Home > The King of Torts(15)

The King of Torts(15)
Author: John Grisham

"That's where I'm headed," Clay mumbled to himself as he glanced at the Potomac River beneath him.

After suffering through the most unproductive morning of his career, Clay left at eleven-thirty and took his time driving to the Willard, now officially known as the Willard InterContinental Hotel. He was immediately met in the lobby by a muscled young man who looked vaguely familiar. "Mr. Pace is upstairs," he explained. "He'd like to meet with you up there, if that's all right." They were walking toward the elevators.

"Sure," Clay said. How he'd been recognized so easily he was not certain.

They ignored each other on the ride up. They stepped onto the ninth floor and Clay's escort knocked on the door of the Theodore Roosevelt Suite. It opened quickly and Max Pace said hello with a businesslike smile. He was in his mid-forties, dark wavy hair, dark mustache, dark everything. Black denim jeans, black T-shirt, black pointed-toe boots. Hollywood at the Willard. Not exactly the corporate look Clay had been expecting. As they shook hands he had the first hint that things were not what they seemed.

With a quick glance, the bodyguard was sent away.

"Thanks for coming," Max said as they walked into an oval-shaped room laden with marble.

"Sure." Clay was absorbing the suite; luxurious leathers and fabrics, rooms branching off in all directions. "Nice place."

"It's mine for a few more days. I thought we could eat up here, order some room service, that way we can talk with complete privacy."

"Fine with me." A question came to mind, the first of many. What was a Washington headhunter doing renting a horribly expensive hotel suite? Why didn't he have an office nearby? Did he really need a bodyguard?

"Anything in particular to eat?"

"I'm easy."

"They do a great capellini and salmon dish. I had it yesterday. Superb."

"I'll try it." At that moment Clay would have tried anything; he was starving.

Max went to the phone while Clay admired the view of Pennsylvania Avenue below. When lunch was ordered, they sat near the window and quickly got past the weather, the Orioles latest losing streak, and the lousy state of the economy. Pace was glib and seemed at ease talking about anything for as long as Clay wanted. He was a serious weight lifter who wanted folks to know it. His shirt stuck to his chest and arms and he liked to pick at his mustache. Whenever he did so, his biceps flexed and bulged.

A stuntman maybe, but not a headhunter in the big leagues. Ten minutes into the chatter, and Clay said, "These two firms, why don't you tell me a little about them?" "They don't exist," Max said. "I admit I lied to you.

And I promise it's the only time I will ever lie to you." "You're not a headhunter, are you?" "No." "Then what?" "I'm a fireman." "Thanks, that really clears things up." "Let me talk for a moment. I have some explaining to do, and when I'm finished I promise you'll be pleased." "I suggest you talk real fast, Max, or I'm outta here." "Relax, Mr. Carter. Can I call you Clay?" "Not yet." "Very well. I'm an agent, a contractor, a freelancer with a specialty. I get hired by big companies to put out fires. They screw up, they realize their mistakes before the lawyers do, so they hire me to quietly enter the picture, tidy up their mess, and, hopefully, save them a bunch of money. My services are in great demand. My name may be Max Pace and it may be something else. It doesn't matter. Who I am and where I come from are irrelevant. What's important here is that I have been hired by a large company to put out a fire. Questions?"

"Too numerous to ask right now."

"Hang on. I cannot tell you the name of my client now, perhaps never. If we reach an agreement, then I can tell you much more.

Here's the story: My client is a multinational that manufactures pharmaceuticals. You'll recognize the name. It makes a wide range of products, from common household remedies that are in your medicine cabinet right now to complex drugs that will fight cancer and obesity. An old, established blue-chip company with a stellar reputation. About two years ago, it came up with a drug that might cure addiction to opium -  and cocaine-based narcotics. Much more advanced than methadone, which, though it helps many addicts, is addictive itself and is widely abused. Let's call this wonder drug Tarvan - that was its nickname for a while. It was discovered by mistake and was quickly used on every laboratory animal available. The results were outstanding, but then it's hard to duplicate crack addiction in a bunch of rats."

"They needed humans," Clay said.

Pace picked his mustache as his biceps rippled. "Yes. The potential for Tarvan was enough to keep the big suits awake at night. Imagine, take one pill a day for ninety days and you're clean. Your craving for the drugs is gone. You've kicked cocaine, heroin, crack - just like that. After you're clean, take a Tarvan every other day and you're free for life. Almost an instant cure, for millions of addicts. Think of the profits - charge whatever you want for the drug because somebody somewhere will gladly pay for it. Think of the lives to be saved, the crimes that would not be committed, the families held together, the billions not spent trying to rehab addicts. The more the suits thought about how great Tarvan could be, the faster they wanted it on the market. But, as you say, they still needed humans."

A pause, a sip of coffee. The T-shirt trembled with fitness. He continued.

"So they began making mistakes. They picked three places - Mexico City, Singapore, and Belgrade - places far outside the jurisdiction of the FDA. Under the guise of some vague international relief outfit, they built rehab clinics, really nice lockdown facilities where the addicts could be completely controlled. They picked the worst junkies they could find, got 'em in, cleaned 'em up, began using Tarvan, though the addicts had no idea. They really didn't care - everything was free."

"Human laboratories," Clay said. The tale so far was fascinating, and Max the fireman had a flair for the narrative.

"Nothing but human laboratories. Far away from the American tort system. And the American press. And the American regulators. It was a brilliant plan. And the drug performed beautifully. After thirty days, Tarvan blunted the cravings for drugs. After sixty days, the addicts seemed quite happy to be clean, and after ninety days they had no fear of returning to the streets. Everything was monitored - diet, exercise, therapy, even conversations. My client had at least one employee per patient, and these clinics had a hundred beds each. After three months, the patients were turned loose, with the agreement that they would return to the clinic every other day for their Tarvan. Ninety percent stayed on the drug, and stayed clean. Ninety percent! Only two percent relapsed into addiction."

"And the other eight percent?"

"They would become the problem, but my client didn't know how serious it would be. Anyway, they kept the beds full, and over eighteen months about a thousand addicts were treated with Tarvan. The results were off the charts. My client could smell billions in profits. And there was no competition. No other company was in serious R&D for an anti-addiction drug. Most pharmaceuticals gave up years ago."

"And the next mistake?"

Max paused for a second, then said, "There were so many." A buzzer sounded, lunch had arrived. A waiter rolled it in on a cart and spent five minutes fussing with the setup. Clay stood in front of the window, staring at the top of the Washington Monument, but too deep in thought to see anything. Max tipped the guy and finally got him out of the room. "You hungry?" he asked. "No. Keep talking," Clay took off his jacket and sat in the chair. "I think you're getting to the good part."

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