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I had a good friend who was an industrial chemist for many years. The job is a lot more boring than depicted here. Mostly it’s about testing foods for content of various types, fat, protein, ash etc. However, organic chemistry is organic chemistry, and the same lab can be used for less beneficial purposes. I am not an organic chemist, so the actual details have been glossed over, and if there are any mistakes, they are mine solely. Hopefully they won’t interfere with the story.
Stays within canon. But it ties up at least one loose end. Takes place in the summer between second and third seasons.
Rated PG, for mild language and to be safe.
Amanda came downstairs in her Arlington home on a bright August morning. She was alone in the house. Her sons, Phillip and Jamie were off at summer camp and her mother, Dottie was up in Maine with Aunt Minnie and Uncle Henry. She moved through the kitchen, fixing herself a breakfast of cereal, toast and juice. Just as she sat to eat, there was a tap at her back door. She looked up and saw the familiar face of her partner, Lee Stetson. She got up and opened the door for him.
“Lee, what are you doing here so early?”
“Morning, Amanda. You have any coffee?”
“Oh sure, Lee.” She poured him a cup and added cream, just as he liked it. She gestured to the table, and he sat as she sat. Amanda offered Lee toast but he shook his head and declined.
“So did you stop by just to have coffee?”
“Mmmm. It’s good coffee, but no. I have to meet Augie in an hour and I thought you’d like to come along.”
“Augie?” she thought for a moment. “Will we have to go to that awful bar again?”
“No. We’ll drop by his apartment, catch him before he leaves.”
She smiled, “OK. Do I have time to eat my breakfast?”
“Sure, it will take a little over a half-hour to get to his place. Though why you think you need to eat …”
“Lee, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Your breakfast gives you energy to get through your day. Maybe you’d be less grouchy in the morning if you ate breakfast.”
“I’m not grouchy in the morning.” Lee said in an annoyed tone.
Amanda just looked at him as she continued to eat.
An hour later Lee and Amanda drove up and parked in front of a modest apartment building.
Lee helped Amanda out of his Corvette, and they walked up to the door, his hand in the small of her back. They entered the vestibule and Lee pressed the buzzer for #5. They were met with silence. He tried it several times, with no result.
She tried the inner door—it was locked as she expected. “Well now what?” she asked her partner.
“We let ourselves in.” Lee produced a lockpick, and swiftly opened the security door.
They walked up to #5, and Lee knocked on the door. “Augie, open up!”
There was no answer, even after repeated knocking.
Amanda looked at her partner again, “More lockpicking?”
Lee grinned and shrugged, “Why not?” Lee unlocked the deadbolt and lock to Augie’s apartment. They entered cautiously. The apartment was very messy—clothing strewn around—papers and magazines strewn on the furniture and the floor—the remains of a pizza in the box perched on a chair.
Amanda looked around. “Gee, he seems to have the same cleaning service you do, Lee.”
“Hey, my place is a lot better than it was.”
“Sure, because you know I’ll come and clean it up for you if you don’t keep it tidy yourself.”
Lee shot her a look. “Augie, you awake?” He called out into the apartment. They went into the bedroom, and saw Augie was in bed.
”Augie, wake up!” Lee said loudly in an annoyed tone.
“What? Hey, how did you get in here?” He woke groggily.
Lee continued, “Augie, you said you had information for me. You wanted me to come by first thing.”
Augie was slowly waking up, “Yeah, around noon. Oh, hello Mrs. King.”
“Good morning, Augie. Maybe we should go away and let you wake up and come back later.” She smiled at Augie and looked to Lee.
Lee wasn’t buying it, “No. Augie, you’ve got information, we’re here. C’mon let’s have it.”
Augie sat up, he was bare chested. He started to get out of bed, his legs were bare. Then he stopped and looked at Amanda, “Um, maybe you could wait in the living room, Mrs. King.”
“Oh, of course, Augie.” Amanda blushed and left the room.
Lee picked a robe up from the floor and threw it at his informant. “Here meatball—put this on.”
Amanda spent several minutes straightening up the living room. She threw away the pizza and a couple more boxes of anonymous foodstuffs. She cleared a space on the couch, so she and Lee would have a clear, if not clean place to sit.
Lee and Augie—now robed and wearing pajama pants—came into the living room. Augie sat in a chair, on top of all the detritus, and Lee and Amanda sat together on the recently cleared couch.
Augie was somewhat nervous, but he was always nervous around Lee, especially if his pretty and sweet partner was along. “Hey Lee, I guess your idea of first thing is not the same as mine…”
“Augie, just get to it. Then we can go and you can get back to sleep.” Lee looked expectant.
Augie was sleepy, but not so sleepy that he wouldn’t forget why he gave Lee the information he did. “What about something for my inconvenience?” He held out his hand.
Lee opened his wallet, and placed a couple of bills into Augie’s hand. Augie looked at it and made a sad face. Lee added another bill, and Augie brightened up.
“Thanks, Lee.” He smiled brightly.
