“Hey honey! Did you have a good day?”
For a moment it seemed it might work. Lauren nodded, sniffling. Then shook her head as the sobs started to come in earnest.
Shit. But maybe he could still avert a meltdown.
“Honey, what’s wrong? Is it your mother?”
She glared at him and sobbed harder. “N-n-no. I th-th-thought y-y-yyou w-were w-w-w-ith that w-woman. Th-th-that you l-l-left me! F-f-for h-h-h-HER!” She wailed so loud the cat slunk from the room.
He sighed, taking her in his arms. Her hair smelled freshly washed – strangely, this made him feel guilty.
“Lauren, come on. You can’t keep doing this to yourself.”
She cried onto his chest. “I didn’t do this to m-m-m-myself. Y-y-you did it t-t-to me!”
“Lauren, you have to get hold of yourself. Remember what Dr. Eisner said. ” He almost added about moving forward, and then decided against it.
Dr. Eisner was the marriage counselor Lauren had dragged them to. A dried up stick of a woman whose main contribution was to ask “And how does that make you feel?” A question to which Lauren always replied with fresh tears. They had ten sessions at one hundred dollars apiece – a thousand dollars so Lauren could cry with an audience of two instead of an audience of one.
“Oh, f-f-FUCK Dr. Eisner! She’s a b-b-b-BITCH,” Lauren cried with a venom that surprised him. And, if truth be told, aroused him just the tiniest bit.
Lauren was the proverbial good girl – cheerful, churchgoing, never swore. It was probably why he’d taken up with his assistant in the first place – Kathy was sarcastic, wore tight clothing and used the word ‘fuck’ like punctuation. Not the kind of girl you took home to mom, maybe, but not the kind of girl a guy like Gary – hell, any guy for that matter – could say no to.
“Shhh,” he soothed Lauren now, stroking her hair.
Lauren caught him in his thing with Kathy about a month ago – she found a cell phone bill and called Kathy’s number. It still might have been okay if Kathy had kept her cool, but she was right out of college and the idea of messing around with a married man was more exciting than the messy reality of the angry wife calling her a whore.
“Did she really say ‘whore’?” Gary asked. Kathy was slamming things into a box, packing her desk up. She and her tight skirts had quickly found a new job – a higher paying one, she’d been quick to point out.
“Yes! Among other things!” She was near tears, which surprised him. He gave her his most winning smile – the one that had gotten him into her pants – and skirts, and dresses, and stockings – in the first place.
“Oh, babe, come on, I’m sorry. I’m just surprised, that’s all. Lauren’s kind of a goody-goody. Not like you.” He meant this as a compliment – and possibly as a way to keep the door to their affair open – but it backfired.
“Oh, so you think I’m a whore too? I didn’t notice you complaining before. And what about you? You’re the married one, you’re the one cheating. I’m a nice girl, you know. I was raised Catholic.”
Gary kept prudently quiet. He was lucky that Kathy was too inexperienced to think about suing him and the firm for sexual harassment, or that she’d very likely win. She wasn’t thinking about sexual harassment, or the EEOC, he knew. She was thinking about the pictures.
He kept them in a P.O. Box at one of those express mail places. His favorite was the one of her in the police uniform; in it he was handcuffed and blindfolded while she spanked him with her nightstick. She probably figured that one – among others – would make her status as victim a tough sell.
Plus she had that strangely feminine Achilles heel of wanting to seem like a good girl, especially to herself. And ‘good’ didn’t jibe well with ‘budding dominatrix’.
Kathy finished her packing and huffed out the door, the plants tipping this way and that in the box. Gary watched her go with equal parts relief and regret.
Making it up to Lauren had been hell. It wasn’t the first time he’d strayed, but it was the first time he’d been caught, and he kicked himself for being ten kinds of fool. How could he be so careless? He’d gone and made things difficult for himself.
He did feel bad about hurting Lauren, though he wished she’d just get over it already.
“Lauren, what can I say? I’m so sorry I did this to you. She meant nothing to me. I’d do anything to make it up to you, babe.”
Lauren pulled back to look at him. Her blue eyes were wet with tears. He saw that she was wearing eye makeup –rare for her – that had smeared a little bit with the crying. It gave her a sexy look. There was something in the way she was looking at him….
“You look nice,” he said cautiously. “Did you want to go out for dinner or something?”
“I thought we’d stay in,” she said. “If that’s okay with you.”
He nodded, not sure how to take this but relieved nonetheless. Over dinner his relief grew. They were having his favorites: steak, sautéed mushrooms, and béarnaise asparagus. Wine. She even lit candles.
As Lauren bustled about the table, he noticed she was wearing a silky blouse that clung to her breasts. The top buttons were undone, revealing a bit of lace at the top of her camisole. Her skirt was slim, showing off her legs. The shoes looked new, with a sexy strap around the ankle and a heel that seemed a bit higher than usual.
