Chapter Eighteen: The Chocolate-Coated Pill
It is said, architecturally, pharmaceutical buildings tend to be as futuristically constructed, and as pristine as the laboratories they encapsulate. That is to say to those fortunate to have caught a glimpse of these fine, magnificent, feats of engineering. What the rest of society are privy to, however, is a whole other matter entirely. For as far as reality goes, members of the general public are typically met with guillotine-style barriers which are stationed closer to the road, than the actual properties they are guarding. Anyone who happens to pass these barricaded passageways would have to walk a tightrope across the limited strip of pavement made available to them.
The sentiment is loud and clear:
‘Under no uncertain terms should you ever forget that you are not welcome here.’
The remote compositions of these buildings are, of course, no accident. The directorial powers that be do not want anyone sauntering in off the streets to disrupt or to steal any of their hard work, or in the worst case scenario, leak their secrets to the rest of the world. Needless to say for these pharmaceutical giants, security - is paramount!
The pharmaceutical giants of today are epitomized by cutting-edge designs. However the executives at Diligence Biopharmaceuticals have chosen something, altogether, a little different for themselves. This highly sophisticated outfit has absolutely no desire to make their presence known to the general public. Well, not in a visual sense. Diligence - as they are commonly referred to - is a covert establishment. And like most elite circles, the power behind such secrecy is astonishing.
Headquartered in picturesque Geneva, Diligence draws little attention to itself and even fewer visitors.
For a company of this prominence surveillance is somewhat scarce. In fact, there are no guards on lookout, only one senior citizen ready to assist individuals waiting to enter the luscious country grounds.
With due consideration, the red-bricked estate was more like a place of residence, than an institution. But its stately façade sheltered one of the most advanced laboratories ever built in the 20st century. Inside rows and rows of anaerobic cabinets immaculately gleamed and shone like tiny soldiers made of steel.
Although located in spacious grounds, there were not that many employees that worked on the site. The international mix of biotechnologists, chemical engineers, biologists and geneticists, were all sectioned into small groups and confined to various parts of the building.
All the same, the great minds who worked for Diligence had very little to complain about. They were paid exceedingly well for the job that they did, and worked in very agreeable conditions. There were no synthetically designated communal green areas for these bright minds. Oh no. They were in Geneva now. The nature that surrounded them here was completely authentic. Every day, as they looked out of their expansive screen windows, the employees of Diligence were gifted with the humbling sight of Mont Blanc, the cool serenity of Lake Geneva, and the snow-dusted caps of the great Swiss Alps. And in the grounds enjoying a late morning coffee sat two men and a woman. They were discussing matters taking place many, many miles away from where they were sitting. They were going to talk about a large hospital in the London’s East End. But first, they started with the most pressing topic of the day…
“All those years of research have finally paid off!” the balding man clapped his hands together as he said this. The white tufts of hair, at either side of his head, made the tanned skin in the middle appear even darker. “I can’t begin to articulate my relief…Actually, I don’t just speak for myself,” he paused giving a slight nod to his wife who was sat to the right of him. “I think I speak for everyone here. The findings from the ERS Report are our greatest achievement yet, wouldn’t you agree Bernard?”
The man he directed the question to, raised a bushy eyebrow. He didn’t say anything right away he only smiled. “Yes, yes, that’s right Professor,” he eventually replied with a hint of a German accent, which he acquired from the place where he was educated. He, himself, was from Slovenia. “But this is only because the world’s largest multinational food and beverage company has acquired the patent for it.” He chuckled as he stooped to take another sip of his espresso. “I know this deal has generated a vast amount of money for the company but let’s put money aside, shall we? Yes I agree, the ERS study did unearth some interesting findings, many of which we had always suspected all along. But to call this the biomedical breakthrough of this century…” He grinned and slowly shook his head, “I don’t believe it is. I think our best work is still to come.”
The Professor casually smiled back at his companion. He sagely nodded as though contemplating what his colleague had just yet. “Yes. You are quite right Bernard,” he replied after a time. “I don’t know what on earth has got into me? I think I’m getting impatient in my old age.”
All of them - including the Professor – laughed at this self-effacing comment. It was far from true. The Professor had always been an impatient man.
Bernard, who was in his late fifties, was the youngest of the three of them. He ground out his cigarette and continued with his run-down of the list he was reading off. “Just to inform you, we’ve received the results back from our HIV vaccination field trials in DRC - Congo,” he quickly clarified. “The results are very positive indeed. It turns out this batch is more dynamic than the Lockland Cure of ’98.” He paused before slyly adding, “But Elias,” he referred to the Professor by his first name, “you knew it would be.”
