Enveloped by the forest's impermeable growth, it seemed as though we were alone. In the building above us, the celebration from which the two of us stole away still endured. My life, my passion, had been focused for years on the successful running of the world's largest private facility dedicated to pure research. The on going celebration was planned by myself for the express purpose of introducing another new miracle to the world. The successful fulfillment of that has been the only source of joy in my lonely life since the death of my beloved wife 12 years ago. But now,isolated from the bustling world outside by this giant terrarium that housed a miniature rainforest; I was with a woman that I had admired for a long time. And feelings that I had not felt in so many years were returning and were the driving forces for my actions.
Settling into the small grassy ledge next to the pond, she looked up at me in away that no woman had looked at me in such a long time. More fuel to fire my awakening feelings. I poured champagne into two glasses and offered one to Margaret. She accepted the glass with one hand, the other stayed and gently fondled my hand. Youth was rapidly returning to me as Margaret gazed up at me.
"My, but it is a bit warm in here, isn't it?" she whispered hoarsely.
"Yes, yes it is." Was my answer.
I began to feel that indeed, I wasn't as old as I once thought I was. In fact, I began to think that I was about the luckiest man in the entire world. For such a long time now I have been referred to around the office as a stodgy old fart. But about six weeks ago my metamorphosis began, and it started with an unexpected visit by a rather unpleasant employee. And I thought about the changes that have happened to me and smiled as I recalled how those events that began so innocently, have led up to my present situation.
It all began with a visit from Stanley.
"Al, Al, look at this!" Stanley Gabrowsky screamed at me as he burst through the door. "Just look at this. This is the last straw, look at this!" He thrust a piece of paper in front of my nose for very nearly half a second. Waving it wildly in the air, he paced back and forth in front of my desk. "I can't believe it. It's outrageous how you let that bum have authorization for purchasing his own equipment."
"Stanley, did you make an appointment with Marsha to see me?" I knew of course that he hadn't, it's just that Stanley always barges into my office and it annoys me.
"Al, that bum Steigler has authorized more expenditures."
"Stanley, perhaps you don't understand the functioning of a research lab, but that is one of the things that we do here. We spend money, we buy very expensive little toys so that our wonder boys and girls will play nice with those toys and invent wonderful things for me to sell."
"Don’t patronize me Al, I'm well aware of the function of this facility. I take care of all the pluses and minuses in the money department for your wonder boys and girls. And right now that wonder genius Leonard Steigler has an awful lot of minuses."
"All right Stanley, what is it now?"
"What is it? What is it! Haven't you been down to his lab lately? He's got a rain forest set up down there. He has this huge terrarium with giant plants and vines in it. And trees Al, real trees in there too. It's huge. And the cost Al, that thing has cost over seven hundred thousand dollars. Then there's all the other aquariums and things. There's hundreds of them, they're everywhere."
"Terrariums, aquariums, … what for?"
"For his god damn frogs Al!"
"Frogs? Leonard is a physicist, what's he doing with frogs?"
"I don't know. Look, look at this invoice. This is too much. Two breeding pairs of some frog whose name I can't pronounce, look, LOOK, nine thousand dollars."
"That's right Al, frogs. Hundreds of them, not just these."
"Frogs Al. Hundreds of them. Look Al, I didn't mind when he wanted the particle accelerator, I mean everyone here still uses that. In fact, we practically paid for it renting it out to the people from Scranton. But frogs Al, what's he doing with frogs?"
"I don't know. I don't like to interfere, but it has been some time since I looked in on Leonard. This might be a good opportunity to find out what he's been doing lately. Hhmmmmm, frogs. Let's go and have a look."
Leaving my office, I headed toward the elevator, Stanley scuttling along behind me. While in the elevator on the way to the basement he hummed his off-key version of what I thought was Moon River. It was difficult to tell. Stanley is a very irritating person, he was competent as an accountant, but nobody really liked him. They just tolerated him as I do.