“Just get to it,” Lee grated.
“Sure, I heard from a guy who heard from a guy that there’s another guy selling exotic poisons to whoever has cash.”
Amanda was puzzled, “Exotic poisons?”
Augie replied, “Yeah, new custom stuff—supposedly untraceable—mimic natural causes of death—that sort of thing.”
Amanda shook her head and looked to her partner, “I don’t understand. Custom poisons?”
Lee explained, “Amanda, many poisons are easily detected and traced and have standard antidotes. But a good organic chemist can mix up an old poison with a new radical or an added ingredient or two and it makes it difficult to trace or makes a standard antidote partially or totally ineffective. With all the nerve gases and biological weapons out there, poisons have been largely ignored—though every once in a while some joker decides to revive the trade—and they can be surprisingly effective. Dead is dead, after all.”
She looked incredulous, “Gosh, it’s a wonder anyone survives around here.”
Lee chuckled at his partner’s naiveté. He turned to Augie. “So who is the new chemist?”
Augie looked a bit uncomfortable. “I don’t know—I just heard the rumor. But I might be able to remember some more with a little incentive…” His open hand crept out again.
Lee looked annoyed, “Incentive. Sure Augie…” He pulled out his wallet again and placed another bill into the snitch’s outstretched hand.
“Gee, I’m still not remembering much…”
“Augie!” Lee growled and passed over another bill.
Augie took the hint, and quickly hid the bills. “Yeah, now I remember! The guy is working out of a testing lab.”
Lee’s patience was being sorely tried, “What kind of a testing lab?”
Augie looked fearful, “Uh, something to do with food. A food testing lab. That’s all I know.”
“Some sort of food testing lab,” Lee repeated, “And you’re sure it’s a man, no chance it’s a woman?”
“No, no.” Augie was quick to reassure the volatile agent. “It’s a guy, a young guy in a food testing lab somewhere in the D.C. area. Shouldn’t be too tough for you to find, should it? You guys have your eyes and ears everywhere, right?”
Lee was sarcastic, “Oh no. There are only about 50 various testing labs working with food in the metro area. Every manufacturer has one plus the drug research labs plus the FDA plus the commercial testing labs.”
Augie was nonchalant, “That’s your job. Now, can I get back to bed? I need my beauty sleep.”
Lee snorted, “Beauty sleep, that’s a lost cause. You’re sure that’s all, nothing more? We don’t want to have to come back to this ptomaine trap.”
“Ptomaine trap? This is my house and home, my castle!” Augie sounded aggrieved. Lee looked menacingly at his snitch. Augie quickly backed down, “That’s it. The well is dry for now. I’ll let you know if I hear anything more.”
“You’d better,” Lee threatened. “And I expect it for free, considering what I’ve just given you there.
“A man has expenses. I have a certain lifestyle to maintain.” Augie tried to look dignified and failed miserably.
“Yeah, early modern slum. Let’s go, Amanda.”
“Good bye, Augie. You get back to sleep, we’re sorry to have disturbed you.” Amanda smiled and was gracious.
“Thanks, Mrs. King, you’re a real lady.”
Lee and Amanda let themselves out of Augie’s apartment.
Once they arrived at the Agency, they went down to their desks in the bullpen. Lee spoke to his partner, “Amanda, I’ll write up a contact report, but without more to go on I don’t think it would be worthwhile to go checking out all the food labs in D.C.”
Amanda thought a moment, “Well, maybe I could go into the computer and get a list of all the labs anyhow. Just in case it’s needed.”
Lee nodded, “That’s a good idea.”
Francine came by with a pad of paper. “Billy’s orders. We’re ordering in for lunch today. So get your choices on the list.” Francine handed Amanda the pad and a menu.
“Why are we eating in today, Francine?” Amanda asked as she wrote down her order and passed the papers to Lee.
“Budget planning—and everyone has to have their paperwork finished and in before hand—so Billy wants people here doing their jobs and not going out to lunch.”
“Oh, Lee’s paperwork is already finished and handed in.” Amanda smiled at Lee, who smiled back.
Francine smiled sarcastically, “Yes, he has you to do it for him. But the rest of us aren’t so lucky, Amanda.”
“Well, maybe I could help out some of the other people here…” Amanda offered as she looked around.
Francine immediately produced a folder, “If you want, here’s my stuff—just ask if there’s anything you get stuck on.” She smiled brightly at the housewife-turned-spy.
“Gee, thanks Francine.” Amanda said with less than total enthusiasm.
Several hours later, the food arrived and was passed out. People ate at their desks as they worked. Both Lee and Amanda were busy, and didn’t open their lunches right away.
Amanda walked over to Francine’s desk. “Francine, this receipt is really smudged. I can’t read it—can you figure it out?”
Francine looked up from her salad. “Oh Amanda, sure.” She took the receipt and set down her plastic fork. “This salad tastes off—maybe the dressing was old—I asked for lo-cal but they mix it up sometimes…” she said it almost as if to herself.
