Dear Old Deadby Jane Haddam
A media kingpin is dead and the chief suspect is a modern-day saint
Michael Pride could have been a world-class surgeon, but his good intentions got the best of him. He opened a clinic in one of New York’s roughest neighborhoods, and stuck around when gangs, drugs, and guns turned it into a war zone. Supporting his mission is Charles van Straadt, a/b>… See more details below
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A media kingpin is dead and the chief suspect is a modern-day saint
Michael Pride could have been a world-class surgeon, but his good intentions got the best of him. He opened a clinic in one of New York’s roughest neighborhoods, and stuck around when gangs, drugs, and guns turned it into a war zone. Supporting his mission is Charles van Straadt, a media titan with a knack for incendiary headlines and a soft spot for good works. When a sex scandal threatens to derail Pride’s clinic, van Straadt is the only one who stands by him—until the mogul is poisoned, and the doctor appears to be the only person who could have done it. Former FBI agent Gregor Demarkian has a chance of proving Pride’s innocence. In a part of New York that feels more like Beirut than Broadway, it will take more than good works for the two of them to survive.
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Dear Old Dead
A Gregor Demarkian Holiday Mystery
By Jane Haddam
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1994 Orania Papazoglou
All rights reserved.
ALWAYS BEFORE, WHEN GREGOR Demarkian had come to New York, it had been winter. "New York is cold," he told friends who asked him how he liked it. Cold was what he thought of when he stood in his apartment in Philadelphia, packing a single large suitcase to take with him on the train. Philadelphia was not cold, at the moment. It had been an unseasonably warm May, and now, at the beginning of June, green buds had blossomed into leaves on all the trees and house fronts had blossomed into red-and-white streamers. At least, the houses on Cavanaugh Street had. Donna Moradanyan, the young woman who lived with her small son in the fourth-floor floor-through apartment in Gregor's brownstone, was making up to the neighborhood for the funk she had been in for Valentine's Day. Gregor didn't remember Father's Day being a vigorously celebrated holiday. He didn't remember ever having taken notice of it before in his life. Mother's Day, that was another story. Mother's Day was on a par with Easter on Cavanaugh Street. People around here said "my mother" the way twelfth-century religious fanatics had said "my God." Fathers had always seemed to be superfluous. Now Ohanian's Middle Eastern Food Store had a Father's Day poster taking up most of its plate-glass front window, and the Ararat restaurant was offering "the Father's Day Breakfast Special," meaning pancakes in the shape of knotted ties. The children at the Holy Trinity Armenian Christian School were getting ready to hold a Father's Day pageant. The choir at Holy Trinity Armenian Christian Church had announced its intention of holding a benefit concert for the Armenian refugees in the church basement on Father's Day proper, made up entirely of hymns with the word Father in the title. Even the Armenian-American Historical Society had gotten into the act. They had taken St. Joseph, Foster Father of the Holy Family, as their patron saint.
"That's Catholic, that bit about St. Joseph the Foster Father," Gregor told Bennis Hannaford as he threw balled pairs of black socks into his suitcase. "And it's all my fault, too. I had that little booklet Sister Scholastica gave me after the mess in Maryville and I gave it to Sheila Kashinian. That was all it took."
"It never takes much of anything with Sheila Kashinian," Bennis said.
Bennis Hannaford was sitting cross-legged on Gregor's bedspread, looking curiously into his suitcase without offering to help. She had an ashtray in her lap and one of her standard Benson & Hedges Menthols in her right hand. Her thick black hair was pinned to the top of her head with scrunched-looking amber metal things that looked ready to fall to the floor. Gregor knew she had to be nearly forty, but she didn't look it. Bennis had the second-floor floor-through apartment in this building. Gregor often felt sandwiched between her and Donna Moradanyan, cream cheese filling between slices of date nut bread. Any minute now, somebody was going to come along and squash him flat.
