Rachael Connor was the last one to leave the lab. She was always the last one to leave the lab. As she sat with her forehead on a stack of paperwork, half filing and half overdue, she noticed a terrible smell that made her stomach lurch. Peering under her desk, she noticed the trash can hadn’t been emptied all week. Three not-quite-empty containers of beef lo-mein had been the source of the foul smell. She sighed, closed the lid on the container on her desk, and added to the pile.
The clock on her desk said 9:45, and it took her by surprise. Her children would be in bed by now, and she hadn’t called her mother’s house to tell them goodnight. 9:45. These late nights had cost her much, including her first marriage and thousands of dollars in nannies. Last year she finally broke down and asked her mother to watch the boys.
“This project will only last a few more weeks,” she lied. She knew that no project that had taken ten years would ever last just a few more weeks. Her mother had been gracious, but her sons, not so much. Carson, the oldest, took it in his typical nonchalant stride, but Caleb balked at the idea of staying with his grandmother.
“Her couch smells like pork chops,” he complained. But there they stayed, waiting for her most nights, asleep on the pork infested couch.
9:45. That exact time of night held great significance for Rachael. It was the exact time eleven years ago that Caleb was born. She recalled that night as the night that changed who she was, how she lived, and what she lived for. It was several hours after his birth, and the nurse had brought Caleb into her room for a feeding. The television was on as Caleb nursed and rested. A Dateline rerun. An interview which on most nights, would not have even caught Rachael’s attention. But with her baby in her arms, she took notice of it. The parents on the screen were the parents of the infamous serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer. They looked terribly sad and burdened, as if they themselves carried the burden of guilt for their son’s actions. They spoke of his rather normal upbringing and how much they loved him as a child. They spoke, in fact, about how much they loved him now, even though he had done such horrific things.
Rachael began to cry for them. She looked at her newborn baby, so pink and perfect, and thought about Mrs. Dahmer on the morning of Jeffery’s birth. Had she, too, nursed her beautiful son and felt this kind of love? What turned that perfect newborn soul into a killer? What turned any soul into a killer? Normal human beings, with normal backgrounds, unexposed to abuse or maltreatment, babies who were bounced on grandparent’s knees and read to – what sparked inside of them to turn them into killing machines? They were alike, these serial killers. Too much alike for there to be no genetic component of similarity. It was in that second of a thought that her career, her life’s work, was defined.
Rachael had spent her early years following grad school working in the FBI’s genetic laboratory. When Carson was born, she took an extended maternity leave, and was preparing to return to work when she found out she was pregnant with Caleb. She had enjoyed her time at home with Carson, and was expecting to do the same again, but her midnight epiphany had changed everything. Within two weeks of leaving the hospital, Rachael was making plans to return to work. She spent hours on the phone with her former team at the lab, hours preparing a plan, hours begging for funding. Hours turned to years, and years to divorce. Her obsession with finding the link, breaking the genetic code of serial murder, had cost her greatly.
She rose from her desk, turned out the light, walked out and locked the door. She was two steps out when she remembered that she had not yet checked the latest round of genetic samples. “Shit. What’s ten more minutes?” she thought, and let herself back into the lab. Moments later, she fell to her knees. There it was. The link was there.
Ten years of late nights and telephone goodnights had brought her to this. She had discovered a genetic link, one small chromosome, common between convicted serial killers. It was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. She looked up at the picture on her desk of Carson and Caleb and wondered, “How many? How many babies born tonight have this gene? How many killers were born to young, loving mothers who are nursing them right this second?” What would become of these children? These mothers? The enormity of her finding struck her like a blow to the chest.
“Mom”, she said when she gathered herself together enough to make the call, “I’m coming. Have them ready to go.” She brought herself to her feet, gathered her notes and her slides, and left for good. The FBI could never know about this. Tomorrow, she would explain to her superiors that she had found no link, that her work was in vain, and that she was leaving her job to focus on her family.
They were babies, not monsters. Not yet.