Sales were down. There was no escaping that simple fact. Bruce was sure the source was a general industry decline. His boss Hugo denied it, but Bruce was the one in the field. Bruce was the one who had to listen to once-loyal clients talking about the pressure they were under to move to alternatives to his product line. Some of these clients wouldn't even return his calls. Bruce tried not to let that upset him. It was nothing personal. It was administrators and government officials causing all the problems.
But according to Hugo, industry-wide sales were actually at an all-time high. According to Hugo, Mark was selling right and left, and Sadie had set a new company record for six-month individual sales. Hugo did not need to remind Bruce just whose record Sadie had broken. The record had been Bruce's. Two years ago, in only his third year at the company, Bruce was the golden boy. He had the highest monthly total every month, the highest semi-annual total, and the highest annual sales. Nobody could even come close to his sales figures.
How could it be just him? He was the same person. Same rap. He knew the subtle differences in how one needed to treat a business executive versus a hospital administrator versus a university professor. Bruce was especially good with the professors. In that golden year when Bruce was on top, one sale had beaten what most other reps had done all year. Bruce still remembered that sale. It was to a research institute associated with UCLA and run by the world-renowned Dr. Lous. Of course, everybody the salespeople dealt with were world-renowned, or at least the salespeople made believe they were. Sadie at one time joked, "if you chop the world up small enough, everybody becomes one of the world's top experts in something." Sadie who he had trained. Sadie who was several years his junior at the firm and a woman. Sadie who was now kicking his ass around the block in total sales.
Bruce had been in sales long enough to get a little philosophical about it. Seniority didn't matter in sales. Only results. And though it could be a pain at times, it was what made him love it. Besides, dwelling on these things only brought down your confidence level. Confidence was the most valuable asset to any salesperson. He had a history of success, he had the skills, the drive, and there's no reason he couldn't come back this month and sell more than Sadie or anybody else. What was the worst that could happen? A decent salesman can always find work. This product and company was no better or no worse than any other.
Today, Bruce decided, he was going to get a big sale. Maybe not close it, but break through to somebody who will get him that one big contract like Dr. Lous: a sale that would keep him out of Hugo's office for at least a year and would stop Sadie from strutting around like she owned the place.
And what better place to start than...Bruce dialed the phone.
"Hello is Dr. Lous there?....Thanks, but I'd actually prefer to call him back myself. When is a good time to reach him?...What about office hours? Doesn't he hold office hours? All right then, I'll just keep trying. Thanks..uh what was your name again?....Thanks so much Valerie. You've been very helpful."
Hugo could feel his momentum starting to pick up. He immediately started the next call.
"Hello, is this Dr. Nathaniel? Hi! Bruce Wilcox here!...Oh that doesn't matter. I remember you, I stocked your whole lab with those DC302's. Right. That Bruce." Bruce laughed hard, but not too hard.
Bruce continued, "well listen, I've got some great news. I hear your doing a new lethal 50 test. Aha. I see. So it's for a small tech company. Great. That's what I thought. Listen, I'm sure those guys want to keep the toxicity rating as low as possible... Right...That's where I can help...Well I've got these BX3250's. They're a brand new strain, and their super-hardy. I mean you hit these rats with just about anything and they can take it. They get sick, of course, but it takes a lot to kill them you can...sure, it's all legit....Well I'll tell you what, no rush, I'll send you a catalog and I'll call you again after you've had a chance to look it over. Thank you....Bye."
Bruce made a note to himself and went right into the next call.
"...Dr. Natoli, hi! Listen, congratulations on getting that DoD grant. I know, I know. It's tougher now than ever. Oh me? I'm Bruce. I sold you those mice and rats about six months ago... maybe it was twelve months. Fine...anyway, I know you need some larger mammals this time...right...we can do that, we actually have a whole variety in stock, and I know just which ones you'd want, we have this one strain-they're a little bit more but their real docile. Hardy and docile. You can just walk them right into that radiation chamber and they'll go right with you, the second time the third time, even after they've already been burned in there half a dozen times they'll still go without any trouble...right...okay, I'll call you later then...thank you, Dr. Natoli."
Bruce spent the next several hours making calls with no immediate success. Every twenty minutes he called Dr. Lous. Finally, just before he was about to quit for the day, he got through.
"Dr. Lous...Bruce here....Bruce Wilcox....yeah well, I tried a few times....Yes I know what you told me two months ago, but I still wanted to call, see how everything is working out....uh huh....right....Well listen, I realize you don't need anything now, but I'd still like to come out there. I'd just like to see how you put everything to use, make sure there's no problems. I think I told you when you first bought from us, we're real big on service. Yeah, my boss gets upset if I don't visit our big sales at least once a year... Right. You pick....All right, see you then."
Bruce hung up and smiled. The man had told him there was no chance of a sale three separate times, but that was a hurdle to overcome later. Step one was done. His foot was through the door. Besides, a need could come up any time. Sales was half in the timing. Lous was a big fish, and the first one there when he's ready to bite would get the catch. Bruce knew the only way to catch him at the right time would be to keep in contact. And then, when the timing was right, he couldn't be shy about going in for the kill. You had to have a killer instinct to survive in this business.
