It seemed a most attractive offer: a chance to earn a Ph.D. in pharmacology with no loss of income. Just what the Good Doctor would order for an underachieving 28-year-old techie working a dead-end job in the coroner’s laboratory doing routine assays. Good Doctor Westley said he’d have to lay me off anyway. I should be doing something important; while studying pharmacology, I could "unwittingly" pass on scientific information — which would help him with a murder case.
Yes, Dr. Westley was right. I couldn’t spend another six years sitting on my boat gazing at Coconut Grove and letting the world pass me by. So I accepted his challenge and "took the King’s Shilling." Later, he explained the expression was the three-centuries-old metaphor for a binding recruitment.
I quit my job and entered the pharmacology Ph.D. program. I studied the 12 professors who taught the program. And I spent day and night trying to figure out which one of them used what poison to kill their chairman.
With the optimism of a raw recruit I had marched off to battle. But I soon learned it would be a long campaign, a one-man mission with no backup. The handbook for the clandestine investigation of a murderous pharmacologist had not been written. Dr. Westley never said anything about searching a professor’s lab at night like a cat burglar. And he didn’t say the list of deadly drugs would be impossibly long.
Innocently and unwittingly," I was supposed to deliver Westley the name of the professor and his poison. Then he would check my theory by testing the corpse. If I was right, they would indict the renegade prof. Unfortunately, scientific proofs have never been 100 percent clear. But I did deliver.
Once uncovered, my "scientific information" quickly lost its innocence — and so did I. In the language of my newly learned specialty, the information became "potent" and intrinsically "adrenergic." Inject it into the system and blood pressures rise.
No, the project wasn't easy. And I've got a scar to prove it.
I was offered the King’s Shilling on one of those steamy, mid-August Miami days when you thanked God for your nice, white-collar job inside an air-conditioned space. While the central air conditioner fought the late-morning sun, I sat at my small desk nestled between analytical instruments in the laboratory of the Dade County Medical Examiner’s Office. It wasn’t a bad job for me, Ben Candidi, that "gifted" techie with a six-year-old B.A. in Chemistry from Swarthmore. I had no ambition to get a Nobel Prize or become a millionaire before reaching 30. Some people might say I had no ambition whatsoever.
Six years ago, I thought the job might be exciting — doing chemical analyses to determine cause of death. But after a few months, it proved hopelessly dull. When the docs down in the morgue suspected death by poisoning, they sent up blood samples and orders for standard assays. We technicians performed assays for street drugs, prescription drugs, insecticides, poisons, household chemicals, or all of the above. We sent back reports and heard nothing more. I was rarely involved in an exciting investigation.
Over the years, I carved out a niche as specialist for maintaining and troubleshooting the analytical instruments. That saved me having to perform routine assays with the seven other technicians. And it left me lots of time for dilettante pursuits.
I had just typed in the "start" command on a high-pressure liquid chromatograph, putting the chemical bloodhound through a routine maintenance check to ensure that he could still sniff out "serotonin" in blood extracts at concentrations down around five nanograms per milliliter. The test tubes clinked in the sample changer and the desktop computer-sized instrument sucked on the first sample. In 45 minutes, I’d know if Old Blue could still sniff, or if I’d have to clean his electrometric nose. I settled into an interesting Scientific American article titled, "Raising the Vasa: The Swedish man-of-war which slept for three centuries at the bottom of Stockholm Harbor."
Then I heard the approaching footsteps of my supervisor, Dr. Steve Burk. His heels clicked in a parade-ground cadence, telling me he was in one of his supervisory moods. I quickly closed the Scientific American.
"Candidi," he barked. I got to my feet as he came to a halt at an uncomfortably close distance. He would have made a good Army major with his six-foot, athletic frame, officer’s haircut and intimidating dark moustache. He held five red-stoppered tubes of blood.
"Unexplained death. One sample and four controls. Run them. They’ve been screened for the usual stuff, and all tests came out negative. And they’re negative for food poisoning toxins. We’ve also sent samples over to the clinical lab at Dade County General for a multi-drug screening. Now let’s see what you can find."
"Sure, Dr. Burk. And what are we looking for?"
"Anything that might explain the death. Look for anything the other tests might have missed. We’re under direct orders from Dr. Westley on this one. Probably one of his pet projects. Just do it." He handed me a test tube. "This one’s the subject, cause of death unknown. These four are controls to use for comparison."
"What can you tell me about the controls?"
