The Equalizer

 

I gave Ms. Williams a baffled glance. A walk-in, she said? Some strange woman claiming to be an inventor asking for me? Here, at McHenry, Lerner & Planck? The patent law firm I practiced at serviced a raft of large corporations, each with teeming research and development departments generating steady streams of high-tech innovations. An up-and-coming associate like me hardly had the time or the inclination to chat with any Tom, Dick, or Harriet about a better mousetrap.
     My matronly assistant would normally have turned such an unannounced interloper away out of hand. But after my recent divorce, Ms. Williams, who had never been fond of my ex-wife, seemed intent on looking after my best interests. How many times had she told me I needed to get out more, meet new and interesting people? Now Ms. Williams added in a hushed voice, “Her name is Laura Clix. She says she’s an engineer with NASA, though she isn’t here on NASA business.” And with a knowing smile Ms. Williams added, “You might want to see her, Mr. Sanders.”
     My first impulse was to bark an impatient “not now” and continue examining the technical drawings sprawled across my desk. But when I gave Ms. Williams another irritated glance, her smile looked more like a satisfied grin. I wondered what was going on. A NASA engineer, but not here about NASA business? With a frustrated sigh I doffed my brass-rimmed reading glasses and wearily hoisted myself from my chair. But when I trudged to my cracked office door and peeked out into the lobby, thank you, Ms. Williams! My competent assistant had proven she knew exactly what I needed.
     I studied Laura Clix as she sat primly waiting on a sofa with what appeared to be a shoebox resting on her sleek, twill-trousered thighs. As I watched her glance about at the lobby’s rich paneling and ornate furniture, I had to pause to catch my breath at the sight of her delightfully sweet face. Her blue/green eyes, buoyant cheekbones and finely crafted nose, her serene lips and elfin chin, all perfect in every way! She appeared to be in her mid-to-late twenties and as fresh and nubile as they come. I was thirty-eight myself at the time, not even a partner in the firm yet.
     In horn-rimmed glasses and with her nut-brown hair in a tight bun, Laura Clix looked exactly as one would expect a neat, young, female NASA engineer to look. But even with nothing revealing or formfitting about her crisp, buttoned-up, long-sleeve shirt, pressed slacks, and sensible patent pumps, her form was obvious, her lithe yet shapely form. I asked Ms. Williams to see Ms. Clix into my office immediately, as I returned to my desk, along the way adjusting my tie, smoothing my hair, tugging at my shirtsleeves. Before sitting down I brushed the drawings I’d been studying aside and hastily spruced up my desktop.
     A moment later Ms. Williams conducted the young woman in and introduced us with respective nods, “Ms. Laura Clix, Mr. Arthur Sanders.” Then my trusty assistant backed out of my office and eased the door shut behind her. Thank you again, Miss Williams!
     I casually rose from my chair and stepped around my desk to greet the glowing young beauty. “So, Ms. Clix, what can I do for you today?”
     She set her shoebox down on my polished mahogany desktop, then gingerly offered me her delicate hand. “Just call me Laura, okay?”
     I smiled to make her feel more comfortable as I clasped her hand with firm manly restraint. “Certainly — Laura. And you can call me Art.”
     “Okay — Art.” She smiled meekly. “I’ve heard you’re an excellent patent attorney. That’s why I’m here.”
     “And I hear you’re an engineer, at NASA even.” An exceptionally well-crafted engineer too, I thought, but with her standing right before my eyes, I was careful not to let my gaze drift any lower than hers.
     “Yes, I design biosensors for life support systems for NASA.”
     “Hmm, biosensors, life support.” I pursed my lips, nodded, then authoritatively folded my arms across my chest as I contemplated the homework I would have to do to become conversant in those technologies.
     My tentativeness must have been obvious, because Laura frowned, then bit her lip. “Sorry. I don’t know why I even mentioned that. My work at NASA has nothing to do with my invention.” Her eyes drifted downward, toward her shoebox. Her voice grew even more timid. “I, uh — I don’t think NASA would want anything to do with what I’ve invented.”
     I noticed the blush that accompanied that intriguing admission, and I must admit, now I was as fascinated by her invention as I was by its beautiful young inventor. In fact my curiosity was mushrooming exponentially. What might lurk inside that very ordinary-looking shoebox she had just set on my desktop?
     Laura paused. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other, then back again, before she finally spoke. “You see, I developed it at home, in my garage workshop. Tested it there too — well, the testing was mostly in my bedroom. Now that I know it works, I’m ready to patent it. But first I want your opinion, not so much about how well it will sell, but about its impact, you know, on society.”
     “Impact?” I stroked my chin. This sounded like the grandiose pretensions of every first-time inventor. But unlike every other inventor I’d ever met, Laura Clix seemed reluctant to cut to the chase, to blurt out just what her world-changing invention was. Tested it in her bedroom, she said? I looked her square in the eye, striving to keep any hint of condescension from creeping into my voice. “And your invention is...”
     She bit her lip again, then took a deep breath. “I call it — the Equalizer....”

 

Copyright 2020 A. R. Gregory