He crossed the line when the children died.

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A VG Serial: ToxiCity

Episode 82

There wasn’t enough time to finesse her, win her confidence. “Sheila, I sure hope you’re telling me the truth. Because if, by some chance, it turns out you know something—anything—about Maggie’s whereabouts and you didn’t tell us, you might have a problem.”

A nervous look swept across her face. “What kind of problem?”

“Obstruction of justice. A criminal offense.”

A ding from the kitchen signaled someone’s food was ready.

“But you know something?” Stone went on. “I don’t think we’ll have a problem. I have a feeling you cared about Maggie Champlain. She was your boss, but she was your friend too, wasn’t she?”

She looked down.

“You want to protect her.” Her eyes flicked up. Stone smiled. “Frankly, I don’t blame you. That woman got nothing but shit heaped on her four ways from Sunday.”

Her features softened. “You got that right.”

“We know she got screwed.”

Her eyes darted from Stone to Matt, as if she was weighing whether to believe them. Stone repressed his impatience. She needed time to come to terms with what they were asking her to do.

“I don’t know what happened to Maggie, Detective. And I’m probably better off not knowing.” She took in a breath, expelled it, and sighed. “But her son, Dusty, used to live with this girl, Mira. She’s the niece of my husband’s best friend. They were in the Arsenal trailer park over on the east side of town. Far as I know, she’s still there.”

Stone brushed his hand against her bony shoulder. “Thanks, Sheila.”

“She’s not in trouble, is she?”

Stone didn’t answer.

 ***

On the way to the trailer park, a cold rain started. Stone wiped the inside of the windshield with his sleeve. Night had closed in; the throw of his headlights barely pierced the blackness.

“You really think she got screwed?” Matt asked.

Stone blasted the defroster and the heat.

“Stone?”

Stone gripped the wheel. He had to tell Matt about Stuart Feldman. He searched for a kind way to tell him, didn’t find it. He blurted it out. “The woman never had a fucking chance.”

“Because of the lawsuit?”

Stone hesitated. “That was just the tip of the iceberg. Turns out twenty years ago, Stuart Feldman paid off a lot of people to build those houses.”

Stone explained what Art Newell and Frannie Yablonski told him. “Feldman hired the best lawyers money could buy, collected favors he was owed, and threw around enough money around to make it go away.”

The heat inside the car rolled over them in waves. He stole a look at his partner. Matt clutched the map of Joliet like a life preserver. Stone went on. “You know those CEASE people? The ones I thought might be behind the dog? Well, one of them – by the name of Krieger—had a run-in with him. About fifteen years ago his father got screwed by Feldman on a property deal.”

Matt stared through the windshield.

“He buys people, Matt, by doling out tiny percentages on deals. Then, when he needs to, he calls in his chits. You saw the list of partners in Meadow City. It’s a Who’s Who of Chicago. He doesn’t care who gets shafted, as long as he makes a profit.” He cracked the window. “And then there’s that witness who mysteriously died.”

Matt’s fingers curled around the edge of the map

“Now if that’s all he did, there wouldn’t be a whole lot of difference between him and your average Mob boss. You wouldn’t ignore it, but you maybe could understand it, this being Chicago and all.” He took a breath. “But Feldman crossed the line when those children died, Matt. He basically murdered them himself.”

Stone turned off to a side road flanked with trees. A dense fog was tangled in their branches.

“That’s the father,” Matt said after a pause. “Not Ricki. She doesn’t know about any of this. She couldn’t.”

Stone looked over. His partner was coiled tighter than a metal spring. Stone knew he had slipped a noose around his partner’s neck and was starting to tighten it. Matt would have to reject the daughter or reject himself. To do less would be hypocrisy.

He slowed at a sign on the side of the road. A few strands of colored Christmas lights were strung around its border. He could just make out “Arsenal Trailer Camp” through the rain.

“Georgia walked out on me, you know. Not the other way around.”

Stone turned into an unpaved driveway. The headlights of the unmarked flickered through trees, illuminating rows of trailers set back on blocks. He braked and cut the engine. “You ever think about talking this over with someone? Just so you’re clear on things?”

Matt looked at him as if he were an alien who had just dropped onto the surface of the planet.

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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