The noise Carol is making in the trunk of my Nissan is relentless. Kicking and screaming, growling like some kind of animal. I can easily picture her there in the dark; her young body sweating and straining, her clothes streaked with a fine layer of grime; knuckles, elbows, knees, toes, forehead gashed and bleeding from beating them so hard against the jagged metal surfaces of the trunk space. I wish I’d thought ahead and bound her before I dosed her with the Accelerant. In hindsight it would’ve been easy to trick my way back into her bed.
All that would’ve been needed is a phone call and the promise that things would be as they were before. Carol was a sexually adventurous girl, she most likely would have swooned with the prospect of being hogtied and blindfolded. But I broke into her rented house instead, waited in the kitchen, listening for the clank and roar of the automatic garage door opener. She stepped into the kitchen and I sprayed her in the face with the aerosol before she even had a chance to turn on the light. Her scream wasn’t shock, but knowledge; the smell of the Accelerant is very distinctive, a combination of ignited sulfur and rotting meat; I couldn’t smell or taste any thing through my gas mask. Carol thrashed on the concrete floor of her kitchen for 10 minutes and then her heart stopped. The version of the Accelerant I used was a mutant strain I’d developed for the weapons division. The formula is hush-hush and very much in the experimental phase. When I hit Carol with it I wasn’t even sure if it would work as quickly as it did. I pulled the Sentra into her garage and loaded her into the trunk. Her heart came back online ten minutes into the drive, the panic going into overdrive.
I started cursing myself about not tying her up.
This whole situation would have turned out much differently if she’d just been content with the way things were.
If only she figured out I only want a lover, a playmate, not another wife.
Stew Dandridge was the one who approached me.
“Someone at the Pentagon is playing way too many video games, but they’re hot about us creating some kind amphetamine for military use.”
Our Pentagon contracts were the lab’s most profitable client. It’s cliché, but when they asked us to jump, we’d ask how high and how frequently did they want us to do it. A lot of my colleagues would bitch and complain about Government projects, saying they were never given enough time to work up solid formulas or conduct proper research trials on what they were turning out. Plus, so much of what they asked for seemed to be derived from comic books or one form of juvenile mass media or other.
Stew came to me about the Accelerant because he knew my team and I would accept the challenge without a single cross word, and we would get it in by deadline.
“What’s our timeline?”
The world of the lab is a very cloistered one. A colleague of mine once compared it to life in a monastery, except our vow of silence extended only to the outside world, within in the confines of our walls, all was permissible. We could speak openly of the work, of our passions. Outside our walls, there was nothing but quiet. Contractually, I couldn’t go home at the end of the day and tell the wife and kids how my day went, and when asked, my answers could only be monosyllabic: “Yes” “No” “Good” “Bad” and the occasional “Alright”. At first, my wife, Kelly, was more than fine with my silence. The lab was paying me twenty times more than any company had ever paid me, and with Kelly, all that really mattered was the money; all that mattered was making sure she’d never have to live in a single-wide trailer out in the middle of the desert like she did growing up.
But after years of silence, you couldn’t help but feel the riff opening between the two of us. Like any good upper middle class couple, we ignored it. Kelly had the kids, her home, her book club, her shopping trips (I also suspected she’d developed an alcohol and prescription drug problem, both of which were in vogue among her group of friends.), and her sexual interest in me all but came to an end after the birth of our children. Not that it mattered. I had my work and as far as sex was concerned, I had twenty-one-year-old lab assistants and forty-year-old colleagues who were experiencing the same intimate distances in their home lives, to fill the physical void when needed. But life at home truly didn’t matter; home was just a place to go to sleep and eat, as long as life at the lab was harmonious and nothing escaped its walls to disturb the tranquility, life was good, but the minute something slipped between the cracks, all hell would break loose.
“Caleb! You motherfucker! You stupid fucking motherfucker! I’m going to kill you! I’m going to rip out your throat and play with your blood!” Carol is a harmony breaker. Carol is all Hell breaking loose. “I want to play with your blood, Caleb! Oh God, what have you done to me? I want to play with your blood!” I’ll be the first to admit that I’m starting to worry about the fold down back seats of the Sentra. It’s a great benefit to the vehicle overall, especially if you’re transporting something that you can’t fit in the back seat and can’t quite fit in the trunk. But Carol has started pounding the back of the seats with such force that I’m afraid the locks will buckle and she’ll come scrambling up to the driver’s seat and do exactly what she’s promising to do. At least I had enough foresight to bring my grandfather’s old .45 caliber service piece. It hasn’t been fired in years and I more or less brought it for the intimidation factor, just in case Carol was able to evade the aerosol. Of course, she probably would have wanted me to shoot her as opposed to exposing her to the Accelerant. But this was as much her mess as it was mine and she needed to help clean it up.
