Amber parked her car behind ‘The Unturned Page’ and hurried through the late afternoon sun to the door. After a check on the Wangs, she made for the back room. She unlocked the one drawer of her desk where she kept things no one else needed to see, and pulled the letter back out and for quite some time sat staring at it, panic and uncertainty rising.
She let the front legs of her chair hit the floor with a thump, then locked the letter back in the drawer, found her phone book and riffled through it.
Well, you knew it would come back sooner or later. Someone was bound to do it. What is Heather up to? This is not random, nor is it the real reason. Better find Jennifer this evening and see where she stands.
Amber found the numbers she needed, wrote them down on a pad of light grey notepaper and tore off the sheet, along with the two underneath. Then, stuffing the sheets in the pocket of her blazer, she went for her coat once more.
“Mai?” She poked her head into the shop itself. “I’ve got to go to the grocery. Want me to pick up anything for you while I’m there?”
Mai grinned. “As a matter of fact, if you wouldn’t mind, I’d be grateful. I only need a few things,” she wrote a short list, handing it to Amber with a twenty, “but I was wondering when I would find the time to get out!”
“No problem. I’ll be back soon, and I have my cell. Hold the fort!”
The market wasn’t far, and it was full of locals, so she went in and started her shopping. Tonight she was only making pasta with mushrooms and vegetables and a salad, and she had made up a batch of freezer rolls already, so it was a light shop. She picked up the four things Mai had asked for, and was in the checkout line when a man in a gray suit caught her attention. He was watching her.
She paid quickly and left the store without looking back, without stopping to sort out Mai’s change from her own.
She walked in the front door of the bookstore and went straight to the counter.
“Here are your things. Let me find your change, and I’ll be all ready to go upstairs for the evening.”
The shop bell jangled, and the man in gray stepped in. He scanned the two women and then walked over to Amber.
“Yes, that’s right,” she said tersely.
He handed over an envelope. “Pleasure doing business with you.”
He departed. She stood for a moment, irresolute. Then, she opened the envelope with trembling fingers. Scanning it, she drew in a deep breath and let out a sigh. “That’s it, then. It’s time.” Thank the Lady I’ve already got Jennifer’s numbers. I’ll need them doubly now. Heather is moving fast.
She put it all into her pocket, then turned to smile at Mai. “I’ll be up in my apartment if you need me. Kermit is coming over this evening, so if he gets here before you leave, just send him on up.”
“I will. You okay?”
“I’ll be fine, thanks for asking. Just something I wasn’t expecting so soon. Nothing to worry about.”
The slight slump to her shoulders told Mai that her boss was very tired, and wondered about calling her back to talk, but then decided just to let her go.
Amber mounted the stairs slowly, got out her cookware and began to prepare things for dinner as she pulled out the notepaper, got the hands-free phone and dialed. Jennifer is not going to be happy this court case came up so quickly after so long.
Kermit parked his Corvair in the usual spot, stepped in the back door and waved to Mai and Joseph, who were finishing up their closing routine. Mai gave him a relieved smile -- at least, she thought, maybe he could help Amber with whatever was bothering her. He walked up the stairs and out of sight.
Once again, he made it to the kitchen before Amber realized he was there. He drew out his accustomed chair and sat, to let her know he’d arrived.
“Jennifer, I have to go,” Amber said into the phone. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Don’t jump off on my account,” Kermit grumbled.
She smiled at him, a little nervously, he noted. “Why not? I’ve got dinner almost ready.”
He stood, closed his hands as gently as he could on her shoulders. “You look tired, Green Eyes.”
“I am. Working on tracking Lucy took it out of me.”
Kermit stifled an expression of exasperation. He had wanted to discuss this...sudden distance he felt between them, but tonight was not the time -- not with her in this shape.
“I was thinking,” she looked up through her lashes, “that maybe we could eat and make it an early night? I’ll clean up after you go in the morning.”
“No. Yes to the early night,” he slid his hands down over her back to press her closer. “But I’ll help you clean up, and then we can take a glass of wine into the bedroom. I know you won’t sleep well if we don’t clean up the kitchen tonight.”
Amber pressed her face into his shoulder and trembled there a minute. “You’re good to me, Kermit. I wish...”
She shook her head, pulled away. “Nothing. I have everything I want. Let me check the pasta water and see how close to dinner we are.”
Kermit watched her move about the kitchen. What did she wish? That she could stay with him? That she weren’t so tired? He couldn’t push past that wall he seemed to feel every time he reached for her now. “The only place we communicate anymore is between the sheets.”
