Sleeping with the CompetitionbyPrivates1stClass©
This is my 2012 Summer Lovin' Story Contest entry. I hope you enjoy it, and don't forget to vote. Thanks for reading.
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In the world of twenty-first century business competition, there are few things more important than knowing what your competitor is doing, or better yet, what your competitor is planning.
Many big corporations spend huge sums of money stealing secret information from their competitors, but no one knows how much, because they never account for spying in their financial reports, do they? They fill thick portfolios with their competitors' pirated trade secrets, poached patent information, purloined e-mails, pilfered memos, and pinched personal information. Industrial espionage has become a fine art, with methods and agents as secretive as those used by the CIA. This story is but one example of how low companies will stoop to gather secret information from a competitor.
The names of individuals in this story have been changed to protect their identities.
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On a hot Tuesday afternoon in June, Susan Bacardo, dressed in business attire, sat in the Houston, Texas, airport boarding area awaiting the call to board her flight to Chicago. She'd arrived at the airport early, because she wanted to get away from her stressful job and her sexually harassing boss. Besides, her laptop contained a PowerPoint presentation she wanted to review before delivering it the next morning at a three-day pharmaceutical conference.
Susan's employer, Shtup Pharma, manufactured and marketed numerous prescription drugs. She was a project manager for Shtup, leading a team of researchers who were attempting to create a female Viagra drug. During their research, they had collected considerable detailed data relating to female sexual arousal and dysfunction caused by chemicals, drugs, and hormones. Along with their one modest success, they had encountered scores of failures in their search for an arousal drug. They'd hit so many dead ends that they became experts in female sexual unresponsiveness. The subject of Susan's presentation at the conference was, "Chemicals, Drugs, and Hormones which Reduce the Female Sexual Response."
While Susan was reviewing her slides, a tall handsome man in a suit approached the counter in the boarding area and spoke with the female agent. He identified himself as Brian Miller. He said he and Susan Bacardo worked at the same company and mentioned they were traveling together. Would the agent be so kind as to assign him a seat next to hers?
Trying always to please the airline's customers, the agent checked the seating assignments. She reported there was an available seat, and assigned it to Brian.
At the same time, Susan happened to look up and noticed the man talking to the agent behind the counter. He seemed to be looking directly at her. He smiled at Susan, then turned and said something to the agent. The agent nodded her head toward Susan, then looked down and typed on her computer terminal. The man didn't look familiar to Susan, but since she traveled often, she met many people. Perhaps he was someone she'd met on a previous trip. Susan shrugged and went back to working on her laptop.
What Susan didn't know was that she'd been targeted by her employer's primary competitor, Bugger Pharmaceutical Corporation, in the form of Brian Miller (the pseudonym he used for his spying task). The knowledge she carried in her head about the female Viagra project was worth a fortune to competitors who were also working on a similar drug. It was Brian's task to pick her brain and tap into that fortune. After all, the first company to market a female Viagra could reap millions, if not billions, of dollars in profits.
When aircraft boarding was called, Susan stood in line behind a jam of other passengers who just couldn't wait to board the plane, even though everyone had an assigned seat. She never understood the herd mentality of passengers and passed it off as just being another quirk of human nature.
As she handed the agent her boarding pass, she passed the handsome man, also waiting to board, and he smiled at her again. Did she know him? While she and the other passengers shuffled down the stifling boarding ramp, Susan tried to remember if she had met him somewhere.
Brian thought Susan was more attractive than the photo he carried in her dossier—and a little taller than she'd been described. He knew a lot about Susan—he'd studied her dossier for almost four weeks learning detailed information about her. He discovered she grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and had graduated from Northwestern University. He also read reports about her job description, her pay, information about her boss, her immediate chain of command, her marital status (she was single), and many more informational tidbits that had been gleaned by other undercover agents from Bugger.
He'd learned Susan's responsibilities included managing a project research team, the project budget, and the female Viagra schedule. Most of the information about Shtup's female Viagra project passed across her desk, so she was the most likely target at Shtup.
With him, Brian carried a list of Shtup managers and phone numbers; he probably knew more about Shtup than many who worked there. For this trip, he was going undercover, impersonating a Shtup employee.
