When writer and ex-deb Bennis Hannaford discovers the body of super-heiress Kayla Anson in the family garage, her visit to Litchfield County, Connecticut, is reluctantly extended. Bennis's hostess, Margaret Anson, presents an icy version of the grieving mother, cut out her late husband's will--until now. And when Gregor Demarkian, ex-FBI man and Bennis's lover, arrives from Philadelphia to consult with local police, a media blitz storms in as more suspects crawl out of the woods. Kayla may have been too blindingly rich for her wild, private school chum; her older, socially ambitious entrepreneur boyfriend; and a divorced, downsized bookeeper selling her furniture to survive. As Gregor maps out distances, location, and motives, Halloween descends on the dark, silent hills. From a skeleton sprawled on the cemetery caretakers' porch to more deadly mischief and mayhem, the countryside is brimming with secrets. And a killer is about to strike again...
About the Author
Jane Haddam is the author of numerous articles and books including sixteen previous mysteries featuring Gregor Demarkian. She lives with her two sons in Litchfield County, Connecticut.
Jane Haddam, author of more than twenty novels, has been a finalist for both the Edgar® and the Anthony Award. She lives in Litchfield County, Connecticut.
Read an Excerpt
By Jane Haddam
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2000 Orania Papazoglou
All rights reserved.
For Gregor Demarkian, the most frightening thing was not that he couldn't sleep when Bennis was not at home, but' that it mattered so much to him that Bennis shouldn't know he couldn't sleep when she was not at home. Like everything else about his relationship with Bennis Hannaford, this was a thought so convoluted that he almost couldn't express it in words. He got it tangled up. He started talking nonsense, even in his own mind. Then he would get out of bed and go down the short hall to his living room. He would make himself coffee strong enough so that he wouldn't even have to think about trying to sleep for hours. He would stand in front of the broad window in his living room and look down on Cavanaugh Street. This morning, like all mornings, was a dark and silent one. There might be crises in other parts of Philadelphia, crimes and accidents, parties that raged so loudly they broke windows in houses across the street, but in this place there was only sleep, punctuated by streetlamps.
He had a digital clock on the table next to his bed, one of the kind with numbers that glowed red. When he woke up, it said 2:37:09. He turned over onto his back and stared up into the dark. When he had first bought this apartment — when he was still newly retired from the FBI, and newly a widower — there had been times when he had thought he could hear his dead wife's voice in the hallway, or her movements in the kitchen. That was true even though she had never been in these rooms. She had never even been on Cavanaugh Street when these rooms were in existence. Her memory of this neighborhood had been like his, then: a marginal ethnic enclave, marked by decaying buildings and elderly people who just didn't have the resources to move. He still thought of the street that way sometimes, the way it had been on the day he and Elizabeth had come to Philadelphia to bury his mother. Sometimes he thought of it even further back, when he was growing up, when it was full of tenements and ambition. This was something he had never been able to work out. How much of a person's childhood stayed with him forever? How much could he just walk away from, as if it had never been? Sometimes, sitting with Bennis in a restaurant or listening to her complain about work or parking tickets, it seemed to Gregor that the gulf between them was unbridgeable. Bennis, after all, had been born in a mansion on the Philadelphia Main Line.
When the clock said 2:45:00, Gregor sat up and got one of his robes. When Bennis was here, she always took one. It felt wrong, somehow, to actually be able to lay hands on his favorite and use it, for himself. He went down the hall and through the living room into the kitchen. He opened his refrigerator and took out a big plate of stuffed grape leaves. Lida Arkmanian had brought them over to him, as she did even when Bennis was here. Bennis couldn't cook. Gregor and Lida had gone to school together right here on Cavanaugh Street, in the days when children got new shoes only for Easter and getting them was an event.
"Stuffed grape leaves," Lida had told him, when they first began having coffee together, that Christmas after Gregor had moved back to Philadelphia. "Not stuffed vine leaves. For goodness sake, Krekor, you sound like a yuppie."
Stuffed grape leaves didn't have to be heated up. Coffee did, but that meant only putting the kettle on the stove and getting out the Folgers crystals. Gregor took a large white mug and a small white plate out of the cabinet and put them on the kitchen table. He took stuffed grape leaves out of the bowl and put them on the plate. He made a mountain of grape leaves, high enough to be unsteady. He wished somebody was awake, somewhere on the street, or that Bennis was staying in an ordinary hotel where he could call her at any hour of the night Instead, Bennis was staying in some rich woman's spare bedroom, and even Father Tibor Kasparian would be passed out on his couch with a book on his chest.
