laws of science, of physics and the theories of refractive light?”
Anne had to finish another mouthful before answering, “Not much. I took physics 101 as a pre-requisite. I was just a lowly freshman back then.” She stared hard at the seemingly empty chair across from her place at the kitchen table, “Your body can bend light?” she guessed.
“Very good.” It might have been a nod,
“It’s all in the formula.”
“Do you know why anyone would call and question my family about a formula?”
“Yes I do,” his voice was growing more excited as he explained, “James and I were part of an elite group with three other colleagues at Berkley, all to participate in a highly secretive experiment in electromagnetic radiation with a combined theory of synthetic proteins.” She followed his voice as he crossed the room, “Your uncle helped develop this formula, they were calling it Formula D, which could make living tissue repel light, rendering them invisible.”
The Salt Lake Tribune Anne had picked up on campus today removed itself from her backpack, levitating across the room, “The same article you read online should be in here,” he told her as the paper landed next to her plate.
“James Kemp was not a victim of a hate crime,” he spoke gently, “whoever wrote this got it all wrong. He was murdered by members of the Chinese communist party.”
“The Chinese?” Anne asked in disbelief.
“That’s how this whole nightmare started, with Dr. Leo’s chemical formula that the reporter thankfully didn’t even know about. It means James’ files at the lab are still safe.”
Anne pulled her laptop closer and opened a new browser to peruse the California newspaper article again, “I saw the blurb in the Trib about the incident but I didn’t think anything of it until my mom called me tonight. I had no idea Uncle James was the man they were referring to who was killed. The Trib said no names have been released yet, except for this Dr. Leo Zhang.” Anne pronounced the “Z” as she knew it in English, “zang”.
“His Chinese name is Zhang Li,” Derrick corrected her pronouncing it “Jong-Lee.” “It’s common for a Chinese person living abroad to take an English name as a new first name, Leo instead of Li in this case, to avoid confusion,” he explained to her.
“This is the man I overheard Professor Erickson talking about today. Wasn’t Leo Zhang up for the Nobel prize in chemistry a few years ago for his work in synthetic proteins?”
“Yes, and before your uncle was murdered, he confided to me in mailing you that flashdrive containing Dr. Zhang’s and your uncle’s theories on light and radiation as well as all the records they’d been keeping about their research. After the chemical formula itself was updated, James saved it on his flash drive encoding it with a password. That’s why I need your help. James mentioned you once. He said you’d understand the chemistry part of this better than I did. Dr. Zhang Li had developed something new, something unheard of.”
As Derrick spoke he came over to her kitchen table. An invisible hand ripped paper from a legal pad and he began to sketch.
“What are you doing?” Anne asked wiping her hands on her napkin.
“This is the chemical structure of formula D.”
The pen appeared to fly by itself over the yellow sheet of paper. A quick mark here, a line there.
Anne watched fascinated, “You’re drawing that from memory?” she asked in disbelief
“Photographic. Comes in handy sometimes, what do you make of this?” he finished by handing her the paper. Anne studied it carefully noting the areas he’d labeled from memory like peptide bonds and hydrocarbon chains. At first glance it looked like any normal quaternary structure, or a protein that was folded many times to form a complex.
“Well it looks some kind of amino acid structure. A chiral molecule maybe.”
“It’s like your left and right hands, both are shaped the same but only fit one way. Just like this structure. Like right here.” She pointed to a certain region, “I think I recognize some crystallized hydrophobes here. Your drawing isn’t very clear.”
“Sorry, I don’t draw well in hurry. Tomorrow maybe we can return to the University campus and recreate the actual protein in your lab. I can’t do it by myself.”
Several minutes of silence passed. Anne studied Derrick’s drawing like a chess player contemplating her next move.
“That’s interesting.” She finally commented.
“You say Dr. Zhang Li discovered this structure?”
“With a little help from your Uncle, yes.”
“I don’t know how Uncle James did this but it’s difficult to crystallize any protein with a hydrophobic region yet they obviously created one that not only repels light, like a hydrophobe repels water, but right here,” she indicated what she assumed was the N-terminus of the structure with her finger, “he managed to attach a molecule of…is that the abbreviation for magnesium fluoride?”
“I don’t remember what those letters stand for. Chemistry was never my best subject.”
“You say you have a copy of this entire structure on another flash drive?”
“Well I don’t have it on me at the moment, but I’m a living, breathing model that this formula really works. Do you think you could reproduce this in a lab?
“I think I could,” she said excitedly. She reached to turn her laptop back toward her chair but Derrick’s invisible hand stopped her.
“Finish your dinner first,” Derrick instructed sliding her half eaten plate back in front of her. Anne resumed eating.
“James figured out that when applied to a living organism, Formula D would successfully deflect light waves, binding with the electrons on the subject’s epidermis, creating invisibility.”
Anne chewed and swallowed taking all this in. “Yes, I see how that could be possible.”
“Last month I received an email from your uncle. The first in over six months. He said they’d made a breakthrough but for him it was turning very dangerous and he wasn’t agreeing with some of Dr. Zhang’s initial plans to bring fame and glory to his native China. It sounded like he needed help so I agreed to meet him at the lab where he shared, rather reluctantly I should add, everything with me. He didn’t want to but I insisted. I was the one who discovered ultraviolet radiation was the key to the initial reaction of the formula.” He added proudly
“So you tried this formula on yourselves?”
“Well, there was the question of Formula D’s effects on the tissue of a living organism. He was breaking a few rules by letting me in on this project but until we knew more, James didn’t want to share any of this with his colleagues, especially Dr. Zhang-Li.”
He was silent for so long she was able to finish chewing a bite of chicken and swallow to finally ask, “What happened?”
“Somebody squealed. We were discovered at the lab by Zhang’s hired men. They killed James and I ended up like this.”
Anne heard footsteps coming up the cement stairs. Outside, two soft female voices conversed. Anne shot out of her chair.
“My visiting teachers! Oh, my gosh I almost forgot!”
Derrick sounded just as incredulous, “What?”
Anne stood frozen as the inevitable knock sounded on the heavy front door. She dashed to her bedroom.