In the beginning, the problem of the body of Anne Marie Hannaford had not been as simple as it should have been. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania had seemed reluctant to give it back, as if they were afraid she had become an icon, like Jeffrey Dahmer, and that people would make a shrine out of her grave. When they finally did give it back--three days late, and not embalmed--Bennis had decided that there was nothing she could do. In spite of the Hannaford tradition of being buried in the big family plot in the cemetery behind the Episcopal Church in Ardmore, where Hannafords had gone to rest since 1762, Anne Marie would have to be cremated. Bennis tried to consult her brothers about this decision, but it was hopeless. Christopher didn't care. Bobby had other things on his mind. Teddy didn't want to talk to her. It felt, she sometimes told Gregor, as if they were all still children growing up in Bryn Mawr, where boys were the ones that mattered and girls were supposed to fend for themselves as much as possible, unless they were debutantes, when they deserved the kind of attention that would make it possible for them to marry well.
After Anne Marie was cremated, her body was put into a small brass urn with handles that looked like a bowling trophy and then--because nobody could decide what was going to happen with that, either--left on the top of Bennis'slow dresser in her own bedroom in her apartment on the second floor of the brownstone house on Cavanaugh Street. It would have been a morbid thing, except that Bennis never slept in that bedroom anymore. She rarely even went to that apartment, except to work, and these days she had her work station set up in the living room on a big table pushed up against the plate-glass window that looked down to the street. She said she never thought about it, but Gregor did. He thought about it all the time, and once a day, when he knew Bennis would be out at the Ararat or at Donna Moradanyan's, he went down to look at it for himself, just to make sure it was still there. He had no idea why he thought it might be gone. She couldn't very well bury it, or place it in a vault, without a good deal of formality. The people who ran cemeteries were sticklers for paperwork. Dead bodies could be dangerous, even if they had been burned to ashes. That was why the Commonwealth insisted that anyone who wanted to scatter ashes within its precincts get permission. Maybe, Gregor thought, he was afraid that she'd open the urn and scatter the ashes on her own, without permission. He just didn't understand where she would scatter them. God only knew, she didn't want them on Cavanaugh Street. She said that often enough, and vehemently, when Tibor brought up the possibility that the ashes could be placed at Holy Trinity Church. Maybe she would take them out to Ardmore herself, or take them with her to one of those "events" she was always being invited to but never agreeing to attend, like the Philadelphia Assemblies. Maybe she would eat them. The whole thing had become a matter of annoyance, because Gregor didn't really know what he thought of it, but he couldn't stop obsessing about it. He felt like Lida, or Hannah, whenever it looked as if someone new would be moving onto the street. They obsessed, too, and also to no good purpose. Eventually whoever it was moved in and got settled, and they knew no more about it than when they had started staying up nights to speculate to each other on the phone. Sheila Kashinian would have stayed up withthem, but Howard couldn't stand it when Sheila talked on the phone in bed.
Actually, somebody was moving onto Cavanaugh Street this morning. That was why the building was nearly deserted, and why Gregor felt completely easy about looking in on the urn for the first time in weeks. Bennis, like the rest of them, was out in the street, watching the moving men bring what looked like a small, oddly shaped piano up to the fourth floor of their own brownstone, into the apartment that had been Donna Moradanyan's before she married Russ and moved into a town house on the other side of the Ararat. It was a rental, at least for the moment, that was all that anybody knew. Bennis had been out the door before the Ararat opened this morning, to hear what Donna had to say about the new tenant one more time--although, Gregor thought, she couldn't really believe that Donna, or Russ, would turn the apartment over to somebody who wouldn't be good for Cavanaugh Street. It was just that this was the first time an apartment here had been advertised in the classifieds, the way apartments were when they were anywhere else. Usually, apartments on Cavanaugh Street were passed from tenant to tenant by way of family connections, church connections, and a tenuous network of refugee contacts that Tibor kept up as part of his attempt to make it possible for every single Armenian who wanted to be resettled in Philadelphia. This time, Russ had insisted--there were antidiscrimination laws, after all, and he was not only a lawyer with a reputation to maintain, but he approved of the laws to begin with.