I pull the gun from my inside coat pocket, place it on my lap and keep driving.
We performed our first clinical trial on a prisoner of war. We didn’t exactly know from what war or if he was one of the domestics they kept locked away down at Gitmo. Not that it mattered; he was a lab rat, nothing more, nothing less. He was brought into the clean room his wrists bound, blind folded and raving in a language no one understood. As soon as the guards cleared the room we flooded it with a thousand times the normal dosage of Accelerant. The purpose was to kill him. The purpose was to see how far we could push the body before its heart gave out. The subject tried holding his breath. Two minutes, three minutes, three minutes thirty seconds, and finally he couldn’t help but fill his lungs. The desired effect was instantaneous. The test subject clutched at his chest and collapsed into a heap. The external monitors showed flat line and we decompressed the room, activated the vacuum and the guards brought in our next subject without removing the first specimen. What can I say, we were in a time crunch, and the feds wanted a working trial ASAP.
The second subject was brought in without the benefit of a blind fold. Subject # 2 was clearly American, and reacted to the body accordingly.
“No! Get me the fuck out of here! Get me the fuck out of here! I didn’t do anything!” We flooded the room with half the dosage of the first with the exact same results: instantaneous cardiac arrest. Four more subjects were brought in and four times we cut the dosages in half with the same results. It wasn’t until the seventh and final trial that we experienced the Panic for the first time.
The guards were dragging the subject as he pled with them and loudly prayed. They dumped him in the middle of the room when the external monitors spiked. Test subject number one’s heart had restarted and the formerly deceased test subject was charging the guards and the new trial. The expression on the guards’ faces was completely blank, a deer in the head lights look as Subject #1 attacked the new trial, tackling and then ruthlessly beating the man, tearing at his face with his teeth, his fingernails. Once they finally reacted, Subject # 2 was already on his feet and making a grab for their fire arms. By the time I flooded the room with Sarin, Subject # 3 and 4 had also revived and had torn the guards, the final test subject, and themselves to shreds.
“I don’t know what to tell you, Stew. We’re going to have to scrap the formula and start from ground zero.” My hands wouldn’t stop shaking as I paced Stew’s closet sized office. I’d never failed to deliver. Five years at the Lab without a single clinical flop. There had been missteps, but never out and out failure with a capital F. Stew was keeping a far cooler head than I was. Of course, he hadn’t seen what I’d just experienced two hours earlier.
“I need you to calm down, Cal. Have a seat and take a deep breath. We need to talk.”
I did as I was told, but suddenly my heart was trying to jump into my mouth. I was being fired! One mistake and they were letting me go! This was so fucked! And I let Stew know it:
“Stew, this is fucked! It’s one mistake . . . !”
Stew put up his hands in a warning gesture, my jaw snapped shut and I’m not ashamed to admit that I was starting to cry.
“The client isn’t disappointed with results. They want you to drop the amphetamine project and run with this.”
“You can’t do this to me! I won’t let you!”
Carol was the passionate type, and it was exactly what attracted me to her in the first place; that and you know the trick with the cherry stem? You know the one where a girl ties a knot in the stem with her tongue? Yeah, Carol could actually do that with your dick. Her being able to do that, plus her passion, plus her pert, resilient 25-year-old body made for a very satisfying diversion. But I knew that I’d been keeping her around too long once she started talking about moving in with each other; that and the tattoo.
She brought the idea of cohabitation up on one of the rare week day nights when I called home and lied to Kelly, telling her I had to work late. As was Kelly’s usual style, she feigned being distraught over my lateness.
“That’s a shame sweetheart. Both of the children are out tonight, and I was hoping we could spend a little extra time together. We’ve been so busy lately.” Her voice seemed to have an edge of distraction to it. I pictured her sitting on the living room couch, quietly sipping her third or fourth vodka martini, perhaps thinking about heading to our bathroom medicine chest and swallowing one of the leftover Oxycontins from my back surgery two years ago.
Or maybe it was just me projecting the distraction I was experiencing of having Carol’s long tongue in my ear.
