The next morning Jacob and Rachel made their way to the high school. Carefully following the signs, they arrived at the school office. They hoped that the principal would make good on the promises he had made to Felix, promises to cooperate in the investigation. They had no sooner presented themselves at the desk when an older woman came bustling up to them.
"Oh, you must be Dr. Hood and Agent Young. I've been expecting you." The woman craned her neck to look around them. "But where's Felix?"
Jacob and Rachel looked at each other, surprised. Rachel began cautiously, "Um, Agent Lee is following up some other leads right now, Mrs.…."
"Zimmerman, I'm Anna Zimmerman, the school secretary." She blushed a bit. "It's just, well, Felix did say he'd see me today and I baked him some cookies. He's such a nice young man." She beamed, "did you know that his mother was a school secretary?"
Rachel quickly elbowed Hood who turned what was a laugh into a cough. "Yes, I believe he has mentioned that Mrs. Zimmerman. Would it be possible for us to see the principal? I believe Felix has alerted him to our needs."
"No need for that, honey. I've already got a room set up for you to use. Mrs. Swanson, our school psychologist, is out today so you can use her office. You just tell me who you want to talk to and I'll have them report there."
"Are you sure about this?" Rachel asked doubtfully. "Shouldn't we check in…?"
"It'll be fine, don't you worry. " The woman laughed, "Mr. Fletcher might be the principal, but I make most of the decisions in this office. Now, you just tell me who you need and I'll have Patricia show you to the office."
Jacob and Rachel were surprised to see that Patricia was Tricia, their waitress from the diner. "If you're ready, I can take you to Ms. Swanson's office."
"Well, we'd like to interview two students, a girl named Brittney, we believe she was Josh Erickson's girlfriend, and a Zach Moore." Rachel flipped her notebook closed. "In that order if possible."
"I'm afraid not," Mrs. Zimmerman sniffed. "Britney Hansen doesn't deign to honor us with her presence until second period."
"She's got a study hall first period," Tricia offered quietly. "Senior privilege says you can, like, show up second period then."
Rachel's mouth twisted in irritation. She had a hunch Brittney was holding back essential information and she was disappointed in not being able to question her immediately. "Ok, how about the Moore boy?"
"Oh, Zach doesn't have any study halls. He, like, considers them a waste of time. He has, you know, a full schedule." Tricia piped up.
"Fine, we'll start with him."
Mrs. Zimmerman walked over to the public address system. "Attention, please. Will Zachery Moore please report to Mrs. Swanson's office immediately. Again, Zachary Moore to Mrs. Swanson's office." She winked at them, "This way it will take a few minutes for the word to get out on the grapevine that he's actually talking to you."
Jacob and Rachel smiled their thanks and followed Tricia out the door. They had just reached the psychologist's office when a tall boy, wearing horn-rim glasses approached them.
"I'm Zach Moore, you wanted to see me?"
Opening the office door, Rachel indicated that Jacob should enter. Pulling Zach in with her, she shut the door firmly. Jacob wandered around the room, examining the file cabinets lining the walls, the pictures that hung above them. He was content to let Rachel handle the preliminary questioning. She circled the desk and gestured for Zach to take the seat across from her. She stared at Zach for a few minutes before beginning her interrogation.
"Do you know why we want to talk to you today?"
"Uh, let me guess? Does it have anything to do with those assholes that died?" Zach asked sarcastically. "I'm not an idiot, you know, everyone in town knows you're here because of them."
"Assholes, huh? Sounds like you had problems with the dead boys."
Zach shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "Look, maybe I shouldn't have called them that. But all that nil nisi bonum stuff? It's a lot of crap. They were jerks and their being dead doesn't change that."
"So," Rachel continued softly, "they were jerks. Doesn't sound as if you liked them, were friendly with them."
"Are you kidding? They wouldn't even acknowledge my existence, unless they wanted to give me some shit. They were just like the rest of the football players, thought they were god's gift to the universe."
"Not friends at all then? No contact whatever?"
"I just told you, no."
Rachel pounced. "Then would you care to explain why all three of those boys had your number stored on their cells? If you weren't friends, why were they calling you? You their supplier? Got them some fancy designer drugs that ended up killing them?"
"Oh my god, no." Zach paled. "A drug dealer, me. God no, why would you think that?"
Rachel shrugged. "Aside from the football team, you're the only person all three boys had in common. If you're not friends, if you claim they'd never want to be friends, what other reason is there for them to seek you out? What use were you to them?"
