Attention To Detail (part 1)
c2000 riffage

If you ever saw my work place, you would probably think I was an anal-retentive perfectionist. I suppose that that's not too far off the mark, but when you work in a pharmeceutical laboratory it helps to keep things tidy. You too would have a routine where at the start of your shift at 8:30 am you would log on, check your e-mail, highlight the important points and save them on a Wordpad document for later reference. Every day at 4:20 pm precisely, you would clean off your countertop and equipment with a medical disinfectant spray with an unpronounceable six-syllable name. At 4:25 pm on the dot, you would break off whatever you're doing in the lab and sterilise your tools, getting the lab ready for the evening shift of grunts and technicians coming in to replace you. I have a very precise way of conducting my work and though it may be tedious at times, it gets the job done. I get results.

If you did all of this, maybe you too would have a friend like Jose Carras who could help you get as unregimented and loose as possible on your off-hours. Jose is about as far from disciplined and regimented as you could get, and I find hanging out with him to be an incredible relief from the pressures at work. I get to let my hair down around him, so to speak.

You see, when I was in high school studying science and mathematics and plotting an eventual career in biochemistry, Jose would be spending his school hours (that is, when he actually showed up for school) goofing off in the cafeteria, smoking dope under the bleachers, sleeping in the library, sneaking onto the roof of the school with his buddies, engaging in deep philosophical arguments such as which side of the bedroom Ernie from Sesame Street kept his bed in, or doing just about anything other than actual studying. His parents eventually pulled him midway through grade ten and sent him to a private school, then military school, and then finally gave up on him attaining any secondary education. His parents were and are very well-to-do - his dad is the vice-president at Pioneer Steel Corporation in Hamilton - so he always had big money to fall back on. By the time I was a senior tech at Banting Industries in Mississauga, with my own bio-lab and a healthy salary, all at the ten der age of twenty-five no less, Jose was a full-time layabout and erstwhile house sitter for his parents, who spent three months out of the year in Madrid, where most of his family originated from. I hooked up with Jose for the first time in ages in my graduating year at high school - he pulled up in his dad's 'borrowed' Jaguar and convinced me to skip the rest of the day and catch up with things over a round of Quake. Jose knew the meaning and value of leisure, and I guess a budding workaholic like myself needs to be reminded once in a while.

It was around the time of our reacquaintance that Jose's half-sister Bonita entered the picture. She was fifteen at the time, studying at a posh all-girls school outside Oakville and had been in Canada for a little over a year - when she was nine her mother had taken her back to Spain when she divorced her husband. Jose had taken it upon himself to "break her out of prison" now and then and bring her into Toronto for some Canadian culture (Canada's Wonderland, video games, hockey matches, and her first ever joint, which made her vomit.) She was often around when Jose came to break me out of my own jail cell for the day. It wasn't that I minded Bonita hanging around, but early on for whatever reason she took an overly obvious liking to me and went to awkward and sometimes embarassing lengths to get my attention. Bonita had a singular ability for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, usually in front of me and my friends, or whoever I was dating at that time. Now I will ad mit that I thought she was cute - though I suppose the Catholic schoolgirl's uniform she would wear for what was supposed to be a school day when Jose came calling to bust her out had something to do with that. Still, she was gangly, maybe a tad geeky (it takes one to know one), and we didn't really connect. I was overly serious and involved in my studies, and besides, I had a major unrequited crush on Heather Batchelor, a long blonde goddess in my Grade Twelve Calculus class, and most of my amorous energies were spent trying to get on her good side. Little Bonita was a skinny kid with baby pigtails and a wierd, lisping accent - frankly, she wasn't even on my radar.

Jose, in addition to being my leisure consultant, was also my instant reality check. "Harold, dude," he would say, calling me by my middle name instead of 'Jim' or 'James,' like everyone else did, "Heather is a rich bitch snob who thinks you're a dork. Stop wasting your time, I'm telling you..."

"I swear, Joe, you'd worship the ground she walks on too if you had to sit beside her every day. Christ, what I wouldn't give to run my fingers through those golden locks of hers..."

"What, her hair? I would have gone for those big tits of hers, but to each his own, bro."

