Read Quoth the Raven Online

Authors: Jane Haddam

Quoth the Raven (9 page)

BOOK: Quoth the Raven
10.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“Mr. Carroll?”

Jack Carroll came to, blinked twice, and shook his head. “I’m sorry. I’ve had a lot to do. I’m afraid I’m a little tired.”

“Mr. Carroll is President of Students,” Tibor said.

Bennis smiled at him. “You must be exhausted.”

Jack Carroll pulled the black hood back over his head, smoothed it down, and fastened it at his neck—with Velcro.

“Glad to have met you,” he told them, shaking hands all around again, even with Tibor, as if he had learned his etiquette in a peculiarly rigid dancing school. “I’ll get on to Freddie and Max right away. You’ll have your baskets in under an hour. I promise.”

He strode away, the picture of a Hollywood superhero, except for a slight hitch in his gait. Gregor thought he could read that hitch, because he’d suffered from it once or twice himself. It was the walk of a man trying to control a steadily rising but doomed to be frustrated fury.

Something tugged at his sleeve. Gregor looked down to see Tibor trying to pull him along the path, in the direction of the college buildings.

“We must go now, Krekor, or we will miss lunch. It is important. At lunch, you will meet everybody I want you to meet.”

“At lunch, I intend to meet lunch,” Bennis said. “I’m starving.”

3

F
IVE MINUTES LATER, GOING
up the steps of Constitution House with Tibor in the lead, they ran into a tall, blond woman with a face like a
Vogue
cover girl’s and a pair of jeans that had seen better days in 1968. The woman was paying no attention to them, or to much of anything else. Constitution House was a faculty residence, but it had been decorated as thoroughly and exuberantly as any of the student dorms. White plastic glow-in-the-dark skeletons had been hung around the rim of the great double doors like fringe on a gypsy curtain. The edges of each of the steps were occupied by gigantic pumpkins cut into jack-o’-lanterns of every possible expression. Gregor saw one with a sheepish smile on its face and another that looked about to go cannibal. Fine white threads, knotted into webs, hung in the open doorway. Clusters of Indian corn, red and orange and yellow and black and brown, were tied to every window but one on the second floor.

Halfway down the steps, the blond woman stopped, turned, and looked up at the second floor. She shook her head, impatiently but almost imperceptibly. Then she turned around again and saw Tibor.

“Father,” she said.

“Dr. Elkinson.” Tibor was smiling. “Dr. Elkinson, these are friends of mine, Gregor Demarkian and Bennis Hannaford.”

Dr. Elkinson bowed in Gregor’s direction. The gesture looked perfectly natural. “Mr. Demarkian,” she said. “I’ve heard a great deal about you. All my students are very anxious to hear your lecture.”

“They may be something other than anxious after they do hear it.”

“It isn’t until tomorrow night, isn’t it? You’re here early.”

“He is here because of me,” Tibor said. “I was getting lonely in all of this. I am not used to it.”

Gregor thought Dr. Elkinson was going to ask just what it was Tibor wasn’t used to, but she didn’t. She merely adjusted the waistband of her jeans and brushed at her hair. Neither gesture seemed to accomplish anything. She didn’t seem to expect them to.

“I was looking for Ken,” she said abruptly. “Have you seen him around, Father? We were supposed to meet for lunch and he seems to have gone missing.”

“I haven’t seen anybody around today,” Tibor said, “except Jack Carroll. That I know of. Possibly, if Dr. Crockett is in costume…”

“Ken wouldn’t be in costume.” Dr. Elkinson made a face. “Never mind. He went rock-climbing this morning, and I thought he might have stranded himself up on Hillman’s Rock or forgotten about the time. But if you’ve seen Jack Carroll, Father—”

“Just a few minutes ago,” Tibor said helpfully.

“Yes, well. If Jack’s back, then Ken must be back, too. They always go together. I’ll try the office.”

“He is perhaps working on a paper and too involved to know that he is hungry.”

“Of course.” Dr. Elkinson nodded to Gregor and to Bennis. “It was nice meeting you both. If you’re going to be on campus for two days, I hope we’ll run into each other again.” Then she turned on her heel, walked the rest of the way down the steps, and disappeared into the crowd on the quad.

Gregor had forgotten about the wind. Walking across campus, he had been shielded from it by the bodies of the students and the solid sides of the buildings. Now it ruffled his hair and chilled his scalp, making him feel feverish.

“Pretty woman,” Bennis said.

