Equity of Evil
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by Rudy Mazzocchi
Description: Based on true events, this bold novel involves some of the world's oldest, most emotional and controversial issues. At the core of each matter is man's predisposition to control and take ownership of the human spirit for the sake of profit and personal gain. Such control and manipulation over the will of others is the most horrendous equity of evil.
eBook Publisher: Twilight Times Books,
eBookwise Release Date: March 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [473 KB]
Reading time: 284-398 min.
Rudy's "Equity of Evil" début novel is an amazing read. Working carefully through the challenging areas of Medical Ethics, the Ethics of Venture Capital, the Abortion Issues, the International Transplant Organ Blackmarket, Rudy has woven a powerful tale of intrigue and adventure. Often first works ring less true than an authors later works, with "Equity of Evil" Rudy has stood at the plate, swung and hit to score. Characters have personalities and emotions, places have textures & "a feel" and the loose ends are taken care of. ~ Steve Weinert for GoodReads
Women's Memorial Hospital, Human Genetics Research Laboratory, 1987
The contents of the non-descript stenciled box inside the laboratory door were neither hazardous nor controversial--except to lay persons, the religious and those with queasy stomachs. They weighed about the same from day to day, always emitting that strong, sterile, clinical odor known by lab personnel--aging, diluted blood mixed with alcohol.
This day's content was nearly double the norm, indicating unusual clinical activity the previous day. The technician groaned, for by the time he'd finished processing the batch he might be late for his nine o'clock Cytology class, way across campus. He lowered the lid and stood for a long moment, thinking. If he cut a few corners, maybe he could....
The thought was chopped short. Proceed with great care through a precise and methodical list of tasks while operating at breakneck speed? No way. He'd just have to give it his best shot. His budding reputation--even the job itself, and with it his rent--required concentration and diligence. Anything less was out!
He'd been hired because he'd presented himself as a dedicated and well-trained pre-med student, exactly the type needed for these often-tedious chores. Senior researchers had shown their satisfaction with free mentoring and cutting-edge scientific training, all of which would make a valuable addition to his virgin resume. Even if other students made it to the MCAT exams, they wouldn't have anything like it. Twenty percent of his second-year classmates wouldn't survive the competitive curriculum at Pitt, with courses becoming more and more difficult. Another fifty percent would alter their career objectives prior to the entrance exams.
He'd survive--his grades predicted it--and his winner's attitude would survive as well. A position like this foretold financial success as well, unlike that part time short-order cook job at the Wooden Keg Bar and Grill, down on campus. Lab hours dovetailed nicely with classes, and the hospital was part of a larger medical center right on campus only halfway across town. Sadly, all that good fortune wouldn't help this morning. He'd just have to be late to class.
Processing the box contents, called "harvesting," was mostly completed within a bench-top fume hood that kept the work environment quasi-sterile. Swabbing everything down with distilled alcohol intensified the already-pervasive odors that would stay with him all day. It went wherever he did, lingering in his hair, on his skin and even in his urine.
The box could hold as many as fifty aborted fetuses, each wrapped in sterile gauze from the suction canister used in the abortion procedure. Each was placed inside a Ziploc bag, its ghostly contents hidden, the blood-stained covering providing an eerie background for the bag's outside label. Nothing showed there other than the abortion date and a serial number linking the aborted fetus back to the mother.
He'd managed to avoid the academic and personal arguments over what was moral and ethical about abortions. Far better to remain neutral, uncommitted as to pro-life or pro-choice. If he'd been more religious... but then his parents were agnostics. He and his brother had been dragged to Sunday School for a few brief years because his mother was convinced they needed to be baptized, her version of an insurance policy "in case there was actually a Heaven and a Hell." Quasi-religious? No, that wasn't right, either. Somewhere along the line he'd developed a level of spiritualism, his prayers more like an ongoing conversation with God, hiding there in the recesses of his mind.
Absent any religious or spiritual nature, these research materials... his materials... were providing real scientific value, not being discarded. His motivations were scientific, driven by a zest for knowledge and his interests in Life Sciences. Surely that counted for something.
