It wasn't that Gregor Demarkian thought the information brought to him by Mary McAllister and Chickie George was unimportant. It was only that he had anticipated it. From the moment that he had first heard that there had been a “huge” damages case against the archdiocese, he had expected somebody, somewhere, to have been using it to cheat. Bennis would probably call this cynicalâalthough, Lord only knew, she was cynical enough herselfâbut Gregor didn't believe it was possible for an opportunity like this to crop up without somebody taking advantage of it in some way. Not only was there a damages case, but the man who had been at the head of the fountain of money was an incompetent fool. Whatever else could be said about the old Cardinal Archbishop, that much was without question, at least when it came to matters of the law. The new Cardinal Archbishop was much better, but he was also in the middle of a whirlwind. Somehow, somewhere, some way, somebody would have figured it all out, but Gregor didn't think there had been a fairy's breath of a chance that that would be anytime soon. That was why he sat calmly at the desk in the corner of Garry Mansfield's office reading witness reports, while Garry and Lou Emiliani jumped around making phone calls, taking faxes, and jumping around with all the abandon of disgruntled employees who'd gotten dead drunk at the office Christmas party.
“I don't understand what's wrong with you,” Garry Mansfield said, when Gregor had been particularly unresponsive to some piece of news. “This could be it. This is the first sensible lead we've had since this whole mess started.”
It was edging on to noon, and Gregor had been at the station since eight that morning. He'd been up and restless until well after three, too, so that he was now tired enough to have very little patience for amateurs. He especially had no patience for Garry and Lou, who should not be behaving like amateurs. Both of them had to have been at this long enough to know that they shouldn't jump to conclusions. Both of them had been with the department through its own agonizing series of scandals, which ought to have taught them caution for a whole different set of reasons. Instead of being cautious, they were partying, and Gregor's head ached.
“You really are being too uptight about this,” Lou said after a while. “This is real, what you uncovered here. There really is a scam going on in the offices of Brady, Marquis and Holden.”
“I know,” Gregor said.
“Well?” Garry said. “What more do you want? Look at what we've got here. The archdiocese has been paying restitution to sixty-two men, but the firm has been distributing restitution to seventy one. See that? We're going to have to do a lot more work, of course, but this is spectacular. It really is. It amounts to tens of thousands of dollars already.”
“If it has gone on the full payment term, it amounts to over two million,” Lou Emiliani said. “Garry's right. We can't ignore this. It all fits together.”
“I'm not asking you to ignore it,” Gregor said. “I brought it to you. Don't you remember?”
“We remember.” Garry said.
“I just want to know what you're so down about,” Lou Emiliani said. “It's not unclear who pulled the scam. It was this guy Ian Holden. Partner in the firm's name and everything. Don't tell me you think we're going to get all the paper, and it's going to turn out not to be him.”
“No,” Gregor said.
“We've got traces out on the checks that were sent to the extra nine men.” Garry ticked the points off on his fingers. “We've got requests in for information about his bank accounts. If we can get this moving without his realizing we're onto himâ”
“Have you been able to find him yet?” Gregor asked.
“No,” Garry admitted. “He seems to have disappeared.”
“You've sent people to his apartment?” Gregor asked it, but it wasn't really a question.
“We sent uniforms, yeah,” Lou admitted. “He didn't answer the door. Under other circumstances they might have found it open, if you know what I mean, but seeing as he's a lawyerâ”
“Never mind.” Gregor waved it away. “I take it he hasn't been at work.”
“No,” Garry Mansfield said.
“So,” Gregor said, “that most likely means he knows the news is out. Don't you think? Somehow or the other, he's got word, or he knows something that makes him think that the news will be out and he's anticipating. And he's gone.”
“Maybe it was panic,” Garry Mansfield said. “He was around yesterday afternoon, right after lunch. People saw him. People talked to him. Maybe he went down to St. Anselm's and killed Father Healyâ”
“Why?” Gregor asked.
“Because Father Healy knew,” Lou Emiliani said. “That's what all this is about. Who knew. Keeping people quiet. Bernadette Kelly because she worked in the officeâ”
“âas a receptionist,” Gregor said.
“She did extra work for the partners on the side,” Garry Mansfield said. “We knew that before. And she was smart about numbers when she wasn't smart about anything else. I mean, can't you see it? Holden takes a look at her and figures she's too dumb to catch on to what he's doing, gets her to help with the paperwork, andâwham. Doesn't that ring true to you? Doesn't it? And don't tell me it won't pan out.”