“Also very intelligent,” Tibor told her. “The most intelligent in the Program. A very good degree from Berkeley and she received it at only twenty-four. Three books published before she was thirty and very scholarly. I have read them. And then tenure here, very fast, the youngest person ever given tenure in the history of the college. She is a formidable woman, Dr. Elkinson.”

Gregor grunted. “I’m beginning to think there isn’t a single person on this campus who isn’t upset about something. Did you notice that?”

“No,” Bennis said.

“I noticed it,” Tibor said. “It is true, Krekor, we are all upset about something. I do not think we are necessarily all upset about the
same
something.”

“I wouldn’t expect you were. It’s just that this sort of thing gets so damned tiring.”

Gregor had put down his small suitcase while they’d been talking to Dr. Elkinson. He didn’t remember doing it, but there it was, next to his feet, instead of in his hand. He picked it up again and began to climb the rest of the steps to the door of Constitution House, wishing that whoever was playing that music in the quad wouldn’t play it so very loud.

“It’s bad enough,” he said, “to be worried to death about giving a lecture, without having to try to figure out what’s on everybody else’s mind at the same time.”

“You don’t have to figure out what’s on everybody else’s mind,” Bennis told him. “I mean, for goodness sake, there hasn’t been a murder.”

Still far down at the bottom of the steps, away from the door, Father Tibor Kasparian coughed.

Three
1

I
T WAS TWENTY MINUTES
to twelve, and by the rigid schedule she had set for herself on the first day she came to work for the Program, Miss Maryanne Veer was late for lunch. In fact, she was late for more than lunch. She had made it a rule never to leave anything on her desk when she left the office, even to go to the bathroom, unless there was another secretary in attendance to watch over it. Her desk was still covered with the detritus of a very long and annoying end-of-October day. This was the last week students could drop courses without penalty. She had half a dozen computer drop cards and their accompanying handwritten explanations—what Miss Maryanne Veer thought of as essays on “Why I Couldn’t Stand Professor X For One More Minute”—laid out in a line just above her pen holder. This was also the week when the midterm grades were supposed to be in, to be collated and sent along to the students’ academic advisers. Technically, grades weren’t due in until Friday, but she had most of them already, in a tall stack at the middle of her green felt blotter. Then there were the pink message slips that needed to be passed out to the faculty mailboxes, the course descriptions that needed to be packaged up and sent along to the Dean’s office, the syllabi and book lists that needed to be filed, the proposals for next term’s All College Seminars that needed to go to typing. Halloween might be a midterm holiday for the faculty and students of Independence College. For the secretaries and assistants, it was the very definition of a living Hell. Everything had a deadline, and the deadline was always the first of November. Everything was a matter of life or death, and—like the phone that sat next to the electric chair in all those ancient Jimmy Cagney movies—reprieve would either come by the close of All Saints’ Day or it might as well not come at all. Miss Maryanne Veer picked up the blue cardboard folder she was using to organize the New Publications Reports and sighed. The New Publications Reports had to be typed in triplicate and then distributed, one copy to the Dean, one copy to the Academic Standards Review Board, one copy to her files. She wanted to take a match out and burn the whole silly self-delusive thing.

Instead, she got up, went to her essential files cabinet, and opened the drawer for faculty schedules. She got Dr. Donegal Steele’s out and looked at it for the fortieth time since eight o’clock. There was a tradition at Independence College of leaving Wednesday afternoons free of classes, theoretically to give students a solid block of time for study. In reality, the tradition was maintained because it gave faculty a solid block of time to write. Like a lot of other senior professors with clout—and it bothered Miss Maryanne Veer no end that this man should have clout, when he’d only been at the college since the start of the term—Dr. Donegal Steele had contrived to have no classes on Wednesday at all. There was no reason for her to expect him to be in his office, or even on campus. There was no reason for her to expect him to put in an appearance in front of her desk, just to tell her that he wasn’t really lost.

Except, of course, that there was.

Miss Veer checked the schedule again—History of American Education, Tuesdays and Thursdays at ten; Religion in the New England Common School, Mondays and Fridays at twelve; Senior Seminar on the History of Ideological Attacks on the Western Canon, Mondays at five—then shoved the file back into place, angry at herself. If she had a real charge to lay at the door of Dr. Donegal Steele, it would be this: that he made her act in such uncharacteristic ways. Miss Maryanne Veer was not a ditherer. She had never aspired to being a ditherer. It was the pride of her life that she had always been able to make up her mind about what she wanted, make up her mind about what to do about it, and then go do it. Now, just because a man she loathed had been out of her sight a little over thirty-five hours, she was behaving like a veteran bimbo.

