Nothing looked disturbed, but something wasn’t quite right.
November 8, 2013
A VG Serial: ToxiCity
Matt started to talk about the two cases in general terms. He knew his mother would change the subject. She couldn’t listen to stories about crime and death for long.
He was right.
“Did you hear what happened to Jerry Sachs?” She launched into a detailed account of some kid he’d gone to Yeshivah with and had long since forgotten.
That was how she did it, Matt realized. Kept Georgia out. Always polite and courteous, Evelyn nonetheless had constructed a wall, and talking about people Matt knew as a child was how she kept Georgia on the other side. It seemed paper thin, but in reality it was thick and impregnable. You can listen, but you can’t really be a part of our life, our history, our pain. You’re just our son’s shiksa.
Matt dropped Georgia off at the apartment after dinner. She reached across the seat of the car and stroked his hair. Feeling him resist, she pulled back. “What’s wrong?”
“I guess I’m just antsy.”
“I’ve been saving my weekend special for you. Guaranteed relaxation.” She started to knead his thigh with her fingers.
He covered her hand with his own. “When I get back.”
“Where are you going?”
“But it’s Friday night. Can’t it wait?”
“I want to talk to her neighbor again.”
“You’ve done that.”
“Whoever killed Romano might have done it on a Friday night, or at least started to, and, well—with the same shows on TV, the same routine, maybe the old woman will remember something new.”
He’d been working without a break for days now; the stress was beginning to show. He was hardly eating, he wasn’t sleeping well, he’d even stopped working out. The other night she woke up at three in the morning and found him hunched over his laptop on the kitchen table. When she urged him to come to bed, he shook his head. Now she squeezed his hand. “You want company?”
He looked at her with blank eyes, his mind already focusing on some unseen task. “No. I’ll be back soon.”
He stopped at the station to retrieve Romano’s key before driving over. It was a warm night, and fog had moved in from the lake. A streetlight cut jagged shafts of light through the mist. As he climbed out of the car, strands of fog dissipated as he walked through them.
Georgia was right about one thing. Stone too. Since the press conference the media was swarming all over the sex lives of Romano and Simon, and the resulting stories, innuendos, and conjecture were so intrusive that both families had gone into seclusion.
Unsurprisingly, Doyle wanted the Task Force to follow up, and they were now collecting a small library of information that made the smut magazines and tabloids look tame. They hadn’t identified the leaker yet, and Doyle was on the warpath about that too. Matt rolled his shoulders to relieve the tension. He was missing something. But what?
Mrs. Morys was delighted to see Matt and invited him in. She did remember watching “Dateline” or “20-20” that night. A baby had been kidnapped by the father’s brother and left in a car for hours on a summer day, she said. “People just don’t know how to behave anymore.”
Matt asked about the laughter she thought had come from Romano’s apartment. She touched a hand to her ear. For her to hear anything at all it had to be quite loud; it might have been the TV. Matt asked a few more questions, then said his good-byes.
“Come back anytime,” she said. This was probably the most exciting thing to happen to her in years.
Before leaving, he went to Romano’s apartment. The crime scene tape was gone, but the seal from the police department was still up. He took out a penknife and started to scrape it off—they’d released the apartment a week ago. Half way through, he stopped and dug the key out of his pocket. He would go in. Just once more.
Inside, the place was musty and airless, but a scent was layered on top. Something vaguely medicinal. Antiseptic. He flipped the light in the living room, saw the same clutter, felt the same closed-in feeling. Nothing looked disturbed. So what was the smell? He sniffed his way across the room. Disinfectant, he thought. He checked the bathroom. The smell was stronger here. Clean towels hung on the rack. Yellow. The fixtures gleamed.
He backed out and continued down the hall. Something wasn’t right. As he passed Romano’s bedroom, he heard a rustle. Soft, quiet. But distinct. He froze. It was coming from the closet. His heart started to race. He waited. Nothing. Sliding his Beretta from its holster, he flattened himself against the wall.
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.