Cold in the Shadows

By: Toni Anderson

“You back in Colombia?” he asked.

“Yep.” She removed glassware from an autoclave and stored it on a rack.

“You cool with me dating your sister?”

“Sure.” She stopped for a moment and realized she was cool with it. Devon and Sienna were closer in age, both being a few years younger than she was, and had a lot more in common. “Just don’t screw it up.”

He laughed. “Everything going okay down there?”

She opened her mouth to tell him about her attack last night, but stopped. He might tell Sienna and her sister would definitely rat. The thought of giving her mother something real to worry about was enough for a vow of silence. “Everything’s great, but I have work to do. Gotta go.” Not wanting to linger, she hung up.

Pleased with how maturely she’d handled that transition, she got down to work. Shakira played loudly on her music system and her hips were swaying as she measured out Ringer solution. Her work revolved around examining how high levels of batrachotoxin in the indigenous frog’s skin affected the fungus that was wiping out their brethren worldwide. It might give the wild poison dart frogs an advantage in an ever more challenging environment. Or not. She tried to be optimistic, but it was hard to protect the environment in the face of big business. She often argued with Rebecca and Devon’s father, Gabriel Brightman, about how he ran his massive pharmaceutical company. He occasionally listened to her, but he listened harder to his shareholders.

Even though the fungus was naturally present in the environment, she didn’t keep it on site. She wouldn’t risk it escaping into the wild and being responsible for more deaths. Instead she used a level three laboratory in the city and at her home university in Louisville, Kentucky to conduct the exposure experiments under controlled conditions. Here she collected eggs and samples of the toxin.

The public displays and guided talks at the Amazon Research Institute were a way of educating and inspiring locals and tourists to engage with their environment and support conservation efforts. It was also a way of giving back to the community. She usually enjoyed sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm with people, but not today. After last night she just wanted to fade into the background.

She pushed her reading glasses up her nose. Maybe she could scrounge up some company to go to a bar for a few drinks tonight. Then she thought of her sister and decided relying on a chemical depressant to numb herself into oblivion might not be the smartest idea.

She doubled up on latex gloves and pulled her lab coat sleeves down over her wrists before putting her hands inside the terrarium. Using a sterile cotton bud she swiped the tip over the back of the nearest frog. She was gentle and he didn’t seem to mind too much, but she did have to prod him a little to secrete more toxin. It beat shoving a stick through his body and out his hind leg the way the Embera tribe did when they wanted poison for their arrows. Still that was their culture—who was she to judge? Their environmental impact was minimal. She didn’t want to think about the damage her culture had inflicted upon the world or she’d spend all her time running in circles screaming, “We’re all going to die.”

Having collected a bunch of swabs from several different individuals she placed the Q-tips in pre-labeled sterile containers and secured them. Then she noted a fatality in the corner of the tank. The lifeless body was a reminder of all the things she couldn’t control, like her sister’s drug addiction and a stranger attacking her in the dark. She picked up the limp body of the dead frog. The sound of the main door opening and closing had her glancing around. She hadn’t realized anyone else was still here. A man she didn’t recognize walked into the lab and turned his head this way and that as if looking for someone. He had jet-black hair and bullish shoulders beneath a tight T-shirt and heavy leather jacket. His eyes were black as coal and when their gazes met, his locked onto her. He gave her a smile that drove stakes into her spine.

Was this the man from last night?

“¿Quién es usted?” she asked. Who are you?

He didn’t answer, nor did he stop walking toward her.

“Can I help you?” she asked, her voice rising in panic. No response. He just kept coming. Oh, God. Considering the look on his face and lack of greeting she wasn’t hanging around to find out what he wanted. She took off running. When he started chasing her she knew she was in serious trouble.

Top Books