She was bitter with revenge on her mind.

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Episode 80

But she wouldn’t send them to everyone. That was too predictable. The trick was to establish a pattern, then deviate from it at times. It would keep them guessing.

She giggled at the paradox. “The perfect plan is the imperfect pattern,” she said to Dusty. “Right, sweetheart?”

He smiled weakly. She glanced at his plate; he hadn’t eaten his coconut cake, just moved it around with his fork. Now that she was thinking, he hadn’t eaten much dinner either. Her spirits faded. “What’s the matter, son?”

“Nothing.”

Maggie stared at her son, now in his thirties. He was a tall, strapping man, with her blond hair and Richie’s blue eyes. She remembered how gorgeous Richie once was, how his eyes twinkled even when they made love. Dusty was handsomer than Richie, but his expression, even in repose, was serious.

“Hey, you can’t fool your mother.”

Dusty stopped toying with the fork and gazed at her, then looked away.

Maggie felt a twinge of guilt. An image of Dusty as a young boy flashed across her mind. How, shy but proud, he used to show her his sketchbooks. How he waited for her praise, though she was sucked dry, incapable of anything but the most superficial approval. How he’d walked her home from the playground, got them food to eat, even did laundry. He’d asked for so little, and he’d given so much. She reached for his hand.

“Dusty, I realize I’ve asked a lot of you. And you’ve never let me down. You took care of me when it should have been the other way around.”

She looked at him.

“I want you to know it’s almost finished. We’re almost there. When this is over, I want you to do what you want. You want to go back to that girl in Joliet? You want to be an artist? You do it. It’s your turn.”

She didn’t tell him the Family would never accept it. That they’d rather see him dead than lose someone in whom they’d invested so much. “Just hang in for a few more months. I promise, it’ll be over.” She squeezed his hand.

He scanned her face, then gave her a nod. She relaxed. He had always been a good son.

***

Maggie waited before striking again. The Family had been right. Prairie State had been a cakewalk; there wasn’t a lot of cop power down there. But Chicago would be different. She needed to plan. Protect herself.

When everything was in place, she’d go after the bookkeeper. The one who demanded money when she didn’t have it, then tried to barter it for sex. After that, the self-consumed investors she and Dusty met so long ago. Maggie wondered if the wife knew how much her husband played around. He would be a slam-dunk. Then the architect who wouldn’t listen to Greg, but whose real sin was covering up Feldman’s crimes with bricks and mortar. And finally, Stuart Feldman’s child. Not a child anymore, but that didn’t matter. Feldman had killed her child. She would return the favor.

 ***

Heavy droplets of sleet splattered on the windshield of the unmarked, leaving ridges of ice that dribbled sideways and then up as Stone and Matt drove southwest. In the three years Stone had lived in Chicago, he’d never been to Joliet. Home to Statesville, the largest penitentiary in the state, there used to be a perverse cachet to the place. He remembered countless movies in which the bad guys were sent up to Joliet, usually threatening to come back bigger and badder.

Over the past decade, though, the city fathers had tried to revitalize the city, no doubt to offset its gritty image. They’d succeeded too. They closed the prison, replacing one house of vice with others. Riverboat casinos now floated down the Des Plaines river, and the Route Sixty-Six raceway was nearby. Gamblers flocked to the area, generating new tax revenues, with which the city rebuilt its downtown. Joliet was now the third fastest growing city in Illinois.

Stone drove past a brand new theater, walkway, and restaurant on the Riverfront. They could preen about progress, pretend a newfound respectability, but Joliet still attracted the seedy underbelly of society.

“Where’s Jefferson Street?” He said in the fading afternoon light.

Matt studied a map spread out on his lap. “We need to get back to the west side of town.”

They had come east off of I-80 and headed north. Stone swung around, turning onto a street that clearly wasn’t part of the renovation. A vacant lot surrounded by a chain link fence was sandwiched between two dingy buildings.

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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