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 firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook.
Katarina, intrigued by Tyler’s phone call, spent a few moments researching batrachotoxin. The poison, produced by phyllobates terribles from South America, is highly deadly, killing a man on contact with only as much as the weight of a few grains of salt. The poison has no known antidote.
She also looked up John Tiburon. A high-level Justice Department appointee, Tiburon had resigned after he had been televised — and identified by name and position — in the audience of a gay marriage rally at a time when the administration was taking a strong line in favor of traditional marriage. He had never revealed his sexual orientation at the office, and he hadn’t sought the publicity. But he had been unhirable for any traditional firm or government position after that.
She kept reading. Tiburon’s biography mentioned that he spent time in Colombia working for the Peace Corps. The Golden Poison Dart Frog, she had just read, is indigenous to certain parts of Colombia.
Curious, she walked down to Thrax’s office, where the detectives were testing for traces of the poison.
“How was he poisoned?” she asked, standing carefully outside the yellow caution tape.
“We’re not sure,” one replied. “The Medical Examiner found batrachotoxin in his bloodstream.”
“From a golden poison dart frog?” she asked.
“Exactly. But we’re not sure how he came in contact with a tropical frog. The ME said this reagent will cause the poison to turn a red-violet color. We’ve checked his coffee cup, desk, chair, and now the computer.”
“Hey, check this out!”
On the keyboard was one very small red-violet spot — on the +/= key.
“Clever,” said Katarina. “A time bomb. The killer could have placed the poison hours or days in advance. Appellate lawyers hardly ever use that key.” She spoke of the mathematical symbols with that certain air of disdain common to those more comfortable declining Latin nouns than using a spreadsheet.
“What would Thrax have been doing involving numbers?” the detective asked.
“Reviewing the firm’s financial position or some such, most likely. Probably not working on a brief,” she said.
They went to Thrax’s secretary. “Did Thrax review any bills yesterday?” the detective asked.
“Oh, yes, he reviews the firm’s financial situation every Monday evening,” she replied.
“How many people would know that?” the detective asked.
“Most of the partners. Ken Thrax is a creature of habit.”
“Who would have a key to his office?”
“No one but Ken . . . but he wouldn’t have locked it except when he left for the day.”
“Did anyone go in or out of his office while he wasn’t there?”
“Sure, to leave things on his chair for him to read and such. It’s a common practice at the firm.”
“Do you remember who went in or out yesterday?”
“He had a client meeting that morning, he was out for a lunch appointment, and he met with Dick Schlosh early in the afternoon. He left around 4:50 for a meeting, but he was back just after 5:00, then died shortly thereafter. I can’t recall anyone else, although someone may have gone in while I was away from my desk.”
“But wait a minute,” said Katarina, “the poison would have to enter his bloodstream, like through a poison dart. Just touching a poisoned key would only cause numbness in his finger.”
“Mr. Thrax always licked his forefinger to turn pages,” said the secretary. “Anyone who had worked with him regularly would have noticed it.”
“Wouldn’t he use his fourth or fifth finger on the = key, since it’s in the upper right-hand corner?” the detective asked.
“Maybe the =, but not the +,” replied Katarina. “It’s more convenient to type + with the right thumb and forefinger. Which he would have done if he were adding up, say, the weekly billables. Or calculating ways to cut costs. Or associates.”
“And if he were licking his finger in between, he would have been dead in about five minutes,” said the detective.”
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 email@example.com or on Facebook.
Earlier: Prior installments of My Job Is Murder