After rush hour, Harry stood on the subway platform, headed for Dr. Hawke’s reception at the St. George’s Club. The yellow-tiled walls shone in the stark light of the nearly empty station. Trains from both directions rumbled in the tunnels. A faint breeze swirled and lifted up newspapers and candy bar wrappers. From a stairwell, an older stocky man entered the far platform with a small boy by the hand.
Grandfather and grandson, Harry thought smiling wearily. In play, the man stooped down to let the child pull his red, peaked cap from his head. Laughing, the little boy put it on and marched about the platform.
Harry moved closer to the yellow safety line. To have a son! Laura and he had produced no child after twenty years of marriage. Suddenly, nothing was right between them, and his life was torn apart in an instant. He watched the grandfather scoop up the giggling child in his arms to quiet him. To link myself to the future with a child!
Trains from both directions burst into the station. The screech of metal wheels on tracks deafened him. With brakes screaming, the trains shot past. Through the windows of the passing trains, Harry could see the little boy grinning and pulling the cap down over his ears.
Second chances, Harry reflected, are the sweetest. Grandchildren give a chance to do it right. Slumping into a seat on the train, he closed his eyes. He had barely known his father’s touch. Now, Dad’s hands and wrists were curled inward, lying uselessly in his lap.
Harry tried to piece the chain together. Dad had grown up downtown in the Depression. Only once or twice had he ever spoken of his own father, Thomas.
His right arm was severed in an accident at the factory, so I left school to sell insurance door to door. When the Depression came, no one had any money, so I got into teaching. That was all Harry knew. Such a slender thread seemed destined to end with him.
Gazing down at his own soft hands, he sighed. He had no tales of hard times and real sacrifice. Then he saw Hawke’s soft, effeminate hands flutter before him, and he shivered at the recollection of them resting on his. The doors of the train heaved open. Harry rose quickly and got off.
Moments later, he was at street level next to the St. George’s Club, a massive pile of red brick and stone constructed in the Romanesque style. Harry entered the shadows of the main floor. Rays of sunlight filtered from the stained glass windows at the top of the broad staircase. Caught in the play of light and shadow, Harry saw the heads and shoulders of the guests clustered in groups throughout the foyer. Music from another era floated inward from the string quartet on the stone terrace.
Without success, he sought his host. Then, deciding he could use a drink, he strolled out to the garden and past clusters of dark-suited doctors, all of whom seemed to patronize the same tailor. Edging his way to the bar, he caught snatches of conversation.
“Hawke? A very secretive guy. He’s got research facilities somewhere in the hills outside San Diego that nobody’s ever seen.”
“Somebody said there’s a mega-lawsuit in the works from some of his former patients.”
Harry paused in hopes of hearing more, but the two doctors strolled toward the flower beds.
“Is he going to fund the new geriatric wing?” asked a man fiddling with his swizzle stick.
“I think so, but there’s a very big price tag,” said a woman from underneath a broad brimmed floral hat.
Drink in hand, Harry wandered about the main floor. In the dining room, the waiters were setting out covered serving dishes on the buffet. Suddenly realizing he was hungry, he popped an hors d’oeuvre from a passing tray into his mouth and stood back to observe the crowd.
Nearby, Dr. Michael O’Hearn scanned the room for his superior, Dr. Philip Glasser, and the good doctor, Robert Hawke. Glowering into his drink, he thought the club reeked of wealth and privilege. Money was everywhere, but always with strings attached.
At the age of thirty-four, he was already the assistant director of research in the geriatric department at the Queen Mary. Uncompromising in his standards, he considered himself direct and forthright. Others conceded his brilliance but feared he was a loose canon.
He had left his opinion of Hawke’s research on Philip Glasser’s desk. Now, he wanted to discuss it with him before presenting it to the hospital board in the morning. No one had studied the file and proposals more carefully than he. In his view, the initial trials were not only improperly constituted, but also dubious in their preliminary conclusions. Hawke Pharmaceuticals needed the imprimatur of the Queen Mary Hospital, which was world renowned in geriatric research. Michael was not entirely devoid of political sense. Just give Hawke carte-blanche with his trials, and his own research into Parkinson’s would be funded. With a sexy name for the drug, sales would rise off the charts. Better than Viagra.
