Authors: Cassidy Salem
The Library of Congress never fails to overwhelm me. So many books, so much information.
It had been a while since my last visit, so I checked that my Reader Identification Card was still valid. Good to go, I headed for the Law Library Reading Room in the James Madison Memorial Building. The Law Library houses a wealth of information, computerized and hard copy, on anything and everything related to state and federal legislation.
The librarian helped me locate the current zoning laws for West Virginia, and amendments to relevant statutes in the last five years. My initial impression was that a change in law wasn’t behind the spike in land conversion. But then what did I know. I made copies of the relevant passages to take back to the office, taking down the reference details for each document as I went.
Thinking typos might have affected the online data, I searched out the bound reports of the WV Bureau of Statistics in the stacks. The reports were located in a far corner of the library.
With the exception of a young man at the far end of the table, I was alone as I leafed through the volumes. His dark hair was crew-cut, the style you’d expect on a marine, except he was wearing a suit instead of a uniform. In his late twenties or early thirties, he was engrossed in his reading.
I found and photocopied the sections on land reuse and prepared to leave. As I reached the exit, the same young man held the door open for me. I thanked him and headed for the nearby Metro stop.
On the way to Farragut Square, I began to wonder whether Hilary’s death might have been tied to her research. Unlikely, yet Glen might have a point.
Lost in thought as the train pulled into the station, I almost forgot to get off. For once I was thankful for the grating automated voice announcement that brought me back to reality. I had to move quickly to make it through the doors before they closed. As I did, I noticed a sudden movement in my field of vision – someone else hurrying off the train. I might have been imagining things, but it looked like the guy from the library.
I glanced around and was reminded that lots of people get off at the Farragut North stop. If it was the same guy, it must be a coincidence. Nonetheless, I felt unsettled as I returned to the DIPPeR.
I was in the mood for a cup of tea, so I stopped in the kitchen before organizing my notes. Carol and Brenda were talking at the coffee machine, their backs to the door.
“Carol, I really think you’re exaggerating.”
Agitated, Carol responded, “What’s to exaggerate? She’s the one who benefitted the most from Hilary’s death. She’s after her job, and I bet she’s after Duncan again. You should have seen the way they were hugging earlier. She was all over him.”
I was torn between making my presence known and slipping out unnoticed. I’d probably regret it, but I couldn’t resist. I stood up straight and made my presence known. “And don’t forget, even more important, I’m the one who found her body.”
They both turned around, shocked to hear my voice. Carol’s eyes flashed briefly before she looked away. For at least a minute, no one said anything. Carol filled her coffee cup and skulked out of the kitchen.
Brenda patted my arm, “Adina, I’m sorry that you had to hear Carol’s ranting. She doesn’t handle changes well.” Before she walked away, she added, “I don’t believe for a minute that you had anything to do with Hilary’s death.”
I got my tea and returned to my desk. I had hoped to double-check the photocopies against the data in Hilary’s files and the websites that afternoon. Carol’s words kept replaying in my mind, preventing me from making any real progress. I couldn’t help wondering how many other people thought I had something to do with Hilary’s death. When 5 o’clock came around, I was on my feet and out the door.
After a quick shower, I pretended to debate the nutritional benefits of a making a salad versus the comfort of defrosting the Sara Lee cheesecake in my freezer. Or maybe I’d make a salad and then reward myself with cheesecake. As I entered the kitchen area, I saw a face staring in at me from the narrow ventilation passage that ran along the basement. I screamed and the guy disappeared.
First, I tried to call George, my landlord. When he didn’t pick up, thoroughly spooked, I dialed 911. The operator told me to stay on the line until the police arrived. No argument there.
A police officer knocked on my door ten minutes later. I opened the door only after he had held his badge up to the front window.
“Good evening, ma’am. I understand you reported a possible prowler or peeping tom?”
“Yes, officer. There was a guy in the passageway staring in my window. I might be overreacting but earlier today I thought I was being followed.”
“What did the guy look like?”
“Well, I only saw him for a second – dark hair, swarthy looking-ish.”
The officer crossed the room into my tiny kitchen and peered outside. The property wall was directly opposite and very close. “It’s very narrow. Barely enough for ventilation,” he commented. “My partner is checking the perimeter of the property.”
Hearing a knock on the open door, I turned around to see another police officer. “I’m happy to report that we found the culprit. It turns out the owner of the property, one Gregorios Collamus, gave his sister permission to use his home and yard while he’s on vacation. His 14-year old nephew was outside and decided to explore. He was probably hoping to get an eyeful. Instead, he got an earful from his mother. And a warning from me.”
It was only a kid. Now I felt foolish. Only sort of. After all, I really did see someone out there.
