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The Key To Believing


a novel by Janet Kuypers

No part of this book may be reprinted without express permission from Scars Publications and Design or the author this is to strong peoplewho have battled too much

The Creation of this novel is dedicated to William Douglas Ward


Ben Ohmart, Writer

Characters are very good, and consistent. They don’t promise one thing and do another. That’s very good. The characters are like real people. I also find the scenes engaging and it makes me want to read more.
(The author) also has a good way of making a lot of detail without details. That is, without description. The characters are very strong, you know. Very good. These people are real to me.


Notes

By C Ra McGuirt

In general, I like the style of the novel, and find myself inside the story.
I like both Kyle and Sloane and find Kyle a sympathetic character. With Sloane, it’s her life, and her motivations are her own. I also find her a sympathetic character. I can see myself being interested in her work, talking to her about it
Again, I really like how the dialogue carries the narrative. I tend in that direction myself when I write prose. The dialogue is very natural and human. The exciting aspect of this to me is that Sloane is involved in what amounts to pure research ... yet she is leaning on herself for immediate results.
I like Carter, and I like the warmth between him & Sloane. And I like his inference that good books make for good audiences.
There is in me a slight exasperation with Sloane that she has all these wonderful good-hearted handsome sensitive rich successful more or less perfect tight male buddies with whom she will not be intimate lest it wreck something or another. Yet that inserts some conflict. I thought it was damn cute that Carter’s maid tweaked him a bit on picking out the “right” tie. It humanized him for me that he was nervous about seeing this “friend” of his.
I also like the use of e-mail to advance the narrative
There is a high level of sophistication, with only the occasional jarring descent into awkward or inappropriate dialogue (like slang).
The only other Sloane I know is an attorney in NYC. I see SOME personality traits in common with the two Sloanes... and I have to wonder what “my” Sloane would think of “your” Sloane. Hmmm, maybe she will get a chance to find out when this thing hits the book racks...


preface

The history of AIDS
Who is Sloane Emerson?

By John Yotko

Unlike all of the girls in her class in Junior High School, Sloane was having fun as a girl in school going around rubbing tape onto doorknobs and other things people may have touched to collect samples. In school they would take the tape back to the lab to see if anything, like any kinds of bacteria, were there.
She meticulously placed the tape in the petri dishes being careful not to touch anything so she would not contaminate the samples she had collected.
It was at about this time that AIDS was only being discovered. Sloane had no idea what the disease was then, and she had no idea that her love of science would draw her toward searching for a cure to the virus that causes AIDS.

###

It first appeared as a warning sent out by the CDC. These types of warnings were and are still common occurrences when an unusual outbreak of a disease or illness is confined to one location or group of people:








U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

In the period October 1980-May 1981, 5 young men, all active homosexuals, were treated for biopsy-confirmed Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia at 3 different hospitals in Los Angeles, California. Two of the patients died. All 5 patients had laboratory-confirmed previous or current cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection and candidal mucosal infection. ...
The diagnosis of Pneumocystis pneumonia was confirmed for all 5 patients ante-mortem by closed or open lung biopsy. The patients did not know each other and had no known common contacts or knowledge of sexual partners who had had similar illnesses. The 5 did not have comparable histories of sexually transmitted disease. Four had serologic evidence of past hepatitis B infection but had no evidence of current hepatitis B surface antigen. Two of the 5 reported having frequent homosexual contacts with various partners. All 5 reported using inhalant drugs, and 1 reported parenteral drug abuse. Three patients had profoundly depressed in vitro proliferative responses to mitogens and antigens. Lymphocyte studies were not performed on the other 2 patients.


This is an excerpt from the first published report of an illness that one year later would be known as Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
This disease that was found predominantly among homosexuals and intravenous drug users was immediately snatched up by the Christian tele-evangelists as the Lord casting His wrath onto the iniquitous and unrighteous. This explanation was left wanting when it was revealed that hemophiliacs also had a high incidence of HIV. It was certain that the children who contracted this disease were not participating in hedonistic behaviors.
It started to surface in the 1970s in this country when rare infections and cancers started to strike down people who were thought to be healthy. These infections were the opportunistic type, the type that only strike people with suppressed immune systems. When the disease was discovered it was identified as three distinct entities: HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), ARC (AIDS related complex), and AIDS. As the understanding of the disease grew it was recognized that these were three stages of the same disease - an irreversible trend from HIV infection to AIDS.
The Gay Men’s Health Crisis was founded in 1982 as a non-profit organization to provide medical, education, and advocacy services for people with AIDS.
One year later the virus was isolated in both the United States at the National Institutes of Health by Robert Gallo and by Luc Montagnier at the Pasteur Institute in France. Later a second strain of the virus was discovered identified as HIV-2. HIV-2 is still very rare outside of Africa. Blood samples from the 1970s indicate that HIV was a problem in the United States as early as 1978.
By 1985 the United States and Canadian governments required that all organ and blood donations be screened for HIV. This has led to a significant decrease in the number of people infected with HIV in the United States. The disease was still assumed to be a problem among homosexuals and drug users only. The nation’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated to the support of AIDS research, American Foundation for AIDS Research, was founded in 1985. In addition to promoting research into this health crisis they were a leader in the advocacy of fair and compassionate AIDS-related public policies.
In 1987 approximately two thirds of all new AIDS patients in the United States were Caucasians, with Blacks and Hispanics making up most of the rest. Finally, President Reagan decided to speak up on this ’six year old’ crisis. Many feel that this was too little too late having lost the opportunity to attack the problem in its infancy when it was primarily limited to specific social groups. Also, because of misconceptions or downright deceit, stigma and prejudice had taken over for compassion. Houses were set on fire. Families shunned relatives because of the disease. Husbands were beating wives with AIDS - even though the husband may have been the source of the disease in the family.
A disease that was virtually wiped out in the United States got a boost from AIDS in 1990. Doctors discovered that Tuberculosis was again a problem in this country.
Good news came when the ADA began protecting AIDS patients from discrimination in the workplace.
The years 1993 through 1995 gave AIDS a new definition. It was finally recognized as a public health problem by the general population in the United States. This new public awareness stopped the ever-expanding growth of new AIDS cases each year. Since 1995 the number of new AIDS cases has been steadily declining, although not in all groups. The misconception that AIDS is a disease among gays has led to a spread among women from about seven percent of AIDS patients in 1987 to about twenty-five percent of all new AIDS patients today.
Sloane Emerson gratuated form undergraduate studies in 1994, and one thing she noticed while in her Chemistry studies was that there were a large number of women’s studies groups on her campus, and there was a large push for women’s rights because of the threat of sexual assault. This was the first time women were left on their own with men, and acquaintance rape was common for college students when they were able to access liquor easily at parties and at bars that had an entrance age below twenty-one.. She noticed that during her first two years at achool she did not hear much talk of sexually transmitted diseases, but by her junior year she heard talk the condom use was important not only to present pregnancy for young sexually active students, but also to prevent diseases like AIDS.
This was the first time she heard about AIDS, and when she started to research the disease in her libraries at public computer, she learned that it was a virus -- and she wondered if it was a virus that could be stopped in the human body.
The trend that Caucasians make up most of the new AIDS cases has reversed and Blacks and Hispanics now make up the majority of the approximately 44,000 new AIDS cases reported in the United States each year.
Much of the slowing of the growth of AIDS is due to the public’s knowledge that anyone can get the disease. New drugs have been successful at slowing the progression form HIV infection to AIDS. Clinical trials conducted in 1997 showed that pregnant women who were HIV positive could reduce the transmission of HIV to their children by two thirds with AZT treatments. Deaths from AIDS dropped by 56% from 1996. Things were beginning to look up for the millions of people suffering with AIDS and HIV infection worldwide.
Even with all of the progress that has been made it is now confirmed that almost one million Americans are infected with HIV and it is estimated that approximately one percent of the U. S. population is infected. There is no cure or no vaccine in sight.
After her schooling, Sloane was offered a job at Madison Pharmaceuticals after working there as in intern while she was in school. She felt that she would be able to work toward her masters or her doctorate while she was working there, and she liked the chance to work there instead of work at the University as a researcher, like her father suggested.
Worldwide the number of AIDS or HIV infections is approaching forty million. This continued growth in the number of new patients didn’t look good, and Madison Pharmaceuticals liked her mention of AIDS in her interviews; they were starting to do work to look for medications for AIDS patients, and they like someone with a knowledge of the virus as well as knowledge of how some communities treat AIDS and react to it as a possibility for a promising new employee.
The apparent lack of progress toward finding a cure or a vaccine has led many to speculate that this is a weapon escaped from a government laboratory. These conspiracy theories hold that the United States government created the virus and has the cure.
Search the internet today for information on conspiracies for AIDS. There is a plethora of choices, each being drastically different from most others. It may be hard to believe, but some people actually subscribe to these notions. Others, ignoring the fanaticism of the conspiracy theorists have dedicated much of their life to finding a vaccine or cure for this disease.
Why they would do the work, either for personal satisfaction or humanitarian reasons, was irrelevant. All they knew was that there was a virus that caused a deadly disease. The researchers knew they had to do everything in their power to use science to save people from this disease so that people could live safer, healthier lives.
This was the course taken at Madison Pharmaceuticals that lead to promotion after promotion of Sloane so that she was the head of the research department that found the drug with the market title of Emivir, that helped many people with AIDS stay healty for a longer period of time, hopefully until a cure could be found.


chapter 1

The Woman

Six a.m. arrived, sounding the alarm clock in his bedroom. The noise crashed through their room, and Kyle Mackenzie rolled over, slammed his palm into the buzzing clock, and rolled back onto his side. He turned his head toward the window. A slight rain tapped against the edge of the roof and dripped over his windowsill.
He didn’t want to get up, not today. Every morning he would pull his umbrella from the stand by his front door, run to his Honda in the driveway, and wind his way through the streets of downtown Seattle, to the opposite side of town, to Madison Pharmaceuticals. Every morning he would go into the office, walk back through the long hallways to the lab, and work with his team, usually making no progress.
“Honey, why are you getting up so early?” his wife Elisa moaned from the other side of the bed.
“Getting in at nine means you’re only there three hours before lunch,” Kyle answered. “You can’t get anything done if you’re interrupted like that. I figured this way I can work for a good five hours before having to stop.”
“Are you going to make a habit of this?” his wife asked.
“We’ll see,” he said as he put his hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry, I’ll try to make it home early enough tonight for dinner. I’ll call you.”
And with that he got up and walked into the bathroom to shave.
Kyle hadn’t given up hope. Just a few months ago his team, headed by the prominent researcher Sloane Emerson, developed a new drug that drastically improved the T-Cell count by lengthening the time the viral load was down for AIDS patients. In the best-case scenario old protease inhibitors, when coupled into cocktails with the usual drugs like AZT, reduced the viral load of AIDS patients to a nearly negligible amount around a year. With the new inhibitor they worked on, Madison Pharmaceuticals laid claim to the only drug to date that when taken properly reduced the viral load for just over two years. This was an astonishing feat; some theorists claimed that after three years the AIDS virus would die out from within the body, and if cocktails of drugs could extend the time a patient’s viral load was almost gone from one year to two years, hope was in sight for a cocktail that would eliminate the virus after three years, thus eliminating AIDS in the body.
And if researchers couldn’t find a drug that killed the HIV virus, they could at least find a drug cocktail that holds it back in the body until the virus actually dies.
He thought about this during his drive to work. More than the accomplishment itself, Kyle thought about the celebrations after the drug, Emivir, named after Sloane Emerson, was released into the public. The P.R. department handled the release of Emivir perfectly, and Madison Pharmaceuticals seemed to be in all of the newspapers. Madison’s stock split less than one week after the F.D.A. had approved the release of Emivir.
The parties, Kyle kept thinking, seemed to be at times the best part of the release of the drug. For the first few weeks after the release of Emivir he had plans three or four nights a week, to parties in ballrooms of hotels, to parties at the luxurious homes of both the president and vice-president of the company, to parties in Los Angeles hosted by famous actors, even to parties in mansions of government officials in Washington D.C., which were weekend-events where the executives and the laboratory staff flew on the company plane across the country to celebrate. He bought a tuxedo for the parties. He met people he thought he would never be able to rub shoulders with.
He remembered at one party walking over to a group of women having a conversation about dinner parties. He didn’t know who any of the women were, but he could tell they were professional socialites, that they viewed their position in their life as their job, as a title to uphold.
One woman, wearing a floor-length black dress with gold trim at the neckline, asked, “So if you could invite anyone to a dinner party, who would you invite?”
Another woman, wearing a red beaded dress, answered, “You know I’d invite the Addisons, of course, and the Bronsens as well. And the regulars would be on my list, you know, Daphne Hassan and her interest of the moment, or even the family of Amelia. But then I’d invite some people that would really stir things up, you know, a few others from Congress that would like to talk to people like the Tates.”
Everyone started laughing in the small circle of people. Kyle had no idea who these women were talking about.
“Have you forgotten the Madisons?” Kyle turned to see an older woman glancing at him and smiling as she spoke. “You know the Madisons are very important.”
At that moment Kyle felt a hand on his shoulder and he turned to see Sloane Emerson.
“Hi, are you enjoying yourself?” Kyle asked. He could feel the cold stares of the women in the group -- not glaring at him but at Sloane, the woman of the evening. She never looked like she fit in at these parties; her demeanor suggested, without her consciously trying, that she was above the group.
“I was just wondering how you were doing. What are you discussing here?” She looked around at the group of women.
“Well,” the first woman started, “We were just discussing if we were to invite anyone we wanted to a dinner party, who would be on our list.”
“Let me think about that.” Sloane said, and genuinely thought about the question for a moment. “How many people could be on this list? Are we talking a small party or something larger?”
“Oh, just forty or fifty people,” the woman in black answered.
“If it could be anyone,” Sloane answered, “I think I’d invite Jesus Christ. Definitely Aristotle would get invited, and some of the Founding Fathers, particularly Jefferson. But Einstein would definitely have to be on the list as well, and maybe a few astronomers, too.”
Realizing how the women were looking at her, she stopped.
Grinning at the assumption she made, she tried to save face. “But I don’t suppose you were posing a philosophical question, were you?” She looked around the circle and saw every set of female eyes staring at her with disdain, except for one woman, who was rolling her eyes and looking away.
She turned to Kyle and smiled. “I’ll let you continue your conversation,” she said to Kyle as she turned back to the group of women. “It was very nice meeting you,” and as the last words were trailing out of her mouth she was turning and walking away.
Kyle shrugged his shoulders and smiled at the group, then turned and followed her.
“Sloane?”
She turned around and glanced at him, smiling before she spoke. “I forget that most people don’t think the way I do,” she said to Kyle, nodding her head to the women she just talked to.
“You know, you didn’t technically meet any of those women -- they never even told you their names.” Kyle grinned at her response of a smile, telling him in her look that she never cared to meet them because they had no resources of value to her.
“I just have one question, Sloane.”
“Yes?”
“Why Jesus Christ?”
“So that when he doesn’t show up I can have the last laugh.” Sloane winked at him. Kyle never liked it when she made such rash comments, especially when she knew he was a practicing Catholic.
“You know he was a real man...”
“Many people believe the Bible is meant to be read as a metaphor and not taken verbatim. And I know there is scientific evidence that a man named Jesus lived, but I also know that as this son of a supposed god, his name was one of many names for gods, and names were adjusted as created so they had the numerical and religious significance of the number 888. But if he was at dinner I’d be able to talk to him and find out if he was actually a prophet, or if anything from the New Testament actually happened.”
Kyle then watched her begin to turn away before she turned back to him briefly. “You know,” she added, “you should really spend more time with your wife when you bring her to these parties.” She smiled, gestured to Elisa, then turned and walked away.
Kyle’s favorite part of these parties still seemed to be having the chance to talk with famous women and meeting wives of famous dignitaries. It wasn’t because he liked the attention of other women, he loved his wife dearly and would never think seriously of being with another woman. What he loved were the way these women, who worried about looking good and being famous and adhering to all the necessary social graces, looked up to him because he was a part of a team that accomplished something. The team he was on, his team, set their minds to something, and they did it. And everyone wanted to know how.
When he was at these parties, Kyle felt like and astronaut who just came back from traveling to the moon.
“What exactly does your drug do, Mr. Mackenzie?” asked Katia Turner, a Hollywood actress, at one party in Los Angeles.
Kyle was amazed that the famous Katia Turner actually came up to him to talk -- and knew his name. He cleared his throat. “When used in combination with the old drugs, Emivir coincided with a lowering of the viral load to a negligible amount for about two years, versus one year, the best result of the other inhibitors on the market.”
“How does it work? You said it’s an inhibitor?”
He didn’t expect people to want to know. “Well, the first drugs on the market, like AZT, targeted only one of the HIV enzyme components. This was basically attacking only one part of the virus, which proved effective for only a small amount of time. The new wave of inhibitors, called ’protease inhibitors’, attacked a different enzyme component of the virus, so HIV was then being attacked at a different level. Using a ’cocktail’ of drugs instead of just trying to attack the virus at one part worked well, but the new wave of inhibitors could only reduce the amount of virus in the body for about a year. This new protease inhibitor we’ve created can continue attacking the virus for nearly two years.”
He could tell that although she seemed interested, she was straining to act.
“So Emivir delays the continued spread of AIDS for an additional year?”
Kyle smiled. “Yes, but it’s more promising than that. The theory is that the AIDS virus, without causing infection from its birth to death, can live in the human body for three years. The problem is that in that three-year life span it continues to mutate and reproduce itself. If we can stop it from doing that for two years, we’re getting closer and closer to stopping it for three years. After that point, the remaining virus may die within the body.”
“And thus a cure?”
“Well, a human could live with AIDS in the body until the virus dies.”
He tried to push out of his mind the thought that the HIV-infected cells could seemingly “hide” in pockets in the body, such as the lymph nodes, or in the spine, or in the testes -- and that three years might not be enough time. Researchers still didn’t know everything they needed to about the virus. But Kyle needed to think that there was a goal line in sight.
“That’s amazing,” Katia crooned. “So how long do you think it will take to come up with the drugs to destroy the AIDS virus in the body altogether?”
Kyle paused. She asked the question he did not want to have to answer. “That is what we don’t know right now. We’ll have to keep working on it, hope for the best.”

###

It was with that disheartening thought that he came back to today, in his car, driving to his lab.
It was 7:15 a.m. when he pulled into the parking lot. He walked through the main office, through back hallways, towards his lab. It wasn’t the parties he liked, he thought, but the chance to rest on his accomplishments for once. To feel good about something he had done. Whenever he thought about the search for a cure now, disappointment crept into his pores and he felt like he was going nowhere, no matter how many hours he put in at the lab.
He hoped that at least today he should get in before his supervisor because she must like to see that her staff still has the desire to get through this puzzle.
He walked down the last hallway to the lab. He could see through the frosted glass of the door that the lights were on. He opened the door.
Sloane Emerson sat on a stool, one foot on the floor, one foot on the bottom rung of the stool, lab coat open, falling over her hips to the sides of the stool. “She always looks lanky,” Kyle thought, but it seemed to fit in perfectly with the test tubes and pieces of scientific equipment placed in rows on the line of tables along the wall. Her black hair was straight, just above the shoulder in length, cut into a bob and she always tucked it behind her ears. She seldom wore make-up. She was reading some lab reports. She looked up at him.
“Kyle, you’re here early.”
Kyle was frozen for a moment in the doorway. The door hit him as it slowly closed behind him, reminding him to move forward. “You’re here early. I thought I beat everyone else.”
“Some things were on my mind about the tests we did last night and I figured I’d get in early to read the results.”
“And?”
“Nothing. It’s not making any difference what we do with Emivir, we’re not making any improvements at all.” And with that she turned back to the reports, to read on for a more detailed explanation.
That’s what is amazing, Kyle thought. She never gets depressed about making no progress. At least she never shows it.
He thought back to the parties. Once most of the guests had arrived Sloane would enter, never with a date. And although she didn’t attempt to attract attention to herself, everyone always noticed her when she walked into the room. The rest of the researchers noticed her most of all. After seeing her every day in navy slacks and a white blouse, watching Sloane Emerson walk into a ballroom wearing a floor-length taupe satin dress instantly turned heads. She wore the simplest dresses, ones that showed her off, not her clothing. The fabric from her clothes seemed to glide over her skin as she walked through the room. For jewelry she wore just a necklace with a solitary diamond. At these parties, Kyle thought, when all the women wore too much jewelry and dresses that looked a little difficult to walk in, seeing her confidently glide through a room with the same determination she had when she was in her lab, made her look like she was in charge of everything around her.
Kyle knew she didn’t do it intentionally. It was just how she was.
Kyle walked closer to her and glanced over her shoulder at the test results. “These weren’t very important, I mean, we weren’t expecting much from these tests. Is this really why you couldn’t sleep last night?”
Closing the lab notebook, she placed it down on top of the pile in front of her. “I’ve just been getting exasperated,” she said.
“About our lack of progress? You know, you should really take a break, we’ve made great strides, and you’re --”
“It’s not just our laboratory progress, you know. Tyler, from marketing and P.R., said that he’s heard of a few groups lobbying the government to check into our production speed because we’re not getting enough of Emivir on the market. But they don’t realize that Madison holding off on the number of people that get the drug, because we have to be able to keep them on the drug once they’re on it. An AIDS patient has to take a series of pills a number of times a day for years. Once a patient gets on Emivir they have to stay on it. If they miss two or three doses the virus can have enough time to mutate in their system so the virus becomes resistant to it. So we have to make sure that the plants are producing enough Emivir so we don’t run out for the people already on it, we can’t just give this to anyone, because if we do, then all of the patients will be out of the drug if the plants can’t keep up with production. If we did that, we’d have more of an epidemic on our hands. We’ve got a plant of our own going, and we’ve outsourced three plants in the States, Canada and Japan. What more do they expect of us?”
“Why are you letting production become a problem for you? That’s not your department.”
“But it’s my drug, and these people don’t understand what they’re suggesting. I think none of these people think that businesses have to plan, that they just make so much money and every decision they make is just to hurt “the public”. They don’t think about the fact the businesses have to sell to “the public” so they’re obviously concerned with their market and they’re doing what they can for their market. Businesses, in order to stay profitable, have to do what the market dictates. And this decision -- to hold back some people from using Emivir right away -- it’s for the good of “the people,” but no one wants to look at it logically. If we were being a mean business, might we be more interested in selling it to as many people as possible, Kyle?”
A smile came over her when she heard Kyle respond with, “No, not if all of our patients die when we run out of drugs.”
“So we’re planning to do something that’s best for the business and best for the patients and still they complain. I don’t see any of those lobbyists making a better drug and selling massive amounts of it. But they complain when we do it for them. It’s like these people think they own us because we are talented and do something with ourselves.”
“I’m sure Madison is going to out-source production to a few more plants, and they’re probably going to complete another plant within the next eight to ten months.”
“I know, but it angers me that we provide a great product for people, we do our jobs, we do them well, we even perform a service to “the public,” if that’s how they want to refer to it, and these lobbyists still think it’s not enough.”
“Is this something you haven’t realized before?”
“No, I suppose not.” Sloane paused and began to smile. “Boy, you don’t let me just wallow, do you?”
“What good would you be if we let you do that?”
“Thanks, Kyle.”
“No, really, you never usually complain about anything or let those people affect you, so if you need to vent now, feel free to do so. But if you’ve managed to put those lobbying goons out of your mind before, I’m sure you’re capable of doing it again. You know you really shouldn’t even waste your time thinking about them.”
“I know... But I just keep seeing the lack of progress we’ve made in the months since Emivir came out. It makes me think we’re on the wrong track.”
Kyle looked at her, wondering for a split second if he saw resignation.
“So I’ve been thinking about looking at this from a different angle.” Kyle looked at her when she spoke and the look of resignation Kyle thought he saw was instantly gone.
Kyle paused. “You know, you really should rest more. It’s Thursday, go home tonight and do something social. Take the day off tomorrow.”
“Oh, I’m seeing my father for dinner tonight. Not too much fun. You know how family obligations go.”
“Your father Bill’s a great guy, I love it when he comes to visit. Spending time with him can’t be too bad.”
“I suppose not.”
“He recommended you for the research job at the University, didn’t he?”
“Yes, but I didn’t want that job. Anyway, I’m sure I’ll be in tomorrow; I’ll need work as a rest from my dinner tonight.”
As the rest of the staff filed in, work resumed as usual. They had managed to create their wonder drug, Emivir, by working with formulas for existing inhibitors and modifying them so that the HIV virus could not become immune to it so easily. Their current effort was to do the same to Emivir -- to work with that formula to extend the attack period for an even longer period of time. It managed to work once for them; it made sense to try it again.
But they kept hitting brick walls with this research and she knew she had to do something else. She studied the reports. She supervised the tests.
“Maybe Kyle was right,” Sloane thought, “maybe I need to rest.” Her father was a nice man; she could have a nice dinner and get some rest and come to work on Friday with a clear head.
Calling her father from work at 6:30, she tried to get her mind off work to make plans for dinner. “What restaurant did you want to go to? I’ll just meet you there. You shouldn’t have to pick me up.”
“You’re still at work, sweetheart, aren’t you?”
“Yes, but I’m about to get out of here, so I can meet you anywhere.”
“Okay. How about Dimitri’s for Italian, say, 7:30?”
“Sure. I’ll see you there.”
When she got to Dimitri’s Bill Emerson was waiting at the bar for her. He was leaning over the bar, but looking back, checking for her. He was wearing the same sports coat he owned since she was a child, but now it stayed unbuttoned because it was a bit more snugly around his waist. Still, he looked comfortable. She walked to the bar.
“Hi, sweetheart. They’re setting up a table for us.”
“Oh, I was hoping that was your first drink and you weren’t waiting for me long.” She glanced at the bourbon on the rocks in his hand; it was his drink of choice.
“Yeah, I haven’t been here long at all. Let’s see how our table is doing.”
Bill Emerson was a university researcher, working in the archaeology department, studying relics brought in from digs that the university was able to acquire. He went to work on time every morning, and he made it home in time for mom’s home-cooked dinner every night as Sloane grew up. The university seldom sent him out on digs; they usually made him classify what the archaeologist groups found on their expeditions and brought back to the university.
Bill Emerson had been publishing less, so in recent years he was doing less research and more teaching, per the administration at the university. He seemed fine with that; besides, his retirement was coming up soon and he wanted to slow down his workload.
When finally getting out of school, he talked to some people at the university and placed a recommendation for a job in the medical research department. Sloane knew well that you couldn’t just recommend someone for a job, that the university research team would have to look at her records... She went through three interviews for a job at the school, but her father seemed to show more excitement about the job than she did. But when they offered the research job to her she turned it down to work in a low-end laboratory position for Madison Pharmaceuticals. Her father thought she was making a mistake. During her seven-year career at Madison, however, she managed to make her way to the head of the research department. As she began to prove herself at the company, the executives gave her whatever she needed. And she produced results.
Her father never understood why she wanted to work for a company and not the university.
“Do you want some company dictating what you do?”
“It’s better than having the government dictate what you do, isn’t it?”
“But you can work for the good of the people if you do university research.”
“And I can do work for my own benefit if I do research at a company.”
“Do you really want the bottom line to be the almighty dollar?”
“Why yes, dad, I do. And what’s wrong with that?”
This would always exasperate her father, but it would also end the conversation.
Eventually the university job was offered to one of her classmates, Toby Graham. Toby was more suited for the university life anyway, Sloane thought. Besides, since they would both be working on improving treatments for HIV-positive and full-blown AIDS patients, they would also be in the same town and could confer on ideas if they were working on similar theories.
Ordering a linguine with tomatoes and mushrooms in a basil pesto, she listened to her father ordered the usual -- meat ravioli. He ordered a bottle of red wine.
“What’s the occasion, dad?”
“Well, it would have been our anniversary, your mother’s and mine.”
Sloane sat silent for a moment. “I’m sorry. I didn’t even think about it.”
“I’m just glad that you didn’t back out on me again.”
“Dad, I --”
“I know, I know, dear. You’ve got your work. You shouldn’t have to worry about your old man anyway.”
“Dad, it’s just that --”
“But you know, you should spend some time with your brother and your sister while you still can.”
“Dad, they’re not going anywhere, I can see them --”
“We thought your mom wasn’t going anywhere, either.”
Whenever her father brought up her mother the conversation always became morbid. It had been seven years since she died in a car accident, but the way her father treated her mother’s death made it feel like a cloak of guilt that he could lay over her whenever she had been away from the family for a while.
“You know, you never see your family anymore,” he said. She knew where the conversation was heading. Her mind wandered to the last Christmas they spent together. Her brother, a mailman, and her sister, a housewife and mother, never understood her love of her work. Family gatherings became efforts to make Sloane see that there is more to life than accomplishing the goals at work she set out to accomplish. “When are you going to settle down, get married and have children?” her sister would ask. “Once you have children, you’ll know what I mean. Children change everything.” Her brother would attack in a similar fashion. “You know, high school friends ask me what you’re up to. I never know what to tell them.”
“Tell them I’m a doctor that heads a medical research department at a pharmaceutical company.”
“But it’s not as easy as that.”
“Why not?”
Her brother never seemed to be able to answer that; he merely felt that something was wrong with a woman so obsessed with her work.
“Dad, I know where this conversation is going,” Sloane interrupted. “We’ve had it many times before, but you still keep trying.”
“But sweetheart, they miss you.”
“No they don’t, dad, they miss the chance to judge me against what they think I should be doing -- which is very different from what I think I should be doing.”
“They just want what’s best for you.”
“And why do they think they know what’s best for me, more than I do? Dad, they seem to revel in imposing their standards on me, and no offense dad, but so do you.”
“It’s just that we care.”
“I know, dad, but trust me when I say I’m happy with the decisions I’ve made in my life.”
Her father looked at her. They sat in silence for a moment before they returned to their food.
She never meant to have these arguments with her father. He was always the one that would bring it up. As she drove home from Dimitri’s she tried to understand why her family couldn’t believe her when she said she was doing what she wanted with her life.
Walking into her apartment after dinner, she tossed her trench coat on the chair next to the front door and propped her umbrella against the wall. She walked across the living room; shadows from the city lights from the picture window followed behind her and stretched across the floor and curled along the opposite wall. She made her way into her study and turned on a lamp at her desk. She sat down and looked over the test results she brought back from work. Although there was still no progress, looking at the data made her feel better after talking to her father; at least she could decipher the data, make sense of it, follow its rules and learn something from it.
Possibly even master it.
As it approached midnight, she got up from her desk and walked over to the window. She scanned the skyline and watched the city lights flicker like candles in front of her. These aren’t candles, she thought, these are lights, lights in buildings where people are cleaning from the day’s work, lights in restaurants where people are enjoying the fruits of their labor, headlights of cars moving through the city going home to their families, lights of apartments and homes where people prepared for bed. This is what my data does, she thought. This is what thinking does for the world. It lights the cities. It lights everyone’s way. It moves people. It makes all this possible.
She wondered how other people could not understand this.
She closed the shade and turned around for bed. She wanted to get up early in the morning and get some work done.

###

She didn’t know why she was there, but she had just started a new job. It was her first day in the office, and her supervisor said to her, “Oh, you must have misunderstood from the interview. Research work is only a small fraction of the work you’ll do here. In fact, the laboratory and offices aren’t even set up now, we’re doing some construction and expansion in the building, so your first assignment is to go on a health-mission with a few other staff members.”
Standing in front of her supervisor’s desk, Sloane blankly managed to get out the words, “Where will I be going?”
“Africa. It’s a humanitarian mission. You see, they think we’re hoarding our products here in the States and certain villages are going to be wiped out entirely unless we go in there and vaccinate them. So what I need you to do is let our company driver take you home so you can pack a few things, and then he’ll take you straight to the airport, where you’ll meet up with the rest of the staff. You’ll probably be in Africa for about a month vaccinating children.”
The next thing she remembered was that she was in her apartment packing, thinking to herself that she can’t pick up and quit, she needs the money from this job, and she didn’t even know what to pack. She had no time to call anyone and say she was leaving, so she changed the message on her answering machine. “Hello, you’ve reached Sloane Emerson. I’ll be in Africa on business for the month of April, so please leave a message and I will get back to you as soon as possible.” After leaving the message she realized how ridiculous it sounded. “I’m in Africa for a month, so leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible?” she thought, but she had no time to change the message on her machine, she would be late for her plane. And then it occurred to her that by listening to her message someone will then know that no one is in her apartment for the entire month, making it a prime target for a break-in; she could see it now, she’ll come home from her trip and there will be nothing left in her apartment.
She looked over at her suitcase. “I don’t want to do this,” she thought, but she had no choice. She needed the money from this job; this job was all she now had. She closed the poorly packed suitcase, grabbed her passport and trench coat, unplugged the answering machine and headed for the door.
“How could I have missed this in the interview?”, she thought. “How could they have misled me like this?”
The next thing she remembered was being on the plane, starting the descent. They would be landing within a half hour. Her new coworkers were sitting in the aisle and the window seats; she was crammed between them. The only thought that kept going through her head, during the painfully long flight, was “How did I let this happen?”
“The thing with this company is that they want us to know where their heart is,” the coworker on the aisle was saying to her. He was slightly overweight, he had a moustache and he talked a little too loudly, especially for being in an airplane. “I mean, they want us to like the company we work for, so periodically they send us out on these humanitarian missions.”
“Yeah,” chimed in the guy in the window seat. “It’s like doing volunteer work on company time. And how many people get paid to go to Africa and get the trip paid for?”
“Don’t dress up too much,” the guy in the aisle said. “The company also brings along a photographer who takes a ton of photos of us vaccinating all the little African children, you know, holding them and caring for them and stuff, for press releases. They want us to look like we’re down in the trenches doing hard work for these little starving children.”
All she could do was look around the plane. She felt trapped between these two loud men. She wanted to get out of the plane.
“Are you afraid of heights?” the man in the aisle asked. “Cause you don’t look so good.”
The next thing she remembered was being escorted into her hut. “This is where you’ll be sleeping,” the native told her. Apparently he guided Americans like her and her coworkers through missions like this, this seemed to be a regular occurrence for him. “Your bathroom is that building over there; you can get a bucket of water to clean yourself off with pretty much daily.”
’Pretty much daily?’ went through her head as she moved her suitcase to the corner before putting on a pair of shorts. “This is not where my talents are best used, I should not be here in Africa doing the work any volunteer could do to make people think that I work for a kind and caring company. I should be producing better drugs for these people, I shouldn’t be going out here and hand-delivering them.” She held her head for a moment. She then walked outside her hut and there were fifteen emaciated children with wide eyes standing in the doorway, looking up at her.
That’s when she sprung up in her bed, panting.
She looked over at her clock. 4:07 a.m. She did a mental check: No, I did not quit my job at Madison. No, I’m still doing AIDS research. No, I don’t have to pack my bags and go to Africa to vaccinate children.
She fell back onto her pillow. Her heart was racing; she was still breathing heavy. This was the point, she thought, that a man beside her would wake up and say, “It’s okay, darling, it was just a dream.” But no one was there to say it to her, and she was used to that.
She couldn’t fall back asleep. This was one more dream for her to analyze. She never had nightmares, not in the traditional sense of the word, but to her they were most definitely nightmares nonetheless. She had deduced that they had all entailed her losing control of some aspect of her life somehow. In one dream she moved into a new apartment, to find out that she didn’t read the lease carefully enough, and she had only rented a room in the apartment when she thought he rented the entire apartment and she would have four roommates sharing the common spaces with her. The remainder of that dream was spent trying to do two things, trying figure out which bedroom she wanted, before her other roommates came in and laid claim to their bedrooms, and trying to figure out how she was going to fit all of her furniture into a fraction of the space she needed. All of her dreams were like this, losing control over something, by overlooking one small detail, and then having to frantically work to pick up the pieces.
“Why do I have these dreams?” she thought as she wondered if they had overlooked something to produce a vaccine or an attempt for a cure.
She glanced back at the alarm clock. 4:18. Her alarm would go off in forty minutes anyway. She figured she might as well get up.
She walked over to her window. The city lights were on, but it was quiet. She looked at all the dots of light, dots scattered among the tall buildings. She turned toward the bathroom to shower.

###

Kyle Mackenzie was the third person to get into the laboratory Friday morning. As he opened the door, he saw Sloane hunched over with another laboratory technician, Howard Shindo.
“Look, we were lucky with our protease inhibitor, and you know it,” Sloane was saying to Howard. “When the first wave of drugs came out, doctors didn’t know how to use them -- they were just prescribing them as a single-drug medication, which was as effective as using AZT, or other drugs like it that affected just the reverse transcriptase component of the enzyme alone. Other doctors were prescribing protease inhibitors even after patients became immune to AZT, which was doing the same amount of work as giving it to patients who were not taking AZT at all. I mean, yes, our drug has proven itself as holding off the reproduction of the virus for a substantially longer period of time, but we don’t even know if the other protease inhibitors were being used in the best fashion.”
“What are you suggesting then?”
“I’m suggesting one of three things. One is that we have to keep modifying Emivir to improve its ability to attack the protease enzyme. Another idea is that we have to start research into integrase inhibitors, and by attacking a third enzyme we might further help AIDS patients. That’s the one that should take the most research.”
“And the third idea?” Kyle walked over and asked, pulling up a stool to sit.
“To change the format of these drugs, so we can eliminate two problems with the drugs on a patient-level. One problem with the current cocktails is that they cause so many side effects that some people can’t take them at all. You’ve heard the stories, some side effects include nausea, muscles that feel like they’re burning, difficulty in walking, diarrhea, bone-marrow suppression, spontaneous bleeding in hemopheliacs, a sudden upsurge in blood sugar levels, which can in some cases lead to diabetes and possibly ketoacidosis, vomiting, dehydration, weight loss, confusion, even a coma or death. There has to be more research into placing these pills together to streamline these pills, and into time-releasing them, so people don’t have to work so diligently at watching the clock -- and potentially miss pills. Some patients have also contracted shingles, which is the same virus as chicken pox, or even problems such as excessive flatulence and gastroenteritis. And with nausea being the most common side effect of these drugs, if some people develop nausea daily to these drugs and cannot take them, intestinal upsets may cause the drug to not be fully ingested. If we can eliminate these side effects, we’ll see an increase in the number of patients that respond positively to the cocktail of drugs.”
Howard finished her thought. “So maybe we could redirect our efforts to making the drugs more ingestible.”
“But there’s also an emotional problem with taking these cocktails,” Sloane answered. “And taking the drugs properly, that’s the second part of the problem with these drugs. Patients take usually about 20 pills a day, sometimes more, sometimes up to 60, all at different schedules, some with food, some on an empty stomach. So the continuous clock-watching and changing of their eating schedules because of these drugs is a constant reminder to them that they have a deadly disease. The emotional reminder of having a fatal disease by taking drugs so often can be a negative reinforcer in taking the drugs properly, and a patient doing well may skip drugs. Tack that on with a possible rejection from their family because of this disease, you have an emotional system wreaking havoc on the patient’s body as well. Some patients don’t have the money to sustain the drug purchases, because insurance companies usually won’t allow for one hundred percent coverage of this treatment. Because the drugs can cost upwards of $20,000 per year, some patients may then decide to take less of the drugs than they are supposed to take, to lengthen the time they have the drugs and therefore save money, and end up taking the drugs improperly. And skipping just a few doses, for any of these reasons, can cause a strain resistant to these drugs to emerge in their body, making the taking of these drugs useless in the long run, making those patients even more difficult to treat. Think about the fact that fifteen percent of current AIDS patients are initially, keep that in mind, initially unresponsive to AZT. My hypothesis is that it’s because of a strain that was developed and transferred to these patients by people who took their medications improperly and developed a strain of the virus that could just chew up AZT and spit it out.”
Kyle looked at them. “But how do you attempt to solve that problem?”
“The cost of the drugs decreases in time, as production methods become streamlined and the demand is adequately filled for the drugs. But the emotional strain of taking these drugs on such a rigid schedule could possibly be avoided if we could develop drugs -- whether in pill or in liquid format, either as a drink, maybe, or to be taken by needle, like a diabetes patient taking insulin or Humulin, something that was time-released, so that patients would only have to worry about taking medication one to three times a day instead of 12 times. Couple that with eliminating side effects and you have a drug cocktail in one dose that’s easy to use.”
“Yeah, but a needle?” Howard asked. “A lot of these patients are drug users, and might misuse a prescription for hypodermic needles.”
“If they’re getting the needles somehow. They might as well pay for clean ones,” Kyle answered.
“Besides,” Sloane cut in, “if this could be developed in pill form, then we wouldn’t even have to worry about the needle option. In fact, it probably would be easier to make it in pill form.”
More technicians were arriving into the laboratory to work.
“So where does that leave us?”
“It leaves us with three courses of action. One is to improve Emivir, the protease inhibitor. Two is to work on an integrase inhibitor so that our cocktails attack three enzymes of the virus instead of two. And three is to work on making these drugs easier to take so that people will take them properly. Well, in theory we could work on a class of drugs that targets the infected cells, instead of being absorbed and spread throughout the body, but that’s in the future, like a vaccination and a definite, short-term cure. These three modes of attack are plenty to get started on.”
“And all three strategies could help produce better results,” Howard said.
Kyle asked, “But how do you want to attack these three different plans?”
The door opened. A few more laboratory technicians came in to start working. “Why don’t we see what each technician thinks they can do the best job on, and divide people up accordingly?” she asked.
“I think we’re on to something,” Kyle answered, scribbling in his note pad.
“Kyle, if you could write up goals of each of the three attacks for this virus, and reasons why they would be effective, we could have a meeting this afternoon or Monday and see how we should go about doing this.”
“Understood, chief.”
Smiling, she answered, “We haven’t had much luck improving the length of time Emivir worked, but if people wanted to continue working on it I would be behind them one hundred percent. But if some people wanted to try this from a different angle, it might refresh the staff as well.”
With those words the door swung open with a violent push. The three of them all looked over to the doorway. Tyler Gillian barged into the lab with his usual presumptuousness, assuming he always had an invitation and a right to walk in and claim the space.
Tyler looked like he should have been the high school class president. As the Director of P.R. and Marketing, a title which he wore like a badge, he made a point to dress impeccably, he made sure his hair was always in place, and he wore a smile that was probably used to seduce ladies into one-night stands during his college days at the fraternity house. Tyler was a diplomat. Sloane was sure that the only reason he didn’t run for political office was that he would have to wait until he was 35 before he could run for president.
It amazed her that his position paid enough to warrant the expensive suits; surely her work was more important than his. It wasn’t that she wanted the money -- this was just another one of the mysteries of life that eluded her, like the mystery of why her family always badgered her.
Tyler always had one of two looks on his face: either he looked perfectly calm and collected, saying what his department needed as if it were a scientific law and that it would be done, and that’s when he’d plaster on that charming grin of his to get his way, or else he had a look of panic on his face, one of where he was “in a crisis situation,” where he was “in code red,” and he needed to “put out fires” and “eliminate the problem A.S.A.P.” to save the company from an otherwise inevitable peril. Usually when he looked panicked, he’d end up talking the problem out with someone and throwing look number one, the charming look, on his face, in order to recruit all the help he’d need to solve his crisis of the day.
He barged in to the laboratory, and she assumed he’d have look number two on his face. She was right. Tyler quickly scanned the room until he found her, then he charged over, indifferent to the other laboratory technicians in his way.
“Sloane Emerson, just the woman I desperately needed to see. You’re the woman that can save the day, my dear.”
“Tyler, the last time I checked you were in the P.R. department and I was in the research department.”
“But you know that what I’m marketing is you.”
“What I thought you were marketing was Emivir.”
“But people want the whole package, you know they want you.”
Sloane dropped her head an almost imperceptible level, and only Howard and Kyle noticed. They looked at each other and smiled.
“So, Tyler, what is the crisis of the day?”
“I know this isn’t very scientific, but you can help me out of this one.” He attempted his award-winning grin; it never worked on her. “Remember that lobby group that said our production speed wasn’t good enough because we’re not getting enough of Emivir on the market?”
“Yes, Tyler?” She felt she almost needed to bat her eyelashes to mock his fake wooing.
“They just said in a press conference that we should either out-source the production to more plants or we should open up the production of Emivir to competing markets.”
Sloane stood up with this stab. “What?” she almost yelled.
“I know, I know, it’s our drug, that would be like revoking our patent from us, and unless they get a law from the government it’s not going to happen. But this is making us look like we’re the bad guys.”
“Tell them that we’re expanding production. We need to not only make sure the drugs meet up to our standards, but we also we need to make sure there is enough product for patients to not only get on the drug, but stay on the drug. What we’re doing is in the patient’s best interests.”
“Well now that same group is also complaining that we should lower our prices because we’re destroying the market, since no one can afford to buy the drugs.”
“Oh, and is that why our production plants are running at capacity and people are still waiting for more? Because no one is willing to pay for Emivir?”
“I know, I know, but these are the masses we’re talking about, they’re not rocket scientists, or medical researchers, for that matter.”
“But Tyler, the cost to produce Emivir is extremely expensive. There are so many man-made elements to this drug that it’s a seven-week process to completely make one batch of the drug.”
“I know, I know --”
“And why do people think that businesses are making so much money that they burn hundred dollar bills to light their cigars? Madison is reinvesting most of the profits from Emivir to work on better drugs for AIDS patients. Why do people not see that?”
“I know, but there are the people --”
“Tyler, if our drugs were so expensive, then wouldn’t they be alarmingly more expensive than other protease inhibitors? And they’re not, are they? They cost just about the same amount, and Emivir is a much better product.”
“I know, but that’s not all of it. This group is also suggesting that Madison should be donating some of our drugs to poor who can’t afford Emivir, you know, on a ’compassionate use’ basis.”
“If you know all of this, why do you come to me? You’re saying that they think Madison is made of money? That money comes out of his pores?”
“It might be a good public relations investment to --”
When she heard the words “good public relations investment,” she thought about the dream that woke her up early this morning. “So what you’re saying is that most people should pay for our product, but if some people beg enough, no matter how sick they are, we should give them upwards of twenty thousand dollars a year for free?”
“I don’t know why you --”
“Look, Tyler, you know I find it extremely irritating that these people try to lay claim to our product. That’s why you come in here and tell me, in the hope that I will help you out of this. But I also find it extremely irritating that you can’t keep a lid on this, seeing that you’re the Marketing God, and I’m in the lowly research department.”
“It’s just that --”
“Okay, Tyler, I’ve heard enough. We lowly research people have to go to work now and find the cures to diseases you want to sell to people.”
Tyler stopped trying to interrupt her. He raised his eyebrows slightly, and tried to smile.
“Tyler, why don’t you use that smile of yours when you explain in a press conference why the lobbyists are wrong? You can woo anyone with that smile.”
“Except you, Sloane.”
“Of course. But it’s not me you have to convince.”
They looked at each other for another long moment.
“Now Tyler, I’m sure you have a lot of important work to do, so I wouldn’t want to keep you.”
“Okay, I get it.”
“If you need anything, I’m sure you’ll let me know.”
And with that she turned back to the list Kyle was attempting to write out while this bureaucratic tragi-comedy was unfolding before the entire research department. Tyler walked toward the door.
Kyle was writing notes for what would obviously become the Monday morning meeting, and not the Friday afternoon meeting. He could tell that there was no way they’d be able to meet about their plans before then. During reading Kyle’s notes she looked up at the wall clock above the door as Tyler walked out.
“I told you there’s a lot to do,” Kyle said. “And when I came here this morning I was just thinking about how boring the scenery was in this commute.”
“At least we get something closer to a view of water here, being just off Second Street and closer to Washington. And you know, I’ve never thought about what it looked like around here.”
“Where do you come in from?”
“Closer to the airport, you know, by Kent. Makes the trip in easier for the office to be on the south side of Seattle. And just think, all this that we have had to deal with, and it’s not even nine-thirty yet.”
Sloane got up, told Kyle to keep writing notes for the meeting, and went out the door to get a cup of coffee.
“What is it about people?” She thought. “Why do they feel like they can go to the government using all scare tactics, to make companies give them money?” She made it to the coffee machine; everyone in the break room looked at her strangely.
She turned to a receptionist in the break room, one that was sitting down and taking a smoke break. “Are you looking at me like that because the conversation I just had with Tyler is already being gossiped about?”
“You’ve got to admit it’s a strange thing when someone here can get away with giving Mr. Gillian lip like that, Ms. Emerson. But then again, we love to hear the way you talk to people.”
Not even registering the receptionist’s name she answered, “Why is that?”
“You just have the guts to say it like it is. Seldom do people get the chance to do that.”
“Why would you say anything other than saying it ’the way it is?’ And why don’t people get the chance to do it? I mean, you just say what needs to be said.”
“Some people aren’t in the position of being punished for voicing an unfavorable opinion.”
Leaning over the table the receptionist was sitting at, she had to answer her. “Let me tell you something. If you know you’re right, and someone tries to squelch you, get out. You’re slowly killing yourself if you don’t.”
The receptionist smiled at her, understanding. But the girl still felt apprehensive -- even Sloane could see that.

Kyle just tried to take a moment to relax. He knew relaxing was never enough, but he tried to do it every once in a while anyway.
He knew it was morning, but he didn’t know if his wife would get a phone message before Kyle got home from work. He thought about not calling.
He knew that avoiding the call would be an easy way out, though.
He reached over for a phone and dialed his number. He didn’t know what he would say on the answering machine. He listened to his wife’s voice on the answering machine on the phone. He listened for the beep.
He still didn’t know what he would say.
He waited to hear the beep on the answering machine to finish before he started speaking.
“Hey, I thought I might be able to catch you. I didn’t realize what time it was. I wanted to let you know that I thought of you. And I guess I wanted to say that I really do think about you, even when all this other crap is going on here at work. And I love you. Sometimes I forget to say that. Anyway, be good, be safe, and I’ll be home tonight. Thanks for listening. If You need to, call me at work. I’ll talk to you soon.”
Kyle put the receiver down when he was finished talking. He wondered if his wife would hear the message, or if Kyle would just tell her tonight that he tried to call.
Maybe then he would hold her. That might make things better, if they had a little time together for each other.

Sloane walked out of the break room with her coffee and decided that she needed to voice her opinion a little more. She walked down the hallway, took a left turn, and went up the stairs to the executive branch. She walked to the end of the hallway to the president’s door.
She turned to the owner’s private receptionist. “Is Mr. Madison seeing anyone right now?”
“No, he’s not, Ms. Emerson. Should I tell him you’re here?”
“Why, yes, I would,” She responded. Why else would she be standing here asking if Mr. Madison was seeing anyone, she thought. She slid her sleeve slightly up her arm. Her watch read 9:52.
“Mr. Madison, Sloane Emerson is here to see you.” It amazed her that everyone here knew her name, even though she was sure she’d never met any of them before.
“You can go right in, Ms. Emerson,” She heard from the desk, and with that she moved through the doors to Colin Madison’s office.
The one thing she liked about Colin’s office was that it wasn’t cluttered. She imagined a president’s office being all dark wood with ornate trimmings, and knick-knacks everywhere, elaborate lamps and gold pen-holders collecting dust on the desk. Colin Madison’s office was clean, bright, with one painting and a select few framed certificates on the walls. His table was glass. Everything was clean, organized.
She liked Colin; she liked the fact that they were on a first-name basis and that she felt comfortable calling him by his first name. He was a businessman more than he was an executive, and she could relate to him on that level.
She thought back to the Madison Pharmaceuticals Emivir party, held at his house. She met his wife, Bethany, then. When she walked through the doors she noticed two things. She noticed that everyone seemed very concerned about what clothes they were wearing and who they were talking to more than what they were talking about. But she also noticed that the Madison home was very rich, that was the only way she could describe it. She was used to the clean lines of Colin’s office, what she didn’t expect was the antique vases and chandeliers and Persian rugs that were obviously chosen by his wife in their home. Bethany by any standard was a socialite; she concerned herself with shopping, owning just the right help around the house, and being above everyone else. Sloane could never understand this, and she couldn’t understand how Colin fit in with this.
But she never asked questions about his private life; she preferred to think of him as a good businessman, as a businessman who trusted her ability and gave her the opportunity to excel at her work.
And it paid off for Colin Madison, so she was in good favor with the owner of the company.
She walked toward the desk. “I’m sorry to come in unannounced, I’m sure you have a lot --”
“You know that if I let you in it’s because I want to hear from you. Besides, I always have time for you.” Colin Madison was one of the few men, other than her father, who could successfully interrupt her. But it was only Colin Madison’s interruptions that Sloane didn’t mind. “Now, what can I do for you?”
“I wanted to talk to you about Tyler Gillian.”
“Oh, yes, I just got off the phone with him. He seems to be a little upset.”
“Colin, is it my job to tell him how to do his job?”
“No, of course it isn’t. I know what Tyler’s up to; he’s just looking for someone to help him, so that if his plan fails he’ll have someone to blame.”
“Is that what you think, Colin?”
“He is a marketing man, you know. His job is to do marketing for this company, but it’s in his blood to market himself.”
“I just want to know how you’d like me to deal with him.”
“However you want to. If he wants to scream and cry, let him. Although you know it would be helpful if you showed up for a few words at an occasional press conference.”
“You know I don’t like those press conferences, the reporters always ask the most inane questions. Couldn’t Someone like Kyle Mackenzie or Howard Shindo go in my place?”
“Maybe. You can work that out with your men and then talk to Tyler about it. But people know your name, so you can understand why they’d like to hear from you once in a while.”
“I suppose. I’ll try to be better about it... I’m sorry to hear about the flack you’re getting from that lobby group. You know you’re doing the best for your market, which in turn is the best for your company, but no one else seems to think that way. I think they all just think you’re made of money.”
“Well, what if I am?”
Sloane smiled at his question. “It still doesn’t mean they have a right to it. It’s yours, and you earned it.”
Colin smiled at her. “You know, you’re one of the few people I know who would say that to me -- and mean it.”
Still smiling, she knew that this is why she liked Colin. “I think that on some levels business is a science. You have to follow certain rules in order to keep your business successfully running. The part I don’t understand is the public opinion factor, you know, the Tyler Gillian factor.”
“And that’s why you’re the head of the research department. I’ll make sure Tyler stops bothering you.”
“I just wanted to know that this wasn’t a part of my job, that I was right to say the things I did to Tyler.”
“Consider the matter closed. Now, there is something I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Yes, Colin? What is it?”
“You know you could be conferring with other scientists more, that’s why I told you that you can use the company plane whenever you needed it.”
“I know, I’ve been starting to use my e-mail account more, too, to communicate with other researchers more.”
“I just wanted to let you know that option was still open. Just check the flight schedule, at the main reception desk, to see if it’s free, and it’s yours.”
“Thank you, sir, I will keep that in mind. Is there anything else you need?”
“Yes. Take a vacation. Hell, fly somewhere this weekend, the plane is free. Just get some rest.”
“I’ll do what I can, sir. Thanks. And if I don’t talk to you sooner, have a good weekend.” She turned and walked to the door.
“You have a good weekend, too,” she heard Colin Madison say before his door shut behind her.
As she walked back down the maze of hallways, she attempted to take the first sip of her coffee, which at this point was cold. She threw it into the first garbage can she could find.
By the time she made it back to the main laboratory room, the clock above the doorway read 11:08. She couldn’t believe that she didn’t even sit down in her own office yet, after being in the office for five hours.

Kyle was the first man to talk to her when she got back into the lab. “Well, do you want the good news?” He asked her.
“What good news?”
“There’s another reception dinner,” Kyle answered. “Want to go? It’s next weekend.”
Looking confused, she had to ask. “Why is there another party?”
“It’s more of an AIDS party than a research party. But it would look good if we both went to it.”
“An AIDS party?” she thought; she still didn’t know how to react to this party. A part of her didn’t even want to go. “Well...”
“A friend of mine, Steve, he wants to go, you could even talk to him if you got tired of the dinner party.”
“I’m bad with names. Who is this Steve guy?”
“A friend of mine. I’ve known him since college. He’s a teacher. But he finds research talk interesting ... unless he just seems interested for my benefit. I don’t know - but he wants to go, and he’s not coming with anyone, so...” Kyle knew it was pointless for him to suggest that Sloane and Steve should be a date; that would make Sloane want to not go.
“...Is he that friend of yours that comes into the office every once in a while, shorter than me, curly brown hair?”
“That’s the guy. So... Are you going?”
Pausing for a moment, she finally answered. “I don’t want him to think I’m going to say yes so I can have a date with him.”
“He’d want to see you because he’d want someone to talk to.”
“Fine. Tell him that I’ll be doing work while I’m there though.
“Got it,” Kyle answered, noting that She wanted to leave this conversation.
“Give me a copy of the plans, the location, so I can get ready,” she said as she started to walk away.
“Consider it done.” Kyle watched her walk away as he spoke.
Kyle hated being the matchmaker, so he did his best to act like he had no hidden motives when talking to her. He knew that Steve did like a good conversation, but he also knew that Steve liked women and that he always thought She was cute. Kyle remembered telling Steve that She would never be interested in him, and that Steve’s response was that he always loved a good challenge.
Steve relished the thought of putting another notch on his head board with her, but Kyle knew that She wouldn’t want that and that they would just end up bickering instead of talking - and he knew they would never make love. But Kyle knew that he couldn’t argue with Steve; he knew that it was merely his role to set the table - rather, the stage, for Steve and Sloane.