Reaching the basement, we made our way to Leonard's lab. Some time ago, as recognition for his achievements, and because he said he would go elsewhere if we didn't; we had turned over half the basement to Leonard for his personal utilization and research. With all that room came unlimited spending authorization. It had been over a year now and I had had no cause to regret giving him that blank check. Pausing at the door to Leonard's lab I asked Stanley, "How long has he been collecting frogs?"
"About seven or eight months now. He started that rain forest of his about eight months ago. Small expenditures at first so that I wouldn't squawk. I mean I had no idea what he was making for a long time."
"When did you find out?"
"When he bought the twenty five tons of leaf mold."
"Oh boy,… Oh boy."
Opening the door, I froze at the sight before me. It was right in the middle of the lab. About a sixty feet long and I'm not sure how wide. From the floor all the way to the twenty-four foot ceiling was a glass-enclosed forest. All around the edge, set into the soil were little ponds, waterfalls, ferns, bushes and trees. Big trees. An eerie mist covered the whole thing inside. My God, it was a rain forest. Right here in the sub basement of the only privately owned pure research facility in the country, was a rain forest.
"Well Al, what do you think of wonder genius' new toy?"
I didn't know what to think. Ignoring Stanley, I walked into the lab. The humidity was overwhelming. And the sound of bubbling and churning came at me from everywhere. Aquariums were all over the place. Several hundred were lined up on huge stands all along the walls. All of them were bubbling away noisily. I walked further into the lab, closer to the large rain forest terrarium. There inside among the trees and vines was Leonard. He saw me, waved, then moved off in the other direction. A few moments later he appeared from around the corner, he appeared to be still slightly damp from the mist inside.
"Hi ya Al, long time no see."
"I spoke with you just last week Leonard."
"That's true, but it's been a while since you've come down here."
Stanley grasped my arm for reinforcement, "Ask him about those expenditures Al, that's why we're here Steigler, to find out what you're doing with all these mighty expensive frogs."
"It's simple Stanley, I'm trying to determine the degree of water tightness of their assholes."
Stanley puffed out his chest; he felt the wrath of the self-righteous. "This is no laughing matter Steigler, you're making unbelievable expenditures. And you're making them with out any apparent results. This is a business Steigler, and it's not here for your own personal enlightenment."
"Look Al, Remember when you gave me the basement to do with as I pleased. I recall that you were mighty pleased with those nine patents on particle ionization. As I recall they still bring in a pretty hefty chunk of dough every month."
"Yeah Steigler they do. But it's supposed to finance more research. What are you doing with all of these damn frogs?" butted in Stanley.
"So you really want to know what I'm doing with these frogs Stanley?" A strange glistening was in Leonard's eye as he said this.
Well yes,..yes I do." Stanley said suspiciously.
"Stanley, I know this sounds unbelievable to you, but it really is going to work." Leonard put his arm around the much smaller accountant, then lowered his voice in a conspiratorial way. "Transmutation of matter Stanley, that's the key. It's been difficult, but I think that I'm close, real close. Through selected bombardment of gamma radiation, I'm breaking down the temporal structure of molecules. And then I'm changing their alignment. Mutating their very form. I need these frogs to study their anatomical structure. Real soon now I'll be able to turn a slimy little accountant into a real live frog. And this, this will be your new home Stanley."
Stanley looked aghast. He looked at us, then at the rain forest, then back at us. Color started to return to his face as Leonard began to chuckle.
"Well, as usual, you find it difficult to discuss anything with me in a rational manner. I hope that Al will have better luck with you than I. Al, I'll see you later in your office."
"Make an appointment with Marsha." I called after him, knowing it was futile to expect that of him.
"I don't know why Al, but I just don't like accountants." Leonard said to me.
"Leonard, Leonard, what in the world is going on down here. Frogs, what are you doing with nine thousand dollar frogs? And that thing, all this stuff, aquariums, trees,…. Leonard, this isn't a biological research lab. And you are not a biologist. What ever happened to that sulfur dioxide problem you were working on?"
