The outline of the Winster watertower loomed in the flat distance like the towers of Oz. "Almost there,' Leonardo Sanchez said, smiling in anticipation. "My hometown." His wife Gloria grinned at his excitement and reached over to the steering wheel to squeeze his hand affectionately.
Winster wasn't really Leonardo's hometown; he had never set actual eyes on the place. Winster, Minnesota was the headquarters of the exclusive Leonardo Institute. Leonardo had been cloned and implanted there.
He slowed as they neared a bump in the road; he didn't want to damage the strawberry preserves his mother had sent along as a gift to Dr. White. His parents were very excited about the decision he and Gloria had made, as were Gloria's parents. After years of thought and discussion and debate, he and Gloria had made a firm commitment: their first child would be a Leonardo. Assuming he and Gloria passed Dr. White's rigorous tests. Dr. White was meticulous in his requirements for his Leonardo parents. Over the last couple of dozen years other clinics had cloned Leonardos: you couldn't patent an individual's DNA; it was his to sell if he wanted; a few of Dr. White's Leonardos had done so. But there was just something about Dr. White's Leonardos that was special, that other Leonardo clinics had been unable to duplicate. Every one of Dr. White's Leonardos had been stars, unequivocal geniuses in whatever their chosen fields. Other Leonardo clinics were more famous, and spent hefty budgets on advertising and market development. But for true Leonardo aficionados, there was no question about which clinic was best. When Leonardo and Gloria made their decision to go with a clone, there was only one place they wanted to go. Winster.
They were surprised to find the town so small; at pop. 264, it was even smaller than it had been thirty years before when Leonardo's parents had made their fateful and successful visit. They drove down Main Street, and stopped at the town's only traffic light, on the corner of Main and Third. The light was green, but there didn't seem to be any traffic around to mind if they went or not.
"I'm sure this is where your Mom said the office was," Gloria said. "There's the Winster Hardware Store, just like she said. But I don't see a sign for the Institute."
"Maybe they don't have a sign," Leonardo said. "Let's stop and look around."
They parked in front of the hardware store and got out to peer at street numbers. "203 South Third," Leonardo said. "It should be right here."
"Looks like there's some offices up those stairs," Gloria said. "Let's go check it out."
They opened the old door between the hardware store and Katie's Kuts and climbed the stairs to the offices located on the floor above the hardware store. Three doors down, sandwiched between two law offices, was an old oak door with "Leonardo Institute" painted in gold leaf on the frosted glass pane. The door was locked.
"Maybe someone next door can tell us when they're open," Gloria suggested. They walked into one of the law offices.
The receptionist beamed when she saw them. "You're a Leonardo!" she said in delight. "Which one are you? Are you the astronaut?"
"No," Leonardo said with a laugh. "I'm one of the painters."
"He's the portrait painter," Gloria said. It was a point of honor with Dr. White's Leonardos not to intrude into each other's gigs.
"Are you the one who did the portrait of the President - the one that made him lose the election?" the receptionist asked excitedly.
"It wasn't just the portrait that caused his loss," Leonardo said modestly, though in fact the general consensus was that Leonardo Sanchez's painting of the President had been the catalyst behind the country's eventual distaste for their commander-in-chief. Entitled "The Emperor" and painted in the classical tradition, at first glance it appeared to be a very flattering bust of an extremely handsome man; it was only on closer observation that you noticed the piles of gold reflected in his beady eyes and the tailors spinning their invisible cloth in the background, and realized that Leonardo had modeled his sitter not on Marcus Aurelius but rather on the Hans Christian Anderson character. What made the portrait particularly famous was that it had been commissioned by the President and hung proudly in the White House for two months before anyone looked at it closely enough to notice. When interviewed, Leonardo said simply "I just paint what I see." And soon everyone in the country began to see the President in the way Leonardo saw him.
"I met Leonardo Hendricks once," the receptionist said. "He autographed my copy of his first book."
"He's quite a guy," Leonardo said, although in fact Hendricks was one of his least favorite Leonardos. He wrote murder mysteries - very good ones, of course, but Leonardo Sanchez viewed popular culture as something of a perversion of their gifts.
"Do you know when Dr. Murray White will be in?" Gloria butted in.
The receptionist's animated face drooped in distress. "Oh, I'm so sorry," she said. "Didn't you know? Dr. White died a couple of months ago."
"Oh, no!" Leonardo said in shock. "How dreadful. I wonder why no one told me?"
"There was nothing published about it," Gloria said grimly. She would know; she oversaw the obituary department of the Associated Press.
The receptionist shrugged. "I don't know anything about that. You could go see Miss Willis, his nurse. She's the executor of his estate."
