Hear No Evil
by BV Lawson
Snowflakes the size of silver dollars made fractal patterns on Scott Drayco’s coat, as he tried each door in turn. Front. Left side. Back. No joy until the last one, next to the alley with dumpsters spilling over, a veritable buffet of rat-loving detritus. The door groaned open, and he was hit by a blast of air from a furnace on maximum, which quickly melted the hitchhiking flakes.
Adina said to meet her here at one o’clock, so here he was, even as the snow inched higher on the sidewalks and a spate of closings had been announced. It wouldn’t take a lot more snow for D.C. to shut down parts of the subway. But Adina had sounded spooked on the phone, like a child lost in a maze.
I don’t remember when it happened, she’d said. When I realized music was all I had left after stripping away layer after layer of cheap veneer on my so-called relationships. Was it because I cared too much or too little?
Drayco had been inside this hall before, knew where the stage was, the greenroom, even the drink machines. Especially the drink machines. He’d always sweated so much under the flood lights, those drink machines had been a pre-concert ritual.
He wondered if they still had the same piano, the Steinway that once belonged to one of the Rockefellers, with the warm voicing he liked. Probably not. It had been years since he was here last—after the accident, of course. Not long before he joined the Bureau.
He didn’t see Adina. To his surprise, he saw her husband Carter instead. Weren’t they getting a divorce? The big-gun businessman must have appointments in town since he rarely accompanied his wife on tours.
Carter Neighbours wore his usual Armani suit and reeking of the usual mini Cuban cigars. He spied Drayco and grunted a curt hello. Adina had loved Carter once, loved his joie de vivre, she’d said. After five years, there was little joie left for either of them.
“Is Adina here yet?” Drayco asked.
Carter nodded in the direction of the greenroom. “She said she felt a little under the weather. With this kind of weather, who can blame her? By the way, I should warn you the deadly duo of Agatha and Sasha are here somewhere.”
No wonder Adina had sounded miserable and asked him to come. Between Carter, Adina's surly sister Agatha, and the world’s pushiest agent Sasha on hand, Adina must have felt she needed a sympathetic face to balance out the wild animals.
He knocked on the greenroom door. “Adina? It’s Scott Drayco.” No answer. He put his ear to the door. No sounds, either. He knocked again. “Adina?”
Carter came over to join him, and at Drayco’s inquisitive look, nodded Drayco could go in. The greenroom wasn’t large, but it sported the usual comforts for pampering the high-strung musician who wanted to look her best—chenille armchair and long makeup counter topped by rows of exposed light bulbs with their nuclear brilliance. But in this case, Adina definitely did not look her best, splayed on the floor with arms and legs outstretched, as if yellow chalk lines were already drawn around them.
Drayco knelt by her side and tried to find a pulse, but her white nail beds and the purple, waxy sheen on parts of her skin told him what he needed to know. He also noticed a bluish tinge to her lips and nails and gently lifted her eyelids. Carter must have seen on Drayco’s face the answer to the question he was afraid to ask, remaining silent.
Drayco prompted him, “Check her bag for medications. Pills or possibly liquid.”
Drayco was impressed Carter could follow instructions, looking curiously as he did like a newly minted zombie. It was hard to tell if he were in shock from grief or annoyed at the inconvenience this would add to his schedule. Carter dutifully pawed through Adina’s beaded purse, then shook his head. “No meds.”
One of Adina’s hands still clutched a program for the concert, the titles of two compositions hand-printed in ink at the end of the repertoire list. A black pen had fallen near Adina’s body and lay there uncapped.
Drayco looked around and saw few of Adina's belongings, save for a portfolio stuffed to bursting with sheet music. On top lay a single composition that he checked out of curiosity. It was one of the pieces hand-printed on the program in Adina’s hand.
Drayco whipped out his cell phone to dial a friend with the District of Columbia PD. But he’d heard the sirens and seen the fire trucks as he trudged along Constitution Avenue. Wrecks, fires—it didn’t take much snow in D.C. to cause an avalanche of trouble. “Yes, I understand,” he said, right before he hung up. It was as he’d expected. Life trumps death in the pecking order.
