Angel Falling Softly

Chapter 24

Discretion is the better part of valor

At the front desk, the brilliant smile on Cindy’s face told Milada that the good news had nothing to do with work. “Something came for you this morning,” she said.

Milada answered with a look of practiced insouciance and continued on to the conference room. The something had been placed at the end of the table where she usually sat by the phone, arranged—by Karen, undoubtedly—to catch the muted light from the curtains on the gold foil of the long, slender box.

Karen waited anxiously while Milada put aside her parasol and attaché and took much longer than necessary to get around to opening the box. She untied the ribbon and lifted off the cover to reveal a single long-stem white rose, resting against burgundy velvet. A casket for a relationship, Milada thought.

“How pretty!” Karen leaned forward to examine it. “It smells so nice. What does the card say?”

Milada slit open the envelope. As she suspected, the gift had come courtesy of Troy Ellis. On the card he had written in a careful hand: The symphony deserved a better encore. Lunch at the Garden?

She smiled to herself. She still harbored some guilt about the clumsy manner in which their date had ended and was not averse to concluding it on a more proper footing.

Karen said, “It’s from Mr. Ellis, isn’t it?”

Amazing that Karen remembered who he was. But there was no arguing with a person’s true priorities. “The Garden is a restaurant?” Milada asked.

“It’s in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, the old Hotel Utah. It’s a really nice building, right across the street on South Temple.”

“Oh, yes.” Steven had pointed it out to her in one of their many jaunts past Temple Square. Milada retrieved her phone and dialed the number Troy had included on the card. He picked up on the second ring.

“Milada!” he exclaimed, obviously startled that the gift had been deemed an acceptable recompense.

“The rose is lovely,” she said. “And Karen informs me that the Garden is a respectable establishment.”

It took him a moment to parse her language. “Yes, yes, it is.”

“Would a one o’clock lunch fit your schedule?”

Some rustling through papers. “Not a problem. Why don’t we meet by the statue.”

“The statue?”

“The Joseph Smith statue in the lobby. You can’t miss it.”

“But of course. One o’clock.”

By the time she hung up, Karen had found a vase. The rose did make a pleasant addition to the conference room. Around noon she extracted from Karen more precise directions.

The heliocentric city center that was Temple Square evidenced a devotion not so much to art or even piety but to meticulous grounds keeping and a persistent wanting to be liked. These folks would not kindly countenance the Baptist whirling in from the desert on the breath of God and crying repentance from the city walls.

Not unless he got himself a permit first. And kept off their property. And took a shower.

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building, though, had originally been built for no more noble cause than to comfort the wearied traveler and please his eye in the bargain. Milada could see that the lobby harkened back to the era of Grand Central Station and the New York Public Library, late echoes of the Greek revival of the early 1800s. The marbleized pillars and the towering reach of the glowing art-glass ceiling made the expansive inner space into a kind of cathedral.

She folded her parasol and entered the foyer. Her eyes were drawn to the statue at the center of the room. Troy was lounging at the prophet’s side. After greeting him, she returned her attention to the building’s namesake.

“Brother Smith, I presume.” She removed her sunglasses and stepped back to examine him further, this young man who had ignited a religious order now ruled over by old men. “A pity I never met him. Was he ever in England?”

“No. But Brigham Young was.”

“Yes, I do recall his followers causing something of a stir at the time, though I suspect the idea of a new America was as intoxicating as a belief in the new God.” Her analysis amused him, she could see. “And what other purpose does this building serve?”

“There’s an IMAX theater and a genealogical library. The rest is church offices.”

“And restaurants.”

“Yes. On the tenth floor.”

Milada bid the prophet good-bye. They set off to the elevators.

The sky had clouded over, a gauze drawn across the sun. Still, she insisted on being seated away from the mezzanine windows. A comely waitress attended to them with cheerful deference. Clearly Nordic in her ancestry, her bright, blond face radiated that well-scrubbed look of Panglossian satisfaction with this best of all possible worlds. They must breed them in a laboratory somewhere. Milada often glimpsed them posed in ever-present twosomes inside the Temple Square gates, shepherdesses waiting for the lambs, ready to reach out with their staffs and snatch souls away from the brink. She found their individual selves more fascinating than their gospel. But she was a wolf dressed in beguiling white, and the thought of sheep only made her hungry.

She ordered the shrimp cocktail, Troy the cold-poached salmon. The restaurant served no wine.

The waitress retreated with the menus, and a pensive look returned to Troy’s countenance. He sat back in his chair and studied the table settings. “About the other night—” he began. “The bishop thought maybe I overreacted.”

Milada shook her head as if to dismiss his concerns. “A clash of cultures,” she suggested.

Troy picked up on the idea. “When I was on my mission in Japan, I think the hardest thing to get used to was that people weren’t automatically Christian. Most people didn’t even know the difference between the Catholic church and any other Christian church. They thought we all worked for the pope.”

“I guess you all do look alike.”

Troy grinned. “Yeah, I suppose so.” He relaxed noticeably, now that the worst of his confession had been accomplished.

Milada said, “I think perhaps your Japanese friends were right. We are really not so different. Because, you see, Rome never fell. We are her children and have inherited all that she was. Her language, art, architecture, politics and governance, her coliseums, her entertainment. Her religion and her gods. Only streamlined, made more efficient, and given new names.”