The harvest box contained forty-two bags, a dozen above average. Each aborted fetus was logged by date and the last three digits of the serial number. Although they were to have an extended life from this day forward, he always prefaced the numbers with "dd", the "death date." It had been his trademark from the beginning. Others in the lab jokingly called him "Double D."
Final genetic data were correlated with a parallel project in the lab, one that maintained a link from fetus to mother. The unnamed project dealt with a rare defective pregnancy--a hydatidiform molar pregnancy. Oh, how he'd struggled with that word until he could say it without thinking his way through all the syllables! Mostly to assure himself that he grasped it all, he'd explained the whole phenomenon to his boss and mentor, a thoughtful senior research scientist from India who'd finished and defended her PhD thesis right there at the university. Soft spoken, she was demanding nevertheless when it came to accuracy. The "inspiring professor" within her would make sure he got it right.
As it turned out, none of the molar pregnancy characteristics appeared in the forty-plus samples. That saved some time. Otherwise the clinic would have been required to contact the patient, suggesting she undergo an amniocentesis in future pregnancies.
With the log completed, he piled the specimens in a back corner of the workbench. Stacks of sterile Petri dishes, properly sized, occupied the opposite corner. Each of the Ziploc bags was now emptied... plop!... into a Petri dish, recalling boyhood days when he'd bring home goldfish in a bag he'd upend into the aquarium tank. The "plop" sound was identical.
He then painstakingly peeled away the gauze with two pairs of forceps, always fascinated by what lay beneath--a small, intact fetus often the size of his thumb and sometimes nearly half the size of his palm. Even though he'd seen so many he could "guesstimate" their gestational age, the umbilical cord would divulge the true age later. Sex organs were not yet well defined, but one could see the fine outline of fingernails and even delicate hairs that would form eyelashes. It was truly amazing, but the following procedure was its antithesis. He had to push himself through it without stopping to think.
It was a mini-autopsy of sorts--an incision across the tiny, fragile chest to expose heart and lungs that were starting to form inside. Other organs were indistinguishable except to a better trained eye. The heart, lungs and kidneys were often the size of a fleshy-looking pea, easier to identify. He placed them into their own labeled Petri dish. There were two more tissues to collect, one a sample of the epithelial tissue, or skin, and the other the umbilical cord itself, miraculously programmed to live only about nine months before slowly dying in the culture medium. It was actually easy to calculate the approximate date of conception by noting the death date of the cord and the date of harvest.
The remaining material was incinerated.
The organs were gently broken down into their single cells by mechanical disruption--a mincing of the tissue--then mixed into a lytic enzyme solution that helped disintegrate connective bonds between cells. Cells were bathed in a culture medium containing necessary nutrients and antibiotics necessary for survival and growth. And grow they did! They'd be adhering to the bottom of the Petri dish by later that afternoon, when the depleted solution was replaced with fresh broth. A quick glance under the microscope would verify that the cells were dividing and happily growing. One cultured dish of heart cells would divide and grow, becoming eight to ten new dishes within a week... each growing until they had no more room to expand or else were so large they'd deplete the nutrients too quickly and turn the remaining broth nearly toxic. Senior technicians would then perform dozens of genetic studies with these cultured cell lines.
Most exciting was his personal discovery within the past six months. It seemed that a specific number of cells grown for several weeks could be manipulated and combined by gently centrifuging them together to form a pellet of tissue that could be suspended in large droplets of medium. Rather than growing flat on the inner surface of the Petri dish and being bathed by media washing over them, these "drop cultures" would hang in a suspension of nutrients, maintaining themselves in a three-dimensional shape like stalactites containing entombed living tissue, reaching down from the ceiling of a cave. The original suggestion came from his mentor, Dr. Rishi, but the lab work had been all his. It, too, would appear on his resume when the time came, possibly in a medical journal article naming him as co-author.
In an associated phenomenon, not quite understood, these individual cells would also reorganize themselves to form features of the original organ. Heart cells would form a young fetal heart, lung cells would recreate the bud-like features of a developing lung, and kidney cells would organize into the complicated layers of tissues necessary to function as a normal kidney. Missing were the tiny conduits crucial for carrying nutrients to and removing toxins from cells deep within the growing organ, similar to the body's own blood vessels. In lay terms, the surface of the growing organ was being fed by nutrients in the surrounding medium, while the deep, internal cells slowly starved to death.
