Chapter 12

San Francisco : 2004

Walter

Walter liked San Francisco. He found it very amusing, all of the middle-aged hippies still pining away for the sixties even though their so-called revolution was now just another capitalistic purchase behind scratched glass in the head shops on Haight Street. They had run out of identity groups to be upset on behalf of, and so now they were upset about drugs. The Puff the Magic Dragon and LSD crowd was now upset about all of the selling and giving away of drugs.

Walter had flown out to San Francisco for the launch of Fenniskrante’s new neuropathic pain medication Dipentra. He’d come half a day early in order to squeeze in a dinner with his daughter and her new (Jewish) boyfriend.

The boyfriend had worked at a hedge fund in New York, which Walter found very ironic, considering his daughter’s historical disapproval of self-enrichment for self-enrichment’s sake. Walter would keep quiet, though. He wanted an uneventful dinner tonight because he had an important mission to execute during the weekend’s launch. There was no room for distractions.

Marin had made a reservation at a nice restaurant that both Choos liked that served Chinese banquet-style food in a clean, bright, modern setting. Walter was the first to arrive, so, after being seated on the second floor at a table covered with a white tablecloth and three sets of white dinner china, he made small talk with the waiter in Cantonese—most San Francisco Chinese spoke Cantonese, like Walter—and ordered a beer. If it had just been him and Marin tonight, Walter would have also ordered dinner, but who knew what the boyfriend ate or didn’t eat.

His daughter came up the stairs first, her hair grown long and tied into a loose knot at the back of her neck. She was casual and cool in a red V-neck shirt and jeans. Despite their differences, Marin had grown into a confident, capable young woman in the mold of her mother, and Walter was quite proud of her. However, Walter had not forgotten the “I’m moving to Borneo in nine days” phone call that he had received two years ago.

Marin’s new boyfriend had thick dark brown hair and a haughty face. Walter gave himself permission to be a little mean tonight. Just enough to have some fun.

Marin hugged Walter hello and introduced “Charlie.”

Charlie awkwardly pulled Marin’s chair out for her in a triplet of rough jags, and then stuck his hand out to Walter. Walter shook it, and Charlie said, “Pleasure to meet you, Dr. Choo.”

Walter hated him already. He asked Charlie if he liked Chinese food.

“Oh, I grew up on kungpao chicken and chow mein,” Charlie said.

“Dad, he eats everything,” Marin said in Cantonese. “Let’s start with seafood soup, then salt-and-pepper porkchops, Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce, fermented black bean clams, honey walnut prawns, and fried rice.” She finished in English: “that’s plenty of food.”

She flagged down a waiter, and Walter ordered the food without edit. Marin and Charlie ordered beers, the same brand as Walter’s.

“So, Dr. Choo, I hear you’re a longtime employee of good old FNSK,” Charlie said. FNSK was Fenniskrante’s NYSE abbreviation. “When I worked in financial analysis, we used to move one thousand shares of FNSK around the office for fun because it never budged from three points of forty. If it actually made more than $3,000, then the person who had the FNSK that day would have to buy everyone else shots at happy hour.”

“Yes, FNSK has turned into the Old Reliable of the New York Stock Exchange the past few years,” Walter said. “I think the company’s interested in shaking things up, but they don’t know how. Marin says that you’re a writer now?”

“Well, I’ve always had these twin paths, ever since grade school: left-brain and right-brain, math and English, mathletes and newspaper. After going hardcore left-brain for five years in New York... I don’t know. I really missed writing and reporting. Processing information through arguments and jokes and exaggerations and metaphors, not just numbers. I am writing about statistics and economics, though, so I didn’t give that part of my life up.”

The game was: how much money did Charlie leave New York with? Charlie had blasted them right into the middle of it. Of course he had; it was probably a lot of money. Nothing to be ashamed of at a dinner with your girlfriend’s father. That didn’t mean that Charlie was going to give the number up quickly, nor would Walter have wanted him to.