Well, that was then, and this is now. Jose was absolutely right, Heather never did go out with me. Neither did Paula, a thick-maned redhead from first year Biology who was also way out of my league. My girlfriends back in high school, and throughout university, were all mere mortals, and our relationships always fizzled out unspectacularly. Bonita always seemed excited when I broke up with another girlfriend and would go out of her way to help me "get over my heartbreak." I acquiesced to her offers every now and then, most notably when I signed up at her gym for about a month (being a major gym bunny, she introduced me by name to all the trainers and the steroid-chomping regulars, every one of whom possessed a bone-crushing handshake.) It seemed like a good idea at the time, despite the forty-five minute drive out to Hamilton, but she was always following me around the gym, working in with me on the machines, and generally not giving me a moment's peace. I ended up quittin g, much to her disappointment. I told her that the gym just wasn't for me, it was too far outside of the G.T.A., and finally, there was only so much crappy dance music a guy could take. She was a big hip-hop and house freak and I hurt her unintentionally by saying this, even though I avoided telling her that the real reason why I quit was that she just wouldn't leave me alone.

So by 1998 there we were: me at Banting working on metabolic accelerants, Bonita studying Health at McMaster University, and Jose, professional house-sitter and guru of slack. I had convinced Jose to limit his jailbreaks to after hours and weekends - try telling a guy who's never known schedules and routines how to work around one, it isn't easy. But I'm sure he appreciated my gems of workplace wisdom as much as I appreciated his tales of lax debauchery. As for Bonita, well...

"Harry, dude, you do know Bonnie still's got big-time hots for you, right?"

He handed me the bong and I took a hit. "Well, duh!"

Jose's buddy Franco's hands were fidgeting, as if he was impatient for his turn with the bong. "Hey, Jim, I don't know what your hang-up is. She's cute. Jesus, I'd bang her!"

"Yo Frankie!" Jose swatted Franco on the head. "Watch it, you're talking about my Mom's daughter, remember?" He cracked his knuckles and spoke in my direction. "Besides, I haven't given up on setting Harry here up with her, sooner or later."

I rolled my eyes. "Jesus, Joe! You don't have to 'set me up,' all right? She's cool, but she just doesn't do it for me. She's not my type."

"C'mon, Harold, you two are perfect. You're smart, she's smart. You work hard, she works hard... shit, I've just about given up trying to get either of you to loosen up so I figure at least you two should keep each other out of trouble."

"No offense, Joe, but just drop it, alright?"

"Chill, dude, s'all right..." It was Jose's turn with the bong again. We were sitting in the rec room of the Carras family's massive house north of Hamilton. Bonita and Franco's girlfriend Mary were upstairs watching TV while us guys were getting supremely wasted on a Friday night.

Jose's eyes were bloodshot and full of mischievous glee. "Hey, I know what your type is, bro..." He passed me the bong and waited for me to take a hit. "Tell me, what if Bonnie grew her hair real long?"

I threw him a dirty look. Franco asked what that had to do with anything.

"Oh, Harold here is a hair man. He's always had a hard-on for Crystal Gayle and that shit!" The two of them broke out giggling like old ladies. Very stoned old ladies.

"Would you guys cut it out? Okay, so I like long hair, so sue me." I handed Franco the bong. Just then Bonita came down into the rec room to retrieve a video tape from the Carras family's extensive library. "Hey Joey, I thought we had a copy of '48 Hours,' you know, that Eddie Murphy thing?"

"It's in there. It's filed under 'F', as in 'forty-eight.'" Jose knew every square inch of that house - god knows he spent enough time there.

I studied Bonita, watching her fish through the video tapes. She had a cap on, the thin-brimmed type that people who run marathons wear all the time. It was pulled tight over her black curly hair, which stuck out from underneath the cap fabric and hung just below her ears. She caught me looking at her and flashed me a shy smile. "Hi Harry!" She had clued in to Jose's use of my middle name some time ago, much to my annoyance. She then took the video tape and went back upstairs. Jose and Franco waited out of earshot and then exchanged a flurry of mocking "Hi Harry!"s in high-pitched tones. Assholes.

