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Acceptable Risk

Acceptable Risk

3.9 31
by Robin Cook

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Robin Cook has always been on the cutting edge of the latest medical controversies. In Acceptable Risk, he confronts one of the most provocative issues of our time: personality-altering drugs and the complex moral questions they raise. Neuroscientist Edward Armstrong has managed to isolate a psychotropic drug with a strange and dark history—one that


Robin Cook has always been on the cutting edge of the latest medical controversies. In Acceptable Risk, he confronts one of the most provocative issues of our time: personality-altering drugs and the complex moral questions they raise. Neuroscientist Edward Armstrong has managed to isolate a psychotropic drug with a strange and dark history—one that may account for the public hysteria during the Salem witch trials. In a brilliant designer-drug transformation, it is developed into an antidepressant with truly startling therapeutic capabilities. But who can be sure the drug is safe for consumers? Who defines the boundaries of "normal" human behavior? And if the drug's side effects are proven to be dangerous—even terrifying—how far will the medical community go to alter their standards of...Acceptable Risk.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
4.30(w) x 6.77(h) x 1.11(d)
830L (what's this?)
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18 Years

Read an Excerpt


July 12, 1994

Kimberly Stewart glanced at her watch as she went through the turnstile and exited the MBTA subway at Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was a few minutes before seven p.m. She knew she would be on time or only minutes late, but still she hurried. Pushing through the crowd milling about the news kiosk in the middle of the square, she half ran and half walked the short distance on Massachusetts Avenue before turning right on Holyoke Street.

Pausing to catch her breath in front of the Hasty Pudding Club building, Kimberly glanced up at the structure. She knew about the Harvard social club only in reference to the annual award it gave to an actor and an actress. The building was brick with white trim like most buildings at Harvard. She'd never been inside although it housed a public restaurant called Upstairs at the Pudding. This was to be her first visit.

With her breathing restored to near normal, Kim opened the door and entered only to be confronted by several sizable flights of stairs. By the time she got to the maitre d's podium she was again mildly winded. She asked for the ladies' room.

While Kim wrestled with her thick, raven hair which refused to do what she wanted it to do, she told herself there was no need to be nervous. After all, Stanton Lewis was family. The problem was that he had never before called at the last minute to say that he "needed'' her to come to dinner and that it was an "emergency.''

Giving up on her hair and feeling totally thrown together, Kim again presented herself at the maitre d's podium. This time she announced she was to meet Mr. and Mrs. Stanton Lewis.

"Most of your party is here,'' the hostess said.

As Kim followed the hostess through the main part of the restaurant, her anxiety went up a notch. She didn't like the sound of "party.'' She wondered who else would be at the dinner.

The hostess led Kim out onto a trellised terrace that was crowded with diners. Stanton and his wife, Candice, were sitting at a four-top in the corner.

"I'm sorry I'm late,'' Kim said as she arrived at the table.

"You're not late in the slightest,'' Stanton said.

He leaped to his feet and enveloped Kim in an extended and demonstrative hug that bent her backwards. It also turned her face a bright red. She had the uncomfortable feeling that everyone on the crowded terrace was watching. Once she was able to break free from Stanton's bear hug she retreated to the chair held out by the hostess and tried to melt into her seat.

Kim always felt uncomfortably obvious around Stanton. Although they were cousins, Kim thought they were the social antithesis of each other. While she considered herself moderately shy, occasionally even awkward, he was a paragon of confidence: an urbane and aggressively assertive sophisticate. He was built like a ski racer and stood straight and tall, overpowering people as the consummate entrepreneur. Even his wife, Candice, despite her demure smile, made Kim feel socially inept.

Kim hazarded a quick glance around her, and as she did so she inadvertently bumped the hostess, who was attempting to lay Kim's napkin across her lap. Both apologized simultaneously.

"Relax, cousin,'' Stanton said after the hostess had departed. He reached across the table and poured Kim a glass of white wine. "As usual you're wound up like a banjo wire.''

