Late summer 1635, Jena
Dr. Phillip Gribbleflotz was at a bit of a loose end. He'd finally concluded that there was something fundamentally wrong with the theory that pyramid power could be used to invigorate the Quinta Essentia of the human spirit, and had regretfully given up on that line of research. He desperately needed something new to work on. Something interesting. Something impressive. Something that would prove to the world that he was in fact the World's Greatest Alchemist.
He sat back in his chair and surveyed his office, looking for inspiration. There was the large portrait photograph of his beautiful young wife, Dina Kastenmayerin, in pride of place over the fireplace. That was certainly inspiring, but not in any direction that would impress the academics at Jena University. On either side of the fireplace were bookshelves. It looked like he was going to have to do a lot more reading to get what Jonathan Fortney called the "killer application" that would forever cement his place in history.
Phillip looked up hopefully when the door opened. He was hoping it would be Dina, but it was only his secretary with the mail. "Anything interesting?"
Frau Beier placed one envelope on his desk. "This one was marked personal and confidential, so I didn't open it. The rest are just the usual. Begging letters, inquiries about licensing agreements, and requests for you to endorse various products. I have prepared the usual responses."
Phillip sighed. Advertising was the curse of the new business environment. He reached for the envelope. The first thing he noticed was the excessive use of scent. He rubbed his nose and looked up at Frau Beier.
"I assume it is from a 'lady.'" The emphasis she put on the word indicated she thought the author no such thing.
"Do we know a Velma Hardesty, in Haarlem, the Netherlands?"
Frau Beier shook her head. "No, but I assume it is one of the up-timer females. Though what she wants that is private and confidential, I can't imagine."
Phillip had had much the same thought. He'd received a few letters from up-timers before, but never one claiming to be personal and confidential. Oh well. There was surely one way to find out what Velma Hardesty wanted. If he could make out the overly curly penmanship.
September 1635, Cora's cafe, Grantville
Priscilla Fortney put down her cup of coffee, looked around to see who might be listening, and leaned closer to her fellow members of the Red Cross Sanitation Squad seated around the table. "You'll never guess what I overheard at the library this morning."
"No, we'll never guess. What did you overhear that you weren't supposed to hear, Prissy?" Minnie Frost asked.
Prissy sniffed delicately. That was Minnie, always trying to act like she didn't listen to gossip. "Dr. Gribbleflotz is going to make . . . well, you know. That sex pill. Via-something."
"Wow! Viagra? Are you sure?" Evelyn Paxton asked. "My Lacy's husband could sure use some."
"I heard Clara offer the job to the freelance researchers myself," Prissy said.
"Oh! So it's still in the research phase?" Evelyn asked.
"Well, yes. But this is Dr. Gribbleflotz we're talking about. The Aspirin King himself."
Richard Somers put his finger to his lips, signaling Carl Duvall to hush so he could listen in. The conversation from the other table was interesting. If he could get in on the ground floor of one of Dr. Gribbleflotz's inventions he could make a fortune. He was still cursing the fact that he missed the early days of the aspirin rush. And as for the Kirlian Image interpretation industry, he'd dismissed that as a foolish fad until it was too late. This time he was going to get in on the ground floor.
After a few minutes he gave up on listening to the old women and returned to his discussions with his old partner in crime. Not that they were discussing anything important. One visited Cora's to overhear the gossip, not to be overheard. He could ask Carl what he knew about this business later.
HDG Enterprises, Jena
"Well?" Dina asked. "What does it say?"
Phillip passed the letter from the State Library over to his wife. "The whole synthesis is much too complex for my current capabilities. I've never made anything like the heterogeneous polycyclic structure I can see in the diagram, and I know I can't make the piperazine yet."
Dina tapped the folded letter against her teeth. Nice well-proportioned white teeth. She certainly didn't need the dubious benefit of a visit to the American dentists. He returned his attention to the letter. "I'm afraid I can't help Frau Hardesty with her little problem."
"Well, we tried. I'll write a letter saying we're sorry that she mistook the advertising for Gribbleflotz Sal Vin Betula as little blue pills of happiness to mean you were making the up-time kind of little blue pills."
Phillip broke the seal of the next letter. "Would you believe it? Some American claims to have overheard that I was going to be making sex pills, and please could he place his order now, to get in before the rush."
"Pass it over. I'll write a letter saying you aren't going to be making any sex pills."
Phillip shook his head and picked up the next letter. "Here's another one." He passed it to his wife and had a look at the rest of the day's mail sitting in his in-basket. Many more than normal seemed to have originated in Grantville. "Dina, I think you might want to wait before starting on those letters. There might be a few more."
"Why? Why is everyone so interested in buying those pills?"
Phillip just raised his eyebrows. Even he knew why there was so much interest in what a certain up-time little blue pill offered.
"Yes, yes. I understand men having difficulty performing their husbandly duties might be interested, but why do they think you're making it?"
"I can only imagine that someone heard about my making inquiries and they assume that I can make it."
"Are you sure you can't?"
The obvious belief in Dina's voice forced Phillip to reconsider the problem. After some thought, he shook his head. "You saw its insane molecular structure. Certainly I could make it, if I could afford to spend years working on nothing else and I had as many trained laborants as this 'Pfizer Laboratories' put on the task helping me. You don't see the Great Stoner everyone fawns over wasting time on something like this. No, he has better things to do than waste time on a drug of such limited utility, and so do we."
Dina nodded. "Pity. Oh well, I'll send an announcement to the newspapers telling them you aren't working on it. Maybe it will stop these silly letters."
"Thank you, dear."
A week later, Grantville
Carl Duvall passed the newspaper across to Richard Somers, his finger pointing to a column. "It says here that Dr. Gribbleflotz is not working on producing sex pills."
"An announcement placed by the good doctor himself," Carl said.
"But then, he'd say that even if he was working on it, wouldn't he?"
Carl smiled. He'd thought exactly that when he saw the advertisement. Clearly Dr. Gribbleflotz was trying to divert attention from his latest project. "So what are we going to do about it?"
"Um. Talk to someone in his lab?"
Carl grimaced. "Impossible. I can't imagine what he did to create such personal loyalty, but none of them will do anything to hurt him."
"What about inserting our own man?"
"We can try." Carl answered.
HDG Enterprises, Jena
Phillip looked at the letters cascading out of the mail sack Frau Beier was holding. He picked up the first one. It was from Erfurt. I wonder what they want.
A few minutes later Phillip was at the end of his rope. Erfurt, Halle, Magdeburg, even Leipzig. Letters from all over and the authors all wanted the same thing. There must be over a hundred of these letters! He stuffed them into a basket and went hunting for Dina.
"Dina, that announcement didn't have the effect we expected."
"The one where we said I wasn't making sex pills. It seems that nobody believes us."
Dina took the basket and started sorting through the letters. "This is ridiculous. What can we do?"
"I don't know. I guess I could do some more research. Maybe there are alternatives."
State Library, Grantville
There were a lot of books on sex in the library and, surprisingly enough, very few of them mentioned Viagra. Dina compiled a list of everything that was supposed to help, from special compounds such as ground rhinoceros horn, to special diets and exercises. Maybe she could prepare a suitable pamphlet. Certainly, given all the interest shown in those letters, there was obviously a demand for information on how to reduce the incidence of erectile dysfunction. Dina grinned at the term, so American in its wishy-washy manner of describing impotentia coeundi.
She paused to consider some drawings of different positions. Then, with a smile, she made copies to show Phillip. Some of them looked . . . interesting.