MUSK Nr. 1

by Gerd Maximovic

(Translation: Isabel Cole)

In a scientific journal Angelo Tardellini had once read that, despite their underdeveloped sense of smell, human beings do take in a variety of scents, which often quite unconsciously affect their behavior. This interested Angelo if only because he himself was a chemist in the large Betacamp Company in Rome, which produced perfumes, toilet

waters, aromatic substances and other ingredients which made daily life a bit more pleasant. And in his own life he had seen over and over that smell really did play a large role, and perhaps, without his realizing it, this was why he had become a chemist with said specialty, for even as a child he had liked to smell the books he was about to read, and often threw one away because he disliked the smell of the glue which held it together.

Now it must be said that Angelo Tardellini was a very remarkable man. He had large feet which always sweated when he was excited, and a splendid bald spot which always went red at the most awkward moments. We shall pass over his slight speech impediment, which could also be called a stutter, as well as the fact that he tended to a corpulence which could not be explained as ordinary obesity. In short, one can easily imagine that his success was small when he set out to bag the noble female game - be it that he tripped over his own feet, be it that his enormous Adam's apple bounced like a tennis ball, be it that the belt of his extra-wide pants tore.

But we know that nature is just. What she refuses a person in one place, or in a particular field, she repays him in another place. This does not necessarily mean what the gentle reader might think, though Angelo was not poorly endowed in this area either. Rather, his specific external beauty was, as one will easily admit, more than compensated for by an abundance of intellectual gifts, but it was precisely this intellectual surplus which rankled with Angelo Tardellini, for every swaggering gorilla who could do no more than belch and spit on the street wrapped ten women around every finger, while he, whose gift approached genius, would have had to content himself with dubious men's magazines or even baser things like peep shows or the sort, had he not been too proud.

There - holding the scientific journal in his hands, scanning the fragrance tables - he decided to bring himself compensation and justice and invent a fragrance which he might be able to make use of professionally as well . . .

So he called the porter, Signor Potobosi, to tell him that he was not to be disturbed that warm, humid night, for he was working on a project which would mean a great deal of money for Betacamps, and his voice did not sound calculating at all, not at all as if he were finally placing his own interests above those of the company.

With the agility of a monkey he sprang about among his retorts and test-tubes, juggling vials and tweezers, making the Bunsen burner hiss demonically, searching up and down the closet in which fragrances of all kinds were kept, mixed toilet waters on litmus and other papers, put a clothespin on his nose so as not to be brought into a state of confusion by all the fragrances, wiped his bald spot over and over with a big, flowered handkerchief, while the kettles seethed and boiled, blew his nose in excitement as he saw the play of colors in the retorts, and pictured with periodically flushing face what effect he would have on the female part of humanity if he could only manage to produce the musk fragrance exactly as he had calculated it in the tables . . .

Ah, after hours of work he not only had cramps in both feet, but also a small retort in his hands, in which a coppery liquid rocked. He rolled his eyes, sighed, scooped the wax out of his ears and beat his breast, confident of victory, before opening the vial - first gaining some distance from all the confusing fragrances which he had had to try - and breathing in the first sample of the finished mixture with ecstatic eyes.

Ah! That was it. Tears of joy sprang to his eyes, and his bald spot sweated profusely. It had worked! He had found it! The scent was his, the scent of scents, and as the perfume entered his nose and penetrated deep into his brain stem, he felt himself grow dizzy, and whole armies of women seemed to stream through the door of the laboratory and into his soul.

Ah! Now he was the greatest. He was set for life. No one would wrest the secret from him, neither his colleagues nor the envious. And he was going to think long and hard about whether to relinquish this olfactory miracle to his company at all - if so, then only after offering himself as a guinea pig in a heroic experiment and testing the effect of his preparation in every respect.

Yes, he was as happy as ever an inventor had been, and he wondered whether his marvelous creation might earn him a first class chemistry prize, or perhaps the chemical order of the garter, in violet - but all these thoughts, he then decided, were idle, and anyway - as he rubbed a tiny dose on the nape of his neck and under his chin - there was a scratching at the door, though he had demanded absolute quiet.

But his discovery had put him in a generous mood, and though otherwise he would have yelled at the door fearsomely from inside, now he said in a jovial, courteous voice:

"Yes, what is it?"