"Telling me to relax only makes me more nervous,'' Kim said. She took a drink of the wine.

"You are a strange one,'' Stanton said playfully. "I can never understand why you're so damn self-conscious, especially sitting here with family in a room full of people you'll never see again. Let your hair down.''

"I have no control over what my hair chooses to do,'' Kim joked. In spite of herself she was beginning to calm down. "As for your inability to understand my unease, it's entirely understandable. You're so totally self-assured that it's impossible for you to imagine what it's like not to be so.''

"Why not give me a chance to understand?'' Stanton said. "I challenge you to explain to me why you are feeling uncomfortable right at this moment. My God, woman, your hand is shaking.''

Kim put down her glass and put her hands in her lap. "I'm nervous mainly because I feel thrown together,'' she said. "After your call this evening, I barely had time to take a shower, much less find something to wear. And, if you must know, my bangs are driving me crazy.'' Kim blindly tried to adjust the hair over her forehead.

"I think your dress is smashing,'' Candice said.

"No doubt about it,'' Stanton said. "Kimberly, you look gorgeous.''

Kim laughed. "I'm smart enough to know that provoked compliments are invariably false.''

"Balderdash,'' Stanton said. "The irony of this discussion is that you are a sexy, beautiful woman even though you always act as if you haven't a clue, which, I suppose, is somewhat endearing. How old are you now, twenty-

"Twenty-seven,'' Kim said. She tried more of her wine.

"Twenty-seven and improving with each year,'' Stanton said. He smiled impishly. "You've got cheekbones other women would die for, skin like a baby's bottom, and a ballerina's figure, not to mention those emerald eyes that could mesmerize a Greek statue.''

"The truth of the matter is somewhat different,'' Kim said. "My facial-bone structure is certainly not exceptional ~although okay. My skin barely tans if at all, and 'ballerina's figure' sounds like a nice way of saying I'm not stacked.''

"You're being unfair to yourself,'' Candice said.

"I think we should change the subject,'' Kim said. "This conversation is not going to get me to relax. In fact it just makes me more uncomfortable.''

"My apologies for being so truthfully complimentary,'' Stanton said, his impish smile returning. "What would you prefer we discuss?''

"How about explaining why my presence here at dinner was such an emergency,'' Kim said.

"I need your help.'' Stanton leaned toward her.

"Me?'' Kim questioned. She had to laugh. "The great financier needs my help? Is this a joke?''

"Quite the contrary,'' Stanton said. "In a few months I'll be launching an initial public offering for one of my biotech companies called Genetrix.''

"I'm not investing,'' Kim said. "You've got the wrong relative.''

It was Stanton's turn to laugh. "I'm not looking for money,'' he said. "No, it's something quite different. I happened to be talking with Aunt Joyce today and—''

"Oh, no!'' Kim interrupted nervously. "What did my mother say now?''

"She just happened to mention that you'd recently broken up with your boyfriend,'' Stanton said.

Kim blanched. The unease she'd felt when she'd arrived at the restaurant returned in a rush. "I wish my mother wouldn't open her big mouth,'' she said irritably.

"Joyce didn't give any gory details,'' Stanton said.

"That doesn't matter,'' Kim said. "She's been giving out personal information about Brian and me since we were teenagers.''

"All she said was that Kinnard wasn't right for you,'' Stanton said. "Which I happen to agree with if he's forever traipsing off with his friends for ski trips and fishing forays.''

"That sounds like details to me,'' Kim moaned. "It's also an exaggeration. The fishing is something new. The skiing is once a year.''

"To tell you the truth I was hardly listening,'' Stanton said. "At least until she asked me if I could find someone more appropriate for you.''

"Good Lord!'' Kim said with mounting irritation. "I can't believe this. She actually asked you to fix me up with someone?''

"It's not my usual forte,'' Stanton said. A self-satisfied smile spread across his face. "But I had a brainstorm. Right after I hung up with Joyce I knew to whom I'd introduce you.''

