“Okay, what’s the big deal? What’s in the papers?” Emma demands. She and Amalia are sitting on the couch together, both of them looking sharp and annoyed. Which means worried. The mention of teslamomma emailing Emma, months before, has brought them both here, in spite of other demands and schedules that have no room.
Amalia sighs. “Dance, stop wiggling like a two-year-old with wet diapers, and just say it.”
“I can’t,” Dance says. He’s halfway up on his feet again. It took them ten minutes to get him to sit down in the first place.
Amalia holds up a hushing finger. Over the years, she’s dealt with a lot of musicians wild-eyed with stage fright. “Sit, sit. Take some deep breaths for me here. Start small.”
Dance bolts from the room. The bathroom door creaks as he jams it shut. The fan almost masks the noises he’s making in there.
Drin is about to get up when Amalia shakes her head. “Let him get cleaned up. It doesn’t usually hit Dance that bad, but he’s so damn proud.”
Emma’s got her arms crossed, frowning. “Do you know what this is about?”
Drin takes a deep breath. “I think starting small is a good idea.”
Emma says, “You look pretty damn green too.”
Amalia gives her a look. “Take it easy, or you’ll lose both of them!”
The two women glare at each other. Emma reaches out for the papers.
Drin has his hand on them first. “Give me a second. It’s just– difficult.” The reality of looking at the two women in the same room with these pictures is making him want to join Dance in the bathroom.
“You’re sweating,” Emma says, astonished.
“Yeah. Okay. Starting small. How did you meet this lady on email who calls herself teslamomma?”
“Oh, she joined some patronage list for the Metro,” Emma says. To Amalia, she explains, “You’d like her, she’s funny as hell. Some kind of science background, I think. Older lady, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her at a fundraiser, but she’s sent us some great ideas and got us onto some wonderful grant openings.” To Drin, she says, “So how did she get in touch with you?”
“Shura Korachevsky gave us the lady’s email address in the course of conversation about… this problem. He offered to help us out as a person with a lot of connections. There was no dodging it, talking to him, once he saw Dance was in obvious distress.”
Emma prims her lips.
Amalia looks outright alarmed. “He’s really not a safe guy, you know. Some of his best buddies back home were Russian mob or national security or both. None of us has the slightest idea how he’d use information that’s dangerous, or scandalous, or–”
Drin gives a crooked grin. “But he has motive to help. Turns out he was the anonymous donor who kept Dance’s grant going when Dance’s parents cut him off.”
Amalia’s eyes pop wide open. “What?”
“Oh shit,” Emma says.
Amalia rounds on Emma, furious. “You knew!”
Emma rests her forehead in her hand. “We didn’t have a choice. Where were we going to pull thousands of dollars out of that budget? Yeah, I gave up and I went to Shura. He already gets whatever he asks at the Metro, let me tell you. He’s one reason Dance has a chair at all in Young’s scheme of things. Hell, Shura could snap his fingers anytime and get Dance fired if he wanted, so why not ask him for help? Hell, he could get me fired, easy.”
Drin says, “He says he wants the great improvement in the Metro’s playing to continue.”
“Great! Wonderful!” Amalia snaps, flinging her hands wide. “Nice to know!”
“Oh, it gets better,” Drin says dryly. “But I think Dance is the one who should explain, if he can.”
The two women look at each other. Amalia shakes her finger at the librarian. “Emma Josephine, you are a total shit and I should pull out all your hair, keeping huge secrets like that,” Amalia says, flinging herself back into the sofa and folding her arms.
Dance emerges from the bathroom looking a peculiar greenish brown. He walks over to the sofa, kneels in front of the two women, holds out a hank of hair toward Amalia, and says softly, “Start pulling.”
“What–” both of them exclaim in unison.
“Twice pictures came to us in the mail. Our Drin just now got things in mail that came to him very late. Then Drin just last night received five emails that are very bad. Somebody out there is convinced that we– that I am– killing women.”
It’s the only time Drin has ever seen Emma sitting perfectly still, with her mouth open, not saying a word.
Amalia’s hands flop limply onto the couch.
“In the pictures, somebody who looks just like us–like me– has been killing girls in places like Russia by beating them to death with his fists,” Dance says. He leans forward, takes Amalia’s hand, and puts a hank of his hair across her palm.
Emma just makes a gargled noise in her throat.
Gravely, Dance reaches out and takes her hand, and puts another lock of his hair in her fingers. They tighten on it.
Then she’s got her other hand gripping at his hair, and she’s dragging him toward her, pulling him up onto her knees. “What is this bullshit?” Emma growls somewhere down in her chest.