The puzzle's missing pieces bothered him for many months, until he'd mustered enough courage to try an experiment of his own. The opportunity was provided by an older fetus, probably from a misdiagnosed gestation period resulting in evacuation of the fetus in its second trimester. These were the most agonizing of all to dissect, because of the more developed features, but easier to handle because of organ size. It was the perfect opportunity to try something novel.
With a new scalpel, he gently removed the right hand of the fetus by making a clean cut through the forearm just below the elbow. He then took a long 22-gauge needle and cored out a central channel from the elbow side of the arm downward toward the fingertips. The needle emerged between the middle and ring finger, leaving a very distinct channel running from end to end once removed. He put the entire hand in the center of the dish and covered it with the nutrient-filled medium, then gently placed it in the humidified incubator that slowly rocked back and forth to ensure the tissues were properly "bathed."
Presumably nothing would be detectable for several days--the hand was significantly larger than the typical cell pellets--but a check of the Petri dish the following afternoon clearly showed the skin adhering to the dish surface. The fingernails looked clear and healthy and the tissue was firm to the touch. The tiny hand was growing! Three days later the epithelial skin cells on the surface had started sending silvery tendrils outward, like cobwebs extending from a skeleton. At first he hadn't noticed. It was only when he examined the specimen from another angle that he really saw the... the....
He sensed a doubling of his heart rate, blood draining from his face, the room spinning. A wild grab at the nearest bench saved him from falling, but did nothing for his psyche.
"My god," he mumbled to no one, "I've become Dr. Frankenstein!"
* * * *
The Bronx, New York
Professor Marcus Levine's grad students and research associates would soon hear that his research grant was about to evaporate, ending his long-term resident teaching program at Beth Israel Medical Center. There'd be genuine disappointment, or worse, but he couldn't have cared less. The grant and his prestigious faculty position would be pitifully tame compared to the exhilarating opportunities afforded by his secret development. All he'd need would be associates receptive to his "persuasive talents," plus adequate venture capital.
Most of the project had evolved deep in the basement of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, thanks to privileges extended to Beth Israel faculty members. He'd accessed the facility at times when no one else was around, this visit typical. Who'd be up and about at four A.M. on a Sunday morning? Further, visits of this kind were unrecorded, as photo ID cards had long since replaced expensive human guards throughout the college buildings. A third swipe of his card through the well-worn magnetic card reader produced a welcoming click that preceded the acrid smell of primate sweat, feces and urine. The Primate Research Laboratory housed hundreds of primate species for various biomedical research projects ranging from AIDS to cancer, neurobiology, gene therapy and Assisted Reproductive Technologies, or ART.
There'd be no witness to the inaugural test of his latest invention's final embodiment, because no one knew about it. How absurdly easy it had been, concealing his ideas from students and hospital administration alike. He was, after all, the Dr. Marcus Levine whose credentials inspired awe. He brought prestige to the college.
Countless lectures, patents and published papers were responsible for triggering various interests and responses. Thanks to his scientific reputation, scarcely a week passed without invitations to speak as far away as San Diego, and once in Hawaii. Someone named David Thomas had left numerous phone messages all week. Calling from his residence in Manhattan's posh Tudor City, Thomas wanted to discuss "mutual financial interests." Didn't they all? Everyone wanted to license one or more of the Levine patents, each with a different spin on how lucrative their "astounding new idea" would be for the patent owner as well as themselves. It would all seem so trivial once his brilliant, long-cherished strategy came to fruition.
The test utilized a uniquely different fluid mix; the extraction a modified pulsation technique with controls he alone had designed and constructed. His only assistant would be Sophie, a yellow baboon only eight years old. She'd have lived three times that age in her native central Africa, but most females of her species survived only fourteen to fifteen years in captivity. The last pregnant specimen in his particular research program, Sophie's long, yellow-brown fur made her look heavier than twenty-six pounds, even when considering the twelve-week-old fetus gestating in her womb.
Preliminary experiments on earlier primate specimens had run their course and the latest of his proprietary methods had yielded "promising results," as defined by his students. In truth, results had been incremental, nothing beyond an anomaly well within the margin of error--he'd seen to that--but student exuberance had mushroomed them into a "major improvement." Dozens of lab notebooks elaborated conclusions in nauseating detail. One female student wanted him to autograph her notebook page.