Besides, Bruce was sure deep down that Lous knew damn well that he was not coming over "just to check things out". The guy would have protested much harder if he wasn't ready to buy.
Bruce stood outside the nondescript but massive stone building housing Lous's research center. There was a crowd of students blocking entrance to the building. One of them was on a bullhorn, many held signs. They were doing some sort of unintelligible chant. But Bruce did not need to hear the words to the chant, nor see the details on the bleak black and white photos reprinted on the signs. He knew what the outcry was about. More fools who knew nothing about science, who cared more about the cries of some lab dog that would surely have just been put to sleep anyway if not for the lab than they cared for their fellow man.
Bruce knew his expensive suit and just over all smart look would be a dead giveaway to these kids. They may not know exactly what he was here for, but they would surely assume it was nothing good. Ironically, these people who were so concerned about the lives of every living creature were sometimes not above violence. Someone might even have a packet of dye with them for assaulting people in fur coats. He was not about to risk his brand new suit on these idiots.
Bruce had an idea. When he went to good-sized university campuses like this one, he often brought along his gym clothes and spent lunchtime on the school's basketball court. Usually there would be a pick-up game with some decent players. Bruce found the physical activity and competition, rather than leaving him exhausted, would give him a strong mental edge that would usually translate into a significant sale that day.
But that would be later. For now he just needed to get those clothes.
Bruce returned to the building a few minutes later in shorts and a faded T-shirt, with a gym bag rather than a briefcase in his hand. He made his way through the crowd and nobody for a second even suspected his bag was full of catalogs displaying cages, restraints, and lab animals for sale.
"Sorry about my appearance," he said after finally reaching Lous's office. "I had to go incognito to get past those people outside."
Lous turned around and gave a dismissive wave. "I'm surprised you braved the crowd at all. Especially since I am not in a position to buy."
"So those idiots outside are really having an effect," Bruce was saying this more as confirmation for himself than as a question for Lous.
"No, no," Lous laughed. "It's not them. The administration does not give a damn about them. It's just that as you know, I sort of shot my wad a couple years ago. It will still be some time before there is anything worthwhile in print. I am under some pressure both from the University and NIMH to get some results here. I do not think I am going to have access to any new big money until we get some solid results on this project."
Bruce said nothing. It took an experienced and savvy salesman to know the value of silence. Bruce knew that any pressure now would just hit a brick wall.
"Well, shall we take that tour of the lab." Lous said. He took a pointed look at his watch. It was a clear message. This was not intended to be a lengthy tour.
They had to go through three sequential doors with combination locks to get in the lab. Bruce had seen more and more labs stepping up security with the increased number of animal rights protesters. Oddly, Bruce noticed out of the corner of his eyes that all three locks used the same combination. Bruce mused that probably the biggest defect in any security system is the people using it; they take the security out of it in an attempt to keep things convenient. He stored the lock sequence in his head just because more information was always better than less.
Lous told Bruce about the progress of the experiments while he walked Bruce through long rows of dogs, mostly beagle mixes, stacked three-high in the hallway. All the dogs were as far to the rear of their cages as they could get. None did more than move their eyes warily as the pair of people passed. These dogs were long past the point of hoping for some stimulation from people.
A lab assistant was trying to pull a dog out of one cage and the dog pushed all four legs forward to resist him. It took quite a bit of tugging before the guy forcefully ripped the dog free, banging the mutt's head hard into the top of the cage in the process. The lab assistant cautiously looked at Lous, but he was not watching. Good thing for the lab assistant because the dog's head had several protruding wires coming out of the skull and one appeared to have possibly ripped out of place.
Funny how the dogs resisted coming out of the cages, Bruce mused. When they first come to most labs, the technicians have to fight to get the animals in the cages, but after a while it's the only place they instinctively feel safe.
Lous walked on, oblivious. One section of dogs, all labeled "E6" had very recent surgery cuts stitched close across their entire belly section. About half appeared to have significant infections with swelling and puss. Bruce tried to recall just why these surgeries were needed for what was essentially a psychological experiment. He also briefly wondered whether the results would be affected by the presence of an infection that would surely change the energy level and behavior of the dogs. But that was not his concern. What he did remember was the top quality cages and the automated feeding and cleaning system. Lous sure had grant money to burn a couple years ago.
Bruce nodded absentmindedly as Lous rambled on. So much for Lous's tight schedule. Once these researchers had an audience, they just loved to talk.
"...the E6 dogs have had their stomach's closed off. They cannot digest food, and any attempt to take in any non-liquids simply causes them to vomit. Same with E7 coming up. But the E6 dogs have had the "high control" training and so they keep trying. They just keep trying and vomiting, trying and vomiting. Isn't that right?"
Both Lous and Bruce laughed as Lous reached into a cage and roughly patted one of the E6 dogs. There was no affection in the gesture, and the doctor's hand landed on the swollen stitches and caused an oozing of pus and fluid. The dog winced but did not move. He had no place further back to go.
