The Drug

by C.C. MacApp

Public Domain

Science Fiction Story: It could be deadly. It had to be tested. But Sales wanted a new product this very minute.

Tags: Science Fiction   Novel-Classic  

Amos Parry, a regional manager for Whelan, Inc. (Farm & Ranch Chemicals & Feeds), had come to work a few minutes early and was waiting in the lab when Frank Barnes arrived. He saw that the division’s chief chemist was even more nervous than usual, so he invested a few minutes in soothing small talk before saying, “Frank, Sales is beginning to push for that new hormone.”

Immediately, Barnes came unsoothed. “Bill Detrick was on the phone about it yesterday, Mr. Parry. I’m sorry I was abrupt with him.”

Amos grinned. “If you were, he hasn’t had a chance to mention it to me yet. But I think we’d better light a fire under the thing. We’ll probably get a blast from Buffalo before long. How many men do you have on it?”

“Well, two helping with routine work, but I’ve done most of it myself, evenings and weekends. I didn’t want anybody to know too much about it. Mr. Parry, I’m worried about it.”

“Worried? How do you mean?”

“Well--let me show you the litter we’ve been testing it on.”

The pigs were in pens outside the lab. Amos had seen figures on weight gain and general health (the latter was what promised to be sensational) but hadn’t seen the animals for two weeks. He eyed the first bunch. “How old is that boar pig?”

“Not quite four months.”

Amos was no expert, but he’d spent many hours on customers’ farms and he thought the animal looked more mature than that. So did the shoats in the same pen, though they tended more to fat. All of the group had an odd look, certainly not normal for Yorkshires of their age. He thought of wild hogs. “Is it just the general health factor?” he asked.

“I don’t think so, Mr. Parry. You remember I told you this wasn’t actually a hormone.”

“I know. You wanted to call it that for secrecy, you told me.”

“Yes, sir, but I didn’t tell you what it really was. Mr. Parry, are you familiar with hypnotics? Mescaline, especially?”

“No, I’m not, Frank.”

“Well, it’s a drug that causes strong hallucinations. This is a chemical derivative of it.”

Amos grinned again. “Pipe dreams for hogs?”

He quit grinning as implications struck him. If this thing didn’t pan out, after the money they’d spent and the rumors that had seeped out, there’d be some nasty questions from Buffalo. And if it did, and they began selling it...

“What would it do to human beings?” asked Amos.

Barnes avoided his eyes. “That’s one of the things I’m worried about,” he said. “I want to show you another pig.”

This one was isolated in its own pen, and it looked even stranger than its siblings. In the first place, its hair was thicker, and black. There was an oddness in its shape and a vaguely familiar sinuousness in the way it moved that made Amos’ skin prickle.

“What’s wrong with it?” he asked.

“It’s healthy except for the way it looks and acts.”

“Same litter and dosage?”

“Yes, sir--all of them got just one dose. The effects seem to be permanent.”

They were leaning over the fence and the animal was looking up at them. There was an oddity in its eyes; not intelligence exactly, but something unpiglike. Abruptly, it stood up on its hind legs, putting its forefeet against the fence and raising its head toward them. It squealed as if begging for attention. Amos knew that pigs made affectionate pets. Drawn to it as well as repelled, he reached down and patted it, and the squealing stopped.

It was standing too easily in that position, and suddenly Amos recognized what was familiar about it. He jerked his hand away, feeling a strong desire for soap and water. “How long’s it been this way?”

“It’s changed fast in the last week.”

Amos looked toward the doorway of the lab, just inside of which a large black tomcat sat watching them. “Is the cat out here a lot?”

Barnes’ eyes went to the cat, widened, and turned back to the pig. He looked as ill as Amos felt.

When Amos got to his office, his sales manager was already waiting. His mind only half present, Amos sized up the stuffed briefcase and the wider-than-necessary smile as he responded automatically to the amenities. “Just get back?” he asked.