Socks, ties, shirts folded around cardboard from the laundry: Gregor had no idea how to pack a suitcase. When his wife, Elizabeth, had been alive, Elizabeth had packed his suitcases for him. When Elizabeth hadn't been around to help, he had usually had an assistant. That was all gone now, of course. For the twenty long years of his professional life, Gregor Demarkian had been an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. For the last ten of those years, he had been the founding head of the Behavioral Sciences Department, the arm of the Bureau that helped track the interstate progress of serial killers. That had amounted to being an Important Personage, as government bureaucrats go. That had meant getting his name in Time and Newsweek and being asked to explain the interior motivations of psychopaths on network television. It was odd, Gregor thought. Since he'd left the Bureau, he'd become much more famous than he'd ever been while he was in it. He spent much more of his time seeing his picture in magazines and being asked to show up for talk shows and generally being hounded by the press. He still couldn't get anyone to pack for him. It was as if packing were the worst job on earth, worse than cleaning toilets. He had a cleaning lady who came in and cleaned his toilet every week. Either that, or the people on Cavanaugh Street didn't like to see him go away.
Bennis dropped her cigarette butt in the ashtray, got another cigarette from her pack, and lit up again.
"So how long do you expect to be gone?" she asked. "I've promised Donna a dozen times that you'll be back before the twentieth, but I was making it up. For all I know you're going to be away for months."
"I take it the twentieth is Father's Day."
"Unfortunately, I should be back home in plenty of time. This isn't a major project, Bennis. It isn't even a case. The New York City Police Department is neither willing nor able to be helped by me."
"Some people would say the New York City Police Department is neither willing nor able to be helped by anybody."
"I'm not even going to consult with the police department," Gregor went on, ignoring her. "It's the Archbishop I'm supposed to see. It's the church I'm dealing with."
"The Cardinal Archbishop of New York called the Cardinal Archbishop of Colchester. The Cardinal Archbishop of Colchester called his friend Father Tibor Kasparian. Father Tibor Kasparian called you."
"Something like that."
"Father Tibor isn't Catholic, either. This is always the explanation you give me when these people get hold of you, Gregor. It never makes any sense to me."
"You come along when you're asked."
Gregor's two pairs of casual slacks were hanging folded over the bottom bars of wooden hangers suspended from the top of his bedroom door. He got them down and tossed them into the suitcase with everything else. He knew he ought to hang them up in a suit bag and put his shirts in the suit bag, too. He hated suit bags with a passion. Running through airports and train stations, they slapped heavily against his legs and made his knees ache.
Gregor flipped the top of the suitcase over and zipped the case shut. This suitcase was of the very soft leather variety, a black shiny expensive amoeba that allowed itself to be molded by the clothes inside it. He went to his bureau and found a thick wool V-neck sweater to wear over his shirt and under the jacket of his coat. He got himself put together and looked into the mirror. Gregor didn't like looking into the mirror. He couldn't help feeling that he was supposed to see something significant there, and he never did.
"What time is it?" he asked Bennis. "I'm supposed to catch the two forty-five train."
"It's only half past one. Are you sure you want to wear that sweater?"
"Aren't you hot?"
"I'm hot here," Gregor said, "but I'm always cold in New York. Do I have everything I'm supposed to have?"
"Your briefcase is on the kitchen table. Are you going to take it?"
"I'm going to have to. The Archbishop sent me all kinds of things, press clippings, the transcript of a radio show, pictures. I suppose I'd better have them on me if I want to look even halfway competent. Not that they were any use to me."
"It seems so odd that no one's been able to solve that murder," Bennis said. "It seems so odd that there's any kind of murder to solve. Don't you read the reports and think it was just some kind of mugging, some stray lunatic and Charles van Straadt was in the wrong place at the wrong time?"
"A mugging done with strychnine?"
