Vincent watched the color monitors as Zeek brought the people down the inner slope of the berm. He dragged the last of the cola out of the bottom of the styrofoam cup and said, “The hell is this?”
Don was next to him. He wore a lab coat even though Vincent had told him he didn’t have to. Don frowned and pointed at the screen. “Trisha’s with them.”
“I can see.”
Trisha was Don’s favorite, which Vincent didn’t understand. She was rude and smelled like spoiled milk. Plus, she’d be dead in about three days, so what was the point?
This all started with six months ago with Vincent, and right after him, Don. Vincent was a pharmaceutical representative tasked with schmoozing doctors and nurses—mostly nurses—into trying and then exclusively using his company’s products. He was at a company lunch for some of the brains from R&D to pitch their latest breakthroughs and Don started a video of a new rodent poison.
Vincent raised his hand. “We don’t sell poison, Don. Well, not in the recommended dosages.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m the guy who has to sell this shit.”
“Hospitals have vermin too,” Don said, and hit Play.
The video showed a cage with a half dozen rats. Gloved hands lowered a white rat into the midst. This one had a red number 8 written on its side.
“That’s the one that’s been given the treatment,” Don said.
The other rats started sniffing the air, their whiskers twitching, then scooted right over to the new rat and stuck their noses against its fur. The treated rat rolled onto its back and showed its belly, something Vincent didn’t know they did.
“If you don’t like blood,” Don said, “look away now.”
The rats clawed and bit at the white rat’s belly until red drops started to spatter, then a gout of it spilled onto the cage floor. Vincent leaned forward as the rats went crazy, burrowing into the white one’s abdomen and coming out with their faces bloody and mouths full.
“Are they eating it?” Vincent said.
Don smiled. “They are.”
The other reps were booing and turning away. Vincent said, “The white one…it looks happy.”
“It’s ecstatic,” Don said. He stopped the video. “The drug has three stages. Stage one, the treated rodent feels an irresistible desire to bleed. The drug creates a sensation of pressure and itching that can only be relieved by bleeding.”
“Jesus,” someone said.
“Stage two. When ingested, the blood and soft tissues of the treated rodent create a sense of euphoria in the rodents who eat it. It releases dopamine and serotonin, what we in the lab call the feel-goodies.”
“Like chocolate,” one of the reps said.
Don said, “More like heroin. The rodents who ingest it become addicted, and they quickly begin what is known as drug-seeking behavior. They search endlessly for more, stop eating anything else, and become very hostile toward each other.”
A rep named Stacy said, “So our pitch to the hospital is we’ll give them crazy crackhead rats?”
“No,” Don said, “we’ll give them the drug, and they put it in a place where the rats can get to it. The rats perform self-administration—meaning they eat the drug—and within a few days they’re all either eaten or dying from withdrawals.”
Stacy rubbed her temples.
“What’s it called?” Vincent said.
Don smiled again. “I call it The Munchies.”
Vincent took Don out for drinks after the meeting. “Donny, you know we ain’t gonna sell your cannibal drug, right?”
“No. What’s the brochure, a rat with blood all over his face and our logo in the corner? No, but I think I have something we can do with it instead.”
Don sipped his margarita and smacked his lips. “They want it for military?”
“This is just you and me talking here, Don. Forget the company. First let me ask you, you got any money problems?”
“Yeah, gambling, hookers, old dental tool collector. Any shit like that?”
“No,” Don said. He turned his glass in a circle. “I did get divorced last year.”
“Hot damn, that’s perfect,” Vincent said. “Alimony? Child support?”
“Well kiss those troubles goodbye, Donnie, because we’re gonna be rich.”
Don looked up. “You want to take Munchies to another company?”
“No, dammit, forget all companies. And we need another name besides Munchies, so let’s work on that.” Vincent leaned close to Don. “But first, the billion dollar question: Will this work on people?”
“If we give someone a dose of this stuff, will they be like that white rat? And will other people want to get high by eating them?”
Don frowned. “No. God, no. Why would you ask that?”
“Soon as I saw your video it hit me. Drug dealers get caught because of what? Drugs. They have to manufacture, ship, store, and sell drugs. But what if the drug is a person? What then, Donny?”
“Then it’s a person,” Don said.
“I’m sorry, I meant junkie. We give the drug to a junkie.”
“How is that different?”
Vincent was confused. “It’s a junkie, Don. They’re gonna die or end up in jail anyway.”
Don was briefly horrified, then shook his head. “This is all irrelevant. The Munchies won’t work on humans. The pathways it uses to access the sub—”
“Don, listen, I won’t understand you, so save it. You’re a smart dude and it’s a brilliant product. I’d hate to see it get patented by the company and shelved forever. So tell me: Can you adjust it to work on people?”
Don sloshed his margarita around. “Theoretically.”
“Close enough for me! What do you need to get started?”
“No, wait. Your scheme is flawed.”
“I appreciate the term scheme. This feels like a scheme, doesn’t it? What’s the flaw?”
Don said, “You think you found a loophole by making people the drug. So there’s no product, right? No contraband?”
“Jesus, schemes and contraband? We’re a couple of real banditos, Donny. And yes, that is correct. No product.”
“What about the drug we give to the people?” Don lifted his glass for a victory sip.
“What drug, Donnie? Oh, you’re talking about the rat poison we manufacture? Lots of companies make rat poison. How is it our fault if some people eat it?”
Don stopped with the glass halfway to his mouth.
Vincent said, “And that’s only if we get caught. But we won’t get caught, Donny. Because all the witnesses are either going to be eaten or dead from withdrawals. And we’re gonna sell people who taste like chocolate opium.”
Vincent clinked his whiskey against Don’s martini.
“They don’t taste like chocolate opium,” Don said.
“Buddy, I don’t give a shit and we already toasted so it’s done.”
Now they watched the monitors. Zeek brought Trisha and the four strangers toward the cluster of buildings, straight toward the camera feed Vincent and Don were watching.
“They look like junkies to you?” Vincent said.
“Me neither. Not yet, anyway.”