"It's a woman, that's all I know," Donna had said, a couple of weeks ago, in Gregor's kitchen, as she stacked her books for her Literature of the English Renaissance course into a pile. The books were huge, and the pile was not little. Bennis sat drinking coffee and reading the titles on the spine: Imagery and Iconography in Tudor Poetry; The Figure of the Virgin in the Work of Edmund Spenser. Gregor thought it looked like one of the piles in Tibor's apartment, except that there was nothing out of place in it.Donna needed a copy of I, the Jury or Passionate Remembrance , or both.
"Anyway, that's all he'll tell me," Donna said, "except that she's some kind of a musician. A classical musician. She plays in some orchestra--"
"The Philadelphia Philharmonic?" Bennis suggested.
"No," Donna said. "It had an odd name, and then when I asked him to tell me again, he wouldn't. He says we all worry too much about stuff like this, and I suppose he's right, but it's Cavanaugh Street, for God's sake. What does he expect us to do? Anyway, I'm sure it'll be fine. Russ likes her a lot, whoever she is, and he says she's met Gregor sometime or the other, although I don't suppose that's much of a recommendation. A lot of mass murderers have met Gregor at some time or the other."
"Thank you very much," Gregor said.
"Well, it's true. She's moving in on Wednesday, for whatever that's worth, and we can all find out then. Lida is threatening to throw a reception for her. Wouldn't that be something? One poor defenseless woman and those Medusas on the warpath. Mrs. Valerian grilling her about birth control."
"They might like her just as much as Russ does," Bennis said, reasonably.
"Ha! That would be worse. Then they'd try to marry her off, if she isn't married already, and if she is they'll try to find out why she isn't with her husband and if he hasn't been beating her into a pulp on a regular basis for years, they'll try to get them back together. And they'll bring food day and night until she's gained at least twenty extra pounds, and then she'll probably be too fat to play in that orchestra she's in and she'll get fired, and she won't pay her rent, but Russ won't be able to evict her, either, because they'll kill him if he tries, and then she'll get a job at the Armenian Christian school because Father Tibor will feel sorry for her, and that won't be enough to cover the rent either, but that won't matter because we won't be charging her any by then, because how could we do that with awoman who'd lost her job just because her employers thought it was okay to discriminate against fat people?"
The urn was still on the dresser, sitting on top of a copy of Janson's History of Art, exactly where Gregor had seen it yesterday. There was still a thick coat of dust on the top of it, so thick that if he ran his finger through it he would make a deep-sided groove, gritty and jagged. Bennis was telling at least this much of the truth. She was not tending this urn, the way she might tend the grave of somebody she had cared deeply about, or somebody she felt so guilty about that she was forced to make reparations and atonement on a daily basis. It was just here, as neglected as Janson's book and the scattered pages of old newspapers that covered the rest of the dresser's surface. Gregor would have felt better if the old newspapers hadn't all contained stories announcing the execution of Bennis Hannaford's oldest sister.
"It would be a lot easier to handle this," Bennis said at the time, "if I hadn't always disliked her so much."
Gregor went over to the urn and put his finger on the dust. He took his finger off and wiped it on the white handkerchief he still kept in the front vest pocket of his good suit jacket, as if, even in this small way, he was stuck in the time warp Bennis always accused him of inhabiting whenever she was angry with him. Then he went out of the bedroom and down the hall to Bennis's living room, which no longer had much in the way of furniture in it. He went over to the worktable and looked out over the computer, through the window, and the moving men still struggling with whatever it was. They were trying to hoist it up to the fourth floor and bring it through the living-room window. There was probably no other way to get it upstairs at all. Bennis and Donna and Lida and Hannah and Sheila were all sitting across the street on the steps to Lida's town house. The very old ladies were not in evidence at all, but they would be somewhere, at one of their windows, taking notes in Armenian. Tibor would be in his own apartment, posting messages to rec.arts.mystery, having forgotten thetime. Old George Tekemanian would be sitting on the sidewalk under the umbrella at the outdoor table-and-chair set his nephew Martin had ordered for him at L. L. Bean. Gregor checked his hip pocket--it wouldn't be the first time he'd forgotten his wallet--and then left Bennis's apartment and headed down the stairs to the street. There had never been a chance that he would be able to leave today without passing through crowds like a movie star on her way in to the Oscars. Except, Gregor thought, that the movie star would probably be pleased with the crowds, and she'd never have to see anybody in them again.
