Lip Reading: A Novel

Lip Reading: A Novel

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by Harry Kraus

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Dr. Rebecca Jackson’s research into an artificial blood substitute is near a breakthrough, and it could save millions of lives. But an unexpected discovery forces an impossible choice: save their lives, or her own.
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Dr. Rebecca Jackson’s research into an artificial blood substitute is near a breakthrough, and it could save millions of lives. But an unexpected discovery forces an impossible choice: save their lives, or her own.

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Dr. Rebecca Jackson, on the brink of creating the world's next wonder drug, goes on a PR trip to Kenya, where she is abducted and shown the deadly effects that her company's drugs have had on the village children. Becca is freed, but the impact of what she has seen weighs heavily upon her. She redoubles her investigative efforts with unusually remarkable results. The sudden onset of seizures and headaches that began as she was leaving Kenya continue to become more violent until she lands in the hospital with a diagnosis of a potentially lethal brain tumor—the reason for her burst of new research abilities. Racing against time, Becca tries to fix the issues with the wonder drug before the tumor in her brain kills her. VERDICT General surgeon Kraus (An Open Heart; A Heartbeat Away) offers a gripping insider's look at the pharmaceutical industry, its researchers, the money at stake, and what people will do to get it and the fame that it brings. This emotionally charged tale will win over medical drama and Tess Gerritsen fans.

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David C Cook
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a novel


David C. Cook

Copyright © 2014 Harry Kraus
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7814-0534-8


Kibera Slum, Nairobi, Kenya

With fluid dexterity, Rebecca Jackson, PhD, flattened the border of her upper lip with the tip of her lipstick. This wasn't just any lipstick. But then, this wasn't just anywhere. She was an ocean away from the cutthroat, high-stakes world of pharmaceutical manufacturing, where she competed to create the world's next wonder drug.

Her location: Kibera, an inner-city Nairobi slum, home to two million sweaty inhabitants, a population of poor yet colorful Kenyans who seemed little distracted by the equatorial heat.

Her lipstick: L'Absolu Rouge by Lancôme Paris. She preferred the Daisy Rose shade and the fact that it offered some protection from the sun, SPF 12.

But she didn't wear it for protection. She applied it, just as she had a hundred other brands, to cover up a cosmetic flaw, the result of a surgical error.

Twenty years earlier, seventeen-year-old Becca Jackson had wrestled with a surgeon through an intoxicated haze. In a small-town Virginia hospital, the doctor did the best he could under the circumstances, putting together a puzzle of skin that used to be her finest feature—her full and pouty lips. She didn't remember vomiting on the surgeon's shoes—something her mother had told her about the morning after that horrible, horrible night—but she didn't regret doing it.

There is one cardinal sin in lip repair: a failure to match up the red-white border at the edge. The vermillion border. It was a word she'd learned at age seventeen and one she whispered every day as she learned to apply makeup to cover the one-millimeter offset in the border, the red lip color jutting just that tiny amount into the pale skin beneath her nose. Even a small irregularity at the edge of the lip catches the eye and causes it to fixate on the imperfection. She knew this all too well.

Her cameraman Rich, a twentysomething man who looked at home in an olive-green T-shirt and jeans, appeared in the mirror. "Dr. Jackson, please. This is the fourth time you've adjusted your lipstick. You look fine."

"I haven't been outside without lipstick in twenty years," she muttered.

"This is Africa. The spot calls for a natural look anyway."

"I don't care for my natural look." She paused and placed her index finger over a small bottle of perfume and touched the finger to the skin just under her nose. "It smells like a sewer out there."

"I'd be careful to step over the little stream in front of the door," he said. "I think that's where the smell comes from."

Opium had been her signature fragrance for as long as she could remember. It was an Yves Saint Laurent perfume known for advertisements using naked or nearly naked women in front of shadowy backgrounds. She held up the bottle so that Rich could see the label. "Can you believe I was held up in customs for this?" She laughed. "As if I was really carrying drugs or something." She put the perfume back into her leather Tano designer handbag. "I had to spray the fragrance just to convince the idiot," she said. "What a waste."