“Charlie has actually already been approached by other blogs to come write for them,” Marin said. “But he has a pretty strong vision of what he wants to do with his own site first, so.”

“Do you really think you’ll be able to make money off of your own website?” Walter asked.

“I think the magic number for getting any real advertising money is ten thousand hits a day,” Charlie said.

“And you must be pretty close to that if other people have been offering you jobs,” Walter said.

“I clear ten thousand about twice a month, if there’s a new post that people email their friends about,” Charlie said. “And I’m on the right people’s radar.”

“It still must seem like small change compared to the days of $40,000 hot potato,” Walter said.

Marin yawned.

Charlie laughed. “Actually,” he said, “money seems to go a lot farther these days than it did when I was in New York. I would go out for dinner and a few drinks on Saturday night and blow $400. Sometimes the food wasn’t even that good. You just pay $20 more for your Caesar salad to sit fifty feet from a supermodel. And, I mean, I was in a relationship the whole time I was in New York, so my social life was pretty tame compared to my single friends in finance.”

“It’s like New York dollars are an entirely different currency now,” Marin said. “Four to one exchange rate.”

“Wage rates and cost of living have always had local correlation,” Charlie said. “That’s nothing new.”

Marin’s and Charlie’s beers arrived along with the soup, which was ladled by the waiter from one big bowl into three small bowls at their table. Milk-white shreds of egg floated in the pale yellow broth, along with nickel-sized shrimps and strings of crab meat.

They made small talk about Walter’s flight and hotel while Walter strategized. He knew that Charlie lived in an apartment in a building owned by his mother, so questioning how he could afford San Francisco rents was out of the question.

“I’m so tired,” Marin said, yawning again.

“That’s what staying up until two in the morning every night will do,” Charlie said.

Marin gave Charlie a look.

“You’re having trouble sleeping?” Walter asked.

“Yeah, I think I need to get a new bed,” Marin said. “My mattress is very... fallen in the middle.”

It wasn’t a lie—Walter had seen her bed and could tell just from looking at it that it didn’t provide much in the way of back support, but his daughter was definitely hiding something. He had the feeling that he didn’t want to know what, that it was one of those things that he just wouldn’t understand.

They moved from a discussion of mattresses to a discussion of sleeping pills (Charlie used them for international flights, but didn’t need them to sleep at home), and Walter had no choice but to dive back into the game.

“I think someone from your office had to buy shots when we posted quarter one results last year with first-year sales of Oblion at three-hundred mill,” Walter said. “Even the HMOs want Oblion, I don’t know why. It must be costing them a fortune.”

“Pretty much any doctor can prescribe them, right?” Charlie said. “I get mine from my internist.”

“We actively market to psych, neuro, and gyn (a high percentage of insomniacs are women, I guess), but everyone knows the big Z drugs now,” Walter said. “You’re doing COBRA?”

“I didn’t really like our plan in New York, plus I was changing cities, so I just bought on the market,” Charlie said. “It’s a little bit more per month than the COBRA would have been, but I’m still in a relatively cheap age bracket.”

He paused, and their food came. Two waiters put twelve pounds of food on the table in a matter of seconds: crispy fried pork chops, tight fat C’s of butterflied prawns glistening in white mayonnaise, green gailan stalks drizzled with fudgy oyster sauce, Cantonese fried rice, and clams steamed open and wok-fried with fermented black beans and chili.

And then, as instantaneously as their food had been brought to the table, Charlie said it: “I have about $50,000 cash saved plus about $200,000 in the market, so I should be good for awhile.”

It was like accidentally checkmating one’s opponent during a game of chess—a joyless, awkward victory.

Had the boy wanted to concentrate on his food? Well, if that had been the case, then Walter hadn’t won at all. Walter hadn’t known that they’d been racing their dinner. He hadn’t understood the rules of the game.

