Chapter 62 - The Masters

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The morning after the meeting in the police station, Ben Jenkins was sixty miles east of Santa Ramona, playing golf on the course of a five-star hotel in Rancho Mirage, California.

The Great American executive was with an old friend. His golfing partner had arrived the night before by corporate jet, fresh from a trip around the world conducting business negotiations with government health ministers in Asia, Africa, and South America.

Ben’s friend cut a dashing figure on the links. He was tall, athletic, and in his midforties; like Jenkins, still young enough to be on the trajectory where any amount of wealth and achievement seemed possible, though so much had already been accomplished. The splash of gray running through his full head of black hair added to his regal bearing.

The man was Thomas Struthers, Jenkins’s college roommate from business school twenty years ago. The men had kept in close contact over the course of their respective careers. Jenkins went to Dallas after grad school and achieved spectacular success, rising through the ranks at Great American as it became the dominant retailer in the country.

But Jenkins’s ascent in the business world was nothing compared to that of his former roommate. Thomas Struthers was a legend. Upon graduation he had moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and entered the then-nascent field of biotechnology. Twenty years later, he was the chief executive officer of Helixin Pharmaceuticals, with a personal net worth of one billion dollars.

Struthers owned mansions in Beverly Hills and on Cape Cod, as well as a villa in the South of France. His lifestyle was one of unimaginable luxury, as well as incredible drive and pressure. As Jenkins confided his current troubles, Struthers shook his head and massaged his temples, conveying the concern he felt for the gravity of his old friend’s predicament.

“You don’t want to be on trial, Ben. Trust me,” Struthers said. “I’m on trial every day.” With an authoritative swing of his ten-thousand-dollar titanium driver, Struthers knocked the ball to the far end of the eighteenth-hole fairway. “One day I’m talking to health ministers in Brazil or Kenya or Thailand and they’re begging me to cut prices and release the patents on our best-selling medicines. They say they are in the midst of a public emergency, so the normal laws of commerce don’t apply. I go in there and try to protect my interests. I talk to them about intellectual property, trade agreements, the money I’ve spent on research. These are really the only cards I have left to play. They point their fingers at me and say I have blood on my hands. They say I am more concerned with profits than with saving lives.

“Then I get to back here to the United States and sit in front of my board, and I’m on trial all over again for entirely different offenses. The board accuses me of being too soft, of being negligent because profits are down twenty percent from a year ago, down another twenty percent from the year before that. So it’s different days, different parts of the world, and different trials. But I’m on trial all the same. This will go on for the rest of my career, and there’s no way I can win in any court, especially the court of public opinion.”

Jenkins listened respectfully to his old friend, careful not to interrupt. It was Jenkins’s turn at the tee. Struthers waited for his partner to take a shot onto the fairway. The ball sailed eagerly in a low arc, chasing the path of its predecessor, as if it aspired to emulate Struthers’s brilliant earlier drive. And it almost succeeded, but couldn’t quite match the strength and distance. The two friends strolled together, carrying their golf bags, walking on the moist green grass under the rising desert sun.

“At the end of the day, people act in their own best interest,” Struthers said. “You and I know that better than anyone. This Valentine woman has her Helixin now. She has what she wants and she’s not going to create any more trouble. You’ve got to let this whole thing go, Ben. The American public has a short attention span. No one will remember it six months from now.”

“With all due respect, Tom, you’re not exposed like we are. I told you about the cop and the tape.”

“The only exposure you have is Lowry. He’s the one who created this mess, trying to be a cowboy, trying to bend the rules and control everything. Any man who doesn’t know his own limitations deserves what he gets. Make it clear that he was acting on his own, ignoring the direction of the home office. Get rid of him and your exposure is gone, provided you dispose of him in a way that keeps him quiet.”

“How can I guarantee he stays quiet?”

“I’ll let you figure that out for yourself.”

“He’s been a solid corporate citizen for many years, a good soldier.”

Struthers artfully knocked his ball onto the edge of the green, laying the groundwork for a birdie. “Then you should be able to control him. That’s the very definition of a good soldier.”

There was nothing left to say. The men finished their game and tallied the scores. Both were very strong players and came in well under par. It was time for mimosas back at the hotel.

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