###

Later She walked into the lab and people were waiting for her. “Sloane! We’ve been looking all over for you,” one of the technicians said to her.
“I was in Colin’s office. What’s the matter?”
“A colleague called for you. They didn’t want to leave a message. They said it was urgent that they talk to you. They said they’d call back at 11:15.”
“And did they leave a name?” It amazed her that she had to ask.
“Oh, yes, I’m sorry, it was Tobias Graham, from the university’s medical research department, the viral branch.”
“I’ll be here when he calls. Make sure the call comes straight through.”
She walked into her office. There was a small stack of mail sitting in the center of her desk. A few journals were sitting in a pile on the chair that faced her desk.
“I’ll get to all that later,” Sloane thought.
She walked around her desk to her seat. She almost forgot what her chair felt like. She never worked in her office; when she was at work she wanted to be literally in the lab. She could read at home.
She slid her sleeve slightly up her wrist. 11:12. She knew she couldn’t start working on something; she had to just wait out the next three minutes.
She didn’t know how to wait.
She took her mail from her desk and the journals from her second chair and placed them in her briefcase, thinking she could get to them during the weekend.
Sitting back down, she thought about the fires she had to put out this morning. “How do they expect me to get any work done,” she thought, “if I’m saving everyone else in the company first?” It seemed to be getting more and more problematic, she thought, it seemed that more and more people from different departments were asking for help to save them from their problems.
She leaned back in her chair. The phone rang.
“Sloane Emerson.”
“Sloane, hey, it’s Toby.”
“Toby, where are you?”
“Brazil. Look, I can’t explain it now, I --”
“Were you doing more rain forest studies?”
“Yes, but I’m on my way back to the U.S. now. I was wondering if there was any way you could meet me in Miami in a few hours.”
“Miami? You mean this can’t wait until you get back into Seattle?”
“I could really use someone to talk to about what’s happened. This research I’ve been doing is a complete mess. Can I bounce some of it off of you?”
Sloane thought about Colin’s plane offer, thinking that this could be a business expense as well as a personal trip. “Sure, Toby, I can make it. Where should I meet you?”
Toby told her his flight number; since his flight wasn’t for hours she told him she’d meet him at the gate when he arrived.
Hanging up the phone, she picked it up immediately, dialing the main receptionist. “This is Sloane Emerson. Is the plane still open this weekend?”
“Yes it is, Ms. Emerson.”
“Please have it ready to go to Miami within the next hour. I’m leaving the office now; I need to meet a colleague.” She felt like she needed to tell the receptionist that this was a business trip.
“No problem, Ms. Emerson. The pilot Jim will be waiting at the airport.”
Sloane got up and grabbed her trench coat, her umbrella and her briefcase. Would this help her with her search for the key to her puzzle? Or would this be just another dead end? She looked at the mail billowing out of the front pocket of her briefcase. “At least I’ll have reading material for the plane,” she thought, and she walked out of the office.


chapter 2

The Rain Forest Experiment

Turning to the room, Howard asked, “Do you have any idea where she’s going?” to everyone in the room. “She was waiting for a call from Tobias Graham,” a young technician answered.
“Oh, Toby,” Kyle answered. “I’d assume she’s meeting him somewhere.”
“When has she ever left before six in the evening?” Howard asked.
“She did have a strange look on her face,” Kyle said. “I hope she’s taking a break with Toby and spending some time with him as a friend instead of talking about their research.”
“You know her; it’s got to be business,” Howard said. “You know she wouldn’t leave work early to be social. She wouldn’t leave on time to be social. But on the plus side, at least no one will be barging in here looking for her.” Howard turned to Kyle and smiled.
“Yeah, but those confrontations are entertaining to watch,” Kyle smiled back. “Now all we get to do today is work.”
They both smiled as they turned away from each other and went back to what they were working on.

###

Before Sloane got to the plane she checked her messages at home. Normally she did not worry about her phone, but seeing that she was in such a rush she did not even get the chance to change her answering machine. She dialed her number and pressed the code to listen to her machine messages.

“Hi, it’s your dad, didn’t know how you were doing. We didn’t get a chance to talk much when we saw each other last, and I know you are at work, but this was my only time between working here, so when you get the chance, give me a call. Talk to you soon.”

“Miss Emerson, hi, it’s Kyle’s friend, Steve... I know you weren’t expecting someone who was almost a stranger to call, but Kyle gave me your number, and I know this will sound silly, but it would be cool to have someone to talk to next weekend. If you need to, my number is three six four ten sixty-three, ’cause I’m always up for a refresher course on the work you guys do. Otherwise I’ll see you next weekend.”

Those were the only two messages, though she was surprised that there were that many messages there in the first place. Making a point to write down Steve’s phone number and to call her dad and Steve back, she smiled, hung up the phone and made her way to the plane.
After sitting down, she thought it was strange to be on this plane. She was used to seats in rows of three with no legroom and a thin aisle. This plane had large, roomy seats, some facing inward, toward the aisle, some facing forward, and there were a few cocktail tables and large counters bolted to the floor. This was a social airplane. This was a plane for entertaining guests.
“So, Jim, when’s the flight attendant going to get on the plane and show me how to fasten my seat belt?”
The pilot laughed. “Haven’t you been on enough flights to know your safety rules, Ms. Emerson?”
“Please, call me Sloane, and yes, I think I could mimic every move those people do. You know... ’If there is a change in cabin pressure, your oxygen mask will come down. Place the mask over your head and continue breathing normally; the bag will not fill up, but there will be a continuous stream of oxygen. If you are taking care of a minor, place your mask on first, then assist the child.’” The pilot was laughing at the show she was putting on, using two fingers to point where the oxygen masks and exit rows were. “And those flight attendants mock putting the mask on over their heads, but they never put the elastic around their head, because they can’t mess up their hair.”
“You do know how it’s done then.”
“What I can’t imagine is how infuriating it must be for those flight attendants to have to do this degrading little exercise and as they’re looking around the cabin they can see that no one, I mean, no one, is paying attention to them. And still, they have to stand there, do these silly gestures, pull the loose end of the seat belt, point to the lights along the aisle.”
“I never thought about it, actually.”
“And why do they point with two fingers? When they point at something, they use both their index finger and their middle finger, and it looks so unnatural.”
“You know, they’re actually trained to use two fingers to point those things out. In some cultures, pointing with your index finger is considered very rude, so they are trained to use two fingers so as not to offend anyone.”
Pausing, she answered. “That never occurred to me.”
“If you’ve got a screaming Japanese businessman on your plane because you pointed in his direction when you were showing the safety rules, it occurs to you.”
“I suppose it does.”
“Well, Ms. Emerson --”
“Sloane, please.”
“Okay, Sloane, since there is no flight attendant here, let me tell you to keep your seat belt on during take offs and landings. And the other important thing you need to know is where the refrigerator is. It’s stocked with a few sandwiches, I think there’s ham, tuna salad, roast beef and turkey, and there’s just about any liquor you could want in there, too. Usually people go for the champagne, and actually, I think the bubbles help with people who feel queasy flying.”
“Got it, Jim. Can I ask another question?”
“Of course.”
“This plane isn’t too big for you to fly by yourself?”
“No. Actually, if this plane were any bigger by law I’d need someone with me. But this plane is fine for me. Besides, they add all these control features on planes like this, like ’auto pilot’, so this plane could literally fly itself. Why do you ask -- do you not feel safe?”
“I’m just amazed that this much machinery flying in the air can be comfortably controlled by one person.”
“Visit the cockpit while we’re up and I’ll show you how it works.”
“Thanks. What time should we get to Miami?”
“Oh, right around seven o’clock their time.”
“Thanks, Jim.”
“No problem.”
Jim walked into the cockpit and closed the door behind him.
After leaning back, she could only close her eyes. She figured she’d wait until after they took off to get her work out. Besides, she thought her briefcase should be stowed away under her seat during take-off, right? She waited for the plane to move. She enjoyed airplanes; she liked knowing that a large, heavy piece of machinery could lift her up into the air and fly her across the country, or around the world. She listened to the engine start up; the plane made its way to the runway. The engine always seemed loudest when it just started up, it always forced her to pay to the motors the attention they deserved. Someone made this engine, She thought. Someone made it, not merely put it together, but someone created this engine. Someone figured out a way to create the power to fly, to move, faster and faster, with this machinery. Someone created this.
“I want to create like that” as all that kept going through her head..
Leaning back in her chair, she felt the plane moving faster and faster down the runway. She could feel the first wheel leave the ground, then the others. She was in the air.
With the nose of the plane pointing so high, it felt like she was almost lying down. She felt the pressure of gravity pulling all of her body into the seat. It felt like her clothes were being pressed to her skin. It reminded her of when she would go to amusement parks when she was a child and go in the spinning room where the floor fell out from underneath her. Once she accidentally swallowed her gum on that ride; it was almost impossible for her not to have swallowed her gum, the force of the ride spinning was strong against her.
Having the chance to lean back in her seat, she got to enjoy the ride, until the plane leveled off. Straightening her hair, she opened her eyes and sat upright. She reached under her seat and looked into her briefcase. She almost pulled out her computer, but she decided that her notepad and pen would do the same job. She saw the messages to call her dad and Steve. A flurry of thoughts went through her head; she didn’t entirely understand why her dad was calling her, she thought they had caught up at dinner, and then she thought about what she should make of the phone call from Steve. “Men aren’t usually calling me,” Sloane first thought, but then she thought that it might be just what she needed, someone to talk to about work that wasn’t in the field, someone that might actually want to listen. Then she thought about the work she had to do when she got back to the office, and she wrote down:

1. Improve Emivir
2. Integrase Inhibitor
3. Improve side effects and ease-of-use for drugs

Then she stared at her list; she drew a line under her list and wrote:

--------------------------
4. a vaccine
5. a cure

After putting her pen down, she looked out the window.
“It’s not as bad as it seems,” she said under her breath, looking at the clouds the airplane was flying over outside her window.
She had to look over her list.
“There has to be something I’m missing. Just look at this from a different angle,” she thought. She looked at her list. She stopped on point three. She picked up her pen, and drew another line again.

--------------------------
6. psychological treatment
6a. alleviate depression, may help immune system
6b. help memory to take drugs, and keep positive attitude
7. homeopathy
7a. nutrition, diet and herbs to improve general health
7b. herbs to alleviate nausea for patients who experience side effects and to make injections more plausible
7c. vitamins and herbs with effects on immune system
7d. is there a psychologically positive effect of eating things good for you?
--------------------------

Homeopathy stuck in her head as she looked at her list of notes on homeopathy. She was surprised that she knew nothing about this. She never thought of the nutritional aspect of illness and health. She remembered that in order to get her degrees, she needed only three hours -- one class -- on nutrition. And no one in the medical community in America seems to give anything credence for health benefits other than a drug -- at least not on paper.
Tearing the paper off of the note pad, she put it in her briefcase. She pulled out her mail and her journals, placed them all on the table before her and started reading.
A few hours later, while she was still reading, she heard her pilot’s voice over the speakers in the cabin. “Have you been working all of this time? Have you eaten any food yet? You have to be starving by now.”
The door to the cockpit was open; Jim was glancing back at her.
“Okay, okay, I’ll get some food.”
“Good. You know it will be after dinner by the time you get settled in Miami,” she heard over the speakers in the cabin. She knew he was right and slowly walked to the back of the plane and grabbed a turkey sandwich and a can of juice. She looked at the champagne in the refrigerator before closing the door.
Instead of going to her seat, she went to the cockpit. Maybe Jim was right, she thought, she probably needed a break from her work.
Standing in the doorway, she looked at the tiny cockpit. “Mind if I come in here? I’ve never been in a cockpit before, and yes, I would like to see how you fly this plane all by yourself.”
“Sure, come on in. there’s an empty seat here.”
Sitting down, she opened the wrapping from the sandwich and peeled it down. “Is it okay to eat in here? Oh, wait, will you need some food? I should have asked before.”
“No, I’m fine, I ate right before we left Seattle.”
With eyes transfixed over all the controls, she then looked up at the sky in front of her. The sky unfolded rows and rows of billowing clouds in the panoramic picture windows before her.
“You know, the sky looks a lot better here than from the passenger seats.”
“You know, seeing the world from this high is going to be a lot better when you have a window bigger than a magazine cover.”
Sitting for a few minutes in silence, eating her sandwich and drinking her apple juice, she smiled while Jim radioed controllers at the ground to check for weather conditions. A few minutes passed, and then she spoke.
“Jim?”
“Yes?”
“What kind of feeling do you get when you’re flying a plane?”
“You mean, while I’m in the air?”
“Yes. You’re in this cockpit, dealing with all of these controls, high above the ground. Do you ever get lonely or scared?”
“Lonely? Scared? No, not at all, Ms. Emerson.”
“Sloane.”
“Sorry. No, Sloane, I don’t get scared at all. I feel, well, I don’t know how to say it, but when I’m up here I feel like I have more control than I do anywhere else in the world. This is my space, this is my domain, and it makes me feel, well, I don’t quite know how to put it...” Jim paused while speaking. “Alive, I guess. I guess I could feel scared, but here I know that if I do something wrong it’s my fault, there’s no one here to tell me how to do my work or to second guess me. I never get tired of flying airplanes. And as for lonely, well, no, I don’t feel lonely, either. I guess I’m alone up here a lot, but there’s a difference between being alone and being lonely. And when I’m up here, flying, I could never feel lonely. I feel like I have everything I need right in this little cockpit, flying in the air.”
“Are you sure you don’t need anything? I think I’m going to put my work away, I could bring you something.”
“No, really, I’m fine. Yeah, you should pack your stuff up, I think we’re going to be landing in about twenty minutes.”
“Really? We’ve been on the plane that long?”
“Yes. Apparently you lose yourself in your work, too.”
Sloane walked to the door of the cockpit. “I suppose I do,” she said as she walked back to her seat to prepare for the descent into Miami International Airport.
The airplane arrived at the airport only about fifteen minutes before Toby’s plane was landing, so She didn’t have to wait long for Toby to arrive. She stood at the security gate, just past the customs agents, pulling out the last journal from her briefcase. She leaned against the railing along the window.
Was he was going to give her any answers, as all she kept asking herself. She knew that she was supposed to be there for him as a friend; that’s why he asked her to meet him in Miami. But she knew she wanted information about his search for a solution to the AIDS mystery. She wanted to get somewhere with her search, and she traveled across the country to try to get it.
Toby walked through the passenger terminal toward the security gates. He spotted her before she saw him, which is the way he preferred it to be: he could then look at her for one long moment before having to collect himself. Something about Sloane Emerson appealed to Toby, but he could never understand why. “But she’s not very feminine looking,” Toby thought, “...her jaw is even sharp and rigid...”
Toby saw her sitting on a ledge along the window at the side of the terminal. Her trench coat was over her right arm, and she was holding her journal in her right hand, and holding the strap of her overnight bag on her shoulder in her left hand. She was wearing beige slacks and a white button-down shirt. He could see that she was wearing a gray tank top underneath her shirt. Her hair kept falling into her eyes; she continually had to let go of her luggage strap to guide her hair back behind her ear with her fingertips. She stared at her journal. For that moment, she saw nothing other than the words she was reading and processing in her brain. And for that moment, Toby could see nothing other than her.
It took him about thirty seconds to be processed by customs. He walked out of the hallway and to the open area where she was waiting and started walking toward her. She looked up at him.
“Toby! I didn’t even see you coming.” Standing up, she crammed her journal into her briefcase and put her arms around him. Toby smiled.
“That was the warmest greeting you’ve ever given me.”
“I forget that my friends need reminders from me that I’m their friend. How was your flight?”
“Fine. I don’t have any luggage, so let me just run into the bathroom and then we can go to the hotel.”
“Oh, a hotel,” she answered. “I completely forgot about where I’d stay.”
“Don’t worry. I made sure I got a room with two beds.”
“I’m sure I could get my own room.”
“What for? Look, don’t bother buying a room, it doesn’t make any sense.”
“you’ve got a point... So, get to the bathroom, will you?”
Toby smiled at her again and walked to the bathroom. It occurred to her then that Toby was smiling all the time. She couldn’t actually imagine that he was that happy all the time, it just couldn’t be possible. She watched him walk to the bathroom; as she watched him she thought that he looked like he belonged on a beach in California and not in a laboratory in the dreariest city in the United States. His blond hair was long on the top and short on the sides and bounced with him whenever he walked. His usual five o’clock shadow looked like little spears of copper and light brown. He almost always wore jeans, faded ones, with a t-shirt and sometimes a sports coat. He looked like he needed a convertible to complete the outfit.
They walked in stride through the airport and found a taxi. “The Pelican Coast Hotel,” Toby said as the taxi sped off toward the expressway.
Toby checked in while Sloane stood by his side. She thought it was strange that she was with a man in a hotel; she usually checked herself in, because she usually traveled alone. They went to their room. Sloane started unpacking her bag.
“Can’t that wait? Let’s get a drink at the bar.”
“I want to hang my clothes so that they don’t get more wrinkled.”
“Okay. How about I meet you down there?”
“Sure.”
Toby bounced his way out of the door. Noticing that he was his usual happy self, she still thought that he seemed much better than he was when he called from South America earlier that day. She walked over to the thermostat. It was 76 degrees in the room. She turned the temperature down and took off the white blouse that was over her tank top before heading downstairs.
Toby was sitting at a corner table in the hotel bar. It was relatively quiet; usually the tourists went to other bars on the weekends. He saw her walk through the lobby and enter the bar. He saw that She had taken off her white shirt in her room and was wearing only the tank top with her slacks. Toby wasn’t expecting this. He knew She thought of her clothes as only functional garments; that they were doing a job for her. It was warm in the hotel; she wouldn’t have a need for her white blouse; it served its function; it could now rest from its duty.
But now he saw her shoulders.
He noticed how she moved around the tables through the room. When she maneuvered around a table or a chair she turned one shoulder to the front, as if it were a guiding force, as if she was steering with her shoulders, as if she were about to shove her way through a crowd in a room. She held her purse in her hand, and even in how her arms held her purse, it seemed as if her limbs consciously knew they served a function and should do it effectively. Toby was transfixed on her shoulders and arms as she made her way to the table.
He stood up and pulled out the chair for her. As he was seating her, She asked, “Okay, I’m here. Care to tell me what’s going on?”
“Is it always business with you?”
“Toby, you called me this morning upset, asking me to fly across the country, and now that I’m here you act like nothing has happened. Can you explain it to me?”
The waiter walked up and placed a wine glass down in front of her. “I hope a Chardonnay was a good pick. I didn’t know what you’d want.” The waiter finished pouring and brought a shot of whiskey and a draft beer for Toby.
The waiter walked away. “Shots, already?” She asked.
“Look, I’ll get it out, but I just wanted to say,” and he raised his shot glass in the gesture of a toast, and She followed his lead, “that I’m really happy that you came here. I mean, I’m glad that you thought this was worth traveling to Miami for. I do need to talk to you, but I just want you to know that I appreciate the effort you’ve made. Thanks.”
Their glasses clinked; Toby threw his head back with the glass and grabbed his beer to chase it down while She watched him and took the first sip of her wine.
“Look, remember the last trip I took to South America, to look into natural materials that may have anti-viral effects on humans?”
“The natural materials, and yes, and Toby, I’m still amazed that you got the funding for it. You didn’t even know how to go about looking for material for AIDS drugs.”
“You forget that I work for the government, you and your little company probably would never have funded it, but the government did. That’s why I like working for the university. All I had to do was make the proposal sound nice.”
“You just had to make it sound nice,” She replied, almost with a condescending undertone.
“Yes, you know what I mean.”
“So getting money doesn’t necessarily depend on merit or talent?”
“Oh, don’t start, I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“And you said the government pays for it?”
“Well, yes, to the university.”
“Who pays the government?”
“What?”
“Who pays the government?”
“Um, taxes, I guess.”
“Yes, they do. And who pays taxes?”
“Okay, you can stop now.”
“I’m just trying to gently remind you that your money has to come from somewhere, it’s not like the government is giving you free money, it was taken from somewhere else, taken from all the people who pay taxes.”
“Sloane --”
“That everyone pays money so that you can go to South America searching for plants when you don’t even know exactly what it is you’re looking for.”
“Sloane --”
“Okay, okay, I’m done, I’m getting off my soapbox now.”
“Thanks.”
“So on your last trip...”
“So on my last trip I managed to find something from the sap on the back of some bark there, and we brought it back to the States, and it seemed to do a very good job of fighting the virus.”
“Yes, you told me about it, what was it, two months ago?”
“Yes.”
“In fact, there’s a little write-up about you and your findings in a medical journal I was reading on the flight over here.”
“Really? Did you read it?”
Sloane did her best to put a coy expression on her face. “Maybe...”
Toby laughed. “We did a bunch of laboratory tests on it and it seemed to be doing really well, so we administered it to four test subjects. Half of them showed marked improvements in their condition -- their viral load dropped and their T-Cell count shot up. For the other two the substance had no impact.”
“Still, that’s great, with a little engineering you can find out what made the substance not work for the others and alter it to give it a higher success rate.”
“Exactly. In doing all of these tests, we used up all of the drug.”
“Oh, so you were going back now to get more of the bark.”
“To get the sap -- not the bark.”
“So you were going back to get more of the sap.”
“Exactly.”
Toby emphasized his last word too much; Sloane was sure he intentionally placed too much emphasis on that word. She looked at him for a moment. “And... how did the trip go?”
“How did my trip go?” Toby almost laughed as he signaled the waiter for another shot. “I go back to the same place where I found that tree, because you know how rain forests go, a tree there might be the only one of its species, or one like it may be very far away from it instead of right next to it, it’s a very diverse and very rich area.” The waiter brought up the shot; Toby held up his finger while he did the shot and handed the shot glass to the waiter and gestured for another. “I go back to that same place where I found that tree, and you know what I found?” He took a swig of his beer.
“What happened, Toby?”
“What happened is that some American cattle-ranching beef company or something bought a thousand acres of the land my tree was on and they cleared all one hundred acres for cattle ranch. Cleared. I mean, my tree was right smack-dab in the middle of the hundred acres. And it was completely gone. This field looked like it could have been right in the middle of Illinois or Iowa. Not a tree in sight. There was a little fence all the way around and a little sign every hundred yards at the fence line with the company name on it.”
“So you had to come back empty-handed.”
“Yes, I had to come back empty-handed.”
“Is there any way that company could have known that researchers were using the material on that land for disease research? I mean, could you have notified the government or something?”
“I did notify the government. But how accurately are they going to keep records in different departments of these things? They make a note of what I’m doing and they seem to just put it in a file cabinet. Hell, they could have put it in the circular file for all the good it did. When someone wanted to buy the land, the government was the first to want to make a penny out of it.”
“Well, of course they want the money for it. And if no one really knew...”
“There’s so much bureaucracy, no one knows what the guy next to them is doing, unless they’re doing something wrong.”
Sloane looked at him for a moment. “Is there anything I can do?”
“Get me that tree back.”
“Toby --”
“I’m sorry.”
It all flashed in her mind that she should learn to be more social, especially in these situations. She did the best she could on such short notice by saying, “I mean, do you need to talk more? What can I do right now to make you feel better?”
Toby was surprised by her concern. He responded by stating, “It’s not like you to make such an offer.”
“I didn’t make an offer.”
The waiter brought another shot to Toby. “Point well taken.”
The waiter walked away. Toby looked at his shot, then at her. “You know what you can do for me?”
“Name it.”
“Just have a drink with me.”
“Isn’t that what I’m doing?”
Toby looked at her, then at her half-full glass of wine.
“Waiter,” She called out, “Two more shots of whiskey and two pints of his draft.”
Toby could hardly believe his eyes. He smiled almost inquisitively at her.
The waiter brought back two shots and beers. Sloane picked up the shot with Toby and they held them in the air. Toby counted to three; She followed his lead and they both drank. Sloane shivered after drinking the shot and followed his lead in going for the beer to wash the whiskey down. Toby thought it was cute that she was doing this for him, knowing that she didn’t drink much, and he watched her as he drank.

###

Sloane took the hotel key from Toby’s pocket and leaned Toby up against the wall. “Now you stay right there young man, don’t move,” Sloane ordered Toby while she reached over and opened the door. She kept her foot in the doorway to hold the door open while she nudged Toby toward the door.
“Okay, I’m not guiding you anymore, get to the bed or bathroom yourself.” Toby lifted his head and looked at her and smiled.
“What, you can’t help a guy in need?” he asked.
“Not when I know he’s perfectly capable of doing the job himself.”
With that Toby burst out laughing. Only then did she realize what it sounded like she meant.
Toby walked to the bathroom, splashed some water on his face and walked toward the bed. Sloane stopped and leaned against the wall and watched Toby slowly walk over to the bed and fall face-first onto the bed. She smiled, grabbed a t-shirt and shorts from her drawer and went to the bathroom to change. A few minutes later she walked out into the room and pulled the covers off of her bed. Toby was in the same position as he was when she walked into the bathroom.
After she got into bed she heard Toby mutter, “Why did this happen?”
“What, Toby?”
“Why did this have to happen?”
“Toby, just get some rest.”
“But I was so close.”
Considering it for a moment, she thought: on some level it hardly did seem fair. That rain forest was much more valuable than a cattle ranch. But all she could think was: why did this have to happen? It didn’t have to. The company that bought it had a right to buy that land; they just made a bad business decision. Then again, if no one knew this patch of land was being used for research, how would they have known the value of it? The government kept poor track of things -- they made a bad mistake by making the sale.
“I know you were so close. But there’s no use in lamenting over that when there’s work to be done. Are you sure there’s no way you can use anything what’s left from the samples and try to replicate synthetically?”
She heard Toby start to snore.
Smiling, she got up and walked over to his bed. She untied his shoes. She tried to push him up the bed, so his head was on a pillow. She slid his jacket off his shoulders. She figured he could sleep in his t-shirt and jeans. She got up and turned off the light next to her bed. She sat upright in the dark for a while. She couldn’t stop thinking.
There would have to be a way to replicate that tree sap, even if he used it all in tests, as long as he kept some of the results. Maybe he could search other rain forests nearby to see if there was any chance a tree like this existed somewhere else.
She thought about Colin Madison, telling her that she has a green light financially to do whatever she needed for research. That she could use the company plane whenever she wanted. But he offered that to her because she proved her talent and created a good product. She made strides and she was being rewarded for it. Toby was given the green light because he worded his guesses appropriately and got lucky.
How could she? She couldn’t blame Toby for using the system? The government allows it, the government has created this system where independent panelists of people unrelated to the field dole out millions of dollars to the people who have a grin like Tyler Gillian, or who have a lobby group that talks the loudest.
Maybe she should blame Toby, though. She knew she didn’t want that university job; she knew she wanted to be rewarded for her merits and nothing else. Toby liked the fact that the university had this “caste” system that gave him security in his job. Now he had a bad break. He has to learn from it.
After trying to think about the rain forest, she wondered: why would it be so hard to find another tree? She realized how little she knew about the planet’s rain forests. The tree had to be seeded from another tree, right? Is his search over?
She got up and walked over to her briefcase, by the window. She quietly pulled out her computer and plugged it into the wall. “I can get on line tonight,” she thought, “and see what is on the Internet about the rain forests, and possibly about the possible relationship of AIDS and HIV to it.”
Looking out the window at the darkness for a minute, she noticed a few boat lights moving along the water. She saw the lights of the Miami were still alive, at two in the morning, even though Toby was out for the night. She saw the lights of a few bars crowded with people. And then, like a page ripped down the center, next to all the lights was the ocean, a void of blackness.
“Anything is conquerable,” She said under her breath as she closed the drapes from the ocean versus the city and went to bed. Her Internet research could wait until morning.

###

But she still thought about the Internet research, even when she wasn’t on line. This would be something she could stand some help on, she thought. Maybe the team at Madison would be able to use the Internet accounts to get more information on specific parts of the problem for the Madison group.
She knew that if there was a concern for the rain forests on the Internet, then there would probably be concerns -- and a number of web sites -- about things like “alien abductions” and “government conspiracies” and “AIDS and homeopathy” and more.
And if it was on the Internet, she could find it. And so could anyone at Madison.

###

At ten in the morning Toby rolled over. He thought he heard a slight tapping of rain outside his window. When he opened his eyes, however, he realized he was in Miami and not in Seattle, where he would expect the rain to be falling outside his window. He turned over and looked at the window. The sun beamed in, streaming around her, sitting at the table in front of the window. The light sound of rain was Sloane typing into her computer.
“How long have you been up?” Toby asked.
“Since six.”
He rolled back over to check the clock; he remembered that he was still dressed and checked his watch instead. He picked his head back up to look at her. “You’ve been up for four hours? Why didn’t you wake me?”
“You needed your rest. Besides, I wanted to get some work done.”
“Is that all you think about?”
“Sometimes.”
Toby let his head fall back on to the pillow.
“How are you feeling?” Sloane asked.
“Oh, my head hurts. Surprise. I just need some food. You’ve had breakfast, right?”
“Oh, I forgot. No, I haven’t eaten yet.”
“I can understand letting your mind go into overdrive, but doesn’t your body remind you that you have to maintain it?”
“I’m fine, besides, I’ve been so amazed at the information on the Internet that I haven’t been able to stop working. Now I know why Colin wanted me to get on line so bad.”
“What do you mean?” Toby started to sit up.
“I’ve been using the e-mail they gave us, right? Well, the boss kept telling me to use the Internet, and I don’t even think he’s ever been on it, I don’t think he knows how it works. And I’ve never had a real need to get on line before. But this morning I was thinking, I don’t know much of anything about the rain forests, really, so maybe I can get on line and learn something. Madison Pharmaceuticals has a T-1 line as well as a national dial up number, so I just got on line. I checked my e-mail, and then I got on to the Internet to see what I could find about the rain forests.”
“One question before you go on.”
“Sure.”
“Are you going to let me take you out to breakfast when you’re done?”
“You can take me to breakfast now, as long as I can tell you what I’ve learned.”
Toby got up out of bed. “Okay, I’m ready.”
“For breakfast, or my story?”
“Both. I’m dressed, aren’t I?”
Sloane laughed. Toby walked to the washroom; he turned back and looked at Sloane. and spoke. “Maybe you can wait until I have some coffee before you tell me your story.”
“It’s a deal.”
Toby ran some water through his hair while she closed her programs on her computer and shut the laptop off so they could go to a breakfast diner.
The both of them both simultaneously turned their coffee cups over as they sat down in the booth of the diner. The waitress came over and filled them up. Toby curled his left hand around the mug.
“Okay, I’m ready.”
“You know, it’s not that big of a deal...”
“Oh, just spit it out.”
“Okay, so I decided to go on the Internet to find out what I could about rain forests. So I went to a search engine and typed the words ’rain forest’ in to see what I could get. I got so many entries that I’d never be able to check all of the web sites. So I typed in the words ’rain forest destruction’ in and got a number of sites to tell me about why and how the rain forests are being destroyed.”
“And?” Toby asked.
“And did you know that the three primary reasons rain forests are being cleared are farming, cattle ranching and logging?”
“It makes sense, I suppose.”
“Did you know that orange juice sold in the United States that is from concentrate has oranges from groves in Brazil, on what used to be rain forest land?”
“Really?”
“Yes, just check the fine print on the package. Usually it will say something like ’oranges from Florida, Mexico and Brazil.’ Right on the package.”
“Wow, I had no idea.”
The waitress walked over. “Are you ready to order?”
“Sure. I’d like a Spanish omelet and hash browns, white toast.”
“Would you like any orange juice with that?”
Sloane glanced at Toby, then looked back at the waitress. “Is it from concentrate?” The waitress answered that it was.
“No, thank you,” she answered. The waitress continued, “And for you, sir?”
“Two scrambled eggs, two sausage links, hash browns, and toast?”
“Sure.”
“Actually, miss, can I change my order? What he’s having sounds good.”
“You want exactly what he’s having?”
“Yes please.”
“Okay. It’ll be up in just a few minutes.”
“So,” Sloane turned back to Toby, “I thought it was interesting to learn this stuff about rain forest destruction. Most of the people that want to save the rain forests are talking about atmospheric changes, but there’s no proof in that, and there’s not even any proof that there’s permanent damage to the ozone. I was surprised to find that people were arguing about saving the rain forests from that angle and not from the medical research angle.”
“Good point, I guess.”
“So then I went back to the search engine and typed the words ’rain forest AIDS’ to see if there was anything. Get this. There was even a site about the monkey theory about how the first human got AIDS --”
“You mean the theory that a monkey transferred the virus to a human by biting his butt? A virus jumped from animals to humans? Do you even believe that theory?”
“Just listen, I never said I believed that. What I’m saying is that this site suggested that it was the destruction of the rain forest that caused the spread of AIDS in humans.”
“From monkeys.”
“Not from monkeys biting a human butt.”
Toby laughed.
“The theory is that a man ate monkey meat that was contaminated with a virus, not that a monkey bit a man in the butt.”
“But still --”
“I’m just telling you what was on this one site. The suggestion it was making is that not only do rain forests contain a plethora of rare animals and plants, so too it could contain rare viruses.”
“A plethora?”
“And records of some viruses that have erupted since the beginning of rain forest destruction in African towns are spread by the air, not just by blood, which could mean the beginning of more drastic epidemics. And you don’t need to make fun of me because I’m coherent enough to use big words like ’plethora’ in the morning, mister drinker.”
“Mister drinker?”
“I’m going to keep telling my story.”
“No one is stopping you.”
She mockingly glared at him. “They posted the theory that if AIDS mutates as much as it has been known to, it may mutate to the point where it can be transmitted by air.”
“That’s not going to happen.”
“Are we sure?”
“If it is possible for it to mutate to that point, it will not be for years and years and years. I’m sure there will be a cure within the next decade or so.”
“Still, it’s something to ponder, something to spur you on a little more, isn’t it?” Sloane paused to eat some of her eggs. “There were a few more sites, and most of them were about herbs and vitamins and things people were selling -- products that had origins from the rain forest.”
“Like what?”
The waitress checked on their food. “Could I have some hot sauce?” Sloane asked the waitress. Toby looked at her with just a tinge of disgust. Sloane answered his glance with, “Just because you’re hung over, doesn’t mean I am.”
The waitress brought the hot sauce to the table, and Sloane continued. “The other web sites primarily contained products with health benefits derived from plant extracts and the like from rain forest materials. There was an immune system rejuvenator made from rain forest materials, phytonutrients, colloidal minerals and even a tea to help with energy that was derived from a tree bark.”
“And you think they all work?”
“I have no idea, I haven’t had the drugs, the extracts, or the research facilities to check them all out. I would say probably not. My point is that there are other people out there looking for cures to diseases, utilizing the rain forest, people that you might be able to communicate with.”
“People making a wonder tonic and selling it on the web do it because it makes them more money than driving from town to town and gathering a crowd for a sales pitch. ’Rev up your romantic life! Get the energy of your youth! Everything you need is in this handy...”
“I get it, Toby,” Sloane answered.
“Super-potent...” Toby cut in.
“Toby, enough,” Sloane protested.
“Energy tonic!” Toby continued.
“Are you not interested in finding a way to solve your problem?”
“You think I’ll find it by people selling energy tonics?”
“With ingredients possibly from the same place as your research materials? Look, one of the herbs, or whatever it was, was one that claimed to help with people’s immune systems and had testimonials from AIDS patients. They said the materials were from a Peruvian rain forest. They found that this substance, from the inside of a tree bark, also helped with phagocytosis.”
Toby looked up. She added, “Is this sounding a little more familiar now?”
Toby leaned back in his booth.
“Okay, I’ll let you eat the rest of your breakfast in peace. Just let me know when you want the web site address. I saved it for you.”
“You’re doing my work for me while I sleep off a hangover, because I’m too mad about my lack of success.”
“Don’t think for a minute I’m doing it for you. This is a puzzle, solving this disease. And I’m a sucker for puzzles. You know me, I can’t help but pick up a piece and try to make it fit. Besides, this research makes me think of other avenues I could be taking in helping people with AIDS.” She smiled at him.
They ate for a moment in silence.
“Hey, are you going to use the jelly for your English muffin?”
“No. Here, take some.”
They got back from breakfast and checked out of the hotel. “Hey,” Toby stopped her in the lobby, “What do you say we have the hotel hold our bags for an hour or two and we take a walk on the beach before we go? I haven’t even been able to spend any time in Miami, and I’ve got two hours before my flight takes off for Seattle. By the way, what airline are you on? Maybe we could go back together.”
“I would if I could, but I’ve got the private plane this weekend.”
“Well, well, well, Ms. Emerson, you’re really the big-wig over there, aren’t you?”
She started to give a humorous sneer as he paused before speaking. “That’s what I get for giving up the university job.”
“Well, can you at least go for a walk?”
“Sure, let me phone Jim.” Sloane pulled her cellular phone out of her jacket pocket.
“Jim? It’s Sloane. Yes, I suppose you knew that... Is it possible to take off in maybe around two hours? ... I didn’t know how long I’d have to be here, but I didn’t expect it to be all weekend... Yes, I know I’m supposed to rest. No, I should probably just fly back this afternoon... Okay. It can be ready? Great. Should I just meet you at the airport? Okay, I’ll see you then. Thanks.” She hung up her phone as Toby took her baggage and gave it to the clerk at the registration desk.
“You know, you really should go somewhere for the rest of the weekend,” Toby said once they got to the water’s edge. “They’re letting you take the plane -- don’t you have anyone you’d like to visit? I mean, you’ve got the company plane, you could just go for a while.”
“I suppose, but really, who would I go see? And I want to use this for business, and business only. This isn’t supposed to be a personal trip.”
“Is that what your boss said?” He waited for her snide answer as they got to the beach and started walking.
“Well, actually, no, he told me to take a break for the weekend and go somewhere.”
“Well? Go visit someone somewhere.”
“What, just call them and say, ’Can I see you tonight?’”
“Sure. You know you’ll regret it if you don’t.”
“I doubt that. But I’ll think about it.”
They walked together along the water in silence.
“The water is beautiful,” Toby said, looking out at the ocean. “The ocean is such a powerful force. I mean, it covers two thirds of the planet. Just one strong wave could pull you under and kill you. And yet we humans are fascinated with it. We’re over half water. We want to ride boats over it. We want to swim in it. We want to surf on it, or ski on it, or float around in it. And we just want to stare at it, listen to the waves crash into the shore, and smell the salt air. What a love affair we have with it.”
Sloane thought for a minute about what he said.
“I think you’re right,” she answered to him.
“Yeah?” he asked. “Yeah.” she answered.
“I’m not used to you agreeing with me.”
Putting in a dramatic pause, she then spoke. “I’ve agreed with you on many things, Toby. But for me, the beauty of this scene is more than that, more than the beauty of nature, more than the beauty of the ocean. I like looking at the water because it reminds me of my life, about human life. It shows what nature is like, and it shows what we’ve done with nature. Yes, even though a tide can pull us under and kill us, we are still capable of going scuba diving with sharks and maneuvering boats over it. This water is beautiful because of our involvement with it, our choice to use it to our own ends. But on some levels what I think is most beautiful about this scene,” she said, moving her arm in a circle before her, “is that all of this, the waves crashing, the beauty and peacefulness of nature, is sitting here right up against high-rises.”
“You like the buildings here? It would look so much nicer if there was nothing here other than the water.”
“What I like is the fact that we’ve built these buildings, right at a place where the people in them can really enjoy the water. What I like is looking at the beauty of the buildings -- the steel, the glass, the functionality of the products of the human mind -- poised right up against the beautiful scene from nature.”
“I don’t know if I agree with you.”
“The best of man and the best of nature, all in one. That’s what makes this scene astonishing for me. I’ve seen sunsets reflecting off of skyscrapers that were more beautiful than any sunrise at this beach.”
Toby looked at her and smiled. “You were always a strange bird...”
“Would you want me any other way?”
“Of course not.”
“That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.” They both smiled and continued walking. They turned around to walk back toward the hotel. During the remainder of their little trip they walked in silence. Sloane thought about all the avenues that going on the Internet had brought to her attention that morning. She thought about that list she had started writing on the airplane. Then she thought about all of the difficulties her staff had been going through trying to improve Emivir. She was beginning to feel the weight of the world upon her shoulders again. She thought about Tyler, and the lobbyists. She thought about the patients the lobbyists claimed blamed Madison Pharmaceuticals for not giving them drugs for free. “Haven’t I done enough?” she thought. “What do they want from me?”
They got back to the hotel and Toby picked up their luggage. They shared a taxi together to the airport.
“Sloane,” Toby said, “You look like you’re already dreading going back to work.”
“It’s not the work that I dread.”
“What then?”
“I --” Sloane couldn’t get the words out. “I don’t know what it is. I keep thinking that I do good work, but most people just want more.”
“Are you working for them or for you?”
“Thanks for asking that. But for me, of course, and I want more from me too, I mean, I want to accomplish more as well, but when everyone is fighting you...”
“Believe me, I know what you mean,” Toby answered. Sloane remembered his failed rain forest experiment and tried to empathize. “But I know you, you love your work. Hell, you were looking into research about the rain forest while I was passed out from drinking myself into a stupor and out of a depression over this whole mess. You love this; it’s in your blood. The thing is, you just have to forget about the people that bother you. They’ll never truly get in your way.”
Starting to smile, she said, “You’re right, Toby.”
“What? You’re agreeing with me again?”
The taxi pulled up to the airport and Toby handed her the baggage from the trunk.
“When I get into town I’ll send you the web site address for the rain forest pages I was reading.”
“Thanks. And thanks for coming to help me out here. If you need it, I’ll fly across the country for you.”
“Thanks, Toby,” she said, smiling and starting to walk away.
“And that’s a big deal, because I’d actually have to pay for my ticket.”
She laughed as she turned back toward her terminal and Toby walked toward his.
Sloane met up with Jim at the end of the terminal and he walked her to the plane. “I’m surprised you don’t want to stay here, or go somewhere else. You’ve got me for the weekend, you know.”
She stood outside in front of the plane. She thought for a moment, pulling out her cellular phone. “If I wanted to change our destination, could we do it?”
“Where were you thinking?”
“New York.”
“There shouldn’t be a problem.” He looked at the phone in her hand. “Do you need to call someone first?”
“Can you give me a minute?”
“Sure. Come up when you’re ready -- I can confirm where we can land in New York from the plane, so let me know where we’re going, okay?”
“Thanks, Jim,” she said as she watched Jim walk up the stairs and duck his head as he got into the plane. She looked at the phone. She planned to make two calls; the first one was to the phone number that was left on her answering machine. A young man answered the phone, and didn’t seem very alert when he answered the phone.
“Hello?” he answered. “Hello, is Steve there?”
“This is he. Who is this?”
“This is Sloane Emerson, I work with Kyle, I was returning your call, but did I wake you up? I didn’t mean to --”
Steve interrupted her so she didn’t have to explain. “I’m wide awake. I thought you were ignoring me by not calling me back. How are you?”
“I’m about to fly from Miami to New York, I think... I got your message during my trip, but I didn’t have much of a chance to call you until now.”
“Don’t worry about it. And why Miami and New York?”
“Miami for business, and New York for social reasons. I am trying to not think about work all the time.”
“I know you don’t know me very well, but if you are trying to be more social, I can be a good listener.”
“Listener?” she asked.
“Sounding board, conversation friend -- I work for the newspaper and do have a good command over the English language...”
Sloane smiled at his remark and noted that this is what she had to learn to do more of. I’m not very good at being social, I am usually doing research at home or at work, so you’ll have to forgive me.”
“Should I wait for you to call when you get back in to town then?” Steve asked. Knowing this call would cost her money on the cellular phone, she agreed and said she would talk to him later. Then she dialed New York. She heard a voice answer. “Hello?”
She didn’t bother with a formal hello. “Carter?”
“Yes, who is this? I’m having a hard time hearing you.”
“Carter, it’s Sloane, Sloane Emerson. I’m standing next to an airplane getting ready to go.”
“Where are you?” Carter asked.
“Miami. We’re about to take off.”
“Where are you going?”
“That’s why I’m calling. I’ve got the company plane for the weekend, and everyone has been begging me to take time off, and I was wondering if you --”
“Tell me what time I should pick you up and I’ll be waiting for you.”
“You don’t have any plans? I’m not interrupting anything?”
“Just call when you know where you’re going to be and when. No arguing.”
“Thanks, Carter. I’ll call you in about an hour.”
“I’ll see you soon.”
After they said goodbye, she looked at the phone in her hand for a moment, glancing up at the plane. She pushed the antenna back into the phone and made her way up the stairs.
She walked to the cockpit while men closed the airplane door behind her. She could hear the stairs being rolled away from the side of the plane.
“Where are we going, Ms. Emerson?”
“I have a first name!” she said, laughing at how cordial he was trying to be. She smiled at him. Jim repeated, “Sloane, where are we going?”
“We could go home... but then again, it’s Saturday afternoon. We could make it to New York in just a few hours.”
“New York it is,” Jim proudly said as he turned back toward the controls. “Anything in particular you’re going to do while you’re there?”
“Visit a friend,” she answered. “Someone who can bring my spirit back to me.”


chapter 3

The Man

Sloane was up in the air again. Shortly after they left, when the plane leveled off, she walked up to the cockpit and knocked on the door. She heard Jim’s muffled voice through the door; she assumed he told her to come in.
“Jim, what time do you think we’ll arrive at the airport?”
“It’s three o’clock. ... I’d say just a little after five, maybe five-thirty.”
“Got it. Thanks.”
Knowing what gate they would arrive at, she walked back toward her seat and pulled out her phone. She dialed. She pressed the tiny phone to the side of her head.
“Hello?”
“Hi, Carter, it’s me.”
“Are you in the air now?”
“Yes, and the pilot says that we should arrive between five and five-thirty.”
“What terminal should I meet you at?”
“I could just meet you outside, you don’t have to park your car, and I don’t have luggage to carry.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. What terminal?”
After giving him the information he needed, they said goodbye.
Getting up from her seat, She slowly made her way to the back of the plane. She opened the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of champagne. She found a glass in the cabinet next to her head and walked back to her seat.
Sitting down, she unwrapped the metal from the top of the bottle. She realized it might not be a good idea to let the cork blow off the top of the bottle, being in an airplane and all. She placed the bottle between her knees, and closed her legs together, placing both of her hands on top of the bottle. She made sure she had a firm grip on the cork, and started to slowly ease the cork out of the bottle. The cork gave way with a loud pop, and suddenly champagne was starting to overflow onto her legs. She started laughing out loud as she grabbed her glass and frantically poured.
Jim’s voice came over the airplane intercom. “That’s the spirit,” he said. She looked up, to see if the cockpit door was open; it wasn’t, and she was relieved that he only heard the pop of the champagne cork and that he didn’t see her spill the champagne on her legs. She got up with her glass and walked to the sink at the back of the plane.
“At least I took my pantyhose off when I left for that walk on the beach,” she said aloud to herself, and dampened a rag to clean herself off.
Holding things along the aisle to keep her balance, she moved back to her seat. She sat down and looked out the window. And she thought about the man she was about to see in New York.
Carter Donovan was a classmate of hers during her undergraduate studies. They never had a class together; they were friends because her roommate was in a school class with Carter and they studied together. When he first met Sloane, he thought she was stuffy and a bookworm; he usually tried to get her to come out when her roommate was going out.
But after the semester was over, and Carter wasn’t in a class with her roommate anymore, he called Sloane once, and asked her if she wanted to grab some coffee. “I like talking to you,” Carter told her, “and now I don’t have your roommate as an excuse to see you, so I’ll have to make up my own excuses. Want to study at the café?” She would walk over to his dorm room, but instead of going out for coffee, they ordered a pizza and drank beer and talked about religion, about what they wanted from life, how they wanted to live life, what they thought was right. From then on they were instant friends.
They didn’t spend a lot of time together, but when they did they avoided the small talk and discussed what interested them in the backs of their minds. She hardly had an interest in new songs or sports teams anyway. Carter usually brought the subjects of their conversations back to philosophy and religion; he always wanted to get her to state whether or not she definitely believed in a God. “I don’t believe a God does or does not exist,” she would tell him. “I have no proof that a God exists, but it is impossible to prove that something does not exist, given any possible condition.”
“So how do you live your life?” Carter asked, smiling after hearing her responses.
“According to the rules of the things that can be proven around me. To the things that reason and knowledge dictate to me by my perceptions.”
“And since there’s no proof of a God, you don’t believe in it?”
“I have no reason to consider whether or not it exists. To me it’s more of the lack of thought about an unfounded theory, not a decision that no God exists. I don’t think about it, really.”
As college passed, Carter liked to stump her with questions, knowing how she should answer, hoping she would be up to the challenge.
“So if there’s no God, who created the universe?”
“That question assumes that someone did create the universe. You have no proof to make that claim.”
“But the universe had to begin somehow.”
“Did it have to? There are theories about Adam and Eve, and there are also very plausible theories about the Big Bang, which seem to reject the concept of God altogether. And when it comes down to creating the universe, for that matter, what makes you assume how and when it ’began’?”
And Carter would smile; he found what he was looking for and was satisfied with her answers.
They didn’t often agree in their discussions, but she had to admit to herself that she loved the fact that Carter had a sense of values and was willing to argue about them. Even if the arguments were invalid, she thought, she still loved his sense of morals and values, but then again, she was the scientist and had no room for fallacies and faith.
Carter was one of the few people that she drank with. She saw her college school mates drinking excessively every weekend; in her opinion they all seemed to be escaping something. She could have a drink or two with Toby, but only on occasions like this weekend. Carter drank with her to celebrate. He thought of a drink as a gift to share as much as he would share good conversation when he was with her; she enjoyed relaxing a little and talking to him when they’d have their pizza and beer nights.
Carter Donovan was handsome by most anyone’s standards. He was a tall man, nearly six foot six. He had short brown hair, a little wavy, and dark brown eyes. He had good taste in clothes, but more than that, Carter Donovan made clothes look good. Everything he wore looked as if it were tailored expressly for him.
Sometimes when they would be talking together she’d stay in his dorm room all night, falling asleep at four in the morning on the floor next to him. She’d wake up with a pillow under her head, a blanket covering her up, and Carter curled up next to her. It was moments like that where she would allow herself to study his face, when he didn’t know she was looking.
It was a face she had grown to love. It was a face that should be loved.
Her eyes would scan along the sharp collar of his shirt to the matching harsh edge of his jawbone, up toward his ear, over to his Roman nose, even to the delicate eyelashes. Sloane didn’t know why she loved his face. But every once in a while, when she had the chance, she would take a moment to just stare.
Carter was not a scientist. He majored in finance, with a minor in English. I love reading and writing, but really, where’s the money in that?” he’d say. “Maybe one day I’ll run a publishing house, and then I’ll be in charge of what everyone else reads.”
“That sounds a little Orwellian of you,” She would answer, and Carter would smile a mischievous smile.
And in time, run a publishing house is exactly what he would do.
After she went on to medical school, Carter Donovan went to work for a book publishing company in New York. He worked his way up in the company, and shortly after he got the famed mystery writer Paul Christensen to sign on for a ten-book contract, he was hoisted up to the executive level at the company. Now at Quentin Publishing company, a business that has books on the top ten best sellers list forty out of fifty-two weeks a year, Carter was the Vice-President in charge of recruiting new clients. And he did all of this by the age of thirty-one.
Every once in a while Carter would write. On behalf of the company he wrote a how-to book about working and succeeding in corporate America. It was on the best sellers list for six weeks. In his spare time, though, he tried his hand at writing philosophy; his essays weren’t something his publishing company wanted to work with, but he’d often convince them to do a short press run, usually as more of a favor or a bonus than as a business proposal. They had created a small branch of Quentin for Carter Donovan’s pet projects, and in spite of all the work he had to do as the recruiting Vice-President, he never stopped adding titles to his branch collection list.
Every time Carter told her about a new book of his, usually published once a year, she would go out and buy it.
While drinking her champagne on the airplane, she thought about this. They were never in a relationship; they never thought of each other as more than friends; she never thought about having a relationship with him. She hoped he hadn’t changed much. She hoped she wasn’t interrupting any of his plans. The last phone conversations they had were shortly after Emivir was discovered by the press; although they had phone conversations together, it had been three years since she had seen him last.
Glancing at her watch, she read 4:15. She looked at her legs. She went to her purse, got her pantyhose and a brush out and turned back toward the bathroom. After two steps she stopped and turned back to her purse. Even though she rarely wore make-up she knew there was eyeliner and lipstick at the bottom of her purse, so she grabbed the purse and slowly made her way to the back of the plane.
Sloane had mentally prepared herself for an explanation of why she needed make-up in her purse.
“Sometimes I have to wear make-up when I’m going to a meeting at work.”
Never having to use make-up or have some in her purse, she still thought that just in case, she should be prepared for it.
She fidgeted in the tiny, all-silver bathroom with her eyeliner. “Why am I doing this to myself?” she said out loud as she moved the soft pencil over the bottom of her eyelids. She pulled back to look at herself in the mirror. She leaned forward to add the lipstick. She brushed her hair straight down. She shook her head to try to make her hair look more full. She then shook her head at herself and brushed her hair again and tucked it behind her ears.
Pulled back, she looked at herself again. She pulled the bottom of her suit jacket down to get rid of the wrinkles in it. She glanced over her slate blue suit. “Too formal,” she thought, and took off the jacket, so she was only wearing an ivory blouse and the slate blue skirt. There were two small strands of pearls wrapped around her neck. She pulled back and looked at herself again. She closed up her purse, threw her jacket over her forearm, grabbed her glass of champagne and opened the latch of the bathroom door.

###

When Toby got through the airport he tried to ask for a seat at the front of the plane. He always preferred to be at the front of the plane so he wouldn’t have to wait for all the family members who had to slowly collect the bags and their children to get out of the center row while people were trying to get off the plane.
And he knew that once he got on the plane, he still wouldn’t be able to explain exactly where he was going. Yes, he knew, Seattle, but a part of him didn’t know what was going to be waiting there for him.
Would he always think children were a nuisance? Or would he grow to love them too, would he even love his own kids?
Maybe. He never had the time to think about things like that, though.
But he always noticed when he got the chance to let his mind wander, that Sloane always seemed to find a way to come into his mind. It was like her spirit knew the effect she had on his, and her spirit found a way to creep into his soul.
Even when he wasn’t thinking about her, he noticed that she did still find a way into his subconscious.
Then again, maybe he just saw her in Miami for a day. Maybe that was the reason he thought about her, he said to himself.
Maybe that was all the reason he needed.

