by A. K. Sykora
"Where's the Lenny?" demanded Trina, who had learned her English off CDs in Omsk.
"Been chain-smoking outside?" I teased. Her honey-colored hair looked a tangled mess.
Falling into the chair near my desk our Russian colleague tugged at her lab coat's lapels. "IDA is pulling our grant off!"
Lenny came sauntering down the hall in his only suit, waving a cigar: "Tell them where to stuff that grant."
"What?" she squeaked.
Our boss grinned like a toothpaste ad. "I had breakfast with J.D. Daniels of the Octopus Group. He's taking over our funding."
I groaned. "What line did you feed him?" My high school buddy is known to this day in Bayonne as ‘Lenny the Mouth.'
"I told him the truth," Lenny lied, lighting his cigar and taking an impressive drag. "Addiction research will be owned by the teams who study males and females separately." He ogled Trina's ballerina legs.
"Why are women more sensitive to addictive substances -- that's what I wanna know." He blew a ring at my fluorescent light, and I started to cough. "I told Daniels that with Paganini Enterprises, he gets in on the ground floor of addiction vaccines. I told him I can sell my concept; look at our grant from the Institute of Drug Abuse."
"But Lenny, we don't have a concept," I said. Our experiments don't add up to bupkes."
Trina looked puzzled -- Yiddish rap music wasn't a big seller in Omsk -- but Lenny interrupted before I could explain.
"We will have a concept. That's what I pay you for." He flashed his killer smile. Tall and dark with perfect teeth (he got them fixed last year), Lenny gets any date -- except for Trina. When we blew up our high school lab, he charmed our principal, Miss Battalion, into only suspending him for a week. I got expelled.
You'd never pick me out of a crowd, though I came third in my class at MIT. Then I let my buddy recruit me to his company, whose assets consist of his mouth and a run-down lab in TriBeCa. We've been working on a vaccine against cocaine, to prevent it from crossing from your bloodstream into your brain.
Lenny was menacing me with his Rob Lowe leer when Garcia yelled, "Guys, you gotta see this!" He's our techie who helps Trina with the rats. Before we train our rats to self-administer cocaine, we let them romp around in a plywood box on which Trina painted clouds and mountains.
Joining Garcia, we saw they'd formed a squeaking huddle in Rat Park.
"They're eating the one at the bottom!" cried Lenny.
"No, they are trying to make with him," Trina explained.
"Which rat is that?"
"M-22. I will fly him away from the girls." Donning a pair of Kevlar gloves, she rescued our big lame rat while his females squeaked; you'd think Brad Pitt was getting whisked away by helicopter.
"Why did you put him in with them?" Lenny challenged Garcia.
"He looked so lonely, and we wanted some pregnant rats -- remember?"
As Trina caged M-22, the rats next door went crazy, squeaking and throwing themselves against their bars.
"Those are females." Lenny stubbed his cigar on the wall. "What gives that blubber-pup such sex appeal?"
"I will put him safe." Trina carried it his cage to the storeroom, and we tagged along like baby ducks. Marooned on a cabinet, our fat rat with the gimpy foot closed his eyes. His fans kept clamoring down the hall.
"Still hoping for a glimpse," mused Lenny.
"Or a sniff," I suggested. "Only a pheromone works that fast: up your nose and into your brain."
"Maybe his hormones got dismayed." Trina soothed her ruffled hair. "Yesterday when I put him in with the girls, he was in a groping mode, but none of them were mating back."
"What have you been feeding our rats, Garcia?" Lenny glowered at our pint-size techie.
"The same sack of chow for the last two weeks."
"What about the water?" I asked. "Maybe it's contaminated."
"Analyze it, Trina, please -- and when you figure it out, make me more!"
Frowning she stalked back down the hall, and all of us watched her go.
"Guys, if you've got a love drug there, I'll take it," Garcia volunteered.
"Man, you don't need it," Lenny said. "I know a buddy who does though."
"We need to get to the bottom of this," I complained. "Was the camera on?"
"But I saw what happened." Garcia grinned. "I put him in, he took a little sip, and the girls started jumping on his bones."
"Let's get some cappuccino, guys." Lenny's universal solution.
"Must be something in the water," I suggested, as we sat in our alley of a kitchen.
"It is," Trina announced from the doorway. "The water is dirtied with Benny's dopamine blocker from May, Formula-I."
"I told you we should get this crummy dishwasher repaired," I said.
"Why didn't we notice this effect in May?" Lenny wanted to know.
"We injected it into the females."
"Maybe M-22's emitting a super pheromone." I pushed away my mug. "I bet if we check his fans we'll find a dopamine surge in their nucleus accumbens."
"Let's do the voltammetry," Lenny declared.
"Looking for a targeted inhibitor, we come up with a general attractor?"
"That's not bizarre, Benny; it's science at it's best. It's serendipity."
"You keep playing, you get lucky," Garcia muttered, who plays Lotto every week.
"Maybe we can attract wild rats, to destroy them," I suggested.
"Is that the best your bean-counting brain can come up with, Benny?"
"No gyar-on-toe it can work," Trina warned.
