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Chapter 9 The good Chinese comes from Golden Moon Rising. It is worth the extra ten minutes to get there. Robert slides the card key through the reader and pulls the door open with his free hand. He nods to the security guys behind the front desk. They pay him no mind. The main atrium is an impressive open space with soaring glass ceilings five stories high. Airy staircases with invisible supports cascade from the upper reaches of the space like stepped waterfalls. VIP visitors take this lavish path to the sales and marketing offices, but Robert makes an abrupt right turn down a short chute to the double doors marked Research and Development. Once he passes through the double fire doors into the R&D wing, the building takes on a very different look. The spacious promenade of glass and chrome, with its quartz-flecked marble tile is replaced by a claustrophobic hallway with an antiseptic laminated floor devoid of pigment. The high diffused architectural lighting gives way to stark fluorescents that fill the empty corridors with a low hum like waiting locusts. His Nikes squeak past an endless series of identical doors, each with a stout metal box on the floor next to it. These boxes stand like so many sentries posted to keep watch over the corridor. A symbol on the boxes identifies them as containing medical waste accumulated during the day. They await pick-up by a special biohazard crew at night. Robert shudders at the thought of what might be in those boxes. Dead lab rats infected with cancer? Blood soaked cotton balls leaking Ebola virus? Robert finds the right door. He pushes it open, and sees Collie with her back to him in the center of the mammoth room. She is heads down at her workstation. Still wearing her white lab coat, her head rocks in time to a Led Zeppelin tune coming from the boombox in front of her. He can hear her singing along with Robert Plant. She doesn‟t see him. Approaching her from behind, he watches her hips sway beneath the lab coat in a way that looks both silly and sexy. She clearly has rhythm. Robert wonders why she still won‟t dance? “Food‟s here!” He says loud enough to be heard over the music. “Oh… Hey” she says with a smile, as she lowers the volume a bit sheepishly. “Don‟t stop on my account.” He returns her smile with one of his own. “You look good dancing in your lab coat.”


“Don‟t start with me.” “I‟m serious, you are one hot honey in nurse shoes.” “Ok, ok, wise-ass. What did you bring me? It smells delish.” “Wait til you see…” *

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After dinner Robert passes Collie a fortune cookie, and takes the other for himself. Cracking it open he reads aloud “You have riches you don‟t know.” Laughing, he says, “Yeah, and I‟d like to find them.” Collie, breaks hers, unfurls the message, and reads, “To err is human, to forgive, divine.” “I didn‟t know Shakespeare was Chinese? I guess these fortune cookie writers get a little tired of Confucius after a while.” ”So you ready to let me take a look at that program of yours?” “Oh Robert… about that, I‟ve been thinking” she sighs, “It‟s a really sweet offer, but I don‟t think it is something I should bother you with, really.” “You scared I might screw it up worse than it already is?” His point is a good one. It is exactly what Collie was thinking when she said it. But bringing it out in the open like this causes her to reexamine her logic. What harm could he do? It doesn‟t work now, and it never has. He can‟t break something that is already broken, right? Besides, Robert is being so nice tonight. She doesn‟t want to hurt his feelings. “Ok, fine. Knock yourself out. I don‟t think you can hurt it.” Collie is floored by what she sees next. With a few deft keystrokes, Robert opens the back end of the program as easily as he opens a bottle of beer. Within seconds, he is into the sub folders, scanning lines of base code like Evelyn Wood speed-reading text. Arcane lines of seemingly meaningless mumbo jumbo rip across the screen. Somewhat incredulous, Collie asks, “Do you know what you‟re doing?” Robert replies over the machine gun clatter of keystrokes, “Why, do you doubt me?” He can tell that he is showing a side of himself she has never seen, a side that he has deliberately kept hidden from view. It‟s clearly having an effect on her. She‟s impressed. He wonders if she would be as impressed if she knew that the expertise she is witnessing now, is the byproduct of skills honed doing nefarious deeds exclusively for self-promotion, profit or pleasure?


Feeling content, he rides this wave of goodwill soaking in Collies‟ admiration like warm rays of sun on his back. The program is complex. The programmer constructed the software in packets. Each packet is like a building block, a separate unit unto itself. But when arranged in a series, and linked together, they form a unified inter-dependent program. Sometimes a single error can have no effect whatsoever. Other times it can prove to be the Achilles Heal that brings the whole program to its knees. Still other times, the error lies in wait, like a Trojan horse, for some trigger to set it off, and then it does its damage all at once. An error like that can lay dormant for days, weeks, or even years before being set off. Programmers are authors. Each their own unique style. They are a vain group for the most part and usually like to show off for one and other in ways that only other programmers could appreciate. Most programs contain some signature elements unique to the programmer. Microsoft Word for example, contains a DOS-based tank game hidden in the background. You can play it if you know how to find it. Bored Microsoft programmers seeking a geeky thrill embedded the game as a prank to see if they could get it past the quality control gurus. It‟s a fairly harmless way of saying, hey I pulled a fast one on you, and you didn’t even notice. The hidden Mickeys in Disney software are another example. Disney programmers have hidden little graphics of Mickey Mouse ears in virtually every software program built for the past decade. It‟s become a tradition. Rival programmers rush out to get the first release of any new Disney software program just so they can be the first to find the Hidden Mickeys and brag about it on their blogs. Of more interest to Robert right now is finding a Backdoor. Almost all specialty software builders who create custom password-protected applications for their clients include a Backdoor. It is common practice for them to create a way to enter the program that only they know about. This secret passage is called a Backdoor. Client‟s who pay big bucks for these secure systems would be apoplectic if they knew that their application designers retained a key that allows them instant access to these programs. So the existence of backdoors remains a myth, a trade secret everyone knows about but no one discusses. There are however, practical reasons for backdoors. If a program fails, and becomes locked up like this one, the programmer who built it can usually force his or her way into the code through a backdoor, they just need to know the secret password. Robert continues to scan line after line of tedious code in an effort to find evidence of a backdoor. Deeper and deeper into the code he goes, with no luck. * * * Collie decides to let Robert do his thing, and not interrupt him. She has work to do preparing text for a company press release scheduled to air tomorrow.


The President Mr. Parker III, is giving the quarterly stockholder review. Members of the press will be there, and audio of the presentation will be recorded for a simultaneous webcast. The scheduled press conference was originally planned to tout the company‟s progress in the bipolar clinical trials, with a short dedicated segment. But with no data to report on, it has turned from a media hype session to damage control. Collie‟s boss told her that the Executive team has decided iGenrx will retain the five-minute segment in the schedule for the bipolar findings. Pulling it at this late date would arouse suspicion that something is amiss with the project, and would do even more harm. Little things like this can send institutional stock investors into a selling binge, and drop share prices precipitously. Better to be vague, and slide through, than to avoid the subject, or worse, admit that they have no trend data at all. Collie is tasked with putting together some suitable fluff to fill the five minutes. She hates being put in this position. Why can‟t she just tell it straight? Can‟t the press handle that? She could say, due to a glitch in the software, no trend data is available as of yet. What would be wrong with that? Can‟t shareholders deal with the truth? Do they really believe everything goes smoothly 100% of the time? Wouldn‟t they find a little honesty refreshing? Regrettably she can answer her own questions. Not a chance. With a labored sigh, she struggles with the ethical dilemma of playing he role of spin-meister, if only temporarily. She wonders how people do it. How does Karl Rove sleep at night? Then she gets an idea. Maybe she won‟t have to stretch the truth. Maybe if she focuses on the general information about the disease state, she can create five minutes of filler. It‟s worth a shot. She puts pen to paper and writes, Bipolar is a serious, debilitating condition affecting the Central Nervous System. The World Health Organization classifies it as one of the top six leading mental disorders. It is currently estimated that more than 2.3 million American adults, age eighteen and older, or about 1% of the population suffers from Bipolar Disorder (also known as Manic Depression). Only about 750,000 of these individuals have been diagnosed, and of them only 650,000 are currently being treated. The market for Bipolar drugs is presently valued it 2 billion dollars per Year. Analysts predict that it is estimated to grow to 2.7 billion in the next 3 Years. Feeling pretty good about the way this is going, Collie picks up the pace… Current treatment options, principally the class of drugs called SSRIs have come under fire in recent years due to a potential causal link to adolescent suicide. Since 2004, manufacturers have been required to include black box warnings on


these drugs to ensure their proper usage. The experimental drug BP297 is believed to provide… …may provide… …is expected to provide… …hopes to provide… “Shit, I can‟t do this.” Robert looks up. “Did you say something?” Collie buries her head in her hands “No, nothing. Nothing at all.”


Chapter 10 Hot and restless, Liam lies awake. He hits the button on the digital clock. The display glows, 4:33 a.m. Liam shuffles out of bed. Maybe some food will help him sleep. His tee shirt is damp with perspiration. In a single motion, he takes it off and hurls it in the laundry basket. He makes his way through the darkness to the kitchen and pours himself a bowl of Cheerios. Holding the bowl close to his chin, he takes a few spoonfuls as he ambles about in semi-darkness. He settles on the leather sectional by the coffee table. Eyeing his 1949 Martin acoustic guitar he picks it up and checks it‟s tune. Chords resonate off the steel clamshell roof high above his head. The greatroom has concert hall-like acoustics. The Martin, at better than a halfcentury old sounds sweeter every year. Liam recalls an interview on NPR with a well-known violinist. He was asked if modern technology could duplicate his Stradivarius in every exact detail. The violinist who was also a builder of violins, said yes, it has been done, but he said, “The old instrument will always sound better, because it remembers”. As a man of both art and science Liam understands. Liam plays little snippets of tunes that come to mind, riffing classic Stones, and Clapton songs together with new music by Teagen & Sara. He walks to the window. Still strumming his guitar absently he absorbs the New York skyline. The city that famously never sleeps glitters with uncharacteristic clarity for such warm night. As Lady Liberty stands watch over New York Harbor, light from her torch shines softly through his window. Turning with his back to the window, there is just enough light from the torch to cast his shadow across the greatroom. The outline touches his drafting table. In the dim light Liam sees the blueprints for the Wave Generation Platform. He hasn‟t looked at them in months. Liam‟s lips part and he finds himself saying the words, “forty-five million dollars.” *

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Back at the condo, Collie goes straight to bed. She has a busy morning ahead preparing for the press conference. Robert pours himself a cup of coffee. He wants one more crack at this code before he calls it a night.


