Fifteen minutes later, Nate pulled up to the warehouse entry boom gate for the second time that day, and saw the same attendant who had been there earlier. Nate, however, had changed into his hotel grounds crew uniform.
“ID, please,” said the attendant, shining his flashlight into the Jeep.
Nate handed him his St. Ethel driver’s license.
“No, I mean your ID for entry.”
“That’ll have to do, sir. I’ve been called to an exterminator emergency.”
The attendant laughed. “A what?”
Nate met the man’s gaze. “An exterminator emergency. Haven’t you seen me on TV? Look at my uniform. Look, here’s our company mascot, Ladybug the mantis.”
Nate held up the mantis’ carry case, but the attendant did not seem impressed.
“This is gonna be on you, sir. I got an urgent call from Sandra at Bustamante Labs to meet her–something about a termite invasion. Didn’t you see her come through just a few minutes ago?”
“Give me your name and number, please.”
The attendant’s mouth dropped open. “What? Why?”
“If you don’t let me in, I’m reporting you to your supervisor. Now, if you do let me in… I’ll give you a year’s termite protection policy.”
“I don’t need… I live in an apartment building… oh, hell,” said the attendant, raising the boom gate.
Nate sped through and around to Lalo’s warehouse. Sandra’s car was parked outside–he knew it was hers because he had been able to follow her most of the way until she raced through the tail end of a yellow light and down the dark streets beyond him.
He parked his Jeep away from her car, turned off the lights and engine, and sat still for a moment, wondering how to get in, or if he should try to sneak around the back.
Just as he was making up his mind to try the back entrance, another vehicle pulled up next to Sandra’s car. Intrigued, Nate sunk down in the driver’s seat of the Jeep, but not so far that he couldn’t see out.
The car door opened, and by the weak light of the lab’s outdoor security lamp, Nate could see that a young woman got out, wearing a blouse and cargo pants. Even though Nate had never seen Beverly wearing clothes, he could tell it was her. He thought about trying to follow her unseen. He thought about what would happen if he startled her and she screamed.
Acting quickly, he opened his door, got out, and just stood next to the Jeep. He spoke her name as loud as he dared.
She startled, but merely turned quickly without yelling. “Oh, it’s you,” she said. “Why are you here?”
Nate should have anticipated the question, but realized he had no alibi.
“Beverly… I’m sorry, something suspicious is going on. Dr. A and I were at the store–Lola’s–with Sandra, and then someone called and ordered Sandra back here quick. Dr. A will be here soon – she told me to go on ahead. Do you know what’s going on?”
Beverly looked down, then at the Lab, and then at Nate. “Look, I…” She sighed. “I don’t know, frankly. But I came back here because I forgot my phone. Come inside with me, but stay quiet, and if I tell you to hide, hide. I don’t want to lose my job, understand?”
“I understand, definitely. And thanks.”
Beverly let them in the front door, and immediately they heard voices. Just as she was about to turn on the light, Nate grabbed her wrist and moved her hand away. Quickly closing the door behind him, he held a finger to his lips.
They could barely see. The long lab area with all the silkworm tables was in shadow, with the only light coming through the office door, slightly ajar. As their eyes grew accustomed to the low light, they listened.
“… unprecedented level of customer complaints. The Better Business Bureau is poised to act tomorrow,” Lalo was saying.
“You knew this was going to happen! Such meticulous planning and it’s like you didn’t see this coming!” said Sandra. “That clearance sale you planned wasn’t going to fool anyone.”
“The problem, darling, is that they could arrest us. Do you remember the escape plan?”
“Is the boat ready?”
“Oh, yes. Yes, indeed.”
“Did you pack what I asked you?”
Beverly was staring at Nate, eyes wide, mouth open.
“Every last item you requested from the pharmacy.”
“Well I hope you packed some hydrocortisone cream — that’s what this dermatologist at the store told me that I needed.”
“I, uh…” It seemed like Lalo had not in fact packed that item, and was making an attempt to change the subject. “Is Beverly scheduled to come in tomorrow?”
“Yes. That means… she’ll be arrested?”
“Ah, well. She’ll survive,” said Lalo.
Beverly started to yell but Nate covered her mouth as gently as he could, pleading with his eyes for her to remain quiet.
