Once again, I'll try to be concise. Lest I sicken the stomach of some squeamish animal rights' activist. And I mean the ultra-naive kind who seem to prefer to think it was divine inspiration--rather than systematic experimentation--that led to the virtual elimination of all those diseases once deemed "incurable."
We chose the crankiest of the shrunken gators. Euthanizing him with an extra dose of the same anesthetic that had merely knocked him out, once before. Once we confirmed he was dead, we turned him on his back and made the requisite incision. And, if we had been in Las Vegas, playing slot machines at that moment, I would have yelled "Jackpot!"
Because we lucked out. Inside that shrunken gator, we found two items: a shark's dorsal fin; and a turtle shell!
"I don't suppose that fin came off a sand tiger pup," was my opening remark.
Professor Stewart shook his head, peering down through a magnifying glass.
"Adult bull shark. And this...looks like the shell of a loggerhead turtle."
I couldn't resist my next comment.
"Caretta caretta, or Macrochelys temminckii?* "
He gave me a half-serious look-of-daggers.
"The former, of course! You can tell by the plastron. Although, it's the carapace I find more intriguing. Look!"
It was now my turn to peer through the magnifying glass. And, sticking to the top side of the shell were a bunch of invertebrate organisms with a number of string-like tendrils.
"Hydroids?" I asked.
He shook his head: "More like the polyps of upside-down jellies. But, the only way to make sure is to subject this to some electron photomicroscopy."
That proved a little more difficult, as the electron microscope in the microbiology lab of the pre-med building was in demand quite often by other divisions of the Science Department. Luckily for us, however, Professor Stewart had a former undergrad student working in that lab. Miss Shawna Kozlowski!
Man! Was she a looker. Auburn hair; blue eyes; and a pair of spectacles with frames that were only half as attractive as her own.
I can now understand why the professor's ex-wife had been so paranoid of her. Shawna, herself, was certainly more than understanding when she took the professor's explanation (for our urgently wanting to use the electron microscope) at face value.
"I appreciate your doing this for us, Shawna," the professor told her: "More than any words can say."
"Don't mention it, sir. Part of me still wishes there had been some merit to your ex-wife's accusations!"
I steadfastly kept my eyes glued to the endoscopic TV monitor attached to the electron microscope. While, at the same time, Professor Stewart put the beaker of water he had inserted the shell into within range of the electron gun.
Thirty seconds later, we were looking at the turtle shell at 150 K x-magnification.
"You were right, professor. These are definitely jelly polyps Look at the bells! Where what should be the apexes are adhered to the carapace."
Shawna turned the magnification up to one hundred eighty thousand times, as I let the professor supersede me at the monitor. And, the next moment, I heard him gasp.
"Tiger stripes," he muttered: "C. capillata gundersoni!"
Whereupon, he signaled to Shawna to deactivate the electron microscope, while I shut off the reel-to-reel videotape recorder. He then stood up and doffed his lucky straw fedora, while simultaneously withdrawing a handkerchief from his left rear pocket to mop his brow.
"OK," he began (after collecting himself): "Let's deduce the chain of events based on the evidence we have so far. Somewhere offshore, a loggerhead was attacked and eaten by a bull shark. A loggerhead whose shell was veritably festooned with polyps of a jellyfish supposedly endemic to an uncharted Micronesian island!"
"Then, for some reason," I continued for him: "...that shark started making its way up the St. John's River. Upon entering Lake George, it was attacked by half a dozen gators! No doubt in instinctive defense of their territory."
"As a result of which," the professor finished up: "...the nematocysts of the tentacles, not yet digested by the shark, went to work on the gators. Which indicates what?"
Shawna beat me to it.
"That the mysterious element of their venom, responsible for the shrinkage, can go up the food chain. Just like mercury!"
"Exactly. Which is why we _have_ to find the island where the holotype specimen came from!"
"That's going to be somewhat difficult," I replied: "Don't you think? Seeing as how neither Scott nor Davis divulged the exact co-ordinates of the island in their original article."
That's when the professor lit up with an enigmatic smile.
"But, they did mention someone who might have bequeathed _knowledge_ of those co-ordinates to one of his descendants. Stay here! I have to make a phone call."
"To who?" I demanded (as politely as possible).
"Douglas Naughton," he called back as he closed the lab door behind him.
Shawna and I looked at each other in mutual perplexity over the last part of that statement. You see, Douglas Naughton...
...had been Hortense Stewart's divorce lawyer.
M. temminckii: the alligator snapping turtle (inexplicably aka "the loggerhead").
Plastron: underside of a turtle shell.
Carapace: the surface of any shell, in general.