"I'm not a drug dealer." He appealed to Jacob. "You understand, don't you? I'm a senior, after this year I can say goodbye to this place and never look back. I wouldn't do anything to jeopardize that."
Jacob nodded, he could well understand how this boy would feel desperate to escape, would take care not to risk his chances. He leaned against the desk facing Zach. "You're an intelligent young man. If you and these others were in different social circles but they wanted to be in touch with you, it must have been because they wanted something from you. Surely you see that Agent Young's hypothesis is reasonable?"
Zach's shoulders slumped. "They, well Josh, did want something I have." He looked up defiantly. "It wasn't drugs, though." He sighed as the two looked at him expectantly. "It was my brains. Josh finally woke up to the fact that if he didn't get his GPA up he might not get into college, never get a chance to play college ball. He was blackmailing me to doing his homework, letting him cheat off me on tests."
"Blackmail? What on earth have you done that he could blackmail you?" Jacob wanted to know.
"Nothing. It's just, I've got a sister who's a freshman."
"You mean he threatened her?" Rachel was appalled. "Why didn't you report him?"
"Not threatened like that." Zach snorted. "As for reporting him, as if anyone would believe me when it would be my word against his. No, the deal was I'd do his work and he'd make sure that Lissie wasn't put on the list."
"List?" Jacob and Rachel looked at each other, baffled.
"The hotties and the notties," Zach explained bitterly. "Everyone knows the football players are the ones who put the list up but no one does anything to stop it. It kills the girls who are labeled notties; Josh said he's keep Lissie off the list. Plus he'd keep the other players from bothering her."
Rachel was disgusted. "Ok, I'll buy that's why Josh had your number, but what about the other two?"
"That was Josh's idea," Zach's lips twisted in a grimace. "He was smart enough to know people might get suspicious of his newly improved grades if they saw him hanging out with me. So he recruited Matt and Tim to be go-betweens. Sometimes I'd give one, sometimes the other, the papers for Josh to hand in."
Rachel looked at Zach thoughtfully, processing what he had to say. "Dr. Hood's right, you know. You're a smart kid. Maybe you're smart enough to know that blackmail never ends, usually it escalates. Maybe you decided to take out your blackmailer and the two witnesses at the same time. Maybe you deliberately fed them something to get them off your back, to protect your sister, once and for all."
"No, honestly, I didn't have anything to do with their deaths. Yeah, they were jerks, but I'd never kill anyone."
Jacob intervened. "I believe you Zach. Why don't you go back to class now; if we need to speak to you again, we'll let you know."
Rachel glared as Zach thankfully escaped from the room. She hadn't been done questioning the boy; she felt that he was a viable suspect. Before she could take Hood to task for not letting her do her job, he held up a manila folder.
"Honestly, Rachel. I don't think he did it. He's intelligent, but there's nothing in here to lead me to believe that he's capable of something like this."
"What's that?" Rachel took the folder from him.
"We're in the school psychologist's office," Jacob reminded her. He waved a hand at the file cabinets. "She has files on all of the students in the school, not just their academic records, but their disciplinary records and the results of any school mandated psych tests. Zach is a pretty stable kid."
Rachel grunted as she read through the file. Hood was right, there was nothing in it to suggest that Zach might be a murderer. "Still, I think we should keep an eye on him."
"Oh come on Rachel," Jacob smiled at her. "Didn't you tell me once that smart kids never did anything really bad?"
Rachel returned his smile. "I also said that they could be exceptions," she reminded him. "I'm not convinced Zach doesn't qualify. Someone threatening his sister?" She shrugged. "That could make someone behave out of character."
They were interrupted by a sharp knock on the door. Before they could respond, it flew open. Brittney sailed into the room, a smirk on her face. The girl was dressed in skin-tight jeans and scooped neck, form fitting t-shirt. She plopped herself down in the chair in front of the desk and, ignoring Rachel, looked Jacob up and down. Jacob was slightly discomfited; her expression was more suited to a woman quite a bit older than she.
"I'm Brittney Hansen." she announced. "You wanted to talk to me?"
Jacob could see the dislike of this girl in Rachel's eyes; he thought he should begin the questioning. "Yes, we would. We understand that Josh Erickson was you boyfriend. If it wouldn't upset you, we'd like to ask you a few questions about him."