Philip Glasser, the Chief of Research, sauntered through the door.
“Phil?” Michael grabbed his arm and drew him to a corner. “Did you get my report? I left it on your desk.”
“Yes, I did, Michael. Fine work, but….” Glasser bent slightly closer. “You might want to be a bit more diplomatic.”
“Diplomatic? But the quality of research is poor. Are we supposed to applaud everything our benefactor does? What about…”
“Have you seen our host?” Glasser broke in.
Philip nodded. “Tasker’s headed this way. We’ll talk later, Michael.”
With a wide grin, Brian Tasker approached. “Philip!” He grasped his elbow and briefly nodded at Michael. “Come join me at the bar. There are some people you must meet.”
Michael trailed after them. The string quartet broke into a rendition of Summertime.
By the time Michael caught up, colleagues had surrounded the two men. Much back patting accompanied by conspiratorial chuckles, he thought.
Michael raised his voice. “Has everyone studied the initial trials?” Silence fell over the group. Grudgingly, the wall of shoulders turned.
Carefully, Tasker took a sip of his drink and then said, “Yes, I’m sure we’ve all considered them carefully, Michael. This is a great opportunity. Hawke’s institute has an excellent record of funding cutting-edge research.” With a slight smirk, he continued, “Research much like yours, I might add, Michael.”
Michael cleared his throat and steamed ahead. “I’ve studied the research thoroughly, Dr. Tasker, and I cannot find any evidence that the drug should proceed to further clinical trials.”
Silence greeted Michael’s words. Even the quartet paused. The sun dipped beneath the back garden wall, and shadows deepened along the veranda.
“So you’ve said before.” Brian coughed gently. “Nevertheless, the board met this afternoon.”
“What?” Michael backed away. “I was told the meeting was postponed.”
Tasker’s shrug was elaborate.
Glasser tugged at Michael’s sleeve.
Snatching his arm away, Michael moved into the circle. Tasker
“I was asked to present my report to the board tomorrow morning, and now you’re telling me it’s already decided?”
“There was a lengthy meeting this afternoon, at which the board gave the matter very serious consideration,” Tasker said smoothly.
“They didn’t have my views! I considered the research carefully, sir, and in my opinion, it does not meet the minimum standard.”
Tasker grew pale. His eyes flitted about the circle. After a moment, he tossed his head back and laughed. “Ah yes, gentlemen. Who does not remember the certainty of youth?”
Voices rose jovially, and someone patted Michael on the back. “Son, many fine minds have considered the research, and….”
“But, somebody called me to say the meeting was postponed.”
Tasker shrugged again. “I’ve no idea how that happened. Scheduling foul- ups do occur. We’ll certainly file your report.”
Grasping Michael’s arm, Glasser whispered, “Not now, Michael!”
“So the board just went ahead without my report,” Michael concluded.
“The board voted to proceed with the trials,” Tasker said softly. Then his face brightened. “I believe our host is arriving! Do excuse me, gentlemen.”
The group broke off and began drifting out to the main entrance.
“Philip?” Michael followed him. “Did you know about this?”
His superior spun around. “No! Not until it was too late.” Angrily, he strode off to the foyer.
Harry watched the white limousine slide underneath the grand portico. A somber man with sunglasses emerged from the passenger side. Muscles bulged everywhere beneath his black suit. He slowly circled the car once, and then motioned the driver to open the rear passenger door. Harry moved closer through the hushed gathering. Michael O’Hearn crowded in.
A woman with dark hair curling sensuously around her collar emerged from the limousine. Mrs. Deal always makes the entrance, thought Harry. Shaking her hand, Tasker grinned foolishly.
Next, a highly polished leather boot appeared, topped by a white pant leg. A small man with glasses and a white fedora slid from the back seat. The sun glinted on his glasses as he looked upward to the porch. Harry was surprised at the doctor’s smooth movements. Not tied to a wheelchair today.
“Dr. Hawke, sir,” Tasker murmured as he held out his hand.
Hawke pulled on his white kid gloves and then shook Tasker’s hand.
“Dr. Tasker. You have met my personal assistant, Mrs. Deal?” Hawke breathed as he took her arm.
“Yes, of course! What a pleasure to meet again, Mrs. Deal.” Brian shook her hand.