"It was boring."
"That's it! It was boring?"
"Sorry Al, it was boring. Look when you gave me a free hand and unlimited funding, you said I could do whatever interested me."
"I'm aware of all that Leonard. It isn't that I mind spending money, it's where that money is spent that I worry about. I find it difficult to understand why a physicist is keeping frogs, that's all. If it's important, then fine, there's no problem."
"Well Al, it's hard to explain. I've been in a slump lately."
"Yeah, a slump. It's hard to just turn on genius. You don't wake up in the morning some days and say to yourself. 'Well, today I'll discover something remarkable.' It just doesn't happen like that."
"I understand that Leonard, but where do the frogs and your rain forest fit in?"
"I don't know, Al, they interest me. I think that somehow they might, in some way, well, inspire me. Who knows, it beats staring at the walls."
"What do you do, dissect them or what?"
"I watch them."
"You watch them?"
"I watch them breed."
"You watch them breed."
"It excites me."
"It excites you?"
"Well…. that is…, certainly…, unusual."
"Unusual! Al, unusual is how you would describe Marsha's butterscotch bean dip. This is perversion."
"Well,… well, you're certainly honest about it. I … don't quite know …. I'm not exactly sure how this company, in it's impartial and unending quest for knowledge for the sake of science can… well, participate in the…. well, the deviant obsessions of one of it's admittedly prize researchers…"
"Cut the crap Al. What you really want to say is that you're going to revoke my spending authorization."
"Well in a manner of speaking, yes. Look Leonard, I don't mind a little diversion now and then. I'm sure that Einstein had a few peculiarities, however medieval they may have been. But this, this Leonard, is a little extravagant."
"Well I went to a porno movie and it didn't do anything for me."
"So you built this?"
"Sulfur dioxide Al, is nowhere near as interesting as the transmutation of matter."
I had to leave. The sight of that huge terrarium and the reactions it caused were very depressing. Sitting alone later in my office, I found that I couldn't concentrate on the business before me. Something disturbed me about Leonard's sudden appetite for the perverse. I decided to talk to the company gossip.
I called her over the intercom, "Marsha, could you come in here for a moment, and please bring the latest expense reports from Leonard Steigler with you."
Momentarily she appeared. I took the rather large file from her and ushered her to a chair. "Sit down, sit down, Marsha. I want to speak to you for a few minutes."
"It's about Leonard, isn't it. I mean that's what you want to talk about isn't it?"
"Well, yes Marsha, what do you know about his frogs?"
"I won't go down there to see them, I mean, it isn't proper. Not while you’re supposed to be working. And besides, I won't talk to him after what he said about my bean dip at the Christmas party."
Ah, yes, Marsha's infamous Butterscotch Bean Dip. It haunted me for two days, yet I had barely tasted it. My Christmas was mostly spent on the commode. "I don't recall what it was that he said about it."
"Well he had the nerve to say that it wasn't fit for human consumption!"
Secretly I felt that was an excellent explanation as to why the accounting staff went after it with such enthusiasm. But, to the matter at hand, "Now Marsha, you mustn't let one person's opinion upset you. I personally don't like guacamole. Everyone else seemed to enjoy it, if I remember correctly."
"That's true. I suppose you're right. And I don't like fish."
I waited a moment for her to finish that thought. But then it was Marsha. "Yes, fish. Well Marsha, you said you won't go down to see his frogs. Does anyone else go down to see them?"
"Oh sure, all the girls go down there. Or almost all of them do. Cindy doesn't. She just got married in September, remember? And Teresa is pregnant again. And well Sally just isn't Leonard's type at all, but well yeah, most of the girls go down there."
"Uh, huh. And they go down there to see his frogs?"
"Well you know, they go down there for more than that!"
"No, I'm afraid I don't know."
"Oh Al, haven't you ever made love in the forest before?"