Brittney stared at him for a beat. "I don't have to tell you anything." She tossed her head. "I'm not stupid you know. I know my rights, I, like, watch TV. I'm a minor, you can't ask me anything without my parents being here."
Jacob gaped at the girl. Of all the possible responses, this was not what he expected. He looked hopelessly at Rachel who smirked at him. He knew she was silently mocking him for thinking this girl needed handling with kid gloves.
"If that's what you want, fine by me," Rachel said. "I can call Sheriff Flood right now and ask him to bring them here." She waited until Brittney smiled at the thought of out-witting them. "Of course, if you want your parents here while I ask you about your, uh, relationship with Josh, that's your business."
"What do you mean, relationship?" Brittney narrowed her eyes. "He was my boyfriend, my parents, like, already know that."
Rachel casually pulled Josh's cell phone out of her satchel. "So you don't care if your parents read your texts about "doing it?" At Brittney's gasp, she cocked her head, "So, do you think you're ready to answer a few questions about Josh?"
"What do you want to know?"
"What was it? When he said he hadn't decided if he wanted to do it you told him that if he loved you he would." Rachel arched a brow. "Were you pressuring him to have sex? Or was it something else?"
Rachel slowly dragged the story out of the girl. That summer a new player had joined the football team; a junior who played the same position as Josh. He was also bigger, stronger, and faster. Josh was worried about losing his starting position. Brittney was worried about being tied to a second-stringer.
A few weeks before his death, Josh had confided in her that he was thinking of taking something to help his performance on the team. Brittney swore that Josh had never told her what he was planning to take or where he would be getting it.
"But you don't know what he was planning to take?" Rachel pressed the girl hard.
Brittney once again denied any knowledge. With a disgusted head-shake, Rachel was about to dismiss the girl, but another question occurred to her.
"Did Josh start doing anything different? Start hanging out with different people, at different places?"
"Not really, I mean, he like, spent most of his time with me and the other guys on the team." She hesitated. "But, well, he started working out at the gym in town. He said it had better, you know, equipment than the weight room here."
Rachel and Jacob exchanged glances. This was new information, it could be the break they were looking for. They decided it was time to join up with Felix. As Rachel pulled out her cell phone, it rang in her hand. It was Felix and he had news. The lab boys in Omaha had finished their analysis of the samples and they had faxed their report to the sheriff's office. After assuring Mrs. Zimmerman that they, and Felix, would be back they headed into town.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
"What'd they find Doc?" Felix was impatient. "That Pounder guy miss anything big?'
"Give me a few minutes here," Jacob scanned the report quickly, flipping the pages back and forth. A frown creased his face. "Nooo, he didn't miss anything big, but he did miss something small. There's a line in here, from the blood samples, that I don't recognize." He looked up, "these boys definitely ingested something that either caused or contributed to their deaths."
"Well, shit," Flood was disgusted. "We already suspected that. Looks like your fancy tests were pretty useless after all."
"Hardly," Rachel bristled. "At least now we know the chemical composition of what they took, it could lead us to the source." She looked at Flood thoughtfully. "Add this to what we learned at the school this morning and we might be close to cracking this thing."
"What? What did you learn at the school? I talked to those boys for days, they all claimed that they didn't know anything."
Rachel laid out what they had learned from Brittney. Flood was stunned that Josh was planning on taking some kind of illegal substance. He balked, however, when Rachel told him they would be investigating the local gym. He insisted the place was clean.
"Hmm," Felix murmured. He pulled his notebook out of his pocket and flipped it open. "Isn't the gym owned by your brother-in-law?"
Flood reddened. "That has nothing to do with it," he snapped. "Half my deputies work out there. If something funny was going on don't you think they'd have noticed?"
The big man shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not. Maybe they thought they wouldn't be doing themselves any favors by bringing it to your attention."
Rachel intervened. "All of that is immaterial. The fact is, we have Josh frequenting that place right before he died. And he wasn't in the habit of going there before this summer."
Flood reluctantly agreed. As a show of good-faith, he offered to get a search warrant not only for the gym, but for all the lockers in the locker room. When Rachel expressed doubt that they would have probable cause to search the lockers, Flood smiled grimly.
"We won't have any problems with a warrant. One of the boys who died was the judge's nephew."
As Flood had predicted, there was no trouble getting any of the warrants. He even insisted Rachel and Felix serve them and to take the lead in the search. He was chagrined when Felix discovered a carton of unlabeled bottles of pills in his brother-in-law's office. They took the pills and the brother-in-law back to the police station. While Jacob tested the pills using his portable lab kit, Rachel and Flood interrogated the brother-in-law.
