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A Gregor Demarkian Holiday Mystery
By Jane Haddam
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1991 Orania Papazoglou
All rights reserved.
"The problem," Donna Moradanyan was saying, "was that he'd read these magazines that said women were supposed to have orgasms, and if they didn't have orgasms they got very angry, only it was some kind of secret anger so you couldn't always tell, so when I wouldn't have an orgasm, even if I didn't have one because I didn't want one—"
"Oh," Bennis Hannaford said. "I know. He'd work at you for hours."
"Exactly, and when I'd say, for God's sake, I'm not women, I'm me, he'd turn around and go—"
"'How do you think this makes me feel?'"
Donna burst out laughing. "Exactly! Exactly! And then—"
In the bedroom, Gregor Demarkian stopped inspecting a functionally ruined red tie to close the bedroom door. Then he looked across at George Tekemanian royally ensconced in a newly delivered red wing chair, and said, "They've been at it like that for hours. Bennis got in from Bryn Mawr at six, got Donna down here at seven, then they started making whatever it is—"
"Gingerbread houses," George said helpfully. "I talked to Lida Arkmanian. They are making many gingerbread houses to give to children in the hospital."
"Wonderful," Gregor said. "They've also been talking nonstop about orgasms. I know things about Peter Desarian I don't know about myself. And I'm scared to death Lida is going to show up, and I'm going to find out even women of my generation talk about orgasms."
"Krekor, Krekor. Even women of my generation talk about orgasms, and most of them are dead." George considered it. He was more than eighty, and he looked it, but he didn't mind it. "I think," he said, after a while, "that the women I grew up with wouldn't have called it orgasms."
Gregor considered the tie again, decided he must have run it through the disposal and forgotten he'd done it. He threw it in the wastebasket. His wife had always marveled at the state to which he reduced his ties. Now that she was dead, he had to marvel on his own. How did he get a perfectly ordinary piece of stitched red silk to split into strips and tie into knots and fray from the inside? He reached into his underwear drawer, pulled out a blue silk tie in the same shape, and tossed that into the wastebasket, too.
It was eleven o'clock on the morning of March 27, and he was packing to go to Colchester, New York. Finally. Over the last six weeks, he had begun to feel that all he did was argue with himself about whether or not to take the train North. Even now, he wasn't entirely sure why he'd decided to go. Granted, John Cardinal O'Bannion was a friend of Father Tibor Kasparian. Granted, Gregor owed Father Tibor a great deal. On the other hand, O'Bannion's problem was not the sort of thing Gregor had been trained to solve. Nobody could solve it but O'Bannion himself. The Cardinal was just going to have to accept the necessary responsibility, dig in his heels, and get the dirty work done.
Still, Gregor thought, it was strange. No more than four months ago, living alone in this apartment and connected to nobody in this neighborhood, Gregor had thought he'd be more than happy to find a way off Cavanaugh Street, or out of Philadelphia. He'd come here, to this small Armenian-American enclave where he'd grown up, after Elizabeth had died, and mostly because he couldn't think of anywhere else to go. His twenty-year stint in the FBI was over. He'd resigned when Elizabeth entered her last crisis, and he had no inclination to go back, even if they would let him. At fifty-five, he had hit the Bureau's mandatory retirement age for agents. They made exceptions for administrators—which by then he'd become—but he was tired of it, anyway. Ten solid years of serial murderers was enough for anybody. A last case he had bungled remorselessly, bungled because he couldn't think about it when he had to think so much about Elizabeth, was more than enough. It was time for something different. He just didn't know what.
Now, one local murder case and one neighborhood Christmas season later, he would just as soon stay where he was. He had friends here. He was falling in love with Philadelphia, if not its weather. The changes that had come to Cavanaugh Street in his long absence, and that had first disturbed him, now amused him instead. So everybody's children and grandchildren had grown up and gotten rich and tarted the place up until it looked like a billboard ad for Ralph Lauren Polo. So what? They were only trying to give the old people, who had worked so hard for so long for so little, a taste of what most of the rest of the country had always been working for.
He should, he thought, have turned O'Bannion down yet again. That was what he'd intended to do. It bothered him to think he might be going North for no other reason than that he was terminably bored.
He reached into his underwear drawer again, came up with a green tie in the same condition as the red and the blue, and threw that into the wastebasket, too. He would have to buy a tie in Colchester. He was always buying ties. Once he'd actually bought three of them in a single day.
But that was one of those days he had had to go to the White House. The White House was different. And he'd been younger.
He went back to his suitcase, counted pairs of socks and pairs of pants, and decided he was packed. He was not as packed as he would have been if Elizabeth had done it for him, but there was nothing he could do about that. He was as packed as he was going to get.
