She must disappear, no questions asked.
February 7, 2014
A VG Serial: ToxiCity
Two Years Earlier
The idea evolved from hypothetical to possible, from possible to desirable, from desirable to essential. Maggie had spent years trying to pass the test of life, but it had been a test with no rules, no answer sheet, no number two pencil. Now it was her turn to proctor. If the courts wouldn’t fashion a remedy, she would. It would be a long process; she was unprepared and needed to educate herself. But, like the poison that had slowly, inexorably choked the life out of her baby, she had the advantage of time. It was the ultimate leveler. She would wreak justice if it took the rest of her life.
The first thing she did was dump the house. Like most of her Meadow City neighbors, she’d moved out when the litigation began. After the trial, some company she’d never heard of made an offer, saying they intended to raze the houses and start over.
Dust to dust.
She unloaded the house, knowing she’d lost a bundle. Still, she sent half the proceeds to a post office box in Texas. Greg had suffered too; he should get something out of the deal.
Next she sold her furniture. She didn’t need it. The good life had trapped her on the dark side of the American dream. From now on she would focus on important things. She moved to a two-room furnished apartment in Joliet.
During the litigation she’d been promoted to night manager at Al’s. That turned out to be a stroke of luck. It gave her plenty of time during the day to make plans. Her first task was to learn to handle a gun. It wasn’t simple. There were classes, hunt clubs, even NRA programs. But she knew not to leave a paper trail. And she didn’t want to answer the inevitable questions they’d ask: did she have a license, why did she want to learn, what kind of firearm did she want. She needed discretion. Someone who would keep their mouth shut.
It was after her shift late one Saturday night that she remembered Greg’s friends, the ones who visited from Milwaukee or Minneapolis or someplace up north. She recalled the stories they told late at night, their voices coarse from booze and cigarettes. At the time, she thought they’d made up the part about living in the woods for a week or more. She tagged them as wannabees in fatigues, spouting survival talk bullshit. She’d laughed when they griped about the government depriving them of basic liberties, wasting their hard-earned tax dollars on Niggers and Slants and Jews. But she remembered how they talked about target practice. How important it was to defend themselves, to get ready for the day of reckoning.
Of course, that was ten years ago. She had no idea what had happened to them since then. She wracked her brain all day Sunday, trying to remember their names. By Sunday night she had one. Lucky. Lucky Bill Drummond. She thought he owned a gas station.
Maggie went to the library Monday, found the yellow pages for Milwaukee and Minneapolis, and copied the listings of service stations. It took nearly three weeks of calling, but finally someone at a Minneapolis Shell station told her he’d bought the gas station from Lucky about a year before. Maggie asked if he knew where Lucky was, but the new owner didn’t have a forwarding address.
She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. All that work for nothing. She croaked her thanks, about to hang up when the voice told her that Lucky still dropped in from time to time. He’d tell him that she called.
Four months later she’d forgotten about Lucky. She’d been to a gun range once or twice and was considering asking the owner, a fiftyish ex-cop with a roving eye to give her lessons in return for a roll in the hay. She was just toweling off after a shower when her phone rang.
It was Lucky. She told him about TJ. He said he wanted to hear more. She asked if he wanted to visit. He said he’d be there the next weekend
Maggie made sure she looked great. She had her hair done, bought a new outfit, new make-up, too. Not bad, she thought, catching her reflection in the mirror. She could still pull herself together when it mattered. When Lucky came, she fixed him a good meal, then took him to bed. She was surprised how easy it was.
Afterwards they lit cigarettes, and she told him about TJ. How he’d died at the hands of the utility, the clean up company, and the developer, who bribed his way out of trouble and covered it up. She told Lucky about the bookkeeper who made her feel dirty for not paying the mortgage when TJ was sick. How the woman had come on to her. About the arrogant couple whose money put them in harm’s way in the beginning. And the architect, who never listened to Greg’s ideas. These people had destroyed her family, while they were far away, living their clean, affluent lives.
They’d robbed her of everything, she told Lucky; her family, her dreams, her future. Now it was payback time, and she knew what to do. She’d go after their children. The owner of Prairie State had a son, she’d learned, and the developer had a daughter. Didn’t the Bible say an eye for an eye?
By the end of the weekend Lucky promised to help. But there was a catch. She had to move north. To his people. And she couldn’t tell anyone where she was going. She would have to disappear, no questions asked. He told her to bring Dusty, too. When she asked why, he said,
“Children are the future. You should know that.”
After Lucky left, Maggie debated it. She didn’t want to get involved with other people. Better to go it alone. But she lacked the required skills, and Lucky’s people had them. Then there was Dusty. Was it fair to ask him to sacrifice the life he was building? She knew he’d come if she asked. He was a good son. For weeks, she considered it, thinking deep into the night, falling into an exhausted sleep just before dawn.
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.