“I trust you are not simply changing the subject,” Maybelle said.
“I hope I can,” said Rupert. “I mean: No, this is quite relevant. Indiscretions. Alas, in this case it started with one of mine. My one. Indiscretion. Yes, I was indiscrete in promoting our new Marketing Vice President.”
Vivian looked at her wrist and blinked. “Oh,” she said as she pulled out her phone. “I keep forgetting that I stopped wearing a watch years ago. Anyway, will this take long?”
Rupert looked at the 18K rose gold Ulysse Nardin Marine Limited Edition chronometer on his wrist. Maybelle examined the Omega Ladies Constellation Small Seconds Chronometer Limited Edition watch on her wrist. They both looked at Vivian’s phone, then at each other. Vivian looked up at them from her phone. “What?” she asked.
Rupert cleared his throat. “Let me tell this story since I mentioned it.” He told them about Dr. Buttinsky’s poorly conceived therapeutic project and of Marlene’s clever and innovative presentation. “Clearly, if she can make a garden of such muck, she could do wonders with our best products,” he said. “So I promoted her out of the Research group to Vice President of Marketing to give her the opportunity to shine.”
Maybelle’s eyes glazed over. “Bully for you. Not all promotions work out. What else is new?”
“What’s new is she treated our sales reps like cricket balls,” Rupert said. “I didn’t find out the situation until the lawsuit was already filed.” Maybelle and Vivian sat up abruptly.
“Sales reps?” asked Vivian. “Isn’t Marketing separate from Sales?”
“Ah,” said Rupert. “It seems our current Vice President of Sales recognized a rising star and latched on for the ride.”
“So two people scheming, he and she,” said Maybelle. “What about that cricket ball?”
Rupert rested his chin on his folded hands and spoke slowly. “It started as if he made 155 not out and she was unbeaten on 116 as they made a fifth-wicket stand of 203 to take our team to a first innings total of 570 for four declared just in time for tea.”
Vivian and Maybelle stared blankly at him.
Rupert inhaled. “Then this disgruntled sales rep took a wicket off his first over when he bowled with a flighted delivery for 13.”
“What?” Vivian asked. Maybelle’s mouth dropped open.
“Don’t you see?” Rupert asked. “Our disgruntled rep struck nine fours in his 193-ball innings for his century.”
Maybelle started tugging at her hair. “Rupert. You know cricket makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. And neither do you. Tell us what happened or shut up.”
Rupert looked hurt. “Cricket. It’s played around the world. It explains so much about life and…” His voice trailed off and he looked at Vivian. She frowned at him and glared.
“Soccer,” Rupert said. “What about soccer? Does anyone know what a soccer ball is?”
Vivian and Maybelle relaxed. “Yes,” Maybelle said, “we know what a soccer ball is. It’s round.”
Rupert held up a finger. “Yes,” he said. “Now what if you were treated like one?”
“Kicked around, you mean?” asked Vivian.
Rupert spread his arms wide. “Yes, exactly. So my two rising genius VPs started treating the reps like soccer balls. You know. A soccer ball just sits there until you haul off and kick it.” His eyes passed between his two intent listeners. “And after a while, the ball stops rolling. So you kick it again. If it goes flat, get a new soccer ball.”
“That’s it, is it?” asked Vivian. “That’s the analogy?”
“Um. Yes. That’s the – that’s the analogy.”
“Oh. Ha ha ha, how witty,” Vivian said with a totally deadpan expression. “Sounds like Management having an average day.”
“Apparently Marlene felt free to download all sorts of studies off the Internet, and insisted the sales reps do likewise. That means for FDA-approved uses.” He paused. “And any off-label things some researcher somewhere might care to try. The Sales VP, a guy named Billy Smiler, thought this was a good idea.”
“I do, too,” said Vivian. “But I assume it doesn’t work that way in pharma.”
“No, there are all sorts of regulations about sales rep behavior,” Rupert said. “They can give clients only the sanctioned studies that discuss approved uses for drugs. Never off-label stuff.”
