She never wasted time when she knew what she wanted.

More chapters from ToxiCity

A VG Serial: ToxiCity

Episode 7

Someone had been busy with a pooper-scooper, Stone saw when he got to the construction site. At least four mounds of dog shit were piled on the ground under the SGF Development sign. The sign was smeared with it too. Someone had spent time and effort to embarrass Stuart Feldman.

He called over to Public Works who promised to clean it up that afternoon. Then he began hiking around the perimeter of the ten acre site, most of which was overrun with brush, trash, and puddles of fetid water. If CEASE was allied with the preservationists trying to save the prairie, they should have chosen a better spot. This lot was barely worth it.

Back at the station he discovered that hearings on the Feldman project were scheduled that night at Northview’s Village Hall. Maybe he should make an appearance. Phillips would need something on paper.

“This is one of the best things to happen to the village in years,” Deanna Steele said as the waiter pulled out her chair.

Brasserie B, a trendy French bistro, had become a popular watering hole since it opened a few years ago. The place boasted art deco walls, white floor tiles, and lots of pretense. Stone would have been more comfortable at Mickey D’s than Brasserie B’s, but this was Deanna’s kind of place, and he felt noble for not begrudging her a few letters of the alphabet.

“I’m starved.” Deanna eyeballed the menu. With long auburn hair, fair skin dotted with freckles, and fine features, she looked terrific at seven months pregnant. Even more gratifying to Stone was her joy at being pregnant. Despite the added weight, there was lightness to her step that hadn’t been there before.

He looked at his watch. “We’ve got forty minutes.”

“So much to eat, so little time.” Deanna sighed.

A white-aproned waiter approached and reeled off a list of wines in French. Guy thinks I’m a rube, Stone thought. In some ways, he was. His features were craggy and he could stand to lose a few pounds. He favored clothes from Men’s Warehouse, and his hair wasn’t styled at Sergio’s. But Deanna refused to let him change a thing. Plainspoken, almost gruff, with sandy hair and eyes that changed color depending on what he wore, he was the Sean Connery type, she said. She could live with that. He felt like the luckiest man in the world.

The waiter cleared his throat. “May I suggest —-”

Deanna cut him off with a stream of fluent-sounding French. The waiter froze. “I said I’d prefer seltzer.” She smiled prettily.

“I see,” the waiter replied after a beat. “And you, sir?”

“Coke.” The waiter headed primly back to the bar. Stone covered Deanna’s hand with his.

Deanna laughed. “Hey, Stone, there’s something you should know.”

“What?”

“I took your blue suit to the cleaners.”

Stone bent his head.

“Along with my white dress. Well, off-white. You know. The summer thing I wear.”

Stone frowned.

“You have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”

“Should I?”

“Thick as a slug.” Deanna pushed back her chair and knelt on the floor. “Okay. Just remember. You forced me into it.” With her belly protruding, she scooted back onto her knees so she wouldn’t knock into the table. She almost lost her balance but steadied herself. Stone grabbed her arms and tried to pull her up, but she shook him off.

“John Stone,” she said in a voice that carried over most of the room. “Will you marry me and give our baby a name?”

Deanna said later it was only a few seconds, but Stone felt light and spongy, as if time had suddenly stopped. In the eighteen months they had been together, marriage was something they never discussed. Both of them had come from unhappy ones, and though there was no way he could live without her, he didn’t want to screw up a good thing. Especially with the baby.

“Well?” Deanna asked. “Are you in or out?”

“Come on, man. She’s begging you,” a shout came from across the room.

“Yeah, buddy, better do the right thing,” another called.

“You don’t say yes, I will,” someone else said.

He leaned over, cupped Deanna’s face in his hands, and kissed her. Several times. In between, he answered yes.

Deanna raised two thumbs in the air. Applause broke out. Stone helped her settle back in her chair.

The rest of the meal was a blur. He must have done something very good at some point to deserve this woman. And the child she was carrying. He even smiled peaceably at the waiter, who presented them with cappuccinos on the house.

“How about next Sunday?” Deanna sipped her coffee.

“You don’t waste any time, do you, Steele?”

“Not when I know what I want, Stone.”

She named the few people she’d like to invite and suggested they go to Greek town afterwards. He hated Greek food, but he nodded. He didn’t care what they ate, as long as he got her.

While he was busying himself with the check, a woman brushed by their table. Slender and dressed in an expensive-looking beige pantsuit, she was a knockout with dark hair and dark eyes that seemed to capture the light and hold it inside. As she passed the maitre d’, he smiled and kissed both her cheeks. Stone turned back to Deanna, who was watching the woman too.

“That’s Ricki Feldman,” Deanna said. “Daughter of Stuart.”

“She must be going to the hearing.” Stone glanced around. “Where’s Daddy?”

“Sweetheart, your stereotypes are showing. She’s been running the company herself for over a year.”

“How do you know?”

“She was my boss when I did that gig up at Fort Sheridan last winter.” Deanna did free-lance public relations work.

“That was a Feldman deal?”

Deanna nodded.

The woman, followed by several other people who were clearly part of her entourage, pushed through a revolving door. He had dealt with Stuart Feldman on a case last year. Now he was dealing with the man’s daughter. The Feldmans got around.

 

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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