"Don't tell me that's why you got me here tonight,'' Kim said with alarm. She felt her pulse quicken. "I never would have come if I'd had any idea—''

"Calm down,'' Stanton said. "Don't get yourself in a dither. It's going to work out just fine. Trust me.''

"It's too soon,'' Kim said.

"It's never too soon,'' Stanton said. "My motto is, Today is yesterday's tomorrow.''

"Stanton, you are impossible,'' Kim said. "I'm not ready to meet someone. Besides I'm a mess.''

"I already told you that you look terrific,'' Stanton said. "Trust me, Edward Armstrong is going to fall for you like a ton of bricks. One look into those emerald eyes and his legs will turn to rubber.''

"This is ridiculous,'' Kim complained.

"One thing I should admit right up front is that I have an ulterior motive,'' Stanton said. "I've been trying to get Edward involved in one of my biotech companies ever since I became a venture capitalist. With Genetrix about to go public, there's no time like the present. The idea is to get him beholden by introducing him to you, Kim. Then maybe I'll be able to twist his arm to get him on the Genetrix scientific advisory board. If I get his name on the prospectus it will be worth a good four or five mil on the initial offering. In the process I can make him a millionaire.''

For a moment Kim didn't say anything as she concentrated on her wine. On top of her anxiety, she was feeling used as well as embarrassed, but she didn't voice her irritation. She'd always had trouble expressing herself in con~frontational situations. Stanton had amazed her as he always had, being so manipulative and self-serving yet so open about it.

"Maybe Edward Armstrong doesn't want to be a millionaire,'' Kim said at length.

"Nonsense,'' Stanton said. "Everyone wants to be a millionaire.''

"I know it's difficult for you to understand,'' Kim said. "But not everyone thinks the same way you do.''

"Edward is a nice gentleman,'' Candice said.

"That sounds suspiciously like the equivalent of a female blind date being described as having a nice personality.''

Stanton chuckled. "You know, cousin, you might be a mental case but you do have a sense of humor.''

"What I meant to say,'' Candice said. "Edward is a considerate person. And I think that's important. I was initially against the idea of Stanton fixing you up, but then I thought how nice it would be for you to have a relationship with someone civil. After all, the relationship you've had with Kinnard has been pretty stormy. I think you deserve better.''

Kim could not believe Candice. She obviously knew nothing about Kinnard, but Kim did not contradict her. Instead Kim said, "The problems between me and Kinnard are as much my fault as his.''

Kim eyed the door. Her pulse was racing. She wished she could just stand up and leave. But she couldn't. It wasn't her nature, although at the moment she sincerely wished it were.

"Edward is a lot more than considerate,'' Stanton said. "He's a genius.''

"Oh that's just great!'' Kim said sarcastically. "Not only will Mr. Armstrong find me unattractive, but he'll also find me boring. I'm not at my scintillating best when it comes to making conversation with geniuses.''

"Trust me,'' Stanton said. "You guys will hit it off. You have common backgrounds. Edward's an M.D. He was a classmate of mine at Harvard Med. As students we teamed up for a lot of experiments and lab stuff until he took his third year off and got a Ph.D. in biochemistry.''

"Is he a practicing doctor?'' Kim asked.

"Nope, research,'' Stanton said. "His expertise is the chemistry of the brain, which is a particularly fertile area at present. Right now Edward's the rising star of the field:
a scientific celebrity whom Harvard was able to steal back from Stanford. And speaking of the devil, here he comes now.''

Kim swung around in her seat to see a tall and squarely built yet boyish-appearing man heading for their table. Hearing that he'd been Stanton's classmate, Kim knew he'd have to be about forty, yet he appeared considerably younger, with straight, sandy blond hair and a broad, unlined, tanned face. There was none of the pallor Kim associated with academics. He was slightly stooped, as if he were afraid he was about to bump his head on an overhead beam.

Stanton was instantly on his feet, clasping Edward in a bear hug with as much enthusiasm as he'd shown Kim. He even pounded Edward's shoulder several times as some men seem impelled to do.

