TED'S EYES NARROWED AS he walked down the long corridor leading to the man offices of Giles Willicombe, manager and president of Bydol drug company. As he and Laura and John Paris strode behind Anthony Williams, he imagined what an impressive troupe they must make. He could only imagine the dramatic music that would play if they were on a movie.
They reached the open double doors that Ted assumed led to Willicombe's office. Anthony entered, and the others followed. Observing his opulent surroundings, several puns concerning royalty and luxury occurred to him. Ted didn't vocalize his thoughts, however. Anthony was in charge of the meeting, and he'd decreed that no one was to speak aloud unless directly addressed.
They walked through this office, which Ted thought was larger than his apartment. Finally, before Willicombe's desk, Anthony came to a stop, and the other three fanned out behind him.
To Willicombe's credit, he didn't show surprise at the strangers in his office. Instead, without looking up from his paperwork, he asked, "What's all this?"
Anthony spoke clearly and loudly in reply. "My name is Anthony Williams," he said. "I used to work here."
Willicombe looked up, but still didn't look particularly surprised. "I know who you are," he said dryly. "Who's this you're with?"
Anthony indicated each of his companions as he said, "This is John Paris, the inventor of Curinza; Laura Paris, his wife; and Theodore Gisler, a man whose life was saved by Curinza."
"Quite the assemblage," Willicombe deadpanned. "Do you have an appointment?"
"No," Anthony replied. "Sarah let me in." Ted remembered the elderly secretary who had barley registered their presence when they'd stepped (or in Anthony's case, rolled) off the elevator.
"She always did have a thing for you," Willicombe complained. Finally, he looked up from his work, sighing as if he was sacrificing his valuable time for some petty problem. Perhaps that was how he viewed the situation. "All right, what do you want?" he asked.
Anthony sat up straighter, seeming to take his strength from the small measure of attention Willicombe gave him. Ted couldn't see Anthony's face from where he stood behind him, but he could still picture the haughty smirk he must have donned. "We represent a much larger group of people who would like to see your company restart production of Curinza."
Willicombe shrugged. "A much larger group of people?" he repeated. "What does that mean- in total there's six of you?"
"Sir, please don't embarrass yourself," Anthony replied in that patronizing tone he could produce so well. "We are a group of customers, vendors, and ex-employees making an official demand. We'd appreciate it if you wouldn't make light of our request."
"If you wanted to make an official demand, you should have scheduled an official appointment," Willicombe sighed, returning his attention to the work before him. "Bydol isn't interested in manufacturing any more Curinza."
On the other side of Anthony's chair, John's face had progressively turned redder and redder throughout the conversation. Finally, he stepped forward to cry, "Mr. Willicombe, I don't think you understand what you're doing!"
"John, please!" Anthony interrupted. He reached for the other man's arm and ended the outburst, but nearly lost his balance. He caught himself on the armrest of his chair with his free arm.
Ted could only imagine how embarrassed Anthony must have felt. Not only had John's declaration broken the solemnity of their plea, but his near-fall had probably robbed him of a great deal of dignity. Ted knew how touchy Anthony could be about his wheelchair.
At least Anthony wasn't the sort of man to let personal concerns get in the way of a job that needed done. Once John seemed to have calmed a bit not to interrupt again, Anthony turned back toward Willicombe, who had read his paperwork throughout the entire incident.
"Mr. Willicombe, I can understand the financial and face-saving factors that contributed to your decision to cancel production of Curinza," Anthony began. "There is a huge market out there for a treatment like this. Not only can it be used to treat otherwise incurable diseases like AIDS, but if we could find a more cost-effective way to produce it, the treatment could be mass-produced and prescribed for even minor infections to prevent virus and bacteria mutation and mis-diagnosis. Because its rate of rejection is so low, Curinza could replace penicillin as the main medication used to treat most diseases."
"We don't know enough about the treatment," Willicombe replied. "We'll soon have hundreds of cases like that of Curinza's adverse reactions with diabetes."
"Sir, with all due respect, that's why Bydol employs scientists," Anthony said, but his tone hardly seemed respectful. We can study Curinza more before releasing it on the market again. And just think of the other treatments we can make based on the principle behind Curinza. We could cure diabetes, or cancer!"
"Do you have any evidence to support these outlandish claims?" Willicombe asked, still feigning disinterest. At least, Ted hoped he was only feigning it.
"Well, sir, we don't have any concrete evidence at the time," Anthony responded. Ted winced, feeling as though he floundered for the first time. "We haven't had the time to conduct the usual experiments and polls as of right now."
"That's not why you don't have any evidence," Willicombe replied. "It's because any evidence that suggests that Curinza could hold the potential to cure non-infectious diseases is negligible."
Anthony looked toward John and nodded almost imperceptibly. John took an unnecessary step forward and said, "Actually, sir, I've begun work on a cure for leukemia that is very similar to Curinza. Although it is unlikely that we'll be able to create one blanket cure for every type of cancer, we might be able to wipe the disease out by tackling it type by type."