"There," he said to George. "That's it. Now all I have to do is haul this thing over to Tibor's, call a cab, and go."
"I still don't understand why you didn't ask Tibor to come over here, Krekor. He would have come. He wouldn't have wanted you to—haul?"
"Bennis Hannaford," Gregor said.
George blinked, and then a smile began to spread across his face. Bennis Hannaford. Ah, yes. Most successful child of a very old, very rich founding family of the Philadelphia Main Line. Once the most likely suspect in a very bizarre murder case, Gregor's first as an amateur. And now? Gregor was willing to bet that nobody, not even Tibor, would be able to answer that question. For a variety of reasons, Bennis had decided not to go back to her home in Boston after the murder had been cleared up. Her mother was an invalid, and Bennis spent most of her time out in Bryn Mawr looking after her. What time she had left she spent on Cavanaugh Street—usually in the company of Donna Moradanyan or Father Tibor, and usually in Gregor's apartment.
"You know," Gregor said, "how she gets about things. She's absolutely convinced there's more to this problem in Colchester than I'm telling her—"
"Of course there is. What do you take me for? The woman's obsessed. She thinks I don't notice those books she's always carrying around in her tote bag. Agatha Christie. Ellery Queen. She thinks she's Jane Marple. And she has no caution, George."
"She's very much prettier than Miss Marple," George pointed out, "and she writes very nice books of her own."
"She writes sword-and-sorcery fantasies," Gregor said, "and I wish she'd get to work on another one. Maybe that would take her mind off crime. Remember the last time, George. She nearly got herself killed."
"Yes, yes, Krekor. I know. But she was only trying to help."
Gregor thought about telling George that "I only wanted to help" was the most common rationalization of the second-most common (after drug idiocy) sort of murderer: the child who slips an ailing parent a little something extra to put him out of his misery. Hell, it was the most common rationalization of full-blown serial murderers, too. Gregor was of the opinion that the world would be a much less bloody place if people would only stop just trying to help.
But Gregor didn't say any of that. He knew what George meant, and he didn't have time to make the kind of explanations he would have to if he was going to be understood. He snapped his suitcase shut, locked it, put the key on his key ring, and dragged the suitcase onto the floor.
"Now," he said, "if I can just get out of here without Bennis knowing I'm leaving."
"You intend to go by the window, Krekor?"
Gregor shot George one of his nastiest looks, but he should have known. As soon as he opened the bedroom door, she was there—spatula in hand, dough on nose, flour in hair. She should have looked terrible, but she didn't. She was, after all, Bennis Day Hannaford. And Bennis Day Hannaford was a beautiful woman.
A beautiful young woman. Gregor thought he'd heard her say once that she was thirty-five, but she looked twenty-five. God only knew she had the genes for it. Even her mother, ravaged by illness, looked younger than her age.
Unlike her mother, however, Bennis Hannaford had the force of character of an Armenian grandmother. She looked down at his suitcase, tossed her great cloud of black hair, and said,
"Honestly, Gregor. The way you go sneaking out of here, you're like a man who's been cheating on his wife."
Twenty minutes later, Gregor finally managed to cover the two blocks and single street cross to Father Tibor Kasparian's apartment. Two minutes after that, he was ringing Tibor's doorbell and wishing the suitcase wasn't as heavy as it was. He felt wrung dry. Bennis could do that to him, even when he managed not to tell her anything, the way he had managed not to this time. Lord, but that woman was a gypsy witch. He wondered what she'd done with herself when she was living with that young idiot in Boston, playing at being the Perfect Modern Woman. She wasn't the Perfect Modern anything, no matter how big a career she had or how much money she made. She had a very big career and she made a great deal of money. Anyone who wandered past a newsstand in an airport knew that, with the paperback editions of her books spread out on the racks that way, with their silver-foil titles and gold-embossed covers. Well, the books weren't modern, either, even though the past they chronicled had never existed. And Bennis, like the women of Cavanaugh Street, had mastered the ancient art of taking control of her men.
On the other side of the door, chains and locks rattled—not because they were being opened, but because Tibor never remembered to work them shut. The door slid inward and Tibor's head popped out, coming no higher than the middle of Gregor's chest. Gregor always had to remind himself that this was a man who had spent most of his life persecuted: in Soviet Armenia, in Siberia, in God knew where. Tibor had such quick dark eyes, such fundamental humor, such visceral optimism. Gregor had known upper-middle-class men with no more pain in their histories than the boredom brought on by too much leisure who had a less hopeful vision of the world than Tibor.
Tibor stepped back, drew the door in a little farther, and said, "I was looking out for spies. The street has been very quiet today, Krekor. I don't like it."
