Monday, May 29, 2006

Diary of a Madman

I’ve finished reading the computer files that Oona forwarded from Dr. Mayhew’s computer. Not only do they contain detailed notes on his experiments, but it seems Mayhew kept a personal diary as well. (Why criminals always feel the need to record their activities—and refuse to use spell-check—is anyone’s guess.)

Let’s just say that if Mayhew’s diary had been fiction rather than fact, I would have been highly entertained, despite all the typos. The professor has been a very busy man. I can’t claim to understand all of the scientific information in his files, but what I’ve managed to decipher with DeeDee’s help would make anyone’s hair stand on end.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

The box of old papers that DeeDee’s dad and Dr. Mayhew found in 1968 in the hidden passage under Columbia University had once belonged to Dr. Phineas Dunne of the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum. For years, Dr. Dunne, whose family originally hailed from Haiti, had been secretly experimenting on patients at the asylum. His goal was to develop a drug that could make troublesome inmates more “cooperative”. (Apparently, he hoped the drug would be given to children as well.) Of course, even 130 years ago, some people took a rather dim view of doctors who experimented on human beings, so Dr. Dunne had to be careful. He commissioned a secret tunnel to be built from his home to the main building of the asylum. Dozens of patients were ferried back and forth every week, and few at the asylum knew anything about it.

By the beginning of 1875, Dr. Dunne believed he was close to completing his work. The drug he had developed, using a number of ingredients native to Haiti, sent patients into a zombie-like state. (In other words, they did what they were told and never argued.) Unfortunately, in March of that year, the sister of one of his special patients became suspicious. Her once lively brother had begun staring at walls and drooling like a Basset hound. She convinced the institution’s authorities to investigate her brother’s treatment. As soon as the authorities began asking too many questions, Dr. Dunne hid his files in the tunnel he had built and decided to take a long vacation in France. Thanks to an undercooked pork chop, he never made it back to the United States.

When Mayhew found Dunne’s files in 1968, he knew he’d hit the jackpot. There were plenty of parties—pharmaceutical companies, foreign governments, bad parents—who’d pay millions for the drug Dunne had described. But for thirty-seven years, Mayhew was forced to keep Dr. Dunne’s work hidden away. He knew he could never experiment openly, and he didn’t have enough cash to build a private laboratory.

Then, just over a year ago, Mayhew had a stroke of inspiration. One day, while browsing at Herman’s Rare Books, Mayhew happened to set a book he’d checked out from Butler Library down on the counter. Mr. Herman took one look at the title and offered Mayhew three thousand dollars for it. That’s when Mayhew realized he could make a fortune off the rare books in the university’s library. And thanks to his days as a food smuggler, he knew how to get the stolen books out of the library and into the tunnels without setting off any sensors.

Last September, Mayhew rented an apartment in the building that had been built on the site of Dr. Dunne’s old house. Working in the middle of the night, he connected the forgotten tunnel to the building’s laundry room. Over the next six months, he was able to steal enough books, maps, and illustrations from the Columbia library to finance the building of a laboratory in his home.

In his new lab, work went quickly. But when Mayhew finally succeeded in cooking up a batch of Dr. Dunne’s drug, he encountered an unforeseen problem. The drug tasted terrible. In fact, it was so foul that even his lab rats wouldn’t touch it. And the noxious odor it produced was powerful enough to draw unwanted attention. Mayhew knew he had to find a way to disguise both the smell and taste of the potion. Then, one day as he was making pancakes, he stumbled upon the answer. He remembered a ski trip he had taken to Vermont one spring, and the wonderful smell that had lingered in the valleys. It had been sugaring season, when the sap from maple trees is boiled down to produce maple syrup. The odor from the process is powerful enough to be detected for miles.

When Mayhew began adding maple sap to his boiling mixture, the smell and the taste of his drug were markedly improved. Soon, he had transformed all the rats in his lab into miniature zombies, and was ready to try his drug on a human. That’s when he turned to his lab assistant, Dalton Noble. After weeks of experimenting, he discovered that a teacup of the potion could keep Dalton dazed for several days. While under the influence, Dalton was alert enough to do Mayhew’s bidding, stealing hundreds of books from the Columbia Library. But when Mayhew allowed him to wake from his stupor, Dalton appeared to remember nothing at all.

The drug had one unusual side effect. When the maple syrup was added to the potion, it created an overwhelming urge for sweets. Mayhew also discovered that the steam from the potion could be remarkably potent. At one point, it had seeped into one of his neighbors’ apartments through a broken fireplace. The poor woman had eaten herself into a coma.

Mayhew realized he’d made another mistake when Dalton Noble collapsed in the library. The boy had never mentioned he was a diabetic, and all of the cheesecake that Mayhew had plied him with had finally taken its toll.

According to his notes, Mayhew feels he’s ready to sell his discovery. In the meantime, he’s recruited two new “assistants” to take Dalton’s place—one from New York University, and one from Hunter College.


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