“BRIGHT, WITTY, [AND] FULL OF WASHINGTON INSIDER INSIGHT.”
“SHE’S UP TO THE MINUTE. AND SHE’S GOOD.”
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Between them, Senator Cale Caldwell and his blue-blooded wife controlled as much power on Capitol Hill as the law would allow. Sadly, it wasn’t sufficient to protect him from a killer, even surrounded by his friends at a champagne reception in his honor.
The senator’s murder wasn’t the family’s first brush with violence. Only two years ago, a niece had been murdered, her killer never found. But when attorney Lydia James, counsel to a senate committee investigating the tragedy, suggests there might be a connection between the two deaths, she’s voted down fast. Yet strange rumors persist. The senator’s death could benefit many people, among them a bitter political adversary, an ambitious talk show host, and a master of spin who makes even murder look
good. . . .
“BRIGHT, WITTY, [AND] FULL OF WASHINGTON INSIDER INSIGHT.”
“SHE’S UP TO THE MINUTE. AND SHE’S GOOD.”
It was his favorite tool.
It weighed more than a pound. Most of the weight was in an elaborately carved ivory handle. Its blade was six inches from the butt of its handle to its sharp tip.
He'd taken steel wool to it only the day before. He often did that with the tools of his profession. He took pride in them, considered them surgical instruments. He knew that without them, he could not be the best in his profession.
He stepped back and surveyed his work, his favorite ice pick in his large, beefy hand. He was not what most people would envision a sculptor to be. There was nothing artistic about him. He was broad and lumpy and very Scandinavian-looking. His large head was bald, with the exception of a soft fringe of blond and gray hair over his ears and an unruly tuft of it spiraling up from the center of his dome.
Just a little more, he told himself as he stepped forward, weighed the ice pick in his hand, then chipped away on the right side of the work. As long as he'd been sculpturing ice he'd never gotten over the joy of feeling the pick ram home at precisely the right spot. He could sever a block of ice in seconds with the pick or, as was now called for, could gently and deftly shape a corner, deepen relief on an ice portrait, turn frozen water into whatever he wished.
Again, a step back to gain perspective. Good, he told himself. Just one more spot.
"Looks good," an employee of the restaurant said from behind him. The voice distracted him. He jerked his head and felt the point of the pick break through the skin on his left thumb.
"Damn it," he said as he looked at his hand. It wasn't much of a wound, just a small hole in the skin from which a tiny bubble of blood welled up.
"I'm sorry," said the restaurant worker.
The ice sculptor laughed and shook his head. "I haven't stabbed myself in years." He placed the pick on the table. His own blood was on its tip. "I'm done anyway," he said as he sucked blood from his finger into his mouth and packed up a black bag in which he carried the tools of his trade. "Like a surgeon's bag," he often said about it.
He took one final look at his work, then turned and walked from the large banquet room.
"He forgot his pick," the restaurant worker mumbled to a coworker who'd just come from the kitchen. "No wonder. He stabbed himself."
The other young man looked down at the pick and said, smiling, "It's a good thing he didn't stab himself in the wrong place. That thing could kill you."
Senator Cale Caldwell entered the Senate Dining Room at precisely twelve noon. He liked being early for lunch because it meant that his favored table, in a far and secluded corner and affording a view of everyone who came and went, would be available. He could have demanded that the table be set aside for him no matter what hour he arrived, just as others did, but never had, which endeared him to the dining room's staff and management. Not that Cale Caldwell was without appreciation for the perks that accompanied his position as Senate Majority Leader and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He enjoyed them along with the rest of his colleagues. It was just that he liked being liked by those who served him, especially in restaurants, which, he sometimes speculated, probably resulted from having waited tables to help put himself through the University of Virginia Law School.
"Senator Caldwell," the assistant restaurant manager said, "you're looking splendid today."
"Thank you, Charles, I feel splendid. But then again, I always do once the first fall snap hits. What's for lunch?"
"Vermont Day, senator."
"Really? Do I have to have pancakes and maple syrup?"
Charles laughed. "Of course not, senator." He consulted the menu he carried. "We have a boiled dinner, beef pudding and lime-baked chicken."
Caldwell moved into the dining room and headed for his table, muttering as he went, "I've never understood why we have to have every day devoted to one damn state or another. Any bean soup?"
"Yes, sir. Will you be alone?"
Caldwell pulled out a chair. "No, my son is joining me."
"Very well. Your usual?"
