Assn: 0108, Salt Cellar
Sr. Agents: Arthur White and Carlos F. Rubido
Supervisor: Lt. Peter R. Goldman
The subject, Mr. Vincent L. Salt was interrogated in his garage where the agents set up an interview room using a folding table and chairs and a box containing some of the evidence gathered from Mr. Salt’s shed, and a tape recorder. The transcript was annotated later by participating agents.
White: (leaning over Mr. Salt) Alright Mr. Salt, explain to me why my team found a fully functioning chemical lab in your garden shed.
Mr. Salt: I have licenses for all my equipment.
White: That’s not what I asked Mr. Salt. I want to know why a private citizen has so many volatile chemicals stocking a full blown lab in his backyard.
Mr. Salt: Franklin had a private lab. (White walks away and makes a note in an open file he’s left on the washing machine.) So did Edison and Tesla and Bell and…
Rubido: Yeah, quit being smart. (He half-sits on the table, arms crossed) Those guys weren’t living with terrorists home and abroad trying to blow up the whole country!
Mr. Salt: Actually, there were quite a few—
Rubido: I said shut up!
Mr. Salt shrinks back against his chair.
White: So. I’m only going to ask one more time, Mr. Salt. Why do you have lead, mercury, potassium chloride, antimony, salt petre, nitric acid and a dozen other explosive chemicals, poisons and heavy metals stashed in your shed? What were you intending to do with them?
Mr. Salt: I’m very interested in the nature of things. I like to do little experiments.
Rubido: What kind of experiments?
Mr. Salt: Oh, all kinds.
Rubido: Explosive kinds?
Mr. Salt: Well, …
Rubido: Explosives? You’re making explosives.
White: Great. We’re done here. (He makes another mark and starts to close the file.)
Mr. Salt: No! No, no, no, only by accident. They’re volatile chemicals I know, but the goal is transformation, understanding. The only explosions that happen are through my error.
White: And how many times has that happened exactly?
Mr. Salt: Uh …
Rubido: Well, how many of these accidents have there been? (Makes a motion to White, who puts the file back down.)
Mr. Salt: … four … ?
Mr. Salt: Well, if you count the one where I melted the alembic—
White: What’s an Alembic?
Mr. Salt: A what?
White: An alembic!
Mr. Salt: Oh. It’s a glass bottle shaped like a globe on the bottom and a narrow tube on the top, used for distillation.
White: Oh. (to Rubido) What’s distillation?
Rubido: Hell if I know. Don’t people make alcohol that way?
Mr. Salt: Among other things.
Rubido: What other things? Poisons? Explosives? Who’re you working for Mr. Salt?
Mr. Salt: No one!
Rubido: Who are you working for!
Mr. Salt cowers in his chair.
White: (picking up the file as if to leave.) Let’s go.
Rubido: We can’t.
White: Why not?
Rubido: We’re waiting for Lt. Goldman.
White: Oh. (Puts file back down) Damn.
Rubido: (reaching into a box on the table and bringing out a large bottle with a bright purple liquid in it) So, what’s this? Did you make it?
Mr. Salt: Yes, isn’t it beautiful? It’s liquid gold.
White: It is not.
Rubido: It’s purple! What is it, what is it for?
Mr. Salt: No really, it’s gold. I just wanted to see if I could make it, I just wanted to see it. Isn’t it neat?
White: So what’s it for, what do you do with it, already?
Mr. Salt: Well, I guess you could drink it, since it’s supposed to create some dramatic ef—
Rubido: So it’s poison? What were you going to do with this?
Mr. Salt: No, no! It’s gold, it’s inert!
White: What the hell does that mean? It’s purple! How many people have you given this to?
Mr. Salt: No one! It’s just colloidal gold. You know, like colloidal silver? They sell it in health food stores.
Rubido: Oh yeah, I saw this guy on TV and he took that stuff and turned blue.
Rubido: Seriously, he turned like, the color of denim. And he had this big white beard. He looked like Papa Smurf in a flannel shirt.