Carter blew on his hands as if they were cold although the overachiever furnace was making Drayco swelter. Carter asked, “Is there a problem? Are they coming?”
The two men heard female voices drifting down the hall, and Carter hurried out to stop the women. “Don’t come in,” he said, his voice flat and whispered. “Adina’s had ... ” He swallowed hard, twice. “Adina’s dead.”
Drayco joined them, watching as Agatha’s eyes grew into brown saucers and Sasha put a hand over her mouth as if stifling the urge to vomit. Neither woman glanced at the other.
It was Sasha who spoke first. “Can’t you call somebody? Maybe it’s not too late.”
Drayco replied, “Unfortunately, no one can help her now. I’ve called the police. They’ll be here when they can. Between the snow—forecasters are calling for a blizzard—and the security alert, the MPD is stretched thin. They said it might take an hour or two.”
Carter asked, “Security alert?”
Drayco nodded. “The Powers That Be got a report terrorists were planning to hijack an Aeroflot plane to Dulles. Vague, but enough to boost the security code up a level. Whenever that happens, even on a clear summer day, the D.C. police jump through extra hoops. Several layers of them.”
Agatha was horrified. “They’ll want us to hang around until they come, I know it! Trapped in this ghastly hall with the body of my sister lying there, snow piling up making us virtual prisoners, and now a crazed bomber headed our way.” She clutched her hands to her chest. “I want out of here. Now.”
Sasha rolled her eyes. “Agatha, don’t be melodramatic. First of all, these alerts are usually false alarms. Secondly, it’s not like this town has never seen snow. And third, you’re not the one who’s dead. I don’t want to stay any more than you, but we must—for Adina if nothing else.”
Drayco motioned for everyone to move to the stage. “We should leave the body as is. And not move around too much, possibly destroying evidence.”
“Evidence?” Carter sat in one of the red velvet folding seats in the front row, slumping with his feet outstretched. He met Drayco’s steady gaze. “I doubt your detective skills will be needed here. Adina probably had another severe asthma attack. And she was just getting over a nasty stomach flu.”
Agatha joined Carter down front, followed by Sasha, each choosing to sit two seats apart from Carter and from one another. Agatha piped up, “Maybe it was food poisoning. We all drove down from New York this morning. Adina started feeling sick after lunch, about a half hour before we got here.”
Drayco parked himself on the piano bench that he had to ratchet up to accommodate his long legs. From that vantage point, he could look down on the three figures below and felt like a judge, especially dressed as he was in his black slacks, black turtleneck, and black jacket. He half-expected them to start calling him “Your Honor.”
He asked, “So the four of you drove down in the same car? Did you make just one stop?”
Sasha, who'd been squirming in her velvet folding seat, finally gave up and sat on the floor instead. “We carpooled in Carter’s SUV, which turned out to be a good thing due to the snow. We had lunch right outside town, heart-healthy grease burgers and transfatty fries. It’s no wonder the poor girl got sick. I doubt it’s food poisoning because she and Carter had the same thing. I’ve been telling her to eat better and give up those caustic sodas, but I’m just the agent, not her mother. She didn’t listen.”
Carter sighed. “She didn’t listen to much of anybody, so you can’t take it personally. Or try not to take it personally. Which is what I’ve been doing for the past five years.”
Sasha pulled out a PDA and started clicking through the entries. “Look at all these upcoming concerts Adina had on her schedule. I’ll have to start calling and give them the bad news.”
She looked back at Carter. “And no, I didn’t take it personally. After all, I only had her best interests at heart. She’s been looking a little pale lately, so I told her she needed to take better care of herself. And to stop text-messaging so much on her phone. It’s bad for the hands.”
Carter rolled a cigar underneath his nostrils, inhaling the tobacco scent. The corners of his lips turned upward as if he were enjoying some private joke. “Is that why she was going to drop you for a new agent, because you nagged so much?”
Agatha looked surprised. “She was going to drop you, Sasha? Why? You’ve been her agent since day one. But I guess in Adina’s self-absorbed universe, it was some perceived slight.”