"Two of the spies are back at my place," Gregor said, coming in from the cold. The weather was typical for late March in Philly, a steady half-frozen rain that turned to mud as soon as it hit the ground. "Bennis just gave me the third degree, and Donna is in my kitchen talking about, talking about—"
"Orgasms," Tibor said. "Yes, I know. Donna and Bennis, they have been talking about orgasms for a week now."
Tibor shut the door and led Gregor toward the living room, down a narrow hallway crammed with boxes wrapped in plain brown paper. The boxes were full of clothes to be distributed at the homeless shelter Tibor's friend, Father Ryan, was running in the basement of Our Lady, Queen of Angels Roman Catholic Church.
"Still," Tibor said, "there is Lida Arkmanian to be considered. I haven't seen her, and it is nearly noon. That is not normal, Krekor. Not on a day when you're leaving town."
"How is it that everyone in this place always knows when I'm leaving town?"
"Well, Krekor, that is only to be expected. Would you like me to make you some coffee?"
Gregor did not want to be made some coffee, especially not by Tibor. Tibor's coffee was even worse than his own, and could only be made palatable by large doses of sugar. There would be no sugar in Tibor's apartment during Lent. Gregor took a pile of books off the biggest chair in Tibor's living room—the only one that would hold him, given his height and bulk—and sat down. The twenty minutes Bennis had taken out of him had made his time a little tight. He didn't have the leeway he'd intended to have, to talk things over. And he needed to talk things over. He didn't think he'd ever dealt with a man as exasperating as John Cardinal O'Bannion.
Tibor had disappeared momentarily. Now he came back, holding two cups of coffee, both steaming. He looked around this room that was really no more than a warehouse for an extraordinary number of books and a corkboard for news of the Soviet Bloc, and passed both cups to Gregor so he'd have his hands free to clear another chair. Books were the first thing Gregor had ever noticed about Father Tibor Kasparian. Tibor had books the way other people had dust.
Tibor pitched a six-volume collection of the complete works of Aristotle—in the original Greek, of course—off his rocking chair and sat down. "Look at this coffee," he said. "I have a new machine for coffee. Hannah Krekorian gave it to me for Christmas. You put coffee in a little tray. Then you pour water through this funnel that is over the tray. Then the water comes through at the bottom and you have coffee." He blushed suddenly. "Sometimes you have coffee, Krekor. Sometimes, I forget to put the little jug into the bottom, and the coffee goes all over the floor."
Gregor gave the coffee a try. It was just as bad as Tibor's usual. It might even have been worse. He put one cup down on the pile of books that were covering the table at his elbow and passed the other to Tibor. Hannah Krekorian had a lot to answer for, even without this.
"So," Tibor said, "you are finally going to Colchester. It's the middle of Lent, Krekor. How will you be able to keep your fast?"
The Eastern churches—Greek, Armenian, Russian, and the like—were on a different calendar than the Western ones. For Cavanaugh Street and Holy Trinity Church, Easter wouldn't come this year until three weeks after the American one. This tended to be a boon for children, who weren't required to fast and who often ended up with two sets of Easter baskets, chocolate bunnies and all.
For adults, it was different. No meat, no eggs, no cheese: as a child, Gregor had often thought that Lent had been named for the fact that lentils were the only thing you were allowed to eat while it was going on. In the years he'd lived away from here, in his entire adult life, he'd never kept the fast once. Now that he was back on Cavanaugh Street, he had to. Any other course would be a slap in Tibor's face, and the faces of everybody else he cared about in the neighborhood. But he had to admit he was looking forward to Colchester on at least one count. He wanted red meat.
"If you're going to worry about fasts," he told Tibor, "worry about George. He's over at my place with those two women, and they're making gingerbread houses."
"Tell me about John," Tibor said. "Two days ago, he calls me here, he's the next thing to hysterical. It isn't like him, Krekor."
Gregor nodded. He didn't doubt that John O'Bannion had been hysterical, or that it wasn't like him. The few times Gregor had spoken to him, the good Cardinal seemed to be a man with an exceptional amount of self-discipline. That was what made his blinding obsession with Father Andrew Walsh so inexplicable.
"The trouble with your friend," Gregor said, "is that he wants to hear what he wants to hear, and that's it. If you tell him something different, he just blocks you out."
"You told him something he didn't want to hear?"
"I told him there was nothing I could do about that priest of his, and he certainly didn't want to hear that." Gregor shifted in his chair. There was a spring loose somewhere in the cushion, and it was biting right into his rear end. "Has he told you anything about this? About Father Andrew Walsh and the bran muffins?"
Excerpted from Precious Blood by Jane Haddam. Copyright © 1991 Orania Papazoglou. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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