Talk during dinner was scarce, but he thought the mood was pretty good. The storm seemed to have passed.
“I have a nice cheesecake for dessert,” she told him, and got up from the table. “Oh, darn.”
“What is it?” he asked.
“I think I snagged myself,” she said. And with that she hiked up the hem of her skirt to reveal the lacy tops of real stockings – not the nylons she usually wore – and a black garter. The kind Kathy liked to wear under the nun costume when they played “Catholic School Punishment”, in fact.
His throat went dry.
“Can you see a run?” she asked, stepping closer.
He gulped. “No. They look perfect to me.”
“No, I think they’re torn. Look closer.”
He reached out to stroke the silky fabric. “No, I don’t see a tear.”
She turned to face him and hiked her skirt still higher. Now he saw the g-string. A g–string, he marveled. On Lauren.
“Maybe you’d like to tear them, then.” Her smile was inviting.
He pushed back from the table so quickly his chair crashed over. Ignoring it, he pulled Lauren to him. Their kiss was long and hot, like when they first started going out. Hotter, actually.
He ended up carrying her to bed, cheesecake forgotten, dishes still on the table. The sex was great – not that they did anything kinky, but they didn’t have to. The brief glimpse of a not-so-goody-goody Lauren was enough to make it amazing for Gary.
Toward the end as he was nearing his climax, sweating and groaning, she whispered in his ear.
“Did you mean it, Gary? What you said before?”
“What?” he groaned. He was close.
“That you’d do anything to make it up to me? Anything to make things right between us?” She licked his ear, bit his neck.
“OH God! Yes!”
“I’m glad,” she whispered. And did something with her muscles down there, contracted them or something, so that he was shouting “Yes! Anything!” over and over until he collapsed, unconscious, on top of her.
The next morning he woke to an empty bed. Sunshine streamed in the window. He could hear Lauren in the kitchen, humming and clinking dishes. He stretched luxuriously, felt a lump beneath him. Lauren’s black stocking, coiled against his lower back. He grinned. It seemed the worst was behind them. And there was that cute little production assistant they’d just hired…..
Lauren came tapping into the room in one of her standard prep-girl get-ups: twin set, khaki slacks, loafers, pearls. She was carrying a breakfast tray laden with orange juice, pancakes, coffee and sausage. Even the paper.
“Good morning to you, too,” he said, kissing her. “Wow, look at this.”
“Dig in before it gets cold.” She tapped from the room trailing a clean sweet scent.
He was just getting lost in the sports section when she reappeared at the door.
“I hope you can go in late today. We have an appointment.”
He glanced up. “With who?”
“A ….I guess you’d call it a counseling service.”
His heart sank, but he kept his voice neutral. “I thought we were finished with Dr. Eisner.” He winked. “Besides, I thought you said she was a bitch.”
Lauren smiled. “I did. She is. This isn’t with Dr. Eisner. It’s with another…organization.” She handed him a business card.
You Make It. We’ll Make Sure You Keep It.
He flipped it over. No name, no phone number, no address.
“What’s this? Who are these guys?” He thought they sounded like financial advisers – the unsavory kind, who took your money and invested it directly into their offshore accounts.
“Oh, one of the women in my book club recommended them. She and her husband went. She said it changed their lives.” At his look, she hastened to add. “She said it only took three sessions.”
“How much does it cost?”
“She said they have a sliding scale.”
“Great,” he grumbled. At his salary, they wouldn’t cut him much of a break.
“You said you’d do anything to make things right,” she pouted. She picked up the stocking lying on the bed and wound it around her hand.
He remembered the previous night and thought, What the hell. If a few more sessions with a stupid shrink meant he’d get a few more sessions with Lauren in stockings and high heels, he was game.
He smiled his winning smile. “You’re right, babe. I did. And I meant it.”
“Then let’s go. We don’t want to be late.”
The building was low and nondescript. The glass front doors were frosted, the windows treated with some sort of iodized stuff so you couldn’t see in. A small neat man was waiting for them just inside the door.
“Good morning Mr. and Mrs. Anderson. I’m Mr. Chin. Welcome.”
Gary blinked. So they used pseudonyms here. Christ, he thought. What kind of fly-by-night operation is this? He glanced at Lauren but her eyes were fixed on Chin, all hopeful smiles.
Mr. Chin led them to a small room with a chair, a couch, and a small table set with a very modern tea service. One wall was heavily curtained. Gary looked at it a moment, wondering if there was a two-way mirror on the other side of the curtain. He glanced around but could detect no recording devices. Though those could be hidden anywhere nowadays. Even on Mr. “Chin”.
Gary and Lauren sat on the couch. She immediately took his hand.
