There was no cure and no antidote.
January 6, 2014
A VG Serial: ToxiCity
Georgia idled under the shower, hoping the hot water would purge her resentment. Toweling off, she pulled her hair back and threw on clean sweats.
Not even noon. The yawning emptiness of the day loomed, a black hole of time, with fat stolid hours curving back on themselves. Wandering into the kitchen, she thought about the quart of rum she’d stashed in the cabinet. The box of sugar cubes lay on the counter. She dug into the box and popped one into her mouth.
She sucked on the sugar, the sweet sensation filling her mouth. She shuffled back into the bedroom. She picked up the phone and called her answering machine. A ping of excitement shot through her when the digital voice said there was a new message. Whoa girl, she thought, as she punched in her code, thinking she must be hitting bottom if a phone message was the high point of her day.
The female voice was unfamiliar. “I—I hope I got the right number. This is Clark.” Georgia stiffened. “I’ve been thinking about you. Did you ever find the woman you were looking for? I’m—well, I’d like to hear from you.” She recited a number with a downtown area code.
Georgia slammed down the phone. How dare this woman call her, invade her privacy? Snatching up the phone, she started to dial Clark’s number. Half way through, she stopped. She was over-reacting. Just erase the message. Forget about it. She put the phone back on the base.
She ran her hands down her sides, as if smoothing out a wrinkled dress. The irony was that had she been in a relationship with anyone except Matt—even a woman—she’d still be a cop.
She threw herself onto the couch. The walls were closing in. Matt was working. She ought to be working too. God knows they needed the help.
Undetectable poisons. Ingested, inhaled, and now, possibly injected. Someone ought to be looking at all the possibilities. She raised herself on her elbow and gazed at Matt’s desktop computer on a nearby table. Now that he had his laptop, he rarely used this one.
Two hours later she was still hunched over the keyboard and mouse. She’d started with “undetectable poisons”, pulling down lists of poisons and crosschecking them against their characteristics and symptoms. The list was overwhelming. She wouldn’t get far that way. Refining the search, she entered “poisons—ingest.” That was better. She started to read. She did the same with “poisons—inhale” and “inject.” Slowly the list shrank. There were still hundreds to check, but a pattern seemed to emerge. The majority of toxins that fit all three criteria were largely derived from plant or animal sources.
One toxin in particular surfaced more than once. Biological. Easily available. Easily processed. She kept going.
Toxins were classified by level, based on the amount needed to cause a fatal reaction. Marijuana and Tylenol, she learned, were low level, meaning it would take a shitload of each to do any harm. Surprisingly, aspirin was a level four, but this one was a level six—up there with doomsday material like plutonium and botulism. Six thousand times more toxic than cyanide, a cloud of it dispersed over a populated area could kill hundreds of thousands of people. It was considered the third most toxic substance in the world. She shivered.
Switching to a database of news articles, she entered the name of the poison. Over thirty articles popped up. She scanned them. The DEA and ATF were concerned that domestic terrorist groups were hoarding the stuff, and they had issued warnings to local law enforcement agencies about it. Saddam Hussein was apparently harvesting fields of it in Iraq. And the Army was supposed to be working on a vaccine, coincidentally in Chicago.
When she looked up, the sun had set and the windows were deep pools of black. She downloaded the articles, book-marked the websites, then called Matt at the station. “Call me as soon as you can,” she said to his voice-mail. “I have something to tell you.”
While she waited for his call, she paced the living room. The kicker was not only that it was undetectable, but there was no cure. Or antidote. No matter how it was administered, it was a slow, painful death. Just like Matt’s victims.
Carrie Nelson beeped Matt on his cell that afternoon.
“I got something.”
“Where are you?”
“In Glenbrook. At Louis Simon’s office.”
Twenty minutes later Matt was looking at a white envelope addressed to Dr. Louis Simon. According to the receptionist, it had arrived in the mail about a week before Simon’s death, but the receptionist threw it in a pile with the rest of the junk mail. Matt pulled on gloves, opened the envelope, and extracted a black and white photograph of an empty field. A steeple poked through the trees. He went cold.
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.