Three unexplained deaths with the same MO.

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A VG Serial: ToxiCity

Episode 53

Ricki Feldman called back before Stone got to Glenbrook. When Stone filled her in, she was restrained. “How did it happen?”

He told her what he knew.

“Where is he now?”

“The Medical Examiner has the body. They’ll do the autopsy tomorrow.”

There was no response.

“What about his family? Next of kin? Who do we need to call?”

She hesitated. “He’s divorced. His ex-wife lives in Florida. They haven’t spoken in years.”

“I need her number.”

“I’ll call her,” Ricki said.

“That’s fine, but I’ll need to talk to her. What about kids?”

“None.”

“What about siblings?”

“I think he had a brother somewhere. Maureen—that’s his ex-wife—would know. But Paul was pretty much of a loner, Detective. He ate, slept, and breathed for us— I mean— his work. He is—was—irreplaceable.” Her voice cracked. “My father will be devastated. They were best friends.”

“I’m sorry.”

“We’ll handle the funeral arrangements.”

Typically, a deceased’s family members, however distant or estranged, made the decisions about a loved one’s burial. But Ricki was already taking control. Why, Stone wondered.

The Feldmans had a way of courting people to do their bidding. Flattering you, persuading you that you, and no one else, could do the job. But what happened after they dangled opportunities in front of you and wooed you with their charm? In Landon’s case, they had apparently taken over his life, sucked him into their vortex. Maybe that was why his marriage failed.

Stone recalled how Ricki had called Deanna and him “my Detective,” “my publicist.” People were just fungible commodities to the Feldmans, resources to be used up and thrown away. He switched the phone from one ear to the other. “We’ll need to search his place.”

“I’ll arrange it. He lived in one of our buildings.”

“Thanks.” Stone cleared his throat. “Listen. I want you to know we will find out what happened to Paul Landon.”

Silence. Then, “If you don’t, my father and I will make sure someone else does. This has gone on long enough.”

“The similarities aren’t that strong,” Doyle’s face was pinched. He and Matt sat on one side of a conference table, Stone and Phillips on the other. “The only thing you’ve got is the absence of trauma, and the fact they were all found in dumpsters or pits.”

“Close enough, Sean,” Phillips said, “And you’ve already activated the Task Force. It makes sense to handle them together.”

“Hold on, Hank,” Stone said. “We don’t have confirmation about Landon yet.”

“Of course you don’t,” Phillips glared. “But you can’t chalk it up to coincidence, can you?”

Stone drew a line down the middle of a piece of paper. At the top of one column he wrote the word “Glenbrook”, on the other “Landon”. He aimed his pencil at the Landon side. “Logic dictates that Landon’s death, if it is a homicide, had to be related to the Feldman Development project. The others aren’t.”

“You don’t know that,” Doyle said.

Stone looked from Phillips to Doyle. “You know something I don’t?” He didn’t want to work with Doyle any more than Doyle wanted to with him.

“Look, guys.” Phillips said. “If we’re going to join forces, we need to be clear on the facts. Matt, why don’t you run down the highlights?”

Matt summarized his investigations, starting with the discovery of Romano in the dumpster. How they’d eliminated RDM, Romano’s family, even Brenda Hartman as suspects. How they hadn’t found whatever caused her to go into shock and die. Moving on to Simon, he told them about the pulmonary edema, noted his extra-marital activities, and except for the woman at the bar of the East Bank Club who had disappeared, the absence of suspects. “We could use a fresh set of eyes,” he finished up. “Joining forces will give us that.” He turned his gaze to Stone.

“Not to mention the budget considerations,” added Phillips.

“Not necessarily,” Doyle countered. “They’re still essentially three cases.”

“Commander Doyle may be right,” Stone said. Doyle sat straighter. Stone cleared his throat, irritated to find himself on the same side as Doyle. “I think we’re jumping the gun. I don’t see the connections between Romano, Simon, and Landon. We have to consider the possibility that there is no pattern. That these deaths are tragic but ultimately random events.”

“Except for the fact that Feldman showed up at Simon’s funeral,” Matt said.

All eyes turned to Matt. Stone drew a double line under the word “Feldman”.

“We had no reason to connect them—until today,” Matt said. “Now, of course, Feldman’s not taking calls. And Simon’s wife isn’t home.”

“What about Romano? Any connection to Feldman?”

Matt shook his head.

“You can bet that when the press gets on it, they’ll find something,” Doyle said. “They’ll probably have them sleeping together before this is over. And hang us out to dry for not finding it.”

“The press is not running these investigations, Sean,” Phillips said firmly.

“But they are a factor,” Phillips said. “Look Stone, I know how you feel. I’m not anxious to make the leap either, but it may be immaterial. We have a bigger problem. Cecil Vaughan called yesterday. The Bureau’s starting to make noise.”

“Why? Because we’ve had the cases for a couple of weeks and haven’t solved them?” Doyle sounded whiney.

Stone remembered his conversation with Vaughan.

“You can understand their curiosity,” Phillips said. “Maybe they should step in.” Doyle shot Phillips a withering look.

“What about it, Sean?” Phillips said. “You mentioned some internal problems anyway.”

“No trouble here,” Doyle said, glancing pointedly at Matt. Matt’s face turned stony.

Stone jumped to his friend’s defense. “Hold on. Matt has put in a lot of hours. It would be a waste of time to start all over again. Even for the Feebs.”

“I’m glad you both agree.” A small formed on Phillips’ face. “That’s why the only sensible option is to join forces and handle all the homicides together. You don’t really have a choice, if you want to run with the Landon case. We have three bodies, three unexplained deaths, all with a similar MO. And now there seems to be a connection between two of the three cases. The task force gives us a lot more arms and legs to throw at these cases.”

Stone tapped his pen against his paper.

“Vaughan trusts you, Stone,” Phillips added. “If you’re in charge, he may back off. And of course, you and Singer have worked together before.”

Stone didn’t answer.

“So, it’s settled. Stone and Singer are leads. You both report to Doyle.”

Matt cut in. “There’s a Detective from Deerfield who’s been running down the case on Simon. I want to keep her in the loop. Brewster too.”

Doyle nodded.

Tearing his sheet of paper into shreds, Stone turned to Matt. “So, partner. You got my desk ready?”

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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