The girl adjusted her scarf against the cold and hurried off into the darkness, as though Geller was pursuing her when he only had gotten the door. She carried a tray of four coffees but didn’t even pause to set them down and properly re-button her coat, so her free hand held it together in front like a bathrobe. Perhaps he’d looked at her in the way Baz cautioned him against—like a snake trying to work out whether it could unhinge its jaws far enough to swallow its prey. His face had a maddening way of betraying his innermost thoughts, but he doubted it would’ve eased her mind to know he was merely deducing her family history by studying her features.
Her narrow hips suggested an Eastern European ancestry, though her skin tone and hair may have indicated a Greek or Italian influence. Wide-set, almond-shaped brown eyes didn’t necessarily mean an Asian ancestor, but that was more likely than Central or South American, considering her thin nose. Pakistani, maybe? Her slight frame had to lean into the wind to push through it, and judging from the thickness of her clothes to the speed of her gait, he guessed she had little tolerance for cold. He settled on an Eastern Mediterranean descent, perhaps Turkish, Syrian, or even Israeli. 60/40 on the Asian.
He played this little game a lot with people and it never occurred to him it might be creepy on the other end. But Christ, to even feign interest in someone’s uninformed and immaterial views on the world, he needed to occupy his mind with something else. Often, one part of his brain would be conducting the analysis while another would deliver the nods, “Mmm hmms” and “Sures” that served as check-ins to any tedious conversation.
People weren’t any more mysterious than a vehicle or a computer. Everything that mattered was hard-coded—reproduction, survival, maybe nonverbal communication. Though the code itself had taken nearly a century to unravel, getting in there and fucking with it was the secret fantasy of any geneticist. Technical considerations aside, what mainly stood in their way was a phony and misguided morality. Mention genetic engineering in passing, and feeble minds immediately went to human-animal hybrids. These were the same people who ate genetically modified grains and drank milk from genetically modified cows on a daily basis. The same people whose hearts bled for people with Alzheimer’s or sickle cell anemia but only supported the idea of a cure, not the mechanics of it.
What they didn’t realize was that they could go online at that very moment and learn for themselves the precise gene or chromosome responsible for a whole shitload of diseases. If a mechanic said their car needed a new starter, they’d replace it without a second thought. If enough starters went bad on a particular model, the manufacturer would either issue a recall or install a better starter in future vehicles. This was how the industrialized world worked. Living things—particularly plants—had been improved upon since the days of Mendel. Yet, no one raised the morality flag when a turf grass that was engineered to be drought-resistant saved them money on water. They didn’t seem to mind that corn-based products were tasty and dirt-cheap as a result of genetic modifications that made the plant more resistant to pests. Fucking hypocrites.
It seemed like a long time ago that he’d been featured in the journal Science as a 17-year-old prodigy about to pursue a simultaneous PhD and MD at the University of Wisconsin, though it had only been three years. On paper, he’d lived up to the hype. He’d authored or co-authored more than 40 peer-reviewed articles since then and held 14 bioengineering patents, any one of which could make him a very wealthy man. But very little of that was common knowledge, and he almost never talked about it because he almost never talked to anyone besides Baz, Dr. Biermann, and the research assistants in the lab. Very few people in the world could understand what he was working on, let alone what it could lead to.
He finished his coffee, zipped up his jacket and headed back across the quad to the Genetics Biotechnology Center where his lab awaited. The wind was straight off Lake Mendota and carved long ridges into the powdery snow. Long, white fingers reached across the sidewalk as though trying to crawl toward shelter. It stung his face through his scraggly beard, prompting him to ask himself yet again what he was doing there when he could’ve gone anywhere he wanted.
The answer was Biermann. His doctoral advisor was close enough to the work to add legitimacy but not close enough to notice the siphoning of funds from multiple grants into his little side project. For example, he and Baz were working together on three of them, so if they had a working lunch, they could charge it back to any of the three. His proposals were based on timelines that didn’t really apply to him. By spending less than they needed in less time than they forecast, he bought himself some breathing room for his off-the-books research. The results were all that really mattered to the funding authority anyway.
The building was warm—too warm compared to outside. He immediately took off his jacket and folded it into the crook of his arm as he made his way upstairs, his footsteps echoing through the empty stairwell. When he opened the heavy door onto the main genetics floor, he was greeted by the sweet perfume of lab work, a persistent antiseptic sort of smell that Geller never tired of. The building was almost always silent at this time of day, yet he heard many voices from the end of the hall. And was that … music? He quickened his pace and pushed into the lab.