“Chin, that’s an unusual name for these parts,” Gary ventured.
“Is it,” Mr. Chin said..
Fine, so that’s how we’re going to play it, Gary thought. But he smiled in a noncommittal way.
“I’d like to congratulate you both on your decision to make a commitment to your marriage,” Mr. Chin said. “In this day of do-it-yourself-divorce, it’s good to see people still wishing to honor their vows.”
Mr. Chin looked at him expectantly. Gary cleared his throat.
“Yeah, um, well. I made some mistakes. I’d like to make it up to Lauren, prove to her that we can make this work.”
Mr. Chin nodded, apparently satisfied “Very good then. Please, have some tea.”
He poured each of them a cup. Lauren said yes to sugar and lemon; Gary was indifferent. He never really understood the whole tea thing. But he took a few sips to be polite.
There was something oddly ceremonial in the moment.
“Very good,” Mr. Chin repeated. “And now to conclude our business. Will you sign here, please.”
Gary blinked. Mr. Chin slid a sheet of paper in front of him. Gary scanned it, frowning. He was still trying to grasp what business was being concluded.
I, Gary Anderson, hereby make a solemn commitment to avoid the mistakes of my past and become a better man.
At the bottom of the page was a line for his signature and the date.
Gary looked up at Mr. Chin. “Uh…I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“Is there a problem?” Mr. Chin’s smooth forehead furrowed.
“Well, I guess it’s just that…I’m not sure what I’m signing here.”
Mr. Chin slid the paper in front of him and read it to himself, lips moving silently. Then he looked at Gary.
“What seems to be the problem?”
“I mean..welll, it’s not specific, is it? I mean, if this is a legal document and I’m signing it, then I guess I better be sure we all have the same definition of terms.”
“Terms?” Mr. Chin asked. His left eyebrow arched delicately. He glanced at Lauren, who had the same forehead furrows as Mr. Chin.
“Uh, yeah,” Gary fumbled. “Terms. I mean, it’s not that I don’t want to sign it or anything. It’s just…well, what does this mean, for example? avoid the mistakes of my past. I mean, I’m not really sure what I’m agreeing to here, is all.”
“Is there some mistake that you are perhaps wishing to repeat?” Mr. Chin’s voice was neutral. He glanced at Lauren.
“Gary?” Lauren’s voice quavered.
“Well, not when you put it that way,” Gary said. He was sweating now. “I mean, it’s just that if this is a legal document that’s legally binding….”
But here Mr. Chin interrupted him.
“Mr. Anderson. I think perhaps you are getting too caught up in this notion of ‘legally binding.’ Let’s forget the law for a moment, shall we? After all this isn’t a matter for law enforcement. There are no criminals here. Just two people committed to making their marriage work. Am I correct?”
“No. I mean, uh, yes,” Gary said. He felt uncomfortable agreeing with Mr. Chin. But he could find no good reason not to agree, especially with Lauren wet-eyed and sniffling beside him.
“Yes, of course,” Mr. Chin continued smoothly. “So let’s not speak of legal issues, legal documents. This is just between you and Mrs. Anderson, a statement of your commitment to do right by her. And yourself, of course! Am I correct?”
“I guess,” Gary said. Lauren made a small noise. “I mean, sure.” His unease was growing. Why was he agreeing with this man? And why couldn’t he stop?
“It might help to look at this paper as only a formality. You’ve already made your commitment to Lauren, have you not?”
Gary looked confused.
“In your marriage vows?” Mr. Chin prompted.
“Oh,” Gary said. “Um, yes. Of course.”
“Very good then,” Mr. Chin said. “Now if you’ll just sign this, we can conclude our business.”
Gary blinked again. He looked at Lauren, who beamed at him. It can’t be this simple, he thought. But if it would make Lauren get off his back. He shrugged and gave The Smile.
“OK, sure, why not,” Gary said. He signed.
Mr. Chin smiled. Lauren smiled. They all finished their tea.
Three weeks later Gary was seated in a back booth of a small bar near his office. It was four o’clock on a Friday and he had at least two more hours before Lauren would get suspicious. Two more hours was enough time to sweeten up the new production assistant with her perfect red lips, and maybe enough time to get a quick blow job in his Z out in the lot (prudently parked out of sight of the road).
After two Tequila Sunrises apiece she responded to The Smile and the seemingly accidental pressure of his foot against her shoe by slipping the shoe off and running her instep against the curve of his calf.
“You’re married, aren’t you,” she giggled.
“Yes,” Gary said. “Very married. To a very wonderful woman.”
“And if she’s so wonderful, what are you doing here with me,” purred the production assistant.
“Well, you’re pretty wonderful yourself, don’t you think?” he asked. And smiled his winning smile. “Another round,” he told the waitress.
