Essentially, it killed all of the cells in the body.

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A VG Serial: ToxiCity

Episode 86

Matt nailed the mezuzah to his door jam, said a blessing, and took Ricki in his arms. As she lifted her face for a kiss, he had a clear view over her shoulder. He froze. There, near the bedroom door, was a ghostly image of Georgia. Leaning against the doorframe. Smiling. He blinked, knowing it wasn’t real. Some kind of optical illusion. A trick of his subconscious. He was exhausted. He released Ricki.

“I’m going to take a quick shower, then we can get something to eat, okay?”

“Want some company?” She grinned. Then she looked around. “Nice place.”

He forced a smile. She was being polite. His place, small enough to fit into her house six times over, was minimally furnished. Georgia had suggested they buy a few things, make the place more homey, but he kept putting it off. Maybe this was why.

“You don’t mind if I check my e-mail while you’re showering, do you?” She asked. “I’ve been waiting for a deal to go through. A new lease on an office building.”

“No problem.” He flipped on the power switch of the old computer and headed into the bathroom.

After he showered he came back into the living room. Ricki was hunched over the computer, one hand on the mouse. He walked over and gently kneaded her shoulders. She lifted her free hand to cover his, but didn’t turn around.

“Matt, you know, there’s one thing I can’t tolerate.”

“What’s that?”

She twisted around. “Secrets. They doom a relationship. Please, no matter how difficult it is, don’t keep anything from me. I can handle most things, as long as you’re honest.”

“Okay.”

She nodded. “Good. Now, tell me about this. And why you didn’t tell me before.”

A fresh twinge of uneasiness swept through him. “What?”

She pointed to the monitor. He peered over her shoulder. She pulled down an icon from the menu bar and highlighted a file. As it opened, he squinted. It was a text file, full of small print. The title read: “Characteristics of Ricin.” She scrolled down the page, past sections headed with “Diagnosis,” “Medical Management,” “Prophylaxis.”

“What is this?”

He frowned. “I don’t know.”

“Come on.” She pulled down more files: “Guide to Poisonous Plants;” “How to Make Ricin.” She leaned back. “When were you going to tell me?”

He spread his hands. “Where did you find these? I didn’t know—”

Her face hardened. “Matt, what did I just say about secrets? This is your computer. In your apartment. If you’re suspicious about the poison these killers are using, isn’t it your responsibility to let me know? How can I protect myself against something I can’t see, hear, or touch?” Angry patches of red flared on her cheeks. “I’m not helpless. I can handle it. But I need to know.”

Matt backed away from the computer. Where had those files come from? It had been months since he’d used that computer. He and Georgia had even talked about getting rid of it. Buying an easy chair instead.

Georgia.

“Matt?” Ricki’s voice came at him from a distance.

He stared at the screen, piecing it together. Georgia must have been researching the case by herself. While she was suspended.

“Matt, answer me.”

His eyes flicked back to her. “Hold on.” He bent over the printer, snapped it on, and grabbed the mouse. “I have to print these.” He activated the print command.

“Matt? What are you doing? We need to talk.”

He went into the bedroom and called Stone.

“I’ll call Vaughan,” Stone said after Matt explained. “Call you back.”

By the time the phone rang a minute later, the printer had spit out copies of the files.

“Vaughan and Van Thorsen are on too,” Stone said.

Matt told them what he’d found. “So, what do you think?”

Van Thorsen spoke first. “Ricin’s a biological agent. You process it from castor beans and it’s one of the most lethal toxins there is. Only botulism and plutonium are more toxic.”

“It comes from the same stuff as Castor oil?” Stone asked.

“Castor oil is mother’s milk when you stack it up against this. Ricin is the mash that’s left over after the oil is processed out. It’s in the pulp of the castor bean, not the shell. In fact, the shell casing is pretty hard. But inside is an oily whitish material….”

“How does it work?” Matt cut in.

“It prevents protein synthesis which, as you may know, is a critical function of cell activity.”

“Speak English, buddy,” Cecil Vaughan interrupted.

“Sorry. What happens is that on a cellular level, it causes the breakdown of red blood cells in the tissues. Essentially it kills all the cells of the body.”

“How?” Matt asked.

“It depends on how it’s administered,” he said slowly. “Ricin can be processed several different ways.”

Stone broke in. “Can it be inhaled?”

“Yes.”

“Ingested?”

“Yes.”

“Injected?”

“Yes.”

“Well, isn’t that convenient? We have all three possibilities with our vics,” Stone said. “How long would the entire process take, from the onset of symptoms until death?”

“Depends on the dosage.”

“As long as thirty-six, forty-eight hours?”

“It could.”

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.

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