If she talked, she said, they would kill her.

More chapters from ToxiCity

A VG Serial: ToxiCity

Episode 83

“I saw Dusty after he left.”

Mira Peckinpah was young, but not too young to have a toddler. Slender, almost frail, she had lank blond hair that fell to her shoulders, and her face seemed to hold a perpetual look of surprise. The toddler was asleep in front of a black and white TV plugged into the wall. Aside from the glow of the tube, there wasn’t much light in the trailer. It smelled of mildew, little boy, and pizza.

“But I haven’t seen him since—well, I haven’t seen him in a while.” She looked at her baby.

Stone stood against the door of the trailer, Matt beside him. He followed Mira’s gaze. “Does Dusty know?”

Her eyes clouded. “No.”

“You have a job, Mira?”

“I work at Wal-Mart.” She brushed a hand through her stringy hair. “But my girlfriend works at Harrah’s. She’s ‘gonna get me a job there soon.” Harrah’s was one of Joliet’s riverboat casinos. Mira’s chest puffed out. “It’ll be better for Brandon. I’ll be home during the day. More money, too. We’re ‘gonna rent us a real apartment.”

Stone nodded. “What can you tell me about Dusty’s whereabouts?”

She shifted. “Nothin’,” she said after a pause.

“Can’t or won’t?”

She wouldn’t look at him.

“Mira, we think Dusty may be in trouble. We want to help him.”

“Sure you do.”

“Here’s the thing, Mira. If you know where he is and you don’t tell us, you could be in trouble, too.”

She looked at Brandon, then turned frightened eyes to Stone. “I can’t say anything. If they find out, they’ll kill me.”

“Who?” No answer. “Who’s going to kill you, Mira?”

She bit the inside of her lip. Lines that shouldn’t be on a woman as young as she was creased her forehead. “He swore me not to.”

Stone yanked his thumb toward Brandon. “Let’s go outside.”

Mira got her jacket. Before she could open the door, Brandon woke up and started to wail. “No go, Mama.”

“I’m not going anywhere, sweetie. Just outside to talk to the policeman.”

Brandon’s face brightened. “Policeman?” He faced Stone. “Bang, bang.”

“Honey, you watch TV for a while,” Mira said. “Then you can have more pizza.”

Brandon toddled back to the TV. Stone opened the squeaky trailer door. The three of them stepped into the night. The door to the trailer slapped against the frame.

“So what can you tell us about Dusty?”

Mira huddled against the side of the trailer.

“Mira?”

She pulled the hood of her jacket over her head.

“Mira, we can always leave now, without your telling us anything.” She looked up. “But then, suppose in a few days, someone else knocks on your door, and you open it up, and it turns out to be Dusty or one of his friends.”

A puzzled look crossed her face.

“You know how fast news gets around. People love to talk. Sometimes they even make up things. We’ve been asking around about Dusty. At restaurants, banks, places like that. There’s always the chance that it could get back to him that we’ve been to see you.”

A light strung up between the trailers caught her face at an angle. She looked scared.

“Now, you know and we know that you didn’t tell us anything. But he and his pals don’t. And seeing how Dusty doesn’t know he’s Brandon’s father, well, who knows what might happen if they decide to show up? I’d hate for something to happen to you. Or Brandon, you know what I mean?”

She started to shiver.

“You don’t want that, do you?”

Her face, pale and gaunt, twisted with indecision. Stone wondered when either of them had last had a good meal.

“He’s up in Minnesota,” she whispered. “With his family. “

“Family?” Stone backed up. “Dusty has a family?”

“Just his mom. They’re living with a bunch of people in the woods.”

“What people?”

“I don’t know. He just calls them the family.”

“The family?”

“They want to change the world… make things better for people like us.” She tossed her head. “But he wasn’t like that.”

“Like what?”

“They taught him how to shoot a machine gun and shotgun and stuff like that.” Matt and Stone exchanged glances.

“Like I said,” she repeated. “Dusty wasn’t like that. He’s a real – a real gentle person.”

“When was the last time you saw him?”

“He stopped coming before Brandon was born.”

“Why?”

“He got scared. He thought someone was following him. Watching, you know. He wasn’t supposed to be seeing or talking to anyone he used to know.”

Stone asked a few more questions, then motioned Matt back to the car. Halfway there, he stopped and reached for his wallet. Pulling out two twenties, he retraced his steps and handed them to her. “Buy Brandon something nice for Christmas, okay?”

She looked at the cash, then at him, then slipped the bills into her pocket. As they pulled away, the light swayed in the wind, casting a silhouette of Mira against the side of the trailer.

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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