“I won't,” Gregor said. “I think that part will pan out. That's not my point. There are too many loose ends here. Why arsenic, for one thing. Why would he use arsenic?”
“Maybe he had some handy,” Lou said.
“Is there any evidence of that? I can't imagine that a major law firm like Brady, Marquis and Holden would buy rat poison at the local pharmacy if they had a problem. They'd hire a firm of professional exterminators. Don't you think so?”
“Maybe,” Lou said, half-sullenly. “But maybe it wasn't from the firm. Maybe he had it at home.”
“No,” Gregor said. “Listen. If he had rat poison at home, or arsenic in any other form, then he bought it openly without
intending to murder anybody. In that case, if he used it to murder somebody, he would leave himself open to being identified as having bought it. Never mind the fact that there would be traces of the stuff around the house. Why would he do something like that?”
“Panic,” Garry Mansfield said.
Gregor sighed. “Be reasonable. Four times? That's how many people are dead. Four. Do you really think he panicked four times in a row?”
“Maybe he used the stuff that was in the church,” Lou said.
“We don't know where Bernadette Kelly was killed, not yet. He could have given her something at the church and then moved her bodyâ”
Gregor sat up a little straighter in his chair. “Wait,” he said. “Look at the great detective,” Lou said. “I thought of something. I thought of something he didn't.”
“He couldn't have moved the body,” Gregor said.
“There goes that,” Garry said.
Gregor rubbed his forehead and stood up. This was what he hated most about not sleeping well. Other people could operate at full power on no rest, but he was always left logy and disoriented and slow.
“He couldn't have moved the body,” he said again, “but he wouldn't have had to. Nobody would have had to. Nobody has to move a body before it's a body yet. I want to go talk to the Reverend Phipps.”
“What?” Lou Emiliani looked startled.
It felt better to be up and moving. His coat was laid over an old-fashioned metal filing cabinet in a corner of the room. He couldn't believe either Lou or Garry ever used it, or anybody else either, with computers all over the department. Gregor put on his coat and felt around in the pockets for his gloves. They weren't there. He must have left them at home on the bed.
Garry and Lou were standing side by side, staring at him.
“It would be helpful if one of you came along,” Gregor said. “He's not a stupid man, the Reverend Phipps. He isn't going to talk to me if I don't have a police officer with me. He may not talk to me even then.”
“We were talking,” Garry said carefully, “about Ian Holden. And how he probably committed four murders.”
“He didn't,” Gregor said.
“Why not?” Lou asked.
“Because the timing is off, for one thing,” Gregor said. “I should have realized all along that the timing mattered more than anything, but I was so tangled up inâyou know, it's a dangerous thing. Nobody who deals with real crime ought ever to read Agatha Christie novels.”
“What are you talking about?” Garry asked.
Gregor wound his scarf around his neck. “Agatha Christie novels. In an Agatha Christie novel, the poisoner would have tucked the arsenic into something innocuous, and then he could have been miles away when the death actually happened. The poison would have been, in, say, the chocolates on Sister Scholastica's deskâ”
“We had those checked,” Lou said quickly.
“I'm sure you did,” Gregor said. “And I'm sure they were fine, too. As a murder method, that one always bothered me because you couldn't be sure of getting the person you wanted. Anybody could eat the chocolates. Death and destruction could rain down like confetti at a New Year's party, and then what? Trust me. Check out his schedule. Ian Holden couldn't have committed these murders, not all four of them, anyway, because he couldn't have been in the right place at the right time. I've been forgetting the timing. I've been thinking like Agatha Christie.”
“Right,” Garry Mansfield said.
“Come with me, one of you,” Gregor said. “It's only a couple of blocks away. It won't take more than half an hour. There's something I've got to find out.”
“Nobody would be angry at you if you could prove the Reverend Phipps did it,” Lou Emiliani said. “The precinct would probably get together and throw you a party.”
“Come,” Gregor said.
Garry Mansfield got his coat off the back of his chair and started to put it on. Gregor stood, shifting from one foot to the other and feeling dense. There are only two reasons for individual murder, love and money. He knew that. He had always known that. And there was something else he had known, too. In real life, murderers did not construct elaborate plots for no other reason than to make themselves look clever.
Not that anybody had constructed an elaborate plot here,
of course. This was so simple, he had gone days missing the whole thing.
