Dan spun around and looked
behind him, letting the door of the coffee house swing closed. He held his
breath while his eyes darted over the familiar coastal village, looking for
someone or something out of place. The tension and touch of fear was the same
one he would get as a child, running in the dark from the garage to the house,
the one he would get in the middle of the night, wondering about moving shadows
or sounds, especially after his father’s untimely
death when he was only ten.
blew across the damp sidewalk around parked cars and into the two-lane street;
some lodged in the gutter or cracks in the street; others blew up on the aging
Massive, gnarled roots of two nearby eucalyptus trees cracked the brick-edged
sidewalk with their zest for life. Above, limbs arched over the street and
sidled up to the buildings. Dan looked down the street, past the antique store,
the women’s boutique, and out to the Pacific Ocean, flat and calm under
solid gray overcast skies. A flock of seagulls swooped overhead, squawking and
chattering as a group. The shops were still closed,
not unusual for an early Wednesday morning, but something felt strange.
Why do I feel like someone is watching me?
Dan closed his jacket to block the light ocean
breeze and turned back to the door.
pulled open the rustic wooden door and looked over his shoulder. Half a block
back, a bearded man holding a bag of cans and bottles stumbled from between two
buildings and staggered off in the opposite direction without making eye
contact. Hmmm. Just a bum, Dan thought. That explains it.
Dan entered the familiar, warm
interior of the shop and pulled the door closed. He took one last look through
the unusual round porthole window in the door—a door salvaged, perhaps, from
the captain’s quarters of an ancient sailing ship. The marine theme continued
through the coffee house, with antiques, brass hardware, and artwork. Dan could
still feel adrenaline in his blood; it would take a few more minutes to relax,
even with the comfortable smell of roasted coffee beans and warm scones
drifting in the air.
Lately, Dan had been reserving
time in the morning for conversation with friends. This was a relatively new
practice. For years, he had worked long hours every day at his Internet service
company, a company recently sold for a comfortable profit. Finally, he was
setting aside some time for leisure, friendship, and perhaps even love. Now,
that would be a change.
Only a few customers sat here and there. After buying his
coffee, Dan glanced at his two friends sitting as usual at the table where they
all had met at the book club gathering several months earlier. Dan’s friend
John frowned and shook his head, and Dan smiled to himself—-Ah,
the old argument again! Dan approached the table, leaned down, and surprised Shannon with a hug
from the back, reaching across her slender waist and dodging her healthy brown
hair. She turned and laughed; her gold necklace glinted through the top of her
John’s frown disappeared into a
deeper crinkle of his permanent laugh lines. His vice-grip handshake prompted a
short squeezing contest. Dan occasionally wondered if that customary death grip
was a help or hindrance to John’s insurance and financial planning practice.
removed his jacket, placed it over the back of his chair, and made room at the
table for his napkin and mug by pushing aside John’s black leather Bible and Shannon’s
hardcover microbiology textbook.
“Scientists have been experimenting with genetic engineering and DNA technology since the
‘60s,” Shannon said.
John picked up his gold pen and twisted it closed. “Huh? I don’t remember that.”
don’t keep up with technology. Public awareness...it didn’t shift for another
“Shift? What shift?” John asked.
Shannon pondered John’s question for a moment and sipped
Dan’s friends were so engrossed in their conversation, they
didn’t seem to notice his difficulty in getting settled. It seemed that again,
John was the reluctant student, resisting all scientific advances and
denigrating Shannon’s technical biotechnology education. Dan looked
out the window, through the trees, and out to the ocean. Birds flew under the
clouds to join dark flocks floating on the surface of the sea, only appearing
as tiny black dots in the distance.
An answer came to Shannon, and she blurted out, “The shift—I think ‘Oh-Jay’
“Oh what? Orange juice?”
“No, no, no. O.J. Simpson. You know, his trial.”
picked up and cradled his mug to warm his hands, sitting so he could keep an
eye on the door and still be in the conversation—a conversation that could
start to get interesting.
John twisted his pen open, wrote
“OJ” on his napkin, and then circled the initials. “Right. O.J. Simpson. Sure, everybody remembers that.