###

When Carter Donovan got off the phone with Sloane at three, he quickly scanned his apartment. He lived in a penthouse apartment in Manhattan; it was sparsely decorated, according to his taste: “Extra objects just break up the lines of the room,” he said to the decorator he hired to buy furniture for his home.
The doorbell rang. He moved to the door and opened it. His weekly maid was standing in the hallway.
“Oh, thank you for coming in on such short notice.”
“That’s okay. I usually don’t have clients on the weekends anyway.”
“Can you do the usual, and not bother coming this next Tuesday, and just come the week after that?”
“Sure, no problem.”
“I need to have the place cleaned up in just a few hours, so...”
“I’ll be as quick as I can, but I’ll make sure not to overlook anything.”
“Thanks a lot, Margaret. I really appreciate it. I have to get ready to go out by about four-thirty or five o’clock, so I’ll be here for a while. I’ll do my best to stay out of your way.”
“And I’ll do my best to stay out of yours,” the housemaid said.
Carter walked to his bedroom, past his bed and to the shower. He had to get ready. At four-thirty Margaret walked to Carter’s bedroom and knocked on his door as he was still getting ready. “Mr. Donovan?”
Carter ran over and opened the door. He stood in the doorway to his bedroom wearing a white dress shirt and dark gray slacks.
“I’m pretty much done, I did the bedroom and --”
“That’s fine, Margaret, that’s perfect. I need to ask you something, though. It’s very important.”
Margaret looked a little nervous. “Yes, sir?”
“Come in, please, I need your opinion.”
Margaret walked over to his bed, and three ties were sprawled out on top of a dark gray jacket.
Carter picked up the first tie. “Which do you think is the best tie?” He grabbed the second tie and placed it in front of him, next to the first tie. “The first one I think is a little loud, but the second one is a little too business-like. I don’t need a power tie, I want something that says friendly, you know what I mean? Which do you think is the best?”
Margaret looked at him for a moment. “Mr. Donovan, are you going on a date?”
Carter stopped and stepped back. His voice toned down; he suddenly sounded grave. “No.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Donovan, you just seem very anxious.”
“I’m seeing an old friend of mine. A good friend.”
Margaret looked over the tie choices. “If it’s a friend, I’d wear the first tie.” She pointed at the tie in his left hand. “If it’s a date,” she bent over to pick up the last tie on the bed, “and I’m not saying it is a date, I’m just saying that if it’s a date,” she handed the third tie to Carter, “I would definitely pick this tie.”
Margaret stood and looked at him. He stared at her for a moment. “Thanks, Margaret.”
“There’s nothing else sir?”
“No. Thanks for coming on your day off. I’ll see you two Tuesdays from now?”
“Yes.” Margaret walked to the doorway. “You have a good night, sir.”
“You too, Margaret.”
Carter looked over at his closet. He pulled out his black wing tips and slid them on to his feet. He stood in front of the mirror. He held the first tie up against his shirt, then the third. He shook his head, put the first two ties in his closet, closed the closet door, hung the third tie around his neck, grabbed his jacket off his bed and headed out the door.
His driver was standing in front of his limousine waiting for him at the turn around at the front door of his building. Carter never slowed down as he got out the front door; the driver opened the back door just as Carter was at the car and he glided into his seat. He figured he could tie a Windsor knot during the ride on the way to the airport.
He told the driver when they arrived at the airport to wait with the car; he would meet his friend at the terminal. Carter stepped out of the back of the black stretch limousine and walked through the doorway and turned toward the far terminal. He didn’t know how long he would have to wait for her plane to land. He thought for a moment about going to the men’s room to make sure he looked okay. Then he stopped himself. “What am I doing?” he thought. “I’m acting like this is a date.” He shook his head at himself and continued walking down the hallway.
He walked to the gate her plane was to arrive at. He saw a plane outside the window. He turned to an airport attendant. “Excuse me,” he said, pointing out the window, “Do you know if that’s the Madison Pharmaceuticals private plane?”
Just as Carter asked the question he heard a voice behind him and felt someone tapping his shoulder. “You have no patience, do you?”
Carter spun around to see her standing right in front of him.
The first thing he saw was her face. It seemed like her face was beaming. She was restraining herself from laughing; it looked like she was pleased that she’d surprised him. He couldn’t take his eyes off her face.
Seeing his face light up like a child’s, she stood there as he placed his hands on her shoulders. “You’re always one step ahead of me, aren’t you?”
“I’m always trying. Don’t I get a hug?”
Carter slid his hands from her shoulders around her back and stepped closer to her. She wrapped her arms around him as she turned her head and leaned into his chest as he held her.
Sloane was used to knowing men that were around her height. She knew she was a tall woman, and she knew that men regularly claimed to be taller than the really were. She always felt tall compared to others, but Carter was... Well, he was tall, and she liked that. She liked the fact that he was physically tall, that he was emotionally tall, and most of all she liked the fact that on some of those levels he was taller than her.
“It’s good to see you.”
“It’s good to see you, too.”
They pulled back and locked their hands together. “You know we should really do this more than once every three years,” she said.
“You’re still beaming, even after these three years... And first things first, give me those bags,” and Carter reached over and grabbed the straps of her bags from off her shoulders. Sloane started to resist; she always preferred carrying her own luggage to having a man do it for her. This time, however, she stopped herself and let him ease her load.
She was also sure she wasn’t beaming, but once again, she felt there was no need for her to resist.
They turned toward the hallway and started walking toward the baggage claim and the outside doors where Carter’s car was waiting. “So why were you in Miami?”
“I met up with a colleague there to discuss some problems with his research.”
“You look like you got a little sun.”
“Oh, I just walked outside for an hour, no more than that, I couldn’t have gotten any sun.”
“Well, you’re positively glowing nonetheless.”
“Since we’re doling out compliments, you look fantastic yourself. The corporate life -- well, at least the suits -- fit you well.”
“Okay, okay, no need to butter me up. So what would you like to do tonight?”
Never having even thought of what to do, she tried to think of something. “You know, I never thought about it. I’m not particularly interested in doing anything, really.”
“Oh, come on, let me show you the sights.”
“If you want to, but I didn’t come here to be a tourist, I came here to catch up with you.”
They stepped outside the sliding airport doors; Carter’s limousine was waiting at the doorway. Carter guided her toward the door; his driver held the door open for her. “Carter, a limousine? Is this a company perk or did you decide to splurge?”
“Consider it a company perk. Just like your plane.”
Sloane laughed. “I guess we’ve finally made it, haven’t we?”
“Yes, I suppose we have.”
The driver got into the seat and they started moving. Carter asked the driver to go to the apartment first, so she could settle in.
“Okay, so let’s catch up first. How’s the book publishing business going?”
“It’s going perfectly, actually. We changed our focus a few years ago from romance novels and other housewife-oriented trash novels--”
“You mean, ’sleazy novels for housewives’,” Sloane responded. Carter looked at her and smiled, responding positively with his expression to what she felt she could not say. “Didn’t mean to interrupt,” she added.
“Not a problem,” Carter said. Then he smiled with her as he continued his story.
“To mystery writers,” he started, “and business writers, you know, how to succeed in business, and we got more self-help books, you know, so-and-so’s sure-fire way to lose weight. We’re doing more biographies, even if they are only of Hollywood actors, but that’s where the market is going. Occasionally they still let me run books solely of my own choice in the Quentin/Donovan Philosophy branch, they’ve even made that separate division label for them. I try to get them into university towns and the like.”
“Have you been doing any more writing lately?”
“No, I’ve been too busy with work. That’s why I’ve been seeking out other good work. Even if they might not go mainstream, I want to get good work out there, work I think truly has merit. And as long as I don’t go overboard, they let me. The most recent one is an economics book; in fact, it’s at press now and I have to go to the plant in Ohio tomorrow and do a press check.”
“Ooh, so they let you travel, too? All the way to Ohio?”
“I know, I know. But I go for big projects, with a few other production people from the company. But when my own choices are running, which are always small print counts, mind you, I always go to do a press check then. And you know, I always notice that when I see my own choices printing, I get this wonderful sense of pride by watching the presses work.”
“And you don’t get that feeling when you’re watching other projects, the big books that actually make you a success?”
“When it’s one of the trash novels that goes through, when it’s one of the trash novels that makes me rich that’s at press, then I can still look at the massive amount of machinery and admire its speed and skill at executing its job. And then I think about the mind that it took to create these machines. But at the same time it doesn’t fill me with the same sense of pleasure.”
“Any idea why?”
“You know exactly why.”
Carter leaned forward and opened a cabinet against the side of the limousine. “Would you like some champagne?”
“No, thanks, I should wait a little, I was drinking champagne on the plane.”
“Well, well, well, maybe that explains the glow on your cheeks.”
“I’m telling you, I don’t have a glow, Carter.”
“And I’m telling you, you’re radiant.”
They smiled at each other. Sloane looked out the window. “Wow, It has been a while since I’ve been here. Maybe I could go out, to see the skyline.”
“Wait until you see the view from my place.” As Carter finished his sentence the limousine turned into the driveway in front of his high-rise apartment building.
Carter held the door open while she made her way through, past his outstretched arm against the door, to his living room. They were on the 55th floor, and her attention was immediately drawn to the window and the breathtaking view of New York.
She walked over to the opposite wall and pressed her hands against the window. “This is an amazing view, Carter,” she finally managed to get out of her mouth. She kept turning her head to look at different buildings.
“I thought you’d like it,” Carter answered.
“I don’t want to leave this room all night,” she said, looking like a child in front of a pet store window. “I want to see all of the lights on in this city from this view. This is absolutely gorgeous.”
“I thought you’d like it. But you know, we could drive around a bit. The limo has a sunroof, so you can still watch the city. And there are a few nice restaurants I was thinking of taking you to. What kind of food are you in the mood for?”
Turning her head away for a moment, she thought about his question. She turned around and leaned her back against the window. “In all honesty?”
“Of course.”
“I want pizza.”
Carter laughed. “Shall we have it delivered?”
“Of course.”
“Would you like to stay here, or would you also like to go for a ride?”
“A ride would be delightful,” she answered and walked across the room toward Carter and her baggage. “Where do you want me to put this stuff?”
“I’ve got it,” Carter said, and picked up her belongings. “I’ll put them in the bedroom. We can go for a ride now, and as it gets past dusk we can come back for food.”
“It’s a deal.”
The next hour was spent in the limousine. Carter was able to convince her that she had waited long enough since her last glass of champagne and that she should have some in the car with him. They drove up and down the streets of Manhattan; at one point Carter dared her to stand in the car with her head out of the sunroof. She agreed only if he’d join her, and for a mile or two they drank champagne and waved back at the people waving in the streets at them.
“Why are they waving at us?” she asked. “I suddenly feel like royalty, giving the Queen’s Wave to the little people.” She laughed. “No, I feel more like someone dressed up as Cinderella at a Disney parade.”
“I don’t know why they’re waving,” Carter answered. “Maybe they think we just got married.”
“But you’re wearing a suit instead of a tux and I’m in a blouse.”
“Good point. Okay, I have no idea... Maybe they’re waving just because we’re here, sticking out of the top of a car.”
“Maybe,” she said, “maybe they’re waving at us because we look happy and they want to share in that happiness. To have some of that happiness too.” She sounded like she was thinking out loud.
“You’re not laughing enough to look happy,” Carter said as he reached his hand over to her side and started tickling her. she started screaming with laughter and at the first chance she got ducked back into the car.
“Ready to go back?” Carter asked.
“Yeah, I suppose.”
“Want to go by the park once more?
“I’d rather go around by Times Square once more.”
And so they drove.

###

The pizza arrived at around ten o’clock. Carter yelled from the kitchen, “I’ve got water, beer, soda, wine, more champagne... Which would you prefer?”
“I would say beer to be more historically accurate, to continue with the tradition, you know, but I think I’ll be sick if I switch from champagne to something else.”
“Champagne then?”
“Sure.”
They sat on the floor in his living room and ate. Carter started a small fire in the fireplace for light. They ate for a moment in silence.
Then it was Carter’s turn to ask the questions. “So I’ve seen your name in the papers a few times since Emivir came out. Anything new going on with the research?”
“Our main focus since the drug has come out is to work on improving the drug. We got to this drug by altering other drugs until we found a solution that worked. We were hoping that we could mimic that process and find more.”
“No luck yet?”
“No. I think it’s getting my department down. And I’m not very good at cheering the team up.”
“That’s not your job.”
“No, but if they’re not putting in all they can, if they don’t have the heart for it anymore --”
“Then the research suffers.”
“Exactly.”
“So what is the solution?”
“I’ve been trying to look at this from a different angle. I was thinking I’d separate the department into three teams. One would continue with the current vein of research. One would work on coming up with integrase inhibitors -- you know how the drug cocktails work?”
“Vaguely.”
“Each of the drugs in the cocktail attack one enzyme of the virus. The first group would be trying to improve one of the existing drugs. The second group would be working on a new drug -- the integrase inhibitor -- that would attack a third enzyme of the virus.”
“Got it. The more ways you attack it, the better.”
“Exactly.”
“And the third group?”
“This might sound trivial, but beyond vitamins and exercise for patients the third group would work on making these drugs easier to take, eliminating the drastic side effects and making the drugs work on a time-release system, so patients would not have to take twenty to sixty pills a day.”
“You’d have a better success rate with the drugs if people took them properly and if there weren’t any side effects to make them stop taking it, right?”
“Exactly. There’s also a psychological factor to taking so many drugs. Every time you take a pill you’re reminded that you have a fatal disease.”
“Not a bad plan. Are you working on more long-term research? This seems a little short-sighted for you.”
Carter could see her start to look disappointed as she attempted to answer. “Yes, but it’s hard to think of the light at the end of the tunnel when you can’t come up with the first step to solving this problem.”
“Oh, the Sloane I know wouldn’t sound so pessimistic.”
“It’s not pessimism, it’s realism.” She thought through her response like how she thought through all problems. “When I can’t solve the problem with improving what we have, then it’s hard to think about solving the problem altogether... I think that’s why I came here tonight.”
“Why?”
“Because I wanted to hear you tell me that you know I can do it.”
“You know you can. You don’t need me telling you that.”
“I just get tired of telling it to myself over and over again.”
They sat in silence for a moment. Then she started talking. “I know I’m a realist, and that makes people think that I’m a pessimist. And I’ve always covered up any emotions I’ve felt, and I’ve never shown emotion to anyone.”
Carter nodded his head in agreement.
“But with you, well, you make me more real. I feel like I can let out emotions with you, emotions I wouldn’t bother to feel or show to anyone else.”
“Well I’m glad you’ve got that with me,” Carter answered. He paused with his sentences before continuing. “So back to the subject... It seems you’re on the right track by looking for alternative ways to attack the virus. Can you stretch your staff that thin, separating them into three smaller groups?”
“Oh, that shouldn’t be a problem at all. Actually, people usually work better that way. And I’ll let people decide by their own interests and abilities what they want to work on.”
“And that’s how you’re going to keep their morale up.”
“...I guess it is. But I want them to have some control over their work; everyone needs to feel that their talents -- as well as their interests -- matter.”
“I guess you didn’t need a cheer for them after all.”
“I also thought I’d do a little research on homeopathy and alternative forms of medicine, like nutrition, herbs, massage, hypnosis, or something. Even if it has no merit, it might act as a placebo when people think they’re on a drug and maybe it will help their system somehow. If patients feel they’re taking positive steps toward recovery, they alleviate depression, and their immune system may respond positively. So it could be worth the effort after all.”
“A lot of people say that homeopathy really does have merit, though. Hell, we’ve published a number of books on the subject. Want me to send some to your office?
“I’d love it, Carter. Thanks a lot. Anything you have on natural remedies or homeopathy for better health.”
“No problem. Actually, we have a few books about AIDS, too. Mostly conspiracy stuff, though.”
“Really?” she asked, in a condescending tone. “Boy, you really do pander to the lowest common denominator, don’t you?”
“You know the saying that sex sells, more than anything. But now, the people’s hatred for the government is coming in a close second.”
“What does that say for the people?”
“Really, if you think about it, those are two pretty worthwhile topics. And if the government does something wrong, the question would be: what do you say about the government?”
Knowing he was right, she laughed, and glanced up at Carter.
Carter continued eating, while she got up and walked to the window.
“So, you’re doing well at the publishing company. Why do you still run that small publishing branch in your spare time if it isn’t a money-maker?”
Carter wiped his face with a paper napkin. “Because those books need to get out. Because I know they’re right.”
“Right? How so?”
“The drivel that gets on the best sellers lists, the garbage that makes us money, the language is at a grade school student’s reading level. The content is poor at best. There are no heroes. There is nothing extraordinary about them, the characters or even the books. I want books that glorify man. People don’t read that anymore.”
“If people don’t read it anymore, why do you print it?”
“I have to hope that I’m not the only person in the world that thinks this way. I have to believe that there are other people out there --” he held his glass up to the skyline out his window -- “other people out there like me.”
“Do you think people don’t read the kinds of books you’re talking about because they don’t want to, or because they haven’t found them?”
“I hope it’s the second. If it is, then I know I can’t give it up.”
Walking back to Carter, she sat next to him on the floor in front of the fireplace. “There are people like you, Carter.” she said. She leaned her head on his shoulder.
He liked her answer. “That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?” Carter answered, and leaned his head on top of hers.
“Of course.”
They watched the fire for a moment. Carter liked her leaning on him, but he had to make a motion to get up, so she could move out of the way. “I hate to interrupt, but duty calls...” He walked toward the washroom.
Sloane watched him walk down the hall. She watched the long line of his slacks as he moved away from her. She watched his shoulders sway back and forth. He turned the corner.
He’s not a scientist, like her, she thought, but she admired his sense of freedom, his love of succeeding and the fact that he knows that he’s good at what he does. His pride, she thought, she loved his pride.
She looked back at the open cardboard box of left over mushroom and sausage pizza and their glasses of empty champagne. She reached over, grabbed the bottle, and filled their glasses.
Carter walked out of the washroom and down the hall. When he reached the entrance to the living room, he stopped for a moment and leaned against the wall. When sitting, her skirt slid up her legs a little, and Carter noticed her long thin legs trailing off to her delicate feet. Her black hair was shining in the light of the fireplace. Although Carter never visited her, he realized how much he missed her.
Sloane looked up and saw him looking at her. “What’s the matter?”
“Oh, I’m just not used to seeing someone here. I’m usually alone here.”
“Oh, I’m sure you take people out all the time.”
“Sure I do, but I don’t bring them home with me.” He walked over and sat down next to her.
“You know,” Carter started, “you’re the only friend I’ve kept in contact with since college. And I’ve done a poor job at that.”
“Carter, you’re probably the only friend I had in college,” She answered.
“You stuck your nose in the books too much.”
“Well, science isn’t going to let you guess.”
They both leaned their backs against the couch and sipped their champagne. “Thanks for putting up with me,” She finally said.
Carter put his arm around her. “You know, I think we’re cast from the same mold, you and I. It is nice to talk to you, because when I talk to you, it makes me feel better too... It’s just nice knowing you exist.”
Sloane whispered, resting her head again, “You know, you are so cool.”
“I’m what?” Carter answered.
“You heard me... I’m not trying to sound like I stick my head in the books too much.” She paused to smile before she finished her thought. “You make me smile. It’s nice knowing you exist, too.” She closed her eyes as she kept her head on his shoulder. She almost fell asleep right there, until she relaxed her hand and the glass of champagne she was holding in her lap tipped over and spilled all over her skirt. She let out a light scream at the cold liquid seeping through her skirt and pouring over her legs. She wiped the carpet off with an extra paper napkin until Carter brought in a towel for her.
He held it out to her, looking at the spill strategically located on her skirt. “I think I better let you do the honors,” he said. She smiled.
“Here, let me get you a robe.” Carter walked into his bedroom and produced a white terry-cloth bathrobe. She took it from his hand, smiled in embarrassment and walked into the washroom.
He heard her laughing from down the hall.
“What’s so funny?”
“Carter, I know you’re tall, I know you’re a big guy, but I know I am a tall woman and I feel like this robe is consuming me!” As she walked out, the shoulder seam was near her elbows. “I’ve rolled up the sleeves four times and I still can’t see my hands. Are you sure this isn’t a blanket or a sleeping bag instead?”
Carter stood up and started laughing out loud. “Why are you worried? You look perfectly comfortable -- and perfectly dry.”
“Yes, and thank you for the robe.”
“You want to go to sleep?”
“What time is it?”
“Three-thirty.”
“Oh my God, we talked that long?”
“Yeah.”
“Let me help you clean up.” She picked up the box of pizza before he could stop her. Carter got the champagne bottle and glasses; she got the napkins. They cleaned up in the kitchen and walked back out into the living room.
Carter put the fire out while she looked out the window. “If I had this view every day, it sure would be easier to get up every morning.” She looked down.
Carter walked over to her, took her hand, and walked her to the bedroom. He placed her in front of his mirror, stood behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders. “When you have this view every day,” he said, pointing over her shoulder to her reflection in the mirror, “you have no reason not to face every day with your drive and enthusiasm.”
Sloane looked at herself smothered in Carter’s bathrobe in the full-length mirror.
“I look ridiculous,” she said, smiling.
“You are amazing,” Carter answered. “And you, my dear, are Sloane Emerson. That’s all you need.”
They stood in front of the mirror together for a moment before Carter let go of her shoulders and walked toward the door. “I’ve got to do my press check tomorrow. Would you like to go with me?”
“I really should get back to work.”
“Oh, have you had your Carter fix already?”
Sloane smiled, thinking she didn’t have her fix. “Well, you’re going to work, too. Have you had your fill of me?”
“You know I never would,” Carter said as he understood and smiled. “I’ll wake you in the morning.”
“If I don’t wake you first.”
Carter closed the door and walked down the hall.
She slumped down at the foot of the bed. She looked around the room. “So this is where he lives,” she thought. She reached over and crawled toward the pillows at the other side of the bed. She got on her knees and took off his robe and placed it at the foot of the bed. She lifted the covers and crawled into his bed.
“So this is where he sleeps,” she thought. She felt the sheets against her skin and could smell Carter in the pillow she was resting her head against. His scent comforted her as she tossed and turned in his bed, felt the sheets wrap around her legs, until she finally fell asleep.
Carter walked over to his couch. He stretched a blanket over the couch and placed an extra pillow on one end. The apartment was dark. He looked around, and walked over to the window. He saw what she saw as the lights of the skyscrapers flickered before him. It was a fireworks show he took for granted every night when he closed his shades and went to sleep.
He unbuttoned his shirt and placed it on a dining room chair. He walked back toward the couch and saw in the shadows her shoes lined up next to his near the fireplace. He lay down on the couch, stared for a moment, and tried to sleep.

###

At nine in the morning Carter gently knocked on his bedroom door. The light from the window woke him up.
She rolled over, grabbed the sheets and pulled them up to her nose. Since she had that evening showed more to him about her than she was used to, she thought she shouldn’t show off her bare skin in bed as well.
“Come in.”
Carter slowly opened the door. “Hey, sorry to wake you. I have to leave for my flight to Ohio in about an hour. I figured you’d want some time to get yourself together. Do you want anything for breakfast?”
She thought about the headache behind her right eyebrow. “No. Thanks.”
“Doing that well?”
“Didn’t fall asleep right away. I tossed and turned a lot.”
“Really? How come?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I’m just not used to sleeping in a different place.”
He would never admit it consciously, but in the back of Carter’s mind, a part of him was glad that sleeping didn’t come easy to her last night. “If you need anything,” Carter said, “let me know.”
“Thanks.”
Carter turned and started to close the door.
“Oh, Carter?” she asked.
He stopped and turned back toward her. “Yes?”
“Do you have any orange juice?”
“Sure. I’ll bring some in for you.” He started to close the door again.
“Oh, wait, Carter?”
Carter looked back again. “Yes?”
“Is it from concentrate?”
“What?”
“Is your orange juice from concentrate?”
“No. That stuff tastes awful.”
“Good. Thanks.”
Carter then closed the door; she could hear his footsteps fading away.
She reached over and grabbed the bathrobe from the floor; it must have fallen off the bed while she was moving in her sleep, she thought. She threw it on and walked over to his bathroom and turned on his shower.
Carter knocked and came in with a glass of orange juice, a vitamin pill and two towels. “The vitamin is for the hangover. I heard the water running, so here are some clean towels.” He put everything in her hands, then put his hand on her head and messed up her hair. She squinted her eyes and smiled. He turned around and walked out again.
Gulping down some orange juice, she swallowed the multi-vitamin supplement. She walked into the bathroom, placed the towels on the counter, and let the bathrobe fall to her feet. She stepped into the bathtub.
The heat of the water shocked her when she got under the showerhead; she liked the water piping hot in the morning. She grabbed the soap from the side of the tub and started running the bar over her shoulders and up and down her arms. She turned toward the water and ran the bar over her stomach. She tilted her head back and felt the water beat down against her chest. Then she leaned against the wall of the shower stall; she liked how the cold of the ceramic tile felt against her back while the hot water was pounding on her.
Sloane needed to focus. She had things to do back in Seattle. A part of her wanted to go on the press check with Carter, but eighteen hours was enough time to spend in one visit. She didn’t want to seem overbearing. Besides, she had work to do too. So she walked out into the living room wearing her beige slacks and her gray tank top. She was shaking the wrinkles out of her white blouse while she was walking down the hall. Carter looked up at her; her shoulders had the same effect on him as they did on Toby.
She looked over at him, sitting at the dining room table with the newspaper folded in his hands. “What are you looking at?”
“You.”
“Why?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you when your hair is wet.”
“Oh, I know, I look like a wet dog. But I didn’t see a hair dryer, and I didn’t pack one, so I --”
“I wasn’t saying it was bad. I was just noticing.”
She walked over and picked her shoes up.
Carter waited for a moment after seeing her with wet hair. “Are you done in the bathroom? I desperately need to shower and change.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, yes, let me just get my bags and I can pack them out here.”
Carter walked into the bathroom and closed the door. He noticed his bathrobe on the hook of his door. He took off his clothes and started the water. Then he walked over to the bathrobe. Just stared at it for a moment. He reached up to it with his left hand and felt the loops of the fabric under his fingers. He turned to the shower and stepped in. He stepped underneath the showerhead and held his head under the running water for a few seconds. Then he shook his head, tried to regain himself, and grabbed the shampoo.

###

Sloane walked around his living room. She picked up his dishes from breakfast and cleaned them in the kitchen sink. Then she got her cellular phone from out of her purse and called Jim.
“Hello, Sloane.”
“You know, Jim, you can act like you don’t know who’s calling you. It’s strange to hear someone answer like that.”
“I’m sitting in an airport hotel...”
“I know, I know, I’m just being silly. Is it okay if I leave from Manhattan for the airport by eleven?”
“No problem. I’ll meet you at the same gate.”
“Thanks a lot, Jim. By the way, did you do anything last night?”
“Yeah, I went to dinner and met up with a friend of mine. We were out kind of late, actually. And how about you?”
“We didn’t go anywhere, but we had a lot of fun talking.”
“Did you get your spirit back?”
“Huh?
“You said on the flight in that you were visiting a friend that would hopefully bring your spirit back to you. Did they?”
“Yeah, I think they did.”
“Good then. Mission accomplished. I’ll meet you at the airport.”
“Thanks, Jim.”
“No problem.”
She hung up the phone and walked over to the window. A haze had fallen over the city and cut a few of the taller buildings in half. She looked at all the buildings for one last time. There were times in her life when she would look at a scene, and memorize it, so she could call it up into her mind when she wanted to. She did this at the beach in Miami, and she was doing it here, recording the layer of fog, the few buildings that pierced though the fog out into the sky, the shapes of the buildings, and the motion in the streets. Then she walked over to her bags, made sure everything was in order, and stretched out on the couch and waited for Carter.
Carter walked out ten minutes later and saw Sloane stretched out on the couch. “I thought you would have had your computer out by now, working, since you had to wait for me.”
“I thought I might as well enjoy this time while I’m still capable of it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Most of the time I feel like working. I want to work; it’s what makes me feel good. I get anxious just sitting around doing nothing constructive. But this morning I actually feel like lounging around for a bit. I did think that I could get my notes out and do a little work. A part of me still wants to. But then I thought: no, I should enjoy this moment of peace while I’m still capable of it.”
“I understand your love of your work, but I’m glad you’re able to relax here. Consider this your private spa; visit whenever you want. You have an open invitation.”
“And you have the same in Seattle,” she answered as she got up and straightened her clothes out.
“I’ll keep it in mind. Hey, are you sure you don’t want to go with me on my press check? I think you’d enjoy it.”
“No, I really should work through the rest of the weekend, even if that does just mean tonight. There’s too much I want to get done.”
“Isn’t there always?”
“I suppose there is. I’ll take a rain check, though.”
“You’ve got a deal.”
Carter picked up her weekend bag and her briefcase and handed her the trench coat as he guided her out of his apartment.

###

A strong gust of wind followed her into the airplane. Jim walked toward the cockpit. She turned toward the cockpit once she tucked away her luggage. “What time should we arrive in Seattle, Jim?”
“We gain three hours, so we should arrive no later than two in the afternoon.”
“I like trips like this, I like gaining a few more hours,” she thought. “I can get more work done.”
The plane made its way to the runway, and she leaned her seat back and listened to the roar of the engines. She closed her eyes, feeling the wheels lift off the ground and the gravitational pull as she was pulled away, farther and farther away from the earth.
As the plane started to level off, she reached under her seat and found her briefcase. Placing it on the table in front of her, she decided to pull out her note pad. She found the list that she had written on her flight this weekend. She read the last lines.

--------------------------
6. psychological treatments
6a. alleviate depression, may help immune system
6b. help memory to take drugs, and keep positive attitude
7. homeopathies
7a. nutrition, diet and herbs to improve general health
7b. herbs to alleviate nausea for patients who experience side effects
7c. vitamins and herbs with effects on immune system
7d. is there a psychologically positive effect of eating things good for you?
--------------------------

She thought about it. She decided to get on the internet when she got home and do some research. She called Kyle at home from her cellular phone.
“Hello?”
“Kyle? Hi, it’s Sloane.”
“Where are you? There’s a lot of static.”
“I’m flying back to Seattle now. Listen, I was wondering if you finished the report of what we’re going over with the staff tomorrow.”
“Yes, it’s finished. Where did you go this weekend?”
“I’ll tell you tomorrow. Can you fax your notes to my apartment?”
“Sure. You sound tired.”
“Yes, I suppose I am.”
“I hope you didn’t work all weekend.”
“Don’t worry about me, Kyle. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Placing the phone on the table next to her list, she closed her eyes for a moment, she thought about all the work she had ahead of her.

She felt a hand against her shoulder in her seat. “Wake up.”
Slowly opening her eyes, she jerked her head up and focused on Jim. “Jim, why aren’t you flying the plane?”
“We landed five minutes ago. You slept through the entire flight.”
Looking around for a moment, she attempted to collect her thoughts before she collected her things. She had work waiting for her at home.


chapter 4

The Different Approach

She didn’t know what had happened during that flight, but her headache was virtually gone when she got back into Seattle. she pulled her keys from her purse and unlocked her apartment door, made her way in, dropped her umbrella and luggage by the door, and slid her trench coat off.
She was famished.
Walking straight to her refrigerator, she grabbed her loaf of white bread, a package of sliced cheese, and her pack of deli ham. She walked to her fax machine and picked up the notes from Kyle.
Setting her food down, she went back to get her briefcase by the front door. Bringing it to her desk, she set her computer down next to her late lunch. After the cables for the power supply and the modem were connected, she turned on the computer to let it start up while she got a glass of water from the sink. She made her sandwich while the modem dialed on to her Internet service provider. The laptop made mechanical clicking and whirring noises as she ate.
Her next task was to get onto the Internet and go to a search engine. She typed “AIDS homeopathy” and hit enter.
One web site was found. “Homeopathy and beauty aids” -- which was the wrong kind of aids. She typed in “HIV Homeopathy” and hit enter.
There she found two sites, and went to them and started reading.
She went back to her search engine, typing “HIV nutrition” and hit enter.
There she found another three sites, and a few message boards. She started reading. She saved copies of the web sites on her computer. And then she started posting messages wherever she could on the Internet.

“Hello. I’m a researcher working on helping AIDS patients and people who are HIV-positive. Is there anyone out there who would be interested in telling me about alternative medicines, homeopathy, or nutrition they use in order to help themselves out? I’d like to learn more about this aspect of treating HIV and AIDS. Your stories will remain completely confidential. Please e-mail me at [email protected] Thank you very much for your time.

“Hello. I saw your posting on the web about using shark oil as a treatment for AIDS. Could you tell me how it works? I am very interested in learning about alternative treatments for AIDS. Please e-mail me at [email protected] Thank you.”

“Hi. Your posting talks about hypnosis used for treating a number of disorders. I was wondering if you have had any experience dealing with people that were HIV-positive or who had AIDS, and how hypnosis helped them. Anything you could e-mail me would be very helpful. E-mail me at [email protected] Thanks for your help.”

“Hello. I saw a few postings, including yours, about chiropractors working on AIDS patients. What benefit does going to a chiropractor have on someone testing HIV-positive? I’m very curious about this; if you have the time, I would like to hear more about it. Please e-mail me at [email protected] Thank you, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.”

“Hi. I’m posting because I’ve seen very little information about this. I have heard both the pros and cons of AIDS patients taking marijuana. I’m curious if anyone has done any studies or if anyone out there has been taking it to help with regaining the appetite, etc., and if it has had any effect on their immune system. All letters sent to me will remain entirely confidential. Any information I could get would be a great help. Please e-mail me at [email protected] Thanks, and good luck.”

“Hello. I’ve been looking for nutrition information for people that are HIV-positive or have full-blown AIDS. It is startlingly hard to find. Can anyone give me any dietary guidelines? Thank you in advance for any information at all. Please e-mail [email protected], and thanks again.”

“I have heard of taking herbs for reducing side effects of AIDS drugs, as well as for improving the general health of AIDS patients. Does anyone have any information that they could send to me, or does anyone know where I could look to find that information? Please e-mail me at [email protected], and thanks a lot for the help. I really appreciate it.”

She laced every posting with thank you notes and graciousness, hoping it would elicit more responses. She didn’t know if there was much of a network there on the Internet for AIDS patients.
She went to a homeopathy web site and started reading.

“The medical community has been focusing its efforts on coming up with ways to attack the AIDS virus. But there is another approach to fighting the disease as well: by bolstering the immune system. If you can improve your immune system, you will be better equipped to fight the virus.
“Natural herbs and homeopathy is a good general way to do this. Herbs have been found to increase memory, alleviate nausea, increase sexual drive, stimulate brain strength, alleviate headaches, lower cholesterol and improve general health. There are also ways to strengthen the lymph nodes, the nervous system and the immune system with herbs and natural remedies by taking substances topically, as extracts; as supplements, as powders or as a regular part of your diet. These herbs and foods are not drugs and do not have the harmful side effects that many drugs have; in fact, they are wholly good for you; they are a part of nature and are meant to be ingested.
“If these things exist in nature, then why do so many people in America, the richest country in the world, get sick? The choices we make for what we eat and how we take care of ourselves affect our health. As Americans we subject ourselves to more chemicals here than anywhere else in the world, and no one had these man-made chemicals in past generations to contend with. Also, in our modern diets, when we eat fast foods and limit ourselves in the choices of foods we eat, including the herbs, berries and barks that might have helpful remedies in them, we open ourselves up to ailments that were not a problem before.
“Here is an example: Americans in their old age, especially women, are likely to get osteoporosis. However, the incidents of osteoporosis are much lower in other countries. Although in undeveloped countries people may die before getting osteoporosis, people in even more developed countries get osteoporosis less than they do in America. We have plenty of calcium in our diets; we have the opportunity to eat more cheese and dairy products than many people in other countries do. So why is osteoporosis so common? It is because of our diets; it is because of the foods we choose to eat in America. Americans have more protein, in the form of meats and red meats in particular, in their diet than people in other countries do. The excess protein, the protein that is not ingested in our systems, passes through our bodies, but in order to do so effectively, the protein pulls calcium out of our system in order to help it pass. So by eating more meat products, we pull calcium from our bones and do the harm we try to correct by ingesting more calcium.
“The moral to the story? Two things. One is that our diets can improve, which will make us healthier. The other is that with the choices we have made with our food, we have eliminated some of the things we need from our food. And taking herbs and supplements can help bring them back.”

Looking over what was listed, she knew she had a lot of reading to do. She got up and started a pot of tea in the kitchen. She saved the text from that web site and moved on to the next one.
By ten in the evening she had gone through 140 pages of data from the Internet about homeopathy. She went back to the search engine and looked for AIDS clinical trials. She found reams of information of testing on other drugs, and she found some researchers working on vaccines. She pulled up their web pages and started reading. What she couldn’t find, however, were studies that worked with anything other than these two methods of attacking the virus. She knew she had to look for something else; researchers have been going along this one vein for so long that they did not stop to consider that there might be something worthwhile to pursue in another vein altogether.
She also noted that nowhere could she find information on any researchers working on coming up with a direct cure for this disease.
She reached into her briefcase and pulled out her list.

1. Improve Emivir
2. Integrase Inhibitor
3. Improve side effects and ease-of-use for drugs
--------------------------
4. a vaccine.
5. a cure.
--------------------------
6. psychological treatment
6a. alleviate depression, may help immune system
6b. help memory to take drugs, and keep positive attitude
7. homeopathy
7a. nutrition, diet and herbs to improve general health
7b. herbs to alleviate nausea for patients who experience side effects
7c. any vitamins and herbs with effects on immune system?
7d. is there a psychologically positive effect of eating things good for you?
--------------------------

She wondered if she should have added some Internet topics to that list.

alien abductions
government conspiracies
AIDS and homeopathy

Looking over her notes, she thought that she should get through the first seven ideas before she tried to tackle more.
After turned to her computer, she typed her original list and started adding notes. It was one-thirty Monday morning before she realized the time; she knew she couldn’t contact Kyle at this hour. She’d have to show everything to him in the morning.

###

For once it was morning and Steve couldn’t sleep. Usually it was four in the morning when he went to bed, not when he woke up.
Maybe this was a sign of his aging, he thought in passing. He tried not to think about things like that, he was under thirty, that couldn’t be it, he thought.
He reached over and grabbed his driver’s license from the counter, next to his alarm clock and his wallet. He looked at his name on the divers license.
“Stephen Errman”
He didn’t like his last name, he thought it sounded like an appliance company name. He preferred going by the initial, so his name would be Steve E. It sounded like there was more of a story to his name if people didn’t hear his full last name.
He looked at his bedroom walls. They were white, which were that way since he moved in. He didn’t want them in another color. There was no artwork on his walls. It looked stark.
He didn’t like that. He figured that everyone must think that he didn’t care about decorating his apartment.
Well, he didn’t care. But still, he occasionally thought about it.
He thought about his plans for the weekend. Kyle told him about the dinner this weekend, and he was looking forward to seeing Sloane. Usually on the weekends he would go to the local bars and find someone to hit on to pass the time.
He never thought of the women he talked to. He never thought about what they thought. He never even really knew what they thought about him. He knew that they paid him the attention he wanted, that they thought he was an important person, and they were honored that he was taking the time to talk to them.
Well, he was passing the time, and he was horny, and he liked their attention. But that was his little secret, something the women didn’t need to know.
Kyle probably didn’t even know that about Steve.
Going to a benefit dinner, though, that was something he normally didn’t normally get the chance to do. And he could talk to her, even if she didn’t want to talk to him much. He knew from visiting Kyle at work that she probably didn’t even remember what Steve looked like. He knew he was a good-looking guy, he knew he was a good dresser, he knew he had a job that impressed women.
Being a columnist for the city newspaper, having your name in the paper, well, that sounded impressive to a drunk woman.
He thought about it for a moment, thinking that maybe if Kyle was going to have any late nights at work, maybe Steve could stop by to be social. Maybe then she would remember him for their dinner party that weekend.
Maybe she would remember to call him this week, like she said she would when she got back in town. If not, he could visit Kyle, and then, maybe, Steve would be at least she might care to remember.
Maybe.
He knew it wasn’t a date. Kyle even made a point of mentioning that. Steve assumed that Kyle knew Steve was a bit of a drinker, and he liked to be social, and that he liked talking to women, and Steve assumed that was why Kyle warned him. Steve thought about how it would be an accomplishment if he could get her to like him.
Steve knew there were many other women, but Sloane was a challenge, making it special. It would be like she was a prize for Steve.

###

Kyle rolled over and looked at his clock. It read 6:11. He set his alarm for 7:00, but decided to get up early again. He got up quietly, so as not to wake up his wife, and went into the bathroom.
After his shower, Kyle started shaving. He noticed something different about himself this morning; he didn’t know what it was, but it seemed that he was doing his morning rituals effortlessly today, as if they weren’t a chore. He continued shaving and looked over at his sleeping wife in the next room.
Kyle grabbed his umbrella and his coat from next to the front door, like he did every morning. He walked outside and noticed the slight drizzle coming down over his awnings. He didn’t check out the window before he left to see if it was raining; he just knew that it would be, as always. For some reason the rain didn’t seem to bother him this morning. He got into his car.
The morning talk show Kyle listened to talked about the weather. They put a caller on the air. “When it’s raining hard it can be beautiful, but when you get this drizzle it’s like God is spitting on you.” Kyle decided to turn the radio off and continued his commute to work through the streets of Seattle.
He walked through the hallways of the company. He noticed that the lights were on in the lab. He walked through the door.
Sloane was walking toward the doorway to meet him. “I heard your foot steps coming down the hall. I’ve been waiting to talk to you.”
Kyle looked at her. She was wearing a gray pants suit; she looked very business-like, as if she were about to hold a press conference. Usually she just wore slacks and a blouse.
“Are you dressed for the meeting?”
“This?” She looked down at her clothes. “I guess I am.”
“What for?”
“I have a few ideas, and I thought I’d talk to Tyler at the end of the meeting for implementing them.”
“Tyler? What on earth for?”
“Maybe we could use him. Come here, I read your notes, and I had some additions for them. I’ve printed copies of my outline for the entire staff.”
Taking him over to a back laboratory table, she wanted to discuss items in her notes and papers that were scattered across the smooth metal surface.
“You’re going to need Howard’s help on this, and maybe someone else’s, to get all of these parts worked on. Maybe Ellen would be interested in working on this first part, but you guys can decide how to break things up.”
“And you’re going to be working on this second part?”
“Yes, but by all means I want people to help me. I want people to be a part of one of these teams in part one, and offer help to me if they want or if they come up with ideas in this second part.”
“And where on earth did you come up with the third and fourth parts?”
“Come here, let me show you something.” She walked Kyle to her office and turned her laptop screen toward him. It was already on and she was on the Internet. She opened her list of unopened e-mails. There were over 100 letters.
“See this? I did a little research last night about homeopathy and alternative medicines and therapies. I posted messages on different bulletin boards asking for people’s comments on what has worked for them. These are the first, mind you, the first letters I’ve received. It hasn’t even been a day since I posted my messages. There’s something out there, when it comes to homeopathy, and I think we can tap into it, keeping our patients as healthy as they can be, physically and mentally, before they even touch our drugs.”
“Maybe, but how do we make money with that?”
“You know, Kyle, I’m glad you asked that. It makes us money if our studies show more positive results, if our patients are healthier. But we also make money with these last two points, here and here.” She pointed to the bottom of her sheet. “And they’ll make Tyler happy, too.”
“A book? You know someone who might want to publish this?”
“Maybe.”
“You don’t think we’ll be laughed right out of the medical community?”
“First of all, I think my name and the credibility it has can help with book sales. Secondly, if the ’medical community’ is going to judge us on something other than our research, then who cares what they do to us?”
Kyle looked at her; he was amazed that she wanted to do something that seemed like it had nothing to do with medical research. “When did you come up with this? Where did you go this weekend?”
“Miami and New York.”
“Both? You were all over the place. Why?”
“Miami to work with a researcher there and New York...” She paused for an almost undetectable amount of time. “...To talk with a publisher there. Vice-President in charge of new clients at Quentin Publishing.”
Kyle was impressed. “At Quentin? You have someone there to help with it? And aren’t you exhausted? You were supposed to rest this weekend.”
“I did, Kyle, I did.” Sloane smiled and gestured toward the door. They walked out into the main laboratory and most of the staff was there. Howard walked over to both of them, and Sloane spoke. “Kyle, brief Howard on what’s going on around here. I’ll call Tyler right before we start the meeting. Tell everyone we’ll meet at nine o’clock. I’m going to see what my e-mail says.”
And with that she turned back to her office to go through her e-mail.


From: [email protected]
Date: Sunday, 11:43 p.m.
Subject: re: Marijuana and AIDS
I saw your posting asking about marijuana use and AIDS patients. What I don’t understand is why people don’t accept the medical benefits of marijuana use. Many people with AIDS I have talked to say that it improves their appetite, which is hard for them to keep when they experience their first real drops in T-Cell counts and their viral loads drastically increase. I’ve been told that marijuana not only increases cravings for food but also helps people hold down food better, which helps when people taking drugs have bad side effects.


From: [email protected]
Date: Sunday, 11:50 p.m.
Subject: re: Depression and AIDS
I had been diagnosed with depression and am on drugs for it. I saw your posting. Not only is depression a problem for healthy people, it is a bigger problem with AIDS patients, for two reasons. One is that they might not treat themselves as best they can. But the other is that depression is a syndrome, which the body treats in some respects like an illness. I know when I was going through the tough times I thought no one in the world knew what I was going through, and I felt so alone. And I don’t know if it was the feelings or my lack of caring about myself, but my health really suffered for it too. When someone has AIDS and is suffering from depression, they are in effect fighting two diseases -- two “syndromes” -- at once. The key is to alleviate depression so the body can focus on fighting AIDS.


From: [email protected]
Date: Sunday, 11:59 p.m.
Subject: re: immune system versus fighting virus
Most people are trying to fight the viruses in our bodies, like HIV, by attacking the viruses. Vaccines work by making the immune system fight the virus; we should be working on improving the immune system and not by getting drugs to attack the virus. I am on a nutritional system developed by doctors in North Carolina called Immuno-Fix, which is a food regimen as well as supplement system. It has produced dramatic results for me. I can get the address of them if you’re interested in starting up on Immuno-Fix. For once I feel like I’m taking my life in my own hands, and not waiting for doctors to probe me all the time. I’d suggest you try it.


Sloane earmarked this response after replying to it, asking for the e-mail addresses for the doctors in North Carolina, because she would like any and all information they could give her. She then read on.


From: [email protected]
Date: Monday, 12:11 A.M.
Subject: re: Diet
A friend of mine has AIDS and he has been told that a diet high in proteins and fats are good for him. He used to be a vegetarian on a macrobiotic diet; he had to drastically change his eating habits and eat a lot more meat, just to keep himself alive.
So make sure to look into the amounts of fat and protein you consume. I would think that maybe you could look for books about bodybuilding to see what kind of foods might be good. Gook luck to you.


From: [email protected]
Date: Monday, 12:13 A.M.
Subject: re: Shark liver oil
I have read some amazing reports about the rejuvenating effects of shark liver oil on the immune system. I don’t have the documentation with me; search the Internet and you might find it. Keep you eyes open for it, or ask around.


From: [email protected]
Date: Monday, 12:20 A.M.
Subject: ginger root -- your posting
I have known people to take ginger root to eliminate nausea. It is often used with motion sickness; I don’t see why it wouldn’t be beneficial for nausea associated with side effects with AIDS drugs, too. Hope this helps.


From: [email protected]
Date: Monday, 12:27 A.M.
Subject: re: Oxygen therapy and ozone therapy
Oxygen therapy and ozone therapy is being used in Canada, but it has been prohibited in the United States. They had good results, so why would the U.S. not let them continue to work? Because there’s no money in it; there’s no way to make a great profit from oxygen. Look into it. But all I can think is that if companies can sell water for so much money, then oxygen therapy and o-zone therapy could be sold well too... Even though the U.S. drug companies don’t want us to know about it, it is still out there somewhere. The government can’t stop everyone.


From: [email protected]
Date: Monday, 12:39 A.M.
Subject: re: Aloe Vera
Aloe Vera juice (not the topical stuff, 100 percent pure juice) has a lot of good health benefits. Go to a health store; they can special-order it for you and tell you more about it. I don’t know if it could help with what you’re looking for, but it might.


From: [email protected]userve.com
Date: Monday, 12:51 A.M.
Subject: re: Essiac Tea
I took Essiac Tea three times a day, and after three weeks my T-Cell count was up over 20 points. In three weeks -- that’s a great jump without drugs. It’s all-natural. There are a few places on the net that sell it. I swear by it.


From: [email protected]_hosp.gov
Date: Monday, 1:01 A.M.
Subject: re: Hypnosis
I am a licensed psychotherapist, and have heard about using hypnosis to alleviate depression and to mentally fight AIDS. Usually I use psychotherapy alone with relatively positive results. In all honesty, if someone says that doing a rain dance every day makes patients feel better, it’s going to have a positive result, a positive effect on their immune system, even if there’s no scientific reason for it.
That’s the hard part of doing studies on things like this -- there are so many other factors, and people in a control group may think that since they’re taking a certain supplement (even if it’s really a sugar pill placebo) may have positive results. Since we’re talking about affecting the mind and not directly the physical body, it’s hard to get definitive answers on what works, and things may work for only certain people, too.
Some people can easily be hypnotized, for example, and others can’t. But visualization using hypnosis could have some great potential effects.


From: [email protected]_cafe.com
Date: Monday, 1:19 A.M.
Subject: lymph nodes
I was told that the lymph nodes have a lot to do with the AIDS virus, and I know that there are good lymphatic herbs that can help the immune system.


From: [email protected]
Date: Monday, 1:27 A.M.
Subject: Garlic
I don’t know what kinds of applications it might have for AIDS patients, but I know that I have felt healthier and more energetic, as well as gotten sick less, since I’ve been adding garlic to my diet every day. (I also never get mosquito bites!) They have it in supplement form, but I just add it to my diet; it’s good tasting and then you can be sure you’re getting the pure stuff and it’s being properly digested in your body. They say that you only get like five percent of the vitamins out of supplements, so if you can get the real thing, by all means, take it.


From: [email protected]
Date: Monday, 1:33 A.M.
Subject: re: Oxygen therapy, ozone therapy
I forgot to mention that oxygen as O3 (in its unstable state) will destroy all viruses and bacteria; that much is true. And it returns to its O2 state in minutes. Look for places. They don’t allow it in the United States.


From: [email protected]
Date: Monday, 1:38 A.M.
Subject: tomatoes
I’ve loved tomatoes all of my life (and my parents get really good ones year ’round in Florida, I’m lucky), and lately I’ve heard about how good they are for you. Definitely for heart disease, but they’re also supposed to prevent some types of cancer too. It’s a vegetable (technically, it’s a fruit, because it grows seeds inside, like an orange, but you get the idea) that can be used in everything from a stir fry to a pasta sauce or a salad, it would be easy to add it into any meal, used as a garnish or sliced in for a sandwich. Even if you can’t have tomatoes in your meal, tomato soup is low-calorie and extremely good for you. It’s useful in so many ways, it might be good for AIDS patients too.


From: [email protected]
Date: Monday, 1:40 A.M.
Subject: soy products, and potential AIDS help
Hi. I’ll say this at the beginning, and I know AIDS was not an issue in Tibet all this time, but people have been known to live regularly well over 100 years, and I think they ate so much yogurt and soy. I don’t know anything about yogurt, other than they contain bacteria for your body’s defense system, but soy is supposed to be so good for you, containing isoflavins and other good stuff. And soy can be served as beans for snacking, tofu for protein, miso for excellent soup, and even in soy sauce for main courses. They even make soy milk for those who are lactose intolerant. I know you can take soy supplements, but if soy and yogurt are supposed to be so helpful to the human body, they may be helpful in the body when fighting AIDS as well.


Sloane wrote in her note pad that garlic could be added to tomato soup, or a stir fry with soy sauce. Then she wrote that tofu could be added to all soups and to main courses; then she wrote that nutrition and diet need to be explored very seriously for this potential future book of theirs.


From: [email protected]
Date: Monday, 2:08 A.M.
Subject: re: Problems with marijuana usage
Your concerns about marijuana usage for AIDS patients are well-founded. Since pot is usually smoked, respiratory problems like bronchitis are common with marijuana and AIDS patients; especially when their immune system is low. Continued usage can also affect memory loss and it can hamper the immune system. Cell metabolism can be impaired and endocrine gland changes can also result. This is why the government does not widely recommend the use of marijuana with AIDS patients.


It was just after nine in the morning; she had only read through a small portion of the letters she received. Howard knocked on her door.
“Come in.”
Howard opened the door. “Is it show time, Doc?”
“Okay, let’s go. Could you call Tyler as I start this and tell him to come to the lab?” She met him in the doorway and walked out to the main room.
Forty laboratory technicians and researchers sat on the metal stools in front of laboratory tables. She walked to the front of the room, where Kyle was standing. All eyes were fixed on her.
She started to speak to the room. “I know that probably most everyone on this team has been a little disappointed with the progress we haven’t been making since Emivir. And that is completely understandable: we made great progress in working on protease inhibitors -- and we should be very proud of ourselves -- but if you’re like me, you still want to move forward, and our lack of progress may seem daunting.
“But we can’t give up. This is one big puzzle, solving the AIDS crisis, and we added a few pieces to the left corner. But we can make that corner bigger. Or we can work on another area of the puzzle. Or we can be placing the pieces we have fit together into larger groups of pieces.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done, and in many other fields other than in protease inhibitors.” She turned to Kyle and signaled for him to pass out the outline she created. He handed her a copy first.
“I’ve been thinking about short-term ways we could be attacking this puzzle. This is Roman numeral one on the outline Kyle is passing out to you. We can continue working on improving Emivir, which is a very worthwhile cause. I think, however, that some people -- maybe a lot of people -- need to switch gears to rejuvenate themselves. I know on some levels that I do. That’s why I listed three other possible options. We can work on an integrase inhibitor, so our cocktails attack the virus on three levels instead of two. We can focus our efforts on improving the dosages of these drugs, so they’re easier to take and we don’t have problems with patients misusing medications, and we can work on eliminating the side effects that make a number of people unable to take the drugs. Both of those steps will broaden the number of people who can take the drugs as well as broaden the number of success stories with the drugs. We could also be working on engineering our drugs to focus only on HIV-infected cells, instead of having the drugs travel through the entire system looking for the virus.
“I’d like you to think about these options. If you have other ideas, please let me know. But I would like to work on all four of these plans. If we can agree on how they should be divided up, that would leave us with small groups of about ten people each. Kyle and Howard can help oversee how these groups are separated and what kind of progress you’re making.
“I don’t want to do this if you don’t want to. I’m doing this for two reasons: one, because this is what needs to be done in order to make some progress in this fight, and two, because I think we need to do it for ourselves. If I’m wrong, let me know.
“I’d also like to work on a vaccine and a cure. That’s Roman numeral two on the outline here. I say that I want to do it, and that this is what I personally am going to focus my energy on. It’s not that I don’t need help, or that I want to do it alone, but we need to make strides and advances on a regular basis in order to keep this department going strong in this company. We need to be producing a product in order to stay alive here. When it comes to ideas for a vaccine or for a cure, I’d like anyone’s help in working on these things, but it would have to be in addition to any work we take on for approaching our next step of research.
“Now the third and fourth parts of this outline are another way to fight the virus, one that we in the pharmaceutical community doesn’t pay attention to.” She turned her head and saw Tyler open the door to the lab. Kyle handed him an outline and asked him to take a seat. For once Tyler Gillian had perfect timing.
“I think we have been overlooking the psychological aspects of dealing with this disease. This is one reason why I want us to come up with a way to time-release and condense our cocktails so that the dosages can be bearable. Every time someone takes a pill -- and they might have to take a different pill up to sixty times a day -- they are reminded that they have a deadly disease, one that has probably cost them their jobs, or some of their friends and family. If we can make these drugs easier to take, it may alleviate depression, which has a negative effect on the ability of the immune system.
“But there are other ways to also alleviate depression, and they may be in things like psychotherapy, discussion groups -- even hypnosis.
“But more than depression I’d like to touch on homeopathy, the last point on the outline. We all know that a good diet is important to a healthy body, and that is more apparent and especially vital in a patient with full-blown AIDS. But it’s still something that we tend to overlook. If we can come up with guidelines for nutrition, as well as look into alternative therapies and medicines, we may really be on to something. There are herbs that may have a positive effect on the immune system. There may be herbs that alleviate some of the side effects current AIDS drug users experience. There are people who praise the benefits of acupuncture and acupressure to relieving symptoms of diseases. This information exists; we should utilize it and test it.
“How do we go about utilizing this information? By making every aspect of homeopathy more accessible to AIDS patients. How do we do that? By researching what people recommend and running a clinical study. After the results come in, we publish a book. Not for the journals, although we can publish a report of our findings in the journals, too. But we publish a mainstream book. Each of us can write an essay in it, and the marketing department can clean it up.”
Turning toward Tyler’s direction, she continued. “The book sales will get our names out into the open, it will make us look like we are a kind and caring company, making Madison Pharmaceuticals a good share of money.
“But there’s another way it can make Madison Pharmaceuticals money, and that is to sell vitamins and herbal supplements, in the amounts that we tested our subjects with. They’re not drugs, so we don’t need to wait for approval, and we don’t have to claim a guarantee of positive side effects with taking them. The book will explain what these vitamins and herbs can do. It will be easy to make, and I think people will really want to buy it.
“The key to this book is that we have to get it out quickly. If we get someone, a temp, to collect research, we could each write an essay within a month. During this time we could collect people for a study -- run a quick story, and finish the book with the results from a simple study of more immediate responses to vitamins -- and herbs in particular. Then we send the book off to press. Within the two months it will take to write and print the book we can produce the supplements -- in fact, we don’t even have to be the ones doing it, it can be outsourced. But we have to get this all done quickly. Hopefully we will all be up to the challenge.
“Whether or not the alternative medicines have a direct physiological effect is almost irrelevant, although I think that they may. The psychological effect of taking positive steps to help you may produce a positive effect on the immune system. And focusing on the immune system and not on the virus will be positive for the patient mentally as well as physically. I think a greater effort has to be taken to build up the human immune system to this and stop it before it infects the body, where the immune system seems to just be fighting a losing battle. The susceptibility of the individual infected, their resistance, can possibly determine the development and spread of HIV more than the virus itself.
“Okay, I think I’ve talked too much. But I also think that we could get through the research and have a homeopathic regimen outlined by the end of the week. If we immediately started a study, we could have a book almost finished by the time the study was done, which should be about a month. So in two months we could have a book out on the shelves, affecting people, all while we’re working on other levels of attacking the virus.
“Okay, now I’ve definitely talked too much.” She heard a low laugh throughout the room; when she focused on the people she was talking to, she scanned the room and saw that most everyone was smiling at her. “I want to hear what you have to say, and I’m sure you guys want to talk to me and discuss some of these options. So, instead of making everyone listen, I’ll be in my office. Please come in and talk to me, give me input, tell me I’m crazy, anything. We’re in this together, remember that, and I want to know if we’re all on the same page.
“I’m not doing any laboratory work today. I’ll be in my office. Please come in and talk to me, or if you already have an idea of how you want to focus your work, talk to Kyle and Howard. And most of all, thank you. You know we can do this. Thanks.”
After she started walking through the room, one of the technicians started clapping. By the time she was in the back of the room, all 44 people were applauding her. It was a response she didn’t expect. She turned around and smiled at everyone, then turned back toward her office.
She sat down and looked back at her list from the meeting.

--------------------------
I. Staff Jobs: Four Teams for short-range progress
1. Improve Emivir for longer period of effectiveness in the body
2. Integrase Inhibitor, so there are three HIV enzymes being attacked
3. Improve side effects and ease-of-use for drugs, so drugs can be easily taken
4. Engineer drugs to attack only HIV-infected cells, instead of going through all of the blood stream
--------------------------
II. Emerson Research: Individual, with input
5. Vaccines
5a. Kill the HIV virus; use dead virus as vaccine
5b. Use SIV virus; vaccine developed from monkey studies
5c. Find key to African women that makes them immune to HIV
5d. Confer via Internet with other researchers working on vaccines
6. A Cure
6a. Alternative therapies: radiation; hot and cold therapy, oxygen (or ozone) therapy, other options
6b. Drug therapy: After (I) is complete, can we speed the time to kill HIV?
--------------------------
III. Psychological Treatment
7. Alleviate depression, may help immune system
8. Help memory to take drugs, and keep positive attitude
9. Hypnosis
10. Psychologically positive effect of eating things good for you (see point IV)
--------------------------
IV. Homeopathy
11. Nutrition, diet and herbs to improve general health
12. Herbs to alleviate nausea and other side effects of taking drugs
13. Vitamins and herbs with effects on immune system
14. Use of chiropractors, massage, acupuncture, acupressure
15. Perform AIDS study with control group and group of patients who are following homeopathic guidelines
16. Package supplements for sale with book on fighting AIDS
16a. Quentin Publishing Company
16b. Researchers can each write sections, have it filled in and edited by Marketing Department.
16c. Winning the War from The inside:
Homeopathic Remedies to Give You the Edge in Fighting AIDS
--------------------------

Tyler was the first to walk into her office.
“Just one thing I want to know.”
“Yes, Tyler?”
“Point 16c.” Looked at her notes, she then looked back at him as he continued. “Is that your catchy-marketing-style subhead for the title of the book?”
“Actually, that was my effort at marketing to the masses. You can change it, but you get the idea.”
“Actually, it’s pretty good,” Tyler said, looking at the page.
“Do you think this book is a good idea? It’ll get the team out into the public, and that’s what you’ve wanted. It’ll make us look like a kind and caring research team, which is apparently something of a problem, at least in your eyes.”
“Yes -- it might actually make you look human.” Tyler smiled and walked toward the door.
Smiling at his comment, she said, “Let me know what you need, detail-wise. I know a publisher that might be interested in it. Quentin Publishing. I have a connection there.”
Tyler turned back to Sloane. “You? Use connections? I thought you’d never stoop so low.”
“If I didn’t think it would be a good book, I wouldn’t do my connection the favor.”
Tyler smiled again and walked out the door.
The rest of the day was spent in her office talking to people from the lab. She was surprised and relieved to know that everyone in the laboratory agreed that they needed to redirect their research. People told her they appreciated the fact that she gave them options of what interested them the most and that she wanted to hear their opinions. “We have to make sure we have enough people working on each aspect, but as long as there are enough people working on each part of the plan, things should work out just fine,” she told them. She also decided that after talking to people during the day that she would come up with reports on her progress for people to go over, in case they have any insight to ideas they would like to offer to her.
What pleased her most was that everyone was pleased with the new work, even though it would mean a lot of overtime and very little rest in the next six months.

