Read The Knowland Retribution Online

Authors: Richard Greener

Tags: #mystery, #fiction, #kit, #frazier, #midnight, #ink, #locator, #bones, #spinoff

The Knowland Retribution (8 page)

Tom was standing at the crowded bar waiting for the bartender to make his drinks. His friends were seated across the busy, noisy barroom. Lancers was the name of the place. It had changed names a half dozen times since then, but in those early, heady days it was the Wall Street equivalent of a cop bar. But Lancers, instead of serving as a home away from home for the city's armed and dangerous blue-collar workers, was filled with stock traders and brokers unwinding as they came off the floor, trying to do two things at the same time—overhear any nugget of news they might make money with, and looking to get laid. Naturally there were the secretaries seeking to better themselves, carefully deciding who to fuck and who not to. The raptors, of course, were there too. Raptors was the name given to people like Nathan Stein. They already had the power and they still had their youth. Some of them made it on their own. Many had more than a little help here and there. A few, like Nathan, were lucky enough to be born into it. Their name was on the door. “Grandson of Ben.” Everybody knew him as that.

Nathan could have done as some did: played golf and fucked every woman he could. And there was no shortage of them to be found at Stein, Gelb and every other firm in the neighborhood. He might have paid little or no attention to the real business of business. Tom often wondered how some men could squander opportunity in such a manner. “Good Christ,” he thought. Had he been fortunate enough to be a son-of or grandson-of, he would surely have done what Nathan Stein did. He would have grabbed that golden ring in his cradle and . . . just give me the chance! Tom wished. He didn't know him personally, but he admired Nathan Stein. What he didn't know was that Nathan Stein admired him.

Nathan didn't have big dreams. He had big plans. He knew, and
so did Tom Maloney, the difference between the two. Anyone could dream. Only the powerful could make plans. And Nathan had every reason to believe he would bring his to fruition right on schedule. After all, his name
was
on the door. He viewed Stein, Gelb, Hector & Wills Securities as the major leagues, the NFL, and he saw the rest of the financial world as his farm system, his own private version of college football. He scouted, spotted talent, watched it develop and mature, then drafted accordingly. Although Maloney didn't know it, Nathan had his eyes on Tom for a while. Maloney was a definite first-round draft choice.

“Maloney,” said Nathan Stein, maneuvering his way next to the big Irishman. He stuck out his hand. “Nathan Stein.”

Tom said, “Good to meet you. I'm Tom Maloney.”

“I know who you are and you've no idea how good it is . . . for you.”

“Beg your pardon?” The bar was very noisy and the two had to shout at each other only inches apart to be heard. “What?”

“Come see me tomorrow, early as possible,” said Stein, handing Tom his card. “You're coming to work for me.”

“I am?”

“Give them your notice, Tom. We'll work it out in the morning.” Then Nathan Stein looked into Tom Maloney's eyes in the way only the wealthy can when they see someone who is not, someone who has just hit the jackpot. “You're a rich man now, Tom.”

That memory ran through Tom's mind as he kneaded Nathan's shoulder gently and looked at the lovely Indian woman. He said, “Dr. Roy, if you please, start from the beginning.”

“Yes, thank you Mr. Maloney. I shall.”

She'd stayed up all night fine-tuning her notes, preparing several dozen flip charts framing brightly printed words, illustrations, and simple diagrams. She referred to these as she went along.

“Bacteria,” she began, “is the dominant life form on earth. I'm sure you all know that cockroaches and sharks have remained essentially unchanged for hundreds of millions of years. They are newcomers, I assure you. Bacteria have been here for billions of years and will be here for billions more. Oh, yes! When our planet is only dead rock it will teem with bacteria. They will have evolved, mutated, no matter the conditions. Imagine a life form so quick to protect its own interest that when you kill it you instantly make its kind stronger, the more difficult to kill again. The more ways you find to kill it, the stronger you help it to be. Bacteria as a life form is impervious to
destruction.”

