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Fountain of Death
A Gregor Demarkian Holiday Mystery
By Jane Haddam
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1995 Orania Papazoglou
All rights reserved.
FOR MANY YEARS, GREGOR Demarkian had thought of New Year's Eve as the celebration of the letdown that happened after Christmas. First there was the real holiday: tinseled trees, gold foil wrap and satin ribbons, carolers in the streets. Then there was the long slide into discontent and exasperation, with too many leftovers in the refrigerator and too much slush ice on the roads. Then there was the pop, the point when nobody could stand it anymore and nobody thought they ought to have to. It was that pop that caused so many fatalities on the roads and in otherwise stable marriages. Gregor had seen it through all his long twenty years with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Bureau didn't investigate local crimes, but it did rub up against them, especially in Washington and Virginia. It also had agents, who were just as susceptible to New Year's Eve explosions as anyone else. Maybe there was something about cheap champagne that was different from all other forms of ingestible alcohol. Men who had never before shouted at a football game gave their wives black eyes. Women who had never fantasized so much as a love scene from a Barbara Cartland romance left home with itinerant carpenters. Hundreds of loose and drifting people, without family, without friends, without ties of any kind, poured into the streets—and they were people with nothing to lose.
"Give me a guy with a job and a house and a mortgage," Gregor's favorite instructor out at Quantico was always saying. "Give him to me every time. That's a guy I can count on."
Outside the grimed window of the train, the small Connecticut towns were going by with syncopated regularity, each more or less like the one before it. There had been a couple of small cities on the way, but those had seemed oddly unreal, too clean, too firmly placed in a rural backdrop. Gregor tried to remember if Connecticut had ever been a serious manufacturing state but got only a vision of whaling ships and wooden nutmeg. The small towns all still had their Christmas decorations up. Tinsel and colored glass lights were wound in whorls from one streetlamp pole to another, across nearly empty streets. Big, fat cardboard Santa Clauses sat in store windows. Frantic elves and drunken reindeer were scattered across town parks. Every once in a while, Gregor saw a sign announcing a New Year's sale or a New Year's special or a "Get Ready for the New Year Extravaganza," but the signs lacked fire and conviction. Nobody in the shore towns of Connecticut was any more enthusiastic about ringing out the old and ringing in the new than Gregor Demarkian was.
Nobody on this train was in any hurry to get where he was going, either. Gregor was sitting up in his seat, at the back of the car, with his hands on his brand new black leather briefcase, but the other two passengers he could see were both asleep. One of them, a young white man in baggy clothes and blunt-cut hair that had been greased to stick straight up from his skull, had his feet up on the seat across from him. The other, an elderly woman with an oversize pocketbook, was sitting upright with her arms folded around a shopping bag. Gregor found himself wondering if either one of them would have qualified as someone who "could be counted on" by his old instructor at Quantico. He wondered if he himself would have qualified. All that time was so long ago and far away. A world where women were refused appointments as special agents of the FBI as a matter of policy. A world where there were no black people or African-Americans but only Negroes—or something worse—and the Negroes were all serving drinks and carting baggage and going home on a different bus. A world where men like Gregor Demarkian didn't retire after twenty years' service, but got promoted into administration and were expected to stay put. Well, Gregor thought, I spent my time in administration, ten years in the formation and running of the Behavioral Sciences Department—and I didn't like it much.
The train began to slow down, surrounded by the debris of a cityscape again, tracks branching out in all directions and low brick buildings crammed too close together. Half the low brick buildings were empty. Half the empty buildings had their front windows smashed. Maybe the reason Gregor Demarkian didn't like New Year's Eve was that it was as much a nostalgia orgy as anything else it was supposed to be. Look back in befuddlement. Look forward in a haze of 150-proof courage. Gregor Demarkian did as much complaining as anybody else about what had happened to the world. The vandalism. The crime. The dirt. The violence. He knew better than most people how true it all was. He still didn't want to go back. His old instructor at Quantico might not have considered him a sterling character any longer. He didn't have a job. His wife was dead. He owned his floor-through condominium apartment free and clear. If push came to shove, he just might decide that he had nothing to lose he wasn't willing to lose. The statistics were terrible and they were probably getting worse. He really didn't care. He liked this world better than he had liked that one, in spite of how quiet that one had been. He liked himself better than he had liked the man who had gone to work one morning in his socks but without his shoes, because he had been too preoccupied with a case to notice what he wore. The only thing he wanted to bring back from that time was his wife, Elizabeth, and he only wanted her if he could have her without the cancer that had killed her. He wouldn't put Elizabeth, or anyone else he knew, through pain like that again.