It took me a second to translate the Trinaese word 'gyar-on-toe' to English -- 'guarantee' -- during which time Lenny charged ahead as usual.
"What if we pack it in an aftershave?" Lenny had his stand-back-morons look, like when he used my car for his experiments with remote control. My old Honda got scrapped on the back of an A&P in Bayonne.
"People use pheromones already," I said.
"I tried them, and they don't do much," Garcia confessed. "I think the effect is all in your head."
"Where else can it be?" Trina frowned at the dirty plates in our sink. "The mind is in the brain; and the brain, she is a plant of chemicals."
"Guys, just think of the market for a product disabling all resistance," Lenny enthused. She rolled her eyes.
"I don't want more government money, Benny; I'm talking about the market of men -- (he waved at the smog-bound roofs of TriBeCa) -- "who can make themselves over till the day they die, they're never gonna be Brad Pitt!"
Garcia sighed, who thinks he looks like Antonio Banderas himself, around the chin.
"Come on, guys; we'll expand the lab; I can get us more floors in this building easy. We'll make up all the pills ourselves, with money from Jacky Daniels. We're gonna be bazillionaires, like I always promised everybody!" Lenny tossed his mug into the sink and it broke.
"You're moving at warp speed," I complained. "We could power New York with your mouth."
Lenny was pacing back and forth, warming up to run across the ceiling: "I'm not talking about putting more lead in your pencil. How do you get a girl to like you in the first place?"
"If by now…" Trina warned.
"I mean a guy like Benny here, with the social skills of a clam. And that's what the girls in high school called him: ‘Benny the Clam.' Why, our product will do for dating what Viagra did for midlife droop -- "
"We don't have a product" I yelled. Trina was smiling. "We got one outrider effect, which needs to be thoroughly tested in the lab."
Lenny was already phoning Daniels.
Now Dopamine's a neurotransmitter producing feelings of satisfaction or reward. In your body's pleasure center it's the life of the party. That afternoon, while Lenny talked on the phone, I helped the others with the voltammetry. With our cyclical scanning we can listen in on neuron conversations in real time. Sure enough, when a female rat got a sniff of M-22 her dopamine spiked off our charts.
When I wandered past the kitchen, Lenny offered me a cappuccino: a new brand, he said, "Irresistible;" and like a fool I drank it all. Minutes later I was crunching data in my office when he barged in:
"Can you pick up our lunch at Spicy Gardens?"
"What happened to their delivery guy?"
"He slipped on the egg foo young."
When I stepped into the restaurant on our corner every conversation died. Women stared at me as if a Chippendale had dropped his strap. When I asked the teen at the take-out for our order her eyes rolled and she sagged to the floor. Ogling me, a waitress dribbled tea into an old man's plate; he squawked, and dropping the pot in his lap she grabbed my arm:
"Mister, what's that aftershave you're wearing?"
Men stopped laughing as women mobbed me, babbling as if they'd lost their minds. My T-shirt ripped, and I grabbed a bag off the counter:
"Please, add this to the Paganini tab!" Women screamed and pleaded, pawed and scratched; when they tore off my shirt a sweet-faced grey-haired lady speared it with her cane. A pimply girl snatched the take-out from my hands, and a pretty woman in a wheelchair rolled to block the exit:
"Stop!" she shrilled. "We need to talk -- oh baby!"
Rudely I pushed past and sprinted down Canal; horns blared, dogs barked and women shouted after me, "There he goes!" A brunette waiting for our elevator shrieked as I scrambled past. Though I triggered the alarm in the fire stairs, more women came panting after me, and though I'm pretty fit (use a treadmill at home), by the tenth floor I felt my heart would burst.
"Hey baby -- we need to talk!" my pursuers chanted, panted, moaned.
As I stumbled into reception, scratched and bleeding, without my shirt, "Man, what happened to you?" cried Garcia. "Where's lunch?"
"Benny!" squealed Trina, dropping a cage.
"Get her away, quick!" I gasped. "Lock her into the storeroom!" Laughing like the maniac he is, Lenny helped Garcia bustle our brilliant Russian colleague down the hall. I sank into a chair and clutched my head.
Our boss came strutting back as if he'd made cold fusion work: "Women are swarming Canal Street." He lit another cigar. "I can see them from your office; more every second. So it works."
"You made me your lab rat," I whined. "You didn't even tell me."
"Benny!" yelled Trina, sounding muffled.
"I needed some quick and dirty proof for Daniels."
"Hey baby." Craning his neck, Garcia admired the scratches on my chest.
"I don't understand. Those women can't smell me now."
"Trina thinks the pheromone is reinforced by a visual cue, or even the expectation of one." Lenny blew a ring and I coughed. "Like an alcoholic gets happy just strolling into his favorite bar."
"Mass hysteria probably plays a role."
"Lenny, I'm so glad."
"You should be grateful I made you a star."
"Let me out!" cried Trina.
Then thumping assaulted our outer door. Peering through the peephole on tiptoe, Garcia reported: "Two gorgeous black women are beating on our lock with an extinguisher. Boss, do I have to call the police?"
