“This is a secure building. How did you get in here?” Dr. Alexandra Van Zant reached into her lab coat pocket to press the panic button she carried at all times while at the facility.
“Your security isn’t great. I walked through the front door and wandered around until I found your office,” the female intruder answered arrogantly.
The woman standing in Alexandra’s office doorway was young, probably no more than twenty or twenty-one, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, porcelain-pale, pink-cheeked, petite, and round, very round, pregnant round, as in due-any-fucking-day-round…and she was also lying about how she had gotten in, but why would she lie? What point would it serve? Alexandra wanted to discount her as a threat, but when the security breach alarm didn’t sound, she started to panic just a little. The woman was obviously unstable, and even a very pregnant woman could be lethal under the right circumstances. She cautiously took a step back, knees shaking.
The intruder demanded, “Now what do you intend to do about our problem?”
“If by our problem, you’re referring to my lax security guards, and your ability to walk into my secure office without so much as a how-do-you-do, let alone without an appointment or security escort? That problem? I promise, that
issue will be addressed immediately. Get out!” Alexandra pointed at the door—hating that her outstretched finger was shaking—and lifted her phone with the other hand, saying into the receiver, “Security? There is a trespasser in my office that I need removed! Now!”
The security officer explained, “We received the alarm, and we are attempting to get into your corridor, ma’am, but there seems to be a problem.”
The woman walked toward Alexandra’s desk and took a seat in one of the upholstered chairs. “After your initial call, all the lines rerouted in a loop, and the corridor has been sealed off. They aren’t going to be able to breach the privacy lock I put in place for us to have this little chat for another five minutes. As long as you’re planning to address the security issues at AODH Genetic Research and Development after I leave, your IT guys leave a lot to be desired too.”
Alexandra placed herself between the woman and the elevator to the lower-level, classified research labs while looking down at her watch. Five minutes? Five fucking minutes?
“I need you to leave my office, now. This area is restricted. You are not safe here.”
“I’m not letting you keep him,” the woman stated coolly. “Although I’m really not sure why you would care if you kept him or not, because you’re never home, and when you are home, you aren’t exactly there for him as a wife, are you?”
“What are you talking about?”
The intruder met her gaze. “Rumor has it you’re a lesbian. Is that it? You just have a husband so you can remain in the closet? I mean, really, times have changed. If you’re gay, be proud. Own it. Set him free.”
“I’m not a lesbian, and my husband is Professor Terrance James Browning. You’ve obviously mistaken me for someone else.” Alexandra hoped her voice wasn’t trembling but knew it was.
“I think I know who the father of my child is,” the woman replied sarcastically as she studied her manicure. Her face twisted with arrogance. “And I can assure you, he loves me…more than the moon and the stars and the sun…that’s what he tells me.” She chuckled. “It’s so corny, but that’s my Terry. So, now you understand why you must set him free. He’s old-fashioned, and he wants to do right by me and our child, you see, so we can raise our baby together.”
No one called her husband Terry. It was either Professor, Terrance, or TJ, but definitely not Terry. That proved the girl was lying, didn’t it? “I’m fairly certain, if my husband was involved with someone, let alone gotten a woman pregnant, he would have told me.” Where the fuck is security?
“Why are you doing this? Money? Because you’re not going to get a penny out of either of us if that’s why you are here.”
“I came here as a courtesy, because you are all kinds of oo-la-la important in this town, and I assumed you’d want to avoid an ugly, very public scandal. So give him up willingly, and I won’t be forced to go to the dean and all the news outlets in a three-state radius with my story.”
“Oh God, you’re a student? You’re one of my husband’s computer science students?” Alexandra’s knees threatened to buckle as the girl’s intention became clear. “If you loved him as you say you do, why would you risk destroying his career?”
“His career? I have no intention of destroying his career, but I will have him, and if that means shaking up your sanctimonious world—”
“If you go to the dean, his career will suffer and—”
“The university doesn’t want bad press drawing attention to it any more than you want bad press drawing attention to you and your work here. I’ve done my homework.”
“Let’s just say I know everyone’s Achilles heel.”
“Look, your threats don’t scare me. My facility is home to one of the most respected and acclaimed genetics research laboratories in the world.” Alexandra picked up her phone and rang security again, but no one answered.