The refined version of the same extraction procedure, using his final prototype and the different fluid mix, would deliver what might be labeled a quantum leap in results. Most of a fully enclosed version of the prototype was already finished, waiting elsewhere for validation of selected parameters that Sophie would provide this very morning.
She'd arrived as a toddler, quickly winning over the hearts of all the lab technicians and animal keepers. Dainty, she was a meticulous groomer with a slightly up-turned corner of her lip suggesting a constant smile. She was judged infertile after repeated attempts, regardless of rich blood-hormone levels, but senior technician Lillian theorized that Sophie was simply unwilling to give herself to just any male baboon that came along. Eventually, after what appeared to be a formal courtship, Sophie surprised everyone by letting her guard down and accepting Brutus, a top-breeding alpha male. Brutus had once mutilated another senior baboon for encroaching on his water dispenser. He'd since been segregated to an individual cage, but his aggressive personality seemed to melt in Sophie's presence.
Lillian wasn't the only one shedding a few tears when results came back positive. Celebrating, she'd given her tiny friend a small bangle bracelet that Sophie clutched tightly every minute of each day. She was clutching it now, alone in her cage at the far end of the lab, separated from others due to her pregnancy.
Coming close, Levine stared directly into her eyes, a technique he'd practiced on non-human primates for years. He'd always win the classic "stare-down," intimidating his animal opponent large or small, female or male. Sophie turned away within a minute, cowering in the corner of her cage while he whistled tunelessly, setting up the apparatus on a shiny, stainless-steel procedure table directly in front of her. His final prototype replaced the data-collection equipment of the past few months.
After plugging the eclectic arrangement into a standard wall outlet near Sophie's cage, he donned thick, elbow-length gloves, unlatched the cage door and in one swift motion grabbed her, neck and tail. She screamed as he forced her face down onto a stack of gauze pads soaked in formaldehyde. That, in turn, set off a chorus of howls and barks from alpha males in the adjacent room, a din that raised the hairs on the back of his neck. He'd have rapped on their cages with something hard any other time, deliberately riling up the largest males while serving notice that he was in command. Not today. He tightened his grip.
When Sophie stopped struggling, he prepped the femoral vein in her right hind leg and inserted an IV needle with a rubber port through which he could continually inject a sedative. He wouldn't need much. A small speculum inserted into her vagina was quickly followed with his modified catheter system. A flip of the switch turned on the pump. With one hand lightly steadying her tiny, twitching body and the other on the catheter system, he watched the vacillating pressure approach its specified threshold. Then came the eventual ssssurlop that announced potential success. With one hand still on the catheter system, he held up the glass canister and focused on the contents, a grin spreading across his face.
"There you are, you little devil, free of your hiding place and out where I can see you. All intact, all in one piece. Perfect!" As he gently shook the canister, the small fetus twitched and gasped, filling its lungs with his special solution. "That's it, my sweetie, take it in ... your first and final breath."
Placing the canister on the table between the open thighs of its mother, he filled a syringe with a lethal dose of pentobarbital and inserted the needle into the IV port. As the drug surged through Sophie's tiny body, her eyes dilated and her jaw fell open. The silver bangle bracelet dropped to the floor, bouncing away to lodge beneath one of the storage cabinets.
Levine pulled the power cord from the outlet and unfolded an industrial-strength trash bag. Holding Sophie by the tail, he dropped her in head first, followed by the bloody catheter system, IV tubing and empty syringes. Alcohol-soaked wipes, used to clean the table, were next, followed by his long gloves. Once the bag was taken to the trash-chute and shoved in, incineration was automatic. In twenty minutes there'd be nothing but fine ash.
That finished, he scooped up the glass canister, peering again at the tiny fetus. "Now, my little darling, time for you and Dr. Levine to make history. We're almost there." He carefully slipped his prize into a padded pouch in the corner of his well-worn duffle bag, unhooked his proprietary apparatus, locked it away and reassembled the original equipment. The spotless procedure table was returned to its earlier position. Yes, indeed, time to make history--and a fortune relating to some of those enticing offers... one in particular across town in Tudor City.