"God-damn it Jerry," thundered Flood, "what in the hell did you think you were doing? What kind of junk are you pushing at that gym of yours?" He narrowed his eyes, "and how many of my deputies have you bribed to look the other way?"
"It's not like that," Jerry protested. "I mean, ok, I'm making a little extra selling steroids, but I'm not bribing anyone." He looked at Flood earnestly, "I'm not stupid, I did my side business when your guys weren't around. None of them suspected anything."
Flood didn't know if he should be mollified that his deputies weren't dirty or mortified that they let a crime be committed right under their noses.
"I personally don't give a damn if you paid any bribes or not," Rachel snarled. "I want to know if you sold any pills to Josh Erickson."
"I never sold Josh anything," Jerry declared. "Like I said, I'm not stupid and it would have been stupid to sell steroids to him."
"Come on, you expect me to believe that?" Rachel scoffed. "A kid like Josh, looking for an edge, eager to buy, and you didn't sell to him?"
Jerry continued his denials. He admitted Josh had approached him; he had brushed him off, pretended he didn't know what he was talking about. In the face of Rachel's disbelief, he played what he thought was his trump card. He wouldn't sell to Josh was because he knew that the high school was implementing mandatory drug tests. He was afraid Josh would rat him out when he failed them.
Rachel kept up the questioning, she refused to believe in his innocence. He was still insisting that he wasn't stupid enough to take the risk of selling to any high school football player when Hood walked into the room with a disgusted look on his face.
"Those pills didn't have anything to do with what happened here." He shot a disgruntled look at Jerry. "But I'm not sure how intelligent he is, those pills aren't steroids, they're glucosamine."
"Glucosamine? What the hell is that?" Jerry demanded.
"It's a dietary supplement, made out of the shells of sea creatures." Jacob shrugged. "Even if he had sold it to that boy, it wouldn't have hurt him. I'm afraid that we're back to square one."
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The threesome adjourned to the diner for lunch and a strategy session. They decided all three of them would return to the high school. Jacob wanted to get blood samples from all of the football players; now that he had the unknown chemical line to trace, he wanted to be sure that none of the other players had it in their systems. They would leave the collection of samples up to Felix who would draft the school nurse to assist him. Jacob wanted to question the coach; he couldn't believe that the man was totally ignorant of what his players were up to. After speaking to the coach, he and Rachel would head back to the hospital. The lab wasn't the best, but it was his only chance of replicating the mysterious substance.
Mrs. Zimmerman enthusiastically welcomed Felix, along with Jacob and Rachel, back to the school. She listened to what Felix proposed and she personally bullied the school nurse into assisting Felix. He left the office with a wink for them. She had her current student helper show the other two where the coach could be found.
Their guide pointed out a man standing alone on the sidelines as Coach Conner. They approached him and Rachel made the introductions. Turning practice over to one of his assistants, he led Jacob and Rachel inside to his office. He sprawled back in his chair as Jacob questioned him. He not only denied any knowledge of any illegal drug use, he claimed that he discouraged the practice. He sat up abruptly when Jacob informed him that Agent Lee and the school nurse were on their way to take blood samples from every player.
"You can't do that," Conner objected. "The district already did a drug-screening and my boys all came up clean." He narrowed his eyes, glaring at them. "Besides, you'd need a warrant or something, so you just tell your Agent Lee to take a hike."
Rachel reached into her satchel for a pen and a piece of FBI stationary. She quickly scribbled on the paper, and checking her watch, dated it. "There's your something," she announced.
At Conner's grunt of confusion, she explained. "It's an FBI National Security Letter, directing you to give me any and all cooperation in the investigation of a case of suspected terrorism. It has the same weight as a search warrant."
Conner gaped at the smugly smiling Agent Young. "Terrorism? What the hell are you talking about? You, you can't do that."
"She sure as hell can," drawled Flood from the doorway. "And if you know what's good for you you'll cooperate." He shrugged as Conner looked at him in disbelief. "What can I say? I checked with the D.A., he says she has the authority to declare this a case of suspected terrorism if she wants." He raised an eyebrow, "and it looks like she wants."
Still grumbling, the coach led them out to the practice field. They arrived at the same time as Felix and the nurse. Felix had commandeered some students to carry out a table and folding chairs and he began to direct them to set them up. He spied Doc and Agent Young and waved to them.
