Despite Luther’s fiancé giving him the business of taking off on a Saturday on the auspices of an important lead, we headed for Chicago. “Boy, did she give me the stink-eye and a rash of man-guilt relationship crap. Sure hope we come away with something solid.”

“I happen to have brought some leverage,” I giggled, holding up a court order in case we get the silent treatment.

“How did you pull that off?”

“I finally agreed to a dinner date with the old letch Judge Newman. This lovely little document with his lovely signature was my prize,” I said in a triumphant tone.

We arrived at the Singapore Sling on West Peterson Avenue, in Downers Grove, twelve miles north of Chicago. A petite Asian woman dressed in a tight gold dress led us to the only table available against the east wall of the main dining room. As a matter of reference, Luther showed the hostess his badge. Our identity would spread wildly among the staff.

Sure enough, there, in bold black letters placed under appetizers: balut, accompanied with a Vietnamese mint sauce. “Well, partner, are you brave enough to join me?” I asked.

Luther waved me off. “No. I’m ordering the Sling Sampler.”

An Asian waiter dressed in black and white formal wear came to our table. “Welcome. Can I interest you in a sweet plum wine to start off your experience with us?”

“Yes, two glasses, and we would like to see your manager as well,” Luther told him, showing the waiter his badge.

In minutes, the waiter came with two wine glasses and a bottle of plum wine. “Folks, the manager will be here shortly. The bottle is on the house. While you’re waiting, can I bring you an appetizer?”

I spoke up first, “Yes, I would like the balut.”

Luther ordered the Sling Sampler. He took a sip of the wine. “Wow! This is really good. Glenda, you’re going to need this to chase down your dangerous appetizer.”

In enough time for us to finish the first glass of wine, a handsome, tall, well-dressed man with the deepest, brownest eyes approached our table, holding a bright red metal tray with our appetizers.

He spoke in a heavy Spanish accent. “Hello there, officers. I am Romeo Blanco, manager of the Singapore Sling. Which of you officers of the law ordered the balut?”

“I did,” I said, raising my hand as though I was in school.

“So, here’s your sampler, sir. You policia know me, but with whom am I serving to?” Blanco spoke in a gracious manner.

Luther complied without a rebuke. “Mr. Blanco, I am Detective Luther Charles, and the lady who ordered the balut is Detective Glenda McMahan. We are from Anderson, Indiana.

Blanco nodded politely, then turned his attention to me. “Madam, can I instruct you in the way to enjoy the balut?” I nodded.

“Tap the pointy tip of the egg’s shell, and make an opening large enough for the broth to trickle into your mouth,” he instructed, with his deep voice almost sounding lyrical.

I followed his every direction. The broth tasted like a mild cheddar cheese sauce. I sat there waiting for the next step with my heart beating up a storm, and sure my face was fully flushed.

Luther stared, pouring another glass of wine, his wide eyes glued to my every move and expression of my eyes and mouth. Blanco continued with the instructions, “Remove the shell, season its contents with salt, spooning some of the mint sauce onto the gestated young duck. You can nibble, but I highly suggest you eat it in two or three large spoonfuls.”

I took a deep breath, making myself ready for the “deep-end experience” where the appearance would shock the bravest of consuming one of most outrageous delicacies ever to be conceived. The whites of the exposed duck egg were covered by a sprawl of blood vessels etched all over the hard-boiled surface, like tiny red tribal markings.

My first two spoonfuls went down like a slithery entry of the best of oysters-on-the-half-shell, tasting much like scrambled eggs with a pinch of zesty cayenne pepper. The last spoonful I gladly gulped down and chased with two sips of the plum wine. Luther, watching this process, reminded me of a young child watching a parent eat some daring serving of haggis. His expression was filled with shock and awe.

“That was not as bad as I thought it would be. It certainly is much better than when Grandpa Pete made me eat liver and onions.” I looked up at Romeo smiling down on me.