"Ah, I see." I didn't really, I was raised in the city and couldn't understand any special fascination with it. "Well thank you Marsha, you've been a big help to me. I will of course keep this information strictly confidential."
"I'm glad I could help Al." And she left, taking that queasy feeling in my stomach with her. A small gift of sorts leftover from Christmas.
My work seemed to go a little easier for the entire month afterwards. Even Stanley's frequent visits were a little more tolerable knowing that Leonard was down in his forest getting a little inspiration. Eventually, I felt that the aphrodisiac power would decrease as the novelty wore off. Leonard was a genius, and I really did have the utmost confidence that eventually great things would happen. I was almost right.
Walking into my office on a Monday morning, I was greeted by Stanley, seated at my desk, in my chair. He jumped up, and began gesticulating wildly as he shouted at me, "Al, this has got to stop! It can't go on anymore! It's an outrage!"
"You're right Stanley, it must stop. You can't keep coming into my office without an appointment."
"No, no listen to me Al. Do you know what that pervert Steigler is doing down in that lab of his. And we're financing it! Do you know?"
"He has sexual relations with some of the female employees."
"He … he what? That's not what he told me."
"You're too gullible Stanley."
"Gullible! Gullible! He once told me that we were going to make money out of thin air. That was before I had ever heard of particle ionization. What am I supposed to believe? Do you have any idea how much money those thin air patents bring in each month? And just from the Auto industry?"
"Well, roughly yes I do."
"Yeah, well when he says things like that, I believe him. He told me he was, well he told me he watched… he said …. He has sex with the girls. Wow! So what does he do with those frogs?"
"I don't know, Stanley. I'll talk to him though. See what he's really working on. Perhaps his little diversion has gone on long enough. I have some busy work I was going to pass around. But I think that I will let him work on it."
"Busy work, Al?"
"Just some particulate dispersion problems for the electric companies. The perfect thing to help a genius out of his slump."
"Well good. He's had way too much unproductive space for far too long. You don't always think about these things Al, but when you gave that much space to one person, whew you skew the whole accountability of the entire operation. And then when we don't make any profit, well Al, it's a nightmare, a nightmare…"
He was still jammering away about income per square inch or something as I ushered him out the door.
Going to see Leonard proved to be unnecessary. He came to see me the very next day. He even had an appointment. He walked in holding a thick file and a large bluish frog with orange spots. Tossing the file onto my desk, he crossed the room with his companion and sat down. "I suppose you've been wondering what I've really been working on?"
"No, not really."
"Well, thank you Al. That shows that you really do have confidence in me. I'm impressed. And I hope that little number I just gave you will show that your confidence in me isn't unwarranted."
I looked at the file. All handwritten as usual. The title caught my attention: Separation of Isotopic Hydrogen Via Biological Means.
"Yeah, you know heavy water. For bombs, fusion reactions and the like. Nobody has gotten that far with the fusion yet, but it's only a matter of time. Especially if I get interested in it."
"And is it cheaper?"
"It's dirt cheap. And very valuable. Who knows what else you might adapt it to. Won't be long Al, pretty soon you can get out those dusty plans for the new wing."
"Plans? What plans?"
"C'mon Al, everybody knows that you had an architect draw up plans for a new wing. That was over fifteen years ago, way before I came here even."
"Yes, well it was something that I and my,… wife, wanted to do. I haven't thought about it for some time now. A new wing would certainly look nice though. I suppose that deep down, I knew that you would be instrumental to this facility. And now you may just help to achieve the growth that was dreamed of such a long time ago. I'm impressed. I never doubted your abilities Leonard. Your methods worried me at times. I mean frog fantasies, what was that all about anyway?"
"Al, I just hate being bugged about anything, and especially by that asshole Stanley."
"Well, I don't see that happening again in the near future. I am still curious about your rain forest and its appeal to your female companions."
"Ah, I see, you old dog you. As a matter of fact, I do my best thinking right after sex. The novelty of the rain forest helped provide me with suitable opportunities."