Sasha frowned. “What do you mean by that?”
Agatha leaned forward, striking a dramatic pose, eyes sparkling as she clearly enjoyed being the center of attention. “Like the time you scheduled one of your other clients in the same city at the same time, and Adina was upset because the venue she played wasn’t as nice.”
Sasha shook her head. “A misunderstanding. Adina was very gracious. Hardly a big deal.”
“There were others. You’ve just forgotten. Of course,” Agatha cast a sideways glance at Carter, “An affair isn’t such a small offense, is it?”
He glared at her. “At least I pulled my own weight with Adina. Most people around her were leeches, sucking at the edges of her success. Perhaps that’s why she threatened to kick you out of that apartment you’ve been sharing. She got tired of all the bloodletting.”
Sasha rubbed her temples. “The girl’s dead, for heaven’s sake. Can’t we just let her rest in peace?”
Carter groaned. “The ole requiescat in pace from the requiem mass, eh? Which reminds me, somebody’s going to have to plan the funeral. I wouldn’t know the first thing about it, and I’ve got crucial business meetings in Brussels next week. Maybe you should do it, Agatha. You’re such an expert on everything.”
Agatha shook her head. “I don’t do funerals. I’ve never been to one, and I don’t want to start now. Maybe we’ll just have her cremated and scatter the ashes over the Hudson River.”
Sasha looked appalled. “She deserves better than that, don’t you think?”
Agatha took her hair out of the ponytail holder and re-twisted the strands tighter in place. She’d been chewing gum and looked for a place to park the used wad, finally spotting a leftover program insert in which she squashed the remains.
She said, “Why don’t you plan it then, Sasha? After all, you weren’t her ex-agent, yet. You planned all her other events. Although I can’t help wondering why she wanted to fire you. I mean ... truthfully.” Agatha paused and batted her eyelashes. “I don’t suppose you were the one having an affair with Carter?”
Sasha exchanged glances with Carter, then looked away. She said simply, “It was a personal issue between us.”
Carter looked as though he’d gladly throw Agatha into the Hudson River, wrapped in a new concrete wardrobe. He growled at her, “If your sister were alive, I’m sure she’d tell you to stop doing your best Queen of the Night impression and start worrying about your own problems, your Self-Righteous Highness.”
Agatha slid back down into her chair, sulking. She opened her mouth and closed it several times in quick succession, looking like a fish dumped unceremoniously from water to land. But Agatha, sans makeup in her gray pantsuit, was more like a carp next to the vivid colors of butterfly-fish Sasha and Carter, the tiger shark.
Sasha picked up her PDA again, cradling it against her chest like a baby. “We had a concert next week in Tokyo. It would have been Adina’s first trip to Japan, and we’d hoped to sell a lot of recordings. Adina was excited about it.”
Agatha burst out laughing. “No, she wasn’t. She hated sushi and dreaded the fourteen-hour plane trip. For a high-and-mighty agent, you didn’t know much about her.”
Carter snapped at her, “And you did? Then tell me why Adina exchanged the birthday present you gave her last year? Perhaps because the sweater was wool, to which she’s allergic, it was two sizes too small and in her least favorite color, yellow?”
Sasha smirked. “Maybe she did that on purpose, thinking it would make Adina look like she had jaundice.”
Drayco watched in silence as the brickbats flew. Adina had hinted about some of the problems in her life, but after listening to this lot, it was easy to understand how the pieces of her sheltered existence had slowly come apart.
He’d first met her on his own concert tour years ago when they found they had a lot in common. They’d even talked of having a joint concert or CD together. She’d also wanted joint couplings of another kind, but he had a girlfriend at the time and balked. Adina hadn’t held it against him, and they remained friends. He’d wanted to see her again, especially after her beseeching phone call. But not this way.
Scott, I wish things could have been different between us. I guess fate deals us one measly hand, and it wasn’t in the cards you and I should share more than friendship. A pity, really. You’re one of the few people I’ve felt I could trust.
Drayco looked at his watch and knew the police could still be a half hour or more. Plenty of time to plumb for a few level answers if this unbalanced bunch was capable of giving them. “Did Adina take any painkillers, like Roxanol morphine perhaps?”
