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A Gregor Demarkian Holiday Mystery
By Jane Haddam
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1994 Orania Papazoglou
All rights reserved.
GREGOR DEMARKIAN HAD BEEN living on Cavanaugh Street for something over two years, and in that time he had developed a routine for what he thought of as his "normal" days. "Normal" days were days when he was not involved in any extracurricular murder case, or traveling, or being hauled off from one place to another to "consult" with people Father Tibor Kasparian thought needed his advice. "Normal" days were normal in spite of the fact that there were fewer of them than of the other kind. It was odd how that worked. Gregor had sworn at enough alarm clocks in his time to believe that he ought to have loosened up and done away with schedules completely, now that he was retired. Instead, he might as well have been back in Virginia, coming in every morning to the Department of Behavioral Sciences. That was what Gregor Demarkian had done his last ten years with the FBI. First he had organized and then he had run the Department of Behavioral Sciences, which had the job of conducting federal searches for interstate serial killers. During the decade he spent in the FBI before that, he had done all sorts of things, none of which he would now describe as "normal." It was enough to make him wonder about people—and even about himself. His schedule was as rigid now as it had been when he'd held a mandatory staff meeting every Monday through Friday at eight A.M.
These days, what Gregor held every Monday through Saturday at seven A.M. was breakfast at the Ararat Restaurant. He would have held it there on Sunday too, but the Ararat wasn't open then. The Melajians, who owned it, went to church on Sunday mornings. Some of the people Gregor usually met for breakfast went to church on Sunday mornings too. Father Tibor Kasparian had to, or there would be no liturgy for the rest of Cavanaugh Street to attend. Old George Tekemanian hadn't missed a Sunday since the day he was married. He had been twenty-three then and was well over eighty now. Even Bennis Hannaford went most weeks, in spite of the fact that she'd been brought up Protestant Episcopal and not in the Armenian church. Only Gregor stayed away consistently. He wasn't sure why. He had nothing against religion. He had nothing against hearing Tibor preach and listening to the choir sing the kyrie eleison. He even believed in God on and off, depending on how his life was running. When it went badly, he tended to think there was an almighty out there, determined to get him. No, no. It was none of the usual things. It was just that church somehow didn't seem—right—to him.
The seats are hard, Gregor told himself now. They hurt to sit in for even a little while, and the liturgy goes on for hours and hours, and before it's half over you want a club chair and a great big mug of old George Tekemanian's hot buttered rum.
It was ten minutes to seven on the morning of Saturday, February 2, and Gregor was in no danger of being asked to go to church. He had just come out the door and down the stoop steps of the brownstone where he had his apartment—and where old George Tekemanian, Bennis Hannaford, and Donna Moradanyan had theirs. He began walking up the street toward the Ararat. He stopped every once in a while to check out the decorations Donna Moradanyan had put up for Valentine's Day. If he hadn't known that Donna went to church regularly, he might have suggested she go. As it was, he thought he ought to suggest something. Donna was definitely off her feed. These decorations—the big silver-and-red heart on their front door; the red and white metallic streamers wrapped around every lamppost; the crepe paper cupid with his crepe paper bow and arrow on the façade of Lida Arkmanian's place between the first and second floors—these decorations were nice, but they lacked Donna's usual obsessiveness. It was as if she just hadn't been able to work up any enthusiasm for hearts and flowers this year. Always before, Donna had loved Valentine's Day.
Gregor got to the Ararat, tugged at its plate glass front door, and found it locked. Linda Melajian looked up from where she was folding napkins at a table in the center of the room and nodded. Linda Melajian was what the old people on Cavanaugh Street called a success story. She had gone away to an Ivy League college in New England and gotten a wonderful education—but then she'd come back again. Now she helped run the family business and taught English to new immigrants two nights a week in the basement of Holy Trinity Church.
"Sorry," she said as she turned her keys in the lock and got the door open. "I'm running late this morning. Don't ever tell my mother you caught me still folding napkins at seven o'clock. Or nearly seven o'clock. What time is it? Hannah Krekorian woke me up at quarter to six, if you can believe it, all hot to place an emergency catering order for a party she wants to give next Friday night. I'd keep an eye out for her today if you don't want to go. I think she's going to ask the whole street."
It was customary in this neighborhood that anybody who gave a party asked the whole street. Gregor shrugged off his overcoat and slid it down the wall-side bench of the window table where he had his breakfast almost every morning. The coat bounced against the glass with the softest of ricochets. Gregor went back to the front desk and took one of the copies of the Philadelphia Inquirer that were kept for sale next to the cash register. Linda would put it on his bill.
"A party next Friday night," he said, going back to his booth. "With such short notice, will anybody come?"
Linda laughed. "This is Cavanaugh Street in February. They'll come in costume if they're asked to. Hannah wants fifteen pounds of loukoumia, can you believe it? Mickey's going to have to cart the stuff over there in a wagon. In several wagons."
