Authors: Danielle Steel
As Peter watched her, fascinated, he knew exactly who she was. He had seen numerous photographs of her over the years, in happier times, when she married him, and even before that with her father. She was Andy Thatcher's wife, Olivia Douglas Thatcher. Just as Thatcher did, she came from an important political family. Her father was the much respected governor of Massachusetts, and her brother a junior congressman from Boston. Peter thought he remembered that she was about thirty-four years old, and she was one of those people who fascinates the press, and whom they can't bring themselves to leave alone, although she gave them very little to go on. Peter had seen interviews with him, of course, but he didn't recall any with Olivia Thatcher. She seemed to stay entirely in the background, and he found himself mesmerized by her as he got in the elevator just behind her. She had her back to him, but she was so close that, with no effort at all, he could have put his arms around her. The very thought of it almost made him gasp, as he looked down at the dark sable-colored hair that was so lovely. And as though she felt Peter thinking about her, she turned and looked at him, and he met her eyes again, and for a moment he felt time stop. He was struck again by the sadness in her eyes, and it was as though, without saying a word, she was saying something to him. She had the most expressive eyes he'd ever seen, and then suddenly he wondered if he'd imagined it, if there was nothing more in her eyes than in anyone else's. She turned away almost as suddenly as she had looked at him, and she didn't look at him again as he left the elevator, feeling somewhat shaken.
The porter had already taken his bag up to his room, and the
had already checked the room for him, and found everything perfectly in order, and as he looked around when he stepped into it, Peter felt once again as though he had died and gone to Heaven. The brocades on the walls were a warm peach, the furniture all antique, the fireplace apricot marble, and the window and bedcoverings were in the same matching silks and satins. There was a marble bathroom, and every possible amenity and convenience. It was like a dream come true, and he sank into a comfortable satin chair, and looked out at the immaculately tended garden. It was perfection.
He tipped the concierge, and then walked slowly around the room, and went out and leaned against the balcony, admiring the flowers below, and thinking about Olivia Thatcher. There was something haunting about her face, her eyes, he had thought that about photographs of her too, but he had never seen anything as powerful as what he had seen in her eyes when she looked up at him. There was something so painful there, yet there was something strong too. It was as though she had been saying something to him, or to anyone who looked at her. In her own way, she was far more powerful and more compelling than her husband. And Peter couldn't help thinking that she didn't look like someone who would play the political game. In fact, to the best of his knowledge, she never had, and she still wasn't now, even with her husband such a close contender for the nomination.
He wondered what secrets lay hidden behind her facade, or was he imagining all of it? Perhaps she wasn't sad at all, but simply very quiet. No one had been speaking to her, after all But why had she looked at him like that? What had she been thinking?
He was still distracted by thoughts of her after he washed his face and hands and called Suchard five minutes later. He couldn't wait a moment longer to see him. But it was Sunday. And Suchard sounded unenthused about an impromptu meeting. But nonetheless, he agreed to meet Peter an hour later. Peter walked around his room impatiently, decided to call Kate, and as usual, she wasn't in. It was only nine o'clock in the morning for her, and he imagined that she was out doing errands somewhere or visiting friends. Kate was rarely at home after nine o'clock, and never home before five-thirty. She was always busy. Nowadays, with even more activities, and her school board involvement, and only one child at home, she often came home even later.
When Peter finally left his room, he was wildly excited about seeing Suchard. This was the moment he'd been waiting for. The final green light before they could move ahead on Vicotec. It was only a formality, he knew, but still an important one in their pursuit of getting on the FDA “Fast Track.” And Suchard was the most knowledgeable and respected head of their various research teams and departments. His benediction on Vicotec would mean more than anyone else's.
The elevator came more quickly this time, and Peter stepped into it swiftly. He was still wearing the same dark suit, but had changed to a fresh blue shirt with starched white cuffs and collar and he looked crisp and clean as he glanced at a slender figure in the corner. It was a woman in black linen slacks with a black T-shirt, she was wearing dark glasses. Her hair was pulled back, and she was wearing flats, and as she turned and looked at him, even with the dark glasses, he knew it was Olivia Thatcher.
