I would like to thank the wonderful Bella Mariposa for helping me re-edit this first chapter. Fixing the many typos and grammatical errors in the original text was long overdue, and I apologize for the delay.
It was probably the first warm day of the spring, and it was a fine time to wander about the city streets and reinvigorate the soul after such a long, dreary winter. It was a usual routine of mine during lunch, or just after work, to take in the city sights, and just window shop, or, most particularly, to girl watch. Spring, a time when a young man's fancy turns to love, and all that sanctimony.
So it was that I happened down a narrow street not far from where I worked, looking for the unusual. It was one of the older streets in the city, lined on both sides by moderately sized buildings characterized by late-Victorian style architecture. It was very rare to find such structures still standing with our ever increasing urban renewal projects where stone and brick are always given way to steel and glass, and so I thought it would be interesting to explore the street further. Occupying the ground floor of one such building was a small antique and curio shop with the most peculiar name, Beetlesmith's. In the window was the usual display of old books, furniture, and other antique paraphernalia; nothing really out of the ordinary, but being adventurous this day I decided to take a closer look at the inside of Beetlesmith's.
A small bell jingled as I entered the store. The wares on the interior appeared as ordinary, at least in an antique sense, as those on display in the exterior. There were shelves filled with leather-bound books, interspersed furniture and paintings, ancient armory and firearms, some jewelry and other antique bric-a-brac. Nearly everything was covered with a fine dust, and permeated by the subtle aroma of tobacco smoke and wood mold. A short and portly man, with thinning hair and rounded spectacles that rested along the end of his nose, remained seated behind a large glass counter. He was thumbing through one of his many books, seemingly unaware of my presence.
I asked, "Are you the proprietor?"
"Forgive me, I didn't hear the bell," the small man said, as he waddled toward me, "Old age you know, first go the eyes and then the hearing. Bartholomew Beetlesmith, proprietor and owner. How may I help you?"
"Well Mr. Beetlesmith, I'm not sure, but I'm always on the lookout for anything unique and out of the ordinary."
Beetlesmith began rattling off various items he had in his possession: a first edition Tom Sawyer and Moby Dick signed by the respective authors, various late seventeenth century settees, numerous Grecian and Roman urns, Chinese vases, Italian tapestries, more books, early American colonial and Civil War muskets, bed warmers, swords, cameos, rings and bracelets, and on and on, ad infinitum. All of which I found to be of very little interest.
I finally had to stop the antique roll-call, "I'm sorry Mr. Beetlesmith, but nothing is really striking my fancy."
Beetlesmith stopped his inventory and scratched his chin, "Well sir, you are a hard sell." He paused for a moment as if in thought, then inquired, "May I assume that you are a worldly man?"
"Yes, are you given over to...oh, how shall I say it...are you inclined toward excessive ecclesiastical ruminations?"
I almost laughed at his purposeful covertness, "If you mean am I overtly religious: then no, I am not a particularly religious man."
His face brightened, "Well then, I may have just the thing for you. Please come with me."
Beetlesmith led me back to the counter where he had been seated when I first entered. From a shelf, he pulled out a small glass vial, which looked similar to those that would contain a very expensive perfume, but now held a purplish liquid. He held it forward so that I could take a closer look, but he would not allow me to touch.
My curiosity was piqued, "What is it?"
Leaning toward me, and in hushed tones so that not even the moldering books could hear, he said, "This, sir, is the world's most effective and powerful aphrodisiac."
I stepped back and laughed, "You guessed correctly Mr. B. that I am a worldly man, and as such please refrain from treating me like a rube. Really Mr. B., rhinoceros horn and Spanish fly? In the way you built up this item, with such theater and in such hushed tones, I had expected something less pedestrian and fraudulent than folklore and wives tales."
"Pardon me sir. It was not my intention to imply that you are a fool. You and I both know that the substances you mentioned are mere placebos, and cause no actual biochemical change in the subject. This, which I hold in my hand is...how would you say it...the genuine article. You see sir, in my younger days I was a chemist for one of the larger pharmaceutical companies, and quite good at my trade, if I do say so. Anyway, I came upon this formula and its effects, quite by accident. I won't bore you with the details, but over the years I have perfected its biochemical interactions. It is, and I say this in all modesty, one hundred percent effective on any and all subjects you desire to try it on."
