“Did I hear ya right?” Gessel asked, leaning forward at last. “You wanna make plastique? Ta blast some rocks?”
Calvin put a finger to his lips, and nodded.
Gessel chuckled. “Sure your wife’s not screwin’ around, an’ you figure to blow her lover all to hell? You got no ring, but it might be in yer pocket.”
“You wanna check?”
Gessel held up one hand. “Don’t wanna know. Except maybe yer name.”
“It’s Alan. Alan . . . Cooper.”
They shook hands. Gessel lit a cigarette.
“It’s Alan something, but not Cooper, right?” Gessel shrugged, then opened the pool case, lifted it, and slid the bills inside. Then he closed it. In three seconds it was done. “Okay. . . Plastique for a would-be miner.” He paused. “So here it is. I can get ya the ingredients for three more Gs, or I can make it for you for five. Take yer pick.”
Calvin coughed. “Can you be trusted?”
Gessel thought that one over for one long inhalation and an even longer exhalation. “It’s yer money,” he said, finally.
“Just so we understand. I’ll give you three grand if you get me enough materials to make three large charges.”
Gessel blew a smoke ring. “How large is large?”
Calvin waved the smoke away. “Enough to shatter a two-ton boulder. Each, of course.”
“Of course.” Gessel lowered his voice and leaned closer. “And why exactly do ya think you can pull this off without getting yer damn head blown off first?”
Calvin didn’t answer.
“I thought so. Been doing some readin’, have ya? Well, it’s more tricky than ya think. Let me tell ya, you might be able to make a primitive blasting gelatin with eight percent nitrated sawdust, but it’s the ninety-two percent fuming nitric acid and glycerin you gotta worry about. You ever worked with that? You know what it does to soft body parts like arms and legs? Ya don’t get a second chance, can’t say ‘oops, I’ll be more careful next time, Abdul.’ I say if you’re doing this yourself, you better stick to something less volatile. Get you some ammonium oxalate and nitrate, a stabilizer, and the kinda saltpeter they use to keep prisoners from getting a hard on. Don’t mess with high explosives, kid. You got a better chance of survivin’ with Russian roulette.”
Calvin shook his head. “It’s gotta be compact. A small charge with a big bang.”
Gessel tapped his pool cue case. “You wanna try Nitrogen Tri-iodide? Want me to get you some a’ that? A fly lands on it an’ it explodes. Or hey--maybe you want some trinitrotoluene, otherwise known as TNT. Use it in grenades and pipe bombs. Got two million pounds per square inch of power.”
“Sounds good. What do I need--sulfuric and nitric acids? Toluene?”
Gessel laughed. “Yeah. You make it in an ice bath, need a good centigrade thermometer, too. And a crucifix.”
“What’s that for?”
“You keep it around yer neck so yer fuckin’ head stays put.”
Calvin didn’t smile. “I’ve read that paraffin wax is a texturizer used in a lot of plastiques. You really got access to all these chemicals?”
Gessel studied him for a moment, then said, “I can get them if I have to.” He continued staring.
“So why you looking at me like that, then?”
“Because I think I’m lookin’ at a dead man.” Gessel looked away. “Listen, you’ll need sulfuric and nitric, yeah, and dimethyllaniline, too. Keep it in an ice bath, then filter and wash it, boil it in fresh water with baking soda, test it with litmus paper until yer sure it’s free of acid. Then ya filter that and let it dry.”
“What is it?”
“Tetryl. That’s what ya want. I’ve made it before. The end product is easy to work with, relatively stable. An’ a little blows a long way.”
Calvin nodded. “You’ll get me the stuff I need to make it?”
“Yeah. For three more grand. An’ good luck. You’ll need it.”
“How do you set it off?”
“Tetryl? Number a’ ways. Spring action shock is one. I’ve heard of it used in an ordinary fountain pen that way. Abraham depresses the plunger and bammo--he’s lost his hand, maybe his whole arm. Or in a smoking pipe. Rashid lights up an’, well, there’s no public viewing at that funeral in Kabul. ‘Course you just wanna blast some rocks, though, don’t ya.”
“You don’t believe me?”
“Hey, like I said, it’s yer money. An’ yer life.”
Calvin scanned the bar once more, then looked directly into Gessel’s lizard face. “Would you believe me if I made it five grand for the finished product?”
Gessel blinked at him like an old cash register ringing up a sale.
(Excerpt from POSTMARKED FOR DEATH, a serial bomber suspense novel originally in hardcover, award winner on audio, now an ebook. While police hunt for the wrong man for blowing up a shipment of government debit cards and food stamps for newly inducted immigrants in Tucson, Calvin Beach continues his personal campaign to make an extremist statement with package bombs. Only one new postal inspector suspects him, and another female inspector is being held hostage in an abandoned Titan missile base...in the dark. When Vic finally meets him, watch Calvin go postal.)