Francine stared at the slip of paper for a few moments. Her eyes seemed unfocused.
“Francine?” Amanda waved her hand in front of the agent’s eyes. “Francine!”
“Oh, I don’t feel so good…” Francine slumped down onto her desk.
“Francine! Oh gosh! Lee, Francine’s fainted!” Amanda was trying to revive the blonde.
Lee and other agents came over to Francine’s desk. Billy noticed the commotion from in his office and came out to investigate.
“What happened?” the section chief demanded.
Amanda was nervous, “I just asked her about the receipt and she seemed to go into a fog and then she said she didn’t feel good and then she fainted. She did say her salad tasted off…”
Billy moved in, “Don’t touch that salad. Get the medics here to look at Francine. Bag this, we’ll have it tested.” Billy raised his voice to carry through the room, “Everybody, stop eating! Something may be wrong with the food. Is anyone else feeling sick or have their food taste strange?”
People shook their heads and laid down their food. Nobody else had a problem with their food or felt sick.
“Just stop eating, we’ll test it all just to be safe.” Billy moved the agents out of the way. The medics had arrived and were checking Francine out. Francine was carried out on a stretcher to the Agency’s medical unit. Lab technicians had arrived and were tagging and bagging all of the food. They removed it to be tested.
Billy spoke to the head technician. “Priority one on Francine’s salad. But test it all just to be sure. Report back to me ASAP. Copy to Dr. Kelford so she can treat Francine and Doc McJohn in case his expertise is needed here.”
Lee drew Billy aside, “Billy you got a second? Amanda, come here.”
Billy was annoyed at the distraction. “What is it Scarecrow? Unless it’s relevant to this…”
“It may be.” Lee spoke quietly.
Billy made a quick decision. “In my office, now!”
In Billy’s office, Lee and Amanda took seats across from Billy, who sat at his desk and took a few antacids.
Lee spoke, “Billy, Amanda and I stopped by Augie’s this morning. He had a tip that there’s some guy peddling exotic poisons to the highest bidder. He’s young and may be working out of a food testing lab in the metro area. The tip was vague, so I just filed a report.”
“I see, Scarecrow, and now it’s not so vague.” He looked up at the pair. “OK. You and Amanda eat any of your lunches?”
“No sir.” “No, Billy.”
“OK good. You two go to the restaurant and check it out—I want names, samples—everything. Take a lab team with you. If you find anything follow it up—but keep me informed.”
Amanda spoke up, “Sir, I also ran a list of chemical labs that test food in the D.C. area.”
Billy smiled grimly, “Good. Give me a copy and take one with you. You never know what might pop up. Now go!”
Once Lee and Amanda arrived at the restaurant with the lab team, they soon discovered that a new worker who had helped prepare the lunches for IFF had mysteriously disappeared. They got a copy of his employment application to see if anything would show up. They also discovered he had worked on the lunches of two other businesses. Agents were quickly sent to see if anyone else had become ill. Armed with information about all the restaurant’s employees, Lee and Amanda went back to the Agency to follow up while the lab team went through the restaurant and checked it out thoroughly.
An hour later Amanda had a few bits of information. “Well Lee, it looks like our disappearing cook filled out a bogus application—name, social security, address—everything is bogus.”
Lee ran his hand through his hair, “That’s just great, Amanda. We have a description—young, about 25—medium height, build—brown hair and eyes—nothing really distinguishing about him. We’ll get an artist’s sketch from the other employees, but that’s damn little to go on.”
Billy leaned out of his office and bellowed, “Scarecrow, Mrs. King, my office now!”
Lee looked at his partner, “I guess we can ask Billy.”
Back in Billy’s office, they sat as Billy ate more antacids. “Did you two manage to find out anything useful?”
Lee answered, “Right now our best suspect is a cook at the restaurant—he had recently started and he took off right after finishing the lunches for three businesses, IFF, Speedy Printers and Amalgamated Financial Products. We’re getting artist’s sketches from the other workers.”
Amanda spoke next. “Sir, his employment application was false—name, address, social—but I’ll check the previous employers and school records. Maybe there’s something there.”
“That’s good, Amanda. People, this is serious. We know for certain Francine was poisoned—and it was in the salad dressing. It’s a derivative of curare—but with a few new twists. The lab boys think something in the lo-cal dressing interfered with the toxin—which is why Francine is just in a coma on life support and not dead.”
“Oh gosh, sir! Can they help her?” Amanda looked distressed.
“She’s stable for now, but not improving. What we need is to find this chemist and get the formula and samples of whatever he has cooked up. OK you two, keep digging into this guy—follow up anything you find—anything that might be a lead. I have others looking into the other employees and suppliers, just in case. But I think this guy is our best bet. Keep me informed every step of the way. Anything you need, you’ve got!”
“Sir, was anyone else poisoned at the other businesses?”
