Sandra thought that their troubles were finally behind them. Her husband, CEO of the pharmaceutical firm MegaMed, had been cast by the media as ringleader of the opioid marketing conspiracy. The scandal had been in the public eye for months, with congressional hearings, civil suits, and even the threat of criminal indictments. Now an out-of-court settlement had made it all moot, with no admission of guilt, and financial arrangements that the company could well afford. It was almost time to pull the ripcord of their golden parachute, and gently float down to a retirement of leisurely comfort.

MegaMed downsized, relocating from its suburban campus to an old steel company office in the Homestead section of Pittsburgh. An "image enhancement" firm recommended a name change to distance the company from its sordid past. "Lothlorien Pharmaceuticals" seemed the right touch—Lothlorien was the enchanted realm of Galadriel in Lord of the Rings, a place of healing for Frodo and his Fellowship.

The first inkling of something out-of-kilter came the day of the opening of a new exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Art. Her husband had sent her an e-mail with some logistical details for their evening. Every reference to "Carnegie" was altered to "Carnage." When she laughingly called it to John's attention, he muttered "It's that damned auto-correct again. I'll bug someone in I-T about it tomorrow." Then there was the press release Lothlorien issued to promote its sponsorship of an exhibit at the Frick Museum of Art. "Frick" had morphed into a four-letter obscenity.

Next, the accounting system had a major malfunction. Janitors were issued the paychecks of top executives, which were direct deposited before anyone could pull the plug. CNN was having a field day, reminding everyone of the opioid scandal and the fact that Lothlorien and MegaMed were the same company.

The police became involved when further incidents suggested active sabotage. The "Lothlorien" neon sign kept blowing up, and office sprinklers were repeatedly activated for no apparent reason. Then things took a far more sinister turn. A letter opened by the CEO's secretary displayed the words "POMSTA," "SOTAK," and "PINKERTON" faintly scribbled in what the police confirmed was blood. Pomsta is the Slovak word for revenge, and Joseph Sotak was one of the union men killed in 1892, when Carnegie and his henchman Frick brought in an army of Pinkerton agents to break up the strike at Carnegie's Homestead Steelworks. It appeared that someone had a vendetta against the Company that was somehow related to the "Battle of Homestead."

Sandra tried to ease her distress with a major shopping spree, but when she got home her mind was stuck on the mantra gotta get out, gotta get away. After arranging her flight to their cottage in the Caribbean, she opened the pack of Virginia Slims she had bought on the way home, and took a drag for the first time since she was single and striving to match the image the ad-men had created for her. The forty-year-old memory—you've come a long way, baby—echoed in her mind as she switched on the TV to the local cable news channel.

"John Pinkerton, CEO of Lothlorien Pharmaceuticals here in Pittsburgh, was arrested this evening, along with Frederick Heinde, CEO of another drug company in Philadelphia. They are charged with conspiracy to fix the price of the anti-anxiety drug Shantihzone. Their plan to control the market and maximize profits was revealed when Pinkerton's e-mails to Heinde were inadvertently sent to the e-mail of Robert Hind, assistant D.A. for the Western District of Pennsylvania."

She watched the footage of John's first perp walk. He tried to conceal his face with the fedora she had gotten him last Christmas. The room started spinning—she wasn't used to the cigarette. The internal monologue of worry became the monotone wail of overload. Her hand shook as she poured a glass of Chivas and dumped a pile of Shantihzones from the container in the liquor cabinet onto the tabletop. A few went rolling and fell to the floor, and again her consciousness bored down to the buried memory…

You've come a long way, baby.


Philip Morris Tobacco Company used the slogan "You’ve come a long way, baby" to market its Virginia Slims brand to women in the 1960s and 1970s. The drug name "Shantihzone" is derived from "Shantih," referenced in T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" as "the peace which passeth understanding." (From The Upanishads)

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