Sleeping with the Competition


Their stomachs full of pizza, they were no longer in a hurry. They strolled toward the hotel, stopping near the bridge over the Chicago River, where Susan threw some pieces of her pizza crust to the seagulls, that whirled, dived, and squawked among themselves, fighting for a tiny piece of crust.

They strolled on, reaching the hotel lobby at 8:45 PM. Brian said, "I told you we'd be back by nine."

On the elevator, they decided to meet in the lobby at 8 AM the following morning and have breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Just before the elevator reached the tenth floor, Brian commented, "I really enjoyed our evening."

With a sparkle in her eyes, Susan smiled up at him. As the door opened, she stood on her tiptoes, gave Brian a kiss on the cheek, then disappeared down the hall as the elevator doors closed.

Surprised, Brian put his hand up to his cheek where Susan kissed him, and smiled. He hadn't expected to have had that kind of effect on her.

* * *

Brian and Susan met in the lobby on Wednesday morning, then headed to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. He opened the door for her and followed her through. When the waiter showed them to their table, Brian helped seat her at the table.

Brian's manners weren't lost on Susan, who'd grown up in a world of sexual equality. It felt good to be treated as a lady.

While looking over the menu, Brian asked, "Nervous about your presentation today?"

"No, not really. I've done similar presentations before."

"I didn't ask what it was about."

Susan's face reddened, and she leaned forward across the table. In a low voice, barely above a whisper, so other diners wouldn't hear, she said, "Chemicals, drugs, and hormones which reduce the female sexual response."

Brian, seeing Susan blush, said, "Oh, I didn't intend to embarrass you."

"It comes with the territory, I think. When you work on a female Viagra project, there are a lot embarrassing things."

"Do you mind if I attend your presentation?"

Susan was quiet for a few seconds, "We're grownups. You can attend if you want."

They ordered their breakfasts and when they came, they began eating. A couple times Brian caught Susan staring at him with bedroom eyes. He wanted to tell her that he really enjoyed the kiss she'd given him the night before, but couldn't seem to work it into their conversation.

After they finished, Brian asked the valet for the rental car. When it arrived, he opened the car door for her. Then they headed to the conference.

Once they were in the car, they could talk more freely. "Brian, why are you attending the conference?"

Brian had his cover story all worked out. He claimed that he was trying to gather secret information about Bugger—the same company he worked for. "I've heard rumors that Bugger is ahead of us with their female Viagra drug," he lied again. "I'm going to try to learn as much about their progress as I can. Anything we learn will give us a competitive advantage over those bastards."

Susan nodded. "I didn't think they were ahead of us."

"Well, that's why I'm here. I want to find out for sure."

Brian had mentioned the names of several managers in Susan's chain of command, so she was lulled into a false sense of security.

"Let me know what you find out," Susan said. "We've been working our tails off, and I think we're getting close."

"How close?"

"Maybe six to nine months. I think we'll be done with Phase I testing by then."

That was an interesting tidbit that Brian had hoped to hear. Brian knew Bugger had already completed animal testing and Phase I human studies were already underway. From rumors, he understood Bugger's results were going well. In fact, Brian had heard women who'd tried Vaginitrol (Bugger's code name for their female Viagra drug) couldn't get enough of it, and he, being a research insider, had managed to get his hands on about a dozen Vaginitrol tablets.

They arrived at McCormick Place, the location of the conference. An hour before her presentation, Susan checked in with the conference coordinator. She confirmed the slides she'd sent ahead were already on the audio-visual system. She told the coordinator the same presentation was on her laptop, as a backup.

At 11 AM, Susan began her presentation. She noticed Brian was in the first row. The lecture hall was about three-quarters full, and there were about as many men as women in the audience.

Susan introduced herself as a researcher for Shtup. She told the audience that she was providing the results of recent research that Shtup had done. She said there would be a question and answer period at the end of her presentation.

First, Susan provided an overview of the categories of drugs which reduce the female sexual response. Her slide showed: anti-hypertensives, antidepressants, illicit and abused drugs, anticoagulants, anticancer drugs, some sedatives, neuroleptics, some birth control pills, and a number of hormones produced within the female body.

