Take me away with you! Let’s run off together!
An elopement with my King-Lover! We’ll celebrate, we’ll sing, we’ll make great music.
Yes! For your love is better than vintage wine. Everyone loves you—of course! And why not?
Song of Solomon 1:4 (context)
Summer called her lawyer the next day. Shifting uncomfortably in her seat, trying to find a position that didn’t aggravate the aching muscles she didn’t know she had, she wondered whether anybody would answer. Her clock said 10:06, and she’d already worked diligent three hours. Regardless of the phone call’s outcome, she had already decided to go visit his office again. She hadn’t heard anything for quite a while, and she worried about the date. It hadn’t seemed that tricky when they filed the paperwork to un-become man and wife, but then Lance had hardly told her that he would give her nothing whatsoever, either. She had blithely tried to live in that huge house until mortgage payments she couldn’t make crashed down and she had to gather up some small remnant of her belongings to squeeze into this microscopic feeling apartment. Then came finding this very cheap divorce attorney and Summer’s seemingly endless quest to squeeze some kind of results from the man.
“You have reached the law offices of Rodney Persimmon. We are not available right now” Summer snorted; when were they ever available? “so please leave your name, number, and a brief message and we will return your call as soon as we can.”
“Hi, this is Summer Robertson. I’m calling about my divorce proceedings. Please call me back. My number is 425-898-5545.” That had achieved as much as Summer expected; that was OK. She would just take the bus downtown at lunch, and Fred couldn’t even complain because she’d come in early to make up for the time she knew she’d lose.
Sliding her desk open, Summer pulled out a two manila envelopes of papers and flipped through them. She had printed them here, but on her own paper: résumé, writing samples, and application for The Seattle Times, and a matching one for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Now that she had gotten down to actually mailing the applications, she didn’t feel any of the guilt she might have expected at the thought of leaving The Herald. In her heart, Summer felt no loyalty to The Herald or its employees, with whom she had never bonded aside from her budding relationship with Doug. Leaving would hurt about as much as pinching a particularly large and noxious loaf. Having confirmed the contents of the envelopes, she slid them back into her desk. Much rode on the success of those envelopes, but Summer felt confident that she had what it took to join the staff of either major Seattle paper as a real investigative journalist.
Then her phone rang. “Hello, Summer Robertson speaking.”
“Is this the obituary department?” She smiled at the voice on the phone. Calling her job a department was like calling a kitten a lion.
“Yes, it is. How may I help you?” Summer readied her pencil and paper. She had a good feeling about this call for some reason and didn’t want to miss any details.
“I’m calling on behalf of the estate of George Barre.” Summer’s heart suddenly started beating hard. George Barre.
Continue reading.[INPUT EARLIER MENTION OF SUMMER’S INVESTIGATIVE ACTIVITIES?] “He has recently passed away and we would like media coverage of the memorial service, as well as a half-page write-up in memory of Mr. Barre.” The woman didn’t sound sad at all, so perhaps she was a secretary or some other employee. Usually family members had a cracked, distraught sound to their voice that tipped Summer off right away. Of course, calling him “Mr. Barre” also suggested a more businesslike relationship.
“Certainly,” Summer told her, suppressing her sudden burst of excitement but scribbling furiously on her scratch pad. “Just give me the details and I’ll make sure there’s coverage from The Herald.”
“Excellent. The service is tomorrow afternoon at 3:00…” Writing it all down, Summer knew she had to wait to send the applications for The Times and The P-I. This death could be the start of a new life for her, the big break many journalists dreamed of for years—that she had dreamed of trapped in this backwater job.
Hanging up, Summer sat in shock for a minute. George Barre, the man she had investigated all those years ago for The Advocate, who had risen from a lowly scientist at a small startup pharmaceutical to become CEO of BioSyne Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Summer did an internet search for BioSyne Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and learned that its stock had reached a record high at $146.35, an increase of over 500 percent since he took over leadership five years before. That fit with what she expected; his process would surely have skyrocketed the company to instant success if what her source all those years ago had been telling the truth.
Now she just had to find her notes from that time. Summer kept both electronic copies and hard copies of all her notes, either retyping handwritten notes or scanning them into PDF to preserve the paper. Sound files she kept duplicates of at home and at work, and had converted many interviews from tape to mp3 when digital sound files became prevalent. She had learned the hard way that notes vanished of their own accord after a while, especially the ones you wanted to reference. Because of this, all Summer had to do was look up her files from The Advocate that she had brought with her on her move to Washington. There in the folder called Investigations and a subfolder called George Barre she found the sound file she needed. It was called Interview_PZ.mp3, and it could very well make her career.
