Authors: Jane Haddam
“Why those three? Why not Katherine Branch? She’s the one who was just here trying to implicate a man you think is dead, which seems to me a very good ploy for somebody who’s just—”
“Katherine Branch couldn’t have Both poisoned Maryanne Veer and picked up the evidence afterward. She wasn’t in the dining room when Miss Veer fell. Later, after she did get to the dining room, she spent all her time lying on the floor in a corner all the way on the other side from where Miss Veer’s tray fell, dressed up as a witch.”
Markham pounded his fist against the table, scattering his papers again. “All right then, what about Chessey Flint? She was right where she’d have to be. According to what you say Jack Carroll told you, Steele’s been telling lies on her for two months.”
“True. And if Miss Veer had been coshed, as you put it, I’d be with you. But lye, while Chessey was sitting right there looking at her, after she’d already seen its effects on Donegal Steele. Not Chessey Flint. Chessey Flint is one of those girls who will always have somebody else to do their heavy work for them.”
“You mean Jack Carroll,” Markham said.
“That I do. It fits with Steele’s body being in Constitution House, too. Jack Carroll and Ken Crockett were fast friends. Carroll would have been in Constitution House plenty of times. I’d guess the situation with Chessey was heating up, too. I can see Carroll marching up to Steele’s apartment and insisting on having it out. I can’t see Chessey doing that.”
Markham cocked his head. “What about the other two? Ken and Alice. Jesus Christ. I sound like I’m talking in movie titles.”
Gregor smiled slightly. He thought Markham was going to be accusing him of worse than movie titles in a minute. “For Alice Elkinson,” he said slowly, “I’d guess rape.”
“It fits, too,” Gregor said blandly. “Katherine Branch told us Steele was bothering Alice Elkinson. Jack Carroll told me about Steele’s attitude to women and sex, which, quite frankly, sounded to me like the excuses of half the rapists I’ve ever come in contact with. The other half think all the women on earth are asking for it, specifically from them. Then you’ve got that business Katherine Branch told us about the lye. If Steele brought lye to Alice Elkinson’s apartment, then Alice Elkinson had easy access to lye, and Steele had private access to Alice Elkinson.”
Markham sighed. “All right,” he said, “let’s hear it for Ken Crockett. And if you’re going to say he was protecting Alice Elkinson—”
“I wasn’t.” Gregor looked down at the tray in front of him. He had gone back up for coffee more than once since he had begun to explain his theory to David Markham, but now the cups spread out across the pale blue plastic were all empty again, and he thought he might have drunk too much. He didn’t usually have problems with caffeine, but he was feeling twitchy.
“You know,” he said, “to my mind, Ken Crockett is the most interesting of the three. I’ve been told he’s local.”
“Very local,” Markham said. “I was the one who told you. His family is about the biggest thing in Belleville.”
“Am I right in assuming that until the arrival of Donegal Steele, he had every reason to assume he’d be the next Head of the Interdisciplinary Program in the American Idea?”
“You’d have to ask some of the academia nuts about that,” Markham said. “I’d say in town, though, we wouldn’t have been surprised. But, Mr. Demarkian, you can’t possibly be suggesting that Ken Crockett would kill one person with lye and maim another just to end up Head of the Program. Especially not now. If Steele had been named Head of that Program, or anything else, I’d have heard.”
“No, Steele hadn’t been named Head of the Program. But I was talking to Bennis Hannaford yesterday, and this came up, as a side issue to something else. And she pointed out, rightly I think, that there wasn’t much of any other reason for Steele to be here. His ideas on education weren’t popular, but they were famous. He could probably have his pick of campuses with one or two exceptions. And they paid him a lot of money to get him to come here. Why else would they do that if they weren’t expecting to put him in the Head’s seat?”
“Maybe none,” Markham admitted, “but still—”
“But still, it’s a weak motive,” Gregor agreed. “That’s why I’m so interested in the local connection. What might not have mattered so much to someone from out of town might have mattered a great deal to Ken Crockett. What might have been a major career embarrassment and a reason for taking off for parts unknown to someone else, might have been the worst-case scenario to someone who had his whole life and his whole reputation built around this town.”
Markham leaned back, closed his eyes, and let out a long, low raspberry. “Oh, Lord,” he said. “You’re a very plausible man, do you know that, Mr. Demarkian? You’re the most plausible man I’ve ever met. You do realize this is still all pie-in-the-sky, don’t you?”
“No,” Gregor said.
“Well, it is.”