“Early train. Darned planes grounded again.” Detrick looked full of energy, though he’d undoubtedly rushed home, shaved, showered and changed, and hurried to the office with no rest. He sat down, extracted papers from the briefcase, and beamed, “Wrote up the Peach Association.”

He’ll give me the good news first, Amos thought. “Fine, fine,” he said. “The whole year?”

“Yep. Got a check from the Almond Growers, too. All paid up now.”

“Good,” said Amos, and waited.

It came. “Say, I was talking to Frank Barnes about that new hormone he’s got and he seemed a little negative about it. When do you think we can have it?”

It was a temptation to answer with false optimisms and duck the issue for a while, but Amos said, “The slowest thing will be State and Federal testing and registration. I’d say not less than a year.”

Detrick nodded. “Competition’s selling more and more stuff that’s not registered.”

“Fly-by-night outfits and they’re always getting caught.”

Detrick smiled. “Every night they fly away with more business.”

Amos managed a smile, though the argument was old and weary. “We’ll put it up to Buffalo if you want to, Bill. You know I can’t okay it myself.”

Detrick dropped the subject, not being a man to beat his head against a stone wall if there were ways around it, and for the next hour Amos had to listen to the troubles: competition had cut prices on this, upped active ingredients in that, put such and such a new product on the market (Whelan’s factories and warehouses already groaned under a crippling diversity of products but Sales didn’t feel that was their problem) and even the credit policies needed revising. But the worst of all was a fifteen-thousand-dollar claim for damage to pear trees, caused by a bad batch of Whelan’s arsenical insecticide.

Amos got rid of Detrick with a few definite concessions, some tentative ones, and some stand-offs. He made sure no one was waiting to see him and told his secretary he didn’t want to be bothered before lunch.

He had a lunch date with a customer and dreaded it--it meant three or four highballs and overeating and an upset stomach later. Before then, though, he had a few minutes to try to get his mind straightened out. He mixed a glassful of the stuff he was supposed to take about now. The Compleat Executive, he thought; with physician and prescription attached. It didn’t seem possible that this same body had once breezed through anything from football to fried potatoes.

Mechanically, his mind on the lab’s pigs, he got a small bag of grain out of a desk drawer. He hoped nobody (except his secretary, of course) knew he wasted time feeding pigeons, but it helped his nerves, and he felt he had a right to one or two eccentricities.

They were already waiting. Some of them knew him and didn’t shoo off when he opened the window and scattered grain on the ledge outside. A few ate from his hand.

It was a crisp day, but the sun slanting into the window was warm. He leaned there, watching the birds--more were circling in now--and looking out over the industrial part of the city. The rude shapes were softened by haze and there was nothing noisy close by. He could almost imagine it as some country landscape.

He looked at his watch, sighed, pulled his head in and shut the window. The air conditioner’s hiss replaced the outside sounds.

Not even imagination could get rid of the city for long.

Going through the outer office, he saw that Alice Grant, his secretary, already had her lunch out on her desk. She was a young thirty, not very tall and just inclined to plumpness. She wore her blonde hair pulled back into a knot that didn’t succeed in making her look severe, and her features were well-formed and regular, if plain. Amos noticed a new bruise on one cheek and wondered how long she’d stay with her sot of a husband. There were no children to hold her.

“I’ll probably be back late,” he said. “Anything for this afternoon?”

“Just Jim at two-thirty and the union agent at three.”

The lunch didn’t go too badly, lubricated as the customer liked it, and Amos was feeling only hazily uneasy when he got back.

A stormy session with his plant superintendent jarred him into the normal disquiet. Jim Glover was furious at having to take the fifteen-thousand-dollar claim, though it was clearly a factory error. He also fought a stubborn delaying action before giving Amos a well-hedged estimate of fifty thousand to equip for the new drug. He complained that Frank Barnes hadn’t given him enough information.