Strangely, this man from Tudor City knew all about the famous Dr. Marcus Levine and his accomplishments in the world of Human Genetic Engineering, though they'd never met. David Thomas was most complimentary during the first of several conversations, outlining a compelling proposition that was dizzying in its promise.
The treasure hunt began with affable Pete Lundgren, a partner in one of the Minneapolis venture capital firms, but only as the facilitator. Lundgren would be the key to securing the ultimate prize, one Roman Citrano. According to Lundgren, Citrano had been highly publicized as CEO of a device-oriented company that designed and commercialized an implantable widget to treat congenital heart defects in newborns. After struggling years of raising capital and completing exhausting clinical trials, the company successfully launched its products in the U.S. and throughout Europe. Unfortunately, the lead investor, a large private Wisconsin corporation, converted its debt to take majority control of his company. That corporation then demanded a level of profitability so large it jeopardized clinical support and the product's quality. Minority shareholders filed a class action suit against the greedy organization and its pompous executives.
The true "David vs. Goliath" battle played out in the courts and local media. After fruitless months of trying to mitigate the issues, Citrano finally joined the minority shareholders, sacrificing his own reputation and ego to fight for his beliefs, and was immediately fired from his founding CEO position. Permitted to address the jury during the court trial, he emotionally described how he compared the injustices of the takeover corporation to the molestation of one's own child!
The meeting with Lundgren ended with his offering to pitch the proposed venture to the now-infamous Roman Citrano, his long-time associate and sometimes rival.
Citrano was the right choice, David Thomas stressed. Unlike the classic venture capitalist who acted objectively and deliberately, he was known for physical, mental and emotional involvement with his ventures. Such a man would be quite easy to manipulate, once his innate enthusiasm had been nurtured. That Citrano had no children was immaterial.
* * * *
The single word flashed into Roman Citrano's thoughts as he stared down from his 17th floor window. Instinct... and persistence. That described his whole career after all these years--especially when a healthy dose of audacity was thrown in.
His smile turned a bit grim. Maybe "lunacy" was closer.
His top academic honors in college didn't seem to count for much, nor did his oftentimes-heroic exploits on the Rugby field. Forget that remarkable "shoo-in acceptance" for medical school, or the prestigious good fortune of working in the Human Genetics Research Lab of Women's Memorial Hospital.
His instinctive--some called it rash--shift toward the business world made those assets worthless, yet in just a few years he'd nourished several startup companies into maturity with no more than a smattering of socio-economics for his "business training." How? Those who pointed to his inborn ability were just being kind. No, it was instinct, audacity and persistence! It had to be. The whole warped path seemed like being in a rowboat in the middle of Lake Superior during a storm. No... more like a canoe in the middle of the Atlantic in a hurricane! In comparison, one could tie a car's steering wheel in place and calmly drive from one end to the other of snow-covered Marquette Avenue, just below his window, without a single twist or turn.
The "road" leading from Pitt to his graduate days at UCLA, then on to the Founding Partner of Zorro Medical Ventures twisted and turned like the convoluted Mississippi River west of his office. There'd been other career paths without those pressures. He'd talked often and openly about changing directions, then confounded everyone including himself by flipping to the dark side and creating his own venture capital fund. He'd brought a solid med-tech background and proven track record to the party, but no formal business education or training beyond a strong instinct for the industry, developed from managing several start-up companies over the past two decades.
Still, even after all the due diligence and investigation involved with any venture, it often came down to personal instincts, a humbling experience since any real value in a new enterprise remained unknown until it was acquired or underwent an Initial Public Offering.
A canoe in the middle of the Atlantic, in a hurricane! That was it in a nutshell.
The sprightly clicking of women's heels became carpet-muffled footsteps behind him.
Sarah! When his door was open she always breezed right in without so much as a polite tap, not so much from being the only female in an otherwise male endeavor, but because she was naturally assertive... or was it pushy? A new junior associate, fresh from completing her MBA program at St. Thomas University, she'd decided one fine day that she might "consider" being a venture capitalist, as if it were that easy.
The footsteps stopped. "Roman, we need another review meeting to revise the offering document for the new Fund."
"We just finished revising it last Friday, Sarah."