“I have brought a guest, Dr. Tasker, for the edification of this gathering.” Hawke stepped back.
Slowly, an elderly, stooped gentleman stuck his head out and blinked in the light. Mrs. Deal rushed to help.
“No … no, Mrs. Deal.” Hawke touched her arm. “Let Professor Jefferson manage on his own. He will receive the injection soon enough.”
“Certainly, Dr. Hawke,” Veronica smiled as she backed away.
The old man squinted in the light. His face seemed unaccountably scruffy, as if he had not shaved for several days.
Harry thought of his father’s badge of dignity.Insisting on independence, he refused all attempts to shave him. He would do it himself!
“Gentlemen,” said Hawke grandly, “may I present Professor Andrew Jefferson? I am extremely proud of him. He is one of our first patients in our trials conducted in San Diego.”
Unsteadily, the professor leaned on Veronica Deal’s arm. His glassy eyes tried to focus on his surroundings. His voice fluttered in the night air. “So glad … I thought the bricks … when he made his first... she read stories to me as a child, you see, and then we watched the moon landing.” He smiled vaguely at the gathering.
Michael smirked. Word salad, he thought. At first, the speech sounds rational, but soon nothing makes sense. Just a wilted green salad of a rotting mind!
“Gentlemen,” Hawke began softly, “tonight, you will witness the effects of our new drug Emerituus. At this time, our patient is weak and disoriented. Within twenty minutes of the administration of the drug, his former vigor will be restored.”
The old man’s steps were stiff and jerky. In an instant, his benign gaze turned to blazing, irrational hatred.
“Fuck off!” The old man struck out at the chauffeur, who was assisting him from behind.
Parkinson’s gait, Michael observed. Alzheimer’s aggression. Despite years of research, no one could explain or prevent the escape of the wild beast from the Alzheimer’s patient, especially in the advanced stages. Symptoms could be ameliorated but only for a time.
When Jefferson’s knees buckled, Hawke and Veronica Deal rushed to support him.
Harry shook his head. Just like Dad, he thought. Drugs hobbled the march toward death, but nothing defeated the inexorable pull of such diseases.
After Jefferson recovered, Robert Hawke placed his hand on Tasker's arm. His upturned lips quivered as he said, “I am so very pleased with the decision of the board today. Your support and cooperation will not be forgotten, Brian.”
Brian grinned and, skipping up the remaining steps, opened the door for the doctor.
The interior lights of the rooms glowed, and the aroma of hot food wafted out to them.
Harry saw Jefferson awkwardly lowered to a chair on a dais only to gaze vacantly outward over the heads of the guests. So much like Norma when she tripped into madness! Hawke bent to whisper something in his patient’s ear. The chandelier swayed slightly as an underground train departed the station. The guests began to form a line to greet the professor.
Jefferson’s gaze fell upon Dr. Philip Glasser. “Good evening, sir. How good of you to come,” he said politely.
Dr. Glasser offered his hand. “Good evening, sir. I am Dr. Glasser.”
“Good evening. How good of you to come.” Jefferson’s eyes drifted over the doctor’s shoulder.
By now, the line behind Glasser had grown. Swiftly, he withdrew to allow others to meet the guest.
“Good evening, sir. How good of you to come.” The old man smiled vacantly as he greeted each person in an identical fashion.
Dr. Michael O’Hearn mounted the dais and presented himself.
“Good evening, sir. So good of….”
“Professor Jefferson. How long have you been taking Emerituus?”
Panic flashed in the old man’s eyes. “The roses in the garden … running, you see. Always running.”
Michael shook his head and withdrew. Continuous repetition of a few polite phrases, interspersed with total nonsense.
Microphone in hand, Dr. Hawke ascended the dais. “Ladies and gentlemen!” His voice, an eerie whisper, wafted throughout the room. “Today, a truly marvelous meeting of minds has occurred. I am absolutely delighted to announce the culmination of many months of hard work. The Hawke Institute and the Queen Mary Hospital have joined forces to embark on a program to effect nothing short of a miracle—t hanks to the efforts of Dr. Brian Tasker and the members of the hospital board.” When Hawke pointed in his direction, Tasker gave an embarrassed shrug. “We are indeed privileged to conduct our trials of the drug Emerituus at your esteemed institution.”
