Gold, Chapter Ten

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“Have you heard of Henrietta Lacks?”   Stephanie was slumped in the bean bag chair, staring at the ceiling.  The fog from Nash, Justin, and Jordan’s marijuana exhalations was fading as the trio’s huffing at the vaporized herb slowed, and then stopped.  “And what up with the popcorn ceiling?  I hate that!”

“Popcorn, yeah, that’d be good,” exclaimed Jordan.

“With Land o’ Lakes butter on it.  Good call, Stephanie,” said Nash.

Stephanie sighed.  “Lacks, not Lakes.  Henrietta Lacks.  She was a Black woman.  In the 1950s she got cervical cancer, and died.  But the cells from her tumor were used for medical research.  HeLa cells.”

“HeLa.  That’s cool,” said Justin.  “Kind of a drag queen name, or a song chorus.”

“A helala, a helala, ahelala, awaaay,” sang Jordan.

“Shut.  Up,” said Stephanie, struggled on the bean bag chair to sit up.  “I’m going to tell you this once.  Then, no doubt, you’ll forget about it, and we’ll talk about getting the dot and putting it in the Mayor’s Office.”

Seeing Jordan slap a hand over his mouth, Justin covered his ears. Nash followed by clapping his hands over his eyes.

“Stupid monkeys,” Stephanie suppressing a giggle.  “Lack’s cells did something unexpected.  They grew.  Before, cells made from other cells survived just a few days. Scientists spent more time trying to keep cells alive than doing research on them. HeLa cells didn’t die; they could be used for lots of experiments.  Jonas Salk used HeLa cells to develop his polio vaccine.  These days they’re central to cancer research, gene mapping, all kinds of bio-inquiries.  There’s like 10,000 patents involving HeLa cells.”

“Is this, real?” asked Justin, working hard to concentrate.  “I mean, true?”

“Yes, it’s absolutely true.  And it’s why we want the property.”

“Why?” asked Justin.  “I mean, I get that these cells are really valuable.  And another example of White power ripping off African-Americans, by the way.  But what does that have to do with the property?”

“The property used to have an apartment building on it.  It burned down after the 1989 earthquake under mysterious circumstances.  A few tenants died.  We think one of them was Henrietta Lacks’ father.”

“Lack’s father?” echoed Jordan.  “I lack a father, too.  Mine was a real asshole.” He turned to Justin.  “Will you be my daddy?”

“Later,” said Justin, reaching over to squeeze Jordan’s arm.  “So what?” he stared at Stephanie.  “Lack’s father died there.  Why does that matter?”

“Because,” Stephanie said, as she wriggled off the bean bag chair and stood up.  “We think his body, or what’s left of it, is still there.  We want to harvest that material, and create an even more potent cell line.”

“Ka-ching!” yelped Jordan.

Each month the View publishes a chapter from Gold, a serialized tale of politics, capitalism, and corruption in San Francisco.  Previous chapters can be found on the paper’s website, www.potreroview.net.