Which girl did God really have in mind for him?

More chapters from ToxiCity

A VG Serial: ToxiCity

Episode 40

That night Matt did go to the synagogue for the ceremony that concludes the Sabbath. Georgia stayed home. He was surprised to see Ricki Feldman. She was wearing a jumper over a white turtleneck, and her silky dark hair was loose, softly framing her face. He sat next to her, and they walked out of the sanctuary together after the service.

“You know the service backwards and forwards,” she said, her boots clicking on the parquet floor of the hall. “In Hebrew.”

He smiled.

“Where did you learn so much?”

“Here and there.”

“You went to Jewish day school, didn’t you?”

“Guilty. But that was a long time ago.”

“I wish I knew more about the liturgy and the rituals.”

“You will if you keep showing up here.”

“I will if I talk to you.”

“I’m not that learned. You ought to talk to my father.”

“You’re just modest.” She smiled shyly. “You’re an odd duck, you know. Religious scholar. And Detective. Don’t misunderstand me,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful. You—you’re—” Her hands made circles in the air as she searched for the right words. “You’re committed to protecting things. Physical and spiritual. A person could feel very safe with you.”

Safe? Is that how she saw him? He couldn’t save his own soul, much less anyone else’s. “I’m nothing special.”

“You’re wrong.” She trotted over to the rack of prayer books near the door to the sanctuary, grabbed one, and started thumbing through the pages. “Here.” She opened the prayer book wide and handed it over, pointing to the bottom of the page. Matt scanned the passage. It was one of the blessings recited on the Sabbath. The prayer asked God to bless people who served the community and to forgive them any wrongdoing.

“See?” She took the book back. “Special dispensation. Direct from the Boss.” She smiled. “Not a bad deal. Everyone needs an edge.”

He watched her place the book back on the rack. Then he asked, “So, what brings you back?”

She hesitated. “It—this seems like a good place to be. I need some perspective.” She explained about the dog. “Actually, I’m glad I ran into you. Your friend, Detective Stone, suggested I get a bodyguard.”

Matt’s eyes widened. “Stone said that?”

She slid her eyes to the side. “Well, he didn’t disagree when I brought it up.”

Matt leaned against the wall. Stone wasn’t an alarmist; he wouldn’t suggest something like that casually.

“I don’t like threats, Matt. I don’t want someone invading my privacy.” She brushed a lock of hair off her forehead. “No. That’s not it. The truth is that the dog made me realize I’m not in control of this situation. And that’s unacceptable.” Her chin tilted up. “Anyway, what I want to know, is …” She hesitated. “Look. I know Stone thinks the world of you, and well— do you think maybe you could help us out? As security? When you’re off duty, I mean?”

The expression on her face told him she was serious. He drew in a breath. It wouldn’t be hard time, and the thought of seeing her on a regular basis filled him with an unexpected spasm of pleasure. Then reality returned. He crossed his arms. “I’m in the middle of two cases, and I barely have time for to eat. Anyway,” he hoped he sounded self-effacing, “I’m not exactly the bodyguard type.”

Her eyes lingered over his body. “I wouldn’t say that.”

Matt felt his face get hot. He wasn’t sure what to say, when Howard, one of the congregants, passed them with a plate of food.

“There you are, Matt.” He bent his head towards Ricki. “She was asking if you were coming.”

She looked down. A flush spread from her neck to her face. The same lock of hair fell across her face again. A sudden impulse made Matt want to brush it off her forehead. As if she had read his mind, she looked up. Their eyes locked, and he saw a question in hers, a tacit invitation.

“I understand.” Her voice was low. “It was just a thought. Tell me,” she said after a pause, “How did a day school student end up as a cop? That’s got to be an interesting story.”

Matt followed her into the kitchen. Her voice, now cheerful, seemed to belie the intimate moment they had just shared. “Not—not really.” He felt awkward and confused. “Things happened. I changed. I mean, the times were different.”

She eyed him. “It was a girl, wasn’t it?”

He threw her a surprised look. “How did you know?”

“Whenever a man fumbles for words, there’s usually a woman involved.” She helped herself to an apple. “Am I right?”

Matt took a sweet roll.

“What happened?” She bit into the fruit.

He didn’t answer.

She stopped chewing. “She wasn’t Jewish.”

Again he looked up.

A smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. “What was her name?”

“Caroline.”

“Pretty.”

Matt was quiet.

“You don’t want to talk about it.”

“Not much.”

“Okay.” She waved the hand that held the apple. “So what brought you back?”

“I—I’m not exactly sure,” he lied. “It was after I worked my first homicide.”

“There’s something about death, isn’t there? The finite quality of it. The permanence. The absence of choice.”

He started. “How do you—”

“My mother.”

He put down the roll. “I’m sorry. I forgot.” Ricki Feldman’s mother had died when Ricki was quite young.

“It’s okay.” She reached out, her fingers grazing his forearm. They exchanged glances. She withdrew her hand. The skin where she’d touched him felt singed.

“I—I’d better get back.”

“Sure. You have things to do.”

He made no move to leave.

“I’ll see you.”

He forced himself to push through the door. Outside, away from the warmth of the synagogue, the wind had picked up, and leaves danced in chilly gusts of air. The night seemed darker, bleaker, lonelier. As he climbed into his car, he looked back at the building. She stood just inside the door, framed by the light, watching him go. As he pulled away, he asked himself a question. If God really intended for Jacob to marry Leah, why did He put Rachel in his path?

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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