Dance has both arms around her, leaning into her. “We didn’t dare– I couldn’t tell you– we couldn’t make you look at– things like this–”
“They’re really that bad?” Emma snaps.
“Yeah, they are,” Drin says quietly, looking at Amalia, who’s begun sneaking forward to grab the wad of papers.
“Well, it’s sure as hell not Dance. Everybody knows where he is, whole day long. I mean, nearly always. Then who is it?” Amalia demands.
Drin says, “That’s what I’m trying to figure out. It’s happening somewhere in the Russian Near East, going up into places like Moldova, from the email servers involved.”
Dance turns his head toward Amalia. “We– I didn’t think it would go on– but Drin got the nasty emails– we are warning you to be careful, but we don’t know what to warn you about.”
“Right, show us this blackmailing little shit’s screeds, and we’ll be getting down to some decent homework on this,” Emma says.
“Well, it could be blackmail. Or it may be revenge for the death of somebody in their family,” Drin says. He releases the papers, and Amalia snatches them up.
It is not pretty, watching their faces. The email texts are even worse than the pictures attached to them. Two are partial copies of translated forensic reports on the bodies.
“Christ,” Emma says two minutes later, while Amalia is in the bathroom puking. Emma’s hand is gripping her jaw tightly, and she’s looking green too.
But she puts down the papers on the table near her, and she grips Dance’s hair, and drags up his head, adjusts the angle of it to her satisfaction, and she studies each of the pictures against the living man for some minutes. Then she grabs him and drags him close and gives him a long, fierce hug. “You utter shit, I should pull out all your hair. I should throw away all your chilis and make you live on white food for a month. I should give away all your plants and spank your bare ass until you can’t sit down for a week. Goddammit, Dance–and stop crying, you’re really gonna make me lose my temper with you!”
Dance buries his face in her lap, and bawls in earnest.
“Oh Christ on a pogo stick playing pong with a pope!” Emma shouts at him. “If you’d given this stuff to me when you first got it, we could have nailed this guy’s ass in jail by now!”
Dance flinches. “Yes, yes, we tried to tell the police–” and he explains, hastily, what happened when he tried to report it.
“What the fuck do they know?” Emma roars.
“Oh man, now you’ve torn it,” Amalia says, leaning tiredly in the hallway.
“You all right?” Drin asks Amalia. “Can I get you some water or something?”
Amalia waves it off.
Emma is cursing ferociously, with one hand twisting Dance’s ear. It clearly hurts, but he doesn’t try to stop her, either.
“We have a list of the names of the guys who interrogated Dance, he told me and Shura,” Drin says.
“Right, now there’s a great place to take neglected evidence,” Emma growls, and lets go of Dance’s ear. She gives him a couple of thumps on the back that sound like she’s hitting a watermelon. Then she pauses, mid-thump, and points at Drin. “But you’re right, Shura is the best contact I can think of for the Russian end of things. So did teslamomma give you anything when you talked to her about it?”
Drin grimaces. “She told me some places to check on the servers, she’s going to see what she can find as background on the various names of cops and agents that Dance recalled, and she said diplomatic immunity banishes a lot of sins.”
Emma pushes impatiently at Dance to move. She leans forward with her hands over her eyes. “Lemme think here. Of course I gotta find the original forensic reports, get them translated properly. The English wording on some of that just didn’t sound right at all.”
“God help you, trying to retrieve stuff like that from holes like Moldova,” Amalia says, sitting down with a sigh. “My cousins say the national pastime is rudeness and the only job is prostitute.”
Emma gives Dance another push. “Go apologize to Amalia, you stinker.”
Dance gives a yelp when he does, too. Amalia has strong hands. “Oughta leave you bald, I swear! You keep secrets like that, I oughta just shave your head clean!”
“That’s one way to get him to trim his hair,” Emma says dryly.
The cellist’s eyes narrow. Amalia gets that scheming look on her face that means trouble for somebody. “Tell you what. You let Drin take you back to that decent hair place, get all those shaggy ends chopped, let ’em try some more of those highlights we all thought looked good on you, and no more whining about somebody touching your head, right? And a new suit, too. No arguing when Drin takes you to the tailor, get you fitted again, do it right. Yes? You promise? Okay. Oh God, Em’s right. Guys are such babies. Stop crying, you’re making me feel tired. Go crawl in Drin’s lap, do you both some good.”
She was right about that, too.
“You tattled,” Dance mutters into Drin’s chest.
“Yep. When was the last time you went to a dentist? Or a doctor?”
Dance gives a groan.
“Shuddup or we’ll both spank your sorry ass,” Emma growls, fingers pressing into her eyes. “And Drin, you can just stop looking like you’d enjoy watching it, too, you big horndawg.”