Converting your bedroom into a Crime Lab in 8 easy steps:
Step 1: Clear space on bulletin board by removing Farrah poster (temporarily).
Step 2: Draw map of Tannery Brook’s route from memory, tack onto bulletin board, add blank postcards to be filled with new information as investigation proceeds.
Step 3: Commandeer family’s Kodak Instamatic, including already-inserted film cartridge with 2 out of 12 shots remaining.
Step 4: Rinse shampoo from Prell bottle, return to stream to capture next available sample of green foam.
Step 5: Keep meat cleaver concealed in closet, but at-the-ready in case needed.
Step 6: Assemble toolkit of additional items, beginning with mom’s old reading glasses in case disguise is necessary.
Step 7: Tally coins in Uncle Sam piggy bank. Total available funds: $11.35.
Step 8: Repurpose unused section of three-ring school binder for investigative note keeping. Label new section: Project X.
# # #
The cubed turkey in the hot lunch at school was suspiciously cat food like, but that would have to be another investigation.
Timothy popped open his half-pint milk carton, took a swig for courage, then launched his first line of inquiry.
“So, Brandon, can you tell us more about this tour your dad took you on at IPM?”
Brandon cocked his head and looked at Timothy sideways. His show-n-tell exhibition had been weeks ago, so this seemed a little out of left field. But he supposed, if prodded, he could continue to display his expertise.
“What do you want to know?”
“You know, like, what kinds of machines did you see?”
“What kinds of machines didn’t I see...there was everything.”
Timothy dared to get his hopes up, this could be a watershed moment, right off the bat.
“Did you see the machine that made the toner cartridges?”
“Of course...I mean, I don’t know which machine was which, there were so many, but I must’ve seen it.”
“And what did it smell like in there, did it smell...chemically?”
“Why are you asking all these goofy questions?”
Timothy had a ready answer.
“My mom has an IPM copier at work,” he said proudly, as if this sort of put him in the IPM club. “I’m trying to explain to her how it works.”
Steven broke in at this point:
“My dad has an IPM copier right in our house, in his study.”
“He does?” Brandon said. “What model?”
“The C-210,” Steven said.
“That’s so cool,” Drew said, whose dad also worked at IPM, but it obviously never occurred to him that someone might actually be able to have a photocopier in their own home.
“That is cool,” Timothy agreed, desperate not to let the conversation get away from him. “So,” he redirected back to Brandon, “what did it smell like?”
“What did what smell like?”
“The factory at IPM.”
Brandon and the other kids all looked at Timothy like he had two heads, but Brandon tossed off a quick answer anyway.
“I dunno, maybe it sorta smelled like when you get an X-ray at the doctor’s office, something like that, I can’t remember.”
“So Steven,” Drew said, “how many sheets can you load into a C-210?”
“You have to load it one sheet at a time,” Steven answered, “but you can still make, like, four or five copies a minute if you keep loading it.”
“Cool,” Drew said.
By this point, Timothy was content to let the conversation wander off where it would. It bought him time to surreptitiously open his binder to the section marked Project X.
“Might smell like X-ray machines,” he jotted down. “Compare chemical ingredients later.”
# # #
When Timothy got home from school he pulled his banana saddle bicycle up and out of the basement and brushed the cobwebs off it. He hadn’t ridden it yet this spring because the tires were flat and he didn’t have a pump in the house.
The Gulf Station was just a few blocks away, it wasn’t too hard to walk his bike over there. It was a full-service station, with a wire on the ground by the pumps that would ding when you drove over it with your car.
Sal, the attendant, would come out, pump the gas, check the oil if you wanted, all that.
Timothy always tried to jump on the wire, but he could never make it ding.
“You’re about a thousand pounds too light,” Sal said to him, coming out of the garage.
Sal was one of those men in the neighborhood everyone would just call Sal instead of Mr. Whatever, even kids called him Sal.
“Sal, you don’t have, like, a local map, do you?”
“I gotta stack of state highway maps on the counter, help yourself.”
Timothy ducked in to grab one, then rolled his bike over to the AIR dispenser, which was mounted on the outside wall of the garage between two open car bays. Sal never minded if the neighborhood kids filled their tires, so long as he wasn’t using it to service a customer at the moment.
Timothy liked the look of the AIR pump. It seemed to match perfectly the curvy white tile of the garage itself. He couldn’t have told you the lettering and chrome accents were Deco remnants of when the garage had been built. He just thought it looked cool, oil smudges at all.
There was a crank on the right side, he dialed it down to 25 just to be safe (he’d gone up to 40 once before and his 20 inch tire had exploded on the way home.)