She paused very briefly to gauge the room. They might be masters of money, but they were now her students. Even this disordered Stein could not resist the music in her voice, or the menace in her words.

“Did you know that NASA has tested the viability of bacteria during interplanetary travel? A species of bacteria called
Bacillus subtilis
withstood the rigors of space trapped in an absolute vacuum for more than six years. It emerged alive, and, as it were, ready for action.”

She flipped the NASA experiment chart over.

“And here on earth,” she continued, energized by the concentration flowing to her, “you know all about the Great Plague of the fourteenth century. Did you also know Napoleon lost an army of twenty thousand in Haiti without a single battle? Did you know twenty million died in the year 1918 from influenza? Imagine that. What we cannot imagine are all the plagues over millions of years, all the millions of humans, pre-humans, non-humans taken with none to remember and none to record.”

She took a slow, deep breath through her nose, exhaling from her mouth. It satisfied her like iced lemonade on a hot, dry day. But the ecstasy she felt was in the teaching.

“Now,” said Ganga Roy, “let us think about E. coli.”

She explained that as bacterial cells are everywhere, many will, in the normal course of their travels, acquire genetic information from various sources. The flip chart listed these sources: bacterial viruses, plasmids, slices or chunks of DNA floating around and about.

“By chance or purpose, bacteria have the knack of continuous self-improvement. They pick up information. This information may come in handy. It may help them survive, which is all that they really care about. The term ‘E. coli' describes a group of bacteria. And that, I fear, brings us to the very unfortunate connection between E. coli and human beings.”

The next sheet contained a blue-bordered box, surrounded by an attractive swirl of multi-colored dots. Inside it she had artfully printed these bright red letters and numerals:

O157:H7

“This,” said Dr. Roy, “is the primary cause of danger to humans emanating from the E. coli world. How has it become such a dangerous organism? Long ago a single cell acquired a bacterial virus, a virus adapted to life within bacterial organisms. This particular virus had the ability to insert its own DNA into the bacteria's chromosome without harming the bacterium, and it did, remaining there over the countless generations ever since. Each time this bacterial cell divides, the virus DNA, which is now part of the bacterial DNA, is part of every succeeding cell. These daughter cells of the originally infected bacterium constitute the E. coli strain of which we speak: O157:H7.” She decided to skip the E. coli testing process—the agar and sorbitol and smack—leave it for later, avoid another outburst. At this point she could not imagine it helping the flow. Briefly, she checked the group. She wanted no loose ends distracting them now. Nathan Stein obliged her with a swagger. “So all of these E. coli come from the first one.”

“Precisely,” she said, rewarding him with her first unguarded smile. “Much to our distress as human beings, this virus's genetic information—the virus that is now inseparable from the bacteria—contains instructions for the production of a toxin, or poison, which is called ‘Shiga-like toxin' or ‘SLT,' also called ‘Vero toxin.'” By now they were all taking notes, except Tom Maloney.

As her next flip chart illustrated, “Our friend the E. coli O157:H7 has no choice at all but to produce this toxin. Why is that bad for us?” she asked Nathan Stein, paying him the improbable courtesy of suggesting that he might know. “The toxin is a protein,” she said. “That protein can cause severe damage to intestinal epithelial cells—cells that line the wall of the gut.”

“What kind of damage?” again she pretended to ask Nathan Stein, presenting her next sheet, simple but disturbing. “The protein degrades the epithelial cells, causing us to lose water and salts. But does it stop there? I am afraid not. It damages our blood vessels as well. The result? Bleeding. A very great deal of bleeding.”

She cast her glance around the room, grappling every eye to her own, preparing them for the capper:

“Hemorrhaging!” she declared, showing the sheet with the terrible word leaping off the page.

The next sheet depicted children at play—elegant, inventive, stick-figures of children.

“Those in the most danger are children. Why? They are often too small to fight the effects of blood loss and loss of bodily fluids. And what else may happen to them?”

Dr. Roy knew they were now on terrain where Nathan Stein was likeliest to rebel. They'd arrived at the section of her report entitled “Consequential Developments.” She introduced a more somber note to her voice.