"Is someone else running the Institute now?" Gloria asked.
"I'm sorry, I don't know. I don't think there was ever anyone but him and Miss Willis. You should go see her; she lives just down the street." She gave Leonardo and Gloria the directions, and they left.
They pulled up in front of a little clapboard house a few minutes later. An old lady was kneeling in the dirt of a lovely flower garden, pulling weeds. She looked up at them as they got out of their car; squinting through the sun in her eyes.
"A Leonardo!" she said in delight. She struggled to stand, then pulled off her gloves and went over to embrace him. She embraced Gloria too, though she could have no idea who she was. "Please, please come in, you two!" she said, and lead them through the back door into her house.
"Please sit down; I'll get some lemonade and cookies," she said, waving toward the kitchen table.
"Thank you, Miss Willis," Gloria said.
"You are Miss Willis, aren't you?" Leonardo asked, though he felt confidant she was - there were three small prints of his paintings hanging here in her kitchen, along with other Leonardo pieces.
"Yes, of course dear. And which one are you?" Miss Willis asked happily, setting a large plate of homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies on the table.
"Leonardo Sanchez. I see you have some of my work here."
Miss Willis clapped her hands together in delight. "Leonardo Sanchez! Oh my dear, I remember your lovely parents; you are one of my very favorites! On the whole, I really prefer the artistic Leonardos to the mechanical ones, although I must say that dear Leonardo Ching's space portal inventions are quite marvelous; in fact, my sister who lives in Kansas and I are meeting for dinner tonight in Paris, France; such a marvelous thing. Although I see you two drove here today."
"Yes," Leonardo said, "I enjoy driving now that there's no one out on the road."
"Oh yes, I do too; although you can't exactly drive to Paris, now can you?" She set three glasses of lemonade down at the table and joined them. "Please, eat plenty of cookies so they're not here to tempt me - I'm diabetic and supposed to stay away from sugar. I'd be dead now for sure if it wasn't for that wonderful metabolism converter - another Leonardo invention, of course! - honestly, I don't know how we made it before we had you dear boys!" She patted Leonardo affectionately on the hand.
"Speaking of that, Miss Willis, we were very surprised to hear of Dr. White's death. Who's running the Institute now?" Gloria asked.
"No one, I'm afraid, now that dear Murray is gone. I apologize for not letting any of the boys know, but Murray was a very private man and preferred to just fade away quietly," Miss Willis said. "What's your name, dear?"
"Gloria de la Hoya. I'm Leonardo's wife."
"Oh, how lovely! Do you have any children?"
"That's why we came to Winster, Miss Willis," Leonardo said. "We wanted to talk with Dr. White about applying to have a Leonardo."
Miss Willis set her glass down and leaned back in her chair. "Oh. I'm so sorry, dear. But we're not going to do Leonardos anymore here in Winster."
:"Not do Leonardos anymore!" Gloria said, aghast. "But Miss Willis, why not?"
"Well, it's not really necessary, is it?" Miss Willis said. "Dr. White's gone, and I'm retired. Other clinics have the DNA, after all."
"But Miss Willis - the Institute's Leonardos are the only really special ones," Leonardo said. "I mean, other Leonardos turn out okay, but nothing like Dr. White's. We wanted one of Dr. White's."
"Yes, but that specialness didn't have anything to do with us," Miss Willis said gently. "We just used a different selection test. You, Ching, Tomlinson, the rest - you're extraordinary because your parents are extraordinary."
Gloria leaned back in her chair to stare at Miss Willis. "Of course," she said. "The difference between Dr. White's Leonardo Institute and the other Leonardo clinics is its exclusivity. In your parental testing you must have been looking for a particular environment, one that would promote some particular nurturing quality for the Leonardo daVinci DNA. Without that environment, there's no Leonardo."
Miss Willis looked uncomfortable. "Something like that," she said. She stood. "Oh, hell. You're such a nice couple. Come along; I'd like to show you something."
Leonardo and Gloria followed her into the living room, where Leonardo smiled to see a large print of "The Emperor" matted and hung in a place of honor.
Miss Willis walked over to the piano. The family altar on top of her piano was a shrine to Leonardos - dozens of photos of Leonardos at various moments of glory, including one of Leonardo Sanchez with the King of England.
Miss Willis picked up one of the photos and handed it to Leonardo. It was a relaxed, laughing head-and-shoulders shot of the familiar face.
"Which one is this?" Leonardo asked.
Miss Willis looked intently at Leonardo. "That's Francis Finkelstein, Dr. White's uncle," she said. "He died in the war a couple of years after that photo was taken - that's his senior picture."