Was it even possible, to find someone to love when you were nearly sixty? And what was it supposed to mean? With Elizabeth, he had had all the usual things. They had started out together young. They had built a life, and would have built a family, if they had ever been able to have children. That kind of marriage was made of little things — a tiny apartment made the scene of many small sacrifices, endured to save the money for the down payment on a house; a period of trial and error over cookbooks; the choice of lights and decorations for a Christmas tree. Gregor understood that kind of marriage. He understood what it was for and why he had gone into it. He even understood, finally, that it had not all been ruined because Elizabeth had died badly. It was terrible what cancer did to people, and not just to the people who had it.
The problem with this — situation — with Bennis was that he didn't have a name for it. It wasn't a marriage. They weren't married, and Gregor wasn't even sure that Bennis would marry him if he asked. They had other things together, things Gregor had never had with anyone else — they had gone off alone together, to Spain, for an entire month, just a little while ago, and the memories of it could still make Gregor turn bright red — but he was sure you couldn't base a life on that kind of thing. It wore off eventually, or the woman got tired, or you did. Besides, he and Bennis had been together for years before they had been together like that. Bennis had bought her apartment, on the floor just below this one, just to be near to where he lived. They had to have something going with each other, something deeper and more complicated, maybe even something simply more mundane, than —
The water was boiling. Gregor took the kettle off the stove. He dumped a heaping teaspoon of Folgers crystals into the bottom of his mug. Then, thinking better of it, he added another. He took the water off the stove and poured it over the instant coffee. He watched the water turn a darker brown than he should have allowed himself to make it.
Maybe this was the problem, the thing he hadn't been able to get past. Maybe it was the sex that was bothering him. Because the more he thought about it, the more he realized that sex had been filling his life, taking it over, ever since they had gone to Spain. It wasn't that they spent all their time actually having sex. If it had been that, it would have been over very quickly. Gregor wasn't twenty anymore, and he had no intention of getting addicted to Viagra. It was that he seemed to spend all his time thinking about sex, or about things related to sex. Before Spain, when he had called up an image of Bennis in his mind, it had been Bennis in her working uniform: jeans, knee socks, turtleneck, cotton crew-neck sweater. Now, when he called up such an image, he saw her in the gray silk nightgown she had bought especially to be with him in Spain, or in one of his shirts, buttoned only halfway up, and asleep next to him in bed.
"Sex gets in the way of friendship," he said aloud, trying it out He felt instantaneously foolish. That was the kind of thing boys said to girls in high school, or girls said to boys — the kind of thing that, before you knew any better, you thought was kinder than coming right out and telling someone you found her unattractive.
Gregor considered putting milk in his coffee and rejected it. He didn't want to cut the strength of the caffeine. The caffeine was the point He picked the mug up in one hand and the plate of stuffed grape leaves in the other and went into the living room. He put the mug and the plate down on the coffee table and went over to the window.
Cavanaugh Street, these days, was not a marginal place. The tenements were gone. The brownstone row houses had been converted into single-family townhouses or, like this one, refurbished into three or four floor-through cooperative apartments. The cramped little rooms Gregor remembered from his childhood had been knocked together. His own apartment had a living room large enough to play table tennis in and a big fireplace with a grey marble surround and a mantel made of polished walnut. Across the street, one floor down, Lida Arkmanian's townhouse had a living room that took up two-thirds of the entire second floor. The last third had been made into a dining room.
Things change, that was what he had to remember. Things change, and not all the changes are for the worse. Elizabeth had died, yes, but Cavanaugh Street had gotten rich. Bennis had given up her restlessness to settle with him. The local school district had given up on corporal punishment and rote learning to dedicate itself to critical thinking. Richard Nixon had resigned.
Gregor thought he might be losing his mind.
Instead of sitting down on the couch, he picked up his coffee and grape leaves and took them into the bedroom. He put them down on the table in the corner and sat at the chair there to boot up the computer. The computer had been a gift from Bennis, as had a year's subscription to America Online. Gregor still hadn't been able to get the hang of the Internet. It still seemed to him like a waste of time.
Gregor waited for the desktop icons to settle on the screen — there was cat wallpaper, engineered for him by Donna Moradanyan Donahue, who hadn't been able to stand the gray ugliness of the default background that had been built into the machine — then clicked the mouse in all the right places and brought up the Free Cell board. He had never in his life heard of Free Cell before he got this computer, and now he seemed to be addicted to it.
