The slender, middle-aged man leaned forward and pressed a button on the conference phone. "Sarah, have the technician bring in the rat, please."
"Rat?" Graham said, blinking.
Dr. Finch smiled sweetly at him. "Yes. We want to send a live rat. You did say that live specimens pose no problem, did you not? That is the whole purpose of having you here, isn't it? To transmit living organs to their recipients?"
"Absolutely, doctor." The young man smiled pleasantly back at her, the signs of surprise vanishing. His fingers flickered over the keyboard of his laptop, tapping out a short message.
While he typed, a man in blue scrubs entered the conference room, holding a plastic cage with a listless brown and white rat in it.
"Just let me check the cage," Graham said, standing to take it from the tech. Finch watched suspiciously as the salesman checked it over. "You will have to send live animals through in a container, by the by."
"Rat and cage amount to less than two kilograms, Mr. Graham." Finch sounded smug.
"Good. Very good." The navy-suited man finished his inspection and handed the cage back to the technician. "Perfect. Just put it in the Tranzer, on that shelf, right." When the technician had stepped out again, Graham took over, describing his actions as he went through them. "Now, you close the door, spin the lock, and punch in the code -- in this case, for the Tranzer we've got at the Houston Aerospace Facility, which is HAF-1." He finished and started for his seat. "Now, in just a moment -- "
The giant box emitted a steady hum. The two older men watched it, interested, but Finch's skeptical expression didn't alter. One of the faces on the video conference piped up at last. "Dr. Finch, the box here is humming."
"That's fine, Ms Carrol," Graham said, confident.
A few seconds later, a gust of air rifled out of vents in the top of the Tranzer, and a second after that, the Tranzer sucked air back in, as if the safe had just taken a deep breath. On the teleconference monitor, Ms. Carrol's hair ruffled, as if in a sudden breeze. The humming stopped. "You can open the Tranzer on your end now, Ms. Carrol." He glanced to the others in the room with him. "If any of you would care to open ours ... ?"
"Ah, the magician wants an assistant from the audience?" Dr. Finch didn't move.
Graham kept his smile in place, while David rose to his feet. "I'd be glad to," he said, walking to the trolley-bound box..
"Dr. Finch!" Carrol had returned to the monitor. "It's here!" A plastic cage with a listless brown and white rat lying on the bottom of it was shoved against the camera for them to see. "It looks like our rat, ma'am!"
David input the combination and spun the wheel on the safe door, then pulled it opened. A couple of brown and white hairs wafted out of the otherwise empty cabinet. "No rat here," he said, unnecessarily.
The salesman beamed at Dr. Finch. "So, ma'am, are you interested? In light of the charitable and life-saving work you do, In An Instant is prepared to offer very favorable terms for the purchase of Tranzers, as well as cut rates on the cost of individual transfers. I can show you our contracts here -- " He started to turn his laptop around.
Dr. Finch scowled. "Ms. Carrol, take the rat to Angel of Mercy and have the tests run on it. Please get back to me with the results as soon as you have them."
"Yes ma'am." The other woman clicked off the conference phone.
Finch eyed the salesman with somewhat less affection than she might have offered the rat. "We'll run some tests and make sure this ... device, of yours, does exactly what you say it does. And nothing else. If everything is all right, then we'll talk. Thank you for your time, Mr. Graham."
The representative turned his laptop away again. "Ah. You're quite welcome, Dr. Finch. Is there anything else I could do for you, then? Any questions?"
"No, I think you've demonstrated your inability to answer any questions I have. Good day, Mr. Graham." She stood, her heels clicking on the tile floor, and nodded to him.
The salesman took his cue and stood. "I can't wait to hear from you, Dr. Finch. We'll leave the Tranzer here for a few days, if you like -- save you on installation costs when you buy it." She made a noncommittal noise that he interpreted as a yes. Graham closed his laptop with a snap and shook hands with all three of the others before leaving.
As he took David's hand, the older man offered him an abashed smile. "Sorry about Mary," he said, quietly. "Great product you've got there. Thanks for coming." The young man flashed a quick smile back, and headed out.
Graham walked briskly through the corridors of the hospital, maintaining a cordial air, his head held high, until he got into the dimly-lit parking garage. There, his smile evaporated into grim lines. As he made his way to his car, he took out a PDA-cellphone and dialed on it, the wire of its earpiece dangling from ear.
A woman answered, though the PDA monitor remained blank. "Graham?"
"Yeah. I'm done here."
"Not with the ice queen from the ninth circle," he growled. "I could've danced in there with the Elixir of Life, turned her associates into eighteen-year-old surfer dudes, and that -- " he bit down on his next words before continuing " -- evil witch would have scowled and said 'Don't call us, we'll call you'."
"I'm sorry, Jack. Was it that bad?"
"No, it was worse." Graham pressed the unlock button on his key ring and opened the car door, tossing the PDA to the passenger seat beside him. "Man, I thought selling this idea the first time would be bad, but I figured after we had half-a-dozen clients the skepticism would let up."
"Hey, you sold the last one without a hitch, right? Don't be so hard on yourself."
"I'm not being hard on myself. I'm being hard on Dr. Shrew -- excuse me, Finch." He started the car and pulled out. "Though, really, Cora, couldn't you tell me anything about the way the bloody Tranzer works? Just a crumb? This'd be a lot easier if I could tell the skeptics something other than my 'I'm-just-a-dumb-salesman' routine. I'm sure the truth would be a lot more convincing."
The other end of the phone went silent for several moments. Graham negotiated his way out of the parking garage and onto the sunlit street. "Cora? You still there?"
"I'm here, Jack."
He blew out a breath. "Hey, never mind me, I'm just ranting. Honest. I'm sorry. You're the boss."
A laugh came through the line. "Don't worry about it. I know it's a tough job. I'm sorry that I'm not making it any easier for you."
"Yeah, well, that's why you pay me the big bucks, right?"
"Right. Take the rest of the day off. Have some fun while you're down there, ok?"
"Your wish is my command. Thanks, Cora."
"No prob. Bye!"
Little sunlight filtered through the drawn blinds of Cora's office, but florescent lights kept the room brightly lit. Cora gazed at the phone's receiver for a moment before setting it back in its video-equipped cradle with one medical-gloved hand. She looked across the room to the mirror, and started to straighten her knit shirt, rumpled about her waist, then paused. She stripped off the gloves and left them on the desk before walking to the mirror, where she lifted her shirt a bit higher.
A few very short white and brown hairs clung to the exposed skin of her abdomen. She brushed them off, taking one between her fingers before tucking her shirt in. Gazing at the short, coarse hair, she thought of Graham's words: I'm sure the truth would be a lot more convincing.
"No, Jack," she said aloud, to the empty office. "I really don't think it would be."