“I’m sorry, love, I’ll make it up to you this weekend. But I’ve got to get going.”
I didn’t even bother to say goodbye, not with Carol working her hand down my pants.
Carol brought up the idea of living together after our first orgasm.
“Can’t you picture this all the time?” She asked breathlessly. “Can’t you picture us coming home from the lab every night and screwing until we just pass out?”
I ignored her question and positioned myself over her face so she’d have to take me in her mouth.
I noticed the lower back tattoo as I was taking her from behind.
“What the hell is this?” I asked as I slowly worked my away inside, tracing the simple red heart with my name inscribed in flowing cursive with my fingers.
“I got it last weekend,” she said, her breath coming in short ragged bursts. “Do you like it?” My response was to thrust harder, keeping my eyes focused on the tattoo the entire time.
I showered and left Carol’s place, and I made the decision that it was time to pass Carol along to the next egg head, just like she got passed along to me by Mac Garland. The only issue, apparently, was that Carol liked me far more than Mac.
She liked me enough to delude herself into believing that I would leave my wife of fifteen years to go and play house with her, like that would ever happen. If I left Kelly and admitted to an affair, there was no doubt Kelly would get everything.
“How can you do this to me, Cal?” Her voice is at a near hysterical, I keep looking around to make sure no one is coming, that no one is paying attention.
“Carol, calm down . . .” I tried looping my arm around her shoulders. She batted it away with three or four hard fists, her face a smudged tear streaked mess of snot and pain. I backed away and watched her crumble to the floor with hers hands pressed to her eyes, sobbing like a two-year-old throwing a temper tantrum.
Carol’s become oddly quiet in the trunk in the final miles to the lake house. She’s either resting and building up her strength for a final frenzied attempt to break through the back seat, or she’s simply bidding her time, waiting for me to stop the car and open the trunk so she can tear out my throat. Hopefully, the disposal team wouldn’t let it come to that. But who knows, they might just consider me collateral damage before they set Carol loose inside the house.
Or maybe if I’m really lucky, the little slut beat her skull into a bloody gray mush, and when I open the trunk, what I’ll find is a brain dead corpse with a still rapidly beating heart attempting to keep her now useless limbs and organs living.
A week went by and Carol spent it avoiding me, and I more or less did the same. It was harder for me especially since I was her project head and responsible for assigning and monitoring her work load. She also worked as my personal assistant two afternoons a week. Originally, I scheduled the time so we could screw without interruption. Her normal days with me were Tuesdays and Thursdays. On the Tuesday after the break up, she called out sick, so I worked in the lab alone and content. On Thursday, she showed up looking like she hadn’t bathed or slept in three or four days. I couldn’t help but feel a slight pang of guilt over her ragged condition; but in the same breath, I was experiencing an overwhelming sense of pride. I’m not a bad looking man; but not the type of guy who inspires any type of lust or desire. Not even with Kelly, who—even in college when we first met—merely thought of me as a man who could earn a good living and not beat the shit out of her when I was drinking. But here was this beautiful young girl swooning herself into oblivion over me. Unfortunately, I was too caught up in my own sense of self importance to notice that Carol had pulled a scalpel from her lab coat and was about to jab it into my throat. She only managed to nick me just below the chin. I grabbed her wrist and twisted her arm behind her back and pushed hard until the blade fell to the ground. I snatch it up and held it out defensively, my entire body trembling with adrenaline and fear. She laughed at me, shaking her head back and forth saying, “It’s not over. It’s not over, Cal.”
The lake house belonged to my grandfather. He was a biologist and a great man. When he died, my father was convinced it would fall into his hands, along with the modest fortune my grandfather had accumulated over his lifetime. He received neither. My father was also a brilliant man, but a wastrel and an unrepentant drunk. My grandfather loathed my father, so his fortune went instead, to pay for mine and my sister’s educations and I inherited the lake house. My father never spoke to me or my sister again. I don’t even know if the old man is alive anymore or not. I love the lake house. I’ve spent a small fortune refurbishing it over the course of the past decade. All the modern conveniences, including a full lab in the finished basement. It is my sanctuary, and if Kelly has it her way, it will no longer be mine.
