December 17, Thursday, 5:30 AM, The Williams Home
Thankfully for Lawrence the morning was ordinary, as were all of his mornings. He had no reason to expect it to be anything other than routine. As he stepped outside, the dark was the same dark as the day before. The street was quiet but for the dry, cold wind crackling through the barren branches of trees. It rustled his hair and swirled around his legs and numbed his fingers. It whipped and slapped the bare skin on his face and neck and scuffed his ears with a long scrape as it blew itself by. He expected as much. In fact, he counted on it because that’s what it took for Lawrence to become invigorated, to feel fully awake before he began his daily two-mile run.
He purposely avoided choosing which of the three courses he had precisely mapped out until after his warm-up stretches and first steps—sometime between the moment the back door latched behind him and before he reached the street. He preferred to think that the selection was random, spontaneous, and influenced by factors outside of consciousness, as if the result held the element of an actual surprise and offered at least one brief opportunity for unpredictability before he locked himself into the demands of the day.
Along with completing the distance, he achieved his standard of a near-exhaustive workout as his legs approached burnout and his shirt was soaked in sweat. His fatigue was relieved by the reward of the first blasts of his high tech, steamy hot, pulsating, emersion shower. After a quick wipe-down, any droplets that escaped would evaporate when he went back into the bedroom to straighten the bed covers. While this part of the morning ritual only took seconds, it served as the pause and prompt to clear his mind and assemble himself in the right vested suit, shirt, socks, and shoes.
At half-past six, Lawrence ran down the stairs, his tie and jacket in hand. Like an orphan excited with the anticipation of greeting the familiar faces about to enter his living room, he grabbed the remote control to summon his adopted TV family which he depended on to keep him company during breakfast as they happy-talked their way through the mostly grotesque highlights of the San Francisco Bay Area news.
The lead story was about hospitals surrounding Palo Alto reporting an overnight outbreak of food poisoning among young adults. The complaints ran the spectrum of symptoms that included abdominal cramps, nausea, and diarrhea. Initially, it was assumed that these were home-for-the-holidays college students who were served tainted meals at a local restaurant. However, there was no single venue that would prove common to each case. Medical authorities were puzzled as to what caused eleven individuals to seek treatment. Several minutes later, Lawrence had barely finished preparing his coffee when breaking news announced an update to the victim count—seventeen. As he picked up his phone to call Edgar, he noticed a message from Becca Drummond on his voice mail asking him to meet with Edgar at the hospital as soon as he was able. Breakfast would have to wait.