A half hour later were crammed in the front seat of his Z, the production assistant’s skirt hiked up to her waist while he wrestled her bra off.
Gary unzipped his pants and tugged them down, prudently moving his shirt tail out of the way. He reached for the production assistant, taking her delectable peach fuzz face into both hands, those beautifully bowed lips opening…and she laughed.
At first he laughed too, thinking she was laughing a nasty laugh, that maybe he’d landed another Kathy here…
But it wasn’t a nasty laugh. It was a belly laugh. A guffaw really. His erection began to wilt. He pulled back.
‘What the hell? What’s so funny?”
But the production assistant was beyond words. She only pointed at his lap.
Everything happened very fast then. Later he would not be able to remember the exact sequence of events, it happened so fast. What he did remember for sure was screaming. Then he either pulled up his pants and leaned over and pushed the production assistant out the passenger door, or leaned over and pushed the production assistant out the passenger door and pulled up his pants. Probably the pants came first; he wouldn’t have wanted to look at what had happened to him any longer than necessary.
Then again, he wouldn’t have wanted her looking at what had happened to him any longer than necessary either. So maybe the push had come first after all.
He gunned the Z away, spraying the laughing production assistant with gravel. He made a series of random turns until he found himself on a reasonably quiet tree-lined street. He pulled over and put the Z in park, leaving it on. The engine shuddered beneath him, a sensation he normally found kind of sexy but was now made him think only of escape. The radio played softly.
His hands were shaking as he slowly pulled his shirt out from his pants, unbelted, unbuttoned and unzipped. He realized he was praying, sort of. Just two words over and over: please God please God please God please God….
He pulled the waistband of his boxers out, the prayer speeding up…
….and looked for a long moment.
On the radio the DJ said “that was The Commitments with their new chart topper “Fool For Your Love”, stay tuned for more top forty hits, more music and less talk on KEZK!”
Gary stared at the radio. Then slowly zipped, buttoned and belted. He drove – also slowly – to the nondescript office building: his knees were like water. When he walked stiff-kneed into the lobby and saw Mr. Chin waiting for him, it was all he could do not to put him in a choke hold.
“Ah, Mr. Anderson. We’ve been expecting you.”
“What the fuck did you do to me?” He’d meant to shout, but his voice came out a whimper.
“Why, we didn’t do anything, Mr. Anderson. You, on the other hand, seem to have been quite busy.”
“How did you do it? How the fuck did you do it?”
Mr. Chin gestured toward the small conference room where they held their initial meeting. Again the couch, the chair, the table, the tea set. Again the curtained wall.
“Tea?” Mr. Chin asked. Gary shook his head savagely.
“Very well, then.” Mr. Chin poured himself a cup and settled back into his chair.
“Now then. You had a question?”
“What the fuck did you do to me?”
“What do you mean, Mr. Anderson?”
“You know what I mean. My dih….uh, my penis… It was…” he couldn’t finish.
“Small?” Mr. Chin’s voice was neutral but Gary thought he was smiling behind that calm face. He wanted to kill him.
“No, not small. It was…” But again, he couldn’t bring himself to say the words that flooded his mind: tiny, naked, shriveled, pink, flaccid, worm-like. It had looked more like a naked baby bird head than a penis. A dead naked baby bird head, one blind eye staring up. At this thought he wanted to clutch it protectively…but was too afraid of what he might feel.
He shuddered. “It was horrible.”
“And you discovered this when?” Mr. Chin asked him, again with a neutral voice.
“When I…when I was going to the bathroom,” he said lamely.
Mr. Chin chuckled at that.
“Mr. Anderson, lying didn’t help you the first time with your wife. Why do you think it will help you now, with me?”
Gary lunged at him. Mr. Chin must have pressed another button on the remote, because two very large, un-Mr. Chin-like men immediately entered the room.
“Are we going to have a problem, Mr. Anderson?”
Perhaps it was the size of the men – they went two-fifty apiece, Gary estimated. Or maybe it was just the freshness of the memory of the dead baby bird head. Gary slumped, shook his head.
Mr. Chin nodded and the men left. Gary imagined he could hear them breathing just outside the door.
“Now then. Let’s try again. When did you discover the…transfiguration, shall we call it?”
Gary flushed. “During happy hour. I was out with a woman from the office. A production assistant,” he added.
“And you began to engage in sexual congress with this young lady, am I correct?”
“No! I mean, sure, there was flirting. Maybe a little kissing. But..nothing happened.” His face went dark red at the thought of the girl’s laughter, those perfect red lips stretched wide in merriment.
“Come, come, now, Mr. Anderson,” Mr. Chin said. And waited.
“It changed,” Gary whispered. “But then it changed back. How the fuck did you do that?”