This is a tough challenge. The guy who wrote this code is good, very good in fact. Code can be clean or sloppy, and this code is positively sanitary. Robert finds himself admiring Sundeep for his skill even thought he has never met the guy. But the more time Robert spends inside the program, the more mystified he becomes. It strikes him as a bit odd that a programmer as fastidious as Sundeep could create an error so egregious that it would shut down the whole program. Equally puzzling is the fact that Sundeep couldn‟t fix the glitch himself over the last six months. It just doesn‟t add up. Just then something catches Robert‟s eye. Thinking he saw something that looked like a phrase in English, Robert stops, and scrolls back up through the lines of code. In a program like this, most of the code is just mathematical calculations, algorithms made up of symbols and numbers. English language words are rare. So the presence of words or phrases may be the clue he seeks. There it is. Embedded in a string of code that looks like it could be a backdoor are the letters thereisonly1wayin. Robert believes he has it. This must be the password for Sundeep‟s private backdoor. Robert writes down the phrase on a piece of scrap paper and begins to exit out of the sub folders. He is careful not to inadvertently strike a key. A mistake like that could change the code. Once he is all the way out, he shuts down and immediately reboots the laptop. Once the operating system comes back, he initiates the program. At the prompt where Collie normally enters her password, Robert types: “t h e r e i s o n l y 1 w a y i n” He hits the “enter” key. Immediately, the disk drive whirrs and the screen blinks to life. After a series of self-checks, a dialogue box pops up which reads Logged on as System Administrator. The next prompt asks, Would you like to perform a trend analysis? Robert clicks “Yes”. A moment later the program is scanning for raw data files. It comes up with 9 GIG of raw SPECT data files on the hard drive awaiting trend analysis. This is way too much data to scan at once. Attempting to do so would surely overwhelm the main processor and crash the system. Robert selects a group of 30 scans, roughly 200 MEGs, or two days worth of Collies‟ normal processing load, enough to push the system, but hopefully not enough to crash it. He clicks “Start Scan.” Hoping for the best, he locks up and goes to bed. *

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The next morning, Robert forces himself to get up before Collie. He swings a leg to the floor and heads downstairs to the kitchen. The laptop is just where he left it. It looks ominous, blank and silent. With apprehension, he places a


finger on the eraser-like mouse in the center of the keyboard. He gives the red nubbin a wiggle. The machine awakes from sleep mode. The message on the screen reads, Operation Complete. He emits a hearty “Yeeha,” momentarily forgetting the noise might wake Collie. He is so juiced he would head-butt himself if he could. He fixed it. We‟ll sort of. Robert checks to be sure all the summary reports are in order. Everything looks perfect. So what if the program only works properly when the Administrator is logged in, Robert shrugs it off as just one of those things. He has never been one to look a gift horse in the mouth, and he is not about to start. The finish is easy. Given that he has full security privileges when he is logged in as the System Administrator, Robert simply creates a duplicate account, with the same unrestricted security privileges. He then changes the password to the one Collie always uses, and he‟s done. He didn‟t really fix anything, he just implemented a work-around, but this patch will probably hold long enough for him to set up his next gig. Robert figures it‟s good enough to buy him some brownie points and some time. That‟s all he cares about. He showers and heads out for an early haircut. He wants to look his best when he meets his hot new prospect for coffee later. *

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Collie‟s alarm goes off at the usual time. Six minutes later, she emerges from a steamy shower and wraps one towel around her torso, and another around her hair like turban. She pops her head out the bathroom door calling out, “Robert? Robert? Are you here?” Secretly relieved, she assumes he must have gone to the gym for an early workout. Thankful to have the house to herself, she wanders downstairs, trailing drops of water on carpet. Once in the kitchen, she notices a note on the counter. It‟s from Robert. It simply says, fixed your computer, I’ll take my repayment in sexual favors.” It is signed Robbie. Instantly Collie feels the huge weight lifted from her shoulders. She picks up the phone and dials her boss‟s number. Anticipating another stressful day, he is already in the office. He picks up the phone on the first ring. She gives him the news. She has to hold the receiver away from her ear to avoid being deafened by his thunderous response, “Sweet Mary Mother of God! That‟s wonderful. Now get your skinny butt in here. We‟ve got a speech to rewrite and the press will be here in an hour.”


Chapter 11 After the euphoria of the morning press conference and the accolades from the boss and co-workers fade to black, Collie is left with the grim reality that she has six months of backlogged trend data to run and analyze. She gets out her calendar and begins striking through non-essential appointments, after-work activities, and weekend plans with friends. The exercise drains some of her positive energy, but she knew this day was coming; at least she hoped it was, so she feels prepared to meet the challenge head on. She is thankful to have the system fixed, and all things considered, she is actually pretty psyched to dig into the project. Collie takes the marathon schedule to her boss and strikes a deal. They agree that Collie can work from home as long as she has the data completed by the next POA meeting. In fact, his parting words to her are, “Collie, I don‟t care if you sit on the beach and get a tan, as long as you get it done! But, you only have 3 weeks!” Collie packs up the files she thinks she needs in a milk crate, throws her laptop bag over her shoulder and heads for the peace and quiet of the condo. *

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It is almost lunchtime and Liam is still groggy from a lack of sleep. He could kick himself for staying awake half the night. After playing guitar for a while, he watched Mysteries of Egypt on his I-MAX system, the dished ceiling makes an ideal viewing screen. By the time he was finally getting sleepy again the sky in the east was beginning to glow red. The weight of the iGenrx offer kept him awake most of the night. Every time he tried to sleep, the tape of the previous day‟s meeting played over and over in his head on an endless loop he couldn‟t stop. Liam throws on his robe and descends the spiral staircase from the great room, down two levels, through the workshop, to the lagoon below. Stepping off the last stair tread, his toes sink into beach sand. He was able to by a rail car full of the stuff on eBay from a failed entrepreneur. The seller was a franchiser who went belly up attempting to build a string of outdoor beach volleyball clubs. Liam walks across the man made beach to the water‟s edge. When first drawing up plans for converting the watertower to a dream house, he was faced with the problem of what to do with the large amount of wasted space at the bottom of the tank. The sloping floor made it useless for living space or storage. He toyed briefly with the idea of making it into a roller arena, but since he does not skateboard much anymore, he thought better of it. He had just about


resigned himself to use the space for the heating and cooling systems, when he got a better idea. One morning over breakfast, he was looking at half a toasted bagel on his plate. The shape triggered an idea. It occurred to him that he could use the space at the bottom of the tank for a circular indoor pool. Liam wades in. Natural light streaming in from windows of aquarium grade glass, both above and below the waterline, combines with the sand to give a Caribbean-like blueness to the warm water. Liam settles in for a few circular laps. After about 20 minutes he hoists himself onto the stone ledge of a man made grotto jutting out into the water from the side. His chest expands, as he catches his breath. Liam built the grotto with natural river stones. Water cascades down the rock face in a vigorous waterfall that fills the air with soothing sounds. Liam stands, and walks the crescent moon beach back toward the circular staircase past palm trees bearing coconuts. Near the stairs he opens a curved steel door, and is immediately assaulted with the sounds of New York Harbor working far below. Diesel operated derricks, a tug pulling a freighter up river, distant horns, motors, and forklifts, all create a familiar wall of sound. Liam steps with sandy feet onto the metal grate of the outdoor shower. A simple perforated steel platform with tube railings for safety is all that stands between him and harbor 120 feet below. Liam turns on the Shower. Hot water gushes from a Speakman showerhead drenching him in warmth. The open mesh grate lets the water fall to earth far below like rain. A jet on final approach to Newark International Airport skims by overhead. Liam glances down and thinks maybe he should have worn boxers? *

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Robert sprays on his cologne in the car. He always applies one sprits too many. He found her on “AdultFriendFinder.com” a nationwide service catering to mature daters interested in more than dinner and a movie. Within a few days of posting his profile, she emailed him. She said she liked his photo, so they decided to meet for coffee. Her profile reads as follows: SHF fourty-ish, Athletic, Professional, Financially independent, seeks SWM 21-30 for no-strings adult play & domination. The woman‟s web ID is RUmyfuckbuddy? The drive is forty-five minutes door to door. The last leg is a narrow metal bridge over the Delaware River between Lambertville and New Hope that drops him on the doorstep of Starbucks. He checks his teeth in the rearview mirror. Inside, he orders a double latte, and finds a corner table. An anonymous patron holds a newspaper high for cover. A minute later she lowers it. Folding the paper, she approaches his table. She says simply, “You‟ll do. Come with me.”


One hour later, Robert enters the hotel bathroom. Panicked, he looks in the mirror. He is panting. His heart is racing. His face is flushed red. He pulls a pubic hair out of his teeth. Twisting, for a better view, he takes inventory of the welts rising like a mountain range on his back and buttocks. “Shit, this bitch is a fucking animal.” A short while later they walk to their respective cars. Wincing in pain, Robert is slow to slide behind the wheel. Icer walks over to Robert‟s open car window and tosses in an envelope that lands heavily in his lap. Giving him a penetrating glare over designer sunglasses, she instructs him, “You were never here. Got it?” Unable to look her in the eye, Robert stares out over the hood of his Ford Taurus, “Yeah lady I got it. Whatever you say.” Feeling his face redden in spite of himself, he chirps the Ford‟s tires in an attempt to hasten his departure. Icer watches the car speed off, and smiles to herself, “Poor baby, he‟s just not used to being submissive,” chuckling, she adds, “a virgin…Hmm, I like that.” *

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Robert is unable to sort out his feelings in this moment. He feels humiliated for letting a woman treat him like that. The bitch whipped him like a farm mule. She rode him harder than he has ever been ridden before. He feels as though his manhood may be damaged… literally and figuratively. He is ashamed and remorseful, and yet as much as he hates to admit it, he was turned on. Maybe it was her body? Maybe it was the experience of an older woman? Maybe it was the $1000 in cash. *

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Robert arrives at the condo and is surprised to find Collie‟s car in the driveway. He desperately wants a hot shower. Collie who heard his car pull up the drive moments ago, decides to stop her work. She was working in her underwear. When Robert swings open the door, she is halfway down the stairs where she stops, striking a suggestive pose. She is wearing a thin cotton tanktop, which accentuates the exquisite architecture of her youthful breasts. Her panties look like short shorts, a swath of lacey material she reserves for special romantic occasions. Her smile communicates more than the words, “Robert, I‟d like to thank you properly for fixing my computer.” For the first time in his life Robert is forced to say words that not even he can believe are coming out of his mouth, “Thanks Babe, but I‟m spent.” Then he adds hopefully, “How about I catch you tomorrow?”


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Robert passes Collie on the stairs as he heads up to the bathroom. She cant be sure, but she thinks she gets a faint whiff of a womanâ€&#x;s perfume that is not her own. It is hard to tell because Robertâ€&#x;s own musky cologne is often mixed with the smell of smoke and alcohol.


