Authors: Jane Haddam
“What’s in them,” she said, “is lye.”
“Lye,” Lynn said in wonderment. “Where did you ever get lye? I didn’t think anybody used it anymore.”
“They use it in Drano,” Alice said, hesitating. And then, because she’d been dying to tell somebody, she said, “I got it from Donegal Steele.”
O CARS, FACULTY OR
otherwise, were allowed onto the campus of Independence College; Members of the college who had cars had to park them in a lot high on a hill to the back of King’s Scaffold. Most of the faculty kept cars and complained about the inconvenience. Most students didn’t bother to keep cars. Jack Carroll did—a heavily used, religiously cared for, Volkswagen Beetle convertible—because he had a job at the Sunoco station in Belleville three days a week. Freshman year, he had tried getting there by bus. There was excellent bus service to Belleville, paid for by the college, for just such people as Jack Carroll, who had to work. Jack, however, liked to work late for the overtime, and he felt stupid working as a mechanic and not having a car of his own. He’d brought the Beetle up from home at the beginning of his sophomore year and kept it in the lot ever since. Sometimes, he thought about it enough to be grateful that Independence College was as isolated as it was. The Beetle was an antique. Kept at a city school, it would have been dead meat.
Now he shook his head at the tangle of wires under the Beetle’s hood, drew his head back into the air, and motioned to Ted Barrows, who had come up to help him, to follow him into the shed. The shed was really a shop, fully equipped. Anyone who knew how to fix his car himself could use the tools in there, or get a friend who knew to use them. Anyone who had to call a garage in Belleville could be assured that it wouldn’t need to be towed anywhere for anything less than a junking. It was a small concession on the part of the college, but it was an expensive one. Before he’d made up his mind to go to law school, Jack had thought hard and long about owning his own body shop. Then he’d checked into the costs of equipping one, and decided law school would be cheaper.
Over on King’s Scaffold, students dressed up as Frankenstein and Batman were dropping logs down the face against the side of the effigy. Jack was keeping his fingers crossed that they were doing it right. If they weren’t, he was going to have to go over there and straighten it out. Sometimes he thought he was nuts. His college education was being pieced together by four scholarships, two loans, and thirty hours a week in a grease pit. His law school education was going to be just as crushed. He didn’t have time to be President of Students, which he was. He just couldn’t seem to stop himself.
He let himself into the shed and headed for the soldering bench. Someone had been there before him, God only knew when, and left the solderer lying out. The solderer wasn’t clean, either. None of these academic types seemed to have the least respect for good tools.
Jack sat down and started to clean up. Ted Barrows came in from outside and stood beside him. Ted was from a very rich family on the Main Line, and he found the things Jack did with metals fascinating.
“So you see,” Ted said, continuing the conversation they had started outside, “the whole campus is in an uproar. I mean, the guy’s totally disappeared. Just totally. Freddie Murchison says somebody finally went and offed him.”
“I think a hell of a hangover finally went and caught up with him,” Jack said. “Just look at this crap. I can’t believe people do this to tools.”
Ted pulled at his scraggly little mustache, the one he’d been trying to grow for three years now. Jack had counted the hairs in it once. There were eight.
“You know,” Ted said, “I was in Liberty Hall? The old lady was on the phone to the other old lady and what she was saying was that Steele and Chessey—”
“I know where Chessey is,” Jack said.
“Well, I know you know. But let’s face it, Jack, he’s got practically the whole rest of the college thinking—”
what he’s got them thinking. For Christ’s sake, Ted. What do you think I’m looking for the asshole for?”
“I know you’re supposed to be looking for him,” Ted said patiently, “what I’m trying to tell you is, the joke around campus right now is that you found him.”
“I wish I had.”