“It didn’t change,” Mr. Chin said. “Only your vision of it changed. And the young lady’s vision of it. Watch.”
He pointed the remote at the curtained wall and the curtains parted with silent speed to reveal a large flat-screen television built into the wall. Mr. Chin pressed another button and suddenly they were looking at something large and pink.
It took Gary a minute to realize it was his penis up there, magnified to stupendous proportions. It covered the wall, a veritable elephant penis. It was huge and, Gary thought, quite handsome. Under normal circumstances Gary might have felt proud, however the image of the dead baby bird head with its blind eye was still too fresh.
“This is how you normally look,” Mr. Chin said briskly. “Magnified, of course – “ at this he emitted a fruity little chuckle capped with an ahem.
“And this is how you look when you are aroused by any woman who is not your wife. “
And there it was, the blind, pinkly naked birdy head. Even magnified it looked tiny and shriveled. Disgusting. It was all Gary could do not to scream. He was grateful when the picture changed, this time to a tiny piece of plastic. Next to it was an ordinary push pin, the kind you stuck in a bulletin board. The bead-like head of the push pin was about twenty times the size of the piece of plastic.
“What’s that?” Gary asked.
“That is your conscience, Mr. Anderson,” Mr. Chin said. “We call it the ComBot, which is short for the Commitment Nanobot.”
Mr. Chin’s voice became admiring. “The ComBot contains the most the most advanced nanotechnology on the planet. In fact, it represents the very frontier of nanorobotic technology. Its circuitry is quite sophisticated. It contains a listening device, a DNA detector, a GPS…and a hologram projector effective for up to five feet.”
“You put that thing in me? In my penis? Are you fucking kidding me?” Gary welcomed the anger; it was better than feeling unmanned by a dead baby bird head.
“Tut tut, Mr. Anderson. We’re not going to have a problem, are we?” Mr. Chin’s finger was poised over the remote.
“How the fu…how did you get that thing inside of me?” Gary demanded.
“We didn’t. Your wife did. You made love to her the night before your appointment here. The device was implanted in your wife, and through a simple DNA seeking program was able to work its way into your urethra during the act of intercourse. Don’t try searching for it – it is invisible to the human eye and hand.”
“I’m going to sue you, you know that, right?” Gary grinned hard at him. “I’m going to take this entire operation down. You can’t experiment on people like that, without their permission. Jesus Christ!”
Without a word Mr. Chin pointed his remote at the screen. The picture changed – now they were in a shadowy pink tunnel. The tunnel became longer, then shorter, then longer, then shorter. Voices were talking. It took Gary a moment to realize one of the voices was his own. The other was Lauren’s.
“Did you mean it, Gary? What you said before?”
“That you’d do anything to make it up to me? Anything to make things right between us?”
Gary stared at the screen, fascinated. This was Lauren he was looking at. Lauren on the inside. It was more than Lauren, really. It was Woman. For a moment he almost forgot why he was here.
The sound of his own voice filled the room.: “Yes! Anything! Yes! Yes!”
Mr. Chin pushed a button and the tunnel stayed long. “That is your voice, Mr. Anderson, am I correct?”
”Yes, but that’s hardly what I’d call a legally binding contract,” Gary began. Mr. Chin cut him off.
“No, but this is.” He slid the sheet of paper with Gary’s signature across the table.
I, Gary Anderson, hereby make an unbreakable commitment to avoid the mistakes of my past and become a better man.
“This would never hold up in a court of law,” Gary sneered. “I most definitely did not agree to being implanted with some nanobot against my will.”
In answer Mr. Chin pressed another button on the remote. Again Gary did not at first identify himself; as a participant he’d been more interested in what it felt like than what it looked like.
There he was, with Kathy and her friend Stacie. The girls were dressed identically as Catholic school girls, pretending (very convincingly) to cry at the spanking Gary was administering.
“How did you guys get this?” Gary managed to ask. The picture was so clear, they might as well have been right there in the motel room with them.
“A nano-cam was implanted on your jacket,” Mr. Chin said. He laid a tiny chip on the table that had four wispy filaments protruding from either side like some high tech jellyfish. Mr. Chin laid a handkerchief on top of the chip and it immediately worked its way out from under, filaments waving, it’s tiny red eye pointed directly at Gary.
“It’s programmed to find a clear pathway to the subject, whose voice, face, body, and DNA imprint were all pre-programmed based on samples obtained from your spouse.”
On the TV screen, Kathy and Stacie were now on their knees accepting part two of Principal Anderson’s punishment.
“I’m sure you wouldn’t want your wife to see this,” Mr. Chin said in what Gary thought might possibly be the greatest understatement in the history of mankind.
“No,” he said. “Please turn it off.”
“Very good,” Mr. Chin said, and punched another button on the remote and the screen went dark, the curtains sliding smoothly into place.
