What had been injected into the dead man’s belly?

More chapters from ToxiCity

A VG Serial: ToxiCity

Episode 54

Georgia opened her eyes. The room was dark, but a thin border of light flared around the shade. She rolled over and checked the clock. Ten AM. Over a week since she’d been suspended. Nine days of enforced idleness. Dragging herself out of bed, she raised the shade. Rays of sun so bright and brittle they seemed to have substance and form.

She shuffled into the kitchen. The only evidence Matt had come home last night was the red light on the coffee pot. A box of sugar cubes sat next to it. She picked one up and sucked on it. Matt liked cubes better than loose sugar – he claimed it helped him control how much he used. As the sugar dissolved in her mouth, it left a tiny glaze on her gums. She opened the refrigerator, full of milk, eggs, fruit, and cold cuts. It ought to be; she’d been to the grocery store yesterday. And the day before.

In the living room she turned on the TV, then quickly snapped it off. The talk shows were boring; the old movies in black and white melodramatic; the commercials relentless.

Throwing on a pair of sweats, she clambered down the stairs and outside. Her breath rose in little puffs as she stretched in the frigid air. She jogged to the corner and turned south. Sliding her tongue over her teeth, she felt the smooth, slightly itchy residue from the sugar cube.

She ran past manicured lawns, cleanly swept streets, and gardens put to bed for the winter. Everything looked so clean in the suburbs. Even the landfill, neatly graded with layers of dirt, masked its garbage from sight. It was all a charade. Behind the white picket fences and newly paved roads the same violence seethed; invisible, perhaps, but still ready to reclaim chaos from order.

Jogging down a tree-lined street, her shadow bobbed in front of her. Clawlike branches arched toward the sky. She’d ended up in the suburbs by chance. Raised in a lace-curtain Irish Chicago neighborhood, she’d planned to be a Chicago cop, but by the time she graduated from the Academy, they already had their quota of women. The sleepy suburban forces were just waking up to diversity, and she’d been at the top of her class.

She remembered her first meeting with Doyle, clutching his pipe like a surrogate male appendage, refusing to look her in the eye. She should have known it would be tough. But she was flattered when they offered her the job; she was only the second female officer to join the Glenbrook PD. The first quit to marry a commander.

Breaking a sweat, she turned around and headed back. As she skirted a paint store near the station, a commuter train rumbled past. She stared at the darkened windows, envying the passengers their escape to the city. It might be squalid and gritty, but there was less pretense there, less need to cling to a sanitized reality.

It was different when she met Matt. Back then the suburbs were a haven of hope and renewal. She’d been on the force a month, her uniform still carefully pressed, her shield burnished bright. Pulling up next to each other in the parking lot, they had climbed out of their cars at the same time and looked each other over. She’d felt an instant attraction but hid it until she saw the approval in his eyes.

It had been a bumpy ride. They broke up when Matt worked his first homicide. She still didn’t know why, but she was happy when he came out of it; happier still when he decided to resume their relationship. Except now he was up against it again, and it was worse: not one but three coolly orchestrated homicides.

And they were homicides, despite what the ME said. Someone had systemically killed three people, moved their bodies, then dumped them in the garbage. Made things nice and tidy.

Only in the suburbs.

 ***

Matt and Stone battled rush hour traffic on the Kennedy heading down to the University of Illinois. UIC was the headquarters for Toxicon, an academic toxicology consortium that served as a resource for poison specialists all over the state.

Stone munched on a bagel. Deanna made him give up his beloved donuts – among other things— and though he’d grumbled, he was in better shape. Gulping a swig of coffee to wash down the bagel, he started to brief Matt on Landon’s autopsy. “Preliminary cause of death was septicemia.”

Matt shaded his eyes against the sun. “What’s that?”

“Blood poisoning. Massive infection of the bloodstream. Caused by some type of pathogenic organism or toxin. It was a total meltdown, partner. Every major organ. Even I could see it. The kidneys were swollen and soft, his liver had turned a nutmeg color, and the heart —”

“I got it.”

“Sorry.” He braked behind a silver tank truck that had come to an abrupt standstill. “But we did find something interesting on his left thigh. A red, swollen area. When they looked more closely, they found a tiny puncture wound. The tissue around it was totally destroyed. Along with the lymph nodes.” He switched lanes and stepped on the gas. “Something was injected into his body.”

Matt’s stomach lurched. “They know what it was?”

“Not yet.”

Matt stared through the window. Stone switched lanes and came abreast of the tanker. A distorted image of the unmarked was reflected on the huge silver cylinder. “They won’t find anything,” he said grimly.

Stone maneuvered across two lanes, leaving the tanker behind. “Look, I know you’ve been working these cases, but I’m just starting. Play along with me just for a while. For laughs if nothing else.”

Matt smiled in spite of himself. He was pleased—relieved even—to be working with Stone again. He respected the way Stone’s brain worked: incrementally piecing together bits of data, then sifting and prioritizing until the accumulated bits led to an indisputable conclusion. No one in Glenbrook was as seasoned except Doyle, and he had a different agenda. Curiously, he wasn’t the only one who admired Stone’s methods. Doyle had popped in that afternoon to say that the Bureau backed off when they heard the cases were consolidated under Stone.

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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