Saturday, 3 January 2009

DNA and Its Secrets - Episode 12 of 'Paternity' an original Australian mystery novel.

This is Episode Twelve of 'Paternity' in which Pip gets to know more about DNA and its secrets. The young journalist may soon know whether her father was a rapist ...

LINKS TO OTHER EPISODES ARE ON THE SIDE BAR

And please leave feedback in a comment at the end of this instalment.



Wikipedia pic

Back at her apartment Pip called Denzy’s number. She wasn’t in her office and the operator said she would be out of town until the following day. Pip’s eyes rolled towards the ceiling in frustration. She had promised to get this stuff back in just four hours. Now what?

The day before she’d printed off some information from the genome site and now leafed through the A4 pages. What every law enforcement officer should know …


Pip read intently for several minutes and then grabbed her wallet and made for the door. Half an hour later she was back with two large shopping bags — one from a medical supplies store, one from a supermarket.


The photographic section at the newspaper agreed to a session at four o’clock. She thought she’d better cover herself by getting pix, even though she may never write a story to go with them.


She had decided to have a go at collecting the test samples herself.


DNA evidence can be contaminated when DNA from another source gets mixed up with DNA relevant to the case. This can happen when someone sneezes or coughs over the evidence or touches his/her mouth, nose or other part of the face and then touches the area that may contain the DNA to be tested.


Pip slipped a mask onto her face and adjusted the elastic to ensure the protection was snug. The pair of new surgical gloves slipped easily onto her hands.


Already she seriously needed to scratch an itchy spot on her nose.


She peered into the bag, sizing up its contents.
The mouth guard would be too difficult and may easily prove unreliable. It had lain in the glass case uncovered and certainly touched by human hand — for one, she saw the manager pick it up and put it in the bag.

The inside of the head guard might be a different matter. Benny said Pug wore it on the morning of his death and that it had been incorporated in the exhibition immediately after being taken from the dead man’s locker.

She could take a bet that no-one would have tried it on for size — such a liberty would have seemed blasphemous in the circumstances. It was odds on that any traces of Pug would be there intact, inside the headpiece.


Pip moved the black shiny leather closer to the reading light on her desk. It still smelled new.
She noticed it was lined with soft suede.


Source of DNA on a hat being used as evidence: sweat, hair, dandruff.
Dare she take a small piece from the lining? Nothing ventured nothing gained.

She placed a piece of gauze, folded double, ready on the desk, then took a pair of sterile scissors from their shrink wrapping and snipped a tiny patch of suede from a spot where the lining creased just above the ear.


Only a few cells can be sufficient to obtain useful DNA information …
She put the piece on the gauze. Air-dry evidence thoroughly before packaging.

She looked again and discovered a small dark hair curled on the soft suede. Great. She extracted it carefully with sterile tweezers and put it on new gauze beside the patch.
Then she moved quickly to the other side of the room and took off her mask.

The itch on her nose had become insufferable. She scraped at her skin. Bliss.


Pip replaced the mask and put on a new pair of gloves. Denzy would be proud of her.


The hand wraps were her next choice. She opened the zip bag and held the tangled strips in her hands, unravelling them until she reached the very centre of the roll. Here she snipped — again with a fresh pair of scissors — and placed her trophy on a fresh piece of gauze.

If there wasn’t some sweat or a skin fragment on that she’d give up.


Pip realised she’d been holding her breath, and let out a satisfying gasp of air. Almost done.

She stared at the fragments lying on the gauze. What would they reveal?


In the newspaper business Pip was known for her thoroughness and attention to detail and the photographer looked puzzled when she showed every sign of wanting to rush the job with the boxing gear. But he wasn’t complaining. It was the end of a long day.

By five-thirty the head gear, the hand wraps and the mouth guard were all back at the gym, in the glass case.


By six-fifteen Pip was drinking herbal tea in her kitchen. The fragments she’d collected lay on the gauze on her desk, alongside several paper bags.


When transporting and storing evidence that may contain DNA it is important to keep the evidence dry and at room temperature … never place evidence that may contain DNA in plastic bags because plastic bags will retain damaging moisture.



Finally she got hold of Denzy. The pathologist’s voice was friendly, as ever, but there was something in her tone that made Pip uneasy.


‘You have some results on the Robson stuff haven’t you?’