“You said it only…changes…when I’m with someone who’s not Lauren?” Gary asked.
“Yes. It recognizes her DNA and therefore does not activate the Carnal Conscience program. (I named that myself – do you like it?) It also recognizes when no other human DNA is present during the arousal state – say, during masturbation or a wet dream– so you remain normal-looking to yourself.”
This last was said with a conspiratorial wink and a smile, which Gary ignored.
“So my wife sees me – it – like normal. And everyone else sees…”
“Everyone else sees you normally as well, provided you do not have an erection. This saves embarrassment when visiting doctors’ offices, locker rooms, spas and such like. As long as you are flaccid you are fine. However, if you become excited for a period of more than ninety seconds and the Commitment Cam detects living DNA belonging to someone other than you or your wife, the Carnal Conscience program is activated.”
“You can’t do this,” Gary said. But his voice was weak. They were doing it, after all.
“Mr. Anderson, we aren’t doing anything. You are the one in control. You are the one that made the commitment to your wife. We’re simply making sure that you keep that commitment. Surely you can’t object Yu agreed, after all.”
“Yes, but..” Gary said, then stopped. There was nothing he could say that wouldn’t make him sound like a complete and utter asshole.
“There can be great rewards in keeping your commitment,” Mr. Chin said. “It’s all a matter of perspective. Think about it.”
“Yeah, sure,” Gary said glumly.”
“I thought we could go out to dinner tonight,” Lauren told him. Gary nearly groaned aloud; two months since his last meeting with Mr. Chin, and Lauren was like a broken record: let’s go out, let’s go out.
“I’m tired,” Gary told her. “I just want to get a drink, watch some tube and hit the hay.”
“That’s the third time this week you said we’d go out then changed your mind,” Lauren said. She folded her arms across her chest.
“Goddammit Lauren. I’m home, aren’t I? Isn’t that what you wanted? Now give me some space. I’ve had a rough day.”
He poured his drink and flopped onto the couch. “I’m not in the mood.” He barely noticed as she left the room.
The next morning he stood for a long time under the hot shower spray. He went through the business of soaping himself, washing his hair and body still half asleep….until something furry brushed his foot. He gave a shout and jumped backward, thinking Rat! as he fell heavily to the shower floor.
There, pulsing in the drain, was not a rat but a large clump of hair. He reached up and felt his hair – most of it seemed to be there. He patted it carefully with a towel, eschewing the blow dryer for fear the heat would make even more of it fall out. As he dressed for work, he saw another large clump of hair on the pillow.
He muttered goodbye to Lauren and tried not to notice if she was noticing his hair.
On the way to work his cell phone rang.
“Good morning, Mr. Anderson.” Gary recognized the smooth, expressionless voice right away. His right hand stole to his crotch before he was even aware of it.
“Your Commie Bot is sending you bad data,” he told Mr. Chin. “I haven’t been near another woman. I haven’t even thought about it.”
“All the same, perhaps you wouldn’t mind stopping in to talk over your Commitment? We have a little problem. A rather hairy problem, at that,” Mr. Chin chuckled.
Gary glanced in the rearview mirror at his depleted helmet of hair.
“You sons of bitches,” he whispered.
“We’ll see you soon, Mr. Anderson.”
The couch, the chair, the tea set, the curtains, already parted.
Mr. Chin looked at Gary.
“Yeah, so? I’m keeping my commitment, aren’t I? Why are you doing this to me?” He reached to touch his hair but stopped short; he couldn’t risk anymore falling out.
“ Actually, Mr. Anderson, you are not keeping your commitment. At least, not in toto.” Mr. Chin pressed a button on the remote. Voices filled the room, mostly Gary’s:
Dammit Lauren, leave me alone.
Can’t a guy have some peace?
What do you want from me, blood?
Not tonight, Lauren, for Christ’s sake. I’m beat.
My wife Lauren is on my ass. I gotta get home.
“So now you guys are spying on me? Is that it?”
“The ComBot has a voice-activated recorder that takes random samplings of your conversations based on a reading of your blood pressure.”
“So?” Gary repeated. “I haven’t been with any women, there’s nothing there even remotely like that.”
Mr. Chin interrupted smoothly. “If you recall, you agreed to avoid the mistakes of the past…”
“And I have! I haven’t even looked at another woman since…since..” he realized he was shouting and looked nervously at the door.
Mr. Chin continued “….and become a better man. Would you say you’ve lived up to that part of the commitment, Mr. Anderson? Have you become a better man?”
“I’ve been faithful,” Gary muttered rebelliously.
“Sexual fidelity is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for being a better man, a better husband, to Mrs. Anderson. Am I correct?”
“What does all this have to do with my hair?”
