Vaccine Nation Online - David Lender

ONE

DANI NORTH walked down West End Avenue toward the Mercer School, her son Gabe at her side. The air was cold and fresh. Minutes earlier, crossing Broadway, she’d seen tulips on the median, and the leaves on the maple trees were ready to pop. Now, scents of spring—wet earth and hyacinths in window boxes—were apparent. She yawned, bone tired from the hectic weeks of the Tribeca Film Festival wearing her down on top of work and the daily routine of single-parenting a preteen. Tired or not, she was on a high and Gabe walked close enough that she thought to take his hand. That is, if he’d let me. She reminded herself it was perfectly normal for a nine-year-old not to want his mom to hold his hand anymore. Normal. What would those morons at Division of Youth and Family Services in New Jersey say about that? Probably still call him ADHD and drug him up. She’d love to run DYFS into the ground, along with their partners in crime, the pharmaceutical industry. Legalized drug pushers.

Leave it, she told herself. Channel the anger into something productive. That made her smile. She had, and well. It was starting to feel real that The Drugging of Our Children, her latest film, had won best documentary at Tribeca last night. That channeled anger was doing some good, getting the word out. Educating parents about their choices, ones she hadn’t been aware of for Gabe. Who knew? If she had, she might never have lost that three-year nightmare of lawsuits with DYFS in Hackensack. It forced her to accept mandatory drugging of Gabe, because otherwise the court would have taken him from her.

She looked over at Gabe now. Chin high, proud of how he looked in his Ralph Lauren blue blazer, gray pants and white oxford button-down, school tie snugged up against his neck. Only his black Vans betrayed his age. Yes, normal. Thanks in part to Dr. O.

Gabe caught her looking at him. “Now that you won, you gonna get a bonus and turn the electric back on?”

“You mean ‘going to’ and ‘electricity.’” She thought about the last two weeks of burning candles at night. She’d put off the electric bill in order to scrape up Gabe’s tuition for this semester at Mercer. “Besides, we were camping, remember?”

“C’mon, Mom, that worked on me when I was like five years old. I’m not a kid anymore.”

“Yes, you are.”

Gabe thought for a second. “All right, but I’m not stupid.”

“No, I’m not getting a bonus,” Dani said, running a hand over Gabe’s hair, “but I get paid today and we’ll be back to normal. Lights and TV.”

“Next time I’m telling Nanny. She’ll pay it.”

“Do that and you can forget about TV until you’re eighteen.”

They reached the corner diagonally across West End from the entrance to Mercer. “Leave me here,” Gabe said, looking away from her.

Dani didn’t respond, just grabbed his shirtsleeve between her fingers and started across the street. He pulled out of her grasp and increased his pace. Dani saw Damien Richardson on the opposite corner as they approached. He stood looking at the half dozen kids grouped around the entrance to Mercer, tentative. She knew the bigger boys picked on Damien. She felt a tug at her heart. “Morning, Damien,” she called.

Damien turned to them. His face brightened and he smiled. “Hi, Mrs. North. What’s up, Gabe?”

“Come on, Damien,” Dani whispered when she reached him. “I’ll walk you in.”

Ten minutes later she crossed 79th Street toward Broadway, her mind buzzing with last night’s triumph and her upcoming day. She pulled her BlackBerry out of her pocket, checked the screen. 8:10. Enough time to get through her voicemails and emails before Dr. Maguire, the researcher from Pharma International, showed up. Now she wondered again what his agenda was, why he was so anxious and secretive about the meeting. But it was something important—at least to Maguire. She’d been calling him for weeks, coaxing him into an interview for the new documentary on autism she was just beginning. She’d been referred to Maguire by his friend, John McCloskey, the KellerDorne Pharmaceutical technician who’d served as whistleblower on KellerDorne’s painkiller, Myriad, after patients who took it started dropping dead from heart attacks. Dani’s interview of McCloskey published in the Crusador was well after McCloskey went public, but somehow it managed to electrify the issue. As a result, the contributions had flowed into Dr. Orlovski to fund the documentaries he produced, including Dani’s The Drugging of Our Children.

Maybe Maguire