"Let's go," he urged.

She turned in the mud-walled little school-turned-dressing-room. "I'm right behind you."

"Watch your step."

She stepped into the muddy, rutted, and unpaved street. Along both sides, vendors hawked everything from toothpaste and hair products to displays of shoes laid out in neat soldier rows on the ground.

Her team had assembled a semicircle of uniformed school children who were to be playing a game behind her as she slowly walked down the street toward the camera. The concept was simple: talk casually about the work Jackson Pharmaceuticals—JP—was doing to combat the devastation of AIDS.

But after three hours of trying, everything she'd done had come off as mechanical and plastic. The goal was to help salvage JP's sagging public image and boost the sales of her new autobiography, Pusher: Confessions of an American Pharmaceutical Giant.

It wasn't until the team was about to call it a day that Becca did something she'd thought was off camera. She joined a group of orphans playing a hands-lapping game that involved a rhythmic recitation about African women washing clothes. Becca joined the game, slapping the hands of a little Kenyan orphan and stumbling to keep up with the words.

Afterward, as she strolled back toward her team, the director, a stern man by the name of Lane Buckwalter, cracked his first smile of the day. "This is good. I say we trash the walking casual explanations and just show this. We'll hire a professional to do a voiceover about Jackson's newest AIDS drug."

Becca was surprised when she saw the clip. "What—you were filming?"

The cameraman smiled. "Every second."

The media representative from Becca's publishing house agreed. In their joint agreement to finance the campaign, JP and Putnam had agreed to tag the ad with the cover image of Pusher.

Mr. Buckwalter wiped his brow and looked at the sky. "Dinnertime. We need to get back to the hotel."

Becca nodded and looked at Rich. "Can you get my bag?"


She lingered in the street while the team packed the equipment into the back of a tan Land Rover.

"Dr. Jackson?"

She turned to see a dark-skinned African. She was just beginning to recognize the characteristics of the different tribes. He appeared to be Luo, with full lips, a broad nose, and teeth that seemed extra white against his skin.

"Could I get a picture?" he said.

"Sure," she said, smiling. She appeared to have a fan even in remote Africa.

"Just step over here," he said, leading her to the edge of an alley. "I want to get you in front of the sign of our little clinic."

She stepped into the alley and smiled as he held up a silver digital camera.

"Cheese," he said.

She obeyed just as arms closed around her from behind. She tried to scream, but a strong hand clamped over her mouth. Kicking, she was dragged into the alley and out of view of her team. She feared rape and robbery. She wanted to say that she had money in her handbag, but she'd left that back in her makeshift dressing room and she couldn't say anything with the hand over her mouth.

Within seconds, she was tossed into the back of a windowless van, where she stared into the barrel of a handgun. "No noise!" the man said. She heard tapping on the side of the van. The vehicle lurched forward and bounced along the rutted alley.

She understood. This wasn't robbery, at least not the type of street thuggery she'd imagined. This was kidnapping. She was a commodity, a research pharmacologist and the niece of the CEO and majority stockholder in a multimillion-dollar pharmaceutical company.

The van picked up speed. She looked at the back door, wondering if she could survive jumping if her captor was distracted.

After escape, which she quickly ruled out, her second thought was vain.

I left my lipstick in my bag.


Becca Jackson looked into her captor's eyes and pleaded. "I'm feeling sick."

He nodded. "I don't like riding back here either."

"I need a bucket."

The man handed her what appeared to be an old paint can. She clutched it under her chin as the van bumped and sped along. Retching, she deposited her lunch into the can. Several hours before, she'd enjoyed a local food known as samosas, small triangular fried-meat pockets spiced with pili-pili or pepper.

She wiped her chin and wished she hadn't eaten.

The man wrinkled his nose. "When we are free of the city, I'll let you sit up front where you can see. Have you been on safari and seen this great land?"

"Only Nairobi."

She looked at the man. He was thin and wore a gray suit with a white shirt and a tie.

"You don't look like a kidnapper."

"I'm not." He offered a half smile. "I'm not a violent man."