Billy looked grim, “Yes. One woman is dead. Death was within minutes and they thought it was an allergic reaction. We also found another container of poisoned salad dressing—unused. That seems to be all for now—we hope. Now get to it!”
“Yes sir!” They left Billy’s office.
A short while later, Lee came to Amanda’s desk with an artist’s sketch of their suspect. “Here’s our man. Pretty average all around.”
Amanda was looking at her computer screen. “Hmmm. Lee, I think I might have something here…”
“What?” He leaned in to look with her. He smelled her perfume—it was nice.
She was concentrating on her screen and didn’t notice his close scrutiny. “Well, it isn’t much—this whole employment application is phoney—but he listed a Johnson Products as a previous employer.”
Lee waited, but she didn’t say more. “And…”
“There’s no Johnson Products in the D.C. area—some up and down the east coast—but I think we’re just dealing with the D.C. metro area, don’t you think?”
Lee ran his hand through his hair. He knew he just had to wait until Amanda got around to making her point. “Yeah, that’s a good guess.”
She continued, “But there are five chemical labs that incorporate the name ‘Johnson’ in the D.C. area: Johnson & Johnson—the drug manufacturer; Smith and Johnson—a food service company; Johnson Supplies and Manufacturing—a food supply products company; and Johnson Testing Labs—an industrial chemical lab that does food testing, two locations.” She looked up at her partner, “Lee, maybe he works at one of these places and just used Johnson on his application because it was familiar.”
“That’s pretty vague, Amanda…”
“But it’s all we have.” She said decisively. “We can either go to all 61 labs—or we can start with these five—and if they don’t pan out—then go to the other 56.”
Lee nodded at her logic. “OK, I guess it’s as good a place to start as any.”
“Lee, three of these places are in the same general area—maybe we should start there?”
Lee knew his partner’s hunches might not always be totally logical, but they often were useful. “That sounds good, but we need a few things first. I’ve arranged with fabrication to make us FDA ID’s. Then we can go down to the lab and get sample kits and specimen cases so we look like real FDA inspectors, and we’ll have the equipment to take any samples we find back here safely. And we’ll also get a quick course from the lab boys to help us know what we’re looking for and how to handle it safely. It will take the rest of the afternoon, but it’s better if we know what we are doing. And these places won’t be open much past 5 anyhow.”
“OK. Lee, can we go visit Francine?”
“She’s in a coma, Amanda. She won’t know we are there.”
“But I want to see her. Just so I know she’s still alive. Please?” She turned her big brown eyes to him.
How could he refuse that look? He smiled at her and took her hand, “OK, we’ll stop by on the way downstairs. C’mon, we have a lot to do before we can go home. Then I’ll pick you up at home first thing tomorrow, and we’ll start with your three places.”
The next morning, they arrived at their first destination in a loaner car—a corvette would have looked suspicious for FDA inspectors. They wore lab coats and carried full testing kits. Amanda carried a clipboard, and both wore glasses. They showed their FDA ID’s and were escorted around. They poked around and asked questions and showed their sketch around, but got no good information.
The second lab got them the same results—nothing useful. By then it was almost noon.
“Amanda, let’s get some lunch and then try the third place. You want to try this diner?” Lee spotted a 50’s style diner complete with lunch counter and greasy burgers.
Amanda looked a bit trepidacious, “Um, maybe we should just go for fast food. I don’t really want to eat in a regular restaurant until we find this poisoner.”
Lee nodded, “Good idea. Here’s a Marvelous Marvin’s, let’s drive through there.”
They got a quick lunch, and made their way to the third place, Johnson Testing Labs, their satellite plant.
Once they arrived and had showed their ID’s they got an immediate hit off the sketch. The receptionist identified the man immediately.
“That’s Rudy Johnson, he’s the son of the owner. He has a small personal lab in the back. He’s a student at UVA in Chemical Engineering. He uses the lab for his school projects because it’s a private place and doesn’t have to share facilities with any other students. He comes and goes at all hours, but he has keys, so we don’t pay much attention to him.”
“Miss Edwards, “Amanda asked with her best smile,” Can we get into his lab and check things out? After we check the rest of your facility of course.”
“I’d love to let you in, but it’s locked and only Rudy has the key. Seems a janitor cleaned up his lab a few months ago, and accidentally disturbed some experiment and Rudy was really upset. So he had the locks changed and he threatened everyone with firing if anyone disturbs his projects back there. He’s the boss’ son, so we leave him and his projects alone.”
“I see.” Lee looked thoughtful. “We’ll just check the rest of the lab for now. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention any of this to him, if you see him. Just keep it between the three of us?” Lee flashed his famous Stetson smile, and the woman became flustered.
“Of course, sir. We’re always glad to cooperate fully with the FDA.” She batted her eyes at Lee.
He took her hand, and kissed it. “And the FDA appreciates your cooperation.”
Amanda smirked. “C’mon, partner. We have the rest of the lab to check out.”
They took their ‘samples’ from the main lab, and Lee was careful to check the place thoroughly for entrances, exits and exactly where Rudy’s lab was.