When he left the building, the whatever-it-was was in the air, just about level with Bennis's living-room window, where he had been standing only moments before. He crossed the street to Lida's and stopped in front of Bennis.
"How do I look? Is my tie on straight?"
"When have you ever cared about your ties?" Bennis asked, straightening anyway, because she always did. "You look very nice. You went to more trouble than you needed to. Jimmy never notices what he wears."
"When you do business, it's good to be businesslike. Are you sure you won't come with me? I doubt if he'd mind, no matter what you say. After all, he called you. And I could use the support."
"You don't need any support," Bennis said. "You're a lot alike, actually. Big ethnic guys with unwavering moral compasses. The same unwavering moral compass. If anything, I'd say he was far less sophisticated than you, even now. But no, I would not like to come along. His lady friend might object."
"She's not going to be there."
"This meeting is going to be in the National Enquirer, and don't you think it won't. There's no real way for people like Jimmy to keep things secret. I should know. I was once one of his not very well kept secrets."
"That was a long time ago."
"Agreed. It was. But it's not like she doesn't know. The lady friend, I mean. And I don't care how intellectual sheis, she wouldn't like it. Just go and listen to what he has to say. You'll be fine."
Gregor looked around. The whatever-it-was was now level with his own living-room window, which did have furniture in it, mostly Bennis's. She had put the stuff he'd had when she moved in into storage, and would have done worse than that (this stuff deserves to be ritually burned) if he'd let her.
"What is that thing?" he asked. "It's not a piano."
"It's a Peter Redstone harpsichord. That's what the moving men said. Donna asked. She's got Peter Redstone virginals, too. Mother and child virginals. They're still in the van. It's all musical instruments, everything that's been moved in so far this morning. I don't think there's even been a bed."
"Why isn't she coming with him?" Gregor asked. "The lady friend, I mean. This is supposed to concern her, isn't it?"
Bennis sighed. "Go ask him," she said. "I don't know anything but what I told you and that stuff I showed you from the Enquirer and the Star, and I wouldn't have known that if he hadn't brought it up. Just be glad it's Elizabeth Toliver who's got the problem and not that idiot he was married to before. The supermodel, you know. She's congenitally brain dead. I don't understand why men like that always do that sort of thing. I mean, can't they count? Those women reach forty like the rest of us, and then what do you have? Nothing at all in the head and not much left in the body. You'd think--"
"That's a cab," Gregor said.
He leaned over and pecked her on the cheek, eliciting a loud "bravo!" from Donna Moradanyan. There was indeed a cab turning onto Cavanaugh Street, and not just going through but pulling up to the curb right in front of where he was. He hurried down Lida's steps to the sidewalk and got there just as a small, dark-haired, painfully thin young woman got out, fumbling with a purse almost half her size.
"Oh," she said, seeing him come toward her. "It's Mr. Demarkian. Good morning."
"Good morning," Gregor said, and then the next thing he knew he was in the cab and the cab was moving, and he still couldn't remember who that young woman was or where he had seen her before. That he did know who she was and that he had met her before was not in doubt, but when he turned around to get another look at her from the cab's rear window, she had disappeared into a huddle of Cavanaugh Street women. He turned back around again. They'd know her shoe size, her favorite dessert, and her blood type by the time he got home, and they'd either be for her or against her.
Then he wished, for the fortieth time since Thursday, that he had not let Bennis talk him into meeting with Jimmy Card and listening to his problem.
