Read Eggsecutive Orders Online

Authors: Julie Hyzy

Eggsecutive Orders (35 page)

“When you have a few minutes, Mrs. Minkus,” I said, “I wouldn’t mind a chance to finish our conversation.”
“Maybe later,” she said. “I’m not feeling so well.”
Phil Cooper was instantly solicitous. “Do you want to sit down? Can I get you something?”
The offer seemed to stun her. “No, I’m just a bit unsettled,” she said, her voice shaking. “I’m not used to eating—I haven’t had much appetite over the past several days. Please don’t trouble yourself. I’ll be fine.”
As though drawn by the tug of a magic umbilical cord, Joel rushed over from out of nowhere. “Mom, what’s wrong?”
She smiled up at him. “Nothing, honey. Maybe you should call for the car. Would you, please? I’d like to go home now.”
Joel ignored her request and instead grabbed the nearest folding chair, pressing his mother to sit. As Ruth lowered herself onto the seat, she shooed Phil and Francine Cooper away. “I’m fine,” she said. Her voice seemed to have regained its strength. “You two don’t need to worry about me. Joel is here now.” The Coopers left, albeit reluctantly.
One of our volunteers came over and asked if there was anything she could do. Although Ruth tried to assure us all, I knew it was too late. This was the White House. No one got light-headed around here without it becoming a federal case. This little incident—forgettable in most any other environment—had just shattered my hopes for continuing our conversation.
When one of our on-site paramedics arrived “just to make sure,” I left Ruth in good hands and decided on the best approach to extricate my mom from Kap’s company.
Phil Cooper saw me walking rapidly across the lawn, and changed his trajectory to intercept me. “Is she okay?”
“I think she’ll be fine,” I said, slowing. “The medic is checking her out. And Joel’s there.”
Phil nodded. Francine joined us. “She seemed okay five minutes ago,” she said. “It’s like something came over her all of a sudden.”
I turned back to look at Ruth again. All of a sudden? Like . . . Carl Minkus?
Oh my God.
“What was she doing right before I came up?” I felt panic rise up in my chest. Ruth’s rantings about Cooper’s involvement in her husband’s death started to solidify. But I couldn’t stop myself from asking, “Did she eat anything?”
Cooper looked at me like I had bay leaves shooting out my ears. “We all ate,” he said, clearly confused. “And it was very good.”
“Did she complain about tingling in her lips?”
Phil had unscrewed the cap of his water bottle and drained what was left before he answered. “No, she didn’t complain about anyth—” In that instant I knew he understood the nature of my question. His face lost all expression and he stared at the area where the medics were now talking with Ruth. “You don’t think her food was tainted . . .”
My limited research on the toxin led me to understand that victims had tingling mouths and numb tongues, which quickly spread into paralysis of the diaphragm. Unless the victim was given immediate and constant CPR, the toxin led to death.
“She said she was feeling light-headed. That isn’t what Carl Minkus complained of, is it?”
Cooper touched his fingers to his lips. “No,” he said. “Carl was different. But . . . I can’t help thinking . . .” He scanned the crowd.
“What?” I asked.
From behind us, Kap appeared, deftly moving into the space between me and Cooper. “What’s happening?” he asked. Turning to the large pink bunny behind him, he said, “Get away from me. Go find some kids to entertain.”
Cooper was pale. “They might have struck again. Let’s get over there.”
Without a backward glance to me, Kap and Cooper headed toward Ruth Minkus, the pink bunny trotting faithfully behind. Ruth was seated on the grass now, surrounded by her son, a medic, and several volunteers. I heard her protesting that she was just fine and that she and Joel would like to leave.
“She sure sounds better,” I said.
Francine’s pretty face twisted with concern. “Ten minutes ago she was hurrying around—busy. In fact, I thought it was strange that a woman still grieving for her husband should be shuttling food and drinks for other people.”
That got my back up. Guests should not be working at this event. “You mean she fixed a plate for Joel,” I said for clarification.
“No,” Francine said. “Actually, it was kind of strange. Phil and I were getting ready to leave and she came over with a couple bottles of water. She said we looked thirsty.” Unscrewing the bottle in her hand, Francine took a swig, emphasizing her point.