This time, Willicombe's eyebrows raised in interested. "Do you have documentations of these discoveries?" he asked.
John's face went a little bit white, and Ted's heart sank when the chemist said, "Of course. . . I document everything I do, but . . . all my paperwork's at home. I didn't think I'd need it here."
"I see," Willicombe replied, leaning back with a frustrated sigh. "So, what have we got? Claims with no proof, a treatment that's too expensive to mass produce and too controversial to sell as a prescription medicine. . . ladies and gentlemen, I'm not convinced."
Ted bit back a sigh as his spirits sagged in defeat. He and Laura hadn't even had the chance to speak, but Anthony wouldn't call on them to give their speeches. Anything they had to say, Willicombe doubtless already knew. With no further planning to fall back on, the whole meeting had been for nothing.
Then, Anthony did something that Ted didn't expect; the leader of the group hadn't mentioned this strategy to anyone, so far as Ted knew. Anthony pushed his chair just a bit closer to Willicombe's desk, and said, "You know, Mr. Willicombe, I'd really hoped it wouldn't come to this."
Willicombe didn't seem intimidated. He blinked, and asked, "Come to what? A business decision is a business decision."
"Yes, well, you can think of my comrades and I as a business of sorts," Anthony said, speaking very quickly and quietly, and packing each word with pounds of force. "You see, we have an objective: to get Curinza produced again. We're not going to rest until we reach that objective. That means that we'll take any means necessary, and if we have to sue, we'll sue."
Wilicombe rose to the challenge. "Bydol drug company reserves the right to produce or not produce any drug or treatment we chose," he declared. "You don't have any claim."
"Maybe not we four," Anthony confessed. "Remember, though, that we represent a much larger group of people. Personally, I could sue the company for withholding information that had the potential to save me from this wheelchair- I've really got pity working for me. Then, when I get the other people in this movement involved, you might have fifty or sixty lawsuits on your hand."
Ted crossed his fingers, hoping Willicombe wouldn't call the bluff. None of them had talked to anyone outside that room about trying to sway Bydol to once again produce Curinza. They hadn't even had time to write up a petition. He doubted that even the silver-tongued Anthony could convince fifty or sixty people to sue a big company like Bydol.
To Ted's chagrin, Willicombe waved a hand dismissively to say, "I've already handled hundreds of lawsuits just like yours. Don't think you can pressure me with threats."
With that same low-yet-intense tone of voice, Anthony replied, "This lawsuit won't be like the others, Mr. Willicombe. Our people won't settle quietly out of court. We'll sue en masse, and we'll make sure the trial is as long and drawn out as possible."
"You have no case," Willicombe retorted. "No judge will rule that we had to release information that we weren't sure of yet, and if anything is established, it's that we still don't know the full effects of Curinza. You'd lose each lawsuit."
Ted couldn't see Anthony's face, but from the other man's posture, he could imagine Anthony's smile. The wheelchair-bound man said, "It's not about winning or losing. Don't forget; I used to work in public relations, and I know the state of Bydol's reputation right now. You can't afford to negative publicity that all those lawsuits would generate."
Willicombe chewed his lip, but Ted couldn't tell if the action was a result of nervousness or simply a habit. He nearly collapsed in relief when, after too long a pause, Willicombe asked, "What, precisely, are your demands?"
Beside Ted, Laura actually vocalized a sigh of relief. He didn't think her reaction was particularly professional, but Ted supposed she was allowed a moment of weakness. Anthony said, "Don't worry, it's nothing too difficult. We simply want Bydol to begin production of Curinza again. You can run any extra safety experiments you want, but we want production to begin again in six month's time."
"Six months?" Willicombe repeated. "All of the publicity we've been getting about our recent cases will have only begun to blow over by then. I'll make it a year."
"Six months," Ted said again. "The date is non-negotiable."
Willicombe began to chew his lip again. Ted was now certain that this was a nervous habit, but he wasn't quite so certain that the owner would cave to their demands. He wanted to look to John and Laura to see how they were reacting, but he didn't dare look away from Willicombe.
The whole room held its breath as it waited.
JOHN VOCALIZED A SOFT, uncertain sigh as he looked over the resume. "You've never worked in any scientific field before?" he noted, phrasing the statement as a question.
The applicant sitting across from him solemnly answered, "No, sir, but I learn really quickly. Last summer, I worked as a secretary for my hometown newspaper- I didn't do any reporting or anything, but I learned a lot about filing and expenditures and organization. I think I could make a good secretary for you."
"I'm sure you could hold your own," John replied, not voicing the thought that the best secretary would understand the work they did and be able to organize accordingly. He wished Laura could work for him again, but she was heading the finance department. Strange, how the world could change so quickly.
The applicant, a young college student named Lindsay Nysofar, demurely stared at her hands while John continued to look over his papers. "Your permanent address is in Wisconsin," he observed.
