Authors: Patricia Gussin
AFTER THE FALL
Also by Patricia Gussin
The Laura Nelson Novels
Shadow of Death
Weapon of Choice
Additional Novels by Patricia Gussin
And Then There Was One
Nonfiction by Patricia Gussin (with Robert Gussin)
What's Nextâ¦For You?
Copyright Â© 2015 by Patricia Gussin
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, and incidents either are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, businesses, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Published in the United States of America by Oceanview Publishing
Longboat Key, Florida
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
This book is dedicated to my brothers and sisters
Joanne, Don, Ed, Mary, and Terri
I am so thankful to the Oceanview Publishing team for making this novel possible. Frank Troncale, who makes everything happen; David Ivester for his promotional magic; Emily Baar for assistance in all aspects of publishing; George Foster for the brilliant cover; Bill O'Connor for his design skills; Kirsten Barger for her passion for accuracy. And, a special thanks to my editor Ellen Count.
Above all else, the hugest thanks of all to my husband, Dr. Robert Gussin.
After the Fall
is the fourth Laura Nelson novel and completes the series. I am grateful for the help from so many over the span of time from
Shadow of Death
After the Fall
AFTER THE FALL
“Mr. Parnell, I'm a surgeon, not an administrator.”
“And I'm a pretty good judge of character and talent,” Paul Parnell told Laura. “You have to give me that. I handpicked Fred thirty years ago, and now he wants to retire and get some use out of that yacht he gave Christina for their fortieth anniversary. You're our choice to replace him.”
Dr. Laura Nelson sat between Parnell, Keystone Pharma chairman of the board, and Dr. Fred Minn, vice president of research, at a well-appointed table at the Fountain Room of Philadelphia's Four Seasons Hotel. Laura had assumed dinner to be a gesture of appreciation for her research on their new drug, Immunone, and her recent appearance at the FDA Advisory Committee hearing on their behalf. Now it was clearâthey were trying to recruit her.
As Parnell spoke, Laura admired the fit and fabric of his charcoal gray suit with the thinnest of stripesâbut why not spend money on clothes? Paul Parnell was a billionaire and a mega-philanthropist, as well as a Nobel Prize recipient.
“Not a yacht, a forty-foot Sea Ray,” Minn said. “First on my agenda is a trip to New Zealand.”
“On your Sea Ray?” Laura couldn't imagine the frail man negotiating that journey.
Minn chuckled. “No. By air. I have twin grandchildren there
whom I've never even seen.” Minn looked his age at sixty-seven, a small man with a neatly trimmed gray beard, intelligent blue eyes, and a ready smile.
“I have twin daughters,” Laura said, glad for the diversion. “Are yours boys or girls?” She normally did not mix business with family, but she needed a gracious way out of this hard-sell recruitment situation. She loved surgery; couldn't imagine life without an operating room. She loved her job as chief of surgery at Tampa City Hospital and head of the surgical department at the medical school. An office job was out of the question.
“So much for twins,” Parnell said. “Among my grandchildren, I have two sets. What does that have to do with Laura becoming vice president of research? Look, Laura, I've followed your career ever since that epidemic you got yourself into in Tampa.”
Seven years ago, Keystone Pharma had provided an investigational drug, ticokellin, which had saved innumerable lives, including that of one of her twin daughters. Yes, she did owe Paul Parnell and Keystone Pharma a debt, but did she owe them her career? Her heart began to race just thinking of that epidemic disasterâ¦
“I've briefed Paul on the role you played in organizing the clinical trials for Immunone,” said Minn. “You recruited the most influential heart-lung transplant surgeons across the country, designed the protocol, guided the statisticians, presented at the FDAâthe whole nine yards.”
“It's been a real pleasure working with you, Dr. Minn, and your team, and collaborating with other heart-lung transplant surgeons, but I'm
a clinical pharmacologist. I'm
an immunologist. I'm
“How can you say that?” Parnell interrupted with his wide, charming smile. “You're the head of the surgical department of a major university, a department that has fared very well in your hands, judging from the NIH grants you pull in.”
The conversation went round and round. Laura said “no.” Parnell and Minn said “yes.” Appetizer, main course, pecan pie with coffee.
“Will you promise to think about it?” Parnell concluded.
“I need you to say âyes,'” Minn said. “I promised my wife. Once Immunone is approved, we're off to New Zealand. And Paul won't let me go until I have my replacement.”
“You think about our offer, Laura,” Parnell said, pulling a folded sheet of paper from his jacket pocket, handing it to her. “This summarizes the elements of compensation. Salary, bonuses, stock, stock options, health benefits, use of the company aircraft, moving expense reimbursement, that kind of thing. Now, I'm heading to my room. Sales meeting's here in the morning to get our reps all fired up about Immunone.”
“I'm spending the night in the company apartment on Rittenhouse Square,” Minn said. “Snow's forecasted for tonight, and I want to walk there before it starts.”
“Are you staying in the hotel tonight, Laura?” Parnell asked.
