A Quiet Death

Marcia Talley

A Quiet Death

The tenth book in the Hannah Ives series, 2011

Acknowledgements

On June 22, 2009, Metro train no. 112 pulled out of Takoma Station, Washington, DC, heading for Fort Totten, Maryland. At 5:02 p.m., it plowed into the rear of another train standing in the Fort Totten station, killing nine people, making it the deadliest crash in DC Metro history. I’ve never been in a train wreck, thank goodness, but wish to acknowledge the eyewitness accounts told by survivors, rescue workers, and good Samaritans in the days following the disaster that helped inform Hannah’s story.

In addition, I want to thank:

My husband, Barry Talley, who puts up with my absences, both physical and mental, whenever I get lost in my writing.

My daughters, Laura Geyer for ‘John Chandler,’ and Sarah Glass for the broken arm, and for being a Mawrter, too.

Rick ‘Ike’ Iacangelo, DCFD Engine Co. 13, #2 Platoon, wagon driver, retired.

Capt. Donald Jensen, MC, USN, aka ‘Mr X-ray.’

My Sisters in Grime, including Carol Chase, Terri Ryburn, Toni Tucker, Laurel Anderson, Jo Mink, Joan Hubbs, Kathi Davis, Vicki Hill, Peg Shea, and Carolyn Paullin, who will know why.

My amazing editor, Amanda Stewart, my can-do publicist, Michelle Duff, Piers Tilbury and Claire Caswell, who design the most eye-catching book covers ever, Edwin Buckhalter, and everyone else at Severn House who makes it such an incredibly supportive place for a mystery writer to be.

And, once again, my fellow travelers at various stations on the road to publication, the Annapolis Writers Group: Ray Flynt, Lynda Hill, Mary Ellen Hughes, Debbi Mack, Sherriel Mattingley, and Bonnie Settle.

And to Kate Charles and Deborah Crombie – Plot fest forever!

For reasons of national security, the Library of Congress Office of Security and Emergency Preparedness has requested that I alter certain details concerning security screening pro-cedures at Library of Congress buildings within the District of Columbia. Not really, but if I got it wrong, that’s my story.

At three and twenty I am left alone, and what more can we be at seventy? It is true, I am young enough to begin again, but with whom can I retrace the laughing part of life? It is odd how few of my friends have died a quiet death; I mean in their beds. But a quiet life is of more consequence.

Lord Byron (George Gordon),

Letter to James Wedderburn Webster, August 24, 1811

ONE

Once upon a time, I worked in Washington, DC.

Then, in an extreme case of downsizing, I lost my job to the recession and a breast to cancer – both in the same year.

Now, I was back, threading my way through a knot of entrepreneurs at the McPherson Square Metro station – a sad-eyed Korean girl selling roses, a ukulele-playing panhandler, and some guy pimping Krispy Kremes – and it occurred to me that I didn’t miss the job or the commute one little bit. The breast? Well, that was another matter. Reconstructive surgery had worked its magic – my husband thinks I look hot in my red and white tankini – but the fact remained that Sports Illustrated magazine wouldn’t be featuring me in their annual swimsuit issue any time soon.

A swimsuit, I wish! What better attire for sweltering in a Washington, DC subway station on a busy Tuesday afternoon? For three thirty, the platform was unexpectedly crammed. Tourists drooped, still jabbering about their tour of the nearby White House. School kids sagged under the weight of their backpacks. Other commuters in sweat-stained cotton shirts loafed about, mopping their collective brows, enjoying a temporary respite in the underground tunnel from the relentless triple-digit temperatures. An early-September heatwave had swept over the eastern seaboard, breaking all previous records. When I left Annapolis earlier that morning, the thermometer on my shaded patio had already read eighty-nine degrees. Now, even in the air-conditioned station, I could feel sweat beading along my hairline and trickling down between my breasts.

A blue line train slid into the station and carried some of the wilted passengers away, but by the time I pushed my way on to the lead car of an orange line train heading for New Carrollton, and the parking garage where I’d left my Volvo, it was still standing room only, so I planted my heels firmly on the floor and grabbed on to a pole as the train picked up speed.