"What is it then, something like Rohypnol?"
It was Mr. Beetlesmith's turn to project outrage, "Rohypnol! Please sir, Rohypnol is nothing but a knock-out potion used by pathetic, wannabe necrophiliacs. Anyone caught administering that drug should be beaten to an inch of their life and then forever banished from polite society." Beetlesmith calmed himself and smiled before continuing, "No sir, unlike Rohypnol, the person who ingests my elixir remains perfectly cognizant, and, in effect, becomes not only a willing participant, but an actual instigator in any...how should I say it...nocturnal activities you so desire."
Obviously, I was skeptical of his claims, but decided to humor him a bit further out of morbid curiosity, "Well how does it work if I may ask?"
"In short, the elixir works by greatly elevating the hormones that affect the libido, while simultaneously dampening those synaptic connections in the brain, specifically within and from the cerebral cortex that regulate the more moral and ethical tendencies of human nature. In layman's terms, the person under the effects of my elixir will experience overwhelming sexual desire while losing any normal inhibitions that could counteract those desires. I'm afraid I am not at liberty to say any more on the subject. Trade secrets you understand."
"Mr. B, please forgive my continued skepticism, but if this so called elixir did as you claim, then why not mass produce it and make a fortune?"
Beetlesmith smiled, "Believe me when I say that I have given considerable thought on that very subject, but over the years I have had many unpleasant run ins with the more pious members of society, as well as with members of certain women's groups. Needless to say I have learned to keep buyer transactions clandestine so to speak, and limit knowledge of my discovery to a small, yet distinguished Clientele such as yourself. Trust me sir, I have no want for money. I am doing quite well."
I was pondering Beetlesmith's words when I heard the entrance bell jungle, and in walked another potential customer. Beetlesmith recognized him immediately, "Ah Mr. Jasper, please come in, I have your order ready if you will just come back here with me." Beetlesmith turned back toward me, "Would you excuse me Mr...?"
"Henry, William Henry," I responded.
"I'll only be a moment, Mr. Henry."
As Beetlesmith waddled toward the back of the store, the newly arrived Mr. Jasper stood several paces from me, humming to himself. In looks, he was similar to Mr. Beetlesmith. In fact, they could have passed for brothers; diminutive, pudgy, and he wore thick glasses with heavy frames. The only real difference between the two was that Jasper appeared younger and sported a fuller head of hair, beard and mustache.
A few moments later, Beetlesmith came back with the man's order, which consisted of two vials of the purplish liquid that Beetlesmith had just been trying to sell me.
Jasper didn't take the vials right away, but looked at me sideways for a moment before Beetlesmith assured him of my trustworthiness, "Not to worry Mr. Jasper, I can vouch for Mr. Henry's character. In fact, with a little more prodding, I do believe he may become another of my valued customers."
With that, Mr. Jasper put the two vials in his pocket, and proceeded to slide a large roll of bills across the counter at Beetlesmith. Jasper went back to his humming, while Beetlesmith went about counting the large roll. I watched the whole spectacle with disbelief.
Finally, Beetlesmith counted the last of the bills and put the cash in a safe behind him, "Everything seems to be here, down to the last penny. See you in another month, Mr. Jasper?"
Jasper nodded his head in affirmation and turned to leave. Then, for a brief moment, he paused, smiled knowingly at me and winked, before continuing on his way.
What an odd little man. I watched him leave the store as Beetlesmith started to resume our previous conversation, "Now where were we Mr. Henry? Oh, that's right, mass production..."
"I'm sorry to interrupt, but didn't that Mr. Jasper character just buy the item in question?" Beetlesmith nodded, and then I asked, "Exactly how much do you charge?"
"A very reasonable rate, I assure you sir, one thousand dollars." He said it as if he were quoting me the price of a fast food hamburger. I stood there, mouth agape, as he tried to justify his price, "But for that thousand dollars you will be able to administer ten to twelve applications. If you look at it that way, the cost is rather inexpensive given the effectiveness of the product. A very good bargain; more bang for the buck, as it were." Beetlesmith laughed to himself over his double entendre.