Markham stood up. The shirt he was wearing was made out of some kind of cheap synthetic fabric, shiny and stiff, and it caught on the crest of his beer gut. Standing there like that, he looked more local yokel than ever, and more phony. Gregor wanted to tell him to sit down and behave like a human being.
Since Gregor didn’t say anything, Markham got his hat off the table, jammed it onto his head, and began gathering his papers into one final pile. Gregor doubted he would ever look at them again, or, if he did, that he would ever find anything he wanted in them. Markham stuffed the papers into the inside pocket of his jacket—they didn’t exactly fit—and stretched.
“If you’re not going to be sensible and come along with me,” the sheriff said, “I’m going to go by myself. You’re sure you want to spend your time hacking around on this wild-goose chase of yours?”
“It’s not a wild-goose chase,” Gregor said.
Markham tipped his hat, spun around, and marched away toward the cafeteria’s doors.
IFTEEN MINUTES LATER, GREGOR
Demarkian headed for the cafeteria doors himself. He should have left immediately after Markham, and he knew it, but he hadn’t been able to bring himself to. Maybe it was that his head was still caught up in motives, and especially Ken Crockett’s motive. He kept feeling there was something missing in the picture he had gotten of the man, and it irked him. Maybe it was just that so many students stopped beside his table once he was alone, mostly to ask about the lecture he’d be giving that night and to probe into his credentials. It surprised him a little, how rigid these young people were about background and training. It was as if they didn’t believe anyone could know anything about everything if they hadn’t learned it in school.
It was after ten when he finally got up and got moving. The cafeteria was in the middle of its switch from breakfast to lunch. Students dressed in white coats like medical students were bringing large trays of sandwiches into the main cafeteria room from the back and laying them out where the Swedish meatballs and roast beef au jus had been the day before. The sandwiches were hermetically sealed in plastic and looked terrible. Gregor thought the cheese ones looked made out of cellulose and possibly more lethal than lye. As he was passing down the line, he heard one of the working students refer to the sandwiches labeled “meatball” as “mystery meat,” and he didn’t blame her.
He walked through the foyer, out the doors, down the front steps, and came to rest at the edge of the quad. It was a late Thursday morning and presumably a time when the campus was occupied with lectures and seminars, but he didn’t think any of that was actually getting done. The quad was jammed with students and pounding with music. The crowd extended, unbroken like a sea, all the way past the Minuteman statue and out the other side, presumably into Minuteman Field. Gregor couldn’t see that far because his vision was blocked by both buildings and people. No matter how tall he was—and he was tall—there always seemed to be someone taller in his line of sight. He walked down to the path and pushed his way gently through clutches of giggling boys and girls. They had never seemed physically bigger to him. They had also never seemed so childish.
He was winding his way in and out of people, in and out of groups so firmly packed they would have been harder to break up than a hydrogen atom, when he felt a tug on his sleeve and turned to see an immensely tall boy in a Dracula suit leaning over him. The makeup the boy was wearing was too realistic to be comfortable. The fangs that grew out from under his upper lip and down across his mouth and chin seemed to be tipped with real blood. Gregor wanted to tell him to get the hell out of here until he’d washed his face. Then the boy leaned forward, smiled a little, and said, “Mr. Demarkian?” in a voice so tentative, it could have come from a six year old, and Gregor found himself sighing once again.
“Yes,” he said, “I’m Gregor Demarkian. If you want to know what my talk is going to be about, you’re going to have to come to it.”
The boy looked confused. “Your talk,” he said. “I’m coming to your talk. We all are.”
“I hope you don’t mean the whole college,” Gregor told him. “From what I’ve seen so far, there isn’t anyplace the whole college would fit.”
“I mean all of us—us,” the boy said, and shrugged. He obviously thought
ought to explain it all, which it didn’t. He turned away and looked off into the crowd for a moment and then turned back, an hiatus he seemed to need just to get the subject changed. “Listen,” he said. “I’m Freddie? Freddie Murchison?”
“Yes?” Gregor said.
“I’m a friend of Jack Carroll’s. We haven’t met, but I brought some things up to Father Tibor’s room for you yesterday afternoon. Me and Max. Picnic baskets.”
“Oh,” Gregor said. That didn’t sound very gracious. He added, “Thank you.”
“You don’t have to say thank you,” Freddie told him. “It’s like Jack says, I’m six five. I’ve got responsibilities. No. The thing is, I was wondering, have you seen Jack?”
“Do you mean Mr. Carroll?”