Then she returned to each category and described specific drugs in that category and their effects on female sexual response. She pointed out how various chemicals affected the brain which depressed the female sexual desire. Susan described how nicotine and marijuana from smoking reduced the female sexual response, along with alcohol, cocaine, and many other illegal drugs. She then covered a number of prescription drugs and various hormones they'd tested at Shtup which reduced the female sexual response.

After Susan finished her presentation, she fielded several questions during the question and answer session. The hour scheduled for her presentation came to an end and people attending the following presentation began drifting in, so Susan thanked everyone for attending and removed her laptop and a water bottle from the podium.

Brian gave her a thumbs-up, "Great job, Susan."

She wiped her brow, "I'm glad that's over. I'm going to visit the Shtup exhibit. Want to come along?"

"No, I really want to scout out Bugger. I want to see if I can get some inside information about their female Viagra project."

The real reason Brian didn't want to go with Susan was that he feared his true identity might be discovered by Shtups' employees.

"Okay then, would you like to meet on the main floor by the entrance at two?"

"Sure, I'll meet you there."

Around 2 PM, they met again. Brian and Susan wandered through some of the conference exhibits and exhibition booths, stopping here and there to chat with pharmaceutical vendors' representatives. It seemed to Brian that most of the booths were staffed by marketing representatives who were more than happy to hand them brochures and literature describing their products.

Several times he and Susan were asked if they were doctors. Apparently the pharmaceutical vendors wanted to get doctors' names and addresses so they could market their new pharmaceutical products to them.

After an hour, Brian asked Susan, "Have you spent enough time at the conference for today?"

"I think so. I've been on my feet nearly all day. I'd like to sit down for a little while."

"Tell you what, why don't we go back to the hotel?"

"Suits me."

Hand in hand, they walked to the rental car. Brian opened the door for her again. He wanted to stroke her ego, so he said, "I think your presentation was very good."

"Thank you. We've found so many things that reduce the female sexual response, it wasn't difficult to create a slide show—the tough part has been finding chemicals that enhance it."

"Has your team investigated how to increase the dopamine levels?"

"They've worked on that, and also looked at how to reduce prolactin."

Between them they discussed the merits of oxytosin, nitrous oxide, pituitary hormones, estrogen, testosterone, and other chemical compounds which affect the female sexual response. Brian was trying to identify any chemicals or hormones that might give a hint of what Susan's team might be working on.

Brian and Susan continued their discussion until they reached the hotel. Brian handed the keys to the valet, and they entered the lobby. On the way to the elevator, Brian said, "I have a surprise for you."

"You do? What is it?"

"I can't tell you now, but meet me in the lobby at quarter-till-five. Oh, and wear your walking shoes. Then remembering how the wind gust had lifted her hem, he added, "...but don't wear a full skirt." Brian checked his watch, "It's three-thirty now, so you'll have over an hour to rest your feet before we meet again."

They rode the elevator to their respective floors. Susan went to her room, freshened up, and checked her e-mail. Brian went to his room and set his alarm clock for just short of an hour, plopped across his bed, and took a quick nap.

At 4:45 PM, Brian and Susan met again in the lobby. "Can you tell me what the surprise is?" she asked.

"I'll show you, but you'll have to come with me."

As they walked hand in hand, east toward Lake Michigan, Susan wondered what kind of surprise Brian had for her. After about ten minutes they came to a small sign that said, "Chicago Segway Tours."

"Have you ever ridden a Segway?" Brian asked.

Susan shook her head, "No."

"I booked a Segway tour for us this evening."

"I'm not sure I can ride one of those things."

"It's easy and they train you—it only takes a few minutes."

After Brian signed in and took care of the paperwork, Brian and Susan were given helmets and a description about how a Segway works. There were about ten people there. An employee gave them a Segway demonstration, and then they had a chance to try one on their own.

It didn't take Susan long to get the hang of the little, two-wheeled, electrically-powered, personal transporter. About 6 PM, they were escorted by their tour guide southward through Grant Park.

Susan laughed, "This is more fun than I expected," as she steered her Segway along the sidewalk with the other riders.

The tour guide stopped periodically and described what they were seeing on their tour. Of course Brian and Susan were familiar with downtown Chicago, but they'd never had an opportunity to see it in such an exciting way.

