What was the connection between all three victims?

More chapters from ToxiCity

A VG Serial: ToxiCity

Episode 66

Romano’s connection to Feldman fueled the Task Force with renewed energy, and they spent the three days before Thanksgiving reconstructing Feldman Development’s history. Besides Landon and Romano, four other people were employed by Feldman during the Seventies: a secretary and property manager, both of whom had since died. Another property manager now suffering from Alzheimer’s, and a fourth man had moved to Florida and wouldn’t return their calls. They did learn that prior to Meadow City, Feldman’s biggest property was a strip mall in Mount Prospect and an office building in Skokie. Stone was reminded of Gerald Krieger’s story about his father’s property in Skoke.

On Tuesday Matt paid a visit to Palmoro Paving in the backwoods industrial section of Niles. He wound through a labyrinth of warehouses and factories to a one-story building with a green-painted door. Inside was a large room lit with fluorescent lights and two battered desks. A miniature fake Christmas tree, carelessly slung with tinsel, a few red balls, and a string of mini-lights, sat on a coffee table. Matt’s entrance tripped a buzzer somewhere in the back; a woman’s voice called, “Be right there.”

Moments later, a toilet flushed and Joanne Romano came into the room. Dressed in a baggy sweater and black pants, her glossy hair was dull and lackluster, her cheeks were fleshy, and she’d put on weight. She turned blank eyes on Matt.

“You’re back.”

Matt hesitated, knowing she blamed him for outing her sister. “I’m sorry to bother you again, Joanne. How are your parents?”

She eyed the Christmas tree. “Great. We’re planning a real special Christmas, you know.”

Matt took a breath. “I don’t know how it leaked. But I’m going to find out.”

“Sure you are.” Her eyes darkened. “If that’s why you’re here, you can leave. It doesn’t matter any more.”

“It does to me.”

She looked at him pointedly, and started sorted through papers on one of the desks. “What do you want?”

“Did you know your sister worked at Feldman Development when she got out of school?”

“The same Feldman your people asked me about?”

Matt nodded.

The paper shuffling stopped. “It couldn’t be—” She straightened up. “Oh, shit. Maybe it was.”

“What?”

She blew out a breath. “I was at UCLA. Julie went to U of I. But now that you mention it, I do remember she got some kind of job as a bookkeeper. She thought she might want to be an accountant. But I never knew the name of the place.”

“Would your parents remember?”

She tipped her head. “I doubt it. Their memory isn’t what it used to be, and now, well… “

“Can you remember anything she might have said to you— on the phone—or during vacations when you were home?”

“How can I? It was so long ago.”

“Try. Please.”

Joanne bit her lip. She screwed her eyes shut and swayed back and forth. He gave her time.

Her eyes flew open. “There is something.” Her eyes flared. “I remember talking to her on the phone one night. She was complaining about the job.”

“What did she say?”

“She said—I don’t remember the exact words—but I seem to remember she didn’t like it.”

“Did she say why?”

She hesitated, as if searching her brain, then shook her head. “No. Well, maybe. Something like there were things going on that she didn’t approve of.”

“What things?”

“She wasn’t specific.” Joanne spread her hands. “But she quit a month later. That’s when she went back to school. To get her teaching degree.”

It wasn’t much. But it was more than he had before. “Anything else?”

“She never worked in an office again.” She waved her hand in the air. “I couldn’t even get her to come here.”

He pocketed his notepad. “Thanks, Joanne. That helps.” He offered his hand. As she took it, they exchanged tentative smiles.

On his way back he called Charlene Simon. She sounded breathless when she came on the line; she’d just come in from a walk. He skipped the pleasantries.

“Mrs. Simon, what was your relationship with Stuart Feldman?”

Silence. Then, “Oh God. Is he dead?”

She knew Feldman was in the hospital. “He’s in the IC. Apparently stable. But I need to know about your dealings with him.”

“Thank god.” She breathed. “Stuart and I have been business partners for years. I’ve—we invested in several of his properties.”

“Which ones?”

The cell phone crackled. Matt inched the car forward a few feet. The line cleared. “…were a major partner in his first big project. During the Seventies.”

“What project was that?”

“Let me see. There’ve been so many.” Matt fisted his hand around the cell phone. “It was something about a meadow. Yes. That’s it. Meadow City.”

Matt’s pulse raced. “You’re sure?”

“Yes. Why? What’s happened?”

“I’ll get back to you.”

He hung up and called Stone at the station. “We got it.”

“What?”

“The connection to all three vics. It’s Meadow City. Landon built it, Romano worked on it. Simon invested in it.”

“Way to go, Singer. You coming back in?”

Smoke colored clouds scudded across a pale winter sky, a speck of black gliding in front of them. “I’ll be there in a while.” He couldn’t tell whether the speck was a plane, crow, or bird of prey.

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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