It wasn't true, as Bennis liked to claim, that Gregor Demarkian had a prejudice against celebrities. For almost twenty years of his life, he had worked with them more often than not, although they had been the high-government-official type of celebrity rather than the been-seen-on-TV-a-lot kind. There was less of a difference than he had expected there to be. All of the ones he could remember, including the presidents of the United States, had been vain, in that anxious, uncertain, panicky way that indicated that, deep down, they didn't much like what they really looked like. They were people who had placed their trust in the illusions they were able to create. If they were really good at it, like Bill Clinton, they could do anything they wanted to do and get away with it. If they were really bad at it, like Richard Nixon, they might as well never have gotten out of bed. Gregor had been a fairly senior agent in the FBI during Richard Nixon's last year in office. He could remember watching the man on TV, the jerky movements,the paranoia so palpable it glistened on his skin like sweat. Gregor had never been able to understand it. Usually, a man that badly fitted for celebrity never got near to public office, except maybe on the most local level, where it was possible for personal loyalties to outweigh appearances. The miracle of Richard Nixon was that he'd managed to last as long as he had in national office. Gregor didn't think it could be done anymore, when everything was television, and the only people who got their news from newspapers were fussy academics in the more progressive colleges who thought even PBS was dangerous to the mental health of our nation's youth. Except, Gregor thought vaguely, as he got out of the cab in front of Le Cirque Blanc, they wouldn't say "our nation's youth" these days. They'd say "young people" or "the young" or maybe even "teenagers." It was like Hillary Clinton's vast right-wing conspiracy. It was everywhere, and it changed the words on you, just when you thought you knew what to say.
Le Cirque Blanc was the closest thing Philadelphia had to a "celebrity" restaurant, and Gregor had not been surprised when Jimmy Card had asked to meet him there. It was not Philadelphia's best restaurant, or the one most famous for its food, but like certain places in New York it had a couple of curtained-off back rooms that could be reached by a side entrance and a staff that understood what privacy did--and did not--mean. In New York, such a place would be full of people like Madonna and Harrison Ford, people so famous that they really had had enough of having their privacy invaded every time they went out for a drink or a little light dinner. In Philadelphia, Gregor got the impression that the place was full of members of the city government who didn't want their dinner meetings to show up on the six o'clock news and Main Line society women who wanted to have flings that wouldn't do them credit with their friends. Most of the time, both these groups of people tried to be as public as possible, on the theory that well-known people were more important than the less well-known kind. Some of the Main Line society womenmust have known this wasn't true, since they were probably married to men so important that their entire lives revolved around staying strictly out of sight.
Le Cirque Blanc had an awning that reminded Gregor of the ones on Manhattan apartment buildings, and a doorman who reminded him of Manhattan apartment buildings, too. The doorman wore a uniform and a cap, like a chauffeur. What really bothered Gregor about "celebrities" was that they reminded him, so much, of the serial killers he had spent the last half of his career chasing. The Ted Bundys, the Jeffrey Dahmers, the John Wayne Gacys, all had that hard streak of vanity and that desperation, as if in some way they weren't really alive unless other people said they were. When the Bureau had first been putting together the composite psychological profile that later became the basis for the entire Behavioral Sciences Unit, Gregor had wanted to put that in, but none of them could think of a way to phrase it so that somebody who had never encountered it could understand it. Gregor had always thought that the most obvious case of it had been--still was--Charles Manson, a man who lived entirely by the effect he had on other people, so much so that he hadn't even had to do his own serial killing. It was an open question as to whether or not that quirk of personality, and the charisma that went with it, had survived all the years in prison. Gregor made it a point to watch Manson's parole hearings when they were shown on Court TV, but it was hard to tell. He was cleaned up now, and subdued, but that could be for the benefit of the parole board, which wasn't going to release him in any case. It was too bad that monsters didn't stay monsters in real life, that growing old meant growing weak for even the most dedicated of them. For some reason, watching a Charles Manson turn into an old man made Gregor far more aware of his own mortality than the death of someone like Princess Diana did. Maybe that was because he had never been able to think of Princess Diana as really being real.
"Mr. Demarkian," the man on the front desk said. He was dressed in a white tie and tails, in spite of the fact thatit was barely noon. The restaurant lobby and the restaurant behind him were both dark, as if nobody could eat unless it was the middle of the night. The man himself was just slightly overweight, in that smug, self-satisfied way that some people equated with high social status, even though these days, everybody who really did have high social status was bone thin. Gregor decided he must have been hired for effect, like a stock actor hired to play a stock character, the point being that nothing mattered except keeping the ambiance unbroken, whatever the ambiance was supposed to be.
