“Yeah, for a minute I wasn't sure I would get away.”
“I had confidence in you, Zack,” he said. ”I didn't know how long I would have, so I jumped up right away and started looking around.”
“Find anything interesting?”
“Plenty,” he said. ”I'm fairly convinced that the guy—slightly-built, only about 5'8” or so, and maybe an upper classman or young grad student—was the one that fooled us in Elf Land the other night.”
“Hmph,” I said. ”If I had known all that, I might have circled back around for a little payback.”
“No, that would have ruined everything!”
“How do you mean?”
He took a breath. ”Well, let me finish, first. Anyway, I didn't know that was the guy when you rammed into me, and I couldn't have been sure in advance.”
“I guess not,” I said. ”But you suspected, I bet.” He nodded. “So?”
“So, I looked around as fast as I could. Standard chem lab; beakers and bunsen burners and a cabinet for chemicals; lab benches, gas hookups, and the like. Pretty standard.”
“There were a bunch of flasks on the lab bench, but you can't just tell what's in them by glancing at them or even sniffing.” He grimaced, thinking about it. “Which is a bad idea, anyway. But the cabinet was unlocked, and his backpack was on the floor. I went through the backpack first. His name is Roger Smith, and he's a Crownie. He had a few textbooks in there—I didn't take a close look at them—and a few notebooks. Plus he left a lab notebook on the lab bench.”
“Right. I paged through the lab notebook as quick as I could. I didn't find anything that was wildly incriminating.”
“Like, '8:30 Friday: Meet Jim Jones in Elf Land to hit Zack Gordon over the head with a blackjack'.”
He grinned. ”No, nothing like that. But I did get his address on the West Side; it was written on the inside cover of the lab book.”
“Yeah, that'll be helpful. And I picked up a few other clues that I'm going to have to think about a bit to see if I can fit them in with some other pieces I've found out in the last few days.”
“Anyway, it had been a few minutes and I knew he'd be back soon, so I went over to the cabinet and took a look inside it.” He smiled. ”And it was pretty instructive.”
“Yes. You remember what the Pinwheel Man said?”
“Sure. Hard to forget, honestly.”
Tosh gave me a sympathetic look. ”I know. It's unbelievable what the Defense Department allows to happen. They talk all the time about how they support the military, and then they just let guys like him . . .”
“Tosh, you're preaching to the choir, man. It makes me so mad that sometimes I'm tempted to shoot someone.”
Tosh took a breath. ”Okay. Anyway, you've noticed I haven't been around much the last few days.”
“I've been doing research. I looked up a bunch of declassified military information about what Pinwheel Man was talking about. Even filed a few Freedom of Information Act requests.”
“Seriously? You get anything back on those yet?”
“No, not yet; those always take a while, so I’m not figuring on seeing them real soon. But you never know.” He shrugged. “Anyway, a lot of stuff from Vietnam is still classified, of course, but I still managed to get some good information.”
“How? Those records aren’t exactly local.” I winced. “You did some kind of favor for a friend at the Pentagon . . .”
He nodded. ”Yeah. Good guy, actually; just needed some help with problems he was running into with Agent Orange details.”
“But we're 15 years on from when Pinwheel Man served . . .”
“At least,” I said.
“Right! So I had to fiddle around a bit in the lab myself, seeing what I could come up with on my own.”
“Seriously? They did some pretty nasty stuff, Tosh; you could have hurt yourself pretty badly.”
He blew through his lips, producing a “Pfft” noise and waving one hand dismissively, looking just a tiny bit proud. ”I'm pretty good with that stuff. So anyway, I can't reproduce whatever formula they might have used for that, but I was able to get a good idea of the combinations that might produce it.” He stopped.
“And you found a bunch of the same compounds in the cabinet in that lab?”
He smiled, but more ruefully than triumphantly. ”Not all of them, no. Not enough. And there certainly weren't any vials or flasks or anything in Smith's backpack.” He took a breath. ”But all of those labs have secure storage rooms just off them—the light was on in this one, but it was locked.” He looked at me. ”They're self-locking; you have to have a key to open them and I didn't have time to pick the lock.”
“You know how to pick locks?”
He looked a little started, like he always did whenever I didn’t know a piece of his past. “ I learned when I was a kid and I thought I might want to be a magician. Magicians have to pick locks all the time.”
I’m sure I looked a little impressed. “Cool.”
“Thanks. Anyway, there were enough compounds in the unlocked cabinet, and the ones that were missing are common enough to find in one of the university storage rooms, that I'm pretty sure he was mixing up a new batch of that chemical Pinwheel Man was talking about.” He looked grim.
I nodded, following along with him for a change. ”Which means he's planning on grabbing someone else.”
“What else did you find out?”
“That's all,” Tosh said. ”I could hear him coming back, so I sat down on one of the chairs against the wall—way away from his lab bench and backpack—and pretended to still be hurt. I let him help me to the elevators, thanked him, and left.”
“So not only do we have to save Sharona . . .” I said.
“If she's still alive,” Tosh said.
“Yeah. Not only that, and not only do we have to save James’ political career, but now we maybe have to stop another kidnapping.”
Tosh nodded and didn't look happy. ”Yeah.”
YOU ARE READING
A Study with SlugsMystery / Thriller
It is the early 1980s, and women are disappearing from the university campus in Santa Cruz, California, home of the Fighting Banana Slugs. The local police and state investigators are baffled, and so solving these crimes is left to a dope-smoking...