The murdered woman was gay. Could that be relevant?

More chapters from ToxiCity

A VG Serial: ToxiCity

Episode 9

Matt squeezed his eyes shut and recited Kaddish. Working his first homicide a year earlier had changed Matt in ways he still didn’t quite understand. He’d decided to try again with Georgia. She was life, the antithesis of death. He needed that. But they had to keep their relationship quiet— it was against policy for village cops to fraternize. The only other cop who knew was Stone, but he knew to keep his mouth shut.

He’d also started going to synagogue again. As a boy, he’d been dragged to his parents’ synagogue, a small, dark building on the North side where they spoke as much German as English. He remembered the elegantly adorned Oren Kodesh, the ark in which the Torahs were kept. A gift from a wealthy congregant, it was covered with delicately carved woodwork depicting different Biblical scenes. Matt would study it during the long boring service, wondering how long it had taken to carve and what had passed through the artist’s mind when he was doing it.

Now, at the end of prayers, Rabbi Joel Altman tapped Matt on the shoulder. A round, cheerful man with a white beard, they’d seen a lot of him over the High Holidays. Georgia thought he’d missed his calling—he would make a perfect Santa Claus. In that case, Matt said, it wasn’t just his calling he’d missed. Tonight, though, Altman’s face was solemn.

“I heard about the body at the high school,” he said. “How do you do it, Matt?”

Matt shrugged.

Altman stroked his beard. “You found it in a garbage truck?”

Matt nodded.

The rabbi hesitated. “I want you to know something. Georgia came to see me yesterday. We’re going to meet again in a day or two.”

Georgia wasn’t Jewish, but she was considering converting. “That’s good news.”

“It is, but you need to remember something.”

“What’s that?”

“This process is never easy. You’ll both become impatient, frustrated, angry. And there’s always the possibility that, in the end, she might decide not to.”

Matt nodded.

“There’s something else. And I say this to you alone, Matt.” Altman lowered his voice. “No matter how it turns out, you should know that anyone who is willing to explore something as fundamental as religious conversion, because another person wants them to, must love that person very much.”

Matt went back to Romano’s apartment. Tremble reported that none of the neighbors heard or saw any visitors at the victim’s apartment, but Matt wanted to double-check. When he knocked on doors, neighbors told him how shocked they were, what a lovely girl she was. Mrs. Morys, an elderly woman who shared the floor with Romano thought she heard laughter from Romano’s apartment a few nights before her death, but when Matt questioned her about it, she admitted it might have been the sound track from a movie or TV; her hearing wasn’t so good.

He drove home. Inside the apartment, the smell of hot pizza and sight of Georgia setting the table chased away his frustration. She had changed into a pair of cut-offs and a cropped T-shirt, and her thick blond hair, usually tied back, was down. She turned hazel eyes to Matt.

“Hey, Singer boy. You okay?”

“Just peachy.” He opened the refrigerator and took out a bottle of seltzer.

“How about a glass of wine?” Georgia refilled her glass from an open bottle.

“No, thanks.” He closed the refrigerator door.

Before he could turn around, her hands crept up his back and slowly kneaded his shoulders. His tension eased. He turned around and slowly kissed her, his hands getting tangled in her hair. She leaned into him. His lips moved down to her throat. She groaned softly. He led her into the bedroom.

“She was gay,” Matt said afterwards. They were eating pizza in bed, the table Georgia set forgotten. She draped the sheet across their naked bodies.

“So?” Georgia dropped a half-eaten crust back in the box.

“It could be relevant.”

“How?”

“The ME hasn’t determined cause of death yet.”

“It’s not a big secret when all you have are body parts.”

“We’re concerned about what happened before she went into the truck,” Matt explained. “The ME’s ‘gonna do a full tox screen.”

“A teacher who wore plaid skirts OD’d?”

“It might tell us if she was already dead when she went into the dumpster.” Matt reached for another slice of pizza.

“Oh.” Georgia pulled the sheet more tightly around her.

“Who knows?” He chewed thoughtfully. “Maybe she did a few lines after school. To get herself in the mood for her evening activities.”

Georgia flicked a crumb off the sheet and pursed her lips. “Tell me something. Why is it that when you find out someone is gay, you automatically assume their life is warped or sleazy?”

“That’s not fair.”

“You’re the one who’s not fair. It’s not personal, Matt. It’s all of us. Especially cops. We jump to the filthiest conclusions.”

“We’re usually right.”

“What if her killer was a student? Someone she’d flunked, for instance?”

Matt put his half-eaten slice back in the box. He shook his head.

“Why not? They found her at a high school.”

“Yeah, but, the MO is all —”

“You don’t have an MO,” Georgia said.

He changed the subject. “What about the parking lot? What did you find?”

“The first person to pull in this morning was a teacher. At six-thirty. She remembers the Saturn. Thought it was strange Romano was in so early.”

“So her car could have been there all night.”

Georgia nodded.

“Why there?” Matt asked. “Why the high school?”

“That’s what I’m saying, Matt. Maybe it was a student. Or a teacher.”

“Okay. Maybe I’ll go back over. Check with more teachers.” He recalled the photo in the manila envelope in her kitchen. “There’s something else.” He told Georgia about the shot of the empty field.

“Nothing on the envelope or edges of the print?”

“Nada. But the sister said Julie was all smiles and giggles recently. You know, like she had some kind of secret. She thought Julie might have met someone.”

“A new lover?”

“Now who’s making assumptions?” He leaned back against the headboard, lacing his fingers behind his head. Georgia frowned. He leaned over and kissed her. “There’s something else I need help with.”

“What?”

“Someone needs to check out the gay bars up here.”

Georgia snorted. “There aren’t any.”

“You’d know, of course.”

“Better than you.” Georgia closed the pizza box. “As far as I know, you still gotta go down to Lakeview.” She peered at Matt. “But you said she didn’t hang out in bars.”

“What else do we have?”

She flicked crumbs off the sheet. “There used to be a bookstore in Lincoln Park that catered to gay women. It’s probably mainstream by now, but you never know.” Georgia paused. “I could drop in.”

“Thanks.” Matt lay back against the pillows. Georgia got up and walked the box into the kitchen. Her ass was tight and round. No shelf there, like other women. When she came back into the bedroom, he pulled her down on the bed and rolled on top.

 

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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