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Historic Union Station means nothing to the elderly man speeding south on the last lap of what will turn out to be a one-way journey from Tel Aviv to D.C. – on a train that will soon land him at Gate A-8 and, moments later, at St. Peter’s Gate. This weary traveler, whose terminal destination is probably hell, is Louis Russo, former mob hit man and government informer. Two men are at the station to meet him. One is Richard Marienthal, a young writer whose forthcoming book is ...
Historic Union Station means nothing to the elderly man speeding south on the last lap of what will turn out to be a one-way journey from Tel Aviv to D.C. – on a train that will soon land him at Gate A-8 and, moments later, at St. Peter’s Gate. This weary traveler, whose terminal destination is probably hell, is Louis Russo, former mob hit man and government informer. Two men are at the station to meet him. One is Richard Marienthal, a young writer whose forthcoming book is based on Russo’s life. The other is the man who’ll kill him.
Russo has returned to help promote Marienthal’s book, which, although no one has been allowed to read it, already has some people shaking in their Gucci boots. Those in power fear that the contents will expose not only organized crime’s nefarious business but also a top-secret assignment abroad that Russo once masterminded for a very-high-profile Capitol Hill client. As news of Russo’s murder rockets from the MPD to the FBI and the CIA, from Congress to the West Wing, the final chapter of the story begins its rapid-fire unfolding.
In addition to the bewildered Marienthal and his worried girlfriend, Murder at Union Station features an array of memorable characters: rock-ribbed right-wing Senator Karl Widmer; ruthless New York publisher Pamela Warren; boozy MPD Detective Bret Mullin; shoe-shine virtuoso Joe Jenks; dedicated presidential political adviser Chet Fletcher; and President Adam Parmele himself – not to mention freelance snoops, blow-dried climbers, and a killer or two. There’s no place like the nation’s capital, and as her myriad fans know, Margaret Truman always gets it right. Murder at Union Station is a luxury express, nonstop delight.
A nasty squall had blown across Pitts Bay earlier in the day, the wind tossing sheets of water against the landmark pink facade of the famed Hamilton Princess Hotel. Blue sky and sun followed the storm; the hotel was now bathed in lambent light.
Kathryn Jalick unlatched the sliding glass door of the second-floor suite, slid it open, and stepped out onto the small balcony overlooking the bay. She’d carried a large, fluffy white towel with her from the bathroom, which she used to wipe residual water from the two plastic chairs and glass-topped table. She returned inside to retrieve a glass of white wine she’d poured from a bottle purchased that morning in one of Hamilton’s downtown liquor stores, and took a chair.
Below was a pitch-n-putt green on which two men were engaged in conversation between putts. She knew both, one better than the other.
She’d been dating Richard Marienthal for three years. The anniversary of their first meeting was Tuesday of next week; marking such dates and occasions was important to Kathryn, and she was good at it.
They’d met at Irish Times, a popular place a block east of Union Station, in the northwest corner of the Capitol Hill area. Irish Times was one of three establishments within a block of each other catering to those seeking a wee bit o’ Ireland; The Dubliner and Powers Court Restaurant were the other two. A hundred years ago, when nearby Union Station was on the drawing board, its planned location was on the edge of Swampoodle, an infamous Irish slum, which was said to be the ideal place to turn a dishonest dollar. Those days were, of course, gone. A foul swamp had been transformed into a thriving neighborhood anchored by the station. If there were such a thing in Washington as an Irish neighborhood—which there isn’t—the area around North Capitol and F Streets would have to do. Although the pubs there were practically interchangeable—same beers, same atmosphere, same spirited conversation—patrons were fiercely loyal, including Marienthal, who wasn’t Irish but for whom authenticity was important, and who considered Irish Times to be, well, more authentic than the others.
He had been at the bar with Winard Jackson, an up-and-coming tenor sax player, when another friend brought Kathryn and a female friend into the room. If there was such a thing as love at first sight, Kathryn experienced it that evening, and try as she might to appear cool and disinterested, her immediate infatuation with him was almost comically obvious. Marienthal’s black musician friend, Jackson, eventually whispered in his ear, “I think the lady’s smitten with you, man. Time for me to split.” Marienthal and Kathryn were soon alone at the bar, where they lingered over fresh, bubbly tap beers.
It became apparent to Kathryn as they drank and talked that this Richard Marienthal was different from other young men she’d met since moving to Washington six years ago to pursue a career as a librarian. First hired by the Daughters of the American Revolution’s Library of Genealogy and Local History, she later landed a plum job at the prestigious Library of Congress, where she still worked. The daughter of a plainspoken Kansas pharmacist, Kathryn found most other men with whom she’d worked or dated too slick and sure of themselves, consumed with their appearance, terminally ambitious, and always pretending to know more than they did. Like Geoff Lowe, the young man practicing putting with Rich on the grounds of the Hamilton Princess.
