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Authors: Jane Langton

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The Memorial Hall Murder

BOOK: The Memorial Hall Murder
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The Memorial Hall Murder

Jane Langton

A
MysteriousPress.com

Open Road Integrated Media Ebook

G. F. Handel,
Messiah

Chapter One

The biggest noise wasn't the muffled sound of the explosion. It was the fall of shattered glass from the rose windows. Blue and red fragments rained down. Little shields of black-and-gold-painted glass bearing Harvard's motto—
Veritas
—burst on the stone steps. The wooden doors at either end of the memorial transept hung swaying on broken hinges.

Across Cambridge Street in the firehouse there were startled cries. Men ran outside and stood looking up at the vast sunlit bulk of Memorial Hall. A bell began sounding a long
claaaaaaaaang
, and then a loudspeaker said,
Box 48, Memorial Hall.

John Campbell had been typing a letter in his office on the second floor of the firehouse. He jumped up and put on his helmet and coat with the men who were on duty and ran across Cambridge Street, while the sirens of the rescue truck and Engine No. 1 set up a high whine and pulled out of the garage to park across the street. Three of Campbell's men ran to the congested crossings around the firehouse and began rerouting traffic.

Cautiously John Campbell walked up the steps on the south side of Memorial Hall, his rubber boots crunching on the broken glass. A reddish cloud of smoke was rolling out of the broken door.

Only one side of the tall double door had been splintered and smashed. The other was intact, and the poster on its central panel was still fresh and clean.

The Chief of the Cambridge Fire Department and two of his fire fighters stepped over the fallen half of the door and peered into the gloom. Water was pouring from the high ceiling. It fell on Campbell's helmet and ran backward down the brim. “There's somebody in there,” he said. “See there, on the floor. Eddie, go downstairs and turn off the main valve.”

There was no sign of fire. Dampened by the falling water from the sprinklers in the wooden vaults, the cloud of brick dust was thinning, settling on the floor and on the body of the fat man who lay half in and half out of a hole in the floor.

“Jeez, what in the name of Gawd was that?” Crawley, the building superintendent, looked out of the shattered door of his office. Somebody else, a very tall man with a lot of hair on his head, was blundering over the broken doors of the great hall, holding up his arms as a shield against the rain from the ceiling.

John Campbell looked at the tall man and held up his hand in warning. “No,” he said. “Get back. You too, Crawley. Everybody out of the building.”

The building superintendent withdrew an inch or two and the hairy man backed up a few paces and stopped, as Campbell walked forward and bent over the body, then groaned and turned his head aside.

“Mother of God,” said the man at his heels.

John Campbell stood up. “Everybody out, I said. Come on. You heard me. Go on outdoors.”

But people were still coming out of the walls. Someone had run up behind him and was digging thin fingers into his arm. “All right now, miss,” said Campbell. “That goes for you too. Out with you. You never know if there might be another explosion.”

“Ham?” said the girl. “It's not Ham? Oh, no.” She was falling back, her hair streaming in the rain from the ceiling, her hands over her mouth. She was whimpering, “Oh, no, no, no, no, no.”

The blackened body of the man who lay on the floor was hanging down, draining blood into the hole. Most of the clothing had been burned off. The head was missing.

Chapter Two

The floor had thundered like a cannon, and opened up its blazing mouth and thrown him down. He was falling and shouting, and the cannon were firing all around, and he went on shouting and falling until he hit the ground at last and smashed his forehead against a rock. The battle raged over his head, an army trampled his tody, and then something immense fell on his back and crushed him. Slowly he struggled forward, squirming through the blinding storm of dust, until he was free of the terrible burden and could rest his bleeding head on his arm.

Then something else slammed down on the back of his head. He lay still while the raging night rolled over him.

Chapter Three

The President of Harvard was drinking coffee at his desk and looking out the window. Massachusetts Hall was the oldest building in the Yard, and the window glass should have been old as well, giving a pleasantly distorted view of the oak trees in front of Straus Hall. But there had been a disturbance in Massachusetts Hall back in 1972, when a rowdy bunch of students had occupied the building, and after that the old windows had been replaced with imitations in aluminum and impregnable plastic. No callow young barbarians would smash those windows in.

Idly James Cheever watched the late-morning sun strike through the plastic panes and move across the floor, picking out the soft colors of the old Caucasian rug. Moment by moment the patch of sunshine crept closer to the glass case containing the Great Salt, that precious piece of seventeenth-century silver that had been placed before him at the time of his installation as president, along with the silver keys and the seal and the charter of 1650. Soon the sunlight would touch those curving silver surfaces and scatter a brilliant pattern of light on the north wall. It happened every morning. In the five years since he had been elected to the presidency by the Harvard Corporation, James Cheever never tired of savoring this small daily miracle. At such times he wondered whether his predecessor was ever homesick for this room, whether he ever regretted his elevation to the Supreme Court. President Cheever smiled, remembering that there had been those who had questioned whether it could be considered an elevation, to exchange the presidency of Harvard University for even so august a national distinction.

If only his high office carried with it the rights and privileges he had expected, to balance the cares and responsibilities that had at once descended on his shoulders! President Cheever frowned at the Great Salt, struck by the notion that ill-mannered students were not the only barbarians at Harvard. After all, a voting majority of the Harvard Corporation were no more than aesthetic philistines. Even Hemenway and Bowditch, who were themselves collectors of art objects, had joined the others in voting against his Museum of Decorative Arts. The five Fellows had opposed him unanimously. The more he had argued in its favor, explaining the long-overdue need for a small museum devoted to the university's scattered collection of small precious things, the more they had got their backs up. Bowditch, the Senior Fellow, had even taken him aside and presumed to warn him against this “very serious error of judgment.” The faculty would never stand for it,” Bowditch had said. Well, Bowditch was a senile old fool. Sloan Tinker had gone to bat for the project, of course, arguing the case with Bowditch, even carrying the matter to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. But then that self-righteous young prig, the Dean of the Faculty, had responded by calling for Cheever's resignation. And there had even been murmurs of the name of the President's old enemy. “It just keeps coming up all the time,” Tinker had said, “the same damn dangerous name. You'd think they'd bring up another one now and then. It looks like some kind of conspiracy.”

BOOK: The Memorial Hall Murder
11.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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