"That's to be seen Mr. B, but you really can't expect me to shell out that much cash on nothing more than your word alone, and the allure and promise of what is really a fable, no matter how powerful or persuasive your word may be."
Beetlesmith pointed in the direction of the departed Mr. Jasper as proof of the validity of his claim. Having guessed this inference, I cut him to the quick, "Yes, I'm sure Mr. Jasper believes in the effectiveness of your elixir, as I'm sure there are many in the world that would pay just as high a price for rhinoceros horn, but each of their results, elixir and powdered horn alike, may just be as poor."
"You wound me Mr. Henry," Beetlesmith said with some incredulity, "But please, before you render your final decision about my elixir, allow me the chance to put forward my final offer." I nodded out my morbid curiosity so that Beetlesmith could conclude his pitch, "Now Mr. Henry, if I were proposing to sell you a car for what would be a large sum of money, I certainly wouldn't expect you to buy it sight unseen, or without, at least, taking it for a test drive? Of course I wouldn't. Nor would you purchase it without first kicking the tires and checking under the hood, so to speak."
I again nodded in agreement.
With that, Mr. Beetlesmith slid a small baggie across the counter. In it were two small tabs that looked remarkably similar to windowpane or blotter, drug paraphernalia that I had not seen since the days of my youth.
"What's this," I inquired, sarcastically, "Acid?"
Beetlesmith chuckled knowingly, "The delivery system is the same I suppose, but instead of acid, as you so descriptively put it, each tab is laced with a mere drop of my elixir. As to its application, administer one tab and one tab only per individual, either by allowing it to dissolve in their drink, or in their food. Hot fluids such as tea or coffee work the best. Now depending on the subject's body mass and metabolism, the effects of the elixir will start anywhere between fifteen and thirty minutes after ingesting, and will last, depending again on their body mass, etcetera, anywhere between three and five hours. If you are planning on participating directly, you should ingest a tab yourself; however, if you are content on just observing and...how shall I say it...directing the festivities, then it is not necessary for you to take one. Will two tabs be enough?"
"More than enough I should think," I said, still with some skepticism, and then added, "And at the end of it all, the subjects, as you call them, have no memory of the festivities, as you call it?"
Beetlesmith was surprised by my question, "You misunderstand me Mr. Henry, whoever ingests the elixir is always cognizant about what is happening, and as such, when the potion wears off they will have perfect recollection of the events. However, because there is no distortion of reality associated with the elixir, the person assumes it was a randy evening, and nothing more."
All of this was getting increasingly difficult to swallow, but I continued to ask questions anyway, "I have to ask, but what are the side effects?"
Beetlesmith shook his head, "No immediate side effects, except that the subject, or subjects, will remain somewhat groggy for about twelve hours after the elixir wears off."
"Groggy, you mean like a hangover?"
"Nothing quite so acute. It's more of a feeling one gets after a bad night's sleep, a pervasive feeling of listlessness, but these effects wear off quickly."
I was about to accept the baggie when Beetlesmith snapped his fingers, "Oh, before I forget, a word of warning, do not allow the subject to drink too much alcohol in conjunction with the elixir. The combination has a boomerang effect, and by too much, I mean more than five or six ounces. The effect is not particularly dangerous or harmful, but it is unpleasant for all those involved." I thought that was an odd statement but I let it pass so that Beetlesmith could conclude his instructions, "But no need to bother yourself with these particulars now, we can go over this information in more detail when you come back tomorrow to purchase a full vial."
I laughed mildly at his bravado, "You mean if I come back."
Beetlesmith acted like he hadn't heard my response, and checked his watch, "Oh look at the time. It's after closing." He placed the baggie with the two tabs in my hand, and walked me to the front of the store, "Just remember, Mr. Henry, tomorrow's a Saturday, and I close promptly at noon. Have a good evening, sir."
Along the whole drive home I continued to have the same debate between whether or not Mr. Beetlesmith was either a certifiable loon, or a biochemical genius. Generally when things sound too good to be true, they usually are, too good to be true—which is another way of saying the whole thing is a fantasy. So I was leaning toward the former position.
