“Wonderful. Wonderful. I would follow Maci anywhere! I learned so much about what a lab rat’s view of the world is!”
Judith Fowler, forensic psychology writer
Coordinating a college science lab seems a terrific job for this fledgling graduate. The instructors are fun and appreciative. Maci loves helping with field trips and magic shows, and the intrigues of science are endlessly fascinating. Except, why all the secrets? The dean orders Maci to say nothing about finding a bleeding man in the parking lot. Reporting missing lab equipment is also taboo.
When Maci investigates fraudulent expenditures, the lab reagents she prepares fail. Toxic fumes from a broken bottle force an evacuation. Someone uploads a devastating virus into a state-wide system—from Maci’s computer. While she’s pushing to discover who’s behind the trouble, the instructors conclude that it’s Maci. Her one loyal ally acts a lot like a stalker. She’s on her own dodging booby traps, bloody threats, and termination.
A page-turning mystery that will strike a chord with anyone who’s coped with a toxic workplace, Mile High Lab Rat is also fun, thought-provoking, and authentic.
CHAPTER 1 – Keep the Looky-Loos Away
Denver, Colorado, September 1998
But tossing a brain into the dumpster would be so not cool. I mean, talk about trashing somebody…and oh my god, what if a kid climbed in there looking for pop cans and found…?
Heavy-soled boots thunking along the sidewalk, Maci paused her internal debate and slowed her jog as she crossed the curb. She did a double take on catching a glimpse of Santa Fe Mountain between buildings. Yesss, it’s virga. I wish the wind would blow it this way. How cool would it be to stand under a rainstorm and not even get wet? Actually, it would be even better if the rain made it all the way down, like maybe before everything green shrivels away? Maci’s time was also shriveling. She was late. Any later, and she would only be a little early.
She veered off course to pick up an aluminum can. As she crossed the parking lot to the Academic Building, something odd caught her eye. Was that a foot sticking out from behind a bumper? She watched for a second, long enough to see the foot not move. The foot was wearing a man’s dress shoe, and the gray pant leg above it sported a professional crease. As she got closer, she saw that the feet were splayed. He was facedown. Blood welled from the back of his head, pooling widely and reeking of iron.
Oh my god, oh my god! Stop the bleeding. Quick, something soft and clean… The back door of the car was open, a dolly and flattened cardboard boxes inside, no help. “Hey dude, mister? Can you hear me?” She had no jacket. Neither did he. She knelt and tried to seal her palm around the wound. The blood was warm, his hair slimy with gore. She took his forehead with her free hand to improve the pressure and keep his neck still. “Sorry, I hope that doesn’t hurt.”
The eyelid that she could see flickered up and down, and a neck muscle tensed as if to turn his head to her. His nose had a remarkable hump.
“Don’t move. In case your neck is messed up.” Don’t freak him out. Everything’s good. “You have an awesome nose. It’d be perfect for an Arabian Nights character.” Sure wish I had a cell phone…and another hand. Somebody come help me!
Somebody turned out to be a maintenance guy zipping along the sidewalk in a golf cart.
“Hey,” Maci shouted, “Call 911. There’s a man down. He’s bleeding bad.” Crap, I just traumatized the poor guy again. “It’s okay,” she soothed, “help is coming.”
Still in his cart, the maintenance guy conferred with his radio, then said, “I got the office. They’re calling it in.” From the back of his cart, he produced a heavy jacket.
Good thought, keep the guy from going into shock.
Holding the jacket matador-style, Maintenance Guy advanced cautiously and maximized his distance as he draped the coat around and over the injured man’s head.
“What are you doing? He needs to breathe?”
“I left breathing room. Boss says keep this on the low down. Nobody needs to know we got trouble here.”
Maci shot him an incredulous look and saw that he was fighting to hold his breakfast down. “Please put the jacket over his core. It’s not like it’s big enough to hide what’s happening here anyway.” She looked down at the pasty face under her hand as the coat came away. “Hey, buddy, try to stay with us, okay? I think it’s bad to, like, wander off. Looks like you took some kinda hit. How did—” Wait, bad place to go. Think happy place. “I saw the coolest thing this morning. Virga! It was so wizard! The sky was having, like, a private rainstorm, sucking the drops back up before they hit… ”
A siren approached at last, and the maintenance guy jogged to the lot entrance to direct the ambulance.
A rescue squad swung in and took control. Maci hadn’t been aware of the strain to her muscles, but her hands had trouble releasing their grip to let the EMT place his gauze pad.