Suddenly Beverly set her jaw. She grabbed Nate’s hand and pulled him along with her, over toward the silkworm tables. She stopped in front of a large vat, trying to show Nate something in the poor light. He pulled out his phone for light, and read the label: AGENT ORANGE.
Even as he was remembering what Dr. A had told him about Lalo’s evasive answers, Beverly was pointing to her backside and mimicking scratching an itch.
Nate shrugged his shoulders, not understanding exactly what the connection was between the vat and the rash he had seen on her buttocks earlier when they had all been observing the clothesfree lab protocol. But she misunderstood his misunderstanding, and pulled down her cargo pants to show him the rash.
Nate almost spoke out, trying to explain, but neither of them wanted to make any noise. He nodded his head vigorously while pointing at her red skin, trying to convey that yes, he remembered her rash. He pointed at the vat and shrugged his shoulders again.
Beverly, readjusting her pants, thought for a moment, then pointed at Nate’s mouth. She opened her own mouth, stuck out her tongue, and panted and waved her hand in front of her mouth, then pointed at Nate’s mouth again.
Suddenly, everything clicked for Nate, who was nodding his head and smiling. He knew he wanted to help Beverly. He knew what was causing the rashes. And he knew what made Super Silk moth-resistant.
Beverly had already moved to unfasten a capsule from the side of the vat. Shaped like a fire extinguisher, it was ready to be filled for portable application of Agent Orange. Quietly she turned the vat nozzle, filling the capsule with a liquid that shone pumpkin-orange in the light from Nate’s phone.
Beverly and Nate crept back toward the office, but the light was out and all was quiet. Beverly motioned to Nate to follow her quickly out the back. She held the capsule in front of her, with the nozzle ready to squirt.
“Pass me that larger suitcase,” they heard Lalo say, and then they saw him with Sandra at the warehouse dock, loading a lifeboat.
“Stop!” yelled Beverly.
Lalo and Sandra froze.
“What are you doing here?” Sandra called out.
“Put that down,” yelled Lalo.
Sandra looked at Nate in the moonlight. “Hey, weren’t you at the store earlier?”
“No questions,” said Nate. “We are going to spray this all over you and your belongings unless you start explaining.”
Lalo turned and started to run away down the dock. Beverly shot an orange stream through the air, hitting him square in the behind. He jumped in the water.
But they could already hear the sirens, and as they grew louder and the flashing lights grew brighter with the arrival of the police boats, Nate confirmed from Sandra everything he had pieced together: Agent Orange was habanero juice, so full of capsaicin that no moth would eat any fabric that contained it, but with the unfortunate side effect of causing burning rashes on the skin; and Lalo had introduced to the island of St. Ethel the population of moths that could eat any textile, with the aim of cornering the clothing market. Listening to this confession with Beverly at his side, Nate also confirmed that he really wanted to get to know Beverly, who had impressed him with her bravery and quick thinking.
Nate was not surprised to see Dr. A step from one of the police boats, to address her former student who was splashing around in the water.
“Lalo, you were full of potential. Now, only disappointment! It is going to take us years to get the moth population back under control through selective sterility, to say nothing of the days if not weeks it will take for your customers to recover from their rashes.”
“You’ve got to think big,” said Lalo, spitting water from his lips. “This could have worked if Beverly hadn’t turned on us.”
“Ha!” Beverly laughed. “You two were ready to have me arrested in your place, I heard you.”
The police ordered Lalo to climb onto the dock. Dripping wet in his soaked clothes, and wriggling from the unquenched habanero burn, he and Sandra were summarily arrested, handcuffed, and escorted in one of the boats to the precinct to await their fate.
Two days later, at Noonay Noo, Beverly and Nate were enjoying a nude evening with Dr. A and Ladybug.
Holding up his glass of wine, Nate proposed a toast. “To less cloth, and more truth.”
It was Beverly’s turn. “To friendships gained, and clothing lost.”
All smiles, Dr. A gave the last toast. “To Mother Nature – for our bodies, our health, and the soon-to-be-recovering health of our island’s ecosystem.”
Under the moon, the fireflies danced.
(“Bugs and Bares” concludes with this post.)