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Pen Your Pride

Chapter 15

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THE TINY BELL ON the door rang as Kirk and Geoff left the barbershop. The air felt extra cold on Kirk’s now-bald head and smooth face. He ran his hand over his head, then reached inside his coat and pulled out an old beanie. He pulled it low over his ears and hunched his shoulders against the bitter winter’s frigid breath.

“What now, boss?” Geoff asked.

“We head back to the crime lab to see what Cassy found out. I think she might be able to tell us something about our mystery lady, as well.”

The day looked warm, with the sun shining in the cloudless sky, but it was deceiving. A cold, knife-like wind cut through the boxed-in city streets as if barreling through a tunnel, snatching the breath from anyone who dared step out into its path. On a day like today, Kirk liked the rental car better than his open motorcycle, but he still grumbled about all the gas it guzzled.

The receptionist told them Cassy was in the basement. Once again, they traversed the long, dingy stairs downward.

Cassy had her eye glued to a microscope and did not look up when Kirk and Geoff walked into the lab.

Kirk glanced around the room, which contained several tables covered with test tubes, blood-sample testers and other objects he couldn’t identify. Several white tables were lit from underneath, apparently illuminating objects of study. The place was jammed with boxes, file cabinets, and plastic bins, but everything was in order—not messy, just in dire need of more space.

Kirk leaned over Cassy’s shoulder.

She looked up. “Wow, when you get a haircut, you get a haircut! Feel better?”

He nodded.

She grinned. “You guys won’t believe what I discovered.” Her smile lit the room, which was noteworthy in the midst of the dim, blinking lights.

“Please tell me you have good news,” Kirk said.

“I think you’ll be pleased,” she said, a twinkle in her eye. “The cloth sample had no poison or any other substance in it, but I looked closer and found that this string isn’t cloth at all.” She motioned to the single white strand that lay in a round dish on the slide under the microscope lens.

“Really? What is it?” Geoff leaned over to look in the microscope.

Cassy pointed at a stool for Kirk to sit on and placed an open book in front of him. “See this description here? It’s a form of plastic mixed with an acid that eats away at cloth. When the material in the pillows started to deteriorate, it put off a gas that the inmates breathed as they slept.”

Kirk frowned. “So this gas stuff is what killed them?”

“No. By itself, it’s nontoxic, but I ran a few more tests. Guess what could be mixed with it to make it lethal?”

He shook his head.

“Botconie.” She looked expectantly at the men, but they just shrugged. “Okay. I’ll back up. Remember that theory we talked about last year, about how every drug has its partner opposite?”

He nodded.

“Well, Botconie is the partner to the anti-drug that was found in all the guards. It acts like a repellent to Dypethline.

Geoff looked confused. “I don’t get it.”

“I’ll tell you what I think happened. The pillows somehow had this patch of material placed in them. Over time, it filled the prison with a gas that could not be smelled or otherwise detected. Then the antidote was administered to the guards through their coffee, if you will, seeing as the guards had their own coffee pot in a private break room that was inaccessible to the inmates. The food was injected with Botconie, and when it mixed with the gas, it caused anyone who had it in their system to go into instant cardiac arrest.”

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