The feeling would be with him until he found the killer.

More chapters from ToxiCity

A VG Serial: ToxiCity

Episode 6

Joanne’s face turned crimson.

Matt cleared his throat. “Did anything unusual happen to her recently?”

“What do you mean?”

“Did she receive any unusual packages or letters? Strange phone calls? Visitors?”

Mrs. Romano shook her head again, but Joanne pressed her lips together. Matt pulled out the brown envelope and extracted the photograph he’d found. “Does this mean anything to you?”

Mrs. Romano studied it, shook her head, and passed it to her husband. Mr. Romano glanced at it briefly, then handed it to Joanne.

She looked it over. “I don’t recognize it. Was it Julie’s?”

“This is a copy of a photo I found it in her kitchen.” Matt had realized the detour by Doyle wasn’t a complete waste of time. It had given him a chance to scan a copy of the photograph of the field. “Was Julie the outdoors type? Perhaps a hiker or camper?” “Are you kidding?” A wan smile tugged at the sister’s mouth. “Julie was lucky to know what season it was. She was always inside, you know, recording or watching her movies.”

“Did she have plans to go away this weekend?”

“Not that I know of.”

“She the neat type? Always make her bed? That kind of thing?”

“Julie? You’re kidding. She was a slob.” Joanne’s eyes softened. “We used to share a room and I would always be telling her how mother would kill us if she— “She bit her lip. Mrs. Romano leaned over and patted her daughter’s arm.

Matt remembered the spices in the cabinets. “Did she like to cook?”

Joanne looked up. “If you call opening a can of soup cooking.”

Matt frowned. He asked a few more perfunctory questions, then handed a card to Mrs. Romano. “If anything else comes to you, anything at all, please call.”

A vacant stare was his response. Joanne helped her mother out of her chair and out of the room. Mr. Romano followed. When Joanne came back, the air felt less tense.

“So, what’s going on that you didn’t want your parents to know?” Matt asked.She sat and folded her hands. “Julie didn’t have many friends. And I don’t have a clue who they are.”

“But your mother said —”

“Julie was gay, Detective.”

Matt closed his notebook.

“I’ve known for years, but Mom and Dad don’t.” She paused. “I don’t see any reason to tell them now, do you?”

Matt didn’t respond. “So—whatever she told your mother —”

“Was fantasy. Made up. So Mom and Dad would think she was ‘normal’.” Joanne sniffed. “Whatever that means.”

“Did she have a significant other?”

“There was someone a long time ago, but it ended. She didn’t go out much. You saw all those movies. She wasn’t looking, if that’s what you mean.”

“How did she meet people?

She hesitated. “I don’t know.”

“So there was no one special in her life now?”

“Well, she never said so—” She squeezed her hands.

“But?”

“Julie could never pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. You could read her a mile away. At least I could.” She blinked, fighting back tears. “The last time I saw her, Friday, I think, she was all smiles. Bubbly. You know, the way you get when you have a secret you don’t want to tell?” Matt nodded. “When I asked her what was up, she giggled.”

“And?”

“That’s it,” Joanne snapped. “Look, Detective, I don’t give a shit about her sexual orientation. But whoever made mincemeat out of my sister has to pay for it. I want them crucified.”

“We don’t know for sure that it was a homicide.”

“Bullshit. You think she said, ‘let’s see… what can I do for kicks tonight? Oh, maybe I’ll shred myself to bits in a dumpster?’ Come on.” She stood so forcefully that the chair wobbled behind her. “Someone tossed her in there, knowing what would happen to her. If she wasn’t already dead, she would be soon enough.”

The sister had a point, Matt thought on his way home. He didn’t know much about the case, but anyone who had suffered as gruesome a death as Julie Romano deserved a thorough investigation. He tried to swallow, but his throat was thick. He knew that feeling. It would be with him until he found Romano’s killer.

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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