Blackmail and murder aren’t exactly history professor Trinity Pierce’s areas of expertise, but when her former occupation—that of call girl—resurfaces in the person of Kate Kazanjian, Trinity’s former madam, that’s exactly what she has to investigate. George Kirkland, one of Trinity’s colleagues—also Kate’s client—is being blackmailed, and Kate needs Trinity to figure out who’s doing it. But when the blackmailer is murdered with George in the next room, he becomes the immediate suspect, and now Trinity and Kate need to determine who is the real killer … before it’s Trinity herself who ends up dead.
“Think of the Knights Templar,” I was saying, “as some sort of glorified hierarchical religious banking institution with a military requirement added on, and you won’t be far from the truth.”
Someone in the front row snickered. “Like the Mafia.”
“Not totally unlike the Mafia,” I agreed with a smile, defusing the giggles that followed the remark. It was ten minutes to three on a glorious October afternoon, and my lecture was wrapping up nicely. I had the rest of the day off. Life was good.
Then the classroom door opened, Kate Kazanjian slipped into the back row of seats, and my blood pressure went through the roof.
I returned to my notes, my heart pounding uncomfortably. What on earth was she doing here? “If you can manage not to spend too much time reading the current dubious popular literature on the subject,” I said, tartly, recovering my lecture mode, “it will stand you in good stead for the midterm.”
A hand went up a few rows back. “Dr. Pierce? Is the Gurevich on the midterm?”
I nodded. “The Gurevich, and the Michel Mollat,” I said. “Not the handouts. Any other questions? No? Okay: see you on Friday, then.”
I stood at the podium and fiddled with my papers while some of Moreland College’s current crop of undergraduates gathered backpacks, laptop computers, notebooks and jackets and shambled up the stairs and out of the hall.
Kate sat still, looking for all the world like a graduate student, her long straight black hair gleaming, her dark eyes lightly made up, a polite half-smile on her face. I’d forgotten how pretty she was, how young she looked. No one gave her a second glance
Which was just as well, under the circumstances. Because once upon a time, in a galaxy not so very far away, she had been my madam.
I sat in the seat next to hers and absentmindedly pulled up the half-desk. Maybe I needed something to lean on. Or maybe I just needed the tangible reminder that things had changed since she and I had last met. “Hey, Kate.”
“Hi, T.” I’d forgotten that, too, Kate’s shorthand way of addressing me. You can’t blame her, really: there aren’t that many nicknames available for a name like Trinity. She still had a half-smile playing about her lips. “You look really good up there. You know – really professional.”
I gave her a pained look. “I am really professional, Kate.”
“I know, I know. Just never saw you, you know, in your own element, that’s all.” She fiddled with her own desktop for a moment. “You’re free now, right?”
“What did you do? Look up my class schedule?” Our eyes met and I shook my head in disbelief. “You did. You looked up my schedule.” I sighed. “Okay. What is it? What’s up?”
Kate looked around her. “Here?”
I shrugged. “Your choice, not mine. What is it?” I probably sounded a little abrupt; the truth is that I was both disturbed by her visit – and curious about it. Kate and I had been close in a situational sort of way for about five years, the duration of my graduate school career. But our relationship had been purely professional; and it had ended two years ago, when I got the job teaching at Moreland, started on the road to tenure, and stopped working for Kate. The two career paths, I had sagely decided, weren’t going to be able to coexist.
Now that I was closer to her, I could see that her eyes looked bruised, tired. “I need your help, T.”
That voice. If I closed my eyes, I could still be on the other end of a telephone from her, listening to her summary of a client, briskly preparing me to go out to work. But I wasn’t that kind of working girl anymore. “What’s wrong, Kate?” I asked softly, gently. “It isn’t your mother, is it?”
“No, thank God. But that reminds me.” She half-turned away so she could slip a hand into her capacious blue tote bag. When it came out, it was clutching something flaky and sugary, wrapped in plastic. One of her mother’s Armenian pastries, bourma, maybe, or revani; the exotic-sounding names came instantly back to me, unbidden. I wouldn’t have thought that I’d remember them. My Pavlovian reaction was instantaneous, too: I licked my lips. “Here,” Kate said, handing it over. “Ma says hi.”
I took it. I might not want to remember everything about Kate and our mutual past, but her mother’s pastries are one of the things that make life worth living.