It was a party. All the grad assistants were there and a couple of them appeared to have brought their significant others. The “dirty room,” as they called it, was festooned with tissue paper and Christmas lights. Relish trays and plastic cups covered nearly every square inch of horizontal space. A couple people were dancing, including Biermann himself. No chance of un-seeing that.
Geller stood in the doorway for several seconds before anyone noticed him. A young grad assistant named Kalpana noticed him first, and her broad white smile collapsed. One by one, the partygoers realized he was there and paused their revelry to see how he would react. Someone turned the music off. After a moment, Baz pushed his way through from the back. Geller saw Baz’s girlfriend, Lucia, keeping a safe distance.
“Brent!” Baz said. He was holding an opened beer in one hand and an unopened one in the other. “We expected you a little sooner.”
Baz held the beer out to him, but Geller lifted his hand to show he had just gotten coffee.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“Didn’t you get my message?”
Geller shook his head and pulled out his phone, which he rarely checked. A raft of messages filled the screen.
“Doesn’t matter,” Baz said, clearly tipsy. “We’re celebrating because we’ve cured liver cancer.”
Interesting choice of pronoun, Geller thought.
“Your protein binds perfectly to the carbohydrate,” he said, beaming.
“Show me,” Geller said.
Baz turned around to the group, all of whom were trying to interpret Geller’s reaction. “Party on, people!”
The music came back on and the hum of conversations returned. Geller followed Baz through a door and into the main part of the laboratory. A single workstation was illuminated with a screen saver running on the computer.
“I knew you’d want to see,” Baz said.
Geller sat and moved the mouse, waking the screen. A 3D model of a protein appeared, which looked like a mile of ribbon blown by the wind into a hopeless tangle. To Geller, it was the secret language of God—an impossible system of folds and loops that combined to do one specific thing in one specific way. He clicked through a series of images and tables, his brain processing the data as fast as it could be displayed.
“What about the rats?”
“Clean. Like it was never even there.”
Geller felt a little jolt of adrenaline. The idea was to isolate the sugar molecule the cancer cells needed for fuel and change it into something useless yet harmless, like turning a baloney sandwich into a rock. If the cells starved, the body’s own immune system could easily destroy the cancer. The last protein they’d tested caused massive lymphedema that killed the rats in days. But what excited Geller most was the retroviral delivery system that programmed cells to manufacture the protein. It had been extremely effective.
Geller pushed his chair back and sat for a moment, staring out the window. He never dreamt they’d be at this point already, but it seemed they were. It didn’t matter that it took just two years to get to this point in a five-year grant. The plan was always the same. He had the time and the resources, and he definitely had the vision. Now he had to try and sell it to the most ethical person he knew.
“Let’s get back in there,” Geller said, forcing a smile. “The party’s waiting.”
Lyle Merriweather felt a lump. Softened as Laura’s breasts were by age and children, it was easy to distinguish. He’d thought little of it right then. Five years previous she’d had a scare with a benign cyst, but the doctor cautioned it probably wouldn’t be the last. She had found that one during yoga and didn’t handle it as calmly as he’d come to expect during their 36 years together. Breast cancer had grown in adjacent branches of her family tree, so her anxiety was justified then. But because of that, and since it had been such a painfully long time since they’d made love, he decided to focus on the moment and raise the issue later.
It was a little much to call Lyle and Laura soul mates, but theirs was a pretty good story. While they were dating, Laura’s father, Chet, cracked a piston on his tractor a couple days before heavy rains accelerated the wheat harvest, so Lyle famously cast a replacement from a die he’d made himself and had the tractor up and running the next day. Chet would later give Lyle the seed money, at great personal risk, to start Merriweather Tool and Die. On the same day Lyle repaid his debt, he asked for Laura’s hand. When the very same tractor—still running like a champ—rolled over on top of Chet three years later and crushed him to death, Lyle and Laura’s inheritance helped expand the business and branch out into other parts of Kansas with other ventures. Eventually Merriweather Industries evolved into the country’s second-largest company, with its fingers in a little of everything.
It was uncommon for a captain of industry like him to remain genuinely faithful to one woman, but faithful he was. There had been so many opportunities to stray, but what more could he have wanted? His billions meant nothing to her. Laura saw his whole self. She’d expected him to build a comfortable life around her and nothing more. That done, she could gladly have dispensed with the rest.
The next morning, she poured his coffee for him and sat down to a bright red half-grapefruit.