I was thanking the officers for their assistance when another face appeared at my door. This time, a familiar one – Daniel, who had just come home from work. As soon as the policemen had started out the passageway, Daniel turned to face me, his brow furrowed. “Adina, what’s going on? Why were the police here?”
“False alarm, sort of. I thought I saw a prowler.” I told Daniel that I had seen a face in the window, panicked, and called the police.
He laughed, “Don’t tell me. Let me guess. George’s nephew – peeping-tom-in-training. He pulled the same stunt not long after I moved in. I spoke to George about it and he assured me it wouldn’t happen again. I think George tries to keep his eye on the kid when he visits.”
“Well, George is out of town and his sister came over with the kid. We are definitely going to have words. The kid almost gave me a heart attack.”
“You were right to call the police. I didn’t back then. Maybe if I had, he wouldn’t have scared you so.”
Still holding his briefcase, Daniel motioned toward his apartment. “Coffee later? Say, 20 minutes from now?”
Sounded great to me. I took the cheesecake out of the freezer to defrost and turned on the TV to pass the time. Twenty minutes later, I knocked on Daniel’s door, cheesecake and Diet Coke in hand. He promptly opened the door. His hair was wet, and he had changed into a navy t-shirt and lime green sweat pants.
“Cheesecake? All out of cookies?”
“Yes, and no. I’m going to pretend that this is nourishing and call it dinner. It contains cheese after all.”
He brought over a knife and I cut generous servings for each of us.
“From the way you’re attacking that cake, you’re a bundle of nerves. Anything you want to talk about?”
I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “I don’t know where to begin. A lot has been going on at work. Just when I thought people stopped looking at me funny, it turns out that some people think I might have killed Hilary.”
Daniel cut me off. “That’s ridiculous. You must be imagining things.”
I proceeded to tell him about the conversation I had overheard in the kitchen. When I told him what Carol had said about my motives, he suggested she might resent that Dr. Stickler hadn’t asked her to do the work. The fury of a woman scorned and all that.
“I’m trying not to be paranoid, still the rumors flying around the office and the mystery surrounding Hilary’s death are making me very jumpy.”
In response to Daniel’s questions about the progress on the case, I told him that I wasn’t privy to any details, that I hadn’t heard of any arrests yet. Our discussion of the various theories led to telling him about Glen Gardner and his thinking that Hilary’s death might have been work-related.
“Glen’s theory has me kind of freaking out. Today, I went to the Library of Congress to do some research, and on the way back I imagined that someone was following me. The last thing I needed was to have George’s nephew staring in the window.”
“It might have been your imagination, Adina, but trust your instincts. Be careful. If you think someone is following you again, call the police.”
“Enough talking about me and my troubles. How have you been? Still seeing Nate?”
He smiled and went on to tell me about their plans for a weekend getaway in Stroudsburg. “Everyone tells me the Poconos are beautiful, especially in the fall when the leaves are changing colors.”
“Never been there, although it sure sounds great. Hope you have fun.”
It was getting late, so we said our good-nights. Daniel made me take the rest of the cheesecake home with me. As always, he watched as I let myself into my apartment and closed the door behind me.
Fall is my favorite season. Unfortunately, it’s also prime allergy season. I woke up all stuffy, and took an antihistamine before my eyes were even fully open. I put on water to make a cup of chamomile tea and got dressed while the tea cooled to a drinkable temperature.
The onset of sniffles meant making sure I had easy access to lots of tissues. I put on a flowered dress in shades of tan, rust and brown, and a dark brown blazer with deep pockets. Perfect for a day when I’d probably work my way through a generous supply of tissues.
I ate a few bites of cheesecake straight out of the box, drank the last of my tea, and headed out. I was lucky enough to snag a seat on the Metro even if it was on the aisle, with people standing almost on top of me. Then, without warning, I sneezed. And when I sneeze, people notice. Family and friends claim you can hear it miles away. I heard several passengers’ “Bless you” at the same time as people in my immediate vicinity took a step away. Great. Even on the subway my popularity was dwindling.
I reached the DIPPeR a few minutes past nine and made myself another cup of tea. The few people in the kitchen greeted me in passing and went about their business.
Back at my desk, I was glad to see that Matt had left me a project proposal to edit. I didn’t quite feel up to concentrating on the Land Use Survey. I was in the middle of working on Matt’s proposal when I realized I was not alone. I looked up to see Carol standing at my desk.
“Adina, Dr. Stickler would like to see you in his office. Now.”
“Alright. I’ll be there in a minute.”
“Good.” She turned around and sauntered toward the kitchen.
I saved my work and knocked on the open door to Dr. Stickler’s office. He motioned for me to come in.
“Adina, I received a very disturbing call from Detective Saks. What were you thinking, discussing the Land Use Survey with him? Don’t you know that our work is confidential?” He continued to rant on about proprietary data and such, without allowing me to respond. “Not to mention potentially involving us in a murder investigation.”
