What would the dog’s death tell them?
November 27, 2013
A VG Serial: ToxiCity
Stone pulled up to Florence Armstrong’s house on Middlefork Road. This part of Northview was so upscale there weren’t any sidewalks, just wide expanses of lawn that stretched to the curb. Though it was well into November, the grass here was still lush and green. He wondered what fertilizer produced those results. Clearly nothing he could afford.
He trudged up a flagstone path to the Tudor house, taking in the steeply pitched gables, massive chimney, and half-timbered exteriors. Tall, diamond-paned windows stared out at him. He rang the bell.
The woman who opened the door wasn’t Florence.
“Good afternoon. Detective John Stone. I’d like to speak to Mrs. Armstrong.”
“I’m sorry. Mother’s¬—she’s indisposed.” The woman, in brown tweed slacks, a blazer, and penny loafers, glanced over her shoulder. Though dressed like a well-heeled matron, the lines in her face said she carried a burden.
“Nothing serious, I hope.”
“Who’s there, dear?” A reedy voice called from the back.
“It’s okay, Mom. It’s a Detective from Northview.”
“Colombo, you say? Show him in.”
The woman at the door winced. “She’s—”
“Having a senior moment?” Stone finished.
She rolled her eyes.
Stone followed the daughter back through a room filled with dispirited chintz, a frayed carpet, and dusty oak furniture into a screened-in porch. Florence lounged on a settee with a light blue blanket draped over her. Bright morning light poured through long glass panels.
“Good morning, Mrs. Armstrong. You’re looking well.”
“And you’re full of shit.” She pulled the blanket tight. Her hair was dirty and matted, and under the blanket, he spotted the sleeve of a bathrobe.
“You’re right, ma’am. You do look like shit.”
“That’s better.” She cackled. The daughter sighed.
Stone pulled up a chair.
“Who are you, again?”
“We’ve met, Mrs. Armstrong. At the hearings. Detective John Stone. I’m with the Village Police Department.”
She looked him over with interest. “You’ll have to forgive me,” she drawled, affecting a Blanche Dubois lilt. “I’m not at my best these days.” She patted her hair.
Stone hesitated. The woman had a reputation as an articulate, well-reasoned liberal. She’d helped start the Northview League of Women Voters— before it was fashionable—and traveled to D.C. for King rallies during the Sixties. Of course, that was forty years ago. But she did raise her fist in protest at the hearings a few weeks ago.
He leaned forward. “I saw you at the Planning and Zoning hearings last month, ma’am. I wanted to ask you about your involvement in CEASE.”
“The Citizens’ Effort Against Senseless Expansion.”
“What is that, my dear fellow?”
Stone shifted. “The group that’s spearheading the opposition to the Feldman project. You are one of their members, aren’t you?”
“It sounds like a lovely group, but, as you can see, I’m so terribly busy these days. I’m afraid I’ll have to decline your kind invitation.”
“Mrs. Armstrong, what are your feelings about the proposed mall?”
“Some nice young man did want me to do something.” Her eyelids fluttered. “What was it he wanted, Maryann?”
“You told him to get the hell off your property, Mother, or you’d call the police.”
Stone nodded. “Do you have a dog, Mrs. Armstrong?”
“Yes, Officer. A black Lab. Mighty. Where is he, dear? I haven’t seen him today.”
“Mom, Mighty died five years ago.” She fixed Stone with a solemn look.
He stood up, thanked both women, and left.
Back at the station, two voice-mails were waiting for him. The first was from Sharon Fox, the vet. The lab test for parvovirus on the dog came back negative, she said. But that didn’t mean there wasn’t some other toxin at work. It might have been rat poison after all, perhaps some new variety that doesn’t trigger the obvious symptoms. Or some plant or leaf he’d eaten by accident. Rhododendrons, for example. Paint with lead. Even chocolate. There were hundreds of possibilities.
Stone erased the message. In a way, he was relieved. Most of the members of CEASE, like Florence Armstrong, were respectable Northview residents. The type of people who’d as soon report a dog defecating on their property as a homicide. He wasn’t anxious to link any of them to the dog.
The other message was from Cecil Vaughan at the Bureau. He’d checked with his white-collar squads. No one was making noise about Stuart Feldman.
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.