Hawke waited until the murmuring died down.
“Dr. Jefferson is a patient in the preliminary trials for Emerituus. Ten milligrams of this drug is administered by subcutaneous injection on a daily basis. Unfortunately, although we have found substantial improvement in both cognitive and motor functions, the results are not uniformly reliable. We believe it is a matter of adjusting dosages. Tonight, when we inject our patient, I believe you will see its most beneficial effects.”
Mrs. Deal helped the old man with his coat, carefully folding it on a chair. When his shirtsleeve was rolled up, he fixed his eyes heavenward as if struck by a revelation. Hawke took a needle and syringe from a case and drew a clear liquid from a vial. With a flourish, he held up the needle and then swabbed Jefferson’s arm.
“Tonight,” Hawke intoned, “you will witness the transformation of a debilitated man in his eightieth year to a vigorous one still in his prime.”
Lights illuminated the doctor and his patient. Glasses were set down, and waiters disappeared to darkened corners of the room. The professor’s gaze was beatific. The doctor injected his patient and guided him back to his seat.
“Professor Jefferson,” Hawke continued, “has exhibited all the usual signs of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. Stiff, jerky gait. Slow and garbled speech followed by irrational outbursts of anger.”
Hawke continued to regale his audience with anecdotes, facts, and figures. Within five minutes, Jefferson’s eyes began to roam about the room, making eye contact in a friendly and interested fashion.
With his back to his patient, the doctor said, “We expect the drug to take effect within ten minutes. I would be happy to answer any questions in the meantime.”
The professor cleared his throat. He checked his watch and then stretched his legs without any cramped motions. His eyes grew lively and intelligent. The subway, deep underground, rumbled and turned like an awakened beast.
The doctor continued in his whispery, amplified voice, “Sometimes, we get lost in reams of dry statistics and results. But tonight, you will witness, firsthand, the effects of this drug in our initial research. However, much work lies ahead. In conjunction with the Queen Mary and.…”
Jefferson began to rise and tugged on the doctor’s sleeve.
Hawke turned to his patient, whose face was wreathed with smiles.
“Ah, Professor Jefferson, are you ready?” beamed Hawke. “Please, come to the podium.”
Head held high, the professor walked smartly toward the microphone.
Hawke’s voice was a stage whisper. “As you can see, ladies and gentlemen, Emerituus has taken effect. This should last for approximately twelve hours.”
The old man assumed his post behind the podium. “Good evening, sirs. How good of you to come.”
The room was silent except for a snicker or two from the back. At first, Jefferson appeared to falter. His eyes darted about. Veronica Deal smiled her encouragement. Dr. Hawke beamed fondly at him. Nervous coughs flitted about the darkened room.
The old man blinked in the spot light. “Ladies and gentlemen, I am Professor Andrew Jefferson. I am eighty years of age.” After a pause, his voice grew in strength. “During my career, I taught philosophy and medical ethics at Stanford University. Four years ago, I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.” His lower lip trembled. “For one who prized intellectual pursuit, the diagnosis was cruel beyond all imagining.”
Jefferson’s eyes glistened in recollection. “Then, another devastating blow! Within months, my hands began to shake, and I could not write. The diagnosis was Parkinson’s. The abilities I cherished most were snatched from me by the cruelest of fates.”
By now, Harry had worked his way close to the dais. He frowned to see tremors course through Jefferson’s body as he grasped the podium.
Righting himself, the professor continued, “Relegated to the scrap heap, I was incarcerated in a nursing home. The means of escape was the ability to key in a five-digit numerical code. No one with Alzheimer’s could do that.”
The old man’s shoulders slumped. His voice choked. “Dr. Robert Hawke rescued me from the dense, black fog of my mind. By entering the initial trials of Emerituus, my life was transformed.” Looking out over the crowd, his knees suddenly buckled, and he began to sink. Mrs. Deal rushed forward, but Hawke waved her back. Jefferson regained his strength and appeared to straighten.
Lips twisted in scorn, Michael raised his hand. “Professor Jefferson? Could you describe for us the effects of this drug?”
Recovered, Jefferson gave a small smile. “I would be delighted, sir,” he said faintly. Grasping the podium, he looked outward upon his audience. His voice rose in strength.