Chapter 12 Reading SPECT scans is grueling work, tedious and time consuming. Ironically SPECT technology almost went the way of the horse and buggy. In the 1980s CAT scans and MRIs were perfected. Their resolution quality far exceeded that of the SPECT, so it looked like the older technology was headed for the dustbin. But a few stalwarts using the process for neurological studies lobbied successfully to keep it around. They prefer it to MRI and CAT scans for the simple reason that it depicts brain function in three dimensions, as opposed to the other formats, which simply show static two-dimensional images. It is a good thing the technology didn‟t die. The advent of multi-head “gamma” cameras in this decade has given SPECT scanners vastly improved clarity, and a new lease on life. Advancements in computer processing have given it another boost in usefulness. Saved from extinction, SPECT has now become the tool of choice for bipolar researchers seeking to understand complex interplay between blood flow patterns in the soft tissue of the brain. Researchers now use SPECT technology to examine patients with dementia, head trauma, ADD, depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, stroke, alcohol and drug abuse, etc. The SECT scanner is particularly adept at mapping the regions of the brain experiencing high and low synaptic activity. These variances against the norm are the trends that Sundeep‟s program is designed to identify. Unlike other clinical trials Collie has worked on in the past, where the data output was simply rows of numbers arranged on a dry Excel spreadsheet, this project is different. The data output from the new SPECT machine comes in the form of short computer generated (CG) animations called “scans” or “films”. The nickname fits, because these computer generated 3-D animated models play like “film shorts” with production qualities so good they would make a Hollywood producer proud. The science used to achieve this amazing graphic detail is a combination of tools and techniques formerly used by the various individual branches of Nuclear Medicine. This machine brings them all together in a single instrument. The name “SPECT scanner” is misleading, because this new device combines the “seeing” ability of CAT and MRI scanners, with fMRI, which stands for “functional” MRI, as well as Position Emission Tomography, or PET technology, with the latest Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy, or MRS technology. Together, all of these nuclear imaging systems measure not only gamma rays, but also energy output in a wide spectrum. This advancement is akin to the rise of telescope technology which began with the optical refractor in the days of Galileo, and has progressed to the


instruments of today that view the cosmos in the entire spectrum from microwaves to radio, gamma, x-ray transmissions. The combination gives Collie an unparalleled insight into the presence of chemicals and vitamins working in the brain. It diagrams all the associated electro-chemical processes taking place. For the first time in history, one machine assembles all this information, and composes it into a single CG brain animation. Rainer, Inc. a maverick German instrument developer designed the SPECT machine two years ago. But it proved too expensive to manufacture, so the board of directors shot down the project, and the design languished on the drawing board. Rainer needed a buyer willing to pay for fabrication costs in advance. They shopped the concept around to all the top pharma companies and pitched it as a one-off design, hoping that one of them would have the right combination of need and ego to bite. The lynchpin to their success proved to be a clause built into the contract that gave the buyer total exclusivity for five years. iGenrx took the bait. They stepped up and purchased the machine on spec, underwriting the cost of fabrication in advance. Their goal in commissioning the construction of the machine was to become the world leader in pharmaceuticals for the Central Nervous System, or CNS category. Right now, Delaware Pharmaceuticals, iGenrx‟s closest competitor, and chief rival holds that title. There is no doubt that this machine represents an expensive gamble, and iGenrx needs to have it pay off. The first salvo in the CNS war with Delaware Pharma is to see who can be the first to find a suitable drug for the treatment of bipolar disorder. Using these scans as “raw data” the trend analysis program Collie is now using reads each scan and measures it using over 3000 individual metrics. The individual scan is profiled against a set of “normal” brain metrics, to form a baseline, and is then profiled against every other brain scan in the study. Brain bipolar scans are grouped together in twenty-two classes. These classes are formed around known metrics, and scans are grouped according to their correlation to each other. This form of trend analysis is designed to isolate the classes of bipolar patients to see which respond best to the experimental drug AP297. *

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Collie looks out the window. It is dark. The sound of crickets fills the air. A collection of insects clings to the screen lured there by the light.


Collie has to read each “film.” She types her observations in the comments section of the file, noting the dominant bipolar characteristics, then she archives the data for further tend analysis. She usually lets the computer do the heavy lifting. Most of the time the classification is automatic, and the computer recommends which class the scan belongs to. In these cases, she usually just scans the data, and marks it complete when it‟s done. She has the ability to override the computer‟s archival selection, but seldom does. The last step is a manual confirmation of the computer‟s classification based on the matrix scoring. Collie squints. She feels pain behind her eyes. Checking her watch she does a quick calculation and determines that she has been at this for over14 hours straight. She looks down at the crumbs growing stale on her lunch plate and realizes she forgot to eat dinner. She takes inventory of the work she‟s completed today and she is disappointed. She thought she was getting ahead, but she is barely keeping even. Only two days in, and she is already exhausted. Maybe her boss‟s idea of doing this on the beach was not so far fetched, at least she could relax.


Chapter 13 Liam‟s oars clunk purposefully against the rigging as they catch the water. He pulls with his whole body in one coordinated motion, fast hands, slow slide. His body uncoils expertly in a smooth release of energy. The scull rewards him by planeing smoothly over the surface of the Hudson. Dew clings to the topside of the hull. The sun is not fully above horizon. Liam takes stock of his vitals, stroke rate 36, heart rate 95. With the bow pointed upriver, Jersey City soon slips past him on the right. Its dilapidated shoreline tells the story of a city in transition. The formerly industrious waterfront is in disrepair. Factories and warehouses lie dormant, windows broken. High-rise office buildings tower behind a decaying waterfront, clearly the winners in the Darwinian battle for economic fitness. Against the current, the going is slow. Liam is reassured by the thought that he will double his speed on the return trip. Over his left shoulder, he can feel the presence of the Manhattan skyline before he can actually see it. The first buildings of Hoboken appear in his peripheral vision to the starboard side. It never ceases to amaze Liam that somewhere along here, under the deceptively quiet black water, thousands of vehicles are coursing through a vein cut into the rock under the river, fighting their way into Manhattan through the Holland tunnel. Liam tries to guess exactly where the scull crosses over the plane of the tunnel below. He is unsure sure why the idea fascinates him so. Pulling harder now for a strong finish, Liam brings his stroke rate up to 38. Another minute at this pace, and Liam lifts his oars out of the water. His breathing is labored. He draws in as much oxygen as he can. He thinks of all those youthful years spent smoking cigarettes and he is glad they are behind him. The only sound is river water lapping against the hull. The scull glides serenely to a haggard pier in the heart of Hoboken. Liam ties the slender craft to a piling that could hold a battleship, and walks west up the landing, and over Sinatra Street to Jim‟s Java Joint, home of the best coffee in the five-boroughs. This area of Hoboken was the poster child of urban decay 20 Years ago. In recent years it has been revitalized and reclaimed, some would say to the point of gentrification. Liam might say the same, if not for his knowledge of the place beforehand, and his genuine affection for it‟s people, some of whom he is lucky enough to call friends. “Liam ol buddy, how are you?” Jim‟s face draws into an affable grin. I‟m good.” “You must have rowed in. How‟s the river, much traffic?”


“No, none to speak of really, the usual commuter ferries from Staten Island. A few Port Authority boats patrolling the harbor. The usual.” “So, what‟ll it be today?” “Give me a tall one.” “That it?” Liam studies the pastries, breads, and muffins. He is tempted by the yogurt. Jim‟s wife makes it fresh every day. It is served with a side dish of hand picked berries. Today there are blackberries and raspberries to choose from. In the end he elects to keep it simple. “No, Just the coffee today, and some patent advice.” “Well the advice is free, but the coffee will cost you four hundred bucks.” “Jez, how can you stay in business?” „It ain‟t easy Liam. It ain‟t easy.” Jim moves from behind the counter and motions to a table near the window. “Let‟s have a seat over here.” Jim, the owner of Jim‟s Java Joint is a practicing attorney. Well, he used to be. He is trying his hardest to leave behind the suits and the courtroom and retire quietly to his coffee house. He‟s almost there too. Jim‟s specialty is, or rather was, patent law. Sid recommended Jim to Liam when he started the company, knowing the arcane world of patent law requires an expertise he does not possess. That was years ago and since then Jim has been his patent attorney, and trusted friend. Once or twice a year, Liam, Sid and Jim take off on motorcycles for a long weekend. Last fall it was the Adirondacks. Jim and Sid rode BMWs, while Liam took his new Ducati Multistrada. The colors were past peak in October, but the air was still warm. They stayed in Jim‟s lake house. It was a great trip. Wearing his lawyer hat, Jim starts in. “So what‟s on your mind?” “I had an offer to sell Elmo?” “How much?” “Forty-five million.” “A nice round number”


“Isn‟t it though?” “So, what‟s the problem? No, let me guess. You want to know how this impacts Elmo II, since we‟re going off patent next year with the original design. Right?” “That‟s why they pay you the big bucks.” “Paying customers get me the big bucks. I may have to charge you for the advice after all.” Sid clears his throat, and gets serious again. “So, who made you this offer?” “iGenrx.” “That figures. They‟ve been running neck and neck with Delaware Pharma for the last two years. They are both looking to outgun the other for the number one spot in the industry. Elmo could defiantly give iGenrx an edge. I imagine they want exclusivity, right? No more licensing agreements to other pharmas?” “Right again.” “Yeah, sure. I can see it. So, you want my two cents?” “That‟s what I came here for… that and the coffee, of course.” “Okay, here‟s my gut on this. The person you‟re dealing with is pretty shrewd…” “Sid thinks she has inside information from the US Patent Office.” “Wouldn‟t surprise me. I can‟t imagine it would be too hard to buy off a patent clerk based on what they make.” “That‟s exactly what he said! Anyway, sorry, I interrupted you. You were about to say…?” “iGenrx is being shrewd. I give them credit for doing their homework. They really had to connect the dots on this one. Here‟s the deal. They figure if they offer to buy the exclusive rights to Elmo now, then you are likely to sell. “Okay, but why?” “Because pal, they‟re banking on the fact you‟ll jump at the chance to cash in on the patent while it still has some market value. You with me so far?”


