John O’Rourke woke from a pleasant dream into a pleasant reality. The young micro-biologist rolled over in his sleeping bag and looked up at the ceiling of his tent. He sighed. It was almost sunrise and he’d told himself he would watch it from the bluff at least once this trip. It was so warm in his sleeping bag though. He usually complained about how hot Laura was to sleep with, but today he welcomed it. It was still mid-September but the air outside the sleeping bag was damned cold.
His hand found the curve of Laura’s hip. He was going to ask her to marry him. Maybe not today, but before they went back home. He just needed to wait for the right moment. Last night would have been good if they hadn’t drank so much wine. And maybe if he hadn’t fallen asleep so quickly after their sexual marathon. He smiled at the quiet ache in his thighs as he stretched his legs out. No, last night was worth another days wait.
Laura snuggled closer to him, muttered something and then began snoring softly. His smile faded when her arm came to rest across his stomach. He did not want to leave the comfort of the tent, but that wine wanted out, quick. As he slowly extricated himself from the bag and Laura he wondered what had woken him. It wasn’t the need to urinate, that could have waited except for Laura’s arm. He vaguely remembered a strange sound but wasn’t sure if that had been his dream. Hadn’t been a bear, that definitely would have woken him up.
Teeth chattering in the cold mountain air, he quietly zipped the tent up and looked for the closet tree to piss on. As he relieved himself he gazed at his old ’98 Pathfinder parked back near the dirt road they’d driven out on. Much as he loved her, by this time next week he’d be replacing her with a brand new Range Rover. Loaded. Young John O’Rourke, scientist extraordinaire was about to become very famous and hopefully very very rich. He was about to go public with a new plant pathogen he himself had designed. A delightful little phytopathogenic fungi that vigorously and exclusively attacked erythroxylon coca, or the coca plant. Dr. John O’Rourke was about to rid the world of cocaine and all of its derivatives. Four long hard years of lab work and countless trials were about to pay off.
Zipping up, he decided to that today might as well be the day. The cold air had woken him up too much to get back to sleep. I’ll watch that sunrise and I’ll propose to Laura, he thought. He quietly snuck back into the tent and grabbed a thicker sweater. Laura was sleeping deeply and did not stir. He headed off towards the trail that would lead him up to the bluff with its view of the entire valley. A gentle slope to the west, its eastern side was sheer cliff. He’d almost asked her when they had hiked up yesterday, but a call from his lab killed the moment, just as he had killed his Blackberry after threatening the next member of his team who disturbed him. Pulling his university colours over his head he wondered if they’d rename the science building after him. He wondered how long it took his Blackberry to hit the rocks below.
He laughed, breath steaming in the cold mountain air. Better start working on his speech for that trip to Norway. Head down he broke into a jog as he approached the top. Dr. John O’Rourke, Nobel Prize-
“Good morning, Doctor.”
John staggered, nearly tripping over his own feet.
“Careful, John, that’s a long fall.
John shook his head. Just above him at the top of the bluff stood a man in a three piece suit and a full length coat.
“You… you’re…” stuttered the scientist.
“Warren Prescott, Director of the Drug Enforcement Agency. And you, Dr. O’Rourke, have become a major pain in the behind. Come on up, son,” he said gesturing for John to finish his climb. Bewildered, John stumbled the last few steps to the peak. Sitting atop the bluff was a black helicopter, it’s rotor blades still gently turning.
“That,” John started, pointing to the chopper, “that’s what woke me. But I didn’t hear-”
“I know. We don’t advertise these ones. Look, John, do you mind if I call you John?” O’Rourke shook his head, staring at the two men in dark suits and sunglasses standing with the helicopter.
“Great. John, we need to know who outside your lab knows about your discovery. John!” The scientist had turned at a noise from behind to see two more men coming up the trail he had just climbed. The fog in his head was beginning to lift and confusion was making way for fear.
“How do you know about my experiments? Why are you here?” he asked. Director Prescott sighed and looked at his watch.
“I have a Senate hearing after lunch today, John, we don’t have a lot of time.”
“Am I in trouble?”
“Not so much ‘in’ trouble as you are trouble,” the director answered. “Your little creation almost dropped a bomb on us.”
“Almost? What do you mean, almost? I don’t understand. Aren’t you excited about this? I just cut the war on drugs in half! I can do the same for marijuana. Heroin! I can engineer this to go after the poppies.”
“Exactly, John! If your little fungus were unleashed I wouldn’t have a job anymore. Neither would the eleven thousand people who work for me. And that’s just us! That doesn’t include every narcotics cop in every major city in the United States. Or the state police. Border Patrol. Coast Guard. Fuck, boy, even the sniffer dogs at every airport would be out of business because of you. Do you have any idea what the annual budget of my agency is? Over two billion dollars, John. Billion. My friends over at the Bureau and their six billion dollar budget weren’t too happy with your discovery either. Did you stop to think of the economic chaos your disease would have caused this country? Hell, every country? You may as well have created a super-virus and unleashed that.”
“This is insane. I can cut the worlds drug supply in half and you’re worried about jobs? Are you serious?”
“The cocaine market in the United States creates over $70 billion dollars in revenue a year, doctor. That’s more than Starbucks makes. I don’t expect you to understand this, but we need them. They are the yin to our yan.”
These men are going to kill me, thought John. He turned back to the men behind him looking for an escape route back to the camp and Laura. “Who knows about the disease, Doctor? Anyone outside the lab? Anyone outside the university?” asked Prescott.
“No. Just the lab… and they all know we’re here. They’re expecting us back today,” John gambled.
“I hate to tell you this, but there was an explosion at the university last night. Tragically, your entire staff was in the lab celebrating the end of term. There were no survivors.”
John collapsed to the ground, dumbfounded. Ten minutes ago he had woken up the luckiest man in the world. Now all his friends were dead and he knew was about to join them.
“Does your girlfriend know?”
“No. I was going to tell her today,” he mumbled.
“Well, hold on to that, son,” Prescott said as he raised his right hand and made a twirling motion. Behind him the helicopter’s rotors began to turn. The engine was eerily quiet. Raising his voice against the growing turbulence he called out, “you saved her life, at least.” He gestured to the men behind John who picked him up off the ground.
The tears began to flow. “How can you do this?” he asked.
“Sorry kid, we need enemies. Keeps us focused. If we don’t have them then we’ll make them. You really think Osama could have pulled off that shit by himself? Hell, we even need diseases. When’s the last time you heard of a world leader or a billionaire dying of cancer?” The Director of the Drug Enforcement Agency turned back to his helicopter as his men dragged the weeping doctor to the cliffs edge.