"You know what I mean," Bennis said in exasperation. "I mean it didn't happen in the high-rent district, did it? It happened in a medical center full of hard cases, psychopaths, and loonies all over the place—I mean, all right, strychnine might be pushing it a bit, but so what? There was probably a ton of strychnine in that place. Aren't there medical uses for strychnine?"
"One or two."
"So there?" Gregor got the suitcase up off his bed and put it on the floor. Bennis was exasperating him a little. The tone in her voice was so stubbornly superior. It was as if she thought any damn fool ought to be able to see this thing the way she saw it—and what was most annoying about that, Gregor admitted to himself, was that he had to agree with her. There were undoubtedly facets of this case he knew nothing about. If he had been dealing with John O'Bannion, Cardinal Archbishop of Colchester, he would have expected full disclosure. Instead, he was dealing with an unknown quantity. There were holes in the report the Archdiocese of New York had sent him. As long as those holes were not filled in, Bennis had more than a point. Why weren't the police assuming that the murder had been committed by one of the myriad misfits and crazies that infested a neighborhood like the one Sojourner Truth Health Center was supposed to inhabit?
Of course, maybe they were.
Gregor took his suitcase out of his bedroom, down the hall, across the living room and into the foyer. He dropped it next to his front door and went into his kitchen. His briefcase was indeed lying on the table there, open and organized. Gregor's briefcases were always organized. It was his life that was a mess.
Gregor snapped the briefcase up and stood it on its end. Bennis was leaning against the door jamb with her bare feet comfortably on his kitchen floor tiles. She was shaking her head dolefully and rhythmically, as if he were a small child about to embark on a patently stupid adventure.
"I think you're kidding yourself she said. "I think you're going to get to New York and find yourself in the middle of an absolute firestorm of publicity. I think the police commissioner is going to be ready to kill you. I think the Daily News is going to be on the commissioner's side. I think—"
"You think too much," Gregor interrupted. "I've been asked to do the Cardinal a favor. I'm going to do the Cardinal a favor. You should try to relax."
"I should come with you to keep you out of trouble."
"Bennis, when you come with me, you never keep me out of trouble."
Bennis pushed herself away from the kitchen door. Then she turned around and walked back out toward the foyer, clucking to herself. Gregor heard his own front door open and close and more clucking going on out in the hall. Bennis's clucks could be as loud as a jackhammer when she wanted them to be. Gregor waited until the clucks had died away. Then he went into his living room and looked out on Cavanaugh Street.
Years ago—so many years ago now, he didn't want to remember; my God, he was nearly sixty—when Gregor Demarkian had been growing up, Cavanaugh Street had been just another Philadelphia ethnic neighborhood, a few ramshackle blocks of tenements dotted here and there with groceries and shoe stores, dry cleaners and religious supply shops. Back in the 1960s, when Gregor first joined the Bureau, it had begun that characteristic slide of American urban neighborhoods, that descent into carelessness and decay. Gregor remembered coming back for his mother's funeral. The steps of Holy Trinity Church were crumbling. The gold paint on its double front doors was chipped and peeling. The building where Gregor's mother had lived was in fairly good repair, but the building next to it was abandoned on the top two floors. Pacing the sidewalks on the night of the wake, getting away from the endless stream of condolences delivered to him by people he didn't know any more, Gregor had accidentally turned the wrong corner and found himself face to face with a porno bookstore. Porno bookstores hadn't been then what they became later. Decadence hadn't been fashionable enough then. Gregor knew that porno bookstore was a sign, the mark of the beast, the beginning of the end.