For a fleeting moment Kim felt sympathy for Edward. She could tell that he was as uncomfortable as she had been with Stanton's overly demonstrative greeting.

Stanton made brief introductions, and Edward shook hands with Candice and Kim before sitting down. Kim noticed his skin was moist and his grip tentative, just like her own. She also noticed he had a slight stutter as well as a nervous habit of pushing his hair from his forehead.

"I'm terribly sorry for being late,'' Edward said. He had a little trouble vocalizing his t's.

"Two birds of a feather,'' Stanton said. "My gorgeous, talented, sexy cousin here said the same thing when she arrived five seconds ago.''

Kim felt her face suffuse with color. It was going to be a long evening. Stanton could not help being himself.

"Relax, Ed,'' Stanton continued as he poured him some wine. "You're not late. I said around seven. You're perfect.''

"I just meant that you were all here waiting,'' Edward ~said. He smiled self-consciously and lifted his glass as if in toast.

"Good idea,'' Stanton said, taking the hint and snatching up his glass. "Let me propose a toast. First I'd like to toast my darling cousin, Kimberly Stewart. She's the best surgical intensive-care nurse at the MGH bar none.'' Stanton then looked directly at Edward while everyone held their glasses in abeyance. "If you have to have your prostate plumbing patched up, just pray that Kimberly is available. She's legendary with a catheter!''

"Stanton, please!'' Kim protested.

"OK, OK,'' Stanton said, extending his left hand as if to quiet an audience. "Let me get back to my toast of Kimberly Stewart. I would be derelict in my duty if I didn't bring it to the group's attention that her sterling genealogy extends back just shy of the Mayflower. That's paternally, of course. Maternally she only goes back to the Revolutionary War, which, I might add, is my, inferior, side of the family.''

"Stanton, this is hardly necessary,'' Kim said. She was already mortified.

"But there's more,'' Stanton said with the relish of a practiced after-dinner speaker. "Kimberly's first relative to graduate from dear old Harvard did so in 1671. That was Sir Ronald Stewart, founder of Maritime, Ltd., as well as the current Stewart dynasty. And perhaps most interesting of all, Kimberly's great-grandmother times eight was hanged for witchcraft in Salem. Now if that is not Americana I don't know what is.''

"Stanton, you can be such a pain,'' Kim said, her anger overcoming her embarrassment for the moment. "That's not information meant for public disclosure.''

"And why the hell not?'' Stanton questioned with a laugh. Looking back at Edward he said, "The Stewarts have this ridiculous hangup that such ancient history is a blight on the family name.''

"Whether you think it is ridiculous or not, people have a right to their feelings,'' Kim said hotly. "Besides, my mother is the one who is most concerned about the issue, ~and she's your aunt and a former Lewis. My father has never said one thing about it to me.''

"Whatever,'' Stanton said with a wave. "Personally I find the story fascinating. I should be so lucky; it's like having had a relative on the Mayflower or in the boat when Washington crossed the Delaware.''

"I think we should change the subject,'' Kim said.

"Agreed,'' Stanton said equably. He was the only one still holding up his glass of wine. It was a long toast. "That brings me to Edward Armstrong. Here's to the most exciting, productive, creative, and intelligent neurochemist in the world, no, in the universe! Here's to a man who has come from the streets of Brooklyn, put himself through school, and is now at the pinnacle of his chosen career. Here's to a man who should be already booking a flight to Stockholm for his Nobel Prize, which he is a shoo-in to win for his work with neurotransmitters, memory, and quantum mechanics.''

Stanton extended his wineglass and everybody followed suit. They clinked glasses and drank. As Kim set her glass back on the table she glanced furtively at Edward. It was apparent to her that he was equally as abashed and self-
conscious as she.

Stanton thumped his now empty glass on the table and proceeded to refill it. He glanced around at the other glasses, then jammed the wine bottle into its ice bucket. "Now that you two have met,'' he said, "I expect you to fall in love, get married, and have plenty of darling kids. All I ask for my part in bringing you together in this fruitful union is that Edward agrees to serve on the scientific advisory board of Genetrix.''