Mr. Chin smiled. “Ah. Now we are ‘down to it’ as they say. He turned to the TV and aimed the remote.
Gary tensed, but there was no dead baby bird head, blindly staring. Instead, a cartoon man appeared, with bushy cartoon hair. Next to him stood a cartoon woman in a cartoon apron, a cartoon bow perched atop a flippy Marlo Thomas bob.
The most advanced nanorobotic technology in the world and they’re using first edition MicroSoft clipart, Gary thought sourly.
Mr. Chin narrated.
“Whenever Mrs. Anderson’s serotonin levels drop two standard deviations below her normal levels, and the drop is preceded by an interaction with you within fifteen minutes’ time, the ComBot deposits a special enzyme, 5-alpha-reductase, along your autonomic gene. As you have no doubt already guessed, it is the genetic marker for male pattern baldness.”
On the screen the cartoon man got red in the face with exclamation points appearing above his head. The cartoon wife cried, and the cartoon man lost a third of his hair.
“So what do I do to stop it?” Gary asked.
“Simple. Be nice to your wife.” Mr. Chin smiled broadly.
“And what if I don’t care about my hair?” Gary asked. “Lots of guys are bald. I bet Michael Jordan wouldn’t grow hair even if they paid him.”
They both turned to the TV. The bald cartoon man standing next to the crying cartoon wife suddenly grew an enormous belly, as if he were twenty months pregnant. Mr. Chin narrated.
“If you continue to ignore and berate Mrs. Anderson, the ComBot will alter your genetic code to think you have a dearth of leptin. Leptin is the protein associated with the obesity gene,” he added helpfully
“So if I’m not nice to Lauren, I’ll be bald and fat.”
“Correct, Mr. Anderson,” Mr. Chin smiled. “And if you stop having sex with her, your testicles will retract permanently into your body. Also, if you divorce her, you’ll grow breasts.”
“Jesus, who thought this shit up?” Gary said.
“We provide our clients with a list of possible disincentives, rank ordered according to the most effective across our clientele database. You should be pleased to know that your wife actually chose some of the more lenient disincentives. You haven’t, for example, lost your virility, or your mind, or your money. It seems she must love you very much.”
Gary just shook his head.
“Just remember, you’re becoming a better man, Mr. Anderson, ” Mr. Chin said. “It really can be a win-win, if you just have the right perspective.”
“Right. Sex with the same woman, tiptoeing around her moods, or doomed to get bald and fat. What a great life.”
“With that attitude, you are certain to remain unhappy, Mr. Anderson.”
“What choice do I have?” Gary grumbled.
“You have very little choice while you have no leverage.” Mr. Chin said neutrally.
“What do you mean, leverage?”
“Come, come, Mr. Anderson. We are both businessmen. You understand leverage, you simply are not applying the concept correctly to your situation. At present you have no leverage in your marriage because you have been a poor husband. Unfaithful, angry, belligerent. If, however, you become an outstanding husband, a better man, a man of commitment…why, then, you will have leverage. You will be, as they say, a hot commodity.”
“You will be in a position to make demands.”
Gary stared at him, but Mr.Chin was, as usual, expressionless.
“Tell me, Mr. Chin. Do you have any male clients? Or are they all just disgruntled wives?”
“Many husbands such as yourself decide to become clients. After they see the light, so to speak.”
“So I could hire you guys, just like Lauren.”
“May I suggest, you’ll find our services to be a better investment when you have leverage, Mr. Anderson. And now I’m afraid I have to conclude our meeting. Another client, you know.”
Six months later, Gary Anderson finished his workout at the new health club. He weighed himself, noting with approval that he was now five pounds under his college wrestling weight.
The eating right and working out were really paying off – he looked good and felt better, his energy through the roof. New clients were practically pouring through the door. Business had never been better, in fact.
On his way out he stopped at the concierge desk – one of the perks of the executive membership he’d treated himself to when he got his last big promotion.
“Hi, Gary!” The concierge was a hot thirty-something redhead with an interesting gleam in her blue eyes.
Gary gave her a friendly smile. “Hi Melissa. Were you able to get the things I asked for?”
“Sure,” Melissa purred. “It’s all right here. Your account will be charged pending your approval.”
She handed him a small box with “Keller Diamond Jewelry – Since 1802” on the lid.
“Excellent.” He opened the box and carefully lifted the diamond bracelet from its velvet nest. “Give me the woman’s perspective, Melissa – what do you think?”
Melissa gasped. “It’s gorgeous!”
“Yes,” Gary said, pleased. “And what about the other?”
Melissa went to the back room and emerged with a much larger box, this one with “Franklin’s Custom Costumers” printed on the lid. She grinned at him. “Looks like someone’s in for a good time.”
Gary grinned. “Two someones, I hope.”
