Short Story: Side Effect

“I think I’ll call it a day”, Springthorpe announced. “Nothing new tonight anyway.” Nobody answered, which annoyed him. Peter Springthorpe was, as they say, going down on the fast track, or so it seemed to him, at least. He hadn’t been very successful recently, and he had a feeling that if he didn’t do something about it pretty soon, he wouldn’t be for some time in the future either.

He had been well on his way to star reporter once, and not all that long ago at that. He did not know what had happened to slow down his career so much. He had been sent after the most promising stories, and then they had proved to be worthless. It was only a small consolation to him that the competition hadn’t done any better. It simply upset him that he had not been able to draw any newsworthy profit from all those golden opportunities. First there had been the kidnapping of an 11-year-old millionaire’s daughter, but she had been quietly released without any ransom being paid and without any active participation by the police, and shortly afterwards the kidnappers had given themselves up and gotten away with a mild verdict.

The burning of a major insurance company’s building downtown some time later had not been arson, as was suspected at first, nor human failure; it turned out that the whole thing was caused by a malfunction in the computerized heating system – a malfunction which had already been diagnosed and repaired by the responsible company.

It was Springthorpe’s firm conviction that any story could be sold – so why hadn’t he been able to make these two items interesting enough? He definitely had to find back to his old form soon.
He cleared his desk, picked up his thin leather briefcase and coat and made for the door.

“Bye, Pete!”, somebody called. That would be Finley, of course. Springthorpe was not quite sure whether to like this ambitious newcomer or to feel a little ill at ease whenever Judd Finley was around. Maybe, he mused, that was because the younger man’s ambitious resourcefulness reminded him so much of himself as he once had been. Still was, dammit!

“See you guys tomorrow”, he called back. “Good-bye, all!”

On his way down in the elevator, Springthorpe suppressed a wry smile. Things were not all that bad, of course. His job was secure, he was considered a good journalist – well, he was! –, and even without the big stories his work was interesting enough.
But still, something was missing. The flavor of normalcy had become too stale for Springthorpe’s taste, he missed the touch of something special.

The lift opened, and Peter stepped out. As the public transportation system was too likely to be overcrowded at this time of day, he decided to walk home. Home was an apartment near the center of the city in a recently “rediscovered” area. It had become fashionable to live in that neighborhood some time ago, but Springthorpe had been living there for years. Back from college, he had not wanted to move in with his parents again, so he had at first shared a place with a friend from his college days. But then Gary had met his one and only true love, and the men had decided that the couple keep the apartment while Peter moved out. He had found something new fairly quickly – about the same time he got his new job with the Chronicle – and he still lived there. The Waldens were still at the same place, too, as a matter of fact. Goodness, was it really seven years since he had moved in, nine since he graduated from college? How quickly time passed when you didn’t pay attention!

On the way home Springthorpe passed several newsstands, and he stopped at one of them to buy a packet of chewing gum – he had quit smoking some time ago and settled for sugarless gum as a compensation. Was better for one’s health and kept one’s teeth clean in the bargain (which was an important advantage in his business). While fishing the money out of his pocket, his eyes fell on some other paper’s headline: “Still no cure for EFD”. And underneath, in slightly smaller print: “Doctors confirm: Not carried by air-borne particles, yet 20,000 all over country infected”

Peter did not have the time to read the whole article, but neither did he want to buy the paper to read it at home. Extended Flu Disease was old news, and he’d hear all about the new developments in EFD research at the office tomorrow morning. The disease had been named for its symptoms. A few years ago, an increasing number of people who had a cold or, in worse cases, caught the flu, and who treated this as one usually treats these things, got rid of their colds and everything was perfectly normal until a few weeks later – the average ranged from 25 to 30 days after infection – they started to show new symptoms.

People suffered from constant fatigue, feeling cold all over their bodies, and a general loss of energy, sometimes combined with insomnia. At first nobody knew where it came from. But then the connection between the flu and the illness was established. It was a little like lyme disease, only more vicious than that. Lyme disease occurred rarely these days and could quite easily be cured. The scientific belief had been at first that the new illness was a variation on lyme disease, but elaborate tests had shown that the internal processes were entirely different. EFD was much more difficult to cure than lyme disease, especially when the first outbreak of “flu” was not recognized as EFD and treated as such.

