Billy lifted the one of the vials of red liquid out of the rack and held it up, letting the fluorescent ceiling light shine through it.
Ivan flinched as the glass vial was lifted into the air, adjusting his lab coat with nervous fingers.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” said Billy. “It looks a little like a Cabernet Sauvignon, don’t you think?”
“It looks more like blood to me,” said Lily.
“Of course it looks like blood,” said Ivan. “The serum contains a hemoglobin-based oxygen carrier.”
He fixed her with a disdainful look. She returned the look, trying to make her glare as icy as she could, and Ivan broke eye contact, shrinking back behind the table.
When he looked back at her, she flashed him a pleasant smile, and felt a rush of satisfaction as he looked away again, his spindly little hand tightening into a fist.
Flimsy, breakable looking, and already half-bald at the young age of 26, Ivan reminded Lily of an egg. He was a small, scrawny man; his bald head was the only thing that saved him from being mistaken for a boy ten years his junior.
“The, uh…” Ivan paused for a moment, rattled, then regained his composure. “Sorry, um, the serum is very sensitive at the moment.”
“Sensitive meaning what?” said Lily.
“Meaning explosive,” said Ivan tersely.
Billy lowered the vial back onto the rack.
Lily was no scientist, but it seemed to her that Ivan should have been taking more precautions with a dangerous substance. Mona had been problematic for a number of reasons, but she had always insisted on precautions.
Lily thought about saying something, but decided against it. If this brat talked down to her again, she didn’t trust herself not to hurl the explosive serum across the room in a fit of rage and incinerate them all.
If Ivan blew himself up, they would hire more scientists. Preferably less annoying ones.
“How long until the serum is complete?” asked Billy.
“We’ll have it completed in a few weeks. A month, at the most.”
“Well?” said Billy. “Which is it? A month or a few weeks?”
His tone was light, and would have sounded friendly to someone who didn’t know better, but Lily knew her husband well enough to know his intent. He was challenging Ivan, reminding the kid that for all his fancy degrees, he wasn’t the one who was in charge here.
Lily was a good enough judge of people to know Billy’s approach wouldn’t work on Ivan. The brat wasn’t good enough at reading people to pick up on the subtle edge of venom in Billy’s cheerful tone.
“It’s impossible to know until we run more tests,” said Ivan.
The tense edge to Ivan’s voice sounded more annoyed than intimidated. Lily had been right, as usual. Ivan had likely interpreted the question as Billy not being smart enough to grasp his brilliant work.
Not that he’d done most of the work. He’d used Mona’s calculations, as well as her DNA, and claimed all of the credit. Lily wasn’t surprised. It was what men did. Let women do all the work and take all the credit.
Women at CPSI had to walk a fine line. They had to be mean enough not to get walked all over, but still be able to play nice when it made strategic sense.
Sleeping with the boss didn’t hurt either, but Mona wouldn’t have done that, and Lily would have made sure she suffered a worse fate than the Pit if she had. Billy wouldn’t have gone for her anyway. He only liked blondes.
A part of Lily had actually been rooting for Mona, though she’d have never admitted it to Billy. Mona had been ambitious, disciplined, competent, and mean when she had to be. A few times, Lily had even thought about befriending her, even though it was a laughable idea. It was almost funny to imagine the looks on her friends’ faces if she’d brought some foreign poor along to one of their ladies’ spa weekends.
Mona wouldn’t have been able to afford it anyway. Not with what Billy had paid her.
Billy had seen Mona as a tool to be used and discarded, but her potential had been far greater than that. Billy had thought he was stringing Mona along, keeping her in the dark, but Lily knew Mona had been smarter than that. She’d known she was being used; she’d known her worth, and known that it wasn’t being recognized. She’d been using them too in a way; first as a way of paying the bills, hanging onto her Green Card, and feeding those snot-nosed kids of hers, then as a way of manipulating the situation with Sarah.
Mona had never been particularly loyal to CPSI; she’d been shrewd enough to see through all Billy’s invitations to dinner, all the carefully calculated favors, all the proclamations she was the ‘daughter they never had’. More than that, she’d been far too self-assured to fall for the attempts at breaking down her self-esteem–the low pay, the subtle digs and criticism, the expertly concocted mixture of complicated work far above her pay grade and demeaningly menial tasks.
When Lily thought about it, the mistake had been Billy’s more than it had been Mona’s. He’d underestimated her; manipulating her into loyalty had never been a possibility. Something had been bound to come along and disrupt her fragile allegiance to the company. If it hadn’t been Sarah, it would have been something else.
Lily heard Billy talking, saying something about disrupting the boundaries of the human mind, and realized she’d gotten lost in her thoughts and missed some of the conversation.
It didn’t really matter; she knew the basics about the serum, and Billy would fill her in later. At least, he would if he didn’t want to sleep on the couch.