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Eureka: Substitution Method

Cris Ramsay - Author

Paperback: Mass Market | $7.99 | add to cart | view cart
ISBN 9780441018857 | 320 pages | 31 Aug 2010 | Ace | 6.49 x 4.29in | 18 - AND UP
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Welcome to Eureka.
Population: BRILLIANT

It's a town of geniuses—and now it's the smartest series going.

Founded by Albert Einstein and Harry Truman after WWII, Eureka is home to the greatest minds in science and technology. But the creations of these eccentric geniuses threaten to destroy the world as often as they save it. Jack Carter is the everyman sheriff who must use his common sense and unique street smarts to keep a lid on this Pandora's Box of a town. Especially now, when Eureka's people, cars, and buildings are being swapped with people, cars and buildings from other places.

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Chapter Two

Carter pulled the key out of the ignition and hopped out of the Jeep. Seth Osbourne was already waiting for him, arms crossed, and once again Carter marveled at the fact that you could never judge a book by its cover. Tall and broad (and a bit round), with thick beefy arms and jowls and a menacing glower, all Osbourne needed was the too-tight black T-shirt, the jeans, and the club-sized Maglite to be the standard image of a bouncer. Instead he was a scientist, and a brilliant one. Cranky and difficult with a tendency to break the rules—like so many other Eureka residents—but brilliant nonetheless.

"What seems to be the problem, Seth?" Carter asked as he walked over. He noticed that Osbourne's car—a beautifully restored Mustang he'd reconfigured to run on nuclear power cells—was sitting off to one side of the driveway under a dustcover, and he felt a twinge of guilt. The last time he'd been out here it had been to confiscate those same power cells, which Osbourne had resisted turning in despite a GD demand. Of course, someone else had gotten to it first, but Carter still felt bad about being even peripherally involved with shutting down such an awesome car.

"It's Fargo," the heavyset scientist told him. He kept his arms crossed, which meant there would be no welcoming handshake. That was fine. The two of them had never been particularly cordial. Carter did his best to get along with everyone in Eureka—it was part of his job—but some residents were easier than others. "He's at it again."

"Yeah, you said that on the phone. What exactly do you mean by 'at it'?" Privately, Carter was really hoping Osbourne was wrong. He knew Fargo well, better than he knew most of the people here, and though they weren't exactly friends they did associate a lot. And Fargo was frequently very helpful in solving the problems Carter faced. Of course, he'd also been responsible for a few of those problems, but nobody was perfect.

Fargo and Osbourne did have a history, though. Fargo's trailer was just on the other side of Osbourne's property, and the two had gotten into a pretty nasty dispute about noise at one point last year—Osbourne had been blaring opera in the middle of the night to encourage the growth of his experimental plants and had refused to consider his neighbors' attempts to sleep. He'd also ignored Carter's cease-and-desist. The feud had risen to an all-out war, with Fargo sneaking in to sabotage Osbourne's speakers, and the two had actually come to blows—though admittedly that had been at least partially the plants' fault, because their pollen had released people's ids, causing them to act without restraint.

Carter was hoping to avoid such unpleasantness this time around.

But Osbourne was clearly out for blood. "Take a look!" he insisted, and led Carter around to the side of the house—and a field of colorful flowers.

"Oh, come on!" Carter couldn't help saying. "We talked about this, Seth! No more plants, remember?"

"No more experimental plants," Osbourne corrected him. "And I haven't. I've stayed entirely in other fields since then." Of course, one of those fields had been bioluminescence, which had led to some other problems for the town, but Carter decided it wouldn't be politic to point that out just now. "These are just regular plants, entirely for color and fragrance and the natural calming effect such beauty produces." His brow furrowed. "Or at least they were!"

"Okay, then I'm not seeing the problem." Carter studied the flowers. "They all look healthy to me."

"That's not the point! Look at this one! And this one! And that one!" Osbourne was gesturing to one of the rows of flowers, and Carter tried to pay more attention. He really wasn't a plant person. At all. In fact, back when he'd been married, his wife had accused him of having a black thumb more than once. Of course, the fact that she'd never remembered to water the plants might have had something to do with their dying, but try convincing her of that. Anyway, all he could tell was that these were bright and cheerful, with pretty yellow petals clustered around a thick stalk, and the smooth-edged leaves were a vibrant green.