After a few silent moments the picture dropped from Leonardo's hands. "Francis Finkelstein?"
Gloria retrieved the photo from the floor and handed it back to Miss Willis. Miss Willis took it, her hands shaking badly, and set it back up on the piano.
"Murray really loved his Uncle Frank. He was raised by his grandparents, and Uncle Frank was like his older brother. When he was studying art in school, he noticed his Uncle's resemblance to Leonardo daVinci, and he teased him about it a lot, since Frank was something of a renaissance guy himself - math star, football star, could play any musical instrument, etcetera. Anyway, Murray was devastated when his Uncle died so young, without ever having a chance to realize his potential. And then Murray went on to become a biologist, and then there was cloning, and, well, you can figure out the rest. Murray was very proud of all of you - whenever any one of you achieved success, it was as though his Uncle Frank had had his chance after all."
Leonardo stared at Miss Willis, hardly able to speak. "You are saying that I am not a clone of Leonardo daVinci. I am a clone of Francis Finkelstein."
Miss Willis walked over to a chair and collapsed. "At no time did Murray ever claim to be cloning Leonardo daVinci. You can look through your parents' paperwork - there's nothing about daVinci anywhere. I admit it may seem that we implied it, what with our name, and the daVinci prints and models all over the office, and our motto "Have A Renaissance Baby", and stuff like that, but we used that theme more as a logo and trademark than anything else. We never claimed to be cloning Leonardo daVinci."
"But that's what those other clinics are claiming," Gloria said.
Miss Willis shrugged. "That's their error. They cloned our clones; we had nothing to do with any of that."
"My parents believed they were cloning Leonardo daVinci," Leonardo said fiercely.
"Were you a disappointment to them?" Miss Willis asked.
"Of course not," Leonardo said angrily.
"That's because you were a wonderful boy, and you grew into a wonderful man," Miss Willis said gently. "Neither you nor your parents have anything to complain about. Every one of our Leonardos is perfect. Dr. White was very proud of every one of you. I'm very proud of every one of you."
"But you didn't do anything!" Gloria said.
"I beg your pardon, young lady," Miss Willis said huffily. "We made it possible for your husband to be born."
"Yes, but the reason he's so special isn't because of you," Gloria insisted. "It's because of his parents. The reason your 'Leonardos', as you called them, are all so spectacular is because you made certain you only accepted spectacular parents."
"Do you blame Dr. White for wanting to make sure that the clones of his beloved Uncle Francis would be raised in loving, nurturing homes?"
"Of course not, but - -"
"And there's no question about the quality of your husband's genes. Francis Finkelstein was a very talented boy, with a very promising future ahead of him. Every Leonardo - even those cloned by the other clinics - is born with the natural talent to become anything he wants."
"Well as far as that goes, every human being is born with some potential for talent," Gloria said irritably. "Was Francis Finkelstein a child prodigy of any kind?"
"Not so far as I know," Miss Willis admitted. "What's your point?"
Gloria opened her mouth to answer, then closed it. She didn't really know what her point was. She just knew she felt cheated.
Leonardo looked around at the room, its prints and books and furnishings a monument to Leonardohood. Finally he turned back to face Miss Willis and his wife.
"I'm disappointed, I guess, but I can live with it. And I suppose then it doesn't really matter if we go to one of the other clinics for our Leonardo," he said.
"Not at all, dear," Miss Willis said, "but why bother at all?"
"Because whether we're Leonardo daVinci or Frank Finkelstein we're still a damned talented bunch of folks. I'm sure Gloria and I would have passed Dr. White's parent test. Our Leonardo - or Francis - will be every bit as great as the others."
Miss Willis smiled and shared a look with Gloria. "Forget that cloning stuff dear, unless you're infertile. You are a genius because you had loving parents who nurtured you and gave you direction and told you every day of your life that you were talented and brilliant and could accomplish anything you wanted to do. That's all anyone needs for greatness. It wouldn't have mattered if you were a Leonardo or a Frank or a Pepe or a Theodore - you'd still be who you are. I suggest that you two go on home and make yourselves a baby the old-fashioned way. You'll save some money and have yourselves some fun in the bargain."
She walked the couple to the door. "You two have any plans for this evening?"
"No," Leonardo said.
"Maybe later this evening," Gloria said with a smile.
"With all that money you're going to save doing it yourself, I think you should take yourselves on a vacation. Someplace romantic. Why don't you come to Paris for dinner with me and my sister?" Miss Willis said with a smile.
They brought the jar of Leonardo's mother's strawberry preserves with them, to spread on their croissants the next morning.
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