Marienthal was none of those things. He was big and tousled, a teddy bear type. His face was boyish, although she judged him to be in his late twenties or early thirties. His smile, too, was boyish, meaning it looked the way it probably had when he was a little kid, with a hint of mischief in it. Smiles change with age, she knew, but his hadn’t. She liked it. This night in Irish Times, he wore a gray-and-red-checked shirt, baggy chino pants, and a tan safari jacket frayed at the neck.
Slightly tipsy, they decided to have dinner together, after which he escorted her home to her apartment on the fringe of Foggy Bottom. She hoped he would kiss her good night, which he did, lightly, like a campaign promise, without commitment. She hoped he would commit to seeing her again, which he also did, saying he would call the next day. He kept his word.
“He’s so gentle and kind, and really funny,” Kathryn told her sister back in Topeka on the phone that night. “And he’s a writer, too. Very handsome in a rugged sort of way, but not macho, if you know what I mean. He’s tall. I mean, a lot taller than me. I kidded that we’d have trouble dancing together. Know what he said? He said he’d install a little microphone in one of his shirt buttons and I could talk into it.” She giggled. “Know what else he told me? He told me my glasses not only make me look smart, they make me look sexy.” Kathryn Jalick had worn big round-shaped glasses since junior high school. She had never been happy about having to wear them—until this night. She and her sister laughed. Kathryn’s sudden acceptance of her black-rimmed glasses was symbolic of her acceptance of the large young man.
Three months later, she moved into Marienthal’s apartment in the Capitol Hill district, a block from the bustling Eastern Market at Seventh and C Streets, where they’d been living since, discovering more about each other every day and liking what they learned; haunting the market in search of fresh produce and honing their cooking skills for small dinner parties with friends; lazing in front of the small fireplace when the winds blew and ice covered the streets of Washington, D.C.; and strolling the neighborhood on Sunday mornings, buying the papers and going back to bed, where they usually spent the rest of the day under the covers catching up on the news and with each other.
She wrapped the white terrycloth robe tighter around her against a chilled wind off the bay and continued to watch Rich and Geoff Lowe on the putting green. She couldn’t hear their words, but she knew what they were discussing. How could she not? That’s all Richard had talked about for the past year. He was consumed with it, driven. “I’m a man on a mission,” he would often say when she questioned the long hours he worked on the book. She wished Rich hadn’t gotten involved with Lowe, a pretentious sort if she’d ever seen one, and she’d seen plenty of them in Washington, D.C., basking in the reflected glory of their powerful political bosses, like secretaries to high-profile physicians who assume their bosses’ status and press it upon patients.
Meeting like this in Bermuda was Lowe’s idea, silly cloak-and-dagger stuff, Kathryn thought. She didn’t like the influence Lowe seemed to have developed over Rich. The man she’d fallen in love with had been changing before her eyes since hooking up with the young Senate staffer, and not for the better.
Marienthal looked up and waved, gave her that boyish grin. She returned the greeting and raised her glass. “Up in a minute,” he yelled, and walked off the green with Lowe.
They had dinner that night in the hotel’s Harley’s Bistro, a large, modern room with huge windows overlooking the pool and Hamilton Harbor beyond, Rich, Kathryn, Lowe, and Ellen Kelly, who worked with Geoff but who was obviously more than that; they shared the same hotel room. Kathryn wished she and Rich could spend a week alone in romantic Bermuda, but that wasn’t in the cards. He’d been away for almost three weeks, returning to Washington from Israel only yesterday and announcing they were flying to Bermuda to meet Lowe and Ellen Kelly, who’d already been there a few days enjoying themselves.
Unsurprisingly, Lowe dominated the dinner table conversation, ranting about politics, which, Washington style, he seemed to feel only he had a handle on, and vilifying the current administration and president. Adam Parmele was in his first term and running for a second. Geoff Lowe was a short man, not much taller than Kathryn, who was five feet, four inches tall. He was chunky, with a large face dominated by a broad nose that would not be out of place on a professional prizefighter. Balding prematurely, he had strands of blond hair long at the sides. He was type A personality personified; even when seated he seemed to be in motion.
Rich and Kathryn had heard Lowe’s lectures too many times over the past year to react with anything but feigned interest, and she sensed a similar paralysis in Ellen, although Lowe’s colleague and girlfriend seemed to exhibit dutiful interest in his words. But the redheaded, green-eyed Kelly also seemed aware of Rich and Kathryn’s situation because she would turn the conversation around to them whenever Lowe took a break.
