There was something wrong with people who didn’t respect life.
September 16, 2013
A VG Serial: ToxiCity
Krieger and Associates occupied an office in a new building on Frontage Road with fountains in the front and expensive landscaping in the back. But when Stone pushed past the door, he saw a couple of straight-backed chairs, a chipped coffee table, and a mangy ficus that should have been put out of its misery. Business must be slow.
An elderly receptionist, her head bent over a magazine, sat behind a frosted glass panel. Stone tapped on the partition. The woman looked up, as if a visitor was the last thing she’d expected.
“Is Mr. Krieger here?”
The woman fingered her blue-white hair, as if that might help her think more clearly. “I’m sorry. Mr. Krieger is in conference.”
“I’ll wait.” Stone flashed his shield against the glass. The receptionist slid the glass open, looked at it, then picked up the phone. As she murmured into the phone, she continued to play with her hair.
Stone had barely settled into a chair when the inner door opened. Gerald Krieger was in the same glen plaid suit he’d worn at the hearings, but had a red tie this time. And no green ribbon. Without the attention focused on him, he wasn’t as tall as Stone remembered either.
His eyes swept over Stone. “If someone said I was their attorney, they’re lying. I don’t do criminal work.”
“Thanks for cutting short your conference, Mr. Krieger. This shouldn’t take long.”
“I told you. I only do civil law.”
“I understand. Can we talk in your office?”
Krieger wheeled around and led Stone into a small office. A Formica desk and executive chair took up the center of the room. Two chairs were in front of the desk, and a computer sat behind it, its screen-saver a rip-off of a recent sci-fi movie. On the wall, next to a framed law degree from Northwestern, was a poster sketch of Bob Dylan’s profile, his hair in psychedelically colored bands. His desk was remarkably clean for a lawyer. Business must be very slow.
Stone sat in one of the chairs. “I was at the hearings last night. You feel pretty strongly about the development.”
“The Feldman thing?” Krieger said casually. “Not really.”
“Is that so? You were pretty vocal. Stirred up a lot of people.”
“Did I?” Krieger smiled.
“What about this group CEASE? You were wearing their green ribbon.”
“I filed some legal papers for them. But that’s it. I’m not involved.”
Stone scratched his head. “Could have fooled me. I got the impression you were riled up.”
Krieger turned cold eyes on Stone. “Why are you here, Detective?”
Stone leaned forward. “I’m looking into some vandalism at the Feldman site.”
“The dog shit.” Krieger laughed. “I heard about that.”
Stone kept his mouth shut.
“Hey. You don’t think I had anything to do with that, do you?”
“I wish I had. It was perfect.”
“You know it’s a misdemeanor to deface property,” Stone said.
“Detective. I’m an attorney. Words are my weapons. I was using words to stick it to them. The Feldmans.”
“Why? You have history with them?”
“As a matter of fact, I do.”
Enough posturing. “How ‘bout you let me in on it?”
Krieger toyed with the knot on his tie. “Years ago my family used to own land on Skokie Boulevard. Not far from Old Orchard. We knew they’d be expanding Old Orchard at some point so we sat on it, figuring we’d wait for the best offer. It was prime property, you know. Well, about twenty years ago—I was at school in Madison—here comes Stuart Feldman with all his downtown connections and an offer for the land. My father laughed at the price. Actually, so did Feldman. Then they started to negotiate.”
“But then a strange thing happened.” Krieger’s face darkened. “Right in the middle of negotiations, the village says the land can’t be built on. Maps for the flood plain were redrawn, they claimed, and my father’s property was suddenly zoned unbuildable.”
Stone raised an eyebrow.
“That right, Detective. Cut the value right out of the thing. My father would be lucky to dump it for twenty-five cents on the dollar. And who do you think was waiting with shiny new quarters in his pockets?” Krieger grimaced. “The bastard picked it up for a song, then appealed the floodway designation. He won, of course, and put up an office building.”
Stone ran his hand along the fake grain veneer on Krieger’s desk. “Your family must have been very upset.”
“How would you feel if you realized you were nothing more than road-kill?” Krieger said. “Actually, they’re fine now. They moved to Florida.”
“What about you?”
Krieger smiled. “It’s true I showed up at the hearings to vent. But I had nothing to do with the dog shit.”
Stone gazed at the Dylan poster. It struck him that dog shit was probably Krieger’s style. He was probably one of those guys at sit-ins who disappeared when the cops moved in. On the other hand, vandalism wasn’t a felony. It was about as criminal as smoking a joint. “Feldman’s daughter is running the show now,” he said. “Aren’t you picking on the wrong person?”
“She’s just his lap dog. Daddy’s still pulling the strings.”
“You own a dog, Krieger?”
He grinned. “I’m allergic to ‘em. Cats too.”
Stone passed the puny ficus on his way out. There was something fundamentally wrong with people who didn’t respect life, he thought. It cost nothing to water a plant.
When he got back to the station, Stone called Ann Heller and Barbara Michaelson, both members of CEASE and vocal participants at the hearings. While he got an earful on why Northview didn’t need more development, he didn’t get anything new on the vandalism. He wrote up a report for the chief before going home. It was time to move on.
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.