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Authors: Jane Haddam

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BOOK: Quoth the Raven
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“Love on a mattress hasn’t done you much good today,” Evie said. “What’s the matter, Jack get a little out of control?”

“No.”

“No,” Evie assented. “Jack wouldn’t.”

There was a bar of Camay soap in each of the brass soap dishes attached to each of the marble sinks along the wall. Chessey picked up the bar closest to her and started to wash the makeup off her face. That way she had her back to Evie and her eyes closed so she couldn’t see her own face in the mirror.

“Listen,” she said. “I think he’s starting to believe it.”

“Believe what?”

“All those things Dr. Steele said about me. All those rumors he put out about the things we did together. Except that we didn’t do them. We really didn’t.”

“I know you didn’t. Jack knows you didn’t.”

“No, he doesn’t. He’s changed, Evie. Just in the last two days, he’s changed. Do you know what I think happened?”

“No.”

“I think he found Dr. Steele yesterday, even if he says he didn’t. I think they had a talk and I think Dr. Steele—convinced him.”

“Well, there’s an answer to that, isn’t there, Chess? You just let Jack sleep with you, and when you bleed all over the sheets, he’ll know he was wrong.”

“Evie.”

“Oh, Chess, for God’s sake, what do you want me to say? You’re being such a goddamned jerk.”

The water was backing up in the sink, making a small puddle filmy with soap. Chessey held her hands under the clean cold water from the tap, making them wet, making them wrinkle. Then she splashed water onto her face and turned the tap off.

“Does he talk to you?” she asked Evie. “Does he tell you things—about us?”

“Jack?” Evie shook her head. “Jack doesn’t talk to anybody. Not even to Dr. Crockett. Not about you.”

“Then how can you possibly know I’m being a jerk?”

“Common sense,” Evie Westerman said piously. Then, Chessey thought, she must have seen the effect she’d had. She made a small moue of self-disgust and reached under her costume for her cigarettes.

“Chess, listen to me. Jack didn’t see Dr. Steele yesterday. Nobody did. Nobody’s seen him today, either. I got it from Mandy Cavanaugh. She went over to Liberty Hall to drop a course and she heard Miss Veer talking about it.”

“Talking about what?” Chessey asked, confused.

“Talking about how Dr. Steele has disappeared.” Evie was impatient. “According to Mandy, he hasn’t just disappeared, he discorporated. No one’s been able to find him. Miss Veer was talking about calling in the police.”

To Chessey, this was not just confusing, this was incomprehensible. “Calling in the police about what?” she demanded. “What’s Dr. Steele supposed to have done?”

“It’s not what Dr. Steele is supposed to have done, it’s what somebody maybe did to him. I mean, let’s face it, Chess, senior professors don’t just fall off the face of the earth without telling anybody about it. Dr. Steele did.”

“So?”

“So maybe he’s had an accident. Maybe he was mugged. Maybe a lot of things. But if Jack talked to him yesterday, it would have to have been on campus, wouldn’t it?”

“I guess so,” Chessey said. “Jack didn’t work yesterday. He went for a climb, but that was with Dr. Crockett.”

“There. Dr. Crockett would not go on a climb with Jack and Dr. Steele together, or with Dr. Steele at all. I don’t even think Dr. Steele climbs.”

“I still don’t get it.”

“If Dr. Steele was on campus yesterday,” Evie said carefully, “somebody besides Jack would have seen him. He would have made his ten o’clock class. He would have met his office hours. Hell, he would have had to eat.
Some
body would have seen him.”

“And nobody did,” Chessey said slowly.

Evie looked into her cup of punch, made another moue of disgust at it, and poured it down the sink next to the one Chessey was standing at. Chessey took a paper towel out of the dispenser on the wall and dried her hands with it.

“Evie, you know, I’m not making this up. Jack has changed. Just in the last couple of days.”

“Oh, Jack’s changed all right.”

“I don’t see what else it can have anything to do with, if it isn’t that he talked to Dr. Steele.”

“Can’t you?”

“No.”

“I think I’m going to go catch that snake dance and have some punch.”

Chessey dropped her paper towel into the wastebasket and turned around. Evie was leaning against the rim of one of the sinks, staring at her in a sad, almost affectionate way—and that made Chessey even more frightened than she had been, up in her room this morning with Jack.

“Evie,” she said tentatively.

