A knock on the glass door of the office. A balding, bespectacled man in his forties pokes his head in.
“May I, sir?”
“Yes, come in, Peterson. Close the door.”
Peterson enters. He’s wearing a crumpled grey suit with a grubby scarlet tie and carrying a heavy-looking reel-to-reel tape recorder.
The man sitting behind the desk, wearing a much better suit, puts down the red folder he’s been looking at.
“Well, I haven’t seen one of those for a long time,” he says, indicating the tape recorder.
“Me neither, sir. For some reason he was putting it all on tape.”
Peterson places the machine on the desk with a dull thud.
“Probably being careful,” says the man behind the desk. “You can hack into anything digital these days.”
“I suppose so, sir, yes.”
Peterson holds the cable in one hand, looking around for the socket.
“I’ve taken the liberty of cueing it up just for the last section. What comes before is a little … rambling?”
The other man nods and points to the extension on the floor next to his desk.
“All right, Peterson. Let’s have a listen then, shall we?”
“I’ll just plug it in and … okay, here we go.”
“So you see, all of the team — Margaret, Derek, Susana — they’re all gone. All of them. Accidents, supposedly. Accidents?! Maybe that’s what they looked like. Margaret, a car crash. Derek, a gas explosion at home. Susana … I suppose the most shocking for me was Susana. That hit-and-run. She was so young, so lovely, and she had a little boy — Juan — I don’t know what’s going to happen to him.
Three in a matter of weeks, though? Three from the same team? That’s some coincidence. And I tell you, it stinks. To high heaven. It was the research, I’m sure of it. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The thing is, we were working on something completely innocuous — shampoos, conditioners, stuff like that. We had the usual access to lab rats, and we were doing all the mundane tests and … anyway, one afternoon Derek comes up to me, all excited, and says ‘James, you’ve got to see this!’, and so I go to his cubicle and he shows me some data on his computer. And we look at each other, and we’re like ‘Bloody hell!’
So I got the team together, we had a look at the rat, and sure enough this little fella, which had had a tumour on the back of its neck, was completely clear.
We isolated the chemicals Derek had used on that particular rat, along with doses, sequence, timings, the usual things, and we got another half a dozen rats that also had tumours. So we followed Derek’s procedure, with a couple of the rats as controls, and within a week the tumours on the four had disappeared.
We were cock-a-hoop. I told them that we couldn’t mess this up, that we had to present the findings methodically, with water-tight proofs. So we worked on it for a good ten days, round the clock. And I presented a report to the R&D Director, Samuels. We were so thrilled! We were waiting for the feedback — anxious, expectant really. After all, we thought we’d found a cure for cancer.
And I’m positive we had. And I think it terrified the powers that be in the company. Remember, this is one of the biggest pharmaceutical corporations in the world. They don’t just produce medicines and cosmetics — they’ve got a stake in loads of private hospitals and clinics, too. And they make billions — I mean billions — from cancer medications and treatment. And what would happen to those billions if some ordinary chemicals — chemicals used for hair care, of all things! — simply did away with cancer at a stroke? Well, I reckon that report must have hit them like a nuclear missile.
Suffice it to say, we didn’t get any response to our report, and a few days after it went upstairs, the team started having accidents. As I said, they’re all gone now. And I’m next, I’m sure of it. So that’s why … that’s why I’m doing this. I’ve got a copy of the findings in an envelope that I’m going to put in a safety deposit box tomorrow, along with this tape. And I’ll leave a letter with my solicitor, to be opened in case I … well, if I do go the way of the rest of the team, then at least — … What the?! Who are…?”
Peterson turns off the tape recorder.
“That’s it, sir.”
“Hmmm. Caught him just in time, it seems. So, the envelope?”
The man behind the desk takes a manila envelope from Peterson and places it in a drawer in his desk.
“We’ll keep that for … posterity, shall we?”
He smiles and locks the drawer.
“How did you …?”
“Suicide, sir. With a pistol. We left a note. Grief over the loss of his team.”
The man behind the desk frowns.
“I haven’t heard it on the news.”
“No, the cleaner will find him when she goes there tomorrow.”
“And nothing can implicate us?”
“Nothing at all, sir.”
“Excellent! Then that will be all. Good work, Peterson.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Peterson unplugs the tape recorder, puts it under his arm and turns to leave.
“Oh, and Peterson?”
“We won’t be needing that any more, I don’t think.”
“Of course, sir. I understand.”
When Peterson has left and closed the door, the man behind the desk picks up the red folder again and goes back to reading, swivelling gently to and fro in his chair.