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Authors: Jane Haddam

Dear Old Dead (9 page)

BOOK: Dear Old Dead
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No, Gregor thought now, stuffing clippings back into the leather pockets of the briefcase’s interior, as the landscape whizzed by, he most certainly did not like the present Cardinal Archbishop of New York. He didn’t like him at all. If it hadn’t been that the case itself was so interesting—and that Tibor was so insistent—he might have turned this project down on personal antipathy alone.

He dropped his briefcase onto the seat beside him, put his head on the backrest and closed his eyes.

If he had any luck, the Cardinal Archbishop would assign a subordinate to shepherd Gregor around, and Gregor would never have to deal with the man in charge at all.

TWO
1


LOOK FOR A PRIEST CARRYING
a copy of the New York
Sentinel,”
the Cardinal’s secretary had said. It wasn’t until he was arriving at Penn Station that Gregor realized how ludicrous that was. “A priest” could mean a man in a Roman collar. Religious dress was one of the things about which the Cardinal was rumored to be a hidebound traditionalist. The New York
Sentinel
was something else. Any number of priests could be carrying the New York
Sentinel.
It was a very popular paper.

Gregor got off the train and looked around. This part of Penn Station was relatively clean and relatively empty. Gregor saw one old woman who might have been a bag lady, but might just as easily have been a tourist from Wilmington struggling home under an unusually large load of packages. He saw a slender young woman in jeans carrying a baby on her back in a sling. The young woman read compulsively through her ticket, frowning. The only male Gregor could see besides the ticket takers was reading a New York
Sentinel,
but he didn’t look anything like a priest. No Roman collar. No sober black suit. This man was wearing a crumpled tan linen jacket with sleeves pushed up his bare arms to his elbows, over a bright orange T-shirt and a pair of ancient jeans.

The headline on the New York
Sentinel
read, “FOILED AGAIN” in letters so large Gregor couldn’t imagine their type size. At the bottom of the letters was a small picture of President Clinton looking forlorn. It always surprised Gregor how easily the tabloid press could come up with morose pictures of Bill Clinton, when in real life the man was always smiling. Gregor walked up to the man and cleared his throat.

“Excuse me,” he said. “You don’t happen to be here from—”

The man folded up his paper immediately and tucked it under his arm. “Mr. Demarkian? Excuse me, please. I was daydreaming. About the Mets.”

The Mets were a baseball team. Gregor knew that. He cleared his throat again. “You’re Father—”

“Father Donleavy. Eamon Donleavy. Please let me apologize again. The Mets are winning all of a sudden. Never mind. Let me take your bag.”

Gregor let Eamon Donleavy take his bag. He looked the father over a little more carefully. The loafers were soft calf ones with the distinct look of a custom British shoemaker, but they were old. The watch was plain stainless steel and said “Timex” on its face. Interesting man, Father Donleavy.

“Excuse me,” Gregor said, “but if you don’t mind my saying so, you don’t look the way I’d expect the emissary of this particular Cardinal to look. You don’t even look like somebody I’d expect him to tolerate.”

“No?” Eamon Donleavy laughed. “Well, you’re almost right. I’m not the Cardinal’s emissary except in the most peripheral way. I don’t work at the chancery, I work at the Sojourner Truth Health Center. As for the rest of it, the Cardinal baptized not only me but all six of my brothers and sisters, and he’s so glad we all remained in the church, he puts up with us. I have a sister who’s a nun in one of those orders where they wear jumpsuits and picket for world peace. The Cardinal doesn’t know if he should count that as staying in the church or not. There’s a cab stand up around here. I know a couple of the drivers. We’ll be able to get uptown.”

“Uptown?”

“To the Sojourner Truth Health Center. The Cardinal says you’ll do better if you’re right on the spot.”

“Mmm,” Gregor said.

“No?”

“There’s no reason not to be on the spot,” Gregor said, “but if you ask me, your Cardinal is being smart. I take it the Archdiocese is making some attempt to keep my presence here on this errand unpublicized?”

“Oh, yes, Mr. Demarkian. These days, they’re all running around the chancery behaving like extras from a cold war domestic spy movie. The Cardinal probably thinks he’s John Wayne.”

