Drawing Conclusions by Deirdre Verne is the first Sketch in Crime mystery featuring CeCe Prentice, an eco-conscious freegan and artist suspicious of the death of her twin brother, a prominent genetic researcher (available February 8, 2015).
We meet CeCe Prentice on her way into a Dumpster. By choice. She's a Freegan, an eco-conscious artist in her twenties who hates waste and lives with four green friends on Long Island's North Shore, “experimenting with organic farming and subsistence living.” They live in part of CeCe's inheritance, the rundown former Harbor Master's home that's been in her family for generations. Among newer family traditions, CeCe's been estranged for decades from her father, who's never approved of her bohemian existence and who runs a laboratory that's a major local employer:
The venerable Dr. William Prentice was the founder and lead scientist of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories, the central clearing house for all things DNA in the United States and around the globe. It was the home of the double helix, the national genome project, and a slew of other international scientific studies. In the world of hard-core science, it was hard to get bigger than Dr. William Prentice, a man who had devoted nearly fifty years searching for the cure. Which cure? Who cares. Take your pick. From what little I understood (or wanted to) about DNA, once those elusive little genomes were trapped and mapped, the answer would tumble out and wrap itself around a prescription bottle with a child-safety lid fully intact.
But it isn't her father that causes the cops to visit her home. They come because of another doctor and researcher, her brilliant twin brother, Teddy, who she adores. Not even thirty, he's found dead in his office at the lab.
Of course, CeCe's grief is leavened with anger to learn that it was her father who arranged with cops to keep the news from her while her father's overseen an inconclusive autopsy. With him panicked about how the death could affect the lab's stature, and her mother routinely pickled into incoherence, no one cares to hear how CeCe feels except her pals: an organic farming couple, a recycled clothing designer, and Charlie, a fixture in her life since he became her brother's childhood friend. Oh yeah, the cops are very willing to lend an ear, too. “Freegans take what they can get,” is how she explains her stance to a wary detective at the police station. But sometimes, what they get is more than they bargained:
I nodded again, pointing at DeRosa’s garbage pail with one hand while the other covered my mouth. In one quick motion, he grabbed a plastic recycling bin and shoved it under my chin. His timing was impeccable. I tossed my breakfast directly into the pail. Between the gut stabbing pains and the panting heaves, I was able to blurt out a few sentences.
“Is it just me?”
“No, your housemates are sick too.”
“I need to get to a hospital,” I burped. “There could have been rat poison in the Dumpster.”
CeCe accepts the sometimes tough life she's chosen—wait until you read the process for laundry!—as an iconoclastic “weirdo” and rebel within her community. She's developed a quick wit, thick skin, and resilience. Usually, that's enough. But Teddy was not only her beloved brother, he was one of her few intimate friends and genuine supporters:
Within a day, I’d be surrounded by hundreds of mourners bowing to the awe of money and influence. There would be gawkers and curiosity seekers, opportunists and press hogs. I’m sure I would satisfy the paparazzi in my role as the underachieving, crackpot sister with an inheritance big enough to support a small nation…
It was my fascination with similarities and differences that led me to paint portraits. I am a self-proclaimed expert in the human body from the neck up. I would let my father and brother analyze DNA under the power of a laser microscope; my interpretation of DNA flowed from the tip of my fingers through the end of my paintbrush, spilling out across a canvas. I knew faces, and at this moment, I could tell from my housemates’ expressions that doubt and fear were overtaking rational thought…
I painted for three solid hours with odd intervals of rest just to make the doctors happy. By the end, I was left with five canvases of a male’s head from the crown to the brow. The mop of hair appeared in various stages of styling, from a Caesar to a middle part, left part, right part, and finally swept back like a Wall Street fund manager. I didn’t know where these images were taking me…
I might not live like CeCe, but I respect her and her strength, because it would be so much easier for everyone, including herself, if she just gave up. Still, she's not obsessed with preaching about her beliefs to the uninterested; she's far too occupied living them, another part of what made me want to cheer her on. As CeCe turns her discomfiting artist's gaze on her discarded past, hunting for clues about her brother’s death, she begins to see it and even her own place in it differently. She's a principled, consciously low-maintenance woman thrown into an increasingly deadly and twisted, high-stakes game. But if addressing an injustice requires someone who won't simply swallow the predictable company line, she's a bona fide out-of-the-Dumpster thinker with creative brilliance in her genes.
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Clare Toohey is a literary omnivore who wants a taste from your page. Aside from editing The M.O. and site wrangling here, she's a freelance editor who's also written short and surreal crime stories, blogs at Women of Mystery, and tweets @clare2e.