Hedge Fund

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Gareth spun the new notebook and focused on his account balance while the investor sheathed his old machine in sweaty leather. His pulse registered the number in a blood-deafened moment of uncontrolled arousal. Tomorrow’s FDA memo fluttered to the keyboard, the investor’s outstretched hand probing beyond fantasy to deliver the stark, contrived truth.

Names of study participants had already been leaked. The stolen machine would never be recovered. There would be no Phase III. The morning news would devastate, but his colleagues had no reason to fear investigation. They could take their innocent, fragmented collaborations and find other sponsors.

Gareth had once dreamed of finding the cure for cancer, providing wealth for his wife and child, and giving back to his community. The investors preyed on that dream. They only wanted data; the study rejects. He would still perform the work, extend lives, find the cure, and provide for his splintered family.

The benevolent vultures swooped and bought out the policies of those with no chance of survival. AML devastated financially and killed rapidly. Families appreciated early access to their money, even at a reduced payout. The investors called him a hero, and his ex stopped calling him. Charlie’s tuition was paid and funds were available for medical school.

The island awaited and he closed the lid, figures dancing in conscious conscience. Fifty-four percent OR was unheard of, and now would never be reported. The drug had extended the lives of almost eighty people. It wasn’t a cure, but a treatment that made a difference. He wrestled the figures through ethics, a social construct.

The investor had vanished and Gareth patted his pockets, assured everything was ready. They never told him they would end the study. He begged them to let him continue, just a few more months. He helped them hedge with deadlier diseases, younger patients, flawed research. But he had come too close to success, and they had no choice.

His phone chimed Für Elise and he waited for the measures to repeat. He breathed a loose greeting before she spoke in her professional, bedside manner, “I’m sorry, Sir. She’s gone.” Gareth rose from the café table and pitched the phone in the trash along with his empty paper cup. He reached the airport locker and fumbled for the key as his flight was announced.

The fast food bag contained the last of the pilfered vials, along with a cylinder of paper bills. He clenched the benign package and strode to the nearest trash bin, as a darting woman grazed his arm and dislodged the sack. Gareth bent to retrieve it and collapsed, shrouded in a cloud of his mother’s perfume. He pressed palms to damp eyes and heard the repeated boarding call.

28 Thoughts.

    • Laura, it’s funny you write about black and white. I always lose arguments because I try to see things that way. I don’t know how I see more sides in my fiction than reality!

    • Mark, thanks for the feedback. I was concerned about pacing. In my head, this was a huge story. I really think it’s an idea that would have worked better in a book, with slow reveals. I felt like I was cheating putting so much of the obvious in the story.

    • Chris, thanks for your kind words, and for rereading. This is one of those pieces where I had to keep backtracking as I wrote, to make sure I didn’t mess up the details.

  1. “But he had come too close to success, and they had no choice.”

    That’s just the way it works sometimes. Some people don’t want you to really succeed. Good story of frustrated dreams.

  2. This seems like a story that could be going on right now somewhere. Realistic pain and decisions, very nice. I was confused about his mother’s perfume? I’m thinking that she was dying from AML and he had put the drug he was working on in her perfume to extend her life, is that right?

    • Shannon, no, the woman who passed him wore his mom’s perfume. He stashed the drugs and money so someone could bring them to his mom after he was gone. But she passed away, so they were useless.

  3. A really wonderfully written story. I could hear the strains of Fur Elise (don’t know how to type the two dots over the u :) announcing the call.

    Haunting, sad, a nice piece of writing.

  4. I read it once and was a little confused. Then after reading your comments I read it again and it all made perfect sense. It is a very sad piece, on more than one level. He may have made plenty of money but his whole life seems to have fallen apart: questionable ethics, his research cut off, a splintered family, his mother dying. Such a sad state he’s ended up in when he started out with the best of goals.
    ~jon

    • Thanks, Jon. It is a very confusing topic, and probably a bit ambitious of me to try it for flash. It could have been a long series.

  5. I think it works fine as flash — it really packs a punch. The feasibility of the situation is the scary part.

    Most people start out with the best intentions, and get caught up in other things. That’s the real tragedy.

    Excellent, excellent piece.

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