"So Harry, buddy..." Jose's eyes were glowing like red coals in his skull. "Tell the truth. You think she'd look good with long hair?"

I thought it over. "It would be a start." I picked up the bong and inhaled deeply, listening to the bubbles gurgle in the bowl.

* * *

A year ago I lost out on an early retirement. What happened was a research team I was part of developed a carbohydrate compound which eventually became Lipidia, the big weight-loss cream that was featured in Time Magazine. I inadvertently helped to revolutionise weight loss, but because of the contract I signed with Banting, the rights reverted to the corporation. The company has easily made a hundred million dollars off of Lipidia so far, and my name wasn't even on the final report to the president. I did get a decent cash bonus, and my own lab space where I can work on the next big cash cow for Banting, but to this day I still feel like I've been screwed over. Shareholders are building extra condos in Florida thanks to our discovery, and my lawyer told me there isn't a thing any of us can do about it. Jose offered to get some of his buddies together to pee into the ventilation system of our main office as revenge, but I managed to talk him out of it. I considered the offe r, though.

For the first time in my career I started doing very unethical things - things which could jeopardised my career if they're ever found out. You see, I started keeping a second log which I hid from my supervisor. If I sensed that a project I was researching had alternate applications, something like Lipidia, I wanted to make sure that the important findings stayed with me until I could figure out what to do with them. I'd record the basic data in the official log book and jot down the important stuff in my own ledger. I kept my eye out for something big.

I found it when I was working with an artificially-engineered enzyme which was being developed to stimulate plant growth. The experiment was going nowhere until I considered that the enzyme might better work on animal life. I was able to work out a deal with my buddy Jamal in the Rat Lab to use some of the spare mice as test subjects on a classified project. I tested the enzyme on some of the mice but got no immediate results, no noticeable changes of any sort, at least at first. I won't bore you with all of the details (nor would I wish to give away any more incriminating evidence than I already have) but I found that when the enzyme was combined with certain amino acids, along with some organic materials such as lavender and flax seed extract, the mice's fur became noticeably fuller and glossier. I measured fur growth and was astonished to find that the individual hairs grew a full 0.6 centimeters in most of the specimens, within twenty-four hours no less. Not a single bit of this crucial data made it onto the daily logs. I sensed that this was the 'something big' I had been looking for. Instant hair growth - no one need ever regret that bad haircut ever again, just pop a tablet and wait for the damage to repair itself. Or could it be an instant hair replacement if used right, the next generation of Rogaine or Minoxydyl? Faulty as those products were, they made someone rich, and I started thinking it could be my turn.

I had the compound pressed into tablets. It wasn't easy keeping the big secret from my co-workers, but as I was still fresh off of my success as the Lipidia project leader everyone gave me a degree of leeway with my chores - I was the 25-year-old boy genius, and was given the benefit of the doubt in most things. I still managed to do my regular experiments over the two weeks I was doing my covert research, so everyone was satisfied. All my reports were filed on schedule, and the lab was kept in its usual order - no one was the wiser. Still, I was trying to figure out how to run more tests without anyone knowing.

I had the tablets, about a hundred in all, sealed in a container and was considering my next move when I realised that inventory was coming up that very evening - to my horror I had completely forgotten about it. I was worried what would happen if this mystery vial, unmarked and unrecorded, was discovered in my lab. I panicked and shoved the container into my coat pocket, taking it with me through security check undetected and out the front door. That container was either carrying my future fortune or my future criminal record. My hands were shaking on the steering wheel when I drove out of the parking lot.

This is how I ended up driving out to Hamilton to check up on Jose. His parents were away for the week and Jose was once again in charge, though they were becoming more and more reluctant to leave the house in Jose's care. Recently he had had his driver's license suspended and wasn't able to get around, so I was the designated chauffeur for the time being. I was still on edge when I got to his place. He offered me a beer when I shook off my coat and Jose picked up on a tell-tale rattle.

