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.
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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.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
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 ...
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