"This one’s a motorcycle accident. This one’s a coronary from Dade General. I’m not sure what these other two are supposed to be — probably nursing home cases they’re doing downstairs as part of the Alzheimer project."
So it would not be a dull day after all. These few and far-between special projects for Chief Medical Examiner Geoffrey Westley were my chance to shine. But I didn’t appreciate the unceremonious way Burk handed me the project. Sure, Burk had a Ph.D. in toxicology from the University of Kentucky and had worked here for 15 years. But he would have been lost trying to do this project by himself. And he would have been twice as lost if he’d delegated it to his flunky, Jake Brown. By way of reminder, I politely asked Burk if he had any specific technical suggestions. Did he want me to use any particular detectors . . .
He frowned. "Sure, Candidi. Use all the detectors you want. Run all the HPLC’s at the same time, reading that magazine and standing on your head! If you find anything, we can always rerun the samples ourselves, for certification purposes."
Before Burk had marched his butt back to his office, I was already at work extracting the unknown molecules of death from the victim’s blood. My organic solvents gave off an interesting variety of smells as I pipetted them into rows of test tubes and added the blood samples. They reminded me of cheap perfumes and of the chemical plants back in New Jersey. And they brought back fond memories of my last special project for Dr. Westley, a year or two ago.
The inner workings of a high-pressure liquid chromatograph might be a big mystery to Dr. Burk and his crew, but to me an HPLC is nothing more than a collection of pumps, thin metal tubes, and columns that separate molecules in solution. It’s connected to an ensemble of shoe-box-sized detectors that absorb light or electrically react with the molecules when they come out the other end. The detectors report to a desktop computer.
I took out my precision wrenches and hooked up five different types of detector module to the HPLC, reconstructing the old "Ben Candidi Rig." My innovation had delighted Old Man Westley a couple of years ago. Last time, the results were important enough for Dr. Westley to publish in a forensic medical journal. At the end of the article he thanked "Mr. Benjamin Candidi for valuable technical assistance." Maybe he’d be grateful enough this time to keep me around a few more years.
I set a quinine test solution in the sample changer and typed in the start command. The HPLC machine gave a soft, willing, precision whine as it pumped the quinine solution through its narrow metal tubes. Everything worked perfectly. The hydrophobicity column held back the quinine for the expected 3.297 minutes. The detectors responded, as the quinine came out the other end. The flat red, yellow, white and pink lines on the bottom of my computer screen started traveling up and then down, leaving "peaks" which told me that four out of the five detectors had sensed the quinine molecules. The green line stayed flat because the electrical conductivity detector cannot "smell" quinine.
It’s heady stuff, seeing your data come out in multicolored computer traces. Every time Dr. Westley brought down a group of distinguished visitors, I would play back one of these multicolored runs on the computer screen. The yokels thought the experiment was running in real time. Like a whiz kid at a science fair, I’d tell them how quinine makes your tonic water taste bitter and how it makes your gin and tonic glow blue under the "black" lights at the disco. I’d explain how my detectors can tell whether the deceased had drunk a gin and tonic 24 hours before he died. And I’d tell them quinine is chemically related to the heart medicine, quinidine.
Working in my spirited, whiz-kid mode, I set up a second HPLC machine with a different type of separating column. It was nice to see the two machines working side by side, the little robot arms of the "autoanalyzers" dipping their hollow needles into arrays of test tubes, and slurping up little hummingbird-sized drinks of blood extracts which would set in motion the multicolored traces, telling the chemical stories of the deceased, the motorcycle casualty, the coronary and the Alzheimer patients. What nicer music than the clicks and whine of a well-oiled and intelligent machine? And my little robot friends would produce a load of answers in a few hours.
Then Burk’s flunky, Jacob Brown, came in to bitch about how I’d modified the machines. He’d have to recertify them when I was done. Jake was a 35-year-old Senior Lab Tech who didn’t know shit about troubleshooting HPLC’s. He wore a white shirt and tie, and enjoyed playing the company man. He had me pegged as a techno-nerd and pushover. He’d been trying to get Burk to make him my supervisor. So far, Burk had shown enough sense to resist the notion.
This started me brooding. It’s an unpleasant fact of forensic laboratory life that bureaucratic paperwork is just as important as properly running instruments. Prosecutors and defense attorneys are sticklers for paperwork. Forget to dot your i’s or cross your t’s, and they’ll crucify you.
Burk liked to make jokes comparing our facility with a MASH unit. At least once a day, we’d hear the beat of helicopter blades, as fresh casualties of the gun, knife and highway were delivered to the roof of the Ryder Trauma Center across the street. Blood samples often arrived an hour later.