"Then what am I doing here?"

"We want to give you an education."

"An education? I have a doctorate in pharmaceutical chemistry—"

"From Stanford University. Graduated with distinction," he interrupted.

"You've read my book?"

"Pusher?" He laughed. "Better than that."

"How do you know me?"

"I know all about you. I know about Camplex."

She took slow, deep breaths and tried to will her stomach to cooperate. Thinking about Camplex wouldn't help. Once upon a time, Camplex was intended to be Jackson Pharmaceuticals's next greatest non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. And it was. For a while. Until it became increasingly obvious that arthritis patients on Camplex were stroking out at a rate three times higher than expected.

Three times a very small percentage was still a small number, but the FDA didn't approve and yanked the drug from the market, putting a damper on the billion-dollar cash cow and blackening the eye of JP in the public arena. Worse, when it came out that JP executives had managed to suppress the data for six months while sales of Camplex set records, JP looked even worse and paid a fifty-million-dollar fine, though that was chicken scratch in comparison to their income from the drug.

And it all happened under the watchful eye of Dr. Rebecca Jackson.

Now, it seemed that every time she turned on the TV, she heard another ad featuring a stroke patient in a wheelchair and a voiceover: "Have you or someone you love suffered a myocardial infarction or stroke while on the drug Camplex?"

The man no longer held a gun. Instead, he clutched only a white handkerchief for dabbing the sweat from his high forehead. "Did you know that your drug is still available here?"


Of course she knew. They'd unloaded several billion tablets onto sub-Saharan Africa just before the news of the complications hit the popular press in the US. She sighed. "What's the mean lifespan of a man in Kenya?"

"Fifty. Maybe fifty one."

"Exactly. The population here doesn't live long enough for the stroke problem to matter. What matters is that people who will eventually die of AIDS or malaria can get good pain relief from our drug in the meantime."

He nodded. It was a reasonable argument.

She repeated her question. "How do you know about me?"

He reached out his hand, an offering for a handshake.

She stared and kept a tight grip on the can.

After a moment, he closed his hand and rubbed his thumb over his empty fingers. "I am Dr. Jacob Opondo."

"You are a medical doctor?"

He nodded.

"So you know of Mopivadine."

"I am a doctor in Kenya. AIDS is our number-one killer. Of course I know of Mopivadine."

She smiled despite her circumstances. Mopivadine was an antiretroviral drug, the latest and greatest in an attempt to inhibit the reproduction of HIV. She was counting on Mopivadine to salvage the image of JP. "So you understand why we are so proud."

"Yes." He paused, shaking his head. "And yet you have reason for shame. That's why we're taking this little trip."

"So I'm not being kidnapped?"

"Depends on your definition," he responded coldly. "If you mean being taken against your will, then yes, you're being kidnapped. But I'm not asking for a ransom."

"What do you want?"

"I want compensation for the Kenyans who have suffered because of you. I want JP to change its course. Continue research but be culturally sensitive."

"Sounds like politically correct BS."

"Tell that to the children who die because of your trials."

"Hey, Mopivadine saves lives. It prevents maternal-child transfer of HIV."

"So you say."

The lack of circulating air and the bumpy ride combined to send her stomach into another fit of retching.

Becca pleaded, "I need to get some air."

Jacob opened a cell phone. In a moment, he spoke. "Pull over. I want to let the doctor ride in the front. I'm going to puke if she vomits again."

"Nice," she muttered. "Thinking of me like that."

A few moments later the van lurched to a stop and the back door opened. She stepped down from the vehicle and took a few slow, deep breaths. Just getting outside made her feel better.

As far as she could see were rolling plains of long grass. In the distance she caught her first glimpse of giraffe in the wild. She pointed.

Jacob Opondo smiled. "Never been on safari?"

She shook her head. "No. And this isn't my idea of fun."

"Try to enjoy it. What choice do you have?"

"I need to pee."

"You may." He pointed to a few bushes just off the road.


"You were expecting a rest stop, perhaps?" He touched a bulge under his jacket, undoubtedly a handgun. "Don't even think of running. You wouldn't last long out here. And the only ones interested in you would be the carnivores."

