The Fall Guy
The musty smell of the ancient wood that adorned courtroom two couldn’t detract from the fear slowly overcoming Harold Redwood.
The musty smell of the ancient wood that adorned courtroom two couldn’t detract from the fear slowly overcoming Harold Redwood.
Judge Dinastone had sat through weeks of legal arguments; hearing from one side, then the other with claim and counter claim thrown in like lumps of bread tossed into a pond for ducks to eat – each piece causing a ripple in the calm water.
Although a barrister stood beside him, the stressed and dejected defendant felt totally alone. He looked at the man who had apparently been fighting for his freedom these past weeks and wondered if he had hired the right guy. Received the best advice. Too late now.
The letters after his name, his shiny new black gown and fresh horse-hair wig had not helped against the might of the prosecution’s high-priced team of barristers and their willing assistants who thumbed through legal text books on the fly – always one step ahead of his hired gun. A gun full of blanks as it turned out.
Beaten by law, but not by right-minded thinking people in the public gallery behind him, Harold stood waiting for his punishment. Perhaps agreeing to plead guilty partway through the trial wasn’t the best advice after all.
There were no right-minded thinking people to his left, his right, nor in front of him. There was no jury at this trial thanks to the prosecution arguing it was too complex a case for ‘average’ people to comprehend. So the judge sat alone; smiling at the prosecution and grimacing at the hapless defender
Judge Dinastone shuffled some papers as though to delay the inevitable and then turned to Harold. A man weary of fighting; weary of life; now without funds, marriage broken and – were it not for a friend – homeless. He shan’t need his friend’s good graces tonight.
It was a chance meeting two years ago that led to Harold facing the might of the judiciary today. Too late for regrets now. Still; he had helped dozens of people cheat death on the way to the courtroom.
Right in so many ways; but apparently wrong in law, Judge Dinastone claimed his hands were tied as, with a twinkle in his eyes and stifling a smile, he sentenced Harold to life in prison. Given his age, ‘life’ wouldn’t be too long.
His crime? His dreadful evil filthy crime. His hateful deed upon the sick and the afflicted? Developing and distributing a cure for cancer.
Doctors were amazed when their stage 4 cancer patients got a clean bill of health and told them they were lucky to be in remission. Luck? They either didn’t understand, or did not want to understand, their patients’ stories of an apparent miracle cure from Harold Redwood based on a natural human protein.
As the judge’s words echoed around the courtroom Harold couldn’t quite believe his ears. He had spent his life’s fortune refining the manufacturing process of the immunotherapy protein Factor G and had given most of it away for free.
“We’ll appeal the sentence of course,” smiled Harold’s barrister as he looked at his watch. Nearly lunchtime.
Harold shook his head. His laboratory had been dismantled and closed down, his business liquidated, and all his wealth – such as it was – had been confiscated under the Proceeds of Crime Act. All he really had was what he was standing up in.
It flashed through his mind that doing time might be something of a rest after the stress of being arrested, facing trial, and losing everything he had worked for. Then he remembered all the sick people who needed the medicine he produced.
“Thank you for the medicine doctor,” some would say “Medicine,” he thought. “That’s where I went wrong.”
That was the technicality they had got him on. His human protein hadn’t been officially tested and was not licenced by the Ministry for Better Health for use on people.
“But it isn’t a drug,” he said in a whisper as he stood looking toward the judge. “It’s already in people; I just offered a top-up and it seemed to help people with cancer; and autism.”
“Pardon!” said his barrister as Harold’s supporters in the public gallery erupted with yells of disbelief at the judge’s sentence.
The sound of a wooden hammer smacking down on a small round piece of mahogany cracked through the courtroom like lightening. Smack, smack, smack!
“Order in my court!”
“There will be order in my court or you will all be removed – bailiff!,” he thundered with all the might that 350 years of corporate justice could deliver. This was no Common Law court where niceties such as saving people’s lives might have counted for something.
No, this was a court that put big businesses first and people a distant second.
With court officials approaching him, ready to escort Harold to the cells below ground, he turned to his learned ‘friend’.
