I pulled from the hat Locked Room Mystery, Someone’s been poisoned, A bottle of rare whiskey. The challenge has been accepted.
It starts with a body. It ends with whiskey.
The only difference with this case is it starts with an empty whiskey bottle. The bodies, however, were en route.
Dr. Loeb and Rev. Toluse sit on a sectional couch in the living room. Sweat streams down their paling faces like melting ice. I’m barely keeping myself straight as poison chews at my guts. The Rev dials 911 and speaks to the operator. The ambulance is on its way, but its 30 minutes at top speed from the hospital to Dr. Loeb’s home.
I pick up the empty bottle. “Hemford Reserve, 30 year old, single barrel, Kentucky whiskey.” I smell it.
“I poured the drinks. I swear I didn’t add anything,” Dr. Loeb chokes. “If I can get a sample, I probably have an antidote to stabilize us.” Slender with shoulder length brown hair, Dr. Loeb catches the eye even though she’s past fifty. Her job is her husband. Based on the distance between Rev. Toluse, they’re not a couple.
Desperate to look youthful, Rev. Toluse’s Chuck T’s sneakers and skinny jeans clash with the tweed jacket and a light blue oxford. His hair is long in the back. He twists his wedding band as he sucks down a panic attack.
I turn the bottle upside down. The residue rolls across the bend. “It’s not the whiskey. Trust me, I’d know.” My gut clenches and I grab my sides. Before, life seemed too long, too slow. Now slower, the death’s bullet tunneled though my gut.
Just another missing person case. After a long drive, I arrived at Dr. Loeb’s Paul Johnson knockoff home at 7pm. She greeted me at the door, led me to the library and Rev. Toluse introduced himself. I scanned the setting. Several photos of the Doc and the Rev embracing several teenaged girls and boys. One photo was missing from the bottommost row. She fixes us drinks. Moments later, my heart palpitates. I’ve been poisoned before. I calmly let the Doc and the Rev know.
“If we’re going to find out who poisoned us, I have to know why you called me.”
The Rev speaks in a strained voice. “We are founders of His Lost Children, which rescues children from human traffickers. Trust us. There’s a lot of mafias who want us dead – Awk!” The Rev clutches his side. “We were going to hire you to find Petra, a Ukrainian girl we rescued from a brothel. We think she went back to her pimp.”
“Not her fault,” Dr. Loeb said, and picked up a framed photo from the coffee table. “Petra’s confused. They probably threatened her. She’s scared.”
I limped over and she hands me the photograph. Petra stands alone in front of a red brick wall. Dishwater blonde hair and a narrow triangular face wearing loose jeans and baggy sweatshirt. Although smiling, her eyes are mirth-empty.
“Did you contact the police?”
“Yes,” Dr. Loeb said. “She’s just another runaway. We’ve put out flyers and got a Facebook page, but no leads.”
I recall a red brick wall tracing Dr. Loeb’s property, like in the photo “Did the girl live here?”
“Yes, for a while. I have an office here and sometimes I bring the children here for a physical. They stay here a few days before we send them to a foster family,” Dr. Loeb.
Dr. Loeb leans over the couch arm and vomits. I look at the empty glasses. “Reverend, you had water, right?”
“That’s right. I don’t drink,” he said and then started choking. “I believe it’s time I led everyone in a prayer.”
“So that rules out the whiskey, but-“ I picked up the Reverend’s water glass half full of melting ice. “We all had ‘on the rocks’.”
I stumble over to the bar stocked with decanters and liquor bottles. A mini-fridge with an icemaker is under the counter. I open the freezer drawer and pull out the ice tray. The ice had a luminous clarity to it. I smelled it and caught a wisp of chemicals. My gut clenches and enraged by pain, I pull the fridge from the slot hard and it slams into the opposite wall. There I notice an IV drip bag duct taped to the fridge’s back with a tube spliced onto the water line. I tear the bag from its back and pinch the tube.
“It’s the ice. I found this attached to the back.”
“Take it to my office,” she stood but dropped to her knees. “We-have-little-time.”
The reverend and I carry the Doc to her office. I kick open the door and prop her up on a stool. “There’s a tray of reagents in the refrigerator. It’s marked.”
I stumble to the fridge, retrieve the reagents and with weary hands, she tests the ice. “Arsenic,” she said minutes later. “I need to setup a charcoal drip.”
Buoyed by hope, she sets up charcoal drips for all three of us. Although my stomach wrenched, I felt the poison leech from my veins and the margin from death widened a sliver. The paramedics came and whisked us to the hospital.
The hospital releases me and I return to my home office. Made calls to contacts, searched the Ukrainian crime database.
Petra wasn’t the helpless waif the Doc and the Rev thought she was. The Ukrainian mob let Petra be rescued, and ordered her to poison the Doc and the Rev. The Ukrainian mob – a lot of ex-KGB, expert assassins.
I submit my report to the Doc and the Rev. Even though Petra tried to kill them, they still want me to find her, believing she could be saved. Everyone is worth saving. Not everyone wants to be.
It ends with a body – Petra’s. Police find her with a crushed windpipe in a landfill. The coroner says bone growth shows she’s at least twenty-five. I reported back to the Doc and the Rev.
I cashed the tear stained check, poured a whiskey – no ice.