It was speed dating night. Take two. Laurel nervously checked her lipstick with her compact mirror. Why did she even bother? When her roommate, Bree, got engaged she immediately started to pity Laurel for her single status. “You deserve someone special and he’s out there. You…just…have…to get…out…of the house!” she huffed as she finally managed to shove Laurel out the front door of their apartment, decked out in something skimpy from Bree’s closet.
“I look like a prostitute” Laurel had complained and at the end of her first dismal speed dating session, a man in a black Jaguar pulled up while she was waiting on the corner for the bus.
That was embarrassing.
Because it was her boss, who sped away and nearly mowed down the pedestrians crossing the street.
“I’m happy single. I don’t need to do this,” Laurel told Bree while pulling off a dozen layers of false eyelashes.
“You just need to show more boob,” Bree had prescribed. “Boobs get the job done.”
Boobs did not get the job done. Her breasts couldn’t calibrate her lab instruments at work, nor did they attract the attention of the maintenance worker, Leo, who would wordlessly repair the lab’s instruments when they were misbehaving.
“He’s either gay or knows you gave the instruments names and personalities,” Bree said.
Now she was at the second round of speed dating. She dressed herself this time and left on her own accord. The night began with an accountant, then she sat through an attorney, a man who lived in his dad’s basement (I pay rent, he had declared proudly), and a weightlifter who practically flipped the table with his thighs when he stood to move to the next woman. Lastly, there was Archie with the cartoonish eyebrows. They looked like slain caterpillars that had been glued to his face.
Please stop, Laurel thought. Why do I torture myself like this?
“Did it hurt when you fell from heaven?” he asked, winking.
“Yes, and I still have the bruises,” she said.
“Well, it just so happens I’m an EMT and have a first aid kit in my car.”
She sipped some wine. “Do you carry an AED too? Think you can shock me back to my sense?”
He laughed, hands banging on the table. “I’ve got something better that can shock you to your senses.” His eyebrows were cheering him on as he flashed a small packet of white pills. “But enough about me. What do you do, Angel?”
“It’s Laurel and I work in a lab.”
“Like a hospital lab?” he pocketed the pills.
Crime lab, she wanted to say. “No. I do third party QC testing,” she dove right in. Personally, she loved her work and found everything about it interest while most people tended to disagree. She rambled on and on, hoping for the timer to go off, and end the torture.
Somehow she got on the nitrogen feed to the instruments when his eyes lit up. “You get to work with nitrogen? No way! That’s so cool!”
“Huh? Oh, it’s used with our mass spectrometers.”
“Do you ever make ice cream with it?”
“Daily.” Sarcasm drooled from her lips. She didn’t bother telling him that he was thinking of liquid nitrogen and that the mass spectrometer was not an ice cream machine.
The timer went off signaling their eight minutes were up.
She fled from the restaurant as soon as it was over but missed her bus. Unable to stand still, she began to walk. Her workplace was only fifteen minutes away. She greeted the evening shift guard as she badged in and he whistled.
Her lab was on the third floor and she took the elevator, giving her feet a reprieve. They had an evening shift but both technicians were on vacation. Because of the lighter workload this week, their boss hadn’t assigned overtime.
She peered through the sample window and saw bottles on the counter. She hoped it was assay work. Nothing soothed her more than the gentle clicking of the HPLC. She slipped on her lab coat and tied back her hair. Her heels were closed toe. She figured it’d be alright as she leafed through the sample log. The sample window snapped open and she jerked back. Archie stood on the other side.
“What are you doing here?” she choked.
“I used to clean here before becoming an EMT,” he said, face deadpan, eyes boring into her. If it hadn’t been for the caterpillar eyebrows, she wouldn’t have recognized him. He disappeared from the window and reappeared in the office.
“How did you get pass the guard?” she backed away from him.
“He was distracted.” He looked her up and down. “You didn’t tur in any matches.”