‘Yes, I have. No go, I’m afraid. He’s not on the Department of Prisons data base.’


‘Hell. I was hoping …’


‘It was a slim chance Pip. You knew that.’


‘ ’Course. Can’t help being disappointed though.’
She felt for a moment as though someone had kicked her in the ribs. It was about time she made some headway on this. She still didn’t know whether it was Robson or not! She could not believe how difficult this was becoming.

Keep faith Pip, she told herself. There were other possibilities …

‘Hey, might I ask another favour?’
Pip sensed a cautious silence on the phone.

‘Mmmm?’


‘I have some samples from another rapist. Can you recommend somewhere I could have them tested?’


‘What sort of samples?’


Pip reeled off details of her quest to gather DNA evidence on Pug Raven, emphasising the care she had taken with the boxing gear.


‘Well done. You’ve been thorough. You might find it difficult to get someone to do the tests without permission from the relatives though.’


'I could be a relative!’ Denzy shrugged.

‘That’s pulling a long bow isn’t it?’


‘It’s true …’


‘Yes yes…’


‘Come on Den …’


‘I suppose I’ll do it on the quiet for you. In the lab. But there will be nothing legal about it — not so far as proof is concerned. You realise that?’


‘That’s not what it’s all about.’


‘There’ll be no hope of using the results down the line …’


‘I understand. It’s just knowing, that’s all. For myself.’


‘Okay. I see that Pip. I’ll be passing close to your place tonight, so I’ll drop in and pick up the stuff.’


‘We’ll have a bite to eat.’


Pip was in the shower fully soaped up when her mobile rang. Normally she’d let it buzz away, but somehow there was an urgency about the way this signal cut through the sound of streaming water. So she turned off the tap and dripped across the carpet to the phone lying on her bedside table.

It was Frank.
‘Big news Pippin.’

‘News?’


‘A goon waylaid George Wimpole when he was on his way home from a parents’ meeting at the school last night. Bashed him senseless. To put it mildly, he’s not well.’


‘You’re joking.’


‘Nup. Afraid not. I went to see him this morning over at the regional hospital. He’s black and blue and hardly able to speak through very thick lips. The quacks reckon he has three broken ribs and they say he might have done in his spleen …’


‘Jesus Frank …’
Pip could feel a mix of pity, frustration and anger rising within her. George didn’t deserve that – no-one did.

‘There’s something else.’


‘What?’


‘I could see that George wanted to tell me something, so I bent down real low … He whispered to me. He said Gazza did the number on him.’


‘No …’


‘You sure rattled their cages my girl. Robson must have cooked this up. Would have told Gazza about what you said at Rouse’s.’


Frank was right of course, thought Pip. The crooked solicitor still had the wood on Gazza sufficiently to blackmail him into doing this.

At the other end of the line Frank was also working things out for himself:
‘Con wouldn’t do the bashing — it’s not his style at all. He works in the shadows and doesn’t put himself in the way of any physical stuff.’

‘He doesn’t mind letting a car do the job though. Robson was pretty riled that night out at the Rouses’ place. He could have killed me on that track, and he wouldn’t have given a damn.’ The night out at the farm came back in sharp detail.


‘There were no witnesses were there? We know the stuff these blokes are made of, so it shouldn’t be any sort of surprise … I figure they decided to shut George up at all costs.’

Frank reminded her that George was the only person likely to give evidence against Robson in the rape case, and that it was quite likely that someone in town had seen her car at George’s place.

‘It’s a small town Pippin. You saw George at his place twice, as well as having lunch with him at the Greek’s?’


‘Not exactly. I was having lunch and he spoke to me for about two minutes.’


‘That’s enough in a little town. Anyone could have told them. Cosmo at the cafĂ© … anybody.’

‘Yeah. You’re right. Of course … poor George.’

Frank went on to lecture her about being careful where she went on a dark night. Apparently Robson had left town, supposedly making for the city.


‘You can’t be serious Frank. He wouldn’t dare! A journalist on a city daily?’


‘Like I said mate – he’s a quiet worker.’


She updated her friend on the failure of her prison database theory and they called it a day.

Pip put the phone back on its base and had just made it the lounge with a fruit juice when it rang again, seeming a lot louder than it should have been.

Frank.

