The staggering truth about Atummion seeped in slowly. Item one: Although we put only a pinch of it in a whole barrel of talcum powder, it did give the female users a terrific complexion! Pimples, black-heads, warts, freckles and even minor scars disappeared after a few weeks, and from the very first application users mailed us testimonials swearing to that "atomic feeling of loveliness".
Item two: About one grain of Atummion to the pound of lipstick brought out the natural color of a woman's lips and maintained it there even after the lipstick was removed.
Item three: There never was such a shampoo. For once the ad copywriters failed to exceed the merits of their product. Atummion-tinted hair took on a sparkling look, a soft texture and a natural-appearing wave that set beauty-operators screaming for protection.
These beauticians timed their complaint nicely. It got results on the morning that the whole thing began to fall to pieces.
About ten A. M. Jennings called a meeting of all people concerned in the Atummyc Powder project, and they included me as well as the pixie and her brother, the assistant chemist.
Everyone was too flushed with success to take Jennings' opening remark too seriously. "It looks like we've got a winner that's about to lose us our shirts," he said.
He shuffled some papers and found the one he wanted to hit us with first. "The beauticians claim we are dispensing a dangerous drug without prescription. They have brought suits to restrain our use."
Madame Elaine in her mannishly tailored suit was standing by a window staring out. She said, "The beauticians never gave us any break, anyway. Hell with them! What's next?"
Jennings lifted another paper. "I agree, but they sicked the Pure Food and Drug people on us. They tend to concur."
"Let them prove it first," the Old Hag said turning to the pixie's brother. "Eh, Bob!"
"It's harmless!" he protested, but I noticed that the pixie herself, for all her radiance, had a troubled look on her face.
The general manager lifted another paper. "Well, there seems to be enough doubt to have caused trouble. The Pure Food and Drug labs have by-passed the courts and put in a word to the Atomic Energy Commission. The AEC has cut off our supply of the fission salts that go into Atummion, pending tests."
That brought us all to our feet. Madame Elaine stalked back to the huge conference table and stared at Bob, the chemist. "How much of the gunk do we have on hand?"
"About a week's supply at present production rates." He was pale, and he swallowed his adam's apple three times.
The worst was yet to come. The pixie looked around the table peculiarly unchanged by the news. She had trouble in her face but it had been there from the start of the conference. "I wasn't going to bring this up just yet," she said, "but since we're here to have a good cry I might as well let you kick this one around at the same time. Maybe you won't mind shutting down production after all."
The way she said it froze all of us except the Madame.
The Madame said, "Well, speak up! What is it?"
"I've been to twelve different doctors, including eight specialists. I've thought and thought until I'm half crazy, and there just isn't any other answer," the pixie said.
She stared at us and clenched her fists and beat on the shiny table. "You've got to believe me! There just isn't any other answer. Atummion is responsible for my condition, and all twelve doctors agreed on my condition."
Still standing, Madame Elaine Templeton grabbed the back of her chair until her knuckles turned white. "Don't tell me the stuff brings on hives or something!"
The pixie threw back her head and a near-hysterical laugh throbbed from her lovely throat. "Hives, hell. I'm pregnant!"
Well, we were all very sorry for her, because she was unmarried, and that sort of thing is always clumsy. At that moment, however, none of us believed the connection between her condition and Atummion.
Being a distant relative of the Madame, she was humored to the extent that we had the lab get some guinea pigs and douse them with Elaine Templeton's After Bath Powder, and they even professed to make a daily check on them.
Meanwhile, production ground to a halt on all Atummion-labelled products, which was everything, I think, but the eyebrow pencils.
With every drug-store and department store in the country screaming to have their orders filled, it was a delicate matter and took a lot of string-pulling to keep the thing off the front-pages. It wasn't the beautician's open charges that bothered us, because everyone knew they were just disgruntled. But if it leaked out that the AEC was disturbed enough to cut off our fission products, every radio, newspaper and TV commentator in the business would soon make mince-meat of us over the fact that Atummion had not been adequately tested before marketing. And this was so right!
We took our chances and submitted honest samples to the Bureau of Weights and Measures and the Pure Food and Drug labs. And held our breath.
The morning the first report came back in our favor there was great rejoicing, but that afternoon our own testing lab sent up a man to see Jennings, and he called me instantly.
"Sanford, get up here at once. The guinea pigs just threw five litters of babies!"