Summer put her headphones on and clicked the Play button.
Her own voice, almost ten years younger, came over the wires. “Do you mind if I record this?”
“No,” came the man’s voice. “Just keep me anonymous if you write anything.”
“OK, thank you. This is my interview with Peter Zamarro, former employee of Blue Bird Pharmaceuticals of [TOWN NAME], California. Today is June 4th, 1996.
“Mr. Zamarro, can you please tell me about why you left Blue Bird?”
“Because I couldn’t keep working at a company that practiced such completely unethical, blatantly non-GLP studies and lied to the FDA about it.”
“Could you please expand on that?” She sounded eager on the recording, but not nearly as eager as she was now. “Maybe you can give me a concrete example.”
“Sure. Blue Bird has been searching for a cure to AIDS—who hasn’t? It’ll be a goldmine when somebody finds it, and we thought we were very close. We are targeting the protein coating of the HIV virus, but it’s difficult. HIV hides within our own immune systems and turns our own defenses against us. Our lead scientist, George Barre, thought he had come up with another more distinct way of targeting the virus.”
“What way was that?”
“He believed that we could target a protein…” he named off a protein, but Summer didn’t really care what it was called. “…only produced by the HIV virus as it replicated itself within the cell. If we could stop the production of that protein, or… well, break it somehow so it doesn’t do its job. Even just one misfolded protein could totally stop HIV replication within the body.”
“Sounds good so far.” Summer didn’t really know any biology, but he had kept it simple for her, and for her potential aud
ience. Well, she hadn’t gotten it written up then, but maybe she could bring this to light even if it was ten years late.
“Sure, all that’s pretty conventional. The trick is finding a protein that is uniquely HIV-related, that doesn’t also play a role in normal cellular function. Also to make sure the drug interacting with that protein doesn’t interact with other normal, integral proteins.” He paused and she heard a slurping drinking noises. That’s right; they’d sat in a park, far away from anywhere, and he had a blue Slurpee with him.
“Anyway,” he continued, “We found a protein that it looks like is only produced by the virus…” there was that name again. “…and started seeing what we could do to mess it up. There’s lots of literature on this kind of thing, so it wasn’t really guessing in the dark, but George is very unconventional. He gets results, but I’m pretty sure they aren’t GLP like he makes them look.”
“Good Laboratory Practice, required by the FDA for most preclinical studies. It’s basically a way of making sure people don’t fake their lab results.”
“Are you saying George Barre is faking lab results?”
“I don’t think so. I don’t know. Well.” Now they came to the crux of the matter and the present-day Summer sat hunched over her desk, heart in her mouth, pencil ready. “Yes. I know he’s faking results, or at least covering up other results.” There it was. Peter hadn’t told anybody else; he had been afraid of losing any credibility in the industry after having played along with George’s unethical behavior for so long.
“What results was he covering up?” She sounded so calm on the sound file. How had she done that?
Peter, she remembered, had closed his eyes and sighed. “When we were doing the testing on the protein, we discovered that the drug George honed in on, that he’s now trying to get Blue Bird to take into wider preclinical testing… The drug also interacts with the protein phosphorylation cascade that is integral to the production of ATP.”
“Huh?” He had looked at Summer as if this should be some earth-shattering revelation, and probably it was—but she needed it in straight English.
“Basically, cells need this thing, adenosine triphosphate—ATP—to make energy. Without ATP, you die in like two minutes. Some of the most deadly poisons stop ATP production.”
“So…” Summer had wanted everything in his own words, the ideal newspaper quote.
“So the drug we’re testing works great to stop HIV by blocking correct formation of this protein. But it also reduces ATP production by fifty to seventy-five percent, sometimes even more. It will kill the HIV infection, but it’ll kill the patient, too.”
“And George Barre…?” More prodding. The man was afraid and hid behind technical language, but his message had been crucial. Now it would make Summer’s career.
“He’s covering up results that show the impact on ATP production. He’s making it look like the drug only targets the HIV’s protein and doesn’t interact with anything else in the body—the ideal drug, no side effects, just goes straight for the disease. Only if—when—it reaches the market, it’ll slowly kill the patients who take it.”
“How long will it take for this to come to market?”
“Oh, if it’s quick, it’ll be eight or ten years.”
“Peter, can you tell me what the ramifications of this will be?”
