Uneasy Relations, page 1
Table of Contents
Other Titles by Aaron Elkins
Gideon Oliver Novels
LITTLE TINY TEETH*
WHERE THERE’S A WILL*
TWENTY BLUE DEVILS
DEAD MEN’S HEARTS
MAKE NO BONES
MURDER IN THE QUEEN’S ARMES*
THE DARK PLACE*
FELLOWSHIP OF FEAR*
Chris Norgren Novels
A GLANCING LIGHT
Lee Ofsted Novels (with Charlotte Elkins)
ON THE FRINGE
WHERE HAVE ALL THE BIRDIES GONE?
A WICKED SLICE
*Available from Berkley Prime Crime Books
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eISBN : 978-0-425-22176-1
1. Oliver, Gideon (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Forensic anthropologists—Fiction. 3. College
teachers—Fiction. 4. Gibraltar—Antiquities—Fiction. I. Title.
As usual, I relied on a lot of expert counsel. In Gibraltar, Professor Clive Finlayson of the Gibraltar Museum patiently shared his vast knowledge of Iberian Neanderthal prehistory, and Detective Chief Inspector Emilio Acris of the Royal Gibraltar Police answered all my questions on the way they do things there. In addition, Stephen Davenport, General Manager of the wonderful Rock Hotel, provided information and many courtesies.
“Identification of Traumatic Injury in Burned Cranial Bone: An Experimental Approach,” by Elayne J. Pope and O’Brian C. Smith, Journal of Forensic Sciences, v.49, no.3, May 2004, was the impetus for an important part of Uneasy Relations. Dr. Pope was also extremely helpful in responding to further questions and in reviewing parts of the manuscript.
Forensic Chemist Martin McDermot of the Washington State Patrol’s Seattle Crime Lab educated me on explosives and also reviewed a part of the manuscript.
Stanley J. Rhine, Professor Emeritus, University of New Mexico, straightened me out on a few forensic matters with his usual enthusiasm and good humor.
My friends John Matthews and David Bailie, orthopedic surgeons both, provided very helpful information from their specialties and reviewed a section of the manuscript as well.
Thank you all most sincerely.
PROMINENT SCIENTIST TO REVEAL
“STUNNING” SCIENTIFIC FRAUD IN GIBRALTAR
By Mike Fender
The annual conference of the International Paleoanthropological Society isn’t usually associated with pulse-pounding levels of excitement, other than in some of the more remote halls of academe, but next month’s meeting in Gibraltar promises something different.
Gideon Oliver, a well-regarded professor of physical anthropology at the University of Washington’s Port Angeles campus, and the author of Bones to Pick, an examination of hoaxes, dead ends, and frauds in archaeology and anthropology, is set to reveal his most stunning exposé yet. The occasion will be a public lecture during the twenty-third annual conference of the august group, which is meeting in Gibraltar this year to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the discovery there of the celebrated prehistoric double burial known as the First Family, consisting of a mother and young son (Gibraltar Woman and Gibraltar Boy) in a close embrace.
Oliver’s publisher, Lester Rizzo (Javelin Press), describes Oliver’s bombshell as “the most sensational exposé of a scientific scam in history. ” Oliver himself, known in forensic circles as the Skeleton Detective, is slightly more circumspect. “Oh, I wouldn’t say it’s the most sensational one in history,” he said during a recent telephone interview, “but it’s right up there.”
“More sensational than Piltdown Man?” he was asked by this reporter.
“Oh, no comparison. It’ll leave Piltdown in the dust,” he promptly replied. “Piltdown was nothing compared to this.”
When asked for a hint, the scientist declined. “Nosirreebob, I’m not letting the cat out of the bag ahead of time on this one. It’s too big. There’s too much at stake. My publisher doesn’t know what it is, my colleagues don’t know what it is, even my wife doesn’t know what it is.”
Rizzo admits that, indeed, he hasn’t been let in on the details. “But I know Dr. Oliver and I can promise you this,” he says with relish. “It’s going to stand the scientific world on its ear.”
“Oh, jeez,” Gideon said, slapping his copy of the Peninsula Daily News down suddenly enough to make a fellow diner, dozing over
His wife, dressed in the trim, tan park ranger uniform in which she would be reporting to work in twenty minutes, paused in buttering a cinnamon-raisin bagel to read the article. Then she read it again.
“Nice going, prof,” she said, only barely managing to keep a straight face. “Did you really say that? ‘It’ll leave Piltdown in the dust’? Talk about over the top.”