"If you follow me, I'll take you back myself," the man said.
Gregor nodded toward him, half afraid to speak. That would break the ambiance soon enough. Part of him wanted to jump up and down or shout or do something equally ridiculous, because this place was so false, so uncomfortable, so strained, that even the air felt oddly synthetic. He looked from left to right as they walked through the large main dining room, empty except for two elderly women in a booth along the west wall, drinking cocktails with paper umbrellas in them. You could buy those little paper umbrellas in party stores for $6.95 a hundred.
At the back of the main dining room, the man in the tails paused and felt along the wall. The door that opened there had been papered to look as if it wasn't a door at all, and it didn't, unless you knew what to look for. Then the outline was painfully obvious and--like so much about this place--completely unnecessary.
"Normally, I'd take you around to the back," the man in the tails said, "but under the circumstances ..." He nodded toward the two elderly women, who were paying no attention to them at all. "They wouldn't notice if a train went through here, once they'd had their third round. If we begin to fill up while you're at lunch, I'll take you out the other way. We do try to accommodate our patrons' need for discretion."
Gregor didn't comment on the man's use of the word"discretion"--which, in its obviousness, was even worse than the "secret" door. He just went through into the back room and let the man come in behind him. The room was smaller than the dining room outside and had nothing in it but booths, each fitted into the wall behind heavy velvet curtains that could be drawn on shiny corded ropes. All of these curtains were now open, and all the booths but one were empty. A tall man, not Jimmy Card, stood up in the one occupied booth and then slid out into the room. A second later, Jimmy Card followed him, as if he'd been waiting for the signal that would tell him nobody was coming in he didn't want to see.
"Very good," the man in the tails said. "I'll send your waiter in a moment. I hope you have an enjoyable meal, gentlemen."
They all murmured incoherent things, and the man in tails bobbed solemnly and "withdrew," walking backward all the way until he reached the "secret" door, as if he were dealing with royalty and in a distinctly outdated fashion.
Gregor waited until the door was firmly shut and they were alone and then said, "When I was in the army, I went to a place like this in New Orleans. Rich men would bring high-class call girls there for dinner, and they'd have the curtains so that they'd be safely out of sight if their wives came looking for them."
"Ha," Jimmy Card said.
"Why didn't the wives just draw back the curtains?" the tall man said.
"Maybe they did. Or maybe they just had sense enough to stay home. I never saw a run-in with a wife." Gregor looked Jimmy Card up and down, but he looked no different in person than he did on television: a short, dark, trim man just beginning to flesh out with middle age, the kind of man who worked out to stay in shape, but didn't work out enough to stay in perfect shape. For some reason, Gregor found that comforting.
"I'm Gregor Demarkian," he said.
"We recognized you from People," the tall man said. "Or at least, I did--"
"Of course I recognized him," Jimmy Card said. "What do you take me for?"
"You say you never read People," the tall man said.
"I watch the news. I read the papers. Give me a break."
"I'm Bob Haverton," the tall man said. "I'm Jimmy's lawyer. It used to be a full-time job."
"Used to be?" Gregor said.
"Bob's of the opinion that Liz has mellowed me out," Jimmy Card said. "I keep telling him he's got it backward. It's not that Liz mellowed me out. It's that I mellowed out and that got me together with Liz."
"At least she isn't likely to try to use the divorce courts to turn you into a financial basket case. Jimmy used to have that short ethnic guy's insecurity thing with women. He could only marry tall upper-middle-class WASP blondes. He just couldn't get it through his head that they always marry for money."
"Oh," Gregor said.
"You're going to make Mr. Demarkian think you're a bigot," Jimmy said.
"I'm a realist," Bob Haverton said. "My own sister is a tall upper-middle-class WASP blonde, although hardly in the same league with either of Jimmy's wives. One of the perks of being a pop star is that you get to marry the kind of women who show up on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. And Jimmy did. Twice."