It was common knowledge among Fenniskrante’s regional sales managers that Eric Mulrhony’s one hobby was real estate: he bought, renovated, and resold (at a profit) condos and townhomes all over the Chicago metropolitan area. He had a million stories about his real estate dealings and loved to give advice about the subject. Walter’s plan was to first start spreading the rumor that he (Walter) was thinking of helping his daughter buy a place in San Francisco and needed advice on choosing a real estate broker. Inevitably, most people would tell him to ask Mulrhony.

When Walter finally ran into Mulrhony that weekend, Walter would approach him for his advice on choosing between two real estate brokers. The first, Ethan, was extremely thorough, knowledgeable, and reliable. He returned Walter’s phone calls and emails punctually and followed through on his promises to obtain information on specific properties. The second, Chuck, was also pretty good, but not as reliable and quick to respond as Ethan. He did have a flair and confidence about him that the more staid Ethan lacked. He made the shopping process more fun and less stressful, and he was very optimistic, always saying that he was sure that Walter and Marin were going to “fall in love” with a great place and that Marin was “meant” to be a homeowner.

All of this was an elaborate fiction of course, made up to make Eric Mulrhony admit the undeniable truth: that effort (Ethan) was preferable to charm (Chuck). Walter wouldn’t push it farther than the fictional real estate scenario. Hearing Mulrhony vocalize his own hypocrisy would be enough for Walter.

Walter woke up at six a.m. in a dark hotel room on the first morning of the Dipentra launch. He opened his curtains, booted up his laptop, and opened the Dipentra detail. As a regional sales manager, he’d received an electronic copy of it via email the night before. As he read it—his second pass now—he could feel its explanations, statistics, and clean, unilateral flow of logic become familiar. It would be second nature after two more passes.

Walter showered and dressed quickly. He tore open the brown coffee foil and put the round pillow of coffee in the top of the small coffeemaker. He filled the pot with water in the bathroom sink and poured it into the back of the coffee pot. He slid the pot back into its slot and pressed the switch on the machine’s side, made it glow red. Loud brew noises were followed by a spitting trickle and the familiar smell of bitter roast.

There was a knock on the door. Walter walked quietly towards it and squinted one eye closed to look through the peephole. It was Peter Jensen, the Michigan regional sales manager. Walter opened the door.

“Walter, you have to call all your reps,” Peter said. “Our delegation is heading out the back entrance at seven-thirty. Some ‘Yes on Prop 66A’ protestors already have the whole street blocked off in front of Moscone.”

“Are you kidding me?” Walter said. “They’re protesting the launch of a new treatment for chronic neuropathic pain? What kind of sense does that make?”

“It’s San Francisco,” Peter said. “If it isn’t made out of tofu, they protest it. Gotta go tell the rest of the managers. Just be downstairs at the exit by the big cube sculpture in half an hour with your reps.”

Walter called his reps and told them what Peter had said, still unconvinced that it had been information that had warranted a seven a.m. knock on the door. A half an hour later, Walter was on his way out when he saw that the red light of the coffeemaker was still on, the glass pot on its black plate half-full of coffee: he’d forgotten it in the excitement. He switched it off and poured a cup—it was warm, not hot. Walter drank it in one three-swallow chug without tasting it. He poured another cup and drank it the same way.

The five-hundred-person Midwest delegation was gathered in many small huddles downstairs, spilling through the long hallway over into the main lobby of the hotel. The hotel was only a few blocks away from the Moscone Center, the launch site, where the protestors had stationed their (apparently unemployed, as it was Friday) troops. Walter could hear them from inside the hotel. Someone called into a megaphone, and the rest of the crowd cheered or chanted in response. Walter thought he heard the phrases “Hippocratic oath” and “profit-driven diagnoses.”

At seven-thirty-five, two security guys in black jackets carrying black walkie-talkies came up to and opened the hotel doors and started shooing Fenniskrante people out onto the sidewalk. Another security guy led them in a single-file line out to Third Street and around the corner. Across the street, metal police barricades blocked off the strip of road between the Moscone Center and the park across the street from it, behind which a circus of people carrying “YES on Prop 66A” signs and a surprising number of children, dogs, and bicycles were crammed.

