If she condones him, she condones evil.

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A VG Serial: ToxiCity

Episode 98

He reached for her other hand, but she withdrew them both and covered her face. When she dropped them, her face was a mask of fury.

“Your capacity for self-pity and sacrifice is remarkable.”

He recoiled.

“Tell me, does your shiksa go for the Bible stuff too?”

“Ricki —”

“You don’t know who or what you want. And you’re so wracked with guilt about it that you’ll deny yourself— and us—a chance for happiness.”

He bit the inside of his mouth. Perhaps, in some way, he wanted her to rant. It would make what was coming easier. “Ricki, Georgia’s not the only reason we can’t stay together.”

“What is it?” Her face clouded with suspicion. “What now?”

“It’s Laban.”

“What in God’s name are you talking about?”

She was forcing him to articulate it, as if speaking the words was the only way to sever the cord that bound them. “If I condone him, I condone the evil. I can’t do that. Even for you.”

He had put her in an impossible position. To agree with him was to renounce her father; to argue with him was to excuse her father’s crimes.

And she knew it. She shrank into herself; the bed seemed to grow enormous. When she looked up, her face was desperate.

“I am not my father, Matt. I’ll talk to him. Make him see what he did. We’ll start over.”

An ache started in the back of his throat.

“Don’t tell me there’s nothing I can do. Don’t.”

But he knew there was nothing she could buy, sell, or negotiate this time.

She fell back against the pillow, her eyes welling up. “Just don’t go—yet.” She whispered.

He sat by her bed while she cried. When she quieted, he backed out of the room.

***

Stone took the Drive down to the hospital the next morning. It had snowed six inches overnight, but the roads were clear and a bright sun made the snowdrifts glitter. As he passed Oak Street beach, he saw sheets of ice extending fifty yards from shore.

He found Matt outside the ICU.

“I came down to say I was wrong.” Stone began.

Matt held up a hand. “You don’t have to —”

“Yeah, I do.” He cut him off. “I didn’t trust you. I thought you’d lost it.”

“You had your reasons.”

“I should have talked to you.”

“I didn’t make it easy.”

“Let me finish.” Stone cleared his throat. “You were the one that came through for us the other night— “

Matt shook his head. “It was a team effort.”

Stone went on. “The State Police are at the apartment. They brought in a hazmat team. No one’s allowed within three blocks. We can’t even move the bodies. Meanwhile, Vaughan is working on finding the Family.”

Matt nodded. “How’s Nelson?”

Stone frowned. “She’s got a hole in her the size of California. But she’s hanging on.”

“She was—is—a good officer.” He looked down. “How did she end up with Brewster’s men?”

“The radios were fucked up. Nelson went to tell Brewster to go on up. She never came back.”

Matt frowned. “What about the poison?”

“There wasn’t any.”

“What happened?”

“Haz Mat found another unopened vial in Dusty’s backpack. The lab ran a test. It was saline.”

“He switched them,” Matt said. “He sabotaged his mother.”

“I guess Mira was right. She said he wasn’t like the others.”

“But how did Champlain let him get away with it?”

“Who knows? Dusty was her son. Parents ignore all sorts of signs in their kids.”

Matt was quiet for a moment. “Why didn’t Romano remember her?”

“It had been twenty years. She looked different,” Stone said. “Romano only saw her once or twice, remember.”

“She was there, right in front of me, returning the tape. I should have known, dammit. I let her slip through my fingers.”

“Anyone would have.” Stone gestured toward the ICU. “How’s Georgia?”

“Stable.”

“That’s great.”

“She had it, John. Ricin. She found it on the Internet weeks ago. She called me down at the station to tell me about it.” His face crumpled. “I never called her back.”

Stone kept his mouth shut.

“Ricki and I had a fight. I followed her back to Lake Forest, but didn’t go in. That’s how they got her.”

Stone shifted. What more could he say? Matt’s grief and guilt had already scraped him raw. He wouldn’t add to his friend’s misery. “So what are your plans?”

Matt didn’t answer for a minute. “I’ll hang out here. Until I know Georgia’s going to make it. Then I’ll be there for her. If she wants me.”

“And if she doesn’t?”

Matt looked around the corridor, as if the answer was drifting in the air. “I don’t know.”

Stone cleared his throat. “Don’t do anything hasty, okay? You’re a good cop, Matt.”

Matt didn’t answer.

Stone hesitated. “Well, I’d better head back. Start the paperwork. Don’t worry. Brewster and I can handle it.”

Matt nodded.

Stone made his way to the elevators. The signal chimed. The doors opened. He stepped in. As the doors closed, he glimpsed Matt at the end of the hall, his lips moving in prayer. Stone wondered whether anyone was listening. For his friend’s sake, he hoped so.

 The End

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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