The Philadelphia Inquirer didn't know what it was talking about when it called him the “Armenian-American Hercule Poirot”
In the end, it was Garry Mansfield who came with him. Gregor had the feeling that neither of them wanted to go, and that their reluctance had more to do with their distaste for Roy Phipps than with any work that might be lying around the office, waiting to get done. Garry wanted to cut down the side streets and come up on Phipps's place from the side, but Gregor insisted on going the long way around, past St. Anselm's and St. Stephen's, so that he could see what the situation was. The situation was nonexistent. St. Stephen's was having its service for the men who had been hurt in the riot later this afternoon. There was a notice to that effect on the sign at the end of its front walk, made of colored cardboard and printed in metallic paint, as if to attract as much attention as possible. Whatever effect Roy Phipps had had on this neighborhood, he had not driven the men of St. Stephen's into hiding, or even into discretion. Gregor approved of that very much. He looked at St. Anselm's and noted that there was a short note on its sign, indicating that Masses would be said as usual even now that Father Healy was dead. Gregor who would say them, since the parochial vicar was away. Gregor thought it had all been easier in the day when every parish had had nothing more than a parish priest and the nuns who ran the parochial school.
He turned down the street on the same side as St. Anselm's and picked up speed. Halfway to where he was going, he reached Edith Lawton's house and stopped. The house looked shuttered up and dead, but he was sure that somebody was supposed to be inside. Hadn't Bennis told him that Edith Lawton worked at home? The front window shades were pulled down tight. There were no lights coming from inside, in spite of the fact that the day was gray and dark. Still, if there had ever been mail in the wrought-iron mailbox, it was gone.
“This is what's-her-name's house,” Garry said politely. “You know. The pain in the ass. The bitch.”
“Why isn't she home?”
“She probably went out shopping. Do you want to talk to Roy Phipps, or do you want to talk to Edith Lawton?”
“I want to talk to Roy Phipps,” Gregor said, even though he really wanted to talk to both. He turned away from Edith Lawton's house and went on down the street. He wasn't in a hurry, at the moment. It seemed to him that now that everything was reasonably clear, he had all the time in the world. He only wished that he could walk into Roy Phipps's town house and catch the man smoking crack cocaine in the foyer, or something else equally egregious, so that he could do his part to make St. Stephen's evening service a success. It was the unfortunate truth that people like Roy Phipps almost never did things like that. They were too â¦ focused.
They stopped in front of Roy Phipps's town house, and Gregor looked in the closer of the two front windows. The shades were open, and the room behind them was empty and conventional: a couch, a couple of chairs, a coffee table. Gregor climbed the stoop and rang the bell. There was a cross screwed into the brick next to the door on one side, and another, smaller one screwed into the doorframe above the button for the bell. They were crosses, not crucifixes, which made Gregor unaccountably grumpy. The Armenian Church used crosses rather than crucifixes. Gregor didn't like the idea that there was any similarity at all.
Nobody had come to the door. Gregor rang the bell again and stood back a little to look through the windows. That room was still empty. It still looked too clean. Then Gregor heard footsteps coming up to the door, and the sound of panting, somebody out of breath.
The door opened on an overweight man in a suit a size too small for him. He looked as if he were strangling in his shirt collar.
“Yes?” he said.
“I'm Gregor Demarkian,” Gregor said. “This isâ”
Garry Mansfield had his badge out, but the man in the tight suit was barely looking at it. “Yes, yes,” he was saying. “We
were expecting you. Reverend Phipps asked me to make sure you came right in, as soon as you got hereâ”
“Excuse me?” Gregor said.
“We want to cooperate with the police,” the man said, gesturing them to come inside. “We want to cooperate fully with all the necessary, uh,
that the, uh, that the police want of us, andâ”
“Fred.” The voice sounded oddly preppy, as if some exclusive boys' school accent had been laid on over the West Virginia twang. Roy Phipps was standing at the back of the long front foyer, dressed in a suit that most definitely fit him perfectly, looking slightly pained. “I think Mr. Demarkian and his friend have taken your point,” he said.
“Detective Mansfield,” Garry said.
Roy Phipps nodded politely and stepped aside. Gregor went up to him and saw that there was a narrow hall leading to the side, and near the end of it an open door. That would be the door to the room with the other window that faced front. Gregor went in and saw that he was right. He had a full, high-ceilinged view of the street, nearly down to the end where the churches were. He could see St. Stephen's more easily than he could see St. Anselm's, although it was a stretch for both.
Garry Mansfield came in, and Roy Phipps came in after him. Gregor sat down in one of the visitor's chairs that faced the desk.
