Why is it always the good ones who die?

More chapters from ToxiCity

A VG Serial: ToxiCity

Episode 4

Opening the clasp, he drew out a five by seven sheet of thick white paper. He turned it over. It was a black and white photograph of an empty field. Prairie grass in the foreground stretched to a line of trees and bushes in the back. But the shot was grainy and he couldn’t pick out any other details. Nothing indicated where—or when— the photo had been taken. He checked the envelope. No markings. He put the picture in an evidence bag, labeled it, and was slipping it into his backpack when the buzzer sounded. He pressed the intercom button.


“Yeah, Detective. There’s a woman down here who says she knows Romano. Wants to talk to you.”

Matt glanced around the apartment. “Bring her up.”

Moments later he opened the door to Tremble and a fiftyish woman whose heavy make-up and dyed blonde hair couldn’t hide the years of hard living on her face.

“Who are you?” she asked.

He stepped into the hall and showed her his badge. “How about you?”

“Annie Sears. I’m a friend of Julie’s. What’s wrong?”

He slipped his badge in his rear pocket. “Julie Romano is dead. I’m sorry.”

The woman didn’t say anything for a while. Then, “Why is it always the good ones?”

Matt didn’t answer.

She crossed herself, then pulled out a cigarette and matches from a black bag and started to light a match.

“Ma’am, you can’t smoke in here.”

“Sorry.” She looked around, as if searching for someplace to drop her match. “I just—Julie’s a lamb. The sweetest girl you’d want to meet. This can’t be happening.”

“How do you know her?”

The woman dropped the unlit match on the floor in the hall. “I wait tables at Adam’s Rib. You know, down the street?” A barbecue place that sold ribs by the slab, it was a popular hangout. Matt didn’t eat there, but other cops did. “Julie used to come in. We got to be friends. That’s why I’m here.” She dug into her bag again. “I borrowed this. I was just dropping it off.”

He looked at the videocassette she pulled out. “Klute.” Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland.

“How long have you known her?”

“Oh, I guess about a year.”

Matt retraced his steps to the kitchen and put the cassette on the counter. He turned around to find the woman had followed him in and was peering over his shoulder at the Polaroid’s he’d shot. “I’m sorry, Ma’am, you can’t come in here. You’ll have to leave.”

The woman eyed him with a sidelong glance. “Of course. I’m sorry.” He walked her back to the hall. “She was a twin, you know.”

“So I gather.”

“You should see them together. Spitting image up here.” She pointed to her face. “But otherwise different as night and day. Joanne, I think her name is.” She smiled brightly. “Like I said, Julie had this terrific collection of movies. Every hit you could think of. I always kidded her about opening her own store. Maybe on the internet.”

He nodded.

“She was a teacher, you know. At the high school. Taught math.”

“Sounds like you knew her well.”

She shrugged. “She’d come in. We’d talk. You know how it is.” She looked around the apartment. “So what happened? Did someone kill—”?

“When did you see her last?”

“Oh, I guess it was a week or so ago. She brought the tape to the restaurant. Around dinnertime.”

“Could I have your address and phone number, Mrs. Sears? In case we want to follow up?”

“Of course.” She rattled off an address and phone number in Mount Prospect, a suburb to the west. He wrote it down and nodded to Tremble. “This Officer will see you downstairs.” The kid led the woman to the elevator.

“Tremble?” Matt said as the elevator door opened. “You start canvassing the neighbors, okay? I’ll brief you downstairs.”

Tremble’s chest swelled, and he raised a hand as if he was going to salute. The elevator door closed.

Matt was packing up when his cell phone chirped. It was Brewster at the morgue. Based on the marked rigor in her torso, the ME was estimating time of death at eight to twelve hours prior to this morning. Which would make it between seven and eleven last night. Well before she went through the blade of the truck.

As to cause of death, the pathologist was stumped. Although the formal autopsy wouldn’t be until tomorrow, a quick inspection showed no gunshot wounds or contusions. And no assault, sexual or otherwise. But he had found traces of vomit and excrement. He’d open her up tomorrow and take a look.

Vomit? Excrement? Matt was glad he’d shot the pictures. Maybe he should call in some techs.


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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