“You said that you lifted her from Research,” Maybelle said. “So of course you explained the new legal requirements for her new department, right?” Rupert raised his hand to his mouth but stayed silent. Maybelle continued, “Or she had years of experience in Sales somewhere else?”
“Um,” said Rupert. “She came up with clever marketing phrases.” He looked down at the floor.
“Clever. Clever marketing phrases,” Maybelle said. “And this Billy Smiler, the guy actually responsible for the sales team, he just let all this slide past?”
“Oh, no, not at all,” said Rupert. “He actively encouraged it.”
“Okay, so they downloaded stuff off the Internet,” Vivian said. “Anyone could do that. Anything else?”
“Well, Billy hired newbies, people who had never sold anything to anyone before,” Rupert said. “The lawsuit claims any sales rep with real experience would know the partying was unethical.”
“What partying?” Maybelle asked. “Were you at any of those?”
Rupert blinked. “Me? No one ever invited me to – no, I was never involved in this stuff.” He looked at his hands. “Too bad, some really nice restaurants. Each rep had a quarter million to spend per year on medical education programs. Apparently the only education doctors got was that food is good medicine. Especially dessert and wine.”
Maybelle clapped her hands together with a gunshot report. “Aren’t there states with laws against goodies to doctors?”
Rupert gave a wide-eyed stare of feigned wisdom. “Ah, but they let you bring meals to the doctor’s office. So just ask for meals to go. They go from kitchen to table, maybe twenty feet away. Spending too much per doctor according to state laws? Claim another hundred doctors stopped by.” He rolled his eyes and looked out the window towards the Pacific Ocean. “Then there was the guest speaker they brought in to talk about how doctors could increase reimbursements while avoiding jail time. Oh, just Google ‘increase revenue decrease jail time’ and see.”
Vivian lifted her phone and poked at it. After a few seconds, she said, “Oh, my.”
“And the golf and hunting trips,” Rupert said.
“Okay, dear, we get the picture,” Maybelle said.
“And the honey-baked hams and bottles of wine.”
“Alright, dear.” Maybelle looked at her watch. “It’s frightfully boring and repetitious. I’m sure you’ll tell us about tickets to basketball games and such.”
Rupert looked up in surprise. “How did you know?” He looked down again. “It gets worse. I just heard our defense lawyers took it upon themselves to try a new line of questioning the plaintiffs. It’s right there from the Superior Court of New Jersey. If you Google ‘deposition anal sex catholic mass,’ you’ll see what I mean.”
Vivian gasped. Maybelle said, “Anal se – Rupert!”
Rupert clutched his head. “I know, I know. It almost worked for a Big Pharma company, someone thought it might work for us.” He pictured himself sitting in his office clutching the phone and saying, “It’s a crazy idea but it just might work.”
“Apparently there was a party for sales reps,” Rupert said. “I wasn’t invited. There was a hotel swimming pool involved. It seems tuxedos and swimming pools are a bad mix. Add in vodka shots and people throwing dishes out the window and burning the drapes in the fireplace. This Billy Smiler put the moves on some of the reps, groping and grabbing.” Rupert looked up. “He told the rep that’s the way it is at Cappuccino, and she’d better get used to it.” He clutched his head and groaned. “Sales tripled that year. But. But. We need a whole new Sales department.”
“So was this Marlene of yours involved?” Maybelle asked, still waving the riding crop.
Rupert looked up. “Marlene. Ah. Yes. She and this Billy, they um.” He paused, then went on. “There was a convention, some international conference. She and Billy had a doctors’ presentation over a dinner in some fancy restaurant. Then, after midnight, they went to some loud party bar with a live band. Some other doctors were there and watched these two get drunk. Marlene got on stage with the band and danced until they tossed her out of the bar.” Rupert shook his head. “In front of all those docs.
Vivian rolled her eyes and lifted her phone. “Let me guess. I just Google “vodka shots bar dancing” and I’ll find it made headlines.”
