Sometimes Henry Tyder thought that the real problem would always be the blood. Bodies could be stashed under tables or cut up and put into trunks. You could take pieces off them or settle for pieces of clothing instead, in case you were worried about how you were going to smell on the bus. Evidence was nothing at all. Evidence was what you made it be. If you wanted it, you went and got it. If you wanted to get rid of it, you had only to point out that you were who and what you were: living on the street half the time; drunk to the gills half the time; out of your mind half the time. No, it was the blood that was the problem because blood went everywhere.
It was five o’clock on the evening of March 23rd, and not as cold as it should have been. A fine drizzling rain had been coming down most of the day. The streets were slick and wet and shiny under streetlamps that were just going on. Down at the end of the block, half a dozen people were huddled near the curb, hoping for taxis. This was not Henry’s ordinary neighborhood. It was not a place where he felt safe.
He checked out the people one more time and then retreated to the narrow alley between two brick buildings. They were the kind of buildings he remembered from his childhood, with stoops at the front and tall windows that looked out onto the city. It was as if the people who lived inside cared not at all about who could see them. On the alley side, though, there were no windows, except one very high up on the fifth or sixth floor. That would have been a maid’s room in the old days. Now it was probably a place where a law firm stowed the kind of files it expected nobody to ever want to see again.
The body was halfway between the two ends of the alley. It was the body of a young woman in a red cloth coat, with fingernails painted to look like American flags. Henry crouched down next to it. His mind was clear. It really was. He’d been living “at home” for weeks now—or at least he’d been living with Elizabeth and Margaret, which was as close as he came to home. He was cold and his bones ached, but he thought he understood what he was doing. The young woman must have been one of those people who liked to call attention to herself. The coat would have stood out in a crowd. The fingernails would have started conversations. Maybe that was what she had wanted. Maybe she had hoped that somebody would make a comment about her nails, some man, and they would talk, and the talk would lead to other things.
Henry got down closer, and looked into her face. Her eyes were open, staring blankly, the way they did when the person who owned them was dead. The side of her face was all cut up. The glass that had been used to do it—thin, wide jagged plates from a glass window, broken God only knew where—was lying around her as if it had fallen from the sky like snow. The glass was covered with blood, and so was the face, and so was the collar of the coat. Blood was in the puddles at the body’s sides, diluted and spread by the falling rain. Henry put his hand out and rubbed his palm across the body’s face. When he took his hand away, it was red and sticky and smelled like something that made his stomach churn.
From here to the end, it was an easy thing: it was just a question of finding a policeman and bringing him here. It would have been easier in the days before most policemen rode around in cars. He picked up one of the small plates of glass and turned it over in his hands. He put it down and picked up another. He picked up the woman’s purse and opened it. She had twenty-six dollars and change in her wallet. He took that and put it in his pockets. She wouldn’t need it anymore, and he did. If he could find some money someplace, he wouldn’t have to face his sisters until he was ready to.
He stood up and looked around. He knew how the woman had died. She’d been strangled from behind with a thin nylon cord people used to tie some kinds of packages for mailing. You found the stuff all the time in Dumpsters. He bent down again and felt around her neck. The cord was buried deeply into the high collar of her jersey turtleneck. It was folded back on itself, but not tied. The cords were never tied. He remembered that from the newspapers. He pulled at it until it came loose in his hands. Then he put it into his pocket with the change.
The drizzle was turning into something heavier. It was so very warm for March, but still cold enough for wet to be something he did not want to be. He leaned over one more time and put his hands in the blood again. He liked the feel of it under the tips of his fingers. He stood up and turned his hands over and let the rain fall on them. The blood washed to the edges, but it did not wash clean.
Henry put his hands in his pockets and started for the street. It was better to go to the street than to the back courtyards after dark. The courtyards were unused and uncared for and often without working lights. Kids hung out in them when they wanted to do drugs and make trouble. He felt the money one more time to make sure it was still there. He came out onto the sidewalk where the people were and looked around.