But Evie was shaking her head. “Never mind, infant. It’ll all come out in the wash, one way or the other.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of.”

“Look on the bright side,” Evie said. “Maybe the Great Doctor Donegal Steele is dead.”

Four
1

F
ATHER TIBOR KASPARIAN LIKED
to arrange his life in habits. Schedules were beyond him. Simple things—like the hour every Sunday he had to be in Holy Trinity Church to pray the Liturgy, or the half hour he had to be in Liberty Hall to give his class—he could manage. More complicated things ran afoul of his one true passion, the reading and study of books. Gregor thought he must have run up against it more than once in his life, that panicky moment when he realized it had been days since he ate, or talked to another person, or even left his house for a few moments to buy a newspaper at the corner store. Back on Cavanaugh Street, Tibor had turned the rectory of Holy Trinity Church into a kind of book warehouse, with paperbacks and hardcovers, works of classical philosophy and the novels of Mickey Spillane, stacked haphazardly one on top of the other on every available surface. Gregor was amused to find that he had managed to do the same thing to his two large rooms in Constitution House—and in only a few weeks. The front room, meant to be the living room and fitted out with a couch, two wing chairs, and a glass-topped coffee table, was lined with heavy volumes in dull green dust covers and paperbacks in garish red and silver. The couch was covered with periodicals, both academic and tabloid. The wing chairs held what looked like complete collections of
The Philadelphia Inquirer
and
The New York Times
from the day Tibor had moved in to the present. Only the coffee table was clear of literate debris, maybe because Tibor distrusted the strength of glass. Gregor wondered where all this stuff had come from. He had moved Tibor into these rooms himself, with Bennis and Donna for company, in the very same van in which he and Bennis had come up today. He knew what they’d brought with them, and it wasn’t all this. Nor could he blame the collection on the small additions Tibor might have been able to make to it from his stash back in Philadelphia, going back and forth every Sunday to meet his duties at the church. For those, Tibor came and went by bus. He wasn’t a strong man. He wouldn’t have been able to carry much.

Gregor took the stack of
Philadelphia Inquirers
off the seat of the wing chair closest to the window, discovered a copy of Judith Krantz’s
I’ll Take Manhattan
buried in their folds, and dumped the whole mess on the floor. Where did Tibor get these things? As far as Gregor knew, there wasn’t much of anything anywhere in the vicinity of Independence College—no large towns, no malls. Did the college bookstore sell
I’ll Take Manhattan
and—Gregor spied it across the room, sitting on top of the first volume of Thomas Aquinas’s
Summa
—Danielle Steele’s
Daddy
?

Bennis sat down on the floor, cross-legged, and picked up a copy of
The Illustrated Guide to the Films of Roger Corman
. It was a ridiculously thick, outrageously oversize paperback with a picture of a decapitated woman on its cover.

“Well,” she said, “it’s relaxing, in a way. Not to have to look at Halloween decorations all the time.”

“But I have Halloween decorations,” Tibor said. “I have a jack-o’-lantern on the window ledge, right outside the window.”

“That’s not the same as what’s going on in the quad,” Bennis said.

“What is this place?” Gregor asked. “Are you supposed to be a faculty adviser in a dorm? Are we surrounded by students?”

“No, no,” Tibor said. “This is a house for faculty only. It is a part of the philosophy here, Krekor, which I find very strange. The faculty here are supposed to be open to the students—available, that is the word. Not like in Europe, where we were supposed to be gods. We are supposed to be here so the students can knock on our doors and ask us questions.”

“Do they?” Bennis asked.

Tibor shrugged. “Some of them do and some of them don’t. That young man I introduced you to, Jack Carroll, he comes sometimes just to keep me company. He brings wine and the girl he is in love with, a nice girl but not of his seriousness. That is all right, I think. It is enough to have one serious person in a marriage. We talk about everything but what goes on in the class he has with me, and the girl—Chessey, her name is; have you ever heard a name like Chessey?—the girl sneaks into my cooking alcove and cleans my pots.”

“I wouldn’t think faculty would want to live on campus in a place like this,” Gregor said. “A cooking alcove is fine for you, Tibor. You ought to be discouraged from cooking in any case. But with a family—” Gregor shrugged.

“The ones with families don’t live here,” Tibor said. “The ones without are required to. It has its advantages, Krekor. It does not cost any money and we are given green cards to take to the dining hall, so that our meals cost almost no money, too. And the library is right across the quad, only a few steps away.”