###

Tyler came in to her office again toward the end of the day.
“I just looked over the rest of your notes. I missed the beginning of your meeting.”
“The beginning of the meeting was about redirecting our laboratory work; it didn’t have anything to do with P.R. or marketing.”
“But my worry is that there is a Hell of a lot of work you’ve got this staff doing.”
“Okay, but they all seem very interested in doing it.”
“Well yes, but will there be time to work on this book project?”
“Maybe, if you can help me out. Is there a receptionist or an office manager that can gather information, you know, get my letters from e-mail about homeopathy, get research about homeopathy, then print everything, sort it all, and make copies for my department? That way my time isn’t taken up doing that sort of thing and people can read information when they’re at home instead of wasting work time doing it.”
“Sure, I can get a girl in here. What exactly would you need her for?”
“To search the Internet and other sources for homeopathy information that would pertain to AIDS, the immune system, side effects like nausea, or even general health. Study anything from herbs to nutrition to supplements to hypnosis and psychotherapy. Get lists of chiropractors, and acupuncturists. To print out my e-mail I’ve been getting about homeopathy and collect with her data and sort it and reprint it for my staff, so they can decide what they want to write about. So we’ll have all the information we need to come up with a study quickly.”
“So you need someone with Internet knowledge too?”
“Yes. When could this happen?”
Tyler answered, “Someone will be here tomorrow.” Tyler turned to the doorway.
“You’re being awfully helpful,” he heard her say as he reached the doorway.
“You’re scratching my back, so I figure I better scratch yours.” Tyler walked out of the room.
She didn’t think that she was scratching anyone’s back. But for now she’d let him believe what he needed to.
Leaned back, she looked at her watch. It was ten minutes to five o’clock. She couldn’t believe she spent the entire day just talking to people. She figured she could get more done once everyone in the office left. Then she thought about what Tyler said as he left. “He probably does think he’s doing a favor to me,” Sloane said aloud to herself as she leaned toward her laptop.
Her phone rang.
“Hello?”
“It’s Colin. How was the weekend?”
“Eventful. Thanks for the use of the plane.”
“Not a problem. Listen, Tyler forwarded a copy of your meeting outline to me. You’ve got a lot of ideas here.”
“Tyler’s even trying to help me out with the book idea.”
“If that’s what one weekend with my plane produces, then use the plane whenever you want.”
“Thanks, sir.”
“Keep up the good work, and I’ll talk to you later.”
“Have a good night, sir,”
“You too.”
Thinking about her New York “connection”, she realized she hadn’t even bounced the idea off of him. She figured she’d better call him at home.
“Hello?”
“Carter, hi, it’s me, Sloane.”
“Hey, thanks for calling. I was wondering if you got in okay.” “Yeah, everything was fine,” she answered and remembered his trip to Ohio. “I didn’t even know if I’d get a hold of you or if you would still be at the plant doing your press check.”
“No, I’ve been back for a bit. What’s going on? I can’t believe you’re calling to be social, that’s not like you.”
“Well, no. Am I that transparent?”
“It’s not transparency, not at all. So what’s going on?”
“Late last night, as I was doing research on homeopathy for AIDS patients, I thought it would be a good idea to run a study. Not only publish the results in a journal but to write a book about it. To get the information out to the people.”
Carter sounded pleased. “Tell me this is where I come in.”
“Of course. I was wondering if you -- if Quentin Publishing -- would be interested in the book.”
“Would your name be on it?” he asked.
“Yes, I’d write some for it, as would a lot of people from my staff. We might all do a chapter or something. But I want to get this out quickly, because the longer we wait the longer people aren’t taking care of themselves. Madison was also thinking of running supplements that coincide with the results of the studies and with what we talk about in the book, you know, over the counter herbal extracts, vitamins and similar things.”
“Sounds like a good idea, and I’m sure it would sell with your name on it. When you say quickly, exactly how quickly do you mean?”
“How about a month?”
“That’s all the time you need?”
“We are expecting some results back in about three weeks. We’re collecting data, and we will be writing while the study is going on. We will write the study results when it is done, and voila. Just over a month.”
“This is like a present. I think my bosses would love me for this.”
“My bosses seem to love me for this too,” she said.
“I’ll bounce it to them tomorrow,” he answered. “Can you have an outline to me by the weekend?”
“Sure. I’ll fax it to you.... Do you think this could happen?”
“I think this will almost certainly happen. This is what has been selling. I’m sure they’ll eat it up with a spoon.”
“Good. I’ll get to work on it then.”
“And thanks for thinking of me.”
“Whom else would I have gone to?”
Carter laughed. “Well, send me info as you get it, and I’ll let you know how the pitch goes. Talk to you soon.”
“Bye.”
Setting the receiver down, all she could think was that he respects her, she knows he does, maybe more than he does any other woman.
“Who else would I think of?” She said to herself as she heard a knock on her door.
“Come in.”
Kyle opened the door. “Everybody’s getting pizza. Want some?”
“Sure. Kyle, how do you think it went today?”
“Great. I mean, really great. Everyone seems alive again. We’ve been working it out all day, and it seems pretty evenly divided. I think people that don’t have a preference on what they’re currently working on are happy that they’re given the choice and therefore go where they’re needed most. Everyone has been talking about ideas with each other all day. They’re all acting like they’re in college again.”
“What does that mean?”
“You know how you were in college? You wanted to conquer everything, and you thought you could, too. And then people get realistic once they’re in the real world. Well, they’re acting like they’re in college again, like they can do anything.”
“Kyle, do people lose that feeling?”
Kyle stopped. “Well, yeah, they do.”
“They lose their enthusiasm?”
Kyle looked at her. He realized that she had never lost that feeling in her life. “Yeah. Some people just need to be reminded of it.”
Suddenly she realized why her staff needed the redirection: not because their track was difficult, but because they forgot about the track. She tried to smile at Kyle. “Let me know when the pizza arrives.”
“Got it.” Kyle walked out the door.
She thought about it. How do people lose their way? When they know something is right, how does the real world -- i.e., the facts of reality -- turn them away from what they knew was right? Shouldn’t reality reaffirm their views -- if their views were right?
She rubbed her face. She knew she would not be able to understand that. Like the demanding lobby groups, or the sweet-talking of Tyler, or the begging of her family to adhere to values that don’t make sense to her, this would be another mystery of life that eluded her. She looked at her laptop computer again and started reading more of her e-mail.


From: [email protected]
Date: Monday, 2:40 A.M.
Subject: Acupressure and acupuncture
I am a doctor that has been having acupuncture and acupressure therapy for my arthritis for years. I have been talking to the people that do this work and they have noticed that there has been an increase in AIDS patients that have come to them requesting sessions to improve their immune systems and their nervous systems. The acupuncturist I talk to said that they have had relatively good results with their patients; they can’t say whether their work directly increases the T-Cell count or reduces the viral load of patients, but it may help with an increase in energy levels, and otherwise may deliver a more positive attitude to the patients.
I don’t know if there is any place for you to go to look into this, but I would suggest looking into acupuncture and acupressure to see if it helps you.


She noticed that a lot people assumed she had AIDS. She read on.


From: [email protected]
Date: Monday, 2:55 A.M.
Subject: chiropractic
There was a chiropractic study done that produced great results. Half of our subjects had above normal improvements in their CD4 count. The continuation was shot down, however, for political reasons. The drug companies who pay off the government would not like to give any credence to our findings.
But the results were very promising. Keep in mind that it wasn’t a cure; it worked best when used in conjunction with medicine.


Kyle came in with two slices of cheese pizza for her. She went back to reading.


From: [email protected]
Date: Monday, 3:02 A.M.
Subject: re: cure for AIDS
I have found a miracle cure that has been used by the Japanese for centuries to cure AIDS. Please visit my web site at http://www.stavros.com/AIDScure.html to see how they used colloidal minerals to cure AIDS and how you to can now use this revolutionary combination of all-natural products.


Sloane quickly learned that e-mails touting cures and listing web sites to go to were sales pitches, usually for glorified water. She read on.


From: [email protected]
Date: Monday, 3:10 A.M.
Subject: re: homeopathy versus drugs
I heard of a study once where a doctor had 50 AIDS patients, and only four had survived. They were the only ones who refused to take AZT or other AIDS drugs.
Have you heard of this? I keep trying to get information about it, but no one can help me out. Maybe you’ll have better luck with it. Good luck.


From: [email protected]
Date: Monday, 3:12 A.M.
Subject: vitamin supplements
I have AIDS. I was in a study where half of the patients (we were all just diagnosed and on the same medications) took a multi-vitamin pill and the other half didn’t. Although no one improved, the half that took the multi-vitamin supplement deteriorated at a slower rate than the control group did.
I swear by vitamins now; I have had AIDS for four years and feel great. I think that if supplements work, everyone should take them.


Reading a fraction of the responses, she kept all the files for the woman coming in tomorrow to process.
Her watch read 7:30. She could continue her work at home, she thought, so she shut her computer down and placed it in her briefcase. She grabbed her trench coat and umbrella, picked up her briefcase and stepped out the door. About 15 people were still working, in the lab, and it caught her off guard. She looked up at the remaining staff. They returned her gaze.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” one of the technicians finally said.
“I thought I was the last one here,” she said.
“Oh, we might be going soon, we were just on a roll.”
“Don’t work too late.”
“We won’t. Good-night.”
Walking out the door, she was content with the hope that everything was right once again, and made her way home.

###

Walking into her apartment, she dropped everything off and went toward her desk. Thinking about the aspect of her plan that she had been avoiding all day, she couldn’t get her mind off a vaccine. She knew that because people still didn’t know enough about how the virus hides in the body, it would be impossible to know if a vaccine was even successful for a long time, but work on a vaccine needed to be started on, immediately.
She also knew that tomorrow night there would have to be reports generated about homeopathic remedies that her and her staff would have to read. So tonight was her night to work on a vaccine.
She walked over to her computer. She turned it on and let it start up while she started the shower. After her shower, she put on a sweat suit and looked through her mail. She noticed a lingerie mail order catalog, and opened it instead of throwing it away, like she usually would have. She browsed through the pages and eventually picked up the phone and called the toll-free number.
“Hi, I’d like to order something from your most recent catalog... Yes, it item number A732-C. The full-length version... Extra-large. No, I’d like it in white. Oh, I get a monogram on the pocket? Oh, it’s S, E, E. Yes, E... Sloane Evelyn Emerson... How long will it take? Oh, it’s a Visa card. 8645, xxxx, xxxx, xxxx... February next year... Six to eight weeks? Okay... Yes, send to the address from the catalog... Yes, I guess it is kind of funny, that I bought that when there is so much lingerie in the catalog... Can I return it if it doesn’t fit? Okay. Thank you very much.” She hung up the phone, dropped the catalog on the cocktail table in front of her couch and walked over to her desk to get on the Internet.
The catalog fell open on the cocktail table, and in the upper-right hand corner of the right page was the over-sized terry-cloth bathrobe she ordered.
There were a number of sites on the Internet about research for AIDS vaccines. She copied the data, from trials and studies as well as from researcher’s papers, and took notes in a separate document. She looked over some of her notes as she finished reading, at two in the morning.


1. Most vaccines are live, attenuated vaccines, using live viruses that have been weakened (by deleting genes, or using strains that replicate only under certain conditions) so they don’t cause illness but can generate immune responses. In other words, the virus is changed to be non-threatening, but can still produce immunity to the unchanged virus.
2. The level of attenuation will vary because of the number or location of engineered deletions. In other words, the more you change the live virus, the less effective it will be.
3. From other studies on monkeys, the longer they wait before infecting vaccinated monkeys, the better the chance of protection. In other words, the longer the vaccine is left without being tested in the body, the better it worked.
4. There is a naturally occurring attenuated HIV strain that lacks HIV’s nef gene. Of the few cases where people had this strain, none of them could get AIDS.
5. A very small fraction of people vaccinated do develop disease. An attenuated AIDS vaccine can still cause the virus to grow in some patients. This is a concern for administering a potentially deadly disease to a person receiving a vaccine. An attenuated HIV also may mutate and end up reverting to a virulent form. This needs to be researched further.
6. Other viruses are cleared from the body, but HIV inserts itself into genes and stays there forever. This may cause complications in fighting the virus over a sustained period of time.
7. Chronic HIV infection may lead to diseases other than AIDS.
8. A study of monkeys vaccinated showed healthy monkeys, but infected newborns. They passed the virus, in an unchecked form, to their children.
9. In past trials on humans: They showed a stimulated production of antibodies, but levels went down in a short period of time.
10. People who stay alive despite being infected can give us insight as to how to go about creating a vaccine. There are two types of such people: one is the person who maintains relatively normal levels of T-Cells; the other is the person with a low T-Cell count that can still remain healthy.
11. Each subtype of the virus (there are nearly ten in each of both types) within a group is about 30 percent different from any of the others. But other virus vaccines only protected people against one or a limited number of strains.
12. Broad-based immunity may be dependent therefore on a cocktail of vaccines that would address the wide variety of mutation.
13. HIV can be transmitted into the body:
13a. as a free virus,
13b. within infected cells, and
13c. via sexual contact (mucus activity).
Therefore a vaccine might need to be able to defend against all types of infection as well, otherwise a vaccine might work well in protection against sexual encounters, but not in injections, for instance.
14. Adjuvants can help with an AIDS vaccine that may not have the full virus.
15. There is no good animal model to study HIV vaccines.
16. live recombinant vectors may be another avenue
16a. vaccines of HIV genome combined with non-disease-producing carrier viruses such as vaccinia.
17. Safety concerns, particularly with infants, must be taken into consideration before research can continue.
18. Human immune system tissues have been transplanted into mice to test HIV vaccines.


Looking over her list, she remembered reading a line from one of the sites. The site stated that a vaccine has to be developed and produced to prevent infection not only in the United States, but world-wide. That statement bothered her, not because she wanted to limit the use of a vaccine, but because the vaccine would obviously be used in any country, not just the United States. “Ninety percent of people infected are in undeveloped countries,” she thought. “Why would we limit the usage of the vaccine to just the United States?”
Then it occurred to her why that statement was in the report she read. It was not because it was a statement about the elimination of the virus on a world-wide scale, it was a statement about the United States having to probably pay for the world wide use of the vaccine. If a third world country needed it but couldn’t afford it, that statement suggested that it would be the United States’ responsibility -- not any other country -- to pay for it. That we were expected to pay for it somehow, and not the people that would be demanding it for free. She leaned back in her chair. “Who pays for their free vaccines? The taxpayers.” She thought back to her conversation with Toby about getting something for free -- that nothing is free, that someone pays for it somewhere.
She thought about the lobbyists who wanted Madison Pharmaceuticals to give drugs to people who couldn’t afford it. Someone has to pay for it somewhere, she thought.
Who would end up paying?
Her last dream came to mind again -- vaccinating African children because it would look good in the papers, that they would look like a kind and caring company.
All she could do was look back over her notes. She knew there was more she had to read, but she needed her sleep.

###

At just before 10:00 a.m. Tuesday morning at Quentin Publishing the conference room started to fill with employees. Account managers and Vice-Presidents came to this monthly status meeting, and Carter Donovan was no exception. This time, though, he had an ace up his sleeve.
After everyone took their seats at the long oval mahogany table, the meeting began. Profit margins and schedules were discussed, as were upcoming books. This is when Carter chimed in.
“I think I have a new client who could give us some really good exposure.”
“What’s the book about?” whined Shelly Stempel, the first to reject an idea, the first to claim someone else’s good idea as her own and the first to attempt to charm anyone in the office to get her way. Somehow, Carter thought, she managed to get promoted anyway.
“It’s about AIDS and homeopathy, additional steps an individual can take to bolster their immune system and improve their general health. It’s about taking charge as an individual, making it through AIDS.”
“That sounds like it might have some potential,” answered Bryce Farrell, the head of their marketing department. He was a “yes” man, when he thought it would get him somewhere. “You’ve received offers like this before, but then there is no credence to the author so we don’t jump on it. But without a lot of exposure, it might not go anywhere.”
“There’s no reason this book shouldn’t have a lot of exposure. I haven’t told you the punch line yet,” Carter answered. “It’s the client’s name that will get this book in all of the papers and put this book on the best sellers lists.”
“And?” Shelly asked.
“Dr. Sloane Emerson.”
“You got Ms. Emerson?” Bryce asked. “She won’t even do press conferences.”
“I know, but she wants to do a book. Emerson and her staff will be writing it, it should be done in a month. Madison Pharmaceuticals wants to advertise with the release of this book too, maybe bring out a line of supplements for AIDS patients that go in conjunction with the study they’re doing, the results of which will be uncovered in this book.”
“How did you get her?” someone asked at the other end of the room.
“I have my ways,” Carter answered. Let them think I wooed her, he thought. Let them think that I managed to convince her with my business sense. “And I’m sure we could convince her to do some publicity stuff, even if it is minimal, like a press conference instead of a book signing.”
“The more we could get from her,” Bryce said, “the more we could--”
“Look, this is a surprise that we’ve got her in the first place. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. This is a gem. Let’s not screw this up. I’ll take care of it.”
Carter looked around the room at the expressions on everyone’s faces to make sure they wouldn’t try to get in his way. “Now, Dr. Emerson wants to get this book out as soon as possible, you know, so it can help as many people as possible. I couldn’t agree with her more. While she’s still riding on her Emivir fame and while the AIDS topic is still hot is the best time to jump on this. I think maybe we should send someone out there to proof pages as they’re being written, so we can go to press with this ASAP. I’ll bounce some numbers around, and get exact figures for print counts and the like before she’s got a finished manuscript.”
Carter sat down.
“Good work, Carter,” Bryce said. Carter knew Bryce was angry that Carter was getting the attention, but he was covering it up well. Besides, Bryce knew that he’d only get on the bosses’ bad list if he rejected this book, which seemed as good as gold for them. “Thanks, Bryce,” Carter answered.
“Yeah, good work, Carter,” Shelly added, as if she was trying to play with the big boys by following their lead. Carter smiled at her without speaking or verbally thanking her, then went back to his papers.
The meeting continued for only a few more minutes. Then everyone left for their offices. Carter walked over to the window, looked at the view from the conference room. He looked over at the thousands of offices and thought that they were filled with people working, like him.
Or were they like Shelly and Bryce?
Carter looked down at his watch. It read 10:30. With the time change, Carter figured Sloane wasn’t even in the office yet, so there was no point in calling to tell her the good news.
Carter was wrong. She arrived in her laboratory before seven.
Looking over the last of her notes, she read about vaccines. She would have the new girl print up her notes for the staff, so they could think about vaccines as well as their new work. She looked over the list of possible types of vaccines in which she found merit.


1. Sub-unit Vaccine: a piece of the outer surface of HIV, genetically engineered.
2. Recombinant Vector Vaccine: a live virus such as vaccinia (smallpox vaccine) modified to transport part of HIV.
3. Vaccine Combination: use recombinant vector vaccine followed by booster shots of sub-unit vaccine.
4. Peptide Vaccine: chemically synthesized pieces of HIV proteins (peptides).
5. Virus-Like Particle Vaccine: a non-infectious HIV that has one or more, but not all, HIV proteins.
6. Plasmid DNA Vaccine (nucleic acid vaccine): direct injection of genes coding for HIV proteins.
7. Whole-Inactivated Virus Vaccine: HIV inactivated by chemicals, irradiation, etc., so it is not infectious.
8. Live-Attenuated Virus Vaccine: live HIV where one or more disease-promoting genes have been deleted.


“If we could generate estimates of how HIV usually mutates in the body we might be able to create a drug that can recognize the mutations and attack them all. Or maybe the drug would be an injection of engineered cells that could actually mutate the way HIV would, to change while the virus is changing, and be able to stop it.” Her eyes widened. “But that would be a cure, not a vaccine,” she thought.
“But that might be almost impossible,” she thought again. She looked at her laptop. She created a new file and typed in her idea.
It was eight o’clock; a good portion of her staff was already in the laboratory working. She saw Howard at the other side of the room. She walked over.
“Howard, good morning.”
“Good morning.”
“Have you made any progress on placing people into teams?”
“They pretty much placed themselves by the end of the work day yesterday. They were coming up with outlines after work, divisions of labor, brainstorming, that kind of thing when you left.”
“What time did everyone leave yesterday?”
“Most everyone stayed late. I left at about eight-thirty. I know Kyle was here late, with some of the staff, until like eleven or twelve.”
“And they’re here this early?”
“You know, they’ve got work to do.” Howard smiled then.
“Can you have a list for me of what everyone is working on, by group?”
“Sure can. Anything else?”
“Let everyone know that sometime today they’ll have reams of information about homeopathy for them to read when they get a chance. Tell them to think about two things: one, which aspect of homeopathy interests them the most for writing about, and two, what exactly should be done in the study.”
“Got it.”
“And one of the first things they’ll get this morning is a few sheets of notes I’ve taken about work done so far on vaccines for HIV, along with a few ideas I had for further research. If they can go over it and bounce around any ideas in their heads, that would be great, too.”
“So you kept working last night, after you got home?”
“Of course. What else was I going to do?”
Howard knew that most people would have said that with an air of hostility toward others, that most people long for more of a social life. He knew that for her, however, it was a proclamation of her love for her work.
Walking back toward her office, she saw Kyle come in the laboratory door. “Good morning, Kyle.”
“Good morning.”
“You know,” she said, leaning closer to him and starting to whisper, “you shouldn’t stay here so late. Some people will think you’re obsessed with your work.” She looked at him and smiled. Kyle smiled back and she turned back toward her office. “Kyle,” she said, as she kept walking, “ask Howard what we were just talking about. He can fill you in.”
“Got it, chief,” Kyle answered as he took off his trench coat.
“Oh, Kyle,” she said before Kyle was out of speaking range, “let me know if there’s anything about this dinner event that I’m supposed to know. I should probably call Steve back, too... And thanks.”
Kyle was pleased that Sloane wanted to call Steve, and he thought about the fact that just four work days earlier he did not want to get up in the morning to come into work. “So this is what it’s supposed to feel like,” he proudly thought, and walked across the laboratory toward Howard.
Going back into her office, she started thinking about the vaccines again when she heard a knock on her door. It was the new girl, Julie, a temp, who would be working for her for the next month.
Julie was handed Sloane’s notes on the vaccines she researched the night before to print and copy. Then she gave Julie access to her e-mail to get the information about natural remedies. “Save any messages for me that aren’t about homeopathy,” she explained. “And tell me: do you know a lot about getting information in the Internet?”
“It’s my specialty.”
“Perfect. If you can find anything along the lines of what’s in the e-mail letters, pull up the information and organize it all. And make sure to keep the e-mail addresses and dates of the mailings, so we know how to contact these people if we need to, and have records of where all of this dated information is from.”
“How quickly do you need this?”
“The end of the day?”
Julie lost her smile. “I’ll do what I can, Ms. Emerson, but if I have until tomorrow I can get a more thorough report out for you.”
“Okay, let me know how it goes.”
The phone rang. She picked up the receiver.
“Sloane Emerson.”
“It’s me, Carter.”
“Hey, Carter, how are you?”
“Oh, I’m fine.”
“When was it I saw you last? I think it was about a year ago.”
“It was just a little under forty-eight hours ago, actually.”
“Wow, it seems like a world away already.” They both laughed. “So what do I owe the honor of this phone call?”
“Well, I heard that you wanted to print a book.”
“Oh, yeah, that. But I can’t imagine why I didn’t think of writing my biography before.” Carter started laughing again before he started speaking. “Listen, we had a meeting this morning, and I mentioned your book in the meeting, and everyone was stunned. You better be serious about this, or I’ll be the laughing stock of this company.”
“Why is that?”
“Because I told them I got you on board.”
“And not that I came to you? For shame, Carter.”
“You can’t back down on me now, or you’ll destroy my illustrious career.”
“Not a problem. We’re still going to do this. Now, I know you’re not one for press releases, so I can imagine you’d hate book signing events.”
“Good guess. But I can handle a press conference or two for this, I understand that these things need to be done. I mean, we’re trying to sell a book here, which you need to market me for; we’re selling a book, not saving lives.”
“You just might be. Saving lives, that is. Either way I’ll speed this along by sending someone to your office to proofread chapters as they’re written.”
“Smashing idea, chap.” Carter started laughing again. She did her best to continue. “Can they be here in two weeks, and stay for a week?”
“That would be perfect. You’ll have work for them by then?”
“Definitely. Carter, the professional side of me would feel safer with this book if you came with the proofreader... And thanks for helping me on this.”
“You’re helping me out on this. Just one favor.”
“Yes?”
“When this goes to press, can I cash in my rain check and get you to go to the press run with me?”
“You know, I’d love to see it. I’ll be there.”
“Great. Call me if there are any changes.”
“And you do the same.”
After hanging up the phone, she walked out into the laboratory and checked up on the groups.

The next few days were filled with work, except for the visit the office got from Steve on Wednesday. Steve came there to see Kyle, Kyle knew that, everyone else knew that, but in the back of Steve’s mind he knew he was visiting in part to make an impression on her.
Steve barely got a chance to talk to her while he was there. He’d try to ask a question periodically, but he knew that this wasn’t his field and he didn’t know everything they did for these drugs.
Steve managed to get her alone for a bit to talk about her work. “So how do the integrase inhibitors work?” Steve asked her.
“Basically, they attack a certain part of the virus. The more kinds of inhibitors that work, well, that means that the virus is being attacked on different levels. And it’s therefore being attacked more efficiently, so to speak.”
“So why the work on improving Emivir?”
“Well,” Kyle stopped by her office and cut in, “AIDS can last in the body for over three years, and these inhibitors are effective for two years in the human body. The goal is to improve Emivir, making it fight long enough in the human body to work until the virus is dead in the body.”
Kyle looked at both Sloane and Steve. “I didn’t mean to interrupt,” Kyle said, “but this is why were trying to find more improvements in the drugs.”
Both of them looked over at Kyle and smiled. Sloane knew she wasn’t good at explaining the technical details quickly to people who didn’t work on these drugs, so she appreciated the help. Steve appreciated the information as well, but in the back of his mind he would have preferred to hear Sloane give him the explanation. Before Steve could give a heart-felt thanks, Kyle already started walking toward another room to do more work.
“I hate to sound like I don’t understand this all,” Steve said.
“That’s okay,” she answered. Kyle walked out of the room. “I need practice in explaining things like this in more regular terms anyway. I hope that I haven’t been too confusing with the details or anything.”
“No, not at all. The next thing I want to know about, though, is why you guys are working on the side effects of these drugs.”
“If the medicine is easier to take, there is a greater chance of having the medication taken properly. And if people don’t want to take these drugs because they might make you throw up, well, then those people will be less likely to take these drugs properly too.”
“That sounds like reason enough.”
“Consider the fact that these people have a disease that will eventually kill them. They don’t need to be reminded of having to take their medication a number of times a day. Getting rid of having to take these drugs so often and getting rid of some of the side effects, well, that will alleviate the depression that taking these drugs cause.”
“And if the patients aren’t happy...” Steve started and she finished his thought with “Then the medicine won’t be as effective. Your body will physically feel worse if you aren’t mentally prepared for dealing with it all. So that’s what we’re going for.”
“It sounds like you’ve got a lot of work to do, but then again, you’ve done a lot of work so far, too.”
“I suppose. But it never seems like enough work is being done.”
“You’re only human. You’ve got to let yourself rest, too. That’s what charitable dinners are for.” Steve thought that would be a good way to make the conversation turn a little more social, even though he was enjoying hearing about these details and wanted to learn more. They talked for a few minutes before he left for home. “If you need anything,” Steve said as he left, “you have my number, right? I’d welcome the call.”
She thought for a moment about what the average woman would need when they were bogged down with too much on their mind. “I need a dozen roses,” she said as she started to smile. Then she thanked him before getting ready to go home herself. “I’m sorry I haven’t called, but I’ll keep it in mind. Thanks, Steve.”
That gave Steve an idea, and he hoped that it would work. Knowing she would have to leave work soon, he stopped at a store, bought flowers, got her address from the phone book, and went to her apartment to wait for her. she worked for another hour before collecting her things to leave, but when she got home she didn’t expect to see a dozen roses waiting at her front door. Steve walked from the corner coffee shop to see her picking up the flowers to get to her door.
“Just because I got a cup of coffee, I missed you getting the flowers?”
“What on Earth are these for?”
“You might not think you need them, but for the work you have done, well, you have deserved these flowers for a while,” Steve answered.
“...Don’t you have to work in the morning?”
“I handed in my weekly article today. I don’t have a thing to do tomorrow.” Steve stood there, next to her, and did his best to not act like he needed an invitation to come in to her home. She looked at the flowers, tried to figure out how to pick them up with the keys and the books and the briefcase in her hands, and Steve took the ball. “Here, wait,” he said, “you look like you need some help,” he said, reaching down to pick up the roses. She looked at the flowers again and said thanks.
“You’re welcome to come in, but I haven’t cleaned or anything --”
“I’m male and I’m sure your place is cleaner than mine.” Steve followed her in to her home. She told him he was more than welcome to sit on the couch. “Now I just feel bad for not getting you coffee too,” Steve said.
“I don’t need any,” she answered.
“Well,” Steve started as she found some music to play, “it looks like you have a nice place. It is kind of dark in here, but I don’t mind that at all.”
“It hides the fact that I haven’t cleaned,” she answered. “You don’t mind the fact that I haven’t put any art up on the walls?”
“Often I think stuff hanging on the walls just makes a place look more dirty.” She liked that answer. “I don’t keep things on my walls,” Steve continued. “I have enough stuff in my apartment as it is; I don’t need any more in there.”
Smiling, she sat down next to him. “Yeah, Steve, you’ve been letting me talk every time we see each other, but I don’t even know anything about you.”
“But I told you I wanted to be your listening post; I’m sure it’s hard for you to go through all your research when you have no one to talk to about it.”
She thought about that for a moment... Maybe that was part of the problem, maybe she needed someone to talk to, and maybe she didn’t have to be the strong one all the time. She didn’t know how to talk to people; maybe she needed to practice.
“It’s hard when you feel like you’re getting nowhere at your work.”
“And you’ve always been the strong one, haven’t you?” Steve asked. He couldn’t believe how smoothly everything seemed to be going when she kept talking to him, when he was sitting on her couch in a darkened room.
“The problem is that everyone expects that of me now.”
“What do you mean?”
“Everyone sees me as a cold-hearted workaholic, and no one thinks that I may need something every once in a while.”
“But you do,” Steve said.
“But no one gives me that, Steve. No one mentally gives me an inch of rope. Why have they needed to, I may just hang myself with any rope at all.”
“Will you?” Steve asked.
“Steve! ... I think people would be let down if they saw less than what I have given in the past. I have made my bed and now I have to --”
“Less than perfection?” Steve cut in, still thinking about Sloane laying down in the bed she made. Knowing she had to stop ranting, they shared a moment of silence. “You know I don’t know you like the palm of my hand, but you seem to ask too much of yourself. I even like you...”
“Why?” Sloane cut in and asked.
“You’re captivating,” Steve answered. “You have an answer for everything.”
Sloane was impressed that he thought it was captivating that she had answers. Maybe this was what she needed, she thought, maybe she needed this kind of mindless admiration to satiate herself, to make her feel better. She leaned over toward Steve; he instinctively put his arms around her so she could relax.
“I don’t know what to do here.”
“Do whatever you want,” Steve answered.
She sat up on the couch around his legs and turned to face Steve. She was inches away from his face, and Steve was painfully aware of it. He knew he wanted to kiss her so badly, but he also knew that with a mind like hers she would have to want it first. They stared at each other for a moment. Sloane spoke first. “You know I have to go to work in the morning.”
He knew in that instant that she had turned into the voice of reason again and that the chance was lost for the two of them. He moved one hand to touch her cheek as he spoke, “You know I am here if you need anything.”
Sloane rested her forehead on his and answered, “I know.” For a moment they stayed in this position before she gestured to move; Steve followed her lead as she said her farewell to him at her front door. “I’ll see you this weekend,” he said as Steve left for his car.
The both of them thought of each other, for entirely different reasons. Sloane thought it is probably good to think about something other than work for a while; Steve thought that sexual tension was good, it was refreshing for him, and that in a way it was sometimes better than getting the girl.

The next few days were filled with work. Work on Emivir. Work on the integrase inhibitor. Work on removing side effects of existing drugs, and work on time-release drugs. Work on an outline for a book on homeopathy, and a regimen for a study group.
The outline and regimen was pretty much done on Thursday, thanks to the help of Julie, pooling all the existing research together. Monday they had made a call for HIV-infected people as well as people with full-blown AIDS; since they could be in any condition they had three hundred people applying by Wednesday morning. By Thursday they had decided on two hundred people for the study; one hundred were in the control group, and each person in the control group matched the conditions of someone in the test group. Howard was in charge of directing the regimens of the groups; they had placebo pills for those in the control group. They were to also monitor what people ate by diaries they kept. The study was about to begin, and everything was going ahead of schedule.
Thursday afternoon Sloane was in her office working out vaccine tests and theories on paper. Kyle walked into her office without knocking on the door.
“Kyle?”
Kyle realized he didn’t knock; he looked at the doorknob in his hand. “Oh, I’m sorry, but it’s just that there seems to be something working in the search for the integrase inhibitor.”
“Already? What is it?”
“Come out here and look.”
Kyle directed her to one of the tables. He gestured to the microscope; she looked in.
“What am I looking at?”
“It looks like we’ve got the splicing to work. What we’ve got here is an integrase inhibitor, but one derived from a genetically engineered human cell, and not from a synthetic one.”
Her eyes widened; she slowly lifted her head from the microscope. “So the chances of it lasting are better than the synthetic ones in testing now.” She leaned back into the microscope.
“Possibly.”
“How...” She pulled back from the microscope and looked around before focusing on Kyle. “How on earth did you do this so fast?”
“We don’t know how stable it is; we’d have to replicate the process a few times. These cells existed from a failed experiment that they gave up on a few weeks ago, trying to make a natural versus the synthetic version of Emivir. Actually, it took about seven weeks to get the natural cells engineered to this point. To replicate this again should take a little less than two months.”
“And that was the experiment they were working on?”
“Yes, modifying the protease inhibitor. This time, though, instead of trying to improve on Emivir, they tried to replicate it using natural tissues.”
“But they couldn’t get it to that point, so they put it on hold.”
“Yeah, and now that they looked at it again they realized it might be easier to alter it to become an effective integrase inhibitor instead of a protease inhibitor. And it seems that they were right.”
Her eyes were as wide as saucers.
There were about fifteen people standing around her. She started to open her mouth; she smiled instead.
“If you didn’t mention the idea of the integrase inhibitors, we would have never thought of this,” Ellen, one of the researchers, said to her.
Turning to Ellen, she said, “Yes, but you did this.”
Ellen and Sloane smiled at each other briefly. It was all that they needed.
“Well,” Sloane said, “run tests on this sample, and start working on the next samples. And someone work on an outline and it’s proposed functions, and let’s work on F.D.A. approval for this beast. Who knows how much we’ll have to modify this, but this is...” Sloane shook her head slightly, then looked up. “This is excellent news.”
Standing up, she said, “I’m sure Colin Madison would like to come down here for this news. Leave the sample at the microscope for a bit. I’ll give him a call. And remember, I need you all to look over the notes for the homeopathy, as well as the outlines Howard has made for a regimen for the study, and decide what aspect of this book you’d like to be a part of. In just over a week we’re going to have someone from Quentin Publishing here to proofread our work; it would be nice to actually have something for them.”
Walking toward her office, she turned around and said, “If we’re doing press conferences, Quentin would like the additional publicity for the book, too.” Most of the staff was just standing in their places, looking at her.
“You know, I’ll be proud to have my name with everyone’s here on that book,” she said as she walked away.
Everyone started to smile; the sound of their breathing and the ticking of the wall clock was all that could be heard. “Hey, let’s go out Friday night. Drinks or something,” Sloane said. She thought of how Carter treated a drink with her. “To celebrate.” She turned and walked back into her office to call Colin.
Later that day, Colin walked into the lab. They brought the sample to the microscope for him. He seemed very pleased. He turned to Sloane. “How long?”
“It will probably take about two months to replicate this sample; we’ll need to wait that long to conduct more tests. This won’t be ready to test on anyone for a number of months.”
“Well, the FDA will hold us up for at least that long.”
“Probably, even if they rush it, but they already pulled one favor for us with Emivir. It still can’t take less than four months for them to start to look at it, so I think we’ll have time.”
“And the paperwork?”
“I already had it filled it out.”
“Did you come up with this?”
“Actually, no. It was a fluke from working on making a natural, but engineered, version of the synthetic Emivir. Ellen here made the connection to try those cells -- which they had frozen and kept dormant -- for an integrase inhibitor.”
Ellen Thompson just smiled.
“Well,” Colin said, as he began to raise his voice and speak to the entire room, “are you planning on having some sort of celebration for these people?”
“I suggested getting together tomorrow, but there’s no plan yet.”
“It’s at my house now. Not formal, don’t worry, but at least you’ll have free drinks.” Everyone in the lab started smiling. A few let out a small chuckle.
“Colin, that’s very --”
“It’s nothing. I have to make sure I keep you guys happy, don’t I?”
“I think we’re pretty happy, sir.”
Colin smiled, told them to come to his place at seven in the evening tomorrow night, and then he walked out of the lab.
All she could think was that she wanted to call Carter and tell him the good news. She stopped herself, though; she decided it would be better to wait until their next business call to share her news with him.


chapter 5

The Letters

Everyone in the laboratory was buzzing with excitement Friday; Sloane stayed in her office working. The possibility of a new integrase inhibitor was a fantastic development, but the possibility that there would be more side effects was also very probable, and that thought loomed over her head like a heavy weight she could no longer hold. She looked over the homeopathic solutions that people had recommended to her, and found herself wanting to talk to Steve, knowing she would see him at that weekend with everyone. She looked over the comments on alternative medicinal treatments such as hypnosis and acupressure, which supposedly alleviated discomfort from the drugs. But she knew there was something more to learn about dealing with these drugs. There had to be.
She looked over the outline for the book, which now gained the working title “Winning the War”, named because the book was about home remedies to help AIDS patients. She was asked to write the introduction and the last chapter. The remaining staff would fill in the rest, and they were dividing up the chapters during the day Friday. She figured she could start writing the introduction over the weekend.
No one had come to her with any ideas about a vaccine. She asked Kyle what he thought of her notes, and he answered with, “We’ve been working on so much, and with the good news this week about the integrase inhibitor and all of the homeopathy notes to work on, there just hasn’t been any time to work on it. I’m sure in a week or two people can get to it, but probably not until then.”
In the back of her head she knew he was right; she just didn’t want to hear it. She continued to work on her notes in her office.
Someone knocked on her door. “Come in,” she said. Howard opened her door. “How long are you staying here? You’re going to be late for Colin’s party.”
Looking down at her watch, it said it was already 6:15. “I didn’t realize the time,” she answered. “How long does it take to drive there?”
“Twenty minutes. I forgot you drove. My car is in the shop.”
“I’ll give you a ride, if you need it.”
“Thanks. I’d appreciate it. So you’re going to go straight from here?”
“Yeah. Want to leave in a half hour?”
“Sure.”
“Just come bug me when you’re ready.”
“No problem.”
When Howard left her office she watched him smile as he closed the door; she could sense everyone was excited ... everyone except her. Sloane knew she was supposed to be happy. Things were going amazingly well. They had a lead on an integrase inhibitor that might be more effective than the other drugs, because it was generated from a natural versus synthetic base. They were about to work on a book that would get out to the market in two months to help AIDS patients. They were starting a clinical study on homeopathy.
Looking back to her list of notes about a vaccine, she knew she had to come up with something, but she didn’t know where to begin. She kept thinking of when she first wrote her list:

--------------------------
4. a vaccine.
5. a cure.
--------------------------

These were the parts of the puzzle that needed to be solved. These drug advances, she thought -- and knew -- were battles. She knew that the vaccine and the cure were what would win the war.
Her watch read 6:40. Howard would be knocking on her door momentarily. Knowing that this was a time for the staff to relax, she knew she should be happy -- and congratulate the technicians, particularly Ellen. They needed this moment. They deserved it.
Gathering her belongings, Howard made it into her office. “Does anyone else need a ride?” She asked him.
“Um, no, I don’t think so. Most everyone is gone, and I think everyone remaining here has rides.”
“Let’s get going then.” She turned off her lights and shut her door. She saw the cords from her computer coming out of her briefcase. She stuffed them back in and walked out of the laboratory with Howard.

###

Howard rang the doorbell and she stood by his side. One of Colin’s maids opened the door. “Oh, come in. Everyone is in the main room.”
Walking down the hallway confidently, Howard followed. The marble tiles under her feet clicked when the heels of her shoes touched them. Her eyes remained fixed on the end of the hallway; Howard couldn’t help but be distracted by the chandeliers and oil paintings in the hallway. He followed her to the main room, where another servant was waiting to take their coats.
Sloane handed her coat to the man and waited for Howard to remove his.
A few people from the main room noticed their arrival. There were about 50 people in the room. “Sloane!” Kyle called out as he gestured her over. She walked over to Kyle and his wife.
“You remember Elisa, don’t you?”
“Yes, of course. How are you?”
“Oh, I’m alright. Things are going well with your work?”
“Hence the party, darling,” Kyle answered her before Sloane could.
“It’s taken a lot of work and probably an equal amount of luck,” she answered. “Hope Kyle hasn’t worked too late too often.”
“Well, he loves his work...” Elisa trailed off and turned her head away from the conversation.
Kyle turned to her. “You know, I wanted to tell you it’s been --”
“Kyle,” she whispered, “tell me later. Your wife needs you now.”
He looked over to his wife and she seemed visibly upset.
“It was good to see you again,” she said to Elisa. “I’m sure I’ll get the chance to catch up with you later.”
“Yes, thank you, you too,” Elisa answered.
Scanning the room, Sloane finally spotted Ellen Thompson talking to a few members of her team. Sloane made her way across the room and put her arm around Ellen’s shoulder.
“So ... What’s the working title of our integrase inhibitor? Thomavan?”
Ellen instantly turned red. “Oh, you wouldn’t suggest --”
“You seem to deserve the credit for this one, Ellen. We’re all thrilled with what you’ve done.”
“Well, it has a lot of testing to go through.”
“I know, I know. But tonight is not about that. It’s about rewarding a job well done.”
A voice outside the conversation added: “Exactly.” Everyone turned their head to see who joined the conversation. Knowing the voice was Colin’s, she turned her head more slowly than the rest of the group.
“Colin, I haven’t had the chance to say hello yet, much less thank you for this,” she turned and said to her boss.
Colin smiled. “Well, rewarding you guys for a job well done is the least I can do. Besides, you guys are satisfied with beer and wine and cheese. Imagine if I had to thank the marketing department for something; I’d have to forget medical school for my first born to throw them a party.” The group laughed.
“Let me know if you need anything,” Colin continued, “I’m going to check on the hors d’oeuvres.”
The rest of the evening consisted of the same pattern: Sloane would walk up to a group of people to listen to their conversation; Sloane would be noticed and the conversation would turn to what accomplishments everyone recently made; Sloane would thank everyone; Sloane would find the first opportunity she could to leave the group; Sloane would walk up to another group; repeat cycle.

###

Eventually, she walked over to a chair by the living room window. She sat down and looked outside. Everyone was thrilled with the chance of excelling further with the drugs they’d created, but all she could think about were the possible side affects or the additional drugs patients would have to take. The current cocktails of drugs were taxing enough on the mental and physical balances of the people taking them; adding more drugs would just make it worse.
It was almost pouring outside. It was a heavy rain, not the usual drizzle she was used to at this time of year. Homeopathy was an option, but she knew she didn’t know enough about it, and she knew there was something more than homeopathy that was helping AIDS patients deal with their illnesses.
The solutions to the AIDS puzzle were somewhere else, not in these cocktails. She’d have to let them celebrate, let them continue to work on these short-term solutions. And she would continue to look for that missing piece of the puzzle, the piece that had always eluded her.
A vaccine had to be worked on. She thought the work on a cure would take so long that it would be nearly pointless to start. If they could strengthen the cocktails and eliminate the side effects, maybe they could be the foundation for a long-term cure, one that took three years of pills to achieve, in the near future. But that was for the future. The present called for a vaccine.
And the present called for finding out how people coped.
The present called for anything other than this party.
They needed to celebrate, but all she could think of was the mounds of work ahead of her. She looked at her watch. It was 8:45.
People would probably still be at this party for a few hours, she thought. She wondered when would be a tasteful time to go. She wondered if people would miss her. How long had she been sitting there already, with no one coming up to talk to her?
“Sloane?”
She jerked around in the chair. It was one of the technicians, with his wife. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, I’ve just been feeling a little under the weather.”
“Are you sure? Maybe you should lie down. Or get some sleep.”
“Yes, maybe I need some sleep.” Sloane got up and thought that it was a perfect opportunity to leave. “I should say my goodbyes to everyone, though.”
She walked with the two to the center of the room to find Colin. Howard and Kyle met up with her while she was explaining she was under the weather and saying goodbye.
“Howard, can you find another way home, will you be alright, or do you need me to give you a ride home?”
“Oh, I’m sure someone here can give me a ride.”
“I just wouldn’t want you to have to leave early on my account.”
“Don’t worry about it. Now go home and get some rest.”
Picking out her coat at the front hallway, she then opened her umbrella and stepped outside.
When she got out of her car in front of her apartment, the rain was still falling down in sheets. She fumbled with her umbrella while her car door was cracked open. Her arms and her left leg were already wet, as was the inside of her car. She gave up on the umbrella and stepped out of her car as she closed the umbrella. The rain felt like a shower against her. She held her trench coat closed around her waist, kept her briefcase tucked under her arm and walked into her building.
Dropping her umbrella next to her front door, she walked straight to her desk and set her computer up. She took off her trench coat, hung it on the coat rack by the front door and pulled her blouse from under her pants as she walked through her living room. The neckline of her blouse was soaking wet. She looked down at her pants; they were also soaked from the knees down. She kicked off her shoes and changed into a sweat suit. She walked back into her living room.
Sloane got on line and checked her messages. Responses from her homeopathy postings stopped after about two days; she had no more mail about homeopathy. She got on the web and went to the same message boards she went to before, about homeopathy and AIDS. She posted a message on every bulletin board she could find.

“Hello. I’m trying to help AIDS patients and people who are HIV-positive. I know people that are surviving for years with AIDS. In all honestly, I’d like to know how they stay so healthy, how they deal with it, and what works for them. Is there anyone out there who would be interested in telling me what forms of alternative medicine, homeopathy, or nutrition they use in order to help them out? For instance, what do you do to deal with the number of pills you take every day, or with the side effects you can get from the drugs? I’d like to know what people do to battle this, whether it’s support from a network of family and friends, getting back to religion -- anything. I’d like to learn more about this aspect of treating and living with HIV and AIDS. I’d like to be able to share your stories with others, but if you want, let me know and your stories will remain completely confidential. Please e-mail me; I’m hoping that you can help me help others. Thank you very much for your time.”

There were groups of peers with HIV and AIDS, and groups that did volunteer work for AIDS patients. There was even a conspiracy bulletin board that mentioned AIDS. She posted her message everywhere she could.
After getting off the Internet, she opened a text document. She looked over the homeopathy notes. She looked at the blank screen. She wanted to start writing. She looked at the clock on the wall; the time was 10:45. She hadn’t even started writing and already she had writer’s block. She got up and went to bed; she figured she could write an introduction in the morning.

###

It was the middle of the day when she walked out into her kitchen and saw a roach crawling along the floor. She walked over to it and stepped on it, reaching over to the counter for a paper towel to clean the floor off. She walked over to the sink to wash her hands; she reached down to the lower cabinet to get a cleaner for the floor, and she saw another roach in the cabinet. She stopped. “Where are these roaches coming from?” she thought. She reached around the roach and found her roach spray. She took the paper towel still in her hand and smashed the second roach. Standing up again, fully equipped with her roach spray, she closed the cabinet door. She threw the paper towel in the trashcan in the pantry.
“I don’t leave food out, where would the roaches come from?” She thought as she put her hand on the counter and bent over to start spraying along the floor of her kitchen. She felt something on her hand. She looked over at the counter and saw two roaches crawling along the side of her hand. She let out a light scream and jumped.
“Millions of years. They’ve been on this planet millions of years, they’re such simple creatures, and still we humans can’t kill them. A nuclear explosion wouldn’t even kill them,” she mumbled, grabbing another paper towel and smashed the two roaches.
Where are they coming from? And why are they here all of a sudden? How long have they been hiding in my cabinets?
Sloane walked back across the kitchen to the cabinet under her sink to see if she had any roach motels. She rummaged through the bottles of disinfectant and household cleaners. No roach motels. No ant spray. She had just one can of roach spray.
She stood up again and closed the cabinet door. She turned around.
She screamed again.
Fifty roaches, maybe more, crawled around her floor and up and down her cabinets. She didn’t know where to start spraying. She didn’t have the speed to smash all of the bugs by herself.
Her roach spray wasn’t strong enough.
She looked around in a panic. She didn’t know what to do. She tried to remember the last time that her apartment was sprayed for bugs.
“I can’t kill all of these myself. What am I going to do?” she thought. She leaned back on her refrigerator. She felt something on her shoulder.
And with her final scream she sprung up in her bed, sweating and panting.
It was four in the morning. She looked around her bedroom. She knew she needed more sleep.
“One more dream to add to the list,” she thought. “And they’re always about losing control.” She got up and walked over to her window. She thought about her dream. Something miniscule, something less than human, was still something she couldn’t beat.
Her dream was beginning to make sense.
There wasn’t enough roach spray. Her spray wasn’t strong enough. She wasn’t fast enough. There was nothing she could do to get rid of the disease.
“I mean, the roaches.” Sloane corrected herself.
Looking out the window, she watched a few cars driving down the streets near her house. From her floor the cars looked small; all you could see were two small streaks of headlights. They looked like an insect’s antennae. She turned away from the window and crawled back into bed.

###

Toby rolled over on Saturday morning and tried to read the clock next to his bed. In the early hours of day, such as these, his eyes routinely refused to focus clearly. He looked around his room.
Remembering the night before, he checked and confirmed that there was no one in bed with him. Sometimes he had to manually check over his memories to make sure there wasn’t something that he had forgotten.
He hated thinking at times like that about things that could have gone wrong. Toby tried to think analytically and started analyzing his actions.
He preferred to think about what Sloane would think at times like this in his life.
He thought about that at times like this. He knew she would think that it didn’t make sense to spend time with other women, especially if he knew he didn’t love them. He knew she would think that her definitions of love were different from his.
Maybe that’s why she had never married. At least that was what he liked to think about, when his roaming thoughts made their way back to thoughts about Sloane.
Toby hadn’t talked to her for a few days, and he was curious about her progress with changing the drugs. He knew that was not a good topic to ask about, because if he started her on the subject, she might not be able to get herself off the subject.
Maybe, Toby thought, maybe that was why he liked the company of other women, because they didn’t ask him questions about his job, because they thought he was smart. Because they thought he was important.
Granted, they were not organized women, they were not always levelheaded women, but they were women who thought he had merit, they were women who thought he was successful. They were women willing to shower him with attention. That was what he needed sometimes.
He knew full well that she wouldn’t give him any attention like that. It was not her style.
He sat up in bed long enough to see his excuse for clothes piled on the floor near his bedroom chair. His clothes were wadded into a ball on the chair, hanging down to the floor. He looked at the clothes on the floor and in his chair, and he looked at the poster prints he had framed in his bedroom, and he looked at the spare change and the containers thrown about in his room. He liked seeing his room look like that, he thought. Other people might not have liked the clutter, but it made him look like he had put enough time into decorating his apartment.
This way his place didn’t look like a hotel room. It looked like his home.
He always had the same craving in the morning, after the beginnings of a hangover set in. He always wanted hash browns and an omelet with extra sausage links on the side. It was a usual craving for him, and when he got that craving, well, he knew then that he just had to satisfy it. He would usually go to the local diner without a shower on late mornings like this. So he got up and got ready to go out for breakfast.

###

Sloane woke up Saturday morning still thinking about the dream she had that woke her up. She knew they needed to have stronger drugs for AIDS patients, drugs that worked faster to combat the speed of this virus. And she knew that a vaccine was imperative. She went straight into work and worked alone in the office until 6:00 that night. She started narrowing down what kinds of vaccines would probably produce the best results. She started working on preparations for some laboratory work that she would start on Monday.
When she got home she thought about starting the introduction of the book. She turned on her computer and thought she would get on the Internet first. Before her computer got the chance to dial up, She received a phone call.
“Hello?”
“It’s Carter.”
“Carter? It’s awfully late in your neck of the woods.”
“I know, but I wanted to know how the book was going.”
“I was thinking of starting the introduction. You got the outline I faxed, right?”
“Yes, I did.”
“I was thinking of plowing through the introduction this weekend.”
“You think it will be that fast?”
“I’ll do my best.”
“Okay, I was just checking.”
“Are you okay, Carter?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Why?”
“Well, it’s late, on your time, and you’re calling me about this book.”
“I just wanted to check. I worked all day, I’m not going out tonight.”
“You too? I’m supposed to go out to a benefit dinner tonight. So in some ways I’m going out, but in some ways I’m not.”
“Yeah. I guess I just have work on my brain as well.”
“You too?”
Carter laughed. “Okay, I’ll let you get to writing. Talk to you later.”
“Oh, wait, Carter, I forgot to tell you the good news.”
Carter stopped. “Yes?”
“It looks like we have a start on a new integrase inhibitor.”
“Isn’t that one of the things you were going to start working on this week?”
“Yes.”
“And you got something this fast?”
“I tell you, Carter, my people are good.”
“Sloane -- that’s great news! Congratulations.”
“Well, thanks. It’ll take some time to work everything out, but...”
“I’m really happy for you.”
“Hey, this should help with the book publicity, too.”
“I should have thought of that. It didn’t occur to me.”
There was a slight pause in their conversation. “I’ll tell you more about it when I talk to you about the book next week.”
“Yeah, we should both get some rest.”
“And I should get to work on that introduction, but if I go to this dinner, I might have to wait until tomorrow to start working on the introduction.”
“Well, remember to sleep...”
“I will. Have a good night, Carter.”
“You too.”
They both slowly hung up their phones.
Sloane turned back to her computer. He was right; she should start on the first chapter before she checked her e-mail. Any letters would still be there tomorrow.

