Down was where the white room was located, where (in the bad old days) Pharmadene had watched Returné victims decompose and recorded every single moment of it. Bryn was on those recordings. She hadn’t gotten far enough to be sluiced down the drains, but far enough that the memory made her shudder, no matter how much she blocked it out.
Was Lynnette in the white room? Or would she choose some other way to go?
The doors opened on more glass, more steel, and expensively abstract art. All the people sitting at desks looked busy and as glossy as the surroundings. Harris marched her directly down the hallway, past closed doors to one with yet another security scanner. Harris handled that on Bryn’s behalf. Beyond lay a sea of pale carpeting, more art, tamper-resistant windows, and a desk and some waiting areas.
Ms. Harris shut the door behind her. Bryn walked across the rug to the man sitting behind the desk. She was trembling even more now. The last time she’d been in the executive offices of Pharmadene, she’d been meeting with a VP who’d been shooting for this very CEO position…and it hadn’t ended well for her. Bryn had spent the next few days locked in the white room, dying. As Lynnette might be now.
Not something she could put out of her mind or convince her body wouldn’t happen again. Something in her was shrieking in a raw, half-mad voice to get out of here.
The assistant at the desk—younger than she would have expected—looked up from typing on his keyboard and checked her badge. “Ms. Davis,” he said. “Please take a seat. Mr. Zaragosa will be with you in a moment. Coffee?”
Bryn had a sudden flashback to her own meeting with Carl this morning, the taste of coffee, the sound of Lynnette screaming, and said, tightly, “No, thank you.” She wasn’t eating or drinking anything in this place. Her palms were sweating. Holding a cup would only show off the unsteadiness of her hands, anyway, and she didn’t need the distraction.
He nodded, picked up the phone, and spoke into it quietly. After he’d hung up, he went back to the keyboard, and the white noise of key clicks was a subdued, even soundtrack as Bryn sat down in one of the uncomfortable modern chairs. There was an old issue of the company newsletter on the table—three months old, probably the only one produced after the fall of the previous administration. Curiously, the magazine didn’t mention how most of the employees had been callously murdered and Revived by their bosses, but it did have perky “happyspeak” articles about how much the company cared. Corporate values. What a crock of shit.
She was glad she hadn’t accepted anything to drink. Even with her stomach empty, the articles made her nauseated.
The interior office door opened with a sudden rush of air, and Bryn forced herself to wait a beat, then replace the reading material neatly before she got to her feet to greet the oncoming chief executive officer of Pharmadene.
“Raymond Zaragosa,” he said, extending his hand. She took it, feeling a little off-balance now, because he wasn’t what she’d expected. “Jeremy, hold my calls, would you? Ms. Davis, please come in. Thanks for making the trip. I’m sure this is the last place you’d like to be today, given the history.”
He was on target, of course, but as she followed him into the inner sanctum, she found herself considering Zaragosa himself, not her potentially dire situation. He wasn’t corporate poster-boy material, for one thing: graying hair, yes, but not recently cut; his suit looked nice enough, but he hadn’t bothered with tailoring. Added to that, he had a stern, lived-in face with lots of character lines. No nonsense.
“Have a seat,” he said. “Sorry about the modern-art furniture. I hate this stuff, but it comes with the office, and I’m not wasting taxpayer money on redecorating just because I think it’s uncomfortable.” He didn’t indicate the chair in front of his desk, but instead one at the round meeting table in the corner, decorated with a speakerphone and piles of folders. “First of all—and let’s just get this out of the way—I know coming back here must have been traumatic. If there had been any other way to ensure secure transfer of information, I wouldn’t have dragged you back to this place. I know what happened to you here.” There was compassion in his expression, and it seemed genuine.
Bryn tried to smile as she said, “Thank you, but I’m fine.” The second that his gaze lingered on her let her know he recognized the lie but was prepared to ignore it. “Let’s just get down to business, if you don’t mind.” She thought about asking about Lynnette, but the fact was, he wouldn’t have any personal information. Not about that. They’d keep him away from the disagreeable parts of the Pharmadene equations.