He adjusted his legs beneath the table, pulled up one long black sock that had drooped and placed a white linen napkin on his lap. He noticed a white speck on the lapel of his dark blue suit and brushed it away. Cale Caldwell was known as one of the best-dressed men on the Hill. A local columnist repeatedly placed him at the top of her yearly best-dressed list. He hadn't the money while a student to afford nice clothes and was constantly embarrassed around his more affluent classmates at the University of Virginia. Once he'd graduated and had begun his rise in law and politics, his clothing had become almost an obsession with him.
He waved to a senator at another corner table who'd been served a large platter of cold shrimp, which the lawmaker had flown in fresh daily and that was stored for him in Senate refrigerators. The chef had prepared a special sauce for the shrimp and had garnished the platter with tomatoes, radishes and cucumbers. Because the senator provided his own shrimp, he was never charged for lunch. Rankand homegrown fishhad its privileges.
Charles returned with a Virgin Maryliquor was not served with lunch in the Senate Dining Room. "Here's to you," Caldwell said, raising his glass.
"Here's to the Redskins," Charles said. "They won last night."
"I know, my son and I were there. Hell of a game." He spotted his son standing in the doorway, stood and waved him to the table.
"Good game, wasn't it, dad?"
"Yes, it was. Did you make your appointment this morning?"
"Sure. I think he'll go with me. I could use another client."
They ordered, bean soup for the senator, chicken for his son. When their appetizers were served, Caldwell asked, "Have you heard from your brother?"
His son shook his head and started on the salad. His father watched him. They looked very much alike, both tall and rangy and with full heads of hair, although Cale, Sr.'s had turned completely silver. Both had green eyes and aquiline noses. Cale, Jr., had followed in his father's educational footsteps and had graduated from law school at the University of Virginia. After working in two prestigious law firms, one in New York, the other in Washington, he'd set up his own practice which, as it developed, had turned increasingly into a lobbying activity. He had three industrial trade associations as clients, as well as a conservative foundation that was dedicated to social change through political efforts. Both knew that the senator's lofty position on the Hill helped to attract clients to the son's office, and they carefully avoided any overt use of that competitive edge.
"Tell me about the new client," the senator said.
"Not much to tell. Small trade group representing a loose group of U.S. watch manufacturers. They want trade restrictions with Japan, that's all." His laugh was sardonic. "Same thing happened this morning as always happens. Because I'm a Junior, they assume I was the firstborn. Had to tell 'em it isn't true. Why they even bring it up is beyond me."
His father smiled and wiped his mouth. He'd wanted to call his firstborn Cale, Jr., but had given in to his wife's wishes that their first son be named after her father, a distinguished and wealthy Virginia landholder and industrialist whose roots went back to Jefferson, and whose name had been Mark Adam. So their older son had been named Mark Adam Caldwell. Two years later their second son was born and the father's name Cale was bestowed on him.
The elder Caldwell finished off his lunch with rum pie. His son declined dessert. "Seeing anyone special lately?" asked the father.
Another nonverbal denial. The younger Caldwell resented his father prying into his social life. Neither brother had ever married, although Cale, Jr.'s social life was an active one. He was a prized eligible bachelor in a city crawling with unattached women, and was often seen at dinner parties and quasi-official Washington social gatherings and fund-raisers on the arm of a beautiful woman. Surprisingly, it was his father who most often expressed a desire that his son settle down and begin raising a family. Veronica Caldwell seemed to enjoy her younger son's free and easy movement through the city's social circles and often laughed at her husband's protests.
"Are you bringing someone to the great party your mother is throwing for me night after next?"
"I don't know, dad. I'll be there. Isn't that enough?"
The senator glanced around to see whether anyone else had caught the hostility in his son's voice. He leaned across the table. "What the hell is eating you?"
"Nothing. I happen to think it's great mother is doing this for you, but what I hear are sarcastic comments. You ought to be happy that she loves you enough to turn herself inside out to honor you"
"I know, I know," he said, half meaning it, actually more anxious to change the tenor of their conversation than anything else. He knew his son was right. Although he didn't have any particular love or appreciation for the arts, he'd worked hard within various committees to increase that portion of the federal budget allocated to creative and performing endeavors, all very dear to his wife's heart. That year it had reached a level unparalleled in history, and a sizable hunk of it had gone to the Caldwell Performing Arts Center.
Were Cale Caldwell a man of lesser stature, and were his reputation for honesty and integrity not as firmly established, eyebrows might have been raised. Actually, his wife's passion in life, the center, had received what could only be considered a fair share of the pie. It had applied for the funds through normal channels, with her close friend Jason DeFlaunce spearheading the drive on her behalf and her board of directors. A simultaneous and energetic private fund-raising campaign within Washington's society and artistic communities had brought in large amounts to supplement the federal grant. All in all, the financial picture at the center had never been brighter, and Veronica Caldwell was the first to acknowledge that her husband's efforts in Congress, and having his name attached to the private fund drive, had played a major role. Which was why she'd insisted on hostessing a party for him two nights from then in the Senate's largest private dining room. Attending would be an assortment of her associates from the center, some of Cale's closest friends, his family and, in the interest of continuing publicity, selected members of the print and electronic media.