I couldn’t survive in a real MASH unit because I hate regimentation. Tennis shoes, blue jeans and T-shirt are the proper uniform if you’re working with your body and mind. My clothes were never dirty, and I always came to work clean-shaven and well-groomed, so Burk couldn’t complain. But he would have liked to write a lab regulation outlawing my ponytail, although it’s only three inches long. The guy’s a cube who can’t stand anyone who’s moderately hip.
I like to think of myself as a nineties kind of guy. Since I’m four inches short of the six-foot masculine ideal, I’ve never been tempted to strut around like Dr. Burk and his macho friends. My greatest claim to masculine vigor is my thick black hair, inherited from my mom and dad who are both second generation Italian. A well-timed smile will often earn me a second glance from certain types of girls. Some find me charming and don’t seem to notice that my teeth aren’t perfectly straight.
This reminded me that help was available for my project. I walked over to the main lab with the samples.
"Carmen, could you run these for water-soluble chromophores? It’s a special case for Dr. Westley."
"Sure, as soon as I get through with this series," she said with a twinkle of the eye and a friendly smile. Carmen was one of those girls who felt I rated a second glance. She was close to my age and we understood each other well. But she had a husband and two children, so a romantic interest was out of the question.
I spent some time in the main lab, running the five samples on the gas chromatograph. That instrument reported traces of gasoline in the blood of the motorcycle fatality. Had he been working on his engine or tailgating a clunker with loose piston rings and three dead sparkplugs? Unfortunately, I didn’t find anything in the blood of the deceased subject.
Returning to my lab, I sat at the HPLC computer and ran my custom-designed program to flag differences in the peaks of the deceased and controls. Oh, it found differences all right: The deceased’s blood was cleaner than the controls!
So I searched manually, spending an hour flipping through screens and screens of red, yellow, green, pink and white peaks, trying to find any evidence of unusual molecules in the deceased’s blood. I found nothing useful. The motorcycle fatality had breakdown products of cocaine. One of the nursing home patients had been taking a lot of aspirin-type drugs. And the coronary patient had a whole mountain range of peaks. What else is new?
I checked back with Carmen. Her runs didn’t show anything, either. It was beginning to look like the subject had died a disappointingly natural death.
As I sat down at my desk, my stomach growled, reminding me that it was past two o’clock, and that I’d forgotten lunch. Then Dr. Burk’s footsteps approached from behind.
"So, how’s it doing, buddy?" He always called me "buddy" when he wanted something. Sometimes he was even halfway friendly.
"Not so good," I replied, deciding to give him a full technical answer. "I extracted with five solvents, ran them with two types of column and used five detectors. That makes fifty combinations. The subject is cleaner than the controls! Only one of the controls was clean enough to — "
"Okay, I hear you," Burk interrupted, half turning away. "I’m going to see the Old . . . I’m going to report your negative findings to Dr. Westley. Finish up and let me know if you find anything positive. And write me a two hundred-word Executive Summary before you leave."
A fine way to treat a guy who just performed 25 man-days of work in a single day. Ganging those detectors together was my idea, and it increased my power of analysis by an order of magnitude. Couldn’t the bean counter see that?
I must have been stewing over this stuff for 10 minutes when the phone rang. It was Doris, Dr. Westley’s secretary of over 25 years. "Ben, Dr. W would like to see you in his office. Could you come now?"
"Sure, I’ll be right over."
Only three times in the past six years had Chief Dade County Medical Examiner Geoffrey A. Westley called me into his office. When he wanted information, he usually strolled over to my lab bench and chatted it out of me. Sometimes he wanted the low-down on a new instrument that The Suits were peddling, or the scoop on a new toy his counterparts up in Fort Lauderdale or Palm Beach had just purchased. Why should they have fancier toys when they didn’t have half as many drug-related deaths?
To Dr. Westley, I was just a whiz kid for analytical instruments. He wasn’t an unsociable guy, but he did come across as a little stiff in his expatriate English way. This time he would question me about what chemicals I’d found in the deceased subject. Sorry to have to disappoint him.
In honor of the occasion, I put on a lab jacket. I walked up three flights of stairs to his office.
"You can go right in," Doris said, with a motherly smile. "Dr. W and Dr. Burk are waiting for you. It seems like something important has been going on."
