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Hunting for Clones

Dennis Chute

i'm a PI with an odd speciality. Science is my beat. There isn't much work so I hate to turn away a paying client.

"I want you to find some clones for me," the ananoymous, gravelly voice on the phone demanded.

"Ran away from the circus did they?" I asked.

"Clones not clowns," the voice explained patiently, enunciating clearly. A man with no evident sense of humor. Good rule of thumb, clients who don't laugh are difficult to work for but pay well.

"Cow, pig, sheep. Got a preference?" I asked.

"Human," he said. I hung up.

I get this a lot, mostly over the Internet. I post a lot on various cloning bulletin boards. Since 1980 there have been rumors about human clones growing up amongst us. I keep hearing from people who know someone who knows someone who has a lead to a human clone. At first I followed up every lead. I haunted IVF clinic, pestered scientists, ran out all the ground balls. Eventually I got really cynical.

Twenty minutes later, I was back working on my Puzz 3-D of the Chateau Frontenac, the phone rang again.

"Please don't hang up, meet me. $500 just to meet me. Cash."

"Why not come to my office?" I asked.

"I can't be seen consulting a PI," he said, exasperated, like his reasoning should be obvious. "Some place public, where no-one can listen in."

"I hate to tell you but there is no place private anymore. They are listening to everything we say, everywhere we go." I love to tease paranoids, and in my business I get lots of opportunity. Good rule of thumb, don't work for paranoids, they won't trust you to do the job.

"West Edmonton. One hour. $500 dollars."

"How will I know you?" I asked.

"You won't. I'll know you. The viewing area above the water park. Make sure nobody follows you."

I got to the mall in 45 minutes. It was 22 below outside. In the water park three young moms lay in loungers as their toddlers played at the edge of the water. Ten feet up, on my side of the plexi-glass, it was too warm for my parka but too cold for a bathing suit.

A man stepped up to the glass beside me.

"Dr. Chute," he said. I couldn't tell if it was a question or not.

"Call me Dennis," I said.

"Twenty years ago my wife and I had a baby, a boy. Jason. Six months ago he died in a car accident. Shortly after the funeral my wife decided she wanted another child."

"Talking to me isn't going to get your wife pregnant."

"My wife is fifty. Nothing we do is going to get us another child. Never did. Jason was an early IVF baby. Bump into me at the dolphin show," he said and was gone. I wasn't sure I'd recognize him again.

He was standing on the second floor across from the dolphin pit, a non descript, middle aged man in an overcoat that cost more than I made last month.

"Where is my $500?" I asked.

He reached inside his overcoat and pulled out an envelope. I took it from his outstretched hand and counted it. The entire $500 was there. In American dollars.

"We had trouble producing even one fertilized egg, one embryo for them to try implanting."

I walked away.

"Where are you going?" He asked, coming up beside me.

"I don't work for anonymous clients," I said.

"Stop. I'll tell you." And he did.

I'm not going to tell you more than the bare bones. He, let's call him the client, owned a company that did a lot of work for the government in Washington. Jason wasn't just an IVF baby, he was a clone.

The US senate is debating a law that would make it illegal to have any role in human cloning research. It could be interpreted as being retroactive. Putting the client at risk and imperilling his business.

"The doctor made 32 clones by splitting the original embryo into single cells. From that he got sixteen healthy embryos. My wife had eight implanted, one took. It was a very hard pregnancy and we decided to stop at one."

"So what happened to the other eight embryos?" I asked.

"We thought they were just frozen, waiting for us. But the doctor waited a year and then implanted them in one of his technicians. A very young widow. Minah P. My wife learned all this when she went back to the clinic last year.

"The doctor is dead, but the staff remembered Minah's pregnancy. And the rumors that circulated. They said she went home to Canada, to Edmonton, where she came from."

"So some of the embryos took in Minah?"

"Yes, she had twins. Boys of course. I want you to find her, find them."

It took me three weeks to find Minah and her sons. My rules of thumb all come from classic PI novels. All but one.

Dashiell Hammett, author of the Maltese Falcon, worked as a Pinkerton detective before he started writing. He loved to tell the story of one missing person case he worked on.

A sales executive went missing in Seatltle in the early 1920s. One day he was just gone. Left behind a good job and a wife and two kids. After a lot of work Hammett found him in Tacoma. He was woking as a sales executive, and had a wife and two kids. Hammett asked this guy what happened. "I was walking along and a steel beam fell from a construction site and just missed me. I realized I had to change my life. Then no more beams fell."

The rule of thumb is, when we run away we just recreate our old lives in a new place. I was willing to bet Minah would still be working as a technician in a fertility clinic run by an older male doctor who did cutting edge research. She was.

When I showed up at her door she said, "I've been expecting someone like you."

I thought my job was done. Then the client came to me with an unusual request.

"Can you do the DNA testing yourself, prove these are my boys?"

"Sure if you will give me a DNA sample from you and your wife."

It was a perfect match. No doubt, they were the biological parents.

I thought I was done. The client wanted to make sure that the boys were all right. No DNA damage as a result of the cloning.

I examined their telomeres, checking to see if they were shorter than normal. Normal length. I looked for unusual base pairs. Nothing. I examined their chromatin. Normal.

I thought I was done. The client wanted to know if there was any way to prove the boys were clones. I thought about that one a long time.

"Well, not definitively, but well enough to satisfy a court of law, probably."

"How?" He asked.

"DNA from Jason. If it was identical to the boys, and he was a year older, that would be pretty compelling."

"Where would they get Jason's DNA?"

"Exhume the body. Hairs from and old comb. Fingernail clippings."

"What would happen if somebody found out the boys were clones? Not to me, to them?" The client asked.

"Probably a media circus to begin with. Then we could hope it would turn out to be like Louise Brown," I said.

"Louise Brown?"

"My point exactly. First IVF baby. The monster incarnate. Leading a perfectly normal life. But at first it would be hell."

"Will you help me purge the evidence, make sure nobody can ever prove it?" The client asked.

We sterilized their home, removed all fibers and tissues. Then we had Jason exhumed, getting the court wasn't easy, and had him cremated. It was damn tough on the parents, Minah and the boys came to a second service, to see their older brother go to his final rest. We scattered his ashes in Telluride.

Good rule of thumb, the case is over when the client says so.

Dennis Chute is the author of Turning Samoan (Great Plains Publications, 2001) and the soon to be released Announcing My Madness, which details some of his most fascinating cases as a science PI. If you have ideas for investigations he could pursue and write about contact

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