"Yeah," Lindsay answered. "But I went to college in the city, and this summer, I wanted to kind of get out of the old routine and work somewhere that I'd never worked before. That's why I'm not returning to my jobs at home or working on campus."
"I see," John mused. "Well, everything seems to be in order. I only have a few more questions to ask you."
"Shoot," Lindsay suggested.
"All right," John began. "First of all, according to your transcripts, you're majoring in journalism. Why not try to find a summer job with a newspaper or a television studio?"
Lindsay smiled slightly, then answered, "Well, I guess there's a lot of reasons. First of all, I'll have my whole life to work in journalism. Right now, I want to try other things, even if it's something mundane like working as a secretary for a drug company. Plus, to be quite honest, I didn't think my chances of getting a well-paying job in as large a city as this would be very high when I don't have my degree yet. And, most importantly of all, I really believe in what you guys are doing. I know that I won't actually be running experiments or mixing Curinza myself, but just working for you will help me feel like I'm helping people."
The response was a good one, John thought. In fact, he feared that her response was too good to be honest. Cautiously, he asked, "A lot of the public opinion right now suggests that people think Curinza is more deadly than helpful. What makes you so sure that we are doing good here?"
Lindsay smiled and looked away, as if shy or embarrassed. "Curinza actually saved my life several months ago," she said. Her seeming reluctance to offer any more information prevented John from inquiring further.
John felt a sort of warmth in his gut- he didn't often get to meet the people his work saved. Usually, he only worked with drug company representatives after creating new treatments. In many ways, he envied doctors, because they could see the direct positive results of what they did.
Feeling a grin on his face, John tried to re-adopt a professional expression. Rising from his seat, he reached forward to shake her hand. "It's been a pleasure working with you today, Lindsay," he said. "We'll be sure to call you back in about a week and tell you whether you got the job."
Lindsay smiled politely, then rose to her feet and took John's hand. "Thank you, Mr. Paris," she said. "I appreciate the time you took to talk with me today."
"No problem at all," John replied. He walked with Lindsay out his office door- not only was hers the last of the day, but Lindsay was the last applicant for the secretary position that he would interview.
They parted ways, Lindsay leaving the building and John bearing his paperwork down a hallway to show his wife. He already knew who he wanted to hire, but as always, he thought he'd talk his ideas over with Laura. She always seemed to notice things that he didn't.
Life had become far more exciting and fast-paced since John and his companions had pressured the Bydol company to once more begin their production of Curinza. Giles Willicombe, the owner of the Bydol company, had finally agreed to use company money to fund further production so long as Curinza was created in a subdivision of Bydol and wasn't advertised in a way that would greatly associate the treatment with Bydol. Apparently, similar tactics were used all the time when a company manufactured a product that wasn't entirely fitting with the company image.
The arrangement was idealistic. John headed the Curinza sub-division, and was basically able to run the company in whatever way he wanted. In addition, he never needed to worry about money, either for production, because Bydol had provided a massive budget, or for personal finances, because he and Laura, as full-time employees, both received regular paychecks.
John worked both as manager of the division, and oversaw production and general scientific work. Laura headed finances. In many ways, she did the same work she'd done when she'd worked with John, but now she did more of it. Because she didn't have the time to help him with his personal filing, he had to hire a new secretary.
He found his wife in a conference room, looking over paperwork with Anthony. The other man had been rehired by Bydol, this time as a sort of ambassador from John's firm to the main company. He made sure everything was run within company regulations and that there was plenty of communication between the corporations. Ted had returned to his previous job wherever he'd worked, but still spent plenty of time making sure everything was going well at the Curinza company.
Walking into the conference room, John dropped his papers on the table and said, "I know who I want to hire as my secretary."
Laura looked up and smiled the indulgent smile she saved just for John. "Great," she said. "I'll give Mr. Putnam a call later today."
"What?" John asked, then remembered the conversation he'd had with his wife the night before. "Oh, I changed my mind. I don't want to hire him anymore."
"You found someone even more qualified?" Laura asked with a raised eyebrow.
"No," John admitted, feeling somewhat ashamed. "But, I really liked her interview, and she could use the job."
Laura adopted a tone that most people reserved for small children. John knew she would be condescending, but listened as she asked, "Who do you want to give the job to, and why?"
"Her name is Lindsay Nysofar," John said. "She wants to work for us because Curinza saved her life once. She may not really understand what we're doing, but she believes in it anyway."
Laura smiled wider and said, "We're going to hire Putnam. I'll see what I can do for this Nysofar girl, though. We have to have open positions somewhere."
"Great," John replied. He leaned forward to give Laura a quick kiss on the lips, then said, "I've got some more work to do. I'll see you later."
"All right," Laura responded.
When John walked back out into the hallway, he noted the many bustling people hard at work. The very air had a feeling of purpose to it. He hadn't had reason to hope for the future for a long time. The new emotion was refreshing.