“For one as stricken as I, it is like the sun coming through the blackest of clouds. It is like coming to sit by the fire on the coldest day of the year.” Tears brimmed in the old man’s eyes. “Like hearing one line of poetry containing the wisdom of a lifetime, or listening to music that stirs the soul to its most fabulous depths.”
The room was filled with a reverential silence. Distant tremors of the trains below could be felt.
“That, sir, is the effect of Emerituus,” the professor whispered into the microphone.
Hawke bent into the light. “Ladies and gentlemen, Professor Jefferson will only be able to take one or two more questions.”
Jefferson reached for the microphone. “When I was referred to Dr. Hawke, my entire being was rescued. Before Emerituus, I tripped and stumbled from tenuous lucidity to utter madness, where uncontrollable forces swept over me. Those forces buffeted me without mercy, and I stood helpless before them. My memory narrowed to a slit, leaving me with only glimpses of a far shore where I had lived my life in peace and harmony. I had to return to that safe harbor of remembrance and sanity. Only Dr. Hawke was able to help me on my voyage.”
Several people began clapping slowly at the back of the room. Soon the rest of the gathering took up the applause.
Harry did not move. How could a man, apparently suffering severe mental deterioration, paint such vibrant images? The professor’s words had stirred him to the beginning of hope for his father. Excited murmurs rose in a room once filled with skepticism.
Hawke resumed the podium. “Gentlemen, I trust you share my enthusiasm and commitment to forge ahead with further testing of Emerituus. You have seen firsthand the results of our initial research. Much hard work lies ahead. But, in conjunction with the Queen Mary, we hope that we will find answers to many questions. We do not know precisely how the drug works, but we are determined to find out. We do know that it does work wonders.”
Michael’s hand shot up at the back of the room. “Dr. Hawke? Could you describe for us exactly how you intend to select candidates for these trials?”
Hawke smiled warmly as he focused intently on the young doctor. “An excellent question, to be sure. Of course, we will adhere to the usual standards of selection. Sufferers of this disease will first be divided into categories determined by the progression and severity of the disease. Then, on the basis of random selection, we will choose an equivalent number from each class or group to enter the trials. One group of each will receive the drug, and the other, a placebo.”
The gathering of doctors nodded. Michael raised his hand again. “Given Professor Jefferson’s performance here tonight, can you speculate upon the effectiveness of the drug on a long term basis?”
Hawke shook his head sagely. “A bright young man, indeed.” He smiled at his audience. “That is precisely one of the most important questions we must answer.”
Professor Jefferson had been casting an intelligent eye over the crowd. Suddenly, he began to slump to one side and mutter. Mrs. Deal rushed to his aid with a glass of water.
With a raised hand, Hawke silenced the group. “Gentlemen, as you can see, we have wearied Andrew Jefferson. Out of concern for him, we really must conclude.” At Mrs. Deal’s request, two men assisted the professor from the dais. Hawke hurried behind him.
When they entered a small anteroom, Jefferson sank into a chair.
Veronica asked. “How did you think it went, Robert?”
He patted her arm. “Like a charm, my dear. Jefferson was excellent.”
“What about those questions?”
Hawke shrugged. “Entirely typical, Mrs. Deal.” Then he smiled. “But I can tell you one thing. Only the brightest and the best will actually get Emerituus. I have no intention of wasting such a drug on the substandard.”
Lost in thought, Harry entered the cavernous depths of the subway station.
Not a cure, but do I dare hope for some remission of my father’s disease? He saw him slumped in a wheelchair, vacantly gazing outward. Only a squirrel hopping on a branch seemed to engage his interest on most days. On bad days, he raged within himself and struck out at his dreary fate.
Harry realized that, for years, he had been marching along a sunlit corridor, oblivious to what lay at the end. Other people grew old, fell ill, and died—peacefully or horribly—suddenly or after excruciatingly long waits. Protectively he had held that knowledge outside himself and never considered his own fate. But recently, when he went to see Norma or many other mad, frail and sick clients, he would hold his breath in their dark, dank rooms. Glancing outside their windows, he would long for the moment when he could stride with purpose into the outside world filled with reds, greens, yellows, and blues and overflowing with laughing, singing, and shouting voices.