‘I mean that about being careful Pippin. I don’t want you makin’ headline news.’

‘Yeah - fair enough. Thanks for caring.’


‘Look – I’ll do what I can to push George towards getting the cops to lay charges.’


‘Is that wise? For George’s sake?’


‘If he doesn’t take a stand mate his life won’t be worth living for ever more. He’ll be safest if he can get those bastards into gaol and out of the way.’


‘But he hasn’t got anything on Robson so far as the bashing is concerned …’


‘You never know how cookies might crumble Pippin. I’ll keep you posted.’


The lift doors closed on Denzy’s grin, and Pip turned and walked back into her apartment. They’d been good mates since meeting during one of her news investigations five years before.

Denzy seemed impressed with Pip’s choice of material for the Raven DNA testing, and her collection technique.

‘I’ll get you a job as a lab assistant any time you’re thrown out of journalism,’ she’d said, hopefully with some irony.


Although Pip ordered pizza and she and Denzy had sipped their way through a bottle of cabernet merlot, it was still only ten, so she logged in to collect her email.

She had authorised her solicitor to send the report of the DNA test results, and here it was in a baldly named attachment: Paternity.doc. She double clicked.


It was a strange and clinical way to hope to discover your origins.

Institute of Forensic Medicine: Paternity Screening — Summary of findings. Donor One (Wimpole): Excluded Donor Two (Bullfinck): Excluded Please note: In the absence of maternal profile exclusion rate is 99.6%.

The full report followed, with detailed results of each test and a statement that 99.6% was generally accepted as providing a ‘probability of exclusion’ from paternity, and that each donor had met this criteria.


So George Wimpole and Gazza Bullfinck were ruled out as being her biological father, and Pip couldn’t say she was sorry. But that could mean …


She stood on tiptoe to see her likeness reflected in a mirror on the dining room wall. In her wildest dreams she would not have pinned that face down as having African American blood …
She would soon know.

And her nose. Like it or not the photograph of Con Robson highlighted his nose, and its uncanny resemblance to her own. That shape which her mother was always at pains to call aristocratic.


Two suspects down and two to go …



Raven or Robson … Robson or Raven …


Next morning Pip lay on her back, hands behind her head, staring towards the decorative patterns on her bedroom ceiling. She had decided to have a lazy start to the day and had been trying to read a John Le Carre thriller.

Even the master spy writer couldn’t hold her at that moment.


Well, she had sworn to unravel this mystery of Selene’s. Now it looked as though the answer lay with one or the other of two men — a boxing promoter, for god’s sake, and a crooked solicitor — neither of them averse to a walk on the wild side to satisfy their urges, at least in their younger days.

She could never be proud of coming from that stock.
But which one?

She might be within an ace of ruling out Pug Raven (or in, she remembered).

If Denzy’s answer was no or inconclusive — what then? If her answer was yes
Then it would be a matter of adjusting; knowing she had come to the end of her road. Coming to terms with the reality of her dad.

But if the answer was no

Pip jumped as the phone beside her bed shrilled its metallic ring. It was Frank, seeming spry for that time of the day.


‘More news Pippin. They’ve got Gazza on George’s assault and he’s being held for questioning. He was silly enough to rave on about it to a mate at the pub and they got him this afternoon.’


‘That’s great Frank. Now what though? Will they charge him do you reckon?’


‘They intend to. But even better mate. I had a word in the police sergeant’s shell like.


‘He’s gunna accidentally open up the question of the rape with Gaz. He’ll suggest that it would go well for him if he had some information he hadn’t split about.’


‘All those years ago?’


‘Yes. Why not?’


‘With Robson in his sights?’


‘Yeah. And with any luck Gazza will implicate Robson for George’s assault as well. To help save his skin.’

‘Take care Frank. We have to protect George …’


Frank said the sergeant had been a raw cadet at the time of her mother’s rape and saw some things during the investigation that he didn’t like.


‘It’s enough to keep George out of the picture. The copper reckons the police prosecutor ignored the fact that forensics found three lots of semen at the site.


‘He blurred the facts and as a result the jury overlooked the reality that George’s sample wasn’t among them.’


‘Making it a matter of mathematics?’


‘Yes. If George didn’t leave a sample behind and if there were three lots of semen found, there had to be a fourth man in on the act that night. Primary school addition and subtraction …’


‘And the raw cadet was good at his numbers?’