Loukoumia was the Greek and Armenian name for what the rest of the world called Turkish delight—but in Armenian neighborhoods, and Greek ones, nothing was ever called Turkish anything, unless somebody was trying to start a fight. Gregor opened the paper, saw the headline (DEFICIT GROWING WORSE), and decided to read the comics instead. He hated parties. He especially hated the kind of parties where the hostess felt it necessary to have fifteen pounds of loukoumia.
"Let me see," Linda said. "A ham and cheese omelet, three eggs. A side of hash browns, a side of breakfast sausage, two orders of rye toast with butter, and a pot of coffee. Did I leave anything out?"
"Could I have it ham and cheese and mushroom?"
"Sure. I didn't think you ate mushrooms. No cholesterol."
"Never mind," Linda said. "Where's old George this morning? Where's Father Tibor? Usually you people descend on me in a gang."
Gregor shrugged. "Tibor had a late night with that protest of his. Old George has a cold and isn't supposed to go out. I'm supposed to bring him back some muffins."
"He isn't really sick, is he?" Linda asked quickly. "If he's really sick, I'll go over there myself with some hav abour. I know he likes erishtah abour better, but chicken soup is better than lamb soup when you're sick, and old George is getting up there—"
"Old George isn't getting up there," Gregor said. "Old George is already there."
"Right. Don't worry about the muffins. I'll put a box together and go myself."
Doonesbury had a sequence about the deficit. Gregor sighed and closed the paper. "While you're there," he said, "bring some of that hav abour to Donna Moradanyan. I don't know what's wrong with her lately. She just isn't behaving like herself."
Linda Melajian looked startled. "You don't know what's wrong with Donna Moradanyan? Really? I'd have thought it was obvious to everybody."
"Well, of course," Linda Melajian said. "I mean, after all—"
Gregor never got to hear what Linda meant, or what was after all. The plate glass door blew open so forcefully, it rattled all the other plate glass windows facing the street. A gust of wind hit the stack of folded napkins on the table where Linda had been working and scattered them across the floor. Salt and pepper shakers jumped, and copies of the Philadelphia Inquirer rippled in the breeze. Bennis Hannaford stood in the door, wearing jeans, a turtleneck, a flannel shirt, a pair of L. L. Bean Maine hunting boots, and a bright red scarf. Gregor thought she had to be freezing, out in the cold like that without a coat. Bennis didn't seem to be noticing the temperature.
She had a stack of computer printouts under her arm. She grabbed them in her right hand, held them in the air, and announced: "Gregor, I've got the most outrageously awful thing to tell you."CHAPTER 2
Gregor Demarkian had reason to know that Bennis Hannaford was not a flake. In spite of the way she liked to act in public—which was as a cross between a Barbara Stanwyck madcap debutante from a thirties movie and Agatha Christie's Mrs. Ariadne Oliver—she was in her way a brilliant businesswoman and certainly a successful writer. What she wrote was sword-and-sorcery fantasy novels, but Gregor was not the kind of person to whom genre fiction simply didn't count. Especially genre fiction that sold that many copies and made that much money. Of course, Gregor had never actually read anything Bennis had written. He'd tried on several occasions, but he was always brought up short by the unicorns. Bennis always had unicorns in her novels. She always had witches and dragons and sorcerers too. It made Gregor dizzy. Tibor and old George Tekemanian had read the whole series, though, and they said the work Bennis did was wonderful.
The problem with Bennis, as far as Gregor was concerned, was not the flakiness she liked to pretend to, but the driving determination she liked to indulge. That, Gregor knew, was the key to Bennis. Out in the world somewhere, Gregor was sure, there were hundreds of other women who wrote as well as Bennis did. There were probably dozens who published as frequently and were as well reviewed. None of them had a tenth of the energy, or the bullheadedness.
Unfortunately, Bennis did not restrict her application of drive, determination, energy, or bullheadedness to her professional life. She brought those things to everything she did, including eating breakfast in the morning. She caused herself a lot of trouble.
Now she threw her sheaf of computer printout paper on top of Gregor's Philadelphia Inquirer, said, "Hi, Linda" and "Could I have a pot of really muddy black coffee and a full sugar bowl?" and threw her red scarf on top of Gregor's coat. Then she sat down and put her chin in her hands.
"Just guess," she said, "what I found out last night."
Gregor Demarkian did not like to guess things with Bennis Hannaford. He suspected Bennis of setting traps. He said, "I don't know. Wasn't your brother supposed to come in last night? Has he got a new job?"
"He's got the same job he always had," Bennis said, "and he's fine and all the rest of that and he's sleeping in. It's not about Christopher, for God's sake. What do you take me for?"
I take you for a prime pain in the nether regions, Gregor told himself, but he didn't say it out loud. "I take it whatever awful thing you've found out is about a person. You've got that news-about-a-person expression on your face. Who is it?"
Gregor blinked. "That's odd. This seems to be Hannah's day. Linda was just telling me that Hannah got her out of bed this morning, trying to place a catering order for a big party she's decided to hold this Friday night."
"Did she really?" Bennis said. "I take it this was a spur-of-the-moment thing?"
"Linda seems to think so."
"I bet it's a get-acquainted party," Bennis said. "That would just fit. Oh, I really can't believe this is happening."
"A get-acquainted party for Hannah Krekorian?" Gregor said.
