Betty Lidalot locked her office door and brought up the latest breast cancer awareness app and watched as a parade of shirtless muscled hunks reminded her to give herself lots of TLC: Touch, Look, and Check. She dreamed of help by Luke, Anthony, Keith, Jerald, Jesse, Leon … and Rupert Madasheck.
She broke off the daydream. ‘Rupert is married,’ she reminded herself. ‘I may as well dream of Yehud Shuar, may he rest in peace.’ She fended off the memory of Yehud’s death from brain cancer. ‘TLC does not work on brain cancer,’ she thought. ‘Well, it’s time to see what Cappuccino Pharmaceuticals is up to.’ She opened a desk drawer and pulled out a gift-wrapped box with an envelope inscribed, ‘To Rupert.’
An hour later, Betty ushered herself into Rupert’s empty office. After a minute, Rupert stumbled in without noticing her. He blundered into his desk, banged his knee into its solid oak, and dropped into his chair.
“Something wrong?” Betty asked. “I-”
Rupert jumped with a strangled cry and swiveled his chair around. “Oh. Betty. I didn’t see you there, I’m sorry.” He sat up and straightened his tie. “I’ve been worried about something. Things. Some things. Ack.” He noticed the wrapped box in Betty’s hands.
“Something for you,” she said as she handed him the box. “I found something special. So special that I plan to present it at a Women in Business event in San Francisco.”
Rupert turned the box end over end and noticed the wrapping paper said, ‘Barry Callebaut – Chocolate to Raise Your Spirits.’ “I never heard of this Barry stuff,” he said. “Some new kid on the chocolate block?”
Betty smiled. “It’s the world’s largest chocolate supplier in the world,” Betty said. “They sell to all the companies you’ve ever heard of, and now they decided to branch out on their own. But tell me. What are these things that have you frantic?”
Rupert stared at the box in his hands. “Well, one is that I must send something to Maybelle for Valentine’s Day. It’s not just an option, it’s life or death.” He looked up at Betty. “I hate to ask, but could I -”
“Certainly not.” Betty glowered across Rupert’s desk at him. “It simply will not do. Get her a box of See’s or something. These are, well, special. You’ll appreciate them more than she will.”
Rupert raised his eyebrows. “Oh? Liqueur or whiskey filled?”
Betty glanced up at the ceiling. “Oh yourself. You just enjoy them. After you tell me what the other thing is. Or are there more than one?”
Rupert sighed. “Just one at the moment. It’s an opportunity more than a problem. We need to take advantage of it and I’m not yet convinced our veepard is up to it.”
“Veepard?” Betty asked.
“VP of R and D,” Rupert said. “We are on our fifth in four years. But we need to move. Questcor entered the snake oil business years ago, and we didn’t even notice.”
Betty laughed. “Oh, Rupert, I thought you had something serious on your mind.
“Let me tell you, Maybelle is deadly serious now. But about Questcor.” Rupert leaned back in the padded hydraulic chair and glanced at the holes in the acoustic ceiling tiles. “They acquired an anti-inflammatory drug that was approved in 1952. Way before we were born.” He pulled a small vial out of his pocket. “This gel was sold for some rare syndrome. Then they sold it at $50 a pop for gout. Until 2007.”
After three seconds of silence, Betty inhaled. “Am I supposed to guess the new price?” Rupert smiled and stared at the ceiling. “OK,” Betty said, “five hundred dollars.”
Rupert sat up and stared at her round dilated pupils. “Twenty. Three. Thousand. Dollars. And it’s even more these days.”
“What I understand,” he continued, “is that it’s now marketed for multiple sclerosis, some kidney problem called nephrotic syndrome, and some rheumatology problems. The original claims covered about fifty diseases. Remember, it was approved back in 1952. Back then, the FDA didn’t even need clinical trials.”
Betty’s eyes went wide with comprehension. “Oh. What other drugs are out there from back then?”
Rupert sat up. “I’m having people sift through the records. Just think. You can claim anything you want and you never have to prove a thing. Stuff that old gets grandfathered in.”