###

After choosing a simple dress for the dinner, she slid it over her shoulders. She didn’t even want to wear any make-up; she checked her appearance in the mirror in the hallway to make sure that she looked presentable. Within fifteen minutes her doorbell rang.
What she didn’t realize was that nothing looked just ’simple’ on her. When Steve talked to her earlier in the week, he insisted that he was going to give her a ride to the dinner. She only insisted once that she could get there on her own, but she stopped herself from insisting again. She was expecting him to pick her up at seven in the evening.
When she opened the door, she saw Steve in a suit. She was used to seeing him in casual clothes. They both stared at each other for a moment.
“You look amazing,” Steve finally said.
“Thank you,” she responded as she started to grin and said “you look presentable too.” After she said that, she knew that Steve would have expected her to say something more complimentary to him about how he looked.
Maybe it was for the best that she didn’t say anything too nice.
“Do you want to get to the dinner a little early?”
“We can.”
“Unless you want to go somewhere for a drink first, we have the time to do that.” Steve thought this was a chance for him to see Sloane drink. Maybe she wouldn’t get drunk, like the women he usually saw when he went out, but this could be a chance.
“Your call. I don’t have any liquor here, but there’s probably a bar we could pass on our way to the dinner.”
“I’ll see if there’s something on the way,” he answered. Steve helped her get her jacket on and escorted her to the car.
Steve stopped on the way to dinner to a place he had never been to before. “I don’t know how this place is; would you like to stop here?”
“That’s fine,” she answered. Steve thought she seemed quiet during the ride, but for Sloane this was just like any other occasion, where she didn’t have much to say. A part of her was unsettled with interacting with Steve, because she didn’t know what to do, so she hoped he would take the lead.
He was thinking the same way, which seemed to lead them nowhere.
They went into the bar together. It occurred to her that if Steve had been here before, then she would look like his date and that she should look like a woman interested in him. It wasn’t a dressy bar, and the other people there looked like they had been working at the nearby factory all day. She felt that her and Steve looked out of place, since they were the only ones dressed up.
Steve apologized for the lack of class at the bar. “We could go somewhere else for a drink, but I don’t know any other bars around here.”
“I’m sure the hotel next to the dinner has a bar too,” Sloane answered. “But if we’re not looking for the ambiance of the bar, this place is fine. What do you want to drink?” As soon as she asked that question, she knew that she shouldn’t take on the role of hostess to this man she barely knew.
The bartender walked up and waited for their order. Steve asked for a Berghoff’s beer on tap. She followed his lead and said she would like the same.
They had their drink and tried to make conversation to kill the time before they were supposed to be at the dinner. She tried to keep away from talking about her job, since that was what she would probably talk about with colleagues after dinner. So she asked him about his job.
“Before writing the column, I taught mostly high school business courses.”
“What kind of courses?”
“Word processing, database work, career planning, you know,” he answered. “The students do work like check writing and account management and things that should be important to kids, but they don’t want to learn it.”
“That’s exactly why they should learn it. Even if they think right now that they don’t need to.”
“But how do you teach fourteen year-old kids how to balance a checkbook?”
“You remind them early on that money has value. And you do not call them ’kids’. You teach them that what you earn has value.”
“But kids don’t learn it. They don’t know it when they reach high school...”
“That’s a parent problem more than it is a high school teacher problem. Solve the problem at an early age.”
“But what do you do for the kids who never learned that?”
“That’s why I’m not a teacher any longer. I don’t have the answers to questions like that. That is what counselors and principals and parents and teachers are for. In a way it is still my problem.”
Holding her head down as she responded. “Don’t be mad, but yes, in a way a part of it is your problem. Sorry.”
“Then what do I do about it?”
Sloane knew there was no easy answer to that question, so she mentioned that someone should have come up with the answer before tonight. She also knew they had to go to dinner soon.
Before deciding to go to dinner, she had to get it out in the open to them. “Is it just me, or is all of this a problem that we should both deal with?”
“What?”
She attempted to get it out in the open. “Do you like me, Steve?”
That one caught him off guard. He answered. “I like you more than I care to admit, I think.”
“I can gather that you are the womanizing type, that you do the best to make all the right moves --”
“I’m not that way, and I am sure you wouldn’t want those ’right moves’. I have been avoiding you because of it.” Steve was almost offended that he seemed this shallow to a woman he barely knew.
“Maybe that’s what I needed; maybe you should have taken charge --”
“Maybe you talk too much.”
This caught her off guard. “What?” Steve immediately leaned over, grabbed her neck and started to kiss her passionately. He even grabbed her hair to pull her head away from his when he was done. Steve immediately felt at the moment like the thrill of sex was killed with her, that she killed it when she answered his gesture. “Is that what you wanted?” he asked.
Sloane waited for a half minute before she spoke. “Wipe my lipstick off your face.” Steve grabbed a napkin, saying, “You are cold,” as his wiped his face.
“You made this decision to like me,” she answered. “You made your bed, as they say. Now you have to --”
“I know. Head to the Hilton Hotel,” which they inevitably did, and they found their way to their dining table. That was where she spotted Kyle.
Before the meal was finished, they started playing music. Steve liked the big band music and asked her to dance. She knew full well that he was doing this so he would look good, and so that they would look good together. She knew he was trying to be nice, and she didn’t have any opportunity to tell Steve it was unnecessary, she consented to his request and mentioned, “You’ll have to bear with me. I don’t dance.”
Steve was a gentleman throughout the dances. He had a style and grace when he danced, even with Sloane, even with someone who said they couldn’t dance. Sloane saw Kyle and his wife dancing at one point; she thought it was refreshing to see them together dancing. Kyle’s wife Elisa seemed happier than she did at a lot of the formal parties Elisa went to.

She opened a text program early Sunday morning so she could do the writing she should have done the night before...

“I’ll start with some grizzly facts, facts you might not want to hear, or facts you might know all too well. Twenty-two million people are currently infected with HIV. Five new victims are infected every minute. Ninety-four percent of infections occur in undeveloped countries. AIDS is now the leading cause of death of men and women between the ages of 25 and 44 years in our country.
“Medications and drugs have been difficult to develop for HIV for many reasons. Constant check-ups are necessary, because a change in viral load would necessitate a change in the amount of medication to be taken at any given time. The virus multiplies very rapidly in the body, making it almost too fast to fall when under attack. During HIV’s life cycle in a body, it mutates constantly. This increases the chances of cells mutating into a less ’prone’ cell by the body. These cells then continue to mutate and multiply, making it harder to fight.
“A cure is difficult because the virus integrates itself into normal cells. And initial waves of success in studies have led to high expectations -- that have often failed.
“Drugs that have been developed have made great progress in lengthening the amount of time the human body can battle the virus. The medical community has developed drugs that each attack a different part of the virus, in effect staging a multiple-level attack.
“But the focus of these drugs is to get rid of the virus in the body. There is another way to destroy the virus.
“All viruses attack the human body’s immune system. Drugs to date have worked on removing the virus from the body, but the drugs also weaken healthy cells in the immune system. Strengthening the immune system can also help the body naturally fight the virus.
“Vaccines are a way we strengthen our immune system in order to deal with viruses; small pox, polio and the measles are examples.
“Currently researchers have been unable to develop a vaccine for HIV. But there is another way to strengthen the immune system, and strengthen the human body so it gives it’s immune system less to fight, and that is by taking care of the body naturally.
“Once someone has full-blown AIDS, their immune system starts to lose its ability to fight other viruses that attack the body. The current drugs can improve the viral load of a patient, but although a viral load can change, it has not been shown that any drugs can correct a ravaged immune system. If the drugs could eliminate the virus, it wouldn’t change and correct the damaged immune system the virus left behind. In the future, if a cure is found, there may still be a problem with people who have recovered from HIV and AIDS who have a low tolerance for other infections.
“So the key may lie in natural remedies to take care of your body. The logic works like this: in order to battle HIV, you can work on destroying HIV with drugs, and you can also work on improving your own natural defenses, so your own body can better fight HIV. And attacking the virus on two levels is better than only fighting it on one.
“For thousands of years different civilizations have relied on herbs and plants to help solve medical problems. Western medicine has made strides much greater than what could have been done with barks and berries, but during our searches for synthetic cures we may have forgotten the fact that taking precautions can keep your body in better shape.
“Also, our changing lifestyles in developed countries such as America, have given us more synthetic foods, filled with preservatives, additives, sweeteners, and other chemicals -- instead of spices, herbs and other things found naturally in certain foods that could help our immune systems and keep us healthier. So not only are we bombarded with chemicals that our bodies need to battle, what we choose to eat -- our ’fuel,’ so to speak -- isn’t doing all it can to help us keep in shape. In fact, the choices we make about what we choose to eat can sometimes hurt us more than help us.
“If you’ve been diagnosed with HIV or have full-blown AIDS, there is an added urgency to taking care of your body and helping your immune system. A virus has declared a war on your body; now it is up to you to strengthen your defenses and fight a good battle.
“There are many levels that homeopathy and natural therapies work on. What might work for you is a combination of parts of what we suggest here. Whether you feel the benefits of hypnosis over acupuncture, or whether you prefer taking vitamin supplements to eating spinach, starting to take steps to take control of your own health will show great improvements in your emotional as well as physical well-being.
“The following chapters will show you what people have done throughout the ages to help improve their general health. They will show you what sorts of natural remedies may help you to combat some of the painful and difficult side effects some people suffer from taking AIDS/HIV drugs. They will show you what nutritionists have said about diets for people with HIV. This book goes over exercise regimens, supplements, even psychotherapy and support groups.
“We have worked for a long time coming up with drugs that may help people with the battle of HIV and AIDS. But what we can’t do, you can. In conjunction with your current medication plans, this book may give you the edge you’ve been looking for.
“And for once, we didn’t sit in a laboratory and create it. We’ve collected this information from the knowledge of hundreds of generations of experience, and now it is yours.
“Let us prepare to win the war.”

Looking over what she wrote, she knew she’d have to write more. But it was late, and she could stand to sleep. She could check her e-mail Sunday evening.
Later in the day she went to her e-mail. She knew she had to save all of these letters so she could eventually respond to them all to thank people for writing, and she knew she had to have someone archive all of these letters and categorize them for her. Once again she had well over a hundred letters, all personal stories about people with AIDS, people who know people with AIDS, and what they do to get through the days.


From: [email protected]
Date: Friday, 11:06 p.m.
Subject: AIDS and hypnosis
I’ve had AIDS for a few years. I’m on a cocktail now & my T-Cell count has gone up from eight to 410. The doctors are thrilled with me. Recently I started hypnosis with a doctor in Santa Monica. It relaxes me & keeps me thinking about positive aspects of dealing with my illness. I’ve tried to look at this as a learning experience -- now I have to learn to make decisions that will help me live my life. It taught me to be responsible when I wasn’t before. My doctor says he uses hypnosis to relieve depression I may be feeling, but he also does exercises to try to make my body fight the virus. I don’t know how well that works, but I know that I’m getting along a lot better now, with the hypnosis.
You have to believe it, though, in order for it to work. Some people can’t be hypnotized, but it’s only because they’re resistant to the idea of being hypnotized. I don’t know if there are any studies done on this or not, but I know it has helped me. And I hope this can help you.


From: [email protected]
Date: Friday, 11:15 p.m.
Subject: AIDS story
I have had AIDS for a number of years now. My T-Cell count is 4, when it should be nearly a thousand. I still work. I stopped drinking. I needed to continue my work, because that is what kept me going. Someone told me to take shark liver oil, and when I did, I felt a lot better. I don’t know what it did for me. I try to take care of myself. I work out, lift weights, to try to build more muscle mass so I don’t get too thin or lose my appetite. My work is what really keeps me going, though. It makes me feel like I have a reason to wake up in the mornings now.
I have a dog. He is wonderful. I have to make sure he’s clean. I get him groomed and I pay kids on the block to wash him. He provides constant affection to me. He is great at supporting me without trying. I think about the unconditional love that dog has and it makes me happy. It’s like having a whole family to come home to.
I don’t live in the same town as my family, I was moved to this town with my job, and I don’t have many friends. So I try to think of reasons to keep living. I think when the day comes that I get worse, I might move back. I think I’ll need my family then, if they’ll have me.
It’s a choice you have to make every day: Am I going to live or am I going to die? So I have to think every morning of reasons to live, even if it’s for something like my dog, or the fact that they need me at the job site. It gives me reason to smile in the morning, knowing someone needs me and I can be there for them. It gives me reason to smile in the evening when I come home from work knowing my dog will be waiting there for me.
You have to look for something to live for. I don’t know if shark liver oil helped, or if it was my attitude. I just know that you have to decide to make it.
If you need anything else, let me know. I hope this helps out, and I hope this was what you were looking for.


From: [email protected]
Date: Friday, 11:22 p.m.
Subject: mineral water
I have had HIV for a few years, but it has never grown into AIDS. I am not on any drugs. I figured that when it does become AIDS, that’s when I’ll start fighting. In the meantime I’ve become a bit of a health freak. I drink about two gallons of mineral water a day. I eat well and work out daily. And I do yoga in the evenings. I am very conscious of what I eat. Only every once in a while do I allow myself to slip and do something less good for me. I think of them as “treats,” the way sometimes in a diet you’re allowed to have something fattening, as long as you don’t go overboard.
I think the exercise has been really good for me, it has given me a lot of energy that I didn’t have before. I give a lot of credit to drinking mineral water, too -- I think I get a lot of minerals that I wouldn’t get in a supplement, and the water cleans out my system and keeps my skin feeling good, too.
I’m not dying. Technically I’m not. AIDS has not affected me. And I’m hoping that if I keep up this regimen my body will continue to stop AIDS from starting.
When I work out I have to think that I’m doing something to make me better, not that I have to do this otherwise my body will let this virus kill me. I have to think that I’m taking control. I think that’s the key. People feel like they have no control in their lives. You have to take some of that control back, especially when AIDS seems like such an uncontrollable illness.
If you know someone who has AIDS, tell them to start working out more, and to drink a lot of water. It will help them, and it will give them energy. And they will feel like they’re doing something positive for themselves. If you have any questions about specific exercises I do, feel free to write back.


From: [email protected]
Date: Friday, 11:29 p.m.
Subject: AIDS and HIV
I am in a study currently. I have AIDS. The only thing I have to do in this study is take their drugs. There is no lifestyle change. I have about twenty pills a day. My lover insists that I take vitamin supplements too. I take about six vitamin pills a day. He has been so helpful to me. He organizes all of my pills every day so I know what time to take what pills. It is almost like he is taking them too, he goes through everything with me. He has given me so much support. I don’t know how I could have gone through this without him.
I worry sometimes that he feels like he has to stick by me because I have AIDS. I feel bad that he can’t have the love life he wanted. He gets checked regularly. I’ve had AIDS for a little over a year. So far nothing has turned up on him. That makes me happy. I can’t be a lover to him anymore though, and I don’t want him to have to wait for me. He keeps telling me that he wants to go through this with me; he wants to be there for me. I have to keep thinking of him in order to pull through this mentally. I’ve been doing okay lately. He keeps me from smoking. I used to smoke, and I really miss it. I think all the vitamins help too. Maybe it’s the drugs I’m on in the study, but who knows, maybe I’m in the control group and am not even taking any drugs. Either way, I seem to be doing okay. As for the vitamins, I take a multi-vitamin, a B6, a C, an A, an E and another B-complex. I was told the B and C would help me. Maybe they have. Maybe it’s the study. Maybe it’s Eric. Either way, so far, I’m making it. It could be anything that’s helping me through it. I don’t want to get rid of any one of those things, in case it is the magic potion that has kept me in okay shape. I just thank Eric, every day. And I take it day by day.


From: [email protected]
Date: Friday, 11:41 p.m.
Subject: my child had AIDS
My son had surgery for a heart defect when he was an infant. He went through three rounds of surgery by the time he was five. Then he seemed to be sick all the time. We took him into the doctor. He was always at the doctor, when anything was wrong, because we worried about him all the time. They took his blood and did a complete work-up on him and found out he had HIV and it was already attacking his immune system. They figured it was from the last blood transfusion he had from surgery. We are suing the hospital now. Because he was just a little boy he was not prepared to fight infections the way an adult might have been able to. HIV might have stayed dormant in an adult body for a few years, but not in my little boy’s body. This was three years ago. He is bed-ridden now. He cannot go anywhere. I am crying as I write this. We tried to do everything for him. We gave him foods that were extra-fortified. We made sure he didn’t go outside when it was cold. We never really let him out of the house. We dusted all the time. We had air purifier machines working in most every room of the house. We used disinfectant cleaners to clean everything. We tried to smile to our baby boy, all the time. We were dying inside, with him. The doctors said they’re amazed he’s lasting as long as he is. We never knew what else to do. We try to do everything. I don’t know if this helps you. It helps me, writing it down. We were told to keep the air clean and make sure everything was clean around him. We avoided perfumes in our laundry detergents. We tried to make sure he breathes nothing that could harm him. I don’t know if AIDS patients are that careful.
I wish he didn’t have to die, but I’ve seen him in pain for so long a part of me wants to see him rest in peace. I don’t know why God would do this to me, or to my son. I think a lot of people wonder that, why does God allow this to happen. I hope this helps you.


From: [email protected]
Date: Friday, 11:48 p.m.
Subject: friend with AIDS
You wanted stories about AIDS. I don’t have AIDS, but my friend does. I don’t know if this will help you, but I’ll write it anyway. My friend told me he had AIDS over the phone. I couldn’t believe it. It was one of my best friends. And he sounded like he was fine with it. He was laughing and talking and acting like it was something he could deal with. All I could think was that he was going to die. I had to stop myself every second of that conversation from crying. It was so hard to stay there on the phone and try to be calm. He said he changed his habits, he was on some drugs, he got into a study group in his state, so I’m not sure if they were AZT or not, but he was on some drugs. He said he hadn’t been with anyone, and he stopped drinking. I think a part of him thinks he can beat this.
And it was so hard for me to think about one of my best friends dying, at such an early age. It was so unfair. I cried for so long. I wanted to be there for him, but he lived on the other side of the country.
Finally I got a long weekend and made the trip out to visit him. I was so nervous that I was just going to start bawling my eyes out when I saw him. I didn’t know how I’d react, seeing that this would be the first time I saw him since I heard. When I saw him he was happy and so was I. We gave each other a big hug and instantly started cracking jokes with each other, the way we always would. It made me realize that he was still there, he was still alive, he wasn’t dead yet. I was mourning him while he was still alive.
He said he had to accept the fact that he might only be around for another ten years, if he takes care of himself. But he has to look at it as a new lease on life. He said that any day he walks outside a car could hit him. He said this is his chance to live, and do what he wants with his life, now that he knows how precious life is.
I thought about the fact that I figured that one day I would visit him with my husband and we’d show pictures of our grandchildren to each other. But that wasn’t going to happen anymore. He wouldn’t have kids, much less grandchildren. I noticed he lost weight and looked skinny, but other than that, it was my same old friend. And suddenly I had to stop thinking of him as dying. He could never die, not before his heart stopped beating. He was -- and is -- all about life. He is not dying, he is living, and that is what has kept him so healthy. I’m sure of it. I’m sure that over half of the battle is a battle of the mind. It’s a battle to say to yourself that you’re not dying, you’re living.
And the more I thought about it, the more I thought that if anyone could handle AIDS, it was my friend - he had the strength to deal with it. It still wasn’t fair that this had to happen to him, but I knew that if anyone could fight it, he could. It was all in his outlook on life. It is all how you choose to live. He chose to live, and that’s exactly what he did. He’s still making that choice. And I think that’s why he’s doing well today.
I hope this helps you out. It was nice to actually write it; you don’t think of it concretely until you have to put it down on paper. Well, good luck.


From: [email protected]
Date: Friday, 11:56 p.m.
Subject: <>
I didn’t know I was infected with HIV until my daughter was diagnosed with AIDS. I gave it to her, and she died as I was being tested. I had no idea. I used to do heroin. It was stupid. I battle every day with wanting to do drugs again. Sometimes I slip. I don’t have my daughter anymore. She died when she was only a few months old. I don’t have any suggestions on how to deal with AIDS, only suggestions on how to not get it, but you know those. It’s a lot easier to not get AIDS than to deal with it. I guess all I could say is don’t make the same mistakes I did.


From: [email protected]
Date: Saturday, 12:07 A.M.
Subject: How I Deal With AIDS
I have noticed a lot of muscle stiffness with one of the drugs I have been taking for AIDS. A friend of mine told me about someone they knew who did acupuncture and acupressure. I was afraid of sticking needles in me, you know what I mean, so I talked to the therapist and had one session of acupressure. I noticed that I felt so much more relaxed, that my muscles weren’t killing me when I tried to walk across the room. I almost felt after one session like I could go jogging again. I go to regular sessions now, once every two weeks and I feel like a new man. I think a lot of things are out there that can help people deal with the side effects of the cocktails for AIDS. Why are you looking for this information? Your posting said my letter would remain confidential -- why wouldn’t it? Are you a writer, trying to do an article on this or something? Let me know what you need information like this for. I told you my story, now you can tell me yours. Thanks.


From: [email protected]
Date: Saturday, 12:12 A.M.
Subject: AIDS
I’m on my friend’s account. She saw this posting and asked me to write to you. I have AIDS. I hung around with the wrong crowds. My friend is always telling me to get on line and I can learn something from the Internet. But I know everything I want to know. She always checks the computer to see what she can learn about AIDS. I know she is trying to care for me and understand me, but I don’t need it. She told me you want my story. It’s not much of a story. I made some bad choices. I was a runaway teenager. I slept around and got free drugs. I was never a prostitute, but I slept with men for drugs. I don’t know how I got it. It could have been in one of a thousand places.
I lived like this for three years. Then I got sick so I broke into a pharmacy and tried to steal some drugs, to make me better. Instead I was caught. They put me in the hospital and told me I had AIDS. Now I am in prison. I am twenty years old. They put me on drugs. They give me a regimen. I’m supposed to be in prison for another year. I shot someone while I tried to rob the pharmacy, but I barely wounded them. Basically, I do what they tell me here. People don’t mess with me since I have AIDS. They all think that if I touch them they’ll die. I don’t mind that they think that, actually. It helps me be alone. They have a few computers here at the prison and they let us write letters. I typed this up for my friend to e-mail to you.
I wonder how long I will live here. I mean, I might die in prison. I hear it’s a slow painful death with AIDS. Sometimes I think I want to kill myself, and end it sooner. No one wants to listen to a prisoner complain that they have AIDS. What would I do when I got out anyway? I have no family and no money. I wouldn’t go back to my family; they would reject me I’m sure.
I don’t know what my friend thinks she’ll accomplish by sending this to you. I have too many problems to begin to go into here. But if it makes her happy, I do it. She’s the only one that visits me here. I think she cares about people more than I do.


From: [email protected]
Date: Saturday, 12:26 A.M.
Subject: AIDS
You posted a request for information about how people deal with AIDS, so I thought I’d write.
I meditate. I have had AIDS for a year and a half, and shortly after I found out I started looking into religions, and liked Buddhism. Whether or not I follow it completely, I don’t know if that really matters. I found something that I can think about when times get rough for me. And meditating once a day relaxes me so much that I can’t blow a gasket the way I used to. I used to be such a “Type A” person; I’d get stressed at everything. And I know that’s not good when your body is already taxed with a deadly virus. You know, your body has enough to deal with; you don’t need to add a little more stress to your system. So I thought: maybe there’s something after this life? I didn’t really go for the idea that there was a heaven and a hell and a purgatory. I kind of like Buddhism, but more than that I think I liked the way it just let you go along, you know, it let things roll off your back easier. I can clear my head now by focusing on a single word. I think it really has helped my system from going into overload.
I can get information about what I’ve been doing if it would help you out. Glad someone is out there looking for ways to help out people in my situation. Good luck.


From: [email protected]
Date: Saturday, 12:37 A.M.
Subject: AIDS and diet
I used to be a vegetarian. I didn’t like the idea of eating dead stuff. I was a vegetarian for over five years. I was healthy. A little thin, but healthy. I was excellent at track and field in college. I was the star of the varsity men’s team. I messed around in my early twenties, and had a few one-night stands with men I didn’t know, and yes, there was unprotected sex involved. I thought when I was feeling run down it was because I was just getting older. I was always used to being able to do anything athletically I wanted to; my cardiovascular system was in great shape. And although I was getting a little thinner, I didn’t want to eat anything, so I didn’t think of it as a problem.
Then I went to the doctor. They put me on drugs; I had AIDS. I didn’t know which partner it was that gave it to me. I tried to find them all. The hardest part was finding people I slept with and telling them I had AIDS and I didn’t know where I got it. It broke people’s hearts. I was basically telling them they played Russian roulette, and they might be dying from a bullet wound when they didn’t know they were hit.
I couldn’t even find everyone; some of the people I slept with I didn’t know the last names of, and they didn’t know any friends of mine.
Well, I learned I had to get my appetite back. I’m no longer a vegetarian. I don’t like eating meat, but I believe that people have the right to eat meat; it was just my choice not to. But I want to now, because it could help keep me alive. AIDS survivors need the extra fat and protein to bulk them up a bit, to put some meat on their bones. Sorry, no pun intended.
I was actually doing more harm than good when I was a vegetarian once I had AIDS. A vegetarian diet may be better for a healthy person, but not for someone with AIDS. I’ve put on weight now and feel better about myself.
So what can I tell you about AIDS? Don’t get it. That’s the important part. Don’t do anything stupid. But also watch your diet. It’s very important to helping you along and not feeling the effects of AIDS on your life.


From: [email protected]
Date: Saturday, 12:42 A.M.
Subject: who gets AIDS
I was in high school and didn’t want to have sex before marriage. I thought sex was a scary thing. Everyone talked about doing it, but I tried to just steer clear of the subject when my friends talked about it. I acted like I did it before, but I’d never talk about it. I’d say things like “Talking about it so much just shows that you don’t know how to handle it.” I implied that I knew so much and I really knew nothing.
I was a junior cheerleader. I was going to the homecoming dance with my boyfriend, from the football team. That’s how it was supposed to be, right? A cheerleader and a football player. A match made in heaven.
I think one of the reasons why football players like cheerleaders is because a cheerleader is small enough for them to be able to dominate over. My boyfriend raped me after the dance. He kept saying he wanted to leave the dance. I was having fun. I didn’t know why he wanted to go so early.
Apparently he was a steroid user, and did a few other drugs. He wouldn’t tell me how he got it. He never even seemed to be affected by having HIV. It was bad enough that he raped me, at least I didn’t get pregnant, he didn’t even think about the chance of that happening. But he gave me AIDS instead.
I was fine most of my junior year. Senior year I felt sick and didn’t make the cheerleading team. I don’t think I wanted to be on the team anymore anyway. High school was pointless to me. When you’re raped not much seems important anymore. If someone can do that to your life, apparently your life doesn’t seem that important anymore. I was really depressed. I told no one. So my parents noticed I seemed sick all the time, so I went to doctor after doctor. Finally someone asked me if I had ever slept with anyone. I was wondering what he gave me. I never thought it could have been AIDS.
I didn’t graduate. I saw no point in it. I knew I had to get out of that school. I took courses and got my GED less than a year after I would have graduated.
I keep trying to stay in shape. I keep thinking that I will never have children. I keep thinking that I should have had a big wedding. I should have the big dress and the big wedding and some sort of prince that would take care of me for the rest of my life. But that’s not going to happen. He took that away from me.
Since I graduated I got a job working as a crisis hotline operator and a counselor for AIDS patients. I visit people in the hospital. You’d think I’d hate to see it, hate to see people almost dead, the way I’ll one day be. But it makes me feel better. If I’m here doing this for them, there might be someone doing this for me in the future. I have to keep thinking that I can fight this and help people so they don’t have to feel the pain that I went through. When I tell someone on the hotline that I know what they’re going through, I mean it. I tell them I have AIDS and they believe me, they don’t think I’m feeding them a line. And they trust me. And they feel better.
If I didn’t get AIDS I wonder if I would have worked as a crisis hotline operator for rape victims. The rape still bothers me, but my having AIDS has replaced my hatred for what happened to me with a fear of dying.
I don’t think I would have done anything like this, like being the crisis hotline operator, if this didn’t happen to me. I think of my hotline work as counseling for me. When no one was there to help me out. I felt so alone, and there was no one to help me through it. I don’t want others to feel that way.
Maybe this helps me, giving something back. I’m twenty now. I don’t try to date, but I’ve met some good friends. I don’t talk to anyone from high school anymore. What would I say to them? They have their proms and their homecomings. I have my rape and my AIDS.
What gets me through is helping others in my position. If I can help them, I’ll know there’s less suffering in the world, and it’s because of me. That makes me feel good. And that makes me want to keep living. That’s what you have to look for, that’s what I tell people. And it’s true.
So tell people that. Get through it emotionally somehow. I know it’s hard, but you have to do it if you want to live. I can give you some lists of hotlines around the country, if you’d like. Let me know.


From: [email protected]
Date: Saturday, 12:51 A.M.
Subject: herbs and natural remedies dealing with AIDS
My lover and I have AIDS. I do most of the cooking. We live together; we have lived together for seven years now. I started seeing ads on television about Ginkgo and other herbal supplements and I went to the health store to learn more. I went to the library and checked out a ton of books. We seem to do okay with the drugs, but I make a point to add anything to our diet that will make us feel better. We eat a ton of garlic in anything. It’s supposed to be good for your heart and your blood. We eat a lot of fresh herbs. We take ginkgo for memory retention. We take cayenne to help our circulation. We use supplements when we can’t get the herbs. We make kombucha tea from the kombucha mushroom, I have heard of people saying that their T-Cell counts rose after drinking kombucha tea regularly. We seem to be doing okay. We have each other. We try to make a difference in our health in our every day lives. Instead of thinking of food as something to pick up through a drive-through window, we think of it as medicine. And we think it’s working. I’m blessed to go through this with someone. I just keep looking for other ways we can do something to help ourselves. That’s the key.
If you don’t mind my asking, why are you asking? It didn’t say in your post why you wanted the information. Do you have AIDS, or did you just find out that someone you love does? That’s usually when people want to learn more, when they first really have to deal with it. You’ll get used to it, I promise. That’s not such a great thought, I mean, who wants to get used to a fatal disease, but it will become easier with time. If you need to talk, feel free to write back.


From: [email protected]
Date: Saturday, 12:59 A.M.
Subject: AIDS and God
Some people say that God hates gay people, and that he punishes them with AIDS. I don’t know if that’s the case. I used to be very religious. My family brought me up Catholic. But I got away from my beliefs and did some things I am not so proud of. When I found out I had AIDS, I did not know how to deal with it. I wanted to die right away. But then I thought about what could keep me alive forever -- Jesus. I couldn’t believe I let my faith go like that. I realized that Jesus Christ could help me see the error of my ways and bring me peace before I left this world. I now go to church every week, and I do volunteer work for the church as well. I feel like my life now has meaning when it didn’t before. Why was I living the life I had? It wasn’t making me happy. If I can show others where true happiness is, maybe I can help other people too. I feel like now I have a mission with God, and that is to help people from getting AIDS and help people in dealing with AIDS. The church is a good support group of people that I can talk to. I know many people who get AIDS go back to their church for the remainder of their days. It provides great comfort. Maybe getting AIDS was God’s way of punishing me for straying from the church. I don’t think of it that way, though. I think of this as my calling, that I can serve as an example for those who lose their way. I feel like I have a new lease on life, because now I have something to look forward to.


From: [email protected]
Date: Saturday, 1:22 A.M.
Subject: engineered AIDS
I am a government spy. I got AIDS from an agent from another government while on a mission. U.S. government Agents cured me with one injection and three days of bed rest. AIDS was used for the U.S. government’s purposes. The cure was engineered and used. You are looking in all the wrong places to find your answers.


After reading this last e-mail, she leaned back. She didn’t expect it, discounted it and continued reading.
She saved all of the e-mail she read, but she kept thinking back to the letter she received on engineered AIDS. She had no evidence that it was right. There was no proof of the claims made in the e-mail. She saved the letters and continued reading for the rest of the night.


chapter 6

The Conspiracy Search

Sloane arrived at the office at 8:45 in the morning. Everyone was already in the office and watched her as she walked through the laboratory door. She went straight to her office.
Julie was the first to enter her office. Without even getting the chance to meet their new assistant, Sloane had a list of things for her to do.
Julie walked up toward Sloane for instruction, with her right hand out to shake hands. “I am the new assistant for your Department. My name is --”
“Your name is Julie, and hi,” Sloane responded, not even realizing that She was in such a rush to get work done that she had cut Julie off as she tried to introduce herself.
“You know who I am already? ... You must be Sloane Emerson,” Julie said, remembering everything she could from her accompanying paperwork that she didn’t even have to glance at. “Where do I go and what would you like me to do?”
“We’re working on finishing a book that we’re all writing part of here, and I’ve got my intro for the book done, and I need you to print it up for the staff. It will give them something to start from. Remind them that they need to do a two-sentence biography for the end of their chapter. Come back to me when you’re done; I’ll have more for you to do in a bit.”
“Ms. Emerson, are you okay?”
Looking up from her desk, she tucked her hair behind her ears. “Yes. Why?”
“You’re late, I can tell it’s not like you, because the staff was even worried.”
Eyeing the clock on the wall, Sloane spoke. “I’m in fifteen minutes early.”
“Yes, on company time, but on... Emerson time, you’re late.”
Sloane smiled. “I was up late finishing the introduction.” Sloane adjusted her position and looked more serious again. “Let me know as soon as you’ve finished printing the introduction. I’ve just hooked up my computer to the system, so I’m on the network -- so you can just take the file from my computer.”
“I’ll get right on it. Sorry to pry.”
“No problem.” Sloane watched the temp walk out of her office. “Wait -- one more thing.”
Julie turned around, “Yes, what is it?”
“I should have said this before, but it would be very helpful if you could go through past general e-mails about Emivir and drug questions and sort them for me as well. There are a few e-mail addresses to sort from, and we can get you on to mine as well for reading and saving purposes only. It would save me a lot of work, and it will help me sort the data that has been coming in.”
“Not a problem,” she answered as she left.
Julie didn’t need to know that Sloane was up late working on the introduction but also that she couldn’t sleep because of the e-mail she had received. Most of the letters amazed her, and to some extent made her sad, because it seemed to her that the people who coped the best with their illness were also the people who never seemed to deserve the hand that was dealt to them.
But the letter that kept her awake was the one she had read suggesting that the United States government used this disease to their advantage -- and that bothered her the most. She decided that she needed to get to the bottom of that letter.
But on to a vaccine first, Sloane thought.
Thinking about the vaccine options, it seemed to make the most sense to her to focus on either a Recombinant Vector Vaccine or a Whole-Inactivated Virus Vaccine. Vaccines where part of the virus was deleted had a lesser chance of success than a vaccine where part of the virus is inactivated; that’s why she liked the idea of a Whole-Inactivated Virus Vaccine. If that could not be accomplished, she thought, she could attempt to use a live virus that’s not HIV by modifying it to transport part of HIV, hence the Recombinant Vector Vaccine. She started writing out tests for different projects, starting with a Whole-Inactivated Virus Vaccine first, when Julie walked back into the room.
“Everyone has your chapter, Ms. Emerson. What else would you like me to do?”
Sloane thought about the e-mail she had received last night. “I put another posting up this weekend, and I got a ton of e-mails about how people deal with having AIDS, and I would like you to download them to our network. That’s the first thing. Secondly, there was a particular e-mail in there, it was very short, and it talked about the government’s involvement in using AIDS on spies. Save that e-mail too, but also do some research for me and find out where that e-mail came from. Third, I would like you to go on line and get as much information as possible by the end of the day for me about government conspiracy theories.”
Julie looked at her for a moment. “Government conspiracy theories?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, government conspiracy theories about AIDS and the HIV virus.”
“But...” Julie looked visibly confused. “But why?”
“Oh, that e-mail I read made me realize that there are ideas out there about this disease that I’m not aware of. I’d like to learn about them.”
Julie looked at her for a moment. “Download e-mails to the network, trace the e-mail related to the government, and look for AIDS government conspiracy theories.”
“Yes. By the end of the day.”
“Do you remember exactly what the e-mail you want me to trace said?”
“Something like, ’I was a spy, the government cured me of AIDS.’”
Julie looked around briefly again. “Okay...” She turned toward the door.
Sloane spoke before Julie could leave. “I don’t think he was telling the truth in this e-mail. I don’t believe it, but I’ve been trying to understand how people view HIV and AIDS, how they deal with it, and this is an avenue I could read up on while I’m at home tonight. I might as well. Besides, I haven’t read any good fiction lately.”
Julie smiled. Sloane knew that she had subdued Julie’s fears. Sloane watched Julie walk out of her office again, and instead of going back to outlining her vaccine tests she’d make a phone call.
It was just after noon in New York when she called Quentin Publishing.
“Carter Donovan, please.” Sloane waited to hear his voice.
“This is Carter Donovan.”
“Carter, it’s Sloane.”
“How are you? No glitches with the book?”
“No. I just finished my overview chapter, and it has been distributed to the staff so they know how the book starts. I did it over the weekend, so they should be able to finish up their parts by the end of the week. You’re going to have someone in here for us by next Monday?”
“Yes ma’am. Glad to hear everything’s going according to your tight schedule.”
“That’s not what I was calling about, actually.”
“Really? I hope it was social.”
“Hey, I’m the one that made the effort to be social last, I’m waiting for you to make the next move.”
Carter could hear the smile come through in her voice. “I’ll keep that in mind then,” Carter answered.
“Besides, I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to come out here to visit me the ’rain capital’ of the country anyway.” Carter laughed and answered by saying, “I’ve never had an aversion to a good rain storm. So what were you really calling me about?”
“You offered to send me some books that Quentin has published about homeopathy and about AIDS. Have you--”
“Oh my God, I forgot. I can have a crate of books sent out to your office for tomorrow morning.” Sloane answered by saying, “And if anything applies to our book, I’m make sure to add Quentin Books to our references list.”
“I’ll have those books out to you. Thanks for reminding me.”
“Hey Carter, do you have any copies of that book of yours that you did the press check for last week?”
“Yeah, I have a few here. Why?”
“Could you throw one in the box for me?”
“Sure, but it’s on economics, not AIDS.”
“I know.”
“Why is it so nice to talk to you?”
“Carter, I was just about to ask you the same thing.”
“Okay, I am going to visit you soon.”
“You better. You could even use this book as an excuse.”
“Another company perk, perhaps?”
“Is it deserved?”
“I wouldn’t take it if it wasn’t.”
Sloane laughed. “I’m going to go do some work now.”
“Keep me up to date on your progress. You’ll get your books tomorrow.”
Sloane hung up the phone and looked back to her computer. Kyle knocked almost instantly. “Hey, Sloane,” he said, “I didn’t mean to interrupt...”
“Don’t worry. I haven’t even talked to anyone in the laboratory yet, and I’ve been here for hours. How is everything going?”
“Oh, it seems fine, we’re all just working. Got your chapter.”
“Thought I better do it before people started working on theirs, so we were all on the same page.”
“What are you working on?”
“I’ve been trying to figure out how to approach the vaccine.”
“What’s on your mind?”
“HIV mutates at an alarmingly high rate. There are many strains of HIV. And consider that there are also many strains of influenza. But as a new strain develops, we are able to make a vaccine for it.”
“Yes, but you’re comparing the flu to AIDS.”
“That doesn’t change the fact that a vaccine is possible. Now if it’s just the flu we’re talking about, researchers usually use a live virus. That would mean that the two options to focus on are the Whole-Inactivated Virus Vaccine, then the Recombinant Vector Virus.”
“Whole-Inactivated first? Why?”
“I figured there’s a better chance of the body fighting the virus more effectively if it had the whole virus in the vaccine, with just a part of the virus inactivated. If that doesn’t work, I’d go for adding a part of the HIV virus to vaccinia, or some other virus carrier that would be harmless to the human body.”
“So what’s next?”
“I have been outlining tests that I want to start on. Have any ideas?”
“Print something up by this afternoon and I’ll sleep on it.”
“Maybe I’ll print up a few copies, for anyone who wants to look it over.”
Sloane spent the rest of the afternoon coming up with tests for HIV, methods to make crucial parts of the virus inactive, so it would be safe to inject into animals, and later humans. She tried to disregard the spy message, but it still loomed in the back of her mind nonetheless. By the time lunch was over, though, she had to face up to the fact that she had to reply to that last e-mail she read. Getting on line, she sent a reply message to the e-mail recipient that had sent her the message that seemed to haunt her.

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: Monday, 1:22 P.M.
Subject: re: engineered AIDS
Who are you? Why did you write that? You offer no evidence and expect me to believe you. Please explain yourself.

Sloane signed off and tried to get back to work.
By the end of the day Julie handed over a stack of papers on AIDS government conspiracy theories. Julie told her that one of her e-mails was returned to her; it was the message she sent to the writer of the conspiracy e-mail message.
“It’s a user public account that cannot receive messages, only send messages,” Julie told her. “The e-mail account is from a coffee shop that has free computers for Internet use. I finally found the coffee house; it’s in Denver. I got the phone number and address for you.”
“Thanks, Julie. Now I’ve got another job for you.”
Julie looked up at her. “Does it need to be done tonight? It’s the end of the day.”
“Some time tomorrow is fine. Can you look for all federal government agencies in the state of Colorado, and collect names and e-mail addresses from them? Also, look for e-mail addresses and staff lists for anyone in the FBI, the National Security Agency or the CIA.”
“Do you know how hard that information is going to be to find?”
“Let me know what you can do. There have to be government staff lists on the Internet. Do you have any strings you can pull?”
“I don’t know. I’ll let you know tomorrow. I might have some computer friends that could help me out.”
“Thanks a lot, Julie. I really appreciate it. You’ve been very helpful.”
Sloane decided to read her stack of pages at home. After looking at the number of web sites Julie had listed for her, she realized that oddly enough, there were more conspiracy web sites for AIDS than there were homeopathy and nutrition pages for AIDS.
There was a plethora of conspiracies for Sloane to choose from:
1. There were conspiracies that AIDS was manufactured by America and the Russians stole it and infected us, conspiracies that AIDS was manufactured by America to get rid of homosexuals, blacks and other minorities, conspiracies that AIDS was manufactured by America and accidentally escaped into laboratory tests, where researchers hoped nothing would go wrong. All of the germ warfare theories indicated that HIV was manufactured in the United States.
Sloane immediately wanted to argue with the germ warfare theory. Everything she read implied that germ warfare could have happened, but none of the things she read could lend any credence to whether germ warfare actually did happen. The germ warfare conspiracy theorists presupposed that researchers had enough knowledge to create the AIDS virus. So many human experiments with resulting deaths for all subjects would have to have been engaged in, and there was no record of it. And testing would have taken over a decade, considering the length of time HIV stays in the body before damaging the human immune system and thus launching AIDS. This made Sloane sure that it couldn’t have been used, because the government would want a disease that killed much faster than HIV did.
2. There was a conspiracy not in the creation but in the severe and deliberate mishandling/mismanagement of the virus after it first spread. These theorists mentioned that researchers regularly have to beg for funding, that they are limited in what they have to work with and don’t make waves.
Reading those web pages made her angry. She knew that nationally more money went toward AIDS research than to heart disease and possibly even cancer -- both of which had a broader base of people to affect and end up attacking many more people. It made her blood boil to think of a person having to work with their hands tied behind their back, as these theorists suggested. Then she wondered if their work could somehow be halted.
From one web site with no address listing on it, she read: “Suppliers who sell drugs or equipment to doctors know that in any field there are only a handful of leaders, and thousands more who follow the prevailing conventional wisdom. These followers do not seem to evaluate new treatments on their merits. (...) And in today’s science and medicine, the leaders are those able to bring big money into their institutions. They remain leaders only so long as they remain acceptable to the political forces which control that money.”
A part of her wanted to entirely agree with that theory, but that did not account for the private institutions that did research, such as Madison Pharmaceuticals. That was precisely the reason why she did not want to work at the University.
3. There was a theory that fundamentalist (religious) groups put pressure on the government to stop funding AIDS research.
That could be possible, Sloane thought, with the number of right-wing lobby groups gaining money from congregations. However, she had to believe that someone would not only be able to fight those lobby groups but expose them and reveal what cruel intentions those religious institutions had. The possibility that this was an option wasn’t something she could argue with; again, it was the fact that there was no evidence to support the theory that made her want to argue it. Enough people would’ve wanted to discount those religious lobbying groups to have been able to expose them.
4. There was a theory that groups looked for a cancer that spread like a virus.
This suggested that researchers were trying to create a virus, which was similar in theory to the first line of conspiracy theories she read about. And the more she read the more she wanted to argue, wanting proof, and knowing full well that these listings were only theories and that there would be no proof at all to be found.
5. Sloane then read an article about someone who attempted hot therapy, heating the blood to 108 degrees to emulate a tropical fever. The government stopped then they had one successful case and wanted to continue on.
What she could not understand was why the government wanted to stop an experiment to help people unless there was evidence that this procedure could be too hazardous to the patient. This may be one of those situations, Sloane thought. Sloane knew it was a grave risk in performing any experiments with hot therapy; she thought that if people knew their bodies were decomposing they would be willing to undergo it, and then read on.
6. There were also reports of Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV), which when injected into humans immunized people against AIDS. There were examples of some prostitutes in Africa who didn’t seem to have the virus, even though they had constant unprotected sex with patrons.
But there was never evidence of said prostitutes coming in contact with SIV.
7. There was a theory that AZT caused AIDS. When a patient is told they’re going to die, they are put on AZT, and their condition then deteriorates. Drug usage also weakens the immune system, but sex doesn’t. Most homosexuals use drugs on some level once they are diagnosed. HIV, according to these theories, is a livable condition that doesn’t deteriorate the immune system -- it was the strong drugs that attacked all parts of the immune system, which could not focus on just HIV-infected cells destroying the immune system.
Sloane didn’t know about the validity of this, because she knew as a researcher what HIV could do. But it disturbed her, primarily because there might be patients out there who decide to reject drug usage for their treatment for AIDS because of what they think the government is doing to them, because they think all of the drugs will do them more harm than good. Sloane didn’t want people to decide not to take drugs that might save their lives because they blindly believed what one web page told them.
But still, the more she read, the more it bothered her. It wasn’t as if she believed in any of these theories, but the fact that these ideas exist may be an indication of foul play somewhere.
8. There was the theory that the government has a war on drugs but secretly keeps a stream of drugs out there, along with infected needles to spread AIDS, to remove “undesirable people” from the planet.
9. There was a theory that the creation of HIV and AIDS was a government scheme to reduce the planet’s population. Declassified documents from meetings where dignitaries and government officials discussed the problem of over population mentioned that there should be research into controlling the possibility.
Noting that even though these documents existed, she knew that anyone could post a web page, and there was never in the documents an agreement for population control, or to create a virus.
10. One theory purported that HIV is not a sexually transmitted disease but just a virus, like getting a cold, and can be transmitted by something as simple as sneezing. The government, however, wanted to change the sexual behavior of the citizens of the United States and so they proclaimed that HIV was a sexually transmitted disease.
Sloane kept reminding herself that false conspiracy theories actually make people less interested in practicing safe behavior or getting tested. This was one reason why she was irritated. The government may not try to stop the theories because they affect the believers more than they affect the government. People most at risk may use conspiracy theories as a part of their denial. And most conspiracy theories, as she could tell, were scientifically unsound, or homophobic/racist in origin.
Sloane walked over to the kitchen to get another glass of juice. She walked back to her desk in her apartment and reread a paragraph she couldn’t get over.
“I know some people will read my letters and think that this could not have happened. You have too much faith in your government. I may not be able to ’prove’ my theories in the ’absolute’ sense, because in a relative universe absolute proof is impossible. The skeptic will demand absolute proof, knowing full well there is no such thing as absolute proof. This is no place for skeptics and cynics. This is a place where people rely on evidence, not merely unfounded ideas posed forth to them. This is a place where people decide what to believe in, based on what could have been.”
This is what scared her, almost more than the idea that her government -- the government of the country she lived in -- could have created and unleashed this disease on the people -- the government by the people, for the people. In that one paragraph someone suggested that she should not rely on proof.
“Proof is impossible, because we live in a relative universe?” Sloane said out loud. “Relative universe? The effects or intensity of gravity may be relative from one planet to another, but the concept of gravity is not relative. Things can be proven, and they are not relative.” Sloane started pacing. “They say we have too much faith in our government, but should we have faith in some nobody who had enough spare change to put up a web site? They discount faith, but then they discount logic and reason by saying that no proof is possible.” Sloane stopped and looked back at the paragraph. “What is their definition of a skeptic or a cynic?” For the sake of argument, she went to her dictionary on the corner of her desk and opened it to find some answers.

cynic (sin’ik), n. 1. A person inclined to believe the motives for people’s actions are insincere and selfish.
skeptic (skep’tik), n. 1. A person who questions the truth of theories or apparent facts; a doubter. 2. A person who questions or doubts the possibility or certainty that humans are capable of knowing anything.

“A cynic would be more inclined to believe in a conspiracy theory than in their government, not doubt those theories!” she said in disgust at the dictionary. “And a skeptic could either question the argument of the conspiracy theory, or they could agree with that paragraph in that people are incapable of knowing anything!” She closed her dictionary, turned off the desk light and leaned back in her chair. “But if you know you’re incapable of knowing anything, doesn’t that mean that you know something for a fact, if that statement is something you know for a fact, and knowing something therefore negates your theory?” She posed her questions aloud in her darkened corner of the room. She looked over at her clock and realized that she had wrapped herself up in her work and that it was already past midnight. This was another one of those moments when people’s behavior and lack of logic escaped her.
Sloane was in the office when Kyle walked in Tuesday morning. Kyle took off his coat and walked straight to her office.
“Did you eat breakfast yet?”
“No, I usually don’t eat breakfast. Why?”
“I was going to use it as an excuse for a morning meeting.”
Sloane stood up. “No problem. I can grab some coffee.”
They walked out of the office and to Kyle’s car; he offered to drive to a local donut shop. When they arrived Sloane sat at a booth while Kyle got his food. Kyle slid into his seat and looked at her.
“I just wanted to make sure everything was okay.”
“Why wouldn’t it be?”
“You seem to be acting a little strange, but I can’t put my finger on exactly how. But other people are noticing it in the laboratory too.”
“I have eight different projects on my mind, that’s all.”
Kyle pulled out his notebook and took the cap off his pen. “Let’s start with the first one.” “Kyle, you know most of it,” she answered. “There’s the integrase inhibitor, there’s reducing side effects and making the drugs easier to take, there’s improving Emivir, there’s coming up with drugs to attack only HIV, and not the entire immune system.” Kyle sensed her apprehension.
“What? This is exactly what I’m talking about.”
“Besides those I’ve got this homeopathy book, and I’ve done a lot of reading on how people have been dealing with AIDS, and it has made this a much more personal job. I’ve read the stories of people in prison with no will to live. I’ve read stories of people doing well, with the best attitudes, and I keep thinking, my God, all of these people have to go through so much, and they have to keep their spirits up the whole time. These people have a strength that usually goes without being tested.”
“Your concern is the drugs. You can’t let yourself get that personal. This is exactly the potential problem with doing research like this.”
“Kyle, you’re thinking of this as a laboratory experiment, and I’ve seen the human side of it. It just makes me think that there is so much on the line for these people, and I want to be able to make this work for them as well as for myself. But that’s not even all of it. After the four teams I’ve got the staff on doing four projects as well as working on the Home AIDS book, I’m working in my spare time on ideas for a vaccine and a cure.”
“A cure? You’ve talked to me about a vaccine, but not a cure.”
“Oh, I had an idea on how the cure has to be developed, but it’s just an idea, there’s nothing concrete to it yet.”
Kyle took a bite out of his donut as Sloane sipped her coffee.
“So you’re overworked?”
Sloane paused. “I’ve never been overworked before.”
“Maybe we’re pushing ourselves too far...” Kyle smiled and ate.
Sloane let a moment pass in silence before she spoke. “Kyle, I’ve received some information that has been disturbing to me. I don’t know how else to describe it.”
Kyle looked up. “What’s wrong? DID something happen to someone?”
Sloane looked confused. “Oh, no, everything is fine, it’s about my AIDS research; it’s not personal. So I’m thinking about something else as well, so I guess I’m being pulled in eight directions.”
“What is the new problem?” Kyle asked. “Oh...” Sloane knew she would sound foolish to Kyle if she told him the truth. “Someone e-mailed me with some information, and I don’t think it’s valid, but I can’t get it out of my mind either way.”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Kyle said. “I think the laboratory teams can handle the drug concerns, so get those out of your head. Your part of the homeopathy is done with; now just wait until the end of the week for the rest of the book and we’re set. So focus on the vaccines. Let the cure idea stay on the back burner. Keep thinking about it, but work on a vaccine now, because I think that’s your best bet. Maybe working on a vaccine will help you figure out what to do for a cure.”
“I know, you’re probably right.” Sloane looked away, and noticed Kyle’s newspaper folded on the edge of their table. A headline caught her eye. “Mind if I look at your paper?”
“Go right ahead.” Kyle continued eating while Sloane read the front page. She didn’t have any interest in looking for Steve’s column. “This is what gets me,” Sloane muttered. “What’s the matter?” Kyle asked.
“Oh, these groups trying to introduce gun laws, outlawing guns in this country.”
“Why on earth would you want a gun, Sloane?”
“I don’t. But that’s irrelevant. I don’t want pornography, either, but I’m not trying to stop anyone else from getting it.”
“But wouldn’t you feel safer knowing that guns were illegal?”
“I’m not worried about the lawful people buying guns, I’m worried about the unlawful people who would rob me with their guns, who will still be able to get a gun on the black market whether or not guns become illegal.”
“But what reason does a lawful person have to want or demand a gun?”
“That’s not the issue. Whether they want it for protection, or for shooting birds, or skeet shooting, or hunting, that doesn’t matter. The government should not be able to tell everyone that they cannot have a gun.”
“But we are a danger to ourselves with guns. Do you know how many accidental deaths a year occur with handguns?”
Sloane set the paper down. “It’s not the government’s job to protect people from their own stupidity, the government’s job should be only to protect people from the force of others -- to protect people’s life, liberty, and their pursuit of happiness. Remember those words?”
“Isn’t the government protecting our lives by outlawing guns?”
“Maybe they should outlaw cars, then, since people get killed in them. Or maybe steak knives. Or scissors. Or ropes, you know, people can hang themselves with ropes.”
“Sloane --”
“No, Kyle, if you let the government control one aspect of your life, they will be fully justified in controlling every other aspect in that spectrum as well. One of the first things Adolph Hitler in his rise to power did was introduce gun laws so he could make sure the people he was about to put into concentration camps and gas chambers weren’t armed.”
“But that’s Hitler. That’s not America.”
“Kyle, the meaning of ’life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ is three things. One, someone has a right to their own life, and no one can take that away. Two, they are free, so that no one can force them to be slaves or do things against their will. Three, they have a right to make the effort to continue their lives, they have a right to what they earn, and no one can take that away from them. They have the right to go out and look for a job, to make their lives better. Nowhere does it say that people have a right to a government that will make decisions about their own safety for them. That’s not the role of government.”
Kyle leaned back in his booth. “You know, you seem angry.”
“Do you not think this is something worth being angry about?”
“Do you actually think about these kind of things on a regular basis?”
“Of course I do. My life and livelihood depend on it. Don’t you?”
Kyle grabbed his coffee and folded his paper. “Don’t you have other things to worry about, say, like finding an AIDS vaccine?”
“Sure. But remember to be grateful that you live where the government doesn’t take away our right to do that.” Sloane smiled. “Should we get back to the lab?”
Kyle shook his head at her and slid out from the booth to head to work.
By the end of the day Julie came up with a list of names and corresponding e-mail addresses for every federal agency in the state of Colorado as well as for the FBI, the National Security Agency and the CIA. Sloane was amazed that Julie was able to pull it off.
“Ms. Emerson, all of the federal agencies in Colorado are for organizations such as water reclamation and energy conservation and resource distribution. Are you sure you want those lists combined with e-mail addresses from the FBI, the NSA and the CIA?”
Sloane thought about the fact that spies wouldn’t be working for a water reclamation district, but if her contact was indeed a spy the agency might be a front for their real work. “Yes, please put them all into one list for this mailing,” Sloane said. “Keep them separate in our files, so we know what groups the addresses are from.”
“Got it.”
Throughout the day Sloane thought about her deciding to send this questionnaire to everyone: could any of those agencies in Colorado really be a front for a group of government spies? She had no reason to believe so. She shrugged it off and started writing up a generic questionnaire to be sent to all the names on the list.

From: [email protected]
BCC: [email protected]
Date: Tuesday, 4:56 p.m.
Subject: AIDS survey
Thank you in advance for your time. We are doing research about people’s awareness of AIDS and HIV. We are interested in finding out what people know about AIDS and how people view AIDS. You have been randomly selected; your participation in this survey will help us with education about AIDS. It should only take a short amount of time, and your answers will remain strictly confidential. Thank you for your participation.
1. Do you know anyone with AIDS or HIV? If so, how many people?
2. How does one contract HIV?
3. Where do you think HIV came from; where did it originate?
4. What preventative measures will stop the spread of HIV and AIDS?
5. What are your views on the spread of AIDS? Do you feel that it may affect you at some point in your life?
Once again, thank you once again very much for your time and consideration. This will be the last e-mail you receive. Thank you.

She told Julie to send the letter out to the list of people before she left work. Now it was just a matter of time, Sloane thought. Hopefully, if this person were from a government agency, they would recognize her e-mail address and write her back. She thought that maybe she should post a letter looking for someone who wrote her from that e-mail address.
Asking Julie to contact the coffee shop the next morning to see if they had records of who used accounts at their business, Sloane already knew the answer would be no, that people paid in cash, that there were no video cameras in the cafe to monitor who sent e-mails. But she asked Julie to do it anyway. She also asked Julie to post messages on all major bulletin boards about AIDS as well as conspiracy theories asking for the person who sent that e-mail to her to write her back. She doubted that would work either. But she had to try.
The next few days Sloane continued to work on her vaccine tests. She started two tests and was waiting for results. Thursday afternoon came and she still hadn’t checked her e-mail. Julie was proofreading other chapters of the book as they were completed.
Late Thursday afternoon, her phone rang.
“Sloane Emerson.”
“It’s Toby.”
“Toby, how are you? I haven’t heard from you since Miami.”
“Yeah, well, that’s because I’ve been in a bit of a fight.”
“Really? Who’s girlfriend did you sleep with?”
Toby laughed. “I meant political fight.” Then he turned serious. “A fight with the University. They cut all the funding for my project.”
This shocked her. “All of it? Why?”
“They told me there was nothing there and that I should continue with the protease inhibitor research. It’s insane.”
“Are they right?”
“You know they’re not. You saw the results I had after the first trip.”
“But to tell you to go back to work on protease inhibitors? There are enough protease inhibitors on the market now, your research should focus on something else, something more pressing.”
“I’m sure the University is getting pressure from somewhere else... It’s driving me crazy.”
“You really think they’re getting heat?”
“Oh, I’m sure of it.” Toby answered.
“Toby, do you remember the name of the company that purchased the land in the rain forest?”
“I can get it, it’s in my notes. Why?”
“Find out if they’re related to the U.S. government, or if they got a loan from the government, or if they had to get approval or anything.”
“Why?”
“It’s just a hunch. It may help you find out why you’re facing opposition with your research.”
“You think the two relate?”
“I don’t know, but this is one way to find out. Let me know what information you get,” Sloane said. “Okay. Thanks, Sloane.”
“Why? I haven’t done anything.”
“You keep working. You never let me wallow.”
“What was that night in Miami, you know, ’whiskey night’?”
Toby laughed. “What was the next morning, with you collecting rain forest research while I slept?” Toby paused before speaking. “I’ll call you.”
After hanging up the phone, she thought for a moment about the fact that she never stopped working, and that trying to make something happen with Steve failed miserably. Then her mind went to what she just told Toby to do. The thought wasn’t that someone finally realized how financially irresponsible his research was, but that the same people that pulled the plug on his research bought and cleared the land Toby was working on.
This frightened her. She couldn’t believe that someone was stopping Toby from working because he might be on to something. Reason and logic would dictate that his work was stopped because there was no merit in his expensive ideas.
All this talk about conspiracies was getting to her, she thought.
Looking over at her computer, she got on line to check her e-mail.
There were four responses to her e-mail questionnaire. Sloane was amazed; they sent out hundreds of letters, and after days they received only four responses.

