Notes: I try to make my names significant. Arcadia, meaning 'daring, or adventurous'. Fidel is from Latin, meaning 'faithful'. Valencia means 'strong', and Drina means 'helper and defender of mankind'. Verkeerd is Dutch for 'mistaken'.

Metabolic Madonna

by

Fannie Feazell

Chapter One

Arcadia Gutierez was a plump Hispanic woman. Her complexion always looked as if she'd just come back from a good vacation at the beach, and her dark brown eyes matched the color of her long, slightly coarse hair. She showed the note she'd found in her locker to her husband. It was there when I got my purse to leave, Fidel. Why would the president of the company want to see me? I haven't done anything wrong. I do my job–their building has never been cleaner. It isn't my fault if the other's on the crew cut corners.

Fidel, a whipcord lean young man, with a thin moustache, took the note, glancing at his wife fondly. Arcadia was a brand new American citizen, having taken the oath less than a year ago, while he was a second generation Mexican-American. He'd been born in San Antonio, and his mother and father had both worked hard to see that he was raised well. It was just that his father worked in Mexico, and his mother worked in Texas. The family wasn't reunited till Fidel was ten, and his father finally managed to immigrate legally. He knew that his wife was still unsure of how the legal and corporate structure worked in America, and she was wary of anything that indicated the attention of anyone who was higher up the ladder than she. Don't worry. They always put the nasty news in with your paycheck. This is probably just something about a schedule change.

He ripped open the envelope and scanned the paper, his brow slowly wrinkling in puzzlement. What is it, mi marido? Arcadia asked.

The president of the company wants to meet with you tomorrow night, after you finish your shift. He says he has a way that you can earn extra money. When he saw the look on his wife's face, he smiled, a little fiercely. No, mi corazon–not like that. I would be going to his office right now to beat him if that were it. No, he says something about needing women people to help test a new product.

Arcadia nodded. I've heard of these things. They must test the new drugs before they can be approved for sale. But I don't understand. There's nothing wrong with me. What sort of medicine could I help test?

Fidel shrugged, folding the paper. I don't know, but it couldn't hurt to listen, could it? After all, if we're going to start a family, we need as much money as we can get.

"I guess I'll talk to him, then," said Arcadia. "After all, I can always say no. But you come with me, Fidel. You'll have to be there anyway, to pick me up."

"Sure. And if he objects to talking to you with your husband present–well, it probably isn't anything you need to be involved in, anyway."

Arcadia was responsible for cleaning the top two floors of the Verkeerd Building, and Mister Verkeerd had his office on the top floor. Fidel met her near the end of her shift, bringing her a change of clothing. She went into one of the ladies' rooms and changed quickly, washing her face and smoothing her hair. She'd only seen Mister Verkeerd once or twice in passing, and he looked like a kind man, but she felt it would show more respect if she didn't show up in her work uniform.

After storing her cleaning supplies, they made their way to the office of the president of the company. Fidel wasn't easily impressed, but even he commented about having to go through TWO reception areas to reach the main office.

There was no one at the reception desks, but there was a light shining under the door of the office, and Arcadia tapped timidly. A voice from inside called, "Come in."

They entered. A man in late middle age, slightly balding, was sitting at the desk that was placed before a large, plate glass window. The window offered a spectacular view of the city's night time skyline–the mountains rising in the distance. Paul Verkeerd looked up from the sheet of paper he'd been studying, and smiled at them. "You'll be Arcadia Gutierez–and I suppose this is your husband?"

"Yes, sir," said Fidel. "It isn't that I don't trust you, but I don't like Arcadia meeting alone with people we don't know so late at night. This building is so empty..."

Verkeerd waved his hand dismisively. "A very sensible attitude–especially in this day and age. No, I think you SHOULD be included in this discussion. In fact, I'm going to ask any test subjects I recruit who are in a committed relationship to bring along their partner. Part of this test study will be seeing how the drug in question's effects on those who receive it affect those around the test subject. Please, both of you..." He indicated chairs before his desk. "Have a seat."