“I need to tell you something,” he said.
“Last night I felt something odd in your—“
“Yeah, I noticed it last week,” she said, casually.
“Have you made an appointment?”
“Made and made.”
“They took a biopsy. They said they’d have results in a few days.”
Either her first experience with the cyst had steeled her, or her insouciance was just an act. Either way, it didn’t make him feel any better.
“Did she seem concerned?”
“Meh. You know how they are. They try to put you at ease. I’m not thinking about it until I have to and neither should you.”
“I’ll do my best.”
She smiled her slightly crooked smile at him and eased a wedge of grapefruit between her lips. He returned it and checked his watch. It was getting late—there was a board meeting he couldn’t beg off.
“I have to run, but obviously—“
“You’ll know when I know,” she said. “‘Now. Cervantes’ foil.’ Six letters, ends in ‘a.’”
He thought for a moment, and said, “Panza?”
She smiled and tapped in the letters. “You’ve served your purpose,” she said, and shooed him toward the door. “We’re here for dinner.”
He kissed her on the cheek, a gesture she received with a practiced stretch of her face toward his lips, and he left her.
The day passed slowly. Two hours tying off on the shareholder meeting, then a short lunch at his desk, then an afternoon of conference calls. During the drive home he turned his phone off—something he never did—with nothing but the thin, hermetic hum of the Mercedes to distract him, thinking of Laura. He knew he never took her for granted, yet worried he did. She was the context for his wealth and success; without that, it had no meaning.
The Merriweather Foundation was like the child they hadn’t lost. When Molly died less than two days after bringing her home, Laura poured herself into getting the foundation off the ground. She’d chaired and appointed the board of the fledgling organization herself, allowing him to handle the business particulars while she courted donors. Initially it was established to help coax great ideas into life. They both knew they’d simply been in the right place and time, and that there were others out there who could benefit from money and confidence.
In this spirit, the foundation courted the interest of well-resourced people. A college dropout in Iowa came up with a way to mix pulverized corn stalks and husks with an organic resin to create cheap, durable building materials akin to cinder blocks. The foundation gave him $50,000 to build a prototype home, and four years later HusKey Homes was helping transform third-world villages. Special legislation made it possible for farmers to put their regular subsidies toward the program in exchange for tax credits, and they were happy to do it. There were millions of other great ideas, of course, but the foundation breathed life into a select few and the world had benefited. Over time, Lyle had come to see the foundation’s myriad pursuits as a more noble calling than running the business. It was necessary to remain involved at a high strategic level—mostly as the public face of corporate governance and to help launch new spinoffs or products, but the foundation wasn’t just a reflection of his company’s success—it justified it.
Young people had the best ideas. Oh, what a gift idealism was! To pursue a thing with single-minded resolve, out of a crystalline notion of what was right, or fair, or necessary. He’d always felt and acted younger than he was, and he liked that about himself, but it had been many years since he’d had that kind of clarity about anything. It was like that old movie Being There, when the gardener, Chauncey, walked on water because he didn’t perceive it as an obstacle. These days, all he knew were obstacles, and all he ever seemed to do was negotiate them. In a way, his approach to the foundation was a little patriarchal—in the sense that it was his, but more so the vicarious thrill of enabling a dream.
The drive from downtown to Mercer Island gave him time to put things in perspective regarding Laura. If she was sick, they would simply deal with it. He had access to the best medical care on Earth, and plenty of true friends who would stay with them through anything. Not that it would come to that.
But he hadn’t heard from her one way or the other, and that was disconcerting. It seemed certain that she would call or send him a message if everything was fine, and she hadn’t. He half expected to find her Range Rover gone when he pulled in, but it was in the garage as always and the hood was cold. The kitchen was dark when he went inside, and smelled of the meal she made hours earlier but had long since moved to the fridge. Chicken, maybe. The only light in the living room was the lamp Laura liked to read by. She wasn’t under it, but her favorite blanket was, open like a seed pod. He headed upstairs.
Soft music wafted from the bathroom—Liszt. He pushed the cracked door open as he rapped gently on it.
“Babe? Can I come in?” he said.
“Mi casa es su casa,” she said, a little slurred, trying to sound Latin but coming off more like Natasha Fatale. “Tu casa, I mean. We are familiar, after all.”
She was in the tub, a pair of scented candles lit on the little table. She was facing away, her hair up, neck and shoulders glistening with moisture; in the flickering half light, she could have been 25. A glass of red was in her right hand. He smiled, thinking this was all a good sign. She’d taken a bath after dinner, overindulged a bit, and was just enjoying herself.