How extraordinary! Never before had I been called in by both bosses. Short, pudgy Dr. Westley rose slowly from behind his desk to greet me. Dr. Burk sat in the corner like he wasn’t too happy to see me there. Dr. Westley gave me a soft handshake and asked me to sit down. His skin had the texture and feel of blue cheese wrapped in cellophane — soft, pale white, almost translucent. Small veins and arteries were visible along the stretch marks in his cheeks. He sank into his well-stuffed leather chair with a somewhat theatrical sigh.
What pleasantry would he use to start this interview? He always awakened in me a feeling of deja vu, as if I’d seen his pale face, framed by thin white hair, in a 1950s movie. Dr. Westley’s Oxbridge speech and manners had not been corrupted by thirty-some years of life among a lesser sort in Miami.
He dispensed with the pleasantries.
"Dr. Burk reports that you have gone to great lengths to improvise an extensive chemical screening of the blood sample of interest and have been able to find nothing."
As always, Dr. Westley spoke in soft, yet well-enunciated tones which resonated at a pitch considerably higher than his natural voice. His speech was so cultivated, he would sound intimidating reading "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Actually, Winnie the Pooh would have suited him better. He could so skillfully modulate tone and volume for emphasis. He dropped his pitch as he ended with "able to find nothing."
"Well, sir, not all the results are in yet, and it might be possible that — "
"I quite understand. I am assured that you have applied yourself to this project with your usual alacrity. And we will proceed on the assumption that there is nothing to be found by purely chemical methods."
Did I detect an almost fatherly smile?
"My purpose in summoning you is not to pick fault, but rather to pick your brain. You see, Mr. Candidi, a rather challenging case has been brought before this office. It may be an untimely death; it may be a most clever murder."
This promised to be exciting. The Old Man never discussed new cases with me, although he often conferred with Burk on such matters. Dr. Westley was a living legend in Miami. He was frequently in the newspapers and on the evening news, stating an opinion on a perplexing murder. Miami, the drug smuggling and crime capital of the U.S., had furnished him bizarre cases.
"Gee whiz," I said. "Must be some case!"
(Great exclamation, Ben. Right out of an Archie comic book!)
Dr. Westley had that effect on me. I never knew what language to use with him. Cop-chemist Burk shook his head like I’d just fouled the air. The Old Man rewarded me with a prolonged, full-body scan, his gaze starting at my tennis shoes, working its way up to my blue jeans and ending with my T-shirt. I’d forgotten to button my lab jacket. He slowly shook his head as if questioning why he’d invited me into his office in the first place.
"Mr. Candidi, what I tell you is, as always, to be held in the strictest confidence."
"Yes, sir," I affirmed in a military tone.
"I shall tell you only the barest medical details and you will give me only your technical comments. You and Dr. Burk will consider yourselves sworn to secrecy. Any discussion of the matter outside this room could have disastrous consequences for the — for the case."
"I understand, sir."
Dr. Westley continued, saying, "The facts are as follows. At about six o’clock, two evenings ago the deceased, a forty-eight-year-old biomedical scientist, was found lying on the couch by his wife as she came home from work. He complained of general malaise. Without eating anything, he went to bed around eight, but could not sleep. His condition deteriorated. He became incoherent and finally delirious. At ten o’clock he went into a state of shock. The paramedics found no pulse and could elicit no response with defibrillators and intracardiac injection of adrenaline. He was pronounced dead on arrival at Dade General."
Dr. Westley laid in a dramatic pause, glancing first at Burk, then at me.
"The emergency room reported a swollen black tongue and noted massive intravascular coagulation — Candidi, that would be clot formation — and a purple coloration of the skin. There was also massive hyperkalemia — meaning high blood potassium. They considered the cause of death to be cardiac fibrillation — uncoordinated contraction of the heart — but we’re perplexed by the extensive clot formation."
Dr. Westley threw me glances and dropped the pitch of his voice as he translated the medical terms for my benefit. I nodded to indicate understanding.
"There was no sign of pathogenic organism, and we are doing an extended toxicology screen on his blood sample. And of course, Mr. Candidi, your investigation has also come up negative. It would not seem to be poisoning by a simple chemical because simple chemicals must be present at high concentrations in the blood to elicit such bizarre and complex symptomatology."
"Sir," Burk chimed in, "can we be sure that every simple chemical could be detected at a lethal concentration?"
"Well, Mr. Candidi," the Old Man said, "am I correct that you have screened for the presence of chromophores?" He knew the meaning of all the laboratory terminology.
"Yes. I used the usual ultraviolet absorption detector and also ran the fluorescence detector."
"And did you test for chemically reactive species?"