“So,” Roy Phipps said, “are you going to arrest me now, or are you going to wait to make a splash in the papers for a few days and do it then.”
“I'm not aware that we're going to arrest you at all,” Gregor said. “I couldn't arrest you if I wanted to. I'm not a police officer.”
Roy Phipps sat down behind his desk. “Very neat. Are you going to arrest one of my parishioners?”
“Not that I know of,” Gregor said.
“This gets more interesting all the time. I thought it was the official position of the Philadelphia Police Department that I am personally responsible for any untoward thing that happens to any homosexual within the city precincts.”
“Do you mean to say you think that Father Healy was a homosexual?”
“No,” Roy Phipps said, smiling faintly. “Father Healy was
a Satanist and a devil worshiper in the pay of the Whore of Babylon, but as far as I know, he was as heterosexual as he was damned. I was thinking of the man who died at St. Stephen's. Scott Boardman.”
“Were you responsible for the death of Scott Boardman?”
“If I was, I wouldn't tell you. But you know that. So that can't be what this is about. Was it me you wanted to talk to, or one of the men of the church?”
“It was you,” Gregor said. “If you don't mind. I'd like to know why you decided to found your church here, rather than, sayâ”
“In a neighborhood closer to where my parishioners live?”
“You can't draw much of a crowd from the surrounding blocks,” Gregor pointed out. “You're mismatched for the area. You have to admit it.”
“Christians are always mismatched for the world they live in,” Roy Phipps said. “At least, real Christians are. There aren't a lot of us left anymore. Most of the people who call themselves Christians in the United States are anything but. They're children of their times. They don't like to hear the truth when it's pointed out to them.”
“And the truth is?”
“That sinners go to hell and God hates sinners. I'm not in the wrong neighborhood, Mr. Demarkian. I'm in the right one. The only chance these people have is to hear the truth preached to them and to repent. If God will let them repent. God doesn't give the gift of repentance to everybody.”
“Were you here, on the street, yesterday afternoon?”
“In this office?”
“Most of the time, yes.”
“When you're here in this office, do you keep watch on St. Stephen's and St. Anselm's?”
Roy Phipps shrugged. “I do what I can. I can't really see the churches clearly from here. If you're expecting me to have seen some particular person come in or out, the chances are nearly nil. I do see people when they walk by here, but they almost never do.”
“Do you know who Mary McAllister is?”
“She works with homeless people. She brings a van from a soup kitchenâ”
“Wait,” Roy said. “I do know who she is, by sight. I wasn't sure of the name.”
“Did you see her anytime on the afternoon of the day Father Healy died?”
“What about Sister Scholastica and Sister Peter Rose?”
“I assume they're nuns,” Roy said. “But that isn't very helpful, is it? There are a fair number of nuns down at St. Anselm's. I couldn't tell one from the other at a distance, and I don't think I know any of them by name.”
“Did you see any nuns on the street the afternoon of the day Father Healy died?”
“Of course I did. They're everywhere, aren't they? But I don't think that means anything, either. What difference would it make?”
“What about Father Healy?” Gregor said. “Did you see him?”
“No.” Roy stirred in his chair. “Why don't I save you some trouble, Mr. Demarkian. The only person I saw down this end of the street all day yesterday was the whore atheist, Edith Lawton. I saw her come down the street and go into her own house. Dozens of people could have gone into and out of the churches without my ever seeing them. I don't have a good enough view.”
“And that was it? Edith Lawton.”
“That was it. At least, that was it on the day Father Healy died. Since then, of course, the street has been hopping. There are half a dozen people skulking around this morning. I assume they're all reporters.”
“Fine,” Gregor said. “What about you, on the afternoon of the day Father Healy died. You said you were mostly in this room. Where else were you?”
“In the bathroom,” Roy said.
“That was it?”
“I didn't go out even once all afternoon. I had work to do, and that evening I had a Bible study. In case you didn't notice, I didn't even manage to put together a picket line after the murder, although I should have. Sometimes, I can't do everything at once.”
“Were you here alone?”
“I am never alone,” Roy said solemnly. And then he smiled. “I live in a fishbowl, Mr. Demarkian. There's always somebody here, Fred or one of the other men. They man phones day and night, for one thing. And I'm not exactly easy to lose in a crowd, am I? By now, my face must have been on every news broadcast in Philadelphia. I wasn't wandering around the street by myself that afternoon. I couldn't have been and gotten away with it.”
“Shit,” Garry Mansfield said.
Gregor only sat back in his chair and tried to think.