There were two motives, two poisons, and two murderers.

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A VG Serial: ToxiCity

Episode 26

“O God, full of mercy, who dwells on high, grant proper rest on the wings of

The Divine Presence…”

The rabbi was just starting a final blessing over the dead when Matt arrived at the funeral. Slipping a kipah on his head, he entered the back of the synagogue.

Nelson and Brewster had stationed themselves at the back of the sanctuary to observe the crowd, which, at over two hundred, was huge for a weekday afternoon. Scanning the pews, Matt spotted Stuart Feldman among the mourners. What was Feldman’s connection to Simon? Matt craned his neck to see if Ricki was with him. She wasn’t.

He was shocked at how much Feldman had aged. His face, once round and hearty, was gaunt, and there were circles under his eyes. The designer suits that used to cover him like a second skin hung in folds.

The service ended, and the mourners slowly worked their way through a receiving line. He and Brewster headed out to the unmarked. A television van was parked next to it, and the crew was unloading their gear. A young blonde was using the side-view mirror to fix her make-up. As the two Detectives drew near, she turned to them and smiled brightly.

“Detective Singer? Amy Ferguson, WMAQ. Is it true these two murders are connected and that RDM is in the middle of it?”

“I’m sorry. I have nothing to say.”

She shifted towards Brewster, who cut his eyes from the reporter to Matt with a look of panic on his face. Matt shook his head, and Brewster tucked his head down like a bull about to charge. Ferguson sidestepped around him and headed across the parking lot.

Matt grinned at his partner. “You learn fast.”

Brewster nodded.

“You pick up anything inside?”

“Nope. Just crowd control. What about RDM?”

“The owner kept telling me he wasn’t mobbed up.”

“You believe him?”

“Probably. But we’ll canvas their people anyway. Can you get a team together tomorrow?”

“You got it.”

The door to the synagogue opened, and Stuart Feldman emerged with Charlene Simon, his arm around her shoulder. Helping the widow into a limo, he waited until the car pulled away. He was about to turn away when Amy Ferguson approached him, microphone in hand. As the camera began to roll, he spoke earnestly into the mike. It occurred to Matt that Stuart Feldman liked wealthy, powerful women.

Matt pored over Simon’s autopsy report. The ME’s observation about blue skin had been prescient: Simon’s cause of death was pulmonary edema, which led to hypoxemia. In layman’s terms, his lungs had filled up with fluid, drowning and cutting off his oxygen supply. Though tissue cultures confirmed that fluids had seeped into his lungs because of a pulmonary irritant, the ME couldn’t identify what the irritant was.

As Matt read on, he grew uneasy. The cool temperature in the pit had slowed things down. Still, the rigor and blood composition confirmed the vic died before he went into the pit. Like Romano. But the ME couldn’t rule out an accidental emission or airborne toxin, so Simon’s manner of death could not conclusively be ruled a homicide. Again like Romano. The only thing the ME could say was that based on the corpse, whatever Simon inhaled probably took between thirty-six and forty-eight hours to kill him, unusually quick for most infectious agents.

Matt checked with the State Police and the Illinois EPA. No highway accidents or train derailments over the past few days involved any emissions. Nor had any industrial or agricultural accidents been reported in the area. He taped a shot of Simon next to the photo of Romano above his desk.

“The problem is there’s a limit to what the ME can do,” he said at the Task Force briefing that afternoon. “They get fifteen to twenty bodies a day. They’re not in a position to work with us long-term. They want to get rid of ‘em.”

“So where do we turn?” Carrie Nelson asked.

“The crime lab’s promised a full workup but they need to know what to test for,” Matt said.

“They can’t do it themselves?”

Matt shook his head. “It’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack. They want us to narrow it down.” He turned to Doyle. “I’d like to call the FBI. Also the military.”

“Why in hell do you want to do that?” Doyle said.

“Maybe they were testing some kind of nerve gas in the area.”

Doyle sucked on his pipe.

“I know it’s a long shot, but we’ve got to cover all the possibilities. And the Bureau might be able to steer us in a new direction.”

Doyle was silent for so long Matt thought he hadn’t heard him. Finally, he took the pipe out of his mouth. “I don’t think so.” He scanned the Detectives’ faces. “Let’s everybody slow down, okay? We’re dealing with two average citizens here. The ME can’t even confirm homicides. Yes, we have a suspicious situation, which is why we’re here, but nerve gas? Secret military activities? “He flipped up his palms. “Get real.”

“But sir, we need—”

“I’ll tell you what we need,” Doyle said. “We need to be careful. We don’t need to broadcast the fact we need help.”

“But the Bureau’s resources are beyond anything we have.”

“Singer, the links between your vics are weak at best. Yes, they both died because of some unknown pathogen, and yes, they were both moved to an RDM facility. But the cause of death for each is different, and we got nothing to suggest the two of them knew each other or shared anything in common. You call in the Bureau, they’ll take over and show us up as incompetent rubes. Just hold off.”

Matt stiffened. First Doyle wanted him to finish fast; now he wanted him to slow down. His jaw clenched. The most he was able to get out of him was permission to research undetectable poisons. But with hundreds of thousands of possibilities, he didn’t hold out much hope. Matt had to face the fact that there could be two motives, two poisons, two murderers.


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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