Ricin, it turns out, is a poison that’s made from castor beans. Just a little bit can kill.
“It’s a hot zone up there,” Leslie said. “He had about ten vials of the stuff, and some had spilled. We can’t take any chances that you or anyone else who came in contact with that condo will get sick.”
“What are the symptoms?” I asked.
“Difficulty breathing, fever, cough, nausea, sweating.” She paused. “Or severe vomiting and dehydration.”
Which is what seemed to have happened with Wesley Lambert.
I didn’t have any of the symptoms she listed, except maybe the difficulty breathing. But I think that had more to do with stress.
“We’re sending you to the hospital to be checked out,” Leslie continued, leading Tim and me to an ambulance. I saw the other responding police officers and the paramedics, all wearing suits like ours, being led into ambulances as well.
The driveway was crowded with city police vehicles, SWAT teams, and something called Metro Homeland Security. That’s right. Frank DeBurra worked with Metro Homeland Security. I remembered Tim telling me. I raised my eyebrows at my brother.
“Ricin is used by terrorists,” he explained.
Was Wesley Lambert a terrorist?
I didn’t have time to think about it as Tim and I climbed into the ambulance. The doors closed behind us; we sat on little benches across from each other. The vehicle moved forward. I hadn’t even noticed there was a driver up there. They probably didn’t want to have anyone back here with us just in case we were contaminated.
“I’ve got a client,” I said, remembering now. “I have to call the shop.” Leslie had taken my messenger bag when she took my clothes. “Can I get my phone? The other things in my bag?”
“I’ll talk to DeBurra. We’ll have someone call the shop for you when we get to the hospital,” Tim said, his mouth tight.
I didn’t remember the last time I saw him scared, but he was. It made me even more tense. My big brother was supposed to be the calm one. But I found myself telling him it would be okay.
“Yeah, I know, but I’m worried about you. How did you get yourself involved with something like this?”
“Charlotte,” I said softly, thinking about her somewhere out there, not knowing whether she was contaminated, not knowing if she was going to get sick. I really needed a phone, not only to call the shop, but also to call Ace. She’d run to him before; why not now?
I gave Tim the whole rundown on what had happened yesterday: going to the pawnshops, the hospital, trying to track down Charlotte. It was the short, abridged version, so when we pulled up outside the emergency room, he had most of it.
The back doors opened and a doctor in a white coat stood waiting. We stepped outside before I realized who it was.
“Dr. Bixby,” I said. “Long time no see.”
He seemed surprised to see me. But I couldn’t figure out whether it was because I was the one involved with the ricin or because it was just me.
“Oh, yes, Miss Kavanaugh,” he said, and Tim’s eyebrows rose higher in his forehead.
“Dr. Bixby told me about Trevor yesterday.” I felt an urge to explain, like someone would get the wrong idea.
Tim nodded, a small smile of amusement tugging at his lips.
“This must be your brother,” Bixby said, looking from me to Tim, my carbon copy.
“She’s adopted,” Tim said with a straight face.
Bixby frowned. He didn’t get it. Okay, something worse than living with his mother would be not having a sense of humor.
Not that he’d be interested in me now. I was contaminated.
Bixby led us through the emergency room waiting room, stopping at a small office just before the doors that led into where all the activity was. A short woman in a bright yellow sweater smiled at us from behind a desk. Before Bixby could say anything, she said, “We need your insurance information.”
Tim and I looked at each other, and we both started laughing at the same time.
“What’s so funny?” The woman got up and walked around the desk toward us.
Bixby looked confused.
Tim and I couldn’t stop laughing. I think it was the stress.
Finally, I managed to sputter, “They took everything.”
“Who?” The woman looked concerned, like we’d been mugged.
“They stripped us, took all our clothes, everything. We’ve got nothing but our birthday suits under these.” Tim indicated the white suits.
The woman’s eyes widened, as if she would rather think of anything else than Tim naked. I’d have to give him some grief about that later. She had her hand on the phone, her eyes asking Bixby whom she should call.
He put his hand up, and Tim and I started to calm down. “That’s right, June, I didn’t think.”
“But we can’t admit them without their insurance information,” she argued.
This could be a long day. I pointed at the phone. “Can I use that?”
June looked at me as if I’d asked her if she was starring in the newest strip show downtown.
“You have to use the pay phone.”
“That would mean that I need to have loose change,” I said. “June, I’ve been exposed to some sort of poison, the police took all my clothes and my other worldly belongings, including my phone and my insurance card. I need to call my business and tell them I’m delayed.”