A shiny new Corvette rolled in, the wire dinged. The driver looked familiar.
“How’s it going, Sal?” he said as Sal approached.
“Hey there, Mr. Hathaway.”
Timothy knew the name and made the connection. Mr. Hathaway, of Hathaway, Hathaway & Myers, was also known as Greg, the too-friendly lawyer at his mom’s office. Timothy’s tires were now full to capacity, but he pretended to keep filling them so he could listen in on the conversation.
“Guidry was looking good last night,” Greg Hathaway said.
“On the mound, anyway,” Sal said.
“Ah, you can’t win ’em all,” Greg Hathaway said.
At this point, a set of high heels were heard clicking up the sidewalk and the conversation froze. A woman in an attractively form-fitting red dress stopped at the newspaper box on the street in front of the garage.
Inserting two dimes into the slot, the woman bent over the box to retrieve a paper, giving the men ample opportunity to admire her assets from this particular angle.
Standing back up and catching them staring, she flashed the slightest of smiles before continuing on her way, perhaps because Greg Hathaway was driving a Corvette.
With the sound of her clicking heels fading into the distance, Greg Hathaway said, “Mercy...” as if he had been holding his breath.
“People will sometimes ask why I’ve kept this job so long,” Sal said. “I always say, you can’t fault the view.”
“Brother, I might just try working here myself,” Greg Hathaway said, and both he and Sal got a big laugh out of this, as this would obviously never happen in a million years.
Sal walked over to Timothy with his hand extended.
“I need the hose,” he said.
“Oh, sorry,” Timothy said, handing it to Sal, who cranked the PSI back up to automotive territory like he could do this in his sleep, then continued with his business.
Timothy put the little black plastic caps back on the valves of his inner tubes and pedaled off, keeping his eyes on Greg Hathaway’s Corvette, hoping he hadn’t been recognized.
The baseball cards in his spokes made a clickety sound that he only now realized might draw too much attention. When he stopped at the schoolyard on the next block, he removed the baseball cards, but decided to leave the vinyl streamers flowing out of his hand grips. He worked too hard to get them into the holes and, besides, they looked pretty cool.
Timothy unfolded the map he’d scored at the Gulf Station. Being a state highway map, it did not go into granular detail of local roads, but it seemed a valuable resource anyway. Timothy tried awkwardly to refold the map, somehow unable to make it conform to the creases that were already in it. He finally just folded it any way he could to get it into his knapsack. He didn’t have all day to monkey around and still be home in time for supper.
Timothy was basically aware of the route the brook followed for a block or two prior to its appearance on Warren Street. From where it flowed before that, other than having seen it on the map in Ken’s apartment, was a matter of conjecture.
The brook cut between yards and behind countless people’s houses, there was no way he could follow it directly without trespassing all over the place. He would have to take it on faith that it wound its way from the old quarry like Ken’s map said it did, and head straight there.
This is where things got tricky. The old quarry was off Route 32. He’d never ridden his bike on Route 32 before. There was no sidewalk, and half a mile out of town the speed limit jumped to 55. Today would be a first.
It turned out the shoulder was plenty wide enough, so long as you stayed far to the right. The cars started speeding up well before the city limits, but they gave him a wide berth, and riding was just as easy as anywhere else.
Then, shortly after the speed limit ticked up, a southbound Trailways Bus whizzed by so fast that the sideways gust of air blew Timothy and his banana saddle bike clean off the paved shoulder and into the litter-strewn grass.
Timothy brushed the burrs off his pants, more than a little psyched out. After letting himself catch his breath, he continued walking his bike along the highway, just in case another bus should pass as closely and knock him on his ass again.
He checked the Timex he’d gotten for Christmas. At this rate, he would definitely be late for supper with explaining to do. Wobbly at first, he got back in the saddle and kept going.
Soon enough he was peddling normally again. By his estimation, with just a half-mile or so to go, if he could just maintain an achievable three miles per hour, he should still get there in less than 10 minutes.
Approaching the quarry from the north side, Timothy pushed his bike a few feet into the surrounding woods and locked it to a tree. He was pretty sure no one was going to steal it out here in the middle of nowhere, but if they did, it would be a long walk home.
He began his exploration by following the chainlink fence along the old quarry’s northern periphery. It was an old rusty fence, but it was obviously being well maintained--any places that had been previously damaged or breached had been patched fairly recently with shiny new galvanized fencing.
It was still too early for poison ivy, but the underbrush was tangly, so Timothy had to tread slowly and carefully. Soon, the ground beneath his feet grew slightly mushy and here it was, the brook, right where he imagined it would be.