"Apparently it needs something more. I rearranged your afternoon schedule."
Of all the tedious and dreaded tasks in the fundraising process, these never-ending reviews were the worst, all administrative and legal stuff required to "pitch investors" with the story. Putting the money to work was what he did best, but investor commitments were still pending. At any rate, she'd interrupted his stormy Atlantic canoe trip and now she could damn well wait if she expected him to turn away from his window just for her. Oh, she'd go about repositioning his prestigious awards gracing the mahogany bookshelves, pretend to blow the dust from their marble bases, inspect his two African violets and the cacti on the filing cabinet, then run through her virtual laundry list of things needing attention in his office, as if all that was her job. He'd replaced the awards with business and medical books, only to see the same awards right back in their accustomed places the following day. The books were neatly arranged between bookends on one of the file cabinets!
Sarah, whose world didn't include the "you're only as good as your last deal" adage, often boasted about his exploits to visitors and new clients. Attractive, outgoing and spontaneously flirtatious at times, she was quick on the comeback. Other times she'd be motherly, "properly dressing him" when he was compelled to don a tie for a more formal meeting or presentation. He'd never mastered a four-in-hand tie knot, using the fact as an excuse to wear a crisp, white open-collar shirt whether with a casual jacket or one of his most expensive tailored suits. It was his trademark, along with his dry comments from the podium such as, "Ties cause cerebral aneurysms!" When he was forced to wear a tie, Sarah relentlessly yanked it apart and tied it properly. Not particularly good for a male ego that had been badly bruised by divorce number two just prior to initiation of the Fund.
"Did you hear what I said, Roman, or were you somewhere off in la-la land?"
"South la-la. Warmer there. Where are Paul and Josh these days? Can't revise the already revised revisions without my two accomplished revision-specialist partners. Did they go along with your choice of time?"
"Haven't told them yet. I just passed Paul and I believe Josh is on his way in. We can make it a working lunch if you prefer. When it's over, you can take your customary afternoon nap."
"Great which? Working lunch or afternoon nap?"
"You got it. Toad-on-a-roll and iced lake water?"
"Sounds great! Horseradish on the toad, please." Without exception, she would always order him the same grilled chicken Panini sandwich from the vendor on the Skywalk below.
She was losing her starving-student physique and rounding out nicely, thanks to those upscale restaurants she could finally afford. Breasts and hips were widening a bit, and her ass had a firm, appealing shape. Though he was single, available and most likely more-than-willing, she couldn't know that he was already smitten by another incredible woman, a surprising relationship in view of his vow to take things slowly after the divorce.
Zorro was just now raising its second Fund, and the existing portfolio of company investments was doing well, but there'd been no liquidity events to yield any types of return for their investors. That made things more than difficult when trying to attract new investors for the next level, since investors expected returns within a reasonable period, preferably three years, and Zorro was already four years down the road with nothing at all to boast about. FDA approval on new technologies was slower than ever, capital projections were forever too low, markets were tight and the strategic acquirers seemed more selective and demanding. It all reflected on him more than partners Josh Dunham and Paul Morgan, who always fielded the easy questions while he shouldered the brunt of telling and selling the Zorro potential.
While Paul slouched, both legs up at the far end of the office table, Josh kicked the meeting off by overstating the obvious, delivered in a monotone with palms up. "Our existing Limited Partners still want to see a new independent lead investor step up to initiate our second Fund terms. Sorry, Roman, I know you hate this."
"Look... we've been in front of all the potential leads. Am I missing something here?"
Josh sighed. "We have four prospects in due diligence right now, but no idea who might get there first... if at all. Perhaps we should consider a placement agent to identify some others."
Paul's feet came down. "That won't do it, guys. Damn, there's got to be a more efficient way. I'm making so many changes to the changes of my initial changes in the memorandum draft you can't even see the original--"
He stopped. Sarah had chosen that moment to stick her head just inside the office door. "Roman," she purred, "Pete Lundgren's on the line looking for you. Are you available?"
"Damn. Transfer him to the small conference room next to my office."
Excellent timing, Pete! With any luck, they'll move this discussion ahead without me.
