No physical evidence. No motive. No suspects.
September 23, 2013
A VG Serial: ToxiCity
Before turning in his report, Stone went back to the Feldman site just to make sure the dog shit was gone. As he drove down the shoulder of Willow Road, he noticed a white RV parked at the edge of the field. Figures were moving around inside. He climbed out of the unmarked. A dirty overcast grayed the air, and a damp, earthy scent recalled last night’s rain. He buttoned his jacket and started for the RV, but he’d only gone a few feet when his cell phone chirped.
“Stone, it’s Matt.”
He heard the hiss from another cell phone. “Hey, Singer. How goes it?”
“Could be better.”
“Yeah I hear. The word around town is you have some ‘esplaining’ to do.”
Stone bit his lip. Not everyone in the world had been weaned on I Love Lucy. “How you holding up?”
“Not good.” Matt’s voice was tight. “Doyle convinced the brass not to convene the task force. I’m head dick on the case.”
“Nothing like pressure, you know? I feel like I’m supposed to come up with the pot of gold.”
“Not if Doyle can do it first,” Stone cracked. “Or have you do it and take the credit.”
“You got it.”
“So, how can I help?”
“I’d like to run some ideas past you.”
“No problem. I’m just finishing up at the Feldman construction site. Meet me here in five minutes.”
“Willow and Waukegan.”
“Be there in two.”
Stone dumped the phone back in his pocket. With almost ten years on the force, Matt was starting to mature as a cop. He was smart, careful, and fearless. But the guy had only worked one homicide, and from what he’d heard through the grapevine, this one looked grim. Add the fact that Doyle had shit for brains and an ego to match, and this would be tough even for a seasoned dick.
By the time he got to the door of the RV, mud caked the soles of his shoes. He picked up a stick and was scraping it off when a woman swung the door open.
He hardly recognized Ricki Feldman. Dressed in jeans, work boots, and plaid lumber jacket, her dark hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and she had a Cubs hat pulled low on her forehead.
“Detective John Stone.” He held out his hand. She returned a firm grasp.
“We saw you pull up.” She yanked a finger towards the interior of the RV. Two men sat at a table.
Stone explained why he’d come.
She smiled. “Thanks. We don’t get many visitors over here. At least the kind who identify themselves.”
“So I hear.”
“In fact, we have been feeling like the badass strangers in town—you know—the ones everybody hopes will leave on the next train.”
“You’re not strangers. Not with those condos down the road.”
“True. And the village survived. In fact, they’re selling well. I had hoped they would pave the way for a warmer reception.”
Stone noticed a tiny dimple on her chin. It made her look vulnerable. “Things will settle down.” As soon as he said it, he realized how trite he sounded. He cleared his throat. “Have there been any more incidents?”
“You mean since the dog shit?” She smiled again. “You have to admit—it was kind of clever—in a scatological sort of way. I wanted to call it into Howard Stern.”
The lady had a sense of humor. She led him inside and introduced him to the men with her. One was Paul Landon, the architect he’d seen at the hearings. The other was the general contractor. Stone shook hands.
“I saw you the other night,” he said to Landon.
“So, what did you think?” Landon asked.
Stone considered it. “I think that if dog shit is as bad as it gets, you’ll be okay.”
“Can you guarantee that in writing?”
Stone laughed. “I never put anything in writing.”
“Then I won’t stop worrying until you do.”
Stone was about to reply when Ricki fastened her gaze on something behind him. Stone turned around. Matt stood at the door to the RV.
“Detective Singer,” Ricki said, a curious smile creeping across her face.
Matt’s eyes widened. “It’s you. From the synagogue.”
Stone looked from Ricki to Matt. “You know each other?”
Matt looked at Stone, then back at Ricki. He nodded.
“It is bashert,” she said quietly.
Matt’s cheeks reddened.
For some reason Stone felt like an intruder.
“It did occur to me,” Matt tore open a packet of sugar. Parked in the Starbucks lot, Stone cracked the lid of his cup and blew on his latte. “I just don’t see the sister as the killer. They’re too different.”