Once they were back in their loaner car, Lee spoke to his partner. “Amanda, we’ll come back to this place in a few hours—after the workers have left.”
“Why not send a team in now?”
“I called and checked with Billy. Francine is still stable—and we want to catch this guy red-handed if we can. We’ll go back in tonight after dark—get into that locked lab—and get samples, run computer printouts and photograph everything. When we have all the evidence, we’ll send a team to pick this guy up. But we don’t want to spook him. If he hears his lab’s been raided, he might just take off. I’m guessing that stunt yesterday was a test run to prove to a potential buyer that his poison works. We just got lucky it was one of our people he poisoned—or he might have been long-gone before we put all the pieces together.”
“I don’t think Francine will think she was lucky.”
“Actually she was.” Lee took Amanda’s hand. “The other person who ate their salad died within minutes. We’re lucky the poison broke down somewhat and that you were there to call attention to it so Francine could get medical attention immediately. You could say you saved Francine’s life.” He kissed her fingers.
“I’ll only have saved her life if she recovers—and for that we need the original poison so the lab guys can make an antidote.”
“And that’s our job. C’mon, it’s late. I’ll take you home and you can change. And I’ll take you out for a quiet dinner while we wait to break into the lab.” His eyes twinkled at the thought of them out together.
“Lee, maybe I should just make us some supper at the house. I’m not really comfortable going out to any restaurant until this man is behind bars. I know it’s not logical, but that’s how I feel.” She looked a bit worried.
He shook his head, “If that’s what you want. What did you have in mind?”
She thought swiftly, “I have some hamburger in the fridge that really needs to be used up tonight, I can make something with that.”
“You never did make us that dinner of hamburgers and wine.” She smiled at the thought that he’d remembered. He continued. “Why don’t we stop at my place? I’ll change and I’ll get some wine, we’ll get my car, and go back to your place for a ‘normal’ dinner. One definitely without any poison slipped in.”
“I promise I won’t poison you, Lee.”
Back at Amanda’s she started dinner while Lee fired up the grill in the backyard. He came back into the family room after the coals were started. Amanda was mixing ingredients in a bowl.
“Amanda, what are you making?”
“Hamburgers, Lee. We’re going to have corn-on-the-cob also, it’s soaking in the sink. And I have ice cream for dessert.”
“You don’t have to get so elaborate.”
“This isn’t elaborate. Well, using the grill is kinda fancy, usually I’d just fry the hamburgers in a pan on the stove. And we can roast the corn also. So I guess we are getting elaborate.”
“What are you making there?” He indicated the bowl where she was mixing the ground meat with her hand.
“Hamburgers are just ground meat. What are you doing there?”
“Oh Lee. I like to add a few more ingredients, to spice them up a bit. They also stay more juicy and tender if you add more things. I add a few breadcrumbs, an egg, some salt and pepper and a dash of Worcestershire sauce—don’t tell the boys they think it’s yucky—and some parmesan cheese. We also have cheese for on top, if you want a regular cheeseburger. Or I could do stuffed hamburgers, and add some beans to the inside—oh I forgot—you don’t like beans.”
“No, I don’t. Though inside a hamburger is certainly a new way to serve beans.” He saw she was making several patties. “Amanda, I only want two burgers. You’ll only eat one, who are those others for?”
“I’m going to have you grill the whole batch. The hamburger won’t keep any longer, and I can reheat them later after they’re cooked. I can even freeze them, and thaw them out in a month.”
“Isn’t that a lot of work?”
“No, I got a microwave a couple months back.” She indicated the new appliance on the counter. “After I got the raise when I was rehired. I don’t know how I got along before without it. It’s great for thawing and reheating. No more setting something aside in the refrigerator the night before. I can just pop it into the microwave and 10 minutes later, it’s all thawed.”
Lee shook his head. Amanda was certainly a whiz in the kitchen, though more in the line of ‘home cooking’ than anything fancy or exotic. But the boys probably wouldn’t want anything fancy or exotic, so she cooked what they would eat. He wondered what she could do with some of the exotic dishes he had learned to cook during his worldwide travels. He then wondered how Amanda would like some of the more exotic places he had been. Especially some of the more tropical places, where people wore fewer clothes than they did in their day-to-day life in D.C. He thought of Amanda barefoot in a sarong… Maybe that wasn’t something he should be thinking about. They were just partners and here for a casual home-cooked dinner before going out to break into the lab of a poisoner.
She took the two ears of corn out of the sink. They were still in the husks. They grilled better that way. She wrapped them loosely in tinfoil. That way they would steam as well as grill, and cook better. At the end, they could remove the tinfoil and grill them directly for the last few minutes. She remembered the tongs and gave the ears to Lee. “Here.” Lee was jolted out of his thoughts. “The corn should start first. I’ll bring the hamburgers out in a couple of minutes.” She opened the back door and pushed him outside.
“I’ll get the buns buttered and ready for you to toast. You want cheese on your burger?”