Francine had used the word
strange
to describe Ruth, twice in the same conversation. The back of my neck and shoulders began to prickle again. Thoughts began to formulate. I excused myself and jogged toward the small group gathered around the woman on the grass. Francine followed me.
“No, really,” Ruth was saying in a voice much stronger than I expected. “I’m just fine.” Without another glance at those around her, she grabbed her son’s arm and stood up. “Joel—let’s go. Now. Please. Get the car.”
Joel took off like a shot. As soon as he was out of sight, Ruth boosted herself to leave. What prompted me to stop her, I don’t know. But I needed to. She had the answers, and there was no time to lose. “Ruth,” I said, “just a minute.”
She didn’t answer. She kept walking. Very fast.
I started to follow, but Cooper grabbed my arm. His empty water bottle dropped next to my feet. Sweaty and pale, he held fingers to his mouth. “My lips,” he said thickly. “I can’t feel them.” He looked around with wild eyes.
Cooper let go of me long enough to grab Kap’s arm. “Not China,” he said. Then his knees gave out and he collapsed to the ground. “It was her.”
In an instant, I understood.
I dropped to the grass next to Cooper and pointed to the direction Ruth had taken, “Stop her,” I said to Kap. Then to the medic, I shouted, “This man needs help!”
The medic responded at once, calling for assistance as she closed the distance between us. “What have we got?” she asked.
“Tetrodotoxin,” I said. “It’s what killed Carl Minkus.”
A second medic relayed that information into his radio as he knelt on the ground next to me. “He will go into respiratory failure quickly,” I said. “His diaphragm will be paralyzed. You
have
to keep him alive.”
I bolted to my feet and ran to catch up with Kap, looking back long enough to see Francine standing terrified next to the emergency response team. She sobbed as she watched them work on her husband. I wanted to be there for her, but I had to follow Kap. I could see him in the distance, looking both ways; it was obvious he had lost Ruth. Behind him, Fuzzy Guzy looked ready to pounce on his quarry. My mom was about halfway between the two, looking both ways as well.
For a moment I wondered where Nana was, but I didn’t have time. I ran, full out.
I didn’t get far.
“Ollie!”
I turned.
Ruth stood behind one of the abandoned balloon sculpture tents, the right half of her body hidden from view. She peered out around the corner, struggling with something I couldn’t see. “You need to get me out of here.”
I said the first thing that came to mind. “You killed your own husband? My God, why?”
“Get me out of here. I know you can do it.”
Whatever she had behind the white canvas made her recoil.
“Get me out of here now.” Her teeth gritted. “Before it’s too late.”
Several hundred yards away, Kap turned to look around. I started to call to him.
“Don’t,” she said.
And then she jerked her quarry into view.
I started to scream, but clapped my hands over my mouth. If I drew any attention to the three of us . . .
Nana fought her captor, but Ruth was twenty years younger and ten times stronger. She’d shoved fabric into Nana’s mouth, and had her wrapped in a bear hug from behind. “Shut up,” Ruth said, but her voice was ragged from exertion. Then to me: “Get me out of here or your grandmother gets dosed.”
My mind telescoped to the small vial in Ruth’s left hand. She held on to it so tightly, I could see the whites of her knuckles straining her skin. Nana kicked and tried to scream. Ruth rocked sideways, maintaining control of my grandmother’s writhing form.
“Don’t mess with me, I’m warning you. You have to get me out of here. You
know
how to do it.”
Secret Service agents were busy with Cooper and with Kap. No one took notice of three women by this vacant tent. I took a step closer. “Give it up, Ruth.”
“You want Grandma dead?”
Nana kicked, and although Ruth grimaced, she didn’t let go.
Working to tamp down the panic crawling up my throat, I pleaded. “Listen to me. Let her go—I’ll get you out. I will.”
“She comes with.” Ruth gave the area a quick glance. “No one is going to question us if we’re helping your grandmother. She stays with me until I’m out.”
My mouth was dry, and I couldn’t think—couldn’t begin to figure a way out of this one. “Nana,” I said.
Ruth tugged Nana in a vicious Heimlich maneuver. Nana’s muffled gasp tore at my heart. She slumped, unconscious.