Rupert clutched his head in his hands. “Then there was a contract clinical researcher somewhere in the U.K. working on one of our drugs, to show if it was worth doing a clinical trial. Turns out he diddled with the data so it looked like some animal experiment worked when it had failed.” He let out a moan. “This guy was one of the first people to be caught violating the U.K.’s Good Laboratory Practice law.” Rupert looked up. “At least he wasn’t the first! Someone in Scotland beat him to it, screwing up a Roche study and maybe lots more.”
“People crack under the pressure, dear,” Maybelle said.
“Yes, that’s what causes indiscretions,” said Rupert. “I think I’m cracking. Bad choice in promoting someone, and bad luck. I need better luck.”
As he said this, he noticed that Vivian had frozen with a look of terror. He heard the roar of a helicopter as it passed overhead and flew away.
Rupert said, “Helicopter,” and thought again of the National Guard helicopter that buzzed his apartment in Silverlake.
“Helicopter,” said Vivian as she thought again of her jealous ex-boyfriend.
“Helicopter,” said Maybelle as she thought again of the helicopter that buzzed the MadaShack. “Well. It’s gone now. And I must go, too.”
Maybelle reassured Vivian that her consultations would find a way to raise funds for Vivian’s enterprise. Maybelle looked over at Rupert. “I do know at least one sugar daddy who will be glad to invest.”
The squawkbox in the hallway beeped and a voice said, “Good day, Mr. Madasheck, I’m here to exchange your out-of-fashion automotive device with your new Lamborghini Veneno.”
Rupert turned to the squawkbox interruption and said, “Nonsense, there were only three of those made. Four million bucks and only 750 horsepower. Where’s my Ferrari?”
“Ha ha, that is our little joke. Yes I have your Ferrari LaFerrari. Seven hundred forty-nine horsepower waiting for your command. And of course only one million, er, bucks. You could buy two more for the price of our competitor.”
Rupert stood up and edged past Maybelle. “Yes, I’m sure we can arrange something to help Ms. – um, Ms. Spitfire here attain her goals,” he said. “Now I really must meet this gentleman to see about exchanging the Tesla.”
Maybelle’s eyes widened. “I thought you liked that car.”
“I do,” said Rupert. “But I may be a customer of Elon Musk’s other company.”
Vivian asked, “What other company? Isn’t one exotic car company enough?”
Rupert sighed. “Oh, not at all. Nothing is ever enough. He is also CEO of Space Exploration Technologies. Musk plans to start a Mars colony by selling 80,000 tickets for $500,000 a shot. So I bought the LaFerrari and still have enough left over to afford Mars.”
“Oh?” Maybelle asked. “Were you planning to send me on a one-way trip, or try to escape yourself?”
“Maybe Musk plans to set up solar panels on Mars as recharging stations for his Teslas,” Vivian said. “The ones he’ll sell on Mars at the planet’s only car dealership.”
“This could be the way people on Earth cash in and get out,” Rupert said. “Martian law is whatever the first colonists say it is. It could be Ayn Rand’s Galt’s Gulch.” He paused and scratched his chin. “Or it could be the prison for people too powerful to prosecute.”
Rupert eased out of the room and towards the door to the garage. Vivian got up and strode to intercept him in the kitchen. He turned to meet her gaze as she stood silently. Her hands clenched and unclenched as she blinked back tears.
“Alright already,” Rupert said. “Why is it I never heard from you for all this time? Why did you come now?”
“I’ve been busy,” Vivian said as she stared at her shoes.
“Busy,” Rupert said. “Busy doing what?”
Vivian sighed and looked straight at him. “Busy giving birth.”
Stay tuned to find out next time:
Does Vivian really carry Rupert’s love child?
Will Vivian get a genetic profile done? Or did she already?
Will Rupert wish he were on Mars very very soon?
Will pharmaceutical reps ever stop trying to circumvent the rules against bribing doctors to prescribe certain drugs?
And what about that pesky helicopter?