“What?” She turned from what she was doing.
“Nothing,” he responded quickly. “Nothing at all.”
And they did communicate later, in Amber’s bed. But they didn’t talk. Late that night, Kermit stared up into the darkness. Who was Jennifer, and why had Amber ‘had to go’ when he’d come in? She had never before stopped a conversation due to his presence. She’d even handed to phone to him before so that Aunt Edith or Uncle Dougie could chat with him. And why does she seem half-afraid of me these days? It’s like she thinks I’m going to bite her head off, or...or something.
Amber too, was having trouble sleeping. She kept her eyes closed and remained where she’d started, tucked against him. It still feels right to be here -- but for how long? How long do I have to touch him, to feel his arms around me? Even if he doesn’t want to leave me, how long before he has to? I can’t leave this place now, can’t keep moving on -- but how could I stay if he ever left me? Of course, I would have to. I’ve chosen this place, or it has chosen me, and I’ll have to stay. But it would be a lot easier if Kermit were with me.
They awoke, each slightly irritable with lack of sleep, but seeking to conceal it. Amber made Kermit eat breakfast before fleeing to the relative calm of headquarters. Amber’s flat had always been a source of soothing rest for him, but now the very air was full of tensions and secrets he felt but didn’t understand.
Fortunately, as soon as he entered his office, Sikes got to his feet. “Sorry -- the Captain let me in here to wait for you. Got some news -- the lab boys want to talk to you and Peter. About the bars.”
The two detectives made directly for the lab, where Dr. Anna Moses greeted them with a professional smile. “Glad you could make it, fellows. We finally got hold of one of those blue bars and were able to run a full set of tests. This stuff is pretty ingenious. There is no drug, just an assortment of inert chemicals, until they’re put together right. Whoever is behind this is incredibly clever!”
“Could we put a hold on admiring the bad guys?” Kermit asked sharply. “We’ve got dead kids out there.”
Peter put a hand on his arm, snatched it away as Kermit turned to look at him through dark glass. “Come on, Kermit, let the lady tell us what she’s got.”
Anna nodded and showed them to a table. Two bars, one white and one cobalt blue, each inscribed with fading Chinese characters, rested on either side of a small twelve-volt battery. The battery sported wires from each pole. Next to all this was a large beaker of water.
“This is what we found. Separately, these are all harmless. Together, they make pure THC gas.”
“What?” Kermit demanded. “That’s what this has all been about? THC? Do-it-yourself pot?”
“It’s a little bit more than just pot. It’s more concentrated, for one thing. I’ll show you how it works.” She picked up the battery, cleared her throat and checked to make sure they were paying attention. Then she began.
“First, I make sure the wires are connected to the battery leads. By the way, notice how the coating on each bar is wearing away -- it’s not as thick as it would be if you’d just bought it, and the characters are fading. Now, I take the cobalt bar and stir the water with it. The coating is thick, but it’s also gritty and comes off. It turns the water a deep cobalt blue. Now, I make sure the white bar is connected to the positive wire -- that’s actually what I assume the hole at the top of the bar is for. And I lower the white bar into the water, immediately and carefully attaching the blue bar to the negative power supply -- this would be easier if two kids were co-operating. See what happens?”
She stepped back. Peter watched in amazement, Kermit impassive as the water fizzed and bubbled. A heavy mist cloud formed over the water.
“The mist is pure THC gas. You can inhale it by sticking your nose in it, or by using a straw of some sort. I would actually not recommend putting your nose into the cloud -- it can easily irritate. Don’t get too close,” she warned as Peter leaned forward. “Or I’ll be sending you back to your captain like a couple of goofballs.
“There are a couple of little problems with the setup. If the water is not pure, say distilled, the minerals in it can cause a bad reaction, from minor spasms to full convulsions, which would be fatal. Worse, if the leads are crossed -- positive lead to blue bar, negative to white, something it’s easy to do if you’re already high, you end up with MNE17 gas.”
“Good Christ,” Kermit whistled. “That’s what Saddam’s been trying to make for ten years!”
Anna nodded gravely. “It’s ugly stuff, Detective. Almost as ugly as the body Mary Margaret found earlier. Someone cut up that guy pretty badly. Now that I’ve seen what this drug can do if mixed incorrectly, I’m not sure which is worse.”
Peter grinned. “Thank you, Dr. Moses. You’ve been very helpful.”
face once more expressionless behind his glasses, and shook her hand.
“Let’s hope your work will help get these bars off the street. Thanks,