Friday, May 26, 2006

Mayhew's Secret Laboratory

This morning, from 7 to 10, Betty and Luz took a turn watching Dr. Mayhew’s building. Cleverly disguised as mustachioed mailmen, they were loitering outside when they saw Mayhew exit, struggling with a shopping bag loaded with books. As he walked to a nearby subway station, Betty and Luz followed behind him. After observing Mayhew board a downtown train, Betty phoned Kiki, who was having coffee with the rest of the Irregulars at a café near Columbia. With the coast clear at Mayhew’s apartment, we set off for Butler Library. Oona and Kiki flashed the fake security badges that Oona had crafted before our first expedition into the tunnels, and together the four of us headed to the basement.

Once we were inside the Columbia tunnels, it took less than ten minutes to reach the hidden passage that led to the laundry room in the basement of Dr. Mayhew’s building. We avoided the building’s elevator (too many nosey neighbors) and climbed the stairs to the fifth floor. While Kiki and I stood guard in the hallway, Oona picked all four locks on Mayhew’s door.

The Irregulars slipped into the apartment’s living room, which, thanks to weeks of surveillance, I knew almost as well as my own. I saw little out of the ordinary—only a small pile of purloined books stacked next to an old oak desk. But my nose immediately detected something unusual. The place stank of syrup. Trying to breathe through my mouth, I walked over to the window and peered down at the sidewalk below. Betty and Luz were there, watching the building’s entrance.

From what we could tell, the sweet-smelling odor seemed to issue, not from the kitchen, but from one of two doors at the end of a hallway. Behind the first door was a bedroom with a king-size bed and a massive pile of dirty clothing.

“We should have saved time and come in through the fire escape,” said Kiki, pointing out the bedroom window. "Let's hurry up and see what's behind door number two."

The second door was locked. Once Oona had worked her magic and pushed the door open, I heard DeeDee gasp. Mayhew had converted the larger of the apartment’s two bedrooms into a windowless laboratory. Microscopes, beakers, and bottles of brightly colored chemicals cluttered the stainless steel counters. Metal cages were filled with dozens of white rats, each one glassy-eyed and moving slowly, as if it were trapped in syrup. On an island in the middle of the lab sat a laptop computer, a long rack of test tubes filled with yellow liquid, and a bouquet of odd-looking flowers. A huge metal vat took up one corner of the lab. It was rigged up to an exhaust system that led to the room’s old fireplace and up through the chimney. When DeeDee opened the vat, the smell of syrup was overpowering.

“Do you think he’s actually been making maple syrup?” asked Kiki.

“I don't know. I'll have to see his computer files. But it looks like he’s using this vat to boil something down. This must be where the smell has been coming from.”

While Oona hacked into Mayhew’s laptop, I studied the yellow liquid in the test tubes. I was certain it was the same stuff I’d seen Dalton Noble drink. I took one of the tubes, made sure the cork was in tight, and slipped it into my bag.

“DeeDee,” Oona said. “I think I’ve found Mayhew’s notes. Want to take a look?”

DeeDee took Oona’s place at the computer and began to scroll through the file Oona had pulled up on the screen.

“I guess the professor’s not interested in syrup after all. He’s working on some sort of neurotoxin—a drug that impairs brain function. I recognize some of the chemicals he’s working with. They’re used in Haiti for making zombies.”

“Did you say zombies?” Oona asked.

Before DeeDee could answer, Kiki’s phone began to vibrate. Luz was calling. Dr. Mayhew was on his way upstairs. Oona pushed DeeDee’s chair away from the computer and began typing furiously, sending a copy of his files to her email account. By the time she had finished, it was almost too late to escape. As we sprinted out of the laboratory, we could hear the sound of Mayhew’s keys in the front locks. Kiki threw open the window in Mayhew’s bedroom, and we all ducked onto the building’s fire escape. As Kiki, Oona, and DeeDee slinked down the fire escape ladder, I stayed behind to close the window. Just as I prepared to follow the others, I saw Mayhew guide a young man into his laboratory and shut the door.


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8:00 PM  

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