“In some cases another syndrome may also be involved. It's called hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS.” And there they were, all three letters: large, red, ornately inscribed.

HUS

“HUS is characterized by kidney failure and loss of red blood cells, and is most dangerous to children. Perhaps 5 to 10 percent of the littlest ones will progress to this stage of disease. In the most severe of these cases, they will suffer permanent kidney damage.”

Now came two more stick figures, one in a bed, one stooping over a walking cane.

“The presence of the E. coli we are concerned with also presents potential for traumatic events among the elderly and people with chronic debilitating disease. For older people who suffer with respiratory or heart disease, or one of many conditions weakening their immune systems, to become infected with E. coli 0157:H7 is often deadly.”

She paused. The sudden unease in the room was positively physical.

“Deadly?” asked Louise Hollingsworth in a hushed, and surprisingly but distinctly disgusted, voice. “
How
deadly? I don't mean
how
do they die; I mean
how many
of them die.”

The next few flip charts presented the numbers.

“The latest available data from the Centers for Disease Control show seventy-three thousand cases of this kind of E. coli contamination for the latest year studied.”

Dr. Roy became brisk, even cheerful again, referring her group to the flip chart pages, and to the tables at the end of her report.

“The hospitalization rate for cases with extreme complications, meaning a progression to HUS, is a jot less than three tenths of one percent. Very few developed HUS. Among those who did, however, 28 percent died. That means the annual total of deaths attributed to O157:H7 was sixty-one. For all patients progressing to HUS, considering all causes, the death rate is between 3 and 5 percent. Among the elderly,” Dr. Roy said, “it will kill about half.”

“Half?” Stein cried out with startling force. “You mean half the old people getting E. coli are going to die?”

“No,” Dr. Roy told him, unruffled, quickly taking in the others. Pitts looked grave, but by no means threatened. The morbid cast
to Louise's brown eyes had deepened, and perceptibly. Maloney kept his focus on Stein, reacting only marginally to the unhappy news in the air.

She thought she'd made the figures clear. Perhaps they were misunderstood. Most likely, Mr. Stein had jangled their nerves and their brains. She wanted to say, “Now, everyone, take a deep breath.”

Instead, she raised her small right hand in calming benediction. “Those estimates are only for the demographic group generally referred to as elderly and infirm,” she explained, as though it were truly excellent news. “And it only includes those within that group who contact the E. coli, and
then
become ill and progress to hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS.”

She attempted a reassuring smile.

“And why is that again?” asked Wesley Pitts.

“Excellent question, Mr. Pitts.” She was handing out bon-bons to everyone now. “Contact with E. coli 0157:H7 is most often only mildly harmful. However, ingestion of it through a ground beef product introduces the bacteria to the digestive system. It may subsequently leave the digestive system and enter the bloodstream, where it may break down red blood cells with its SLT or Vero toxin. After that, the damaged cells lodge in the kidney, causing kidney failure.”

“Can you tell us,” asked Pitts, “how you assess the risk mathematically?”

She was off the flip charts now.

“If your meat was contaminated, it would be about one death for every twelve hundred people hospitalized. I said there were about seventy-three thousand people hospitalized yearly with E. coli symptoms. But that figure reflects 150 million cases of food poisoning. Maybe more. Many get sick from agents less harmful than E. coli. Among those exposed to E. coli, we're talking
only
about confirmed cases with hospital admission. Many others fall ill but never go to the hospital. Even when they do, many are undoubtedly misdiagnosed. Clinical medicine is often hit or miss. The heart stops in everyone who dies, but not everyone who dies does so from heart failure.”

“So, it's not too bad,” said Nathan Stein hopefully.

“As I understand it,” said Louise Hollingsworth, “there is some potential for a bad outcome, but the numbers are actually quite
favorable.”

Dr. Roy nodded. “In my opinion, the science indicates that it would take many thousands of people with food poisoning to result in a single death.”

“I know it's in your report,” Tom said. “Tell us again how you test for E. coli.”

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