The Piltdown hoax was the most celebrated deception in the history of anthropology, the sham discovery of the “missing link,” decisively proven only after forty years of widespread acceptance to be a combination of fossil human skull bones and the jaw of an orangutan. Even now, anthropologists found it painful to joke about, Gideon among them.
“No, of course I didn’t say that,” he said petulantly, “and this isn’t funny. Well, okay, maybe I did say it, but I was kidding. I mean, this reporter calls—Lester told me to expect it; he set it up— and the first thing out of his mouth, the reporter’s mouth, is: “Dr. Oliver, would you agree that this is really going to be the most sensational scientific exposé in history?” I thought he was kidding. So I said . . . whatever the heck it says I said. It was a joke. Am I the kind of person who would go around saying things like ‘nosirreebob’ under conditions of anything but extreme stress or ill-considered jocularity?”
“Uh-huh,” Julie said. “And how was he supposed to know it was a joke? From the twinkle in your eye? It was a phone conversation.”
“From my tone. From my manner. It should have been obvious. It was obvious. Besides, that was just the start. We talked for another ten minutes. I told him in all seriousness that Lester had a tendency to exaggerate, and that it was true that while I was down there at the conference I might or might not do a little research on the Atlantis myth for the next edition of Bones to Pick, but that I had no earth-shattering exposé in mind, and the lecture I’d be giving was actually about something else altogether.”
Julie scanned the article again. “He seems to have left that part out.”
“He left it out, all right. I was sandbagged. This is Lester’s doing, Julie. As far as he’s concerned, any publicity is good publicity. He thinks it’ll sell a few more copies of the new edition, even though it won’t be out for eight months. I haven’t even finished the damn thing.”
Julie put down her muffin and the knife. “Gideon, sweetheart, don’t take this as a criticism, but maybe you ought to think twice about joking with reporters? Remember that story that showed up everywhere that had you predicting that in ten thousand years human beings would be four feet tall? Or was it three feet?”
“It was four feet,” he grumbled, “and ten million years, but you know that wasn’t what I really said. I said we could be four feet tall— or seven feet tall, or extinct, for that matter. I was just making the point that you can’t take a teleological approach to evolution, that just because we’ve been getting taller, that doesn’t mean we’re going to continue to get taller. Selective forces in the environment change, and we, or any other organisms, respond to those forces, not to some long-range design or some supposed future condition. If we—oh, heck, you know all that. Anyway, the woman I talked to had no sense of humor at all.” He shook his head in frustration. “Everything I say, these people take literally.”
“Which is my point.”
Gideon shrugged and nodded. “You’re right,” he said, returning with only slightly diminished appetite to his cream cheese-chives-and-egg bagel, a specialty of the Port Angeles Olympic Bagel Company, where they breakfasted once or twice a week. “But this guy was an Associated Press reporter!” he suddenly blurted. “You’d think I could trust him!”
“Look again,” Julie said, turning the paper around so he could read the byline.
“ ‘Mike Fender,’ ” Gideon read aloud. “ ‘Affiliated Press.’ ” He looked up. “What the heck is Affiliated Press?”
“I’m not sure,” Julie said, “but on a guess, I’d say it’s the agency that supplies the checkout magazines with all those snazzy news items: ‘Monkey Woman Gives Birth to Twin Lobsters’, ‘Talking Gorilla With I.Q. of 250 Seeks “Significant Relationship” with “Large” Woman’. . . .”
“ ‘Noted Anthropologist Stands Scientific World on Its Head,’ ” Gideon said, smiling at last. “Oh, boy, I’m going to take a lot of flak about this. I guess I’d just better resign myself.”
“I’m afraid so. So this talk you’ll be giving in Gibraltar—it’s open to the public? Not part of the society meetings?”
“Right. I’m not giving a paper at the meetings. But apparently there’s a very active cultural association down there, and they hold these monthly noontime Heritage Lectures on everything under the sun. So they’ve asked me if I’d be willing to do the June one; something that would be interesting to the general public.”
“Why you, do you think?”
“Probably because I’m the only one they’ve ever heard of. The Skeleton Detective, you know? But it’s fine, I’m glad to do it. It sounds like fun, actually. They hold them in someplace called St. Michael’s Cave, which I gather has a natural underground amphitheater they use for this kind of thing, and for concerts and such.”
His cell phone, lying on the table, tinkled out the melancholy opening bars of the overture to La Traviata just as he chomped down on bagel and egg, and Julie answered it for him.