“Excuse me?” she wanted to pick up the phone and call for the guard but she froze.
He stomped his foot. “How am I supposed to get in contact with you for our second date?” he screamed. A sheen of sweat coated his pale face. In the office light, his eyes looked blown out of proportion; pupils dilated to the max.
“You sluts are all the same,” he muttered. “No matter how much I flirt or flatter, you never turn in my name. You don’t know how good you can get it. You always go after the doctors or the lawyers or the steroid pumping jocks who’re practically flashing their junk through their gym shorts.”
Laurel backed away towards the lab door. Archie started fiddling with his jacket. She balanced the lab log with one hand, reaching behind for the doorknob. He pulled out a gun.
“Where are you going?” he demanded. The lab log leapt from her hands. This wasn’t seriously happening right now? She could hear her heart in her ears as if all the air had been sucked out of the room.
“Get away from the door,” he ordered.
She raised her hands. “You don’t have to do this.”
“Please stop,” she begged.
“Come here or I’ll blow your head off.”
She approached him slowly. What were the chances the guard would come by on his rounds?
“Take that off.”
She slipped off the lab coat. He snatched it from her and held the collar to his face, breathing deeply with eyes wide open, watching her. “It smells like you.”
Think of something, she told herself.
“Now that to,” he gestured to her dress.
“No,” she said. Her hands formed fists.
He pistol whipped her and she collapsed against the desk. Blood trickled down her face as the world turned upside down and right side up again. For a split second, it felt like she had fallen into an ice bath. He grabbed her by her hair, yelling about how unfair they all were to him and how she should be grateful that he was giving her any kind of attention.
“Liquid nitrogen,” she said through clenched teeth. “You said something about liquid nitrogen.”
“No. I said I want this off.” He ripped the dress at her shoulder.
“But I thought you said you liked nitrogen? It was so cool and ice cream, liquid nitrogen ice cream.” Her vision blurred, cheeks wet, as she babbled to buy time.
“Yes it’s cool but…”
“You want to see my tank?” she interrupted. “The nitrogen tank. In the lab. Then I’ll remove the dress.”
He just stood there. “Ok,” it slurred out of him. “Show me.”
She opened the door to the lab and felt the gun against her back. He held the door before she could slam it on his face and led him past the HPLCs to a small closet next to the spectrometers. “I have to unlock it.”
“Open it,” he grunted. She unlocked and opened the door. He slipped around her to take a closer look. “Where is it?”
She glanced at the mass spectrometer and grabbed the torque wrench sitting between it and its HPLC. Striking him across the head, she slammed the door closed on his fingers as he tried to get out. He screamed and she pushed, heels slipping across the floor. His hand found purchase on the door frame and she struck his fingers with the wrench, over and over again until he let go. The door closed and she turned the key.
He slammed against it and the door cracked.
Adrenaline buzzing, she turned the nitrogen valve next to the spectrometer, cutting off its supply. “Sorry, sorry, sorry,” she apologized profusely to it. The closet, she remembered someone telling her, had once held another nitrogen fed instrument. When it broke down, they removed it and tagged the valves to inform the techs that they were not to be opened.
She grabbed the tagged valve and turned it. She could hear him scrambling inside, confused in his drug induced, rage fueled mind. He rattled the doorknob, called her names, then stopped.
“If I didn’t know any better,” she screamed as Leo appeared behind her. “I’d say you just gassed a guy in our tool closet,” he continued.
She was clutching her chest. “I may or may not have. What are you doing here?”
“I was going to finish a work order to remove the lines from the closet, but it looks like we have some contaminated waste that needs to be disposed of.” He looked her up and down.
“Would you mind?” Laurel smiled, adjusting her dress.
Leo shrugged. “I’ll pull my truck up.”
A/N: This started out as L is for Love Lurking; a poem. Then is accelerated into a story about lab, love, and murder. How does this happen?!
Happy Friday the 13th, by the way! 😉