“Nana!” I cried, starting toward her.
“Get back!” Ruth said. “Damn.” Tightening her hold around my grandmother, she pulled her hands close enough to start unscrewing the vial. “Get me out now, or I swear . . .”
“Okay.” My fear made it almost impossible to breathe. “Keep the bottle closed. Please.”
She looked both directions. “Which way out?” she asked. Then, as I started to move toward her, she yelled at me to stop again. “I don’t trust you.”
At that moment the trees behind Ruth parted and a giant purple bunny emerged. But this one was headless. The second Guzy brother held one finger on his lips as the other reached into the side of his costume. I prayed he was going for his gun.
“You can trust me,” I said, talking quickly. “You can. There is a way to get you out. I know how to do it.”
Ruth shook her head. When she let Nana’s body go, it dropped almost soundlessly to the ground. My heart dropped with her.
“No,” she said. “You
won’t
do it. You’re one of those bleeding-heart patriots.” Her words came fast. “But . . .” She glanced at the vial, then at Nana’s prone form. “I can make sure you won’t follow me.” She bent, intending to pour the liquid onto Nana’s face.
I rushed her, just as the Guzy behind Ruth shouted, “Stop!”
Her head jerked up.
The split-second delay was all I needed. I hit Ruth in a full-body tackle, grabbing her bony wrist, dragging it away from Nana as far as I could. Ruth and I twisted together as we fell to the ground. She gurgled her surprise, but recovered quickly and began fighting me, hard.
Her face contorted with effort, she yanked her arm. I felt her wrist slipping out of my grasp but the bottle flew from her hand. Time seemed to move in slow motion as the vial somersaulted about six inches above her face, about six inches below mine. I clenched my mouth and eyes shut until I heard the dull thud of the glass hitting bone. It had bounced off her cheek, spilling its contents all over her face—some in her eyes—with the bulk running down her cheek and into her open mouth. I immediately let go and jumped away from her, feeling my own face for any vestige of the deadly liquid on me. Dry. Thank God. Ruth sat up and spit, crying out for help as she clawed at her eyes.
I whirled to grab my grandmother by her shoulders. “Nana?”
She blinked up at me. “Are we safe now?”
None of the liquid had landed anywhere near my grandmother. I breathed a deep sigh of relief.
“Are we safe?” Nana asked again.
“Yes,” I said. “What about you? Are you okay?”
“Help me up,” she said.
“Maybe we should wait for the paramedics. You shouldn’t move around so fast.”
She boosted herself on one arm. “Help me up,” she said again, this time forcefully. “You think I didn’t do that on purpose?”
“You faked passing out?”
“Dead weight is always harder to work with,” she said as she got to her feet. “Figured you needed some assistance on this one, honey. Glad your old nana was here to help.”
We gave Ruth and Guzy wide berth as he came behind her, pulling out his handcuffs from within his fuzzy costume. “Careful,” I warned. I pointed to the vial and to Ruth, who was sobbing into the soft grass. “Tetrodotoxin.”
The headless rabbit spoke into his microphone as he knelt next to her.
The emergency staff quickly surrounded us. Joel broke through. “Mom?” He scanned the crowd before kneeling at his mother’s side. “What happened? Who did this?”
Ruth had begun to hyperventilate, screaming about a conspiracy, but I noticed her gasping for air. I couldn’t watch. And I didn’t want Nana to see any of it either. I walked her away from the crowd. “Let’s get you inside,” I said. Secret Service agents swarmed the area, and we made a slow trek toward the White House. Within seconds, Mom joined us.
“What’s going on?”
“I’ll tell you later. Where’s Kap?”
She pointed back in the direction we’d come. “He’s checking on Mr. Cooper. Ollie, what just happened?”
Nana held my mom’s hand. “Corinne, we figured it out. Me and Ollie. We figured out who killed that Minkus fellow.” She looked up at me. “I don’t understand why, though. Do you know?”
I shook my head. Even if I had suspicions, I wasn’t ready to share them aloud.
“See, Corinne,” Nana continued, “it’s just like I always say. She takes after me.” Reaching up to pat my cheek, she said, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, eh?”
CHAPTER 25

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