Carter was adamant. “Absolutely not. Especially morphine. After a tonsillectomy in her twenties, she had a bad reaction, and it almost killed her.” He heard his own words and stopped, realizing how they sounded. “I’m sure Agatha remembers it, too.”
Agatha agreed, with a vigorous nod. “Of course. I was there, along with my parents. Adina liked to tell that story a lot, right Sasha?”
Sasha folded up her wool jacket like origami into a neat square bundle and sat on it. “Yes, she did. She used to joke about her brush with death.”
Drayco sighed. Little did Adina know those words would come back to haunt her. “Since the three of you knew Adina wasn’t feeling well, did no one think to check on her?”
The air crackled around the trio as each took offense in turn. Sasha muttered, “Well, I wish someone had checked on me. I was throwing up in the bathroom.”
Agatha whined, “And I was searching the building trying to find Adina a grape soda. She’s addicted to those things, and I thought it might make her feel better.”
Carter glared at Drayco, not so much as he would a judge, but as an executioner holding up a noose. “The last thing she wanted was to have me around. Right before you showed up, I went to have a smoke. It wasn’t like she came looking for my help.”
Drayco had hit a nerve and was happy for it. These three deserved to be shaken up and stirred. “This restaurant where you stopped for lunch. Was Adina alone at any point?”
Carter shook his head. “We were together the whole time unless you count Sasha and Adina going off to the bathroom together.”
He stood and stamped his feet, looking down at them. “Darn things have fallen asleep. I need another smoke. While I’m at it, I’ll check on the snow. If our current luck holds, maybe we’ll be buried in here so we can continue with our little lovefest.”
Sasha and Agatha avoided looking at each other, wrapped in an uncomfortable silence. The two women were hellcat bookends in silhouette, one facing leftward, one facing right, holding up the volumes of hostility between them.
Drayco didn’t say a word, slowly looking from one to the other, taking a perverse pleasure in the mounting tension in the air. He wasn’t about to make nice and destroy the mood.
Unable to stand it much longer, Sasha pulled out her cell phone and tried to make a call, then hurled the phone down in disgust. “Battery’s dead.” Agatha chewed on her fingernails.
You’ve never met my sister or my agent, have you? Lucky you. They insist on coming with me to recitals though it’s not necessary. I haven’t had a moment to myself in months. Even when I practice, Agatha’s often there, pointing out all the wrong notes. Sasha calls me every day, reminding me not to practice too much or I’ll get carpal tunnel. The only one I see less of is Carter. Mom thinks we should get counseling, but I tell her it’s too late. They’ve got marriage doctors for these things, she says, and I say, Mom, I’m getting divorced, not shot.
Carter stamped back into the hall, announcing the latest meteorological update in an overly loud voice. “Snow’s falling hard now, looks like two inches an hour or more. If those police don’t get here soon, it’ll be hard to open the doors.” He took his same seat as before, like a student in a classroom.
Sasha threw her hands up in the air. “They would have canceled the concert anyway. We didn’t have to bother coming, and Adina might still be alive.”
“Not if it’s some kind of sudden illness,” Carter said. He looked at Drayco. “But then again, you act like somebody did this intentionally.”
Drayco observed the three before him, displayed like the “no evil” monkeys. Sasha rested her head in her hands, partially covering her ears, Carter rubbed his eyes, and Agatha still chewed on her nails.
Drayco said, “It has all the markers of morphine poisoning. Since no one saw her take anything, someone could have slipped it to her without her knowledge.”
Sasha looked thoughtful. “There’s always suicide. She was in the bathroom stall by herself at the restaurant.”
Drayco asked, “The dress she was wearing didn’t have any pockets. Did she take her purse with her? It’s fairly small.”
Sasha shook her head slowly. “No. She didn’t.” Then Sasha’s face turned into a ghostly mask as she put a hand to her forehead. “You don’t think I’ve been poisoned, too, do you? And maybe that’s why I’ve been nauseous?” She looked over at Carter, eyes suddenly narrowed.