"Congratulations," I told him. "That happens with guinea pigs, I understand."
"You don't understand," he thundered at me. "This was test group F-six, all females, and every one has reached maturity since we bought and segregated them."
"There must be some mistake," I said.
"There better be," he told me.
I went to his office and together we picked up the Madame from her penthouse suite. She followed us into the elevator reluctantly. "Absurd, absurd!" was all she could say.
We watched the lab man check the ten adult pigs one by one. Even as inexpert as I am in such matters, it was evident that all ten were females, and the five which had not yet participated in blessed events were but hours from becoming mothers.
We went our separate ways stunned. Back in my office I pulled out a list of our big wholesale accounts where the Atummion products had been shipped by the carloads. The warehouses were distributed in every state of the union.
Then I ran my eye down the list of products which contained the devilish Atummion. There were thirty-eight, in all, including a complete line of men's toiletries, shaving lotion, shampoo, deodorant and body-dusting powder. I thanked God that men didn't have ovaries.
Dolores Donet--that was the pixie's name--opened my door and deposited herself gingerly in a chair opposite me.
I said, "You look radiant."
She said, "Don't rub it in, and I'll have a shot of that." I shared my Haig and Haig with her, and we drank to the newly departed bottom of the world.
My secretary tried to give me a list of people who had phoned and a stack of angry telegrams about back-orders, but I waved her away. "Dolores," I said, "there must have been a boy guinea pig loose in that pen. It's just too fantastic!"
"Are you accusing me of turning one loose just to get off the hook myself?" she snapped.
"What you've got, excuses won't cure," I told her, "but we've got to get facts. My God, if you're right--"
"We've sworn everyone to secrecy," she said. "There's a $10,000 bonus posted for each employee who knows about this. Payable when the statute of limitations runs out on possible litigation."
"You can't swear the public to secrecy," I said.
"Think a minute," she said, coldly. "The married women don't need excuses, and the single girls--who'll believe them? Half of them or better, have guilty consciences anyway. The rest? They're in the same boat I was--without a labful of guinea pigs to back them up."
"But--how did it happen in the first place?"
"Bob has been consulting the biologist we retained. He keeps asking the same question. He says parthenogenesis in higher lifeforms is virtually impossible. Bob keeps pointing at the little pigs, and they're going round and round. They're examining the other eleven test pens now, but there's no question in my mind. I have a personal stake in this experiment, and I was very careful to supervise the segregation of males and females."
My sanity returned in one glorious rush. There was the bugger factor! Dolores, herself.
In her eagerness to clear her own skirts, Dolores had tampered with the integrity of the experiment. Probably, she had arranged for artificial insemination, just to be sure. The tip-off was the hundred percent pregnancy of one whole test-batch. Ten out of ten. Even if one buck had slipped in inadvertently, and someone was covering up the mistake, why you wouldn't expect anything like a 100% "take".
"Dolores," I said, "you are a naughty girl in more ways than one."
She got up and refilled her glass shaking her head. "The ever-suspicious male," she said. "Don't you understand? I'm not trying to dodge my responsibility for my condition. The whole mess is my fault from beginning to end. But what kind of a heel will I be if we get clearance from the AEC and start shipping out Atummyc products again--knowing what I do? What's more, if we let the stuff float around indefinitely, someone is going to run comprehensive tests on it, not just allergy test patches like they're doing at the government labs right now."
"Yeah," I said, "so we all bury the hottest promotion that ever hit the cosmetics industry and live happily ever after."
She hit the deck and threw her whiskey glass at me, which did nothing to convince me that she wasn't telling the tallest tale of the century--to be conservative.
We sat and glared at each other for a few minutes. Finally she said, "You're going to get proof, and damned good proof any minute now."
"How so?" Nothing this experiment revealed would be valid to me, I figured, now that I was convinced she had deliberately fouled it up.
"Bob and the biologist should be up here any minute. I told them I'd wait in your office. I know something you don't, I'm just waiting for them to verify it."
She was much too confident, and I began to get worried again. We waited for ten minutes, fifteen, twenty. I picked up the phone and dialed the lab.
The woman assistant answered and said that the two men were on the way up right now. I asked, "What have they been doing down there?"
She said, "They've been doing Caesarian sections on the animals in test-pen M-four."