The couple seated themselves in the chairs indicated. Arcadia couldn't help stroking the fine, polished wood of the chair's arms–it was finer than anything she ever expected to own. Once again Paul Verkeerd consulted the paper, and said, "First, let's get out facts straight. You are Arcadia Gutierez, aged twenty-three, married for the last two years to," he tipped his head at Fidel, "Fidel Gutierez. You are both legally American citizens. I congratulate you, Mrs. Gutierez. I understand that to meet the requirements these days for becoming a citizen, you have to know more about our government and history than most people born and raised in this country. You've worked on the maintenance staff here at the Verkeerd Company for a little over six months. Your blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar levels, cholesterol, and such are all well within what is considered a normal range. If your medical history is to be believed, aside from a broken big toe when you were eight and a few bouts of flu and colds, you've enjoyed remarkably good health."

Fidel was staring suspiciously at Verkeerd. "How do you know all this?"

"Your wife applied for our company health insurance, which is rather good, actually. Our interview and examination for that is, perhaps, a bit more thorough than most. Now, Mrs. Gutierez, it would seem that the only even slight medical problem you have is that you are..." he paused, "Please forgive me for this. There's no way to say it without sounding rude, but believe me, I'm simply stating a pertinent fact. You are rather overweight."

Fidel reached over and took Arcadia's hand. "Only to your medical and insurance charts. I think that Arcadia is the most beautiful, sexiest woman I've ever known. I can't stand those little stick women they show in all the magazines and television shows." He snorted. "I read somewhere that one of them was a size Zero. Size Zero? As far as I'm concerned, she shouldn't even exist, then." He squeezed Arcadia's hand. "My wife is a REAL woman."

Arcadia looked at him fondly. "You see through the eyes of love. But let's face it–to the rest of the world, I'm... I'm... Well, if I'm not fat, I'm at least chubby, or chunky, or some other word they think isn't as cruel as 'fat'. The one I hate the most is 'obese'. It sounds like some sort of shameful, communicable condition." She sighed. "I try. I count calories, I count carbs, I count fat grams, I do without any kind of refined sugar. I get a lot of exercise cleaning this place every night, and I still do more, but nothing seems to work. I go up two pounds, I go down one pound. Slowly, gradually, I gain weight."

Verkeerd leaned forward, and his voice was earnest. "And you're not alone. There are thousands... hundreds of thousands... Hell, there are millions of women out there who do everything they can think of to lose weight, who really try and don't cheat on their diets or slack off on their exercise, and they just can't lose those last few pounds, or they even fall back. Do you know why, Mrs. Gutierez? It's metabolism. You know what metabolism is?"

"Sure," said Fidel. "Some people get fat, no matter what they do. Some people stay skinny, no matter what they do. Some people can drink a quart of whiskey and not even stagger, and some people get ripped on a can of beer."

"That's pretty much it. The official definition is that it's a series of processes by which food is converted into the energy and products needed to sustain life. If you have a low metabolism you can eat practically nothing, exercise till you drop, and gain weight. If you have a high metabolism, you can eat like a Sumo wrestler, be a couch potato, and LOSE weight."

Arcadia was nodding. "I have a cousin who says she can gain weight just by looking through the Swiss Colony Catalogue."

"Now," said Verkeerd, "can you imagine the good we could do the world if we could just speed everyone's metabolism up to the most efficient point–where they could eat what they wanted, and it would ALL be turned into energy–not fat. Where someone could eat to their heart's content and not worry about the pounds piling on? This would mean that all the health problems and diseases that come with excess weight and skewed metabolism would be abolished. No more diabetes. High blood pressure and high cholesterol would probably become things of the past. Heart problems would decrease dramatically. So would strokes, since the blood wouldn't be clogged with excess fat and cholesterol."

"It sounds," said Fidel dryly, "like something they advertise in the back of the True Confessions magazines. 'No diet. No exercise. Lose weight while you sleep. Special if you order now–two bottles for the price of one.'"

"The big difference here, Mister Gutierez," said Verkeerd quietly, "Is that I have a Phd in Chemistry, and I'm a licensed endocrinologist. I've also spent the last fifteen years running the pharmaceuticals company that was founded by my grandfather–and I haven't just been pushing papers and attending board meetings. I've spent a lot of time in the research labs, working on my own projects. My mother passed away from the complications caused by diabetes, and my father died of heart disease. A drug such as the one I'm working on now might have saved them. If I can perfect it, it WILL save millions of people."