“It might be better for secrecy purposes for me to arrive at the center than at the chancery, you see. It’s less likely I’ll be spotted. That is, assuming that the New York papers still stake the chancery out on a regular basis and don’t stake out the center. With all the trouble up there lately, I might have it all backward.”

“The trouble was two weeks ago,” Eamon Donleavy said. “And the center’s hardly the place you’d expect to be trouble-free. Do you know what was going on up there, the night Charles van Straadt was killed?”

“Something special?”

“It was definitely something special, Mr. Demarkian. That’s Harlem we’re talking about now. Spanish Harlem. The center averages, oh, about five knife wounds a night.”

“Wonderful.”

“Definitely wonderful. It’s been worse than that, of course. It gets terrible. Anyway, the night Charlie was killed, we were in the middle of a gang war. Big time. Two rival gangs had taken over opposite sides of an entire city block uptown and they were blasting away at each other with assault rifles. We were getting thirty or forty admissions every ten minutes for a while.”

“The place must have been a mess.”

“Oh, it was, Mr. Demarkian, it was. Everyone was running around going crazy. And of course Charlie showed up at just the wrong time, itching for a confrontation with Michael. Charlie had the kind of timing that ought to have been bottled and studied at MIT. Anyway, there we were in the middle of a war, and there Charlie was in the middle of a snit.”

“Why?”

“Over here, Mr. Demarkian. This is Juan Valenciano. He’ll take us uptown.”

Juan Valenciano was leaning against the side of his cab, pulled up at the curb out of the rank and with his “off duty” light lit. When he saw Eamon Donleavy and Gregor he straightened up and smiled, opening the back passenger door with a flourish. Gregor let himself be shepherded toward the waiting vehicle. He didn’t flinch at all when his suitcase was whisked away from him and into the trunk, or when Juan Valenciano took his briefcase and chucked it into the front passenger seat. Usually Gregor hated being parted from his things. One of the first things he had been taught as a rookie agent was never to allow that to happen. Once your suitcase or your briefcase was out of your hands, you never knew what was going to happen to it. It could be searched. It could be destroyed. It could be lost, taking all the work you’d done for the last three months with it.

Gregor climbed into the cab and let Eamon Donleavy climb in beside him. Eamon Donleavy said a few things in Spanish to Juan Valenciano and slammed the cab door shut. Juan Valenciano turned his “off duty” light off, put his “in service” light on, and pulled out into the street.

“There,” Donleavy said. “I’m sorry, Mr. Demarkian. I interrupted you. I didn’t mean to be rude, but it’s practically impossible to get a cab as far up into Harlem as we’re going. It’s not supposed to be. The city ordinances are quite specific. Medallion cabs are supposed to go anywhere in any of the five boroughs they’re asked to go, but it doesn’t work like that in real life. If they don’t want to go, they just refuse to take you. Juan here lives up in Spanish Harlem and he knows practically everybody at the center. We use him all the time when we need to bring somebody uptown.”

“You’re lucky to have him. New York looks—shabbier than I remember it being.”

“New York is a mess.”

“New Yorkers are always saying that.”

“Maybe we are. Let’s see, Mr. Demarkian. What were you asking me? Oh, yes. You were asking me why Charlie van Straadt was having a fit.”

“Answer something else first. You’ve just described what sounds to me like a very chaotic situation.”

“That’s putting it mildly enough.”

“What I want to know is, in such a situation, why didn’t the police—and the papers and everybody else—why wasn’t the first assumption simply that Mr. van Straadt had been killed by a stray loony or a gang member or some nut in off the street? How did this turn into a murder mystery?”

Eamon Donleavy looked uncomfortable. “Well,” he said, “the papers are treating it as if it were some loony or a gang member.”

“Nobody else is.”

“I know that. There was the strychnine, Mr. Demarkian. Stray loonies don’t usually poison their victims with strychnine. Gang members use Uzis and knives.”

Gregor was impatient. “Stray loonies do use strychnine, Father Donleavy. They use it all the time. Under ordinary circumstances, it would be difficult for a bag lady to get, but we’re not talking about ordinary circumstances. The center is a fully equipped medical facility, isn’t it?”

“We’re not Mass General, Mr. Demarkian. We do have a fully equipped emergency room—one of the best and most up-to-date in the country, as a matter of fact—because we have to, and we do a lot of obstetrics because the neighborhood needs it. I suppose we’re at least as good as a small-town hospital. Maybe better.”