After reading about her for years, he had suddenly seen her twice in one hour, and this time she looked completely different. She looked even slimmer and younger than she had in the Chanel suit, and she took her glasses off for a moment, and then glanced at him. He was sure she had recognized him too, but neither of them said anything, and he tried not to stare at her. But there was something about her that absolutely overwhelmed him. He couldn't figure out what it was about her that intrigued him. Her eyes, for sure, but it was far more than that. It was something about the way she moved and looked, the legend of all that he had heard about her. She seemed very proud, and very sure, and very quiet, and amazingly self-contained. And just looking at her like that made him want to reach out to her and ask her a thousand stupid questions. Just like all the reporters. Why do you look so sure of yourself? So removed? …But you look so sad too. Are you sad, Mrs. Thatcher? How did you feel when your little boy died? Are you depressed now? They were the kind of questions everybody always asked her and she never answered. And yet, looking at her, he wanted to know the answers too, he wanted to reach out to her, to pull her close to him, to know what she felt, and why her eyes reached into his like two hands reaching for his, he wanted to know if he was crazy to read so much into her. He wanted to know who she was, and yet he knew he never would. They were destined to be strangers, never to speak a single word to each other.
Just being near her made him feel breathless. He could smell her perfume next to him, see the light shine on her hair, sense the smoothness of her skin, and mercifully, as he couldn't make himself stop staring at her, they reached the main floor, and the door opened. There was a bodyguard waiting for her, and she said nothing, but simply stepped into the lobby and began walking, and he followed. She had such an odd life, Peter thought, as he watched her go, feeling himself drawn to her like a magnet, and he had to remind himself that he had business to do, and no time for this childish fantasy. But it was obvious to him that there was something magical about her, it was easy to see why she was something of a legend. More than anything, she was a mystery. She was the land of person you never knew, but wished you did. He wondered, as he walked outside in the bright sun and the doorman hailed him a cab, if anyone knew her. And as the cab drove him away, he saw her turn the corner and leave the Place Vendome. She hurried away down the rue de la Paix, with her head down, her sunglasses on, the bodyguard following her, and in spite of himself Peter wondered where she was going. And then, forcing his eyes and his mind from her, as the cab sped off, he looked straight ahead at the streets of Paris rushing past him.
The meeting with Suchard was brief and to the point, as Peter expected it would be, but he was completely unprepared for what Paul-Louis Suchard said about their product. Not for a single instant had he anticipated Suchard's verdict. According to him, and all but one of the tests they'd done, Vicotec was potentially dangerous, lethal possibly, if misused, or even innocently mishandled, and as a result of the flaws it had shown, if it was usable at all, it was still years away from production and eventual release. Nor was it ready yet for the human trials Peter so desperately wanted.
Peter sat and stared at him as he listened. He could not believe what he had just heard, could not even remotely imagine that interpretation of their product. And he had become sufficiently knowledgeable about the chemical properties involved to ask him some very pointed and technically sophisticated questions. Suchard only had the answers to some of them, but on the whole he felt that Vicotec was dangerous, and that, conservatively, the product should be abandoned. Or if they wanted to take the risk of developing it further for the next several years, the problems might be worked out, but there was certainly no guarantee that they would ever be able to harness it and make it both useful and safe. And if they didn't, it would almost certainly become a killer. Peter felt as though someone had hit him with a brick.
“Are you sure there's no mistake in your processing, Paul-Louis?” Peter asked desperately, wanting to find their systems flawed, anything but his beloved “baby.”
“Almost certainly there is no mistake,” Paul-Louis said in heavily accented English, but it was all too easy to understand what he had just said, much to Peter's horror. As usual, Paul-Louis looked morose, but he always did. And it was usually he who discovered the faults in their products. He was almost always the bearer of bad tidings. It was his vocation. “There is one test we have not completed yet, it could mitigate some of our results, but it will not change them completely.” He went on to explain that it could provide for a little more optimism in terms of the time they might need for additional tests, but they were still talking years, not months, and certainly not weeks, as they had been hoping, before the FDA hearings.
“When will these tests be complete?” Peter asked, feeling ill. He couldn't believe what he'd been hearing. It felt like the worst day of his life, worse than anything he'd experienced in Vietnam, and certainly since then. It represented four years going down the tubes, if not completely, then at least partly.