Josh, a former investor and board member in one of those early, energy-draining start-up companies, established himself as a close personal and professional associate. Raised in a small Minnesota town, with the physique and demeanor of a Marine, he was extremely likeable, almost overly friendly and courteous, yet not at all hesitant about demanding the replacement of a wavering CEO. With solid grass-roots training and reliance on the fundamentals, plus years in the hi-tech sectors of the defense and healthcare industries, he was also a devoted Christian with high moral standards. Though his spiritualism was always evident, he never appeared "overly religious." He was extremely dedicated to his family and several non-profit groups of which he spoke little, preferring to keep his personal world private.
Paul was armed with an MBA from Wharton and training as an investment banker, with great depth of experience in healthcare. Using a no-nonsense approach in his diligence efforts, he dug in hardest on negotiating any deal, playing the antagonist, challenging others to convince him of the new opportunity's value proposition. Competitive in every aspect of life, he liked being the center of attention and could usually hold his own in any situation. With a Jamaican father, his dark color, thin build and short, tight haircut, people often compared him to Tiger Woods. He'd use that to his advantage with women and men.
They were the best partners he could wish for. Both pointed at Roman Citrano when the topic was balance for the team, since he'd spent years in the trenches creating new ventures, bringing hi-tech products to life. His instinctive investment skills provided quick reads on new technology feasibility, or achieving clinical validation, or even the real amounts of capital needed to succeed. Paul often said that when Roman Citrano liked a deal, it was hard to move him off position.
Pete Lundgren, a helpful and supportive mentor over the years, held that Roman was wasting his natural CEO talent by not running early stage companies. New technologies, good ideas, big markets and large amounts of working capital were always available, but good senior executives with start-up experience were not. Those with successful exits under their belts were extremely rare and hard to come by. And he'd been right.
"Hey Pete, how've ya been?"
"Great, Roman, just great. Say, how's the new fund coming along? Doing well, are we?"
There it was again--sarcasm. Always the same. "Nothing new to report, still trying to identify a--"
"Listen Roman," Pete interrupted, "got something interesting here. A clinical researcher contacted me last week. You should meet him. He's got a novel start-up company idea, but it's a little too early in the game for me and I'm not sure I could convince some of my partners on it anyway. This is more your type of deal."
"What's the space? A device play?"
"No, and that's the problem. It's more in the healthcare services area and I just don't know about the business model. It's also 'out there' a bit ... somewhat controversial ... but I thought of you right away."
"Appreciated--you've got me curious if nothing else."
The other end chuckled. "If the deal attracts too much controversy, you can hide behind that 'mask of Zorro' of yours."
"Spend a few bucks and rent the movie, Pete. You might actually come to understand why we picked the name for our Fund."
"You can't fool me. You've just got it on for Zeta-Jones."
Why even bother wasting your breath. The only thing that'll impress Pete is performance. The deal's probably something nobody sane would take on, but hey, it's something for Roman. Thanks, Pete.
"So who is this clinical researcher?"
"An MD/PhD out of New York... the Beth Israel Medical Center, associated with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, former Professor of Medicine at Hopkins and a real prolific inventor. Dr. Marcus Levine. I've given him your contact information... you'll probably hear from him. He's a tenacious son-of-a-bitch."
"Can you send over a copy of the Executive Summary, or some brief overview?"
"I'll email you a PDF version. Let me know the outcome. He's a sharp guy, very convincing, and we've been trying to work with the folks at their Tech Transfer offices for years. Sorry, gotta run, meeting my son for lunch. Later!"
Lundgren had hung up, but not before getting his message through: "Here, Roman, old pal, I'm handing you an opportunity. It's challenging and a bit controversial, but hey, your name's all over it!"
Prick! You know damn well you have me intrigued.
Levine closed his phone, smiling. Not an hour since leaving Peter Lundgren's office, and already encouraging news. Lundgren had talked with Roman Citrano, as promised, and Citrano had clearly shown interest. It was all falling into place quicker than imagined. Best of all, Mr. Lundgren couldn't have guessed that Roman Citrano's interest wasn't all that important. Zorro Medical, after four tedious years trying to close its second Fund, was still without star power in the world of Venture Capital.
Now that was meaningful! They were ripe.
Levine smiled again, reopened his cell phone and punched in Citrano's number. Why wait?
* * * *