“So far I just can’t find what these deaths have in common,” said DCI Smith to Dr. Jones, CSI. “I understand that they’ve all died of fulminating infection of their prostate glands, but what caused it?”
“Yeah. Bothers me, too. I’ve got some biopsies fermenting in petri dishes. When I’ve got critical mass on them, I’ll do some comparison tests. I’ve got a gut feeling it’s some kind of mutation or epigenetic addition to the genomes of these guys. That is, a flu sort of thing.”
“I thought flu was a stomach and lung bug. How come it just hits the prostate?”
“Well, it’s a viral fragment. They have to find a cell that they can hook onto.”
“Gives new meaning to ‘hook-up culture,’ eh?”
The scientist looked thoughtful. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a sexual dimension. Urological, maybe, but not so likely. We need to look for behavior patterns.”
The first useful clue came in from the son of an English teacher, a gay man who had adopted the boy from a shadowed past. Now a succeeding teenager, the boy had been in very bad shape when the teacher found him and fought the system to adopt him. Even now the boy had nightmares if he were under pressure. One morning the boy, pushing his Cheerios around in milk, mused, “Funny how all the chicken hawks are dying.”
“What?” His father lowered the newspaper he’d been holding up to read.
“Oh, you know what a chicken hawk is — a guy who likes little boys. I’ve been reading the back of your newspaper. The obituaries are listing guys we kids all know are chicken hawks.”
“Where. Show me which guys.” He took out his ever-present highlighter and marked the deaths the boy indicated. At first he argued. “This guy is married!”
“Come on, Dad. You think that makes a difference? Lots of these pervs have families, even kids of their own. You sorta wonder what happens to them.”
Shaken, the dad did a quick count: five.
“Actually, Dad,” in the tone teens so love when they’re the one who knew better, “There’s one perv that’s not there, but she’s a woman. I ‘spose she’s more of a cougar. She likes boys who are a little older, like my age.” Then, seeing his father’s face, he hurried to reassure him. “Not ME! I know about women like that. I run.”
“Does every teenaged kid in this little town know about these people?”
“Some of the girls don’t want to know about it. A few of them tell their parents everything anyway, so we ignore them.”
“Why don’t you tell the authorities?” This naiveté made the boy laugh so hard milk came out his nose.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t be stupid while you’re still eating.” When he went down to the police station he found out just how stupid he was. The cops brushed him off. They knew he was gay. Some of them had not been updated since 1940. “But it looks like murder!” he protested.
“You been readin’ too many murder mysteries. Don’t read so much. Get exercise.”
But Miss White, the super-liberal public defender, overheard this exchange. She had learned to take paranoia seriously. She asked the English teacher, who was a friend of hers, for his marked up obituaries and made copies to take to Dr. Jones, CSI. At Bertha’s Beatific Bakery Dr. Jones sat down for a meet with DSI Smith, who knew his men were often prey to stereotypes. Jones had made a list of his own: all the fatal fulminating prostate cases from the past month. There were three dozen.
Smith jammed a donut into his mouth, getting powdered sugar on his mustache. “Yep. We actually have complaints on some of these guys. A few are on our sex offender rolls. Served time.”
Jones nibbled a bagel and adjusted his specs to look at the list. “Well, here’s the thing, Smith. I think this is a designer virus.” He rubbed the bald top of his head to help himself think.
“Someone has made this virus to target people through this vulnerability presented by their perversity.” They chewed in silence for a few minutes.
Finally Smith laughed. “Why try to prevent it? Let’s just let the scumbags be eliminated.”
“Look at that list. There are major figures on it: county commissioners, religious leaders, sports figures. If this virus gets out of control — we don’t know who else it could infect — it’s destabilizing. People will get paranoid and see all kinds of dangers and targets. We’ll have vigilante problems. These victims are DYING. Without any kind of trial.”
“People die all the time.” DCI Smith dusted his face with his paper napkin. Then he sighed. “Okay. I get callous. What did your tests show?” He sort of blanked out on the details of a two-stage infection that required a non-symptomatic carrier who could transmit the “bug” to another individual where it was somehow activated.
“I just have to figure out what activates it,” said Jones, finishing his bagel and the last of his coffee. “So I’ll get at that problem. Maybe it has something to do with being an adult male.” He waved at the beaming Bertha as he left.
Then a teenaged boy came down with the fulminating prostate and no effort could quite save him. This was the case that gave Jones the clues he needed to understand what it was that kicked up the virus into being a killer: it was testosterone at adult levels. An old man came in with the affliction, but didn’t quite die. He wasn’t molesting boys because of his hormonally driven desire — it was just a lifelong habit. He didn’t quite have enough sex hormone to fulminate.
People began to realize how much more happy and confident the towns pre-adolescent boys were. They went about their various projects whistling, though there was no obvious difference otherwise. No one had suspected what had been previously going on — the constant anxiety they had thought was normal, maybe part of growth.
The English teacher and the super-liberal Public Defender took some croissant sandwiches from Bertha’s Beatific Bakery out for a shared Saturday brunch on a park bench in the town square. “Have you noticed how much happier the boys are?” he asked the lawyer.
“I have. And these are great sandwiches. You know, they say Bertha started out as a research chemist and that’s why her baking is so good — it’s scientific!”
“Hmmmm,” said the English teacher and passed the info on to DCI Smith, who did a little investigating. Jones confirmed it. Together they went to confront Bertha and to force open the secret room in back of the bakery. But they didn’t need force. She cheerfully admitted what she had done and threw open the door from her kitchen to the lab.
“I did it,” she beamed. “The world is now a better place. I infected the boys of this town with virally infused pizza and it has protected them ever since. But not their predators. Think of it as a kind of vaccination.”
Smith and Jones were debating whether to charge Bertha until they opened the secret room. It turned out to be a fully equipped lab. On the counter was a list of proposals for new viruses Bertha intended to design. One was targeted at stupid people. “Wait a minute,” squawked Smith. “Some of my relatives are pretty stupid, but I’m fond of them. I wouldn’t want them harmed.” Jones pointed out that stupidity was sometimes in the eye of the beholder, socially defined. Smith was not reassured.
In the end Bertha was accused and tried. Public Defender White lost the case. When the English teacher asked her how she felt about that, she couldn’t find anything coherent to say. After a long, thoughtful pause she said, “You know, I’ve eaten a whole lot of Bertha’s pizza.”
The English teacher grinned. “Well, at least you won’t get a fulminating prostate!”