Liam nods. “So far… keep going.” “They‟re trying to get inside your head. They assume you‟re thinking that since you‟ve got Elmo II in the can, ready to go, you‟ll sell them original, wait a while for the patent to expire, then take the first chance you can get to go right back into the market, leasing Elmo II to all your old customers.” “Well that‟s true. I could do that, right?” “Not necessarily, and here‟s the part where iGenrx is being tricky.” Liam hangs on every word as Jim takes a sip of his coffee. “If the design of Elmo II has any shared parts or technology covered under the original patents for Elmo I, then the new owner of that technology, now iGenrx, could legally contest your use of it, and potentially block you from marketing the new device.” “They can‟t do that, can they? That makes no sense.” “That‟s the law.” Sensing Liam‟s frustration, he says, “Look Liam, it‟s a gray area. It is not a great case for iGenrx to litigate, but that‟s not the point. All they have to do is get a judge to agree that they have a case, and that won‟t be too hard for their army of lawyers to do, then they can tie you up in legal proceedings for years to come.” “And in the meantime, they have a legal right to build and sell products using the original Elmo technology, while I‟m prevented from doing anything with Elmo II. Is that Right?” “Now you‟ve got it.” “Bastards!” “Yup. More Coffee?” *

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Moving south with the current on the return leg Liam flies down river. The quart of caffeine in his system doesn‟t do anything to slow him down. Rowing a single is a powerful experience in solitude. It is almost like meditation or prayer. Liam often rows fastest when he is lost in thought. Muscle memory takes over, and his body slips into that elusive “zone” athletes are fond of talking about. This exercise has been worthwhile. Liam‟s been able to confirm that his initial gut response to the iGenrx offer was correct. He was right to reject it, not only on the basis of ethics, which was his initial motivation, but also in light of this


new information. Jim‟s revelation of Ms. Icerio‟s Machiavellian scheme to buy the rights to Elmo, and then turn around and play him like a pinball machine, eventually suing him for using his own invention, is simply mind-boggling. How do people come up with such devious plans? Reflecting on Jim‟s ability to so quickly pinpoint Icerio‟s scheme, Liam is awed by the special sort of mental conditioning it must take to think like a top lawyer. Jim has developed warrior-like instincts for sniffing out greed, ambition and self-serving motives. He quickly assumed the worst elements of human nature were behind iGenrx‟s plans, and he was dead on the money. . Liam respects Jims‟ ability and instincts. Strangely, he feels a bit inept by comparison. Liam is not wired to think that way. He is beginning to think that it is a real flaw in his character. He reflects on several instances in his own life where he got shit on by others because he was too trusting, the classic nice guy who finished last. Were his parents wrong to teach him that one should assume good intentions until proven otherwise? Is all this “do unto others” rhetoric people spout in religious services each week a steaming pile of dung? Are people really no different than other animals? Is this all just about the social order in the wolf pack? Liam does not know the answers, but right now he is feeling a bit closer to Jim. He realizes what a burden it must be to constantly look at the world through such a hostile lens, it takes a certain vigilance to assume the worst in people. He could never do it. It is no wonder Jim wants to get out of the law profession as soon as he can. If he were in Jim‟s shoes, he‟d do the same. Liam now understands why every lawyer he knows hates their job.


Chapter 14 Collie is still wearing her slippers. She stretches. Her neck makes an audible string of pops. She moves from her makeshift office in the guest bedroom to the kitchen and peers into the fridge. Finding nothing of interest, she looks at her watch. FedEx should be here any minute with new data disks from the office. Not that she needs them. She has been at this now for 14 days straight. Each time she thinks she is gaining on the massive backlog, more disks arrive from the office. She wanders past the hall mirror and catches a glimpse of herself. She hasn‟t showered yet today. Her hair looks mousy and flat. She checks out her teeth. They could do with a brush. She‟s been drinking coffee since 5:00 am when her alarm went off, and she stumbled into the spare bedroom where she has been working ever since. Thinking back, she smirks at what her boss said to her about sitting on the beach getting a tan. She can‟t remember the last time she left the house. Her pale skin is loosing some of its natural luster from lack of sunlight and eating too much take-out pizza. She is loosing it. In the bathroom she does a quick wash up. Splashing water on her face before returning to work. She vows to do two more scans before rewarding herself with some exercise in the fresh air. The first scan goes without incident. She reviews the CG animation, noting three lobes of the brain with sub-optimal blood flow activity. Otherwise it is unremarkable. She spot-checks the trend analysis. Everything looks in order. She approves the computer classification, and archives the film. She moves on to the last one. She opens the CG animation as always, and immediately frowns. The normally crisp color animation is hazy, lacking resolution, almost like a movie taken in a fog. About one in every fifty scans has this same error. She figures it must be an intermittent problem with the new SPECT scanner. When Collie saw the first of these, she studied it for some time. She wanted to be sure of what she was looking at. She believes it‟s an error in recording cycle. Maybe it happened as the result of a loose wire at the time of the scan, or perhaps a power surge. No matter how it happened, she knows one thing for sure, it‟s bad data. The thing that cinched it for her was a simple observation. In the hundreds of scans she has viewed so far, every brain abnormality whether it be a hot spot, a dead area, a spectrum of hyperactive synaptic activity, etc., they all have one thing in common. They appear inside the skull cavity. This film gives the appearance of brainwave activity leaching out beyond the confines of the cranium. This, of course, is not possible.


Even people with dramatically impaired brains don‟t have brainwave activity strong enough to register outside the skull. It is something simply not seen in nature. There is no scientific explanation for the type of data, therefore it must be an error in the recording process. Since Collie is seeing the exact same pattern in multiple scans, she does what any prudent scientist would do. She separates the errant data from the good data, so as not to corrupt her results. To separate this file, and others like it, from her good data, Collie must override the computer classification process. She then takes the bad scan and dumps it into a quarantine folder she‟s labeled “Junk Scans”. With the addition of this one there are now 413 junk scans in the file. This is a 2% spoilage ratio. Certainly not unprecedented, but not ideal either. Collie is just thankful she caught it from the start and quarantined these bad scans with the first one she found. If they were included with the clean data, this 2% contamination would throw the persnickety medical journal reviewers into a tizzy, and they would very likely declare all findings from the clinical trail invalid. Collie readies herself for a long therapeutic bike ride on the towpath that runs along the canal. *

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JC waits on hold for his old buddy to pick up. After what seems like a long time, the admin comes back on the line, “I‟m sorry sir, I‟m getting the voice mail. Would you like to leave a message?” Charlie Lansdowne is a sycophantic executive boot licker that owes his career to JC. He used to worship the ground that JC walked on. Now the little prick won‟t even he take his call. Furious, JC barks at the admin. “You tell Charlie that he needs to call me ASAP,” and slams down the receiver. Lansdowne is only the latest in a series of unanswered and unreturned calls JC has placed to his former colleagues in the iGenrx executive suite. These are the same people he played golf with, people he dined with, people he invited to his club. Hell, he took a bullet for iGenrx. He saved their hides by playing the role of sacrificial lamb. He could have taken a bunch of them down with him, but he didn‟t, and this is how the bastards repay him. They act like they don‟t even know him. It has often been said that you will know who your true friends are when times get tough. JC always assumed that the adage applied to someone else, and not to him. But these past few weeks have proven that JC really has no friends, and all the people he thought were his friends are just empty suits, a fact that he finds incomprehensible.


JC makes a silent pledge to himself to come back stronger and fiercer than before. To be smarter, and tougher. He just needs a way to do it. *

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Robert is in a Physician‟s waiting room when he gets the call on his cell. “If you want another installment, meet me at the Stonehouse Tavern Bed & Breakfast in Hopewell in one hour.” The line goes dead, but the voice tinged with a Spanish accent is unmistakable. Robert looks around at the other three pharma reps waiting to see Dr. Patel. He has been cooling his jets for the last 40 minutes, and is next in line to see the doc. Weighing his options, he decides the good doctor can wait for another day. One of his team members in his pod will pick up the slack. He walks to the reception window and has the nurse practitioner sign his sample cards. He dumps a box of anti-depressants on the counter and heads for the parking lot. He is already composing the text for his bogus call report in his head… Due to overzealous interpretation of the HIPAA guidelines, the new receptionist would not allow sales rep to enter patient area for fear that rep would inadvertently be exposed to protected patient information…Hmm, sounds good.


Chapter 15 Liam tosses the keys to his Norton Commando Interstate back in the dish, and hangs his Bates leather jacket up before heading to the kitchen. He sees the answering machine is blinking. It has three messages. Liam punches play and the speaker comes on as he forages in the fridge for a cold drink… “Hey Liam, it‟s Dennis. I hear four-footers are breakin in Atlantic City this afternoon. I‟m grabbin my long board and headed for the usual spot. Meet me if you can. See ya.” Liam looks at his watch. Too late for surfing today. A dial tone sounds before the next message begins. “Liam, this is Cleo, we met the other night in the blues bar on Hudson? I was there with my girl friend Sara… I hope you remember me? I called your friend Sid, and he gave me your number. He said you wouldn‟t mind. Anyway, me and a bunch of my friends are going out for drinks at LUNA this Friday. I though maybe you could meet us there if you‟re not doing anything. I hope you can make it. Call me if you want. My number is (968) 555-8870. Or you can IM me; I‟m at dancerbinight@yahoo.com. But call me… really. Bye.” Another dial tone then…Sid‟s voice comes over the speaker. “Liam, it‟s me. You may get a call from one of those crazy chicks we met the other night at the Yard, the real cute one Cecil, or Clarice or something. She called me to get your number. She seems real hot for you. Her friend Sara wasn‟t bad either. And you didn‟t want to go. See what happens when you come down out of the Iron Penis and socialize with real humans? But, that‟s not why I called. We got another offer from your buddy Ms. Icerio at iGenrx. She upped the offer to an even 50 million. She says it is her final offer. She also said the offer is only good for seven days and then she is withdrawing it. Can you believe that? Anyway, I told her that I would communicate the offer to you, and get back to her with your response. I‟m holding a fax copy here. We can go over it when we talk. Call me.” With that, the phone call abruptly ends and the dial tone drones. *

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Back at her makeshift desk in the condo a refreshed Collie is attacking her work with renewed vigor after her long bike ride. She tries to get in a decent bike ride of twenty miles or more at least four times a week. Lately she hasn‟t been able to ride much. With just one week to go before the POA she is starting to think she might just make it. She figures now would be a good time to take a moment and collate the data from her daily trend reports into a single consolidated report.