She looked around. Seeing nothing but waves of grass, she plodded off to a bush to squat. There, she considered the irony of her situation. Here she was, in some of the most beautiful unspoiled wilderness on earth, yet she wasn't free to enjoy it.

"The authorities will be looking for me," she said when she returned a few minutes later.

"But you won't be pressing any charges."

"That's crazy. You tackle me, throw me in the back of a van, and drive me off into the middle of nowhere, and you think I'm just going to forget about this?"

"Yes. After you see what I need to show you."

"What is it?"

"Patience. We will get there soon enough."

She looked at her watch.

Jacob gestured toward the driver, a muscular man with a shaved head. "This is Samuel Wanjiku."

Samuel nodded. "It will be dark soon. We need to prepare a camp."

Jacob said, "Daniel Saitoti is expecting us. We will stay in his boma."

Becca felt her anxiety rising. "I can't stay out here. My things—I have a reservation, a hotel room in Nairobi."

Jacob didn't smile. "Be quiet."

Samuel looked at the sky and then scanned the landscape, a grassy plain dotted with acacia trees. "We'd better move."

At the equator, darkness pounced like a cat. There was no gradual darkening of the sky, no dusk to prepare her. The twelve-hour day ended, and the twelve-hour night began. The sun made a perpendicular dive into the horizon, and within minutes, the change was complete; light and clouds became darkness with the smudge of the Milky Way.

Even though the darkness had descended, Becca relished being out of the back of the van. She watched with interest as their headlights bounced ahead of their progress along a road that had become little more than a set of two parallel tire paths separated by a mound of grass. Several times she saw the shiny reflection of a pair of eyes just off the road in the grass. Were these the carnivores of which Jacob spoke?

A half hour into the night, they arrived at a small Maasai boma, three short manure-and-mud huts with thatched roofs. Daniel Ole Saitoti, Jacob explained, had a small hut for each of his three wives. Outside, a herd of goats and cows seemed to have freedom to move about. Surrounding the huts and the animals was a high fence made of thorny shrubs.

"It will keep out the leopards and hyenas," Jacob said. He held up his hand toward a man standing beside a small fire ring. "This is Daniel Ole Saitoti." He paused before explaining. "Ole means 'son of' in the Maasai language. Though I pronounce it Oh Lee, it is spelled O L E."

Daniel Ole was tall and wore a shuka, a typical tribal garment made of red-checked cloth. He held a staff in his hand, and when he smiled, he seemed to be missing several bottom teeth, creating two columns of white teeth with a gap in between.

"Hello," Becca said.

"Supa." Daniel held out his hand.

"He speaks only his tribal language."

Becca sighed. "So I can't ask him to rescue me."

Jacob cleared his throat. "Don't be a fool."

"My uncle will be sending a rescue team. We've got contingency plans for this sort of thing."

"Good. The media attention will bring millions to be moved by our plight." Jacob shrugged. "But it won't put JP in a good light."

She sighed. "Whatever."

"Two of Daniel's wives will sleep together tonight." He pointed to the second hut. "You can sleep in there."

He flipped on a flashlight and led the way. She ducked to enter the small hut. Inside, it smelled strongly of smoke. A small cooking fire on the floor provided the only light and warmth. Along opposite walls were two beds made of cow leather stretched across a wooden frame.

She began to cough. Her eyes watered. "I can't sleep in here. I have asthma. I don't have my inhalers, and the smoke—"

"Fine," Jacob said. "I'll sleep in here with Samuel. You can stay outside with the animals. I have a sleeping bag you can use."

They walked back outside, and two Maasai women approached with cups of steaming chai. Becca took one of the tin cups. "Thank you."

Before they ate, Daniel's youngest wife poured water from a plastic container over their hands so they could wash.

"Not so much," Jacob warned. "She carried that four kilometers from the well."

Becca longed for a warm shower and a change of clothes, but clean hands and a campfire would have to do.


Excerpted from LIP READING by HARRY KRAUS. Copyright © 2014 Harry Kraus. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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