“Are you so certain? What if there were questions raised about the methods practiced in your labs? Questions hinting at patent infringement, bordering on fraud? How long would your research be delayed if your donors were suddenly demanding audits?”
“I have nothing to hide here.”
“Maybe not, but would that negative press benefit you, or burden you? If I started at the top of your donor chain, whispering doubts, would your loyal followers continue to be reliable supporters if they believed their names might be linked to any kind of scandal? It’s my understanding many of your highest donations were from anonymous sources. Seems likely they won’t want to be discovered.
“You have twenty-four hours to make a decision. All I want is Terry’s freedom from a loveless, passionless relationship…and for him to leave the marriage with enough money to make certain he can retain the level of lifestyle he deserves. So see? I don’t want a dime for myself or my baby. I only care about Terry and honestly, if it wasn’t for the damn Forbes
spread about the 100 Most Powerful Women of the Year, he would have already demanded a divorce himself. That article changed everything.”
“What? You’re being ridiculous.”
“Money, sweetheart; it always boils down to who has the most. You won by a landslide. The Forbes
spread alone more than tripled the donations toward your genetic research, right? And let’s face simple facts, your income and celebrity provides him with a lifestyle to which he is quickly becoming accustomed.” The girl smoothed her shirt over her protruding belly. “Remember, twenty-four hours. This is your only warning. Divorce Terry immediately or I promise the consequences aren’t something you are prepared to deal with.” Pushing out of the chair, the woman fled from the office and turned to go to the right down the hallway.
TJ has been having an affair. How did I not notice?
Alexandra dropped hard into her office chair and buried her face in her shaking hands. Patent infringement? Fraud? Consequences? What the hell?
Alexandra heard the corridor lockout’s pressurized seal release. Finally.
“Dr. Van Zant?” A security officer barreled into her office. Three additional officers pushed in behind him. “Are you injured?”
“Five minutes! Do you know how much damage could happen at this facility in five minutes?” She stood up and smoothed her lab coat with shaking hands. “Find that woman; she went to the right when she exited my office. There are only three exits in that direction—the fire exit, the parking garage, and through the Eden Project. And figure out how she got in here.”
Three officers left in pursuit. The first officer stayed behind, fawning over her. “Ma’am, you should stay seated until the medical team arrives to check you over.”
Alexandra picked up her phone but remembered it wasn’t working properly. She addressed the officer. “Larry Perkins, right?”
“Yes, Dr. Van Zant.”
“Do you like working here?”
Larry Perkins snapped to attention. “Ma’am, yes, ma’am.”
“I’m going into the lower-level labs. You will stand guard at the elevator until I return.”
Alexandra entered the security code with a shaking hand. The reinforced-steel door opened. She immediately stepped into a small foyer, and the doors closed behind her. She prayed her husband’s mistress’s claims were indeed true. She prayed she was not a scout sent to discover the discrepancy in her building’s actual floor plan from the floor plan filed with the city. She’d known a day such as this would come, but she’d never feared a threat to the world would come from within her own lab.
She removed a folded letter from her lab coat pocket and reread the missive delivered by special courier yesterday morning.
My wife is dying, Dr. Van Zant. I planned to return to our home in Dublin and leave it at that. It would be so much easier to not confess, but I can’t just let you or, God forbid, someone else stumble unknowingly across the research I have hidden in my personal-notes folder. I hope you can understand and forgive me when I tell you, I made a big mistake, and my regret is agonizing.
I was approached, to trade research and specimens for an experimental medication for my wife. However, I never made the swap. I could not in good conscience turn my discovery over to the person who requested this trade. So, I lied, as you will soon discover. I said my research was incomplete, and the specimens unviable.
It was in my wife’s irreversible turn for the worse the universe has shown me that I am a fool. I was taken in by my sheer desperation. My daughter is only six months old, and as you know, she and my wife are my world. I would do anything for them.
It is for this reason I ask you to not act on the information I am entrusting to you until you are contacted by my attorney upon my wife’s death. By then you will no doubt understand the full scope of why I have chosen you for this burden. And why you must report me to the proper authorities.
When my treachery is uncovered, I will never be permitted to see my daughter grow up. She will never hear stories of the great scientist I was, only the horrific traitor I became, but at least my wife will never know the truth.