A rebar grate was cemented into the culvert that directed the brook under the fence. Sure enough, a big clump of ensnared green foam had accumulated just beyond the grate, trying to wriggle past.
There was no way for Timothy to crawl underneath, but that was okay for now. Timothy took the Kodak Instamatic from his knapsack. The film cartridge only had two shots left on it, so he had to get it right. It took him a moment to find the perfect angle, then he snapped the photograph. He could at least document the spot where the brook and foam flowed indisputably from the quarry in general.
Working his way back to the front gate, he wasn’t surprised to find it locked. Mounted on the gate was a big old metal sign reading “Colonial Bluestone,” the company that owned a lot of these old quarries encircling the small city.
But in the middle of the bigger sign was pasted a metallic sticker, whose three-letter logo was even more recognizable around here than Colonial Bluestone.
“Ken was right,” Timothy said aloud, like confirmation of this fact was too important to just keep it in his head.
He got his Instamatic back out, and took a well-framed photo of the sign.
This was a good start, but he was going to have to get beyond this gate somehow to figure out where the green foam was actually coming from.
He went back into the woods to retrieve his bicycle.
He checked his watch. 4:15. He should have plenty of time to get back into town and be home in time for dinner.
So long as he didn’t get creamed by a Trailways Bus.
# # #
At the dinner table, Timothy raised his drinking glass. Holding it beneath the overhead light, he appeared to be examining it, seemingly oblivious to the What’s he doing now? glances going back and forth between his mom and Cathryn.
“What are you looking at?” his mom finally asked him.
“I’m looking at the water.”
“I can see that. What about the water?”
Timothy paused a second for effect.
“How do we know what’s in it?”
“It’s water. Water’s in it.”
“But, what’s in the water? Where does it come from? What if there are, like...chemicals in it, or something?”
Theoretically, this could be an earnest question that might occur to an inquisitive ten year old mind. His mom tried to think of how best to explain it.
“You know that beautiful lake that we drive past on 212 on the way out to Grandma’s?” she said. “That’s the reservoir. That’s where our water comes from.”
“But what if people are dumping stuff in it?”
“Nobody is dumping anything in it, we all have to drink it. The City of Kingston has a very efficient filtration system, that’s why we pay taxes.”
Timothy continued to examine the water, as if considering his mom’s point carefully.
“I still don’t trust it,” he said, “I think I should start drinking Coca Cola, like you guys.”
Timothy pointed to the bubbly brown liquid in both their drinking glasses.
“Coca Cola’s not good for a growing boy.”
“It’s better than drinking chemicals.”
Timothy’s mom looked to Cathryn, the raised eyebrow based on the assumption that this was yet another ploy so they would let him drink soda.
“We sell a home water testing kit at the hardware store,” Cathryn offered, “I can bring one home.”
The crease in Timothy’s mom’s brow softened immediately, gazing at Cathryn like This is why I love you. But this still sounded potentially expensive.
“What’s a kit like that run?”
“I think maybe six dollars? With my discount it’d be less than five.”
His mom looked to Timothy.
“If Cathryn brings home the testing kit, will you drink the water?”
Timothy nodded as he set down his glass.
“That would put my mind at ease tremendously.”
# # #
The kit Cathryn brought home had enough for more than one test. Timothy figured he’d better at least use the first one to test their home drinking water. His mom and Cathryn would probably expect a report to justify their investment.
It was pretty simple. After letting the tap run for a minute, Timothy filled the plastic sample bottle, dipped the test strip, gave a light shake, then let it sit a few minutes.
Once the strip had a chance to fully absorb the water sample, its color changed from yellow to pale blue. Timothy compared the strip to the color chart which had been included in the kit.
It seemed that their drinking water contained sodium, calcium, iodine, and a variety of other trace minerals, all at acceptable levels. It was interesting to know, actually, and kind of reassuring.
“Excellent news, our water is perfectly safe,” he announced at dinner, raising his glass, “Cheers!”
They all agreed the test had been a worthwhile endeavor. And Timothy had saved a five dollar investment, which would’ve depleted his available funds by almost half.
After dinner, he returned to the upstairs bathroom, this time with the Prell bottle containing the sample from the brook. The foaminess had died down by this point, leaving flat water with the slightest green tint.
Timothy repeated the steps he had followed earlier, the test strip, the light shake, the short waiting period.
This time the test strip turned brown.
When he consulted the poster, he was disappointed to discover that the chemicals contained in the sample were beyond the ability of this particular kit to determine. A more intensive, and likely more expensive, test was going to be necessary.
There was, however, a clearly printed message associated with brown test strip results:
“Do Not Drink This Water.”
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