"What's with the pills?" Now, Jose was fond of taking risks - I recalled once how he took a female hormone supplement on a dare ("Dude, it was cool, I didn't have to shave for a week!") He was a bit loaded and he looked like he was in the mood to do something idiotic. I tried to downplay the whole thing, hanging my coat up and shrugging. "Oh, that's just aspirin. Work gives me a headache sometimes."

I only turned my back for a second. "Dude, I didn't know aspirin was green." He had already fished out the container of tablets - Jose was holding the vial up to the light, watching the tablets tumble as he turned it over. He twisted off the lid of the container for a closer look.

"Joe, put that down, alright?" I went to grab the bottle from him, but he held me away with his free hand.

"You made this at work or something? Wow, cool."

I was starting to panic, and I was unable to come up with a convincing lie, so stupidly I told him that it was an experimental hair growth drug that I accidentally had brought home with me. Stupidly, because I used the word 'drug' in the sentence. Before I could stop him he opened the vial and gulped a tablet down.

"Shit, you idiot!" I grabbed the vial from his hand and jammed the cap back on. "I said 'experimental', it hasn't been tested for fuck's sake!"

"Well, now's a perfect time to test it." Jose was wearing a moronic, drunken grin. "Who knows, maybe my pubes will grow all long and shiny!" He started laughing and staggered towards the stairs to the rec room.

Now I was really panicking. Not only did I smuggle out an under-tested compound out of a laboratory, but now my friend had consumed it, acting as a guinea pig. What if he gets sick or dies from it? What then? I felt nauseous. On top of all this, I found out that Jose had had a big argument with his dad about losing his license, and Jose was worried about finally getting kicked out of the house after all these years. He could have been attempting suicide by popping that tablet - maybe that was his intention, who the hell knew? Unable to convince him to go to the hospital I had to stay and watch him in case anything happened. We ended up ordering a pizza and watching the sports channel while I waited, bracing for the worst.

Two hours later I was still waiting. Jose was sitting in the big leather recliner, TV remote in hand. The only sign of life at times was when he leaned over to pick up his beer. He looked drunk, but he showed no signs of illness, at least that I could detect. Then, I looked over again, and something caught my eye.

"Hey Joe, didn't you get a haircut last week?"

Jose belched loudly. "Yeah, what about it?"

"Take a look in the mirror."

Jose stood up and went over to the mantle at the back of the room where a mirror was hung. He was startled to find that his crewcut had grown out into an unrulp moptop. He had also sprouted a severe five o'clock shadow. "Holy shit...." He touched his hair in disbelief, as if he wasn't sure he was hallucinating or not.

I was stone sober, and I wasn't hallucinating. "My god, it worked. I never thought it'd work like that." It occured to me that head hair, which grew at a different rate than body hair, might react differently to the compound, and I was seeing the proof of this. The head hair had grown three times its original length, but the stubble on his face was minimal in comparison. "How you feeling?"

Jose shrugged. "Same as always." He looked again in the mirror. "This is some wild shit, Harold. Wild."

I wanted to take some measurements, maybe a sample for further analysis, but for now I was just relieved that so far, Jose was still alive. This wasn't the way I wanted to further test the compound, but all things considered, so far so good.

Jose ran his fingers through his shiny mop, watching his reflection. He then opened his pants and pulled his underwear open to look in. "Hey Harold, my pubes are stilll the same. Thought you oughta know..." I winced and thanked him for the status report.

* * *

I drove back to Mississauga later that night, after I was satisfied that Jose was all right for the time being. I was tempted to try and get him to a hospital, but I was still scared that something would go wrong. It could be a delayed reaction - we were far from being out of the woods. The shit just seemed to get deeper and deeper - what the hell had I gotten myself into?

I pulled into the parking lot behind my apartment complex and parked the car. As I was getting out I reached into my pocket for my house keys. I suddenly realised that the container of tablets was not in my pocket. I rummaged through the other pockets of my coat, then my pants pockets, then my briefcase, the backseat of the car... this was not good at all. Maybe nothing would come of losing those tablets, but I was in no mood to leave these things to chance. Scared out of my mind, I called Jose on my cell phone and asked him if he had seen the vial. He belched and said that he hadn't.

Then he asked me if I was up for a trip to Detroit tomorrow night.


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