“I’m afraid to think of them. But probably George will make it big with some other company; Blue Bird isn’t set up to carry through anything this massive. It’s more a nasal-spray improvement type operation. If he’s able to carry through this deception, it will be a sensation when it reaches the market or even before. Probably they’ll start noticing some effects in clinical testing, but it takes quite a while for enough of the drug to build up to actually harm the patient. And people suffering from AIDS already feel lethargic, so a little shortness of breath and easily tiring out won’t trigger any alarms for them.” Another slurping noise. At this point, Summer had wondered if it was only a Slurpee, or if he had added something to it. “Basically, the patients will make a drastic recovery and it’ll hit the papers and George will be famous. Then, after the drug’s made it to market—they’ll probably hurry it because it looks so effective—the patients will start getting sick and dying for no apparent reason.”
The interview continued, and Summer kept taking her notes. This would be the obituary of the century, but not the one George Barre’s estate had asked for. No, Summer would use this chance to expose one of the richest men in the Seattle area as a killer and a fraud, and possibly save lives in the process. She buckled down to do some serious work, outlining and preparing for the next day at 3:00.
Other obituaries piled up on the corner of her desk unnoticed. Summer had retreated into a focused world involving George Barre’s murderous scheme that she alone could reveal.
* * *
She ate a quick lunch with Doug in the cafeteria. He had brought a lunch, but Summer bought pasta alfredo and a huge piece of garlic bread.
“And you call yourself a runner?” Doug teased her, motioning at her plate with a carrot.
“Sure, I’m celebrating.”
“What’s the occasion? Anniversary?” He glanced at her left hand unobtrusively, saw the paler skin where a ring had been, and put that together with Summer’s sudden quietness. “Sorry.”
“It’s OK. He ran off with his secretary. Pretty sordid, huh?”
“Not even creative!” Doug protested. “Not that I’d ever fall for my secretary—helps that I don’t have one—but if I was going to start a romance with somebody, it couldn’t be a secretary. So clichéd!”
“I know,” Summer sighed, and looked very sad for a moment. Then she rallied, putting on a happier face. “I’m celebrating my big break. I’ve got the story of a lifetime brewing, and it’ll be amazing.”
Doug couldn’t stop himself from saying, “In the obits?”
She smiled. “Yep.” He looked into her clear eyes, their intelligence and the curve of her lips drawing him inexorably. How could he have disliked her? But then she seemed a different woman now compared to last week; maybe it had been the job interview stress? He couldn’t see refusing her the position now, but it would take a while to percolate from HR to Summer. He smiled back, thinking how happy it would make her to receive the job offer that would allow her to escape from her obit hell.
“So? What is it?” He had set his sandwich down and watched her expectantly.
“Not telling yet. Just wait.” She glanced at her watch and started shoveling pasta into her mouth. “Sorry,” she told him between bites. “I’ve got to get to the lawyer’s office in half an hour and busses are slow.” She finished the food and jumped up, waving with one hand while balancing her tray with the other. Doug watched her scurry from the cafeteria, feeling bemused and attracted at the same time. Maybe this would work out alright after all.
* * *
On the bus going downtown, Summer reviewed her To Do list. She had to light a fire under the lawyer’s ass, win a decent settlement from Lance, call Hunter and get together with him, apply for jobs at The Times and The P-I, and most of all write that article. Summer felt a little bad about having to turn the H&G; job down, especially when she and Doug were getting along so well, but when she applied for the sub-editor position she had never imagined leaving The Herald or even getting back into investigative journalism. She’d only wanted to move up a little, not dreaming too big, having had so many dreams smashed. But somehow the last f
ew days had brought Summer to a point where she wanted to dream big again, to recapture the drive that had compelled her in the first place and given her the enthusiasm to dig into the sordid wrongs of society. Like George Barre and his multimillions, wrongfully won through lying and falsifying results. This revelation would shake the drug industry and, Summer hoped, change the world forever.
And here was her stop downtown, a block from the shiny building that housed her shabby lawyer’s paper-cluttered office. Walking down the street, Summer looked at the people around her. How many would be impacted by Barre’s evils? How many could she save, just by writing this article?
Through the lobby, with its mirror-bright hallways, and now into Suite 205 once more. The gum-popping secretary looked up from what appeared to be Vogue, and she looked annoyed. “Yes?” She sounded East Coast, New York City, and very bored. Summer diagnosed it as not enough sordid gossip, possibly from lack of customers.
“Is he in?”
“It’s lunch.” As if Rodney Persimmon ever left his office. Summer couldn’t imagine him in a car or walking down the street or grocery shopping. He probably survived by eating old papers.