“Uh, yeah. A cheeseburger would be great.”
“I’ll bring the burgers out once the corn has cooked for a while.”
Amanda waited a few minutes, while she cleaned up the kitchen, then she brought the platter of burgers out to Lee. He took them and the spatula and put the burgers on to grill alongside the corn
She paused in the doorway and watched him at the grill. He was wearing dark jeans and a dark t-shirt. It was warm outside, and the shirt stuck to his skin from the heat and the extra heat of the grill. It was certainly an inviting sight. His broad, muscular shoulders filed the t-shirt nicely, and the jeans fit his tight rear snugly. She sighed. He had left his gun and shoulder holster in the house while he grilled the burgers. He looked almost normal. ‘Well, as ‘normal’ as a buff-hunk like him can look. Gosh, I have Lee Stetson—the great Scarecrow—grilling burgers in my backyard. I wonder what the girls in the steno pool would think of that? But I think a man who cooks is especially sexy. He’d probably be a great father, too. Once he relaxed and decided to settle down. But I can’t see Randi baby or any of his other girlfriends being a mother. And, Lord knows, I’m not his type.’ She shook her head to clear her thoughts. ‘This isn’t getting dinner cooked, so get a grip, Amanda, and concentrate on what you’re supposed to be doing. We’re having a quick diner before we go out to break into the lab of a poisoner.’
He turned and caught her watching him. “It’ll be a few minutes here. I’ll let you know when I’ve turned them over, and you can bring out the buns for toasting.” He gave her a broad smile.
“OK, I’ll go get them ready, and bring them out. You want to eat here, outside?”
“Sure, we’ll make it a picnic.”
She buttered the buns, and brought them out with extra plates, silverware and napkins. She went back in to get the wine and glasses.
She sat at the picnic table and they chatted as he watched the burgers grill. He turned them over, and they pulled the tinfoil from the corn to grill it further. She passed him the buns, and he set them out to toast. At the last minute, he put the cheese on their burgers. When everything was done, they sat at the table, with the extra burgers covered with tinfoil on a plate, to be wrapped and frozen later.
“To a ‘normal’ dinner, Amanda.” They toasted and drank the deep red wine. He looked at her over the rim of his wineglass. “We waited too long for this. It’s nice eating out here in your back yard.”
“We make a good team, cooking the burgers and roasting the corn.”
“We’re partners. And partners share whatever they do.”
“Even off the job?” Amanda teased.
“Sometimes even then.” He spoke in a low tone, and Amanda felt a thrill go down her spine. She thought, ‘This is turning out to be a more interesting evening than I had imagined it would. I’ll just have to keep my cool, so he won’t know how he’s affecting me. After all, I’m not his type.’
They ate their meal, and cleaned up together afterward. The extra burgers were wrapped and placed in Amanda’s already full freezer. She went upstairs to change, and came down in a dark shirt and dark jeans. Her hair was finally long enough to put into a ponytail again, after her haircut and perm earlier in the year. By then dusk was falling, and they left to go break into the lab and gather the evidence that would put a murderer in jail.
Once they arrived at the lab, they put on latex gloves, to protect them from any chemical contamination and to leave no fingerprints. Lee had a backpack with special padding and containers to hold any samples they might find. He wore a loose jacket over his t-shirt to hide his weapon. Amanda had just a few keys and her ID in her pocket, she carried no purse. She also wore a light windbreaker over her shirt. They had lab goggles and face masks in the backpack, in case they encountered an experiment in progress. They used flashlights in their search, to minimize any detection of their presence from outside.
They broke into the lab building. It was the same as before, only deserted. Rudy’s lab had a single door, in the back of the main lab. Lee made short work of that door, and they looked inside.
It was a smaller version of the main lab. There was a central table with a dark work surface, and a sink in one corner. There was a hood over the main part of the table, and various tools and burners, all off, strewn around the work surface. Shelves with a counter and cabinets above and beneath lined two walls. There was a small janitor’s closet with slatted doors on the left, an emergency shower next to that, and a desk with a computer and printer next to the door on the right. There were small frosted windows high in the two walls with the shelves and counters, but no other doors or exit. The room was constructed of cinder block, as was the rest of the building.
They both had small cameras and they took pictures of the whole lab and what contents they could access without unlocking anything. Then they got to work.
“Amanda, you get the computer—see if you can get anything printed out about his formulas or research. I’ll look for samples.”
Amanda got into the computer quickly and found some files that looked promising. She put in a disk and transferred the information to that. When one disk filled, she put in another and filled that and two more as well. She sealed the disks in a plastic bag and zipped it shut in the pocket of her jacket. She printed out a selection of pages from the computer.
Lee searched the lab thoroughly. He checked the lab table and opened all the unlocked cupboards. Most held standard lab equipment and office supplies. The janitor’s closet held nothing interesting. In a locked cupboard, Lee found a number of small vials labeled with numbers, several samples of each.