But outside, instead of an answer, the scratching went on, more urgently this time, more hungrily, it seemed to him.

"Yes," he said, already growing a bit annoyed, but still with the calm and the cheerfulness which are the mark of true genius.

But there was only a scratching and a scraping, and then there was a noise like a small child crying.

Now he was somewhat disturbed, and he could not imagine who could possibly be disturbing him at this ungodly hour, for he had already been thinking secretly that it might be a female colleague happening by, uninformed by the porter and already carried away by the few drops he had used, now unable to go any longer without seeing this man of men . . . .

So he went to the door, unlocked it and opened it a crack so that he could see out, but where the woman should have stood, there was nothing. Instead, a black streak of lightning leaped up at him, with glowing eyes and, it seemed to Angelo, sharp teeth - ah, as he shrank back he realized that it was Maunz, Signor Potobosi's cat, which he occasionally let roam around near the laboratories, in defiance of all regulations.

The cat seemed out of her mind; she purred and whimpered, licked Angelo's neck and his nape, crying with the voice of twenty small children, and it was sometime before the chemist was able to fend her off.

But in his euphoria he was unable to resist giving Maunz a big, smacking kiss on her silken coat before carefully setting her out in the hall in front of a large window, where she went on crying and scratching until Potobosi came, roused by the noise which his beloved pet had made.

The porter took the cat under his arm and said to the inventor, who had stuck his head through the door: "Hey, what's going on here?"

But Angelo managed, with great presence of mind, to assume a neutral expression, and murmured something about the night being too hot and humid for him to concentrate on his series of experiments, especially when he was constantly being interrupted in his observations, and he was definitely going to think about applying for a job in another laboratory, preferably one on the outskirts of town, maybe the working conditions would be better there, and he would certainly have nothing against better pay for his activities . . . .

All the time he watched the porter, who still lingered in the hallway. Potobosi seemed somewhat confused. He swayed, the cat under his arm, his eyes had a yellow shimmer and rolled slightly, and it also seemed to Angelo that the porter's lips were foaming.

It seemed to the chemist that Potobosi was looking for something. Yes, indeed, the porters head swiveled almost unrestrained, his eyes rolled slightly, and it was obvious that he was sniffing - yes, that was it, Tardellini realized proudly, Potobosi was following his sense of smell without being aware of it himself.

"Do you have a cold?" he asked him harmlessly, and took a step out into the hall so that he could have a better look at Potobosi's eyes.

"No, no," he replied, subduing the cat under his arm with difficulty, and his eyes were glassy, and now it seemed to the chemist that a lustful expression had entered these eyes as well, yes, and now Angelo took alarm as the porter - surely unconsciously - gave him a silvery, infatuated look which struck the chemist to the marrow.

"Should I get you something to drink?" asked Angelo, hoping to break the spell which hung over the scene.

But then the porter came to himself again, calling Maunz to order. For another second he seemed to lose himself in a memory, the dream of a lost paradise. Then he gave the chemist, who still stood in the door, a doubting look of increasing sharpness and grew more and more conscious that it was a man standing in front of him, and anger flashed in his eyes, and like a diva who has been winked at only in jest, he grabbed the cat roughly and hurried away with her.

It was now two o'clock in the morning, and the street below the laboratory window really should have been empty and abandoned at this hour, despite the central location of the research facilities. But as Angelo, somewhat dizzy, peered through a crack in the curtain like an old woman surveying the neighborhood to make sure that everything is taking its proper course, he saw two or three stray women pedestrians wandering around in the light of the enormous arc lamp at the corner, avoiding each other, as they did not belong together, or pretending not to see each other, and indeed:

He was not mistaken, for one of them, wearing a red leather skirt, scrutinized the high facade and then looked straight at Angelo's window, as if she could read thoughts, or as if the scent and the aura told her behind which window the future awaited her with precious joys and splendid pleasures, and the look she gave Angelo, who shrank back, was so burning and penetrating that he thought she and the other two women down there must be able to hear his heart, which was now pounding loudly.

"Humph," he said to himself, closing the curtain again, "that's a pretty state of affairs!"

