THE DETAIL MAN
by A.A. Jordan
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2011, A.A. Jordan
You see, it happened like this…
Bay Reed was what we call a “detail man.” That’s just industry speak. Detail men are pharmaceutical salesmen. They upsell pharma’s drugs to physicians so that they can upsell them to you. If “upsell” is too strong a word for you, go ahead and swap it out with prescribe. Don’t worry, I’m not here to do an exposé of big bad pharma. That’s just how it is. Doctors don’t engineer the medicine they prescribe to you. We do. Which means we have to make money so that we can keep making your medicine.
I’m on my soap box. I know. Can’t help it. But every time I think of Bay Reed, I get agitated. He had a soap box too, only he let all those people hollering about the boogieman get to him. And when enough people holler, the media, with their weather-vane temperament, mindlessly point in whatever arbitrary direction the wind happens to be blowing. Idiots. Bay Reed? Idiot. And that’s saying something because I liked the guy. A family man. A generic family man. A generic man, actually. Same height as myself: five-ten. Same weight as myself, which is none of your business. But if you saw my waistline—and his—you’d probably make a pretty accurate guess.
Plain dirty blond hair. Plain dirty blond mustache. A smoker. His wife, who I would love to bang, doesn’t smoke, and neither do I. Makes me wonder how she could stand kissing him. But I guess when you’ve been married as long as those two, there’s no more tongue kissing. Just fast pecks before Bay was out the door. Despite his weight, he always moved fast, as salesmen usually do. Bay was a frenetic personality. Excitable. Gullible.
Somebody got to him. Not necessarily somebody within our company, though that happens too. If I know Bay, it was probably some damn article he read while flying to make one of his sales. Probably one of our drugs that was recalled. Most likely a drug that was under his detail. God knows what he read. “Deformed baby from parents on X prescription drug.” “Kid goes psycho from Y prescription drug.” “Granny dies from Z prescription drug.” Everyone in the company reads these things, and it may surprise you to hear that none of us enjoy reading it. But there’s always risk. Getting in your car is a risk. Living in your home is a risk. And yes, taking a prescription drug is a risk. Bay forgot all this logic.
He remembered his wife.
He remembered his kids.
He remembered their faces.
He imagined what if it were his family.
He did the worst thing he could do. He talked. To a journalist. About the details of our business. A legal kiss of death. Not for us, for him. We sign confidentiality agreements to prevent this kind of thing. Of course, he didn’t go on record. Of course, he denied having said anything. This latest article about big bad pharma came from some “anonymous insider.” We all knew it was him. His attitude around the office changed. All of a sudden he had too many opinions about the job. About the products. His timid conviction was a perfect fit for a so-called anonymous insider.
Bay Reed was my friend. Is my friend, okay? So what I’m about to tell you is only because… I’m not sure why I’m telling you. I shouldn’t be telling you. Although, I guess it doesn’t matter anymore. What’s done is done.
Bay drove from LA to Vegas to do a sales call. Sure, Vegas is only five hours away, but we have Vegas men to do those kinds of calls. We usually don’t send our guys on those kinds of errands, but for some reason they sent Bay. I figured it to be an unspoken punishment for talking to the press. I can imagine the drive, especially when you get to the desert. Those long roads that never end. Beige featureless land on both sides that goes on forever. Occasionally, you pass a road sign that reminds you that civilization is just ahead, and you hope that you don’t miss it. Each car you pass, which aren’t very many, gives you some comfort that you’re not alone on the road and that you’re still going in the right direction. The comfort doesn’t last long, especially when the car makes a turn down some other never-ending road or when it disappears out of sight behind you. But you learn to appreciate any feeling of security, no matter how brief.
Then the unthinkable happens. The car putters. It slows down. It stops. What do you do? I’ll tell you what you don’t do. You don’t get out of the car and look for help. People do that all the time, and later on their bodies are found, which tells the authorities the car isn’t too far away. The heat kills them, just like it probably killed the car. Stay in the car. Make a call from your cell phone and wait for rescue.
In this case, Bay didn’t need to make a call. In only a few minutes, a white van pulled up. Pulled to the side. Bay opened his car door but heard a command to stay inside the car. He obeyed. The driver waved an affirming hand out the window to reassure him that they were there to help, though they were certainly taking their time. He waited, constantly checking the side mirror to see when someone was going to exit the van. No sooner had he wiped the sweat from his face, more sweat was there. Now his entire body was beginning to perspire. Patches of his shirt clung to his skin. He could smell himself. His pungent odor mixed with the dry heat. He looked again in the mirror. Nothing.
