Page 34 of Bloodline

It was the first day that Elizabeth had gone to the office since the death of Kate Erling a week earlier. Elizabeth entered the downstairs lobby with trepidation, responding mechanically to the greetings of the doorman and guards. At the far end of the lobby she saw workmen replacing the smashed elevator car. She thought about Kate Erling, and Elizabeth could visualize the terror she must have felt as she plunged twelve interminable stories to her death. She knew that she could never ride in that elevator again.

When she walked into her office, her mail had already been opened by Henriette, the second secretary, and neatly placed on her desk. Elizabeth went through it quickly, initialing some memos, writing questions on others, or marking them for various department heads. At the bottom of the pile was a large sealed envelope marked "Elizabeth Roffe - Personal." Elizabeth took a letter opener and slit the envelope across the top. She reached in and took out an 8-by-10 photograph. It was a close-up of a mongoloid child, its bulging eyes staring out of its encephalic head. Attached to the picture was a note printed in crayon: "THIS IS MY BEAUTIFUL SON JOHN. YOUR DRUGS DID THIS TO HIM. I AM GOING TO KILL YOU."


Elizabeth dropped the note and the picture, and found that her hands were trembling. Henriette walked in with a handful of papers.

"These are ready to be signed, Miss - " She saw the look on Elizabeth's face. "Is something wrong?"

Elizabeth said, "Please - ask Mr. Williams to come in here." Her eyes went back to the picture on her desk.

Roffe and Sons could not be responsible for anything so dreadful.

"It was our fault," Rhys said. "A shipment of drugs was mislabeled. We managed to recall most of it, but - " He raised his hands expressively.

"How long ago did this happen?"

"Almost four years ago."

"How many people were affected?"

"About a hundred." He saw the expression on her face and added quickly, "They received compensation. They weren't all like this, Liz. Look, we're damned careful here. We take every safety precaution we can devise, but people are human. Mistakes are sometimes made."

Elizabeth sat staring at the picture of the child. "It's horrible."

"They shouldn't have shown you the letter." Rhys ran his fingers through his thick black hair and said, "This is a hell of a time to bring it up, but we have a few other problems more important than this."

She wondered what could be more important. "Yes?"

"The FDA just gave a decision against us on our aerosol sprays. There's going to be a complete ban on aerosols within two years."

"How will that affect us?"

"It's going to hurt us badly. It means we'll have to close down half a dozen factories around the world and lose one of our most profitable divisions."

Elizabeth thought about Emil Joeppli and the culture he was working on, but she said nothing. "What else?"

"Have you seen the morning papers?"

"No."

"A government minister's wife in Belgium, Mme. van den Logh, took some Benexan."

"That's one of our drugs?"

"Yes. It's an antihistamine. It's contraindicated for anyone with essential hypertension. Our label carries a clear warning. She ignored it."

Elizabeth felt her body beginning to tense. "What happened to her?"

Rhys said, "She's in a coma. She may not live. The newspaper stories mention that it's our product. Cancellations on orders are pouring in from all over the world. The FDA notified us that it's starting an investigation, but that will take at least a year. Until they finish, we can keep selling the drug."

Elizabeth said, "I want it taken off the market."

"There's no reason to do that. It's a damned effective drug for - "

"Have any other people been hurt by it?"

"Hundreds of thousands of people have been helped by it." Rhys tone was cool. "It's one of our most effective - "

"You haven't answered my question."

"A few isolated cases, I suppose, yes. But - "

"I want it taken off the market. Now."

He sat there, fighting his anger, then he said, "Right. Would you like to know what that will cost the company?"

"No," Elizabeth said.

Rhys nodded. "So far you've only heard the good news. The bad news is that the bankers want a meeting with you. Now. They're calling in their loans."

Elizabeth sat in her office alone, thinking about the mongoloid child, and about the woman who lay in a coma because of a drug that Roffe and Sons had sold her. Elizabeth was well aware that these kinds of tragedies involved other pharmaceutical firms as well as Roffe and Sons. There were almost daily stories in the newspapers about similar cases, but they had not touched her as this had. She felt responsible. She was determined to have a talk with the department heads who were in charge of safety measures to see if they could not be improved.