He dropped into an armchair and drank a sip of cognac from the bottle which he had put on the little table, then another sip and then "Humph!" again, wiping his bald spot, and then he drank another sip, and felt himself grow warm inside, good and blissful feelings coursing through his insides, then drank two more mighty swallows, holding the glass coquettishly against the neon light, and then he held the vial up to the light, where it gleamed ruby-red, and he giggled foolishly like an infatuated teenager. And he gradually noticed that the carafe of cognac was almost empty, and he belched against his will, and his belly rumbled, and he wondered whether, contrary to his habit, he should go for a little walk around the building or into town and maybe go to one of the bars or pubs, but then - in his bliss - he grew a little sleepy, a little tired, and the day had been so long that he could surely allow himself a little nap after the exhausting work he had done, and as he thought this, he was already asleep, in the armchair, in the midst of his papers, and he snored softly with his mouth open and dreamed of women and cats and vials and the Nobel Prize which would surely not be denied him . . .

He was woken by a noise outside the door. A glance at the laboratory clock told him that it was nine in the morning, and Angelo thought that it must be Ruggero, his colleague, who had gone to a convention - but no, he realized, Ruggero was not expected back for another week, and then only if the negotiations which he was supposed to conduct had been successful.

Well, well, thought the chemist, still sleepy and a little drunk, and slowly remembered what glorious ways he had wandered the day before - the knocking came again.

After glancing at the vial to reassure himself that he had not been dreaming, he went to the door, and there stood Signora Serenissima, the cleaning lady, who usually came in the evening when all activity was finished in the research facilities; only rarely did she come at such an unusual hour.

The signora, already getting on in years, rag and pail in her hands, looked up at him shyly, as if she did not recognize him, sniffed a little and then marched up to him without even asking whether he required her services. She brushed him - intentionally, he thought - and her rag clung to his sleeve.

She apologized, and a moment later she was busily cleaning not only the soiled sleeve, but also his collar, which bore brown traces of the powders which the chemist had mixed that night, and she went to work with such zeal that she kept touching his neck, his cheeks and the whole of his body, until he shrank back, and her eyes glowed, and her cheeks were flushed . . . .

At last he managed to expel her with the remark that he wanted to clean up the chaos himself, but before the signora went she dusted the walls a little, seemed about to scrub the doors, and even found something wrong with the chemist's necktie, which hung down as if in mourning, and wanted to fix it immediately . . .

As soon as she was gone, Angelo swung the mirror out of the cupboard in the little kitchen to look at himself. He beheld a splendid man who practically glowed from within, with large black eyes and mischief in the corners of his eyes and in the dimples on his cheeks, and he pleased himself, and so, he thought, he would also please the many women who awaited him outside . . .

Proudly he put away the mirror again, then he took the vial from the little table, reassured himself that he had saved the formula in the computer, shook a few drops from the vial into his hair, as the effect had probably worn off overnight, gargled a little with the musk water, and then, almost jealous and greedy for the treasure in his hands, he locked the sample in the enormous safe in the corner, which he quickly programmed with a new code number, not without siphoning off a small reserve and putting it in his pocket, for one could never know . . .

He called down to the day porter and said: "Signor Fiorucci, I have to go into town and fetch a few papers which I can't find here. Would you be so good as to make a note of that? I probably won't be back until after lunch."

And Signor Fiorucci, staring at the boisterous chemist in the monitor with some concern said: "All right, Doctor."

To avoid complications, Angelo crept down the stairs to the back exit, where chemicals and other materials used in research work were usually delivered. He did not even see the woman who had just entered the yard, her eyes watering from all the glycerin she had dripped into them, nor did he see the girl who just now happened to throw her ball into the yard, just in his direction.

Angelo whistled a little song as he turned onto the street with dynamic strides. He ignored the cat which seemed to come out of nowhere and followed him for a time. For a moment he stopped in front of a shop window in which fashionable hats and colorful neckties were displayed, to study his appearance in the light of day.

He went on his way, content, and now, ignoring the glances which came his way, decided to plunge right into the thick of things, for it was Saturday morning, promising a long weekend, and the streets were crowded with people who seemed to come from nowhere, but especially women, it seemed to him . . .

At the corner across from one of the world-famous fountains in which large naked marble mermaids sported with fat, massive men, he was jostled from behind, and when he looked around he saw a lady with a large red hat on her head, its band studded with splendid red artificial cherries.

The woman's lips trembled as she apologized formally for her clumsiness, and it seemed to Angelo that she would assault him any minute, but he kept walking and did not stop until he was standing in front of the great fountain, where flocks of pigeons rose, swerving around him in a dense cloud and nearly grazing his head, before disappearing cooing over the red tile roofs of the houses.