Brian was a biochemist who had worked on Bugger's female Viagra project for about three years, so his knowledge of the subject would be helpful in his spying mission. His research team had been unsuccessful, but another of Bugger's teams working on a cardiac medicine stumbled onto a female arousal drug by accident. At that point, Brian's value on the female Viagra project was reduced.
When Tony Wilson, Brian's manager, obtained a sketchy report that Shtup had a breakthrough on their female Viagra project, and was ahead of Bugger's project, he decided to determine if it was true, and if so, to sidetrack it somehow.
While Tony and Brian were meeting to discuss where Brian might be reassigned within the Bugger research organization, by coincidence, Tony discovered Brian had grown up in Evanston, Illinois, and graduated from Northwestern University. Through their spies, he also knew Susan Bacardo had also graduated from there.
Tony began hatching a plan. Brian was tall and handsome, he had worked on their female Viagra project, and he was familiar with the technology involved. Moreover, word had it, that he was smooth with women. Perhaps Brian and Susan had enough in common that Brian could exploit Susan's weaknesses.
Tony said, "Brian, I have a 'special project' for you. If you're willing to carry it out, it might be worth a nice bonus, or even a promotion. It's going to be top secret, and only a handful of people will be in on it. Okay?"
Although it didn't take long for Brian to make a decision, he didn't realize what he was getting into. His main thought was about earning a healthy bonus.
The following day, Brian discovered the 'special project' Tony Wilson had given him was to gather as much information about Shtup's female Viagra project as possible, namely to target Susan Bacardo.
A week or so into Brian's grooming, Tony gave him some counterfeit identification cards, and told him that one of Bugger's undercover agents had entered his name into Shtup's personnel records, and had even given him a social security number from a real Brian Miller, so that if anyone checked, they'd find he worked there. His status was listed as 'leave of absence' on Shtup's records, so he wouldn't show up on the records they normally reviewed.
At the end of Brian's four weeks of grooming, Tony handed him a fat envelope containing $2,500 in twenty and fifty dollar bills, and said, "Cash can't be traced." Then he winked at Brian and said, "Put the money to good use in Chicago."
The last thing Tony said to him before he left for Houston was, "Gain her confidence and milk her for every bit of information you can. I don't care what you have to do, but don't come back without the information we want."
So that's how Brian Miller happened to be on the same plane, with an assigned seat next to Susan Bacardo, destined for Chicago.
When Susan reached her window seat in business class, she sat down. She removed her uncomfortable mid-heeled black pumps, wiggled her toes, slipped her laptop under the seat, and looked out the window idly watching the men loading luggage in the cargo bay.
She felt the seat next to her jar slightly and turned to see the same handsome man who had smiled at her in the boarding area. He was now sitting next to her. He smiled at her yet again.
"Hello Susan. How are you?"
"Do I know him?" she wondered.
Susan responded, "I'm fine—and you are?"
"Brian Miller. I'm a biochemist from our Boston office," he lied. "I had a meeting in Houston earlier today, and now I'm headed to the pharmaceutical conference."
"How do you know me?"
"You're the project manager for the Feminoral project (Feminoral was Shtup's code name for their female Viagra drug), and I saw your photo in the company newsletter," he lied again.
"But my photo wasn't published in it for Feminoral. Since it's a confidential project, we don't discuss it much."
Oops! Brian's mind raced as he frantically tried thinking how to get out of his blunder. Within two minutes of meeting his target, he'd already made a major screw-up.
"Maybe you saw my photo when I was the project manager for our diabetic drug," Susan said.
"Uhh... Yeah, that must have been where I saw it."
Whew, so close to being caught! Brian felt a wave of relief flow through him.
"Get yourself together, Brian," he thought to himself. Being a rookie industrial spy wasn't going to be easy.
Recovering from his slip-up, he reached inside his suit jacket's breast pocket and handed his business card to her. It looked legitimate; printed on it was: Brian Miller, Biochemist. It had Shtup's logo and the correct office phone number on it. She happened to notice he wasn't wearing a wedding ring.
"I hope you don't mind me joining you, since we're both going to the same conference."
