by Damon Nomad
An unscrupulous chemistry professor searching for riches.
| An Alchemist Recipe
by Damon Nomad
Drake Sutton detested the old man sitting behind the desk. It was an absurdity that this shabby man could sit in judgment of him. Sutton was from a prominent family; this threadbare man lived in a university cottage. "You've had my revised thesis for a month. What is your decision?"
Professor Doyle laid his spectacles on his desk and rubbed his eyes. "You are brilliant Mr. Sutton, but you have no patience. You need more laboratory tests, maybe another year of experiments. Same as I told you before."
Sutton shrugged. "If that's what it takes, then so be it."
Doyle sighed with relief. "I'm glad you are taking it this way. I need a brandy."
Sutton reached into the attache case at his feet. "Not that cheap stuff from your cupboard. A gift as a token of admiration and thanks."
Doyle smacked his lips as he opened up the exquisite presentation box. "Thank you. Quality crystal goblets as well." He poured them each a glass and quickly drank his down. Moments later he clutched his chest as he fell to the floor.
Sutton got the small funnel from his pocket and slowly poured the brandy back into the bottle. He retrieved the two typewritten sheets of paper from his attache and put the box and funnel inside. He went to the filing cabinet and found the folder labeled D. Sutton and slipped the two sheets of paper inside. He had been practicing the old man's signature for months. Sutton stared at the body on the floor before he left. "Thank you for approving my thesis and providing a recommendation letter as well. Quite sporting of you old man." Doyle's secretary would find him in the morning. Doyle had a bad ticker, and this poison was very hard to detect.
Professor Orville Rand shuffled slowly to his office door. "Ethel, can you please send Dr. Sutton in."
Rand was immediately struck by the man's cultured appearance, expensive suit, and stylish mustache. Not what he expected for a newly hired associate professor of chemistry. "Have a seat Dr. Sutton. How was the train ride?"
Sutton smirked as he sat in the wingback seat near Rand's desk. "It was fine, I paid to upgrade to first class." Rand was a bit of a legend in the chemistry community, but they had never met. He looked a bit like a mad scientist with a wild mane of gray hair. Nearly seventy, but his mind was sharp. Sutton gestured to the wall behind Rand's desk, "A portrait of Roger Bacon. He was an alchemist, wasn't he?"
"Yes, a reminder of the roots of chemistry. This is quite the recommendation letter from Professor Doyle you sent to me. Tragic his passing of a heart attack. It will be good to have you here now. You will be taking the place of Professor Lagrange. We worked together on research for years. Cancer took him at a young age." He sighed with a shrug. "What are your long-term goals in chemistry?"
"This is the century of innovation. Electric lights and the automobile in just the last few decades. I'm looking for practical new applications of chemistry."
Rand shrugged with a hint of a frown. "You want to join Edison and Ford. Looking for money from the world of chemistry. I'm just interested in the magic of science."
Six months later, Sutton and Rand were meeting in Rand's office. "You have been doing good work, Professor Sutton. I submitted the paperwork for the end of your probation period. You are a full faculty member now."
Ethel knocked and came through the door carrying a small tray. "Pot of coffee, milk in the creamer, and sugar in the tin. You can pour your own. Did you see the newspaper this morning? Another small box of gold showed up yesterday. This time on the desk of the headmaster of the orphanage. The story says it will let them pay off the arrears on their mortgage. Praise be to whoever is doing this. I'll be right outside if you need anything."
Sutton poured a cup of coffee; he drank it black. "What was that about?"
Rand poured his coffee and added some milk with two lumps of sugar. "Someone has been delivering small boxes of gold to charities and those in need. It's been going on for years. Any thoughts on your research?" Rand needed someone to take over his secret project, but he wasn't sure that he could trust Sutton. Lagrange was only a few months away from being ready, but then he got sick.
"Not yet, still thinking about it."
A few weeks later Sutton was in Rand's office in the early evening. Going through Rand's files looking for something of value, something he might develop for a patent. It looked like the old fool had published everything, and you couldn't patent what was in the public domain. He opened up the bottom drawer and found several small stainless steel boxes. He opened one up; it was full of small pellets of lead. What is this? He had seen Rand carrying one of these small boxes as he headed down to his lab late one afternoon. There were no research papers about lead pellets. Maybe the old codger was guarding his most valuable research.