Stanton laughed heartily even though he was the only one to do so. When he recovered he said, "Okay, where the hell is the waiter? Let's eat!''

Outside the restaurant the group paused.

"We could walk around the corner and get ice cream at Herrell's,'' Stanton suggested.

"I couldn't eat another thing,'' Kim said.

"Me neither,'' Edward said.

~ "I never eat dessert,'' Candice said.

"Then who wants a lift home?'' Stanton asked. "I've got my car right here in the Holyoke Center garage.''

"I'm happy with MTA,'' Kim said.

"My apartment is just a short walk,'' Edward said.

"Then you two are on your own,'' Stanton said. After promising Edward he'd be in touch, Stanton took Candice's arm and headed for the garage.

"Can I walk you to the subway?'' Edward asked.

"I'd appreciate that,'' Kim said.

They headed off together. As they walked, Kim could sense that Edward wanted to say something. Just before they got to the corner he spoke. "It's such a pleasant evening,'' he said, struggling a bit with the p. His mild stutter had returned. "How about a little walk in Harvard Square before you head home?''

"That would be great,'' Kim said. "I'd enjoy it.''

Arm in arm they walked to that complicated collision of Massachusetts Avenue, the JFK Drive portion of Harvard Street, Mt. Auburn Street, and Brattle Street. Despite its name it was hardly a square but rather a series of curved fa;alcades and curiously shaped open areas. On summer nights the area metamorphoses into a spontaneous, medieval-like sidewalk circus of jugglers, musicians, poetry readers, magicians, and acrobats.

It was a warm, silky, summer night with a few nighthawks chirping high in the dark sky. There were even a few stars despite the glow from the city lights. Kim and Edward strolled around the entire square, pausing briefly at the periphery of each performer's audience. Despite their mutual misgivings about the evening, ultimately they were enjoying themselves.

"I'm glad I came out tonight,'' Kim said.

"So am I,'' Edward said.

Finally they sat down on a low concrete wall. To their left was a woman singing a plaintive ballad. To their right was a group of energetic Peruvian Indians playing indigenous panpipes.

"Stanton is truly a character,'' Kim said.

~ "I didn't know who to be more embarrassed for,'' Edward said. "Me or you with the way he was carrying on.''

Kim laughed in agreement. She'd felt just as uncomfortable when Stanton was toasting Edward as when he'd toasted her.

"What I find amazing about Stanton is that he can be so manipulative and charming at the same time,'' Kim said.

"It is curious what he can get away with,'' Edward agreed. "I could never do it in a million years. In fact I've always felt I've been a foil for Stanton. I've envied him, wishing I could be half as assertive. I've always been socially self-conscious, even a little nerdy.''

"My feelings exactly,'' Kim admitted. "I've always wanted to be more confident socially. But it just has never worked. I've been timid since I've been a little girl. When I'm in social situations, I never can think of the appropriate thing to say on the spur of the moment. Five minutes later I can, but then it's always too late.''

"Two birds of a feather, just as Stanton described us,'' Edward said. "The trouble is Stanton is aware of our weaknesses, and he sure knows how to make us squirm. I die a slow death every time he brings up that nonsense about my being a shoo-in for the Nobel Prize.''

"I apologize on behalf of my family,'' Kim said. "At least he isn't mean-spirited.''

"How are you related?'' Edward asked.

"We're true cousins,'' Kim said. "My mother is Stanton's father's sister.''

"I should apologize as well,'' Edward said. "I shouldn't speak ill of Stanton. He and I were classmates in medical school. I helped him in the lab, and he helped me at parties. We made a pretty good team. We've been friends ever since.''

"How come you haven't teamed up with him in one of his entrepreneurial ventures?'' Kim asked.

"I've just never been interested,'' Edward said. "I like academia, where the quest is for knowledge for knowledge's sake. Not that I'm against applied science. It's just not as engaging. In some respects academia and industry are at odds with each other, especially in regard to industry's imperative of secrecy. Free communication is the lifeblood of science; secrecy is its bane.''