While in the “flu” stadium the virus was easy to detect and to destroy, it did not show at all during the interim stage, and the severe symptoms of the “third degree” (some joker with a very malicious sense of humor had come up with that expression – Springthorpe wished it had been him) were very hard to cure – it involved a long, hard treatment, highly expensive medication as well as a strict and not very pleasant diet. The result was that ever since the disease was discovered the surgeries were overcrowded with people who had the flu or a simple cold and who wanted to make sure that they hadn’t caught EFD. The disease was dangerous, no doubt about that, but it also meant one hell of a lot of money for a certain profession.

So the doctors now said it was not air-borne. Oh well. If they thought…
EFD was still not very big news. If somebody found a reliable, easy-to-manage cure for it – now that would set the tickers on fire!

Springthorpe walked on in a slightly better mood than before, pleasantly daydreaming about how he would be the first person to announce the news and reap all the credit. That would be the huge hit he’d been after for so long. Indulging in such silly fantasies was nonsense of course, and he knew it, but it was fun anyway.

When Springthorpe got home, he met the janitor’s wife in the hall. She returned his friendly “good evening”, then said:

“A Mr. Walden called for you, Mr. Springthorpe. He – please excuse me, Sir, but he, well, he sounded drunk.”
The phone lines in the house had one peculiarity: after a certain number of rings, an incoming call would automatically be switched to the janitor’s apartment, which could be convenient at times, but a bloody nuisance at others. Several times it had happened to Peter that he’d raced to the phone, but when he finally got there, the call was already gone. He really had to get himself an answering machine one of these days, the sooner the better.

“So what did he say?” he asked.
“I think you should call him back as quickly as possible. He made it sound really urgent.”
“Oh! Oh, all right.”

Springthorpe went upstairs, sifted through his mail first – nothing important – then turned towards the telephone. He dialed Gary’s number, and after the third ring, he heard the phone being picked up at the other end of the line.

“That you, Pete?” a slurry voice asked.
Gary was drunk.
“It’s me”, Springthorpe confirmed. “How much have you had? And what’s up anyway?”
“You wouldn’ b’lieve me if I tol’ you on the phone. Get y’r ass over here, an’ quick!”
So he went.

When Peter arrived at his friend’s door, he did not even get around to ringing the bell – Gary must have waited at the window and seen him come. His friend obviously was not only drunk, he was also excited.

“So what’s up, then?” Peter asked once more, seated in his favorite chair, a glass of whiskey in his hand. Gary had another of his notorious gin-vodka mixes, straight up – no wonder his voice had sounded slurred over the phone. His head seemed quite clear, though.

“I’d better tell you the s-story from the beginning”, Walden said. “It’s so assolutely crazy!”
“Where’s Susan, buddy?” Springthorpe asked. “She wouldn’t like your drinking this much!”
“She wouldn’ mind in this case. Anyway, if she was here, I prob’ly wouldn’ have started. I need somebody to talk to! But she’s at her parents’ for a week.” He paused. “I’m glad you came over. If I hadn’t gotten a phone call today at the job I’d be dead now!”
“Wha- did I just hear you say ‘dead’?”
“Yessir, you heard me all right. I said ‘dead’. Susan would be a grieving widow, and you’d be rid of your bes’ frien’. Do you understand now why I’m drunk?”
“Well, sure, but… I mean, it’s… But how – I mean, what happened?”

Gary put his glass firmly down on the table as if to say ‘I’ve had enough’. But then he poured himself another drink determinedly before leaning back in his seat again.
“It was like this”, he said slowly, a little calmer. “I think I’ve told you about the lab I work for.”
Of course he had. It was a “research facility for biological and biochemical advance”, partly supported by the government, partly run on legacy money. Several renowned scientists worked there, as well as a number of young scientists like Gary who were not as renowned yet – working for the benefit of humanity and trying to make themselves a name in the bargain.