From the passenger seat, he grabbed a magazine that he brought with him and impatiently waded through it. The cover story about fatal prescription drugs didn’t seem to matter to him anymore. To hell with deformed babies, psychotic depressed kids and grandmothers. Now he just wanted to get the hell to his sales call and get the hell home. In fact, screw the sales call and home. Now he just wanted AC.
He heard something. Instinctively, he checked the rear-view mirror. The door was open and a man was approaching him. The most he could gather was that the man was bald. The rest of his body seemed to be a continuous form of black shadows. Bay shifted his eyes to the left and rolled down the window. As the man walked into view, it felt as if a police officer had pulled him over. He half expected the man to ask for license and registration. Of course, he didn’t. At first, he was just silent. Standing there as if all he wanted was for Bay to stare at his crotch.
Then he bent down and Bay got a good look at him. His bald head arched into a lined, meaty forehead. His eyes were solid, dark and heavy. They didn’t move when they stared back at him. Sweat had beaded on his head and glistened around his narrow cheeks. His lips were thin and steely. His presence forced a clumsy comment out of Bay: “Uh, hey there. I wasn’t sure if you were the police or somebody trying to kill me.” Bay tried to laugh. He tried to make this a joke. He caught a quick glance of the man’s yellowing teeth when he offered only two words in response: “Who me?”
Killing a man for knowing too much is like smashing up a computer for one forbidden file. It’s gratuitous and messy. There’s no need to destroy the computer, just permanently remove the offending memory. The same is true with people who work with computers or who work with, say, sensitive government information. Or someone who works with confidential details about drugs. You don’t have to kill them, just kill what they know. Kill their memory. We have drugs that do that. Hell, date-rape drugs do that. Although what we use in the white-collar circuit is stronger and more reliable.
I’ll grant you, killing memory is as good as killing the man. Especially a man who has a family. Sure, if he’s lucky enough to find his way home, the family still has him. But he no longer has his family. They’re gone. Erased. He’ll have to take them at their word when they say that they love him and that he feels the same. Eventually, a new connection is made. He’ll learn to love them again. Eventually.
I do feel bad about it though. Bay is my friend. I’m sure Bay gave his wife a small peck on the lips before he walked out that door. If memory permitted, right now he would wish their last kiss had been a deep long passionate one. At that point, she wouldn’t have minded such a kiss. Even with the tar taste on his tongue. If he could remember his son, I’m sure he would wish he had done more than just give him a brisk rub on the head while walking by. He would wish he hadn’t patronized his daughter when she tried to talk about whatever it is that young girls try to tell their fathers.
Most of all, I’m sure he would wish he had kept quiet. Just did his job.
And that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Keep quiet and do my job.
I have drugs to sell.
You have just read the companion short story to the novel THE GENE HACKERS by A.A. Jordan. If you enjoyed the story, please consider giving the novel a read. Here’s the synopsis:
Either by accident or fate, cognitive psychologist Dr. Allan Shapiro stumbles upon an inimitable young boy whose severe neurological impairments have cut him off from the rest of the world. For Allan, the boy is a rare chance to understand the enigma and evolution of the “self” and the elusive quality that distinguishes the human body from the human being. But there are many other clashing agendas triggered by the boy’s discovery.
To the science community, he is the impetus for the next scientific revolution.
To the public, he is a symbol of the sins of science.
To the FDA and FBI, he is a legal citizen, born illegally…
In this story about tomorrow, set in a time similar to today, THE GENE HACKERS explores man’s instinctive fear of disease, damage, disfigurement and death, his ongoing struggle to wrest from nature’s hand her tight grip on life and his desperate need for control of the fate and future of the human body.
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About the Author
A.A. Jordan is one part writer and one part graphic designer. He writes novels with an anime tone, which only means that his creative process begins with visualizing anime-style characters (the kind without the whiny voices). He was born in Buffalo, NY, and lives abroad.
Other books by A.A. Jordan
Clarence is a retired architect looking to check himself into a senior’s home, but after one too many beers he wakes up one morning in a home for retired Gods—millions of them. From every age and every faith, these disagreeable deities are crammed into a temple that has long since exceeded its maximum capacity, and they’re praying for Clarence to give their small sanctuary an urgent upgrade before it reaches critical mass.
Available on , [+ Nook+], and .