HOLLYWOOD, Florida. It’s 7:55 a.m. and Kiki, a stunning auburn-haired beauty, is the first in line at her employer’s cafeteria.
“Hey, Keeks,” says Will Fortin, chef on the morning shift. “The usual?”
“Yep, a Jimmy Carter,” she says, referring to a peanut butter and banana smoothie that is her regular morning pickup. “Throw a little gingko in there too, would you? I need it to get the brain working on a Monday morning.”
“Sure thing,” Fortin says as Jojo, a bleary-eyed male whose work station is next to Kiki’s, takes his place in line. “Well look what the cat drug in,” Fortin says as he notices the tell-tale signs of a late night of drinking at the local jai alai fronton.
“O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains!” Jojo replies with a bitter tone, quoting from Shakespeare’s “Othello.” “That we should, with joy, pleasance . . ” he continues, before Kiki cuts him off.
“Do we have to talk shop?” she says. “I’ve got a full day of that stuff staring me in the face.”
“Sorry,” Jojo says over the whir of the blender, but as Kiki picks up her drink, he can’t resist a final jab. “What’s this? a cup, closed in my true love’s hand?” a line from Romeo and Juliet. “You stupid monkey,” she screams as she throws her smoothie at him, splattering her high-protein breakfast all over the mini-boxes of cereal.
Jojo and Kiki are contractors on a massive, 10,000 chimpanzee study dubbed “The Shakespeare Project,” an attempt to achieve by accelerated means the result that mathematicians have long predicted but never realized; that an infinite number of monkeys tapping away at an infinite number of keyboards would eventually reproduce the entire works of William Shakespeare.
“You don’t really need an infinite number of monkeys,” says Dr. Hiram Walton, who is directing the study. “We’ve selected the best and the brightest, chimps who had made their way through the Curious George series, or had submitted entries to poetry contests.”
The stakes are high, as scientific awards, research grants and tenured professorships await the academic who is able to finally establish that human genius could be randomly reproduced, given a large enough sample.
Fortin gets a mop to clean up the mess as Kiki scampers after Jojo into a long room filled with cubicles, each containing a computer at which the chimps will spend the next eight hours, with a one-hour lunch and two fifteen minute banana breaks.
“It’s not my ideal job, but I needed a change,” says Jojo, as he flips the switch on his Hewlett-Packard PC. “I was teaching freshman composition at Broward Community College, but I got burned out. You know, write an essay on what’s inside your refrigerator, or an incident that took you outside your comfort zone. That gets old pretty quickly.”
Kiki is concentrating her efforts on the tragedies, while Jojo has been tasked with the history plays, an assignment he calls “a tough slog.” “I’m hoping I can move over to the comedies,” he says. “Some of the older guys can’t keep up–they’re going to get laid off.”
He hears Kiki groan over the cubicle wall, and decides to mend fences by commiserating. “What’s the matter, babe?” he calls out.
“It’s Macbeth,” she says, clearly exasperated.
“You know what they say,” he replies.
“It’s got a curse on it.”
“Really? Where’d you hear that?”
“It’s in the Cliff’s Notes.”
“You don’t know about Cliffs?” Jojo asks, incredulous. “I couldn’t make it through the day without mine.” He tosses a copy of the familiar black-and-yellow student study guide for Richard III over the fiberboard wall that separates them.
“Oh . . . my . . . God!” she exclaims in a hushed tone. “This is great! Where do you get them?”
“Any college bookstore,” he begins, but stops as he hears footsteps. “Psst–stuff that in your drawer!” he whispers, but it’s too late.
“Let me see that, young lady,” a research assistant says as he grabs the book away from her. He takes a look at the cover, and clucks his tongue. “You know the rules,” he says. “Everything you write has to be original–no cheating.”
“It’s mine,” Jojo says. “Don’t blame her.”
“You’ve been warned before, Jojo,” the RA says. “One more time and it’s back to the monkey house for you.”
“I understand,” Jojo replies, his eyes downcast, apparently remorseful. “I won’t do it again.”
“You’d better not,” the fellow says over his shoulder as he turns to continue his surveillance down the rows of cubicles.
Jojo waits until the young man is about to turn a corner, then flings a handful of fecal matter and hits him squarely in the back of the head.
The room explodes in high-spirited laughter, as the chimps rejoice at the sight of their tormentor’s rage. “Who threw that?” he screams.
“I didn’t see anything,” Kiki says, suppressing a grin as she looks at Jojo. “Did you?”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Wild Animals of Nature!”