The cityscape was becoming a jungle of tracks and wires and abstract shapes. The conductor came through from the back of the car, yelling, "New Haven. Last Stop. New Haven. Last Stop." Like all conductors, he was nearly unintelligible. The boy with the greased hair stood up. The elderly woman with the shopping bag shook herself awake and checked for her pocketbook. Gregor Demarkian put his briefcase on his lap.
The briefcase had come from Mark Cross and cost a mint. Gregor only owned it because it had been given to him by Bennis Hannaford as a Christmas present. Bennis Hannaford was the woman who owned the apartment just below his in the converted brownstone house on Cavanaugh Street in Philadelphia where Gregor had retired to be among people he knew. The scarf Gregor was wearing draped over the back of his neck under the collar of his Burberry topcoat was a Christmas present, too, but not an expensive one. It had been given to him by Father Tibor Kasparian, his closest friend and the priest of Cavanaugh Street's Holy Trinity Armenian Christian Church. It had probably been bought, like most of Tibor's presents were, at a charity shop in central Philadelphia run by five churches and a synagogue for the benefit of a homeless center west of Society Hill. When Gregor was still with the Bureau, he had not had the kinds of friends who gave him Christmas presents. He had had colleagues and family and the people that Elizabeth knew. In this way, now was better than then, too. Gregor sometimes surprised himself with how strange all that seemed to him now, living in isolation, living for work. He must have been out of his mind.
The train was gliding to a stop under a tangled web of lights and structural beams. Gregor stood up and shook out his coat and headed for the open space in front of the sliding doors. Of course, he thought, there was one small problem with the self-analysis he had been doing this morning, one little kink in the reasoning that just wouldn't go away and leave him alone. If he was so content on Cavanaugh Street and delighted not to be obsessed with work—why was it that it had taken only a single phone call to get him out of his living room and on a train to New Haven, Connecticut?
There was a big banner hanging over the platform next to which the train had stopped that said "HAPPY NEW YEAR AND WELCOME TO NEW HAVEN." It looked tattered and old, as if it had been dragged out of a trunk somewhere after several years' hard use and no trips to the dry cleaner. The train doors slid open; a blast of cold air rushed in. Gregor helped the elderly woman with the shopping bag across the little gap onto the platform.
"It gets wider and wider every time," the elderly woman told him. "People just don't think."
Gregor was thinking that Bennis Hannaford would have thought of the same question he just had, and that before he went back to Philadelphia and had to face her he ought to think up a fairly good answer. Of course, if he waited long enough to get back to Philadelphia, she would be gone, out to Los Angeles for a month to talk to the people who were turning her series of fantasy novels into a video game.
One of the things Gregor had found out in his retirement but didn't like to mention was that he loved video games. He especially loved really violent video games where the good guys did impossibly grotesque things to the bad guys, like tear out their hearts and turn their eyes into blood fountains.
"Law enforcement is frustrating," that same old instructor at Quantico used to say.
Gregor Demarkian could only suppose that it must have been.CHAPTER 2
GREGOR DEMARKIAN HAD NEVER met Tony Bandero, or even seen a picture of him, but coming up into the main body of New Haven Station, he had no trouble picking him out of the crowd. There was, surprisingly, a fairly large crowd. Gregor's train had been so deserted, he had assumed that the New Haven Railroad had the same problem Amtrak did: not enough passengers to make it profitable. He had forgotten that the New Haven was a commuting line to and from New York City and that most of the people who lived down here, on what was called Connecticut's Gold Coast, worked in New York. New Haven did not look like it was possessed of much gold. The station was large because it had been built in the days when stations were built large. It was clean because the railroad was putting serious effort into keeping it that way. Otherwise, it was just like all the other large old stations Gregor had had the occasion to be in over the last few years. The waiting room was overrun with homeless people. The legitimate passengers were all crowded around the gates to the platforms or in lines at the ticket counters. The wastebaskets were full of crumpled newspapers and torn candy wrappers. The advertisements that hung as posters on the wall were faded, even though Gregor knew that some of them had to be new. If you moved quickly and in the wrong direction, you caught sight of a junkie before he had a chance to scuttle away. Gregor wondered what the laws of vagrancy were in this state. In New York, they had all been declared unconstitutional. If a man who belonged in a mental institution but couldn't get a place because there was no money to keep him there decided to take up residence on the stoop of your elegant East Side brownstone, you were stuck with him.
Gregor Demarkian recognized Tony Bandero because Tony Bandero looked like a cop, a good old-fashioned cop, a cop circa 1954. Bandero was tall and broad and potbellied, with a bald spot on the back of his head and a badly fitting brown wool suit. He had thick hairy hands and frayed shirt cuffs and a Timex watch that looked like it had taken some battering. Gregor was tall and broad, too—at six foot four, considerably taller than Tony Bandero—but a different physical type. Tony Bandero was heavyset. Gregor Demarkian was massive.