Linda Melajian came up carrying a tray holding two large pots of coffee, two saucers, two cups, two spoons, two napkins, and an immense sugar bowl. Bennis said, "Thanks a lot," poured one of the coffee cups two-thirds full of evil black liquid, seemed to fill the rest of the cup up with sugar, and bent over her computer printouts. Linda picked up Bennis's coffee cup and put a saucer under it.
"Back in a minute with breakfast," she said.
Bennis looked after Linda's retreating figure. "I suppose you ordered one of those breakfasts that are a kind of suicide pact with your arteries. I ought to lecture you about it but I just don't have the time. Listen. Yesterday afternoon Tibor had that demonstration at City Hall or wherever with Father Ryan and Father Carmichael and all those people—"
"The demonstration about the street vendors. I remember. In protest against the city raising the licensing fee or something like that."
"Right," Bennis said. "Well, about, I don't know, maybe seven o'clock last night, I get a call from Tibor that he's been arrested and he owes a fine and can I come down and pay it. Which is all right, because I knew that was probably coming when the day started. So I packed up all the money I could find in the apartment—"
"Which was probably too much," Gregor interrupted automatically. "You keep too much cash around. You're going to get robbed."
Bennis ignored him. "Anyway, I got all this money together because I knew I was going to get down to the courthouse and find out there were five other people too broke to pay their fines and then what was I going to do, so I took the whole wad and I went out onto the street to find a cab. And I did. Right away. That's because just as I got out there to look for one, Hannah Krekorian came home in one. With a companion."
"So who was this companion?" Gregor asked. "You make it sound like Jack the Ripper."
"I think Jack the Ripper is very apt. Although I didn't recognize him then. He was too far away. A really tall, cadaverously thin man in a good coat. It wasn't until I got back that I realized who it was."
"Because you'd been thinking about it," Gregor said slowly.
"Not at all." Bennis was indignant. "I wouldn't get this worked up just from speculation."
Oh, yes, you would, Gregor thought, but he didn't say that either. Instead, he took a long sip of hot black coffee and tried to be encouraging. "You saw him again, I take it? Hannah and this person were still on the sidewalk when you got back?"
"If they had been, they would have frozen to death. It was hours, Gregor. No, they must have gone out to dinner or something. They were getting out of a cab at Hannah's place again when I got home with Tibor and the rest of the clergy—and I won't do that again anytime soon; good Lord—and since I was standing right there at the church, and that's a lot closer, I got a good look at his face."
"Which you recognized," Gregor said.
"I most certainly did."
"Well?" Gregor asked her. "Who was it? It couldn't really have been Jack the Ripper.
Nobody alive today knows who that was."
"Maybe I just mean he was the next best thing. It was Paul Hazzard. Does the name ring a bell?"
"I don't know," Gregor said slowly.
Bennis nodded. "That might have been the year your wife was so sick. The year of the trial, I mean. Otherwise, I think you'd remember it. It was a kind of national soap opera, complete with press leaks and stolen tape recordings and I don't know what else. Everybody thought the state of Pennsylvania had him nailed—Paul Hazzard, I mean—and even now just about everybody's sure he killed his wife. It's just that he had Fred Scherrer for a lawyer, so he didn't get convicted of it."
Linda Melajian came up to the table with another tray. "Here you go," she said, starting to set down dishes, "The coronary bypass surgery special."CHAPTER 3
Gregor Demarkian knew enough about the way the courts operated in the United States—and especially about the way the courts operated in cases of murder—not to have any illusions that the guilty were always convicted or the innocent set free. He had sat in a courtroom in Tupelo, Mississippi, and watched a man he knew had slaughtered five young women set free for insufficient evidence. He had sat in the FBI office in Salt Lake City and waited for word that the state of Utah had put a man he was sure was innocent to death by firing squad. The vagaries of the political system were the primary reason he was opposed to the death penalty in spite of the fact that he had worked for so much of his career with perpetrators who in every moral sense deserved to be dead. In favor of the death penalty or not, consciousness of the arbitrariness of organized justice notwithstanding, Gregor still believed implicitly in the principle of innocent until proven guilty. There were times when he had privileged knowledge, when he knew a verdict was wrong because he possessed information the jury did not have. In cases in which he had no more information than the jury had had, or even less, Gregor went with the decision their deliberations had settled on. He would have eaten dinner at the house of an acquitted poisoner with no qualms at all. "Everybody's sure he killed his wife" was not the kind of information Gregor Demarkian allowed to influence his life.
The sausages at Ararat were round spiced patties from Jimmy Dean, his favorite. He cut one in quarters and speared a piece.
Excerpted from Bleeding Hearts by Jane Haddam. Copyright © 1994 Orania Papazoglou. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Meet the Author
Jane Haddam is the pen name of American author Orania Papazoglou. She has worked as a college teacher and magazine editor and is best known for her series of mystery books featuring former FBI Agent Gregor Demarkian. Her first book Death's Savage Passion was nominated for an Edgar Award in 1985. Her 1991 novel Not a Creature was Stirring was also nominated for an Edgar Award and an Anthony Award.
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