"Stanton says he could make you a millionaire,'' Kim said.

Edward laughed. "And how would that change my life? I'm already doing what I want to do: a combination of research and teaching. Injecting a million dollars into my life would just complicate things and create bias. I'm happy the way I am.''

"I tried to suggest as much to Stanton,'' Kim said. "But he wouldn't listen. He's so headstrong.''

"But still charming and entertaining,'' Edward said. "He was certainly exaggerating about me when he was giving that interminable toast. But how about you? Can your family truly be traced back to seventeenth-century America?''

"That much was true,'' Kim said.

"That's fascinating,'' Edward said. "It's also impressive. I'd be lucky to trace my family back two generations, and then it would probably be embarrassing.''

"It's even more impressive to put oneself through school and become eminently successful in a challenging career,'' Kim said. "That's on your own initiative. I was merely born a Stewart. It took no effort on my behalf.''

"What about the Salem witchcraft story?'' Edward asked. "Is that true as well?''

"It is,'' Kim admitted. "But it's not something I'm comfortable talking about.''

"I'm terribly sorry,'' Edward said. His stutter reappeared. "Please forgive me. I don't understand why it would make any difference, but I shouldn't have brought it up.''

Kim shook her head. "Now I'm sorry for making you feel uncomfortable,'' she said. "I suppose my response to the Salem witchcraft episode is silly, and to tell you the truth, I don't even know why I feel uncomfortable about it. It's probably because of my mother. She drummed it into me that it was something I wasn't supposed to talk about. I know she thinks of it as a family disgrace.''

"But it was more than three hundred years ago,'' Edward said.

~ "You're right,'' Kim said with a shrug. "It doesn't make much sense.''

"Are you familiar with the episode?'' Edward asked.

"I know the basics, I suppose,'' Kim said. "Like everyone else in America.''

"Curiously enough, I know a little more than most people,'' Edward said. "Harvard University Press published a book on the subject which was written by two gifted historians. It's called Salem Possessed. One of my graduate students insisted I read it since it won some kind of history award. So I read it, and I was intrigued. Why don't I loan it to you?''

"That would be nice,'' Kim said just to be polite.

"I'm serious,'' Edward said. "You'll like it, and maybe it will change the way you think about the affair. The social/political/religious aspects are truly fascinating. I learned a lot more than I expected. For instance, did you know that within a few years of the trials some of the jurors and even some of the judges publicly recanted and asked for pardon because they realized innocent people had been executed?''

"Really,'' Kim said, still trying to be polite.

"But the fact that innocent people got hanged wasn't what really grabbed me,'' Edward said. "You know how one book leads to another. Well, I read another book called Poisons of the Past that had the most interesting theory, especially for a neuroscientist like myself. It suggested that at least some of the young women of Salem who were suffering strange 'fits' and who were responsible for accusing people of witchcraft were actually poisoned. The suggested culprit was ergot, which comes from a mold called Claviceps purpurea. Claviceps is a fungus that tends to grow on grain, particularly rye.''

Despite Kim's conditioned disinterest in the subject, Edward had caught her attention. "Poisoned by ergot?'' she questioned. "What would that do?''

"Ooo-wee!'' Edward rolled his eyes. "Remember that Beatles song, 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds'? Well, it would have been something like that because ergot contains ~lysergic acid amide, which is the prime ingredient of LSD.''

"You mean they would have experienced hallucinations and delusions?'' Kim asked.

"That's the idea,'' Edward said. "Ergotism either causes a gangrenous reaction, which can be rapidly fatal, or a convulsive, hallucinogenic reaction. In Salem it would have been the convulsive, hallucinogenic one, tending more on the hallucinogenic side.''

"What an interesting theory,'' Kim said. "It might even interest my mother. Maybe she'd feel differently about our ancestor if she knew of such an explanation. It would be hard to blame the individual under those circumstances.''