"Yes, I used the redox detector."
"And you also looked for volatile agents?" He pronounced volatile as "vola-TILE," with an elegant upward inflection of the second syllable.
"Yes. I did a gas chromatogram and found traces of gasoline in one of the controls."
"And thus," he said, turning to Burk, "Mr. Candidi seems to have done his job quite well. So what other means of detection would you propose for a simple chemical?"
"Well . . . "
Burk did not like to be on the spot, so I quickly interjected, "I also did a light scattering analysis of particulate solids for the case that the lethal compound didn’t have a chromophore or a chemically reactive species."
The Old Man processed my technical jargon without a blink and said, "And that also came up negative, I would assume."
"So now we must come up with a second theory. We must ask if the lethal agent was a protein or glycoprotein toxin. When injected, they make beautiful murder weapons. Extremely nasty. The kiss of death, like a cobra’s bite. But there are so many proteins in the body that one can’t just go looking for them at random like Mr. Candidi looked for chemicals with his HPLC. One must know exactly which protein to look for. And when it comes to protein and glycoprotein toxins, your conventional HPLC machine is, of course, quite helpless — quite blind actually. To your detectors, all proteins look the same. One can’t find thirty milligrams of protein toxin lurking in a corpse which contains thirty pounds of protein already."
He told us that the lab had already tested the deceased’s blood for a number of common protein and glycoprotein toxins using antibody-based assays, and that Fort Detrick just faxed back negative results for biological warfare toxins such as "yellow rain toxin." It was like searching for a certain straw in a haystack. "One must know, beforehand, the amino acid sequence of a protein toxin to make identifying antibodies against it."
He pronounced "amino acid" as "a-MINE-o acid."
Then he reasoned, "Perhaps we will not have to look for protein toxins, since there was no evidence of needle marks. We checked the corpse all over for needle marks, square inch by square inch. Not a mark to be found. And the murderer could not have been effective giving protein toxins by mouth because the stomach digests them."
He and Burk kicked these ideas around. Burk asked dumb questions and Westley gave elegantly phrased, intelligent answers:
No, the deceased could not have been shot by a hollowed-out BB containing the potent toxin "ricin" like the Bulgarians did to the BBC journalist. Westley’s medical examiners didn’t find any BB or any puncture trauma.
No, there isn’t any known toxin so potent that you could deliver a lethal quantity in an undetectable scratch.
No, it could not have been an oral dose of cholera toxin.
"Even if the protein had survived in the stomach, it still would have wreaked havoc on the intestinal lining. The poor fellow would have contracted a most severe case of diarrhea. The lack of such GI upset was most remarkable. Before one dies by protein or glycoprotein toxin in the intestine, one goes skipping to the loo every ten minutes."
I sensed that Dr. Westley was becoming impatient with Burk. He had taken an American folksong, had made a word play on "water closet" and had insulted Burk’s Kentucky background in the process. Westley glanced at me with a wry expression and caught my smile of appreciation. Then he settled back in his chair, subsiding into bemused distraction. All this was lost on Burk.
In absence of any ideas from Burk or myself, the Old Man launched into a mini-lecture on orally-active protein toxins. "Cholera toxin kills third-worlders when given off by bacteria living in the intestine — attacks the intestinal lining, causing what you call ‘the drips.’ It kills by simple dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. One can keep the poor beggars alive with that popular ‘alligator’ athletic drink, if one had a mind to it." The Old Man was noted for his derision of American commercialism and popular culture.
Burk asked what would happen if you ingested cobra toxin.
"It would be digested in the stomach. Bill Haast over at the Miami Serpentarium used to swallow glasses full of deadliest venoms that he milked from those ugly creatures. He never experienced the least discomfort."
Dr. Westley seemed disappointed in Burk as he sank deeper into his leather chair, dejected and oblivious to both of us. It was now Benjamin Candidi’s turn to come up with something. But I had nothing to add. I decided to play the interested student.
"You used to collaborate with Haast back in the sixties?"
"Yes. He helped me with snake bite cases and I put him in touch with some biochemists at the two medical schools, helping him with his research aspirations. He packed up his operation and headed out West some years ago."
The Old Man sounded weary. The Serpentarium, with its 20-foot-high cement cobra, coiled in a striking pose with bared fangs, had been a landmark, giving that section of U.S. 1 the feel of a theme park. Mr. Haast had been a living legend who hand-caught and milked cobras three times a day before a live audience. He had been bitten so many times that he was immune to every type of venom. He had saved many lives by donating his plasma to snake bite victims.