This is my beautiful son John.

Mme. van den Logh is in a coma. She may not live.

The bankers want a meeting with you. Now. They've decided to call in their loans.

She felt choked, as though everything was beginning to close in on her at once. For the first time Elizabeth wondered if she was going to be able to cope. The burdens were too heavy, and they were piling up too fast. She swung around in her chair, to look up at the portrait of old Samuel hanging on the wall. He looked so competent, so sure. But she knew about his doubts and uncertainties, and his black despairs. Yet he had come through. She would survive somehow, too. She was a Roffe.

She noticed that the portrait was askew. Probably as a result of the elevator crash. Elizabeth got up to straighten it. As she tilted the picture, the hook holding it gave way, and the painting crashed to the floor. Elizabeth did not even look at it. She was staring at the place where the painting had hung. Taped to the wall was a tiny microphone.

It was 4 A.M., and Emil Joeppli was working late again. It had become a habit of his recently. Even though Elizabeth Roffe had not given him a specific deadline, Joeppli knew how important this project was to the company and he was pushing to get it finished as quickly as possible. He had heard disturbing rumors about Roffe and Sons lately. He wanted to do everything he could to help the company. It had been good to him. It gave him a handsome salary and complete freedom. He had liked Sam Roffe, and he liked his daughter too. Elizabeth Roffe would never know, but these late hours were Joeppli's gift to her. He was hunched over his small desk, checking out the results of his last experiment. They were even better than he had anticipated. He sat there, deep in concentration, unaware of the fetid smell of the caged animals in the laboratory or the cloying humidity of the room or the lateness of the hour. The door opened, and the guard on the graveyard shift, Sepp Nolan, walked in. Nolan hated this shift. There was something eerie about the deserted experimental laboratories at night. The smell of the caged animals made him ill. Nolan wondered whether all the animals they had killed here had souls and came back to haunt these corridors. I ought to put in for spook pay, he thought. Everyone in the building had long since gone home. Except for this fucking mad scientist with his cages full of rabbits and cats and hamsters.

"How long you gonna be, Doc?" Nolan asked.

Joeppli looked up, aware of Nolan for the first time. "What?"

"Ji you're gonna be here awhile, I can bring you back a sandwich or something. I'm gonna run over to the commissary for a quick bite."

Joeppli said, "Just coffee, please." He turned back to his charts.

Nolan said, "I'll lock the outside door behind me when I leave the building. Be right back."

Joeppli did not even hear him.

Ten minutes later the door to the laboratory opened, and a voice said, "You're working late, Emil."

Joeppli looked up, startled. When he saw who it was, he got to his feet, flustered, and said, "Yes, sir." He felt flattered that this man had dropped in to see him.

"The Fountain of Youth project, top secret, eh?"

Emil hesitated. Miss Roffe had said no one was supposed to know about it. But, of course, that did not include his visitor. It was this man who had brought him into the company. So Emil Joeppli smiled and said, "Yes, sir. Top secret."

"Good. Let's keep it that way. How is it going?"

"Wonderfully, sir."

The visitor wandered over to one of the rabbit cages. Emil Joeppli followed him. "Is there anything I can explain to you?"

The man smiled. "No. I'm pretty familiar with it, Emil." As the visitor started to turn away, he brushed against an empty feeding dish on the ledge and it fell to the floor. "Sorry."

"Don't worry about it, sir. I'll get it." Emil Joeppli reached down to pick it up and the back of his head seemed to explode in a shower of red, and the last thing he saw was the floor racing up to meet him.

The insistent ringing of the telephone awakened Elizabeth. She sat up in bed, heavy with sleep, and looked at the digital clock on the little table. Five A.M. She fumbled the telephone off the hook. A frantic voice said, "Miss Roffe? This is the security guard at the plant. There's been an explosion at one of the laboratories. It was completely destroyed."

Instantly she was wide-awake. "Was anybody hurt?"

"Yes, ma'am. One of the scientists was burned to death."

He did not have to tell Elizabeth the name.

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