She has been meaning to do this, but just hasn‟t had the time. Collie spends the next twenty minutes loading in the reports and pulls the trigger. The computer takes its time processing the files. A window on the screen indicates progress... 5% complete… 7% complete. This is going to take a while. Collie retreats to the kitchen to make some tea. When she returns, what she sees does not bode well for AP297. The drug is supposed to be more effective than traditional SSRIs, seritonin reuptake inhibitors. At a glance, it looks like the increases in seritonin are modest at best. Intent on finding some good news buried in the report, Collie digs in deeper. After spot-checking all twenty-two bipolar categories in the report, the information looks downright grim. AP297 shows to be no more effective, and in some cases quite a bit less effective than existing treatment options. Collie is crestfallen. It looks like all the investment in this clinical trail has been wasted. In the past two years, iGenrx has dumped tens of millions of dollars into development and testing of AP297, and right now it looks like a complete bust. Collie stops for a moment puzzled by what she sees. There is an extra column of data on the report. It doesn‟t belong there. Curious she expands the header. She is shocked when the file name appears: “Junk Scans.” “Shit, this doesn‟t belong in here”. Collie takes a closer look. It looks like the bad data files intended for quarantine were somehow included in the trend report. Collie is angry at herself for this inexcusable sloppiness. But, once she gets over her anger, she is actually relieved. This bonehead move means that the report she just ran is crap. Maybe the efficacy results for AP297 are not as bad as she first thought? Collie does the prudent thing and runs a trend report on both the clean data, and a separate report on the “Junk Scans” file. The latter is just an exercise to confirm that her hypothesis is correct. If she is right, the clean data files will show a very high correlation in measured responses by category, and the Junk Scans will show a very low correlation. Re re-runs the reports. Immediately, she sees at least one thing out of whack. The report says the Junk Scans have a 94% match across all 3000 metrics. This can‟t be. These files should be completely random. There shouldn‟t be any striking similarity between them. The odds of getting a 94% match on random films is similar to the odds of flipping a coin and having it come up heads a million times in a row!


Collie knows there must me something wrong. She suspects the software again. *

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Around 4:30 Robert rolls into the condo. His lips are badly chapped from having to run his tongue up and down Icer‟s thigh-high Italian boots all afternoon. She brought six pairs to the B&B. Robert left there another grand richer and he still does not know her name. He grabs a cold beer from the fridge and holds it against his lips to help make the swelling go down. He flips on the TV. Collie calls something to him from upstairs. He is so engrossed in a re-run of Most Extreme Elimination Challenge, MXC, that he does not hear her. She says something again. He ignores her. Half an hour later she comes down stairs. “Didn‟t you hear me?” “Oh, no babe, I had the TV on.” “I want you to look at something for me.” “Okay.” “No, not here, up in the office.” As they climb the stairs, Collie recounts her odd discovery. First she tells him about the Junk Files with the foggy looking films, and how she threw them all in a file she planned to quarantine. She explains to Robert the disturbing fact that they have a 94% correlation across all 3000 measured brain traits, when they should be completely random. When they get to the computer she motions for him to sit. “So you want me to look over the program to see if I can find a bug in the software?” “Yes. I‟ll sleep so much better tonight if I know what is causing this. It could mean the difference in AP297 getting approved or not. The efficacy data is very close. A small shift in the data could make the difference.” “Okay, no problem. Give me fifteen minutes alone with this baby, and you‟ll have your answer.” “Sweet! Thanks Honey. You want a fresh beer while you‟re working?”


“No thanks. Just close the door on your way out. I‟ll come get you when I‟m done.” A grateful Collie closes the door behind her. Robert can hear her descend the steps. Robert moves to the bed, flops down and falls asleep. A half-hour later he wakes up, looks around, and rubs his eyes. He can hear the sound of feet coming up the stairs. He bolts to his feet. He just makes it behind the desk as Collie enters. He wiggles the mouse to bring the computer out of sleep mode. She comes around behind him just as the screen flickers on. “I thought I‟d bring you a fresh beer since you‟ve been working so hard on this for me.” She sets down the cold beer and picks up the old one. Feeling its heft, she remarks, “Wow, you really are working hard, you haven‟t even finished this one!” “Yeah, well, you know.” “So what did you find out?” “Nothing. It all checks out. There is nothing wrong with the software.” “Really?” “Yeah really. Well I‟m gonna go down and watch the game now, so good luck with that.” Robert disappears from view, and down the stairs. “Deep in thought, and still staring at the screen absently she responds, “Okay, thanks.” If it is not the software, then what is it? Robert calls from downstairs, “By the way do we have any lip balm?”


Chapter 16 Collie is a classically trained scientist. She approaches the process of experimentation with consistency and rigor. She has to. In science, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about things, and adherence to the tried and true scientific method is critical to success. More than a phrase, the term scientific method refers to an actual process. Researchers begin with a premise they shape into a theory called the hypothesis. They then design an experiment, or a series of experiments, to prove this theory correct. Once they amass a solid body of conclusive data, the scientist can proclaim their experiment a success, and publish their results to the scientific community as fact. Often, this scientific method works just fine. Read any basic text on the subject of science, and it will say this is how scientific advancements are made. However, there is a different, more controversial school of scientific theory that suggests the scientific process is much more chaotic. As a young graduate student in Theoretical Physics at Harvard, Thomas Kuhn wrote a slim volume called The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In it, he proclaims that the scientific method is terribly flawed. He says that scientists design experiments to reinforce what they already know, and by definition they miss, or worse, ignore data that does not fit into their theories. He suggests scientists are, by and large, conservative puzzle solvers, not the freethinking individuals they are portrayed to be. Kuhn makes the compelling argument that genuine scientific discovery takes place almost by accident, when the problems with a widely held belief or paradigm, mount up and reach the tipping point, where they overwhelm the reigning paradigm of accepted truth. When these problems or anomalies become so pervasive that they cannot be overlooked any longer, the paradigm crumbles, and a completely new one takes its place. This is a paradigm shift. Collie has learned that it pays to listen to the voice on her other shoulder when the standard scientific process fails her. History is full of examples of scientists who were so intent on proving their theories that they ignored evidence that ran to the contrary. She believes the problem is more human that scientific. Scientists tend to be intelligent prideful people. She agrees with Kuhn that they are conservative. No researcher worth their salt would ever attempt to go public with a finding unless it was iron clad. There is too much risk. Scientists are a critical bunch. When they sign-on, they accept the mantle of intense scrutiny by their peers, and an unwritten, but universally understood, zero-tolerance policy for sloppy or incomplete work. A scientist can easily commit career-suicide if they violate this implicit contract. The onus to be right looms large. This is why scientists have been known to be


conservative. Given the professional climate they operate in, it is no wonder they are loath to point out problems in their research. When anomalies do crop up it is simple human nature for scientists to quickly explain them away, or label them an flawed, or contaminated samples and data. As a student of human nature Collie has come to realize that denial is a powerful psychological force. It is the engine of justification. It is a uniquely human coping strategy. It is the means by which we rationalize, postpone, subjugate, and dimunate. It is usually the first human response to kick in when we choose not to deal with something. After all, no one likes to be wrong. The astronomer Ptolemy is a great example of this. Living in the period just after Christ, he theorized that the universe was composed of a series of glass spheres, one inside the other, with the earth at the very center. His poetic view of the cosmos was like a grand music box, where the stars resided on crystal spheres, and as they gently rotated, they created a beautiful celestial music. As a mathematician and keen observer of the physical world, he set out to prove his theory. With the hindsight of twenty-first century wisdom, it is easy to dismiss Ptolemy‟s ideas as unscientific, mere romantic fantasies. But his theory was not fanciful. It was built upon thoughtful scientific observation. In fact, most astronomers of the time already believed that the sun was at the center of the universe. So, Ptolemy had his work cut out for him, attempting to convince learned men of his time that the earth was really the center of the universe. He did so with a few simple experiments, and logical arguments. He started with a logical argument called a syllogism. If “a” equals “b”, and “b” equals “c” then “a” must equal “c”. He proposed to his colleagues that since all objects fall toward the center of the universe, and all objects fall toward the center of the earth, then the center of the earth must be the center of the universe. His second argument also appealed to common sense. He pointed out that if the earth were was spinning about in orbit around the sun, then an object thrown straight up would not fall back to earth in the same spot, as it appears to do. And he cinched the deal with his last logical point. He said that the earth could not be traversing around in space, because if this were true, the air we breathe would be swept off the surface, and we would all suffocate. All of these were compelling arguments in the absence of an understanding of gravity, and that would not come for many more centuries with the rise of Newton. Logical though it was, the Ptolemaic system was not without its problems. In the course of his observations, Ptolemy noted that several planets did not orbit in a manner consistent with his earth–centered universe. So he made minor adjustments to his model to explain away these anomalies. As a work-around solution he employed a complex series of orbital paths called epicycles to


explain why Venus appeared to double back on itself as it crossed the sky. He devised other fixes to account for objects that appeared to make loop-the-loops like celestial barnstormers. Followers of Ptolemy continued his work. However, the more they discovered about the universe, the more anomalies cropped up. But rather than propose a new model, they continued to tweak the old one. This went on for 1400 years, until the model finally collapsed under it‟s own enormous weight. The void made way for Copernicus to develop a heliocentric model. Ironically, the Copernican, or sun-centered model was very much like the one Ptolemy displaced over a millennium prior. If the scientific method really worked, all of these problems and glitches in the data would have signaled to astronomers that the original premise must be wrong. They would not have clung to a deeply flawed paradigm for 1400 years. But, a certain scientific hubris prevented them from seeing it. Because the Ptolemaic system was the reigning paradigm, it was accepted without challenge. It would be several hundred years before the pragmatic Occam would come on the scene with his famous razor. And put forth the notion that the simplest solution is probably the correct one. Collie reflects. Is it hubris to cling to an idea, or for that matter a relationship, commitment, or belief, when the reasons for it‟s beginning have long since proven to be false? On occasion, she has found herself in the midst of an argument, when she suddenly realizes she is wrong. And even though she realizes that she is wrong, she is unable to stop arguing her point. She wonders if humans are truly cognitive creatures at all, or simply unwitting victims of their own organically programmed conceit? Who among us does not privately feel that he or she knows best? Is it ego that fuels this? Is it pride? Is it fear of being wrong? She thinks about the implications. How far advanced would our science be today if we were not to paralyzed by believing our own ideas to the exclusion of others? How advanced might out culture be if we were not crippled by our “not invented here so it can‟t be any good” prejudice? Nations have gone to war over such simple arrogance. Collie concludes that scientists are really no different than the rest of society in this regard. As followers of Ptolemy found, it is unsettling to give up on a central paradigm, or belief system, principally because it is comfortable, this is especially true when what lies beyond is utterly unknown. Collie thinks about her own work and private life. She feels that perhaps she has been living with comfortable lies, rather than face the unsettling truth.


