Friday morning was a nasty morning. A thin white layer of frost stuck to everything like a blanket made of millions of tiny ice daggers, and patches of ice hid precariously in the nooks and crannies in the roads. The air was also thick with a heavy and dank fog, limiting visibility to about twenty metres.
I lived out in the countryside and had to travel on a few narrow and windy lanes before I made it onto the bypass that led into town. My Land Rover could handle the roads well enough, but it only took one idiot to misjudge the hair pin turns as you were coming the other way. Fortunately, traffic on the country lanes was minimal in the early hours of the morning.
When I arrived at work, Thomas’ white Ford Focus was in its usual spot at the back of the car park, all on its own. Nobody else ever parked that far away from the building, especially on mornings such as this. Thomas just didn’t like being penned in, and he had reasoned, well enough, that there was less chance of an accident the further he was away from the other cars.
I found a space four rows back, parked my car, and hurried into the building before my ears turned raw and started to throb.
The reception area at Hygieia was spacious and warm, and in my opinion resembled a health spa. Large black tiles covered the floor, and yucca trees lined the edges in front of corrugated glass panels. A raised black wall surrounded a koi fish pond and a waterfall feature trickled down one of the walls into the pond.
The front desk was behind a semi-circular wooden veneer barrier with a black faux-marble top, just in front of the frosted glass doors that led to the offices.
Janine was on the front desk, sipping her morning coffee. She had short cropped black hair and was wearing a purple fuzzy sweater.
“Morning, Janine,” I said, approaching. “Bledy cold this morning.”
“Oh, I know,” she smiled, turning away from her computer. “But at least it’s Friday. You can have a lie-in tomorrow.”
“And don’t I need it.” I leaned on the black countertop with my elbows. “Did Rachel speak to you about Monday?”
“Yes,” she replied, looking over the paperwork and objects on her desk. “Ah, here we go.” Janine handed me a clipboard with a small envelope pinched under the metal clip.
“Is this the credit card?”
“Yes,” she said, and handed me a pen. “I’ve already filled out the line for you. You just have to sign it out.”
I took the pen and read-over the pre-filled line next to my name. I paused, “Is that CK One you’re wearing?”
She laughed. “Yes it is. I ran out of mine, so I’ve been splashing on my fiancé’s every morning.”
I signed the clipboard and slid the envelope into my trouser pocket. “When are you guys getting married, again?”
“You know, if you fancy one last night with an exotic stranger before you tie the knot, I’d be more than willing to oblige.”
Janine cocked her head to the side and frowned. “Too bad you’re not exotic or a stranger,” she said. “Although, you are strange, I’ll give you that.”
I hung my head in mock-shame. “I’d protest, but it’s true.”
Janine smirked, and sipped from her coffee mug. “Listen,” she said, putting the mug down. “You’ll be flying out of Gatwick on Monday morning at 10am. That means get there by 7am. You’ll be flying to Newark airport in New Jersey, and then transferring to Aspen. There’s a summary of the flight information in that envelope. In order to check-in, you’ll need to use the credit card. Needless to say, don’t lose it. Rachel has more information about the hotel and the client.”
I nodded and tapped the envelope in my pocket. “Okay. Thanks Janine.” I stepped toward the glass door and raised my keycard.
She called after me. “Are you really going with Thomas?”
Numerous words appeared to get stuck like fish bones in Janine’s throat. She smiled, sheepish, and I nodded in acknowledgement.
I opened the door with my card, and headed into the maze of cubicles. Janine called after me. “You’ll be fine.”
Rachel’s office was cold.
She was huddled behind her desk in a green woolen jumper with a snowman stitched into the front, clutching a cup of hot chocolate with both hands. Her nose was bright red, but I chose not to make the obvious seasonal joke.
Thomas was already in the office, even though I had told him to wait for me so that we could walk down together. He sat in one of the two chairs in front of the desk, wearing a plain white shirt under a grey tank top. He was staring at Rachel’s computer monitor tapping his knees like they were a drum set.
“Bit cold in here, isn’t it?” I said, sitting down next to Thomas.