“We need a few more days, but I believe that test is only a formality. I think we already know what Vicotec can and cannot do. We are well aware of most of its weaknesses and its problems.”
“Do you think it's salvageable?” Peter asked, looking terrified.
“I personally believe so …but some of my team do not. They feel it will always be too dangerous, too delicate, too great a risk in the hands of an unskilled person. But it will most certainly not do what you wanted. Not yet. And perhaps never.” They had wanted a form of chemotherapy that would be easier to administer, even for lay people, in remote, rural areas, where good medical care was not available to them. But none of it was going to be possible, from what Paul-Louis was saying. Even he felt sorry for Peter, when he saw his face. Peter looked as though he'd just lost his family, and all his friends, and he was only beginning to consider the ramifications. They would be endless. It was a huge disappointment, and a real shock to him as he listened to what Paul-Louis had to say. “I'm very sorry,” Paul-Louis Suchard added quietly. “I think that in time you will win this battle. But you must be patient,” he said gently, and Peter felt tears well up in his eyes, realizing how close they had come, and how far they still were from their objective. These were not the answers he had expected. He had expected their meeting to be merely a formality, and instead it was a nightmare.
“When will you have the test results for us, Paul-Louis?” He dreaded going back to New York to tell Frank, especially with incomplete information.
“Another two or three days, perhaps four. I cannot be quite sure yet. Certainly by the end of the week you will have your answers.”
“And if the results are good, you don't think it would alter your position now?” He was begging, pressing for all the good news he could. He knew how conservative Suchard was, maybe this time he was being too careful. It was hard to understand how his results could be so diametrically opposed
what all the others had said. Yet he had never been wrong before, and it was taking a terrible chance not to believe him. Obviously, they couldn't ignore what he was saying.
“It could change some of my position, not all of it. Perhaps if these next results are optimum, perhaps you will only be looking at another year of further research.”
“What about six months? If we work on it in all our laboratories, and concentrate all our research capabilities on this project?” With the gain they stood to make, it could be worth it. And profit was something Frank Donovan liked listening to, testing was not.
“Perhaps. That is a tremendous commitment, if you are willing to make it.”
“It's up to Mr. Donovan, of course. I'd have to discuss it with him.” There was a lot he'd have to discuss with him now, and he didn't want to do it on the phone. He knew it was taking a chance, but he really wanted to wait for the last test results, and then talk to Frank after they knew exactly what Suchard had discovered. “I'd like to wait until you finish the last test, Paul-Louis. If you don't mind keeping all of this confidential until then.”
“Not at all.” They agreed to meet again as soon as the final test was completed, and Paul-Louis said he'd call him at the hotel.
Their meeting concluded on a gloomy note, and Peter felt exhausted as he took a cab back to the Ritz, and then got out and walked the last few blocks to the Place Vendome. He was feeling desperately unhappy. They had worked so hard and he had believed in it so much, how could it go so sour? How could Vicotec prove to be a killer now? Why hadn't they discovered that before? Why did it have to happen this way? His one big chance to help humanity, and instead he had backed a killer. The irony of it tasted very bitter, and as he walked back into the hotel, even the hubbub of the cocktail hour and guests coming and going in a flurry of well-dressed activity didn't cheer him. The usual Arabs, Japanese, French movie stars, models from all over the world went unnoticed as he strode across the lobby and walked up the stairs to his room, thinking about what to do now. He knew he had to call his father-in-law, yet he wanted to wait until he had the rest of the information. He would have liked to talk to Kate about it, but he knew that whatever he said to her would have reached his father-in-law's ears before morning. It was one of the true weaknesses in their relationship. Kate was unable and unwilling to keep anything to herself, whatever was said between husband and wife was always shared with her father. It was a remainder of their old relationship when she'd been growing up alone with him, and try as he had over the years, Peter had been unable to change it. He had resigned himself eventually, and he was careful not to tell her anything unless he wanted to share it with Frank too, and this time he most emphatically didn't. Not yet anyway. He wanted to wait until he heard from Paul-Louis again, and then he would face whatever he had to.