They passed a number of Chicago lake front landmarks like Buckingham Fountain and Adler Planetarium. From there, they looked back at the Chicago skyline, framed in billowy white clouds.

Susan commented to Brian, "It's beautiful—I wish I'd brought a camera."

A lady tourist overheard her and took a photo of Brian and Susan together, with Brian's arm around Susan, Susan looking lovingly into Brian's face, the Chicago skyline in the background. The lady obtained Susan's e-mail address and promised she'd e-mail the digital photo to Susan.

The group continued on their Segway tour, returning to their origination spot about sunset.

"Thank you for a great surprise," beamed Susan.

"That's not all," he said. "Want to go to the House of Blues? They serve meals until 10 PM at the Back Porch Stage."

"I'd love it."

After their Segway tour, they headed to the House of Blues and listened to live entertainment while they dined. They also discovered they had similar tastes in music.

He was melting her heart—she'd known him little more than twenty-four hours, but Brian was her dream come true. She had always dreamed of being swept off her feet by a tall, handsome stranger. That's the way it always was in the romance novels she'd read as a teenager. Fairy tale romances had captured her imagination ever since she was a little girl. In her mind, they were made for each other.

Brian was torn between spying on Susan and having a relationship with her. He wasn't as smitten with her, as she with him, but she promised to be an interesting companion—perhaps a fling—until the end of the conference. He still had a job to do.

They returned to the hotel around 10 PM. They'd been on their feet most of the day, and were both exhausted.

On the elevator, the enclosed space in the elevator contained the scent of Susan's perfume, and its aroma captivated him. As the elevator traveled upward, Brian grabbed her around the waist, pulled her to him, and gave her a passionate kiss on the lips. Taken by surprise, she wilted in his strong arms. They reached her floor and the elevator doors opened, so Brian let her go.

"Good night Susan—and sleep well," were the last words she heard before the elevator doors closed.

What a day! Susan walked on a cloud as she approached her room. She had never been around a man who was as romantic, as considerate, or as gentlemanly as Brian.

Brian, on the other hand, on his way to his room, thought that a romantic kiss might help gain Susan's confidence. "Do whatever it takes...," his boss had said.

* * *

Thursday morning was a carbon copy of Wednesday—they met and ate breakfast, then headed to the conference.

Brian said he wanted to attend two conference sessions, and Susan said the same, so they agreed to meet at lunch and went their separate ways.

Brian was sitting at the meeting place where he'd arranged to meet with Susan, when he decided he'd check his e-mail on his laptop. He had only one e-mail which he quickly answered.

Just as he logged off his e-mail account, he felt a warm hand on his shoulder—it was Susan standing behind him. Caught off-guard, he realized the background on his laptop had Bugger's logo prominently displayed in the upper right corner of the screen; Susan couldn't have missed it, could she? Before he had a chance to close the screen, Susan asked, "Why do you have Bugger's logo on your laptop?"

"Oh shit—I've been caught red-handed," he thought to himself. His stomach tied itself in a knot. Brian's mind shifted into overdrive to come up with a plausible answer.

"Well..." He tried collecting his thoughts—grasping at straws, he said, "Since I've been trying to spy on Bugger's employees by acting like one of them, they'd expect me to be using their apps, wouldn't they?"

"I suppose so," agreed Susan.

Brian wasn't sure his explanation was very convincing, but it was the best he could come up with on short notice. Yet another close call. He figured he'd been lucky too many times—how many more fuckups before Susan figured him out?

He again quickly changed the subject and asked if Susan was interested in visiting any afternoon conference sessions. She wasn't, and after the latest scare, neither was he. "How about we skip the afternoon sessions?" he asked.

"Most of them looked boring. I don't think I'd miss any of them," Susan answered.

Brian hoped she didn't notice the cold sweat on his brow, caused by his latest screw-up. Spying just wasn't a business he was comfortable with.

"Since we're taking the afternoon off, where would you like to go?" asked Brian. "There's the Magnificent Mile, Navy Pier, Millennium Park, the Art Institute, or the Shedd Aquarium. Which will it be?"

Susan thought about it for a little, then asked, "What would you choose as your first choice?"

The ball was back in his court. "The Aquarium, I suppose."

"Good choice—mine too."

"Okay, the Aquarium it is," said Brian.