The real problem with the — situation — with Bennis, Gregor decided, as he moved cards around the board, was that they'd both spent so long deciding to create it that they didn't know what to do with it now that they had it. If they were honest with each other, they would have to say that they had both wanted to be lovers from the moment they first saw each other, in Bennis's father's Main Line house. Even though Gregor had not been over the death of his wife. Even though Bennis had been living with a man in Boston. They had wanted to be lovers and resisted their desire, and now all they really knew how to do was to go on resisting each other.
This was beginning to sound like a college bull session going on inside his head — except that Gregor had never been part of a college bull session. He had graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, but he had been a commuter student, living right here in a tenement on Cavanaugh Street, taking the bus across town.
If I'm going to go on thinking like this, Gregor told himself, I'd better start drinking. At least then I could blame it on the alcohol.
Then he bent toward the screen and concentrated on the cards, red queen to black king, three of hearts to the stack pile at the top.
He was still bent over the screen an hour later, when the phone rang.
It wasn't until he heard the sound of her voice, going rapid-fire through all the details, that Gregor realized that he really had been worried about it — worried, on some level, that Bennis was just going to disappear. Now he knew he should be concerned about this mess she had gotten herself in, about the body she had found in the car, about the way she had had to, or felt she had to, pack up and move in the middle of the night. Instead, all he could feel was calm, and a certain light happiness at the sound of her voice. Even the cough didn't bother him, although it had in the weeks before she left for Connecticut. That cough had been going on much too long. It seemed to have become harsher and more insistent in the less than a day she had been gone.
"So," Bennis was saying. "That's where we are. I'm at the Mayflower Inn. Which is beautiful, really, but it's about two hundred and fifty years old."
"You like old."
"Not after Margaret Anson's house, I don't. God, that woman is unbelievable. And I'm not going to be able to get rid of her for weeks now. Not until this is over. If this is ever over. I keep reminding myself that the police fail to solve crimes all the time. Are you going to come out here and help?"
"I'll come out and help you." Gregor stood up and pushed himself away from the computer table. He couldn't concentrate on the cards anymore, and he'd been losing so badly it was embarrassing anyway. Bennis sometimes said he had a learning disability that applied only to games of solitaire. He didn't tell her how miserably he lost at poker. Now he sat down on the bed and switched the phone from one ear to the other.
"I can't just go rushing in and disrupting a police investigation," he said. "It's not my investigation."
"Well, it can be if you want. The thing is, they've got this police department, it's maybe got two people in it. And then they've got the state police."
"I think it's the local police departments that investigate murders, Bennis. Not the state police."
"Well, actually, that's not exactly clear. You see, the thing is, there's more than one town involved. There's Washington Depot, but then there's also Watertown, and maybe Morris."
"Are these towns all close together?"
"Yes. Exactly. They all bump into each other. And about the first thing that happened, after we called the police, is that the call was picked up by the state police, because one of the towns has something called a resident trooper —"
"Right. That's where, if a town is too small to be able to afford its own police force, the state pays to have a state trooper live in town and do the police stuff. And there isn't usually a lot of it, because these are really small places and nothing much happens in them."
"Anyway, one of these towns has a resident trooper, and he picked up the police call and checked on it, because it turned out that he'd seen the car."
"The car?" Gregor was beginning to feel a little dizzy.
"Kayla Anson's car," Bennis told him. "It's this little BMW. And according to this guy — the resident trooper — it went through the center of Morris about ten minutes after eight this evening, doing maybe ninety, ninety-five miles an hour on this road that's narrow and all hills and twists and turns and —"
"Are you sure this woman didn't die in an automobile accident?"
"Yes, Gregor, of course I'm sure. The point is, the resident trooper isn't a resident trooper for the town of Morris, because Morris has its own police department. He works in — Cornwall Bridge, I think. I'm not sure. He just happened to be in Morris at the time. And he saw the car. And he was in his cruiser, but he couldn't really chase it because he didn't have jurisdiction, and also I don't think he wanted to. I mean, that kind of behavior on the roads out here is suicidal."
"This is the car she died in," Gregor said.
"Well, it's the car I found her dead in, Gregor. I don't think there's any way we can know right now if she actually —"
"Okay. Yes. Now —"
"Oh, well. So what the resident trooper did was call ahead to Washington Depot and warn them about what she was doing. Anyway, when the police call came about her being dead there was one of those technical descriptions of the car going back and forth, you know, and so the resident trooper picked up the message and got in contact, and then some guy on the Watertown police department — no, wait, that's not right, some woman —"
"I don't think it matters."
"Whatever. Anyway, the thing is, the Watertown police had this stolen car case, and they were looking into it, and one of the things they had some witness saying was that they saw this stolen car, this Jeep, and it seemed to be following the BMW."