“Since when does that mean anything?”
Matt produced the family picture of the Romano family. “Take a look. Hard to confuse the two, don’t you think?”
Stone peered at the photo. Matt was right. The two girls had the same face, but that was it.
“There’s something else,” Matt said. “Romano was gay. The sister isn’t.”
Stone tried his drink. Still too hot. “You keeping it quiet?”
“For now. She was still in the closet. Her parents didn’t know.”
“The media ‘ll have a field day when they find out.” Stone said. “But you still ‘gotta focus on the family. You pick up any anger or jealousy from the sister?”
“Her parents thought Julie was an angel.”
Matt took off his glasses and wiped them with a napkin. “But what’s Joanne got to be jealous of? A gay school-teacher, who stays home and tapes movies?”
“That don’t matter, if she grew up thinking she’s a piece of shit and her sister’s don’t stink.”
“She seemed pretty broken up. I don’t think it was an act.”
“What does she do, the sister?”
“Office manager. For a paving contractor.”
“Palmoro. It’s in Niles.”
“So she’d know some muscle.”
“Yeah. I guess.”
“What about the parents?”
“They’re frail. They can barely walk.”
“What else do you have?”
“She was probably killed before she was dumped.” Matt recapped what he knew. “The problem is the ME can’t rule on homicide. She died of massive shock.”
“Shock?” Stone turned a puzzled face to Matt. “From what?”
“Her GI system collapsed.”
“What caused it?”
“We don’t know yet. Bad food, a virus, poison.”
Stone sipped his coffee. A woman dies of massive organ failure and infection. Then she’s thrown into a dumpster. Of the thousands of pathogens out there, hundreds could cause those symptoms. The problem was identifying it. In order to test for toxins, you had to know what you were looking for, and if you didn’t, you could spend forever trying to narrow it down. “Have you started running through possibilities?”
“The screen came back clean. The ME’s doing some cultures. He’s hoping that might narrow it down. They do think it took a couple of days to work through her system, but there’s no indication she tried to get medical help.”
“Nothing from any ER?”
“No. Brewster checked.” Matt stretched his arm over the back of the driver’s seat. “And except for a blanket with a couple of fibers on it, we don’t have much physical evidence. Or motive. Or suspects.”
“You put it out on the system?”
“VICAP and LEADS.”
“Get anything back?”
Matt shook his head.
“You pick up any trace or scratch marks on her skin? That didn’t come from the truck, I mean?”
“What about under her nails?”
Stone raised the coffee cup to his mouth and took a sip. “What about her apartment?”
“I had techs go over it. Some bowls in the kitchen with her prints on them. Otherwise, nothing.”
“Anything that sticks out on her profile?”
“Aside from being gay?” Matt worked his fingers back and forth on the car’s upholstery. “Nada.”
“You track down anyone who was intimate with her?”
“Georgia’s looking into it.”
Stone chewed on a swizzle stick. “I might have an idea.”
Matt looked over.
“VICAP’s profile will be basically worthless, right?” Matt nodded. “You might get a consult from a shrink. Someone who deals with crazies all the time. If it was a case of poison, you may get something more specific.”
Matt looked over. “You know anyone?”
“Well, there’s this guy in the city. Helps out a dick from Area Three from time to time. Supposed to be good.”
“You get his name, I’ll give him a call.” Matt slipped his glasses back on. “So. What were you doing at the Feldman site?”
“Checking on some vandalism. You know this place. They trash everyone who wants to bring in development.”
“You’re on trash patrol, now?”
Stone laughed. “Gimme a break, pal. I’ve seen enough action for a while.”
Matt stared down at his cup. “So that was Ricki Feldman.” A smile played around his mouth.
“How do you know her?”
“I ran into her yesterday. Saying Yarzeit for her mother.”
“Is that so?” Stone drained his cup. He didn’t know what a Yarzeit was, but something in Matt’s eyes told him not to ask. “How’s Georgia?”
Matt’s smile faded. “I can’t complain.”
Stone pitched his cup through the window. “No, you can’t.”
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.