“Where’s mine?” he said.
“I brought you a glass,” she said, nodding toward a wine glass on the sink. “Unfortunately, it was rather good …” She reached down over the side of the tub and swirled around the dregs of her empty bottle of cabernet. “Sorry, Dahling.”
He moved in front of her and sat down on a tile platform under the bay window that overlooked Lake Washington, moonlit and cold.
“So either you’re celebrating or you’re not.”
She guffawed. “I am celebrating. I’m celebrating life. This room is for rumination and reflection.”
“What did they say?” he said after a moment. It felt dumb, knowing the answer as he suddenly did, having just thought it was the opposite. Perhaps he just wanted to hear what she’d say, and how she’d say it.
“What did they say? Well, they said plenty, and I learned a lot. For example, I didn’t truly understand what ‘metastatic’ meant until this afternoon. You feel kind of smart throwing words like that around.”
A knot formed in his throat.
“Same place that has been metabolizing this delicious vintage the past few hours. When it comes to destroying my liver, however, this thing has met its match. It’s a race to the finish. Cheers.”
She drained her glass. This conversation was like so many they had—more implicit than explicit, a sort of verbal shorthand. She liked that he could fill in the blanks she left him, and he liked it back. He didn’t like anything about this.
“What’s next?” he said.
“Oh, a whole parade of horrors. Radiation. Chemo. Surgery, maybe. But in the end?” She made a farting sound, then sunk up to her nose in the water.
He rose and slipped off his tie, his shoes, his pants—everything—and eased himself into the water facing her. His girth pushed a few gallons of water over the side, but it didn’t matter. Nothing did then, except for her. Laura was a fighter, yes, but she wasn’t an idealist like the people the foundation worked with. She was the kind of woman who wouldn’t think twice about cutting her foot off if it was hopelessly stuck. Hell, that might even be her first choice. No, she would try some of the treatments, but unless they started showing results in pretty short order, she would start tidying up her will and give him her blessing to start looking for someone else as soon as she was gone. That was just Laura. He wasn’t much better, which was why he so admired people who were.
She handed him her glass, with its one last swallow of wine, and he downed it, warm and awful.
From The Perfect Generation: A Memoir by Dr. Brent A. Geller
Winter 2019 was extraordinarily cold, even for Madison. My roommate, whom I’ll call Martin because of his birdlike features, worked part time on city road crews, usually flipping a sign that said SLOW on one side and STOP on the other to wrangle traffic through a lane closure. He went to Fleet Farm and bought an actual snowsuit to wear during his shifts, for which I gave him no end of grief. My grants kept me comfortable without an outside job, but it’s important to note that Martin’s father was the used-car czar of Indianapolis. His lifestyle was already subsidized to where he no longer bothered to deposit my rent checks (it was his place). I give him credit for taking those gigs, but why he stood outside for four hours at a stretch in 20-below weather rather than wait tables was beyond me.
The cold is significant in my memory of that year for two reasons: First, it kept me inside a lot more than usual. It was much easier to spend extra hours in the lab when the alternative was walking ten blocks home with your nostrils stuck together. And when Martin worked the late shift, he would usually swing by and get me on his way home.
I was a known quantity in the scientific community by then, at least on the academic side. My advisor, Dr. Horst Biermann, had been principal investigator on several studies with me, many of which turned some heads. The journal Science profiled me, and I appeared in a few small documentaries about the future of medicine, genetics, etc. My ego loved the attention and the validation, and so there were few opportunities I wouldn’t take or quotes I wouldn’t give.
By that time most of my research had coalesced around gene therapy and molecular genetics. I was working on a simultaneous M.D., as well, to maintain as much control over my future treatments as possible. Few people did this, with good reason, but I found the more macro world of medicine to be much less mysterious than the micro world of genetics. Gene therapy is a process by which defective genes are replaced with good ones, but early attempts weren't successful enough for anyone to take it very seriously. I was determined to change that because of my sister, Jennifer.