“Yes Bernard,” the Professor grinned back, “but we’re going to have to put a lid on it for now,” he cautioned. “We don’t need this getting out, especially since we’ve just patented the latest batch of anti-retro virals.”
“No problem.” Bernard understood implicitly. “And what about the test results from our cancer research trials? Again, they were very positive. Full recovery estimated within four weeks from the detection of the disease.”
“Bury it!” The Professor’s response was gruff and precise. “Again, we can’t have this cure getting out at this moment. As we speak, our advanced chemo treatments are literally being shipped to the four corners of the world.” His cobalt blue eyes were fixed sternly on the ground. “We can’t afford to let this slip by like some of the others. We need to leave enough of time to formulate a solid financial strategy. The potential profits from this project will be unimaginable - we couldn’t print money faster than this!” He smiled and clicked his fingers. “After this meeting get Clive on the phone. We’ll need to brief him and the rest of the board. But for now…” he warned “…no popping the champagne corks just yet. Nothing gets out until further notice.”
“We have another order from one of our loyal clients,” Bernard looked at the professor with smiling eyes.
The professor nodded, “Our friends from the east?”
“Yes. Can you believe they’re asking for more Ferronium?”
“More? What do you suppose they’re doing with it?”
“I don’t know,” Bernard answered, “but I could always find out.”
“Oh, what is it to us!” the professor shrugged looking away. “We’ve been searching for ways to offload this drug for some time now. What is Ferronium? If not a tonic with less healing properties than tap water.”
“But it’s cheaper to harvest than water”
The professor laughed, “That it is Bernard. That it is. Nevertheless put this order through. Let them know there’s going to be a slight increase in the price, due to import taxes and the rest. They’ll pay. They always do.” The Professor cleared his throat. “And just before we wrap up, what news is there of our Alpha stem cell study?”
Bernard shifted in his chair. “Yes…Ermm…About that,” he mumbled. He looked at the Professor. “I was going to bring this up, actually…One of our operatives in London, Richard Lawson, he’s a little uncomfortable with the media attention his hospital is currently attracting, at present.” Bernard slowed down. “Naturally, this could shine a spotlight on the work he’s doing for us at the mo…”
“I do believe the candidates we selected were well aware of the risks,” the professor cut in. He was not impressed. “If my memory serves me correctly all, but one, said they were ready for the task,” he breathed. “Tell me Bernard. Your fellow in London isn’t getting cold feet now, is he? Not when we’re nearing our target.” The Professor levelled his piercing blue eyes at his colleague. They were quite clear for a man of his advancing years. He had the look of a dolphin; soft and kind. But these were just eyes, there was nothing remotely congenial about the man.
The Professor continued. “A doctor of his, said, capabilities should be able work well under pressure. Whatever that pressure maybe…What it is Bernard? Is it more money he’s after?”
“No. No. I don’t think that’s the issue here,” Bernard stared pensively into his half-drunk espresso. “I don’t think that’s it at all...Anyway. Let’s not worry about this for now. I’ll be travelling to London at the end of the week. I’ll have a chat with him then and maybe a little look around.” He downed the last dregs of his coffee and closed his briefcase.
Just then the Professor’s wife, who had remained silent for the most part joined in on the discussion. “Ahh yes,” she said with a purr. “I remember Dr. Lawson,” she gave her husband a teasing smile. “Isn’t he the rather dashing, albeit, mildly manic-depressed doctor who has recently developed quite a liking for pain killers?”
“Yes. That’s the one,” the Professor answered smiling off his jealousy. “Highly driven, extremely gifted, but…a little unbalanced.”
“Unbalanced!” her eyebrows shot up. “That’s putting it mildly my dear. In Italy we call them svitato darling. But you’re quite right he is definitely one of a kind. The best of them always are.” She turned her perfectly coiffed, dyed, red-head, to take in the grounds around her. She laughed softly, as if milling over a private joke. “The best of them always are…”
Although it was not intended, her gentle laughter disrupted a shoal of fish swimming at the edge of the glass blue lake. It also emanated across the clearing and around a large bronze statue which loomed over the premises. It was, of course, the statue of none other than the great Swiss social activist: Jean Henri Dunant. His presence on the grounds was by no means a coincidence, as Dunant was the well-known Ancestor of the Professor, himself.
The statue stood high and mighty at the foot of the Institute. As it was only a statue, it could not hear the woman’s playful laughter. But Jean Henri Dunant was no statue - he is all spirit now, and he can clearly see events. Not that it made the slightest bit of difference, mind. He can only look on, as all Ancestors do…