"Wait. The BMW is the one you found the body in. The one that was doing ninety miles an hour."
"Right. And this was about seven o'clock or so. So the Watertown police got into it. And now they're saying that they might just bring in the state police and let them handle it, because when you have a bunch of towns like this it can be hard to sort out jurisdiction, because you don't know what happened where. Do you see what I mean?"
"Sort of. It still doesn't mean I can go barging in there throwing around advice nobody has asked me for, Bennis. Much as I'd like to. Because you're involved."
"Oh, I know. But that's the thing. I talked to the resident trooper. And he knew who you were. And he thought —"
Excerpted from Skeleton Key by Jane Haddam. Copyright © 2000 Orania Papazoglou. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
#16 in the Gregor Demarkian series.Bennis Hannaford is in Connecticut visiting Margaret Anson, an old friend of her mother¿s in order to ask Margaret to lend paintings for a retrospective on Julia Anson, lesbian feminist painter of the 20s. The visit is not cordial and the strain increases when Bennis accidentally discovers the body of Kayla Anson, margaret¿s 19 year old daughter, in the Anson garage. It¿s probably unnecessary to add that Kayla did not die of natural causes, this being a murder mystery series and all.Of course, Bennis immediately insists that Gregor Demarkian come up to Connecticut to assist in the murder investigation. Fortunately the local constabulary is more than happy to have Demarkian, quite the celebrity, there. But before he has much of a chance to display his talents at investigation and deduction, the Anson garage becomes a favorite place for the killer to leave more bodies.This is standard Haddam in the Demarkian series¿good plotting, fun look at local color in the form of the people in the community as well as the suspects, and her usual acerbic view of any type of extremism, whether it be religious, political, or feminist. To add to the richness of the book¿s texture, by this time, of course, every fan of the Demarkian series knows that Bennis and Gregor have become lovers and, as in real life, how that certainly complicates matters! There is a very funny subplot involving Donna Moradanian Donahue and the way she deals with the father of her son, Tommy. Bennis herself is ill, and the Epilogue has an excellent confrontation scene between Gregor and Bennis. It¿s interesting to recall, while reading this, that Haddam¿s husband died of cancer not too long before the book was published.The last 3-4 books in this series have been good, but not up to the quality of the earlier Demarkians. In this book, Haddam has almost returned to the level at which she originally started writing. Given her personal history (the illness and death of her husband), it¿s easy to see how she had more on her mind than just writing a book. But still, fans will be happy to see that the series has returned with very fine writing.
I have read and like all of the books in the Demarklan Series
After anxiously anticipating this book, I was pleased about the story line and the development of the relationship between Demarkian and Bennis. After reading 14 odd novels about them tiptoeing around each other, it is nice to see them interacting as a couple and though they are not 'together' throughout the book, you are thinking of them together throughout the plot. Gregor is again immersed in the wealthy Main Line families and has to rely on his sense of direction, intuition and common sense to find the killer of a young girl who has recently inherited her father's millions. It took awhile to fit the title into the plot, but it is there. The mother is soon discovered dead in the same place, as well as a young Wiccan follower who is something more. Good characters (stupid, but well meaning police) and descriptions of the cattiness of the Main Line Matrons, Haddum gives you your moneys worth on this outing. Surprise ending between Bennis and Gregor and also information on Tommy, Donna and their family. Good book, vested interest.
In the wealthiest section of affluent Litchfield County, Connecticut lives Kayla Anson, a debutante now worth billions with the recent death of her father. Visiting the posh Anson estate is Bennis Hannaford, who plans to stay only one night. When Bennis goes outside to smoke a cigarette, she notices the BMW in the garage seems to contain a person. Reluctantly, she looks inside only to find the dead body of Kayla. Bennis asks her lover Gregor Demarkian to come up from Philadelphia to help the local police with the investigation. Already having trouble sleeping without his beloved Bennis near him, the former head of the FBI¿s Behavioral Science unit quickly heads to Connecticut. Two more deaths occur, including that of Kayla¿s arrogant, blue-blooded mother. Meanwhile, Gregor conducts his own investigation in an effort to determine the clues that belong to case, and those that the culprit has added to fool the police, before someone else dies. Though SKELETON KEY starts a bit slow, once Gregor reaches the estates of the self-professed elite of Connecticut, the novel moves rapidly forward. The story line is an entertaining cozy highlighted by delightful characters. In his fifteenth appearance, Demarkian remarkably retains a vigor that allows Jane Haddam to even preach against the hazards of tobacco without slowing down a plot that will please her readers. Harriet Klausner