An excerpt from
Voices of the Dead
Sara cashed out her last table, tipped Kenny the bartender, and the busers, and walked outside. It was just past mid- night, still hot and muggy. It felt good after being in an air-conditioned restaurant for six hours. It had been a great night. She had made $180 in tips alone. Life was good. She’d been lucky enough to get the job at Bistro 675, a trendy new restaurant on 15th Street, not far from the White House. But it had been a lucky year. She was on the Dean’s List at George Washington, and a month before the semester ended, her English professor, Dr. Lund, had asked if she’d be interested in house-sitting for the summer. Two months, anyway. He’d rented a country home in the south of France, three kilometers from Aix-en-Provence, and needed someone to water the plants and bring in the mail.
A chance to stay in Washington for the summer, she’d said to herself. Are you kidding? How cool was that? She’d called her father and told him the good news.
He said, “That’s great. I want your life. Things always seem to fall into place.”
She hadn’t told him about Richard yet, this cute boy in her psych class. They had been hanging out for a few months and Sara liked him a lot, maybe even loved him. Next time her dad came to DC she was going to introduce them.
She found her car in the lot, a baby blue ’68 Ford Falcon her father had bought for her, cruising north on 15th, windows down, listening to Joni Mitchell do Blue. Passed the statue of Alexander Hamilton and the Treasury building and New York Avenue, approaching Pennsylvania, green light, heading into the intersection, singing with Joni, really belting it out:
Hey blue, here is a song for you . . .
Hess had no idea where he was. He had been driving west on Pennsylvania Avenue, and now was somehow on K Street. He regretted stopping at the gentlemen’s club but he’d needed several drinks to calm him down, he had been so charged up, so high on adrenaline.
To the right was a sign for Lafayette Park, and he realized he was traveling in the wrong direction. The White House was somewhere south through the trees. He tapped a cigarette out of his pack and lighted it with a match, steering the big Mercedes-Benz with his knees. He was drunk, the white line dividing the road, blurring into two. He closed one eye to correct his vision.
Hess brought the cigarette to his mouth, but it slipped through his fingers. He fumbled, tried to catch it with dulled reflexes, cigarette dropping in his lap, falling to the floor. He glanced down, saw it and reached to pick it up, but it rolled toward the accelerator pedal. He looked up now, approaching an intersection, red traffic light sending an alarm to his brain, foot going for the brake pedal, but too late.
He slammed into an automobile, hitting it broadside with serious impact, crushing it, pushing it through the intersection. Hess was conscious of his head striking the steering wheel, the Mercedes spinning, crashing into a storefront. He heard voices and the high-pitched whine of a radiator under pressure, the sound of a siren some distance away, and saw faces staring at him through the windows.
Harry was in his office at the scrap yard, writing a check to the IRS, he couldn’t see the amount, but it was enough to put him out of business. He was signing his name when he heard the phone ring, sounding like it was far away. He woke up, opened his eyes, the phone on the table next to his bed, ringing. Slid over, glanced at the clock. 3:17 a.m. Answered it, barely awake. “Hello.”
“Mr. Levin, this is the Huntington Woods Police Department.”
“Yeah? You know what time it is?” Harry said.
“Sir, your daughter has been in an automobile accident. There is a police officer at your house. Will you please answer the door?”
No way it was Sara. “My daughter’s in Washington DC. What’s going on?” He heard the doorbell.
“The officer will tell you.”
He hung up the phone. It had to be a misunderstanding. Heard the doorbell ring again as he was putting on his robe. He went downstairs, opened the front door. A Huntington Woods cop in a blue uniform was standing on the porch.
“Mr. Levin, may I come in?”
Harry swung the door open further. The cop stepped into the foyer and took off his hat. He looked young, thirty maybe. Blond hair parted on the side, creased where the hat rested, ruddy complexion. Seemed nervous.
“Mr. Levin, your daughter, Sara, was killed in a car accident this morning in Washington DC.”
Harry felt like he’d been punched in the chest. Stepped back and tried to take a breath. It couldn’t be. He’d talked to her just before she went to work.
But the cop assured him it wasn’t a mistake. His department had been contacted by the DC police. Sara was at Washington Hospital. He gave Harry the name and number of a Washington DC detective named Taggart and a woman named Judy Katz at the hospital. The cop told him how sorry he was, and let himself out and closed the door.
Harry went back upstairs, sat on the bed, holding it in, and called Eastern Airlines, booked a seat on the 6:31 a.m. flight to National Airport.