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The Lab I
I met her at a party up above Sunset. She was standing out on
the terrace with some lunatic who was ranting to her and another
woman about global conspiracies and black helicopters and how
the government was helping the United Nations control all of us.
She was small, petite, but poised in an Audrey Hepburn kind of
way. Late 20's, early 30's like me. As I stood at the edge of
the conversation she gave me the smallest flick of an eyebrow,
as though to indicate that she found this guy wryly amusing. I
stood at the edge of the conversation and listened to him as I
watched her while trying not to appear as though I was mentally
undressing her, which I was. Eventually, as the rant continued,
her look changed to one of mild boredom.
She was gorgeous. More beautiful than Audrey Hepburn. There
was something in her eyes that seemed to say 'I'm not as fragile
as you think I am', and while she was slim she was not too thin.
Short dark hair, a gorgeous neck, creamy white shoulders that
were interrupted only by the shoestring straps on the dark green
dress she was wearing.
She was way out of my league and I knew it. This was someone
who was used to these shiny kind of people, who had probably
grown up all her life among movie stars and fat lawyers and
sleek women with hollow cheeks. I was a guy from Detroit. All
I'd seen for most of my time in LA the last few years was other
environmental-rights activists, and they are not often called
I could see her glass was empty and stepped up to take it from
her. Without taking her attention from the boor she handed me
the glass, as though she was used to having servants take care
of such things. I smiled and nodded like I understood how this
game worked, and she smiled back in a half-apology as she saw my
response. I went inside the house to find some white wine. It
was full of gorgeous women and men in expensive casual clothes
and tasteful jewellery. Lawyers, most of them, I guessed. She
was probably a lawyer, too - though the fact that she hadn't
argued with the loon made me less sure. Todd, who owned the
house, had just been made partner at a prominent firm downtown,
and I guessed most of his friends were in law too. I knew him
from football at college.
It took me a while to locate the kitchen inside the house, and
then somewhat longer to realise that the wine was in the bar,
not in the kitchen. When I came back out to the terrace the
loon was still boring another woman to death but She had gone.
I wandered the party but couldn't see her anywhere.
Eventually I figured I'd had enough of hobnobbing with the rich
and famous. As I left the Conspiracy Theorist was still trying
to convince people that the black helicopters were everywhere.
A few days later it was getting on toward dusk as I drove into
the parking lot of the company where Tom worked. He and I got
together every Thursday evening after work for a quick game of
tennis and a bite to eat afterwards -- at least we had done most
Thursdays since we'd both graduated some years earlier. Tom had
continued working for the drug company he'd been doing research
for when he was a grad student. I took the moral high road and
went to work for an environmental action group as a researcher
and activist on biochemical hazards.
I gritted my teeth as I pulled into the lot -- Tom's new black
Corvette was shining in the sun's last rays as I hefted the
wheel on my own sorry wreck, a 1970 blue-and-primer Bonneville
with intermittent power steering. One of us was making a lot of
money these days, and it wasn't me.
I grabbed my sports bag from amongst the trash in the back seat
and headed for the security desk in the lobby. One of the perks
of Tom's job was that we got to use the courts at the facility
where he worked. Usually after playing we'd wander across the
road to the fairly sleazy bar opposite, and sink a few beers and
have dinner while we moaned about our poor track record with
women. I was the one who did most of the moaning. I hadn't had
a girlfriend since Shelley had left me two years ago, though
that wasn't for want of looking. Tom, on the other hand, had no
trouble picking up women. He just didn't seem able to keep a
relationship going for more than a month or so.
The Dawe compound was a collection of bland 1980's buildings in
reflecting glass and cheap cement block, the kind you find
spread all over southern Los Angeles. Only the name of the
company picked out in blue letters on the cement wall next to
the front door gave you any clue that the place was the
principal research facility for one of the largest
pharmaceutical companies in the world, and that behind the two-
storey facade of this building there were another seven large
buildings further down the lot.
I said hello to Tyrone, the guard at the desk. He buzzed Tom,
and then let me sign myself in and gave me a visitor's pass and
told me to head on through. I had idly wondered once or twice
at the lax security standards here at Dawe, since after my
second visit there they always let me through unaccompanied and
never searched my sports bag, but I guess Tyrone saw me often
enough and Tom had vouched for me the first few times.
I wandered along the bleak white corridors. Tom's office and
lab were deep inside the complex, small windowless rooms that
reminded me of scenes from that old George Lucas movie I could
never remember the name of, THX-something. I was looking
forward to beating Tom tonight. Last week I'd been slightly off
the pace, distracted by some bad stuff at work I think, and Tom
had beaten me for the first time in months.