There - another jostler, this time from a group of tourists who streamed toward the fountain, dangling cameras and big heavy camera bags, mostly lugged by women, and suddenly a woman with dark hair and almond-shaped eyes which might have stemmed from the gypsies was clinging to him, and he thought she would strip off his skin with her red-painted nails . . . .

He hardly heard her apology, and she was already gone; he thought nothing of it, for that was the way it was when you smelled good, when you smelled as no man had ever smelled before. Several of the passers-by, men as well as women, grew so dizzy in the heat, which even at this hour was intense, that they nearly stepped into the traffic, red-faced, resulting in a symphony of horns; traffic came to a standstill, and the drivers had the opportunity to cast unconscious, penetrating looks at the man in the elegant double-breasted suit who now settled in a less busy corner to gaze calmly at the commotion and the chaos which was partly his fault.

As was to be expected, the waiter, who had black, oily hair, and whose eyes seemed to glow, lingered near Angelo quite unnecessarily, as if he were waiting for further orders, though the chemist sat quite contentedly with his Cinzano, which he sipped at from time to time.

On the other side of the street dozens of baffled men were dragged about by their wives like dogs on the leash, and all these women seemed to stare with greedy eyes straight at Angelo's Cinzano, all of a sudden wanting the same drink themselves, or an ice cream or breakfast or something of the sort . . .

Indeed, there was soon a crowd in front of the cafe, obviously confounding the waiter, who no longer had any more time for Angelo; the little tables were soon filled, and several women stood by alone or with their husbands, waggling their backsides indignantly, and it seemed that they would not dream of leaving the street, that they all had an ancient and documented right to a table in just this cafe at just this time in just this company . . .

Indeed, it almost came to altercations as one or the other husband attempted to drag away his spouse like an obstinate mule, shooting angry looks at Angelo, mixed, however, with secret admiration which they could hardly explain themselves.

At any rate, the crowd had hardly diminished, and the owner of the cafe, his wife and the waiter, who were all waiting tables now, scratched their heads, perspiring, for they had never seen the like, despite their central location on this busy square. Angelo, satisfied by this demonstration of his new powers, thought of asking for the check.

But he really only thought of asking for the check, for as he reached into his breast pocket he realized that there must be women who were able to resist his new charm and his new appeal after all, for his wallet was missing, and of the two women who had coincidentally or intentionally bumped into him just now, it could only have been the one who seemed descended from the gypsies- the hussy . . .

The women were still their old selves, thought Angelo, flushing, even if they seemed to have temporarily lost their reason . . . Just then Monica happened to come down the street, a colleague who researched special fields similar to Angelo's, and it seemed to take her only one look to ascertain the reason for his embarrassment. Straightening his collar with tapered fingers, she laid the money for him on the plate, and for the first time Angelo realized that his colleague had never noticed him as a person, not to mention as a man, before this day . . . .

That made his blood begin to surge through his veins, and in his vanity he could not resist playing it safe and intensifying the effect a little.

"Excuse me," he said to his colleague, nodding toward the door of the cafe, and disappeared into the back, first fighting through a throng of women who all happened to be making their way toward a certain room along with him.

Exhausted, he locked the door from the inside and leaned against it. Outside a confusion of female voices seemed to swell, rapidly intensifying into shrill screams. This alarmed him somewhat, but at the same time he saw Monica's face before him, the sweet features, the wonderful blonde hair, the swells of her bosom, and he smelled his hands, where he had first applied the perfume . . .

Musk, musk, musk! The effect of the substance seemed to have waned. Hadn't half a dozen women gathered under his window last night - of course he had left it open? And hadn't even the cats fallen for him? And didn't even small children and sedate women threaten to lose their reason over him?

He smelled his hands again, and it really did seem that the effect of the substance had worn off . . . He was not absolutely sure, for after all certain fragrances only dull the nose when used frequently. But he quickly drew the little bottle from his pocket, sprinkled a little of it in his hair, inhaled the marvelous fragrance, gave his breastbone a few sprays, thrusting it out heroically, and dribbled a little bit into his shoes, for he had the worst sweaty feet of the century . . .