She knew a number of biochemists at Shtup, but didn't know Brian. Shtup was a large company and a lot of people worked there. Since he said he was from the Boston office, she let it go.
"Have you been with the company long?"
"Just a little over a year," he replied.
Susan had been extremely busy with the Feminoral project during the past year. A number of employees came and went. She figured Brian was probably one she hadn't met yet.
When everyone had boarded and settled down, the stewardesses began their passenger briefing. Susan could almost lip sync their briefing, she'd heard it so often.
After the plane took off, Susan was able to turn on her laptop and continued reviewing her slides.
"Do you have a lot of work to do?" Brian asked.
"Some. I have to give a presentation at the conference tomorrow, and I want to make sure I have it down pat." Susan's pleasant, lilting female voice fell softly on his ear.
"I'm glad I don't have to give a presentation. How long have you worked in Houston?" he asked. Brian didn't really need to ask Susan anything about her job.
"A little over six years."
The pilot came on the public address system, welcomed the passengers, and thanked them for flying his airline. "It's going to be a little longer flight than we'd planned, because we have to go around a line of thunderstorms across Arkansas," he said.
After the plane leveled off, a stewardess came by asked if they'd like a drink. Susan asked for a Coca-Cola and Brian ordered a beer. Their drinks came, and Susan consumed the entire can of Coke while she reviewed her slides.
Susan had been so absorbed reviewing her slides that she hadn't noticed how full her bladder was until the Coke hit it. All of a sudden, she had to pee. Not wanting to wet herself, Susan stood up and hastily placed her laptop on her seat. She quickly excused herself and slipped past Brian, hurrying to use the lavatory. Brian waited until she was inside, then opened her laptop and inserted his thumb drive into it. He typed several commands on the keys and removed the thumb drive, placing Susan's laptop back in the same position where he found it.
"What an opportunity," Brian thought to himself. "Easy as stealing candy from a baby."
The software he just installed on Susan's computer gave him the ability to control it when it was connected to the Internet.
Susan returned from the lavatory, unaware of Brian's actions. Brian studied her coming down the aisle—her blue eyes were far more expressive than her photograph showed, and her angelic smile caused a dimple to appear on her cheek. Her eyes caught his, and for an instant, there was some kind of magic male-female recognition which takes place between lovers. But he knew they weren't lovers—he had to erase that notion from his mind.
"Excuse me," she asked, scooting past Brian's knees, slipping into her seat.
Brian's nose caught the odor of Susan's perfume—he hadn't noticed it before. She must have applied it while she was in the lavatory. It was a compelling, alluring scent—whatever was in it attracted Brian to it like a male dog to a bitch in heat.
After she settled in her seat, Brian decided to engage Susan in light conversation, getting to know her better. His boss's instructions to "...gain her confidence and milk her for every bit of information you can," still echoed in his head.
"I'm looking forward to seeing Chicago again," he said.
"Do you get to Chicago often?"
He shook his head, "No, not as often as I'd like. I grew up just north of there."
"Really? How far north?"
"I grew up in Evanston. Are you familiar with Chicago?"
"That's interesting," she said. "I graduated from Northwestern University."
He acted surprised. "Wow, so did I. We could have been neighbors. My parents lived on Central Street, just off Sherman Avenue, not far from the university. My father was a professor there."
"It's a small world, isn't it?
"Yes, it sure is."
"What year did you graduate?"
Susan decided he must be about 30 years old, since she graduated in 2004.
They continued chatting and sharing their experiences about living near Chicago. Both discovered their preferred baseball teams remained their childhood favorites: Milwaukee Brewers for Susan, Chicago Cubs for Brian.
Susan was a charming conversationalist, and a witty woman, which didn't show up in the reports Brian had read about her. He kept thinking that gathering her secrets was just business, but she was so engaging, he felt bad about being assigned to spy on her.
Susan was telling Brian about some of the escapades that had occurred in Kemper, her residence hall at Northwestern, when their plane began to descend. Time had passed quickly and Susan hadn't completed reviewing the conference presentation on her laptop.
Their plane landed, and before reaching the terminal, most passengers stood up, even though the pilot asked everyone to remain seated until the plane stopped. They deplaned with the crowd of other passengers and made their way to baggage claim.