We were usually pretty evenly matched. Both of us were pretty
big guys. I was a fraction over Tom's 6'2", and we both weighed
around 220 lbs. Not Goliaths, but we could both punch a mean
serve, and match one another on the deep court strokes. I
always thought I had a bit more control than Tom. He was
inclined to recklessness sometimes and I knew how to goad him
into mistakes. We both enjoyed the games, and it kept us in
touch with one another. I had been afraid when we took such
disparate jobs that we might have started to grow apart.
I found Tom in his office, just finishing some notes. I hung
around for a few minutes while he secured his stuff, and then
the two of us went out to the sports center. He was in a good
mood. He told me he was working on some really cool stuff, but
wasn't allowed to talk about it. I told him about all things I
was up to at work anyway. Part of me enjoyed needling him by
talking about all the evil corporations who were screwing up the
world. He still had some traces of the rebellious student
spirit we'd shared a few years earlier, and was ever so slightly
guilty about having sold out to the forces of global capitalism.
But only slightly guilty. The goading helped distract him from
his game, though.
The game went well. We played three sets -- I won the last two,
distracted in the first by my hair, which I'd let grow a little
and which kept getting in my eyes when I was serving. I
resolved to get it cut soon. Tom took the loss well, I suppose
because it had almost gone the other way. After I ribbed him a
bit about losing his touch we hit the showers.
The water felt good. I've always kept myself in pretty good
shape, at least as good as someone who works all day at a desk
can ever get. I dried myself off, and went to the lockers to
As I opened the locker a small bottle fell out, and smashed on
the floor. I didn't know where it had come from. It sure
wasn't mine. Whoever else had used the locker that day must
have left it. From the smell I figured it was after shave. I
bent to pick up the shards of the bottle, which had spread out
in long, evil-looking splinters only a fraction of an inch wide.
Tom came out of the showers and held his nose. "Pheeee-euw!"
he said. "Are you trying to impress the girls, or what?". I
hadn't heard his footsteps, and as he spoke he startled me. I
cut myself deeply on the thumb with one of the shards, and
Tom helped me clean up the rest of the glass, and then the blood
that was still flowing from my thumb. I ran it under cold water
for a few minutes but it still bled slightly. I'd really scored
it heavily with the glass, and it was a very deep cut.
The attendant had left the sports center by the time we went to
leave, and there was no first-aid kit in sight, so Tom suggested
we go back to his office to bandage me up before we went to
My thumb was still oozing blood as we walked back up the
corridors. I was trying to staunch the flow with some paper
towel, but the blood was still flowing pretty freely. "I hope
you don't need stitches", Tom said hopefully, and I glared at
As we rounded a corner an alarm went off nearby, and in front of
us a door swung open and a woman slumped out into the corridor,
gasping. Some sort of gas or steam billowed from the doorway.
Tom swooped and deftly caught the woman as she was falling.
He and I both looked into the room she'd come from. Inside I
could see a man's legs sticking out from behind a table. As the
alarm sounded and lights in the corridor flashed, Tom tried to
get the woman to tell him what had happened.
After a few moments the gas began to stop, and I gingerly
entered the room. There was shattered glass on the desk, more
on the floor, and a bluish gel spread over part of the desk.
Tubes and hoses were also scattered around, along with more
glass beakers, unbroken. Behind the desk was a heavy door, of
the airlock kind we used when I was studying and we were dealing
with dangerous organisms. My heart told me this was a situation
I should be worried about, but my head told me I was on the
right side of the door, the outside, so whatever this stuff was
it couldn't be too dangerous.
I tried to pick my way through the debris without disturbing
anything. On the other side of the table, I saw that the figure
on the floor was a man, perhaps in his mid-fifties. He was
lying on his front, with his face turned to one side. His skin
was mottled, red and white, I guessed from the explosion,
whatever it had been. He didn't look good. I bent down to feel
for a pulse. His neck, and some of his hair and clothing, was
covered in a clear slime. It stung the wound in my thumb as I
touched him, and I recoiled. I used my other hand to feel for
the pulse. Nothing. He was gone.
I stood up, wiping my hands unthinkingly on my clothes. Tom was
in the doorway, still holding the woman, who was conscious but
in some sort of shock, staring at the guy on the floor. I shook
I was picking my way back across the debris when a voice in the
corridor called out "Stop right there". In the corridor I could
see four figures in biohazard suits, carrying guns. One of them
took the arm of the woman Tom had been supporting and led her
away. Another motioned for Tom to follow. He glanced at me, to
gauge how I was I guess. I stared back at him blankly as he
shrugged, turned and followed the guard. The other two came for
me. I raised my hands over my head and they escorted me up the
corridor. As we were walking I looked back and saw another half
dozen people in biohazard suits entering the room we'd just
They kept me waiting in a small, white room for what must have
been several hours. I stupidly hadn't put on my watch after
tennis, distracted by the cut to my hand, I guess. It was in my
sports bag, which I had dropped in the corridor outside the room
where the accident had taken place.