Tim was nodding. “I’m a detective with the LVPD. I can vouch for her.”
“This is highly unusual,” June said, but she was wavering because Bixby was giving her that smile that he’d given me yesterday that made me all weak in the knees. “All right. As long as it’s local.”
“I’ll take your brother back,” Bixby said to me, then turned back to June. “Send her back when she’s finished with her call.”
June sat back down behind her desk and pushed the phone toward me. So much for any privacy. I dialed the shop number.
“The Painted Lady.”
I was never so happy to hear Bitsy’s voice as I was right that minute. While I’d just been laughing hysterically moments before, now I wanted to burst into tears.
“Bits, it’s Brett,” I said.
“Where are you? Your client will be here in a few minutes.”
“I’m in the emergency room.”
“Are you okay? What’s wrong?” Panic rose in her voice.
“I had a little exposure to some sort of poison this morning, and they brought me here,” I said.
She was quiet for a moment before asking, “What’s going on, Brett? Poison? Exposure? What, did you drink some Drano or something?”
I found myself telling her what had happened; June’s eyes grew wider with each word. She didn’t even try to pretend she wasn’t eavesdropping. I tried to ignore her. “And you have to call Ace, tell him to tell Charlotte to come to the emergency room. She needs to be decontaminated.”
More silence, then, “Ace is here. He’s worried about Charlotte. He says he hasn’t seen her since last night and she won’t answer her phone.”
“Have him try everything he can think of. She needs to be looked at.”
“Okay, will do. What about your client?”
“Do Ace and Joel have any clients now?”
“Joel’s free for the next couple of hours.”
“Can I talk to him?”
A few seconds passed and I tried not to look at June, who was overtly staring at me. Finally, “Hey, sweetie, Bitsy says you got poisoned?”
At the sound of his voice, I lost it. Tears dripped down my cheeks, and I couldn’t stop them. “I think I’ll be okay,” I sniffled.
“You want me to come over there?”
I wanted him to come in the worst way. Even though Tim was here, I felt like I needed a band of friends around me now. But I wiped my cheek with the back of my hand and said, “No, not now. But you have to take my client, okay?”
“The stencil’s in his folder. It’s a dagger wrapped with thorns. He wants it on his outside thigh; you’ll see the space. There’s not much, but it’s there. It’ll fit.” As I gave the instructions, I felt myself calming down. The tears had stopped.
June, however, was frowning, trying to make sense of my conversation. With the suit on, she couldn’t see my ink. Too bad. I bet she would’ve loved that story to tell her husband when she got home.
I asked to speak to Bitsy again. “Listen, Bits,” I said. “Tim and I are going to need some clothes. They took ours. They’re probably going to burn them or something. Can you get to the house and bring something over for us? Underwear and all.”
Bitsy has a key to our house. I lost mine at one point and couldn’t get in touch with Tim for hours because he was on some sort of police stakeout thing, so I knew I needed a backup. Bitsy was one of the most responsible people I knew. She also had the code to our security alarm.
“No problem. When Joel’s done with your client, he’s got an hour or so. I’ll get over to your house then.”
“Thanks a lot, Bitsy. I really appreciate it.”
Bitsy signed off, and I handed the phone back to June. She pointed out the door and down the hall. “Dr. Bixby is in there.”
As I left the office, a frosted glass door slid open for me. Dr. Bixby was talking to Tim in a curtained area kitty-corner to where I was. Tim was on the bed, and a nurse was taking his blood.
I averted my eyes as I approached. Sure, I drew blood every day myself when I gave someone a tattoo, but seeing large amounts of it in vials didn’t do much for me.
Dr. Bixby met me just beyond Tim’s curtain. Tim smiled at me, and I smiled back, then met Dr. Bixby’s eyes.
“We need a urine sample,” he said, handing me a little cup with a screw-on lid.
He led me to the bathroom, and I felt like an overachiever. It had been a long time since I’d been to the bathroom.
A nurse was hovering outside the door when I emerged with my cup, and she took it, handing me a johnny coat. “Can you put this on?”
I was more than happy to shed the white suit, but the johnny coat had an open back. There were a few snaps, and I did what I could to fasten them. When I emerged for the second time from the bathroom, Dr. Bixby was at my side again.
“We want to keep you here for the day,” he said, “just in case you start exhibiting symptoms.”
Great. But then he flashed me that George Clooney smile again and suddenly I didn’t mind quite so much. It was obviously very one-sided, but it kept my mind off what had happened this morning.
Until those sliding doors opened, and Frank DeBurra walked in.