“How was Israel this time, Rich?” Ellen asked.
Marienthal laughed and sipped his wine. “Great place. Same as it’s always been,” he said. “I’ve been there so often lately I ought to start wearing a yarmulke.”
“Adam Parmele’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian situation, if you can call it an approach, is ridiculous,” Lowe said, obviously not interested in learning more from Rich. “His whole foreign policy is a joke. Anybody with half a brain could have seen that when he was running—waffling, saying one thing one day, reversing himself the next.” He shook his head and sat back in his armchair. “Another four years with this liberal bumbler and we’ll really be down the drain—the economy, crime, foreign policy, all of it.”
Again, Ellen changed the subject out of deference to Rich and Kathryn, asking Kathryn a question about her job at the library, which led to a lengthy tale of how she’d only recently been promoted into the rare documents room, which answer carried them through dessert but stopped short of coffee with Sambuca.
They ended the evening in the lobby. At least Kathryn thought it had.
“Flight’s at noon,” Lowe said. “Airport shuttle leaves at nine-thirty. Come on, I’ll buy you a drink.”
Marienthal looked at Kathryn, whose face said she wanted to get away from the other couple.
“Thanks, no,” Marienthal replied.
“There’s something we still have to go over,” Lowe said. “Why don’t you two gals browse the shops? Some of them are still open.”
Kathryn hoped Rich would remain firm in declining a drink with Geoff, but he disappointed her. If there were one thing about him that sometimes bothered her, it was how he always seemed to understand both sides of any debate. On the one hand, it was an appealing trait, often heading off potential arguments. On the other hand, it was waffling, and he was easily led at times, the most persuasive—or the last—voice heard having the most influence on him.
“We’ll make it quick, hon,” he told her. “Meet you in the room in an hour.”
Kathryn and Ellen watched the two men cross the lobby and disappear into the wood-paneled Colony Pub.
“I’m beat,” Kathryn said. “Think I’ll head up to the room.”
“Me, too,” Ellen said. “By the way, it’s great what Rich is doing, Kathryn.”
Kathryn’s curt nod did not convey what she really thought. She wished Rich had never agreed to Lowe’s proposal. If only he hadn’t. If only they could turn back the clock a year. If only she didn’t have this nagging feeling of foreboding that kept her awake nights. If only . . .
From the Hardcover edition.
Posted September 26, 2012
Posted June 2, 2012
Margaret Truman turned 80 years of age the year this book was published, but she seems as up to date with technology and modern catch-phrases as someone of far fewer years. The plot itself could have been set in 2012. Even the political polemics of the intervening years could fit comfortably as a backdrop to this tale of intrigue and deception. Most mystery buffs of all ages--beginning at late teens--would enjoy this book, and I plan to get another one to help recall another of D.C.'s special venues.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 2, 2009
My bookclub selected this book to read after reading a very boring biography last month. This was an easy read, had twists and turns in the plot and used well known points around town as part of the plot. Will not win any prizes but very good for rainy day reading.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 27, 2004
Writer Richard Marienthal¿s first book is a true crime exposé that made it to press only because former hitman Louis Russo, now a government informant hidden within the witness protection program, gave him the information he needs; the book is almost a biography of Russo only. Russo has agreed to return from hiding in Tel Aviv to promote Marienthal¿s debut effort.......................................... However besides Marienthal waiting to meet Russo at DC¿s historical Union Station, someone else looks forward to greeting the aging retired mobster. That other greeter kills Russo. As the FBI, CIA, and local police investigate, Marienthal wonders whether this was a mob hit or something more devious as Russo had exposed an overseas operation he took care of for capital higher ups. The writer¿s musings turn personal with the epiphany that his book places in peril his fiancée Kathryn Jalick and those helping him bring it to publication, but also feels trapped as it is too late to turn back the hands of time as his beloved desperately wanted to happen as she saw the ruthless publishing world abduct him with money, adulation, and fame.......................................... MURDER AT UNION STATION is a strong Capital Crimes who-done-it with conspiratorial elements that make for quite a tale as Richard finds his life spinning out of control just when he is on the brink of success. He makes the tale work as he goes from euphoric to concern to panic in a realistic manner. The support cast either spotlights Richard¿s conversion from Lady Macbeth level of ambition to dread of what he wrought onto loved ones and friends or furbish a deep look at the city. Margaret Truman does Washington like no one else.......................... Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 10, 2011
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Posted December 31, 2011
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Posted April 13, 2011
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Posted January 1, 2010
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