It was another woman in a red coat who saw him first, an older woman this time, somebody paying attention. Most people didn’t look at Henry Tyder at all.
“Oh, my God,” the woman said, backing away from him toward the stoops. She caught the back of her leg on a step and stumbled. “Oh, my God,” she said again. “Oh, my God.”
A man in a dark raincoat stopped to see if he could help her. “Is there something wrong?” he said. “Is there something I can get for you?”
Nothing succeeds like success, Henry thought. If you looked pretty much all right, everybody in the neighborhood wanted to help you.
That was when the woman started screaming.
Phillipa Lydgate couldn’t say she hadn’t known what to expect when she came to America, because she’d been to America twice before, once only a year before this one. She’d even spent considerable time here, back in 1999, when she’d been posted to Washington to cover the Clinton impeachment trial. She had America pegged, she was sure of that. She knew all about Red States and Blue States and creationists and the death penalty and gun violence and the people who simply sat out and starved in the streets because there was no welfare state to take care of them. She knew all about the conformity, too, which she had always contended was the most salient feature of American life. Americans were conformists. There was nothing else that needed to be said about them. They were also mental defectives, but that didn’t need to be said at all. She had been pointing all this out, in the pages of the Watchminder, for at least the last fifteen years.
Now her cab pulled up at the curb outside a large, new-looking church, and Phillipa had to admit that she was nervous. She had never actually been to a Red State before, and although Pennsylvania wasn’t quite that—it had voted Democratic for president in the last election—it was close enough to make her wish she hadn’t insisted on coming alone. The whole assignment had been her idea from the beginning, and she wondered if that hadn’t been a foolish thing. Go to America. Get out of the Washington–New York–Hollywood axis. Live for six to eight weeks among the real people. Write about it in weekly dispatches. Come back to London and do all the chat shows when it was over. It was a brilliant assignment, really. If she did it right, she’d be famous when it was through.
Out on the sidewalk near the steps of the church was a small man in priest’s clothes and a woman the size of a house. Phillipa was relieved. This was what she had expected. Americans were very religious, and most of them were also very fat. She got her wallet out of her purse and searched around among the familiar and unfamiliar money. She had no intention of acting like a tourist and trying to pay the man off in pounds.
Suddenly, the very fat woman leaned over and tapped on the window of the cab, and Phillipa realized she wasn’t actually fat, just enormously pregnant. It didn’t matter. That fit too. Americans had children by the cartload, because a lot of them didn’t believe in birth control. The pregnant woman tapped on the glass again, and Phillipa rolled down the window.
“Are you Miss Lydgate?” the woman said. “I’m Donna Moradanyan Donahue. I’m so glad you found it.”
“Of course I found it,” the cabdriver said. He was a tall, massive, bald black man with a thick, gold ring in his left ear, and he’d been making Phillipa nervous since the airport. “Every cabdriver in the city can find Cavanaugh Street. What do you take me for?”
“Sorry,” Donna said, smiling. She thrust a little wad of bills at the man and then waved at it. Then she stepped back and opened Phillipa’s door. “I am glad you found it,” she said. “It’s such a wretched night, really, and it’s so dark. At least it’s not minus nine. It gets that way this time of year sometimes.”
“I don’t think so,” the little priest said, in what sounded to Phillipa like a Middle Eastern accent. “That is more for February.”
“This is Fr. Tibor Kasparian,” Donna said. “He’s the priest at the church here.”
Phillipa got out of the cab and looked around. The driver was already on his feet, getting her cases from the trunk. Phillipa was more conscious than she wanted to be of the differences between herself and this young woman. For one thing the woman was young. Phillipa had turned fifty-eight a week ago. For another—Phillipa found it hard not to stare at that great pregnant belly. She’d never had any children herself. She hadn’t had time for them, and besides, there was world overpopulation to worry about. She wondered how this Donna Moradanyan could stand up on her two feet carrying a load like that.
