He wanted the killer simply to further his career.

More chapters from ToxiCity

A VG Serial: ToxiCity

Episode 20

Staffing levels at the station were at their peak during weekday hours. Matt headed down the hall, listening to the chatter from offices, the brisk hum of machinery, the occasional page over the PA system. Those sounds used to reassure him. He’d believed in his purpose; he’d felt part of a larger whole.

Until last year. Everything had changed in the few seconds he’d killed a man. The guy would have killed him had he not fired first, but that wasn’t what plagued him in the days, weeks, and months that followed. It wasn’t that he had interfered with the will of God or tampered with the Book of Life. The secret he told no one, the evil that would blacken his soul forever, was that the instant the bullet spit from his gun, he’d never felt more alive. Or powerful. The awareness that he’d been judge, jury, and executioner, was exquisite. He pulled the trigger. And he liked it.

He tried to atone. He chanted prayers, made a commitment to uphold the sanctity of life, and took up with Georgia again, hoping to find a part of his heart that was still good and pure and strong. He thought he was making progress. But now, he suspected it was a charade. He was the worst kind of hypocrite. He wanted Romano’s killer—not for justice, or revenge, or to further his career. Like an addict who wants to use just one more time, he wanted to play God one more time.

He skirted a conference table in the Detectives’ room. Eight desks, separated by modular tan partitions, flanked the walls. His was opposite Brewster’s.

Brewster squinted at Matt. “You look like shit. Bad night?”

Matt massaged his temples. “Stone’s wedding. Down in Greek town.”

“That ouzo ‘ll kill you.” Brewster, a Wisconsin cheese-head, usually tossed back beer.

Matt pulled out his chair. “Anything back from VICAP or Leads?”

“Maybe.” Brewster reached for a curled up fax on his desk. “A LEADS came in this morning. From Peoria. Two guys jumped and rolled, their bodies left at the edge of a waste dump. Under some rusted barrels.”

“And?”

“I called down. The cops think they’re homicides. But the coroner’s ruling was inconclusive.”

“How so?”

“No sign of wounds, contusions or blood loss.”

Matt raised an eyebrow. “Who were the victims?”

“They worked for this waste type company.”

“A waste company?”

“A business that cleans up waste dumps and landfills,” Brewster said. “Prairie State Environmental Services. One of the dead guys was a contractor, and the other…” Brewster scanned the fax. “Looks like one of the owners. No. The son of the owner.”

“When did it happen?”

“About six months ago. Within a couple of weeks of each other.”

“It wasn’t a double?”

Brewster shook his head.

“They determine cause of death?”

“Get this.” He rolled up the fax and aimed it at Matt. “The screens came back with nothing on them. They couldn’t find a motive either. Or much evidence. In fact, the dick down there said it was one of the cleanest scenes he’d ever been to. Everything was wiped.”

“He got nothing?”

“Said it was creepy. His word.”

“We get their reports?”

“On the way. Technically, the cases are still open, but, well, you know—”

“Any links between RDM and this company?”

“It’s not the same business, Matt. Prairie State isn’t your average garbage collector.”

“Still. Check their incorporation records. Maybe there are overlapping owners or stockholders.” Matt opened his desk drawer, pulled out his case file, made some notes.

“One other thing came back on LEADS,” Brewster said. “A school teacher in Harvey was shot a while back. Turns out she was pregnant, and the daddy was one of her students. I guess they got different kinds of extra-curricular activities these days.” He said. “What about you?”

“Georgia met a woman who may have known Romano.”

“No shit. Where’d she find her?”

“At a bookstore on Clark Street.”

“Another lesbo?”

Matt ignored him. “I’d like you to follow up.”

Pete grabbed a pen and flicked it back and forth. “Me?”

“Is that a problem?”

“Can’t you send Georgia?”

Matt paused. “She’s not on this case, Pete, and she’s not a Detective.”

Brewster’s eyes darted from Matt to his pen. A Midwestern farm boy, Brewster followed the rules and rarely questioned authority. Matt figured his family for American Gothic, complete with pitchfork and apron and bigotry. To be fair, though, Brewster was still young. Tolerance wasn’t high on his list of skills.

Which was why Matt couldn’t send him down to interview a gay woman. He’d screw it up.

“Okay,” he sighed. “I’ll take downtown. You go to Adam’s Rib. A waitress there knew Romano. Maybe she saw her with someone.”

Brewster loosened up so fast Matt wondered what he really thought about gays. He let it go. He only had another week; he needed all the help he could find.

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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