White: Holy shit. Did it hurt him?
Rubido: Well, he’s a freakshow now, it can’t have helped. (to Mr. Salt) What happens if you give this to people, Mr. Salt? Do they turn orange or purple?
Mr. Salt: What? I don’t know.
White: What do you mean you don’t know? You made it. What did you make it for?
Mr. Salt: To learn! To experience what an amazing place the world is first hand.
Rubido: This is ridiculous. (He pulls another bottle out of the box. In it is a tiny silver tree.) What is this?
Mr. Salt: Oh, be careful!
Agents Rubido & White freeze, eyes wide.
Both Agents: What?
Mr. Salt freezes, hesitating about how to answer.
White: What is this, Mr. Salt?
Rubido: Mr. Salt, what did you do? What is this thing?
Mr. Salt: It’s very delicate, please if you are too rough with it, it will collapse. I worked so hard on it.
White: What happens when it collapses, Mr. Salt?
Mr. Salt: (pausing in confusion) Er … It’ll be ruined. And it will take me ages to make a new one. Mercury isn’t easy to work with you know.
The agents relax, and Rubido puts the bottle back in the box.
White: So, how did you acquire the mercury, Mr. Salt?
Mr. Salt: Um. Isn’t that what attracted your attention? That I was buying my supplies on the internet?
White: That’s right, Mr. Salt, which brings us back to our question. Many—MOST of these chemicals are regulated, including the mercury. You have to have special licenses to buy this stuff because it’s so dangerous. Like ammonium nitrate. That stuff is used to make bombs. What are you doing buying it?
Mr. Salt: Oh, I didn’t buy it.
Rubido: Bullshit, you just told us you bought it.
Mr. Salt: Some of the chemicals yes, but many can be derived or refined from natural substances. I derived the ammonium nitrate from rainwater.
White: Oh come on! (To Rubido) He’s a nutcase. Can we please be done now?
Mr. Salt: I did! All you have to do is evaporate the water and you get the crystals. I mean it takes a lot of rainwater and you still have to purify it, but it’s really easy.
Rubido: Christ can you imagine? People all over getting explosives from rainwater?
White: Thank God it’s not common knowledge.
Mr. Salt: It should be, it’s basic science!
White: Says the crackpot alchemist. What the hell did you want it for anyway?
Mr. Salt: To dissolve metals or wash them for my experiments.
White: Jesus, we’re just going round in circles. (to Rubido, picking up the file as if to leave.) Look, clearly he’s dangerous, let’s take him in.
Rubido: We can’t.
White: Why not?
Rubido: We’re waiting for Lt. Goldman.
White: Damn! (Puts file back down) Why not?
Rubido: I don’t know, he’s into this kind of thing, I guess. He’s the boss.
White: Great, he can play with his new toys with Mr. Salt in custody. (He takes Mr. Salt by the elbow, who gets up, frightened.)
Rubido: (Following.) I don’t know, we really don’t . . .
Mr. Salt: No, wait! I didn’t do anything! I’m not a terrorist!
White: (ignoring him) He can make explosives out of rainwater, man! We can’t just leave him.
Rubido: Yeah, but what if …
White: It’s national security! What are they gonna say? He can make explosives out of rainwater. Let’s go.
They exit. Silence. A moment later, Lt. Goldman walks in.
Goldman: Hello? Gentlemen? It’s Lt. Goldman. (He walks around the garage for a minute.) Mr. Salt? (He stares at Mr. Salt’s chair for a moment, thinking.) Oh, dear.
He starts to leave, hurried, then sees the box and goes over to it. He gently lifts the bottle with the silver tree and looks at it.
Goldman: That … is so … amazing.
He looks around for a minute, hesitating. Then he grabs the box possessively and hurries out. A few minutes later, there is a sudden explosion and quite a bit of shouting. In the distance can be heard, “Where is he?” “He was just here!” “Where’s Mr. Salt.” “For God’s sake, put out the Lieutenant, he’s on fire.”
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Portland Fiction Project
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