Swallowed up by his own guilt.

More chapters from ToxiCity

A VG Serial: ToxiCity

Episode 97

Matt’s hands curled around the handle of the Forty-five. An itch scraped across the back of his throat. He could take her out, but she had the poison. They were playing a lethal game of chicken.

A small smile cracked Champlain’s mouth, and she tossed the Beretta down. “Take the gun. It’s yours anyway, isn’t it?”

“Now the syringe.”

“Sure I will.” Stone saw her fingers twitch. It was only a ghost of a move, but from his angle he could tell Matt didn’t see it.

He dove toward Champlain. As he did, she plunged the syringe into Ricki’s thigh. Stone wrestled her onto the floor, but the syringe remained lodged in Ricki’s leg. A blood-curdling scream cut through the air.

“Noooo!”

Stone pushed Champlain away from him and started rolling away from her on the floor but didn’t get very far. Matt fired. Champlain fell to the floor almost on top of Stone. For an instant Stone didn’t know if the bullet had caught him or her. As he rolled over he saw splashes of color spinning around him, smelled the bite of cordite. He hit the edge of a heavy chair and stopped. Champlain was beside him, writhing and gasping for breath.

Another blast sounded. The struggling stopped. His breath wheezed in his chest. Matt hurried over to the couch where Ricki lay.

Stone raised himself up. Champlain’s body was on the floor. The first bullet had caught her in her throat. Blood still spurted from it. The other shots went in her back, probably puncturing her lungs.

Like a video that’s been taken off pause, activity resumed. Matt lunged at Ricki, pulled out the syringe, and flung it across the floor. Gathering her in his arms, he scooped her off the couch and staggered through the door of the apartment. The men behind Stone separated, allowing him through.

Stone was about to stand when he felt something wet soaking his pants. Some of the liquid had trickled across the floor. Horror gripped him. The poison. An extra vial must have been in Dusty’s backpack when he fell. Now it was pooling on the floor. Stone scrambled up, wondering whether he had traded Champlain’s quick death for a long painful one of his own.

“Everyone evacuate. Now, goddammit!”

Skirting the liquid, men sprinted to the exits, crashed through the door, and clattered down the fire escape. Stone stumbled after them. As he lurched through the door, he turned for a last look. Dusty lay on the floor in a puddle of blood. His mother lay on her side in another pool of blood, unseeing eyes on her son.

***

It was mid morning before they told Matt he could see Ricki. Sipping water through a straw, she looked pasty, her eyes enormous. But she was alive. When she saw him, she set the glass down. Light came into her eyes.

“Thank God.” Matt knelt by her bed.

“It didn’t work. The doctors said there was no poison in the syringe.”

“There wasn’t.”

“What happened?”

“We don’t know. We’re still piecing it together, but we think Dusty substituted something harmless for the toxin.”

“It was a miracle.” She looked at him with wonder. “You saved my life.”

Matt shook his head. “If I had come into your house in Lake Forest, none of this would have happened.”

“It was my fault. I drove you out.”

“No. It was —”

“Stop.” She grasped his hand. “We can sit here forever saying how sorry and guilty we feel, or we can put it aside and go on.”

He smoothed the hair on her forehead. She was like one of those inflatable dummies that pops up after a blow, no matter how harsh. “Stone will be here to question you soon.”

She nodded. “I don’t remember much, and I have a monstrous headache.”

“Probably from the chloroform.”

“Is that what it was?” She said disinterestedly. “The doctor says I’ll be fine in a day or two.” She smiled brightly. “But enough of that. Let’s talk about good things. Like us.”

Matt didn’t reply.

Ricki repeated herself. “Like us.”

He didn’t say anything.

Her smile faded. “There still is an us, isn’t there?”

Matt swallowed. “There—there can’t be right now.”

“I don’t think I like the way this conversation is going.” Her eyes searched his face. “Is it Georgia?”

Matt looked past her, above her, then below her. “It’s because of us—no, not us, me—that she smashed into that barrier.”

Her voice spiked. “How do you figure that?”

“I treated her badly. Especially at the end.”

“But you didn’t love her,” she said crisply, as if that explained everything.

“But I need to make amends. If she lives.”

She was quiet for a moment. “You know, there’s a time when duty ends, Matt. When you’re allowed to find some happiness for yourself. Follow your heart. Choose me. Choose us.”

He looked over. He had to settle his obligation first. So did she. She just didn’t know it.

“So, in saving her, you destroy us.” Her voice was sharp. “Great trade off.”

 

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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