A Caucasian man Walter’s age had shoulder-length hair, the megaphone, and lots to say: “FENNISKRANTE ALONE SPENT $900 MILLION ON SALES AND MARKETING LAST YEAR. $900 MILLION OF FREEBIES, FANCY DINNERS, GOLF VACATIONS—WHY? OUT OF THE GOODNESS OF THEIR HEARTS?”

Everything about the man with the megaphone gave Walter the creeps.

A fourth security guy nodded at the Fenniskrante reps as they filed through an open fire door into the convention center. They walked through an empty maintenance hallway through double doors into a small side gallery with empty glass poster cases on the walls. Some registration tables had been set up there.

Walter checked in at the regional manager table and got his launch ID badge and a folder. The baby blue shoelace string that the ID badge was looped onto had “Dipentra” written on it many times in a row. The baby blue folder was also branded with the Dipentra logo and had a branded baby blue detail book and detail card inside.

“I didn’t get my sample bag at the hotel. Are they inside?” Walter asked.

“No sample bags this year,” the registration girl said.

“Are you sure? Maybe the production staff messed up. At the Perpetua launch our bags were one day late because of a typo at the printers,” Walter said.

“Nope,” Stu Carroll said, coming up behind Walter and patting him on the back. “Fenniskrante’s scaling down on the freebies this year, Walter. No free Dipentra post-its for you.”

Ever since Stu had been revealed as the top-selling rep in the country, he’d dropped any semblance of respect for Walter’s seniority and authority over him and pretty much did as he pleased. His voice, when speaking to Walter, reeked of the idiotic condescension of the young.

“I guess I’ll live,” Walter said.

Stu laughed. “Yeah, I don’t mind the post-its either, but if they cut off my Perpetua supply, my girlfriend’s gonna be pee oh’d.”

They walked into the main event space together. Hip hop music was blasting on the audio system, drowning out both the megaphone man outside and the fifteen-hundred Fenniskrante employees inside. The fifteen-minute “film special” about Dipentra that had been shot and cut for an experimental web broadcast played on huge flatscreen TVs all over the 260,000-square-foot space. The sixty-something Oscar winner that some lucky marketing schmuck had convinced to come on board as Dipentra’s spokeswoman oozed wisdom, grace, strength, and health as she fake-gardened, played with her fake grandkids, and talked about her fibromyalgia and the miracle whose name was Dipentra. Stationed in booths along the center of the floor were Fenniskrante employees in white lab coats—sales engineers not R&D—ready to answer sales team members’ questions about the science behind the product. In booths along the perimeter, Fenniskrante sales trainers in baby blue Dipentra polo shirts tucked into belted khakis ran through the Dipentra detail and timed and judged reps as they delivered the new detail in competition with each other. There were a few general purpose Fenniskrante booths sprinkled throughout the room, filled with photos of the company’s downtown Chicago headquarters and Philadelphia and Lugano labs, and booster-y facts about the company’s robust financial performance and numerous innovation milestones and awards, just to remind everyone of whose side they were on.

“Looks like my N.C. crew is here,” Stu said, waving to a group of young reps talking outside a training booth. “Catch you later, Walter.”

Stu walked off and disappeared into the crowd. Walter hadn’t wanted to discuss his fake real estate broker dilemma with Fenniskrante’s golden boy anyway.

Launches always felt chaotic, but this year the agitators outside had infected the delicate balance of clubhouse merriment and sci-fi seriousness inside the Moscone Center with the cooties of self-consciousness. Like the malfeasant body of an immune-suppressed patient, the launch crowd had lost its ability to process isolated forays into hysteria without incident. At launches past, Walter had witnessed certain personality types run haywire in response to all the stimulation, but because so little at a launch besides the detail mantras stuck—you met hundreds of people and promptly forgot their names—no permanent damage, to careers or feelings, had ever been done. This year, each germ of a bad idea or subversive emotion had the potential to spread through the crowd and replicate exponentially.