Then the entire research program came back to Bruce. It was an elaborate learned helplessness lab. Bruce had seen other similar experiments. Dogs were forced into cages where the floor shot out an electric shock. The dogs invariably tried to escape by jumping across a partition to another compartment. Then they got an equal or worse shock. Or maybe they tried to jump and ended up banging into an unseen glass wall. Bruce had watched an experiment like that once at another lab. The dogs would keep trying to escape over and over, even injuring themselves severely. Finally, the dog would reach a state of "learned helplessness", where they would yelp and wince but otherwise not react to aversive stimuli. You could kick such a dog and they would not even try to get out of the way. There were many forms of such an experiment, but the idea was always the same: keep harming an animal and let the animal know that there was nothing they could do about it. After enough exposure, animals (and presumably people too) become broken and zombie-like. This was the way Bruce understood it. Kind of interesting stuff.
Lous was doing something along the same lines. Only he had a lot of wires into the animal's heads to check out neurotransmitters and brain functioning. Also, he was giving the animals stimulants and training to see if he could get them to keep banging their head against the wall. Apparently that was enough of a difference for the government to want to spend millions testing an army of animals. Hey, that was fine with Bruce.
They were now past the dogs and on to the monkey room. Bruce remembered this fondly. The largest piece of revenue from the sale was the primates. Lous had wanted all sorts of unusual and hard-to-get primates. He did not seem to care at all about the cost.
Lous was going on about the specific treatments the primates were getting, when he stopped at one cage. Like the dogs, the monkeys had been here long enough to distrust human intruders and stick to the back of their cages, but this one looked worse than the others. He was not just lethargic; he was lying flat on the cage bottom drooling white foam. He had pulled out an electrode from his head which had left a gash in his shaved skull. There were other wounds too, and it was unclear which was causing the immediate harm, but the monkey was definitely close to death.
Lous opened the cage and flipped the monkey over. Only the animal's eyes moved. Lous left the cage open and headed for the lab's phone. Bruce caught only parts of the conversation, but apparently the Doctor had sent for a research assistant to come and dispose of the monkey.
Then they moved on.
"That's the third one that has died in the last few weeks. I hate having to toss data points out. It always raises questions from the journal reviewers." Lous said.
"Can't you order new monkeys? We have plenty of spider monkeys in stock and whatever the other ones were, we have those too. We can get you any kind of primate. Even ones that other companies can't touch."
"Yes, I know you can. It cost me a bundle last time, but you were able to get what I needed."
"Or I guess the grant people don't want to pay for anything else." Bruce fished
Lous laughed. "At this point, they'd pay for whatever I need to keep things going. They're in this just as deep as I am. But new primates means rerunning some experiments. Which everybody would do if they had to, but we would just as soon get things done."
Bruce did not pay attention for most of the rest of the tour. He had figured out a way to get his sale and he was fine-tuning it in his head. Maybe it wouldn't be as big as the first one, but it would still be big.
When Bruce left, he gave Lous his card again. "Call me if you decide to replace those primates," he said. It was a bit of a risky thing to say, since Lous was no dummy and could figure things out. But risk was in Bruce's nature.
Bruce stood outside the building, gym bag in hand, trying to blend in. He didn't look too old to be a grad-student, he reasoned. Bruce watched the group closely and saw that it was actually three organizations holding a joint protest. Two were student groups; one was from the local community. He listened to their leaders speak, and quickly determined which one was the most militant. Bruce mingled his way over to the militant group's leader.
"Listen," Bruce shouted over the chanting protesters, "do you guys ever do anything more--uh--more directed and action-oriented than protests."
The man's smile said yes, but suspicion held his tongue. "Why?" He finally asked.
"I mean, I have nothing against this protest, but you know there's only one thing this guys understand." Bruce said and made a cash register noise.
"I know what you mean. Sometimes deeds speak louder than words." The young man leaned in and said the last part in a mock whisper, "which means we don't talk about it."
"Well we need to talk. I have some inside information that may be useful."
The two walked to the edge of the building as Bruce continued. "I have some inside information. You don't know the half of what goes on in there. They have monkeys dropping like flies from the stress of the experiments. It is just awful. Those monkeys are literally being tortured to death in there. Somebody really has to get them out. I can't do it. I used to work there, and I'll be their first suspect. But I can give you the lock combination, tell you when they are normally there, give you everything you need to know...."
Bruce kept talking, but he knew he didn't need to do any more convincing. The man was in.
Bruce got the news of the animals stolen from the lab two weeks later. When he heard the news, he just smiled and waited for Lous to call. He listened calmly as Sadie, Mark, and everybody else talked about the sales they made, because he knew this month, he would have the top number. But the call never came.
A week later, Bruce heard Mark congratulating Sadie for a sale by the coffee machine.
"Oh thanks, Mark," she said. "It was one of those 'first-strike' deals. I just by chance heard about this huge lab getting raided so I called that day, and this guy, Dr. Cal Lous, he just gave me a laundry list of primates he needed. Then I sold him on new, more secure cages and a whole bunch of extras. Easiest sale I've had. A monkey could have done it."
Both Mark and Sadie laughed loudly.