“Tcha,” Father Tibor said. “It’s raining. You should both be out of the wet. Why are we standing here?”
“We’re being polite,” Donna said. “Miss Lydgate probably has jet lag. I’m sorry my husband isn’t here to meet you, but something came up at the office and he had to stay late. I’ll get you settled tonight and then maybe you can come and have dinner with us some time this week. It probably will be cold out by then. Where’s Randy Ohanian when you need him?”
Phillipa had no idea who Randy Ohanian was, but she wanted to get out of the drizzle, and she wanted to do her job at the same time. She thought her hair was wilting. It never looked, in real life, the way it did in her picture at the newspaper. She pulled the collar of her coat up around her neck and looked around a little more.
“Does your husband work very long hours?” she asked Donna Moradanyan. “Does he get paid overtime?”
“What? Oh, well, no, of course not.”
“Ah,” Phillipa said.
“He’s an attorney. He’s on salary, and I don’t think anybody on salary gets paid overtime. I mean, they don’t get paid for their time to begin with, do they? Anyway, he’s on the roster with the Public Defender’s Office and something seems to have come up—”
“The Public Defender’s Office?”
“Uh, yes. Where is Randy? I told him not to get out of sight, and of course the first thing he does is disappear. It has to be something about being a sixteen-year-old boy.”
“Hormones,” Father Tibor said solemnly.
“He’s getting far too big for hormones. He’s the size of a truck. Anyway, the Public Defender’s Office. It’s called Legal Aid, really. The people who defend people when they can’t afford a lawyer the regular way. Lawyers in private practice volunteer, and they get matched up with clients, and tonight there was a client they wanted Russ to represent. Or to think about representing. People tend to get arrested at night, you see, and then they need lawyers.”
“This—Public Defender’s Office? Or, what did you call it—”
“Legal Aid,” Father Tibor said.
“This is something new?” Phillipa said. “A new program in this city? Are there programs like that in other cities?”
“It’s not new,” Donna said. “There have always been public defenders. We just change the names around and now they’re Legal Aid, but I can never remember that because I remember my parents talking about public defenders. I’m sorry, I’m rambling. There he is.”
Phillipa looked up to see a gigantic boy loping down the sidewalk, wearing denim jeans and what she knew to call a “sweatshirt.” He was not fat, but Phillipa thought he would get that way eventually. He had to have eaten ridiculous amounts of food to get as large as he was.
He pulled to a stop next to them and said, “Sorry.” Then he leaned over and got Phillipa’s cases from the sidewalk where the driver had left them. There were three cases, and two of them were both big and heavy, but he carried them as if they were paper bags.
“I didn’t mean to get out of sight,” he said. “I just saw somebody I needed to talk to.”
“Jennie Melajian,” Donna said.
“She’s really intelligent,” Randy said, a little defensively. “And we go to church together.”
“This is true,” Father Tibor said.
“Let’s get Miss Lydgate settled in before she catches pneumonia,” Donna said. “You and Jennie have all the time in the world to talk. It’s just this way around the back, Miss Lydgate. When we rebuilt the church we had the second apartment put in in the hopes that we could find an assistant for Father Tibor, but there don’t seem to be a lot of Armenian priests around to serve as assistants, so the apartment is still brand-new and completely empty. We’ve really tried to make it quite nice.”
“I don’t need an assistant,” Father Tibor said.
Randy Ohanian took the lead, and Phillipa found herself walking beside Donna and her belly down a well-lit but narrow alleyway. The area was very clean, cleaner than the back passage behind her own terraced house in London. It opened out at the back to a broad courtyard that looked just a little Victorian, although everything around it was as new as the church around the front. At ground level there was a flat with all its lights on, tall windows lit up like the screen at a movie theater. Above it, there was another flat, also with its lights on, but the windows weren’t as large.
“It’s upstairs,” Donna said, moving around Randy to get the left-hand ground-level door open. “You do have a key to this door as well as to the door upstairs if you want to be secure, although Tibor’s never had any problem and he’s been here for years. Still, this is the city, after all, and—”
“And there’s a lot of violence.” Phillipa said. “Gun crimes? There were 414 people murdered in Philadelphia last year. Do you keep a gun, Father?”
