Orville was welcomed back to the lab with great smiles and multiple inquiries from all about his trip. It was nice being missed, but also he had to admit it was just great getting back to work. He met in private with both Thomas and Loraine to get an update on what the status was on all the offshoots of projects they had been assigned to in his absence, based on the breakthrough they had experienced that put them on this new path. Orville sat quietly and let them run through everything they had been up to and was utterly impressed and proud of his senior team when he heard just how much they had gotten done and how smoothly it all was coming together.
“Seems like you hardly need me here anymore,” Orville joked with them.
“May seem like that, boss,” Loraine chuckled back, “but what you set in motion initially made our job a snap. And we do have a couple snags.”
Thomas nodded along with Loraine and they took turns going through the details of the bugs they had yet to resolve on a couple of the spin off applications they were nearly ready to finalize. He nodded his understanding and then offered his input.
“Of course!” Thomas exclaimed as he smacked himself in the forehead with his palm.
“See,” Loraine added, “you are not so dispensable after all, boss.”
They all laughed as a group and then Orville went to his desk to try and catch up on what he was sure was a mountain of messages and other paperwork that had piled up while he had been away. Things looked good, though…all the inertia they had created just before his departure had not been lost and it was good to know that Thomas and Loraine had things well in hand. He had never doubted that they were not fully capable and more than up to the challenge he had left to them, but seeing it actually happen was gratifying.
With this out of the way, Orville took the rest of the day to plow through his email and paper mail as well as all the correspondence that Frederick and Janice had dropped off in his absence. None of it was of an emergency nature nor were there any fires that needed to be put out which was a relief as well. Near the end of the day, Orville picked up a research paper that Janice had left him with a sticky note adhered to the top:
Look this over when you get back. This may be our next big fish to land. Long shot for sure, but we all know how we at RMD feel about those now--LOL. Hope your trip was great and want to hear all about it.
He glanced at the title page and scanned the abstract to get an overview of what the company had in mind for him to pursue next. It was a topic that he had heard rumblings about for several years, but as far as he knew from conferences and other meetings, it was an idea that most had decided was not worth the risk. “Too much time and effort and funding required when there were other pressing matters”, he recalled from memory from his colleagues at other organizations. Orville had to agree in general, but it seemed as if maybe RMD, based on his recent success and their new cash cow, his contribution, was giving them some wiggle room to actually consider it. He tossed the paper into his briefcase and headed over to check in with Frederick and Janice before calling it a day.
“I’m back, guys,” Orville said as he stuck his head into Frederick’s office.
Janice was sitting in a chair at Frederick’s desk and they both beamed broadly at the sight of him.
“Orville!” Frederick exclaimed as he stood to welcome him back. “Sorry we were nor here to offer our greetings this morning, but you know how it is with the board here. Always seems to be another meeting or something with these guys.”
“Everything OK?” Orville asked, wondering if maybe there were new concerns or issues that had popped up while he had been traveling.
“Oh, sure…sure…” Janice replied, with a low chuckle “just the usual unfounded anxieties and worries from guys who just crunch numbers for a living. Our daily intervention to talk them back to Earth…nothing new.”
“How was your trip?” Frederick asked.
“Amazing,” Orville replied as he thought back to all the places he had been. “Cannot wait to go back some day.”
“Fantastic!” Janice added, “we’d love to hear all about it.”
“Sure,” Orville said, “let’s get together one evening and I’d be happy to bore you with my adventures.”
“What’s that?” Frederick asked as he pointed to Orville’s shirt.
Orville looked down to notice that the gift from Francisco had inadvertently slipped out from under his short and was in full view hanging from the lanyard around his neck.
“Oh….just a gift from a Mayan man I was fortunate enough to spend some time with in Guatemala,” he answered as he slipped it back under his shirt.
“Mayan?” Janice asked.
“I stayed with this local family just over the border from Belize in Guatemala for a few days. One of many unforgettable experiences from this sojourn of mine.”
“Sounds interesting,” Frederick said.
“You have no idea. Another story for another time, though. I’m pretty beat and am heading out.”
“You get my note?” Janice asked.
“I did. We really seriously thinking of pursuing this theory of Gerald Ambrose?”
“Maybe,” Frederick added, “read it over and then let’s get together. We want to see if you feel it has any real possibilities of getting from the theory stage to a tangible application.”
Orville nodded and waved goodbye as he left and headed home.
As Orville went inside his house and dropped off his things on the dining room table, he noticed he was still about half stuck in Latin America….emotionally anyway. It had been the longest break he had ever taken away from his job since signing on with RMD. That in combination with all that he had seen and experienced on the trip he knew was making this reintegration back into his normal life in Tennessee more of a challenge than he had anticipated. He grabbed a cold beer and sat in the den as the sun disappeared behind the dense stand of trees to the west behind his house and just sipped and reminisced. The medallion felt cool and comfortable on his skin and he pulled it out to look at it as he thought back about his friend, Francisco De León. The man’s wise counsel and kind words came to his brain now as he fingered the etched symbol on the stone disk.
His possible sighting of La Mala Hora also came back to him as he sat and mused as he tried to decide what that had actually been all about. If it had been real, would Francisco have not been more alarmed and worried? His insistence that Orville had just dreamt this up out of his imagination from the combination of fatigue and the elder Vásquez’s show seemed believable, though. But if so, what was having gifted him with this Mayan talisman been all about? Was it just a kind gesture, or had Francisco sensed the need to offer him a form of protection and resource that he felt necessary? Not exactly the sort of thing that Orville would have relied on, he supposed, as a means of protection here in the States, but who was he to say it was not equivalent?
Despite his denial of it all, there had been this look in Francisco’s eyes that told Orville it had been something more than just a kind gift. And who was he, Orville reasoned, to say that a Mayan symbol of strength and power would not be as useful as any weapon the average American might utilize for home protection? With Orville’s intense dislike for guns of any kind, he was grateful to have the object, in case he was underestimating the medallion’s actual power. Ever since his younger sister had been shot dead by this drugged-out maniac back when they were just kids, Orville had incorporated a deep and ingrained hatred of guns. He slipped the disc back under his shirt and smiled.
With his beer gone, Orville tossed the bottle into his recycling bin, opened a second one and dug into the pizza he had picked up on his drive home as he settled in to really examine and take notes from the paper that Frederick and Janice wanted his critical professional opinion on.