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Baptism in Blood
A Gregor Demarkian Mystery
By Jane Haddam
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1996 Jane Haddam
All rights reserved.
EVER SINCE GREGOR DEMARKIAN had come to live on Cavanaugh Street, he had spent a lot of time worrying about his best friend, Father Tibor Kasparian—but he had never been afraid for him, until now. The problem had started late on the afternoon of April 19, the day of the Oklahoma City bombing, when the reports first started to drift in that the bomber might not be an Islamic fundamentalist with ties to Iran, but someone more banal and domestic. It had gotten worse after Timothy McVeigh was arrested and everybody was sure. Gregor knew that Father Tibor had had a terrible life: arrested and imprisoned in the Soviet Union when the Soviet Union was still a power; suffering through God only knew what until he could make his way overland and underground, first to Israel and then to the United States. Tibor's wife had died in a Russian prison. Tibor himself limped slightly, and had only partial use of his left arm. Once, in the dark of a long night spent watching Jaws on videotape in the living room of the tiny rectory-apartment behind Holy Trinity Armenian Christian Church, Tibor had told Gregor the most frightening thing Gregor thought he had ever heard: that blood is the color of dirt, really, once it dries; that there are people who like the way corpses look, especially covered with dust and laid out on the ground.
"It's not," Gregor Demarkian told Bennis Hannaford, one early morning in late October, months after the rest of the country had lost interest in Oklahoma and gone back to obsessing about the Simpson trial, "it's not as if I were an unsophisticated man. I spent most of my career chasing serial killers. I've seen a lot of blood and badness in my time. I've been depressed as hell about it. But this is different."
"Mmm," Bennis Hannaford said.
Gregor looked at Bennis's thick black hair and perfectly almond-shaped, enormous blue eyes, and signed. Bennis was beautiful and Bennis was bright and Bennis loved Tibor, but she had quit a two-and-a-half-pack-a-day cigarette habit less than a month ago, and lately she just didn't seem to be mentally home. They were sitting facing each other in the window booth of the Ararat Restaurant. Gregor could look through the tall pane of glass at a bright, hard, cold fall day. It was only five minutes after seven. By seven-thirty, they would no longer be alone. Half the single people on the street ate their breakfasts at the Ararat. Half the married people did, too, when they were fighting with their spouses or not up to cooking anything or just in the mood to see people early. At night, the Ararat was Cavanaugh Street's main tourist attraction. It got written up in the restaurant section of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Tourists from Radnor and Wayne came in to see what "real Armenian cooking" was like. In the daytime, the Ararat resembled a diner with eccentric furniture. Hard vinyl floors and inexpensive green wallpaper clashed with tasseled sofa cushions and hand-crocheted antimacassars. As far as Gregor knew, the Ararat was the only restaurant of any kind, anywhere, that used antimacassars on the backs of straight-backed aluminum chairs.
"Bennis," Gregor said.
Bennis dragged her eyes away from the window. She looked unfocused. As far as Gregor knew, she hadn't done a single hour's work since she threw her Benson & Hedges menthols in the trash. Even unfocused, she was beautiful. Heading toward forty, she still had not a single wrinkle on her face. Her bone structure was extraordinary: fine but strong, sharp-edged and well defined. She was also a very successful fantasy novelist, but somehow Gregor never attached that to her, as part of her identity for him. Her apartment was full of papier-mâché castles and plastic unicorns. Her head was full of knights in shining armor and crones with magical powers. Gregor tried not to think about it, the way he would have if she had had something wrong with her that he thought she would find it embarrassing for him to notice.
"Bennis," Gregor said again, louder this time.
Bennis blinked and shook her head. She had a cup of coffee in front of her, barely touched. It had been sitting there barely touched for over half an hour.
"I'm sorry," Bennis said. "Excuse me, Gregor. Yes. I know. Tibor. It is worrying."
"It's more than worrying. It's downright terrifying. We've got to do something about this, Bennis."
Bennis took a sip of her coffee and made a face. It had to be stone cold. "I thought you'd already decided to do something about it," she said. "I thought you'd decided to take him with you down to North Carolina. To investigate this child murder case."
"I've decided to ask him, yes. I haven't talked to him about it yet."
"I wonder if he even knows it's happened," Bennis said. "I mean, you'd think, with all the publicity, he could hardly have failed to notice."
"Trobriand Islanders know about Ginger Marsh," Gregor said.
"Still," Bennis went on, "the way he's been—Maybe he has noticed it, and it's only made everything worse."
"I wouldn't know. I haven't talked to him about it. I haven't talked to him about much of anything in weeks."