Walter felt strongly that eliminating the sample bags had been a mistake: unnecessary and terrible for company morale. Since when did a bunch of do-nothing outsiders dictate policy for the launch of a new Fenniskrante drug? Perhaps he could work his disapproval with this decision into his conversation with Eric Mulrhony.

With that, Walter launched full-speed into his plan. He stopped a pair of Indiana sales reps that he’d met before, made small talk with them, and told them about his San Francisco broker problem.

“I don’t know anything about real estate, but I’d go on your gut on that one,” the rep named Devin said.

“Maybe you can get Mulrhony to sell you one of his places,” the rep named Christoph said.

Walter laughed. “Probably not a good idea to enter into a business relationship with your boss’s boss,” he said.

“True, true,” Christoph said. “Oh, fuck, what if the source is Mulrhony?”

“No fucking way,” Devin said.

“Mulrhony’s a marketing guy,” Christoph said. “He’s never liked sales. He wants his entire budget to go to TV and web because that’s what he understands.”

“If he wanted to do that, he’d just do it,” Devin said. “Senior vice prez of sales and marketing doesn’t have to go anonymously tipping off bloggers about inside shit.”

“What’s this?” Walter said.

“All the liberal blogs are ‘abuzz’ with the news that certain pharmaceutical companies have been calling their precious Nazi drug marketing bills ‘D.A.R.E. bills,’ and that is somehow arrogant and disrespectful to American voters,” Devin said. “The original blogger cited an ‘anonymous Chicago source,’ so all of the other companies think that Fenniskrante screwed them over in exchange for media silence on the Filatin debacle.”

Filatin was a prescription cystic fibrosis inhalant that had had to be recalled in January because it had caused rectal bleeding in a few patients. Nobody had died, and Fenniskrante had paid a handsome settlement to each of the injured parties, but it was still a sensitive subject for the brand, and the industry in general, in these trying times.

“Are people really worried about this—this blogger thing?” Walter said.

Devin and Christoph looked at each other nervously.

“I think people are worried about their jobs,” Christoph said. “There have been rumors. Like, from people who don’t gossip.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Walter said. “I haven’t heard a thing, and I’m in Chicago.”

“Because you’re a top thirteen manager with the number one rep!” Devin said. “Of course you haven’t heard anything.”

“You guys have nothing to worry about,” Walter said. “None of these propositions are going to pass, and even if by some miracle one does, we’ll find a way around it. We always do. I’ve been around a long time. Trust me.”

Devin and Christoph nodded and told Walter that he was right.

Walter’s reassurances of the younger reps succeeded in quashing his own nascent unease as well. Unfortunately, the D.A.R.E. bills meme had already metastasized through the entire Dipentra launch organism. Each manager, rep, researcher, and suit that Walter spoke to was talking about the “anonymous Chicago source,” the liberal bloggers, and the potential fallout for the drug industry in terms of both intercorporate relations and voter sentiment. Conspiracy theories, like the theory about Mulrhony being the source and the theory about a backroom tradeoff for Filatin, abounded.

At some point during that morning, someone figured out how to patch CNN into one of the TVs. The bastards were actually covering this like it was a real news story! A large crowd gathered around the hacked TV.

The female talking head chirped: “Backers of California, West Virginia, Maryland, Minnesota, and Iowa propositions to regulate pharmaceutical marketers’ access to physicians and their prescription-writing data are outraged today at news that pharmaceutical corporations like Fenniskrante and Pfizer have been referring to the five state propositions as ‘D.A.R.E. bills.’ A collective statement from proponents of the propositions was issued today and begins: ‘Names are important. This is further evidence that the pharmaceutical industry sees medications as products to be marketed and sold like any consumer good and not as part of complex health care treatment regimes to be determined by doctors based upon the individual needs of their patients.’”