“Found him and stuffed his teeth down his throat and that’s why—”
Jack put the solderer down on the bench. His head hurt. It always did when he had to talk about Donegal Steele, especially about Donegal Steele and what he was doing to Chessey. For Jack Carroll, Chessey Flint was a kind of miracle. She had everything the girls who wouldn’t go out with him in high school had had, except the attitude. The girls who wouldn’t go out with him in high school had looked at his clothes, and at the tiny house his family had lived in, and at the used car that his father had to drive, and made up their minds right away: Jack Carroll wasn’t the kind of boy who was going anywhere. Chessey had looked at all the same things their freshman year, and decided Jack Carroll was the kind of boy who
. Add to that Chessey’s virginity—which Jack saw less as a miracle than as a crazy, wildly extravagant form of heroism—and the fact that Chessey Flint was in love with him often made Jack Carroll feel as if God had appointed him king of the world. It also went a long way to explaining why he did as much as he did. Without Chessey to show off for, Jack would probably have left extracurricular activities strictly alone.
He plugged the solderer into the wall socket to heat it up—the only way to get hardened solder off the tip—and said, “Look, I saw Steele last night, in the Beer Cellar. He was drinking himself silly, popping beers.”
“Popping beers in the Cellar? How did he get away with that?”
“He’s the Great Doctor Donegal Steele.” Jack shrugged. “It’s like that little guy says. Father Tibor Kasparian. Him. The Great Doctor Donegal Steele.”
“I don’t have Father Kasparian for anything,” Ted said. “Everybody tells me he’s good.”
The solderer was hotter than an electric range burner on high. Jack shook it a little, but the solder wasn’t soft enough yet.
“Steele was punching his holes in the bottom of his cans with an ice pick,” Jack said. “He must have got it from the bar. Then he’d stand up on a table, tilt his head back, pull the tab—”
“And a can of beer would go down his throat in thirty seconds. I know how to pop beers, Jack.”
“I wasn’t trying to tell you how to pop beers. I was trying to tell you Steele wasn’t making a secret of it. He was standing on tables, for God’s sake.”
“So,” Jack said. The solder was finally off. Jack unplugged the solderer. “I was in there with Stevie and Chuck, in the back, and we heard him. He said he was warming up for a challenge.”
“A beer can challenge?”
“That’s what it sounded like. Christ, Ted, he must have popped five cans of beer while we watched him. Can you imagine what happened to him if he went off and took a challenge?”
“Maybe he cracked up his car somewhere,” Ted said. “Maybe he’s in a smash somewhere at the side of the road.”
“If he was, we’d have heard about it. There aren’t that many roads, and the cops around here don’t have anything else to do. Don’t be an ass. He passed out someplace, that’s all. He’s probably just coming to.”
“With a head the size of a watermelon.”
“Trite, but undoubtedly accurate. I just wish I knew who he had the challenge with. I’d just love to get that son of a bitch in a corner when he couldn’t fight back.
can’t fight back.”
“I always think what you ought to do is kick him in the head with those climbing shoes of yours,” Ted said. “Those cleats would go right through his skull to his brain.”
“Right.” The solderer was clean. Jack got up and started looking through the boxes on the shelf above his head for something he could use for a speedometer cable.
The problem, as Jack saw it, was this: You could take the boy out of the grease pit, but not the grease pit out of the boy. Most of the time he was an ordinary college kid, polite, civilized, neat. Some of the time, what came up out of the core of him looked a lot more like his brother Dan. His brother Dan had committed his life to stomping butt from the time he reached six feet—when he was twelve—to the time he’d smashed his Ford Falcon into a concrete abutment out on Route 94. He’d had a passion for violence that was like something out of a Freddie movie, and all his friends had had it, too. So did all the guys Jack knew down at the Sunoco station, if they were young enough.
When Jack Carroll’s brother had smashed his Ford Falcon into that concrete abutment, he had not only killed himself, but his girlfriend, his best friend, and the twenty-dollar-an-hour whore his best friend had picked up for celebratory purposes in Allentown.
Sometimes, when Jack thought about Donegal Steele, what he saw was Steele’s body in that Falcon, crushed and crumpled and covered with blood.
Now he draped the cable he needed over his shoulder and headed for the shed’s door.
“Come on,” he told Ted Barrows. “Let’s not talk about Donegal Steele.”
T QUARTER TO SIX
, Father Tibor Kasparian gave up. Lenore
shown up at his window, finally, but she hadn’t stayed long. The raven had been edgy and inconsolable, pecking at his fingers when he tried to give her food. He had gotten her to eat a little pile of pine nuts covered with honey. After that, she hadn’t wanted anything. It made Tibor depressed.