Walden was continuing his story.
“What I meant was, have I also told you about the layout of the building. I guess not. Well our – let’s call it ‘department’ – is situated at the very end of the building. We’re occupied with medical research mostly, there are some other labs that do biological stuff only, cultivating pollution-resistant trees for instance – or trying to, anyway – well, stuff like that. So, since we’ve got the illnesses we’re quarantined, so to speak.”

“Are you saying that the stuff you’re working with is toxic – contagious?”
“No, no, nothing like that. We’re merely trying to find treatments, even cures, for illnesses. Like when Robert Koch discovered tuberculosis or Paul Ehrlich created Penicillin. Winston Cramer does not work at our place, but it was a place like ours where he discovered the cure for AIDS.
“Well, as I was going to say, we’re at the very end of the building. There’s an old, old elevator that goes down to the basement from our lab – we’ve got our ‘hardware’ down there, petri dishes, spare microscope parts, stuff like that, and some of the old files that were too old and too insignificant to be filed on computer when the age of IT began way back when. ‘S just stuff down there. The other departments have theirs in a big community basement, but our store room is in the old wing, so we’ve got it for ourselves.”

Walden seemed to have found his pace. He was talking steadily now.
“Like I said, the elevator down there is very old. They’ve been wanting to replace it for – oh, ages.
“And then today – today… the man who went down there got stuck in the elevator car. And when he pushed the alarm button, he was… fried! Electrocuted by an enormous short-circuit! Everyone knew that the elevator was old, that something might happen some day, but not – not this!
“And it would have been me. If Larsen hadn’t called, it would have been me in there, dead, killed in a fucking unnecessary accident because the fucking elevator was too fucking old!

“We take turns, you know. Nobody particularly likes going down there, so everybody has to, every once in a while.
“I was supposed to bring up the next load of stuff, but I was occupied right then. Craig was next on the list, so we swapped, and he went down. Man, the guy died for me!”
“Wow”, was all Springthorpe could say. Then he recovered. “I’m glad you’re still alive, man.”

His friend gulped down another gin-vodka.
“You know what, Pete? I’m reaching the stage where I don’t believe it. I’m gonna wake up tomorrow and it’ll just be a bad dream.”
“No it won’t. The only dream you’ll have tomorrow will be how great you’d feel if only you could get rid of that hangover of yours.”
Peter became serious again. “What about that man? What was his name again?”
“Craig. Wendell Thomas Craig junior. He used to crack jokes about his name.”
“Was he married?”
“He had a wife and two kids. The four of us used to go out a lot. Like a week ago – boy, did we have one too many! Craig and me, that is. The girls were having a private little chit-chat of their own.
We were so out of it we didn’t know what we were talking any more. I mean, we were just blabbering. It was fun, though.

Craig told me he thought Karenden had found a cure for EFD, and the next morning he’d clean forgotten all about it! Me, I can’t remember everything that happened that night, either, so who am I to talk… Ah well. We were both drunk, and now he’s dead, and now I’m drunk, and I’m still alive.
Oh, life. What is life to man then but the diminishing glory of hours on end. Now who was it said that? Or was it the other way round? Gimme another, Pete. I’m too lazy to get up.”

“You’ve had enough”, Springthorpe said, but he made his friend another drink, totally absorbed in what he had just heard.

The next day, sometime in the afternoon. Peter called Gary Walden. Springthorpe was still at the office while Walden was already home.
“They gave us the afternoon off”, he explained. “Care to come over tonight?”
“So you’re sober again”, Springthorpe remarked in a dry tone. “Sure, I’ll come over. See you there.”

He had finally managed to coax Gary into bed, and only noticed afterwards that it was really fairly early still. So he’d left and gone home and off to bed himself, ready for an early start. The conversation with Gary did not leave his mind for a single moment.