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: Wednesday, 10:16 A.M.
Subject: re: AIDS survey
1. No.
2. Through unprotected sex, through intravenous drug use with a contaminated needle, blood contact between someone with an infected person or through a transfusion of infected blood
3. Africa
4. Stop drugs, use condoms
5. I don’t think so. I’m happily married and do not use drugs.

Sloane deleted the first e-mail and read on.

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: Wednesday, 6:47 p.m.
Subject: re: AIDS survey
1. Yes. Two people.
2. Sex and drug use, or sharing of blood.
3. Africa, from a monkey
4. Do not engage in immoral activity.
5. I don’t believe it will affect me because I take the appropriate precautions.

Sloane was getting more and more disappointed. She thought there was no reason to look at the next two. She deleted the one message from her e-mail box, then opened the third letter.

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: Wednesday, 10:20 p.m.
Subject: re: AIDS survey
Was that a thinly veiled cover-up or did you not know you found me? 303.555.1843.


chapter 7

The Denver Expedition

Her heart was all she could think of, it felt like it was trying to come up out of her throat.
“Oh my God, this is it,” She mumbled. Or was it? She looked at the e-mail again. There was nothing in the letter that suggested that this was the same person. She picked up the phone anyway; it was almost automatic.
Placing the phone to her ear, she dialed the number. Her hands swiftly moved over the buttons with a speed and urgency she didn’t know she possessed.
One ring.
Two rings.
“Hello?”
Listening to the inflection in the singular word, she tried to memorize the husky voice on the other end of the line; it was almost too low to be human. “Hello, you don’t know me. I just received an e-mail from you.”
“I know you. Call me in five minutes. Here is the number.” The deep male voice on the other end waited for a moment to be sure she was ready. “Three-oh-three, five five five, eight nine six three.”
“What am I calling?”
“A pay phone. We will talk in five minutes.” The man hung up the phone.
Sloane looked around the room.
She could think of nothing else but his voice. It was deep, mysterious, sexy. The voice on the other end of the phone was of a man who had something to share, vital information, and he knew it.
After looking around the room, she glanced at her watch. Three minutes left. She couldn’t explain to herself why she was calling him. And she couldn’t explain to herself why she was giving this theory any credibility in her own mind, when she had no evidence to believe his story that her own government orchestrated a conspiracy.
In her heart she knew that she was calling him to see if he had evidence.
Every story she had read about government conspiracy and AIDS was plausible, but there was never any evidence to prove them. She needed to find evidence.
Two minutes left. She looked around the room again.
Her stomach had been turning for hours. It was in knots.
Walking to her door, she looked at the lab. A few people were still working. Walking back to her desk, she re-read the e-mail message. The e-mail address indicated that the sender worked at an Energy Conservation Agency in Colorado Springs, a little over an hour south of Denver.
“Was that a thinly-veiled cover-up or did you not know you found me?”, she read.
Looking at her watch to make sure enough time had passed, she and picked up the phone receiver, once again dialing a number in Colorado.
“Hello?
She instantly recognized the deep scratchy voice again.
“Who are you?”
“I’m someone who has answers you want.”
“I don’t want answers without proof.”
“Proof?”
“Yes, I like evidence, and proof of things in order to believe in them.”
“I should have expected that out of you, Ms. Emerson.”
“How did you know my name?”
“Did you think I wouldn’t see your name in your e-mail address, and do you think I would send an e-mail out like that to anyone?”
“How did you know my name?”
“You’re Sloane Emerson, of Madison Pharmaceuticals. You’re e-mail is S. Emerson at Madison P. H. dot com.”
“Why did I have to call you at a pay phone?”
“Because I think my phone line is tapped.”
“Do you really work for the Energy Conservation Agency in Colorado Springs?”
“I work in the building.”
“Do you really work for the Energy Conservation Agency?”
“...You should know that things aren’t always as they seem, Ms. Emerson.”
Not knowing what to do or ask, her mind raced to think of the next question, which never came,
“You’re not asking very direct questions. I would have expected better of you.”
“I have no real reason to ask any questions. You’ve given no reason to.”
“You had no reason to call me, either.”
Her conscience told her that all she could do was wait for him to continue.
“And if you won’t believe my word, then there is nothing in this conversation that will change your mind.”
“And what are you going to do about it?”
The man quietly laughed. “Me? You’re the one wanting the information.”
“And you’re the one that offered it to me.”
This time it was the man’s turn to pause.
“So what are you going to do about it?”
“Would you like to meet?”
“Where?”
“It would be best if I not travel.”
“So you want me to fly out to Colorado Springs.”
“Is that what you need to do?”
“Can I call you to confirm my flight arrival time?”
“Just meet me tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. for coffee at the cafe I sent you the first e-mail from. You have the address for the coffee shop, correct?”
Of course he’d know she checked up on him, and the coffee shop. “Yes.”
“Leave a message on my machine if there are any problems.”
They hung up from the pay phone before she could say another word. The only thing she could think to do was call Carter. She didn’t know why she felt she had to; she never usually talked to him when things were bothering her. But she had never experienced anything like this.
What will he think of my calling him this often?, she thought. She didn’t want to overstep her boundaries in their friendship, but she felt like she needed to call him anyway, even if it wasn’t expected.
Dialing his office, she looked at her watch and realized that with the time change he would be at home by now. She hung up, picked up the phone again and called his apartment.
“Hello?” It was good to hear his voice; it was soothing. “Carter, it’s me.”
“Is something wrong? You don’t sound well.”
Sloane realized she had nothing to say. What could she say to him? That she just talked to someone who claimed to be a government spy and she is planning on going to Colorado Springs to learn more about U.S. involvement in engineering AIDS?
“I’m... I just feel a bit disconnected, that’s all.”
“And so you thought of me.”
“No, I was just wondering when you were getting into town.”
“I planned to come up with a Quentin proofreader to go over the stories next week. I don’t have to be there until Monday, but I could come in earlier, seeing that it’s my turn to make the social visit.”
“I might be busy for the next day or so, but other than that you’re welcome here any time.”
“Is Saturday afternoon too early?”
“Not at all. But if I have to go into the office, do you have any work to do?”
“I always do. And I always bring it with me.”
It always sounded to her like Carter was grinning.
“Carter?”
“Yes?”
“Are you smiling?”
“What?”
“Are you smiling right now?”
“Well...” Carter thought about it for a brief moment. “I suppose I am.”
“Why is that?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, are you always smiling? And if so, why are you always happy?”
“I don’t know if I am always happy.”
“You’re always happy when you talk to me, and it cheers me up.”
“Maybe it’s you that’s cheering me up; maybe that’s why I’m smiling.”
“I can’t believe that, I have no sense of humor, how do I make you smile?”
“I smile when you remind me that you exist.”
Grinning widely, she said, “Once again, your thick spreading of the old Donovan flattery has cheered me up. Thank you.”
“I don’t know why you were down. Everything is going well over there, right? The book, the integ-- the new inhibitor?”
“The integrase inhibitor, Carter.”
“I’m not the scientist, I don’t have to know what it’s called.”
“Yes, everything at the laboratory is going well.”
“And yet there is apprehension in your voice.”
“Maybe you can drag it out of me when you come into town.”
Carter laughed.
“Call me when you know your flight number so I can pick you up. But be forewarned -- I don’t have a limo.”
“No, you have a plane, so I don’t want to hear that tone of voice from you.”
“The plane is not even mine, and I don’t have a tone.”
Carter’s sarcastic tone increased. “Oh, yes, you do have a tone, my dear.”
“You haven’t heard a tone, but if you keep it up you will.”
“Is that a threat or a promise?”
“Don’t toy with me...”
They both let out a small laugh under their breaths.
“So call me with the flight information tomorrow.”
“Got it ... Bye.”
“Bye.”
Sloane hung up the phone and couldn’t stop smiling, until she looked back at her computer screen and saw the e-mail from the man in Colorado Springs. Then she thought about the plane. She walked out her door, past the lab, through the hallways of Madison Pharmaceuticals to the front desk. It was after six in the evening; most of the staff had been gone for hours. She looked at the papers on the front desk until she found a clipboard with the flight itinerary of the private plane. It was being used by Colin Saturday, but tomorrow it was free. She penciled her name in for a round-trip flight to Colorado Springs, leaving at three in the afternoon. She left a message for the receptionist to call Jim.
Then she said enough was enough and had to leave for home.

###

Friday morning Carter walked into the boardroom for the usual Friday morning meeting. “Do you have your itinerary planned for the Seattle trip?” a colleague asked.
“Yes,” Carter answered. “In fact, I’m going a day early so I can have more time to meet and talk with Ms. Emerson.”
“What for?” Carter heard over his shoulder. He recognized Shelly Stempel’s voice but didn’t realize she was eavesdropping. Carter turned around.
“I want to make sure Ms. Emerson is as pleased as possible with the business we have been conducting. I want to check with her to make sure everything is on schedule and to her satisfaction; she runs everything over there and I want her to know that I know it. And I want to talk to her about some ideas for new books as well.”
“New book ideas?”
“I don’t want to push her, but I want to let her know that she can work with us in the future.”
“When does the editor get there?”
“Monday morning. I’m sure we’ll meet her at the airport and go straight to Madison’s offices.”
Shelly started to look away; she didn’t seem satisfied with his answers. He asked, “Shelly, are you asking so many questions about this? Why does this interest you?”
Shelly tried to look nonchalant. “I’m not interested,” she said, “but I want to make sure you’re doing your job well.”
“That’s funny,” Carter answered, “I thought it was my job to watch over those things. When did you become my supervisor? Did I miss that memo?” A few people in the conference room laughed.
Shelly gave him what was supposed to be a mean look. “I just have the company’s best interests in mind.”
“And I don’t?”
Shelly walked out of the conference room. Carter knew she would overstep her boundaries every chance she got, and that he would have to stay on his toes to avoid problems with her. He knew he did a good job, in fact, he knew he did a great job. But his performance didn’t matter to people like Shelly, whose primary interest was not in getting better at her job, but leveling the playing field and destroying people that were better than her so that she would be the cream that rose to the top. Carter knew that was the only way she could operate; it was the only way she could succeed.
So in the meantime he’d have to contend with the likes of her getting in his way.
Carter then turned to the man he was originally talking to. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the company’s interests were the last thing on Shelly’s mind,” Carter whispered.
“If she could profit from them at the company’s expense they would be her interests,” Carter’s colleague replied.

###

Friday afternoon she met Jim at the airport. Silently, she walked up the stairs to the plane. Jim noted that she seemed very quiet. He waited until they were about to take off before he spoke.
“So what’s in Colorado Springs?”
“I have to meet someone there to get some information. When I’m done, we can go straight back.”
“Where do you have to go?”
“A coffee shop. ” she answered. Jim knew she didn’t want to talk about it; he turned to the cockpit and closed his door.
Feeling the engine start, she closed her eyes and leaned back. The plane started moving toward the runway. When it got into position, the plane started moving, faster and faster, until she could feel the front wheel lift off the ground. It felt like her stomach was being pressed into the back of her seat. She felt the back wheels lift off the ground, and she was in the air again, leaning back, being pressed into her chair. She opened her eyes and looked out the window.
She didn’t know when the feeling of being in flight left her and the pit of her stomach returned, but she noticed it was back, that feeling that something was wrong. It suddenly occurred to her that what she was doing could be very dangerous. She had no idea who this person was. The person could just be a thug planning on attacking her while she’s outside the coffee shop.
When the plane leveled off, she got up and walked to the cockpit door and knocked. She opened the door.
“Jim? What are you going to do while I’m in Colorado Springs?”
“I hadn’t thought about it, really.”
“I was wondering if you’d like some coffee.”
“Are you inviting me to your meeting with you?”
“Thank you, but not really... I don’t know what the person I’m meeting with looks like. And in all honesty, I’m a little nervous.”
“You? You’re the strongest woman I know.”
“I normally wouldn’t ask this, but I really don’t know what I’m up against with this meeting.”
“Are you in trouble?”
“No, why?”
“You’re talking like you’re meeting with the mob or something.”
“I don’t know what I’m meeting up with, that’s the problem.”
“So what do you want me to do?”
“I was wondering if you’d want to go to the coffee shop with me, but walk in a few minutes before me and ... well, have some coffee.”
“You want me to stay in the coffee shop while you’re there, so you’re not really alone?”
Answering quietly he heard her say “Yes.”
“That’s not a problem at all.” Jim looked at his controls while Sloane stood in his doorway. “You can sit down if you like,” he said to her.
“Oh, thank you. I’m fine.”
“You know, I never get tired of a view like this.”
She remembered saying that to Carter when she looked out his apartment window, and when Carter told her that her face -- her image in the mirror -- should be all that she needed. Then she wondered why she needed to call him to make her feel better.
“Ms. Emerson?”
“Please. Sloane.”
“Okay. Sloane?”
“Yes?”
“What are you thinking?”
“On one hand, I feel afraid for my life. I don’t know why I’m on this plane, I don’t know why I’m having this meeting. I don’t think I’m going to learn anything from this meeting. But if I do, then I’ll be more afraid.”
“You’re afraid of the truth?”
Sloane felt herself starting to shake. “I’d be afraid if this was the truth.”
“Would that stop you from looking for it?”
Sloane looked up. She stopped shaking. “No, it wouldn’t. It doesn’t matter what the truth is. As long as I keep looking for it.”
“I’m sure you’ll find it.”
“Thank you, Jim.”
“Sloane?”
“Yes?”
“What was the other thing?”
“What?”
“You said that on one hand you were thinking about fear and the truth. What else were you thinking about?”
“I ... I don’t know if I can put words to it.”
“You seem confused.”
“For once, I feel like I can’t do my work by myself. I’ve never felt that before.”
“People need people to help them work all the time. You have your whole staff helping you. Hell, I help you by flying this plane.”
“I don’t mean that, Jim. I mean on a more fundamental level, I feel like I need someone to talk to. Sometimes I get frustrated, and instead of getting myself out of it, or continuing to work, like I’d usually do, I need to call a friend of mine to make me feel better. Then I can get back to work.”
“Do you think you can do your work without them helping you out emotionally?”
“It’s not merely emotionally, it’s more philosophically.”
“Either way, you haven’t answered my question.”
“Oh, I can work without them helping me out... But a part of me is beginning to wonder if I’d want to.”
“Well that’s a bold statement,” Jim answered.
“What do you mean?”
“This is just one friend you’re talking about, right?”
“What do you mean?”
“You don’t just call up anyone to talk to, you’re talking about the help of one friend in particular, right?”
“Yes, I am, one friend.”
“If your friend is male, then you sound like you’re in love.”
Sloane stood straight; she noticed she was slouching. “Oh, no. Not at all.”
Jim didn’t say a word. Neither did she.
“No, no, I don’t love him. We’re just friends.”
“Okay.”
“No, I mean it.”
“Fine.”
“You don’t believe me.”
“It shouldn’t matter to you what I believe. What matters is what you believe.”
“I believe in things that can be proven.”
“So when I told you I’d meet you at the airport, you didn’t believe it until you were here and saw me? Then why did you come to the airport at all?”
“Okay, I believe in things I have evidence of.”
“Well, check the facts. Do you love this man?”
“I’m not having this conversation.”
“Why not?”
Sloane looked around. “Because I have enough to worry about today,” she said, as she grabbed the door handle and gave him one small smile before she closed the door and walked back to her seat.

###

They both sat in the back of the taxi while they sped toward the coffee shop. She explained to Jim what to do.
She leaned forward and spoke to the taxi cab driver. “Excuse me, when we get to the cafe could you stop and let my friend out and then drive around for another minute or two before dropping me off?” Then she turned to Jim. “Okay, this is what I want you to do. When you get in there, just get a seat at a table in the corner. I’ll try to get a seat in another corner. I don’t want us to be too close to each other, seeing that we’re getting in there at just about the same time. I have no idea what the person I’m meeting with looks like, but I assume they know what I look like. I don’t know how long it will take for our meeting, but when I’m done, I’ll leave without him. I’ll get a taxi and circle around the block. If you can wait a few minutes after I leave to pay up and meet me outside, that would be great.”
“Okay. You know, I kind of feel like a spy.”
“You are not a spy,” she answered. “No one is doing any spying.”
“Didn’t mean to anger you. I just meant that this seems so secretive.”
Opting to ignore him, she turned back and watched the road. “How much longer until we get there?” she asked the driver.
They had ten minutes to go.
The Mountain Ridge Coffee Shop was nestled amongst little antique shops. The streets sloped up and down in between the snow-capped mountains. The taxi dropped Jim off and pulled away.
“Where would you like me to drive, lady?”
“Just drive two or three blocks straight. I can go the rest of the way myself.”
Sloane got out of the taxi three blocks down and looked at the slanted street. She was on the top of a small hill, and the small buildings on each side of the street framed the mountains in the distance. She turned around and saw the sign for the Mountain Ridge Coffee Shop three blocks away. She started walking.
She didn’t know if she let enough time pass between Jim entering the cafe and her estimated time of arrival, so she tried to walk slowly. She looked in the store windows she passed, but she wasn’t interested in the crafts she saw for sale. “Even if I wasn’t worrying about this meeting,” she thought, “I still wouldn’t like this stuff.” She continued walking.
Feeling the coldness of the steel as she pressed her hand against the metal door handle and pulled the door open, she slowly walked into the coffee shop. The bells attached to the door hinge jingled as the door moved. She walked inside, not looking at the people in the shop and went straight to the counter to get a cup of coffee.
“Plain cup of coffee please.”
“Bottomless?”
“Sure.”
The man behind the counter poured her coffee into a plain white mug and she turned around to look at the shop. Other than the desks with computers for Internet access along the back wall, there were about twenty tables in the coffee shop. The place was about half full. She scanned over Jim’s face in the corner without acknowledging him.
She turned back and the man behind the counter was ringing up her coffee. She dropped two dollars down on the counter and leaving her change, Sloane made her way to a corner table, far enough away from everyone -- including Jim.
Sliding her jacket off of her shoulders, she then took a sip of her coffee.
She didn’t want to look at anyone in the room, afraid to make eye contact, but she had to look. She had been sitting for over a minute and no one had come over to talk to her. She scanned the room. While looking at the people, her eyes met with a man who looked at her and smiled. She turned away, blushing, knowing he thought she was flirting with him. She looked down at her coffee.
The man she made eye contact with got up and slowly walked over to her. He wore a button-down shirt over a turtleneck and khaki pants. She was instantly embarrassed.
As he got to her table, he asked, “I couldn’t help but notice that you were sitting here alone.”
Sloane looked up at him. “I’m meeting someone,” she answered.
“I know,” he said. “May I have a seat?”
She thought she recognized the deep, hoarse voice. “Who are you?”
“Ms. Emerson, may I have a seat?”
He watched her gesture to the chair opposite her. He sat down.
Scanning his face, she studied and memorized him. Black hair. Green eyes. Sharp jaw. He looked large. Not tall, large -- he was well built, but she couldn’t imagine that he was even six feet tall.
“So this is the man,” she thought.
“What is your name?”
“Shane Wilson.”
“Shane? I’m supposed to believe that Shane is your real name?”
“And what kind of name is Sloane?”
Sloane threw him a dirty look. “So what does your e-mail address ’Owens’ mean?”
“It’s the name I use at the Energy Conservation Agency. They know me there as Bill Owens. But Shane Wilson is my real name.”
“Who do you work for?”
“Right now? The Department of Defense. I’ve worked for the CIA before as well.”
Every answer he gave prompted her to stare at him cynically. “And?”
“And what?”
“What do you have to tell me? I’m not staying here all night.”
“You believe me.”
“No, I don’t.”
“And that’s why you’re here? Because you don’t believe me?”
“If I believed you, I wouldn’t need to come here.”
“You want to know if the U.S. government engineered HIV.”
“They didn’t have the technology.”
“You want to know about the origin of AIDS.”
“I want to know if the U.S. government has a cure for AIDS, something that kills HIV within the body.”
“I told you they do.”
“But you have given me no evidence.”
“Look, have you heard of any other conspiracy stories for AIDS before?”
“Yes.”
“What most rational people intrinsically assume is obviously wrong. You know we didn’t have the technology to produce this disease. If we did, they probably would have made you make it.”
“You think that little of me?”
“I’ve discovered in my line of duty that everyone can be bought and sold.”
“Not people who live their life as its own end.”
“Like you?” she asked sarcastically, looking at him.
“And you value nothing in your life other than your own? You wouldn’t relinquish your life to your government in order to save someone you love?”
“No. I would kill myself first. And if the people I loved understood me, they would want me to die before giving up my life to someone else for them.”
“Why?”
“Because if I can’t live my life on my own terms, I can’t live my life,” she answered. “And no one who truly loved me would want me to live a life filled with torture, just for them.”
Shane looked at her.
“But if I recall correctly, I didn’t fly to Colorado on a moment’s notice to talk to a stranger about myself.”
“Well, you were right. We didn’t produce this disease -- not entirely, at least. It was discovered in Africa; the origins of the disease were found in Africa.”
“What do you mean?”
“A non-fatal disease was found in Africa. It produced fevers, vomiting, the sweats, the shakes, it was a pretty ugly disease, actually, and it did do some damage to the immune system -- but it wasn’t fatal. After fighting it for about two weeks, you could live through it and your body would develop a natural immunity to it. That is, if you lived in America and had good treatment and lots of bed rest and were constantly supervised. A starving African with no medical assistance might not be so lucky.”
“But what you’re talking about is not HIV.”
“I know. But the virus I am talking about was brought to a restricted area of the Center for Disease Control so that people could work on a vaccine for it, which is normal procedure. One person, however, through an accident in their laboratory work, mutated the virus in such a drastic way that it could never have happened in nature.”
“And they created HIV?”
“Imagine it. One person, trying to save people from an ugly virus, accidentally develops a deadly virus. Oh, the delicious irony.”
Sloane sneered at him again. She didn’t like the fact that he could joke about this; whether or not it was true. “Then how did it get out?”
“The supervisor of the laboratory technician worked for the Department of Defense as well as the CDC. They place people from the DOD in strategic positions in most every U.S. government organization to keep an eye on them, so to speak. So the DOD man quarantined the whole wing of the lab, so it would be destroyed. Of course, they didn’t destroy the virus, you know that. But afterward the destruction started: a week later the person who fell upon this virus strain accidentally died from a hit-and-run crash.”
“And you’re going to tell me that it wasn’t an accident?”
“The only accident was the mutation of the original disease by the laboratory technician.”
“So then what happened?”
“I’m sure you’ve heard theories that the U.S. government engineered this to reduce the starving population.”
“Yes, I have.”
“They figured that if they were to use this virus as some sort of weapon they’d have to bring the virus back to the same place that the original virus was found, so that it would look like it was a naturally-occurring disease. If it eliminated people that were going to die before they turned eighteen anyway because of a lack of food or water or basic hygiene, then that was just an added bonus for the Washington people.”
“You say it so kindly.”
“Depopulation wasn’t their primary goal with this virus. The Washington people, for some strange reason, thought that the virus could be contained in Africa, so it wouldn’t become a problem with the people of developed countries, like the United States. They deduced that if it was such a deadly disease it could be used as a weapon in war-time situations.”
“But the length of time someone could be infected before they die could be over a decade -- even without any medications.”
“Exactly. And that is how the disease spread. Through the poor calculations of a few high-end government officials carrying out a secret agenda.”
“What was the secret agenda?”
“I can’t tell you all of it; I don’t know all of it. But a part of it involved the elimination of certain key world figures in a way that would leave the U.S. free of any blame.”
“How were they going to infect people?”
“You mean how did they infect people? Certain leaders of the drug cartel were eliminated when we switched needles at parties. Certain military officials in the Soviet Union and Europe were eliminated when we hired prostitutes at parties. You know, it looked like it was all in good fun. They got to these people by sharing their drugs and their women with them.”
“So it was supposed to be used to infect only crucial people?”
“Well, at least it was never meant to affect the general public.”
“And the latency of HIV caused the problem.”
“Yes, especially since it allowed our enemies to isolate the virus as well. At this point the Soviets were using it as a weapon as well. That’s when I came in.”
“What were you supposed to do?”
“I was supposed to get it back.”
“But that would be nearly impossible.”
“This was the first year of the disease, they didn’t know trying to keep it would be impossible. And while I was on a mission, the Soviets kidnapped me. I was drugged so I was unconscious. When I came to I was in Germany. I have no idea why I was in Germany, but I was in a hotel room. I was sweating, my clothes were torn; I was a mess. I found out that I had been unconscious for four days. When the doctors in the States checked me out, they noticed that I had two injection marks. They knew that the Soviets gave me AIDS. To spite the U.S. government and me. It was their way of saying, ’you can’t get to us, and to prove it we’ll infect your men with the virus you meant to use against us.’”
“You said the U.S. government had a cure though.”
“Yes. After they got me back into shape, you know, got enough food into me and such, they brought me to a research center at the DOD and they locked me in a room and gave me a bed and an I.V. and a single injection and left me there for three days. I was tired, from the drugs, so I was only awake for a fraction of those three days. But after that, I was clear of AIDS, I was clear of HIV. Hell, I had so much sleep, I wanted to run a marathon. I was fine.”
Assuming he was given glucose in the I.V., she tried to make the rest of the puzzle come together. “But you didn’t know that you were actually infected with the virus in the first place. You didn’t even get tested.”
“Tested?”
“It wouldn’t have shown up on tests for another six months to a year.”
“They found traces of the virus -- dead -- in my dermis and epidermis, where I was injected. They knew what had happened.”
So they had a cure for someone who was recently infected, she thought. “But how did they come up with a cure?”, she asked.
“They did it when they found the disease in the first place. They knew the procedure performed at the CDC had originally created the virus. They were able to instantly work on a cure for it, while they still had a pure form of the virus isolated. Since it has mutated, not one sample of the original virus has been collected.”
“But then the cure wouldn’t work for the mutations.”
“Yes, it does. They’re still occasionally using it, on a very select basis.”
“On whom?”
“Consider for example, they wouldn’t want any presidents of the United States to have to die of AIDS. That would bring on some bad press.”
Sloane sneered slightly again at his sarcasm. She thought about the insinuation that past presidents had been HIV positive. “Why don’t they release the cure?”
“That would show that they’ve had it all along.”
“If they’ve lied this long, couldn’t they lie about a government doctor finding the cure and release it now?”
“They can still use the cure as a tool. They have something everyone wants. Why would they give up their ace card?”
Stumbling for a question, she didn’t know what to ask next. “You were quote-unquote ’cured...’”
“I was restationed at the DOD branch here.”
“There isn’t one here.”
“I don’t work for the Energy Conservation Agency. I was stationed there to do work out of the way. Half of these fluff organizations exist to cover up our operations.”
“So you’re still working.”
“Yes.”
“And you can just go around and tell people this? Is this your common dinner conversation?”
“You still don’t believe me.”
They stared at each other. Shane finally spoke. “No, this isn’t my normal dinner conversation. Look, you can’t tell a soul about this conversation; I could be killed, and so could you, Ms. Emerson, for having this conversation.”
“Why would I believe you?”
Shane leaned back. “Because in my bag here I’ve got the records of my health conditions from the DOD. You can see that they found the HIV virus on me, in my skin, at an injection point, and it lists the procedure they used on me, and that I was cleared of any virus in my body. Nobody even knows these files still exist. You can check with this hotel” -- he pulled out a lab notebook and opened it and showed her a piece of paper with a hotel name and address in Germany -- “to see if I was found there. The name on the credit card that paid for my hotel was a Soviet name, of a man who died just after I got into the hotel.”
“And where’s the cure?”
“I don’t have it.”
“And where’s the original virus, the version that hasn’t mutated?”
“I don’t have it.”
“So what good is any of this information to me?”
“It’s a starting point.”
“A starting point? And what do you expect me to do now?”
“Find the truth.”
“You can’t get the cure, even though you’ve worked with the CIA and currently work for the DOD, and by the way, you haven’t even shown me any identification yet, and you expect me to be able to get the cure without any credentials whatsoever?”
Shane reached for his wallet to show her his identification while he continued speaking. “I can’t get to the data, everything about this is classified, especially to me, specifically because it was used on me. They don’t want me going around sharing my secret. I’m not that high up on the information ladder anyway. Since I don’t have proof, just bits of evidence, I could be considered a crackpot if I tried to get this story out, so there’s no point in me going public with it. People would look at me the way they look at every other conspiracy-theory nutcase out there. Look, you know this has got to get out. If I try to do it, they’ll know it’s me. I’ll be dead in no time. You know this is wrong, and it has to be stopped.”
“If this is wrong, why did you get involved with it in the first place?”
“I told you that we didn’t know what we were dealing with. Especially us, we were just the field men. We didn’t have the scientific background to know what was going on. Our scientists didn’t even know what was going on. I can’t correct what was done, but I can attempt to stop it from continuing.”
“Oh, so now you’re the good guy.”
“I thought I was always the good guy. I thought we were defeating an enemy without resorting to a war where hundreds of thousands of young men could be killed.”
“That’s a noble story, Mr. Wilson.”
“Listen, I started working for this country because I believed in what the U.S. was protecting its people from. But now they use their power for cheaper oil prices and for political maneuvers to help out certain candidates. And to settle scores. And to make us look like better people, from a better country. Once they started using it, they kept expanding its use. Originally they didn’t want a single American infected with HIV. Now they don’t seem to care that that poor people, drug users, and gays are dying from it. Infecting good people is the price we have to pay for them being able to ’utilize such a successful weapon.’ That’s what I can’t stand, but it happens everywhere. Give people a little power, and they’ll take more.” That phrase caught her attention more than anything; she completely agreed with it. Shane continued. “Instill the death penalty for murder, and pretty soon the death penalty will be used for child molesting or rape. Then three felonies, even if they are only three liquor store robberies with no one injured. What’s next? It’s the same thing with the way the U.S. government is viewing the use of HIV. Unless they’re stopped dead in their tracks, they’ll keep killing people and covering it up.”
Shaking her cold coffee in her cup, she noticed that no one had come over to give her a refill the entire time they had been talking.
“I also knew that if anyone could work with this information,” Shane continued, “it would be you.”
“Why me?”
“Because you wouldn’t want this to happen. Because you want a cure more than anyone I know. Because you need to know that the government can’t do this to its people.” Shane stopped before dropping his last bomb. “And because your research will be the next thing affected by the government.”
“What does that mean?”
“The government is going to orchestrate more and more moves to make AIDS research extremely difficult for scientists. It hasn’t affected the number of people they want it to now; the government’s work is not yet done.” Shane slid the folder of his records across the table to her.
“So they’re going to try to stop my research next, that’s what you’re trying to tell me?”
“Of course.”
“But there is no incentive that the government could possibly give me to make me stop my work.”
“Oh, they won’t be offering you incentives. They’ll use what they use best -- force.”
“And the American people won’t see through it?”
“Ms. Emerson, it will look like the American people called for it by the time the government is done with you.”
Toby popped into her mind, with everything happening to him. Then she thought about Tyler and the lobbyists trying to take from her.
Her mind went back and forth. These documents could be forged. He’s telling stories that sound like they could be true. He’s talking like one of those tarot card readers, or psychic phone operators -- they’ve learned how to say things so vague that you can adjust your own experiences to fit the fortune you’ve just been told.
She tried to keep her senses about her.
All she could see was the envelope of papers in front of her. “But what am I supposed to do with this?”
“There’s a contact in there that might help you out. They work with the DOD as well, but they’re in a higher position. They also have CIA contacts.”
Glancing at the envelope for a moment, her eyes then met up with Shane’s. Shane spoke. “We have to part ways now. Try to act natural. Someone is watching us.”
Trying to find someone that was watching her, someone, anyone, she looked around the room; she spotted Jim, then she spotted a man looking in the window from outside wearing a dark suit.
As she turned back to her table, Shane was getting up and walking away. He didn’t turn back to look at her as he walked out the front door. She glanced over at Jim. Then she got up and went back to the counter for a refill.
Jim followed her orders precisely. She waited five minutes after the man outside the coffee shop left before getting up. She went outside, hailed a taxi and asked the driver to take her around the block before they picked up Jim.
Jim was silent while the taxi drove through the steep hills in the mountainside. Finally, he spoke, almost afraid to break the silence.
“Did everything go okay?”
“What do you mean?”
“Did you get the information you wanted?”
“Yes and no.”
Jim turned his head back toward the front of the taxi; he knew it was in his best interest to stop asking questions.
Sloane sat in a stupor on the airplane on the ride back to Seattle. She didn’t want to open the file folder Shane had given her. She was afraid to look at it. Staring out the window she looked at the blank void of the night sky as their plane moved northwest.
Finally she got up the nerve to open the folder. She looked at Shane’s medical records. “These could have been forged,” she thought. Impressively forged, but forged nonetheless. She looked through what records he had managed to collect for her about the work he had done as well as information on the CDC. Histories of his work at the DOD and the CIA were in the folder. And so was a piece of paper with a man’s name and phone number scribbled in black ink:

Clint Saunders (703) 555 - 9002

She closed the folder and looked back out the window.
Sloane was still in a daze by the time she got home. She didn’t know what to believe; she could discount his story, as well as any rebuttals to his story. He had no reason to lie to her. But she never understood why anyone lied; she knew that no one ever had a reason to lie, not one based in logic, self-respect and reason.
When she opened the door to her apartment there was a message on her answering machine. She pressed the button and listened.

This is Tyler, from marketing. I know you don’t want me bothering you, but I wouldn’t have unless it was crucial. If you think the things I bothered you about before were trivial, you’re right. Compared to this, nothing matters. Please, I’ll be in the office Saturday morning. Stop in at marketing if you come in or call me here. I should get into the office by about nine. Sorry to bother you, really, I am, but this is big. Please call. Thanks.

Hearing the clicking of her answering machine rewinding the tape, she thought for an instant about the lobbyists trying to get Madison: was the more serious problem Tyler had to talk to her about? Shane may have been right with Madison being forced to stop next. She walked straight to her bedroom. She felt like she had just been hit with a ton of bricks and knew that she needed to sleep.

###

Sloane was walking inside the grocery store when it happened. She heard someone scream another aisle; then she heard a gun shot. She didn’t know where the noise had come from; the shot echoed throughout the entire store. She started running down the aisle, not knowing whether she should look for someone who was hurt or run out of the store to call for help. As she was approaching the end of the aisle she realized that someone might be holding up the store and would be waiting at the doorway, by the registers. She wondered: would she be able to leave?
She slowed to a stop when she got to the end of the aisle. People were running and screaming. Peeking around the corner of the aisle she saw three men at each doorway. They were all wearing black and had ski masks over their faces. The men at the door had assault rifles; the men at the registers had handguns. She was trapped.
Looking behind her, she tried to see the opposite end of the store, farthest away from the doors. She saw more men running with assault rifles in the back of the store. She stopped in her tracks.
Sloane knew that if she were witnessing a store robbery the men would have no reason to run through the entire store. They’d want to get their cash and leave. There wasn’t enough time to take everyone’s wallet or purse in the store. Then she knew what was going on.
She quickly walked to the next aisle and saw three people lying dead.
Sloane looked up and down the aisle, scanning over the condiments. There was tomato sauce, salsa, ketchup, and mustard. She grabbed a plastic squeeze bottle of ketchup and frantically opened the top and pulled the plastic seal off. Ketchup squirted onto her hands as she squeezed the bottle. She squirted some onto her stomach and put some in her mouth. She placed the bottle back on the shelf and dropped to the floor. She lay on her stomach and threw her hands to the ground, stretching them over her head. She threw her head around before leaving it on the ground so that her hair covered half of her face. As she rested her head sideways on the ground, she let the ketchup she had been mixing with her saliva spill slowly out of her mouth onto the tile floor.
She listened.
People were still screaming, but no one came into her aisle. After hearing someone run past her, she saw through her hair that they were shoppers, not the men trying to rob the place.
She knew they weren’t robbers coming to steal some money. She knew that they were from the government, coming to kill her.
She tried to slow her breathing. She knew she had to look dead, and her stomach and chest couldn’t be moving. She heard running steps at the end of the aisle behind her. They sounded swift and smooth, not panicked like the shoppers running away from the gunmen. Sloane held her breath and lay still.
The steps became louder and louder until they stopped. She opened her eyes just just slightly through her hair. She saw two pairs of combat boots facing her body.
Amongst the screams, she could hear them speak.
“Is that her?”
“I think so. That was her description, down to the clothing.”
“Someone else got her already.”
“Should we go through another round on her, to be sure?”
There was a moment of silence. She didn’t know if they were thinking about what the first man said or aiming their guns at her head.
She heard a loud blast, and in the same instant she sprung up from her bed, sweating and trying to catch her breath.
Sloane looked over at the clock. It read 3:47, and she knew she wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep, at least not right away. She got up and walked to her desk.
As light from the desk lamp streamed over the lab notebook, Sloane read over the information Shane gave her again, this time with more intensity. Then she lifted her head to look over at the window.
“I have no reason to believe this,” she said out loud to the emptiness of her living room. Yet she knew that the seed had been planted in her brain, and although she only had circumstantial evidence in her hands and on her desk, which she would have to investigate until she discovered the truth.
Remnants of her dream still lingered in her mind. Whether or not she was in danger was irrelevant; Sloane felt like she was still in danger and she couldn’t shake it. She leaned her elbow on her desk, then dropped her head on her hand and started to cry.
Not knowing what she was about to get into, she had no idea where to begin. She felt like she had lost all of her resources for discovering the truth. Was the government she had trusted all her life -- the government she argued was the best in the world -- systematically killing off underdeveloped nations? Or are they killing gays, or black people, or drug users? Or anyone? She didn’t know where to begin, but she knew she couldn’t sit there and do nothing: she had to start somewhere.
“Come on, stop doing this to yourself,” she thought. “You know that even if this is true, it’s all a part of your fight. It’s a war on this disease. And you have to find the truth, and you will, and you’ll stop this beast from killing any more people. Think of it that way. Think of this as another challenge. Something I can succeed at. I’ve got a job to do.”
Wiping the tears from her eyes, Sloane continued reading until she fell asleep on her desk.

###

She woke up at six with sunlight streaming in through the window in front of her. She sat up. She was astonished -- this was the first time the sun had been out in Seattle for a few weeks. It energized her. Her back was sore from sleeping at her desk, but she felt like she had a mission to accomplish, and nothing was going to stop her.
The first thing in her head was that she had to archive the data in this folder somehow. She knew that computer files could be destroyed, and besides, retyping all this data would take too long. She even thought that someone could dial into her computer at home while she was asleep and remove any files she wrote. She showered, got dressed, collected the papers into a large envelope and left for a breakfast diner.
Sloane pulled up to a small diner on the way to her office. She sat down at a corner table and placed her briefcase on an empty chair next to her table. She opened her briefcase, saw the envelope, pulled out a note pad and pen and wrote notes to herself.
The waitress walked up to her with a coffee pot in her hand.
The hot coffee billowed in the mug and looked to Sloane like smoke from a nuclear bomb as it curled over onto itself and the level rose as the waitress poured.
“Know what you wanna eat?”
“Eggs benedict, please. No, wait. Two scrambled eggs, two sausage links, hash browns and white toast.”
“Buttered?”
“Yes.”
“No juice?”
“Is your orange juice from concentrate?”
The waitress looked confused. “I think it is.”
“Then no, no juice, thank you.”
The waitress turned toward the kitchen, ripped off her order from her note pad and placed it on the counter in front of the cook. Sloane looked back to her note pad and continued writing while sipping her coffee.

1. Photocopy folder data
2. Place copy in safe at work
3. Place copy in safe deposit box at bank
4. Leave copy hidden at home
5. Mail copy to someone else; ask them to hold it and not open it?
6. Call Shane?
7. Call Shane’s contact?

Because she couldn’t remember his name, she had to open her briefcase again and find the contact’s name.

7. Call Shane contact? Clint Saunders?

Knowing the area code in Colorado Springs and knowing a few national area codes, she looked at the phone number. It was a Washington D.C. area code. She flipped the first page over in her note pad and started writing down notes from the conversation she had remembered with Shane the night before. She didn’t want to forget a single detail.
It was hard, but she wrote while she ate her meal. By the time she was done with her notes, it was after eight in the morning. She paid her bill and left the diner to go to the office.
By the time she arrived it was ten minutes to nine in the morning. She walked straight to the laboratory and turned on the copier on her way to her office. She opened the safe and walked out to the copier and set it to print and collate multiple copies of all the pages. She stood in front of the copier, darting her eyes around the room as the pages fell into slots on the side of the machine. When it was finished she collected all her copies and went into her office. She placed the multiple copies into five large envelopes and sealed them. One envelope went in her safe behind her desk. The other sealed envelopes would go to her apartment, her safe deposit box, Carter and Toby. No one knew of her friendship with Carter, so no one would suspect that he had a copy. No, you can’t give a copy to Toby, she thought. It has to be someone not working on the virus. Her father. Then she thought no, it could not be someone that obvious in her life. She couldn’t think of who to send the data to. After thinking of Steve, she knew she couldn’t rely on his help when they had gone through such a falling out, so she decided to hold an extra copy of it in her apartment until she could think of someone to send it to, that no one would suspect. The original would be for her to reference when she needed to.
It was 9:15, and when she looked at her watch she suddenly remembered the phone message from Tyler. She didn’t know what he wanted, but suddenly she had an urgent desire to know what the problem was. She tucked the extra envelopes into her desk drawer and left her office for Tyler’s.
Seeing a light from under Tyler’s doorway stream though on the hallway, she went up to his door and knocked.
“Come in.”
Tyler was slumped over some papers at his desk. He had a paper cup of coffee from the nearby coffee bar in his hand. Tyler looked up; when he realized it was Ms. Emerson his eyes widened into saucers.
“It’s you! I didn’t know where you were Friday afternoon, and I didn’t want to disturb you, but --”
“Tyler, what is it?” Sloane asked as she walked into his room and sat down on the chair opposite his desk. The fact that she came in and sat down surprised Tyler; he knew Ms. Emerson usually didn’t stay in his company long enough to enter his office, much less sit down.
“It’s worse than a lobby group, it’s the government.”
“What do you mean?” She thought about Shane telling her last night that the government’s next step would be to try to stop her from doing her research.
“You’re going to hate my asking this, but I have to ask it, I know you didn’t do anything wrong, but on the record, I have to ask you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Have you and your staff been coming up with your discoveries on your own?”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t hate me for asking this. I know you didn’t. But I have to ask.”
“Didn’t what?”
“You haven’t taken any data from government research groups to come up with your drugs, have you?”
“What?” she said, starting to get up from her chair.
“I don’t think you did. I’m sorry.”
Sloane tried to sit back down. “Where on earth is this coming from?”
“The government is questioning our efficiency. They say that they’ve been working on the same things we have been producing, and that since we have been doing such a good job they question whether or not we have done it on our own.”
“What are they suggesting?”
“That there is an information leak from the government research groups and that --”
“That we’ve been stealing information from the government?”
“Well...” Tyler knew he didn’t have to say anything.
Getting up from her chair, she started speaking, almost to herself. “I can’t believe this. You do something well and you get punished for it.”
“You’re not punished here,” Tyler said. “Colin wants to talk to you, but he has complete confidence in you. He knows you didn’t do anything wrong.”
“The government has no reason to believe that Madison Pharmaceuticals did anything wrong. How can they do this?”
“They aren’t pressing charges, they just want to look into it.”
“Pressing charges?”
“I said they aren’t pressing charges.”
“But the threat is there, and that was their point.”
“I don’t think they want to scare us, they just want some information.”
“So the government can investigate us, about stealing research data, because they want to. Because we’re efficient, and talented, and are doing a better job than they have been.
“Ms. Emerson...”
“No, Tyler, I want to get this straight. Because we’re producing something and they’re not we’re under fire for it? Hell, they’re the government, since when are they going to do something with less money and more efficiency than a private business? They can take their time, these agencies can get as much money as they want from the government. They get a grant; they can jerk off for the next year until they need to renew the grant. And you know what? They have to jerk off, or they won’t be able to get another grant. ’Look, we accomplished our goal.’ ’Then you don’t need any more money.’ When something fails in the government, that’s when it gets as much money as possible.”
Tyler watched her as she paced through the room. He knew she wasn’t talking to him.
“So of course we’re going to be more efficient,” she said, under her breath. “And now we’re getting punished for it.”
Trying to get her bearings, she looked around the office. She knew this wasn’t about Madison’s efficiency, but their power and the information she had in separate sealed envelopes back at her office. She turned to Tyler. “So what does the government want to do?”
“They want to talk to people in the lab, maybe look at the laboratory itself, see the records of the progress you’ve made while working on the drug.”
“Are they going to search the lab?”
“I don’t see why they would. But there wouldn’t be a problem with that, if they wanted to.”
Thinking about the files in her desk drawer and in her safe, she knew that they would have to be buried. “No, there wouldn’t be a problem.”
Tyler leaned back in his chair. “Look, I’m sorry, I know this is awful, I know you don’t want to deal with this, it’s not your problem. I’ll do everything I can.”
“What can I do to help?”
Tyler’s eyes widened again. “You’re willing to help?”
“Whatever you need from me.”
“A few press conferences would help. Get out to the people, show them you’re smart, that you care about the disease. That if the government agencies had beaten Madison to the drugs would still be happy, because at least people would be helped. Show them you’re a kind and caring person.”
“Got it. I can do that.”
Tyler seemed stunned by her willingness to comply. “Why the change of heart? You would have never done this normally.”
“Normally the government wouldn’t be picking fights with the most competent researchers in the industry. And if I have to fight back, I’m going to use the press as a weapon to my advantage.”
“Don’t go around talking like that in public. The government is supposed to be our friend. They haven’t done anything to us yet, so we shouldn’t sound like this is a fight.”
“And if you keep letting them walk all over us they will do something to hurt us, you can count on it, with or without evidence. Hell, they can make up evidence. So we should act like we don’t mind that they want to go through our files or claim we stole things from them without any evidence to back up those claims?”
“I know you don’t like it, but we have to play by their rules for a while.”
“...Write up whatever you want for me and I’ll read over what you want at any press conferences. Just let me know your schedule for them.”
“Can we do it Monday afternoon? Maybe at five for the news shows?”
“Sure ... Should I wear a suit in soft colors, to look friendly and feminine?”
“I’ll call you tomorrow with clothing suggestions.”
“Tyler, I was kidding.”
“But it’s not a bad idea.”
She couldn’t believe that she would she have to play their game and even change her clothes in order to play the game effectively. “If you want, e-mail me with any suggestions. I’ll check my mail tomorrow. And if you have any speeches ready, e-mail them to me tomorrow as well. And can you forward any of their press releases or public statements to me? Especially ones that document their research in the past few years?”
“No problem. And thanks.”
“You do what you have to do,” She said as she opened his door, “And I’ll do the same.” She walked through the door. Tyler looked at his closing door as he listened to her footsteps get more and more quiet in the distance.
She walked back to her office and closed the door. She took the copies of the files from Shane out of her drawer and out of her safe. She knew she’d have to hide them somewhere else.
Reaching for the phone, she left a voice mail message for Julie.

“Julie, it’s Sloane. Could you get all the e-mails and notes for me about AIDS, particularly about AIDS and conspiracy theories, and put them on a disk and delete them from the system as soon as possible? Make it a priority; I don’t want any e-mail notes in the office for a while. I’ll take them home with me to work with. After that, could you look through archives of the past two years of the major scientific journals to see what the U.S. government has published on their AIDS research progress? Thanks a lot.”

Hanging up the phone, she sat down on her desk. She picked up the files and placed them in her briefcase. She had to go to the bank after work and deposit the extra copies of the Shane file in her safe deposit box until she had another place to put them. Then her phone rang, surprising her; she didn’t know who would be calling her office on Saturday morning.
“Sloane Emerson.”
“How did I know you were going to be in the office?”
She recognized Carter’s voice.
“Carter, I wasn’t expecting you to call.”
“You should have been. Have you forgotten that you’re picking me up from the airport?”
At that point ,all she could do was press her hand to her forehead. “Oh, I’ve been so side-tracked in the past day or two. When are you getting in?”
“Four fifteen. TransContinental Airways. Flight 367.”
Carter could hear her scribbling his flight information down over the phone. “Got it. I’ll see you there.”
“Don’t work too hard.”
“Why not?”

She hung up the phone, she couldn’t believe she had forgotten he was coming. She had to go to the bank and the grocery store, and clean the apartment before going to the airport to pick him up. The finished manuscript had to be around the office too, she thought; she should find it and bring it home with her, in case Carter wanted to look at it before Monday. Collecting her things, she found three copies of the manuscript on Julie’s desk, grabbed one of them, and left for the bank.


chapter 8

The Temptation

There seemed to be something about this Washington, how it kept everything in a state of upheaval. Toby thought of his options at one side of city, and Steve thought of his options at the other side of the city. And at the same time, while flying to Seattle, Carter considered his options.
It was a Saturday morning and Toby sat with his stack of research papers alongside the newspaper. He sat in the cafe, unable to think, trying to decide which paper stack he should attack first. The waitress came and refilled his coffee.
“I’m not going to let myself lean back in this booth until I decide what to read,” he thought. He hadn’t been able to bring himself to grab something to read or lean back the entire time he had been at diner. The newspaper was folded to his right, and the headline of a hopeful Monday conference with Sloane Emerson was listed near the highlights of the week’s events on the side of the page. He looked at that line and thought about her, thinking that she always seemed to have her mind on something, that she always seemed to be accomplishing something, and a part of him was infuriated by it, partially because his luck was never the same.
He refused to believe that his ethic might not be the same as hers. It just drove him to work harder, and he picked up the stack of research papers he should be reading instead of the newspaper and leaned back in the chair. He wanted to think that somehow she encouraged him, without her consciously trying, to get his work done. He knew that he was more than capable to get this work done; it was just a matter of fitting all of the pieces of the puzzle together, in a way that no one to date had done.
At one side of the city Toby sat at the local coffee shop, slumped over in a chair and working on research for AIDS, while Steve lay in his bed on the other side of the city. He only came back to his apartment after leaving a night of quote-unquote sleep with another woman he met in a bar the night before.
He wondered how many women he had done this with during the course of his life.
He would usually come home after a morning like this to get some rest, seeing that whomever he was with usually kept him occupied the night before, but at this point in the game he was not looking for rest; he knew there was none to be found and he did not know how to look for it. He found himself in the same predicament as Toby that morning, and he couldn’t consider his usual sense of accomplishment on a morning like this -- he was thinking about her, and he was not driven to work, though he was in part driven to settle things with her. He didn’t know how to go about changing, he just knew that something had to change so that he could go back to his life being the way that it used to be.
He rolled over, picked up the phone on the dresser and a scrap piece of paper, and made a phone call, leaving a message.

“Hi, it’s me, Steve, and I know you probably don’t want to hear from me, but I thought I’d leave a the ball in your court. If you needed to talk to anyone, feel free to call, you should have my number, and hopefully I’ll talk to you soon.”

Steve hung up the phone and stayed outstretched on his bed for a moment, before calling a friend of his to confirm plans for going out that evening.
Carter found himself thinking about her as well, while he sat in his first-class seat as his flight approached Seattle. He got up and walked to the washroom, grabbed the tiny round handle, opened the door and stepped in. He latched the door shut so the exterior sign door read “occupied” and the lights turned on in the little compartment.
He stood in the washroom and looked at himself in the mirror. He didn’t know why he had walked into the washroom; he used the facilities not half an hour ago. Running his hands over his head, Carter tried to make sure his hair was in place. “Why am I doing this to myself?” he thought as he adjusted the cuffs of his shirt. He leaned forward to check the nick on his chin he got from shaving that morning. He shook his head at his reflection as he leaned back and took one more look. He tried to push the wrinkles out of his shirt by sliding his hands over his torso, and then pulled the lapel of his jacket over to straighten his suit. From the bathroom he heard the flight attendant say they were in their final descent into Seattle; the fasten seat belt sign was lit and everyone’s seat backs should be up and their tray tables in their upright and locked position. He took a deep breath and unlatched the bathroom door so that he could go back to his seat and prepare for landing.
When Carter walked out of the plane, through the jet way and into the terminal, a crowd of people was waiting for their family and friends from the flight. Carter walked through the crowd and saw her leaning on the opposite wall of the terminal.
He walked over to her, where she stood smiling. “Didn’t want to join the herd of people over at my gate?” Carter asked.
“I just thought I’d make you walk a little farther,” she answered. She pushed herself away from the wall and Carter hugged her and asked, “How are you doing?”
“Oh, I’m okay. You look nice; why did you dress up for a flight?”
“It would either get wrinkled in my luggage or on me, so I wore it.”
“What hotel is the company springing for?
“The Renaissance Hotel.”
“Nice choice.”
“Yes, it’s supposed to have a whirlpool bath and fire place in it, but...”
“What, no live-in masseuse?”
“No, the problem is that the company only made reservations for it for Monday, and I leave Tuesday night. I need a place to stay tonight and Sunday.”
“Why didn’t they reserve a hotel room for the whole time you were here?”
“They said every hotel they checked was full because of a conversation that’s in town.”
“Don’t be silly. My place isn’t huge, but I insist you stay.”
“Thank you. Don’t mind if I do.”
They smiled as they walked together down the terminal; the clicking of their footsteps matched in pace and rhythm as they approached baggage claim.
After they got Carter’s luggage she drove them to her apartment, Sloane jiggled her house key out of the lock as she pushed the door open for Carter. “I haven’t had a chance to clean, so please forgive me.”
“It’s fine.” Carter looked around the room. “It’s a nice place, actually.”
He had never seen her apartment before. “Well,” she said as she walked over to the window, “I know it’s not as nice as New York, but I’ve got a pretty good view here too.” She opened the blinds.
Carter sat his luggage on her couch and walked over to the window. He looked at her as she looked out the window. He glanced up at the buildings that stretched out before him. “It is a nice view, especially when you never get the chance to see it.”
Leaning against the window, she asked, “Any preferences for food? And don’t say pizza, because I’m taking you out for dinner.”
Carter smiled. “I’ll let you decide.”
“There’s this great place on the other side of town, but it’s a bit formal, if you don’t mind keeping your suit on.”
Carter liked the idea, and responded, “Sounds perfect.”
Sloane walked over to his bags and picked them up.
“Let me get those,” Carter said reaching over and extending his hand to her.
“Nonsense. They’re going in my room, since you’ll stay there. I’ll take the couch.”
“I’m not going to take your bed.”
“Yes you are,” she sang as she walked down the hallway to her bedroom. She placed his luggage on her bed. Carter followed her to the bedroom. “There’s a little room in my closet, if you need to hang things up. I’ll let you freshen up,” she said, while opening the closet door and pulling out a dress, “while I get dressed in the bathroom.”
Carter looked at her and smiled while she got a few pairs of shoes and her dress and left her bedroom, closing the door behind her.
Carter looked around her bedroom. Everything was ivory in color, even the bedspread. Her curtains were a rough fabric on a wrought iron curtain rod, tied back with a tan cord. Her furniture was an unfinished white pine.
He walked over to the nightstand next to her bed to turn on the light. Noticing a small stack of books next to the lamp, he picked them up. They were most of the books his private label had printed in the past three years. He knew he had sent her his most recent book on economics, but the rest of the books he had only mentioned to her. He picked up one of the books, one written by him, about the American educational system. A gold bookmark with the initials S.E.E. was at the last page of the book.
His heart skipped a beat when he realized that she had purchased all the books that he had printed, without telling him. For a moment he couldn’t stop staring at the books on the nightstand. He respected the way she thought, and was honored that she thought his ideas were worth study. He placed his book back on the stack and started unpacking his clothes.
Sloane slid a navy blue satin dress over her shoulders in the bathroom. It was a simple dress: a square neckline, straight, floor-length, sleeveless. She reached around to the back of her neck and clasped a silver chain around her neck. She looked at herself in the mirror. She added a little make-up: she added a touch of gray to her eyelids and some mascara; and a touch of sheer lipstick. She brushed her hair down and looked at the different shoes she had brought into the bathroom with her. She put a different shoe on each foot and walked out of the bathroom, knocked on her bedroom door, and then stepped in. Carter looked over at her while he was adjusting his tie; all he could see was Sloane, every item she wore only drew more attention to her beauty. Carter thought that she needed nothing more than that simple silver chain around her neck, and that no one else could match the simplicity of that navy blue dress with such elegance and grace.
“Carter, I’m so bad at these things,” she started. “I have no idea which shoe to wear. What do you think?” She lifted her dress slightly to show her left foot, which wore a plain black pump with a two-inch heel. She turned her ankle, looking to Carter.
“Next?” Carter asked, and she gently lifted the other side of her dress to show a black sandal with a three-inch heel. A thin strap of black leather wrapped up her foot and twisted around her ankle and tied at her leg.
“Definitely the second one,” Carter said.
Smiling, she let go of her dress, letting it slide around her legs and down to her feet. “Thank you,” she quietly said and walked back toward the bathroom.
She had hoped he’d pick the second shoe.
Carter walked out of the bedroom toward the bathroom and stood in the doorway watching her bend over and tie up the second shoe.
“Do you need help with that?”
“No, I think I’ve got it. Thanks.” She stood up and faced him.
“I didn’t know it was that formal of a restaurant.”
“It’s not too formal, don’t worry -- why, I hope I’m not overdressed.”
“No, don’t worry. You look beautiful.”
“You know I just want to show off my new accessory.”
“What is that, your necklace?” he asked.
“No, silly,” she said as she walked toward the bathroom door and put her arm in his. “It’s you!” She giggled as she walked him out of the bathroom. “Who will notice what I look like when I’ve got you on my arm?”
“You’re too much.”
“You know, I could say the same about you.” She smiled as she walked over to her chair for her wrap and her purse. “Ready to go?”
Carter held the door open for her as they left for dinner, and did the same when they entered the restaurant. They walked up six stairs to the main entrance of the Metropolitan, where the hostess stood behind the large mahogany podium. Carter took Sloane’s coat to the coat check while she checked on their reservation.
The Metropolitan was a restaurant in a converted warehouse; exposed red brick walls peered out from behind the occasional large gold-framed paintings and twenty-foot tall white curtains hanging from the ceiling. The chairs were black and the tablecloths were white. Chandeliers hung around the room, and everything seemed to sparkle. In the center of the restaurant there was a stage for a band and room for dancing. The stage was empty, but a piano, an upright base and a few drums were in position for a later performance.
Carter came back from the coat check and the hostess walked them to their table. When they were seated Carter finally spoke.
“This place is beautiful.”
“I thought you’d like it. I think it’s clean. You wouldn’t have preferred something more... gaudy?” Carter laughed. A man came to their table and filled their water glasses.
“Everything sparkles here. I think that’s why I like it so much. What makes it seem beautiful is that everything has glass accents and catches the light.”
Carter took a moment to look around the room while his date opened the menu. “Everything they make here is excellent. I’ve never been served a bad meal the few times I’ve been here.” Carter looked at the wine list as the waitress walked over to the table. He ordered a bottle of champagne and the waitress walked away. “I thought about the wine,” Carter explained, “but champagne would match the ambience so much better.” Carter ordered the prime rib and Sloane ordered veal Marsala. Carter looked at her with surprise as the waitress walked away with their order. “You like veal?”
“Yes. Why?”
“Oh, I’m used to people claiming it’s cruel to eat a baby cow.”
“Oh, and it’s better to raise it for a few years, and then kill it?”
“You’re starting to sound like a vegetarian.”
“No, I’m not. My point is that if someone is willing to eat something that has been killed, does it really matter whether or not it was an adult or a baby?”
“I never thought so.”
“Well, you probably eat veal.”
“Why, yes I do. I just never thought about whether or not you ate veal.”
“There’s no reason I wouldn’t. For that matter, if you’re willing to eat the muscle and fat of an animal, why not the tongue? Or the stomach lining?”
“Don’t tell me you eat tripe.”
“The casing for sausage is pig intestine. Why not the stomach, or the tongue?”
“I think people make a connection when they see a tongue, they think, ’hey, they have a tongue. I have a tongue.’ But when it’s a patty of red stuff you don’t think about the fact that the pile came from a muscle.”
“It’s pretty sad if they hadn’t thought about what they were eating.”
“I suppose it is.” Carter just watched Sloane as she got more and more animated in her conversation. “I mean, the thing that really gets to me is when I hear someone, and I hate to say this, but it’s usually some flighty woman, and I hate to stereotype some women like that, but it’s usually the flighty women that say they won’t eat veal. Or they couldn’t eat rabbit, because it’s a cute animal. Oh, and since chickens are ugly they have no problem with eating their flesh and muscles?”
“Maybe they should call all meats ’muscle and fat.’ To bring us back to what we’re eating.” Carter refilled her champagne.
“People eat fish, but have fish tanks. Is it because people don’t keep bass and trout in fish tanks that it’s okay to kill them and eat them, but not their angel fish and gold fish?”
“People don’t want to be associated with the death of something, they just want their meat on their table, no questions asked.”
“And those are the same people who have a problem with eating certain animals, or certain parts of animals, or hunting, for that matter. I have a greater respect for a hunter, who knows and accepts the whole process of killing an animal and preparing it for food, than I do for the person that says it’s cruel to kill a baby cow but it’s perfectly acceptable to kill an adult cow.”
“You respect hunters?”
“I respect them in the same sense that I respect vegetarians -- because they have a set of beliefs and they are consistent within their set of beliefs. Even if I don’t respect the stance they take, I appreciate the fact that they completely accept their stance, and completely adhere to it, and they don’t kid themselves about it. A hunter knows what he or she is eating, they understand and accept the whole process. A vegetarian doesn’t accept the process, on a fundamental level, and they face that and decide not to eat meat as a result of it, because they don’t want anyone killing something for them, even if they don’t have to do the actual killing. It’s better than the half-wits who shut off their minds so they can have their cows and eat them, too.”
“Have their cows and eat them, too?”
“You know what I mean. These are the people who want to save the dolphins and the whales, but they’ll eat anything else out of the ocean. These are the people who won’t eat ducks or quail but will eat chickens and turkeys. These are the people who wouldn’t think of eating horses, but don’t have a problem with cows. On what grounds do they draw their lines of distinction? It can’t be in logic.”
“But you’re asking people to think.”
Looking up at him, she had to stare for a moment. Her eyes widened slightly when he said that. “I would expect them to think, but no one seems to want to.”
“That’s the first choice people make in their lives -- and their most important choice. To think or not to think.”
“That’s what makes us uniquely human.”
They both took a sip of their champagne.
“Carter, why would anyone want to not think?”
“You’re asking the wrong person,” he answered, then she smiled. Their portabella mushroom appetizer was placed on their table and they started to eat.
“Carter? Every time I have a discussion like this with someone, they usually cut me off and tell me I’m thinking too much.”
“Did I do that to you? I didn’t mean to.”
“No, you didn’t. That’s my point.”
“I didn’t want to.”
“And most anyone else would have wanted to.”
“And that’s why you still talk to me.” She leaned her head down and smiled; it almost looked like she was blushing. Carter continued. “It’s the fact that you think, and that you’re always searching for the truth and accepting no less, that’s what makes me keep in touch with you.”
Those words made her think about her new search for the truth. The smile from her face slowly fell away, and she stared off into the distance.
“Did I say something wrong?”
“No, I’m sorry. I was just thinking about that problem I’ve been running into at work recently.” She thought about telling him right then and there. “Really, it’s too long of a story. Besides, I have other things to think about.”
“Like what?”
“Like the book.”
Carter started to lose his friendly smile when she said that and regained his business-like demeanor.
“Or the great company I’ve got here at this table with me,” she added. Carter smiled again. She looked up into the aisle. “Or the veal, for that matter,” and as she finished those words the waitress came with their dinners. As they finished their meal, three musicians walked to the stage and started getting ready to play.
“You know, I like having you around,” Carter heard her say. “I could get used to seeing you more often.”
“I know exactly how you feel.”
“I think you’re the one person that makes me not think about work all the time. And it’s okay, I mean, when I’m talking with you I’m not wishing I was working instead.”
Carter smiled at her.
“Can’t you get your office to move to Seattle or something?”
Carter laughed. “That’s as easy as asking Madison to move to New York.”
“I bet they’d do it if I asked,” she said mockingly. “I’m their golden girl; they’ll do anything to make me happy. Maybe I should put a word in about it.”
They continued smiling at each other as they finished their bottle of champagne and the band started to play ’A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.’
“I love this song,” Carter said.
“What is it?”
“’A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.’ You’ve never heard it?”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s a very ... I don’t know ... it’s a sweet song.” He wanted to say romantic, but something told him not to. “It’s a shame that they’ve got no one to sing the words”. Carter looked over at the dance floor. “Hey, let’s dance.”
“Dance?”
“I’m not bad,” he said, standing up and stretching his hand out to her.
“I wasn’t suggesting you were the one that was bad at dancing.”
“I won’t take no for an answer.”
They walked over to the center of the restaurant and started dancing. Suddenly Sloane felt aware of the fabric of her dress moving over her back and legs. She felt Carter’s hand on her back through her dress as Carter looked at the band while they danced and he said, “It’s the words that make this so beautiful.”
“How do they go?
Carter waited for a music cue and sang the lines quietly under his breath.