"There was the Susan Smith case, too," Bennis said. "But that was different. And maybe I'm just overreacting here. That didn't seem to bother him much. Not like the Oklahoma thing."
Linda Melajian came out of the door at the back of the room. Gregor waved to her and Linda nodded, holding up a Pyrex pot of coffee with steam coming out the wide open top of it. People were getting used to Bennis's drifting off. They had started to make allowances for it.
"I don't think Tibor sees individual cases like Susan Smith and Ginger Marsh as having the same—gravity as what happened in Oklahoma City," Gregor said. "They lack the political element."
"There was a story in Ms. about the politics of motherhood," Bennis said. "They've got that kind of political element."
"These days, everything's got that kind of political element. That's not what I meant, and you know it."
Linda Melajian had arrived with her pot of coffee. She gave Bennis a new coffee cup and filled it. Bennis didn't notice.
"Bennis," Linda said.
"Oh." Bennis looked up. "Oh, Linda, hi. Could I have another cup of coffee? I let this one get cold."
Linda took the cup of cold coffee off the table and looked at the ceiling. Bennis didn't notice that, either.
"It's not that I think Tibor will be interested in the Ginger Marsh case," Gregor said. "It's that I don't like the idea of going off and leaving him for what could be a solid month. I don't like the shape he's in."
"I don't blame you."
"And it's not like I can count on the people around here looking after him," Gregor said. "Not lately. Lida's always off in California—what does she do in California, anyway?"
"Maybe she likes it there."
"And you're the next thing to useless these days. If you don't mind me saying so."
"Mmm," Bennis said.
"And old George is much too old to take on this kind of responsibility. He doesn't get around well enough." Gregor drummed his fingers against the table. "I don't really know what I ought to do here. It's not that I think the Ginger Marsh case will interest Tibor. It barely interests me. If David Sandler hadn't written me directly, I don't think I would have paid any attention to it at all."
"Satanism and witchcraft and child sacrifice?" Bennis looked up, her attention caught at last, frankly surprised. "You must be kidding. It got everybody else's attention. I'll bet the trial is going to be enormous."
"The trial is going to be a non-issue. Give it a couple of more months. They'll look into all their leads. They'll do the conscientious investigative probe. Then they'll arrest Ginger Marsh and she'll plead guilty."
"You really believe that."
"The only difference between Ginger Marsh and Susan Smith is that Ginger Marsh has a more elaborate sense of the theatrical. Pentagrams and candles and a bloody knife beat a phantom carjacker any day. But they're just as bogus. And they're just as cheap. That woman murdered her own child."
"I don't think I can remember you being this cynical before."
"It's not cynicism. It's experience. I was in the Federal Bureau of Investigation for twenty years. I know these people."
"The Ginger Marshes of this world. The Susan Smiths. The Terry McVeighs. There really isn't much difference, you know. It's all the same—attitude, I guess you'd call it. The same arrogance. And if you don't mind my saying so, Bennis, I think that in my old age, I'm getting tired of it."
"You're not old, Gregor. For God's sake."
"I'll be sixty-one on my next birthday. Any day now, they'll stop talking about how I'm in early retirement. And like I said, I'm getting tired of it. More tired than you know."
"Then why do it? You're not obliged to go down there. The case will go on without you."
"I know it will."
Gregor shrugged. "David Sandler is a friend of mine. He hasn't had much experience. He thinks there's something mysterious in what's happening down there. If I do what he's asking me to do, it might ease his mind."
"Right," Bennis said.
"And then there's Tibor, too. Maybe getting him away from here will help. Maybe if he has something else to do with his time besides sit around and brood about domestic terrorism and the disintegration of the American soul, he'd snap out of it and be Tibor again."
"He's got an entire church to run," Bennis pointed out. "And he's running it. He's got a school to run, too. I know he's been depressed, Gregor, but he really hasn't withdrawn from the world. He's been right in there the way he always has been."
"No." Gregor shook his head. "Not the way he always has been."
"I think you're kidding yourself," Bennis said. "I think this has less to do with Tibor than it has to do with yourself. I think you're using Tibor as some kind of cover."
"As a cover for what?"
The plate glass front door of the Ararat swung open. Bennis and Gregor looked up. Old George Tekemanian was limping in on unsteady legs, followed by a bustlingly important Hannah Krekorian and an over-made-up Sheila Kashinian. Hannah was gray-haired and plump and dowdy and downtrodden looking, in spite of the fact that she had to have at least a couple of million dollars. Sheila was wearing a three-quarter-length mink coat dyed into candy pink and lime green stripes, God only knew why. God only knew why Sheila Kashinian did anything. Old George looked embarrassed to be with her.
"That's an interesting outfit," Bennis Hannaford said, sipping at her coffee at last. "I wonder where she managed to find it."
