Authors: L. J Charles
TO TOUCH POISON
An Everly Gray Novel
The story of Loyria and James Gray
L. j. CHARLES
TO TOUCH POISON
A lethal toxin, the promise of an antidote, and the possibility of a healing drug—three variations of the same formula, all worth a fortune on the black market. Responsibility for the research rests in Loyria Gray’s capable hands. She thinks the CIA has her back, but no, they toss her into the middle of a black ops mission, and she’s forced to run for her life.
James Gray is a genius with ciphers and cryptography. He’s found his niche with the CIA, working under cover as a practicing attorney, and he’ll do whatever it takes to protect Loyria and their child.
Temporary refuge in Hawaii allows them to build a family, but that dream is shattered when they’re forced to run yet again. And now they have something more important to protect—their daughter. Everly was born with ESP fingers, proof that something in the formula is connected to psychic awareness. Or is it? How will they protect her from the government, and the traitors who want to steal the formulas and sell them to the highest bidder?
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
To Touch Poison
Copyright © 2013 by L. j. Charles
Cover Design by Lucie Charles
Editor: Faith Freewoman
Digital Formatting by Author E.M.S.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means—except in the case of brief quotations embedded in critical articles or reviews—without written permission.
For more information: [email protected]
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Kaimi Maliu aka Xola Muerte aka Loyria Gray:
Of Hawaiian descent, she’s a gifted scientist versed in the art of forensic anthropology, forensic botany, and Huna culture. One of the CIA’s favored officers, she’s in love with Jayme Grady.
Jayme Grady aka James Evan Gray:
Of Scottish descent, he’s a CIA officer with an affinity for ciphers and cryptography. His cover is as a practicing attorney.
Kaimi’s (Loyria’s) father and Everly’s grandfather. A Hawaiian shaman with a devious mind. He teaches Kahunas-in-training by avoiding their questions, and forcing them to think. He has trained Kaimi, and plans to train his granddaughter when she’s ready to accept her destiny.
Kaimi’s mother and Everly’s grandmother. She is a talented Kahuna, and studied Huna at the same time as her husband, Aukele, and Millie and Harlan. The four were childhood friends.
Millie and Harlan:
The butler and gardener (respectively) that Loyria and James “hire” to care for their home, and for Everly when they’re were away on business. Millie and Harlan are trained in Huna, and their most important role is as bodyguards for Everly, and keepers of Loyria and James’s secrets.
Loyria’s handler. An enigma on the best of days, and he’s made an art of being irritating and obtuse.
Employed by MI6, she’s determined to reproduce Loyria’s formulas and sell them to the highest bidder.
Jayme’s brother. He’s desperate to find a cure for his advanced multiple sclerosis, and he believes Loyria has it.
Welcome to the world of Everly’s parents, James and Loyria Gray. This story takes place in the 1980s, when mobile phones were oversized and uncommon, the Soviet Union was still intact, and the CIA’s main focus was on the cold war.
Spy dust is real. It was used by the KGB in the 1970s and 1980s to mark CIA operatives, and its use resulted in the deaths of many dedicated officers.
The plants that Loyria Gray uses to create her formulas are found only in the Amazon rainforest. If she were to make the trip from Manaus up the Rio Negro to the isolated campsite described in
To Touch Poison
, it would have taken a minimum of four to six weeks. I shortened it quite a bit to expedite the story.
I hope you enjoy your visit with James and Loyria Gray.
Kaimi Maliu, later known as Loyria Gray
I STARED AT HIS SIGHTLESS
brown eyes until the formaldehyde fumes seeped into my skin and stung my nose. Usually I didn’t notice. Usually I welcomed the pungent scents that surrounded the study of forensics because they kept me alert. Usually the anthropologic mysteries I discovered during the course of my work nourished my curiosity. And usually I found peace in my autopsy lab. But not today.
Unlike some of my fellow CIA officers, my days were consistently even-paced. There were no long stretches of boredom broken by occasional heart-pounding, life-threatening encounters. Instead I hung out with the dead, patiently waiting until they were ready to share their secrets with me. They spoke in a language all their own, sometimes softly, and sometimes with a roar of anger, or the despair of a mission gone wrong.
This corpse shook the ethers with his need to communicate.
He was well-muscled, dark hair covered his chest, and more sparingly his arms and legs. He’d only been dead a few hours, so was much fresher than my usual cadavers. Although genetic studies gave me fairly accurate background information on their lineage,
in the world the bodies had breathed their last wasn’t included in my copy of the paperwork. If that intel turned out to be important, I had to figure it out for myself. Scars and wounds, both knife and bullet, marked this operative’s body, and created a detailed roadmap of someone who had been working in the dark for a long time. He wouldn’t tell me about those incidents. Even in death, covert operatives didn’t share much about their missions.