Tibor simply said no.
Donna looked odd. “Well,” she said, “yes. But—oh, well, never mind. You can talk all that out with Russ when we meet him. It’s late now. But I wouldn’t worry about murder or guns on Cavanaugh Street if I were you.”
“There were 106,078 crimes in Philadelphia last year.” Phillipa said, “if you count other things than murder. Arrests for aggravated assault were up 40 percent. There were 8,701 arrests for aggravated assault alone.”
“Geez,” Randy said, “you just know that off the top of your head? That’s really good.”
“I was doing research before I got here,” Phillipa said. “I couldn’t find out what ‘aggravated assault’ meant though.”
“It means a couple of guys get into a fight in a bar and one of them hits the other over the head with a barstool,” Randy said.
“No, it doesn’t,” Donna said. “It means an attack where the attacker intends to cause severe bodily harm—with or without a weapon. Gregor told me that.”
“I couldn’t find out if there were many aggravated assaults in this neighborhood,” Phillipa said. “I was sent a set of statistical analyses of Philadelphia crime broken down by neighborhood, but I wasn’t sure what to call this neighborhood, and I couldn’t find the street in the lists.”
“Listen to that,” Donna said, punching Randy on the arm. “That’s how a professional works. You can’t get your act together to get five sources for your research paper, and this woman gets detailed crime statistics all the way from London and still remembers them when she gets here.”
“I settled the thing with the research paper,” Randy said. “I rewrote it.”
“We should go up,” Father Tibor said. “We are once again in danger of giving Miss Lydgate pneumonia in the rain.”
Actually, Phillipa had stopped noticing the rain. She found these people fascinating, all of them, and she found it even more fascinating that they weren’t worried at all to be standing around this back alley courtyard after dark. She must have written a million words in the last decade about the tendency of Americans to keep their heads firmly planted in the sand, to refuse to face reality in any way whatsoever—think of the Kyoto Treaty and the mess the Iraq war had become—but she’d never expected to see such a brilliant and undeniable example of it right out front without disguise like this. She had the opening for her first report to the Watchminder already, and she hadn’t even taken her computer out of her briefcase.
The little group was trooping up the stairs, and Phillipa trooped with it. She wondered again how Donna Moradanyan found it possible to move. The staircase was well lit and not uncomfortably narrow. It ended at a broad landing and a thick wooden door painted a bright enamel red. Donna rushed forward with a set of keys and opened up. Then she stepped back and handed the keys to Phillipa.
“There it is,” she said. “Two bedrooms, one bathroom, one living room–dining room ell, and a kitchen. I didn’t know what you liked to eat, so I tried to stock the refrigerator with basic things. You know, eggs. And milk and cream and butter. And that kind of thing. I didn’t do it wrong, did I? You’re not a vegan, or keeping kosher, or anything like that?”
“No,” Phillipa said. “Of course not. That was very kind of you.” She went through into the small entryway and looked out onto a living room twice the size of her own reception room at home, furnished with a long sofa upholstered in a dark, neutral green and two oversized armchairs with ottomans. There was a television, too, although not one of the huge ones she had heard about that took up an entire wall. There was a CD player with a small collection of CDs next to it. She looked, and they all seemed to be of harpsichord music: Domenico Scarlatti, Alessandro Scarlatti, Handel, Bach. The dining ell had a good-quality mahogany table with six matching chairs seated around it. The kitchen, from what Phillipa could see, peering through the door from the dining room, contained a refrigerator that looked to be the size of her bathroom.
Randy Ohanian came through with her cases. “I’m supposed to put them in the bigger bedroom, right?”
“Yes,” Donna said. “Unless you’d prefer the smaller one, Miss Lydgate. I’m sorry if I just assumed—well, most people like the bigger one. And I put sheets on both beds, so there’s no problem if you’d like the other better.”
