He had money and power and wasn’t afraid to use them.

More chapters from ToxiCity

A VG Serial: ToxiCity

Episode 60

Ten minutes later waves of garlic-flavored heat eddied out as Matt pushed through the door. Georgia, dressed in a black turtleneck, jeans, and gym shoes, was slouched over the end of a polished oak bar, head on her arms.

Matt walked over. “Georgia, it’s me.”

She looked up. Her hair was disheveled, her make-up smeared. “You never called me back,” she said slurring her words.

“I’m sorry.”

“How ‘ja know I was here?”

Matt yanked his thumb in the bartender’s direction.

Georgia jiggled a finger at the bartender. “Naughty boy.” She pasted on a crooked smile. “You said you wanted my number for yourself.”

Ed looked at Matt and shrugged.

“Come on, Georgia,” Matt said. “Let’s go home.”

She shook her head, her hair flying from side to side. “I like it here.”

“They’re about to close.”

“No. You’re not closing, Eddie, are ‘ya?” Georgia looked up.

“That’s right, Georgia. We are.”

“Well,” She pointed her finger, “you can take me home, can’t you?”

“I have to clean up.” He shook out a white towel and started wiping down the bar. “Go home with your husband, honey.”

“He isn’t my husband.” Georgia pushed herself off the stool and swayed. She grabbed the edge of the stool to steady herself. “You know what a shiksa is, Ed?”

Ed’s face said he didn’t.

“It’s Jewish for whore.”

Matt’s jaw tightened. He tried to steer her out.

Stumbling forward, she called to Ed. “You got my number. You call me, okay?”

The bartender waved his towel.

“Thanks, man,” Matt said over his shoulder. “I’ll settle up with you tomorrow.”

“Forget it,” Ed said, stacking glasses behind the bar.

Matt settled her in the front seat of the car, but she slumped sideways. “Would you rather lie down?”

“No,” she mumbled. “Might throw up.”

“Okay. We’ll be home soon.”

“How come you didn’t call back?” she muttered when he climbed into the driver’s seat. “Called twice.”

“I was busy, Georgia. I’m sorry.”

“Too bad. Somethin’ important to tell you.”

“What?”

“You’ll ‘haff to wait.”

She hummed tunelessly, then lapsed into silence. Matt felt a pang of guilt. He’d seen her messages. He could have called her back. He’d chosen not to. Georgia’s problems were sapping him of the energy he needed to fight his own demons. As he drove down Waukegan Road, an image of Ricki Feldman came into his mind. Her slender body. Long silky hair. Luminous eyes. He blinked it away.

***

Stone peered through the window high above LaSalle Street. Clear, brittle air sharpened the finely etched skyline. Days like this reminded him of his first few weeks in Chicago. After coping with the tired, inbred culture of Philadelphia, Chicago had energized him. You didn’t need to be in the old boy’s network to succeed. It didn’t matter where you came from. If you had a good idea, and were willing to work for it, you could make it here. He still believed that, and on days like this, with the city literally spread out at his feet, it felt like a sure bet.

“Gentlemen, if you’ll follow me…” The SGF receptionist, an elderly woman with white hair tightly curled around her face, cut into his thoughts.

He turned away from the window. The reception area, with richly upholstered low-slung furniture, a marble coffee table, and recessed lighting, made its own kind of statement—a statement that said we have money, we have power, and we’re not afraid to use them.

Matt rose from a nearby chair. He looked tired. Even depressed.

The woman led them down a thickly carpeted hall past walls flanked with oversized framed photos. Some were aerial shots of Feldman properties, others groups of smiling people posed in front of shopping centers, apartments, or office buildings. Each photograph had a name and date: Fieldcrest Mall, Park Forest Apartments, Frontage North. Stone had almost reached at the end of the hall when he realized Matt wasn’t behind him. Wheeling around, he saw Matt in front of one photograph, staring with wide eyes.

“John, look at this.”

Episodes in the novel will be published on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Please click the following title,ToxiCity, to read more about Libby Fischer Hellman’s books on Amazon.

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