"Right now, I'd like to marry a short brunette," Jimmy said, "except that she keeps saying no and now she's trying to go off and commit suicide, which is why we're here. We do have a reason why we're here. Maybe we should all sit down and discuss it."
"Maybe we should find another restaurant," Bob said. "You know the food in this place is going to be god-awful."
"If we find another restaurant, we'll be photographed," Jimmy said. He looked around. The room really was awful. The food really would probably be worse. "At least let'ssit down and discuss this and see if we can come to some kind of arrangement. It will all come out eventually. I'm just hoping to give Mr. Demarkian a head start. Sit."
"The only way you could give me a head start is to put me in a time machine and send me back thirty-two years," Gregor said, sliding into the booth anyway. "Before we do anything at all, Mr. Card, I need to stress that. The possibility that you can actually solve a case that's over thirty years in the past is virtually nil. It's been done, but it takes luck, and you can't plan for luck."
"I know," Jimmy Card said. He looked at the ceiling, and at the table, and at the palms of his hands. The light around him seemed to shift, and for a moment he looked like what he would look like in another twenty years, when the hope was gone. The effect was faintly shocking, and it made Gregor far more sympathetic to him than any appeal he might make could have done. Most "celebrities" managed to keep from looking old, not only through diet and exercise and plastic surgery, but through arrogance as well. You didn't get old when you still believed that you would live forever.
"So," Gregor said. "If you still want to go through with this, even if you know it's probably going to fail, I'll be happy to help you out, for Bennis's sake, if for no other reason. But I feel dishonest doing it."
Jimmy Card and Bob Haverton looked at each other. Bob Haverton drew in a deep breath and said, "There are other considerations here, besides finding out who killed Michael Houseman. If you manage to find out who committed the murder, we'll be ecstatic. But what we really need for you to do is to find out something else--"
"Not find out," Jimmy said. "We already know."
"Find the proof of something else," Bob amended. "So, if you wouldn't mind, I'd like to lay this whole thing out for you from the beginning, and then you can tell us what you think."
They waited until they could order, and they each seemed to be intent on ordering as little as possible. The menu was a horror of pretentiousness that included things like "sea bass en croute" and "crepes Madeleine," both described in flourishes that made the restaurant critic for Gourmet magazine sound like Ernest Hemingway. It was, Gregor thought at one point, the Banana Republic catalogue of restaurant menus. Every offering had a story, and every story had a wry, whimsical, pixie-sophisticated tone to it, like the brightest kid without ambition in an Ivy League freshman class. He asked for something he hoped would turn out to be a steak, and Perrier, because it was obviously going to be impossible to get something as simple as a glass of ginger ale. They did have Diet Coke on the menu, but Gregor never drank Diet Coke. He couldn't imagine asking for a Cafe' Creme Virginite, which seemed to be a Kahlua and cream made without Kahlua. The other two men asked for salads, with dressing on the side, probably the safest thing, under the circumstances. If they couldn't cook it, they couldn't ruin it.
They all waited, talking about nothing, until the food was served. Gregor's lunch turned out to have something to do with steak, but only vaguely, as it was covered in grapes and a thick brown sauce that reminded him of the stuff that came with Egg Foo Yung. He ignored it in favor of the green beans, which had nothing more complicated on them than almond slivers and melted butter.
"I warned you," Jimmy Card said.
"I'm not in the habit of eating at restaurants in central Philadelphia," Gregor told him.
Bob Haverton picked up his attache' case, laid it on the clear end of the table, and snapped it open. He had hisinitials on it in polished brass, and the brass sparkled in the light.
"I've had our people put together as complete a dossier on this case as it's possible to get," he said. "It is, as you've pointed out, over thirty years in the past, but the records are still available, not only police records but newspaper files, the file from the Parks and Recreation Service, a couple of articles that ran in the true crime magazines. It's not as good as being there at the time, I admit, but it's something to go on. Would you like to see?"
Gregor took the thick stack of papers Haverton was handing out to him and put it down next to his plate. "I can keep these?"
"If you take the case, yes. I've got copies."
"Have you read them?"