“Yes, that’s why I’m here. I need to talk to Mr. Persimmon.”
“He’s in.” The secretary apparently buried her nose back in the glossy magazine, but Summer thought she’d pricked her ears anyway.
Passing through the door, the oppressive sense of towering papers immediately overwhelmed Summer. There sat the lawyer, hunched over—was that a tuna salad sandwich? So he did eat! And he ate exactly like a squirrel, holding the sandwich between both hands and nibbling in lots of small bites, his cheeks puffing out with food. Crumbs dribbled from his mouth to vanish in the vast stacks and the hideous carpet.
“Mr. Persimmon, it’s Summer Robertson,” she said, stepping forward. “I’m here—”
“Yes, yes,” he acknowledge. “About your, um, divorce proceedings. I know.”
“I… um…listened to…um, your phone message. Er…I have taken steps to, uh, contact McCab & Bain.”
“Their office…ahem…is not, um, shall we say, very quick to respond.”
“I see.” Summer couldn’t get past her initial shock to say more than a few words at a time.
“Er…this is my lunchtime. Is there…ahem…anything else I can do for you?”
“Well, I just wanted to know the status of our suit. I need a settlement soon; my salary isn’t very large.”
“Nor is mine,” he sighed. Was that a spark of humor? Surely not. “Miss…er, Robinson, I assure you that…hmm… we are doing all we can at this, erm, juncture.”
“So you’ll be able to negotiate? We won’t have to go to court at all?”
“I expect not. These things…er…rarely do.”
“Good, I guess.” Summer didn’t know what else to do. He had actually worked on her case, and sounded about as positive as he ever had. “Keep me informed, please. I really need this settlement.”
“Do not worry,” he said, glancing vaguely up for a moment, but seeming to have his gaze caught by the teetering stack of papers piled on the corner of his desk. “We will, er, solve this as quickly as is…ahem…humanly possible.”
Summer very much doubted that, but thanked him anyway and walked back out over the 1970s carpet, envisioning the orange and brown threads coming away with each pass of her feet. Soon the worn hardwood floor would be visible beneath this carpeting. In the outer office, the secretary had started up a game of Solitaire on the computer.
“Does he actually work?” she asked the woman, who had to be fifty if she was a day, although she would probably never acknowledge she’d passed twenty-five.
“Mr. Persimmon? Of course.” Never tearing her eyes from the screen, the secretary managed to infuse a depth of scorn into her voice that silenced Summer’s reply and sent her scurrying for the door.
* * *
“Hi, Summer, it’s Hunter. Just calling to see if you’re busy tonight. I miss you. Call me.” He sounded wistful on the phone, Summer thought, pressing the Delete button on her message machine. She would call him back on his cell phone once she’d had a chance to put her things down, change out of her working clothes.
“Hunter? It’s Summer.” She’d never quite gotten brave enough to not introduce herself; perhaps some time she’d take it for granted he would know her voice, but not yet. She couldn’t stand the embarrassment of him mistaking her for some other woman, not even his mother.
“Summer! Hi!” Now his voice held happiness and excitement. “How are you? I haven’t talked to you in ages.” Days.
“I’m great, Hunter, you’ll never guess what happened.”
“What?” And she told him about George Barre, Blue Bird, Peter Zamarro, and the HIV drug that had been carried into production by BioSyne Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
“Oh my god.” He sounded awed. “And you found all this out by yourself?”
She smiled. “Yep, I did.” He made her feel so wonderful; how could she ever have thought Lance was the man for her? Hunter made all other men, even the nice Doug, shabby and boring. “I want to celebrate tonight. What’re you up to?”
“I have the perfect idea. We’ll jump. I’ve got just the right spot. It’s way out in the boonies, but it’s beautiful.”
“I don’t know, it seems a little risky, and it’s a work night…”
“Come on, this is a serious time to celebrate! You’re going to have a big break, let’s do something crazy.” He echoed Chastity’s constant mantra. “You deserve to have some real fun.”
“You know you want to.” He heard her weakening on the phone and seized his chance. “You’ll love it.”
“Okay, what the heck. What time?”
“It’ll have to be earlier than normal, since I know you have work, and I have class tomorrow early.” He paused, thinking, for a second. “Seven o’clock we’ll meet. It’s about a bit of a drive.”
“I’ll see you then.”
By 8:30 they were suited up and standing in the dark on Mt. Baring. The sun was just setting, painting everything gold and throwing long shadows everywhere.