When he arrived at his friend’s now, he was not astonished at all to find that the researcher really was sober. He had overcome the shock and was being his rational self once more.
When they had settled down in their chairs, Springthorpe came to the point at once.
“When you told me about Wendell Craig last night, you said something about an antidote for EFD. Was that just drunken gibberish, or is there something behind the tale?”

“Antidote? EFD? Oh, yes. Craig mentioned some time ago that Karenden was working on that. So you see the source is not first hand, as you guys like to put it.”
“How would Craig know such a thing?”
“Oh, don’t ask me. Karenden works at the lab, too. He’s quite a renowned scientist, and Craig must have heard something, somehow.”
“But you’d say he was reliable?”
“Unreservedly. He is – was – no liar, and no braggart either. Why do you ask?”
“Well, it’s like this, you know. I saw the headline only yesterday. The media treat EFD as big news in itself, but it isn’t really. The topic is well on the way to growing old. But a feature about a cure for it! Now that would make the tickers explode. And from what you said I might be the one to make them.

“Now you’ll probably think I’m a glory hound, an egotistical bastard and all that, but for me, it would be the story of a lifetime. It’s what every journalist prays for!”
But especially he himself, Peter admitted silently. Goodness, what wouldn’t he give for such a chance! It was the one and only golden opportunity to prove to all the world he was more than simply a good journalist; it was like the answer to his despairing mood of the past few months. It was his most secret of dreams come true.

“But of course”, he went on calmly, “if there’s a lot of people who know about this already… It would be practically useless.”
“No, no”, Walden said. “I’m pretty sure it’s been kept quiet. Craig knew, who knows where from, and he only told me when he was very, very drunk.”
“Like you told me when you were drunk”, Springthorpe interrupted.

“Yeah, sure, but I had no reason to keep it a secret. It was just talk to me. Wendell, though, he seemed to be pretty close about it himself. I’m sure he wouldn’t just have told anybody. You might get your story after all.”

So Springthorpe asked Walden not to tell anybody about Karenden’s discovery. When Gary promised not to and also told him that his colleague had sounded pretty much as though Karenden was already or nearly finished with his research, Springthorpe decided to get an interview with the scientist, no matter what. He felt infinitely better than before.


Karenden’s phone was busy. It had been busy the entire morning at the lab, and when Springthorpe later called the scientist’s private number (obtained with no small amount of effort), a polite female answering machine told him to please state his name and business with Dr. Karenden and please leave a number. Thank you for calling, good-bye.

Now that was just what Springthorpe would not do. By no means.

So that same evening, straight from work, after more careful research, he was standing in front of Dr. Karenden’s one-storeyed home. A gravel path led up to the house from the gate. It was getting dark, and a few windows were lit. So somebody was home.
He pressed the bell button.

“Yes, please”, a male voice said, after barely five seconds.
“This is Peter Springthorpe”, the journalist announced boldly, “I have an appointment with Dr. Karenden.”
“One moment, please”, the voice answered politely, then the gate swung noiselessly inwards.

Astonished, Springthorpe entered the grounds. The man had not even checked back with his employer! And that from a man who, as Peter’s information-seeking had told him, was an extremely elusive old bird, almost a recluse, refusing all contact with the media. Not that he was an overly desirable target, but fairly well-known nonetheless – and even routine “people page” pieces had not been allowed by the scientist. Aw, the hell with it. He had better thank his journalist’s instincts and his journalist’s luck and seize the golden opportunity to talk with the researcher.

As he walked up the four stone steps to the house, the front door was opened by an elderly man in casual clothes. With his gray mustache, easygoing posture and his ruffled hair he looked very much the scientist.
“Mr. Springthorpe”, he said affably. It was the same voice as the one on the com, and Peter couldn’t help blushing a little.

“Dr. Karenden, I presume”, he began. “Please excuse my intruding on you –“
“Oh no, not at all”, interrupted the other. “I do not consider it an intrusion. I am grateful for a little diversion. Come on in!”
He led the way inside.

Even more astonished, Springthorpe followed. After passing through a short hallway with doors on both sides, they entered a cozy, slightly untidy room.
“My study”, Karenden explained. “The living-room’s through here. Please have a seat.”