Thus armed, he ran the water as an alibi, looked down arrogantly at two or three women who seemed to have come to the wrong address in search of the room meant for them, shoved aside a fourth lady who just then came reeling into the outer room with rolling eyes, was just able to evade a fifth who came toward him with her arms stretched out like a sleepwalker (she had holes in her stockings!), wormed his way through the cafe, dodging women left and right, with difficulty ignoring the smile of the owner's wife and making a big detour around the waiter, who was winking at him with half his face . . .

But when he finally reached the door, Monica was nowhere to be seen. Was she over there, trapped in a group of women who screamed for their cats? Or was she the blonde who stood on tip-toes behind a veritable wall of people, trying to catch a glimpse of the man who was propelling his stately body out of the cafe?

It was hard to say, and he was about to call her name, when two women who - to judge from their appearance - seemed to belong to the horizontal profession thrust themselves upon him; one kissed him impudently on the cheek, the other tugged his ears from behind, and a third, joining them, said:

"Out of the way, he's mine, understand?"

"What!" cried the one who had kissed him, "shameless hussy! Beat it! He's my john, I saw him last night already . . . "

As the chemist attempted to work his way through between heaving bosoms and flying purses, he was bitten in the ear by a fourth tart, and a fifth, who came out of the cafe and must have used the back door, clung to him as if she wanted to hold on to him forever and for all times.

The crowd which had gathered in front of the cafe followed the unequal struggle with interest, applauding stormily every time a purse struck a head or when painted fingernails flashed in the sun like sharp daggers, and as the women - there were seven of them by now -, drunk and crazed with love, were now oblivious to the world around them, Angelo managed to escape between the tables and chairs . . .

As he tried to worm his way through the crowd he felt the lining of his jacket tear, and the few hairs which he still had on the nape of his neck were torn off by wild hands, and two women standing next to him had begun to tear the clothes from their bodies, and he saw enormous, heaving bosoms, and a purple garter holding a silk stocking with big white holes over taut, firm flesh . . . .

Then the world went dark to the poor inventor, and he prayed to heaven that it might send him an angel or a messenger who would guide him out of this crowd, which grew denser and denser, and he swore never to use the perfume again, never again would he rub any of it under his nose and on his collar, and anyway, he thought, it would be much better if every man and woman would seek a partner according to his or her own qualities, without using dirty tricks such as musk and the like . . . .

And indeed, it seemed that heaven had heard his prayers - but also as if there a bad connection up there, at this great distance. For now something occurred which had to be expected in such a dense crowd, which, after all, could even trample someone to death - the pressure of the bodies which had wedged poor Angelo between them had grown so great that the chemist could hardly breathe, let alone move, and as he thought at first - as he realized, though it seemed completely improbable to him -, he should have done his business in the certain room after all; at waist-level his pants had grown wet without any discernible reason, a moisture which penetrated his clothes, creeping into his skin, so stubborn and penetrating - though the puddle could not have been large - that he had the intense feeling that he was swimming in an enormous, embarrassing sea . . . .

But the miracle had taken place, and the dozens of people who had been flailing about with attached cases, parasols, shopping bags, caps and top hats noticed the unique occurrence, indeed, all of them who had retained some shimmer of reason now seemed seized by a holy fire, but still more by a terrible frenzy - the calm before the storm which would break any minute. And so, all sniffing, they first retreated a few steps like a rippling field of grain, parting before a miracle . . . .

As noted, it was the calm before the storm. No, the catastrophe was not past; it had not even really begun, and, as a narrow aisle opened up before Angelo, he suddenly realized, feeling in his pockets with sweaty hands, that the crowding bodies had broken his reserve bottle, and that the perfume was now spreading through the air like wildfire, its effect seeming to emanate from his own loins . . . .

But as soon as he realized this, the sparks flew in his well-trained scientist's brain, for it was not difficult to guess what would happen next, considering the effect of the vain overdose he had already permitted himself. And thus, with the courage of despair, he sprang forward through the aisle before it could close again, sprang onward with the strength of a lion, catapulted himself forward, toward the street, while calloused hands grabbed at him, especially the zones which the perfumed had soaked . . . .

And, emerging from the crowd, he rolled in front of a bright red Fiat 500 which came down the street, using the other side and half the sidewalk - in the very last moment it stopped, before the squealing tires could touch Angelo. Nearly fainting, the chemist saw a slight woman with dark eyes and mischievous features sitting behind the wheel; she looked at him for a moment without wrinkling her nose, she actually looked at him as if he were a perfectly normal man whom dear God had sent rolling under the wheels.