’How could he know we two were so in love,
The whole wide world seemed upside down.’

Carter looked at her and smiled until his cue for the next line.

’The streets of town were paved with stars,
It was such a romantic affair,
And as we kissed and said good-bye
A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square.’

Carter looked at her again before she spoke. “You have a beautiful singing voice.”
“Oh, you know me, I just like to get all the attention I can.” Carter smiled and looked around, like he had something up his sleeve. “Okay... We’re at the end of the song.”
She seemed confused and asked, “Yes?”
“You know what that means I have to do.”
Her mouth opened slightly and she took a breath. “What?”
“Dip you.” And just as the words came out of his mouth he tightened his grip on her and moved his shoulder forward to guide her down. She had no time to react, just to comply, just to trust him and arch her back and shoulders and let her head fall back. She could feel her hair hanging toward the floor. For that instant, when her back was arched and Carter was holding her, she thought of him leaning in and kissing her stomach, and breasts, and neck. And as soon as the thought entered her mind, he picked her back up and she opened her eyes. She only then noticed that the song ended.
Feeling his hand on her back as they went back to the table, she couldn’t believe what was going through her mind. She knew she had to slow her heartbeat down somehow; her chest was heaving in her dress. She thought that what she was feeling was noticeable to the rest of the room. As they got to the table, she picked up her purse and excused herself so she could go to the ladies’ room.
Walking straight to the counter, she dropped her purse next to the sink, pressed her hands on the counter and leaned forward with her head hanging down. She checked around the room once to make sure that she was alone.
“Why am I doing this to myself?” She said under her breath as she lifted her head and then leaned back and looked up at the ceiling. “This is wrong, this is wrong,” she repeated quietly as she tried to regain herself. She told herself to inhale slowly, then exhale. She straightened her head and looked at her reflection in the mirror. She took another breath, methodically opened her purse and reached around for the lipstick.
She took another deep breath as she opened the door to walk back into the restaurant and saw Carter waiting for her. The entire ride home she had to concentrate on anything she could, anything other than Carter. “Think about your work,” she thought as she drove him back to her apartment. “Think about the Shane files. Remember to give a copy of them to Carter, so they’re safe. No, don’t think of him for these files and let your thoughts go back to Carter again. No, don’t think about that. Think about the book. Think about getting the book published. Think about the manuscript, you have to give Carter a copy. Oh, wait, don’t think about that. Think about the road. Just get home, keep your eyes on the road, don’t look at him, don’t think about him, and get him to your apartment. No, please don’t think about that...”
“Are you okay? You seem preoccupied.”
“Oh, it’s just late. I’m fine.”
By the time they got home it was almost eleven at night. Carter walked in and took off his jacket. As she closed the door to her apartment she watched Carter slip his jacket off his shoulders; she was momentarily fixed on his wide shoulders. She had to keep telling herself to stop. She walked into the kitchen.
“Okay, I have orange juice, V-8, diet Pepsi, a bottle of Merlot and a bottle of champagne. Do you want anything?”
“Are you up for champagne?” Carter called from the living room. Sloane acted calm: “You’re the guest,” she called back as she pulled the champagne from the kitchen.
Carter stood in her living room and looked at the magazines on her cocktail table. He picked up Discovery and Scientific American to see the most recent catalog of Angelique’s Lingerie. He was holding the catalog in his hand as she walked into the living room with two glasses and the champagne.
“I didn’t know you shopped for lingerie,” Carter said, stopping her in her tracks. “You don’t seem the type to wear frivolous things,” he continued.
Thinking about what to say, she almost told him that she was buying a white terry cloth bath robe, but thought that would seem like she was thinking of him too much. She could say that she was buying lingerie, but it wouldn’t be believable. “I don’t know how I got on that list,” she finally got out of her mouth, “I didn’t buy anything from it.”
Carter immediately answered with, “But you kept it.”
“I didn’t think about it” she answered. “Where did you find it? I must have missed it when I was throwing out my mail.”
Carter smiled. “I didn’t know you had it in you.”
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
Carter started to walk around the couch. Sloane put down the bottle and glasses on the cocktail table and tried to follow him.
“I don’t know, maybe you’d look good in this,” he said, pointing out a teddy, and Sloane tried to reach around him to grab the magazine. “Give me that!” she yelled.
“I didn’t know you wanted the catalog that badly...” Carter continued smiling.
“I didn’t know you wanted the catalog that badly, Carter,” she answered. “I didn’t know you looked at women as objects like that.”
Carter pushed the catalog gently into her stomach and waited for her to grab it before he let go. “You know I can’t do that. This is just a side of you I haven’t seen.”
Needing to turn the tables quickly, she did her best to come up with a retort. “I didn’t know you wanted to see me in lingerie that badly.”
Carter smiled. “I don’t think lingerie suits you. That’s why I give you grief for it.”
She felt just slightly disappointed. “And why doesn’t it suit me?”
“I think you’d want someone to love you for you, not because you were wearing something frilly.”
“Check your premises. I never said I bought anything frilly.”
“Okay, I won’t tease you anymore.” Carter leaned back. “Where’s the champagne?”
“Carter,” she said, as she picked up the other glass and he poured both glasses full. “Do you drink this much all the time? Or is it just me that brings out the drunk in you?”
Carter smiled. “Really, I don’t drink much at all. I just like drinking with you. You know, I don’t know if I learned this when I was in Stockholm or Helsinki, but a friend there told me that amongst friends there it is almost a sin to not have food, and candles, and something to drink when you engage in conversation. It makes things more comfortable.”
Sloane nodded her head in agreement. “It’s a good idea, I suppose. I’ve supplied plenty of food and plenty of drink.”
“So we’re just missing candles. Do you have any?”
“Yes, I do, in a drawer over here.” Walking over to a cabinet next to her dining room table, she couldn’t believe how romantic he was making things, without even trying. “It won’t be as impressive as your fireplace, but I hope it’s good enough.” She walked over and lit two ivory taper candles in small crystal star-shaped candleholders and placed them on the cocktail table. “It’s perfect,” Carter answered and waited for her to sit down before taking his seat next to her.
“So, are you going to tell me now what’s bothering you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Something has been on your mind all night. You start feeling better, then you get tense. We’ve got a full bottle of champagne, and a bottle of Merlot if we get desperate. I’ve got all night here, remember? I’m captive here.”
“I didn’t know you thought of it as prison.”
“If it is, then I’ve shackled myself. Now tell me.”
Carter’s comment made her think for a fraction of a second about tying him to her bed and unbuttoning her shirt. She closed her eyes and tried to think about something else. “I just keep reminding myself that I have a copy of the manuscript for you, I brought it home with me in case you wanted to look at it before Monday. And I have something I’d like for you to hold on to for me.”
At this point Carter was interested. “What is it?”
“Oh, it’s just some files someone gave me. I don’t want something to happen to the copy I have. So I wondered if you’d hold on to a copy of the files for me.”
“Sure. What are they, your will or something?”
“No. It relates to work, it’s some information I’ve received about AIDS transmission. I have copies for myself, but I just want to make sure that the files don’t get destroyed. It’s just a sealed envelope, so it’s not very big or anything.”
“Sure. I can hold on to it for you.” Carter thought her request was a bit strange, but he was more than willing to comply. “Are these files what has gotten you so tense in the past few days? When I talked to you on the phone this morning you said that you had been disconnected for the past day or two.”
All she could see when she looked at Carter was real concern in his eyes. “Don’t worry about it, Carter. It’s just some material I have to do some research on. And I don’t know how sensitive the material is, so I want to make sure it’s safe.”
“No problem. I’ll put it in my safe deposit box when I get back to New York. Is that all the business we have for the day?”
“Who is coming in on Monday to edit and proofread the manuscript?”
“Her name is Ellen Bailey. Her flight comes in at 8:45 Monday morning. Is someone picking her up or should she rent a car?”
“I can have Julie pick her up. She usually comes in before eight in the morning. I’ll call her tomorrow to ask her if she can pick her up and get her breakfast on their way in.” Sloane leaned back in to the pillows of the couch.
“So that’s all the business we have for the day?” Carter asked again.
“Yes, I promise, no more business.”
“What would you like to talk about then?”
“I was thinking about what we were talking about at dinner. About how most people choose to not think. Why do they do it?”
“They see everyone else not using their minds, I suppose, and when the rest of the world bullies you enough, the average person caves in to the peer pressure.”
“That’s a funny way of putting it.”
“But think about it, think about what they taught you in philosophy classes in undergraduate college. Most philosophers hypothesized that the world was unknowable, that the human mind was impotent. Our minds create our reality. Our opinions don’t matter, but the ’collective good’ does. What does that do for a person? If they don’t reject it, they feel guilty for thinking.”
“You know, it would make me so angry, the things I had to read for my philosophy classes. I remember having to write a ten page paper once about whether or not we could tell if we were dreaming all the time or not, if we could prove that our life was not one big dream, or if we could tell our conscious state from our dreams. It was exasperating. Why do people perpetuate these myths?”
“Because that’s the way people have always been.”
“For thousands of years we lived without electricity, should we then reject that too?”
“You’re preaching to the converted. I’m just trying to explain why it happens. I didn’t say I agreed with them.”
Carter changed the subject and continued. “I noticed you had my book, ’The Philosophy of Science.’”
This surprised her, realizing she had left his books on her nightstand. “Oh, you noticed? I put those there just to make you feel better.” She smiled, hoping her joke would cover up her embarrassment. “Yes, I read it.”
“I’m surprised you found the time.”
“You mention the two most important things in my life in the title alone. Did you think I wouldn’t read it?”
“What did you think of it?”
“You know what I thought of it. You know I like the idea of using the Scientific Method for determining everything in your life. It makes sense. But what I thought was most interesting was your analysis of scientists who relied on faith and lack of reason when it came to philosophy, even when they were so dependent on reason in every other aspect of their lives.”
Her comments intrigued Carter. “Why did you like that part?”
“Oh, I just remember going to Kyle’s wedding, he’s one of my assistants at the lab. He’s a really good guy, and his wife is a very sweet woman, but this marriage, it was a full Catholic wedding, with a full mass and lots of prayers, the whole nine yards. And it just made me think: Does Kyle believe all of this? All day he lives by a code of logic and reason, proof and evidence. Does he let go of that reasoning when it comes to his life philosophy?”
“That was exactly my point. Scientists love science because it helps explain things to them. But they were never taught to use it in the most crucial aspect of their lives -- in their philosophy of life. And they never thought to apply it to themselves.”
“I hope you don’t think I’m like that.”
“Of course I don’t. You’re the most consistent person I know.”
“Other than yourself?”
Carter smiled back. “I don’t gauge myself against other people.”
“I would hope not.”
They both sat in silence for a moment and sipped their champagne.
“It’s nice to read a few pages of your book at night.”
Carter looked up from his glass. “Why is that?”
“It helps me to read it, so I don’t think I’m crazy at the end of the day.”
Carter laughed. “What does that mean?”
“Oh, you know. Reading a few pages of ’The Philosophy of Science’ at the end of the day, it reaffirms what I know. I deal with a bunch of irrational people in a day, like people in marketing, or people in lobbying groups that tell us to give away our drugs for free. People tell us we’re being cruel by limiting the number of people that can start taking Emivir, when they don’t know enough to know that we do it because it would be more detrimental if people would have to stop taking the drug because plants can’t produce enough. When I deal with people like that, it’s nice to come home and slip into bed and remind myself that I’m right before I go to sleep. Does that make any sense?”
“Yes, it does. But you don’t need anything to remind you, other than you, other than your mind. Remember, you’re one of the few that made the decision to think.”
“And you think that’s a good thing.”
“Of course I do, what would make you think otherwise?”
“Oh, I didn’t mean it to imply that you shouldn’t. I meant that most people wouldn’t think it’s a good thing, and that’s the insulting part.”
“Oh, come on, don’t you think your talents could be better utilized if you were a cheerleader, or--”
They started bantering. “Oh, stop it, Carter.” “Or a housewife, or --” “Oh, you’re kidding, right?” “Or maybe an exotic dancer?”
Acting on impulse, she grabbed a pillow and threw it at Carter on the other side of the couch. “Them’s fightin’ words!” She yelled as she set her champagne glass on the cocktail table.
Carter dodged the pillow, then set his glass down next to hers and picked up the pillow she threw at him. “I challenge you to a duel,” He said, throwing the pillow back at her.
Grabbing the pillow in mid air, she turned and kneeled on the couch, facing Carter. “You don’t think I could actually be a housewife, do you?”
“I think either one of us could be a housewife if we found someone we loved enough.”
She held the pillow instead of immediately throwing it. “But do you think either one of us could love someone that would want us as a housewife? I mean, a house person?”
“No, but the person that would love us, the person we would love that much, we’d want to do things for them. Not because they expect it of us, but because we’d want to. You love someone because you respect them, because they share the values you do. And you want them to be happy, because that would make you happy. So you want to do things for them. And they would want to do the same.”
“You’re talking about sharing the household duties.”
“I’m talking about sharing two lives. The rest will fall into place... When do you have the time to think about these things?”
“I read and I write for a living. What else would I be doing?”
Seeing the ivory taper candles, she noted they were burning on the cocktail table. She rolled her head along the back of the couch until she was looking at Carter. “Have any idea what time it is?” Carter looked down at his watch. “It’s one-thirty in the morning. I think I need my sleep.” Sloane trailed off as she realized she had something else to say. “I forgot that you might be tired from the traveling. Oh, God, it’s four-thirty your time, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but I’ll be fine. Just let me sleep in tomorrow a bit.”
“Not a problem. You can’t hear a thing from my bedroom.”
“I’m not going to take your bed. I’m not making you sleep on the couch.”
“Why not? You offered the same to me when I was in New York.”
“I’m not going to make you sleep on the couch, and that’s final.”
Trying to sell him on her offer, she pleaded. “I’m not going to let you sleep on the couch, Carter. Come on, it’s a nice, comfy, king-sized bed... You need to rest. Take it.”
“No ... not unless you sleep with me.”
“Excuse me?”
“There’s room, it’s a king-sized bed, right?”
Getting bashful, she looked down for a moment. “I suppose so.”
“Sorry you won’t be able to sleep naked tonight,” Carter said, and she finally threw her pillow at him. “Unless of course you wear lingerie from that catalog to bed...” Screaming, she reached for another pillow when Carter grabbed her arm. “Is this okay with you? I wasn’t trying to make you uncomfortable.”
“No, it’s fine. Let me get some clothes from the bedroom and I’ll change in the bathroom.”
As she walked into the bathroom Carter blew out the candles and walked to her bedroom. “Oh, one thing, Carter. I get the left side of the bed.”
Carter smiled and walked into her bedroom, closing the door behind him.
When she closed the door to her bathroom and turned on the light, she rolled her head back and closed her eyes. She repeated the same phrase in her head over and over again: “Why is this happening to me... Why is this happening to me... Why is this happening to me...” This time it wasn’t a question; she didn’t ask it of herself; for this one moment she actually did want to suspend her thought. She was afraid of what answers she would find if she looked for them.
She slid off her dark blue satin dress; she felt it sliding over her skin with such ease and thought again of his touch as they were dancing. She closed her eyes and tried to put him out of her mind. She picked up her silk pajama pants and stepped into them. This was her Christmas present from her sister last year. Her sister had told her that she wanted to get her something that she could pamper herself with, but she knew her sister wouldn’t like something romantic or frilly. She looked at herself in the mirror in her dark green button-down pajama shirt and pants. The fabric was soft against her skin. She had owned these pajamas for four months but had yet to wear them.
Mentally she rolled her eyes when she noted she picked this to sleep in when Carter was here.
Knocking on her bedroom door, she then came in, holding her dress in her hand. Carter was sitting under the covers on the right side of the bed. She instantly noticed he wasn’t wearing a shirt. She assumed he was wearing pants. “You didn’t have to knock,” Carter said. “It is your bedroom, you know.”
“I wanted to make sure you were dressed.”
“Oh.” Carter let the space between them be silent while she walked to her closet, hung up her dress, and walked around to the other side of the bed. She wondered if he had done this intentionally, to torment her. She lifted the sheets and slid into her bed. After watching her turned out the light on the nightstand, Carter could hear her slide into the bed.
“Let me know if I kick you in my sleep, Carter,” she said.
“Can I hit you if you do?” Carter answered.
“Oh, don’t talk dirty to me,” she replied, and she could hear Carter laugh softly in the dark. “Good night, Carter.” “Good night,” she heard from the other side of the bed, and with that she tried to close her eyes.

Sloane was sitting in her office with an interviewer from the Seattle Daily Herald. Tyler was standing at the other side of the room. She agreed to do an interview about how the staff came up with Emivir. She agreed to do it primarily because she knew Tyler would keep bothering her until she did it. But then she thought: now that she agreed to one interview, would Tyler break open a floodgate of demands on her?
When you give them a little control, they’ll take more, she thought.
The young reporter put a tape recorder on the edge of her desk and sat. She tried not to fidget; she wanted to be doing anything else but this interview; she felt her time was better spent in the lab. And the process of the reporter asking questions and writing notes took longer than she had expected it to. Tyler stood in the back, gesturing for her to uncross her arms, to smile more. She hated every minute of it.
“The process of modifying other drugs to get Emivir came about how?”
“We modified the part of the drug that affected its ability to attach to healthy cells so it could fight the virus for a longer period of time in the body. This knocked the virus back quite a bit, but more importantly, it also affected the length of time the human body would accept and work with the drug.”
She watched the reporter scribble down some notes.
“You’re a female researcher.”
“You noticed.”
“I was wondering if you’ve encountered any flack from male researchers.”
“What?”
“Has the struggle been harder because you’re a woman, Ms. Emerson?”
“Why would it be any different, if I’m qualified and capable of doing the work?”
“Women are a minority in the science fields, so I was wondering --”
“And what does this have to do with the drugs we’ve been working on?”
The reporter was surprised that she seemed angry. “Most people doing work in your field are male. I think the public is interested in you in particular because you’re a female.”
“Is that what you think?”
“You have to admit --”
“And they might not be interested because I produced the best results?”
“All I was asking was --”
“You were asking something entirely irrelevant.” She then caught Tyler’s waving arms out of the corner of her eye; she looked up and saw him crossing his arms back and forth in front of him and shaking his head and mouthing the word “no” over and over again. She looked back toward the reporter.
“I wasn’t saying anything about you personally, but the feminine aspect of this story is its draw. That’s what people want to hear about.”
“They don’t want to hear about the research?”
“They’ve already heard about the research.”
“Not when you report it, they don’t.” She glanced at Tyler again, who was almost dancing in an effort to silently stop her. “Is there something you need, Tyler?”
“Maybe we should take a break,” Tyler panted as he walked up to the table and sat on the edge. “Does anyone want coffee?”
“Oh yes, please, thank you,” the reporter answered.
“No, thank you, Tyler,” she said. “We’ll stay here while you get coffee.”
Tyler was angry that she managed to get him to leave her office without them. He slowly walked out of the room.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Emerson, I didn’t mean to offend you. Let’s go on another track. How many hours a day do you work on the research?”
“Between ten and twelve. But usually I take reading home with me, or do Internet work and the like while I’m at home, so I can at least see what my place looks like.”
“So do you get the chance to be very social?”
“I usually -- wait. What does that have to do with research?”
“I’m writing a story about you, Ms. Emerson. People want to know how you tick.”
“How do they expect me to ’tick’?”
“What do you mean?”
“You haven’t written stories like this about other researchers. How do they tick? They work, because they love their work, because that’s what keeps them alive. They use their brains. Why do you need to hear me say that?”
“That’s not what I’m asking, I’m asking who you are.”
“I’m a researcher. Ask me about my work.”
“But what do you do to relax at the end of the day? Do you have a place in your apartment where you like to unwind, say, take a bath or read a book? Do you have hobbies?”
“What? Have you ever asked a researcher before whether they took baths to unwind at the end of the day? This is ludicrous. I want to stop this dream.”
And just as the words came out of her mouth she sprung up in her bed.
She let out a light sigh as she woke up and exhaled in the middle of the night from her dream.
What she didn’t expect was for someone next to her to spring up after her.
“Are you okay?”
She forgot that he was with her and she jumped again. Then everything instantly came back to her and she let go of her breath and started panting.
“I, I had a bad dream.”
“Oh, come here.” She felt the sheets moving and suddenly he was sitting up next to her; she could feel his legs against her silk pajamas. He put his arms around her shoulders. “Here, lean on me. It’s okay. Relax.”
“I don’t know how,” she whispered and she tried to control her breathing.
Carter put his right hand against her right temple and guided her head to his shoulder. She adjusted her head and felt her forehead against the bottom of his neck.
“It was just a dream, it’s okay.” He ran his fingers through her hair at her temples. “What was it about?”
All she could think was that it would sound trivial if she told him; it wasn’t a nightmare about her teeth falling out or people trying to kill her. “I don’t remember,” was all she could say.
“It’s over. Just relax.”
“You know, I’m not used to this,” Sloane whispered.
“Not used to what?”
“Having someone comfort me from my dreams.”
“You have bad dreams a lot?”
“I think once or twice a week now I wake up like this.”
“What’s the matter? Are your dreams an effort to resolve work problems?”
“No. Usually they’re about losing control of some aspect of my life.”
“You’re fine. You just need some rest.”
He held her in silence in the dark.
Sloane let herself be held there, in the dark, in her bed, something she had never done. She never let herself lose control, and here she was showing weakness and letting someone hold her like a child. She closed her eyes and felt his hand against her temple, then his fingers running softly and slowly through her hair. She felt the skin of his shoulder on her cheek and his neck against her forehead. Instinctively she moved her right hand up and placed it on his chest. Instantly she realized she shouldn’t have done it; to cover it up she made a motion to pick her head up from his shoulder.
“You must be tired,” she finally whispered. “I’m sure you are about to go to sleep again. I’m sorry I woke you.”
“Are you okay now? You’re still tense, and you’re still breathing heavy.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“I didn’t ask how you’d be, I asked how you are.”
“Don’t worry about me, Carter.”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t do that.” Carter looked at her in the light from the window, all he could see was the silhouette of her face and a spot of light reflecting from her eyes. “Here, come here,” he said, and moved back under the covers and lay down.
Sloane couldn’t see in the dark. “What -- where am I going?”
Carter found her right hand in the dark and moved it with his left hand to his shoulder. She could tell he was lying on his back and wanted her to lean on him. She complied.
“You just lay here and relax,” Carter told her as she slid her left arm under his pillow and leaned her head back down on his chest near his shoulder. She felt his right hand gently gliding up and down her back against the silk of she shirt.
Sloane let the rhythm of his hand against her back eventually lull her to sleep.

Picking her head up Sunday morning, she tried not to disturb Carter as she sat up. The clock read 9:10 a.m., so she got up and walked out into her living room. She heard to her laptop computer boot while she brewed some coffee. She checked her e-mail and found a number of documents from Tyler.
The first ones she started to read were the press releases issued by the U.S. Scientific Research Advancement Department.


From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: Saturday, 4:42 p.m.
Subject: Fdw: PR_GOV1.TXT
Here’s the first one. There have been three in the past few days about us. Hope this fills you in. -- Tyler


Thursday, 10:00 A.M.
from the Office of the United States Scientific Research Advancement Department
Washington, D.C.
Acknowledgment of initial steps of Madison Pharmaceuticals’ integrase inhibitor
The United States Scientific Research Advancement Department has received knowledge about the recent achievements Madison Pharmaceuticals have had in working with integrase inhibitors. The United States Scientific Research Advancement Department is looking forward to checking up on their progress. Any work to further the development of knowledge about HIV and AIDS is always taken under consideration.


Sloane skimmed over the rest of the press release. There wasn’t much content to it.


From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: Saturday, 4:44 p.m.
Subject: Fdw: PR_GOV2.TXT
Here’s the second one. There have been three. Hope this fills you in. -- Tyler


Thursday, 2:00 p.m.
from the Office of the United States Scientific Research Advancement Department
Washington, D.C.

U.S. Scientific Research Advancement Department has been working on integrase inhibitor. They have been working on an integrase inhibitor for the past three months. It would be used in a drug cocktail with transcriptase and protease inhibitors in a joined battle against the AIDS virus.
A Spokesperson from the Scientific Research Advancement Department stated that they too are very close to coming up with a genetically engineered inhibitor, one that is projected that in conjunction with other drugs would exceed the length of time the viral load is down in a subject’s body for almost two and a half years.
Mr. Jacob Morton, Director of the Department, stated that they were in discussions with Madison Pharmaceuticals about differences in their research, in order to pool their efforts and come up with a better product faster. Madison has recently released information about progress they have also made with integrase inhibitors.
“We here feel that working with Madison would be best for the public,” Morton said.


Sloane looked over this press release. She sent a reply to Tyler.


From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: Sunday, 9:36 A.M.
Subject: re: Fdw: PR_GOV2.TXT
Tyler, we weren’t talking to anyone from the government on Thursday, were we? No one from my department was, but it says in their second press release (Thursday at 2 p.m.) that “they were in discussions with Madison Pharmaceuticals about differences in their research.” You weren’t talking to them, were you? Either way, you don’t know any of the details about the drug, so you couldn’t have told them anything about it. Please issue a statement immediately Monday morning saying that the research department from Madison Pharmaceuticals has not spoken with anyone from the U.S. government, much less the Scientific Research Advancement Department, about our drug. And we never discussed working with anyone on our drug. Thanks.
-- Sloane


She went on to the third press release.


From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: Saturday, 4:47 p.m.
Subject: Fdw: PR_GOV3.TXT
Here’s the third one. There have been three. Hope this fills you in. -- Tyler


Friday, 9:00 A.M.
from the Office of the United States Scientific Research Advancement Department
Washington, D.C.
United States Scientific Research Advancement Department is looking into the research and the work done by Madison Pharmaceuticals on their level of integrase inhibitors. The research released by the laboratory at Madison is “alarmingly similar” to research about to be released by the United States Scientific Research Advancement Department, according to a spokesperson at the department.
“We are not assuming any wrong-doing has been committed,” said Mr. Jacob Morton, Director of the Scientific Research Advancement Department. “We just want to look over the history of how Madison’s drug was created, as well as look into any possibilities that information could have been given to Madison about the research we were doing at the Scientific Research Advancement Department.”
Madison Pharmaceuticals has been contacted and will be meeting with representatives from the Scientific Research Advancement Department Monday.


Sloane leaned back in her chair. Then she wrote an e-mail to Tyler.


From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: Sunday, 9:55 A.M.
Subject: re: Fdw: PR_GOV3.TXT
Tyler: You have to know what is going on here. They heard about our reports, so they had to issue a press release. Then they realized what a fluff P.R. piece they sent out when word spread about the success we had been having. So to save their own heads from being thrown onto the butcher block, they sent out another press release saying that they were working with Madison, which they weren’t. They knew they’d get caught in that lie, though, so they created a bigger lie: that we stole from them.
And they managed to write their press release so vaguely that you can’t even say they’re accusing us of stealing from them. They said it so discreetly that when we say we didn’t steal from them, we’ll sound like the first people that suggested stealing was an option. They’re trying to corner us, because they want to stop us.
Why do they want to stop us, you ask? It’s simple. They get constant funding from the federal government to do work, and they’re not producing results. If they didn’t have any competition to produce any results (if we weren’t there making progress with the integrase inhibitors) they could just go back to the representatives in the subcommittees that gave them the money in the first place and tell them that they just need more money because the work is more difficult than they expected. And their constituents, their representatives -- what do they know enough of science to judge whether or not their scientists are lying to get more money. So they trust them and give more money to the Scientific Research Advancement Department.
The problem is, now we’ve come in and done it faster and with less money. In fact, we did it with money we made, not money we had to beg for, not money we extorted from the people via more taxes.
If any smart American citizens looked at Madison Pharmaceuticals and then looked at the Scientific Research Advancement Department, they would get angry about their tax money being wasted.
And that’s just what the Scientific Research Advancement Department wants to avoid.
So they make this horrendous claim that we’ve stolen from them, but manage to say it in such a way that they can deny suggesting it. But we all know what it means, and we have to act like we want to comply or else we look like criminals.
Tyler, they haven’t made any indication of showing “the people” any of their own data. Julie will scour past records of journals and magazines to verify it. I would suggest that the Scientific Research Advancement Department wasn’t even working on an integrase inhibitor at the time. I bet they have no research on it whatsoever. Yet they’re going to attempt to take our records from us, in the name of “cooperation,” and duplicate them and doctor them so it looks like they had all of our information before we did.
We’re in trouble here, Tyler. This is potentially a very dangerous situation. They could have us up against the wall. They could destroy Madison and put some of us in jail if they wanted to. Why would they do it? To save their own program. To save face. To save the way things have always been done in the U.S. government.
If you think I’m overreacting, don’t. If you think I’m kidding, don’t. This is war. They want us under their thumb, and we have to fight tooth and nail every step of the way to make sure it doesn’t happen.
If you get this e-mail Sunday, call me at home -- I’ll be working there. I’m also waiting on any speeches you might have worked on for me. I’ll write up some notes and work on my own speeches while you’re doing the same. I’ll talk to you soon.
-- Sloane


She pressed the send button and watched her e-mail to Tyler disappear into cyberspace. Once again she leaned back in her chair. Then she heard a noise behind her.
Carter was standing behind her with two cups of coffee. “I noticed you started the coffee, but never got your own cup,” Carter said. He held forward one mug to her.
“So, what fires are you putting out on Sunday morning?” Carter asked.
“What do you mean?”
“You were e-mailing someone. What’s the crisis today?”
“The government, a scientific agency within the government, is claiming that we somehow got information from them about their research, and that’s why we came up with the integrase inhibitor so fast.”
“Do you think they’re saying it because they haven’t produced research or any results?”
“That’s exactly why they’re saying it. No one on my staff would do that. We don’t have enough respect for the Scientific Research Advancement Department to think they might have something we want, much less actually steal from. It’s ludicrous.”
“You sound like you got your work cut out for you. The government is quite a monster to become entangled with.”
“Well, David beat Goliath, right?”
“What was that? Did I just hear you making a biblical reference?”
“I suppose I should stop saying ’God bless you’, too.”
“Or screaming out ’Oh, God’ during sex.”
Sloane laughed. “That’s assuming I’ve had the opportunity to have sex recently, Carter.”
“I’m sure you’ve had opportunities.”
“I suppose... I just haven’t found anyone worth having sex with.”
Carter let out a loud laugh. “I’m sure with that attitude, the men are knocking down your door.” Sloane snapped back, “The men that would be knocking down my door are not the men I want to sleep with.”
Carter smiled and paused before speaking. “Want breakfast?”
“Do you want breakfast? We could go to a diner, or I could make something here.”
“You’d make food for me? As long as you wore an apron...”
Sloane stood up and put her hands on her hips. “This is what I get for being nice,” Carter smiled. “Let me make you breakfast,” Carter answered.
“I can make breakfast for you if you’d like, really.”
“Maybe you could burn the toast for me.”
Sloane gave him another dirty look and turned back toward the living room. “Do you want the manuscript to look over today?”
“Yes, that would be perfect. I don’t even know what title you came up with.”
“We came up with ’Winning the War from the Inside,’ how homeopathy can change the lives of AIDS patients.”
“Not bad.” Carter rummaged through her refrigerator while she set the table and got the newspaper.
The rest of the day was spent in her apartment. Sloane stayed at her computer and worked on speeches and did Internet research about the government’s involvement in research on integrase inhibitors; Carter sat on the couch and read the manuscript, made comments and notes on it on his computer, and read other manuscripts he had brought along with him. She occasionally fielded calls from Tyler during the day.
At two forty-five Carter looked up at Sloane.
“Hey, I know this is strange, but I’m used to working alone, and --”
“What, am I bothering you?”
“No, not at all. I was going to say that it was nice working in the same room as you.”
listening to what he said made her smile.
“I mean, we’re both working on separate things, we don’t need each other’s input in doing our work,” Carter continued, “but it’s nice to have you sitting here in the room with me. Does that make sense?”
“Yes, it does. I know what you mean.” She slowly turned back to her computer and continued working. At five o’clock Carter got up to make another pot of coffee. “Hey,” Carter yelled from her kitchen, “did you know it was approaching dinner time?”
“No. I had no idea.”
“Want to order out? Chinese or something?”
“Sure. There’s a drawer to the left of my oven, and it has a bunch of delivery brochures in it.” She got up and walked to the kitchen. Carter went through the menus.
“Pick out what you want, unless...”
“What?” Carter looked up from the menus at her.
“Did you want to go out for dinner? I’ve been sitting here working all day and I didn’t even stop to think that you might want to see more of the town.”
“I’ve got a lot of work to do, too. It’s fine if we order in. As long as you light your candles again.”
“How does Merlot sound with Chinese food? All I’ve got is the Merlot; maybe we could go for Italian instead...”
“Chinese food is good, but we could have tea with it instead for dinner.”
When dinner arrived she got silverware and plates from the kitchen while Carter lit the ivory candles and put the pillows from her couch on the floor.
Coming out with silverware, a teapot and wine with glasses, she was surprised to find everything on the floor. “We’re eating on the floor?”
“Why not?” Carter answered, as he grabbed the wine and glasses out of her full hands. “And what do we need forks for? They gave us chopsticks.”
“You can show off your ability to eat with two sticks, but I’d prefer to use a fork.”
They sat down and Carter opened the wine while Sloane opened the little white cartons of food and poured rice on their plates. They ate in silence and then Carter tried to teach her how to eat with chopsticks. He leaned next to her and put his hand next to hers so she could mimic it. After repeated failures, Carter curled his right hand around hers and held her fingers in place as he tried to help her pick up a piece of chicken. Once they successfully picked up the piece of food, Carter’s hand moved with hers as she moved the wooden sticks to her mouth.
“This is useless, Carter. I’m working up an appetite just by trying to eat.” She didn’t want to tell him that every time he touched her she felt more and more nervous, more and more anxious. She became hypersensitive to every move he made near her; she could even feel the hair on the back of her neck rise when he happened to brush against her.
Carter just smiled and said, “You’ll get the hang of it, if you want to.”
They both turned and continued eating.
Carter asked her what she was working on, and she explained the problems Madison was having with the government in more detail. “I don’t want to have to fight to do my work. That’s why I work in the United States instead of in a more controlling country. That’s why I work for a private company instead of a State University. Is there any place that lets you be free?”
“If I find it, I’ll let you know,” Carter answered.
They needed to sleep in order to finish all their work the next day. Sloane called Julie to make sure she could pick up Ellen from the airport, cleaned up her belongings and found her extra copies of the Shane files.
“Carter, this is the folder I need you to keep a copy of for me,” she said as she handed the sealed envelope to him.
“You know, it’s killing me that you’re not telling me what is in this folder.”
“Carter, I think it might be dangerous information.” She saw a look of genuine concern in Carter’s eyes. “I think everything’s fine if I don’t tell you what is in that folder; I don’t think anyone will suspect that you have it. But I’m concerned about telling you what might be in that folder and what it might mean.”
Carter sat down and held her hand; Sloane sat down next to him. “You’re going to tell me what’s going on.” He looked at her closely; he could tell that she was scared.
“Let me just say that another reason I think the government is giving Madison a hard time is because of these files I have. I think they want to get rid of them, or shut me up.”
“What are they?” he asked.
“I don’t know, and I might just be jumping to conclusions. This is what has been bothering me. I should just throw away these files, I have no reason to believe that there is anything truthful in them at all. But a part of me still does think that the information in these files might be true, and that scares me -- it scares me because the truth would be really hard to believe, it would be that bad, but more than that, it scares me because it means that I’m believing in things without reason.”
“Do you have any evidence at all that anything in these files might be true?”
“Very little.”
“But you have some.”
“Yes. But it could be doctored evidence, it’s weak at best, but yes, there is some.”
“If it bothers you, you owe it to yourself to go out and find the truth. You’re not doing this on a whim, you have some evidence. So do some research and come up with the proof you need. But don’t think you’re relying on anything other than your mind. I know that’s your main concern. That’s what I love about you, your rational mind and your unnerving determinism. You think that if you’re thinking illogically now, what will stop you from being illogical for the rest of your life, and becoming one of the mindless out there? But you’re not thinking illogically. The conflict of the evidence you have is bothering you. You haven’t made a decision either way, have you? Then go out there and find the truth.”
When most of what she heard was that he loved something about her, she liked his message and looked up at him as he stood up. “Thanks, Carter.”
Carter leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. “Not a problem.” He walked toward the bedroom. “ I’m going to get ready to sleep. I just wish you felt like you could tell me what it was. You can tell me anything, you know.”
“You’ll probably be the first person I tell. I just need to get facts first.”
Carter walked into her bedroom and closed the door.
Walking to her bathroom, she grabbed her pajamas from the door hook and changed. She couldn’t even think about the fact that she was about to sleep in the same bed as him again tonight. She didn’t know whether she’d have another bad dream, or whether Carter would hold her through the night anyway. She knew she had a war to wage, and that was all she could stand to worry about. Tomorrow would be her battle against the Scientific Research Advancement Department. After that, she would have to continue to battle against the virus. She may even have to battle against her government and their lies.
Or maybe even Carter, in the back of her mind.
She turned off the lights in her apartment, made sure her front door was locked and walked to the bedroom.


chapter 9

The Key to Believing

Sloane arrived in the office with Carter at seven on Monday. She wanted to make sure she got there before everyone else. She set Carter up at a desk outside her office; then she started to work.
She had some business to take care of.
The first voice mail had to go to Tyler, asking him when they were to expect the people from the U.S. Scientific Research Advancement Department. She also asked him to bring her a systems administrator from marketing to take care of some files on the computer system before anyone showed up. Then she went to her file cabinets, found all the hard copies of data she could from the research they had done in the past four months, and placed them all in locked cabinets.
Other technicians came in to work as she got things ready. As more people showed up, she pulled them together and gave them the same speech.
“I don’t want to sound like I’m overreacting, but I want you all to listen to me very closely. A few people from the U.S. Scientific Research Advancement Department are coming to talk to me. They’re going to be in the lab. I have no reason to expect them to snoop around the lab. But if they do, I want everyone to be as cordial as you can, all without letting them know a single thing. If you have heard what they’re implying, which I’m sure you have, then you understand that they’re implying that they were working on this research before us, and their effort to see our research is a thinly-veiled cover-up to get the information for themselves so they can doctor the dates and make it look like we in fact stole the information from them. The thing is, they haven’t shown anyone that they have had this research. I think they’re going to try to get some knowledge from us, and if they’re ever asked about their own work is, they want to use our work to show as theirs. ”
A chemist was with the first people that heard her speech. “Ms. Emerson, the servers have dated the time our research was done, so our dates on our work should be fine now.” “Either way” she responded, “I’ve locked away pretty much all of our current non-recorded notes and paperwork in cabinets, and I’m going to get a systems administrator to help Julie work on eliminating our additional computer files and putting them into a storable portable medium this morning before anyone arrives.
“Ms. Emerson,” Kyle added, “you know that we can’t delete those files from our system. We need it dated. If we delete it, the research data is just as lost as if it had never been done.”
At this point there was nothing they could do. All of their records were recorded properly for the F.D.A. “What this leaves us to conceal is our unrecorded notes and the samples of work we have done. Now, keep your computers off when any visitors come in, in case they want to see your work on screen. As for the samples, some of the freezers and refrigerators can be locked, but some of them can be easily opened. Some of the containers could have labels turned, possibly, and some of them could be moved to less obvious places. If there is anything you can think of to keep our heads above water, it would be very helpful...
Each group asked a few more questions and the same information came up. “Yes, I think they’re really capable of this ... Think about it this way: we know we did no wrong, and they’re coming after us. None of us stole anything, and I’m not going to let them insinuate that we have. Now, there could be a few reasons for this attack. One is that the U.S. Scientific Research Advancement Department doesn’t really want any advances done in HIV and AIDS research, and I don’t even want to think about that possibility. Two is that they need to save face because this is the second time in a year that a private institution has come up with something before they have, and the same private institution beat them twice. Three is that they really have done very well, they happened to be doing nearly the exact same research as us, and they just want to make sure there was no wrong doing. Which do you think is the most plausible answer? ... Well, if it’s the third choice, then there should probably be a series of press releases about their progress and what a great job they had been doing on the integrase inhibitors. But there wasn’t a single press release out there to that effect, we’ve checked their Internet site and we’re on their mailing list and have no record of it. And if it is the third choice, then they won’t have to snoop around, and they won’t have any problem with releasing their research to any journal this afternoon to show they aren’t lying. They would have published their progress with their integrase inhibitor research at some point in the past few months. But if they get to see our data somehow before they are asked to show their records, they’ll have a chance to doctor up their data to make it look like they’ve been working on this for the past year... If it’s the second choice, and they’re going to have to do something to get themselves out of this before they lose all of their funding... No, I don’t think they were working on this beforehand. Otherwise they would have made an effort to back up their claims in their press releases, with articles from journals, something, anything ... No, I don’t think the first choice is a real option. Why would they not want us to be doing research for AIDS? They’re the U.S. Scientific Research Advancement Department. They are supposed to have the same goals we do.” She wondered if it was possible that not only did the U.S. Scientific Research Advancement Department not have any research on integrase inhibitors, they also were making attempts to stop research from being done. If the U.S. government had an agenda that included keeping the AIDS epidemic alive, then they could put government in place to make sure research advances could be stopped, by any means possible.
Tyler came into her office as soon as he found a systems administrator that could help her out. “What do you need a systems administrator for?” he asked.
She turned to the woman next to Tyler. “Thank you in advance for the help. I need certain files backed up onto archive tape and deleted from the system. All files from the research department under the subheads ’integrase’, ’vaccine’ and ’cure’, as well as outlines of general memos about the research department’s time line for research for the next few months. Could you please make back-ups of these files immediately and remove them from the system? When Julie comes into the office she can help you if you need it, but right now she’s picking up someone from Quentin Publishing. I can hold onto the tape until our visit with the U.S. Scientific Research Advancement Department is over.”
Tyler asked, “Do you think this is really necessary?”
“Tyler, I told you yesterday what I think.”
“But if they ask to look at our files and we have none, then they can say that we have no record of research, which points to us stealing it instead of us actually conducting the research.” “Tyler,” she answered, “they know we did the research. What they want is all the details so they can doctor their own records. When they ask to do a search, we tell them no. If they do it by force, we’ll tell them we don’t have immediate access files. We’ll tell them our proof is that we reported on our findings in the major journals before they did. Then we’ll ask to see their records.”
“What good will that do?”
“A lot, when they don’t have any.” Sloane turned away from Tyler and back to the woman. “Did you get my instructions? How long do you think it will take you?”
“About an hour.”
“Tyler, when are our friends at the U.S. Scientific Research Advancement Department showing up here?”
“In a little over an hour.”
“Finish as quickly as you can. And thank you.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the woman said, as she left the laboratory and headed for the branch computer server office.
Kyle walked over and said, “Ellen Bailey is here, from Quentin Publishing. Julie is showing her to Mr. Donovan now. Is there anything we should do?”
“Please tell Julie to see me immediately, we need her here, and take over as acting host for Ms. Bailey and Mr. Donovan. Show Ellen around, don’t get them see the chaos going on here, and give her anything she needs.”
“Got it, chief.”
She had to stop for a moment, because she always liked it when Kyle called her chief. It wasn’t because she liked being the boss, but that she knew he meant it as a term of friendly respect for her. Kyle knew how she thought and worked, and felt comfortable around her. “And Kyle, thanks for the nickname. It’s friendly, and I like it.”
Julie came running up to her. “Kyle said you needed me?”
Kyle interjected with a smile and a thank you as she said, “Yes, please go through my e-mails and archive them on disk -- not server -- any e-mails or text files you can find about the conspiracy notes or any current research on the integrase inhibitors, or even on vaccines or cures. Any work on homeopathy you can leave up. But destroy any files from the servers about the topics I just mentioned. Keep the disks in your purse. And Julie, we need to do this as quickly as possible. Got it?”
“Understood.” Julie turned around and ran to her desk.
Sloane scanned around the lab; everyone was frantically moving. It seemed like everyone was fulfilling their mission. She decided she should meet Ellen Bailey. On her way toward the office and space for Carter and Ellen, she saw Howard and stopped him.
“Howard, can you check with Kyle and make sure with him that everything is getting done?” He answered with, “Consider it done.”
“You don’t think I’m overreacting, do you, Howard?”
“You’re being cautious. We don’t want our work destroyed. I think everyone appreciates your efforts to make sure we keep our work, well, our work.”
“What incentive would we have to continue our work if it wasn’t our work, Howard? ... And make sure they wrap things up within a half hour, the U.S. Scientific Research Advancement Department is due here at ten and will probably be early. Could you also page Tyler and tell him to make sure that the reps are delayed at the front of the office if they do arrive early?”
“Consider it done.” Howard turned to the phone at the desk next to him. Sloane walked back toward her office.
Carter and a woman were standing outside her office door talking to each other. She walked straight to them and extended her hand to the woman.
“You must be Ellen Bailey,” Sloane said as she shook her hand. “I’m Sloane Emerson. Sorry I’ve been running around and haven’t had the chance to talk to you sooner.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Emerson,” Ellen answered. “I was just commenting to Mr. Donovan that he must have done a fantastic job of persuading you in order to get you on board with this project.”
Looking at Carter, she gave him a sneer that was almost imperceptible to Ellen. “It’s a book I thought needed to be done, and Mr. Donovan is a smooth talker.”

###

Sloane made sure everyone made progress with cleaning up the laboratory until five minutes to ten in the morning. She kept looking over her shoulders to see if someone that she didn’t know was walking into her office; there was no sign of representatives from the U.S. Scientific Research Advancement Department. Then Mr. Madison’s personal secretary walked into the laboratory and went up to her. “Ms. Emerson?”
“Yes?”
“Mr. Madison would like to see you.”
“Now? Does he know we’re expecting people from the U.S. Scientific Research Advancement Department?”
“Yes. He said he wanted to see you immediately. That’s why he sent me down here.”
Sloane looked around the room. Everyone who heard the secretary knew that Colin Madison was intentionally pulling her out of the laboratory when the government representatives were supposed to be visiting. Sloane suddenly felt like she was expected to fight a battle with her hands tied behind her back. She looked at Howard, who was standing fifteen feet away and had stopped what he was doing when he realized what was going on. They held their gaze for a moment.
“Howard, I want you and Kyle to be in charge while I’m gone.”
“Consider it done.” Howard knew what she meant.
“If you need any help, pull Kyle from the people at Quentin. Actually, you’ll probably need him. They should just be editing and going over the manuscript anyway. Tell Kyle to get them to one of the small conference rooms to work in while our friends are visiting and have him help you out.”
“Got it, chief,” She heard Kyle say from the end of the room. He walked to the laboratory when he noticed it was almost ten and heard the end of their conversation.
She smiled and turned past the secretary to walk out the laboratory door, and Colin’s secretary followed.
Without knocking, Sloane swung open Colin’s door and walked straight to his desk.
“Tell me you’re at least not going to tap dance around what you’re doing,” she said, leaning her hands on his desk.
“Tyler told me what you’re up to,” Colin answered.
She crossed her arms in front of her chest. “And?”
“You know it’s going to make us look bad.”
“It’s going to protect your property.”
“They haven’t said they wanted a fight.”
“They implied it, and you know it.”
“We just don’t want problems from the government.”
“Do you think I’m doing something wrong by protecting your property?”
“No. If I did, I would have stopped you sooner.”
Sloane sat down at the chair in front of his desk. “I thought so.”
“But I did think you’d blow up and say something you shouldn’t say, and then we’d have a real problem on our hands with the government.”
“So you had me clean up for you, and then you tuck me out of the way.”
“If you got angry, or accused them of anything while they were here, they’d have plenty of time to cover their tracks before you attempted to expose them publicly. Then you would have lost.”
“You think they won’t want to talk to me?”
“Do you think they won’t want to talk to me?”
“Yes, but you have the luxury of a private secretary to tell them you’re in meetings.”
“And who am I in meetings with?”
“You’re going to keep me in your office until they’re gone?” Colin smiled before she continued. “You’re kidding, right? They could be here all day.”
“Why would they be? No one plans to show them anything.”
Sloane leaned back in her chair. She was disgusted. “Is there anything we need to discuss while I’m here?”
“What sort of research are you personally working on now?”
“Kyle is starting some tests to deactivate crucial parts of the HIV virus for possible use as a vaccine. I can’t help but think that this would produce the most effective vaccine.”
“I see. How far are we away from testing a finished vaccine?”
“I’d say still months until we could be doing animal testing. But there should be a vaccine ready for human testing in less than a year depending on how well things go.”
“Interesting. Anything else?”
She tried to think of something to answer his question. “I have a theory for how to produce a cure, but I haven’t worked on it.”
Colin leaned forward. “Really?”
“Yes. I’ll write something up on it for you. There has just been so many things going on recently that I haven’t had the time. The book is being edited in the conference room now by people at Quentin.”
“Did your trip to Denver have something to do with the book?”
This caught her by surprise. “Pardon me, sir?” She was stunned that he even noticed the plane records of her trip.
“You were in Denver Friday. What was your trip about?”
“I have a contact there that had some information for me about drugs for HIV. I don’t know how helpful the information is yet; I’ve have to see.”
“Good, I’m glad to see you’re using your resources. Don’t spread yourself thin, now.”
“No problem. It also might make you happy to know I’m trying to work with Tyler on this problem we’re having with the U.S. Scientific Research Advancement Department. I’m doing a press conference this afternoon, and I’ve been writing up press releases too.”
“Isn’t the ’press release writing’ Tyler’s job?”
“If you don’t mind my saying, sometimes Tyler doesn’t write what should be written.”
“Sometimes Tyler knows when to not step on toes.”
“Sometimes Tyler doesn’t know when to stand up for Madison.”
Colin leaned back. “And you think now is one of those times.”
“If we don’t stand up for ourselves this time, nothing is going to stop them from trying to get us another time. We have to set a precedent.”
Colin leaned forward and pressed his buzzer for his receptionist. “Are our friends here from the U.S. Scientific Research Advancement Department?”
“Yes they are, sir, they’ve been here for a half hour now. They asked to meet with you, but I told them you were in meetings all day and could not be disturbed.”
“Thank you. Could you keep me informed of their whereabouts?”
Sloane heard the intercom click off; her tie to the rest of the world was again gone. All she could think was that she was being held prisoner.