She had slammed the file drawer shut and gone back to her desk, determined to clear her paperwork and free herself for lunch, when Vivi Wollman came through the outer office door. Miss Maryanne Veer didn’t like Vivi Wollman much—partly because Vivi was the protégée of Dr. Katherine Branch, partly because she was so infuriatingly pathetic. Miss Maryanne Veer had been homely all her life. She knew what that required of a woman, if the woman was the least interested in not making herself ridiculous. She had learned early not to fawn, not to flirt, and not to hope. It had left her with only Margaret for company in her old age—which would have been inevitable in any case—but it had also left her with her self-respect. In Miss Maryanne Veer’s eyes, Vivi Wollman had no self-respect. For all the hysterical inflammatory talk about total feminism and learning to live your life without men, Vivi was a bundle of vulnerabilities and weaknesses, a walking open sore of fantasies unfulfilled. Miss Maryanne Veer didn’t like Dr. Katherine Branch much, either, but she didn’t have any of this to hold against her. Whatever it was Dr. Katherine Branch needed to fill the gap in her life, it didn’t have anything to do with men. In Miss Maryanne Veer’s eyes, that made it all the worse that Dr. Branch would take on someone like Dr. Wollman.

Dr. Wollman.

Miss Maryanne Veer folded her hands on top of her desk—on top of the stack of midterm grade reports really—and said, “Yes?”

There was a sprightly little jack-o’-lantern sitting on the counter that divided the outer office from the inner pen where Miss Maryanne Veer worked. Vivi Wollman picked up the lid of it, put it back on again, picked it up again. There was a votive candle in there that Miss Maryanne Veer had lit this morning when she first came in to work. Every time Vivi took the lid off the jack-o’-lantern, the candle’s flame sent up streams of heat that made the air above it look jellied. Vivi didn’t seem to notice.

Vivi put the lid back on one more time and said, “Well. Yes. Here I am.”

“Yes?” Miss Maryanne Veer said again.

“With my New Publications Report,” Vivi said helpfully and a little desperately. “You left a note in my mailbox yesterday. About its being late.”

“Oh,” Miss Maryanne Veer said. “Yes.”

Any other faculty member would have come through the swinging door into the pen and stood at Miss Maryanne Veer’s desk, but Vivi was easily intimidated and Miss Maryanne Veer had gotten into the habit of intimidating her. She watched impassively as Vivi, still on her side of the official divide, searched frantically through the pockets of her tattered baseball jacket and came up with a crumpled piece of paper. Then she rose majestically from her desk and approached the counter, the secretary of the Queen ready to accept a petition that was likely to be denied.

“I know it’s a mess,” Vivi Wollman was saying, “but I did type it, just like you asked me to. I’ve got such a heavy schedule these days, I just can’t seem to get around to the administrative details. I know the administrative details are important, Miss Veer, but the thing is—”

Miss Maryanne Veer had unfolded the piece of paper and was looking down at it. “
RiverWomb: The Feminist Review of Literature
,” she read.
“GoddessRite.”


GoddessRite
is actually a very good journal.” Vivi was defensive. “It’s published at Harvard. You ought to look into things like that, Miss Veer. It could change your whole perspective.”

“I like my perspective the way it is.”

“Well. Yes. Maybe you do. But you’ve got to admit, Miss Veer, if it wasn’t for rampant sexism, you’d be Head of this Program yourself.”

You’d be Head of this Program yourself.
Miss Maryanne Veer refolded Vivi Wollman’s New Publications Report, took it back to her desk, and sat down. She didn’t know what was worse, that Vivi had been sincere, or that in her sincerity she had actually thought she was paying Miss Veer a compliment. Miss Maryanne Veer didn’t think she would ever understand the sensibilities of modern young women. They were so consummately irrational.

She opened the blue cardboard folder, put the New Publications Report inside—and then thought of something. Poor specimen though she might be, Vivi Wollman was a faculty member. Unlike Miss Maryanne Veer, she lived on campus.

BOOK: Quoth the Raven
10.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Cassandra Complex by Brian Stableford
Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry
Elodia's Dragon by Jerry Skell
Nancy's Mysterious Letter by Carolyn G. Keene
Possessed by Passion by Brenda Jackson
Throwaways by Jenny Thomson