The entree arrived, making it unnecessary for Troy to conjure up a response.

The menu boasted large shrimp on a bed of house greens, but the greens were buried beneath the sauce, and if the shrimp were indeed of a large variety then they had been harvested before their time.

But it was palatable fare. The meal curtailed conversation and gave her time to think. She wondered about what indeed the bishop had thought. And what did his wife think? Milada hadn’t wanted to hear her pleas the night before. She could guess where they might lead. The bishop’s wife had noticed things, had started to connect the dots. Where would the dots lead her? A fervent belief in God could hem in the realm of the possible, channel it along the narrowest of lines. Or expand it to an infinite degree.

“Tell me, Troy, does your religion believe in faith healing?”

Delighted to be asked, he sat back to form an answer. “We believe in blessing the sick, and we believe in miracles, yes.”

“So at what point do you yield to God’s will?”

“Brigham Young once said, when asked if prayer was enough to heal, ‘I might as well ask the Lord to cause my wheat and corn to grow without my plowing the ground or casting in the seed.’ As our scriptures say, by grace you are saved after all you can do.”

“So Paul meets the Pelagians. Well.” Perhaps it was a religion that frowned on the fanciful. That reassured her.

They both refused dessert. The pressing demands of work proved as good a reason as any to curtail the outing. Down in the lobby, Troy gestured to his left. “I’ve got to jog over to the Church Office Building. I hope to see you around, Milada.”

“I’m sure you will.”

Troy smiled. Her eyes hidden by her sunglasses, Milada winced. What an unfair thing to say while he still kindled hope. After all, his gut reaction to her advances that night had reflected her true nature. His innocence had tempted her, had tasted sweet and inviting. She knew to the core of her being that she could pretend to be exactly what he imagined he wanted and what he expected of this untried acolyte, as he imagined her in all his shattering naiveté. She could make herself into the vision that lived in his mind’s eye, make of the lion a lamb, and kneel to discover—or so he would think—the truth at his hands. Taste the true word on his lips. And in the process ruin him utterly. Take that trust and turn it and draw him into a world he believed was of his making until he discovered, too late, that it was populated with her ravenous kin.

She knew where her own gullibility had once led her. That was the lesson Rakosi had taught her: how longing becomes the tool of slow torture. All that wanting, and no question of what was being offered to sate her desire. We must, she had told her sisters, because she wanted—wanted a father, a husband, a lover—she couldn’t remember what, except that the nuns at the orphanage couldn’t provide it. She wanted. Rakosi had offered what she wanted. And then it was too late. She only wanted more.

Personal enmity was the ultimate price of undisciplined desire.

And so she compensated, strove to make of her life something that grew and changed, a substitute for the progeny she would never have. Were the processes of her mind so simple, so obvious? After all this time, shouldn’t she have garnered the attention of more daring and inventive demons?

The iridescent ceiling told her the clouded skies above remained nevertheless shot through with sunlight. She raised her parasol and walked into the bright day.

Milada’s last stop of the day was Wylde headquarters. Dr. Brickey met her in the reception area and escorted her to a large desk tucked into the back of the computer room. The soft, indirect lighting and blast of air conditioning that cooled the server racks reminded her of an autumn evening at the Hamptons.

“Your sister is a remarkable young woman,” Dr. Brickey said. “An M.D. and Ph.D. at her age!”

Milada detected a slight put-down in the latter half of the remark. In other words, a mere Columbia MBA didn’t quite measure up in the company of physicians.

“This is Kamal Nath, our head DBA.”

The Indian man seated at the desk in front of the three large LCD displays glanced up and nodded. Kammy stood at his left shoulder. She was wearing her green hospital scrubs. Milada wondered if she ever took them off. She’d look quite striking in a nice dress.

Kammy turned and saw Milada and smiled. Milada almost stopped in her tracks. This wasn’t Kammy’s wry or weary or knowing smile. She was beaming. “Come and look at this,” she said, motioning impatiently with her hand.

Milada joined her, standing behind Kamal’s right shoulder. Kammy didn’t wait for Dr. Brickey or Kamal to start things off. “This is the Utah Population Database,” she said, indicating the screen on the left. “Eight million multi-generation pedigrees, including family and medical histories.”

She pointed to the screen on the right. “This database hooks directly into the Agilent sequencing and microarray platforms, and the Amersham Lucidea array controls for hybridization, scanning, data capture, and analysis.”

“It also tracks the DNA, RNA, and peptide synthesizers,” Dr. Brickey added.

Kammy gestured at the display in the middle. “This is the biostatistics database. It ties everything together in a clinical and epidemiological framework. In other words, gene mining across the board in a real-world context.”

“What about privacy?” Milada wondered, her business-oriented mind focusing on the most likely liability issue.

Kamal explained, “The hashes linking the genealogical and genome sequencing records are indexed to encrypted personal information in a separate database. That database can be unlocked only with a 128-bit private key escrowed by a third party.”

Milada nodded. That sounded good to her. “So I take it you’re impressed with the technology,” she said dryly.

“Hell, yeah.” Kammy grinned again.

A small smile came to Milada face. She didn’t understand half of what her sister was saying, but she completely comprehended this rare burst of enthusiasm. You see, Troy, she thought to herself, recalling their conversation at the Japanese restaurant. This is what a business can do.

And to keep on doing it, it would have to make money. That was something she could do.

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