“Mr.—yeah, I guess I do.”
“Do you mean today?”
“Of course today.” Now the boy looked worse than confused. He was not, Gregor thought, a very smart boy. He wasn’t a very mature one, either. Gregor began to feel a little guilty. He was preoccupied, but that wasn’t any reason for putting this boy through what one of his nieces called The Grown-Up Rag. This particular niece of his had just turned seventeen.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m afraid my mind is on something else. You’re looking for Jack Carroll? Why? Is he missing?”
“Yeah,” Freddie said, “he’s missing. I’ve been looking for him all day. And you know what’s weird? Chessey’s missing, too.”
“Right.” Freddie obviously thought that everybody, even the President of the United States, must know who “Chessey” was and that she was the girlfriend of Jack Carroll. It was information in the atmosphere, like the fact that the Pope was Polish and Ozzie Osbourne was being persecuted by the middle-class mothers of America. He turned around and stared into the crowd for a moment, as if he expected one or the other of the reigning deities of Independence College to materialize in front of his eyes. Then he turned back again.
“The thing is,” he said, “it’s really important for me to find Jack. It’s really important for all of us. Nothing is getting done.”
“Is there a lot to get done?”
“Oh, yeah,” Freddie said. “The bonfire’s tonight. Do you know about the bonfire?”
“Of course I do.”
“Yeah, I guess everybody knows about it. Jack’s president of students. He’s supposed to be running things. And he’s not here.”
“I could see where that would be a problem.”
“It’s not like we don’t know what to do,” Freddie said. “I mean, Jack’s a good organizer, if you get the picture. We’ve got it all set up. But he’s supposed to be here.”
“Have you tried—”
“I’ve tried everything,” Freddie said. “I went to his room. I went to Chessey’s room. I couldn’t even find Evie Westerman. Hell, Mr. Demarkian, I went all the way up to that Climbing Club cabin and all I got was zip.”
“Zip,” Gregor repeated dubiously. And then he began to smile.
Oh, Lord. There was only one explanation for his having missed this one, and that was that he had to be getting old.
He thought of that figure up on King George’s Scaffold in the early hours of the morning, capering around in its bat suit, and nearly laughed out loud.
Then he saw Freddie Murchison staring at him in alarm—the boy had to think he was crazy—and made himself calm down. He clasped Freddie on the back in just the hearty way he had hated adults for when he was in college and said, “Don’t worry about it. I’m sure Jack will be back in time for the bonfire. He struck me as a very responsible young man.”
“Well, yes,” Freddie said, “that’s the point, isn’t it? I mean, Jack never misses out, not on anything, so what I want to know is, where the Hell has he gotten to? I mean,
Mr. Demarkian, with the stuff that’s been happening around here, I think—”
“Don’t think,” Gregor said. “Go play. Mr. Carroll will be back.”
Gregor didn’t hear the rest of it. He didn’t want to hear the rest of it. He was bopping along the path, working his way back to Constitution House, in the best mood he’d been in since he first stepped onto this campus the day before. It was remarkable how much easier it was to make his way through the crowd once he was in a good and hopeful mood.
As for the rest of it, in his private—and soon to be not so private—opinion, David Markham was a goddamned fool.
R. ALICE ELKINSON’S SENIOR
seminar in the Foundations of the American Industrial Revolution ended at twelve o’clock, and by the time the noon bells rang out across campus, she had decided she was having a bad day. Alice often had a bad day on Halloween. It was trying enough that so many students cut class. With all the fuss going on on the quad and on Minuteman Field, she almost couldn’t blame them for that. It was worse with the ones who did come, because they only seemed to drive her wild. Was it really necessary for Ted Barrows to deliver his paper on the evolution of patent law with a Freddie Kreuger mask over his face and a sack of ketchup around his neck that squirted every time he hit a high note? What exactly possessed someone like Shelley Linnington—whose ordinary modus operandi was mousy timidity and whining complaint—to let out a piercing scream in the middle of Carl Dorfman’s presentation on the technology of mass production and pretend to faint? Alice had scheduled the papers because she’d thought they’d help. She’d had Halloweens when no one showed up for her classes at all. Now she realized she’d done something she’d been warned against, but never listened to the warnings about. Her whole life had been like that.
Don’t get your doctorate
you’ll make yourself so overqualified, you’ll never get a real job. Don’t wear your blouses with three buttons undone
nobody will take you seriously as a scholar. Don’t fall in love with a man in your own department
you’ll ruin both your careers. Don’t