"Are you staying at the Palmer House Hilton, too?" he asked. Of course he knew where she was staying.
"I've reserved a rental car. I put it on the company credit card," he fibbed.
"How'd you get a company credit card?" she asked. "I've worked at Shtup for six years and I still haven't been able to get one."
Uh-oh. Brian had stepped on it again. His mind raced again—what to tell Susan?
"I sweet-talked the girl in the travel section," he lied. "She said if I had my manager's okay, she'd give it to me."
Susan gave him an icy look and was about to ask how his manager was able to circumvent company rules when Brian quickly changed the subject.
"Oh, I see my suitcase on the baggage carousel," he remarked, leaving Susan's side to retrieve it.
When Susan found her rolling suitcase, they followed the signs to the automated tram, which took them to the rental car lot. Their discussion about the company credit card had been forgotten. It was late afternoon when they left the O'Hare.
Driving toward downtown, Brian said, "I'm hungry for a deep-dish Chicago pizza, how about you?"
"Uno's was always my favorite. I usually ordered pepperoni and sausage."
"That's interesting—mine too."
Susan's dossier didn't have any information about Susan's favorite pizza restaurant or her pizza choices. It surprised him that they shared similar pizza tastes. "Want to join me for a pizza at Pizzeria Uno tonight?"
"I'd love to, but I have to get back to the hotel early and go over my presentation for tomorrow."
"No problem. We'll be back there before nine—guaranteed."
After arriving at the hotel, they checked in. Susan's room was on the tenth floor and Brian's was on the twelfth. On the elevator to their rooms, they agreed to meet in the lobby at 6 PM after they'd freshened up.
They met in the lobby as planned. Susan had changed into a sleeveless summer blouse and a casual, fullish skirt that reached a couple inches above her knees and Brian was wearing jeans with a striped rugby shirt.
Brian asked, "Want to take the car, or are you up for walking?"
"How far is it?"
"I think about ten blocks."
She lifted her shoe from under her skirt, so Brian could see it, "These are comfortable walking shoes, and after a pizza at Uno's, I'll need to walk off a lot of calories."
"Let's walk then."
They headed north on State Street walking toward the Chicago River. As they passed a large office building, a wind gust whipped around the corner, picking up the hem of Susan's skirt above her waist. Brian caught a brief glimpse of Susan's lacy pink bikini panties.
Embarrassed, she pushed her skirt down, and said, "I forgot how strong the lake breeze can be."
"It is the Windy City, after all," Brian chuckled, as he watched Susan using both hands, trying to keep the wind from blowing her skirt up again.
They continued on, talking and enjoying each other's company. As they crossed the Chicago River, Brian pointed to several seagulls that were gently soaring on the lake breeze, not flapping a wing.
"It's amazing how they do that," he observed, and Susan agreed.
Finally they reached Pizzeria Uno. For a Tuesday evening, it wasn't as full as it would have been on the weekend. The waitress quickly found them a small table and they ordered a sausage and pepperoni deep dish pizza and soft drinks. Over their drinks, they talked about the conference, while waiting for their pizza to arrive.
Between bites of pizza, their conversation wandered among a number of subjects—sports, politics, weather, Chicago, or whatever else struck their minds. Brian wanted to first gain her confidence, so he followed her lead during their conversation. They both seemed to enjoy whatever they had been talking about. Susan finally looked at her watch and indicated she needed to return to the hotel. Brian paid for their meal and they headed back.
The summer sun was low on the horizon, nearly ready to set. A patch of puffy clouds hovered over the city, streaked with shades of pink, gold, and lavender. The last golden rays of the setting sun reflected off the glass at the tops of the tallest buildings—the shorter ones, lost deep in the canyons of downtown, were now totally in shadow. It was the kind of scene they put on postcards.
As they sauntered along, Brian slipped his hand into Susan's, "Nice to be downtown on a balmy summer evening."
Susan responded, "Beautiful, isn't it?"
Had this been a movie, orchestra music would have swelled with a romantic score, but this was the dog-eat-dog world of spying, where the winner gets all the marbles, and the loser—well, loses. Brian played back the words of his boss, "...don't come back without the information we want."