There were two simple black folding chairs in the room, and a
stainless steel sink in one corner with a small white cupboard
above it. I was sitting on one of the chairs. Apart from that
the whole place was white. White walls, white ceiling, white
synthetic rubbery floor covering. My blue jeans, dark blue
shirt and a red blood-soaked cloth on my hand were the only real
color in the room, including my skin color which was probably
paler through apprehension. I'd looked through the small
cupboard, which had a couple of small beakers and some surgical
gloves in it and that was all. I'd looked outside, too, but
there was a security guard at the door and he'd asked me -- no,
told me -- to wait inside.
Eventually a guy in his late thirties with greying hair came in.
He pulled the other chair about five feet from mine and sat down
in it, a clipboard on one knee.
"Yes", I said.
"How are you feeling?", he asked, seeming genuinely concerned.
He had a face that disconcerted me.. Not because of any very
distinctive feature -- perhaps because there were hardly any
distinguishing features. His eyes were neither blue nor brown,
more a greyish color. He was about 5'10" tall, not notably
solid but not thin, either. I noticed he didn't volunteer his
name, and that he wasn't wearing an identification badge the way
Dawe employees usually did.
"I'm fine", I said. "How's Tom? How's ... that woman who was
"Barbara Andreesen", he said, looking at his clipboard. "Oh,
they're both fine", he said.
"Well, that's a relief, Mr ..."
There was a pause, and I realised he wasn't going to tell me his
name. "It's difficult for a lot of people when this sort of
thing happens in the workplace" he said instead.
I reflected that he was probably right, Tom had seemed a bit
shocked. "Yes", I said. "I suppose so".
"But we just need to take some precautions", he said after a
moment. He indicated my thumb. "You cut that in the room after
I looked down at my thumb, still wrapped in the handkerchief.
"Uh, no, actually. I cut it in the locker room after Tom and I
had finished playing tennis". I looked him in the eyes. "You
know, those guys in the suits scared the shit out of me.
Especially with the guns and everything".
"Yes, I'm sorry about that, they do tend to overreact when
things go wrong here. You must understand there are a lot of
things that are developed here that could be dangerous if they
were exposed to the world prematurely, and things we keep for
research into exotic diseases. So we tend to be perhaps a
trifle anxious when things go wrong. Fortunately this accident
wasn't in a secure area. I understand you are familiar with
biohazard safety procedures yourself".
I wondered how he knew that. Perhaps Tom had told him. "Yes",
I said. "Which is why it scared me".
"Well, we just want to be careful". He paused and took a closer
look at my thumb. "I'll have a doctor look at that and make
sure the wound is cleaned up", he said. He stood up, and I
stood as well. "Anything else we can do for you?" he asked.
"Well, you can let me get out of here. And get my stuff.
"Mr Masterson is in the next room. You can see him after you've
seen the doctor". He began to turn away, then thought of
something else. "Mr Ealey, you signed yourself in tonight, did
"Uh, yes, I always do when Tom and I play".
I doubt that you've paid too much attention to it, but when you
did that you agreed to a non-disclosure agreement as part of the
terms of your entry. So -- "
"-- So I can't tell anyone about tonight, right?"
"That's right, Mr Ealey. I knew you'd understand".
I did understand. I remembered Tom had joked about it the first
time he'd signed me in. It didn't worry me. If there had been
anything illegal about the events tonight the non-disclosure
wouldn't be valid anyway. That made me think once again about
the old man on the floor. "What happened to the other guy?"
He looked at me blankly for a moment. "Oh, you mean Mr Winters,
the man who died? He had a heart attack, I'm afraid. Nothing
to do with any experiment or anything like that, the poor old
man's heart just picked a bad time to give out I guess. Pity,
he was a nice man".
He seemed genuinely sad that Mr Winters had passed on. I wanted
to ask him more, but he turned and left. I tried to follow him
out of the room, but he closed the door after him and I
discovered it was locked from the outside.
I sat back down, and a few moments later She came in carrying an
enormous black bag. The woman from the terrace at the party, I
mean. She introduced herself as Doctor Adams.
"We've met before", I said, hoping she'd remember.
She looked at me blankly for a few seconds. She was gorgeous,
even in the white coat she was wearing over her dress.
"You were at Todd's last Saturday night. Seen any more black
helicopters lately?" I asked.