I cleared my throat, ready to get what we came here for. “Mr. Blanco, I have a very imperative request of you. Do you have any individual or individuals who purchased the balut in bulk for their own personal needs?”

I read in his wide-open eyes that he was alarmed. He slowly backed away from us. I pulled the court order out from my back pocket. “Sir, from your expression and body language, I suggest you think very carefully before running away from my request. This is a legal and binding document that my partner and I won’t hesitate in using.”

Blanco lowered his head and shook both his hands. He said in almost a whisper, “I will be back directly with what you’ve asked for.”

Luther sat there staring at me. I waved my hands in front of him. “Partner, you going to be all right?”

“Wow, I must say! You were righteously fierce with him. He was on his way to bail on us. You deserve some of my delicious appetizer,” Luther said, raising his eyebrows when he offered some of his food.

“No, thanks. Gotta level with you; my stomach right now is rolling in flip-flops. Not about the balut, but about the way Blanco reacted to my request.”

I drank the rest of my glass of wine while Luther finished his appetizer of shrimp tempura, eggs rolls, and some Vietnamese braised noodles called hu tiew kho.

Blanco came back. He handed me a folded up piece of white paper. I unfolded it as he stood there waiting. It was an email address: arathbone [at] saxonymerck [dot] com. I hid my gut reaction, not giving the gracious manager the pleasure of seeing me squirm.

“This person with that email is the only person I sell the balut to every month. The woman picks it up, not speaking to anyone, even me. She pays a tidy sum and leaves,” Blanco told us.

“What does she look like? Distinguishing characteristics, that is,” Luther asked while I sat there attempting to get myself together from my inward shock.

“She has long, dark hair; can’t see her eyes due to her wearing dark glasses. She is medium height, very shapely, and always wears beautiful, expensive clothes. She gets out of a black Cadillac limousine where there is a driver in the front. He gets out, but stays by the outside of the car on the driver’s side. I’ve done what you’ve asked. I need to see to my business. Please, detectives, the food is on the house,” Blanco said, leaving our presence with a chilling farewell.

Luther winked at me as he pulled out a ten-dollar bill to leave on the table. “Ante up, partner.” I shook my head and pulled out a ten. Our food and drink was on the house, but at least the waiter got paid.


We drove back in silence until Luther hit I-465 east, heading towards I-69 for Anderson. “Glenda, Blanco said it was a woman, not a man.”

“When I went on a search wanting to know more about Amado Rathbone, all I got was his education history. There was no photos of him. On the Saxony website, there was a stunning woman with the name of Amora Rathbone. She was identified to be his sister, who is working with researchers on this new drug called Divinia. The night my block’s electricity went out, I went to Unc’s for a late night snack. I saw Amado there alone at the end of the bar,” I explained.

“That doesn’t sound so unusual. He probably spent the evening with Professor Foy and wanted one for the road,” Luther said.

“I went down to where he was seated, wanting to be friendly. By his sullenness and body language, he didn’t want to reciprocate back. Even Mabel pointed out he was not someone I should get close to,” I answered back.

Luther sighed as he drove onto the ramp to I-69. “Well, it looks like we need to visit Mr. Rathbone. Did you happen to get an address on your search?”

“Yes, I did. There was a separate site when I looked up Ethan Rathbone. There was a photo of this large estate, looking like one of those castles in Scotland, only no drawbridge. The whole clan lives on the 1700 block of North Meridian Street in Indianapolis, where the upper crust reside,” I said, using some sarcasm. Rolling around in my mind was a massive myriad of various feelings; relief in Luther’s remark of the one picking up the box of balut, a woman not a man, confusion on why Amado’s image didn’t appear with his sister on the Saxony website, and fascination in the mystery of this wealthy Rathbone dynasty with ties to Big Pharma.


For all installments from The Islands Tell of It, click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Chapter 1: The First Victim
  2. Chapter 2: Four Months Before October
  3. Chapter 3: Bobber’s Café
  4. Chapter 4: Heat Wave