“In town,” she said. Not,
I'm staying with my boyfriend
âor whatever a woman her age calls the man she's seeing. “I have an early flight home to Tampa.”
“Hope the snow holds off,” Parnell said.
“And the ice,” said Minn.
“Back to the sunshine tomorrow morning,” Laura said as she bid good-night to Parnell, collected her coat, and walked with Minn to the front door.
“Taxi?” the doorman inquired, his voice muffled by the wool scarf that all but covered his lower lip.
“Yes, please.” Laura sniffed the frigid air, wondering if the subtle smell was that of impending snow.
Minn stayed by her side as the doorman stepped to the curb to hail the lone cab lurking across the street. The frail older man seemed swallowed up by his thick cashmere coat. Why wasn't he wearing a hat?
“You go along before these conditions get worse,” she urged. “Better yet, let's share the cab.”
“Don't be silly, I'm just a block away.” With a wave, Minn headed for the sidewalk.
As Laura reached to open the cab's door, the rumble of a motor starting up distracted her. In the eerie lighting outside the hotel, she could make out a vehicle, an older-style Jeep, across the street, maybe a half block away. Dark green or camouflage, or maybe black. On the roads tonight, a Jeep seemed an appropriate vehicle. As she climbed into the cab, she saw the Jeep pull out into the street.
“Where to, ma'am?” her bearded, burly driver asked.
Laura hesitated a moment, her attention on the Jeep, now accelerating.
“Ma'am? Where do you want to go?”
“Sorry. 1900 Delancy Place,” she said. “I know it's not that far, I'll pay double.”
“Too far to be walking in those high heels, ma'am,” he said with a chuckle. “And here comes the snow.”
Laura leaned back into the seat and opened the window for just a second so she could feel an icy flake on her hand. She'd moved from Michigan to Florida twenty-one years ago, never missing winter at all.
During the brief ride, Laura's mind drifted to a disturbing message from a man who had called her office in Tampa after she'd left for Washington, DC. A man claiming he was assistant to the mayor of Detroit, whom she knew to be Coleman Young. His name was Lonnie Greenwood, a name Laura did not recognize. His reason for contacting her: his son had cystic fibrosis and needed a lung transplant. Fine, that's what she did: lung transplants. Then he'd specifically stated that she be “reminded about Johnny Diggs.” Johnny Diggs had died twenty-five years ago at the age of eighteen. How did she know this? She had pulled the trigger on the gun that killed him.
Could this Lonnie Greenwood know? Impossible!
With a force of will that had served
her well in the past, she closed off that compartment of fear. Focus on the here and now.
The here and now jolted her back with a skidding approach to the curb at Tim's place.
“Careful on the ice, ma'am,” the cabbie said as she paid him. Before Laura stepped into the condo building, she stood for a moment, letting the white flakes caress her face, tasting their crispness on her tongue.
Parked along the curb down the street from the Four Seasons Hotel, Jake Harter was positioned just right, ready to fire up and go. He'd hung around the bar of the Fountain Room long enough to watch the headwaiter present the bill to the dinner party, then he'd slipped out and headed to his vehicle. He didn't need to kill the old man, only seriously disable him, but once the Jeep made contact, the outcome would be out of his control. Steel and g-forces on flesh and bone.
Jake pulled the black knit cap over his crew-cut, salt-and-pepper hair. The temperature had plunged, but what was that for a tough former Marine? He hunched further down in the olive-drab Jeep, the vehicle that had been through a lot of years with him. He had nothing personal against Fred Minn. Matter of fact, he admired him. The guy was a straight shooter, pretty much a novelty in the pharmaceutical industry. But retiring the old guy was now necessary, a temporary solution as he finalized his ultimate plan.
Keystone's drug, Immunone, must not be approvedâat least not yet. Dr. Minn, the mastermind behind the approval process, knew every detail about that drug. Without him, the company would scramble for direction. That would give Jake the time he needed.
Jake watched as the doorman held the door for the woman,
Dr. Nelson, and the hatless gray-haired man with the stooped shoulders, Fred Minn. A cab immediately pulled up to the Four Seasons entrance.
Shit! If Minn got in that cab, tonight was a loss.
As Jake watched, only the woman climbed into the back seat. Okay. Good. He started the Jeep, noticing for the first time how loud it sounded. Just as Jake had anticipated, Minn turned right, heading away from the hotel. A short walk down the deserted sidewalk and he'd be on 18th Street. Just a few steps after that, he'd reach Cherry, cross at the light, and take a right, heading to Keystone's corporate apartment in that high-rise on Cherry Street, less than a block away.
Bad night like this, there wasn't much traffic in Logan Square, and that made Jake's job a lot easier. Cherry was a one-way street heading west, so he had an unobstructed view. Minn would have to step off the curb onto Cherry, his left side exposed. Conditions were perfectâno other pedestrians, no traffic, a moonless night, and snow obscuring the ground. Jake took one last look. Any sign of a cop and he'd abort the mission. Wait for the next opening.