Chapter 17 Scientists seldom intentionally sail toward the edge of the earth just to see what is there. Yet, sometimes it is the only way. To increase understanding, one must occasionally confront the unknown. This is often where great advances in science are made. It is the place of enlightenment, but it is also where brilliant minds have been lost to frustration, and even madness. Scientists through history have been lured by this siren song. Once started she knows there is no turning back. Collie has an uneasy feeling. Ever since she inspected the first of these mysterious junk scans she has had the nagged feeling that there might be more to them than meets the eye. Perhaps she was too quick to dismiss them as simple errors. Deep down she suspects she may be in denial. When the computer confirmed a 94% match in traits for this group she knew there was more to the story. That sort of conformity cannot be explained away as a mere anomaly. Clearly, there must be an explanation, and Collie is determined not to rest until she knows what it is. In a flash of inspiration Collie concocts an impromptu experiment to get at the real truth behind these junk scans. There are now 557 films in this file. She believes she can create a 3D model of the Junk Scan brain by using the trend software backwards. If her theory is correct, she should be able to reverse engineer a CG brain scan using a simple composite of the data contained in all 557 Junk Scans. By cutting and pasting values in a spreadsheet, she quickly calculates averages for each of the 3000 discrete brain metrics in the Junk Scans folder. Armed with this information, she feeds the data into the back end, or output screen of the trend software. She is essentially attempting to trick the software into thinking that this data is from a single brain, in the hope that it will create a composite CG scan. The benefit of this would be the creation of a hypothetical subject Collie can study that possesses the typical architecture and characteristics of this sub-group. The little hourglass icon on the computer screen tells her the system is working. After much whirring and buzzing the file is complete. It worked. For the first time, a new CG film has been created, not of an actual individual brain, but of a hypothetical subject. The animation starts as always, with a view of the top of the brain. Collie is immediately disappointed. She assumed the foggy corona would disappear. Unfortunately, it is still there. She quietly hoped that using the averages of all


metrics, would have tuned-out the diffuse pixels of snowy distortion. She briefly flashes on the memory of her mother standing in the living room of the old house, attempting to get rid of the snow on the familyâ€&#x;s old RCA TV, by carefully adjusting the rabbit ear antenna. Snapping back to the present, she tries to resist the urge to analyze her observations too early. She focuses on just taking it all in. She watches intently as the scan rotates from the top view. It swings down through a threequarter angle. All appears normal until the view moves down to a dead-on side shot. Collie hits the pause button. There, in that instant, caught in freeze frame, is something she has never seen. From the side angle, what appeared, as a milky haze becomes much clearer, much more focused. Now that it is in side relief the formerly diffuse fog has adopted a shape. It stands out as a sharp, flat, perfectly articulated ring, much like the rings of Saturn. It is emanating from the center of the brain like a halo of light energy. Collie checks the readings to confirm her assumption. There can be no doubt. This subject brain is giving off energy! Broadcasting it out in all directions! Casting a disk-shaped corona of electrical energy in all directions. Collie is so excited her hands start to shake. Her mind begins to race. No one has ever seen anything like this. It defies all conventional wisdom. Every textbook, every class she ever attended, every expert on neuroscience has always said that synaptic firing of neurons from axle ganglia to receptor neurons is a controlled process occurring only in the tiny space between brain cells. It just does not seem possible, but nonetheless here it is. *

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Five hours later, Collie gulps down her third Diet Pepsi. It is the middle of the night and she has never been more awake. Since the initial discovery she has been on a learning binge, discovering new aspects of this previously undiagnosed brain type. She imagines this is what Charles Darwin must have felt like when he first set eyes on the Galapagos Islands. With so many strange and wonderful things to see all at once, she is exhilarated to the point of overload. Taking in new discoveries by the minute, she is soaking them up like a sponge. The second breakthrough she discovered is that the source of the emanating energy appears to be from the brain stem. Long considered by most experts to be the most primitive portion of the brain, it is no bigger than the shift knob of your car. Neuroscientists have confirmed that the brain stem it an ancestral throw back, a vestige of the first advanced hominid brains that allowed homo sapien to walk upright and use tools.


Once the epitome of cognition, the brain stem of the modern human brain now plays second fiddle to the gray matter of the upper lobes where complex thought processes take place. The brain stem is credited with many of the more boring automatic functions such as regulating various chemical balances, breathing, and keeping the heart beating, the things we don‟t have to think about, and don‟t actively control. Importantly however, it is also the home of our limbic system. Psychologists believe the limbic system is the command center for all emotion. It serves as a sounding board for the higher faculties of cognition. They claim that the upper lobes control what we think, but our primitive limbic system determines how we feel about it. The two operate in tandem, and are indivisible. The theory lends credence to the fact that attempts to divorce emotion, from reason are impossible. When deciding to buy a Toyota Camry Collie‟s cognitive rational side weighs the fuel mileage, practicality etc. Her emotional limbic system decides if she likes the car. The fact that the energy ring is emitted from the brain stem leads Collie to believe it is somehow linked to emotion. *

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Collie‟s next order of business was to determine the composition of the brainwaves. Just exactly what is this halo of energy made of? She began by testing the frequency of the halo. She soon discovered that the brainwaves emitted are exclusively delta waves. Delta waves are slow moving very low amplitude waves most commonly associated with sleep and dreaming. They are produced in abundance only when the mind is in its most creative state. Collie weighs her first three findings and concludes this energy halo is somehow linked to both emotion, and creativity. She theorizes that these brains produce excessive amounts delta waves. That would account for the imbalance. And chemical imbalance is one of the hallmarks of depression and bipolar, so that much fits. She believes they produce so many excess delta waves that they can‟t all be processed without creating a synaptic overload. To keep from blowing a cognitive fuse, she thinks that perhaps these brain types evolved a natural defense mechanism to bleed-off excess delta waves. This theory would explain why excess delta waves need to exit the brain cavity, but it does not explain how they get out? Looking for an answer to this question, Collie conducted some quick tests on the bone density of human skulls. She discovered that there is some variance from human to human.


The subject brains all seem to have very porous bone in the wall of the skull. This allows the low amplitude frequency of lazy looking delta waves to snake through the bone wall rather easily where other higher frequency waves are stopped cold. Given enough time, Collie feels confident she can prove that the brainwaves actually remember the most efficient pathways through the bone. And by using the same routes over and over they create efficient escape routes, like a person wears a path across an open field the more they travel it. Collie is on a roll. Physically exhausted, but charged up on pure adrenalin she keeps going. She pieces together what she has so far. Escaping brainwaves, emanating in all directions, associated with creativity, linked to emotion‌but to what effect? *

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Collie is compelled to learn what happens to these brainwaves after they exit the skull? A fish will only survive for so long out of water. What happens to these brainwaves once they leave home? Do they dissipate? Do they ground out? Do they interact with other electrical impulses? She cobbles together a clever experiment to measure the distance the delta waves will travel. Within the scope of this ad-hoc test, she is able to determine that the waves emanate in a radius of about three meters, or about 15 feet, in all directions before grounding themselves to a particle of opposite charge. The low frequency of the waves makes them very hearty. They donâ€&#x;t easily break apart or become fragmented. They typically keep going until they hit something. Collie finds herself laughing at the thought that these waves are like the golden retrievers of the wavelength family, they happily wander out to greet things in their immediate area, and there is little that disturbs them. Collie has learned so much already that she wonders if her own brain might overload. It is a chance she is willing to take. This is a once in a lifetime experience for a research scientist. She is not anxious for it to end. She is as giddy as Howard Carter when he discovered the tomb of King Tut, as excited as Watson and Crick unraveling the mystery of DNA, as jazzed as Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon for the first time. Her enthusiasm keeps her going. Her mission is clear now, she must find out what happens when these rogue energy waves encounter a normal human brain. Using the computer to model the scenario, Collie simulates an encounter between this brain and a normal brain. She watches as the exchange unfolds


before her eyes. When the subject comes within range of the normal brain the airborne delta waves, already adept at passing through bone, enter the normal brain easily. At first, it looks as though nothing is happening. But then Collie notices readouts monitoring the balance of mood stabilizing chemicals in the normal brain begin to change. At first the changes are subtle, but as time goes on, she can see levels begin to spike and trough more dramatically. She zeroes in on the 5HT2 and D2 receptors to check serotonin, and dopamine levels. The activity is erratic. She checks the wave spectrum. All abnormal activity can be traced to a disruption in the delta waves. It appears that the incoming delta waves are shorting out the normal brainâ€&#x;s delta waves. The electrical impulses are playing havoc with the limbic system. If this were a real person and not a computer simulation, Collie would be able to ask the person what this feels like. Clearly it is having an effect on the emotional balance of the healthy brain. Collie watches the screen as the normally even gray color of the control brain morphs. At first the palette changes from a uniform gray to a mottled appearance. She can see that blood flow to the delicate capillaries of the frontal lobes is being constricted. The restriction is preventing enough oxygenated blood from reaching the areas that control reason and logic. Switching to MRI mode Collie watches the soft tissues of the brain react to the random electrical impulses. The closest thing she can think of to describe it is to say it looks like a thunderhead cloud of a violent summer storm. Ominous flashes like heat lightning illuminate the cloud-like dome of the brain from within. Fascinated, Collie is glued to the screen. She mentally retracts the idea that the rogue delta waves are like benign golden retrievers. Instead, she sees them now as stampeding particles of energy, in search of a particle of opposite polarity to complete their circuit. It is the same principle as a child rubbing their feet on the carpet and then touching the iron radiator to see the arc of static electricity. Collie believes she has it figured out now. Just as a your neighborâ€&#x;s baby monitor can sometimes interfere with the reception on your cordless phone, these rogue energy waves can travel across space to temporarily zap normal brain waves, impacting the emotional center of the brain at a sub-conscious level. Short-circuiting the delta waves of unsuspecting individual impacts their creative power, and degrades their emotional response capabilities. The effect would likely be an inability to be creative, and a reduction in problem solving ability. Perhaps even more. Emotionally, the innocent bystander who happens to come in contact with such an individual would likely experience a low-grade malaise, or emotional disorientation. In all likelihood, it would manifest itself as frustration, or an inability to think straight. The higher faculties of decision-


making, involving reason and logic, would also likely become somewhat impaired due to restricted blood flow. Perhaps one would feel all of these symptoms. As these thoughts coalesce in Collie‟s mind, a universe of puzzle pieces suddenly falls into place. A moment of prescient clarity envelops her, and with it an aura of peaceful understanding. She has it. She stands up from her desk, and says “Of course!” Amazing. Collie has just stumbled upon a medical explanation for what her mother used to refer to as “energy vampires.”