“Fine,” Gregor said. “Then there must have been strychnine around. There must have been strychnine available.”

“There was some. It was locked up.”

“I’m sure it was locked up, Father Donleavy. My point is that locked up or not, someone could have gotten to it.”

“The police thought of that. And they checked. Sister Augustine even had them walking through the center with clipboards, checking off our entire inventory of the stuff, which wasn’t much. There wasn’t any missing.”

“You mean as far as you know somebody brought that strychnine in from the outside?”

“No. I should have said none of it was missing except the strychnine that had been suspected all along of having killed Charles van Straadt. We do call him Charles in public, Mr. Demarkian, not Charlie. The family gets very upset with us when they think we’re being snide.”

“Go back to the strychnine,” Gregor said. “What strychnine had been suspected all along of killing Charles van Straadt?”

Eamon Donleavy rubbed the palms of his hands against the knees of his jeans. He was staring straight at the back of Juan Valenciano’s head.

“Well,” he said carefully. “Michael’s strychnine.”

“You mean Dr. Michael Pride’s.”

“That’s right.”

“What do you mean by saying it was his strychnine?”

“It was the strychnine from his office medical cabinet. His office downstairs. Not the one Charlie died in.”

“Dr. Pride has two offices?”

“Michael has an office on my floor—that’s the third—for administrative purposes and a private examining room-office kind of thing off the emergency room to see patients in. The medical cabinet is down there. The other two doctors on staff have arrangements like that, too. They have their own medical cabinets.”

Get this straight, Gregor told himself. This is simpler than it seems. “Let me go over this from the beginning. Charles van Straadt was found dead in Michael Pride’s third-floor administrative office.”

“Right.”

“Poisoned with strychnine that had to come from the locked medical cabinet in Michael Pride’s—is it a first-floor or a basement office?”

“First floor.”

“Are you absolutely sure that the strychnine came from this office?” Gregor asked. “The center is essentially a hospital, isn’t it? There must be strychnine everywhere. If I remember correctly, strychnine is used in dozens of medicines and household products as well.”

“Oh, it’s used, and we have it,” Eamon Donleavy said carefully, “but it wasn’t missing. We have a whole canister of rat poison in the basement—we’ve been having a rat problem; you do in basements in New York City—but the canister down there on the night Charles van Straadt died was new and it had a seal on it and the seal hadn’t been broken.”

“Go back to Michael Pride’s medical cabinet,” Gregor said. “Are you sure this medical cabinet was in fact locked? It hadn’t been left standing open during the emergency?”

“The medical cabinets can’t be left unlocked,” Eamon Donleavy answered. “The drug cabinets can’t either. They lock automatically when they’re shut. They can only be opened with a key.”

“Weren’t there people in Michael Pride’s examining room that night? Where was Michael Pride?”

“Michael was in OR most of the time—you know, performing surgery. I don’t know how many bullets got extracted that night. There were a lot of them. It was one of those nights, Mr. Demarkian.”

Gregor was beginning to feel as if he were having one of those days. Why was it that providing some help to the Catholic Church always ended up making him feel as if he had migraines?

They were up by Columbus Circle now, threading their way impatiently through even more impatient traffic. The late afternoon half-light made the broad plate-glass windows on the storefronts around them look tinted green.

“Is Michael Pride the only person with a key to that medical cabinet?” Gregor asked.

“No,” Eamon Donleavy told him. “Sister Augustine has one.”

“Does Michael Pride carry his keys with him wherever he goes?”

“He leaves them in the center drawer of his desk.”

“What desk? In which office?”

“The desk in his upstairs office.”

“Was that desk accessible to anyone except Michael Pride on the night in question?”

Eamon Donleavy looked amused. “Well, Mr. Demarkian, it was wide open all night because it’s wide open every night. All of our office doors are. But if you’re thinking someone sneaked in there and stole Michael’s keys and ran downstairs and got the strychnine and then ran upstairs and all the rest of it—I must inform you that there’s one catch.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, no one knew that Charles van Straadt was coming that night, right?”

“That’s arguable,” Gregor said, “but I’ll let it stand for now. So what?”

BOOK: Dear Old Dead
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