The Urn

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Chapter 9

September, 1988

Over the next two and a half months, the progress on the new project thrilled Orville, despite the minor blips they had been forced to iron out as they went along. Dr. Ambrose had gladly agreed to come on board as an intellectual consultant and his input and advice had been invaluable to the completion of the preliminary evaluation. The fee that he had agreed to was not insignificant, but far below what Frederick and Janice had braced themselves for. As an added incentive, Frederick had approved an offer to the professor of a 0.5% share in any future earnings from any products or applications developed directly from anything that came about as a result of the professor’s published paper.

“Really?” Janice asked seriously one day.

Frederick shrugged.

“A calculated risk on my part, I guess. From what Orville told us Dr. Ambrose’s participation would greatly reduce the time needed for the initial investigation…and as it happened he was spot on. My gamble is that 0.5% out of any development profits is a minor concession to RMD in the big picture. And like Orville has said….there is a reduced chance of real success here relative to last time around.”

“So, we get Dr. Ambrose’s expertise to move us along expeditiously with the safety net that the promised royalties may not ever happen?”

“I know it sounds a bit calculated and like we are taking advantage, but….well….”

“I get it,” she replied, “good strategy in my opinion as well.”

Orville, along with Thomas and Loraine and a pair of newly graduated engineers that they had hand-picked due to superior new skills from a recent education dove in and near the end of March they had a working model. With this Frederick and Janice could work up a proposal and financial projections to take to the board at the next regularly scheduled meeting to try and convince the chronically skeptical members to let their team move ahead on. Orville and his team could do nothing but wait now until they got word back from the board to see if they would continue on or just move onto something else.

Orville was not ordinarily nervous about such things, as he had always just rolled with the crests and troughs of the fortunes and decisions at RMD, working on whatever they chose to pursue. He had seen colleagues get furious and incensed beyond all reason when one or another of their projects got cancelled or delayed or postponed. To him, it was not worth the energy and stress. The company would always have the final say so….it was part of the deal of having gone corporate rather than staying in academia. But his time around he felt a bit more invested than usual. He and his team had been working around the clock with Dr. Ambrose’s guidance to come up with a working model for a presentation to the board. The late nights and weekends had taken their toll on Orville and for the first time in his professional life he was appreciative of a short break to await a decision. He was physically and emotionally wrung out.

It was late on Friday afternoon, and as Orville went by first Frederick’s office and then Janice’s he saw both were still empty. The board meeting had been going on since just after lunch, but apparently it was still in session. Both offices were alit, but vacant and there was no indication that either of the directors had been back since heading to the conference room to pitch the results of the new project. Orville had initially requested to go along, but Frederick felt it their best strategy to have him just sit tight.

“Between the lines, I want them to think you are still slaving away in the lab,” Frederick said, “ and second, the whole thing will bore you to tears….trust me. For many of these things, if it was not for a constant infusion of caffeine I would be out as well. Besides, you’re looking pretty wrung out these days. I know you’re beat, Orville, but you feeling OK otherwise?”

Orville shrugged.

“Just tired, really….I’m OK, though. Thanks for asking.”

He had not really wanted to attend a marathon ordeal full of balance sheets, profit and loss statements, income projections and something Frederick and Janice had called present net value. The last of these apparently was a key benchmark for the board when considering new funding for something, but the logic and meaning of it escaped Orville’s scientific mind. They both had explained it to him, he recalled, but it sounded as foreign and esoteric to his ear as he imagined his work did to the board members at times. But going home this Friday with no indication of a thumbs up or a thumbs down was not sitting well with Orville.

Against his better judgement and promises he had made to himself years ago, he had let himself get more personally invested in this project than he knew he should have. Orville was not quite sure why this one had been different with him, but it was. He did not know if the long and drawn out meeting was a good omen or not. And certainly they had other things on the agenda than just Orville’s new endeavor. He sighed heavily as he left Janice’s office door after leaving a short note on her desk to call him as soon as she knew of the board’s decision….whatever it was. As he walked across the parking lot, Orville felt this rift of pain creeping up along his left leg from his lower calf all the way to his hip. Goddamn sciatica was back!

It began as always, just a mild annoying ache, but by the time he got to his car he found he was actually limping a bit. His chiropractor had been a savior in helping him deal with this since it had arisen about a year or two ago. But he had gotten so bogged down with this project he had let his regular appointments slide. Now he was paying for it, he said to himself in self-chastisement. The diagnosis of an arthritic disk in his lower back a few years earlier had sent him to see Dr. Everett reluctantly. He had never held much regard or belief in the science of chiropractic, but when his orthopedist suggested surgery and that even that might have just a 50/50 chance of relieving his pain, Orville went to see Dr. Everett based on a recommendation from his friend, Kathryn Moore. Kathryn was a firm believer in all things unconventional and out of the mainstream and though Orville was highly skeptical he certainly was open to options other than having his back sliced open…especially with a pretty grim prognosis of being any better after it was all over.

But Bill Everett had worked wonders for Orville. Once he began getting treatments, his pain was significantly reduced almost all the time now and for some stretches it just seemed to have gone away….like it had never been there at all. But Orville knew with Bill Everett’s treatments, it was something he had to stay with consistently, not just pop in when it hurt. And he had ignored that. He slid into his car and dialed up the Rosemont Avenue Wellness Clinic on his cell and got an appointment for early Saturday morning.

