Was it harassment or just a prank?

More chapters from ToxiCity

A VG Serial: ToxiCity

Episode 27

“Detective Stone, this is Ricki Feldman.”

Stone automatically checked his watch Thursday morning. Barely seven thirty. Lucky he was pulling the early shift. “Good morning. What can I do for you?”

“I’m at the site. Could you come over here now?”

He heard the distress in her voice. “I’ll be there in five minutes.”

The morning had dawned with the sun a golden smudge amid swirls of pearl colored clouds, but now the sky was leaden, and a chilly wind scraped leaves across the sidewalk. He pulled up to the site in less than two minutes. The RV was now surrounded by cranes, backhoes, earthmovers, and on the edge of the field next to Waukegan Road, an industrial-sized dumpster. What was this, he wondered? The village hadn’t approved construction yet.

Ricki met him at his car. “Detective Stone.” Dressed in a Burberry trench coat and dark glasses, she didn’t look like the cocky kid in a baseball hat, or the powerful executive from the hearings. Her face was drawn, and she looked scared.

He waved a hand toward the heavy equipment. “I’m confused. Did you get the go-ahead to start construction?”

“Not yet. But we volunteered to clear the land. It needs to be leveled, regardless of what happens.”

Stone zipped his jacket. Clearing the land would earn brownie points when it was time to vote on construction. “How philanthropic.”

She shot him a look, then turned around. “Follow me.”

As they approached the RV, Ricki pointed to the door. Something lay on the top step, blocking the entrance. Stone moved closer. It was a dog with black and brown fur. Mostly Lab, he thought. Not more than eight or ten months. A puppy. Glancing around, he spied a stick on the ground a few feet away. He picked it up and gently prodded the animal. No movement. It was dead.

He took in a breath. “When did you find him?”

“About twenty minutes ago.”

Stone peered at the creature. He didn’t see any collar or tags.

She nodded, her face showing uncertainty, perhaps, even fear. He pulled on a pair of latex gloves. Bending down, he felt around the dog’s belly. It seemed bloated. He picked up the dog’s legs. Stiff, but not broken. Lifting its head, he checked for wounds or cuts around its face. He didn’t see any, and there was no blood. He did notice specks of green and brown around the mouth, however, and thrust his face closer to sniff. Vomit. He checked the other end of the dog and saw bits of excrement matted in its tail.

“What do you think?” Ricki asked.

He straightened up. “I’m no animal expert. Rat poison maybe?”

“That’s it?”

“Like I said, I don’t know.” He looked around. Bits of metal glittered in the dirt. A few rusted barrels lay at the edge of the field. “Maybe it ate a metal can, something like that.”

“But—I mean—knowing the situation, do you think this could be related?”

The wind gusted, and three or four leaves danced in its current. Stone thought back to the dog shit. “Not necessarily. It isn’t that uncommon.”

“Are you saying a dead dog on a construction site is a normal everyday event?”

“A stray that accidentally dies while foraging for food? It happens.”

“But—”

“I know it’s not what you want to hear, but I have to go with the most logical explanation.”

“So what are you going to do?”

He stripped off his gloves and pulled out his cell. “Get someone to pick up the dog.”

“That’s all?”

“Ms. Feldman, is something else going on?”

“I—I think I’m being watched.” She fingered a button on her coat. “I’m not sure. When I’m driving, I keep thinking someone’s following me, but when I check the rear view mirror, no one’s there. Then a few nights ago, I heard someone going through our garbage. I sent Walter out to check—he’s our houseman, but no one was there.”

“I thought you lived downtown.”

“I’ve been staying up in Lake Forest with my father. More convenient with this.” She waved a hand.

“Did you report it to the Lake Forest police?”

She shook her head. “Walter said it was probably raccoons. But now…” Her voice trailed off.

Stone started to pace. “Call the police when you get back to your father’s.”

“But I want you to handle it.”

“It’s not my jurisdiction.”

She folded her arms. “Surely, you can make an exception. You know us.”

“It doesn’t work that way.”

“Are you saying I’ll have to go over your head?”

Stone tugged on his ear. There were always people who assumed the rules didn’t apply to them. “What does your father say?”

“I haven’t told him. He doesn’t need the stress.”

Feldman must be sicker than he thought. “I can’t tell you what to do, Ms. Feldman, but the odds are it’s just a prank.”

She took off her sunglasses, her gaze processing him as if calculating whether he was a friend or foe. “You call this—this harassment a prank? Come on, Detective. We both know this CEASE group is responsible. I want them stopped.”

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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