Jennifer had Down Syndrome, a.k.a. trisomy 21, a random defect in one of every 1,000 random couplings that adds an extra copy of the 21st chromosome. Besides several characteristic physical traits, pretty much everyone with Down Syndrome has mental impairment. I was six when Jen was born, by which time I was doing college-level work in math and chemistry. The mechanics of her disease weren't a mystery to me, but she was. As our realities diverged, I distanced myself. I loved her, but I had no interest in learning how to deal with her. That was my parents' job. To be honest, her very existence was an embarrassment. Here I was, absorbing my studies with ease, while she literally took the short bus to school. We were far enough apart in years that I couldn't stand up for her when she got picked on, but I wouldn’t have anyway. I was selfish, entitled, and driven, and Jen was guileless. She was funny, empathetic, and determined. I admired her, only in secret. In reality I wanted her as far away from me as possible.
It remains my greatest shame.
She died three days shy of her 17th birthday, which was the second reason I remember the cold so distinctly that winter. My mother called to tell me that Jen died of heart failure, a call I expected after she was in the hospital. I hadn’t gone home to see her.
Mom called when I was just about to leave the lab, and Martin was off that day, so I walked home in the cold. I was just two blocks from the apartment when I noticed someone in a sleeping bag, tight against a property fence that faced an alley. I noticed no fogged breath and thought myself magnanimous for nudging the figure with my foot. Nothing. I did it again, harder. Still nothing. I reached down and pulled back the bag to reveal the face of a man in his fifties who had frozen to death. His eyelids and lips were blue, and I remember realizing that Jennifer’s lips would have been blue just then, too, from the cyanosis that almost certainly preceded her death. In his face it was easy to imagine hers, and in that moment I realized how completely I had failed her. I also realized, however, for the first time, that she’d inspired me to follow this path. What happened to her was random, but preventable. And I would be the one to prevent it.
A few weeks after Jen died, my phone rang. It was Baz, my former associate, better known as Dr. Basilio Montes. Though older, he had settled into the role of being my de facto assistant on the projects we were doing for Biermann. Our NIH grant work was overfunded, so we funneled some of it into a little side project that was far more audacious. The going was slow because we still had to spend almost half our lab time on the boring grant work. I offered to supervise the plebes that night because he was going to propose to his girlfriend, Lucia, who was visiting from Spain. Again, I viewed this as selfless until I realized he’d excused himself to the men’s room at L’Etoile, where he’d taken Lucia, in order to call me.
“You need to get online right now,” he said
He explained that Lyle Merriweather was making whatever secret announcement they’d been hyping for weeks. I’d heard about it but hadn’t given it much thought. All I knew about Merriweather was that he was an industrialist with a hard-on for social justice and Third World causes. I wouldn’t have crossed the street to meet him. Baz didn’t go into much detail, saying he had to get back and pop the question before he lost his nerve, but something in his voice persuaded me. So, I went back in one of the offices to check it out.
What he said that night changed everything.
“I don’t like him,” Lucia said.
Baz sighed. “Take a number.”
Lucia was radiant and exotic—two things he was not. They’d been on a schedule of seeing each other every six months since they met as undergrads, while Baz was studying in Barcelona. It was not enough, but there was something satisfying about how much he burned for her when they were apart. The day would come soon enough when they were together all the time, and he wouldn’t feel it anymore.
L’Etoile was trendy among the university crowd, but not poor doctoral students so much as long-tenured professors and administrators. As Baz studied the menu, sneaking furtive glances at Lucia, it occurred to him he could eat for almost a week for the price of a single entrée. Suddenly, he wondered whether this was all too cliché.
“What are you thinking about?” he asked.
“That you should find another research partner.”
Baz laughed. “No, I mean to eat.”
“Oh,” she said, giggling. “I stand by my answer.”
“Enough about Brent. Tonight isn’t about him. It’s about escargot, and bouillabaisse, and a bunch of other things I can’t pronounce. Which brings us back to your food selection.”
“Well, the wild mushroom risotto sounds amazing.”
It better be for $36, he thought.
“I was looking at that, too,” he said.
“But I’m leaning toward the scallops.”
“The coquilles St. Jacques. They’re scallops.”
“Mmm, that sounds good, too.”
They went back and forth like this for a while, eventually both returning to their first selections but opting to start with the lobster bisque at $18 per bowl. Baz was keeping track of the bill in his head so he could fake indifference when it came.
He would later recall that the soup was worth every penny, tasting and feeling in his mouth for all the world like something that could either end or begin global conflicts all on its own. The entrees were both exquisite, but they were harder to enjoy because they drew him nearer to the moment when the waiter would bring them a signature dessert on the house—a little tree made of chocolate ganache that would have a ring perched on top, and while Lucia took it all in, he would drop to one knee …
She excused herself to the bathroom, and rather than fret about what came next, Baz checked his phone. One of his grad assistants had texted him an article about something called the Merriweather Prize. He skimmed it long enough to understand why it was important.