Drayco sidestepped her question. “It would take a small amount for someone with a morphine intolerance like Adina. A faster form of the drug, a dispersible tablet or syrup, would cause a quick death. Neither would win any taste-test contests, but something like her favorite grape soda could mask it.”
Sasha nodded. “She had one for lunch.”
Agatha added, “The restaurant was full. Plenty of people around could have put morphine in the soda. You hear about all these sickos out there, like the fellow who tampered with the aspirin bottles at that Safeway. Poor Adina. But I guess that would explain the pinpoint pupils and blue fingernails.”
Carter had grown quiet and examined his Italian leather Oxfords, which looked pristine despite the snow. He finally glanced up at the piano, its lid open as if waiting for Adina to step out any moment and start her warm-up routine of scales and arpeggios.
He said, “Adina was looking forward to this concert. She loved playing the Beethoven Appassionata and hadn’t gotten tired of the same two encores she’s been playing on this tour.”
“Those same two encores over and over—her favorite Chopin mazurka and waltz.” Agatha sniffed. “Chopin’s overdone, don’t you think? Only I believe she was going to change one of them tonight and substitute a Brahms intermezzo, the one in C from Opus 119.”
Sasha was surprised. “She didn’t tell me that. She always does because I need to let the stage manager know.”
Drayco turned to the keyboard and played a few measures from the intermezzo. “The sheet music for the Brahms was lying open in the greenroom. Adina had just written the title on a program in her hand, judging from a pen next to the body.”
He played a few more measures. “Of course, the only ones to have seen the body are myself and Carter.”
Sasha turned to stare at Agatha. “Then how did you know about the substitution if she didn’t tell me, and Carter didn’t know?”
Agatha started chewing with renewed vigor on her fingernails, and Drayco was surprised there was anything left to nibble on. She saw him looking at her and stuck her hands underneath her legs. “She told me.”
Sasha continued to stare intently at Agatha, hardly blinking. “When, exactly? I talked with her this morning about it. She was still planning the usual encores then. She never once mentioned it in the car. And when we got here, she went to the greenroom right away.”
Carter added, “And you told us you spent your entire time in search of a soda machine.”
Agatha shrugged and smiled, her lips twitching. “Does it matter now? I don’t have a photographic memory. And I certainly don’t recall when she mentioned it, I just know she did. Stop making it sound like some convoluted plot out of a Wagner opera.”
Carter sneered, “More like Shostakovich and his version of Lady Macbeth. As I recall, there’s a lot of poison in that one.”
Drayco picked an excerpt from the ending of the intermezzo and got to the climax where he played the last chords fortissimo. Agatha looked up at him, and he flashed her a half-smile. “By the way, Agatha—I don’t believe I ever mentioned Adina’s pupils were constricted, or she had a bluish tinge to her lips and nails.”
Agatha shrugged again, but her shoulders stayed up as if held by there tightly-coiled wires. “You must have.”
Carter said to Drayco, “You certainly didn’t mention it to me. And I was there although I wondered what you were looking at.” Then it dawned on him what Drayco meant. “Agatha darling, how did you know? You and Sasha didn’t see the body at all.”
Carter didn’t give her a chance to respond, the muscles of his face constricting into hard bands, eyes scrunched together as he concentrated. His voice grew deeper, and as he spoke, he measured each word. “At the restaurant, Adina and Sasha went to the bathroom together. While they were gone, I got up to refill my tea. There was a long line, and you were left at the table by yourself for a good two minutes. Adina’s soda was still there, over half-full.”
Agatha looked at her brother-in-law with contempt. “So what are you implying? That I would kill my own sister?”
I love my family, even my older sister, but Agatha’s grown more confrontational with each passing year. I’ve seen her squander one opportunity after another, choosing instead to wallow in laziness and self-pity. When she lost her third job in as many months, I offered to let her stay with me in my New York apartment while Carter remained on Long Island. But every day turned into a shouting match, so I’ve decided tough love is in order. I’m going to kick Agatha out, and I only hope she’ll swim instead of sink.
