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Книга Whiplash. Содержание - 36

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Thursday afternoon

Caskie Royal zipped up his pants, walked to the rusted sink with its dulled mirror, and stared at a face he hardly recognized. In only four days, fear had leached the color from his skin, and his jowls looked pale and saggy. He looked ill, terminally ill. That thought brought a ghastly smile to his face.

He was afraid, more afraid than he'd believed possible ever since that woman had broken into his office on Sunday night. He'd asked himself over and over how she'd known about the Culovort files, but he still had no clue how she'd known or why she'd copied them or who she was, but then again, neither did any of those agents who'd been stomping on him ever since. Was she a cancer patient? Or maybe it was her husband who was the patient? There were scores of patients very unhappy with him and the company since the Culovort shortage began, but still, that didn't ring true. If someone had merely wanted to make the papers public, why didn't the newspapers, or even the FBI, already have them? If she was a blackmailer, why hadn't she called?

He shook his head at the stranger in the mirror. Nothing made sense anymore. He had no idea if she was the one who'd murdered Blauvelt, not that he cared.

Caskie started to wash his hands. He turned on the warm water faucet, but the water was cold. He pressed down on the soap pump and lathered up, automatic after all these years. Jane Ann had nagged him to do it since the day he married her. His wife. He wasn't about to worry about her now, but his boys, Chad and Mark, were another matter entirely. How could he protect them? Protect their future? He felt a shaft of pain deep in his belly. It wasn't indigestion, it was grief.

Caskie knew he was going to be sucked down into the swamp where all the hungry alligators waited. Unless he was real careful, he'd end up in jail, or dead. Who would have thought that any of this would end up as anything more than a fine for the company at worst, maybe an early departure for him as CEO if it all hit the fan. If he'd thought jail was a possibility, would he have turned all this down? Maybe, he thought, sure he would have. No one in his family had ever gone to prison. He wasn't a young man any longer, he wouldn't be able to protect himself from all the predators in prison and he knew the predators were there, everyone knew that.

He turned his head slowly from side to side as he watched in the mirror. No, he thought, honest in that moment, the thought of jail wouldn't have deterred him. There was so much money, quite a lot of it already in his private accounts in the Grand Cayman.

What he'd done, it hadn't been all that bad. Just look at what those clowns at Pfizer had finally been nailed for, they'd deserved the huge fines. They'd deserved prison too, but that didn't happen. Fines for criminal behavior, not jail. Wasn't that a kick?

The party's over, he whispered to the deathly-pale face. The coffin lid was inexorably closing over him. He'd escaped for the moment to the men's room in the rest area, Toms with him at first, but Toms, who'd hummed while he'd peed, had finished and left. He hadn't washed his hands. Had he come back? Was he waiting outside the door? He wouldn't put anything past him, the bastard.

They'd told him, not asked him, to sit on the backward-facing rumble seat with Toms, facing Bender, Dieffendorf, and Gerlach. He'd tried to act dignified, tried to act the consummate CEO.

Dieffendorf hadn't bought it. He disliked Dieffendorf, always had, but the fact was, he hated Werner Gerlach now, hated what was in his eyes every time Gerlach looked at him. It was his own death he saw there if he couldn't convince them to trust him. And he saw in those eyes that he had failed. Caskie was nothing more than a pawn to Gerlach, he knew it to his soul. Gerlach had always been a priggish little man, barely five-foot-six in his elevator shoes-pathetic, really, when he wouldn't stop bragging about his sexy young wife, Laytha. What man in his right mind would want to be married to a woman younger than his daughter? Did she talk about getting zits? About going to bars and listening to music Gerlach hated? Caskie wondered whether Laytha cost Gerlach so much in maintenance that Gerlach had no choice but to keep coming up with new schemes to make more money. He had to keep up with Laytha's new shoes. He was brilliant at market strategies, at innovative ways to get around rules, and was endlessly greedy. Caskie supposed he'd recognized himself in Gerlach the moment the two men had met five years ago.

Gerlach and Dieffendorf had known each other forever, it seemed to Caskie, had run Schiffer Hartwin for close to twenty years now. They had always shown a united front to the world, just as now, the second in command accompanying Dieffendorf to face the latest battle.

Yet they couldn't be more different.

It was odd, Caskie realized, but he was as afraid of Dieffendorf as he was of Gerlach, and Dieffendorf didn't even have his guard dog Blauvelt to solve all his problems any longer.

Caskie saw Dieffendorf's calculating, emotionless eyes staring back at him in the mirror. He could still hear his accented voice as he'd said, "I sent Helmut here to get to the bottom of this Culovort shortage you have helped to create. He was coming to see you for explanations yet you claim you didn't see him, Mr. Royal. Is this true?"

"Yes," Caskie had said, his voice steady, the ring of truth bright and shining. "I did not see him. He was murdered Sunday night. I was to see him Monday morning."

Gerlach said, "And you were busy Sunday night, were you not? With your current lover, I understand. And thus you say you could not have killed Blauvelt. I hope your family is holding up under this painful scrutiny. It must be especially difficult for your boys. Their names are Chad and Mark?"

"Yes, they are holding up well. They don't know anything. I thought that was best." Message received, Caskie thought, loud and clear.

He looked at Gerlach's small hands clasped together in his lap. Caskie hated to shake his hand, the skin was dry and hard, desiccated like his face, like his soul. Gerlach crossed and recrossed his legs, showing off his Italian loafers with their nearly two-inch lifts.

As the limo cruised smoothly east on the Merritt Parkway, Dieffendorf said, "I must tell you, Mr. Royal, when I was informed you had arranged to shut down the Culovort production in Missouri without consulting me, I was not happy, but I was not overly concerned since the drug doesn't add much to our bottom line. But when the plant in Spain went down recently-due to sabotage, mind you-and it became clear that worldwide supply of our  drug Culovort would dry up completely, well, suddenly what you'd done took on a new significance. Would you agree?"

"It was very unfortunate, more than unfortunate, tragic-but no one could have anticipated that, Mr. Dieffendorf."

"If you know nothing about that, Mr. Royal, can you tell me why you left such detailed information about the effects you anticipated from the Culovort shortage in the United States on your computer? Did I make a mistake in hiring you, Mr. Royal?"

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