“Nothing more I can do for you today,” said his young barrister. “There is of course the other matter to deal with yet. And Hilda’s in the frame now – they’ll be going after her next. They will make an example of her too….The European Court of Medicine in Bonn. Not looking good I’m afraid.”
Sitting in a holding cell with someone who used an investment scam to swindle dozens of friends out of their life’s savings, a third-time sex offender, and a shaven-head thug, Harold made a point of avoiding eye contact with them all. A concrete floor had never looked so interesting.
Ruined and with a criminal record there would be no way back to a normal life, not at his age. Had he not taken a fork in the road, following a path to medical Utopia rather than retirement, he would be sitting on his yacht with his wife; have visits from his grandchildren, and be very comfortable thank you very much.
But here he sat; shoes without laces, no belt for his trousers – which were now too shabby to wear in polite society – and rubbing shoulders with people he’d not normally meet in his day-to-day work at his clinic.
He could only hope to be placed in one of those comfortable white collar prisons.
“I have nothing and I want my life back, any ideas?” he thought as he had an imaginary conversation with a sympathetic inmate (assuming such a thing existed).
“Life!” he thought. “Maybe I’ll write that book…With pen and paper? Not likely. Do they have computers in prison?”
Ushered into a security van with his new colleagues Harold’s feet were chained to the floor in a tiny cubical with steel panels covered in dull white paint that had cracked with age.
As the van left the basement car park and entered the street he heard people banging on the side of the van.
Shouts of “I hope you die” were mixed with voices saying “We love you Harold”.
“I do hope they are not all shouting at me,” he thought.
* * *
Standing out like a sore thumb as he sat at one end of a long bench, a mug of weak tepid tea was Harold’s only comfort. It was still a little uncomfortable sitting down; still the guards were at least certain he wasn’t concealing any contraband – not for the want of looking.
“Child molester?” said a voice from across the bench.
Harold went red with embarrassment and cusped both hands around his tin mug.
Terry was doing a 10-stretch for aggravated burglary. A repeat offender who, as Harold was to discover, seemed to prefer prison to life outside.
“He murdered his wife,” said Terry pointing to an overweight man wearing a black beanie rolled up to cover just the top of his head.
“I’m not a killer,” said Harold.
“Word is you drugged people,” said Terry. “Then what you do to them?”
Standing up to take his empty mug to the kitchen trolley Harold walked away without saying a word. His cell was upstairs and the prison service had thoughtfully placed a wire net to stop jumpers launching themselves to complete their final deed. Not that Harold had any thoughts in that direction – just yet. Still, the severity of his sentence was sinking in – an academic in a building full of brutes.
“It would take less than two seconds to hit the floor…But for the net,” he thought having quickly done the math.
Lights out was hours ago but Harold wasn’t sleeping. Contemplating one moment, angry the next, then concern for Hilda.
“Dear Hilda. Would they really go after her?”
She had nothing to do with anything really – just kept medical records up to date. Kept the place running so scientists could do their work.
People called it a cure for cancer; but Harold and Hilda were always careful to remind them that everyone has cancer and there is no cure for it. But you can keep it at bay. And making human protein Factor G in the lab to achieve this was cheap; no need for drug trials thought Harold because it isn’t a drug.
He kept reminding himself that he wasn’t in prison for helping people survive cancer. He was in prison for developing a cheap way for people to survive cancer; he risked cutting big pharma’s profits. Five thousand pounds for a box of pills that often didn’t even help the patient.
“Silly me, I thought big pharma would welcome it – shake my hand,” thought Harold. “Who was to know the people advising the Ministry for Better Health on what drugs to fund also worked for the pharmaceutical companies that made them.
Conflict of interest anyone?”
He looked around the darkened cell, someone was snoring. Outside a guard walked past tapping twice on each cell door. In the yard a dog barked. Communal showers tomorrow.
“Harold that was a brilliant lecture; never seen so many research scientists stand up and applaud like this.”
Kyle Goodman shook Harold’s hand as he stepped away from the lectern; a firm handshake that exuded respect and confidence.