"That was my thought,'' Edward said. "But at the same time it can't be the whole story. Ergot might have been the tinder that ignited the fire, but once it started it turned into a firestorm on its own accord. From the reading I've done I think people exploited the situation for economic and social reasons, although not necessarily on a conscious level.''

"You've certainly piqued my curiosity,'' Kim said. "Now I feel embarrassed I've never been curious enough to read anything about the Salem witch trials other than the little I did in high school. I should be particularly ashamed since my executed ancestor's property is still in the family's possession. In fact, due to a minor feud between my father and my late grandfather, my brother and I inherited it just this year.''

"Good grief!'' Edward said. "You mean to tell me your family has kept that land for three hundred years?''

"Well, not the entire tract,'' Kim said. "The original tract included land in what is now Beverly, Danvers, and Peabody, as well as Salem. Even the Salem part of the property is only a portion of what it had been. Yet it is still a sizable tract. I'm not sure how many acres, but quite a few.''

"That's still extraordinary,'' Edward said. "The only thing I inherited was my father's dentures and a few of his masonry tools. To think that you can walk on land where your seventeenth-century relatives trod blows my mind. I ~thought that kind of experience was reserved for European royalty.''

"I can even do better than just walking on the land,'' Kim said. "I can even go into the house. The old house still stands.''

"Now you're pulling my leg,'' Edward said. "I'm not that gullible.''

"I'm not fooling,'' Kim said. "It's not that unusual. There are a lot of seventeenth-century houses in the Salem area, including ones that belonged to other executed witches like Rebecca Nurse.''

"I had no idea,'' Edward said.

"You ought to visit the Salem area sometime,'' Kim said.

"What shape is the house in?'' Edward asked.

"Pretty good, I guess,'' Kim said. "I haven't been in it for ages, not since I was a child. But it looks okay for a house built in 1670. It was bought by Ronald Stewart. It was his wife, Elizabeth, who was executed.''

"I remember Ronald's name from Stanton's toast,'' Edward said. "He was the first Harvard man in the Stewart clan.''

"I wasn't aware of that,'' Kim said.

"What are you and your brother going to do with the property?''

"Nothing for the time being,'' Kim said. "At least not until Brian gets back from England where he's currently running the family shipping business. He's supposed to be home in a year or so, and we'll decide then. Unfortunately the property is a white elephant considering the taxes and upkeep.''

"Did your grandfather live in the old house?'' Edward asked.

"Oh, goodness no,'' Kim said. "The old house hasn't been lived in for years. Ronald Stewart bought a huge tract of land that abutted the original property and built a larger house, keeping the original house for tenants or servants. Over the years the larger house has been torn down and rebuilt many times. The last time was around the turn of the century. That was the house my grandfather lived in. ~Well, rattled around in would be a better term. It's a huge, drafty old place.''

"I bet that old house has historical value,'' Edward said.

"The Peabody-Essex Institute in Salem as well as the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities in Boston have both expressed interest in purchasing it,'' Kim said. "But my mother is against the idea. I think she's afraid of dredging up the witchcraft issue.''

"That's too bad,'' Edward said. Once again his slight stutter returned.

Kim looked at him. He seemed to be fidgeting while pretending to watch the Peruvians.

"Is something wrong?'' Kim asked. She could sense his unease.

"No,'' Edward said a little too forcefully. He pondered for a minute and then said, "I'm sorry, and I know I shouldn't ask this, and you should just say no if it's not convenient. I mean, I'd understand.''

"What is it?'' Kim asked. She was mildly apprehensive.

"It's just that I read those books I told you about,'' Edward said. "What I mean to say is that I'd really like to see that old house. I know it is presumptuous of me to ask.''

"I'd be happy to show it to you,'' Kim said with relief. "I have Saturday off this week. We could drive up there then if it's convenient for you. I can get the keys from the lawyers.''

"It wouldn't be too much of a bother?'' Edward asked.

"Not at all,'' Kim said.

"Saturday would be perfect,'' Edward said. "In exchange perhaps you'd like to go to dinner Friday night?''