"Caesarian sections?" I repeated. She affirmed it, and Dolores Donet got a tight, little, humorless smile on her face. I hung up and said, "They're on their way up, and what's so funny?"
She said, "You know what I think? I think you've been using Atummyc products on you."
"So what?" I demanded. "I was responsible for this campaign, too. I've been waiting for a rash to develop almost as long as you have."
She said, "When Bob comes in, look at his complexion. All three of us have been guinea pigs, I guess."
"I still don't see what's so damned amusing."
She said, "You still don't tumble, eh? All right, I'll spell it out. Caesarians performed on test batch M-four."
"The 'M' stands for male," she said.
She timed it just right. The hall door opened and Bob trailed in with a dazed look. The biologist was half holding him up. His white lab-smock was freshly blood-stained, and his eyes were blank and unseeing.
But for all his distress, he was still a good looking young fellow. His skin had that lovely, radiant, atomic look--just like mine.
BROWN JOHN'S BODY.
by Winston Marks
Erd Neff wanted as little to do with his fellow men as possible. So he lived alone in his big cash-vault. Alone, except for John....
Erd Neff dropped a thin bundle of currency into the $100 bill drawer of the flat-top desk and kicked the drawer shut with a dusty boot.
He flicked the drip from his hooked nose, which was chronically irritated by the wheat dust of the warehouse, then he wiped his fingers down the leg of his soiled denims. Across the 12 X 12, windowless room John stirred awake from the noise and began nosing in the debris of his filthy cage.
"Time for supper, John?" Neff tugged at the twine at his belt and examined his $3 watch. He pinched a dozen grains of wheat from a two-pound coffee can and let them sift through the wires of the cage. John pounced on the grain hungrily.
"Wait a minute! What do you say, dammit?" Neff's hand reached for the marshmallow-toasting fork that hung from a hook on the wall. He touched the points, filed needle sharp. "What do you say?" he repeated, twanging the tines like a tuning fork.
John skittered to the far corner, tearing new holes in the old newspaper with frantic claws. Cowering against the wires he spat half-chewed flecks of wheat trying to say the magic words that would spare him from the fork. "Tinkoo! Tinkoo!" he squeaked, straining to make the two syllables distinct.
Neff hung up the fork, and John turned to lick at the old scabs clotted from earlier jabs, taking sullen inventory to be sure there were no new crimson leaks in his louse-infested hide. Until two months ago, he had been just one more gregarious specimen of Mammalia Rodentia Simplicidentata Myomorphia Muridae decumanus. Now he had another name. Like each of his predecessors in the cage, he was a large, brown rat called John--after Erd Neff's despised and deceased father. Neff named all his rats John.
"Well, don't get fat."
John finished the grain, pawed the air and squeaked, "Mur!"
"More, hey? You talk fine when you're hungry."
"Peef, mur, mur!" John begged. He did well with his vowels, but "I" and "s" sounds were beyond him. He said "f" for "s". "L's" he ignored entirely.
Neff gave him one more wheat head. "Okay, get fat!"
He turned to the door, lifted the inside, mechanical latch, shoved with his foot and snatched his revolver from his hip-holster. The vault door opened ponderously revealing an empty warehouse. Neff peeked through the crack between the hinges to clear the area concealed by the door itself.
One hoodlum hopeful had hidden there. Spotting him through the crack, Neff had simply beefed into the foot-thick slab of fireproof steel. Inertial plus surprise had disposed of that one. Neff hadn't even had to shoot.
Tonight there was no one. Funny. The wheat country was getting tame, or else the tin-horns had learned their lesson. It was no secret that Erd Neff never visited the local bank, yet it had been more than six months since anyone tried to hold him up.
The local bank hated him plenty. He was costing them. His five loan offices in the rich wheat county skimmed the cream of the mortgage loan business. Of course, nowadays most people paid off their loans, and the low interest rates he charged to lure the business barely paid expenses. Yet, he still picked up an occasional foreclosure. Farmers still got drunk, divorced, gambled, broke legs or committed suicide once in awhile, and Neff's loan documents were ruthless about extensions of time.
These foreclosed acreages he traded for grain elevators and warehouses when crops were small and operators were desperate. Then came the bumper years during and after World War II. Wheat on the ground and no place to store it but in Erd Neff's sheds. It wasn't cheap to store with Neff, and he had a virtual monopoly in Ulma County.