The CNN anchor left it at that.

Walter walked away from the TV, annoyed. His stomach cramped suddenly, an arid, twisting pain deep inside his abdomen. Its origin was certainly either repressed annoyance at all the stupidity surrounding him or the hotel coffee that he’d chugged down responsibly that morning.

No matter. Walter would just swallow the pain. Swallowing pain had been a talent of Walter’s ever since he was young, taught to him by a distant great uncle. The uncle had probably been full of horse manure, but Walter had been able to work the trick consistently over many years. He couldn’t do it with all pains—just migraines, stomach cramps, and muscle soreness. Pain was a neurological function, so of course the mind could shut it off at will, if a person’s will and skills of self-awareness were great enough. Walter concentrated and counted backwards from thirty. When he got to three, two, one, the pain was gone, and Walter walked right into Eric Mulrhony’s shoulder.

“Whoa, Walter, are you okay?” Eric asked.

Eric had been talking to a California regional manager, Tabitha, whose territory had been ranked number nine in the country that year.

“Oh, yeah, I’m fine,” Walter said. “Swallowed it.”

“Swallowed it?” Eric said.

“Yeah, I decided to swallow my annoyance at all this D.A.R.E. bills nonsense,” Walter improvised. “It’s just a nickname.”

“I’m going to check on my new rep,” Tabitha said. “She’s training with Art. I’ll see you tonight, Eric.”

“Of course, Tabitha,” Eric said. “Great to see you.”

Tabitha left.

“I’m sorry,” Eric said. “What were you saying, Walter?”

“Art Quaade’s here?” Walter said. “I didn’t see him.”

“Oh, no. Art Quaade retired in April, didn’t you hear?” Eric said. “This is one of our new guys. Art Joliet. He’s pretty good. He’s over in the front over there.” Eric pointed to a booth in the middle row, at the front of the room. “You should meet him. He’s trying to find a place in Naperville. He and his wife have a three-year-old.”

Walter’s stomach cramped sharply. “A three-year-old, huh!” Walter shouted. He tried to swallow the pain again. Thirty, twenty-nine, twenty-eight.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Eric said.

“My daughter’s buying a place here,” Walter hurried through the words. “An apott-mint?” The pain was excruciating, like someone had grabbed the bottom of his stomach and was squeezing it and pulling it down.

“Oh boy, you better sit down,” Eric said.

“Maybe I need a ‘sophisticated pharmacological GABA analogue,’” Walter said, quoting the Dipentra detail.

Eric laughed. “Well, this would be the place to get it,” he said.

Walter hunched over, put his hands on his thighs. It was just for a moment. He just needed to suck the last bit of pain down. And... done. It was gone. Walter stood up.

“Just a small cramp, hotel coffee,” Walter said.

“Ah,” Eric said. “Well, if you need to go back to your hotel room and lay down, we’re not on lockdown here. You should take care of your health.”

Before Walter could tease him about the irony of this advice, Eric was gone. Eric’s cologne, a prestige brand that cost $500 a bottle, lingered, sweetened the air that Walter breathed like fear after a bad dream.

***

Walter blamed everything that had gone wrong at the Dipentra conference on the protestors. Two weeks later, sitting at home with a cold beer and box of hot pizza and watching the election results come in, he had already successfully forgotten about his awkward exchange with Eric Mulrhony, having written off the entire weekend as sabotaged by evil San Francisco hippies.

The West Virginia and Maryland polls had closed and exit poll results were coming in. Most of the news outlets’ focus was on the presidential race and voter sentiment regarding the Iraq war, but CNN’s doctor-turned-commentator, Dr. Edmund Ahn, a Korean-American heart surgeon from La Jolla, discussed the two drug sales bills at length.

