By: Lynnette Bonner


The flame of the Bunsen burner flickered blue and white beneath the bubbling beaker of orange viscous liquid.

A sniff indicated that the mixture seemed just right this time. A little stronger than the last batch.

Satisfaction spread. This was going to bring to life the dreams of a nice house, a fancy car, and maybe even an offshore account.

Kids were going to eat this stuff up like pigs in slop.

An almost imperceptible smirk tugged at lips that had essentially forgotten how to smile in the last few years.

Pigs in slop was an apt description for high schoolers these days. If kids had more self-control they wouldn’t be susceptible to temptations such as this. In fact, maybe exposure to this would do them a favor. One trip on the hallucinogenic ride of this drug might scare some of them straight. But hopefully not too many.

The smirk faded a bit.

Too bad some kids had died after taking that last batch. Hopefully, the smaller doses that would be recommended with this batch would prevent more deaths. After all, killing off all the clientele wasn’t such a great business model.

On the other hand… It was a little bit like helping out nature. Survival of the fittest and all. Those who were meant to live, would. And those who weren’t, well, wouldn’t.

“Just doing my part.” The murmur was too loud in the echoing stillness of the empty chemistry classroom and caused a jolt of anxiety. This time of night, no one else was likely in the school. Still, it was time to get out of here. Wouldn’t want one of the teachers showing up and asking questions.

A check of the thermometer showed that the liquid had reached the right temperature. Perfect timing.

A nitrile heat-resistant glove protected the hand that lifted the beaker and poured the contents onto the cooling tray. Immediately, the substance began to crackle, forming perfect little crystalline fragments that glowed like red hot coals in the hand-sheltered beam of the cell phone flashlight. The creation was perfect. Now it just needed a name. So far sales had been pushed with “try a new drug in beta and tell me what you think.” But with this new phase it was time to up the marketing.

“Fire.” The word tumbled out with barely the process of thought. Yes. It was fitting. With a little thought, ad copy wouldn’t even be hard to come up with, given a name like that. “Feel the Flame!” could be a subtitle of sorts. I crack myself up. Crack! Ha!

It didn’t take long to portion the crystals into separate little baggies and stuff them in a pocket. Then the cleanup began. Washing everything and putting it back just as it had been before. Of course, no one would probably notice a few little anomalies—that had been proven in the past few weeks of tweaking the recipe. Last Tuesday the stirring rod had been left on the counter. Panic had almost set in the next day when the realization dawned, but no one else seemed to have noticed. Still, it was better to try to put everything back exactly as found to avoid raising suspicions. Stepping back, an assessment showed the room was once more set to rights.

With a lift of the beer can, and a salute to the empty chemistry room of North Sound Island’s Cedar Harbor High School, the earlier smirk turned into a laugh. “Here’s to making my fortune off of all you little pukes!”

The doorknob was cool beneath a slightly sweaty palm. The door eased open with the barest of squeaks, but still the sound sent heartrate skyrocketing.

Calming breath. The hot ball of anxiety cooled.

As it should, the hallway remained empty.

The walk down the corridor, across the parking lot, and to the car parked in the shadows of the low madrona trees along the road leading up to the school seemed to take much longer than it should. But, as per usual, nothing. Everything lay silent and still right up to the moment of slipping back into the house and closing the door.

Head tilted to the wood, a sigh of relief slipped free.

One more batch had been made without detection. Figuring out a way to cook bigger batches would be necessary at some point. But for now…

Let the money start rolling in!


Detective Case Lexington sank back against the driver’s seat and propped his temple against one fist, eyeing his partner across the vehicle. “No way he’s going to show. I think you spooked him.”

A pink dawn breathed light against the bits of sky revealed between the 1950s-style homes on the downtown Everett street, a poignant reminder that he wouldn’t be experiencing the comfort of his bed anytime soon.

Damian Packard stuffed another Dorito into his mouth and crunched with abandon. “He’ll show.”

Case checked the time and let his silence reiterate his belief that this was all a waste of good sleep.