“The heating in this part of the building decided to breakdown last night,” said Rachel in a slow and dull tone. “Hopefully it’ll be fixed by this afternoon.”
Thomas continued to drum on his knees.
“Janine told me you picked up the credit card this morning?” said Rachel, watching Thomas.
“Yeah, I did. I’ve looked over the trip summary. The Alpine Lodge. It looks nice.”
Rachel shifted her gaze to me. “It is. That’s where you’ll be meeting Mr. Myers on Wednesday. Just ask at reception if he’s checked in and leave a message for him. You’ll be able to arrange a meeting that’s good for the three of you.”
I crossed my legs over in the chair. “I saw those PDFs you sent me in my inbox. Haven’t had a chance to look at them yet, but they were just a profile on Myers and some background on his company, Daeva Pharmaceuticals, right?”
“Yeah, something to read on the plane. He’s a public relations guy and wants to see what we can offer. You’re familiar with our new inhaler drug delivery system?”
I nodded, “Yeah, the small inhaler that fits in your pocket and helps to maximize uptake. What is it? HYG00367X?”
“HYG00367X,” confirmed Thomas to the beat on his knees.
Rachel’s nose twitched dangerously. “That’s what they’re interested in,” she said. “They’re particularly interested in its ability to deliver quick high-powered dosages.” She felt in her pockets for a handkerchief, but there wasn’t one. Screaming like banshee, Rachel raised her sleeve and sneezed all over it.
Thomas stopped drumming and used his feet to push the chair away from the desk. I resisted the urge.
Rachel groaned. “Sorry guys.”
I scratched my nose. “Does Daeva make asthma and lung medication? Is that why they want the inhaler?”
Rachel shook her head and pressed her forearm under her nose. “No. They make antipsychotics.”
“Oh,” I said, taken aback. “Not usually the kind of stuff that goes in an inhaler.”
Thomas inched forward.
Rachel lowered her arm. “No. They want to test a new drug in the inhaler, to see if it can immediately neutralize a psychotic episode.”
“After it’s been forced in the patient’s mouth and sprayed down their trachea.” Thomas was on the edge of his seat.
I looked from Thomas to Rachel. “That does raise a good point. I can’t imagine patients will take it willingly.”
Rachel found a box of Kleenex in one of her desk draws. She immediately blew her nose and tossed the tissue in the trash. “That’s better,” she said. “Well, I think we can agree that if somebody is experiencing a psychotic episode, a quick and effective means of ending it without bringing harm to the patient is a good thing.”
I could sense Thomas was not appeased. It felt ten degrees warmer to my left.
“Anyway,” Rachel continued, picking up a large brown envelope. “Here is all the information you’ll need for the meeting.” She handed it to me. “I can’t imagine you’ll need to know anything else, but you can always give me a call.”
I turned to Thomas. He was still sitting tense. “You want to take care of it?” I asked him, handing over the envelope.
Thomas accepted it and held it in both hands on his lap.
“I guess I’ll see you guys just before Christmas, then,” Rachel smiled. “Don’t feel bad to do some skiing while you’re there. I cleared it with Sophie, you can put it on the card.”
Sophie Bolton was our vice chairman. I stood up and stretched. “That was charitable of her.”
Rachel waved her hand. “You deserve it. You both do. Just don’t forget to work on the report. There’re instructions for writing and submitting it in that envelope.”
Thomas still had it clenched tightly in his hands. I yawned. “Come on, Thomas,” I said, and waved towards the door.
He stood up, still focused on Rachel’s chin. Without saying a word, he walked straight out of the office. I could tell he was mad because his head was dipped, his back was straight, and it looked like someone had jabbed him in the butt with a pencil.
“Have fun,” Rachel smirked. “Try and get the best out of him.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, sure.”
“Hey Matthew,” she said, pulling another tissue from the box. “Give me a call when you get back. We’ll go for a pint.”
“Oh, and Matthew?”
Rachel pinched her nose with the tissue. “You’ll have to stop by Thomas’ parents before you go.”
“They have his passport. And they wanted to see you before you leave on Monday.”