Leaving to escape the evil of the toxins.

More chapters from ToxiCity

A VG Serial: ToxiCity

episode 76

Amy Yablonski and TJ Champlain were the kids who died at Meadow City, Brewster told Stone. Another child, Molly Stewart, had been stricken. All three families had moved into Meadow City when the development was new.

They used the Internet to track down the Stewarts. The family lived in the western suburbs, but there was no answer at their home. Stone sent Brewster and Nelson to pay a visit. The Yablonskis had moved to Northern California. Punching in their number, he broke off a chunk of chocolate from a candy bar letting the rich, velvety taste linger on his tongue. It was the only nice sensation he’d had all day.

“It was hell,” Frannie Yablonski said when she came on the line. “From the time Amy got sick until the verdict came in, we were living through a nightmare.”

“I’m sorry to dredge it up for you, Mrs. Yablonski. But I hope you can help us.” He explained about the three deaths, their connection to Meadow City, and the Prairie State deaths.

The woman sighed. “You’d think Amy and TJ’s deaths would have been enough.”

“Excuse me?”

“It wasn’t as if we didn’t know what was happening. Joan’s cousin —our lawyer —told us not to expect much.”

“Because Feldman was dismissed?”

“Yes.”

“I’m confused. Illinois Edison was the company with the deep pockets. Why did the case collapse after Feldman was released? You still had a viable action.”

“I think the judge wanted it to go away.”

“Why?”

“Because of the witness.”

“The witness? “

“Art dug up a witness who claimed the developer knew the place was contaminated but bought his way out of it. Nobody could prove it, of course, because it happened years before the houses went up. The witness was going to testify, but right before the trial began, she died in a car accident.”

A chill edged up Stone’s spine. “She was killed?”

“That’s how Feldman got dismissed from the case. After that, everything just sort of fell apart.”

Stone sat forward. “Let me see if I understand. Stuart Feldman allegedly bribes someone to get out of cleaning up a toxic spill. The only person who can corroborate it mysteriously dies. Then the judge dismisses him from the case?”

“Basically, yes.”

“On what grounds?”

“I don’t know. We’d already moved by then.”

“That’s another question. Why did you drop it?”

“Well, I guess we saw the handwriting on the wall.”

“What do you mean?”

“Feldman did do some cleaning up when the accident first happened. But once Art Newell looked into it, we learned that the site needed long-term treatment. Years of it. Turns out it can take up to thirty years until the toxins are completely gone.”

“Thirty years?” Stone frowned. “The clean-up could take thirty years?”

“That’s my understanding.”

“That’s a pretty stiff—” Stone stopped, squeezing the candy bar so hard that bits of chocolate broke off between his fingers. “Of course,” he said. “He wouldn’t have been able to build Meadow City.”

“Yup.”

If the project had been aborted, Feldman would have taken a huge hit. He might even have been ruined. Instead, he built the houses and made a fortune. Ricki’s words came back to him—Meadow City was what put them on the map. Stone pitched the candy into the trash.

“That’s why we left,” Frannie Yablonski said. “We had to escape the evil. And I mean that in the most fundamental way.”

“How long ago was that?”

“Nine years ago. Our youngest just started second grade.”

“You had another child.”

“Yes.” He heard the joy in her voice. “She’s healthy, thank the Lord.”

“Mrs. Yablonski, I hate to ask, but have you or your husband taken any trips east in the past few months?”

She chuckled. “No, Detective. And you’re welcome to call whoever you need to confirm it.”

“Thank you for understanding.” He took a breath. “What about the Champlain’s? What happened to them?”

“Well, I know Maggie and Greg split up. She was living in Joliet when we left. But that was a long time ago.”

“One more thing. Do you know anyone who might have taken pictures of Meadow City while it was under construction?”

“Pictures?”

“Pictures, photos. The camera kind.”

She didn’t reply.

“Mrs. Yablonski?”

“I—I do seem to remember some pictures in Maggie’s albums.”

“Maggie Champlain?”

“We used to have coffee together, tell each other our life stories, you know? Sometimes we’d look over old pictures— Greg used to fancy himself quite the photographer. He had pictures. Before and after shots.”

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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