Chapter 25 – Project Blue Butterfly
Josh soon discovered Isla was right about Elixium. In a few months, he’d uncovered phony products, tax evasion, government corruption, back-handers and even blackmail. A trove of evidence existed in the public records, if one had the time and the patience to sift through thousands of boring documents.
He began work on a book: a detailed exposé of the company. As the months passed, his life gained renewed purpose. He avenged Dimitri’s death with each stroke of the pen, and his mood lifted. The gym routine became less rigid and eventually stopped. He no longer used Sausage Factory or any of the other awful dating apps. By the time he’d published his exposé on Elixium Pharmaceuticals, under the pseudonym Josh Mintz, he’d grown overweight and had a long scruffy red beard. Commenting on his portrait on the book’s jacket, a reviewer referred to him as the ‘ginger Karl Marx’. They misunderstood him, of course. He didn’t want to collapse capitalism. He only intended to bring corrupt companies like Elixium to account.
The press ignored the book. He approached newspapers and media organisations with a summary of the information, but they either told him the material was not newsworthy or they didn’t get back to him at all. One of them said they’d read his book and wanted nothing to do with him. The large bookstores refused to stock the title, but he gained modest success with independent sellers online. He did a few podcasts, which helped sales, most notably a regular slot for a website devoted to alternative medicine and health foods. A couple of months later, the producers of the Ronald Sykes show contacted him. They said they liked his book and asked if he wanted to appear. Ronald Sykes was a tinfoil hat nutter from Aberdeen, Scotland, but was extremely popular on the internet. As much as he loathed the man, Josh agreed to the interview to promote his book.
Two weeks later, he found himself in a small broadcasting studio facing Ron Sykes, who had a bad mullet, a handle bar moustache and wore a pink and purple 1980s style shell suit. He used to be a professional rugby player in his youth, until he accused the Prime Minister of being possessed by Cthulu, a demonic beast, in an interview with a veteran sports journalist on live television.
“Welcome, friends, to the Ronald Sykes show on Red Dragon Media, with my special guest, Josh Mintz, the author of Big Pharma: The Shady World of Elixium Pharmaceuticals. This is an emergency broadcast from the year twenty-one seventeen. Humanity is in great peril. We’re ruled by bloodless technocrats, aristocratic family lineages who own all the banks and real estate. Their grand agenda is to depopulate the world and lead us into an electronic surveillance control grid. Those remaining, after the great culling of the masses, will be androgynous, cybernetic hermaphrodites! Yes, my friends, here on the Ronald Sykes show, we know the score, and we’re here to counter the propaganda of the mainstream media and the education system. We don’t deal in conspiracy theories, we deal in conspiracy facts! So sit back, open your third eye, breathe deeply and get ready to have your rectal energy realigned!”
Josh sighed. I’m only booked for a ten minute segment. Is he going to let me speak?
“Thanks, Ron,” said Josh, interrupting Ron’s drivel about chakras and vibrations transmitted through wireless internet and mobile phones. “Some of your audience may have read my book about Elixium Pharmaceuticals. I uncovered many outrageous scandals. The company deliberately failing to disclose the addictive properties of a dangerous opioid, provoking a global drug addiction crisis. And most damming of all…” He trailed off, realising the show’s producers had cut the feed of his mic.
“Thank you, Josh,” said Ron Sykes. “My viewers are well acquainted with Elixium Pharmaceuticals, and I believe they are complicit in one of the biggest conspiracies in the world today: the hollow earth agenda. Yes, my friends. Aliens from another galaxy are secreted deep within the mantle of the earth, and they’ve impregnated the rich and powerful! The royal family, the CEO of Elixium, several heads of state and a teenage heart-throb pop star are all infected with the alien seed. And in six years’ time, in 2021, according to a secret numerical code hidden within the book of revelations, the alien birth will happen. The end of days, my friends! Humanity will serve the beast, 666 will be his number, and all across the world, a typhoon of rectal energy will erupt from our collective anuses and transform the atmosphere of our planet. Yes folks, they’re terraforming the earth! Preparing for the migration of the human-alien-hybrid messiah!”
“Well, Ron,” said Josh, but the mic cut out again.
“We’ll be back in a few minutes. First, a word from our sponsors.”
Adverts for solar panels, storable food and baldness cures played on the studio’s monitor speakers. Josh clenched his fists in frustration.
“You’re doing great,” said Ron. “But could you mention the alien agenda? It’s what my viewers enjoy most.”
He doesn’t want people to hear this information. He wants to make me a laughingstock. What a fraud! He takes a seed of truth and buries it under a mound of horse shit until everything looks ridiculous by association.
But he had an idea. “Ron,” he said and smiled. “Venom Empire wants me to release my information.”
The smile from Ron’s face dropped.
I knew it. He’s one of them. Makes perfect sense to have this nutter make anyone who criticises Elixium look like a circus clown.
Ron Sykes gulped. “You have the floor, my friend.”
Finally, he was able to promote the book properly. He talked about the clinical trials for Elixiflu, an antiviral medicine, which showed the vaccine did not work: it did not prevent hospitalisation, reduce deaths or cases of severe pneumonia as Elixium claimed, and was associated with severe vomiting, headaches and even psychiatric symptoms. Then he explained that governments worldwide had stockpiled the vaccine and Elixium had made close to £2 billion in taxpayer’s money hawking a useless product.