"What's wrong with them, exactly?" he asked after another minute.

"Are you blind as well as stupid?" Osbourne burst out. This was exactly why they'd never gotten along. "They're Linaria genistifolia dalmatica!" Carter just stared at him. "Dalmatian toadflax?" Osbourne threw up his hands. "They're weeds!"

"So you have weeds? That's the big emergency here?" Carter was sure he was missing something, but for the life of him he couldn't figure out what. "What's the big deal? Can't you just pull them and plant something else in their place? And what does this have to do with Fargo?" He couldn't exactly see the wiry little science geek out here planting flowers—or weeds. No matter how much he hated Osbourne.

But Osbourne wasn't about to be pacified. "I did have something else there!" he replied, his volume rising as he grew more agitated. "I had Rosa rugosa there! The entire row is Rosa rugosa!" Now that he mentioned it, Carter did notice that all the other plants around those three were very different—they were wider and bushier, with shorter, thinner, serrated-edged leaves, and their flowers were delicate pale pink blossoms with small light yellow centers. "And Fargo ruined it!"

Carter held up a hand to forestall any more accusations. "Look, I can see that these plants are different," he agreed, ignoring Osbourne's muttered "How astute of you!" and continuing, "but I don't see what any of this has to do with Fargo. You said these Dalmatian plants are weeds, right?"

"Of course!" Osbourne looked personally offended. "They're an escaped perennial ornamental from the eighteen hundreds. Highly aggressive." Carter repressed sudden images of these plants breaking out of a greenhouse and rampaging down the highway, shoving cars out of their way and beating up pedestrians. No sense borrowing trouble. This was Eureka, after all—stranger things had happened. "Once their root system is established, they're extremely difficult to remove," Osbourne was explaining. "And most herbicides are ineffective. Though I have a few that might do the trick."

"Uh-uh," Carter warned him. "The last thing I need is you killing all the vegetation for a twenty-mile radius!" Osbourne actually had the decency to look embarrassed. "But I still don't see how or why you think Fargo had anything to do with this. Couldn't these weeds have simply blown into your garden and taken root?"

Now the big scientist's discomfort switched to condescension, which was certainly more typical for him. "Do you have any idea what sort of growth cycle Linaria genistifolia dalmatica has?" he demanded. "No, of course you don't—look who I'm talking to. I'm surprised you even know they need dirt and water! It would take weeks for a Linaria genistifolia dalmatica to reach this height, much less flower. And these weren't here yesterday!"

Carter sighed and scratched his chin. Despite the insults, Osbourne had a point. There was no way the weeds had grown there overnight—well, not no way, but he suspected such phenomenal plant growth would have affected all the surrounding plants as well, and they were all neatly tended. So something had brought these Dalmatian plants here. But Fargo? Why would Fargo replace three of Osbourne's flowers with weeds? As far as he knew, the two had been keeping a safe distance from each other since that last incident—why stir up trouble now?

Squatting down, Carter studied the weeds—and the soil around them. "This doesn't look disturbed at all," he commented after a second, tracing the base of one plant with his finger. "The dirt here isn't loose, and there isn't any clinging to the lower leaves." He might not know plants, but he did know evidence. Or the lack thereof.

Osbourne crouched next to him and examined the spot he indicated. "No," he admitted after a second, though he clearly wasn't happy about it. "Whoever did this did a masterful planting job."

"Well, that rules Fargo out," Carter told him, straightening up. This time it was Osbourne who stared, and he got to explain. "Oh, think about it! You know Fargo! Sure, he's clever, but he's a total klutz! There's no way he could plant those things there without making a mess—he'd have dirt strewn all over your garden, and tracks everywhere!" He glanced around again just to confirm what he'd already noticed without registering it fully—sure enough, the only fresh tracks here were one set of his boots and several of Osbourne's extra-wide sandals. "You're looking at the wrong guy."