Amos was still trembling from that encounter when the union business agent arrived. The lunch was beginning to lump up and he didn’t spar effectively. Not that it made much difference. The union was going to have a raise or else. By the time he’d squirmed through that interview, then dictated a few letters, it was time to go home.

He hoped his wife would be out so he could take some of his prescription and relax, but she met him at the door with a verbal barrage. Their son, nominally a resident of the house, had gotten ticketed with the college crowd for drunken driving and Amos was to get it fixed; the Templetons were coming for the weekend; her brother’s boy was graduating and thought he might accept a position with Amos.

She paused and studied him. “I hope this isn’t one of your grumpy evenings. The Ashtons are coming for bridge.”

His control slipped a little and he expressed himself pungently on Wednesday night bridge, after a nightclub party on Tuesday and a formless affair at somebody’s house on Monday.

She stared at him without compassion or comprehension. “Well, they’re all business associates of yours. I wonder where you think you’d be without a wife who was willing to entertain.”

He’d been getting a lot of that lately; she was squeezing the role of Executive’s Wife for the last drop of satisfaction. Well, since he couldn’t relax with his indigestion there was only one thing to do. He headed for the bar.

“Now don’t get tipsy before dinner,” she called after him.

He got through the evening well enough, doused with martinis, and the night that followed was no worse than most.

At nine the next morning, the call he’d been expecting from Buffalo came through. “Hello, Stu,” he said to the president of the company.

“Hello, Amos. Still morning out there, eh? How’s the family? Good. Say, Amos; couple of things. This big factory charge. Production’s screaming.”

“It was definitely a bad batch, Stu.”

“Well, that’s it, then. Question is, how’d it happen?”

“Jim Glover says he needs another control chemist.”

“Hope you’re not practicing false economy out there.”

“We wanted to hire another man, Stu, but Buffalo turned it down.”

“You should have brought it to me personally if it was that important. It’s going to take a big bite out of your year’s profit. Been able to get your margin up any?”

Amos didn’t feel up to pointing out that Sales wanted lower prices and the union wanted higher wages, so that the margin would get even worse. He described a couple of minor economies he’d been able to find, then mentioned the contract with the Peach Association.

“Yes, I heard about that,” said the president of the company. “Nice piece of business. By the way, how you coming on that animal hormone?”

That was the main reason for the call, of course. Detrick had undoubtedly phoned east and intimated that Amos was dragging his feet on a potential bonanza. “I was going to call you on that, Stu. It’ll take a year to test and get registered and--”

“Amos, I hope you’re not turning conservative on us.”

The message was plain; Amos countered automatically. “You know me better than that, Stu. It’s the Legal Department I’m worried about. If they set up a lot of roadblocks, we may need you to run interference.”

“You know I’m always right behind you, Amos.”

That’s true, thought Amos as he hung up. Right behind me. A hell of a place to run interference.

He knew exactly what to expect. If he tried to cut corners, the Legal Department would scream about proper testing and registration, Production would say he was pushing Jim Glover unreasonably, and everyone who could would assume highly moral positions astraddle the fence. A ton of paperwork would go to Buffalo to be distributed among fifty desks and expertly stalled.

Not to mention that this was no ordinary product. He realized for the first time that the Government might not let him produce it, let alone sell it. Even as a minute percentage in feeds. If it was a narcotic, it could be misused.

His buzzer sounded, and he was surprised when Mrs. Grant announced Frank Barnes. It was out of character for Frank not to make a formal appointment first.

One look told Amos what was coming. He listened to Frank’s resignation with a fraction of his mind while the rest of it mused upon the purposeful way things were converging.

Barnes stopped talking and Amos said mechanically, “You’ve been part of the team for a long time, Frank. It’s especially awkward to lose you just now.” It was banal, but it didn’t matter; he wasn’t going to change the man’s mind anyway. He looked closer. The timidity was gone. So were the eyeglasses. A frightening thought struck him. “You’ve taken some of that drug.”

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