“Amanda,” He spoke softly, “I think I have his store of poisons here. I’ll get one vial of each—he has several—and hopefully he won’t notice a few are gone.”
“OK, I’m just finishing up here.” She spoke as she packed the printed pages in the backpack. She brought the backpack to Lee, and he carefully removed a half-dozen small vials from the back of the cupboard and packed them securely in the padding in the backpack, and then secured them snugly. No matter how much the backpack was jostled or dropped, they were safe in the many layers of padding.
“This should do it—let’s go…” Lee grabbed the backpack.
They heard a noise outside in the main lab, and the light shone in under the closed door to the smaller lab.
“Quick, into that janitor’s closet, Amanda.”
Lee stowed his flashlight in the backpack and grabbed Amanda around the waist, pulling her into the closet after him. “Lock the door Amanda,” he said in a low tone.
Once they were in the closet, she closed and latched the door from the inside.
It was a small janitor’s closet, with a slatted door for ventilation. There was a mop and bucket and shelves along the back containing cleaning supplies. There was little room for two people.
Lee’s back was against the side wall, he could feel janitor’s coveralls at his back, and Amanda was pressed close, her back to him. Lee’s arm was still around Amanda’s waist, the other hand held the straps of the backpack as it rested on the floor. Lee pulled his partner closer to his body and bent his head to whisper in her ear, “If we’re quiet we can wait them out. And maybe we’ll hear something useful.”
Amanda just nodded. It was a small closet and a tight fit. Amanda stiffened as she was very aware of Lee holding her very close. She was nervous and tense.
“Relax, Amanda.” Lee whispered again into her ear. “We may be here for a while and it will be easier if you just relax—lean against me—I have my back to the wall, so we can just relax and listen in. Your leg muscles cramp up less if you relax.”
“OK” Amanda breathed. She didn’t relax.
“Hey, it could be worse—we could be hiding under the bed.”
Amanda shook her head no. She slowly relaxed and leaned against Lee’s solid frame.
They heard the door unlock and then open and the lights were turned on.
“OK Grigor—here’s my lab. I have samples here.” His voice was average.
“So Rudy, you did all this here?” Grigor had a deep gruff voice.
Rudy replied, “The actual creation of the poisons, yes. But I worked out the ideas and planned it out over the past couple of years.”
“What inspired you to take up this task?”
Rudy sounded bitter, “I’m in grad school—and it’s very expensive. My dad paid for my BS in chemistry, but he said I had to pay for any further schooling myself. He wanted me to spend my life working in the lab here. Like I would ever do that grunt work for the rest of my life. Grants and scholarships only go so far, even tutoring undergrads doesn’t pay as much as I need. I’m studying organic chemistry, and this is just one facet of what I’m doing for my masters. So to go to the extra effort it takes to actually make the poisons—well it’s no big deal. And I figured I could get some ready cash to pay for my schooling—and other stuff. I’m not going to spend my life doing grunt work in some rinky-dink food testing lab.”
“If your poisons work, you will be able to write your own ticket. Or perhaps you would consider relocating?”
“What, to Romania or Bulgaria or even Russia? No way. Maybe South America, but I like my freedom and the free enterprise system.”
“Suit yourself.” Grigor sounded disgusted.
Rudy unlocked the cupboard where his samples were stored. “Here’s my samples. I’ll let you have four or five to test—but be careful how you administer them. They don’t combine with just any food—keep them out of alcohol—it could break down some of the more delicate radicals. And high heat can cause problems. I put it in salad dressing—it seems to have worked.”
“You already tested this on people?” Grigor sounded incredulous.
“Yeah—I needed to know. I do know one woman’s dead. I saw the coroner haul her off yesterday.”
“You idiot! What if they investigate?”
“No chance of that—it looks like an allergic reaction—with no cause to test they’ll let it go. I told you, I’m good and I’m very careful. I chose my initial poisons very carefully. I wanted something that acted fairly quickly, but looked natural. It just mimics an anaphylactic reaction. I added peanuts to all the salads, so it will look like an undiagnosed peanut allergy.”
“You had better be sure about that!”
“Hey, animal testing only goes so far and I can’t afford to use chimps—way too expensive not to mention where would I keep them? If you’re unhappy I can call the next customer. I have more than one potential buyer, you know.” Rudy sounded smug.
“You might consider that I can just kill you and take your samples.” Grigor threatened.
Rudy wasn’t fazed, “Maybe, but then you don’t have the formulas and I have the skills to refine these and create more. Just think—these were made here in this rinky-dink lab. Think what I could create in a state-of-the-art facility with financial backing and good testing opportunities…”
“That may be so—but we are buying your loyalty as well as these samples—so you would do well to remember that.”
Rudy was nonchalant, “Sure. Just so long as the check cashes, I’m all yours.”
Rudy and Grigor left the lab, shut off the lights and locked the door after them.
In the closet, Lee and Amanda breathed a sigh of relief. Lee bent his head again and whispered in her ear. “Amanda, we should wait a while before we move—in case they decide to come back.”