They left the now-crowded dining room, stopping at a few tables on their way for Caldwell to greet a friend and to introduce his son. Finally, they reached the corridor.
"Where are you off to now?" the father asked.
"The office, and I have an early dinner engagement."
"I have a committee meeting, a couple of votes and a doctor's appointment this afternoon. Wish you were free tonight. I know your mother would like to have you for dinner. She hasn't seen you in a while."
"She's going out for dinner, then to the center."
"I called her this morning."
They took a few steps before Cale, Jr., said, "Dad . . ."
Caldwell stopped, looked at his son.
"Are they still planning a hearing on religious cults?"
"Hard to say . . . Senator MacLoon seems against it"
"Couldn't you do something to kill it?"
Caldwell raised his eyebrows. "It's not exactly my concern"
His son's face hardened, his mouth tightened. When he put on that expression he looked like his mother when she was upset or angry, and Cale Caldwell had always intensely disliked that expression on both of them. The son broke in, "It is your concern, it's all of our concern."
"Come for dinner some night and we'll discuss it. I'm late for my meeting."
"You don't really care"
Caldwell glanced around. His son's voice had risen. "We'll discuss it at home, where it belongs. Well, thanks for coming, I enjoyed lunch."
"Yes, well, so did I . . . I'll see you at your . . . testimonial."
His father looked at him, wondering if he only imagined a tinge of sarcasm.
Lydia James was grateful the performance was over. She'd never particularly appreciated Haydn, though she did admire some of his symphonic works like "London" symphony Number 101 that mixed a rondo with a variation form.
She glanced across the partially filled hall at the recital's sponsor, Veronica Caldwell, wife of the Senate Majority Leader and Lydia's friend, whose face reflected her intense enjoyment of the evening. Veronica was partial to string quartets.
"Bravo," Veronica called out as she stood applauding. The members of the string quartet, who'd just completed Haydn's "Razor" Quartetthe composer had given it to an Englishman in exchange for a new razorstood and bowed.
The man next to Lydia sighed and scratched his Adam's apple. "The best thing that ever happened to Haydn was meeting Mozart. Everything he composed improved after that."
Lydia smiled and placed her hand on the arm of Clarence Foster-Sims. Among other things, he'd been her last piano teacher before she gave up her early dream of a performing musical career for the more pragmatic one of law, at which she was damn good. She'd once blamed him for being so tough on her that he'd undermined her, but finally she was able to acknowledge that his demanding, caustic approach had helped make her a brilliant lawyer instead of a so-so piano player.
The sparse audience stood and filed into the lobby. Foster-Sims excused himself, and Lydia watched his tall, angular frame, from which a brown tweed suit hung loosely, slice through clusters of people to the men's room. A handsome self-possessed man, she thought. No use denying it, she was very attracted to him
"Lydia . . ."
She turned to face Veronica Caldwell.
"Oh, hi, Veronica. I enjoyed it very much."
"So did I. Every time I listen to Haydn I'm more aware of how he must have suffered being married to that awful woman . . . You look lovely."
"Thank you." Lydia appreciated the compliment. She didn't feel lovely. It had been a long hard day at the office, and she'd barely had time to brush her hair and change into a beige linen suit before Foster-Sims had picked her up.
Margaret Truman has won faithful readers with her works of biography and fiction, particularly her ongoing series of Capital Crimes mysteries. Her novels usher us into the corridors of power and privilege, poverty and pageantry, in the nation's capital. She lives in Manhattan.
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Like other Margaret Truman murder mysteries in her series set in the District of Columbia, this book is enjoyable entertainment. Her books bring the familiar buildings of the nation's capital to life. For the onetime area resident, it's a visit back to the land of national memorials, museums, and monuments; to marble and granite government buildings with their columns, domes, balustrades, and stone steps; to Rock Creek Park, The Mall, the Potomac River, and Georgetown; and to national treasures like the Smithsonian. Her stories achieve mystery without resorting to gimmicks, no cleverly-authored trickery to fool the reader, no artificial and contrived plotting. Her characters are interesting and they often reappear from story to story. For the most part they are complex but clear, with motivations and backgrounds typical of the people who come to the nation's capital for fame and fortune, for power and service, for good and bad.