Kim smiled. "I accept. But now I think I'd better be getting home. The seven-thirty shift at the hospital starts awfully early.''

They slid off the concrete wall and strolled toward the subway entrance.

"Where do you live?'' Edward asked.

"Beacon Hill,'' Kim said.

"I hear that's a great neighborhood,'' Edward said.

"It's convenient to the hospital,'' Kim said. "And I have ~a great apartment. Unfortunately I have to move come September because my roommate is getting married and she has the lease.''

"I've got a similar problem,'' Edward said. "I live in a charming apartment on the third floor of a private house, but the owners have a baby coming and need the space. So I have to be out September first as well.''

"I'm sorry to hear that,'' Kim said.

"It's not so bad,'' Edward said. "I've been meaning to move for years, but I've just been putting it off.''

"Where's the apartment?'' Kim asked.

"Close by,'' Edward said. "Within walking distance.'' Then he added hesitantly: "Would you care to come over for a visit?''

"Maybe another night,'' Kim said. "Like I said, morning comes early for me.''

They reached the entrance to the subway. Kim turned and looked up into Edward's pale blue eyes. She liked what she saw; there was sensitivity.

"I want to congratulate you on asking to see the old house,'' Kim said. "I know it wasn't easy for you, and the reason I know is because it would have been equally difficult for me. In fact I probably couldn't have done it at all.''

Edward blushed. Then he chuckled. "I'm certainly no Stanton Lewis,'' he said. "The truth of the matter is that I can be kind of a klutz.''

"I think we have some similarities in that area,'' Kim said. "I also think you are a lot more socially adept than you give yourself credit for.''

"You get the credit,'' Edward said. "You make me feel relaxed, and since we've only just met, that's saying something.''

"The feeling is mutual,'' Kim said.

They gripped hands for a moment. Then Kim turned and hurried down into the subway.

Copyright 1995 by Robin Cook

Meet the Author

Robin Cook, M.D., is the author of more than thirty books and is credited with popularizing the medical thriller with his wildly successful first novel, Coma. He divides his time among Florida, New Hampshire, and Boston. His most recent novels include Host, Cell, and Nano.

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Acceptable Risk 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
The_hibernators More than 1 year ago
Acceptable Risk is part historical mystery and part medical thriller. It is about Kim, a woman who explores her own identity by researching the mystery of her ancestor Elizabeth¿s alleged execution as a witch. Meanwhile, her boyfriend Edward succumbs to the financial allure of high-profile drug development. His research proceeds with supernatural velocity, propelling him and his research team into unethical, and tragic, methods. As a fellow medical scientist, I found the description of drug development a little unsettling and unreal. His eerie successes and failures parallel the dark supernaturalness of the Salem witchcraft trials. In this book, Cook questions the ethics behind development of million-dollar drugs and the safety of casual use of psychoactive drugs. Although the plot was not as fast-paced or eerily believable as some of Cook¿s other books, the historical mystery was a refreshing change from main-stream medical thrillers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting look at Salem Witch histeria. (I still think witch trials were just a way to get rid of uppity women) but this book has a great explaination of what could be the reason and ties it in with developing new drugs and the question of pills foreverything. Love the So a referance.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Stayed up all night reading this! Well worth it!
MotheroffourMS More than 1 year ago
Robin never disappoints, he always tells a compelling story. Acceptable Risk was a very exciting book that grabbed you from the beginning and held you until the end.
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k62 More than 1 year ago
I found this book a good read but starting losing intrest in it, but still an ok read. not much else to say
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I like this book you guys should read it and its hey good book for all ages 15 to 100.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Unfortunately, I had seen the made-for-TV movie loosely based on this novel before reading it (though I did not realize that until I actually got into the book) so I sort of knew how it was going to end, but I was not completely disappointed. While somewhat predictable (what, did you think the bad guys were going to get away with it?), Cook still manages to find a new villain and ties the present with the past in a believable fashion. A doctor, he knows what he's talking about but explains it understandably so those with no medical knowledge can follow along. Realistic but exciting, definitely a good read.