"It sounds wonderful," said Arcadia. "But why do you need to talk to me?"

"Because there aren't very many people who believe in this project. I brought it up at a pharmeseuticle conference several years ago." His smile was sour. "I wasn't exactly laughed off the stage, but let's say that the reception was less than enthusiastic. So I've been putting my own money into this–I haven't spent a penny of the stock holders' funds on this. And now I've reached the stage where I have to begin running trials. That's where you come in, Mrs. Gutierez. At least I HOPE you come in. You see, you fit the requirements perfectly. You're young, healthy, and you've BEEN healthy your entire life. But you seem to suffer from slow metabolism. Also, I've had you and your husband checked out by a firm of private consultants. Everyone says that you are both almost painfully honest and, while you're not anti-social, you don't have a wide circle of family, friends, and acquaintances."

"So you want Arcadia to take this medicine, and see what results it has on her?" said Fidel. Verkeerd nodded. "What if it has BAD results?"

"We'll keep a very close watch on her. That's a vital part of the study. Every couple of days a doctor will give her an examination, and take all her vital signs. Believe me, if there is the slightest indication that she's not doing well, she'll be taken off the medication, and given the best treatment available–free of charge. The trial would last for six months. The pay would be weekly, and the fee would be..." He named a figure that was almost as much as Fidel brought home in a month.

Arcadia and Fidel exchanged looks. At last Fidel said, "I really don't like the idea of you putting something into your body when they don't know exactly what it's supposed to do, but it's up to you, hon. I'll go along with whatever you say."

"The money, Fidel. In six months, we should be able to save enough to..." she trailed off, blushing. Arcadia looked at Mister Verkeerd. "I'll do it."

Verkeerd smiled. "Excellent!" He began scribbling on a notepad. "Come to this address tomorrow at one pm, and a lawyer will have a contract drawn up for you. The doctor we'll be using is right across the hall, and you can get your first dose, and initial check up then. You'll receive the extra salary in your pay envelope each week–in cash." He held up a finger. "One thing, Mrs. Gutierez–be very careful not to open that pay packet here at work, and be very careful not to mention ANYTHING about this to ANYONE. That means family, friends, or you father confessor. It's very important that this be kept strictly private."

Fidel gave him a shrewd look. "This isn't exactly legal, is it?"

"Well, let's say that the medical ethics committee might have a few issues with it. This study isn't being conducted according to strict scientific procedures. I'm not ready for that yet. This test will tell me what I need to know to set up a test that will be acceptable to all the authorities–legal, and medical."

"Am I the only one who will be doing this?" asked Arcadia.

"Oh, dear me, no. A test isn't really much good with only one subject. No, I'm contacting a cross-section of possible subjects. If all goes well, I'll have several dozen subjects, scattered over several states. But you needn't worry about that–I'm going to be sure that there's anonymity. No test subject will ever learn about another. I'm going to be very cautious with my notes and research. Aside from one or two assistants, whom I trust implicitly, no one else knows about this, and that's how it will stay. The notes will be kept sparse, and unavailable to anyone but myself. Now, it's late, and I'm sure you're tired, Mrs. Gutierez."

She nodded as she stood up. "A little. It's a lot of work, cleaning my area–especially after a full day."

"Well, if all goes well, that will soon not be a problem. Your body should begin using its fuel more efficiently, and you should see an increase in energy and stamina. Can you get out?"

"Yes–I told the security guard that I had to do some extra work tonight, so he'll be waiting to let us out."

Verkeerd shook hands with them both. "We probably won't see much of each other till near the end of the project, but I want to thank you. You're doing something very brave, and you may end up doing a great favor for all of humanity."

Verkeerd watched the young couple leave. As soon as they were out the door, he slumped. He rested his elbows on his desk, then pressed his face into his hands, thinking of the things that he HADN'T told the Gutierezs. Like the fact that, if things went according to plan, the metabolic change would be permanent–one a genetic level. But then, he thought, if I mentioned that, I'd NEVER get anyone to agree to be a test subject.