At Metro Center, more people got on than off, squeezing damp bodies, bags and backpacks into the overcrowded car, and squashing me against a guy who, according to his Hoyas T-shirt, was a student at Georgetown University. As my hip ground into his, I readjusted my shoulder bag so it hung in front of me – pickpockets were not unknown on the DC Metro system – and looked around somewhat desperately for a seat.

Several stops later, at L’Enfant Plaza, I was eyeing a vacant seat toward the front of the car, when a teenager muscled by, tethered to an iPod Nano by white ear buds screwed in tight, a scratchy boom-chica-boom-chica-boom leaking out of his ears. He beat me to it. I scowled in his general direction, and at the sign on the bulkhead behind his seat that stated in bold, black letters: ‘Priority Seating: Reserved for the Elderly and Handicapped,’ not knowing whether to feel outraged by his discourtesy, or secretly pleased that I didn’t appear to be all that elderly.

At Eastern Market, I plopped myself down gratefully at the rear of the car next to a young businessman cradling a shopping bag in his arms like a newborn, closed my eyes and inventoried the contents of my freezer, trying to decide what I might throw together for dinner. When the train popped out of the underground tunnel into the blazing sunlight after the Stadium Armory station, I used my iPhone to call my husband, who was probably still grading papers in his office at the Naval Academy.

Paul answered right away. ‘Hannah.’

‘Caller ID never ceases to amaze me.’

‘How was the fashion show?’ Paul was referring to the fund-raising luncheon I’d just attended, sponsored by a prominent DC law firm in partnership with Nordstrom in order to raise money for breast cancer research.

‘Gorgeous. There was this Eileen Fisher beaded wool cardigan. Only three hundred bucks. You’re lucky I left my checkbook at home, Mr Ives.’

‘How can you seriously look at sweaters in all this heat, Hannah?’

‘You forget. I’m a trained professional.’ I shifted the phone from my left ear to my right and relaxed into the vinyl upholstery, deliciously cool against the tepid dampness of my favorite knee-length, black and white paisley dress. I adored that dress, purchased at a boutique on Fosse Street while on vacation in Dartmouth, England, the previous summer.

‘Crossing Eye Street was a hazard, no surprise. You know those cute little Prada slingbacks I slipped into this morning?’ I asked, knowing he wouldn’t. ‘I thought I was going to lose them, sucked into the tarmac like the La Brea Tar Pits, not to be rediscovered until late in the thirty-first century.’

On the other end of the line, Paul chuckled. ‘I didn’t jog today either.’

‘Sensible lad.’ I checked my watch. ‘Look, I’m running late. Would you mind swinging by Whole Foods on your way home from the Academy? Pick up something interesting for dinner?’

‘Not exactly on my way, is it, but I’m happy to oblige. What are you in the mood for?’

‘Anything but poultry,’ I said, remembering the chicken salad I’d had for lunch that had all the taste and consistency of a minced dishrag.

‘Cuisine?’

‘Anything but fried.’ I mentally reviewed the items on offer at the numerous prepared foods bars of the upscale supermarket, factored in the heat of the day and concluded, ‘Salads! That’s the ticket.’

‘Will do.’

‘And wine. I could use some right now, in fact. A bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. Well chilled. With a straw.’

‘Hold that thought,’ Paul said, and rang off.

I stared at the screen on my iPhone for a moment, wondering if I had time for a game of Bejeweled, when the guy sitting next to me stirred. ‘You like it?’

I turned to face him. ‘My iPhone, you mean?’

He laid his bundle across his knees. ‘Been thinking about getting one, but I’ve got Verizon.’

‘Apple’s working on that,’ I said, noticing that his shopping bag carried the Julius Garfinkel & Co label, a landmark Washington, DC department store that had gone out of business more than twenty years before. ‘My mother sent me off to college wearing clothes we bought at Garfinkel’s,’ I told him, indicating the bag. ‘Back when dressing for dinner meant something more refined than pushing a tray through a cafeteria line while wearing clean jeans and an Eminem T-shirt.’

‘I know what you mean,’ he said, dark eyes serious under pale, shaggy brows that marched across his forehead like caterpillars. ‘Nobody’s got standards any more. Although I can’t wait to get out of this suit.’ He plucked at his shirt collar, open wide at the neck. His tie, navy blue with minute red and yellow stripes, had already been removed, rolled up and tucked into the breast pocket of his jacket, where it peeked out like a plump sausage. ‘Jesus. If the heat ...

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