He settled down in an enormous armchair behind a huge wooden desk while Peter seated himself in a soft padded chair face to face with the doctor.
“Now”, Karenden boomed brightly, “can I offer you anything? A cup of coffee? A drink?”
“A cup of coffee would be nice, thanks”, Peter answered. The scientist nodded, but made no attempt to get up and fetch the drink.
“I am familiar with your name, Mr. Springthorpe. The Chronicle, isn’t it? So what can a humble doctor do to serve the free press?”

“Well, Dr. Karenden, let me come straight to the point. I was trying to arrange an interview with you, and as I did not succeed I tried this – uh – slightly unofficial way. I’m glad that you don’t mind… Well, anyway, I’m doing this article, or series, on important scientists, and I was wondering – “
“I’m not all that famous”, the researcher broke in. Why come to me?”
“I’ve come to you because you can be famous! Is it true that you are working on a cure for EFD?”

He hadn’t wanted to come blurting out with the Big Question like that, but Springthorpe figured that this wasn’t the time for subtleties.
Karenden actually seemed to blush a little.
“You know what”, he said after the tiniest pause, “this is definitely the time for a good hot cup of coffee.”

He got up and shuffled to another door.
Of course, Springthorpe thought. That little maneuver gave him the time to pull himself together and decide what he was going to say.

From the kitchen, the doctor was busily chatting on.
“Before I ever wanted to become a doctor, I dreamt of being an engineer. But I am intrigued by the unknown, and there are few things that humankind knows less about than diseases and how they affect the body. So here I am now –“ he returned to the study with a tray and two mugs of steaming coffee, “ a doctor and a researcher, and if I can believe you, about to become famous!” He placed the mugs on the table and set milk and sugar next to the journalist.

“I am indeed working on EFD, my dear young friend. I had hoped to keep it secret a little while longer because I am still at the experimentation stage, but since you are here you might just as well know. Yes, I can cure EFD – I think.”

Peter drank half his coffee to hide his excitement. When he set his cup down, he managed to keep his voice calm.

“Why, that’s marvelous, Sir! Tell me, how far along are you with the drug? Is it a drug? Or does it have anything to do with the human genome?

“It is a drug”, Karenden confirmed, “and as far as I can say it will cure EFD in the affected persons effectively and with much less fuss than the treatment used nowadays. It will have to be extensively tested, of course.”

“So you think approval by the FDA is imminent, Sir?”

“Well, as I said, it will naturally have to be tested first. But as to my best knowledge up to this point in time I do not see any impediment to bringing it on the market soon. There are no significant side effects; well, except one, and that will probably be minimized soon, as well.”

“What kind of side effect would that be?”

“It’s really quite a natural one”, Karenden said, smiling. “It enhances one of man’s most natural instincts. It can be a bit irritating at times, but not really harmful.”

“I see”, Peter said slowly, grinning himself, and absently scratching his leg.

“At any rate”, the doctor went on, “with or without this side effect it will be much more agreeable for the patient than having to undergo today’s treatment.”

Both men were silent for a short while and finished their coffees. Then the scientist spoke up again.

“How did you find out about this, Mr. Springthorpe? I have full respect for a journalist’s investigative capabilities, and this instance seems to prove me right, because I really tried to keep the lid on it until I was a little surer of success myself.”

“I didn’t know, of course”, Peter replied. “I came here on a hunch, a tip if you will, and it paid off. A colleague of yours told me.”

“Oh yes? I could have guessed. Who is it?”

Leave Gary out of this, Peter thought suddenly. Other guy’s dead anyway.
“Well, Sir, I don’t quite know how to put this tactfully. There has been this – accident at your lab… Wendell Craig, the guy who died, he was my source.”

The other man was silent for a moment.
“Craig”, he said then. “Yes. What a shame about him, isn’t it? He was a good man. It’s just about time they replace this dreadful elevator before something else horrible happens. Was he a friend of yours?”

“More a friendly acquaintance”, Springthorpe answered. “We used to go out and have a drink together.”