Amanda nodded. She was relaxed, resting her head on Lee’s shoulder, Lee’s arm still around her waist. Her arms were wrapped around his.
Now that Rudy and Grigor had left she had nothing else to take her mind off the tight quarters they were in. And how close she and Lee were. It was … cozy. Amanda realized she trusted Lee totally. She knew she was safe with him, and he seemed totally comfortable with her as well. Except maybe she didn’t want to be totally comfortable—or rather she didn’t want Lee to be totally comfortable with her. A little awareness of her as a woman on his part might be a welcome idea. She certainly wasn’t one of his girlfriends, but she wasn’t a nun, either. She was certainly aware of Lee as a man, she would have to be dead not to be aware of him that way. But she wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of letting him know she thought of him that way. She knew she wasn’t his type, but just once it would be nice to be appreciated for her womanly charms as well as her abilities as his partner. Not by Scarecrow the agent, but by Lee the man. ‘Like that day will ever come.’ she thought. She sighed silently.
Lee listened closely for sounds of Rudy and Grigor leaving—or coming back—or anything. Unfortunately the building was cinder block and the windows were closed—and there was a large room between them and the street and they were locked up in a small closet all close and cozy—except it was Amanda and cozy with Amanda was not as cozy as he might hope for. He breathed in her perfume. She was his partner, his friend. They had been working together for almost two years now—and he was beginning to think she might be something more to him. Of course he trusted her, and relied on her help and instincts. But he realized she had also evolved from being a nuisance and necessity to someone he wanted to be around. And not just in connection with work. Where did that come from? Amanda was Amanda—she was not like any of his other girlfriends. Whoa!?! Other girlfriends? Amanda is not a girlfriend—no way! Amanda, his Amanda was definitely not girlfriend material—that wasn’t her nature. If Amanda was anything it was wife material—and that was one place Lee Stetson, man about town, swinging bachelor agent was never going to go. No way, not ever.
“Lee, what’s wrong, you’re all tense all of a sudden?” Amanda whispered.
“Uh, we’ve waited long enough—let’s get out of here.” Lee tried to shoulder open the door—but it was stuck. “What the?”
“Hold on—you had me latch it, remember?”
“Oh yeah—sure.” Suddenly there wasn’t enough air and things were very close in the closet with Amanda.
She unlatched and opened the door and they stepped out into the darkened room.
“Whew! That was getting tight in there.” Lee took several big breaths.
Amanda thought ‘There might be some hope, yet.’ “You seemed fine up until a minute ago.”
“Let’s get these samples back to the Agency and give all this stuff to the lab boys. I bet they can do a lot with what we’ve got in here.” He hefted the backpack, grabbed Amanda’s hand and strode out of the building with her in tow.
They were finishing up the paperwork on the case the next afternoon. The poison had been identified, an antidote quickly created and Francine was recovering nicely. Rudy and Grigor had been picked up first thing, and each had ratted out the other in exchange for a lighter sentence.
Rudy’s lab had been formally raided, and evidence gathered under warrant, so there would be no legal glitches in his prosecution. Only Rudy was involved, so nobody else would be going to jail.
Billy had congratulated Lee and Amanda, on another successful case.
At the end of the day, Lee escorted Amanda out to her car. They talked as they walked.
“Amanda, I’m sorry about grabbing you and hauling you into that closet.”
“We had to hide…”
“Yeah—I didn’t have time to argue about it and it was just quicker to grab you and pull you in with me.”
She smiled and shrugged, “Oh well it turned out OK.”
He countered, “Hey, it could have been worse. There are worse places to hide and people to be stuck with in a small closet. We weren’t tied up or threatened, it was a piece of cake. There was one time I was stuck in the back of a truck with Fred Fielder…”
“That, I’d like to see.” She laughed.
“Very funny. You could have been stuck in that closet with Francine.”
“Well there would have been more room then—you’re a big guy and it was kind of a tight fit with the two of us…”
“I guess I’m lucky you’re not Fred Fielder.”
“It wasn’t so bad.” She chided, “At least we got out OK and we weren’t discovered—and we got the bad guys so everything turned out OK in the end. Francine will be fine, right?”
“Yeah, they’re keeping her a couple more days to make sure, but she’ll be fine now that we have the original formula, his notes and the rest. So I guess you did save Francine’s life after all.”
She nodded, “And we didn’t get tied up or shot at or anything.”
“Nope, just routine information, some research, legwork and a little breaking and entering.”
“Pretty routine case—except for the closet…” she got quiet.
“Yeah, the closet…” he got quiet also.
“Oh Lee, it was just part of the job.”
“Yeah, but I think of all the people we could have been stuck with—it’s probably good it was you and me—we’re partners and we’re used to each other. It’s not the first tight spot we’ve been stuck in and I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last.” He smiled at her.
She smiled back, “Probably not.”
He kissed her hand, “But that’s just part of the job, right?”
“Oh right. Part of the job. Partner.”