Pack huffed. “I’m telling you the man can’t stay away from this girl.” He peered out the windshield at the blue house down the block where, all night long, he’d been promising that their perp would “arrive any minute.” He noisily slurped the last drops of his Mountain Dew, finishing with a grin. “Yeah, he’s taking his sweet time. But he’ll be here.”

Case smothered a yawn. “This going to be like the time that prostitute CI of yours promised to deliver us her cocaine-running pimp?” He couldn’t keep the deprecating humor from his tone.

Pack winced at the reminder of that sting gone so terribly wrong, but only reiterated, “He’ll show. And he’ll have the goods. In fact,” his eyes twinkled, “I’m willing to make a little wager. You?”

Case scrubbed at his face, wishing for nothing more than a hot shower and a shave to scrape away the irritating scruff coating his jaw. Boredom must be setting in after their ten-hour wait, because against his better judgment, he agreed with a shrug. “Sure. Terms?”

His partner chomped another chip and considered. “Dominguez doesn’t show and I’ll wash, vacuum, and detail our rig. He does show and you”—Pack scanned the shops along the street, then his gaze lit with mischief when it landed on the nail salon down a block and on one corner—“have to get a manicure.”

Case laughed in spite of himself. “A manicure?”

“A manicure. In that little shop right there.” Damian nodded in satisfaction, tossed out a leer of challenge, and munched down another chip. Several crumbs spilled onto his chest and he brushed them to the floor. “What do you say?”

Case scanned the dusty, sticky, stained, and fast-food-wrapper-littered interior of their stakeout van. The thing looked like a family with six teenagers had lived in it for a month. And if he did lose, all he’d have to do would be endure a manicure and the ribbing from the guys until the next prank gave them someone new to focus on. “Fine, you’re on.” He put out his fist for their signature bump-and-thump.

Pack arched a brow and made a fist but didn’t touch him yet. “You have to get polish.”

Case shook his head. “No way.”

Pack nodded. “Clear will do. But the manicure has to include polish.”

Case scanned the street. Dominguez still wasn’t in sight. “Fine, but he has to show up in the next hour or the deal is off.”

Pack bumped his fist. “Oh, this is going to be so good.”

Saturday morning, Kyra Radell slung her bag over one shoulder and pressed the lock button on her Honda’s remote. The car chirped a goodbye as she stepped onto the curb and stabbed her key into the door to A Perfect Ten, Hands Down. The scent of fresh brew from the coffee shop next door enticed her, but she’d just open up first and then call over her order.

Pushing into the shop, she turned on lights and the Open sign and stepped behind the counter to drop her purse into her cubby. She turned on the iPad beneath the register, which was set to stream Christian music from top artists through the digital speakers in each of the salon’s corners. Pressing her hands into her lower back, she glanced around. Looked like Lainey had been busy this week. Her sister’s salon was clean, but several bottles of polish were out of the color spectrum order that Lainey liked to keep them in, and one of the manicure tables still had yesterday’s cloth on it.

She groaned a little, hoping that today wasn’t going to be too busy or offer anything but the mundane. Packing for her upcoming move to North Sound Island was giving her enough stress and exhaustion this weekend. Yet, even through the fatigue, a little trill of excitement coursed through her.

She forced her mind back to the work. This was her last day and she wanted to do a good job for Lainey. She’d trained Marcy, her replacement, well, so going forward Lainey should be in good hands.

Kyra swept off the cloth and dropped it into the laundry basket they kept in the back. Taking up the disinfectant spray, she spritzed it over the surface and wiped down that table and each of the other three. If Lainey had forgotten to do one, she might have forgotten to do the others. Her sister had been a little frazzled since the birth of her twins. It must be hard wanting to rush home to them and her loving husband each night after a long day of work.

Kyra sighed. Not like she would know anything about that. But she was moving on and wasn’t going to give that two-timing Mark Green another thought.

And come Wednesday, she would start her first day as a high school teacher. Just the thought revved up her excitement and tipped her lips into a smile. To land her dream job, and in the cozy community of Cedar Harbor in the San Juan Islands to boot, thrilled her to no end. Finally, all her years of education were going to pay off. She was going to speak love and encouragement and be a positive influence on all her students.

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