"All set," he announced. "The nurse here is prepared to take the blood samples and I'll oversee the collection and then bring 'em to you at the hospital Doc."
The coach called the players together and announced that all of the players needed to give up a blood sample. He held up his hand to stop the groans and complaints. He crisply informed them they had no choice, the Feds were in charge now and they were insisting on it.
Jacob faced the crowd of unhappy players and coaches. "Believe me, I wouldn't ask you to do this if I didn't think it was important. Important not only to find out what happened to your friends, but to make sure nothing like this happens to the rest of you."
Felix, with the help of Flood, began to line the boys up. Jacob stood watching as the nurse began taking blood samples, an abstracted look on his face. Rachel sighed, she knew that look and it was one that boded no good.
"What, what's the problem now?"
"I was thinking, how did Josh even know to go looking for whatever it was he used? He must have known, heard of someone else using it."
Rachel gave a snort of exasperation. "Well, duh, yeah. Isn't that why we're getting these samples? To answer that question?"
Jacob shook his head. "No, I'm thinking he learned about it from some adult." He flicked his eyes in the direction of the assistant coaches. "I wouldn't be surprised to find any of them had used steroids, other enhancement drugs, in the past."
"Fine. We'll get blood samples from them as well."
She and Hood approached the bleachers were the men were sitting. Rachel announced that she wanted them to join the line-up to have blood samples taken. When they protested, Jacob said simply that he needed to rule them out as a source of whatever the dead boys had taken. One of the assistant coaches jumped to his feet, an ugly look on his face. He approached Hood with his hands balled into fists.
"What? You bastard! Are you accusing us of selling drugs to our kids? Of using that crap ourselves?"
Rachel slid in front of Hood, her hand going for her weapon. Before she could draw it, before she could say anything, she felt a hand on her shoulder. Felix was there and he gently drew her behind him. Holding up both hands, he confronted the angry man.
"Hey, now, come on. Nobody's accusing you of anything. We just need to dot all the i's and cross all the t's. When we find the bad guys, you don't want them getting off because of some loophole now do you?"
Mollified, the man joined the others in the line. Felix turned to see Rachel regarding him with fury. He threw a hopeful look in Doc's direction.
Jacob hurried into speech. "Um, Rachel, we need to get to the hospital. I'm sure Felix has everything well organized here." Grabbing her arm he tugged her away from Felix. Rachel left unwillingly; her glare told Felix that she'd deal with him later.
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Jacob was miserable. He knew that Rachel was upset with both him and Felix. She was pacing the lab like an angry cat; her fingers were involuntarily flexing, increasing the resemblance. She looked as if she wanted to physically as well as verbally tear into Felix.
She had been furious when he dragged her away from the football field. She had begun to yell at him, but he had cut her tirade short. With a lifted eyebrow he coolly informed her that it would be inappropriate for her to dress Felix down in front of all of those people. Rachel had starred at him for a beat and her mouth had snapped shut. Unfortunately, she had kept her mouth shut, she hadn't spoken a word to him since. He sighed in frustration and turned his attention back to the whiteboard.
Once he began studying the line the FBI lab had identified, he was quickly able to determine what it was; it was a beta-adrenergic agonist. This went a long way to explaining why the boys had heart attacks. But knowing the what and the why didn't answer the question of how the three athletes had ingested it. His musings were interrupted by Felix's entry into the lab.
"Hey Doc," the big man looked over at Agent Young uneasily. He held out a box. "I've got your blood samples for you."
"I'd like a word Agent Lee," Rachel said icily. "In the hallway. Now."
Felix threw and unhappy look in Doc's direction before heading out. As Rachel began to follow him, Jacob caught her by the arm. Rachel tried to shake him off, but he held her tightly.
"Before you read him the riot act, you might want to ask him why he did it."
Rachel looked at him angrily. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
Jacob dropped her arm and turned his back on her. "Why don't you ask him?"
Rachel's mouth opened and then closed. She looked at Hood's stiff back thoughtfully. She headed into the hallway to confront Felix in a slightly calmer frame of mind. He looked at her contritely.
"I'm sorry ma'am. I know I shouldn't have interfered back there but…." he trailed off unhappily.
"Why did it happen Felix? Don't you trust me anymore? Don't you think I can do my job?"
Felix's eyes widened. "What? Hell, no, it's not that. It's just," he looked embarrassed. "It's just, well, I was afraid of you getting hurt again, what might happen if you had to go back on leave."