"Well, someone did this to my garden!" The beefy scientist insisted. "These plants didn't replace themselves!"

"Are you sure?" Carter asked him. "And are you sure there isn't anything you're not telling me? Like some new plant formula you're testing, or some hybrid seed you're developing?"

"No, of course not. I cultivate these flowers strictly for relaxation." But Osbourne didn't meet his gaze.

"Uh-huh." Carter brushed the dirt off his pant legs. "Well, I'll do some poking around—not literally—and see if any of your Rosa rugosa turn up anywhere else, and if anyone's been playing with these Dalmatian plants. But right now I'd say your best bet is just to pull the weeds, plant a few more of those other things, and forget about it."

"It's not that easy," Osbourne muttered as Carter turned to go. "It takes months for them to reach flowering height—though if I altered the formula by adding…"

Carter left the big scientist there mumbling to himself and returned to his Jeep. He would keep his ears open, but he had a feeling nothing would come of it. Osbourne had probably let a few of those weeds creep in unnoticed, and then watered them with some super growth formula he probably wasn't supposed to be messing with, and now he'd rather blame Fargo than admit his own mistake.

Well, Carter thought as he pulled out and headed back to the office, at least it had gotten him out of his chair for a while. Maybe something else had happened while he was gone, something a little more exciting than some random weeds appearing in a garden. But if there'd been real trouble, Jo would have called him.

On the way back, Carter spotted a tall, lean figure walking along the side of the road. He was wearing tan slacks and a bright blue Hawaiian shirt, and the top of his head glistened in the sun. It was Dr. Baker—or one of the Dr. Bakers, at least. There were several of them, and they all looked exactly alike. In fact, Carter had no idea how many there were—he'd seen at least four of them together at one time, but he often suspected there were more because some days it seemed like everywhere he turned there was a Dr. Baker crossing the street or reading the paper or eating a bagel. It was hard to tell for certain, though, because it seemed like they always dressed exactly the same. Strange.

Carter slowed alongside him and rolled down his passenger-side window. "Morning, Dr. Baker," he called out.

"Morning." None of the Bakers were very talkative. At least not to him.

This one continued walking, and Carter kept pace. He'd already noticed that Dr. Baker wasn't wearing a hat, and in this heat that wasn't a good idea, especially for a man with so little hair. Plus he seemed rather flushed, and his shirt was soaked with sweat. "Out for a little walk?"

"Apparently."

Carter considered that one. Was Dr. Baker being sarcastic? He was used to that from so many of Eureka's residents, but he'd never seen the Bakers employ it, at least not in his direction. And it had actually sounded sincere—less of a Can't you tell? and more of an I guess so.

After another minute of driving alongside, he decided to make the offer. "Can I give you a ride back to town?"

He was more than a little surprised when Dr. Baker stopped, turned, and gave him a smile. The sunlight winked off his wire-frame glasses. "Thank you, I would appreciate that."

"Well, okay, then." Carter braked and popped the passenger-side lock, and Dr. Baker pulled open the door and slid into the seat, shutting the door firmly behind him. He buckled in conscientiously, and once he was ready Carter started moving again.

"I hadn't planned on taking a walk this morning," Dr. Baker informed him abruptly after they'd been driving a few minutes. "Actually, I thought my brother was taking a walk. That's why I don't have a hat on."

"O-kay." Carter wasn't really sure how else to respond to that. He'd thought his brother was taking a walk, not him? Did they take turns and this one had forgotten it was his day to walk?

"Yes, by the time I realized I was the one walking, I was already outside of town," Baker continued. "There was nothing for it but to walk back. Until you came along." He smiled at Carter again. "Thank you again."

"You're welcome," Carter assured him. He was more confused than ever about the Bakers, but that didn't surprise him. This one walked all the way out of town before realizing it, and that's why he didn't have a hat on? These guys were weird!

Carter tried to ignore the fact that the hair on the back of his neck was standing up. Somehow, in Eureka, whenever he noticed something was weird, it wound up becoming a problem. And usually a dangerous one at that.


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