Gregor had no idea what had happened between then and the time, three and a half years ago now, that he had come back to live in this place. He had seen urban neighborhoods turn around before. The Upper West Side of Manhattan had gone from Mostly Undesirable to Very High Rent in no time at all. Cavanaugh Street was the only urban neighborhood he had ever heard of that had turned itself around on purpose. Urban renewal failed. Enterprise zones were less than useless. Revitalization projects shot themselves in the foot. Here, the grandmothers had wanted to stay and the grandchildren had decided to help them. The tenements had been torn down and replaced by neat brick replicas of Federal houses. The brownstones had been converted either into floor-throughs, like the one he lived in, or one-family town houses with living rooms that took up their entire second floor. There was still a grocery store—Ohanian's Middle Eastern Food Store—but it sold as much to tourists coming in from the Main Line as it did to people in the neighborhood. People in the neighborhood liked Armenian food, but they also ate their share at Burger King and McDonald's. The religious supply store was gone. If you wanted an oil lamp or a picture of the Virgin, you had to talk to Father Tibor Kasparian and listen to a lecture on why you really ought to give that money to the poor. Even Holy Trinity Armenian Christian School was less insolently ethnic than it appeared. Its students were mostly refugees who had come to America from Armenia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Its stated purpose was to get those students ready to take their places beside their thoroughly Americanized cousins at Groton and The Hill.
From the window of his living room, Gregor could see across the street into the living room of Lida Arkmanian's town house, which was on the third floor instead of the second. When they were growing up, Lida had been the prettiest girl on Cavanaugh Street, and Gregor had been in love with her. Now he looked down to the street and saw Donna Moradanyan and her son, Tommy, coming out of Lida's front door. They were being met on the stoop by Russell Donahue, Donna's steady "friend" and seen off by Lida herself, looking magnificent in something bright red and flowy. Cavanaugh Street always looked best in this kind of weather. It was a place of bright emotions and happy thoughts, like the world seen through fairy dust in Peter Pan. It never seemed suited to the nasty darkness that made up so much of Philadelphia's climate.
Lida Arkmanian's town house was decorated in the same kind of red-and-white streamers Gregor's own town house was decorated in. Donna Moradanyan had been active over there, too. Gregor tilted his head and looked down the street. There was a Saint Joseph display on the steps of Holy Trinity Church, and red-and-white streamers wound around every lamppost from here to there. Donna was definitely outdoing herself this time. Gregor wondered if Tommy Moradanyan was going to buy Russell Donahue a Father's Day present, and if so, what that would mean. God only knew, he was as anxious as any of the old ladies on the street to see Donna Moradanyan married to a responsible man.
Gregor backed away from the window. He went to the kitchen phone and called a cab. He had to watch himself around this place. It was too easy to turn into a matchmaker on Cavanaugh Street. It was too easy to turn into a gnome who thought the most important thing in life was who married who and what they wore when they did it. It was maddening.
The kitchen clock said it was two, on the nose. The cab company said it would take ten minutes to get a taxi to Gregor's front door. Gregor said fine and hung up.
It was past time for him to take a little trip, that was the truth. He was getting something worse than stale.
Gregor opened his briefcase again. Press clippings, magazine stories, the transcript of a radio program --- lots and lots of paper, but not a single piece of information he couldn't have gotten on his own in one long day at the main branch of the Philadelphia Public Library. Gregor had the feeling that, unlike John O'Bannion, the Cardinal Archbishop of New York was something of a conspiracy theorist.
And that could mean nothing but trouble.
Excerpted from Dear Old Dead by Jane Haddam. Copyright © 1994 Orania Papazoglou. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Jane Haddam (b. 1951) is an American author of mysteries. Born Orania Papazoglou, she worked as a college professor and magazine editor before publishing her Edgar Award–nominated first novel, Sweet, Savage Death, in 1984. This mystery introduced Patience McKenna, a sleuthing scribe who would go on to appear in four more books, including Wicked, Loving Murder (1985) and Rich, Radiant Slaughter (1988). Not a Creature Was Stirring (1990) introduced Haddam’s best-known character, former FBI agent Gregor Demarkian. The series spans more than twenty novels, many of them holiday-themed, including Murder Superior (1993), Fountain of Death (1995), and Wanting Sheila Dead (2005). Haddam’s most recent novels are Blood in the Water (2012) and Hearts of Sand (2013).
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