"Why? Why would that worry you?" She titled her head and looked at him speculatively, "What exactly went on while I was out?"
"Let's just say the other agents assigned to Doc, well, they weren't you."
"What happened Felix?"
"Well, you remember the first agent who replaced you? A woman, named Diane Ferguson."
Rachel nodded; she was the agent who had accompanied Hood on his visit to the rehab facility. She had wondered why Ferguson had been replaced.
"It turned out she didn't have the same attitude as you about minibars." Felix snickered. "It was the middle of the night and Doc showed up in my room. Seems Agent Ferguson helped herself to the contents of the minibar and then tried to crawl into bed with him."
Rachel gaped at Felix. "You mean she…, I mean she was…"
"Yep, drunk as a lord and naked as a jaybird."
Rachel couldn't help it, she burst out laughing. "Ok, I can see where that was awkward for both of you." She narrowed her eyes. "What was the problem with Patterson?"
The smile left Felix's face; his normal cheerful countenance showed no emotion. "Patterson had very definite ideas of how things should be done and who should do them. He made it clear from day one that I was nothing more than his gofer. Any scut work, anything he didn't care to do, that was my job." He held up a hand to stop Rachel's interruption. "It wasn't that I was the junior agent, hell, when I worked with you as a trainee you treated me better than Patterson ever did; he treated me like I was his personal assistant."
Felix took a deep breath. "And he treated Doc just as bad. Patterson made out like he was some kind of idiot savant. Remember how Doc was kind of pissed when he thought I didn't get him a room key?" He waited for Rachel's nod.
"That's because Patterson wouldn't let him have one. Said it wasn't necessary. He did lots of shit like that; acted like Doc wasn't to be trusted. Hell, he practically told the locals that Doc couldn't do the job without Patterson holding his hand."
Rachel was stunned. She couldn't believe that Patterson could treat them both so disrespectfully. It was bad enough how he had treated Felix, but to imply to the locals that Hood was less than competent? That was almost insubordination.
"Why did Hood put up with that shit? Why didn't he get rid of him?"
Felix looked at her sideways. "Because of you. Doc said he didn't want you hearing he was having problems adjusting to a new handler, make you think you had to come back before you were ready."
Rachel starred at Felix, chewing her lip, processing what she had heard. Finally she spoke. "I'm sorry that you both had to put up with that kind of shit, but Felix, you've got to let me do my job. You have to trust me, I wouldn't be here if I didn't think, if McGruder didn't think, I was up to it."
Felix's shoulders sagged with relief, he hadn't expected to get off so easy. He grinned at her, "Right, I promise not to get in the way next time some jackass tries to take you down."
Laughing the two returned to the lab where Jacob was running blood samples through the mass spectrometer. Felix sauntered over to the whiteboard and squinted at the equations Jacob had scribbled over it. Rachel joined Hood at the workbench. They exchanged smiles, Jacob was relieved that the tension between them had dissolved. As if offering an olive branch, Rachel asked how the tests on the samples were going.
"I'm not sure," Jacob replied. "So far none of the samples have shown the same line. So while it's good that no one else is taking this stuff it also means that we haven't any leads to follow, any idea of where those boys could have gotten ahold of it."
Felix looked over from the whiteboard. "It? Sounds like you've identified what it was that killed those boys." He squinted at the equations, "from what I remember from my high school chemistry, it looks like there was nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen involved." He looked puzzled, "but I thought those were pretty basic, isn't everything made up of them?"
"Pretty much," Jacobs lips twitched. "It's all in the proportions." He indicated the whiteboard, "And in those proportions, Felix, we have a long acting beta-adrenergic agonist."
"A beta what?" Felix screwed his face up. "What's that when it's at home?"
"A long acting beta-adrenergic agonist," Jacob explained, "is the exact opposite of a beta-blocker."
Felix looked at him in exasperation. "Well that certainly clears things up. What the hell is a beta-blocker?"
"It's for high blood pressure," Rachel put in. She smiled briefly at the looks on Hood's and Felix's faces. "My dad takes it."
"That's one use," Jacob agreed. "A beta-blocker can slow the heart-beat, so by contrast a beta-adrenergic agonist can speed up the heart-beat." He frowned, "that's why the long-acting form of the drug is contraindicated for human use by the FDA, tachycardia is a common side effect. This makes it even more curious that these boys got ahold of it."
