“It’s not that kind of interview,” said Chave. The elevator stopped moving, the doors sliding smoothly open.
Standing on the other side was Dr. Steven Banks, creator of the Intestinal Bodyguard and the only remaining member of the trio that founded SymboGen. He was smiling. Somehow, that didn’t help.
“Hello, Sally,” he said. “It’s very nice to see you again.”
Dr. Banks’s office was larger than the reception lobby at the hospital where Nathan worked. Two of the walls were actually windows, solid sheets of glass looking out on the city below. He had a perfect view of the Bay. From this distance, you couldn’t see the traffic or the people wandering the streets. All you saw was the natural beauty of San Francisco, the allure that had been drawing people through the Golden Gate for centuries. I guess when you’re one of the richest people on the planet, you can buy yourself a window that never shows you anything ugly. It’s one of the perks that comes with the position.
Dr. Banks gestured for me to sit down in one of the plush leather chairs in front of his desk as he walked around to sit in his own larger, plusher leather chair. “It’s so nice to have a little time to talk, don’t you think, Sally?”
“Yes, Dr. Banks,” I said automatically. I sat down, perching on the very edge of the chair like I was getting ready to jump to my feet at any second. To be honest, I was considering doing just that.
“It’s all right, Sally. You’re not in trouble.” He smiled, showing his perfect teeth. I fought the urge to bolt. “I just wanted to see you.”
“Yes, Dr. Banks,” I repeated.
His smile faded. “Do I make you nervous?”
I sighed. “Yes, Dr. Banks,” I said, for the third time. “You really do.”
It wasn’t just his teeth that were perfect. Everything about him was perfect, from his hair and skin down to his subtly sculpted physique. I found myself wondering whether he had somehow managed to make his Intestinal Bodyguard start secreting steroids along with all the other chemicals it pumped out to ensure the well-being of its host. Dr. Steven Banks was not the kind of man who spent that many hours at the gym, or gave up fried food of his own free will.
“I wish I didn’t make you nervous, Sally,” he said. He sounded sincere, which just made me more nervous. “I want us to get along. I think we’re both smart enough to know that we’re not going to be friends, but I’d like it if we could at least be friendly acquaintances.”
“You do sort of control my life, Dr. Banks,” I said hesitantly. “If I make you mad, or you don’t like my progress, you could decide to stop providing me with medical care, and I’d probably die. So I’m sure you’ll understand if I’m a little bit uneasy around you.”
Now he looked a little hurt. “Do you really think I’d do something like that to you, Sally?”
Normal people don’t use the names of the people they’re speaking to in every other sentence. Dr. Banks did, for some reason, and when I was around him, I found myself doing it too. All children learn speech through mimicry. That stage was closer to the present for me than it was for most adults, and sometimes the habit was hard to break.
“I think SymboGen is a business, Dr. Banks,” I replied, carefully. “I think that sometimes business investments don’t pan out.”
“I think of you as much more than just a business investment,” said Dr. Banks. “You’re a part of the SymboGen family. Don’t you feel like a part of this family?”
There didn’t seem to be any right answer to that question, and so I didn’t say anything at all. I just sat there, waiting for him to continue.
After a minute or so, he did. “I wanted to meet with you today because it’s been too long since we’ve had the opportunity to just sit and talk. Monitoring your progress is important to me, Sally, and sometimes looking at facts on paper isn’t enough to let me see the whole picture. There are pieces that only come through when you can look someone in the eye and really understand what they’ve been through.”
“I’m fine,” I said, a little more stiffly than I’d intended. “I’m still working at the shelter. I like it there. My boss lets me work with the kittens a lot.”
“That’s the Cause for Paws animal shelter downtown, isn’t it?” As if he didn’t already know that. “I’m glad to hear that it’s still working out well for you. I heard you got a dog recently?”
“Beverly. I’m fostering her. Her owner is sick and can’t take care of her at the moment, and his family doesn’t want the responsibility of taking care of his dog while he was in the hospital.” They’d been grateful, actually. I’d expected my own family to object to Beverly, but they had turned out to be totally fine with my bringing home a dog as long as she was housebroken and didn’t chew on the furniture. Beverly was so well behaved that everyone was in love with her by the end of that first night.
That was a good thing. Dogs need to be loved, and her owner was probably never going to be reclaiming her, if the recovery—or lack of recovery—of the rest of the sleepwalkers meant anything.
“Her owner… you saw him collapse, didn’t you?” There was something too casual about the question; the way that Dr. Banks looked at my face and then away, quickly, like he was afraid of being seen… he was worried. And I didn’t know why.