“Why, hello, Lester!” she said brightly. “We were just talking about you. Yes, we did see the article. Yes, it certainly is that.”
“I’m not here!” Gideon cried around a mouthful of food. “You don’t know where I am. You haven’t seen me since last Friday. You don’t know when I’ll be back, if ever.”
“Why, yes, of course he’s here,” Julie said pleasantly. “Gideon, guess what?” she burbled, batting her eyes. “It’s Lester Rizzo. Your publisher.” She held out the phone.
Scowling, Gideon took it. Lester was already babbling away. “You read it, Gid? Is that good copy, or what? You did great, buddy. Fender tells me it’s been picked up by over a hundred papers.”
“Oh, wonderful, Lester. But the fact is—as you damn well know—I don’t have any sensational exposés to pull out of my hat. I don’t have any exposés to pull out of my hat. And my public lecture in Gibraltar is about the evolutionary concomitants of erect posture, not—”
“Yeah, yeah, I know, I know, but who cares about that stuff? With all due respect, nobody. Look, by the time Bones comes out, this’ll all be ancient history. You think Fender or anybody else is gonna go to Gibraltar to check up on you? Don’t worry, they won’t. Trust me. But your name’s gonna be a little more familiar to people, you see? They won’t know why they know it, they’ll just know they know it when they see it at the bookstore. And they’ll be more likely to reach for it. ‘Oh, yeah, here’s one by that guy, Gideon Oliver. I think I’ve heard of him.’ And if they reach for it, maybe with a little luck they’ll buy it.”
“Definitely. Market research proves it, pal.” His voice deepened with veneration at the magical words. “That’s what it’s all about: Market research.”
“Fine, but what about the people who buy it expecting something fabulous? What about them? And what about me, how does that make me look?”
“Ah, yeah, that’s the beauty part, see? Eight months is perfect. Any more than that and they forget they ever heard of you. Any less than that, and they still remember what you said. Market research, buddy.”
With a sigh, Gideon dropped whatever it was he was going to retort. He and Lester went back a few years now, and Gideon knew there wasn’t much point in arguing. Lester Rizzo, the associate publisher of Javelin Press and the improbable executive editor of their Frontiers of Science imprint, had approached Gideon after an open lecture he’d given on scientific fraud at the university and asked if he’d be interested in expanding
Gideon had accepted, partly because the manuscript wouldn’t be due for almost a year and anything that far away was always doable, and partly because he was flattered at the thought of joining the august roster of contributors to the series. The $15,000 advance, a delightfully unusual prospect to anyone accustomed to dealing with the academic presses, hadn’t hurt either. Besides, as opposed to the necessarily arcane monographs he turned out for the scientific journals (his contribution to the current American Journal of Physical Anthropology was “Sexual Dimorphism in Tibial Diaphysis Robusticity among Eastern European Upper Paleolithic Populations”), the idea of writing something for popular consumption seemed like fun.
And it had been. To Gideon’s surprise—but not, apparently, to Lester’s—the book had done well, and Gideon was now finishing up an expanded section on mythology and science (thus, his interest in Atlantis) for a new edition. But from the very beginning, there had been differences, and a long string of compromises, between his editor and himself. The title had been one such. When Gideon had proposed Error, Gullibility, and Self-Deception in the Social Sciences, Lester had looked at him as if he were crazy. “You’re writing for the masses here,” he’d pointed out. “What do you say we dumb down the title a little?” But Lester’s idea (Bungles, Blunders, and Bloopers) had left Gideon equally dismayed. They had settled, each with his own reservations, on Bones to Pick: Wrong Turns, Dead Ends, and Popular Misconceptions in the Study of Humankind.
More often than not, however, he had been outfoxed by Lester one way or another, and obviously it had just happened again. Well, Lester was probably right; it might sell a few more copies. But it wasn’t going to be easy to live with.
“Okay, Lester,” he said, “what’s done is done.”
“Hey, don’t say it like that, buddy; it hurts my feelings,” he said cheerfully. So, you going to be down here in L.A. any time soon?”
“Not if I can help it.”
“Okay, then, see you in Gibraltar.”
“Right, see you—what? You’re coming to Gibraltar?”
“You better believe it. We’re going to do a book launch at that conference you’re going to that’ll knock ’em dead. Drinks on the house, speeches—”
Other author's books:
- Switcheroo (A Gideon Oliver Mystery Book 18)Dead Men's HeartsUnnatural SelectionUneasy RelationsTwenty Blue DevilsWhere There's a WillLittle Tiny TeethGood Blood
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