“Ah, yes. So why did he tell you of all people? Or weren’t you the only one?”

“No, he only told me”, Peter said slowly. Careful here, he decided. “He knew this could be one heck of a great story, and he owed me a favor.” The lie flowed easily over his lips.

“I see. Well, you’ve got your story right here. It will be quite a sensation, I should think.”

“You bet.” Springthorpe kept his face straight, but inside, he was laughing and jumping and shouting. He’d made it! He’d truly and honestly made it! The only thing he was wondering about was why exactly Karenden had told him all this. He, who usually was so shy of any kind of contact with the media, had let him in without a fuss and told his story without the slightest hesitation. Ah, well, he probably was so brim-full with the joy of his discovery that he had been willing to tell the first muckraker who came along, and that had just happened to be him. Nothing to worry about. Quite the contrary, in fact. Triumph was his!

The doctor broke into his reverie.
“Mr. Springthorpe, I’d like you to get your story complete. I want to show you something.”

They left the house and went over to the two-car garage. The scientist asked Peter to wait outside, then backed a medium-sized limousine out of the stall. The journalist got in and they drove off.

“Exactly what is it that you want to show me?” asked Springthorpe after they had ridden in silence for a while. The researcher was concentrating behind the wheel, taking the car through seemingly deserted suburbs and along unlit streets out to the secondary roads that led away from the city. It took nearly a minute before he answered.

“Say, Mr. Springthorpe, have you ever been hungry but somehow couldn’t get yourself to buying or fixing something to eat?”

Springthorpe thought this was a decidedly strange question, especially since it seemed to be a non sequitur if ever there was one. But then again, there was a straightforward answer to the question, which he gave with no hesitation at all.

“Sure, happens all the time. You’re just too lazy at that moment to get up and eat something.”

Karenden nodded thoughtfully, as if somehow pleased with the answer.

The car swung into a narrow road which was lined by some kind of trees on both sides. Although the moon was out at times, clouds were passing rapidly over their heads, and the limousine’s headlights did not illuminate a very large stretch of road.

A growing feeling of unease was creeping over the journalist, like the sensation when you want to put on a certain shirt in the morning and you forgot to take it in from airing out on the balcony the night before, so now it is cold and clammy and almost, but not quite, gives you goosebumps all over your body. Springthorpe dismissed the feeling. Of course he was highly strung-up – he was about to make himself a name once and for good. He was just a little skittish, that was all. Suddenly, Karenden spoke up again.

“Have you ever had the experience that you were deadly tired, and you were right there at home, but you just couldn’t bring yourself to go to bed?”

Peter could remember several such nights, when he, exhausted to the bone, still had remained sitting on his couch with a book he was hardly able to grasp any more of, or in front of the TV watching a rerun he couldn’t follow or playing some stupid computer game although both his reflexes and his concentration had been totally shot.

“Of course”, he said. “Same thing as with the food. You’re just too lazy to go to bed.”

Inexplicably, Karenden nodded again. Then he continued.

“You know, Mr. Springthorpe, there once was a young man, not entirely unlike you I should think, who had gone into the field of bio-medical research because he had high-flying hopes of finding the cure for cancer or something. He saw himself being presented with the Nobel Prize and becoming world famous. But soon after he had graduated and earned his doctorate, he found out that he was not destined for greatness. He was good, but he was not brilliant. He realized that he would forever be one of the large, undistinguished, gray majority. That realization hurt. It went deep. And although he managed to suppress these feelings most of the time, they still rankled. They did not leave him alone.”

He paused. Springthorpe glanced sideways at the researcher. Was he talking about himself? If he was, Springthorpe could understand him only too well. Oh yes, he could. Wasn’t this exactly his own motivation, weren’t these exactly his own feelings?

“Go on”, he almost whispered.