"Maybe she had it made custom."
"Sheila doesn't do custom. It takes too long. If we ask old George over here, do you think we'll get Sheila, too?"
"We'll probably get Sheila no matter what you do."
Bennis swung her legs out of the booth and stood up. She was a small woman, no more than five four and no heavier than a hundred and five pounds, but sitting down she had a more commanding presence. Gregor watched her stride across the restaurant and stop where old George was standing just inside the front door. Hannah and Sheila crowded in, wanting to hear—whatever.
Out on Cavanaugh Street, the sunlight looked brittle, like cheap glass. Gregor could see the front of Lida Arkmanian's big five-story town house, its front door sporting a wreath of pink and blue ribbons in spite of the fact that Lida was away and likely to stay away for a while. Mara Kalikian had just had a baby, and Bennis and Donna Moradanyan were having a party for it after its christening next Sunday. Her, Gregor thought. A party for her. The baby was a girl. Maybe Bennis was right to say that this whole thing about going to North Carolina was really about himself, and not about Tibor. Sometimes these days, he seemed, to himself, almost as distracted and out of focus as Bennis.
Once, years ago, in the month when his wife Elizabeth had started the last serious agony of her dying, Gregor had stood at the edge of a ditch on the side of a road in rural Massachusetts, looking down at the bodies of five small boys. The picture was more clearly in his mind now than anything he could make himself look at: the arms and legs twisted and entwined; the reinforced toes on the shoes of the Massachusetts state policeman who had driven him out from Boston. While it was happening, it had all seemed very far away. Elizabeth was dying. That was what had been at the front of his mind. Elizabeth was dying and there was nothing they could do about it anymore, no way left to save her, no way left to lie to himself that it would finally turn out all right. He had been, at that moment, the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Department of Behavioral Sciences. His job was to hunt and find and capture serial killers. A serial killer had killed those boys—and would probably kill more, given time, given freedom, given opportunity.
Up at the front door, Bennis had finished talking to Hannah and Sheila and old George. She was leading them across the room, toward the window booth and Gregor. Gregor rubbed the side of his face with the flat of his hand and took a deep breath. He had never caught the man who had murdered those boys. Nobody had. Gregor didn't know if he was still out there killing someplace, or if he had died, or if he had been jailed for something else, or if he had gone dormant, as some of them sometimes did. Donna Moradanyan's son Tommy was now about the age those boys had been. Watching Tommy flying down the sidewalk on Cavanaugh Street, it struck Gregor every once in a while that he might be in danger.
Of course, Gregor thought now, scooting over on the bench to give old George room to get in, everybody was in danger, all the time. That was the lesson of Oklahoma City. It was the lesson learned daily on every city street in America. There was no real safety and there never would be—not even on Cavanaugh Street.
Old George piled onto the bench and Hannah came after him, shoving Gregor all the way to the window, so that his arm was pressed against the glass. Sheila got in on the other side of the booth next to Bennis, shrugging her mink coat off her shoulders and letting it spread out around her. Bennis kept looking at the coat, as if she wanted to touch it, but was afraid to.
"Guess what I heard," Sheila announced, waving frantically for Linda Melajian. "Helen Tevorakian's niece Marissa is going out with a Muslim, and now they both want to convert to Buddhism and get married in a temple in Salt Lake City."
Gregor thought Salt Lake City was where the Mormons were—but he let that go. Religion made his head ache, and Sheila Kashinian made it ache even worse. He wanted to go over and find out how Tibor was, but it was too early. It wouldn't have been, in the old days, but lately Tibor stayed up all night watching CNN. Gregor had a terrible feeling Tibor stayed up all night talking to himself, too, but he couldn't prove it.
I should have made the world safe when I had a chance, Gregor thought, and then flushed bright red. Had he ever thought anything quite so stupid before in all his life? He didn't think he had.
Linda Melajian held her Pyrex pot of coffee over his cup and raised her eyebrows, but Gregor shook his head.
The way this day was going, the last thing he needed was more caffeine.CHAPTER 2
HALF AN HOUR LATER, Gregor was standing in the small courtyard behind Holy Trinity Armenian Christian Church. He could see a light shining through the vines from Tibor's front window. That, he knew, would be the light in the foyer. Tibor must have gone to bed without doing his usual spot check of the house. Maybe Tibor hadn't gone to bed at all. Gregor could just imagine how it had been: the darkened living room full of books; the television flickering; the icons propped up on the bookshelves and the fireplace mantel, looking down on it all in that blind wall-eyed way all icons seemed to have.
Excerpted from Baptism in Blood by Jane Haddam. Copyright © 1996 Jane Haddam. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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