She was his narcotic.
March 10, 2014
A VG Serial: ToxiCity
The men fell silent.
“How much is a fatal dose?” Matt asked.
“We’re not sure. In some cases it could be as little as one milligram for every kilogram of body weight. Which is an extremely minute amount.”
“But you don’t know for sure?”
“We don’t have much data on humans. For obvious reasons. We test animals and extrapolate from that.”
Cecil Vaughan cleared his throat. “There was a fairly well known case of it not so long ago. A Bulgarian national who worked for the BBC in London was assassinated—stabbed on a street corner with an umbrella dipped in ricin.”
“What happened?” Stone asked.
“Within a few hours a pimple like swelling appeared on his thigh where he was stabbed. It was sore but the guy stayed at work. That night he developed a high fever and went to hospital. The doctors there treated him for blood poisoning, but he went into shock, and died. At the time, the doctors were unable to diagnose the cause—aside from sepsis. It was only later they deduced it was ricin.”
“Exactly what happened to Landon,” Stone breathed.
“Did I know that?” Vaughan asked.
“I sent you the autopsy report,” Stone said.
“Shit. I didn’t read it.”
“I’m not sure it would have mattered. How did they figure out it was ricin in the London case?”
“During the autopsy they found a tiny pellet where he’d been stabbed. There was no poison in it, but they suspected there was at some point. So they tested a variety of substances on animals. When they injected ricin into a pig, the animal developed the same symptoms as the diplomat and died within twenty-four hours.”
“Process of elimination,” Stone said.
“They got lucky,” Van Thorsen said. “Because of its molecular structure, ricin is virtually impossible to detect. And it’s not something you routinely test for. Most pathologists don’t even know what it is.”
“But it’s easy enough for a layman to process?” Matt asked.
“If you have the right tools you can cook it down to a white powder that looks a lot like meth.”
Vaughan picked up. “Some asshole down south has been putting out ricin recipes for years; he even put together a cookbook. And there’s another moron they call Uncle Fester—you know, after that TV show—who wrote something called “Silent Death”. It’s got ricin recipes too.”
“The Julia Child of poison,” Stone cracked. No one laughed.
“And get this,” Vaughan went on. “A few years ago, the authorities caught a guy at the Canadian border with enough ricin in his car to annihilate a small city. He claimed it kept coyotes away from his chickens. Turned out he was a white separatist. A year later, they got some other guy in Wisconsin who was planning to mail ricin to his enemies. He was a separatist too. In fact—Jesus Christ…” Vaughan fell silent.
“You think it just might be a Family Favorite?” Stone asked.
“If it isn’t, they’re using something just like it. And just as lethal.”
Matt hung up and stared at the phone. Stone and Vaughan hadn’t asked how he’d come up with the lead, and he didn’t tell them. But he knew. The message Georgia had left on his voice-mail. She said she had something important to tell him. She wanted him to call right away. At the time he thought it had something to do with her suspension, and, not wanting to deal with it, he didn’t.
He’d fucked up.
Ricki’s voice floated in from the other room. “Matt, come out here, will you?”
He threw on some clothes and hurried out to the living room. Ricki was thumbing through the printouts, her face filled with fear.
“It’s ricin, isn’t it? What they’re using.” Her hands trembled.
“What do we do?”
He knelt in front of her and placed his hands on her knees. “We make sure you stay here until it’s over.”
Her features smoothed out.
He double-locked the door and made sure all the windows were locked. Moving into the kitchen, he reached for his coat. Pulling out his Beretta, he released the clip, checked to see that it was fully loaded, and snapped it back in. Chambering a round, he laid the gun on the counter.
Ricki followed him into the kitchen. “That a Beretta?”
“Ninety-two FS. How do you know?”
“What kind of bullets do you use?”
“Hollow points, usually.” He frowned. “Why?”
“I have a 38 Special at home.” She ran a hand through her hair. “My father made me learn years ago.” She brushed the hand down his cheek. “Look. I’m sorry about before. I was out of line. You had your reasons for not telling me about the poison. It’s just—it’s just—uncomfortable not being in control. Forgive me?”
She looked at him, her eyes intense and smoky. His breath caught in his throat. She was his narcotic; he’d opened his veins to her. She took his hand and led him out of the kitchen. He looked down the hall. Nothing was there. No apparition. No intruder. He pulled her to him, wanting all the space between them gone.
Episodes in the novel will be published on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Please click the following title,ToxiCity, to read more about Libby Fischer Hellman’s books on Amazon.