“Miss?” A college security guard took Maci’s shaky arm and helped her up. “Were you the first one on the scene?”
“Um, I guess.” Exercising her hand, already tacky with the coagulating blood, Maci surveyed the guard’s gun, nightstick, radio, and take control posture. He seemed to be observing her stab at professional attire: an off-center blend of preppie, goth, and dressed-in-the-dark. His gaze seemed to get hung up in her hair, more so than usual. Oh yeah, her friends had done some spot bleaching to enhance the disorientation effect of her prominent widow’s peak and cowlick issues. Hair was a bad place for her brain to go right now. Images of the gory head she had held were embedded in her own.
“And you work here?” The officer reminded Maci of her uncle, who never knew what to make of her either.
“I’m the coordinator for the science labs.” She tried for a stance more befitting her new title.
He wanted to know if she had seen or heard anything that might give a clue to what happened, but before Maci could answer, a woman in a suit and heels stepped in.
“Bernie, keep the looky-loos away. I’ll handle this.”
A couple of girls, apparently early for class, peered around the security car, and Bernie positioned himself to block their view. “Give us space, please. Better get to class.”
The suit took Maci’s clean arm and pulled her aside. “Are you a student, dear? What is your name?”
“Maci Lindentree. I’m the new science lab coordinator. I didn’t see anything. I just found him like that. I hope he’s gonna be okay.”
“All right, Maci. Let’s get inside and get you cleaned up. Keep your hand down.”
Maci, not quite tracking, lifted her hand somewhat to see how scary it was.
The suit pushed Maci’s arm down. “Maci, I am Dr. Shuman, dean of arts and science. That means: don’t ignore me. Look at me. I need your cooperation.”
Maci looked. Shuman’s eyes were intense, her face a cordial mask, voice low and assertive. “Things like this tend to get blown out of proportion, Maci, so it’s important that we keep this situation to ourselves. We don’t want people getting frightened when there’s no need for it.”
Maci’s eyes were drawn by the movement of the ambulance pulling out of the parking lot. More maintenance men were erecting barricades around the car and blood pool.
“Maci, eyes here. Keep moving. We need to get that hand clean, and I need to know that you understand that you are not to discuss this with anyone. If someone asks about it, all you know is that a man hit his head.” She pulled Maci to a stop at the bottom of the steps to the Academic Building. “Say that for me.”
Maci’s pupils were nearly seared by Shuman’s. “What about the police?”
“I will talk to the police. What will you say if someone asks you what happened?”
“I don’t know.”
“Yes, you do. I told you what to say: a man bumped his head.”
“Yes, I mean—” Shuman’s expression killed Maci’s urge to clear up the misunderstanding. “A man bumped his head.”
“There, that’s all you need to know.” Shuman had them in motion again. “Now I’m going to walk you to the restroom, so you can get cleaned up before anyone sees. Then I need you to go draw the blinds in the labs that face the parking lot and carry on like nothing happened. I am relying on you, Maci. I will be very disappointed if this gets out.”
The plot is gripping, a labyrinth of dangerous twists and turns that draws the reader further into Macie’s world.
BOOK CLUB QUESTIONS
1. Share your favorite quote from the book and why it resonated with you.
2. What would you have done in Maci’s shoes if you came across a man unconscious and bleeding?
3. How is the setting almost like a character? How are the characters impacted by the lab setting and the geographic setting?
4. Were you surprised by any scenes? If so, which ones and why?
5. Who would you cast in the movie Mile High Lab Rat?
6. Maci’s learned a lot of the ins and outs of college administration. Do you think the situation she encountered is unique to schools or applies to businesses, politics, and other institutions as well?
7. Gossip in Maci’s workplace hurts her a great deal, emotionally and professionally. At times, however, gossip proves helpful in resolving the destructive situation she struggles with. Ideally, where should an individual draw the line when sharing information about others?
8. One of the characters in Mile High Lab Rat causes considerable damage due to an addiction and is ultimately destroyed by it. In a perfect world, how would society/the legal system deal with such an individual?
9. What Colorado setting did you most enjoy?
10. Do you have a lab experience to share?
11. What is your favorite science demo/chemical reaction, either from the book or…?
12. Again, in an ideal world, how would law enforcement handle the predicament Maci find herself in at the close of the book?
13. From the beginning, Maci is required to participate in covering up various situations. Did you agree that secrecy about those incidents was necessary? Have you ever been involved in a cover up?
14. Caroline seemed to value the appearance of safety in the lab far more than actual safe practice. Have you encountered similar attitudes? How might this tendency be overcome?