People were rushing into the gate, trying to get to a train whose arrival had been announced while Gregor was still waiting to get off his. There was a banner over the ticket counters in the station that said "HAPPY NEW YEAR" in glitter-stuck letters on a white background. Gregor had seen the same banner in a Hallmark store. He tucked his briefcase up under his arm to avoid hitting shorter people in the side with it. The shorter people were all in a massive hurry and not paying any attention to where they were going. Tony Bandero was surrounded by shorter people, all women, who seemed to be waiting for passengers from Gregor's train. The women all wore those short cloth coats with the rough surfaces that came in such odd colors, like powder blue and copper-washed metallic green. Gregor made his way over to the little group and stuck out his hand.
"Tony Bandero?" he said. "I'm—"
Tony Bandero was carrying a copy of The New Haven Register. He shoved it under his left arm and stuck his right hand out to catch Gregor's own.
"Mr. Demarkian," he said. "Mr. Demarkian. I recognized you from your pictures."
"Gregor," Gregor said.
"The bishop said I should call you Mr. Demarkian," Tony Bandero said. "Not that I take the bishop's word as gospel in everything, you understand, but he called you for me. I figure I owe him a little courtesy."
"Actually," Gregor said, "your bishop called John Cardinal O'Bannion in Colchester. It was Cardinal O'Bannion who called me."
"Whatever. The church is the church. She's been taking a hell of a beating lately—deservedly, in some cases, if you ask me; who the hell can figure all those child abuse cases—but she still comes through when you need her. The bishop said I was to tell you there wasn't anything religious about this case."
"I know," Gregor said. "Health clubs. Diet gurus."
"It's more like exercise gurus." Tony Bandero shook his head. "The bishop said you might shy away from it if you thought it was a religious murder. He said you might have had enough of religious murders for a while. Three, he said you were involved in. You couldn't get me to touch a religious murder with a ten-foot pole. They don't think like us, you know, bishops don't. They get trained out at the Vatican and they don't think like Americans."
All the Roman Catholic bishops Gregor had ever known, and especially John Cardinal O'Bannion, had thought like hyper-Americans. O'Bannion practically snored "The Star Spangled Banner" in his sleep. There was a whole raft of beggars at the front doors to the station, standing in a row that reminded Gregor crazily of a debutante receiving line.
"I take it New Haven's having the same problems every place else is," Gregor said.
Tony Bandero examined the row of beggars and frowned. Then he turned away from them and hurried through the doors onto the sidewalk outside. His coat was a dirty trench that looked too light for the cold of the day. It flapped in the breeze as he walked.
"Yeah," he said finally. "We got the same problems as every place else. We got beggars. We got drugs. We got street gangs. Twice a month we pick up some high school kid who's just offed his best friend because they had an argument over the coolest color for a pair of sneakers. Does this kind of thing make any more sense to you than it does to me?"
"No," Gregor said.
They had reached a battered Ford Fairlane, its color the same brown as Tony Bandero's suit.
"The thing is," he said, "I used to like being a cop. It was dangerous, but it was fun. There were the good guys. There were the bad guys. The good guys chased the bad guys. Sometimes the good guys won. You know what I mean?"
Tony unlocked the passenger-side door of the Fairlane and motioned Gregor in. "Now I pick up these kids, thirteen, fourteen years old, sometimes twelve, they've just offed somebody, they've just raped some old lady and bashed her head in with a lead pipe, they're dealing six thousand dollars a week, and they want to pay me off, they just don't give a shit. Then I go up to the house, and what do I get? They've got this mother, she hasn't been straight since she was thirteen herself, she's turning tricks out of the back bedroom, she's got an eleven-year-old daughter turning tricks out of the hall closet, she's got a boyfriend who's pimping the both of them. Then we take the kid in and send him through medical, and it turns out his arm has been broken six times and the doctors know the breaks didn't happen the day before yesterday. Does this make any sense to you?"
"I don't think it's supposed to make sense," Gregor said. There was a little plastic statue of the Virgin Mary glued to the dashboard and a St. Christopher medal hanging from the back of the rearview mirror.
Tony Bandero went around the front of the car and got in the other side. He started the engine and the car immediately began to make a series of very odd noises. First it squeaked in a way that sounded like a bird mating. Then it clanked. Then it let out a long hiss, as if all its tires were losing air at once.
Excerpted from Fountain of Death by Jane Haddam. Copyright © 1995 Orania Papazoglou. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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