Harold stood tall in his tailored suit and handmade shoes. A Rolex Mariner wristwatch was the latest gift to himself and its stainless steel bracelet and solid housing glinted even in the low light of the auditorium.
Dark hair, perfectly styled, a refined man, Harold looked like a million pounds. But it had been a long time coming.
“Have you seen my assistant; Hilda?” replied Harold.
“Er, no…But I do have something important I need to share with you…it will take your human protein research a few steps forward.”
Harold’s research was well advanced and while it was all theoretical it was starting to uncover how protein works in the body to stop people becoming ill.
“Why don’t you call Hilda and set something up; send an email – she’s very good.”
And with that Harold stepped out via a side door while checking his phone.
“Hilda, see me by the Aston now,” he text without even looking at the screen.
Harold’s star was rising. Two best-selling books on protein and diet, a documentary about his charity work, and now a country-wide speaking tour – all expenses paid by his publishers and a handsome fee to-boot.
Twenty years of research and dozens of peer-reviewed papers were starting to pay off. He was now known as a scientific rock star unlocking the secrets of the human body.
He was enjoying his long-overdue success very much indeed. That yacht he had his eye on was a sure bet now.
Three gentle taps on the door of his hotel suite meant room service had at last arrived. A waiter pushing a trolley laden with food and refreshments was a welcome sight.
“I think this is the best part of the whole thing. Don’t you Hilda?”
Harold discarded a white hand towel to the bed and sat with his assistant at a round table to eat away the rest of the evening and discuss the last leg of the tour.
“Seven down and three to go, and then we are out of this torture,” said Harold.
“Well, as far as tortures go, this one is the most pleasant,” she smiled. “More champagne?”
Harold stepped onto the 43rd floor balcony of his hotel room to view the cityscape while the diner things were cleared away. Not a star could be seen, but the view of the city below was like an oil painting. Dark rich textures, red and white lights of cars streaming below, and no sounds from the street could reach his lofty height.
Taking the final sip from a whiskey tumbler he did a mental calculation on how quickly it would reach the pavement 190 meters below if he was stupid enough to let it go – 6.22 seconds – free-fall speed.
“That would hurt.”
“Phone!” said Hilda in a raised voice.
“Nothing lasts,” thought Harold as he turned his back on the view to step inside.
“Who’d be calling at this time of night?”
“It’s probably one of your publicists,” said Hilda as she closed his door and headed to her own room next door.
“Hello, who is it?”
“Harold, it’s Kyle – we met tonight…Look I’m in the lobby downstairs can I see you. Just for 10 minutes.”
Harold looked at his watch; confirmed his whiskey tumbler was empty and then glanced at his bed. The best Irish linen you know.
“Give me a minute.”
* * *
Harold sat opposite Kyle at an out-of-the-way table in the expansive marble-floored foyer. During the course of 30 minutes Kyle explained about a refined human-based protein that could cure cancer. He detailed various papers from second tier research establishments that together painted what he thought was “very interesting picture”.
He claimed big pharma had killed definitive research by refusing to fund it while also advising governments to ignore what it called crackpot and hare-brained ideas of a so-called ‘miracle’ cure for cancer.
Kyle handed over a folder of papers and said the research was clear; and that if only human trials could be done everyone would see that dying of cancer would be a thing of the past.
“But you are not a scientist are you Kyle?” said Harold as he slipped back into his comfortable chair. It was past midnight and an early start beckoned.
“No,” said Kyle. “I am just interested in seeing you crack the cure, I have time to read and research and talk to the right people. I need someone like you to look at these papers, make the stuff and try it on someone with cancer. It’s the only way the establishment will listen – when people stand up and say they had cancer but have been cured – cured by you – then big pharma will have to listen. It’s the next step for your own research.”
“Man, then I would be a scientific rock star,” thought Harold.
Kyle continued: “And look, the people I’m talking to tell me that manufacturing a human protein in the lab is as cheap as chips. You could cure people of cancer for pocket change; not the tens of thousands of pounds for radiation, chemo therapy and pills.”