‘That’s about it. I simply dropped a hint or two and the cadet, now a sergeant, grabbed them with two hands.’


‘Fascinating. Keep me posted Frank. If things develop it might even be worth my while going out there to follow events.’


Once again Frank finished their conversation with dire predictions about Pip’s safety.





The war memorial shimmered in the intense heat as Pip’s car made its way down the steep hill and into town. The heavy uniform of the warrior of World War 1 was incongruous in this climate, and his gun looked big and awkward. She felt sorry for him, having to stand there through the decades, keeping alive the ideals of his generation …

Summer had closed in with a vengeance in the west.

Pip had turned off the air conditioning a few kilometres back to save petrol, and could now feel the globules of sweat lined up on the strip of skin beneath her nose. She’d perspired a lot throughout her life and often found it an embarrassment. Her hair dripped after even the slightest exertion in the heat, destroying any semblance of a coiffure.

She remembered those teen years when appearances seemed so important, and the times when she cringed to see patches of wet beneath her arms. Now mostly she felt sufficiently self possessed not to care too much. The pub shower would be good though ― clinging shower curtain and all.

As her car crawled into town, she found herself looking around the main drag and up the side street for any sign of Robson’s big black Mercedes.

She arrived at the top of the main drag with no sighting, and turned into the parking area at the back of the pub, where she found a small area of shade in the lee of the building.

What would the next few days bring?

The foregoing is excerpted from Paternity by June Saville. All rights reserved. No part of this novel may be used or reproduced without written permission from the author.


GO TO EPISODE THIRTEEN

Has DNA testing ever solved a mystery in your family? Or has it been useful in other ways?
Please tell me in a comment ...

19 comments:

  1. June – I’m curious... have you had to do a lot of research on DNA testing for this story? This chapter reminds me of the forensic CSI series (which I’m absolutely hooked on (lol))!

    I do like the way that you’ve used questions to move the narrative along. For example where you write: “Source of DNA on a hat being used as evidence: sweat, hair, dandruff. Dare she take a small piece from the lining? Nothing ventured nothing gained.”

    You also have a knack for maintaining the believability of your characters i.e. Pip and the way she interacts in her surroundings e.g. where you write: “The itch on her nose had become insufferable. She scraped at her skin. Bliss.” And again: “Pip realised she’d been holding her breath, and let out a satisfying gasp of air. Almost done.”

    I must say that you are very strong in sustaining POV even/especially in dialogue – which is something I struggle with. For example your creative license with words ‘nup/gunna/goon/etc’ – great use as it fits the characters you’re depicting so well.

    Where you write “Frank.” (on a line on its own) –is that a thought?

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  2. WOW, June. This is really getting good! I have not had any dealings with DNA in my family ever that I know of. I know you have done a lot of research for this book? And the plot thickens!

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  3. Hi June -
    I’m enjoying this so much! I also really liked the way you inserted the facts about DNA processing and retrieval here and there. (And by the, I have a big Jacaranda tree on the front of my property just like the one you show in the previous episode. Every spring the lavender display is incredible.)

    BUT- how did Pip get Gazza’s DNA? (That put me in a spin.) How did I miss that!? Cigarette butt or was he in the criminal DNA data base? I know he wouldn’t have volunteered. I thought I’d made note of every detail like a hawk.

    This is such quality online reading, June. I look forward to each new segment. I can see Pip, Frank, George, Robson - all of them so clearly in my mind.

    Any way- forever your faithful reader.
    Vikki

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  4. Yes CATH - a lot of research. I even emailed the US Human Genome Project in 2000 and asked them for a Press Pack (ok me being a journalist) and that was very useful. The web was good too of course.

    I decided to set Pip's journey in that era to make the advances in DNA research relevant.
    Of course there have been great scientific advances since then but that's ok with the above arrangement I reckon.

    Thanks for the feedback on the DNA stuff - I was wondering if people might get bored with it.

    Really appreciate the comments about POV, moving the narrative along and the believability of characters. All good for my confidence, thanks.

    I'm thinking again about 'Frank' on its own. I suppose I was taking a liberty but I didn't want to say 'Pip picked up the phone to find that it was Frank' or some such.