When Angelo came to himself again, he heard squealing tires, and - despite the perfume, which afflicted him as well - he smelled burned rubber, and flames seemed to shoot from the motor in the rear of the car, and the driver, who evidently had dragged Angelo into her vehicle, drove for all she was worth. But behind them, as Angelo saw in horror through the flames, was a chaos of dented, warped cars which had slammed into each other; the drivers climbed out of them, lifting their noses, sniffing angrily, roaring and raging - and ahead, as Angelo turned around in panic, the street narrowed, and all the demons of the city seemed to be gathered - there was a horse-drawn wagon laden with fruit and vegetables, which should not have been there at this hour, and which was blocking the street - there was a whole bus full of nuns which had had to put on the emergency brakes, and the nuns stuck their penguin heads through the windows as the car raced past with howling motor and blew Angelo kisses with a presence of mind which he would not have expected of them, and one made obscene gestures, and another, as the racing car was almost past, stuck her tongue out at him, still blue from the plums which the nun must last have eaten . . . .

Angelo closed his eyes. Dear God, he thought, keep the driver - whoever she may be - from losing her mind, spare her nose as long as we're sitting in her car, let her smell all the lovely smells of this earth again, but not right now, not in this car and not on this morning, at least not until we're in the laboratory again . . . .

"Aren't you feeling well?" the driver asked him, speaking through her nose slightly, and skillfully avoiding a policeman whose whistle had fallen from his mouth; he shouted after them with red, swollen cheeks.

"Oh, no," stuttered Angelo, opening his eyes wide again.

"Would you mind," asked the driver in a cool voice, "telling me where you would like to be taken?"

"Where?"

His head cracked against the windshield as a group of youthful crones with white hair and canes hopped on the left side of the road, sniffing and pulling each other's braids . . .

"And might you disclose which laboratory you mean?" the driver inquired, wrenching the car nearly a hundred and eighty degrees and turning on to a one way street in the wrong direction to escape an ambulance which was chasing them with blue lights and sirens, while the grim, white-uniformed men inside it frothed at the mouth, holding straitjackets in their hands . . . .

The chemist stuttered the name and address, and the driver, shaking off a cat which had perched on the hood by spinning the steering wheel again, raced through a tunnel, over which the rumbling long-distance traffic came to a halt a moment later, down to the Tiber, and said with a smile,

"Oh yes, that's the perfume company which makes lilac and musk. Because of your company's products my grandfather and my nephew have lost their reason and have entered a life-long state of matrimony . . . . Were you caught with your hand in the till, my good man?"

But before he could answer, Angelo stared down at his loins, which had now grown still darker, as if he were sweating profusely, as if he had simply lost control of himself, and the driver, now taking the road to Betacamps, laughed a throaty laugh:

"You must be joking! You're a funny one!"

But Angelo groaned: "It's not what you're thinking . . . ."

"And what am I thinking?" she asked as they drove along the Tiber, where two strolling Catholic priests were now seized by an inexplicable unrest, shuffling their feet and spitting on the sidewalk - and even in the Castel Sant'Angelo the lights had gone on, and a cardinal stuck his purple head out the window and made the sign of the cross . . . .

"It's a terrible misfortune," Angelo declared in a solemn voice as they tore along the embankment with tremendous speed, where the prostitutes stood holding their noses and swaying their hips.

"But tell me," the chemist inquired, after cautiously telling the driver all the details of his catastrophic chemical experiment, "who sent you to me in the hour of my greatest need?"

After mastering a few more delicate situations - among them the circumnavigation of two chimney sweeps who slapped their black hands against the windshield and surely would have liked to slap them somewhere else, as well as an evasive maneuver for the benefit of several blacks who must have come from deepest Senegal to the city on the seven hills, and who now knelt on the pavement, sniffing and with rolling eyes, to speak ritual prayers there - Angelo's angel answered: "I've always had bad luck in my life, my dear man, that's why I've gotten into the most dreadful situations without ever getting any thanks for it from men . . . ."

