“I don’t want to sue anyone.”
“That’s okay, Mr. Mosley. I know plenty of lawyers who’ll be happy to do it for you.”
He grimaced at that but didn’t say no. Instead, he swept the three deceased honeybees into a plastic sandwich bag and sealed it. He held the bag by the corner.
“Be careful, now.” He didn’t actually say “wuss”—I don’t think the insult had ever passed Mr. Mosley’s lips—but I heard it just the same.
I slipped the bag into my jacket pocket.
“Before you go.” Mr. Mosley produced a sixteen-ounce jar with a colorful Mosley Honey Farms label and slid it across the table to me.
I caught the jar. “Thank you, sir.”
“Take two.” He slid another jar in front of me. “Give one to your girl.”
“She’s not my girl.”
“Sevin XLR Plus,” the young woman said.
“Is that some kind of new coffee drink?”
She didn’t so much as bat an eyelash in response.
‘That’s a joke,” I told her.
She glanced at Professor Buzicky and shrugged. He shrugged back. The silent message that passed between them was unmistakable—there’s no accounting for what some people call humor.
We were sitting at a small table inside Lori’s Coffee House on Cleveland Avenue North, across from the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. Among other things, the St. Paul campus housed much of the university’s agricultural college. I had gone there with my Baggie of dead honeybees an hour after visiting Mr. Mosley, dropping them on Buzicky’s desk. I had told him what I needed, and he said he’d take care of it. I had introduced him to his wife fifteen years earlier, and the success of his marriage was such that Buzz still felt obligated to me. Three days later, he arranged a coffee meeting with the graduate student who had tested the dead bees. “When I said I’d take care of it, I didn’t actually mean I would take care of it,” Buzz said at the time.
“Sevin XLR Plus is an insecticide,” the student told me. She spoke slowly, as if she were instructing a dull child.
“Is it particularly virulent?” “Virulent” isn’t a word I use often, but after the coffee joke I wanted to prove that I had gone to college, too.
“No more so than any other insecticide when used properly.”
She glanced at Buzicky and shrugged again.
Her name was Ivy Flynn. She was five-foot-nothing with Irish-red hair that she wore in a severe ponytail and emerald-green eyes that she muted behind thick, large-rim glasses. Her clothes were baggy—she was dressed for winter instead of a warm day in May. When he introduced her, Buzz said she was one of the brightest students he had ever instructed. Her lips curled slightly at the compliment, the closest she had come yet to a smile. She reminded me of a character in one of those makeover movies, the kind where the plain Jane takes off her glasses, lets down her hair, and is suddenly transformed into Sandra Bullock.
“Sevin XLR Plus controls important crop pests,” Ivy said. “It is approved for use on alfalfa, corn, dry beans, small grains, soybeans, sugar beets, and sunflowers. Unfortunately, it contains an ingredient called carbaryl.”
“Carbaryl,” I repeated to let her know I was paying attention.
“I should emphasize that carbaryl is not illegal by any means. It is, however, toxic to bees. Apparently, Mr. Mosley’s honeybees came in contact with the insecticide and brought it back to the hive, where it built up over a period of time, resulting in his current predicament.”
“So what we need to do is find the source of the Sevin and ask the perpetrator to stop spraying it.”
Again her lips curled upward just so.
“I like that word—‘perpetrator,’”Ivy said. “Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Even if we do locate the source, convincing the ‘perpetrator’—she quoted the air—“to cease and desist is problematic at best. It is extremely difficult to demonstrate cause and effect.”
“We’ll worry about that later,” I said. “Right now, we need to find the source of the Sevin. How would I go about that?”
“We know that Sevin is employed to control insect pests on certain crops. We know that honeybees have a range of four miles. It should be comparatively simple if somewhat time-consuming to fan out in, oh, let us say a three-mile radius initially from the infected colony and take samples—soil samples, water samples, plant samples—from likely locations and test them using equipment here at the U.”
“Would you be interested in undertaking such a task?”
Ivy turned to Buzicky.
“It’ll be good practice for you,” he said. “I’ll even give you academic credit.”
“And I’ll pay you,” I added.
“What’s the going rate for something like this? Twenty-five hundred?”