“Oh my God, the bathrooms here are almost too nice to use,” Lucia said from behind him, sliding back into her chair.
Baz’s heart felt like it might explode. He couldn’t have said whether it was because the big moment was drawing closer or because of what he’d just seen. In either case, there was only one thing to do.
“I guess I’ll have to see for myself,” he said, folding his napkin and placing it on the empty table. As he rose, he made eye contact with their server, who subtly twisted his hand back and forth between thumbs up and thumbs down. Baz raised his hand to indicate he needed five minutes, and the server signaled back OK.
Lucia was right; the bathroom was too nice to use. He did, in fact, have to pee, but it wasn’t clear where that was supposed to happen. Where he might have expected urinals there was just a wall of polished stone tiles beneath a gentle, even flow of water that vanished into a bed of pebbles. It was impossible to tell whether it was a decorative feature or a place to piss, which seemed like an important distinction. Just as he was debating whether to use the toilet instead, an older man entered, strode confidently up to the waterfall and relieved himself into it. The man looked familiar, perhaps some faculty emeriti he met at a banquet or dissertation defense.
“I did the same damn thing first time I came here,” he said, as Baz ventured forward to take a spot a couple feet away. “You’d think they’d put a little sign up or something.”
“Or one of those peeing cherubs you see in Europe,” Baz offered. “To show you the way.”
“Now you’re talking,” the man said, chuckling.
Baz finished first and went to wash his hands. The man joined him a few seconds later.
“Special occasion?” he asked.
“I think I’m getting engaged,” Baz said.
“Married for 45 years,” he said, drying his hands. “And happily for at least half of them. You’ll do great.”
“Thanks,” Baz said, taking his sweet time. His mouth was dry.
After the man left, he dialed Geller.
“You need to get online right now,” he said.
“Why? Where?” Geller said, annoyed by the call.
“Anywhere,” Baz said. “We’ll talk later.”
Baz hung up, fixed his tie, and stared at himself in the mirror. He wanted this, or he wouldn’t be here. Lucia wanted this as well, or he wouldn’t be asking. He wasn’t sure if she truly understood the life of a researcher, and if so, what it could mean that his reputation was intertwined with Geller’s.
Geller had no living peers. Pauling, Salk, Curie, Pasteur, Jenner—that was the company he would keep if they were around, though they wouldn’t have liked him either. He was not a good collaborator; Geller loved the notion of one scientist, working alone in some hidden lab for years or decades, emerging with some insight that would turn everything on its ear. But that wasn’t how it worked anymore. He needed funding, and that meant suffering colleagues. Baz was the one who Geller seemed to choose, for whatever reason, and so he either had to reject their partnership on principle or play a part in making bioscientific history.
It was an audacious and ethically dangerous idea Geller had: Don’t fix the disease—systematically eliminate it from the gene pool at scale. It smacked of eugenics, but in a different spirit. While Baz shared Geller’s interest in the actual mechanics of it, he was alone in his concerns about morality. Geller was not about to veer off that track. Baz was on the train or at the station, and he climbed aboard. Geller was one of the worst people he’d ever met, but Baz believed he was coming at the work from a good place, backed by a preternatural intellect and instinct. If pressed, he would have admitted that wondering what Geller might do was part of the fun.
When the door opened to another patron, it jolted Baz from his musings and back to reality. He dried his hands, opened the door, and with a deep breath, took his first of many steps into the unknown.
By the time Geller got online and found the live stream it was snowing again—the powdery, moistureless snow of a Wisconsin deep-freeze. The browser window was on CNN with MERRIWEATHER ANNOUNCES HISTORIC PRIZE in the lower-third crawl.
Lyle Merriweather was standing alone at a podium dripping with microphones. His name and title—Chairman and CEO of Merriweather Industries—splashed across the lower third. Cameras fired like little machine guns. His hands curled around the edges of the podium like part of him wanted to pick it up and throw it at someone. It was clear he hated stuff like this. Even so, he spoke evenly and clearly.
“Thank you all for coming. I’m here to make two related announcements. The first is that my wife of nearly 30 years, Laura, is dying of metastatic breast cancer. The details of her sickness are no one’s business but my family’s so I will not entertain questions about her condition or prognosis, now or in the future. Neither is likely to improve. The only reason I’m sharing this news is because it has led to my second announcement.”
He cleared his throat, swallowing some obvious emotion.