The elixir was either a fabulous practical joke played on yours truly—but why go to all that trouble to fool a stranger you will never see again?—or it was real; or, at least, real enough to have someone pay a thousand dollars. That was my quandary: fabulous hoax or unbridled fact, and either possibility really didn't make any sense.
Oh, but this can't be true, aphrodisiacs are a myth, and no amount of slick salesmanship can change that fact. Still, from all I could tell, Mr. Beetlesmith seemed sincere—but so are a great many, successful con men.
Well, we shall see, because I had the perfect test subjects waiting for me at home.
The first subject was an obvious one, my wife Karen. Now that Karen and I have crept into middle age it has become obvious to both of us that our sex life isn't setting the world afire. We have fallen into a rut, which neither of us has really attempted to pull us out of. Now, I have suggested that we change up our sex life by introducing role playing or adult toys, but, for reasons known only to her, she has been reluctant to go in these directions. I think part of the problem lies in the fact that with middle age comes expanding middle girth. Both of us have been putting on the pounds, Karen more so than me, and I think this is affecting her psyche. She just doesn't see herself as desirable anymore, and probably thinks other people, including me, do not desire her as well. Nothing could be further from the truth. She is, for want of a better phrase, pleasantly plump, a condition I find very alluring. Her breasts are much bigger, full and firm, and her hips, although wider now, has a natural, seductive sway when she walks. Yes, even after twenty years of marriage, and ten more pounds added, I still thought Karen as hot. I've told her so, a number of times, and although she thanked me for the compliments, I don't think she really believed me. The mirror is telling her a different story.
The second subject for my little experiment is an even bigger enigma than Karen. Gloria Resik has been a friend of ours for almost as long as Karen and I have been married, and for the last few days has been visiting us from out of town. Gloria is a registered nurse, and manages the intensive care ward at one of the larger hospitals in her home city. Her drive to reach the pinnacle of her profession has probably contributed to her current marital state, which is single; and not just divorced single, or widowed single, but single-single, as in never really dated, single, an actual forty year old virgin, single. I asked Karen about this, and whether or not she thought Gloria was a lesbian, albeit a closeted one. Karen was positive, or as positive as one can be about another person, that Gloria was not a lesbian—which is still hard for me to believe—and that Gloria was, indeed, a virgin—which is even harder for me to believe.
Part of her problem is that Gloria tends to have the lethal combination of possessing both an overbearing personality that most men find off-putting, including myself at times, coupled with plain looks. She's not ugly, nor homely, just plain. She's a very plain Jane, and because of her personality, her looks never provided enough of an enticement to keep men attentive. There are also other problems with Gloria that stem from early childhood scars, but there's no point relaying them now. In our long discussions together, Karen came to the conclusion that Gloria just wasn't comfortable in her own skin, and because of that, she was never comfortable enough to get close to a man, or sexually close to anyone, for that matter.
There was the test, all laid out at home for me in happenstance, and no greater test could I even purposefully devise for Mr. Beetlesmith's elixir. Could his potion actually work in turning a wife, who was slowly creeping into sexual atrophy, if not downright frigidity, and a self-imposed celibate, into two, insatiable, seductive nymphomaniacs?
That was my plan anyway. For most of tonight I would just sit back, watch, and direct the potential passion play.
By the time I reached the outskirts of my town, I had convinced myself that if Beetlesmith's elixir only delivered on a quarter of what was advertised, this would shape up into an exciting evening. I considered stopping by the local adult novelty store and pick up some props that my test subjects could use to enliven the evening more, but decided against it. There was no point in making myself out to be more of a chump than I would, if the elixir was a hoax.
I got home to find the house empty. Karen and Gloria must be out shopping. Instead of waiting for their arrival I decided to start dinner for the three of us, which was always a welcome gesture by Karen, and putting her into a more relaxed and generous mood.
It was only a short while before I heard the car pull into the garage. The two women entered the house with arms full of merchandise, bought during a daylong shopping spree.
"Oh, you're making dinner, how sweet," Karen said with surprise, and then added while batting her eyelids, "Notice anything different about me?"