A lot of things made Tibor depressed. Once Lenore was gone, his mind drifted back to Donegal Steele. That always made him feel tight, as if he’d been roped around the chest-and was now being squeezed. He kept getting a picture of the worst thing he had ever seen Steele do, the definitive act that had defined the Great Doctor’s character for him for all time. It had happened at the opening convocation at the beginning of the college year. The faculty had been assembled on stage facing the student body, standing while the school song was sung, and Donegal Steele had raised his arm, swung it sideways, put it down the front of the robe of a young woman in the Department of English, and squeezed. Just like that. In front of hundreds of people. Students. Faculty. God only knew who else. It had all happened so fast, and so decisively, nothing had come of it. When it was over, no one could think of what to do. And the look on Steele’s face—Tibor got itchy even thinking about it. The look on Steele’s face had had no triumph in it at all. It had been sly and self-satisfied, as if he did that kind of thing all the time, and in much more sensitive circumstances—and as if the fact that he always got away with it signed and sealed the truth of what he had always believed women were.
Tibor sighed, and then looked up to see that the clock tower was showing six thirty. He started to stack his books into a pile, starting with the Castleford history of the anti-Federalist papers and ending with the magazine he carried everywhere these last few weeks, the one with the story of the Long Island murders and Gregor Demarkian’s picture in it. Seeing Gregor’s face always made him feel better. If he’d had his way, Gregor would have moved up here with him, and brought some of the others: Bennis Hannaford, Donna Moradanyan, Lida Arkmanian. The names from home rolled through Tibor’s mind and made him feel pleasantly melancholy. True sadness was either a curse or an opportunity. It could destroy you or make you into a saint. This kind of sadness was a luxury.
He had a green canvas book bag to carry his things in, just like the students did. He put his books inside it and started to put the magazine in there as well. Then he stopped and opened the magazine up again. “America’s Premier Private Sleuth Nabs Another One,” the subhead said. The picture underneath it made Gregor look half-furious and half-terrified. Tibor smiled a little, closed the magazine, and tucked it in the book bag.
Poor Gregor. He’d always hated publicity, and now he had it all the time. What was he going to do when they wanted to make a TV movie about his life? Tibor was sure someone would want to make a TV movie about Gregor Demarkian’s life. That was the sort of thing people did in America.
He went down the empty corridor to the front stairs, then down the front stairs to the wide foyer that led out onto the path to the quad. The bushes that crowded the sides of the great stone building were covered with crepe paper and bats. The paths were covered with students in costume. Tibor wondered what was going on back in Philadelphia, on Cavanaugh Street. He liked all this enthusiasm about Halloween, but it felt a little wrong to him, undernourished somehow, without children. He passed a boy dressed up as the Incredible Hulk and a girl dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood and smiled and nodded to them both. He couldn’t tell who they were under all the makeup, but he thought he might as well be pleasant.
At the place where the path curved to join the quad proper, Tibor could see the stretch of Minuteman Field again and the effigy against King’s Scaffold. The Scaffold was swarming with people and the pile of logs was higher than ever, but there were neither logs nor kindling in the effigy’s lap. Maybe the students had decided they didn’t want anything to block their view of good King George in flames.
Tibor turned into the quad and walked slowly toward Constitution House, through the crowds, through the gossamer spiderwebs, through the ambushes of plastic bats and sateen ghosts and rubber balloon jack-o’-lanterns. Someone in one of the quad dorms was playing music on a stereo system through his windows. Tibor recognized the piece as something called “Monster Mash,” which both Donna Moradanyan and Bennis Hannaford liked.
“Hey, Father,” a boy in a Count Dracula suit said, “you got your costume ready? You coming to the bonfire dressed as Lucifer with a tail?”
“I’m coming to the bonfire dressed as myself,” Tibor told him, wishing he knew who the boy was. “I’m too old and too tired to go running around pretending to be the Devil.”
“What about your friend, the great detective? Is
going to come in costume?”
“I don’t think so,” Tibor said, and blushed.