“What about the people from your department?” Bennis said. “Do any of them live here?”

“It is not a department,” Tibor chided, “it is a Program. You must remember that while you are here. To say otherwise will get everyone very upset. And yes, Bennis. They do live here. All the permanent senior members and myself. Which is stranger than you realize.”

“Why?”

“Because this is not the only faculty house, Bennis. There are two more. I talked to Dr. Elkinson just after I came here and she said she thought the administration had done it on purpose, to try to get us to act as a unit. As a ‘team,’ she said. But—” Tibor shrugged.

“But, what?” Gregor said.

Tibor sighed. “Here,” he said. “Look. There are in this building four floors, the ground and the three above. The ground floor has four apartments and the foyer. The other three floors have five apartments each. On the fourth floor, there are Dr. Elkinson and Dr. Branch, and also some faculty from other Programs and other Departments. But of us, Dr. Elkinson and Dr. Branch.”

“All right,” Gregor said. “The only thing I can think of is that you didn’t seem to like Dr. Branch.”

“I don’t like her, Krekor, but that is not the point. Did you know the building is built on a courtyard?”

“No.”

“Well, Krekor, it is. It is a big block with a hollow middle, and four staircases, one in each corner—”

“Oh,” Bennis said, “I see. You really only get to know the people who live on your staircase, and the people who live on the other staircases you never even see. In the building, I mean. And Dr. Elkinson and Dr. Branch live on different staircases.”

“Exactly,” Tibor said. “Dr. Elkinson lives on the north staircase. Dr. Branch lives on the east staircase. Then, on the third floor, there is Dr. Kenneth Crockett. He lives on the south staircase.”

“Don’t tell me,” Gregor said. “You live here on the second floor on the west staircase.”

“Yes, Krekor, but then the analogy breaks down. I am not the only one of us who lives on the second floor and on the west staircase.”

“Who else is there?” Bennis asked.

Tibor composed his face into a solemn mask and said, “The Great Doctor Donegal Steele.”

Gregor’s mind had caught on the word “analogy” and snagged there. There was no analogy involved, and he couldn’t get over the bizarreness of it. Tibor’s English was always halting and sometimes incoherent. He’d lived in too many places under too many linguistic dispensations to be entirely comfortable anymore even in his mother tongue. But wrong—no. Tibor never got it wrong. He was much too careful for that.

It was Bennis who picked up on it, maybe because she was the one who was really listening.

“Donegal Steele. Isn’t he the one who wrote
The Literacy Enigma
?”

“Yes,” Tibor said. “He did write that.”

“Good Lord. I had no idea he taught at Independence College. In fact, I’m sure I saw somewhere that he was at Berkeley.”

“He was at Berkeley. Then, at the beginning of this term, he came here.”

“As a visiting professor?”

“No, Bennis. As a permanent appointment, with tenure and without a probationary period. This would not be unusual in Europe, but Dr. Elkinson tells me it is very unusual here.”

“Yes,” Bennis said, “it is.”

“And then there are all the rumors about the money,” Tibor said. “I try not to listen to rumors, you know how I am, but this rumor is in so many places, it is impossible not to hear. There are people who say the college is paying him in excess of one hundred thousand dollars a year.”

“A college this size?” Bennis was shocked. “But that’s absurd.”

“It may not be true,” Tibor said.

Bennis blew a raspberry. “If it is true, I’d say the college got held up. I mean,
The Literacy Enigma
was a hardcover best-seller for forty weeks. The man has to be a millionaire by now. He can’t need the money.”

“I’d say that all depends on what you mean by
need
,” Gregor said. “In my experience, people can think of reasons to
need
as much money as there is. And more.”

“Yes,” Tibor said sadly. “I have heard that, too, Krekor. I think it is true.”

While they had been talking, Tibor had sat down on the couch, wedging his small compact body in between the literary Leaning Towers of Pisa, resting one arm on
The Truth about Lorin Jones
and the other on Thomas More’s
Utopia
. Now Gregor watched him get up and pace abstractedly to the window, his hands clasped behind his back in the classically stereotypical pose of a schoolmaster. He stopped when he got to the window and looked out on the quad. Then he leaned forward and pulled up the sash.

BOOK: Quoth the Raven
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