    I think the truncation was cheeky but useful. I'm game enough to leave it there!

    See you around Cath.

    June

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  5. Dear JUDY
    You are a great fan and support!
    See above about the research - I did do a lot, and hopefully the detail is accurate for Year 2000 when I set the story.
    Yes, like a simmering custard, the plot thickens.

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  6. Hi again VIKKI
    You had me on the edge of my chair for a minute or two with your remark about Gazza. I was wondering if that bit had somehow got lost in the publishing.

    But no! Have a look in Episode 10 for 'Her solicitor’s chambers were in Phillip, and here she filled in forms necessary for the order to require Gazza to submit to a DNA test.' She could do that given the background of the rape and her mother's pregnancy.

    That was the post of December 19 when you were making the Christmas pudding - so you're excused!

    Thanks for the DNA feedback. As I remarked to Cath: I was wondering if my readers would fall asleep with that. Me - I found writing it really interesting as, after all, what could be more relevant to life than the nucleus of a cell?

    I'm pleased you've become well acquainted with my characters - a writer aches for that sort of remark.

    Jacarandas - They are stunning. My unit in Sydney had one just outside my third floor balcony, so I lived with the birds and the blue blossoms.

    Appreciate you Vikki
    Cheers
    June

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  7. Hi June,
    Thanks and sorry. I actually went back through and found it after posting my ignorant comment. I knew I'd read every episode...something about it...somewhere! You're right. I must have had pudding in my brain.
    Have to tell you- your story stayed with me all day.
    Vikki

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  8. VIKKI - Nothing but NOTHING to be sorry about! I am thrilled to receive your comments. What if I had missed it out? I wouldn't have known and people would have been saying 'that stupid author!'
    I'd be surprised if anyone remembered everything in a book read over so many weeks anyway. I am sure I couldn't.
    I was hoping the pudding I was talking about was adding weight, not wasted on the brain!

    STOP PRESS! I've finally decided on THE ending. Although I have been writing 'Paternity' for years I can't stop tinkering with it. In the main I reckon all of the drafts have meant a gradual improvement.

    I'll look forward to seeing what you think about the ending - when we get to it.
    Cheers
    June

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  9. Thanks for your response. Yes - I love your use of 'creative license' re Frank. Excellent!

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  10. p.s. Looking forward to the next installment!

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  11. Hi June. I am sorry that I have not responded earlier, but things have been a tad hectic. I am totally engrossed in Pips adventures and misadventures. And I agree, your DNA facts are spot on! Wonderful POV as well. I can almost read Pips mind! So, only two left eh? Please don't keep us waiting too long. :)

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  12. DJ
    There is always a life outside blogging - at least we should hope!
    Thanks for the kind words too. It's become obvious that my bloggy mates do appreciate a bit of meat in their stories.
    Where did you get the 'two episodes left' from?
    A leak!!!??
    Or maybe you are just fishing?
    Who would know at this stage except Pip herself?
    Cheers
    June

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  13. Nooooooooooooooooo June,, I was referring to two suspects down, and two to go,, Raven or Robson!

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  14. Aha DJ - I'll put away my paranoia now.

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  15. dna? never had to use it in any way personally, no.

    i haven't been commenting but i have been reading. and i'm enjoying the 'book' tremendously!

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  16. SHADOW
    Thanks for making a comment. It really does help! A book's your baby and every Mum likes their child to be chucked under the chin.
    June

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  17. Gidday June as we say here in the Great White North, whew finally caught up. No DNA testing ever required in me family that I know of but one never knows what skeletons are in the closet :) Nice flow to the DNA gathering. I could picture Pip so focused on her task that nothing would disturb her. I'm also happy there aren't only 2 chapters left :D Cheryl

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  18. Family skeletons can be fascinating - have you ever done any family history CHERYL?
    I'm pleased I got across Pip's concentration and that the DNA stuff proved an interest and not a bore ...
    June

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for leaving a comment. Its good to know who's having a peek! I'll certainly send a comment in reply.

To move directly to all other stories. Go to INDEX at
http://journeysincreativewriting.blogspot.com.au/search?updated-max=2012-02-12T15:35:00%2B10:00&max-results=1

Also, you may like to have a look at my other blog 70 Plus and Still Kicking. http://www.70plusandstillkicking.blogspot.com

Cheers June