She wheeled over to an empty aisle – no one was looking for birthday cards or office supplies this morning – and then uncapped the small syringe in her pocket. It was a very slender needle, and it left almost no mark behind when she pushed it through the plastic of the orange juice bottle, just under the screw-off cap. She kept her body turned toward the cards, as if she were looking for the perfect sentimental phrase. When she was done, she grabbed a glittery congratulations card in hot pink and put it in the cart. Maybe she’d give it to Kevin when he finished his mission. It was the kind of glitter that would stick to someone for days.
She and Barnaby had called this drug simply Heart Attack, because that’s what it caused. Sometimes after the interrogation was over, the department needed to dispose of a subject in a way that looked natural. After about three hours, Heart Attack broke down into a metabolite that was nearly impossible to trace. A man of Carston’s age, in his physical condition, and factoring in the high-stress job – well, Alex greatly doubted that anyone would look too carefully at the cause of death, at least in the very beginning. Sure, if he were twenty-five and ran marathons, it might look more suspicious.
Alex moved to the bakery next, because it was near the cashiers and had an unobstructed view of the shoppers waiting to pay. It took about ten minutes as she pretended to dither between a baguette or ciabatta rolls, but then the housekeeper appeared from aisle 19 and got into the checkout line. Alex threw the baguette in her cart and joined the next line over.
This was the tricky part. She’d have to stay pretty close to the woman as they left the store. Alex’s inconspicuous black sedan was parked right next to the minivan. As the woman was loading her groceries, Alex was going to trip with her arms full of bags and fall into the minivan’s bumper. It shouldn’t be too hard to leave her juice in the back of the car. Hopefully snagging the woman’s juice bottles would be possible, but if not, she assumed the housekeeper would load them all into the fridge, even if she didn’t have the right number.
Alex eyed the conveyor belt next to hers, double-checking that the juice was there. She spotted what she was looking for and glanced quickly away.
As her own purchases slid across the scanner, her brows furrowed. Something was off. Something wasn’t matching the mental picture. She glanced back at the other conveyor belt, trying to pin it down.
The bagger was packing a box of Lucky Charms. The housekeeper had never bought that kind of cereal for Carston, as far as Alex had been able to see. Carston was a creature of habit, and he ate the same fiber-heavy cereal every morning. Sugary marshmallows with plastic prizes were not his MO.
Another quick peek, head down. The usual coffee beans, the low-fat creamer, the quart of skim milk, but there was also a half a gallon of whole milk and a box of Nilla Wafers.
“Paper or plastic, miss? Miss?”
Alex quickly refocused, pulled her wallet open, and grabbed three twenties. “Paper, please,” she said. The housekeeper always got paper.
Her mind was turning over and over as she waited for her change.
Maybe the housekeeper got groceries for herself while she was shopping for Carston. But if she got her own milk, she’d have to carry it inside and put it in Carston’s fridge until she was done for the day, so it wouldn’t spoil in the heat. And she’d never done that in the past.
Was Carston expecting guests?
Alex’s heart pounded uncomfortably as she followed the woman through the automatic front doors, her two bags both gripped in her left hand.
She needed Carston to be the one who enjoyed that bottle of OJ. But what if a friend grabbed it instead? A friend who was twenty-five and a marathoner? It would be obvious what she had attempted. Carston would change his habits, beef up his security. And he would know it was Alex, without a doubt. That she was alive, and nearby.
The hunt would begin again, closer than ever.
Should she go with the odds? The juice was Carston’s thing. Probably he wouldn’t offer it to someone else. But what if?
As her mind raced through the possibilities, a small piece of meaningless information – or so she’d categorized it – popped into her head and suggested a new prospect.
The zoo. The daughter had kept going on and on about the zoo. And all the calls, every day, some of them hours long. What if Erin Carston-Boyd wasn’t always in such close touch with her father? What if Alex, in her hurry to get to the important calls, had fast-forwarded through vital information – like a pending visit from his daughter and granddaughter? The DC zoo was famous. Exactly the kind of place you’d take your out-of-town granddaughter. Just like Lucky Charms was exactly the kind of cereal an indulgent grandpa would have on hand for her breakfast.
Alex sighed, quietly but deeply.
She couldn’t risk poisoning the child.
Now what? The coffee beans? But Erin would drink coffee, too. Maybe another kind of toxin, something that looked like salmonella?
She couldn’t wait until the family went back where they belonged. Deavers and Pace would be dead by then – if they weren’t already – and Carston would be on high alert. This was her one chance to stay ahead of the panicked reaction. There would be six bottles of juice, only one poisoned… odds were Carston would drink it… it was unlikely the child would be hurt…
Ugh, she groaned mentally, and slowed her pace. She knew she wasn’t going to do it. And she couldn’t go back to his favorite sidewalk café and add an extra ingredient to his chicken parm; he’d surely given up that habit once she’d contacted him there. She’d be stuck with something really obvious and dangerous now, like borrowing Daniel’s rifle and shooting Carston through his kitchen window. Her chances of getting caught – and killed – would be much, much higher than she’d planned.