She remembered. It was the beginning of the end.

More chapters from ToxiCity

A VG Serial: ToxiCity

Episode 36

He was back at his desk scratching out notes when Brewster showed up with a box of donuts under his arm. “You get a confession?”

Matt shook his head. “I waited for you.”

“Thanks.” Brewster’s eyes gleamed.

Matt grabbed a chocolate donut and wolfed it down. He reached for another and got most of the way through it before he noticed Brewster staring at him.

“I’m glad it’s not just me.”

Matt looked at Brewster, at the donut, and pitched it into the trash. He picked up the box and walked to the one-way mirror that gave onto the interview room. Brenda Hartman was hunched over the table, head in her hands.

Brewster followed him. “How long has she been here?”

“Almost an hour.”

“Maybe we should we give her more time.”

Matt shook his head. “How ‘bout you let me start? I’ll go easy. If it doesn’t work, you start in.”

“You got it.”

Brenda raised her head when they pushed through the door. Her eyes were dry, but in the harsh fluorescent light, Matt saw purple rings underneath. Her short hair was messy, her sweats rumpled. She looked like she’d been through hell and wasn’t much interested in what came next. He set the donuts on the table, and pushed them toward Hartman.

“Have one.”

She looked at him suspiciously, gave him a quick shake of her head.

He shrugged. “So Brenda, why were you at Julie Romano’s apartment?”

“I went back to get my letters.”

A direct answer. Promising.

“The ones I read?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“I was afraid if anyone found them, they’d think I killed her.”

Matt pulled out a chair and sat. “Why would we think that?”

“Come on. You read them.”

“Spell it out for me.”

Irritation unfolded on her face. Good. Anger could help extract the truth. “We were lovers. Then we broke up. Does that make it clear?”

Matt frowned. “Not really.”

“Jesus. You’re the Detective. Don’t play dumb.”

“How did you meet her?”

Hartman’s features softened. “We were in Target. She was buying a case of videotapes.”

“When was this?”

“The end of September. Around then.”

“What were you doing in Target?”

She tried to move her arms, but the cuffs limited her mobility. “I was—I was getting supplies.”

“Supplies?”

“I left home. But I didn’t take anything with me. I needed underwear, a toothbrush, things like that.”

Donna Cleveland had been right. “So you picked her up in Target?”

Another flash of irritation. “It wasn’t like that.”

“What was it like?”

“We had coffee at that little cafe.”

“And?”

“Something clicked. Something I’d never felt before. It—I knew—it was special.” Her expression smoothed out.

“What about Julie?”

“Oh, she felt it too. It was— it was—” She hesitated. “We fell in love.”

“You knew you were in love after one cup of coffee?”

She looked at Matt. “Yes.”

Matt and Brewster exchanged glances. “Okay. What happened then?”

“I— well— I moved in.”

“For how long?”

“About a month, give or take a week.” That explained the laughter Mrs. Morys heard through the walls. And the secret Joanne thought her sister was keeping. “It was the happiest month of my life.”

Brewster cleared his throat.

Matt remembered something. “Did you ever go into Walgreen’s with Julie Romano during that time?”

She frowned.

“The drug store.”

Comprehension flooded her face. “That was the day she saw one of her students, wasn’t it?”

“You tell me.”

Her lips tightened. “I remember.” Her eyes narrowed. “It was the beginning of the end.”

“Why?”

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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