“In essence, this young man was a coward. He lacked the ruthlessness that makes great men. So he reluctantly resigned himself to a life in obscurity – but he hated it with every fiber of his being. He was on the lookout for an opportunity, constantly, at all times. It was slowly eating him up. And then, one day, years later…”

Karenden swung the car into an even narrower lane. Springthorpe had lost all sense of direction. He guessed the city was somewhere behind them but couldn’t be sure. He still was feeling strangely uneasy, but was unwilling to say anything for fear of putting Karenden off this fascinating track.

His exclusive interview – there it was, he’d be a star!

Karenden looked at him sideways, nodded pensively, and went on.

“A young scientist made a discovery. A new illness had just begun to spread, and this young man was lucky enough to stumble upon a viable cure right there at the beginning. He didn’t know what he had there, just jotted down a few lines and formulae and mentioned it to an older colleague of his. This man realized at once what had been discovered there, but before he could urge his young friend to continue his research, there was a terrible, tragic accident, and the young man died. It was an accident, I swear it was. But it happened, and so, tragic as it was, I – this scientist – had the opportunity, the obligation, to continue this young unfortunate genius’s work. He took the few things he had, the notes and the formulae, and found out how it could be done. It took a few years, for he had to start almost from scratch, and he had to be careful so as not to arouse any suspicion whatsoever. And here he is now, with the drug to cure EFD developed and almost ready for extensive testing and subsequent distribution on the market, there’s just this one little side effect so far, and that’s bound to get ironed out as well. I will receive the Nobel Prize for this, mark my words!”

Springthorpe sat in the passenger seat, dumbfounded.

“You mean you really have the drug ready for distribution? Are you going to publish your findings in your own name or in that of your late colleague? And what is its side effect?”

Karenden smiled, a slight, almost leery little grin.

“The side effect? Oh, nothing bad, really. Like I said, it strengthens one of man’s most natural instincts.”

The car had stopped outside a fence, and the scientist got out to open the gate that intersected the narrow road. Springthorpe’s mind was racing. Why was the man telling him this? Why was he disclosing his secret?

I should get outta here now, he thought frantically, but somehow he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He had to hear the rest of the story first.

Karenden got back in and steered the car through the open gate.

“And as far as your questions are concerned, of course I will market the drug! But under my own name, young man, what else? I told you I want the Nobel Prize, I need it! And to publish it in another’s name after that imbecile Craig had to die for what he knew? Not early enough, though, it would seem”, he muttered under his breath.

“But, but, … why tell me, then?” croaked the journalist. The feeling of urgency intensified – get outta here right this second! – but somehow he was too lazy to. And he hadn’t heard the end of the story yet.

The car had stopped again. Karenden pulled the handbrake, shifted the car into neutral and killed the engine. He rolled down the window and got out again.

Springthorpe looked out the window. In the beam of the headlights, he could see junked cars, and right in front of the limousine there was a huge, silent contraption – a metal press. The scientist stuck his head in through the open window.

“Why I am telling you? You came to my house with more than a suspicion. I had to alleviate that. And I had to tell you the truth, because you would have seen through a deception.”

He turned away, fiddled with something that glinted in his hand and pulled a lever. The huge metal press slowly, menacingly rumbled into life.

GET OUT NOW!, screamed Peter’s brain, but why should he? The situation couldn’t be truly dangerous, could it?

“Hey, Karenden”, he asked, out of the window, “what is the side effect of your drug?”

The scientist grinned, an almost feline expression on his face.

“Haven’t you guessed yet?” he asked, cryptically. “Here’s another question for you. Have you ever felt you desperately ought to do something but simply can’t bring yourself to do it? “

“Yes, right now, how d’you know that, but what – “
Karenden pulled another lever, and the purveyor belt the car was standing on started to move forward at a slow speed. Karenden was still grinning.

“Good-bye, Mr. Springthorpe.”

The journalist felt like he was rooted to his seat. He knew he should get out, the feeling of danger was overwhelming, but why bother?

“Karenden, wait! WHAT IS THE SIDE EFFECT?”

All he could see as the car slowly moved towards the press was the scientist’s huge grin, a grin of white teeth in a dark face that seemed to swallow everything else. And from very far away came the researcher’s voice:

“It makes you lazy.”

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