“Is this safe?”
“No.” He looked at her. “But it’s safer than the Alaskan Way Viaduct, and plus it’s daylight.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll be done before the sun’s all the way down.” The wind blew and Summer felt her heart start beating fast as she accepted this. She was base jumping again, actually longing to feel the rush of adrenaline as she flew down. Hunter checked all her straps, went over her parachute again, and patted the top of her helmet. “Don’t worry,” he told her again. “I’ve done this dozens of times from here. It’s perfectly fine.”
He stepped up, motioned Summer to join him, and they jumped. This was much higher than the Alaskan Way Viaduct, and Summer watched the ground approaching with excitement mixed with fear. She also kept a sharp eye on Hunter, who signaled her to pull her chute at the key moment; from there they soared over treetops, a lifetime encompassed in the rushing of the wind and each breath. The freedom and excitement encompassed Summer, her blood rushing faster than the wind, her heart in her throat and nearly bursting. Then they were landing at Barclay Lake, Hunter smoothly and Summer nearly as awkwardly as her first time. This time she’d worn really tough hiking boots, though, so her ankles fared well enough.
“So? How was it?”
“Wow. It was great. I mean I was terrified but it was amazing.” She grinned at him in the fading ligh
t, the gusting wind blowing at her hair and kicking up waves on the lake. “Thanks. It’s the perfect celebration.”
Back in the car, Hunter looked at her in the driver’s seat. “Summer?”
“I thought maybe you’d like to come back to my place for a little post-jump celebration as well.” He reached out, touching her thigh and moving his hand to touch her sensitive area. She glanced over at him, surprise in her eyes. She hadn’t expected this?
“I don’t know.” She moved her leg, wiggling in the driver’s seat almost uncomfortably. “I really have to get back. I’ve got a long day of work tomorrow. And you have class tomorrow, right?”
“Of course.” Hunter removed his hand, but reached out to stroke her face. Persistence might yet win her, and if not, he always had Chastity. “Have I told you lately how beautiful you are?”
A satisfied smile came to her lips. “Not lately.”
“How remiss of me. My dearest Summer, you’re very beautiful.”
“Am I?” Her hand came from the wheel to brush her helmet- and wind-mussed hair from her from her face. He could see her profile against the flashing streetlights, her chin and nose, her gentle lips and carefully formed eyebrows.
She was pretty. Just not as beautiful as Chastity, he wanted to tell her, but that wouldn’t get him anywhere. “You are a diamond among pebbles. I would very much like you to come to my apartment—”
“—when you feel ready.” He added it belatedly, but managed to sound as if he’d meant it that way all along. Damn, she had to be the slowest woman he’d ever tried to seduce, and Hunter wasn’t even sure he would succeed. But she was a challenge, and while women like Chastity were his bread-and-butter, women like Summer made life interesting. You never knew what they would do. Besides, Hunter believed that women like Summer, repressed all their lives by excessively controlling husbands, were actually the most passionate when he finally got to them. If only he could get to her.
She glanced over at him again, her face unreadable but peaceful. “I think I would like that. I love you, Hunter.” Her hand came over, touching his knee, and he covered it with his own hand. They drove in silence all the way to his apartment, where Summer helped him unload his base jumping equipment. “Thank you for taking me jumping. It’s crazy, but fun.”
“That’s me.” His grin was the original rakish one that sent shivers through her and clenched a hand around her heart. Summer stepped close to him, and Hunter wrapped his arms around her. Maybe she had changed her mind?
The brush of her lips moved from “goodnight” to a deeper, more involved kiss. Soon she had put her arms around him, her hands entangling his hair much like Chastity had earlier, although Summer had less of a reach. Hunter moved one of his hands to cup her bottom, his other arm firmly around her. They pressed into each other, breath changing from a steady beat to the heavy breathing of the truly interested. Hunter reached up beneath her shirt, his hand pressing against the skin of her back, and felt for the clasp of her jeans.
Summer abruptly stood back, shaking her head. “Not tonight, Hunter. I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine,” he lied, smiling. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Definitely.” Now she was back in her car, the window rolled down. “I love you, Hunter.”
“’Bye,” called the man of her affections back, turning away from her and scooping up his big lumpy burden. Had Summer been able to read the set of his back, she would have realized that he would immediately call Chastity. His disappointment and frustration were deep, but Hunter hadn’t given up yet. He just needed to release a little tension, and Chastity was dam’ good at that. Or: My NaNoWriMo profile.