Don’t they? I figured it was just another celebrity in a spat with his wife.
Instead it was a huge production. Remember the
thirty-five-mile-per-hour freeway chase and the thousands of idiot fans waving
‘GO OJ’ signs from the overpasses?”
Dan briefly recalled the so-called “trial of the century” that seemed to consume
everyone in America and most of the world, one of the first big trials
to be fully televised. The reality soap-opera—including
everything from a football star, to the celebrity lifestyle, strange roomers, parties,
and drugs—ran daily for months; seventy million viewers watched the
Shannon stirred her coffee with a red plastic stirring stick. “Prosecutors
relied heavily on DNA evidence. You can’t really argue with matching DNA
samples, at least not with the overwhelming statistics.”
“O.J. and his ‘dream team’ tried to blame poor Mark Fuhrman for everything,” John
said. “They were desperate.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure. DNA is easy to plant if you want to.” Shannon held the
straw-like red stirring stick like a laboratory pipette, her thumb over the end
as if she were in one of her graduate biotech labs, to keep a few drops of
coffee inside. “One drop...” she released a drop onto John’s napkin, “...of
blood...” she dropped another on Dan’s napkin, “...and you’ve got someone
framed. Blood samples from O.J.’s house even
contained a blood preservative normally used by forensic labs, and they said
they didn’t add it. It seems possible that rogue cops
planted the glove and the blood. It wouldn’t be too
hard. Remember? They said, ‘We found this glove at the
crime scene and a matching glove at O.J.’s house.’
Yeah, right. If they planted the glove, how can you trust the blood?”
Shannon licked her stirring stick and popped it back in her cup.
Dan set his mug on his “blood”-stained napkin. “Without the DNA evidence, what
would they have? Not much, I would say. I’ll bet they would’ve dropped the
case,” Dan said.
“Except for the bloody glove,
you’re right. They didn’t have much,” she said. “My point is that the O.J.
trial exposed the general, nonscientific public to biotechnology. DNA,
chromosomes, and genetic fingerprints became common during prime time for
months. But it really wasn’t new at all. DNA evidence
was already standard practice in the courtroom, deciding life or death for
years. The Simpson case merely brought it to the kitchen table.”
“John, why do you have such a hard time accepting
the reality of DNA?” Dan asked.
“What proof is there? We can’t see it, right?”
“Even under a microscope, it’s too thin to see in any detail, that’s true.
But you can see the chromosomes and there’s a lot of
supporting evidence. I’m really surprised you’d have any doubt of the existence
of DNA at this point.”
“I’m afraid our friend here is still hanging on to the Dark Ages.” Shannon patted
John on the arm.
you’ve got to wake up to modern times. It’s a hard, cold fact, proven over and
over,” Dan said. “Is there really any doubt? Geez, in
2003, the Human Genome Project finished unraveling the complete sequence of human
DNA. Anyone can view the entire genetic sequence on the Internet, all three
Shannon added, “Yeah. Just click on genome.ucsc.org. It’s overwhelming: a
massive pile of genetic data, like a
huge pile of unassembled jigsaw puzzle pieces. It’ll be a long time—I’d say at
least decades—before scientists decode the meaning of it all.”
I’m no scientist. I’m willing to go along to get
along. DNA probably exists. But so what?”
“DNA is not just a simple fact of life.” Shannon leaned forward and tapped on the table. “It’s the
most significant discovery of all time, as far as life is concerned. DNA is at
the core of absolutely every form of life, in all
animals, all plants, all bacteria, and even viruses. No life form exists that
uses anything else.”
Dan added, “DNA essentially means life. Remember comparisons of
animal skeletons in high school science class? A rat skeleton looks very
much like that of a cat, a bird, a whale, and even man, with five digits in
their paws, wings, flippers, or hands. All about the same,
just proportioned a bit differently. The pattern of life is not just uniform at
that level. Organisms are very similar no matter how closely you look. At the
genetic level, all life uses basically the same DNA
structure, DNA code, cell machinery, and procedures. To the big picture, there
simply is no exception!”
The door to the coffee shop creaked open, and Dan glanced up.