###

Howard and Kyle got everyone’s attention as Sloane left.
“How is everything? Are we pretty much done?” Howard called out to everyone. Everyone pretty much nodded in agreement that everything was put away.
“Okay, we should probably prepare ourselves mentally for this,” Howard continued. “I know how everyone feels about their work here, no one wants someone else to claim responsibility for it. So we have to stay here, and be cordial when we are expected to. We’re not going to accuse them of anything. We’re going to keep our heads.”
“Most importantly, we’re going to keep our mouths shut,” Kyle chimed in. “They can’t say we said anything wrong if we don’t say anything at all. And they can’t take any information from us and claim it as their own if we don’t give it to them.”
“I think they expect us to give them everything they ask for. Let’s act like we’d like to, but that everything is locked up and we just can’t get to it.”
“And we’ve got security in numbers,” Kyle said. “We’re all here to support each other and our work.” Everyone stood around the room in silence.
“Are we ready?” Howard asked them.
No one spoke, but Howard could see some of his staff starting to smile.
“Then let’s get to work until they show up,” Kyle said.
“What are we supposed to do?” Ellen Thompson asked. “We’ve hidden everything we were working on.” Kyle started to laugh. “I suppose you’re right. Get into your groups and go over -- discuss -- ideas for future work, I guess.”
As people started to walk around the room, Tyler came in with three representatives from the U.S. Scientific Research Advancement Department.
Jacob Morton walked in the room with Tyler first, then two assistants of his followed through the doorway. Jacob Morton was a short, stocky man with a receding hairline and small round glasses. He seemed at home with Tyler, who was doing everything he could to make sure Mr. Morton was happy.
“So where is this Sloane Emerson? I’m very interested in meeting with her.” Jacob Morton’s voice scratched past his vocal chords and out of his mouth. Everything he spoke sounded like a complaint.
Everything about Jacob Morton complained. His glasses seemed to complain that their arms were stretched around his head, over his ears. His clothes seemed to complain that they were being stretched tightly around his plump stomach. His shoes seemed to stretch around his feet and complain about the weight they had to bear.
And Jacob Morton seemed to complain about everything else as well, even if it only came through in the look on his face or in the tone of his voice.
“She’s not in the office right now,” Tyler answered. “She wanted me to apologize to you for her not being here, but she had some business to tend to outside of the city.”
Kyle walked up to the group of men. “My name is Kyle Mackenzie,” Kyle said, while extending his hand to Jacob. “I’m the Associate Director of Research here at Madison.”
Jacob shook his hand, but showed little interest in what Kyle had to say. “It’s nice to meet you,” Jacob answered. “Are you available to answer any questions if my associates here -- “ he pointed to the two men behind him -- “need some answers?”
“That’s what we’re here for,” Kyle answered. Howard walked up along side of Kyle. “Oh, this is Howard Shindo. He is the Manager of the Research Department. If you need anything, he can also help you out.”
The two nameless government associates didn’t speak; they walked into the laboratory and looked around the room.
Tyler looked at Howard and Kyle. “Call my office when these gentlemen are finished. Mr. Morton will be in my office with me.”
Kyle and Howard looked at each other. Howard listened to Tyler and Jacob as they walked out the door.
“We just want to make sure that the public good is best served by the medical advances that have been exploding on the market in recent months.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” Tyler answered as he held the door open for Jacob. “That’s what we’re concerned with here -- the public good. That’s our business.”
Howard looked down in shame and walked back into the lab.

She paced in silence as Colin talked on the phone with assorted businessmen. She wanted to leave, but Colin wouldn’t let her.
Lifting up her sleeve, she looked at her watch. Ten minutes after eleven. She had no idea what was going on. She felt like a rat in a cage.
Colin watched her pace back and forth in front of his desk.
“Do you have to do that?”
“Oh, am I bothering you?”
“You should take up smoking or something. You’ve got too much pent up tension.”
“I should smoke? The president of a pharmaceuticals company wants me to smoke? And making me pace... Who do you think is doing this to me?”
“You know you’d overreact. You shouldn’t have to worry about these guys. Besides, Tyler is taking care of Jacob Morton, so it’s just some assistants in the lab. Your men can take care of them.”
“Colin, you’re letting Tyler take care of Morton? Do you know how much damage we’ll have to undo after this?”
“This is Tyler’s job.”
“Colin, Tyler thinks I can do my job with a bunch of goons breathing down my neck, under the rule of a bunch of whim-worshipping irrational monsters that want to take what I earn. And you think I can do my work with my hands tied behind my back.”
Colin’s phone rang. “Yes? ... Oh, thank you.”
Colin set the phone on the receiver and looked up at her. “They’re gone. You can go back to the laboratory now.”
Sloane looked stunned. “Was this all necessary?”
Colin smiled. “Go to your lab.”
All he could hear was the moving of her clothes as she turned around, without another word, and left the room.
When she walked into her lab, both Kyle and Howard ran toward her, and half of the staff looked up and got up from their seats.
She looked at each of them, to make sure she was reading the expressions on their faces correctly. She managed to stammer out, “You two are positively beaming.”
“It was perfect,” Kyle said. “They snooped around, they wouldn’t say a word, then they’d walk over to a cabinet, try to open it, then look up at us because it was locked and say, ’What’s in this?’ and we’d just be nice and short and say, ’Files.’ They didn’t even ask us about the key for anything, because I think they knew we weren’t going to give it to them.”
“Yeah, and they were pretty unhappy that they didn’t catch us off guard,” Howard continued, “but what did they expect? We knew about this since Friday.”
“What they didn’t expect was that we wouldn’t be so willing to give up our work.” Kyle said, laughing, “Maybe the government breeds the sense of pride out of their employees.”
“Oh, you could tell they were mad. Wish you could have been here to see it,” Howard said. “We guessed the executives here kept you away from them, but it was beautiful to watch.”
“... Has anyone checked on our Quentin people? Is everything okay with them?”
Kyle answered quickly. “They haven’t left that small conference room since I put them in there at ten. Want me to check on them?”
“Yes, and I’ll go with you.” She left with him, wanting a chance to walk alone with Kyle for a bit.
“Kyle, how are the tests going with the vaccine?”
“We should get some results done today. You were right in what parts to deactivate, I think, but we’ll have to see if it worked. Should find out tonight, but we might want to run it a few times.”
“Got it. I want to speed up work on this, Kyle. But let’s keep it to ourselves.”
“Sure, but why?”
“I don’t want to let any government people know what we’re up to, lest they try to take that away from us, too.”
“Got it, chief.”
“I figured we’d be taking Mr. Donovan and Ms. Bailey to lunch on their first day here. Hopefully Tyler won’t want to go, so it might not be bad. Would you like to go?”
“Oh, I’d like to get back to work. Anything I should tell the staff?”
“We should work on a new system for filing, now that we’ve had to move stuff around. We should’ve been more protective in the first place.”
“Sure. But isn’t that sad? Sad that we have to protect ourselves from someone stealing from us? I think it’s worse to think that the people stealing from us could be our government.”
“That’s not sad, that’s frightening.”
“A government by the people, for the people,” she said aloud as she turned and continued walking toward the conference room. “You know, I can get them myself if you want to get back to work, unless you want to go in there and check on them. It’s your call.”
“I should just get back to the lab, there’s a ton of stuff to do.”
“I’ll take care of the Quentin people. Thanks, Kyle.”
“Thank you.” Kyle turned and walked back toward the lab.
After gently knocking on the conference room door, she slowly opened it. Both Carter and Ellen were intently reading manuscripts.
“Didn’t mean to disturb you. Just making sure everything was okay. Need anything?”
“No, we don’t need anything at all,” Ellen responded. “We’re fine. Thanks.”
“Lunch is coming up soon,” she said, “And I know a few nice places we can go if you’d like.”
Carter looked up. “A social lunch doesn’t seem your style, Ms. Emerson.”
“And you think this would be a social lunch?” she asked back.
Ellen smiled at them. “I could work for a bit, if you want to lunch in a half hour?”
“Perfect,” Sloane said, and started to close the door.
“Oh, Ms. Emerson?” Carter asked. “I was wondering” he said, as he rose from his seat, “if you would have a few minutes before lunch to answer some questions I have.”
“Yes, do you want to go to my office?”
“Sure. Thank you.” Carter walked to the door and turned back to Ellen. “We’ll get you for lunch?” Ellen responded with, “Great. Thanks.”
Carter closed the door behind him and started walking along side of her.
Listening to Carter’s footsteps next to hers, she could tell from the rhythm of his steps that he was walking in stride with her. “What did you have to ask me?”
“Oh, well, I wanted to get out of that conference room more than anything else...”, which made her smile. “But I was really wondering how it went with you and the government people. I know it was driving you crazy this weekend.”
“Oh, you weren’t around to see the fiasco?”
“It went that badly?”
“Oh, no, I hear it went very well.”
“What do you mean, you hear it went well?” Carter asked.
“I was in the boss’ office while they were here, so I couldn’t say anything.”
“You’re kidding.” Carter couldn’t help but laugh.
“No. I stood in Colin’s office and paced for over an hour while he hid like a little kid, having his secretary say he was in a meeting and could not be disturbed. It was insane.”
“And they thought you’d blow up at them?” Carter asked as he tried to stop laughing.
“They made a mockery of me in front of my staff. And the worst part of it was that Tyler was there, and he knew about it, Hell, he probably suggested that they do it. And Colin had his personal secretary escort me to his office.”
“I’m sorry to hear you had to go through that. But at least it went okay without you.”
“But why do they want to silence me? Why do they want to get along with that government department? They were making an enemy out of me by doing that to me. Do you think that stunt was good for my morale? I feel like they know I do good work, but they won’t tell anyone who makes a difference, and they won’t let me defend myself. What kind of respect is that?”
“I don’t know what to tell you, except welcome to corporate America.”
“Do you have to go through this, Carter?”
“This is all I go through. My job is to deal with ignorant people that try to actively stop me from doing an effective job, from making a good product. All they want to do is fight, or else latch on to your coat tails when you’re in the spotlight, if they couldn’t take away your ideas from you before you proved yourself.”
“Then why do you put up with it?”
“Remember when you asked me in New York why I do the small branch of my own label at Quentin? I told you it was because I knew it was right. The thing is, if I didn’t do it, I would go insane. Because everywhere else everyone fights me, for no reason. There’s no sense in it. But they want to fight me because I’m good. Because I’m a threat to them.”
“I still shudder to think that there are people out there that hate the good precisely because it’s good.”
“Believe it. Welcome to corporate America. I live it at Quentin.”
“Is Ellen like that?”
“Well, no, not to me, I’m her supervisor. It’s the other people that are at your level that you have to worry about. Other departments, they try to control your job, or take credit for your work, or try to say your work is under their supervision and they control what you do, even when they don’t. It’s a big power struggle. People search for power because they don’t have talent.”
“Are you talking about power or pull?”
Carter stopped to look at her when he heard that question. “I suppose pull is a better word. You have power. I have power. Those fools have pull.”
“Then if it’s just pull, why do they keep getting by, Carter?”
“Because they feed off the fallen,” Carter answered.
As they turned the corner, Tyler walked into them. “Oh, I’m sorry,” Tyler said, straightening his jacket. “You know, that Morton guy, he’s not so bad. I talked to him the whole time. I’m sure all of this will blow over. Talk to you later --” Tyler’s voice trailed off as the last words came out of his mouth and he walked down the hallway.
“Now he has pull and I hate it.”
“And because of it, you have to deal with him. But does he hate asking for your help?”
“Oh definitely. I give him Hell about it all the time.”
“I’m sure that’s not why he hates it, though. He hates it because he knows you’re the one with the real power. You’re the one that uses your brain to create, not manipulate. And there’s a part of him, a little part, a part he doesn’t want to acknowledge, but a part of him nonetheless, that is aware of that. That is why he hates having to ask for your help.”
“Because I’m the only one that can give him the help he needs?”
“You know it.” As Carter said those words she opened the door to her office and walked to her closet, opening the door. “Carter, could I just keep you here in my closet? I could pay you, I’m sure we could beat whatever Quentin is giving you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Your job would be to stay here in the closet, and when I open the door, you would come out and say something that would make me feel better about all of my problems.”
Carter started to laugh before she continued. “Then I’d say, ’Thank you, Mr. Donovan,’ and then you’d go back into the closet until I needed you again.” She closed the door of her office. “...Which would probably be five minutes later.”
“You don’t need me to remind you of the answers you already know.”
Dropping to her chair in her office, Sloane put her elbows on her desk and rubbed her head with her hands. “What are you thinking?” Carter finally asked.
Looking up through her fingers, she answered, “I’m thinking that I’ve got a press conference at five o’clock today. And Tyler is giving me my speech after lunch.”
“You’re not reading the drivel he wants you to spoon-feed to the public, are you?”
“Of course not. I wrote a statement yesterday. I’ll just have to splice it into his speech somewhere. Should make for an interesting afternoon.”
They sat in silence before she spoke again. “Did you call for your hotel?”
“Yes, I’ll get a cab from your place after work. I was hoping you would come visit, tell me how the press conference went. I figured you’d be dealing with work late, and you have the press conference when I should be at the hotel, so I could borrow your keys to get my things. If you want, you could visit straight after the press conference to get your keys, visit for a bit, eat or something, and then go home.”
“Fine.” Sloane opened her purse and found her keys and handed them over.
“Oh, and where do you keep your swimsuits?”
“What?” she yelped.
“You forgot about my Jacuzzi tub in the hotel room?”
“I’m not getting in some chemical-laced bacteria haven.”
“It’s my private bath.”
“... I don’t care.”
“Hey, it’s lunch time.”
“You can’t change the subject.”
“Yes I can. We need Ellen.”

After lunch Sloane got back to the office and worked in the laboratory with Kyle on the vaccine while everyone else worked on other tests for the integrase inhibitor as well as modifying Emivir and reducing side effects of the existing drugs. She enjoyed spending the afternoon in the lab, knowing there was a scientific way to test a theory to prove its validity. She enjoyed the accuracy and the ability to learn by testing.
Julie came up to her at two-thirty. “Your speech is here. Would you like it?”
“Yes, please.” Sloane took a break to see what parts of the speech she was willing to read and what parts would have to be cut. She printed out her notes and her statement she had written the day before and asked Julie to piece them together. She then went back to the lab.
Tyler told her they would leave the office for the press conference at around four-thirty. At four twenty-five she went to her office to collect her things. She saw a few sealed manila envelopes in her briefcase, and it made her think again of Shane.
Responding to the message he left over the weekend, she first called Steve.

“Steve, it’s Sloane. I hate to ask this, but I was wondering if you could do me a favor, if you have a safety deposit box to store some papers of mine. It’s not related to work, but I could really use the help. I’ll call you later, if that’s okay, and thanks.”

After she hung up the phone, she found a number written on top of her copy of the files. She dialed his home in Denver.
Only hearing “Hello?” made her hang up the phone without saying a word. She figured she must have dialed the wrong number; a strange man’s voice answered the phone. This stunned her.
As she let go of the receiver, Tyler came into her office. “Ready to go?”
Looking at her modified speech, she thought about the battle at hand. She took a deep breath. “Yes. Yes I am.”

The room was filled with chairs and reporters with tape recorders and note pads. Photographers stood along the walls. Television cameras lined the back of the room. She saw this from the side door, just as she was about to walk on stage. She had no idea the press conference would warrant this much coverage. She looked at the podium, which had over ten microphones attached.
Tyler was holding her shoulders. “Ready to go, tiger?”
Tyler was latching on to her, she thought. She hated him calling her ’tiger’, or latching on to her, and she consciously chose not to think of him.
Sloane stayed fixed on the podium. If the media wanted her, she thought, then she should be prepared to use them to her advantage. She needed them to help her get the government off her back. She kept saying to herself: this is going to work.
Tyler walked on stage and made a few opening remarks about his meeting with Jacob Morton. He stressed how everything is going well, how it is everyone’s goal to produce drugs that will help people, and that “we are all working toward this crucial goal together.”
Sloane tried to tune him out. “Stay fixed on the podium...”
Tyler mentioned to the audience that Sloane doesn’t usually make speeches. Oh, so now he’s buttering them up, she thought. Then she saw him walk off the stage as they applauded.
She walked up to the podium. She looked around the room. Everyone became silent, waiting for her to speak.

“Hello. I come to you here today to tell you two things.
“First, I come here today as a scientist to tell you about the work my staff has done. Since the release of Emivir we have worked on not only trying to improve the effectiveness of Emivir but to also come up with an integrase inhibitor -- a third drug to be used in AIDS cocktails to deal yet a more severe blow to the HIV virus in the human body. Because we had been working on ways to alter natural cells with Emivir, we are using previous tests and samples to come up with an effective integrase inhibitor -- possibly something more effective, because it is not entirely synthetic, like its predecessors.
In other words, we used old research in new ways. This is why we came up with these new possibilities so quickly.
“But I think that has already been reported on in the general media. If not, medical journals have printed our findings this week. The information is out there.
“We have also been looking into additional methods of helping the body fight AIDS -- more natural ways. That may sound like something a drug company wouldn’t promote, if it is something they can’t directly make money from, but coupling good habits with a good drug cocktail would help patients even more than taking the drugs alone. We have researched everything from exercise and weight lifting to yoga and meditation, along with vitamin supplements and diet changes. We have been compiling this data for a book, which should be printed in the next few months to help people fight this battle from every aspect they can, because half of the battle for a patient is showing people that they can do something about what is happening to them, to take control of their life. Combining these things can improve their chances of a healthier, longer life.
“But more than all of that, I come here today to talk to you as a citizen. A citizen of the United States of America. You see, that is something I’m proud to say, because this is currently the greatest country in the world. I’ve believed that all of my life. It was this country that laid the groundwork for property rights. It was the idea of owning what you earn that gave people the incentive to produce and excel, and vastly improve our standard of living -- for all people, all over the world, not just for the creators and producers. It was our Founding Fathers that said that they wanted a fair and just government, ruled by the people, for the people.
“And these are the things I believe in. I’m sure you all do too.
“That is why this is my favorite country in the whole world. Because I love my work. I love doing the research I do. I like using my mind, making something that people need and want. This is the country that lets me work, knowing that it is mine, and that I earned it.
“My staff has worked insanely long hours to accomplish what we have, and they are to be commended for it. We’ll all continue to work like this, because this is what drives us. And we didn’t do it for money, we didn’t even do it for the idea of the ’public good,’ although I have to admit, the work is that much more rewarding because people see that it is so needed. But the reason why we put in the long hours, the reason why we do this very difficult work, day in and day out, is because it’s who we are. It’s because we love the idea of doing something, making something, and having it be ours. Every reporter here in this room, every photographer, every cameraman, has to admit that they like the work, but they like their work, they like seeing their byline, not just because it gives them money or fame but because it is their name on their work. You deserve credit for the work you do. Every person out there, from the man at the car assembly line who checks the bolt for the left door hinge of the sedan model on the line to the real estate woman who sees her name on the sign in front of the house that she had just sold. To everyone out there. To everyone out there who loves their work. We like to see a job well done, and we like to know we did it.
“This is why plagiarism is illegal. This is why theft is illegal. Because in this country, you have a right to what you produce.
“Recently press releases from the U.S. Scientific Research Advancement Department have noted that Madison Pharmaceuticals, and my staff, have been working on our integrase inhibitors at the same time as they had been working on theirs. This is very possible, though I have noted from reading journals in the past months that nothing of their findings has even been acknowledged by any book, magazine, or public means.
“The recent government press releases, however, have implied that their work had been too similar to ours to be a coincidence. And to this I ask them to show me proof.
“The press releases from the U.S. Scientific Research Advancement Department state that they had been working on an integrase inhibitor for nearly a year, yet they have published no research reports in any medical or scientific journal. It may be possible that they did not publish anything about their research in the journals; but there was never even a mention of it in their almost daily press releases to the media in the past year as well.
“This concerns me, because they seem to imply that they have a problem with our research without showing us that they have even done any research in the same field in the first place.
“Neither I nor Madison Pharmaceuticals have spoken with anyone from the U.S. Scientific Research Advancement Department, even though they claimed to have talked to people at Madison in one of their recent press releases. Apparently they visited my laboratory today, attempting to open cabinets and ask questions about our research with no reason.
“This type of behavior from our government, our government, is not something that should be tolerated. This is supposed to be a government for the people, by the people.
“If the government has concern about whether or not someone’s work coincided with theirs, I believe they have to first prove that they were doing the work in question. If not, then there is an unacceptable amount of government intervention in the private market.
“Madison Pharmaceuticals has repeatedly done an excellent job at creating a good, reliable product for people -- the fact that our product sells proves it. We want to continue to do our work. We want to continue to create better and better medicines for patients who need them. We want to continue to fill an urgent medical need. And we want to continue to work, knowing that no one will stop us from doing our best.
“That is supposed to be the American Way. This is my way. This is your way. This is the way of everyone who has pride in their work. This is the way of every person in this room who likes to see their name next to their story.
“Because our love of knowing that we did the work is one of the things that makes us want to continue working. It is our love of having the right to what we produce and what we earn.
“A number of private companies have been working on integrase inhibitors over the past year and a half. And unlike the U.S. Scientific Research Advancement Department, the progress of private institutions is documented in press releases, news articles, medical journals and press conferences like this one. And no one from any private organization has complained that our work was too similar to theirs; not one private organization has asked to see our offices and expected us to comply. Only the government has the power to do this, if we choose to give it to them.
“Our government exists to protect us from the force of others. But who protects us from the force of a government gone out of control?
“There is no one to stop them but us. If we care about keeping what we produce and what we earn, then we are the ones that have to stand up for our rights.
“I choose to not give our government that much power. The more power you give someone who doesn’t deserve it, the more they will try to take.
“I choose to continue doing my work, because it is mine. I speak for my staff when I say that this is our work, and we will not give it away to someone who hasn’t earned it, simply because they make a claim with no evidence to back it up.
“I choose to let the government be accountable for what it does. I choose to not take orders from a government agency unless there is a reason I should. Without evidence that their claims are true, there is no reason why we should answer to the U.S. Scientific Research Advancement Department.” Not believing she read without interjection, Sloane stepped away from the microphone; she then leaned forward again. “Thank you.”
Leaning back one last time, she realized that she could’ve hear a pin drop. The room was silent. Usually reporters jumped up asking questions immediately after a speech, she knew this. She stood in silence and looked at the crowd.
She didn’t know what to do, so she turned and started to walk off the stage. Then she heard a reporter clapping. Then more joined in. She stopped before leaving, because the entire room was applauding her speech. She bowed her head and smiled, then turned for the side door. She didn’t look at Tyler as she passed him at the side of the stage.

Carter sat on the edge of his bed in his hotel room watching the evening news. He had a bottle of champagne chilling in an ice bucket on the dresser with two glasses. He intently watched the news; listening to highlights from her press conference.

“Our government exists to protect us from the force of others. But who protects us from the force of a government gone out of control? There is no one to stop them but us. If we care about keeping what we produce and what we earn, then we are the ones that have to stand up for our rights.”

He changed the channel and listened to the next news station.

“I choose to let the government be accountable for what it does. I choose to not take orders from a government agency unless there is a reason I should. Without evidence that their claims are true, there is no reason why we should answer to the U.S. Scientific Research Advancement Department.”

Carter laid down on the edge of his bed and started openly laughing with delight at the news coverage until he heard a knock on his door. He sprung up from his bed and ran to the door and opened it. Sloane stood in his doorway.
“Well?” She said as Carter looked at her.
Carter stepped out into the hallway, wrapped his arms around her waist, picked her up and started spinning in the hallway. Sloane laughed and screamed. “What are you doing? Put me down!” Carter laughed with Sloane and carried her into his hotel room. “What was that for?” Sloane asked as she got down and closed the hotel door.
“You know I just want to give you a big kiss right now...”
“Carter?”
“You know, to congratulate you. Because my darling, it was fantastic! The news is all over it, showing highlights on all the news stations.”
“They didn’t even ask me a single question, Carter. You know how they usually badger you with questions after your statement?”
“Yeah.”
“The reporters just waited for a moment, then applauded. So I just smiled and left.”
“They applauded? News reporters?”
“You’d think it was a speech to a graduating class, not a press conference.”
“Well, angel, you deserve a celebration. Hungry? Either way, want to go out or stay in?”
“Oh, I don’t want to move.”
“I’ll order something then.”
“I didn’t even speak to Tyler. I just walked right out. He’ll be furious.”
Three thoughts were racing through her mind: one was that she had finished a fantastic speech, and another was that the government will hate her now because of it, and that Carter just said he wanted to kiss her. She blocked Carter out of her head because he said it was to celebrate, and she let any thoughts go back to the speech.
Carter spoke as he poured champagne, “He’s going to have to love you. Everyone is raving about what you said, and everyone that hears the sound bites they’re playing tonight will be on your side. It was perfect.”
Her next step was to pull her speech out of her briefcase and threw it in the bed. “If you want to read the whole thing, there it is.”
“I’ll save it for the plane ride home tomorrow. Now,” Carter reached over to the top drawer of his dresser and pulled out a bright blue one-piece women’s swim suit, “would you like to go into the hot tub now, or would you like to wait until after dinner?”
“Carter, you went through my bedroom drawers?”
“I told you I was going to get a swim suit of yours. I was hoping for a two-piece suit.”
Sloane threw him a dirty look and took the second glass of champagne from his hand.
“Here’s to standing up for what you believe in,” Carter said.
“Here’s to getting the vaccine to work. Here’s to getting the proof I need.”
“That’s the key to believing, isn’t it?” Carter said, and they touched glasses before they drank together.


chapter10

The Whites in their Eyes

There were two reasons Sloane got into her office at seven Tuesday morning early. First, she printed two copies of the full essay that became a part of her speech. She wanted to give it to Carter, to get the opinion of an editor that she respected. Secondly, she wanted to work on the tests Kyle hadn’t finished her vaccine. When she arrived, she had to call Shane at home again.
“We’re sorry, but the number you have reached, three-zero-three, five-five-five, one-eight-four-three, has been disconnected.”
When Julie arrived to work, Sloane asked her to look up the address and phone number for the Energy Conservation Agency in Colorado Springs. Fifteen minutes later Julie produced a phone number.
“You know, Julie, you really have been a life saver.”
“What do you mean, Ms. Emerson?”
“I mean you’re more than just filling in with odd jobs. You’re a part of this team.”
“It’s been a pleasure to see you work,” Julie answered.
“Do you want to continue working here?”
“You mean after my contracted month is up? Well, I’d really enjoy it.”
“I’ll talk to some people here. We could really use it, and I’d hate to see you go.”
Julie smiled, knowing there was nothing she could say. She walked out of her office and closed the door behind her.
Going back to her desk with her speeches for Carter in her hand, she dialed the number for the Energy Conservation Agency.
“ECA, this is Maureen.”
“William Owens, please.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. Owens isn’t here.”
“Do you know when he will be back? I need to speak to him right away.”
“Who may I say is calling?”
All she could do was try to think of something to say. The pause in the conversation was almost imperceptible. “I’m a good friend of Mr. Owens.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Haven’t you heard?”
“No. What?”
“I hate to be the one to tell you this. Are you sitting down?” The receptionist paused.

“Mr. Owens died in a car accident Friday night. I’m terribly sorry.”
Sloane held the phone away from her ear for a brief moment. “I’m -- I’m calling from out of town. I didn’t know.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to have to tell you this news. Were you close to him?”
“Um, yes...” she said, still trying to think about what to say next. “Has any of his family been out there, you know, to take care of his things?”
“No, ma’am, no one has been out here. I don’t know if he had any family around here, actually.”
“Would it be okay if I came out there?”
“I don’t see why not, ma’am.”
“I can straighten up his things, make sure nothing happens to them... I can be there within a day.”
“Okay, I nobody is planning on going in there. Again, I’m sorry.”
“Thank you for telling me. Tell whomever needs to know that they don’t have to worry about cleaning out his office.”
“I will. I don’t know what else to say. I hope you are going to be okay. Good-bye.”
She knew that his dying was no ’accident’.
Acting on her first impulse, she found Julie and asked her to pull every news article on the accidental death of William Owens in Colorado Springs.
“When you get that, could you check to see if the plane is being used at all in the next day or two?”
“No problem, Ms. Emerson.”

###

Kyle got to Sloane immediately when she walked out into the lab with reports on the status of the vaccine tests.
“Kyle, you have a brother in the police force, don’t you?”
He was surprised that she asked him this before work. “Yes, why?”
“If I needed it done, is there any chance they could get their police artist to draw someone with a description I can give them?”
“I suppose, if they weren’t busy.”
“Would they be busy on a Tuesday morning? I suspect foul play in the death of a friend of mine. I saw someone following him and I want to get a police sketch of the person I saw. Could you give your brother a call and see if he could get their police artist to do this for me this morning?”
“Sure. I’ll call him now. You want to do it this morning? ... And I’m sorry to hear about your friend.”
“If it’s not hard for them to help, that would be great. And I just want to know what happened to my friend.”
“I’ll check.” Kyle handed her the reports. “By the way, I loved the news coverage of your press conference last night.” He walked to his desk.
Kyle was the seventh person to congratulate her on the press conference.
Tyler Gillian was one of the seven.
They were attempting different methods to inactivate the virus, with only nominal success. When one test failed, they at least had an idea of which direction to go in afterward. Sloane looked over the results in her office. Then her phone rang.
“Hello?”
“Ms. Emerson, it’s Julie. Tyler is here to see you.”
It comforted her that Julie knew that Sloane would not want to see him. “Tell him I’m in an important meeting and I will talk to him later.”
“I will, Ms. Emerson.” Julie hung up the phone before she had the chance to say thank you.
Sloane continued reading the reports. Although their last round of testing failed, early results made her think that they were on the right track. She started writing notes.
Kyle came in a few minutes later. “I talked to my brother, and he said it would be fine if you wanted to do that police sketch, there’s not much going on at the station.”
“Thank you so much, Kyle.” He handed her the address of the precinct his brother was working at. “I was looking over the test results, and noting how the virus reacted when they deactivated the protease enzyme, I think it would make more sense to work on deactivating the integrase enzyme. This way the virus would be able to spread in the body, but not destroy cells. Deactivating the transcriptase enzyme never allows the virus to get into the body in the first place -- and that’s exactly what we don’t want for a vaccine. Run these same tests while attacking the integrase enzyme.”
“Sounds good, chief.”
“And thank you so much for this, Kyle. I appreciate it.”
They walked out of the office together and Julie was standing at her door with a stack of paper in her hand. She looked at Sloane holding her coat and briefcase.
“I printed up everything I could get off the Internet about William Owens, Ms. Emerson.”
“Julie, you are an angel.”
Julie smiled.
“I have to go out for a meeting this morning. Did you find out about the plane?”
“Mr. Madison went to Los Angeles today and will be back from Los Angeles late tonight; then the plane is not slated for use until a week from Friday.”
Having to come up with a back-up plan, she asked, “Could you get me on it for a day trip to Denver tomorrow?”
“Consider it done.”
“And Julie -- Thanks for saving me from Tyler.”
“He doesn’t deserve to talk to you, Ms. Emerson. I saw the speech he wanted you to read, remember?”
Having to smile, she thought that she liked it when she met people who thought rationally. They were few and far between. “Well, thank you very much.”
They smiled and she continued to walk out to the laboratory with Kyle.
“I’ll be back later this afternoon, Kyle.”
“Your tests should be under way by then. And was Owens the friend?”
Realizing that he caught her mentioning his name a moment ago., she responded “Yes, but please, not another word about Owens.” She paused before asking, “And do you think we’re on the right track with the integrase enzyme?”
“Actually, your idea about deactivating the integrase enzyme makes complete sense. We’ll see how it works.”
They said their good-byes to each other and she left the office.
The first place she went to was a gun shop. Since there was a waiting period of seven days, she placed her request for a handgun and filled out the appropriate paperwork. Then she left for the police station.
Detective Mackenzie showed her to Larry, their police artist. After explaining that her request was on more of a hunch, she described the man she saw outside the coffee shop in Colorado Springs in detail, then continued to work with Larry for two hours until he had a pretty good drawing of the man. She asked them to run off a few copies of the drawing for her to keep.
“Is it possible to do a computer search for similarities on this drawing in your databases?” she asked Detective Larry Scheinlin.
“You know, if you asked me that six months ago, I would have said no, but we got this new computer system in that hooks us up to national criminal databases as well as local ones. It’s been a pain to learn a new computer system in this precinct, though.”
Larry searched in every database to attempt to find a match for her drawing, but it turned up nothing. Then she asked if it would be possible to crosscheck this image with a database of government employees.
“We can’t do that here,” Detective Scheinlin told her. “Besides, you’re looking for a criminal, right? Why would you want to look at a government employee database?”
“Oh, I was just curious,” she answered.

One copy of the drawing was placed in her safe deposit box with her Shane files. Then she stopped by the University and asked both her father and Toby Graham to keep copies of her sealed files in a safe place. Toby said he had a safe deposit box he could put them in. Steven Emerson said he had a safe in his office that he could keep the file in for her. She didn’t know who else to ask; all she could think was that she needed to give copies of the files to someone.
Both her father and Toby wanted to know what they were holding on to for her. She wouldn’t tell them; she asked them to trust her.
Each of them shrugged their shoulders and agreed to comply.
Sloane made it back to the office just before one in the afternoon. Julie approached her first.
“Ms. Emerson, Mr. Donovan wanted to take you out to lunch before his flight left.”
The fact that Carter was still working at her office building completely escaped her for the moment. He was in the conference room with Ellen Bailey right then and there, so she turned around and walked to the conference room and knocked on the door before entering the room.
Her hands were full then with a sealed envelope and her essay in her hand as she got to the conference room. “I’m sorry my meetings took so long,” she said as Carter looked up from his papers at her. “What time does your plane leave?”
“Four-thirty.” Carter stood up and walked to the door before turning around to look at Ellen. “Are you sure you don’t want anything for lunch?”
“I had a huge breakfast. I’m fine. Thanks.”
“I’ll be back in a while, then.”
Carter closed the door and walked down the hallways with her.
“It’s a shame you had to leave so early last night,” Carter said as they walked out of the office building. “I was still hoping to get the chance to get you in the hot tub.”
“Why on earth would you want to do that?”
“You need to relax. Maybe a hot tub was what you needed.”
“Carter, you know me, I can’t relax. I get antsy. I fidget. Besides, I had work to do. I did want to give you this before you left, though --” as she handed him the sealed envelope -- “so you had something to read on your own on the other side of the country.” Carter looked confused, so she continued. “I gave you my speech before, but I wrote more extensively on it that same night, and I thought --”
“You wanted me to proofread it?”
“Carter, I know you’re a better writer than me, and I respect your opinion. So I thought you’d like to read it.” She handed him the envelope.
“If it is as good as your speech, it could be a good closing for the book.”
“I doubt that, Carter, but I guess that’s why you are in your business, thinking that way.”
During lunch they discussed the release dates of their book, ’Winning the War From the Inside,’ and Carter estimated the printing schedule for her so that she would know when to get to Ohio to watch the press check before her books printed. Carter assured that Quentin Publishing could get her a flight and she could meet him in Ohio.
When they returned from lunch she said her good-bye to him as a friend before they got to the rest of the office staff.
“It’s been nice having you around, Carter.”
“It’s been nice seeing where you work. Hope I wasn’t too much of an inconvenience.”
“Of course not.”
They looked at each other in the hallway. Carter reached over and gave her a hug. Wanting to with him, she also wanted to avoid him so she could be safe, she wondered and didn’t know why they looked at each other for that moment. Almost relieved to say good-bye to him, she asked Howard make sure that Mr. Donovan and Ms. Bailey got out to the airport on time. It allowed her to focus on her work, even if it would only be for a brief period of time before she went back to Colorado Springs.
She checked with Julie about the time she was to leave the next morning for her flight. Afterward, she went into the lab and met up with Kyle to work on lab tests for the vaccine the rest of the afternoon.
At eight o’clock she stepped outside the office and walked to her car. Her car was parked in the middle of the vast parking lot, where only a small fraction of the cars remained parked there. She walked alone outside, listening to the sound of her heels clicking on the concrete below her, and she started walking faster. She had no reason to believe anyone was around her, but while she was alone there in the dark outside she gained an immense fear of being killed there. She imagined someone walking right up along her side, pointing a gun to her ribs while walking with her. But she knew that someone would have killed her immediately, the way they may have killed Shane. She knew that if anyone from the government came for her that they would not kill her; her pain and torture would be much slower than a bullet in the head or the chest.

###

Leaving her apartment for the airport at six in the morning, she looked at her apartment for one brief moment before she closed the door behind her. She wanted to look at her home, wondering whether or not it would be the last time she saw it. She knew she had no reason to worry, but still she took one good look around her living room before she left.
At seven-thirty in the morning she stood outside Madison’s plane while Jim made sure everything was in order. When she got on the plane she didn’t wait for take-off to get her notes out on the vaccine and continue working on her ideas. When Jim announced over the intercom that they were landing in twenty minutes, she pulled out her copy of the Shane file and started going over the paperwork. She glanced again at the police rendering of the man she had seen outside the Mountain Ridge Coffee Shop.
The taxi pulled up to the Energy Conservation Agency in Colorado Springs at 10:30 in the morning. She walked through the main doors and found a woman sitting behind a large, circular desk.
“Hello. May I help you?” the woman asked.
“Is your name Maureen?”
“Yes, it is. And you are?”
I’m a friend of Bill Owens. I spoke with you on the phone yesterday.”
Maureen stood up. She was a short blonde; she was barely five feet tall. “Oh, yes, I’m sorry, and your name was?”
Sloane tried to think of a name quickly. “Evelyn.” She couldn’t believe she was using her middle name.
“Evelyn, if you’d like to sit over there --” she pointed to the row of chairs along the wall at the left side of the room.
“You can call me Eve, though,” she said, “that’s what everyone calls me.”
“Like Adam and Eve?”
“Yes, like sin-free until she took a bite of the apple. I’ve heard them all.”
“Okay. I’ll get someone here right away to show you to his office. Again, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings.”
“Don’t worry about that. I’m just glad I called when I did, or I might not have found out about this until weeks from now.” Sloane tried to look distraught, but consoled by Maureen’s condolences.
She thought it was fitting that she had stated on the fly that she had eaten from the Tree of Knowledge. Then she sat down in a chair and looked over at the newspapers. She decided it would be best not to look at them, but to just sit and try to look despondent until someone arrived to show her to Shane’s office.
After ten minutes a tall thin gentleman in his mid-forties walked out into the lobby and Maureen pointed her out to him. The man walked over and extended his hand, trying to smile.
“How do you do, I’m Eric,” the man said to her as she stood up to meet him. “I can get you anything you need... would you like to go back now, or would you like some coffee or something?”
“Oh, no, I’m fine. I’d just like to get this over with. It’s strange, being here, having to do this.”
“I know, this was such a tragic accident.”
“Do you know how it happened? I only heard about it through the receptionist; I’m not from around here.”
“Oh well, he was out driving late Friday night, or I guess it was early Saturday morning, and a driver just hit him and drove off. Even though the roads here are really hilly, the police assume the driver of the other car was drunk. No one witnessed the accident.”
They walked through the long corridors together toward Shane’s office.
“I know, everyone around here wishes they knew who did it, so that justice could be served.”
“Were you good friends with Bill?” Sloane asked.
“Well, not really, I guess, Bill kind of kept to himself. He was actually stationed here for years, but he was doing special projects work that wasn’t in my department... It seems that no one here really knew him too well, but you know, you still hate to see something like that happen.”
“I know what you mean.”
“We’re just glad you happened to call. Some government officials came here Monday morning and taped the door shut to his office, so it made me wonder if there was something wrong. But at least someone can go in there and clean up his personal belongings, make sure everything is on order.”
“You said some officials were here?”
“Yes.”
“Were they policemen?”
“No, they looked like -- well, businessmen, really. They were government officials, I figured they were working on the same projects he was working on with water reclamation, and they just wanted to keep people out of there until they could go through his work records.”
“Have they looked through his office?”
“No, not yet. I don’t know when they plan to.” As Eric said those last words they stopped in front of a closed door with tape from frame edge to edge near the doorknob. A small metal sign was at eye-level on the door; it said ’W. Owens.’
Eric pulled the tape off the doorframe and opened the door for her. She walked inside his office and then turned back to Eric.
“I can leave you here while you collect his things, Miss --?”
Unable to think of a last name, she came up with a response as quickly as she could. “Eve, please call me Eve. And, um, I can do this on my own if you have work to do.”
“Okay, but I’ll be right down the hall if you need anything.”
“Thank you very much, Eric. You’ve been very helpful.”
Eric smiled and closed the door behind him.
Sloane looked around the room. She noticed plaques framed along the walls, a few books on the shelves, and two computers on his large desk. He had six four-drawer filing cabinets along one wall of his office.
All she had to do was walk over and sit at his desk. She couldn’t believe it was this easy to get into Shane’s office. She wondered if agents had already rifled through his things and took any information that she might have found useful.
Then again, if no one had cleared out his office by this time, maybe he really was some harmless Energy Conservation Agency cog, making up the entire story he had told her.
She turned on his computer and it immediately asked for a password. She tried to run on instinct and typed in
SHANE
And hit Enter. Nothing.
WILSON
Nothing.
Straining at other variations of his name, nothing she typed in worked out. Then she looked around the room for icons, tried them. Nothing. Then she typed in
AIDS
Nothing. Then she hesitated, and then typed in
CURE
And “Access Granted” appeared on her screen. Seconds later a main page for the CIA appeared on her screen. She had no idea she was logging into the CIA’s network. She attempted to access the database of government employees, but it wanted a referent image, so she opened the lid of the small flatbed scanner next to the computer and scanned the drawing she had come up with yesterday. She watched the light of the scanner move slowly across the image. She waited. After typing in possible locations, it generated no names from the CIA database. It then asked her if she wanted to do an “Advanced Search.”
One single click led to “Yes.”
The computer was processing, so she decided to pick up one of the boxes that Eric placed on the floor for her and started taking his plaques off the walls. She figured that she better actually clean the place of his belongings, or else she would look suspicious.
The computer was still processing her request.
The snow globe off of his desk went it in the box. She noticed that he had no photographs on his desk or in his office.
When she checked the screen it had changed again. She sat down. The computer found three officials in the Department of Defense that may have been matches for the scanned image. Sloane looked at the first one, then the second. She was sure the second person was a match for whom she saw at the coffee shop.
Any information she could collect on this mystery man was instantly printed, then she got off line and continued putting his belongings in boxes, starting to put his files into boxes as well, trying to look through them as she did.
Eric saw her out of the office three hours after she had arrived. She told him she could bring Bill Owen’s personal effects back to his apartment, though she didn’t even have his home address, or if he’d prefer, she could leave them here for family to pick up. Eric thought that she shouldn’t have to carry the boxes with her to Bill’s apartment if she didn’t have to. So she took her briefcase, stuffed with file folders from the office of William Owens.

###

Once she was away from the pressure of being inconspicuous and not getting caught in his office, she leaned back in her seat, listening to the roar of the engine. After she felt the now familiar speed and lift of the plane she rolled her head toward the window of the Madison Pharmaceuticals private plane. She watched the trees blend into one another along the still snow-capped mountains. The details on the ground became smaller and smaller as the plane rose up toward a layer of clouds that looked like a sheet of cotton balls in the sky.
The plane entered the cloud layer and her seat was slightly jostled with the turbulence. She took a slight gasp for air and held her breath until the plane flew out over the sheet of cotton.
It amazed her to see the sky from her cabin window, and see a layer of clouds that looked like a floor. She stared for a moment, then finally turned to the files she had taken from Shane’s office and started reading, trying to find any information that could help her out in her search.
When she got into the airport she started walking down the terminal when she noticed all the security in the hallways. She knew it had always there before; she took for granted there were people who searched you at every chance possible. Checking for metal on your body. Putting your belongings through an x-ray. Asking you if you have been in possession of your luggage at the airport at all times.
For the first time in an airport, she looked around at the security guards who watched over the terminals and suddenly felt a wave of fear, like the panic she felt when she left her office the night before and walked to her car by herself, alone in the dark at night. This time, any guard could take her into custody, by request from any federal government agency, and no one in the terminal would question it. She could be taken away in broad daylight and no one would stop to help her.
She quickened her pace.
At this point anyone from the CIA or the DOD would know that Shane Wilson’s password had been used after his death in Colorado Springs. With a brief description from Maureen or Eric from the Energy Conservation Agency -- along with her middle name as an alias -- she could be easily tracked down.
No one stopped her, though. Did they didn’t notice, or could they somehow see that nothing confidential was tracked? Maybe, she thought, it was another agency in the government that had stopped at the office and they did not even know that he wasn’t alive. She didn’t know what to think, and she knew she had nothing to go on. She didn’t think she had enough information, so she couldn’t try to go public with what little knowledge she had and expose the government before they tried to stop her. All she could do was wait until she saw the whites in their eyes before making her move.
She decided she had to call her contact, Clint Saunders.
Going home, she tried to sleep off her fear. She had no memory of her nightmares she was having when she woke up Wednesday morning.
Wednesday morning she called Washington D.C. as soon as she arrived in her office. She listened to the phone ring and waited.
“Department of Defense, biochemicals.”
“Clint Saunders please.”
“One moment.”
Sloane was put on hold. She waited.
“He’s not taking phone calls right now, would you like his voice mail?”
“Yes, please.”
“Please hold.”
“You have reached the voice mail box of Mister Clint Saunders. After the tone please leave a message, or press pound for more options.”
“Hello. You don’t know who I am, but Shane Wilson -- Bill Owens -- gave me your number to call if I needed anything from you. I don’t know if you heard about Shane’s death, but I need to talk to you right away, if possible. Please call me at two oh six, five five five, one five one nine. Ask for Ms. Emerson. Again, it’s urgent, and thank you.”
Sloane slowly hung up the phone.
She walked out of her office and turned to Julie. “Julie, if a man calls for me by the name of Clint Saunders, could you please let me know? I’m waiting for a call from him.”
“No problem.”
Remembering that Julie should be kept on full-time, she left a message with Colin about keeping her, and then walked out to the lab.

The next week at the lab she worked on her vaccine, with the help of Kyle and Howard. They were making good progress, faster than they expected, and the mid point results from their clinical trial for AIDS and homeopathy had returned and people in the study were doing remarkably well. Things seemed to be going without a hitch.
All she could do was try to work in the lab; she hadn’t had the chance to work in the lab lately and needed to be surrounded by her work. Clint didn’t call her. She thought mentioning Shane’s name should have been enough.
The next Monday she picked up the gun she ordered the week before. She found a range to practice at and went Monday night. They gave her glasses and headphones and an instructor told her to stand with her feet apart and brace herself. They told her to brace her shooting arm with her other hand under the gun. She stared at the paper silhouette of a man with concentric rings around his heart.
She held her breath when she fired her first shot. She thought the kick of the gun would be stronger than it was, and she was surprised -- she had never used a gun before and had no idea of how it would feel. The shock of the crack of the gun firing made her jump more than the actual force of the handgun being fired.
The instructor left her after she fired her first round and was reloading her gun. She pressed the button so the target would move up to her for inspection. She fired terribly. She purchased a few boxes of bullets and a small stack of targets, and practiced for almost two hours.
By the end of the evening her aim had improved - she had practiced firing with one hand and then the other. She also practiced her speed at lifting the gun and firing, so see how much time she needed to aim before firing.
By the time she got home it was after ten in the evening.
Her apartment looked too dark. She immediately turned on all of the lights.
Everything seemed like a potential threat to her. She got nervous when she was walking alone or driving her car, or when she first entered her apartment. Sometimes she’d check all the rooms before deciding to settle down for the evening.
After practicing at the range she was too wired, so she sat down at her computer.

* If we could generate estimates of how HIV usually mutates in the body based on past records, we might be able to create a drug that can recognize the mutations and attack them all. Or maybe the drug would be an injection of engineered cells that could actually mutate the way HIV would, to change while the virus changes, and then be able to stop it.
* A better idea would be to find the base structure of the virus, the base all of the mutations had in common, and create a drug that could beat it at its base level, at the core. That may be the only way we can get this taken care of for good.

After she thought of this, Shane told her that a cure was created, before it had mutated, by using a pure form of the virus. She brainstormed for ways to estimate what the original virus looked like; the only possibility she could think of was generating a computer model of the behaviors of the HIV virus. If a computer program could generate the average ways the virus currently mutates, given a general sample of the virus, the reverse engineering may be able to reverse the process to generate possibilities of how the virus mutated into this original form. She pondered this idea while she wrote notes on how a single injection could attack the virus in the body. “It would have to be a virus as well,” she noted on her computer, “but one that attacked only HIV infected cells in the body. One that attacked powerfully but had a short life-span.” She looked back at her notes before she turned off her lights and went to bed.

Tuesday morning Carter got back from a meeting with Ellen Bailey to check on the progress of the editing. She had given the design department a rough version of the text last Friday so they could flow it into pages and see the approximate length of the book. If anyone was interested in theories on artwork for any of the sections, they could have the rough manuscript for a springboard for ideas. This morning she had finished the editing of the book and had given the design department the entire manuscript on the computer for them to work on. They had been working on cover art and typeface choices for the past week, now it was just a matter of scrolling in the type and getting rid of widows and bad hyphenation. Both a hard cover and a paperback version were scheduled to be sent to the printer a week from Friday; after generating film for the pages the press would be ready to start printing two weeks from today. Carter had his secretary reserve a flight for her from Tuesday morning, returning Wednesday night, and called her to confirm that traveling on those dates would be okay.
He picked up the phone and dialed her number at work; at this point he had her phone number memorized.
“This is Sloane.”
“HI, it’s Carter.”
“Well, hello, Carter, how are you?”
“Just fine, and yourself?”
“Oh, I’m handling everything.”
“I didn’t ask if you were handling everything.”
“Everything appears to be under control. How is the book?”
“Ellen finished editing it and it is in production now. You sure you don’t need to see a copy of the manuscript before it goes to press?”
“You talked with Ellen -- did she change the style of the text?”
“No, just a few typos and run on sentences, grammatical things.”
“Then it should be fine. Let’s just get it done.”
Carter was amazed that she didn’t need to see the book before it went off to print. He was used to people demanding to make multiple changes once the book was designed and edited and ready to print, costing time and money. He wasn’t used to trust or efficiency.
“The schedule is to send the book to the printer a week from Friday, which means it will be printing in a few weeks. I set up a flight for you from this Tuesday morning, returning Wednesday night before it prints, so there’s only a one-night hotel stay. Is that okay with you?”
Checking with her desk calendar, she answered, “That’s fine with me.”
He told her he’d fax the details of her flight itinerary and her hotel reservations to her and they said their goodbye to each other.
She knew she was trying to repress what she felt for him; she knew in the back of her mind that she was falling in love with Carter Donovan. But they were only friends, Carter had never expressed any interest in her; besides, they lived too far away to attempt a relationship. She knew she was avoiding thinking about Carter, but she felt that she had too much other work to focus on and couldn’t let herself be distracted.
She wanted to tell him everything that was going on with her. She wanted to tell him about Shane and what was in those files.
If all of that information was true, she would be putting Carter at risk by telling him as well. And she didn’t even know if any of the data she was given meant anything.
It had been over a week since she had called for Clint Saunders and he never called her back. She looked up his number in her file and called Washington again.
“Department of Defense, biochemicals.”
“Clint Saunders please.”
“One moment.”
Sloane was put on hold. She waited.
“He’s not available right now, would you like his voice mail?”
“I have an urgent message for him. Is he checking his messages?”
“I believe he is.”
“Then yes, his voice mail, please.”
“Please hold.”
“You have reached the voice mail box of Mister Clint Saunders. After the tone please leave a message, or press pound for more options.”
“Hello. I called you last week with an urgent matter and I have been waiting for you to return my call. Shane Wilson referred me to you, and now he is dead. Plainly put, I need your help. I would hate to have the information I possess fall into the wrong hands. Please call two oh six, five five five, one five one nine, and ask for Ms. Emerson. If you need to contact me in the evening, call two oh six, five five five nine nine oh two. I’ll expect to hear from you some time today. Thank you.”
She hung up the phone, wondering if she had been too strict on the phone. She wondered if she sounded like she was blackmailing him by saying the data may “fall into the wrong hands,” but she didn’t know what other tactic to use to get this man to call her back.
For the next three days she waited for a return call and never received one. She continued to work on the vaccine test with Kyle, and at one point asked them what they thought about her computer-generated HIV simulation idea.
“Sounds like it might work, but you don’t know for sure, and it would cost a ton of money and a ton of time to get someone in the industry to help you with the computer technology to make it happen.”
“Yeah, I don’t think you’ll get the financial support for a project that big, when you have no idea if it works, even if it went off without a hitch.”
Maybe she should approach software companies independently. If they’d like the exposure to helping a good cause they may be willing too offset the costs. It was an option to keep on the back burner.
At the same time she didn’t know if she was grasping at straws to keep herself immersed too deep in her work to avoid thinking about all of the other problems she could be facing.
Not knowing where to go next with her theory on how to go about looking for a cure, she decided to concentrate her efforts on the vaccine.
By the end of the week she was exhausted from the hours she was putting in, but she felt relieved that she was at least able to get her mind off of the things she could not control and on to a track that might result in a vaccine within a year.
When she got home from work Friday night, she dropped her keys on the cocktail table and saw a light flashing on her answering machine. She pressed the button in the darkness of her apartment while she took her coat off.

“HI, it’s Steve. You said you needed something, and because I’m an idiot, I thought I’d be nice and say that I can hold what you need in my safety deposit box. I’ll be going out tonight, so I’ll stop by at about nine if you’re there to pick up what you need held. Thanks.”

She felt relieved that she would have someone else to hold the file information for her. She will stress the secrecy to him when she saw him. Looking at her watch, she noted that it was almost nine, so she listened to the last message on her machine.

“Ms. Emerson. This is Clint Saunders. I don’t know what information you have. In the future I will contact you. Yes, I know about Shane’s death. It was a terrible tragedy. I think I know what is going on, and if I can help you, I will let you know. Do not try to contact me again. I will get a hold of you when the time is right.”

Turning on the light in her living room, she rewound the tape to listen to Mr. Saunders’ message again. She had no idea what it meant, or what was going to happen. She still had no idea what she was getting into, and it disturbed her more and more. All she knew was that these men were making her play a waiting game.
Then her doorbell rang. She went to the door and asked who it was, Hearing Steve’s voice, she opened the door and let him in.
“This better be good,” he said. “You tried to make me feel like shit before.”
“I was just wondering if you could store some paperwork for me, if you don’t mind doing it, it doesn’t take up that much space in a safety deposit box, and I don’t want anyone to know about you holding this for me, if that is okay, especially Kyle, because it’s not related to the work we’re doing, and -- did I really make you feel like shit?”
“Give me a break, I was getting to like you, not in the way I usually get, and I didn’t need you giving me that kind of treatment, making me feel like this meant nothing to you.”
“Did you want your affection to mean something to me? I mean, I can’t imagine you think that way with every woman you pick up.”
“Hey, I don’t pick up a ton of women,” he said, knowing in the back of his head that he was lying, “and I like the fact that you’re so damn smart, and I would have liked it if you would get to know me and like me, but you are thinking of me as a piece of meat.”
“Oh, that doesn’t sound sexist, Steve. Are you a man-hating feminist?”
“No ... but at this point I wanted to just be able to forget about all of this, and then you call me and ask a favor, and I have to accept.”
“Well, you don’t have to.”
“You know that line has to be incentive for me to help you now. Just give me the envelope. I can leave it in my trunk and bring it to my security deposit box tomorrow.”
Giving him the envelope, she thanked him and said, “I didn’t hate you, Steve. You’re a good guy. I mean Hell, I wouldn’t have kissed someone I didn’t like in the first place.”
Steve just looked at her, and it was almost as if her words were softening him to her again. “Steve, I don’t like having enemies,” she continued, “and I know I’m not a social creature, but I’d like to be able to think you’re there for me -- and that I am there for you.”
Steve looked down after hearing her words, then looked back to answer, “So I get to be your sounding board if you want to talk to me about problems?”
“The point was that I could be there for you as well, Steve.”
“You don’t play fair, but you know that I will always be there for you. And do you mean it when you say you’d be there for me?”
“Steve, I flew across the country to talk to a friend in Miami for a night because he was having troubles. You don’t think I’d make the effort to be there for you?”
“You flew across the country to see a guy, you’re making this offer to me... How many men do you do this to?”
“Steve, I’m just trying to let you know that I’d be there for you if you needed it. And thank you for being there for me.”
She leaned over to Steve and lightly kissed him on the cheek as they stood at his door. He wanted to kiss her then and there so badly, but knew he’d only cause another fiasco if he did. He wrapped his arms around her to give her a hug.
“Good luck tonight,” she said.
Steve started to pull away as he responded, “Good luck with what? ... It’s not like I could possibly meet anyone anyway.”
“Isn’t that what you’re going out for?” she asked.
“Nothing will compare to you,” Steve said under his breath before he spoke up again, “I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just go home tonight.”
“I didn’t mean to get you out of going out.”
“I know, but you’re a dangerous woman--”
“What does that mean? I don’t do anything.”
“I know you don’t. You don’t do it intentionally. That’s what makes you so dangerous.” Steve didn’t explain it any further as he started to walk out the open door. “I’ll be at home if you want to call to talk,” he said as he walked away.
“Well, if you need to talk, you know my number,” she answered smiling as he walked toward his car.
Working through the night, she even thought of calling Steve just to hear the sound of his voice. But she worked through the entire weekend, trying to focus on her vaccine research. They thought they might be able to have a working vaccine to test, but no one was sure.
Besides, who would want to inject a form of HIV into their bodies, even if they were assured it was harmless? Who knew what effects it might have on them? In some tests on monkeys, the females were immune but their children had HIV and it immediately turned into full-blown AIDS. No one would know what effect this vaccine might have on people.
And who would be willing to take that risk?
The researchers at Madison couldn’t stop to think of these things as they were working on the tests, though. They had to work, strive toward their goal, and do their best to come up with the answers.

###

Sloane left her gun in the safe behind her desk at the office when she went home Monday night; she knew she wouldn’t be able to take it on the plane with her to Ohio. She typed a letter to Colin about keeping Julie on full-time and put it in his mailbox before she left the office. After working for so long on the vaccine, trying to keep her mind off of everything else, she realized she had to pack to see Carter again.


click here for part two of The Key To Believing


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