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  • Patrick Rizio

Chapter 2

The Director of Operations looked through the report again without really reading it. He had been over it repeatedly and long since made up his mind. Putting down the folder, he pushed the expensive leather chair back from his desk and stretched. The momentary emptiness in his head cleared as he exhaled.

Why was it that as one’s authority increased the decisions came easier, seemed more obvious? Was it a measure of experience, a repetition of similar situations? Maybe instincts do sharpen with age.

At Universal Biotech, they didn’t get resume information equivalent to other companies, but in-depth personal histories of their applicants. That certainly helped. Then again, maybe it was just the simple luxury of having fewer people above you second guessing things. That would tend to simplify. Well, whatever the case, this one was a distinct no-brainer. There was a great deal to like and little to dislike about Mr. Jason P. LaCost.

According to the report, LaCost had graduated number one in his class and gone on to earn a doctorate in molecular biology, along with a masters in computer science, in only one calendar year. Such a demanding workload precluded him from having much of a social life, but the boy genius apparently preferred it that way.

Following graduate school disaster struck, both parents killed in a car crash. Having no siblings, LaCost came into a small inheritance. It consisted of a $50,000 life insurance policy, three-bedroom house, and a two-year-old Chevy. Nothing in the way of investments and a few dollars from a simple passbook savings account.

After finalizing his parents’ affairs, LaCost had sold the house and car, cashed in the insurance policy, and then taken a year-long sabbatical, traveling extensively in India, China, and Europe. He had toured the Taj Mahal and studied meditation in remote Indian villages. He had walked the Great Wall and seen Ming’s Tomb and the Forbidden City. He had visited virtually all of the great castles and churches of Europe.

LaCost listed his hobbies as reading and playing word games. His nature seemed entirely cerebral.

When he returned from his travels, LaCost took a position as Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Illinois. His four years there had been exemplary, but frustrating on a personal level. Research, not teaching, was the real passion for him. While the university did offer the opportunity to do research it wasn’t really full time and not even in the same ballpark with what the facilities at Universal Biotech could offer. This was why he had looked for work in the private sector and ended up applying here. This seemed to be the place where he could do the kind of research he longed to do. A place where he could satisfy his curiosity and be comfortable.

Bob Schimmel had not become the Director of Operations at one of the largest biotech companies in the Midwest because of bad hunches.

“Schedule a second interview for Mr. LaCost-Thursday, 10:30.”

                                          *******

The place was gigantic. It consisted of three buildings - A, B, and C, plus parking facilities, all on a fifty-acre park like setting around a beautifully landscaped retention pond. There were benches, jogging paths, even tennis courts. The buildings were all three stories and rectangular. They formed a V-shape with parking in front and the park area in back.

Building A formed the base of the V and contained the front entrance, conference rooms, and cafeteria. It was the smallest of the three. Building B was the east wing, and contained the production department, advertising, shipping and receiving, and the company gym. Building C was the west wing. It was devoted exclusively to research and development. The whole place was hospital clean and beautifully decorated.

LaCost was met at the entrance of building A by Janet Riker, an attractive woman in her mid-forties. Mrs. Riker’s official title was head of Public Relations for Universal Biotech. She was in reality the closest thing to a chief of staff that Bob Schimmel had.

“Good morning, Mr. LaCost. I’m Janet Riker. It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she said extending her hand. “I’m the head of the P.R. department around here. Mr. Schimmel is expecting you.”

LaCost concentrated and relaxed at the same time while shaking her hand.

“Please, come this way.”

She led him past the guard station and down the hallway toward the elevator center in the middle of the building. The guard simply tipped his hat as she said hello but kept his eyes on them until the elevator doors closed. It stopped at the second floor. “This way please,” she said, as she gestured to the right. “This is one of our conference rooms. Mr. Schimmel will be here shortly. Please sit down and make yourself comfortable. If you like, I could have some coffee sent in, or maybe some bottled water?”

“Coffee would be fine, thank you. Um Ms. Riker, may I ask a question?” 

She still wore her wedding ring even though she had been divorced two years.

“Sure can. But how did you know?

LaCost smiled.

“I was wondering why the head of Public Relations greeted me instead of the receptionist I got last time?”

“You’re a bright young man,” she responded with a smile warm enough to melt butter. “You tell me.”

After a few seconds he answered.

“I hope in the few minutes I’ve been here I’ve made a good impression on you because, I think Bob Schimmel wants to hire me and, I think that you, being a good judge of character among other things, are relied upon for more than just public relations around here.”

She involuntarily raised her eyebrows but continued to display that delightfully warm smile. It really was quite disarming.

“And I think you are a very perceptive young man. Let me have that coffee sent in,” she said, heading for the door.

*******

The wind gusts were pushing 40, and the rain was coming down hard. With the visibility at about zero, John was concentrating intensely on keeping the minivan on his side of the road. He was tired, as seemed his lot, and he was upset. Bad combination for a night like this. He hoped the argument wouldn’t start up again, at least until they got home. He didn’t need any more distractions.

For her part, Mrs. Newman had no intention of speaking to her husband any more this night, or maybe ever. The man had been behaving like an absolute jerk.

Sarah was in the back, buckled in her car seat listening to the rain as it hit the roof and windows. To her it was a well-choreographed symphony. The notes blending into a beautifully arranged simmering of sound and color, rising and falling in intensity as the minivan drove through one sheet of rain after another.

*******

Tommy Jefferies had played this game before, but never with girls in the car.

It bolstered his courage.

It heightened his excitement.

It blunted his judgment.

No one ever kept their lights off as long as Tommy did. No one had the nerve. The two girls in the car started screaming for him to stop. The other boy in the car said nothing. He couldn’t admit to being scared. Not in front of the girls. Not in front of Tommy. He was already going over in his head how he would tell the story in school on Monday, how he would pump it up, make it even scarier than it really was.

It was the last thought he had before his head smashed into the skull of the girl in the front passenger seat, a fraction of a second before both of them were crushed by the engine of Tommy’s car.

*******

“Oh, for crissake, now what.”

“He’ll be alright, Jim. Just give him a minute,” the other officer responded. “He’s just never seen one this bad, that’s all.”

Having been a state patrolman for almost thirty years James Donaghan had seen just about every conceivable configuration of crashed cars imaginable. He was a tough cop and well-seasoned. This was one of the bad ones. He didn’t know how bad just yet. He didn’t realize this was the one that, later this evening, would convince him to take his retirement eighteen months early. For now, he was doing what cops always do-put personal feelings on the shelf and get the job done.

The academy taught it to every recruit. Unfortunately, the only way to really learn it was through experience. It was a rough initiation. The young officer vomiting by the side of the road could testify to that.

Donaghan stared for just a moment at the firemen rushing to the minivan with a pair of jaws of life cutters. To him it was an all too familiar scene. In frustration he turned back to the other officer.

“Well tell him to get his shit together now! We need help here. There’s a survivor in the car seat of that minivan. And where the hell is that ambulance?

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