Sutton saw Rand headed to the basement late the next afternoon, and he had one of the stainless steel boxes with him. Sutton had been to Rand's basement lab several times. There was a storage room next to the lab. The storage room had an entry in the corridor, but there was also a locked door leading into Rand's lab, with a clear glass transom above. He quietly slipped into the storage room. There was just enough light coming through the transom to move about. He moved a chair close to the door and stood up on it. Rand was working below and was just getting started with his experiment. Sutton watched as Rand went through a series of neutralizations, titrations, filtrations, reductions, and heating steps with a strange variety of chemicals. Most peculiarly, he wasn't following any written experimental protocol. Rand left after nearly three hours of work and he turned out the lights and locked the door.
Sutton heard the door at the top of the stairs as it slammed shut. Sutton had stolen a spare key to the lab weeks ago. He moved quietly into the hall and slipped into Rand's laboratory and locked the door. He saw the box of lead pellets drying under a steel hood. He gasped as he picked up one of the small pellets. Surely not.
He found a beaker and mixed a solution of potassium dichromate, nitric acid, and hydrochloric acid. He dropped a pellet into the beaker and the liquid turned bright green. It's gold, pure gold. The old man had the philosopher's stone recipe. Why was Rand living such a frugal life? Was he giving it all to charity? He cleaned up the beaker and locked the office back up. This has to be written down somewhere.
Sutton figured that Rand must have the recipe at his home. Rand's wife had died a decade ago and he was alone. A housekeeper came in each morning as he went to work. She had dinner ready for him when he got home. Sutton had gotten the details from Ethel.
A few days later he waited outside Rand's home in the early evening. He headed to the front door shortly after the housekeeper left.
Rand opened the front door. "Dr. Sutton, good evening. I was not expecting you."
"I have a small gift that I've been meaning to give you." He held up a box. "A fine brandy. If you have some time."
"How good of you. Please come in. Let's go to the study."
Rand took a seat in the easy chair in the corner as Sutton sat on the small sofa along the near wall. Sutton put the box on an end table. "Where's the recipe?"
Rand shrugged. "What are you talking about?"
Sutton pulled a revolver from his coat pocket. "The steps for converting lead to gold. Where is it written down? Don't lie to me. I watched you from the storage room."
Rand sighed with a frown. "I've never written it down. I learned it from a mentor, step-by-step years ago before I took the oath. It took me two years."
Sutton cocked the hammer on the revolver. "Oath? Keep explaining."
"It was written down on pages of parchment when it was first discovered in 1325 by some obscure alchemist whose name is lost to the ages. A detailed three-page description in Latin. The parchment is sealed up in a clay jar. The jar is passed on to each new custodian when they take the oath. I took the oath thirty-two years ago. Never eyes shall see and never light shall touch these pages. Only from one mind to the next by word of mouth. Only pass the secret on to the pure of heart. The yield of gold is only for the benefit of the needy."
"Where is the jar?"
Rand glanced at a closet and then looked away. "It will not do you any good. Didn't you understand the oath?"
Sutton chuckled as he stood up. "Yeah, I'm not pure of heart." He kept the gun pointed at Rand as he opened the closet. He saw the seam for a sliding door in the back. He slid it open and saw the old clay jar sitting inside. He sat back down on the sofa and de-cocked the gun and put it on the table. "Sorry about the gun." He paused for a moment as he opened the box. "Maybe we can come to some sort of agreement. Let's have a brandy and talk about this in a civilized manner."
Rand nervously looked toward the door; there was no way he could get past Sutton. Maybe a drink would help get him out of this predicament. "My nerves could use a brandy."
Sutton watched Rand fall to the floor just like Doyle. He gestured to the body as he stood up. "My Latin is quite good."
He got the brown ceramic jar out of the back of the closet and sat it on the desk. The top had a wax seal. He took out his pocket knife and slowly cut away at the wax. He removed the lid and he could see the sheets of cotton and linen parchment inside. He turned on the overhead light and stood underneath as he unrolled the pages. He read aloud as he translated the first few sentences, "Never eyes shall see and never light shall touch this parchment. Only from one mind to the next by word of mouth." He smirked, "Sorry, I'm taking a shortcut."
The parchment burst into flames just as the last word came from his mouth. He instantly knew that it was some type of reaction of the ink with light. A countermeasure that was put in place by the medieval alchemist. He muttered angrily, "Never the light shall touch." The document was consumed before he could save any of it. He put the jar back in place and put the brandy and glasses back into the box. He tucked his revolver away in his coat and headed for the front door.
He was startled by Ethel's voice as he slipped out the door. She was standing next to a man in a police uniform. "Professor Sutton, surprised to see you here. I have some papers to drop off for Professor Rand." She gestured to the man in uniform. "My husband, Clifford." She squeezed Clifford's arm.
Clifford saw his wife's worried look. He pushed open the door. "I see lights in a room down the hall." He gestured to Sutton. "Do you mind sharing some of that brandy?"
Word Count 1995