Chapter 18 It‟s funny one remembers. As an adolescent, Collie came home from school one day to find her mother crying at the breakfast table. Disturbed by her mothers crying, she comforted her with a hug. Her mother‟s sobbing actually intensified momentarily feeling the warmth of her child‟s love, and knowing that Collie would someday grow up to face the harsh indignity of a world filled with petty, small-minded people who‟s actions and behavior could be so very misguided. Once calm, Collie‟s mom explained to her that there are certain people in the world who will simply drain you of all your good will and emotional strength. “They can‟t help themselves” she said, “they‟re just energy vampires. They don‟t even know they are doing it. But, it never fails, every time they‟re around, they leave you feeling angry, exhausted, drained, and frustrated. Perhaps worst of all, they can even leave you feeling bad about yourself. They travel through life burning through relationships and leaving a wake of emotional destruction in their paths, like psychic tornados.” Collie listened to all this, knowing that someday it would make sense to her. *

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Getting up from her desk, Collie turns out the light. She goes down to the living room, opens the slider and steps out onto to the wooden deck with bare feet. Looking up at the Milky Way she is comforted that tonight science has brought mankind closer to understanding one of the mysteries of life. Yet like the gap between her and the stars above, she is humbled by the notion that there is still a long way to go. For the third time this evening Collie finds herself missing her mom. At times like this she wishes she could just pick up the phone and call her. Cancer has made that impossible. If she could talk to her she would tell her that her prophecy has come true. Like everyone, Collie knows several individuals who, through no ill intent, simply give off negative energy and leave her feeling drained, empty, even questioning herself. Now, Collie realizes that for at least a portion of these people there is a medical explanation. Her mom would be proud. The implications of this discovery are startling. In all likelihood, these energy vampires, or EVs as Collie has decided to call them, have existed for thousands of years. It is easy to speculate that this group evolved from a single gene mutation, which caused them to take a divergent genetic pathway. Early ancestors of today‟s EVs would have had brains that produced excessive delta waves like their modern offspring. These people were probably very creative, but emotionally frail. Chemical imbalance would surely have given


them severe depression and tortuous headaches. A fortunate few would have possessed skull density sufficiently porous to allow the excess delta waves to escape, and they would have lived long enough to pass on their genes to the next generation. From there, centuries of evolutionary refinement have given us the EVs of today. In time, we may even discover the mating habits of EVs. Do they mate with others of their ilk, or perhaps individuals who are somehow immune to the debilitating effects of emotional stun gun? Is there a lead pipe to contain this human kryptonite? It is too early to tell. For now, staring up at the inky black sky dotted with stars, it is enough for Collie to know that this is a breakthrough of staggering proportion. Now that this malady is known, science can begin the process of isolating the factors that control it, and in time, may be able to come up with a cure. Collie would not be surprised to find that many types of depressive conditions could be linked to this same brain malfunction. It is easy to speculate that people suffering from schizophrenia, Alzheimerâ€&#x;s, dementia, ALS, chronic fatigue syndrome, etc. might have similar brain characteristics. Like a person who narrowly escaped a harrowing car accident, Collie suddenly feels her legs turn to jelly as the adrenalin of the night wears off. Her wideeyed wonderment is beginning to ease. She is beginning to feel the effects of this emotionally charged night. She canâ€&#x;t help thinking that if this discovery stands up to the light of day, she may be holding the key to a new paradigm in brain science. A breakthrough of this magnitude will surely alter the landscape for scientific study and usher in a new era in medicine. There is so much more to do and learn. The sun is starting to come up. Collies own brain function is shutting down now. She has ignored the warning signs for hours, too caught up in the endorphin high of this discovery. Past the brink, and running on mixture of pure adrenaline and caffeine, her body finally gives out she collapses onto a chaise lounge and falls into a deep sleep.


Chapter 19 Collie sleeps deeply for a few hours but no longer. When she gets up Robert is there on the couch watching a NASCAR chat show. Collie asks him, “What are you doing home in the middle of the day” “It‟s Saturday.” “It‟s Saturday? Oh God, that‟s right.” “What‟s up with you? You look like hell.” “Thanks Robert.” “You know what I mean. You okay?” He asks perfunctorily. “I‟m great. I just made the biggest discovery of my life!” “Oh so I guess that AP297 stuff works, Huh?” “What?” “The experimental drug? Isn‟t that what you were up all night working on?” She has been so caught up in the discovery of the EVs, Collie had momentarily forgotten all about AP297, and the marginal results it produced. “Well, actually I was working on that when I made an even bigger discovery.” Her words hang in the air in such a way that not even the disinterested Robert can let it go. Without taking his eyes off the TV, he, asks, “What could be more important than the clinical trail you‟ve been living and breathing for last two years?” “I‟ll tell you, if you promise not to tell anyone else?” She knows it‟s wrong to tell Robert. He doesn‟t really care. But at this point, she needs to tell someone, if only to articulate the thoughts that have been running around in her head for the last few hours. She needs to hear how the words sound out loud. He makes eye contact for the first time. “What‟s the big secret?” “The most amazing thing happened last night…” Collie spends the next hour telling Robert every detail of her discovery. *

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Liam drafts one inch behind the rear wheel of the bicycle in front of him. Dennis is in front and working hard to punch a hole in the wind. Liam crouches in his slipstream pedaling with only modest effort, keeping his RPMs at about seventy or so. He shouts up front, “Dennis, how was the surfing the other day?” Dennis shouts back, “It was cool. Not big, but there were some nice breakers, clean tubes. The biggest waves were about yea high.” Dennis makes an imaginary mark at shoulder height. He pauses for a moment and adds “Hey you wanna take the point? I could use a break.” “Sure” Liam swerves out into clean air leaving the pocket of stillness behind. The blast hits him in the face chest and arms. “I need to get in better shape for the Tour De France.” “Yeah, you and me both.” Liam and Dennis careen down a shade dappled two-lane road through the covered bridge outside Sergeantsville, and up the other side. They swap the lead a number of times. Dennis is in good shape. Liam can keep up but finds it difficult to pass. He wouldn‟t like to race against Dennis, but that‟s what makes him the perfect training partner. They push each other. Another twenty minutes pass. Liam can feel his quads burning. There is no way he is ready for the Pyrenees in two weeks. Sweat drips off the tip of his nose and lands onto frame of his Cannondale. He signals to Dennis and they pull in at the general store on the corner of route 518 and 604 in central Hunterdon County. “How far you figure we‟ve gone?” asks Liam. Dennis is a gadget guy when it comes to bikes. He has all the gear. He wears a multicolored lycra jersey, teardrop helmet, windproof mirror sunglasses that weigh a fraction of an ounce. He checks the cat eye on is handlebar. “Says here we‟ve gone 51.4 miles.” Liam wears a simple Patagonia sports jersey, black bike shorts cut just above the knee, and string back gloves. This functional gear wicks away moisture and keeps him cool. He doesn‟t really go in for the current trend in biking apparel. He finds it hard to buy good bike clothing that doesn‟t make him look like a peacock in heat. Unlike Dennis, Liam is no hard core. He bikes for the sheer joy of it, the sensation of freedom you get from riding a bike. He‟s never outgrown it. He is however, beginning to regret agreeing to go with Dennis to France for the annual ride the day before the Tour de France. Each year a group of die-hard amateur bicyclists rides one full leg of the tour, just before the real event kicks


off. To discourage the faint hearted, the organizers pick a difficult mountainous section. This year it will be the ----- section of the Pyrenees. These mountains require the riders to ascend thirty-degree inclines for more than an hour without relief, followed directly by heart-stopping descents where the bikes careen down narrow mountain passes only slightly wider than paved goat paths at speeds approaching sixty miles per hour. Each year a few of the professional bike riders in the real Tour have to be medevaced out by helicopter after suffering bloody spills down these very same roads. The amateurs are far worse. Many are unpredictable over zealous wannabes, not quite good enough to make the main event. The more Liam thinks about it, the trip looks like a recipe for disaster. Dennis had better appreciate this. *

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Robert is impressed with Collie‟s discovery. So much so that he thinks it might be worth the effort to try and salvage the deal with her, but that will never happen. She would never go for it. He knows she is getting ever closer to the breaking point. Experience tells him he is just days away. He fully expects to drive into the condo one day soon and find all of his shit packed up on the lawn. That is the way it usually happens anyway. Just then his cell phone vibrates. It is a text message. It reads “MEET ME IN 1HR. SAME AS LAST. BRING DUCT TAPE.” Robert snaps the phone shut and heads for the door. Muttering to him self, “That is one crazy latina bitch.”


Chapter 20 Robert tastes the gummy adhesive of the duct tape covering his mouth. He twists helplessly, suspended from a sturdy rafter by handcuffs in the otherwise quaint room of the historic bed and breakfast inn. Icer has shackled his ankles and taped them as well, just for the pleasure of it. Standing opposite him in black latex boy shorts and matching boustier laced provocatively up the front, the whip uncoils from her right hand to the floor. Worried thoughts race through Robert‟s mind. Maybe he shouldn‟t have come? Perhaps there are a few things one should not be willing to compromise on for money? Too late now. Icer reads Robert‟s eyes. The frantic darting back and forth turns her on. Sensing his unease, she coos in her seductive Portuguese accent, “Don‟t worry baby, I won‟t do anything your government would not sanction under the Geneva Convention.” Robert‟s eyes grow wide as the whip cracks next to his ear. Just then Icer‟s cell phone rings from inside her purse on the dresser. It is her private line. Very few people have the number. Obviously put off by the inopportune distraction, she sighs and winks at Robert. “Don‟t go anywhere. I‟ll be right back”. She checks the caller ID. She recognizes the number. Instantly, her posture changes, she brushes her hair back suddenly adopting her office demeanor and voice. “Hello?” “Hello, Ms Icerio. Sid Greenfield, Liam Miller‟s attorney. I hope I didn‟t catch you at a bad time? “Not at all Mr. Greenfield. How are you?” “I‟m fine thank you. Sorry to call you on a Saturday.” “I am glad to hear from you. You are no doubt calling me before the Monday deadline to share the good news that Mr. Miller has accepted iGenrx‟s generous offer. Are you not?” “Regrettably, I am not.” “You can‟t be serious Mr. Greenfield. If Mr. Miller believes He can hold out for more money, he is sadly mistaken.” “No, Ms. Icerio, Its not that at all.”