We’re a quarter mile away now. Carol has started tunelessly humming, and chuckling occasionally every three or four verses. It’s beyond creepy. But we’ll be there soon and then she’s the disposal team’s problem
The phone calls started the day after Carol tried cutting my throat. They only occurred when she knew I’d be home from the lab, and I made sure I was the only one who picked up the line. She would never say a word. She breathed, ragged and snotty as if she’d been crying all night. This went on for days, I can’t tell you how many exactly. Eventually, I simply unplugged the land line. Kelly and the kids never seemed to notice, all of them had cell phones and rarely used the house phone.
I never imagined she would go to the house and have a short nasty conversation with Kelly.
I never imagined Kelly would hastily pack several suitcases and then leave with the kids, the only sign of her departure being a note stating that she would be contacting a lawyer and that I should think about doing the same. I wouldn’t even have known that she’d moved into the lake house unless Stew Dandridge hadn’t told me.
The lake house is completely dark. But what else would you expect at three o’clock in the morning. I shut down the lights and engine and coast the Nissan around to the back of the house and the service entrance. I pop the transmission into neutral and push the back end of the car right up to the back door and fish my keys out my pocket. There’s only a simple knob bolt for the back door and Kelly hasn’t bothered changing the locks, even though she knows I have a set of keys. I soundlessly open the door and push it wide open. I take a couple of minutes to catch my breath.
Stew’s office felt even more claustrophobic than it normally did the day after Kelly left. I suppose I should’ve taken a couple of days off to collect myself, but all I could think about was my deadline on the new strain of the Accelerant. It kept my mind off the shambles my home life had become. When I logged onto to my work station the morning after Kelly left, Stew had sent me six e-mails demanding that I meet him in his office as soon as I made it in. I went their without hesitation, preparing myself for the worst.
After several minutes of staring at each other, Stew was the first to speak.
“It’s a hell of a situation we’ve got on our hands here, Cal.”
“What do you mean, I’m exactly on schedule. I’m actually ahead of. . .”
He cut me off with a short wave of his hand.
“You know that’s not what I’m talking about, Cal. I’m talking about the situation with Carol. I’m talking about what’s been going on with Carol and your wife.”
“What are you talking about, Stew. . .?”
“Don’t bullshit me, Cal! We know about Carol. We know you’ve been screwing Carol, and we know she tried to kill you when you broke things off. We’ve got it all on surveillance video. And we know that Kelly left you because of what’s been going on with Carol.”
“Look, Stew, I can handle this. This has nothing to do with the work. This has nothing to do with the lab. . .”
“Bullshit, Cal!” I’d never heard Stew yell before. For a man who appeared so frail and small his voice carried some heavy weight; I couldn’t help but flinch.
“Its bullshit and you know it! Carol knows what goes on here. Hell, she’s been in on every single one of your projects for the past two years. And Kelly knows where we’re located. All we need right now is your two bitches making a lot of noise about what we do here! It’s unacceptable!”
“Lo-look, Stew, I can handle this, please? I can make things right with Kelly. Maybe all we need is a little counseling. And Carol, she signed the confidentiality agreement the same as I did, she doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on if she tries to go public.” I wanted to pee my pants. I wanted to be in my lab. I wanted to be anywhere but in my department head’s office discussing my soap opera like existence.
“That’s not going to cut it, Cal. The client’s scared shitless. They want all of this to go away, and they want it double time. No counseling, no fucking around.”
“Well, what do they want? I mean, I can’t exactly wave a magic wand and make this all disappear and pretend it never happened.”
Stew had removed his glasses and was massaging his closed eye with his thumb and forefinger. When he looked back up at me, his eyes looked like he’d popped a blood vessel in both eyes.
“The clients authorized a field test for the new formula. Specifically they want it tested on Carol. They want to see the effects of full blown panic on living subjects.”
Once I’ve collected myself, I move to the trunk of the Sentra. I can feel the eyes of the disposal team on me. A dozen red laser pinpricks focus on the trunk just incase Carol is beyond my control. I open the trunk remotely, and just as I expected, Carol leaps out of the back of the vehicle and tries to go for my throat with her teeth and fingernails. I’m ready for it and grab her by the neck and hold her snapping jaws at arms distance. She only manages to gouge my forearms a couple of times before I can thrown her through the open back door of the lake house and slam it behind her. She starts pounding at the locked door for a few minutes when I notice lights going on in the upstairs bedrooms. The pounding stops as she moves away to investigate the new noises.
As calmly as I can, I climb back into the Nissan, start the engine and pull around to the front of the house and begin the two hour long drive back to town. I savor the new quiet of the car and try not to think about my children.