So the couple spent the afternoon at the Shedd watching dolphins, narwhal whales, and just about every species of fish they could imagine. While they walked, Brian kept the conversation steered toward Shtup's business, hoping he'd be able to gain some useful information from Susan.

While they were walking between exhibits, Susan commented, "It sure has been nice to get away from the office stress and the conflicts for a few days."

"Oh... What kind of stress?" asked Brian.

"Mainly the pressure to get Feminoral to market. Top management doesn't understand you can't rush research. We've been working sixty hour weeks for months, but they still don't think we've been working hard enough.

They gave us a generous budget for the project, but then, even though we had plenty of money available, they canceled or postponed the orders for equipment we needed. They said the reason we couldn't spend the money was so our quarterly income results would look good to the Wall Street analysts. How's that for dumb? While we're trying to make money for them, they're covering their asses with Wall Street."

"That doesn't make sense," Brian agreed. Now he was getting some useful information to take home from his trip.

Susan continued, "From the other end, there's all the petty bickering among my team members. You'd think I was a referee for some of their silly little battles. For grownups, they act like a bunch of second graders."

"Why don't you tell me how you really feel?" Brian quipped.

"Well, then there's my boss. He's a perfect ass. I just can't stand his sexual harassment. I've given thought to just turning in my resignation and flipping burgers at a fast food restaurant."

They arrived at the next exhibit and marveled at the numbers and colors of the fish on display. Their conversation headed off in a new direction.

"What's your favorite Chicago restaurant?" Brian asked.

"Oh, I don't know—there are so many to choose from. If you narrow it down to a few, like Italian, Mexican, seafood, steak, and so on, maybe I could pick one out of that bunch."

"Okay, how about seafood?"

"You'll probably think this is funny, but I always liked Bob Chinn's Crab House," Susan said.

"Really?" Brian asked, surprised.

"There are probably better seafood restaurants in the Chicago area, but when I went to Northwestern, I didn't have a lot of money. My girl friends and I liked to go there because the food was good, and not overly expensive. Besides, where can you go for ambiance like that, with inverted peach baskets as shades on the light fixtures?"

"You won't believe this, but Bob Chinn's was one of my favorite seafood restaurants growing up. How about we go there this evening for dinner?" Brian asked.

"Oh, I'm sorry, but I can't. I already have plans to meet my college roommate, Jennifer, for a 'girls night out' at seven this evening."

They spent another hour or so at the aquarium until they both decided they must have walked three or four miles that day. Brian suggested they return to the hotel.

After they arrived at the hotel, Susan freshened up and was checking the e-mail on her laptop at 6:30 PM in her hotel room when she heard the muffled ring tone of her cell phone. The phone rang four times before she was able to retrieve it from her purse.

When she checked the incoming call on her phone, she saw it was Jennifer. "Hi Jen."

"Sue, I know I'm early, but we'll be able to spend more time together. I'm double parked down here in front of your hotel. Can you come down now?"

"Sure... Sure, I'll be right down."

Susan stood up from her desk and dropped her cell phone into her purse. In her haste to meet Jennifer downstairs, she stubbed her toe on the corner of the desk when she turned around.

"Damn." It didn't hurt her, but it distracted her. She closed her laptop, slipped on her shoes, grabbed her purse, and headed downstairs.

Unfortunately for Susan, she hadn't logged off, or disconnected the Ethernet cable from her laptop. It was still connected to the Internet.

Two floors above Susan's room, Brian decided to get something to eat for dinner. He really wasn't hungry, but he knew if he didn't eat something, he'd wake up ravenous in the middle of the night. There was a fast food restaurant not far away, so he headed there.

While sauntering to the restaurant, he thought about the past two days—he hadn't gathered as much information from Susan about her company as he'd planned.

"Maybe tomorrow," he thought. "I really want to go home with a stash of stolen information."

He arrived at the restaurant and ordered a Number 1 meal. It didn't matter what he ordered—to him, they were all about the same, and his mind was elsewhere.

Brian picked at his food, eating slowly. He may as well have been chewing on bits of cardboard, because his attention wasn't on his meal—it drifted to Susan. He'd dated a number of women, but there was something special about her. He wished her personality had been less captivating, because it would then have been easier to complete his job.

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