“Do you expect me to believe Miller is not out shopping iGenrx‟s offer around to every major pharmaceutical company on the east coast? Do you take me for a fool?” “Ms. Icerio, Liam Miller has asked me to thank you for the offer. He realizes that it is very generous…” “Far more generous than he would get elsewhere. I can assure you.” she interjects. “Yes, I‟m sure. As I said, Liam is grateful for the acknowledgment, and is respectfully declining.” “But, why?” Maintaining his composure, Sid says, “Ms. Icerio I am not in a position to speculate as to the reasons why Mr. Miller has elected to take this course. You will simply have to take the information at face value.” “Tell him I‟ll get him another three million.” “Ms. Icerio, my client is not interested in pursuing this offer further.” “I refuse to believe that. You go back and tell Mr. Miller about the additional three million. Every man has his price.” “Ms. Icerio, may I be direct?” “Go ahead.” “Liam Miller did leave me with one clear directive for this conversation. Would you like to hear it? Anger mounting in her voice, she sputters back, “Yes Sid, I would like to hear it.” “Liam said, and I quote, there is not enough money in the world.” “That‟s it?” “That‟s it.” Her eyes narrow, “Your Mr. Miller is a very foolish man.” “Perhaps, but he is a man of principle.”


“Principle is a luxury few can afford in this world Sid.” “I won‟t argue that point Ms. Icerio. But, just the same, I am thankful to count one of them as my friend.” “Hang up Sid.” “Goodbye Ms. Icerio.” Icer ends the call without so much as a goodbye. She is stunned and shocked. She can‟t believe her buyout bid is over just like that. She never imagined that a small man like this Liam Miller would be so bold as to reject her offer. She simply assumed he would cave into greed, just like every other man she has ever negotiated with. What sort of fool turns down fifty-three million dollars? Perhaps he figured out her larger plan. It is of no consequence now. The planned acquisition of the German AIDS company is worth a fraction of what it would have been now that Elmo is out of the picture. She can continue to follow through on the German deal, but it will be business as usual, not be the major coup she needs to get the Vice President position. For the second time in as many weeks Icer is left without a plan. The reality is setting in. Seething with anger she takes the cell phone and smashes it to the floor. With a violent thrust, she jams the spike heel of her boot through the unit. Shards plastic shoot across the oak floor to the far corners of the room. Robert winces. Icer turns in his direction. She suddenly realizes that Robert was there the whole time. He had to overhear her half of the conversation with Sid. She was so wrapped up in negotiating, that she forgot about her play toy. How much did he hear? She tries to recall what she said. Did she say her name? Did she reveal the name of her company? She is unable to remember everything. This guy hanging from the rafter is handsome, but he is getting to be a liability. Time to end it. Correction. In about an hour it will be time to end it. Right now, Icer needs a distraction. The whip cracks again. A bead of sweat dribbles from Robert‟s forehead. *

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Collie naps blissfully on the couch as the afternoon sun streams through the window. She is drifting in and out of consciousness. In her dream she is at an awards dinner. Her name is called, and she stands to receive her award.


Friendly faces cheer adoringly. Sheathed in an elegant dress that shimmers in the spotlight, she is escorted on the arm of a strong confident man in a black tuxedo to the podium. She is filled with the glow of excitement. She keeps walking but for some reason she is getting no closer to the stage. She tries to walk faster, but the stage appears no closer. She leaves behind the handsome escort, and begins running for the podium, but no matter how fast she runs, it remains just out of reach. She looks around at the faces in the crowd, their joy has turned to concern. She sees her mother, and father. They are pulling for her but their faces betray a deepening dread. Collie wakes up. Her chest is damp with perspiration. She realizes that the phone is ringing. Dazed, she shuffles to her feet and grabs the phone off the cradle. “Hello?” “Collie, is that you?” “Yes, it‟s me” She clears her throat. She tries not to make it obvious to the caller that she was asleep. “Hi Collie, It‟s me, Melinda from the Mercerville bike club.” “Oh hi, Mel, are you calling so see if I‟m going riding tomorrow?” “Well, yes and no. I hope you are going riding tomorrow.” “I‟m planning on it.” “Good. You‟re going to need the training.” “Why do you say that?” “Because I know something you don‟t” In a gently chiding manner Collie says, “Mel, you‟re acting like a twelve-yearold. What‟s up?” “You‟re never going to guess what you‟ve won!” Collie listens intently to Mel. Her face breaks into a huge grin. She jumps up, squeals and does a little tap dance on the bed. “You‟re joking, you‟re not joking? You better not be joking. You‟re not are you? Oh my God, this is fantastic!” *

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Liam‟s bike coasts to a stop in front of Sid‟s house. Sid answers the door I his jammy pants, a cup of steaming coffee in his hand. He looks at his watch. “Hey.” “Hey,” “You‟re up early.” “Thought I‟d get a few miles in before the traffic gets crazy.” Pointing to Sid‟s cup he asks, “Got any more of that?” Sid motions to the kitchen. They go inside. Liam grabs himself a mug from the cabinet, and pours himself some hot coffee. Sid‟s house is beautifully appointed. His wife Bridgett does all the decorating. She has an eye for color and fabric. This is one of the many MacMansions in the town of Hohocus, New Jersey. New, big and a bit over the top. The kitchen is super high-end, with granite counters, ornate custom cabinets, and premium appliances. Everywhere Liam looks there are luxury cooking tools and expensive utensils, the kind you see in stores like William Sonoma. Liam asks casually, “Sid, I didn‟t know you guys were into cooking? Who‟s the gourmet, you or Bridgett?” “Neither. That stuff‟s just for show.” “You‟re kidding me, right?” “Liam, would I kid you? You know Bridge, the only thing she knows how to make for dinner is reservations.” They take their coffee out to the sunroom. It is a quiet, private space away from the rest of the house. Sid adopted it as his personal sanctuary two years ago when they moved in. He and Liam settle into comfortable wicker chairs that look out over the pool and rolling wooded hills beyond. This six-acre spread is a far cry from Sid‟s blue-collar roots in Dumont. Geographically close, the two towns are worlds apart. Sid takes a Sip. “That chick from the bar in Hoboken ever call you?” “Yeah. I thought I mentioned that? She wants me to meet her. She is hooking up with a bunch of friends at some dance club.” “That‟s good. When did you talk to her?” “I didn‟t. She left a message on my machine, the same day you called.” “But you‟re going, right?”


“I don‟t think so.” “Why the fuck not? She‟s gorgeous. She looks like she fell out of a Victoria Secret catalogue, for God‟s sake. Why the hell wouldn‟t you call her?” “I dunno.” “Liam, you‟re my peeps, but I gotta tell you, you‟re a fucking idiot sometimes. Lemme ask you, when was the last time you were on a date?” “Sid, don‟t get started on me. I go on plenty of dates.” “Ok, so when was the last time?” “I don‟t know, maybe a month ago, maybe six weeks.” “Yeah, and what happened?” “Nothing happened.” “That‟s exactly my point. Nothing ever happens. You have an endless stream of incredible babes throwing themselves at your feet…” “That‟s not true.” “No pal. I hate to tell you this, but you‟re the one who is bullshitting yourself. You don‟t see the way chicks look at you. You don‟t even notice, but I do. Shit, It‟s been years since a girl looked at me the way they look at you. I became invisible to women about five years ago, but you, they look at you like you‟re a fucking God, and they do it every God damned day.” “I don‟t think so.” Sid shakes his head. “Liam buddy. I‟m shooting it to you straight. Women love you. So why the fuck aren‟t you out there shagging hotties like a rock star? You‟ve got money. You make your own hours. You‟re free, single, you‟ve never been married. I just don‟t get it?” “Look Sid, I appreciate the pep talk, but contrary to what you might believe, I do go out. I go on dates, and I go on more than just one or two. It‟s just…” “Just what? I can‟t wait to hear your excuse.” “Look, I‟m not exactly like other people. I didn‟t want to call back the girl from the bar back because I know I‟d meet her in some Hoboken dance club with a bunch of her twenty-something friends that I have nothing in common with.


I‟d hang around feeling out of place, being assaulted by some thumping crap that passes for music, and I‟d have a miserable time.” “But you‟d get laid.” “Getting laid is not the end game for me.” “So you‟ve elected to pursue a life of celibacy. Is that it? Maybe you should hang out with Blake some more. I bet he can hook you up with some nice Catholic priests? I hear they need good celibates? “Look Sid, you don‟t know how it is. You‟ve been married for years.” “You‟re God damned right I don‟t know how it is. I don‟t have the luxury of shagging every piece of hot tail between here and the Hamptons on a whim. I am married, but you‟re not!” “The dating scene is not what you make it out to be. It‟s not some free-for-all keg party like we used to have in college. Where nobody had an agenda, and the only requirement was to have fun and hope you wake up in a place you remotely recognize.” “Ahh, those were the days.” “Yeah, those were fun times. But that was then, and this is now, Sid. The game has changed a lot. There are a lot of sharks out there. Dating has gone from an amateur endeavor to a professional sport. The whole fucking thing is like some twisted reality TV show. You want to know the real reason I don‟t go out much?” “Shoot.” “The reason I don‟t go on that many dates is that they always end the same way. I go out with somebody I think might be interesting, but by the third or fourth date one of the following things happens: either a) she starts talking about marriage, or b) she thinks I am a total freak-of-nature nutcase because of where I live and what I do, and the hours I keeps, or c) she discovers my net worth, and she becomes some kind of parasitic leach…” “Now wait a minute. I think you are imagining things. Just because you are worth a ton of money doesn‟t mean that all women are after it?” “No Sid, not all women, just the ones I seem to meet. Did you know that in the last two years I have had three women I dated pull my credit report?” “No shit?”


“I shit you not my friend. So when I tell you the game has changed, I‟m not kidding.” “Ok, but maybe you just had a bad run. There must be some chicks out there? At least one anyway.” “I‟m sure there are, I just can‟t seem to find her.” “Ok, I hear what you are saying, but let‟s take a step back here. You‟re not entirely blameless here.” “What do you mean?” “I mean you have to take on some of the responsibility yourself. You can‟t just kick back and wait for someone to find you. You‟ve got to put yourself out there. You weren‟t always so paranoid. You used to know how to just go out and have a good time. You used to chat up chicks in all kinds of situations. You used to let the chips fall where they may. I think you‟ve lost that. In my opinion Liam, you think too much. You‟re too suspicious. Did you ever stop to consider that maybe you‟re waiting for these chicks to screw up so you can have some excuse to cut the relationship short? Did you ever think of that?” Liam shifts uneasily in his chair. “Okay Mom, I hear you. Now let‟s change the subject. Did you get through to Icerio this week?” “Yeah” “How‟d she take the news?” “I got the feeling she was gonna kick the shit out of the dog when she got off the phone.” Lifting his coffee mug to his lips Liam nods, “She Probably did.”


Predation pages 50-100