"First we smuggle Benny outa here."
"How can I get past them?" Lenny smiled.
I went waddling down Canal after him, wearing a hazmat suit from the lab, my face muffled under the mask by Trina's red Prada scarf. Handing me the keys to his Maserati Spyder, Lenny hissed:
"I just leased this baby. You take care of her, or I'll break your teeth." Hundreds of milling women stared, but nobody wanted my autograph.
A petite policewoman at the Holland Tunnel waved me over to her checkpoint. It's not every day you see a hazmat guy driving a Maserati.
"I've got radioactive samples!" I shouted. In my rearview I saw her radio for backup.
Deep in the tunnel I pulled off my mask and scarf, and tried to breathe. I'd head northwest, avoiding New Jersey and the crowded Hudson Valley. I'd try for the Neversink Mountains, and hide till the effect wore off.
I stripped off my suit in a Kmart parking lot. A posse of boys came running up to admire Lenny's car, and I asked one to sell me his oversize cap.
"Man, I'll give it to you -- it's my brother's -- if you let me drive that babe around the lot."
As we passed the Kmart's entrance, his redhead mom started screaming bloody murder. Dropping her bags she chased us, and I stopped; but even as I pushed her son out the passenger's door she was climbing into my lap.
"Sorry, ma'am." Gently I forced her out too, then hit the gas. I'd get no perks from Lenny's prank.
By Middletown I was low on gas and hungry as an all-night gamer. When I spotted a station with a store, I knotted Trina's scarf over my nose, pulled on the hazmat gloves and tugged down the visor of my new Mets cap's. After tanking up I stepped inside, and a sunburned man stacking magazines demanded:
"Who are you, the Invisible Man?"
"I have a rare skin disease. I'm very sensitive to light."
"OK, son; but don't you rob us now, or try anything funny." He pulled a handgun from under some toilet paper and stood pointing it at me, champing his tobacco. The radio was twanging a country song: "You're the one, wherever you run."
I grabbed myself a bag of nacho chips and a couple of bottles of soda. The bald cashier, who sported a Hitler moustache, was humming along to the country song. She must have weighed 400 pounds.
I found I couldn't get bills out of my wallet without peeling off one glove. She stared at me like a hungry bear, and giving me change she took my hand.
I broke away: "Have a nice day, ma'am."
"Mister, you forgot your change."
"Keep it, I don't need it."
"I need to talk to you -- oh baby!"
I had trouble starting the car, and she backed her pickup across the ramp. The man with the gun yelled: "Lulubelle, have you lost your mind from those diet pills?"
I drove the Maserati right through a hedge, but she chased me, bellowing, "You're the one!" So I led her on a wild ride up and down the crumbly roads of the Neversink. I had more speed, but that mountain woman of a mountain knew her roads. On a hairpin turn she forced me onto the shoulder, and I smashed Lenny's car into a tree. His airbag saved my homely face, but a crowd of branches came crunching down.
Fumbling from the wreck, dazed and bruised, I almost bumped into a lithe woman in a pink jumpsuit astride a black Yamaha Virago.
"Get up here and buckle this down." Trina thrust a helmet at me. She had tracked me on Lenny's anti-theft transmitter, which didn't save his car. At last I'd got revenge for my old Honda.
Near South Bumple, a cheerful turbaned man who spoke little English checked us into the Unforgettable Motel. The only other guests we saw were chickens pecking the ungraded parking lot.
While Trina roared away for some take-out, I lay in our foundering bed, sipping ice water and nursing a cut over my eye with a damp washcloth.
"I don't understand," I confessed to the lady of my dreams when she brought our cheeseburgers: "You knew what you were getting into, following me."
"Call it scientific curiosities." Slowly, she unzipped her jacket, revealing the black lace around her luscious cleavage. "I hope you not lose my Prada scarf!"
Now I'm not gonna tell you how we broke that bed. In the morning she whispered: "What Lenny did was inethical and unsane."
"I'm so glad he spiked my cappuccino, dear." I placed her capable hand on my heart. "I hope the effect never wears off."
"What effect? I always liked you, Benny."
When we found our way back to New York, we snuck into the lab and destroyed every byte of my Formula-I. That drug is just too dangerous to turn loose on unsuspecting women.
Lenny had a howling fit. We had to sedate him for three days.
© 2008 A. K. Sykora
Bio: Anna Sykora lives with a pediatrician, three cats and three unsold novels in Hanover, Germany. She has placed 21 stories in small press publications or on the web, including appearances in BIGnews, the Armchair Aesthete, the Storyteller, the Barbaric Yawp, the anthology Tales from the Clinic, the anthology Warrior Wisewoman, Cat Tales: Fantastic Feline Fiction, Poetry Forum Short Stories, AlienSkin Magazine, Ascent Aspirations, Midnight Times, Rosebud: CoolPlums, New Myths and Aphelion (Daddy's Game, Sept. 2007). She has also placed over 40 poems, including several in Aphelion (most recently Those Eyes Are Closed, May 2008.)
E-mail: A. K. Sykora
Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum
Return to Aphelion's Index page.