The sign on the office door still read WHERE CASES GO TO DIE. It was a white piece of paper with the letters in black marker, held in place by tape. A new nameplate was above the sign: MEG TOLMAN, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, RESEARCH AND INVESTIGATIONS OFFICE. The office was at the end of a short hallway on the fourth floor of an unassuming office suite in an equally unassuming office building in downtown Washington. The woman behind the office’s desk wasn’t thinking about research or investigations. She was wondering if she could get away with doing a lecture about piano music of the Romantic period and not mention Franz Liszt.
In the months since Meg Tolman had been named to run the day-to-day operations of RIO, she had learned that much of her job involved submitting reports to the offices of the attorney general and the secretaries of both Treasury and Homeland Security, the three departments that coadministered the agency. But she’d also learned why there had never been a person with the title of “director,” why a “deputy director” was in charge. The titular director of RIO was the president of the United States. Twice a month Tolman had a personal meeting with the president’s chief of staff. On two occasions she’d met with President Mendoza himself. In such an environment, it was easy to get distracted from her other world—that of part-time concert pianist.
Still, Tolman had farmed out as much of the administrative function of her job as possible to others in the office, so that she could still do actual work. RIO took cases that were referred from other law enforcement agencies—often strange and unsolvable crimes—and reviewed them to determine whether it was appropriate for federal resources to be committed. In most instances the cases were returned to the referring department. Occasionally they weren’t. It was a strange and surreal existence, and Tolman needed her music to balance her life.
She doodled in a notebook, thinking about the lecture she was supposed to give in the afternoon at Northern Virginia Community College. She would talk about Schumann and Brahms and Chopin and even the “twentieth-century Romantics” like her beloved Rachmaninov, but Liszt …
“Liszt was a fucking show-off,” she muttered.
She doodled a few music notes, a box, a cat, then put the notebook aside and turned to her computer to finish writing another report. She was plodding through an analysis of alleged federal civil rights abuses in a case from Ohio that had arisen from state police response to one of the recent waves of protests and general unrest sweeping the country. Protests on the left, protests on the right, she thought. No one’s satisfied and the cops are overmatched. What a mess—thinking about Liszt was easier. She looked up from the computer when her cell phone rang.
“Hello, is this Meg Tolman?” said a male voice she didn’t recognize.
“The one and only,” she said, still looking at the Ohio case but thinking about what a prima donna Liszt had been.
“Ms. Tolman, this is Carl Troutman at New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, North Carolina. You are listed as the emergency contact for Dana Cable. There’s been an accident.”
Tolman looked away from the computer. “What? Did you say Dana Cable?”
“Yes. Her insurance company lists you as her emergency contact.”
“You mean Dana Cable the cellist?”
The man hesitated. “I don’t know if she’s a cellist, but her address is in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and her insurance company—”
“I haven’t seen Dana in a long time, probably six or seven years. There must be someone else.…”
“You are Meg Tolman and you work in Washington, D.C.?”
“Yes, of course, but—”
“Then there’s no mistake.”
“Where did you say you are? North Carolina?”
“What’s Dana doing there? What kind of accident?”
“I don’t know the answer to the first question. As to the second, from what we can tell she was out walking on the seawall below Kure Beach that separates the Cape Fear River from the Atlantic. It seems she had been drinking, and it was high tide. A wave knocked her over. She hit her head.”
“That’s not right.”
“No, no, you don’t understand. That can’t be right.”
“Ms. Tolman, your friend has been in a serious accident. She’s been in and out of consciousness and is in ICU. The nurses told me that she’s said your name several times. Will you be able to come?”
“She’s asking for you, Ms. Tolman. You should come soon.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t mean to be indelicate, but if you want to see your friend while she’s still alive, you should be on your way here as soon as possible.”
Tolman gripped the phone. Dana Cable. She had a vision of the two of them playing Beethoven’s Cello Sonata no. 2. It was Dana’s senior recital at the Curtis Institute, and she’d asked Tolman to accompany her. She remembered the way Dana’s long brown hair had fallen around her face as she bowed, lost in the music. Afterward they’d gone to a bar down the street, and while Tolman drank rum and Coke as Dana drank straight Coke, both of them confessed they never wanted to hear Beethoven’s Cello Sonata no. 2 again. Tolman remembered Dana mumbling about wishing they could see her “back home” now. She’d come from some little town in the Ozark Mountains, and she was fairly certain she’d owned the only cello in the entire county. Tolman blinked away the memory.
“I’m on my way,” she said.
Copyright © 2012 by B. Kent Anderson