"And what about the frogs?"
"Everyone needs a hobby Al. Frogs fascinate me. Along with the transmutation of matter."
"Okay Leonard, as long as you're happy."
"See you later Al." And he left, taking his unusual amphibious friend with him.
I set right to work with Marsha transcribing his handwritten pages into readable text. Then we sent off copies to the legal and patent departments. Then, I locked the door to my office and got out those plans for my new wing. After ten years, there were a few changes needed. I set to work on them. I hadn't felt that good for some time, just working on the changes was invigorating.
By the end of the week we were ready to announce the news of Leonard's discovery. That meant a press party. Well, mostly it meant a party. Scientists are normally a stodgy group of people, but they always seem eager to celebrate a colleague's success. I think it's because they get to mingle with press people and talk about themselves. And also the fact that someone else's success means a little more money in the pot for us to distribute to their personal projects.
The day finally arrived, the announcement was made and the party was going quite well. Enough liquor had been brought in to insure favorable copy from all the members of the press. Having made the required rounds of all the heads of the news teams, I was about to retire to my office and allow the party to continue. But as I was leaving, Margaret Mayer from the World Press approached me. We began a lively conversation in which she regaled me with some anecdotes about some rather famous persons. Then she asked me about the new wing for the facility. I, of course, was flattered by her attention, and gave her a rundown of what the new addition meant. It was during this conversation that I noticed Leonard and Marsha walk into the room, hand in hand.
"Well, well well. The call of the wild." I murmured half to myself.
She looked at me quizzically, "The call of the wild. What in the world do you mean by that Al?"
"Oh, I'm sorry Margaret, I was just thinking out loud. Listen, would you like to see how our greatest scientist gets his inspiration?"
"This isn't a joke or anything is it?"
Looking at her well-exposed cleavage, I was suddenly inspired in the way that Leonard gets inspired. I said to myself, 'I'm no fool nor am I that old either'.
"No, really. We've set up a rather special little secluded spot right here in the building where Leonard and others can go to get a little , …er, … inspiration. It's quite impressive really. And I'm willing to give you an exclusive look at it."
"Oh my, I'm all excited!"
"Good. In fact excellent. Let me refresh your drink first."
And we left for the basement. While in the elevator Margaret asked me, "Where is that uncouth baboon Stanley. Every time I come here he follows me around leering at me."
"I don't know, come to think of it I haven't seen him for some time. Let me apologize for him. Although we may be unsure of his species at this point, I must admit that he recognizes beauty when he sees it."
"Uuuuuuu, my,… Thank you Al." She faced me directly and reached up and straightened my tie. "You old dog you Al."
I was hoping that wasn't really what she was thinking when the elevator dinged and the door opened. We both turned to go. "It's right down this corridor Margaret." I led the way down the corridor to Leonard's lab. "We call it the Inspiration Chamber."
Margaret looked at me with a slight look of disbelief. Then we entered.
"Oh my,… I don't believe it. It's huge. You weren't kidding Al. It's incredible. Can we go inside?"
"Of course," I said, even though I had no idea how to get inside. Walking around to the back, we found the entrance, then entered. We looked around a bit and came upon an ice bucket with champagne and two glasses. It was right next to a blanket near a small waterfall and picturesque little pond.
"Oh Al. Champagne? Did you plan this?"
"Margaret, you know how I've always been, somewhat attracted to you. Here, let's sit down, let me get you some champagne."
She lay back against some moss-covered boulders as I opened the bottle and poured. We sipped in silence for a few moments.
"My, but it is warm in here, isn't it?" she whispered hoarsely.
"Yes, yes it is." I agreed.
"Well, you don't mind if I take this off then do you?
I was unable to answer her, but I watched as she began to unbutton the buttons of her blouse. One by one, she undid them, and I beheld the joyous vision before me. And then this large blue frog with orange spots hopped up and appeared to be ogling Margaret. Then it began to hum what I thought was Moon River. It ruined everything.