"So, this long-acting thingy, that's the cause of death?" Felix wanted to know.
"It certainly explains why those boys had heart attacks," Jacob agreed. "The stress of practice would have raised their heart rate normally. With this in their systems, a myocardial infarction was a distinct possibility."
"But that doesn't make sense," Rachel objected. "Wouldn't Pounder have discovered this in his autopsies?"
"Not necessarily," Jacob said. "He'd have no reason to test for it. In the first place long acting beta-adrenergic agonists were prescribed for asthma, which none of the boys suffered from. And like I said, the FDA issued a contraindication for the use of the long-acting form in humans. Pounder had no reason to test for it." He shrugged, "the FBI lab boys only found it because I asked them to look for anything out of the ordinary."
"Ok," Rachel said slowly. "This stuff isn't used in medicine for humans. But it must still be used in something? I mean, it has to be, these kids weren't chemistry geniuses, they couldn't whip this stuff up in a home lab." She looked at Hood, "Do you think Zach could have done it?"
Jacob shook his head decisively. "No, this line is too pure, there's no way it was made in anything other than a fully equipped lab. There's no way Zach could have done it."
"Well, if it's not used for humans, is it used for animals?" Felix asked. "There sure are enough of them around here. That kid Matt, he lived on a farm."
Jacob considered this carefully. "It could be, I'd have to do a search in the patent database, see if anyone has patented this exact composition of the drug."
While Jacob ran his search Felix filled Rachel in on what he had discovered when he had visited Matt's parents. The farm Matt lived on turned out to be a cattle farm; his family raised Angus beef.
"Rachel? Felix? I think I've found our answer."
Jacob turned his computer so they could see the screen. The patent database had, once again, provided the information they needed. It seemed the formula Jacob had identified had been patented under the name Showmaxx. It was an additive for cattle feed; cattle who had Showmaxx added to their diet gained muscle mass faster.
"You mean it's like steroids for cows?" Felix asked. "But why bother? Who cares how fast a cow grows?"
"The farmer," Jacob replied. "The faster the cow grows, the fewer days it spends on the feedlots, the sooner the farmer can sell the cow to the slaughter house and make a profit."
"Wait a second," Rachel objected. "You said this beta drug was contraindicated for humans. Well, if the cow eats the drug and I eat the cow, won't it hurt me?"
"Possibly," Jacob murmured as he returned to the computer. His fingers flew over the keyboard. He clicked on a link and once again turned the computer toward Felix and Rachel. "The use of these additives in cattle farming is a bit controversial. Short term studies have shown no ill effects in humans. But," he shrugged, "there haven't been any long-term generational studies done. And some slaughter houses won't buy cattle that have been fed it, they claim the quality of the meat is inferior."
"Why would those kids take a cow food additive? That doesn't make sense." Felix said.
Jacob looked at him sadly. "I'm afraid it does. You said it yourself Felix, this stuff is like steroids for cows. Those boys probably thought it would have the same effect on them, make them gain muscle mass quicker and have the added advantage of not showing up on the mandatory steroid tests they had to take at school. We'll have to check out the Schuler farm. See if Matt's family uses this Showmaxx for their cattle."
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There were several cars pulled up in front of the Schuler farmhouse. As they got out of the SUV, Jacob nodded toward the fields. Several young men were herding cows toward the barn. Felix headed off to question them and poke around the barn. Rachel took a deep breath and knocked on the door. Questioning grief-stricken parents was never a pleasant job.
Jacob slowly outlined his hypothesis to the Schuler's. Much to his surprise, Schuler was adamant that the boys couldn't have taken Showmaxx. He hesitated to push the man, he respected his need to grieve for his son, but he needed answers.
"How can you be so sure?" he asked.
"We don't use that shit," Schuler answered flatly. "We strictly use vegetarian feed with our cattle. It produces a better product, so we get top dollar for our beef. Hell, the slaughter house we deal with wouldn't even touch beef that's fed that stuff."
"Could your son, the other boys, have purchased it on their own?" Rachel asked.
"Not hardly," Schuler snorted. "Showmaxx is damned expensive." He frowned. "Stuff costs thousands of dollars. None of those boys had access to that kind of money."
"Maybe they got it from a neighbor," Rachel suggested. "Do you know anyone who uses it?"
"No, most of us around here…" Schuler trailed off thoughtfully. "Actually, Showmaxx isn't used for general cattle farming."