In the meantime they had arrived at the laboratories, long buildings nestled against the Trastevere Hills under a golden dome of smog. Angelo directed his chauffeuse to the main entrance; they could already hear the noise from the street swelling behind them, as if a flood of human bodies were streaming up to the foot of the hill . . . .

In the blink of an eye they were out of the car and through the doors and past the day porter, who stared at Angelo's companion dumbfounded. Before Signor Fiorucci could say a word, screams were heard from outside, and in the corridor, which they had to hurry down to reach the elevators, the doors opened, and colleagues, some of whom Angelo had known for years, stared at him and his companion with little red eyes and sweaty faces, and lustful gazes flashed, and skirts were lifted under opened lab coats, one or two bras snapped open - but then the door of the elevator closed.

As the hydraulics sighed quietly, Angelo asked his companion's name. Her name was Carla, and she was of the Orsini family, a noble family whose uninhibited relations with their own kind in previous centuries had led to certain degenerate traits.

"Yes," she admitted, ashamed, after giving him a long look, "after my ancestors gorged themselves insatiably on perfumes and women, I - surely as a divine punishment for the sins of the clan - came to the world with a defective olfactory organ. And that's why the perfume which you spilled on your pants had no effect on me . . . .

"

"But that's . . . ." said Angelo Tardellini speechlessly.

"Yes," she breathed, "true love."

Then they entered his laboratory at last and barred the doors behind them and peered through the windows, whose Venetian blinds they quickly closed. But below, on the street, chaos, madness and panic reigned, and dozens of brightly-painted fingernails pointed directly up at his window:

"There! There he is!"

As the first police cars edged through the crowd with flashing lights and sirens, a cracking and crashing could already be heard at the other end of the street, and the trampled colleagues hammered angrily and threateningly on the laboratory door.

Angelo, mindless of tact, tore off his shirt and pants and threw them into the garbage chute. But, though this freed him somewhat from the seductive and dangerous fragrances, the turmoil down on the street refused to end, and the men and women's feverish eyes did not stop gleaming.

Then Angelo smote his brow and said: "The stuff has really sunk down to the bone!"

"But then there's no hope!" cried the woman at his side. "But don't worry about it," she said, "I'll defend you to my last breath. You are the man of my dreams. I'll never let that rabble have you. Over my dead body!"

And she was about to pull him toward her and, in this hour which could well be their last, give him a big, smacking kiss on the mouth or elsewhere, but Angelo pushed her aside with his fingertips, horrified:

"Be careful, darling, that it doesn't contaminate you too."

"But what will you do, my poor darling?" Carla asked.

Then, after taking a quick sip, it dawned on him, and he slapped his bald spot, and a devilish glitter came into his eyes.

"Ha," he said, and flung open the laboratory closet and gathered powders and samples on the left and samples and powder on the right, and retorts and test tubes in the middle, and he took litmus paper out from under the table, and from the safe which contained the precious sample he took the Bunsen burner which he had put there by mistake, and when he was done with all his preparations, his eyes still gleaming infernally (now even the director of the laboratory, Signor Moscatini, was hammering against the door and demanding to be let in), he asked Carla, before lighting the mixture:

"And you're quite sure that you can't smell anything, my darling?"

"Quite sure!" she replied.

And he let the flame burn, shooting up red, then blue, then brown, and a moment later, though Carla did not react at all, he nearly felt sick, and he had to hold his nose as he reached for the solution with his fingertips in order to spray a carefully measured dose onto his underpants.

As was to be expected, the two became a couple, which was also convenient considering Carla's immunity toward her husband's profession. The pants and the shirt which the chemist had dumped into Rome's sewage system still smelled so strongly that for weeks no cats or dogs could be found in the eternal city, and it was murmured that the rats which wandered the subterranean passages had a terrific love life for some time . . . .

Betacamps did not fire Angelo Tardellini, for he threatened to keep the invention to himself, and it was easy to calculate what profits could be made with a highly diluted dose of Musk No. 1, the perfume which soon conquered the global market and was even to make a furor in China, with terrible consequences . . . .

Nonetheless, the decision was made to send him and his wife, who had also taken vacation, on a special flight to spend a few weeks on the open sea of another continent, where no one knew him and where he could recover from the concentrated skunk scent with which he had sprayed himself . . . .

Compensation for the damages resulting from his heroic experiment was regulated by a public fund established with the first profits of the perfume, to the laughter of the world . . . .

THE END

CONTENTS