Drayco asked Agatha, “Where were you going to stay after moving out of Adina’s apartment? Did you get a new job?”
Agatha looked him over, hands out from under her legs now, curled up into fists. “As if it’s any of your business, no I don’t have anything lined up. It’s not like I can put on my résumé I spent the past thirty-five years playing second fiddle to an overachieving scene stealer. That’s bound to open doors, isn’t it?”
Drayco said, “Adina told me last night she was worried about you. Thought you needed counseling.”
Agatha laughed, a hoarse, throaty sound, although her lips were formed more in the outlines of a snarling dog. “She thought I needed counseling, did she? That’s rich. The golden child telling the poor ugly duckling what to do. And why not? Our parents never got tired of telling me how I should be more like Adina—the pretty one, the talented one, the smart one. So why shouldn’t she?”
Agatha’s face was a patchwork of red blotches. Wisps of frizzy hair fell out of her ponytail as she got more agitated, which made her even angrier, jabbing at the wisps behind her ears as if they were hornets ready to sting.
She leapt out of her seat, marched up the stairs and stood next to Drayco. “You think I did it, don’t you?” She turned to face the other two, seated now below her. “You all think I did it.”
She paced along the lip of the stage, punctuating her rants with her arms as exclamation points, absorbed in her pseudo-soliloquy. “Blame it on Agatha. Always blame everything on Agatha. What would any of you know about being a career loser? Sasha the high-powered agent with her Manhattan address. And Carter, the oh-so-slick entrepreneur with his vacations on the Mediterranean.”
Agatha paced back over to Drayco. “Even you. Of course, someone as handsome as you would never be attracted to someone like me, but Adina—she attracted men like mosquitoes to blood. She had the men, the career, everything I deserved.”
Sasha bit her lip and looked away, toward the empty box seats. Carter sat like a tin soldier, arms straight by his sides, unmoving. The only sound was Agatha’s shallow breathing, an animal panting in the stifling heat.
Carter cleared his throat finally and asked, “Agatha—did you kill my wife?”
Agatha circled around the piano as if stalking imaginary prey. “If I didn’t, you’ll still think I did. And if I did, how would you ever find the proof? So what does it matter?”
Drayco watched her circle, knowing the evidence was highly circumstantial. Without something tangible like a medicine bottle with prints, it would be hard to prove, and there were certainly plenty of places Agatha could have disposed of such a thing. The police would try to trace a source for the morphine, the best hope for a conviction. But would they be able to find it?
If they did, what then? Adina was dead, and nothing could bring her back. He doubted Adina, even under the circumstances, would have wanted her sister to languish in jail. Especially since Adina felt partly responsible for Agatha’s problems. And Agatha was already trapped in a private hell far worse than many prisons. Sometimes justice had a way of being served on a plate of irony.
A banging noise in the back and new voices heralded the arrival of two police officers, who stepped into the hall. Agatha stopped circling and headed to her seat, where she hunkered down, looking small and tired. Carter got up, pulling his cigar case out of a pocket and headed toward the door. Sasha, who’d been turning a gradual shade of green, put both hands over her mouth and ran toward the bathroom.
Drayco led the officers to the body, then looked down the hall toward the alleyway door, propped open. The bricks on the building across were disappearing in a blanket of white.
He’d liked snow when he was a boy. It meant breaks from school and piano practice, with sled races or the innocent pleasure of snowball fights. It was just a nuisance now, a symbolic and literal force standing between him and his life. Like Adina had been to Agatha.
Drayco felt mesmerized by the curtain of snow as it fell but forced himself to look from Adina’s body in the greenroom back to the piano on stage. He caught a glimpse of Agatha’s sullen face from her seat in the front row—close to the stage, close to the lights, but too far away to be part of them.
Scott, I really hope you can come to the concert. It’ll be like old times. Come early and we can play silly duets, like chopsticks or the baby elephant walk. You can pretend the accident to your hand never happened, and I can pretend better days are just around the corner—like a composer with a fresh sheet of manuscript paper. I can write a new composition without Carter, Sasha, Agatha, all of them. Please come—I’ll make it my best performance ever.