"We both have," Jimmy Card said. "I've read them over and over again. I think, from what Liz told me, well, I hadn't expected--"
Bob Haverton cleared his throat. "Liz told him they locked her in an outhouse with some snakes. She didn't tell him that she'd had a phobic reaction and beaten herself bloody on the outhouse door, trying to get out."
"Beat herself bloody and practically unconscious," Jimmy said. He gestured at the papers. "It's all in there. When they found her, the skin was flailed off her arms and the sides of her hands and she just fell out onto the ground at this police officer's feet. There were still snakes in the outhouse, two or three. She--"
"She really is phobic," Bob Haverton said. "Genuinely. She can't be in the room with a picture of one, and we found school records going back to kindergarten of her panicking when there was one on the playground, having complete screaming fits--"
"So," Gregor said. "All the people she knew, knew she was afraid of snakes? And one of these people locked her into an outhouse and put snakes in there with her?"
"Right," Jimmy said. "A lot of them, according to Liz. But the thing is, with Liz and snakes, a lot could mean onlythree. And she really doesn't know how many."
"What was the point?" Gregor asked. "Were they trying to kill her? People have died of shock from phobic reactions."
"I doubt they were actually trying to kill her," Jimmy said. "They were all, what? Eighteen. Seventeen. And this was 1969. And it wasn't the first time."
"It wasn't the first time they'd locked her in an outhouse with a lot of snakes?" Gregor's eyebrows raised.
"Liz," Bob Haverton said carefully, "was not exactly popular in high school. Or in elementary school. As far as we can make out, she was one of those kids who's sort of like a target, the one all the other kids pick on. It had been going on for years. And some of the incidents were pretty damned nasty. They took all her clothes while she was showering after gym once. They told her they wanted to meet her at this place they all went to--"
"The White Horse," Jimmy said. "It was a bar. The kind of place you could go drinking and not get carded."
"Right." Bob nodded. "Anyway, they told her they wanted to meet her there and then they took off for a different place in a different town and left her stranded so that she had to walk home, in the dark, or call her parents and tell them where she was. She walked home. Jimmied her locker and took all her books. Spray-painted 'big wet turd' in red on the back of her best black sweater during an assembly and then laughed at it all day--"
"And this was everybody in the whole school?" Gregor asked. "Nobody told her about the spray paint?"
"A teacher did, eventually," Jimmy said. "But you know, I've seen it happen, mostly with girls. Boys get cut a lot more slack. But some girls are just--I mean, even the teachers can't stand them, they're just--"
"Targets," said Bob Haverton wryly. "I've had a better education than Jimmy did. I actually went to college, instead of just hauling ass to New York City to make my fortune. You can tell by our bank accounts who made the wiser choice."
"It was only Adelphi," Jimmy said.
"It was Yale Law. My point, however, is that I've read Lord of the Flies a few times. And that's what this was, as far as I can make out. Lord of the Flies on a somewhat attenuated scale. Although, considering the thing with the outhouse and the snakes, it's probably just as well that she was getting out for college the following fall."
"I think that's part of what did it," Jimmy said. "Drew them over the edge, I mean, into doing something that could have been dangerous. Because she got into a good college and that just made them madder."
"Back up," Gregor said. "This was when--the day it happened?"
"July twenty-third, 1969," Bob Haverton said.
"And what time of day?"
"Early evening," Jimmy said. "A lot of them worked, you know, and when they got off work they'd go to this park where there was a lake for swimming and a lifeguard. And the park had woods around it and this set of outhouses--"
"I think it said four stalls in a row," Bob Haverton said.
"Okay," Gregor said. "It was early evening, and people went to this park, including Ms. Toliver. Was she getting off work, too?"
"No," Jimmy said. "Her father was this hotshot lawyer. She was taking the summer off. She used to go to the park in the daytime when pretty much everybody she knew was working, and then she'd leave as they started to drift in."
"But this evening she stayed?" Gregor asked.
"I don't think so," Jimmy said. "I think she was going to leave the same as always, but then things happened. One of them called her over and told her they needed her to see something, and I suppose she should have known better by then, I mean, for God's sake, it had been going on long enough, but she went to look. And that's when they pushed her into the outhouse and locked the door."
