Act of God
By Susan R. Sloan
Published by Warner Books
April 2002; 0-4465-2451-4; 544 pages

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Act of God by Susan R. SloanPART ONE

"We should do only those righteous actions which we cannot stop ourselves from doing."
-Simone Weil

ONE

He worked quickly but with extreme caution, knowing that one false move could prove fatal. Wearing several layers of latex gloves and a surgical mask, he powdered the correct measure of aspirin tablets with a mortar and pestle, added the appropriate amount of methyl alcohol, and then proceeded to whisk vigorously until the fine granules began to dissolve in the liquid.

He had chosen his product carefully. It had taken him two weeks to find a reasonably anonymous, out-of-the-way filling station with a methyl pump, and to collect enough cheap, unbuffered aspirin, being sure to buy no more than one bottle at a time from any supermarket or drugstore or quick-stop shop within a twenty-mile radius of Seattle. He then drove well out of the city to acquire the quantity of fertilizer he needed. Lastly, he made the rounds of auto supply stores, traveling as far north as Bellingham and as far south as Olympia to purchase the batteries, one battery per shop.

And all along the way, he was careful to pay for everything with cash, leaving no credit trail. After that, it was simply a waiting game-waiting for those blocks of time, like now, when he could steal into the garage and work undisturbed.

As soon as the aspirin was sufficiently whisked, he began to filter out whatever undissolved powder remained in the alcohol, repeating the process again and again until the liquid was clear and he could pour it into a Pyrex dish and set it aside.

Next, he turned to the battery, draining the sulfuric acid from it into a glass beaker. Granted, this was an extra step, when he could simply have bought the required amount of acid, but he decided it was far less conspicuous.

 

He took an old electric frying pan, retrieved from a thrift store for just this purpose, and filled it with cooking oil, which he heated to exactly one hundred and fifty degrees. As soon as the alcohol in the Pyrex dish had evaporated, he added the acetylsalicylic acid crystals that had formed in the dish to the sulfuric acid, and placed the beaker in the warm cooking oil, letting it sit there until the crystals dissolved. Then he removed the beaker from the oil and very slowly began to add the sodium nitrate, being careful not to let the foam overflow.

There was a real element of danger to what he was doing if he didn't do it properly, but the procedure couldn't have been simpler. All he had to do was follow the recipe that was available to anyone with access to the Internet, skipping over the disclaimers that popped up every second sentence about how illegal it was to do what the author of the recipe was describing be done in step-by-step detail.

After cooling the mixture slightly, he dumped it into a measure of crushed ice and water and watched as brilliant yellow crystals began to develop. He processed the crystals according to the instructions, then pulverized them into face powder consistency. The final step was to mix the powder with the specified amounts of wax and Vaseline, and pack the plastique into a glass container.

He checked his watch. The entire process had taken a little over three hours, just as it should have, just as it had taken to prepare each of the other containers that now lined the shelves of a locked cabinet in the far corner of the garage.

He set about cleaning up after himself, placing the frying pan, the Pyrex dish, the beaker, the whisk, and the remaining materials in a plastic garbage bag for discreet disposal into the depths of Puget Sound. Then he washed down the garage as though it were a surgical suite.

This was the last batch he had to make. Now it was time to put it all together, to remove the plastique from the glass receptacles, fill the duffel bags, attach the detonator he had fashioned from a light bulb, and affix the clever timing device he had found on the front seat of his car two days ago.

There was an informal rule observed by the people with whom he had come in contact: admit to nothing and involve no one else in what you're doing. Still, the timer had been provided to him-perhaps, he decided, as a form of silent affirmation.

He loaded the finished product into his vehicle, covered it with a blanket, and went into the house, to sit down in front of the television set as though he had been in his chair all evening. Then, as he habitually did on a night before work, he watched the news and went to bed.

But he didn't sleep. He waited until almost midnight, when the breathing beside him was deep and regular, and then he got up, slipped silently into his clothes, and left the house.

The night was cold and damp, quite typical of February. He climbed into his car, shifted the gear into neutral, and let the vehicle roll down the driveway and out into the street before starting up the engine. During the past weeks, he had made several dry runs, testing different routes to and from his destination, timing himself, and checking traffic until he was satisfied. Now he turned confidently onto the route he had chosen, circling around the back of Queen Anne to Denny Way, forking right onto Boren Avenue, and driving up First Hill. Reaching Spring Street, he made a little jog across Minor, then turned down Madison, and parked.

At this time of night, the street was deserted, the shops and restaurants closed. The area, appropriately nicknamed "Pill Hill" some years ago, was dominated by Seattle's major hospitals, and the swing shift had given way to the graveyard shift over an hour ago. He had planned for that, of course.

A splendid Victorian mansion, set off by carefully manicured lawns, occupied the northeast corner of Madison and Boren. He was relieved to see that the building was dark and silent. The security guards who protected the grounds during business hours were gone, and no night watchman was on duty. It meant there were no late evening activities in progress, a glitch that would have significantly altered his schedule.

Neither of the two gates in the high iron fence that surrounded the house was locked at this hour, a foolhardy practice he had determined in advance. Not that a locked entry would have stopped him, of course, it would just have slowed him down, and perhaps made him a bit more vulnerable.

He climbed out of his car, looking in all directions to make sure there was no one in sight. Then he hefted his plastique-filled duffel bags and carried them through the Madison Street gate. Just inside the fence, a high hedge of laurel bordered the property, making him all but invisible from the street. Nonetheless, he wasted no time. He went quickly along the path at the side of the building to the basement access he had spotted during one of his exploratory visits, pulled open the trapdoor, descended the concrete steps, and set about positioning the duffel bags in exactly the right place for maximum effectiveness. Then he checked one more time that the detonator was properly connected.

The very last thing he did before leaving the scene was to check the timer, just to reassure himself that it was set for two o'clock, and that the little green indicator beside the AM designation was lit. Then he got back into his car and drove away.

Copyright 2002 Susan R. Sloan
Reprinted with permission.
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Synopsis

The Seattle Family Service Center is a city landmark. For more than half a century, its health services have reached out to every sector of the community, from the homeless who come for comfort to the working parents who use its day care facility. The center also provides complete obstetrical and gynecological services, including legal abortions. At two o'clock on a chilly February afternoon it becomes the target of a deadly bomb—one eventually responsible for the deaths of over a hundred men, women, and children.

Dana McAuliffe, a partner in a prestigious Seattle law firm, is given the daunting task of defending the accused bomber. Despite the career-enhancing potential of the high-profile assignment, she has serious misgivings. She leans toward being pro-choice and has never tried a capital case. Yet she agrees to represent the defendant, Corey Dean Latham, a young naval officer.

Although Corey's chances of acquittal seem slim, Dana hires her own investigator to challenge the state's evidence. Amid the clamor of extremists from both sides of the abortion issue demonstrating outside the courtroom and using the case to promote their agendas, she begins to see a glimmer of hope for her client. Then the media further feeds the frenzy by exposing Dana's personal life to public scrutiny…even as a conspiracy stretching far beyond the courtroom works to manipulate the verdict using the attorney as its unwitting pawn.

Once again, Susan R. Sloan conveys sharp psychological insights and explosive surprises in a story that challenges our intellects even as it keeps our hearts pounding and our blood running cold.

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Author

Susan R. SloanSusan R. Sloan is a former attorney who lives on an island in Puget Sound.

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