“Pharmaceutical executives and medical professionals all over the country are watching the West Virginia and Maryland elections closely this year. Both states are voting on state propositions to limit the access of drug companies’ marketing departments to physicians and information about their prescription-writing,” Dr. Ahn said.

“Yes, apparently drug companies right now are able to buy data that tells them which drugs doctors are prescribing, isn’t that right?” the CNN anchor said.

“That’s correct,” Dr. Ahn said. “Drug companies currently use that information to gauge how their sales and marketing efforts on the ground are working. The West Virginia and Maryland bills, along with three similar propositions in Minnesota, Iowa, and California, will, if passed, make that kind of data mining illegal for the doctors in their states.”

“So, is this a privacy issue or a health care issue?” the CNN anchor asked.

“Well, it’s complicated,” Dr. Ahn said. “If you look at CNN’s West Virginia exit poll, 66% of people ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ with the statement, ‘Decisions about prescriptions and medications should be made only by a doctor and his or her patient.’”

Dr. Ahn’s hair had so much gel in it, it looked plastic. He had a blonde wife, also a doctor, and very pretty: Walter had once seen a photo of them with their twin mixed-race sons on the internet.

Dr. Ahn and the anchor wrapped up their discussion and went to commercial. The first commercial was the Dipentra commercial, a thirty-second version of the film shown at the launch. It was incredibly corny and looked like a parody of itself.

Walter wasn’t threatened by TV and internet marketing. No one ever followed TV commercials’ advice to “ask your health care provider if ___ is right for you.” Doctors drove sales, and sales reps introduced drugs to doctors.

Besides, everyone fast-forwarded through commercials now anyway.

Walter sat back on his couch and took a few bites of pizza. So much to-do about nothing. Life was pretty good (great!), but nobody ever seemed satisfied. Take this pizza: the yeasty crust baked to half-chewy, half-crispy-brown perfection, the tangy red sauce, the sweet, stretchy white cheese sweating salty oil, all so efficiently presented on three thin layers, cut into palm-sized wedges and delivered to your front door.

Walter didn’t get why half of his fellow Americans didn’t experience things like pizza home delivery and marvel at how wonderful capitalism was. They took it for granted that you could pick up the phone and order boxes of consistently delicious food that was then cooked and delivered within thirty minutes to your doorstop, or that doctors who had been out of medical school for ten years and worked fifty-hour weeks would know everything that needed to be known about the newest drugs on the market. Democrats just weren’t happy people, he thought. They wanted to be heroes who swooped in and saved the country, even if the country didn’t need saving.

The TV cut back to the CNN set. There was a cheesy music cue.

“Okay,” the CNN anchor said. “Breaking news, folks. Our post-election analysts have confirmed that the West Virginia and Maryland state propositions regulating pharmaceutical companies’ access to physicians’ prescription-writing data and limiting certain kinds of gifts from sales reps to doctors have both passed. That’s right, the so-called ‘D.A.R.E. bills,’ as they were allegedly called by pharmaceutical companies, will now become law in West Virginia and Maryland. The people of West Virginia and Maryland have voted to limit pharmaceutical companies’ influence over physicians practicing in their states.”

Walter closed the lid on his pizza box.

“A huge blow to the drug industry, Ken,” Dr. Ahn said.

Walter’s phone rang. Walter went to the desk it was sitting on and looked at the caller ID. It was his old rep, Jim Valiant. Jim was now a manager with GSK in San Jose.

Walter picked up. “This is Walter,” he said.

“Doc Choo, it’s Jim Valiant. Are you watching?”

“Yeah, unbelievable,” Walter said.

“It’s over,” Jim said. “GSK corporate has been telling us California managers from the beginning—if West Virginia and Maryland pass, they all pass.”

“Well, they can’t know that for sure,” Walter said.

“We’ll find out soon enough,” Jim said.

“Jim, it’s always great to hear from you,” Walter said, “but I haven’t spoken to you in at least three years! Why’d you think of calling me?”

“Because you’re the only one I trust right now,” Jim said.

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