"To be specific," Bob Haverton said, "they nailed it shut."
"What?" Gregor said, bolt upright. "They nailed it shut?"
"That's what I said." For the first time, Haverton looked thoroughly disgusted. "I know adolescents can be evil, but this was a bunch of sociopaths, if you ask me. They gathered a bunch of snakes, granted small black snakes, perfectly harmless--"
"--except to somebody like Liz," Jimmy said.
"Except to somebody like Liz," Haverton agreed. "Anyway, they put them in there, and then one of them, Maris Coleman, called her over and asked her to look inside, I don't remember what the pretext was--"
"He can ask Liz himself when he gets to Hollman," Jimmy said.
"--and when she looked in the rest of them rushed up from out of the bushes where they'd been hiding and pushed her in. Then they slammed the door and nailed it shut. She says she was screaming the whole time, and I believe her. I've seen her around snakes."
Gregor considered all this. "Most of them were hiding. How many of them is most of them?
"Six," Jimmy said. "Maris Coleman, Belinda Hart, Emma Kenyon, Nancy Quayde, Chris Inglerod, and Peggy Smith."
"We don't actually know that all of them were there, or that all of them were involved," Haverton said, "but that was the group of them and they were together later, when the body was found, along with a couple of other people who were not ordinarily part of their circle. Liz says she heard them laughing while they nailed up the door."
"And Ms. Toliver was screaming all the time?" Gregor said. "Why didn't somebody else hear her?"
"There may not have been anybody to hear her," Haverton said. "The lifeguards go off at five. They left promptly. This might have been fifteen or twenty minutes later."
"What about the other people in the park?" Gregor said. "Surely, there were other people in the park. This boy, the one who died, Michael Houseman--"
"He was sort of part of the same crowd," Jimmy said. "He dated one of the girls, or something like that. I'm not exactly clear on that. And yes, later, there were a few other people in the park. When the body was found there were maybe fifteen people present, at the bank of a small river that runs through the place--"
"And those people should have been able to hear Elizabeth Toliver scream?" Gregor asked.
"Yes," Jimmy said.
"And they didn't investigate what was happening? They didn't try to help her? Or did they? Did somebody go try to release her?"
"The cops released her when they came to look at the body," Jimmy said. "They heard her screaming and they went to see what was up. It's in the police reports."
"So you're saying that she stayed in this outhouse, screaming her head off, for--how long?"
"At least an hour," Bob Haverton said.
"An hour. While screaming her head off within hearing range of two dozen people. And nobody went to help her. Nobody went to see what was wrong with her. Nobody paid any attention at all."
"I told you it was like Lord of the Flies," Haverton said.
"It's more like Ripley's Believe It or Not. Hasn't it occurred to any of you, hasn't it occurred to her, that this makes absolutely no sense? People don't behave this way, not even in groups. Lord of the Flies had a hero. Put that many people into one place and at least one of them should go see what's wrong and try to do something about it. Instead, they did what? Wandered around the park? Had a campfire? What?"
"Chris Inglerod and Peggy Smith said they went swimming," Jimmy said. "Maris Coleman says--said--whatever."
"She told the police that she went with Belinda Hart tothe lake to sit by the water. She says now that she and Belinda took a walk by the river."
"You've talked to her recently," Gregor said.
"I talk to her every day," Jimmy said. "Much as I'd prefer not to. She works for Liz."
"Works for her?" Gregor blinked.
"She's some kind of personal assistant," Jimmy said. "Liz hired her when she got fired a few years ago. When Maris got fired, that is. For the third time. In two years. Don't get me started. She's going down to Hollman with Liz. You'll meet her yourself, if you decide to do this for us."
"That's what we meant about there being something else to this than finding the person who murdered Michael Houseman," Bob Haverton said. "We're both--Jimmy and I are both--convinced that it's Maris Coleman who's been feeding those stories to the supermarket tabloids. In fact, we don't see who else it could be. We just need you to prove it."
"Liz," Jimmy Card said, angry now, "refuses to believe it."
Copyright © 2002 by Orania Papazoglou.