Betty frowned. “Except us.”
“You could be grandmothered in,” Rupert said, “but you still need to wait a few decades.” Betty blushed, and Rupert smiled. “Ah,” he said, “but you do ask the key question. What grandfathered drugs can we acquire so we can claim all sorts of stuff without the bother and expense of clinical trials?” Rupert stood up and began pacing around his office. “Opportunity. To grab it, we need to rush.”
Betty stood up. “I need to rush, so I will leave you to ponder that.”
Rupert stopped pacing. “Sorry. Oh, and thanks.” He glanced at the box on his desk. “Thanks for the mysterious chocolates. Maybe they will help me think.”
“They will help in the way all men think, yes,” Betty said. “That’s a fair advertizing claim.” She walked backwards out of the office and closed the door on him. “I’ll check on your thoughts later,” she said to his nameplate on the door.
On the other side of the door, Rupert stopped pacing and opened the envelope taped to the box. He read the card inscription: ‘Business partners for now. Valentines forever! XXXX, Betty.’ He sat down. After a pause, he opened the wrapping paper to find a handsome box with the Barry Callebaut logo prominently displayed. He thought of his diet. He pondered his lack of exercise. He opened the box, pushed some kind of pamphlet out of his way, and ate two chocolates.
As he rolled the pair of chocolates across his tongue, he looked at the discarded pamphlet. Instead of the expected pictogram of each chocolate’s flavored filling, it looked more like a medical prescription package insert with lots of tiny print. “Would Betty pull a mean trick on me?” he wondered as he began reading. In between interrupting thoughts of Maybelle and snake oil, Rupert noticed the name of the European Food Safety Authority. “So this won’t kill me?” he thought. “That’s good.”
The large print read, “European Food Safety Authority validates the Barry Callebaut claim that their cocoa enhances blood flow.” Rupert looked up in surprise. What on earth does that mean? he wondered as he popped a third chocolate into his mouth. He pulled his guyPad out, brought up its phone app, and called Betty.
Her face smiled from the screen, with a taxi view in the background. “Rupert! Sorry I had to run. Did you try the chocolate?”
“Of course, I couldn’t resist,” he said. “Should I stop at three, or can I have a fourth?”
Betty gasped. “Oh, Rupert, they recommend you have one a day and never more than two.”
“What?” he asked. “Where does it say that?” He flipped through the package insert. “What is this? Not what I usually find in candy boxes.”
“It’s their report validating the claim that the natural flavanols in the cocoa enhance blood flow.”
“Blood flow? That doesn’t sound appealing in a chocolate,” Rupert said.
Betty closed her eyes. “Rupert. Do you know how Viagra works?”
Rupert’s guyPad hit the floor.
Twenty minutes later, Marlene strutted her six foot four frame through Rupert’s office door atop her Sam Edelman Lace Up Platform Booties with five inch heels and stopped dead. Rupert’s ceiling-to-floor window jumped at her with a swirl of motion. It showed a rotating panoramic landscape taken from Dubai’s Burj Khalifa building, taken by Gerald Donovan. Skyscrapers, empty lots, construction sites, and islands in the shape of palm fronds all arced across the giant screen.
As Marlene tottered with dizziness, Rupert rushed around the edge of his desk. She swayed precariously, but he swept past her to shut his office door. Then just as she crashed floorward, she felt herself become weightless except a slight pressure against her waist and her knees. Rupert’s arms cradled her, but then she felt a third pressure. On her hip.
Rupert set her back up on her platform boots. “Does the view bother you? I find it exhilarating. But I can turn it off.” The room plunged into darkness.
“Did you really call me here to discuss Dr. Buttinsky?” Marlene asked as she waited for her eyes to adjust.
“Oh, let’s hope he doesn’t butt in,” said Rupert. “I wonder if he is at all competent in our hour of need. At least you plan. You prepare. You think.”
“And thinking is the new sexy,” Marlene said. Her dilating eyes made out the image of Rupert wearing nothing but three socks. She tried not to stare at that third sock.