The microphone was swiftly cut off. Ron Sykes and his producers had smelt a rat. He wanted to say more, but at least he’d mentioned what he considered the smoking gun.
Following the interview with Sykes, Josh received an email from someone who said they worked for Elixium Pharmaceuticals. A whistle-blower, calling themselves ‘Z’, who claimed they had a cache of information on the company, and after reading the book, they wanted to give it to him. The email instructed him to meet at Castlefield Locks, overlooking the canal at six in the morning. Sensing a trap, Josh refused and told the whistle-blower to mail the information to his post office box.
He forgot all about the whistle-blower, dismissing it as a hoax. A week later, when he emptied his post office box, he discovered a brown envelope. Inside was a compact disc. When he got home, he discovered the disc contained hundreds of emails from senior managers and even the personal emails of Reuben Fenwick himself. Some of these emails referred to something called Project Blue Butterfly.
After carefully reading through Fenwick’s emails, a name jumped out at him. A cleaner at Elixium named Thomas Toombs, who Reuben seemed to keep a close eye on. In one email, Reuben boasted to other managers about the cleaner’s punctuality and excellent standards of work. Why is the CEO of the world’s largest pharmaceutical firm so interested in a lowly cleaner?
Late one night, while he was looking through his notebooks and reading the observations he made about Dimitri, he came across the name Thomas Toombs. Following an attempted break in to Elixium Technology’s records bureau, the court had forced Thomas Toombs to see him.
He entered Thomas Toombs into an internet, searching for him, but the guy was not on social media. On further reflection, he remembered that a long-term patient of his, David Doherty, had known Thomas well. A quick search revealed that Doherty was a site manager for a food company based in Bristol, which manufactured canned sardines and salmon. He packed a few things and booked a rental cottage near the city centre. If he could track down David, perhaps he could find Thomas.
Josh parked his car outside a quiet suburban home on a beautiful cloudless morning. Young kids scooted around in the street on skateboards. Across the road, a little girl helped her mum sprinkle flowerbeds with water from a garden hose, while her dad mowed the lawn. The domesticity saddened him. Since the encounter with Christophe, he’d lived a celibate life, consumed by his work. He couldn’t eradicate desire, but he could stay one step ahead of it.
He sidled up to a house, David Doherty’s, and knocked on the door. It had taken a couple of weeks to find the address. He’d called David’s employer, pretending to be an old friend of his who’d lost contact. With a little sweet talking, he convinced a temp in the company’s HR department to give him the address.
David Doherty opened the door. “Dr Palmer?”
Dave’s face hardened. “What are you doing here? They told me what you did at the clinic.”
“I can only apologise. I hope you’re receiving good care now. You look well.”
“Discharged years ago,” said Dave and smiled.
“I’m sorry to bother you like this. I need to get in touch with a friend of yours, Thomas Toombs. He was briefly a patient of mine. Do you know where I can find him?”
“Not a friend,” said Dave. “But he shouldn’t be too hard to track down—you’ll find him drinking on park benches or at some dive bar.”
“What happened between you two?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
After an awkward silence, Josh thanked David. He scoured his mind for advice, based on his experiences, but found nothing but contradictory platitudes. From Don’t hold grudges and reach out to old friends, to focus on your family and leave druggies well alone. Deciding he had no right to comment anyway, he smiled politely. “It was good to see you, David.”
Josh asked around for Tom Toombs at the local pubs. One evening, he learnt that Toombs, or ‘One Eyed Tom’ as the locals called him, had a habit of frequenting the pubs along Corn Street at the weekend. Excited, he retreated to the cottage for an early night.
Some unexpected news greeted him the next morning. Following his appearance on the Ron Sykes Show, a law firm had sued Elixium Pharmaceuticals over the Elixiflu affair, making use of the evidence presented in his book. The TV reported news of the suit, but dug up a retired old judge for comment. The judge said the ‘flimsy’ evidence should be dismissed out of hand. He even suggested that the law firm themselves should be prosecuted for suing a company which saved lives and made regular charitable donations.
Despite the senile twit’s comments, the lawsuit was very encouraging. He shuffled over to the fridge for a celebratory slice of cake.
Banging on the door jolted him. Who the hell is that?
Outside, a delivery man waited with a large box.
“Yes,” said Josh, “but I’m only renting for a few weeks.” Nobody except the owners knew he was here.
“Is your name Dr Palmer?”
He hadn’t heard that name in years. “Yes, but—”
“Says Dr Palmer on the box, clear as day,” said the delivery man. “Can you sign, please?”
Josh signed for the box, and the delivery driver dumped it on the doorstep.
He examined the label. His name and the cottage’s address. Local postmark. He looked around. Nobody was in the street. As he carefully pulled the tape across the top of the box, an uneasy feeling welled in his stomach. What if it’s a bomb?
Nervously, Josh opened the box and found, resting on a bed of straw, a ram’s skull. As the warm sunlight shone down on the contents of the box, his heart raced. He jerked back. A red and black snake slithered around in the straw.