She smiled, and my heart skipped a few beats. "Yes", she said,
"I was, and I think I owe you an apology for skipping off like
that. I was called away suddenly."
I was getting tongue tied here. I was always hesitant with
women, especially beautiful women, and she was one of the most
beautiful I'd seen. "One of the hazards of being a Doctor, I
expect", I said, trying to say anything that might seem vaguely
intelligent, but thinking I sounded like an idiot.
"Yes", she said, and proceeded to unwrap the bloodied
handkerchief carefully. I noticed she was wearing surgical
gloves as she held my hand. "I wasn't on call, exactly, but a
colleague knew where I was and something important came up.
Made a mess of this, didn't you?", she said, indicating my hand.
I wasn't paying attention. I was distracted by the back of her
neck when she bent down. She had short black hair, trimmed at
the back, and the most delicate neck as she bent over my hand.
I towered over her, she can't have been much over 5' tall. She
was cute, though. Not in a particularly girlish way, she was
more sophisticated than that. Just petite and sexy. With
beautiful dark eyes. I had been entranced by her eyes as soon
as I saw her by the pool, and now I was spellbound again.
She straightened up. "We'll need to rinse this thoroughly".
Businesslike, she led me over to the sink, rinsed my hand, then
poured some antiseptic over it from a bottle she had in her bag.
It hurt like hell, and I yelped. She looked surprised, then
smiled and wiped the wound clean. "No need for stitches", she
said, and smiled again. I liked her smile. I could have
watched her do that all day.
She bandaged up my thumb tightly. It looked ridiculous when
she'd finished, about twice as thick as normal. I wasn't going
to be able to do a lot of things until it healed properly and I
could take the bandage off.
"Now I just need a blood test", she said, assembling a
"What for", I asked suspiciously.
"Mr. Ealey --"
"-- Jim --"
"-- Jim, I'm sure you're aware that you've just been in an
industrial accident, in a facility loaded with all sorts of
things people here would really rather not talk about. Now, if
you decide to sue the company further down the track, how are we
to know what your state of health was when the accident
"You want me to give you a defense against me suing?" I asked,
incredulously. The idea hadn't occurred to me until now, but
maybe I could sue. There'd be some kind of settlement at least,
just to shut me up. I shook my head, ashamed of myself. That
would almost certainly be the end of Tom's career, since the
company knew we were friends and I was only on the premises
courtesy of Tom..
"No, I don't want you to give me any kind of defense", said Dr
Adams. "I don't work on staff for the company, I just got
called in tonight. So it doesn't matter to me either way
whether you give me a sample or not. The company asked me to
get one. And if it makes you feel better, it's probably safer
to give me one now, so I can spot anything that might be wrong
and we can treat it faster".
"What could be wrong? That other guy said it wasn't a secure
area so there wasn't any danger".
"And I very much doubt there is", she said soothingly. "You
don't have to if you don't want to". She started to pack up her
"No, it's okay", I said, thinking that this was probably
something else that would reflect badly on Tom. Plus I was
prepared to give her anything just to buy time so I could figure
out a way to ask her out.
She took the sample, marked the tube, then disposed of the
needle in a sharps container and resumed packing her bag.
"So, have you finished here now?" I asked her, eyeing off what I
could see of her under the white lab coat she was wearing. She
was slight, but with a good figure all the same.
She looked up at me. "I've finished here, if that's what you
"I, uh, just wondered if you'd like to get a drink with my buddy
Tom and me, across the road. I could use one after all this".
She smiled again. I sure did like that. "No, Jim, but thank
you. I've finished here, but I'm still on call, and I don't
drink when I'm on call".
"Oh. Well, in that case..."
"But you could call me another night, when you're not my patient
any more", she said, her eyes sparkling. She scribbled a number
on the back of a card and handed it to me. Dr. Catherine Adams.
I smiled back.
"I'd like that a lot. Which days are you not on call?"
She left after we'd agreed to get together the following Tuesday
night. I wandered out of the room, finally, to see Tom sitting
on a low bench across the corridor, waiting for me. He had both
our sports bags with him, and he tossed me mine as I approached.
"Wild night, huh?" he said, slapping me on the back. "And you
thought my job was boring!".
On the way out past security Tyrone made a joke about the size
of my thumb, and I gave him a weak riposte about using it to
plug the holes in the company's security. Tom and I threw our
bags in our cars, and we went across the road and had a few
drinks. It was way too late to eat, and both of us got quite
drunk on our empty stomachs. Despite the trauma of the evening
I was a little high because Catherine Adams, the good doctor,
had agreed to see me again, and Tom and I cut loose on whiskey
instead of our customary beers. Tom went home with one of the
waitresses. I ended up sleeping in my car in the carpark rather
than drive home.
End of Story