Jacob looked confused. "What do you mean, it's a food additive for cattle."
"No," Schuler was firm. "Zilmaxx is what you use for general cattle farming." He looked at Jacob and Rachel apologetically. "I guess I'm still not thinking straight. But Showmaxx, that's an additive for calf feed."
He smiled slightly at the perplexed looks on their faces. "It's for calves being raised for show, that's why they call it Showmaxx. If you want to know who around here is using that stuff, you'll have to check with the head of the 4-H club."
When asked who that would be, Schuler did more than provide them with a name. He offered to call the man himself. While Schuler was on the phone, Felix rejoined them. He quietly confirmed there was no Showmaxx on the farm. Indeed, from what he heard from the boys herding the cattle, the majority of the farmers in the area didn't use the additives.
Schuler came back with a thoughtful look on his face. "According to Casey only one kid is using Showmaxx. Josh's cousin, Kathy Brandon."
Thanking Mr. Shuler, they headed over to the Brandon farm. Brandon was horrified when Jacob once again outlined his hypothesis. As much as he hated to admit it, it was possible the boys could have gotten ahold of the Showmaxx in his barn. Josh had been working on the farm all summer and had even helped his cousin Kathy feed her steer.
He stood up. "Well, there's one sure way to find out."
He led them to the barns explaining that Showmaxx was added by to the feed by weight. He knew how much he had purchased and how many days his daughter had been feeding it to her steer. They should be able to tell if any of the additive was missing by weighing it. Felix helped the man carry the bag of Showmaxx to the scale. Jacob did some quick calculations in his head; taking into account the amount of feed that had been used, there was almost a pound unaccounted for.
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"They took what?" Flood was incredulous.
Slowly, for the third time in as many hours, Jacob outlined his theory. How the boys, in a foolish attempt to gain a competitive advantage for football had taken the additive. They had thought it was the perfect solution; it would give them added muscle and be undetectable in the school mandated drug tests.
"Jesus Christ," Flood swore, "how could they be so stupid? Josh especially, his family raises cattle, how could he think it was safe?"
"Why shouldn't he?" retorted Jacob. "These additives are specifically sold for cattle intended for slaughter, for human consumption. If it's safe to eat meat that contains the additive, why would it be any more dangerous to take the additive directly?"
"So these kids died of natural causes? No crime, no illegal behavior involved?"
"I don't know how natural I'd call it, but yes, there was no outside agency responsible for what happened here." Jacob shook his head, "I'll be getting in touch with the FDA to get them to strengthen the warning labels on this stuff, but otherwise, no, there's nothing here to concern law enforcement."
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Rachel relaxed as the cabin lights dimmed in preparation for take-off. She had been surprised, when leaving Flood's office, Hood had requested Felix find them a flight back to DC as soon as possible. Normally Hood liked to stick around after they had wrapped up a case; he liked to make sure there were no loose ends. She wondered if this desire to get back to DC as quickly as possible was a holdover from his time with Patterson. Or if maybe it was something a little more personal, if this case had brought back some unpleasant memories. She shifted in her seat to move closer to Hood, so that their conversation wouldn't disturb the other passengers on this late night flight.
Jacob's lips twitched. "I should be asking you that."
"No, that's not your job. I already told you, Felix, I'm fine." She refused to be put off. "I wondered if maybe, what with your dad being a football coach, this case brought up some memories."
Jacob leaned closer, his head almost touching hers. "Not really," he murmured. "Why do you ask?"
"I dunno, you just seem kind of….distracted?"
"I guess I was thinking of the waste. My dad, he had the sense to teach his players that football wasn't the be all and end all in life." He shook his head, "It's a shame that no one bothered to teach those boys the same thing."
"You're sure you're ok?"
"I'm fine Rachel. You know, you should try to get some sleep, it'll be pretty late when we land in DC."
Rachel yawned, she had to admit she was tired. With a sigh of contentment she leaned her head against Hood's shoulder. She smiled sleepily as she felt him shift a bit in his seat so that her head was in a more comfortable position.
"It's good to have you back."
"It's good to be back Hood."
After a few minutes her even breathing told Jacob that Rachel had fallen asleep. He looked across the aisle and was pleased to see that Felix was dead to the world; earbuds in and eyes closed. Jacob took the opportunity to drop a soft kiss on Rachel's hair. He smiled softly as he leaned back and closed his eyes. He finally felt, after five long months, that maybe things were going to work out after all.