His gut told him she was telling the truth.

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A VG Serial: ToxiCity

Episode 38

Brewster stood and took a step towards Hartman. Pulling out a chair, he sat on it backwards. “You know something, lady?” He looked her up and down. “This might be a great soap opera, but I don’t buy a fucking word you’ve said.”

Brenda blinked.

“Let’s talk more about the way you felt when Julie broke up with you.” He glowered. “You were hurt and rejected. Alone in a strange town. Scared shitless.”

She blinked again.

“So you wrote her letters. Tried to make her change her mind. And when she wouldn’t take you back, you were furious.”

“It wasn’t like that.”

Brewster’s lip curled. “How could it not be? This was the love of your life, your soul mate.” She flinched. “You mean you just rolled over and let her get away? Come on, lady. A person with the guts to walk out on her family sure ain’t the type to let someone walk all over them.” Brewster’s voice was heavy with scorn. “You decided to teach her a lesson, didn’t you? You were ‘gonna make her pay.”

“No. You’re twisting things.” Anger shot through her, forcing her spine against the back of the chair.

“You were so blind with jealousy and rage that you decided if you couldn’t have her, no one could.”

“No. You’re wrong.”

“Hold on, Pete,” Matt interrupted. “Cut her a break.” He looked at Hartman. “Look Brenda, we know you didn’t mean to hurt her. You probably just wanted to scare her. But it got out of hand, didn’t it? She got sicker and sicker, and you couldn’t stop it.”

 

Her voice trembled. “You’re making things up.”

He tried to keep his voice calm. “Why don’t you get it off your chest? You’ll feel a lot better. Maybe even begin to forgive yourself.”

“I didn’t kill Julie. I went back to get the letters after I heard about her murder. That’s it.”

“Tell us exactly where you were the weekend of October tenth and eleventh. Starting on Friday, at six in the evening.”

“I— I spent the weekend with another woman.”

“Name?”

“Donna Cleveland.”

“She a lesbo too?” Brewster sneered.

Hartman swallowed. Tears welled in her eyes.

“What about after the reading in the bookstore?” Matt went on. “Where did you go?”

“Back to the hotel.”

“What hotel?”

“The Broadview. On Orleans.”

“Are you there now?”

She fell silent.

“Well?”

“I ran out of money. I had to check out.”

“So no one can confirm your whereabouts over the past week?”

She slumped in her chair. “I want to go home.” Her voice was small and scared. They were close. Matt nodded imperceptibly at Brewster.

Brewster took over. “Indiana, right?”

She started, as if she’d forgotten he was there. “Yes. Muncie.”

He nodded. “So all of this was just an adventure—a vacation?”

“What are you getting at?”

“I’ll tell you.” Brewster stood up, his six two frame towering over the woman. “You leave Indiana on a lark. ‘gonna find yourself. A new life. But then, guess what? You find out you’re a dyke. You like women. So you do one. Get her to put you up for a few weeks. But then when she dumps you, you decide you’ve had enough playtime. Time to go home and play the good wife again. But you can’t risk having anyone know what you’ve been up to. Hubby won’t buy it. So you sneak back into your friend’s, slip some poison into her food, and kill her. That’s how it happened, isn’t it?”

“No.” Brenda was sobbing now. “I told you what happened.”

Brewster persisted. “Now she’s out of the picture, but in all the confusion, you realize you’ve left some incriminating evidence behind. God forbid hubby finds out what little wifey’s been up to in the big city. So you go back and get it.”

“You’re wrong.” Tears streamed down her face, and her head twisted from side to side.

Brewster hulked over her like a bird of prey. His voice was loud and threatening. “You’re not going to get away withit.”

She collapsed, listing to one side, as if she was a tire Brewster had punctured with a sharp nail. Sobs wracked her.

“Pete, outside.” Brewster twisted around. Matt motioned with his hand. Reluctantly Brewster followed him out.

Matt put his hands on Brewster’s shoulders. “I thought this was a slam-dunk, pal,” he said. “But now I’m not so sure. Let’s hold off for a while.”

Beads of sweat ran down Brewster’s face, and his breath came in short, angry bursts. “Bullshit,” he said. “We’re almost there. She’s spinning. We got motive, opportunity, and evidence. We can’t stop.”

Matt hesitated. He wanted to believe his partner. He wanted the case to be over. He knew a lot of other cops wouldn’t quit. They’d bully, terrorize, even lie until they got what they wanted. He was tempted. He wanted it. He closed his eyes. His gut said Brenda Hartman was telling the truth. He opened his eyes and took a breath. “Let’s check out her alibi.”

“Come on, man. Even if it checks out, you can’t put any stock in what a dyke says. They all cover for each other.”

Matt searched his partner’s eyes. He didn’t like what he saw. “Look. She copped to the burglary. Call the state’s attorney. At least we can get that going.”

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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