Ed. note: Welcome to ATL’s first foray into serial fiction. “My Job Is Murder,” a mystery set in a D.C. appellate boutique, will appear one chapter at a time, M-W-F, over the next few weeks. Prior installments appear here; please read them first.
Susanna Dokupil can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Facebook.
Tyler slowly awoke to the sounds of the drones coming to work in the hive. He dragged himself to the men’s room, looked at the closed ceiling tiles with a smile, and straightened himself up. He planned to read his draft again, give it to Carol, and go home to get some sleep.
On the way back to his office, he saw Mark.
“Have you heard? Thrax was poisoned!” he said.
“The medical examiner found batrachotoxin in his bloodstream.”
“Batracho-what?” Tyler asked.
“Batrachotoxin. The stuff in the skin of poison dart frogs that makes them poisonous.”
“Weird. Was there a frog in his office?”
“They’re in there now, checking everything for traces of the poison,” Mark replied.
“Hmm. . .” Tyler said sleepily and staggered back to his desk. He had to send that draft.
Back at his desk, Tyler realized he could not proofread in his current condition and delegated the task to a paralegal. While he waited, he looked up batrachotoxin on the internet. Found in the Golden Poison Dart Frog, it only takes about 2-3 grains of salt worth of the stuff to kill a man. But, he read on, the frogs don’t produce the toxin on their own — they get it from their diet. And scientists have recently isolated the source of the toxin in their diet: a certain red and black beetle from the Melyrid family. Tyler stared at the picture. It was the same beetle that landed on him on the roof!
He called Katarina. “Get this,” he said, “someone killed Thrax with a poison dart frog, and John Tiburon is living on the roof.”
“Who’s John Tiburon?” asked Katarina.
Tyler recounted his adventure down to the beetle. He looked up in response to a rap on his doorframe and saw a detective. “Gotta call you back,” he said.
The detective, a shabby-looking man in his forties, entered Tyler’s office. Outside of lawyers, Tyler had no ability to classify people. “Gotta ask you a few questions,” he said.
“About what?” asked Tyler.
“About the death of Ken Thrax. We’re just covering all the bases.”
“Well, I don’t know anything about it.”
“His appointment book shows that you were supposed to meet him around the time of his death.”
Tyler’s heart sank. He was getting the axe.
“Yes.” He handed them the sticky note.
“Do you know what time he gave you this note?”
“Around lunch time. It was here when I got back.”
“Do you know what he wanted to meet about?”
Tyler looked sheepish. “I think it was about my low billables.”
“Thrax’s files show that you were slated to be laid off.”
Tyler’s heart sank even lower. He hated his job, but he hated being laid off even more than he hated his job.
“We never talked,” he replied.
“Where were you around 5:15 p.m.?”
“Downstairs at Solstice. But I fainted, I was so nervous. You can ask the staff. I was unconscious for several minutes, then, assuming I had missed Ken, returned upstairs. And he was dead.”
“Do you have any contact with amphibians?”
“I try to avoid them.”
“And what’s this?” The detective plucked the black and red beetle off his pants legs with forceps and placed it into a small ziplock.
Tyler’s heart skipped a beat. It must have come in with him from the roof.
“A Melyrid beetle, of the sort that phyllobates terribles, the golden poison dart frog, uses to produce its poison.” Tyler replied proudly. “I just found a picture on the Internet.” He displayed his research helpfully.
“How did you know that?” the detective asked warily.
“I looked up batrachotoxin when I heard Ken Thrax was poisoned.”
“Yeah, right. How’d you know it was batrachotoxin?”
“The whole world knows, are you kidding? It’s on Spencer’s Facebook page. And Mark Twittered it. I’ve got to know everything about batrachotoxin before lunchtime, or I’m going to look like an idiot. Look, you might talk to that fellow who practices law on the roof. I think I got the beetle up there.”
The detective stared in disbelief. He knew lawyers. He worked with lawyers. But these appellate specialists were weird. “OK, um, here’s my card if you can think of anything else.” He walked out, determined to investigate Tyler further.
The paralegal returned with Tyler’s draft. Only one hour left to get it to Carol. He got to work.
Susanna Dokupil is a former appellate lawyer who abandoned regular employment in favor of raising four kids. She wishes to emphasize that the resemblance of any character in “My Job Is Murder” to any actual person, living or dead, is purely coincidental. (Except for the geeky stuff. Appellate lawyers really are that geeky.)
Susanna can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook.
Earlier: Prior installments of My Job Is Murder