“I’ll be fine,” Phillipa said, feeling suddenly overwhelmed. She was also feeling guilty. Here were all these gushing, helpful Americans, and she just wanted them to go away. She followed her cases to the door of the “bigger” bedroom. It was the size of Leeds, and there was a bed in it big enough to accommodate a family of four. Her head hurt. She was feeling a little sick.
“Oh, dear,” Donna said. “We’ve overdone it. I’m so sorry. You must be exhausted. We’ll get out and let you get some rest.”
“No, no,” Phillipa said. “I’m all right, really.”
“Nonsense. You don’t look all right, and why should you? It’s a long flight and the hours are ridiculous. I know. We went to London last year. Now, aside from the basics, there are some covered dishes in the refrigerator some of the women from the church made. I’ve labeled them and their ingredients in case you’re allergic to anything. The plates they’re in are all microwave safe. All you have to do is take off their covers and heat them up if you want them. If you’d rather eat out, just go out your front door, down the alley, and turn to the right. The Ararat is just about a block down and across the street. It’s Armenian food, mostly, but if you want something else you can go another couple of blocks and get a Chinese and an Indian place, right next to each other. Oh, and I stocked the bar. It’s in that little wall unit next to the CD player. You open the flap door and you’ll find everything you need. I got gin and scotch and vodka and bourbon and tonic. I wasn’t sure what you liked.”
“Really,” Phillipa said breathlessly. “I don’t know how to thank you.”
“Oh, don’t be silly. I did it for Bennis, didn’t I? Bennis is a force of nature. Anything Bennis wants, Bennis gets. Oh, yes, one more thing. You’ve got cable. Three tiers, plus HBO and Showtime. Now, that really is it. Have some rest. We’ll see you the next time you feel ready to face the world.”
“Nice to meet you,” Randy Ohanian said, pumping her hand three times quickly and then letting it go.
“I’m right downstairs in the ground-floor apartment if there is anything you need,” Father Tibor said.
Then they were gone, all gone, out the door. Phillipa could hear them making their way down the staircase, still talking at full speed. She really did not feel well, not even a little bit.
She went over to the “built in” and opened the “flap door.” There were glasses and an ice bucket, and Drambuie and Benedictine as well as the harder stuff. The ice bucket was full, and had tongs. She took one of the glasses and looked through the bottles: there was Johnnie Walker Black and Glenlivet for scotch. She took the Glenlivet, filled the glass half full, then thought better of it and filled it all the way up. She had no intention of ruining it with water.
She went over to one of the big chairs and sat down in it. Then she got up and got the remote control from the top of the television set. She sat back down again. She still had her scotch in one hand. She put it down on a small side table next to the chair. She aimed the remote at the television set and pushed the power button.
Really, she thought. She didn’t remember that Americans talked that fast, or threw so much at you at once, but maybe that was the first of the differences between the Red States and the Blue States. She could put it in her article along with the story about the alley. And she had no reason to be surprised about the apartment. Bennis Hannaford was a rich woman. She surely had rich friends. The picture on the television screen made no sense to her. She looked at the remote, found a button that said “channel” on it, and pushed that. The channel changed. The program changed. A picture came on that looked like a newsman giving a report, and she stopped at that.
“In local news tonight,” the man said, “police spokesman Ronald Garrity has confirmed that what is presumed to be the eleventh victim of the Plate Glass Killer was found this evening in an alley on Society Hill. A man found at the scene has been taken in for questioning.
“There is no information as to the identity of the man at this time, and no word as to whether police consider him a suspect in the series of murders that have been plaguing Philadelphia for the last thirteen months. The Plate Glass Killer—”
But Phillipa didn’t listen to anymore. She was suddenly feeling infinitely better, and the better she felt, the hungrier she was.
She got up out of the chair and headed for the kitchen to find out if there was anything really decent to put in the microwave.
Copyright © 2007 by Orania Papazoglou. All rights reserved.