Melissa lowered her voice. ‘I get off in a half hour. We could go have a drink, if you want.” She caressed the box.
Gary shook his head. “Melissa, I’m flattered. But I’m a happily married man.” He took the box with a wink and handed her an envelope.
“I’d like to have this sent to the address on this card, along with a bottle of Scotch. The most expensive bottle you can find.”
“D&L Liquors has a hundred year old Lagavullin that will run you two twenty.”
“That will do. Can you send it today, please?”
“Wow. Sure thing,” Melissa said. “I’ll get this right off to…Mr. Chin,” she read aloud. “He must have really done you some favor.”
“He did indeed,” Gary said.
Melissa smiled at him. “Are you sure about that drink?”
Gary patted her hand. “Yes. But thanks for asking.”
Melissa pouted prettily. “Well, the offer is always open. I just hope your wife knows how lucky she is.”
Gary smiled. “That’s for her to know, and me to find out.” He laughed at Melissa’s expression.
At home, Lauren was in the kitchen preparing dinner. Something Italian by the smell of it. He kissed her hello and set the table.
After dinner, he jumped up before Lauren could. “That was terrific, Lauren.” He smiled at her as they finished. “Let me clear the table for you.”
“Oh Gary, you’re so sweet. I think I ate too much, oof. These pants are feeling so tight.”
Gary brought the smaller box to the table. “Lauren, honey, this is for you. I just want you to know, I’m really sorry about the way I’ve behaved this past year. You deserved better.”
He lifted the bracelet out as he spoke. It radiated tiny spears of light. Lauren gasped.
“Oh Gary! You shouldn’t have!” Her eyes glistened as he fastened it around her wrist.
He kissed her. “It’s a sign of my commitment to you, honey. I hope you like it.”
“Oh, Gary! I don’t know what to say!”
“It’s three carats total weight. I could have gotten you the one that was five carats, my bonus was really big. But I decided to give the rest to Mr. Chin.”
Lauren gave him a melting smile. “Gary, it’s my turn to apologize. I’ve been thinking. I know we were having problems, that the affair was just a symptom of those problems. I never expected that you would take to this whole commitment thing the way you did. I see how wrong I was to doubt you.”
Gary smiled modestly and toyed with the bracelet.
“And I want you to know, I’m committed to making this marriage work, too. It’s not just up to you. We’re a team.” She looked at him, anxiously. “Aren’t we?”
“Of course, darling. I’m just glad you’re happy now.”
“Gary, you don’t…you don’t resent me or anything, do you? For taking you to Mr. Chin?”
Gary kissed her. “Of course not, Lauren. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. Just look!” He patted his flat abdomen and laughed. “I’m definitely a better man.”
“Oh, Gary. You’ve been…..just wonderful.” Lauren stepped back, running her hands along his muscled chest.
“You’re perfect, in fact.” She laughed ruefully. “The least I can do is lose a little weight. Too many dinners out, I guess.”
That night, at Gary’s request, Lauren wore her red teddy, the one he’d given her on their wedding night. It strained across her abdomen, and cut unflatteringly into her chest and thighs. She tugged at it. “I really have to lose weight.”
“Nonsense,” Gary whispered. He moved in small counterclockwise circles inside of her, the way he knew she liked. “But tell me again, my love.”
“Tell…you…what?” Lauren gasped.
“That you’re as committed to me as I am to you,” he whispered. “It made me feel so loved.” She was close, he could tell by the way her toes were curling against his.
“Oh Gary! Yes! Yes! I am committed to you. I love you, darling!” She sobbed in release beneath him.
Later, drifting to sleep, Lauren asked again “You don’t resent me, do you Gary? Things are so much better now, aren’t they?”
“Yes,” he said. “And they’re going to get better still.”
He smiled, thinking of the Catholic schoolgirl outfit, complete with whip and boots, coiled and waiting in the Franklin’s Costumer box. It was too small of course. Lauren would have to lose about twenty pounds to do the outfit justice, but he wasn’t worried.
He thought of the ComBot, how it would project an image of a three hundred pound Lauren every time she exceeded five hundred calories a day. It would be difficult for her, eating only salads while cooking Italian and steak for Gary. Especially dressed in the French maid’s outfit with the backless apron and sky-high heels. But the results would be well worth it. Lauren would look like she looked the day they got married.
He punched his pillow and settled down to sleep. Mr. Chin was right – it was all a matter of leverage. But hey, he could be generous. For example, if she didn’t want to wear the outfit, the ComBot didn’t necessarily have to trigger the eruption of cystic acne. Gary was a reasonable guy; they could always negotiate. A night with Melissa for him in exchange for, say, a slice of cheesecake for her.
“A better man for life,” he murmured.
“What was that, dear?” Lauren asked sleepily.
“Nothing, hon,” Gary said.