“Was wondering when I would d hear from you, Orville,” Everett said in his normal calm and reassuring manner.

“I’m sorry, Doc,” Orville replied sheepishly, “work got busy and well….no excuses I am afraid.”

“Back where you were when I first saw you?”

“Pretty much. I hope I have not let this thing become too chronic to deal with based on my neglect to my body.”

“Oh….I am sure we can fix you up. How about 10:30 tomorrow morning?”

“Perfect, Doc….I promise I will not let this happen again. I feel like I just tossed away all that you did and that we had accomplished.”

“No biggie, Orville. You do have a chronic problem that will need lifelong tweaking, but unless I find something I am not expecting, I am sure we can get you back to where we were. See you tomorrow.”

Orville hung up and went home hoping some ibuprofen and muscle soreness salve he had used in the past would get him through the night. As beat as he was right now, the last thing he needed was a sleepless night from this nagging pain. He gimped along into his house as a light rain began to fall outside and downed the pills and lathered on the salve. He knew the ointment was not really fixing the pinched nerve issue that Bill would soon address, but the warmth of the gel often masked the discomfort enough to let him sleep. He knew it was not a great idea to chase the meds with alcohol, but he was still on pins and needles about the board meeting, so he snagged a beer from the refrigerator and sank into his reading chair in the den. A “no thanks” from the board would not be the end of the world, but Orville really wanted this one.

His phone pinged as he came out of his chiropractic visit the next morning. Text from Janice:

Pop the cork on that champagne, Orville….we got the thumbs up!!!!!

Call me when you can and I can fill you in! Congrats!!

It was like a huge weight had been lifted from him suddenly. Not only had Bill gotten him back to state where he was hardly bothered by the pain in his leg and hip—and after just one session—but the new project at RMD looked like it was a go! If Orville had not thought he might screw up his leg again he would have done a jig right there in the clinic parking lot. Orville offered thanks to a God he was still not quite sure he believed in and set off for home to get all the specifics. By the time he had gotten home Janice had sent over an email with all the benchmarks the board had set and milestones that needed to be met as the full development of the new project was to begin in earnest on Monday.

He got her on the phone while he opened all the attachments she had sent while she conferenced Frederick in on the call and the three of them went over the proposal for development (PFD) documents. Orville could sense the excitement in their voices as they discussed it all, surely matching his own enthusiasm as he pictured what the next months might involve and demand. He flexed his leg as he listened to them, vowing that during the full development initiative that he would not miss a scheduled appointment with Bill Everett again….no matter what. He simply could not afford to be a liability to his team.

************

After about 18 months of trial and error, intense discussions, near catastrophes in the lab, and some latent threats from the board—despite their full approval in writing for this project to be fully funded back in March—Orville, Thomas, and Loraine sat in the anteroom just outside the lab to go over the schematics of what they hoped would soon be a final beta model suitable for a functional dry run. The work had been intellectually challenging and demanding of each of their time, frequently requiring them all to discard any personal plans or life they had for the moment. Orville was beginning to have trouble discerning what day of the week it was as each day now melded into the next, each with its own unique set of bugs to work out or new approaches to be considered. But true to his promise to himself, he had never missed his sessions with Bill Everett.

And that decision had paid off in spades. It had been the better part of a year since he has last limped into the Wellness office and he could not recall even another slight twinge of pain in all that time. He was sure it was nothing Bill had not expected when they began his treatment plan again, but the relief was enough to make Orville want to nominate Bill Everett for the Nobel in Medicine. Why had he been so obstinate and contrary with Kathryn about chiropractic, Orville wondered as he scanned the detailed drawings with his senior engineers.

“Anyone seeing anything out of kilter?” Orville asked as he stood and stretched his stiff back.

“Not me,” Loraine replied.

“Tom?” Orville asked.

’Nope. We’ve been over this and over this all day now, and if there is a potential problem, I’m sure not seeing it.”

Orville nodded and walked to the large window that looked out over the green space that ran between the engineering R&D lab and the clerical offices. He appreciated their confidence, but he was suddenly feeling overwhelmed with doubt and second thoughts. His heart was racing and a sickly-feeling cold sweat had broken out on his forehead. Orville wiped away the perspiration wondering what was happening. This was a good day, after all….they had accomplished what everyone had said was just a pipe dream. Even Gerald Ambrose, the father of the workings of the effort, had been highly doubtful that a practical version of the theoretical plan could be created.

Small dots of black began to creep into his field of vision and Orville put his hand to the window sill to steady himself. He looked outside and in the dim light of the lamps that lined the walkways between the various entrances to the L-shape building, Orville spotted a shape he had seen since….when was it he pondered as his pulse continued to pound in his ears. Then the figure turned and in the weak light of the far lamp post, he remembered….El Zapote…..Guatemala. He froze in place as he stared into the murky growing dark of the twilight. It couldn’t be…could it…how? But the longer he looked and the more he tried to convince himself otherwise, the more Orville knew that it was her….La Mala Hora.

“Boss?” Loraine asked as she moved from her seat, “you OK?”

“La Mala Hora….” Orville mumbled as he touched the medallion that still hung from his neck.

“La what?” Thomas asked as he joined Loraine in her concern for Orville.

“The evil one….” Orville mumbled back as he continued to look on in disbelief.

“Go get help, Loraine!” Thomas exclaimed as he went to Orville’s side just as his boss collapsed in a heap. “Now! Hurry!”

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