But this man was going to have to chat with me about the microscopic, ivory-colored granular powder that coated his fingertips.
Spy dust? I’d heard the rumors…no, that wasn’t true. I’d overheard a one-sided conversation that I had absolutely no business listening to. Not that my eavesdropping was intentional. And it certainly wasn’t my fault the officer had chosen to report in right next to the secluded niche where I ate my lunch. I had been there first, and had staked a claim to that particular patch of land months ago. It was where I escaped from the confines of my lab whenever time and weather cooperated.
How was I going to explain this substance? I shook off the trepidation snaking along my spine, let my mind drift on the soft rock music flowing from the lab radio, and went to work preserving the powdery substance, sealing it in vials, and storing it in…where was I going to keep an “unknown,” untested substance? A cool, dry area was essential for preservation. I finally tucked the vials into an organ donor container, then locked it in my office safe. All but one of the small glass ampules.
Carrying that one precious sample back into the morgue, I started coaxing some answers from cadaver M6342CN. I needed to find a rational explanation, and not allow my mind to be distracted by fairy-tale rumors running rampant in the world of covert operations. I was a scientist, and it would be best to remember that. But curiosity won out. I grabbed an ultraviolet light and ran it over the cadaver’s hands.
Well, damn. His fingertips glowed. Too faint to be conclusive, and certainly not something I could put in my report without a direct order to specifically look for spy dust. After all, I wasn’t supposed to know there was such a thing, and if I shared my discovery with the higher-ups, it would open doors I’d rather keep firmly closed.
Some elements of the powder were almost an exact match to the toxic plant substance indigenous Amazonians used for their suicide ceremonies—a substance I’d been studying for several years now. M6342CN had put his hands where they didn’t belong, because spy dust by itself didn’t contain any of the euthanasia compound ingredients. No doubt about that. Telltale traces of the substance on his lips indicated he’d swallowed some of the lethal substance, but figuring out the details of
he’d ingested it wasn’t in my job description…unless someone with a higher classification gave me clearance to read M6342CN’s files. Nevertheless, there was no way to stop my curiosity from toying with several possible scenarios.
“OFFICER MALIU?” THE HEAD OF
my division strolled into the lab unannounced, interrupting my musings about possible scenarios. Guilt and nerves sent my heart somewhere south of my stomach. I’d only laid eyes on him twice in the three years since I joined the CIA as their forensic anthropologist, but there was no doubt who he was. No one else would march into my domain wearing a gray pinstriped suit, white shirt, tasteful tie, polished shoes, and dark-rimmed glasses he didn’t need.
I placed the test tube into a rack. “Yes, sir.”
“What have you got on M6342CN?” The menace behind his eyes penetrated every defense I had. There would be no prevarication with this man. Not that I’d ever lied about my work, but this…
I straightened my spine and dipped into a reserve of courage I didn’t know I had. “Nothing odd about his basic medical history. His fingertips were coated with the substance that killed him. For some unknown reason he ingested it. Could have been accidental. Any food he touched would carry traces of the substance.”
The director’s eyes narrowed. “Specifics?”
“It appears to be from the roots of a tree native to the Amazon rainforest. The indigenous population uses it for euthanasia ceremonies.”
He blinked. “Same poison you wrote about in your dissertation?”
Shock stole my breath. He knew about my doctoral work? It was supposedly why the CIA hired me, but… “Yes, sir.”
“See that I get the autopsy report. Hand deliver it. My eyes only. No copies.”
He was gone in an instant, leaving behind the tantalizing taste of a secret.
But no matter. It was out of my hands, and I had more pressing things to think about. Like Jayme. When I thought about him, and inhaled deeply, the crisp fragrance of winter just before it snowed flooded my senses. His scent was one of the things I loved most about him. That, and his easy-going nature. And the way his eyes twinkled when he teased me about having meaningful conversations with the dead.
We’d only been dating for a few months, but Jayme got me. It was mutual, and we’d reached that special place where we could finish each other’s sentences. Comfortable. But exciting. I scrubbed at my chest. Just thinking about him made my heart so full it didn’t fit under my ribs like it was supposed to. Tonight was special. We’d been planning dinner for a week. It would be my first overnight at his apartment, and I’d stretched my budget to include designer heels and a sexy black dress, so I wasn’t about to spend the rest of the evening in the morgue. It had taken us way too long to arrange our schedules to accommodate this new phase of our relationship.