“I’m sorry if I told the detective anything that I shouldn’t have, but Hilary was working on the project when she was killed.”
“So what? That’s merely a coincidence.”
“I hope so, but I was worried after talking to one of her contacts yesterday. He suspected it might be tied to her research.”
That touched a nerve. Dr. Stickler was back on the offensive. “The detective told me about that, too. In fact, he seemed to know more about what you have been doing than I do. Why did you contact that activist anyway? Who authorized you to do that?”
His face got redder the more he ranted. “If I had known you were so undisciplined, I would have asked someone else to help with those graphs and charts. You are not my research assistant. Stay out of things that are none of your business.”
Ouch. I’d never want to be his assistant. His words stung nonetheless.
“Have I made myself clear?”
“Yes, Dr. Stickler.”
When I left his office, Carol had a smug look on her face. To make matters worse, Dr. Stickler’s office door had remained open during his tirade. To judge from the gaping stares of my colleagues as I walked back to my desk, much of his ranting had been heard far and wide.
As if that wasn’t enough, Dr. Stickler’s shouting had caught the attention of our IM group. Jada was first to text, “Who was Stickler yelling at?”
Carol wasn’t in our chat group, nor was anyone close enough to Stickler’s office to know the answer to Jada’s question. Except perhaps Michelle.
Amber responded, “I don’t know. He sure was mad.”
I kept my silence, preferring to pretend I hadn’t seen the messages at all. As for Michelle, either she’d been away from her desk or she simply chose not to volunteer any details.
Half an hour later, Jada called me to the reception area. A large package had arrived by UPS from Wyoming, addressed to me care of the DIPPeR. I took the package back to my desk before opening it. It contained a short note from Hilary’s father and her Nikon camera, complete with all its attachments. Thomas Sterling wrote that he knew that Hilary and I had shared a love of photography, and that he hoped I would make good use of the camera. Wow. I wasn’t expecting that.
Her father’s phone number appeared on the packing slip so I called to thank him. We spoke briefly about Hilary, her talents and her love of photography. I turned the camera over in my hands and fought back the tears. I stored the package in a cloth tote bag in a nearby cupboard for safekeeping.
Around an hour later, Matt stopped by my desk and invited me to lunch. This was unusual for Matt – lunch invitations were reserved for my birthday and Secretary’s Day. Neither of which were this week or even this month.
Clearly, Matt wanted to talk to me about something. On the way to an Italian restaurant a couple blocks away, he commented, “I guess I don’t have to ask whether you told the detective about that guy you spoke with yesterday. I hear you got an earful from Stickler.”
“I think half of the third floor staff heard him yelling at me. As if I needed another reason for people to gossip about me.”
“If it’s any consolation, Stickler isn’t pleased with me either. After he finished with you, he called me on the phone to complain. I think he almost blew a gasket when I told him I was the one who suggested you call the detective.”
“I don’t understand why it upset him so much. I didn’t give the detective data from the study, I only told him about Glen and his theories. Surely, there was nothing improper about that.”
“Of course not. The study is not classified or top secret. Listen, I’m sorry I that I volunteered you to help out with the project.”
My pain must have been reflected in my eyes. Matt quickly added, “Not because you aren’t capable – because you’re having to deal with all this unpleasantness.”
The Italian restaurant wasn’t busy and we were able to place our orders right way. While we waited, it occurred to me that I had never given any thought to who pays for think tanks to do their work.
“Matt, I was wondering, who funds the research studies at the DIPPeR?”
“Good question. It varies by department and project. There can be multiple sources of funding, including grants and endowments from various academic, political, and government bodies.”
“I realize the money has to come from somewhere but wouldn’t there be potential for bias in findings based on who provides the funding?”
“Of course, the potential is always there. Dr. Grayson does his best to avoid situations where undue influence is exercised. Most of the researchers at the DIPPeR, and I’d like to believe most think tanks, value their reputations too much to risk playing games with their data.”
“So who funded the Land Use Survey?”
“One of those conservation funds, at least in part, I think. Don’t recall which one.” He shook his head. “I see where you’re going. Although I might not particularly like Dr. Stickler, I don’t believe he would be involved in anything unethical.”
We chatted at length about think tanks and the potential impact of their findings on policy making and politicians. Matt was in no hurry to get back to the office. If he was OK with a long lunch break, who was I to argue with the boss.
It had been good to talk things out with Matt. I decided not to let Stickler bring me down. I was going to finish what I started and do it right.
I dove into my notes and the photocopied data from my visit to the Library, meticulously comparing the details with the information in Hilary’s files. The data was almost identical – except that the source info was more specific whereas the internet data had been rounded off. I’d have to update Stickler, preferably on Monday. Hopefully, by then he’d be in a better mood.