And besides, he was already talking. “First of all, I’m FBI, and yes, I’m fully qualified as a field agent, but my focus is on white-collar crime,” he said. “Forensic accounting. That’s why they brought me in here to try to autopsy the Pharmadene books while I administer the shutdown process. Most of what I found is totally aboveboard; like all major corporations, they had to have yearly audits from reputable vendors. But what happened this past year was completely out of the ordinary. I’m sure the plan was that by the time the audit requirement came around, they’d control a large enough chunk of the important people”—given finger quotes—“that they wouldn’t be at any risk of discovery. All that should have come to a stop when Irene Harte and her contingent of corporate rebels was taken out, but the thing is, some of these suspicious financial activities haven’t stopped, and I’m hitting a stone wall. If I take it through official channels, my fear is that word will leak before we can really nail down what’s going on. So. You’re our…black ops team, I suppose. For lack of a better term.”
“You know that it’s a condition of my continued freedom to do whatever work the FBI wants me to do,” Bryn said. “It’s not as if I really have a choice.”
“I know about your agreement. And I also know that Pharmadene continues to dispense, out of the refrigerated stockpiles, a limited quantity of Returné to selected individuals. You’re one of them.”
And, in fact, she wasn’t using her store directly; she gave it to Manny Glickman, who tinkered with the formula, stripping out all the “extras” that Pharmadene’s genetic engineering had put into it. Those extras would have allowed Pharmadene’s in-the-know executives—those that had survived, anyway—to control her in a real and immediate way, and it was something she never wanted to experience again. Certainly the government knew of the built-in Protocols by now. She could never take that chance.
But she merely said, “Yes.”
Zaragosa shook his head. “I know this sucks, Ms. Davis, and I wish there was a better answer for it, but please understand, I believe that the people receiving these payments are probably involved in the illegal manufacture and sale of Returné. Neither of us wants to see that continue. It’s a drug that has no real upside, not for anyone.”
“What about the cancer cure it was intended to be?”
“We’re working it back to that, but the revival drug itself…we’ll never manufacture it again. It’s just too dangerous. The formula has been wiped completely from servers, backups, everywhere.”
She really doubted that, although Zaragosa probably believed it. No way was the government going to just delete that information; there were secret backups, secret labs probably even now working on the formulas. Dangerous things didn’t get incinerated; they got archived. Like smallpox. Just in case.
“What do you have so far on tracing the payments?” she asked. Zaragosa pulled out a folder from the stack and thumbed through it, then handed it over to her with one page pulled out to the front. It looked like a flowchart, but it was incredibly complex—the payments went to a shell company, split, flowed a dozen directions, all of which bounced to other accounts all around the world. “You do realize that my skills aren’t exactly accounting-related, don’t you?”
For answer, he produced another, handwritten sheet of paper. She somehow had no doubt that he’d written it himself. On it was an address in Los Angeles and a short message: CAN’T PUT THIS ON RECORD. WE ARE BEING MONITORED 24/7, EVERYWHERE.
She glanced up at his face, and saw the intensity there. He wasn’t kidding. He didn’t trust his own people.
“As you can see,” Zaragosa said, “all I can tell you is that although the payments look legitimate, they are definitely suspicious just from the care that’s been taken to reroute and conceal them. I would start with the apparent front company, if I were you. But please, be careful. I can’t guarantee that this won’t be dangerous.”
He meant that; she could tell. She nodded, closed the folder, and tucked it under her arm. “I understand,” Bryn said. She stood up and offered her hand. “I’ll call you when I have something.”
“My card,” Zaragosa said, and reached over to pull one from a stack—except the one he pulled out had writing on the back, she could feel that without even turning it over. She nodded, tapped it once, and slid it into her jacket pocket. “Call anytime.”
“Am I free to go now?”
“Of course. Jeremy will walk you out. I’m sorry I can’t go myself, but I’m scheduled for a conference call in just a few moments. My thanks for being so understanding of our dilemma.”
She nodded and the assistant’s arrival at the door derailed any possible reply she might have come up with. There was a lot going on here, and a lot she couldn’t understand…but she trusted Zaragosa, maybe unreasonably so. If what he had scribbled out was true, there was a grave problem within Pharmadene—a crippling problem for the FBI that they probably didn’t even trust their own technical people to investigate. There were cameras everywhere in this building, and it wasn’t hard, if you were inside the system, to keep track of everyone’s computer activity, read messages, monitor digital phone calls. There was no privacy, especially if they had people bugged at home, too.