Toxic Waste was a dirty and complicated business.
October 18, 2013
A VG Serial: ToxiCity
Before heading over to RDM, Matt stopped in at Louis Simon’s office on Shermer. A young receptionist with red-rimmed eyes walked Matt past four treatment rooms to a small office in back. Matt searched the desk and found Simon’s black book in a drawer. Thumbing through it, he saw that most of the entries bore initials followed by numbers. He pocketed the book.
In the drawer he also found a recent Visa statement that included charges from Irv’s, a men’s store, and a florist on Dundee Road. He also found a bill from the East Bank Club. Three items, in the thirty to forty dollar range, came from the club’s restaurant. More than one person ate lunch.
Looking through the rest of the desk, he retrieved a small zippered bag that contained aftershave, a toothbrush, and mouthwash. The man apparently followed the Boy Scout motto. But there were no stray papers. Or photographs.
His next stop was RDM in Mount Prospect. The trash company was headquartered off Wolf Road in a squat building with black letters stenciled on a glass door. Inside was a large room with fluorescent lights and linoleum tiles. A green Formica counter separated him from three women sifting through paperwork and listening to easy rock. Matt identified himself to a young brunette. She snapped off the radio and disappeared down a hall.
A minute later the woman returned and waved him through the gate at the counter. He followed her down a hall paneled in wood veneer to a room with a large desk at one end and a circular table and chairs at the other. Fake wood mini-blinds deepened the gloom. He got the impression RDM was a family-owned business that had expanded beyond its comfort level.
A short sinewy man rose from behind the desk. “Sam Ferraro, CEO of RDM.” The man, probably in his late thirties, had thick lips and small eyes, and his hair was styled. A gold watch gleamed under the cuff of his suit.
A second man at the table also stood up. Well into his sixties, he was stocky and rough-hewn, with shaggy gunmetal hair on the backs of his hands as well as his head. Dressed in casual gabardine slacks and a golf shirt, he looked like he used to haul garbage.
“Frank Ferraro.” He gestured to an empty chair. Matt sat down opposite the father. The son joined them.
“We are horrified and baffled by what’s happened, Detective,” the son began. “Anything we can do, we will.”
The son had the look of clean fingernails and a college degree. Matt wondered if he’d ever been behind the wheel of his own trucks. He turned to the elder Ferraro. “Do you have any enemies that you know of?”
“You think someone’s targeting us?”
“What do you think? Both homicides occurred on property belonging to RDM.”
The man shook his head. “I run a clean operation, sir. Have for thirty-five years. We’ve never had any problems.”
“You started the company?”
Ferraro nodded. “I hauled for the city of Chicago. Like my father before me. Local 456. But we always knew we could do as well as the city. So, when the suburbs started looking for contractors, we made the move.”
“I knew people here, and they gave me a break. One thing led to another, and we grew. Now we haul all over the northern and western suburbs.” Pride rolled across his face. “I turned it over to Sammy two years ago.”
“Who did you know up here?”
“My cousins moved up here in the fifties—they run the Italian Gardens on Waukegan Road.”
Matt knew the place, an Italian restaurant with a fountain in the front, red checked tablecloths, and the tang of garlic in the air. It was one of Georgia’s favorites.
“I wanna tell you something, Detective.” Frank Ferraro leaned forward, his craggy eyebrows drawing together. “You should know there’s no funny business in our family. We’re hard-working, honest Americans.”
Some people felt compelled to tell you they weren’t mob. The question was whether you believed them. Especially since the sanitation business was controlled by organized crime. Matt leaned back. The man might not be mobbed up, but he could be paying a “tax” to someone who was. Still, that wasn’t necessarily relevant. If RDM had problems with the mob, it wouldn’t have been Romano and Simon who popped up on their property.
“I understand, Mr. Ferraro,” Matt said. “But I’d like to talk to your people anyway. See if anyone has a grudge.”
“We’ll make anyone available whenever you want. We want to get to the bottom of this too.”
Matt flipped through his notes. “Have you ever heard of a company called Prairie State Environmental Services?”
The son frowned. “They’re downstate, aren’t they? They haul toxic waste.”
“You know them?”
“Only by reputation.” He gazed at Matt. “Do you know anything about this business, Detective?”
“There are your general firms, like us, that do the majority of the work. And then there are, what I guess they call in other fields, boutique firms that specialize in specific jobs. Prairie State is one of them. They take on jobs that are considered tough by normal standards. Big jobs, like Love Canal. Remember, Pop, when we were talking about starting a subsidiary to do that?”
The father spread his hands. “I couldn’t see it. We’re not that kind of company.”
“Dad thought we were cutting edge when we built the methane conversion plant.”
“You were the first in the state to do that, weren’t you?”
“We were.” Son Ferraro’s spine straightened. “But you’ve always got to think ahead in this business. Toxic waste is complicated. The regulations are strict, and with all the Superfund legislation, the liability situation is nuts. We can be sued just trying to clean up a site. Without polluting anything. Jesus, just to get the golf course up was a battle.”
“Do you still have any ownership interest in the course?”
“Not any more,” the son said. “We pick and choose our opportunities. We don’t want to be spread too thin.”
The elder Ferraro cut in. “Why are you asking about Prairie State?”
“Their name has come up. But you don’t have any kind of relationship with them?”
“None at all.”
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.