I remembered Haast’s last performance, when he arranged his audience in a big circle around an enormous wicker basket, let out a 12-foot king cobra, wrestled it down and milked it — theater-in-the-round, Miami style. Some people said the guy was a little nutty, but you could say that about everyone who came down to Miami before 1960. His leaving marked the end of an era. The cement cobra crumbled when they tried to move it. The bank bulldozed the buildings, putting in a shopping strip. How long had I been stupidly daydreaming?
"Benjamin," the Old Man said, "we are under considerable pressure to do something about this case. You are one of our brighter young lads, and I was wondering if you could lend your mind to it. You are, after all, a member of that society . . . What do they call it?"
"Mensa." Six years ago, I’d mentioned my membership in Mensa. I was still trying to live it down.
"I thought it might appeal to your 'Mensa interests,' so to speak. And you do know a great deal about assaying chemicals."
I didn’t really know much about biomedical science beyond what I’d learned from my B.A. at Swarthmore and from my pleasure reading in the Scientific American. But I could talk the stuff. "If the poison was a protein, I might know a way to get it past the stomach. In the aspirin commercials on television they talk about an ‘enteric coating’ which keeps the aspirin from dissolving in the stomach, but releases it when it gets to the intestine. But then the murderer would need some clever way to get the protein across the intestinal lining without the protein getting chopped up or the victim getting diarrhea."
"This is precisely the type of thinking we need to bring to the case!" But Dr. Westley’s enthusiasm rapidly faded. "An oral protein toxin theory may be untenable. Scientists have not yet learned how to direct proteins across the intestinal lining and into the bloodstream. Were it otherwise, the pharmaceutical companies would already be peddling enterically coated, orally active insulin. And they would be making hundreds of millions of dollars with their insulin pills, since the poor diabetics are loathe to inject themselves with a needle twice or thrice a day."
We spent a long time discussing the science underlying the case. I’m good at logic, so I could hold my own. Finally the Old Man cleared his throat and said, "Benjamin, would you be good enough to summarize the characteristics of Molecule X?"
I thought for a minute, then said, "It must be one of three things. One: A very poisonous chemical that is not destroyed in the stomach. It must be poisonous in such small quantities that I would miss it with my HPLC machine."
"Or?" Westley asked, watching and listening very carefully.
"Or, two: A protein toxin that is much more poisonous than ricin, so that all you would have to do is dope the point of a tiny needle with it, and barely pricking his skin with it would introduce a lethal quantity."
"Yes, conceivably. But more importantly?" His eyes locked on mine, demanding to know if I understood.
"Or, thirdly and finally: Any protein or glycoprotein toxin that can be enterically coated and that can get across the intestinal lining and into the blood but without causing diarrhea, using a molecular delivery system which hasn’t yet been invented."
"Well stated! That is the problem exactly."
"And," I continued, "you have no idea what this chemical poison or protein toxin could be?"
"Unfortunately, that is our predicament."
"Sir," Burk chimed in, "how do we know that the deceased was poisoned?"
"The hypothesis is supported by the symptoms. It was a most bizarre death. And the widow suspects a deliberate poisoning."
Burk squirmed in his seat and protested, "But, sir, a widow might not — "
"The widow is also a biomedical scientist," interrupted Westley.
"And the last meal?" asked Burk.
"American fast food, carried in, and eaten together with colleagues, who are biomedical scientists, as was the deceased. I used to know two of those scientists back in the old days."
"Wow!" Burk’s mouth opened wide.
"You both are to limit your interest in this case to the scientific question which Mr. Candidi has so ably paraphrased. Further laboratory tests will be of no use without a short list of likely agents. Please give this matter your deepest thought. Please come back to me if you have any inspiration. And not a word to anyone. This goes for your ‘scientific inquiries’ as well. This matter is very, very close to home. At this time, there have been no overt police inquiries. Their very presence might serve to alert the murderer. Have I made myself clear?"
"Yes, sir," we answered in unison.
The Old Man waved off Burk but indicated to me that I was to stay. After Burk closed the door, the Old Man said, "I wonder if you would care to join me for dinner this evening. I have a little proposition I would like to make. The restaurant at the clubhouse of Faire Isle. Shall we say at seven?"
The Old Man said it as if there would be no question as to my availability.
"I would be most honored and delighted," I replied. Flabbergasted was a better word. The Old Man had never even invited me to lunch before.
"Cheers," he said, dissolving into reverie and sparing me worry about how much deference to show while exiting.