Hope to die, p.11
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       Hope to Die, p.11

         Part #15 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
Page 11


  He came in carrying a file folder with a stack of paper half an inch thick. "Printed out everything that made the papers," he said, "plus some wild-ass shit off an Internet site. Funny how the Times missed out on the connection between the Hollanders and the death of Sharon Tate. "

  "That sounds reasonable," I said. "Charles Manson had as much to do with the death of the Hollanders as their daughter Kristin did, which is as much as anybody did outside of those two losers out in Brooklyn. " He held out the folder and I took it, saying, "Whats the point? Theres nothing here for us. We spent an hour or so yesterday taking a load off your girlfriends mind. "

  "Not my girlfriend. "

  "Just a friend. I stand corrected. " I hefted the file folder. "Why do I need to look at all this?"

  "Why did we need to look at the house where it all went down?"

  "Curiosity," I said.

  "Killed the cat," he said. He pointed at the folder. "Kill a few more," he said, and headed for the elevator.

  Monday morning I called Joe Durkin and asked him if hed like to do me a favor. "Its the real reason I come to work every morning," he said. "What I do for the city is beside the point. "

  I told him what I wanted.

  He said, "Why, for Gods sake? What are you, turning into a writer? You plan on writing it up for one of the True Detective magazines?"

  "I hadnt thought of that, but it would be a good cover sometime. "

  "Guys would expect to see clips. Seriously, Matt, whats your interest? And dont tell me youve got a client. "

  "How could I? They lifted my license. "

  "Way I heard it, you surrendered it voluntarily. And what difference would that make? You worked years without one. "

  "That was my point, as I recall. "

  "One of them," he said, and something hung for a moment in the air between us. He asked who hired me and I said I honestly didnt have a client. He said, "The daughter? How much closure does she need, for Christs sake? The bastards who did it are dead. Whats she need with you nosing around?"

  "I havent even met the daughter," I said, "and I dont have a client. My interest is personal. "

  "Youre a public-spirited citizen and you want to see justice done. "

  "I gather its already been done," I said. "Did I mention that Elaine and I were at dinner with the Hollanders the night they were killed?"

  "It seems to me you did. You were at separate tables together, the way I remember it. You know, there was an elderly gentleman beaten to death on the G train just last month, and Gs my fathers middle initial, but I never felt the need to get together with the guy who headed up the investigation. Of course it might have been different if I had a client. "

  "If I had a client, any kind of a client," I said, "Id have work to do, and Id be too busy to waste my time bothering with a case thats already been closed. "

  "Thats reason enough to wish you had your license back," he said. "Youre serious, arent you? Lemme make a phone call, see what I can do. "

  He got back to me twenty minutes later with a name and a number. "I dont know this guy," he said, "but the word is hes straight-up and thorough, though not necessarily the very man youd want Regis to call for you if you couldnt remember the capital of Ethiopia. "

  "I hope you were as complimentary when you told him about me. "

  "I said you probably wouldnt steal a hot stove, and the morals charge was dismissed when the boys mother withdrew the complaint. I know, you dont know how to thank me, but dont worry. Youll think of something. "

  The fellow whod stayed at the curb to make sure Kristin Hollander got into her house okay had a cell phone, and hed used it to call 911. A car from the Twentieth Precinct responded, and the uniforms reported back on what they found, and within the hour two detectives from the precinct were on the scene. It was their case, but the next day someone in charge saw what a media circus it was going to be and shuffled the cards, and a special unit was set up with a detective from Manhattan North Homicide in charge of it.

  "You never like to have a case taken away from you," Dan Schering said. "Ego aside, though, we were better off, because you cant put as much into an investigation if you have to stop once an hour to hold a press conference. The guy from Homicide knew how to play the media, and we went ahead and pursued the investigation, and we cracked the damn thing. Before the stink came through the door out in Brooklyn, we already had a name and a description. All we had to do was pick the bastard up, and the only thing that stopped us from doing just that was he was dead. "

  Joe had suggested Schering wasnt the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he seemed bright enough to me. There was a stolid, Midwestern quality about him, and that might have been enough to lead a New Yorker like Joe Durkin to label him slow. But he reminded me of an Ohio cop I knew named Havlicek, whom Id liked and respected enough to stay in touch with. There was nothing slow about Havlicek.

  Schering hailed from Albert Lea, Minnesota, where hed played high school football and basketball before going to the University of Minnesota. He played freshman football but didnt make the Golden Gopher varsity, and didnt even bother trying out for basketball, where everybody was six-five or taller.

  His girlfriend was a theater major, and after graduation he followed her to New York, where she waited tables and went to auditions. He was riding the subway to his entry-level office job when he saw a recruiting ad for the NYPD. He sailed through the entrance exam and never looked back. The relationship didnt last and he didnt know what had become of the girl, whether she was still in New York or had gone on to L. A. or back to St. Paul, and didnt care enough to find out. When I asked him if he ever missed Minnesota he looked at me like I was out of my mind.

  Theyd known Ivanko was right for it before the DNA evidence came along to lock it up, he told me, because theyd recovered a partial thumbprint from the fireplace poker. It was just one print, and a partial one at that, so it hadnt led anywhere until they acted on the tip and got hold of Ivankos sheet.

  "It was a match," he said. "Forensics pegged it at something like sixty percent, so it wouldnt stand up in court as an absolute certainty, but it was as sure as you could get given the amount of the thumbprint left on the poker. In other words, we were a hundred percent certain, and it turned out there was nothing we had to sell to a judge and jury. And if we had to, well, we had the DNA. His semen, his pubic hair at the scene, plus Brooklyn Forensics found trace evidence on one of the bodies. "

  "Trace evidence?"

  "Put it this way," he said. "Our boy Carl didnt have time to shower. "

  It had been exciting when the tip worked out and the case started to break, and slightly anticlimactic when the cops in Brooklyn walked in on Bierman and Ivanko before the Manhattan team could track them down. But he was just as glad it turned out the way it did.

  "For the victims sake," he said. "Not the actual vics, they were past caring, but the daughter. Sooner the better for someone in her position. And the two of them being dead means shes spared weeks of a trial and tons of media hype and its over now instead of six months from now, or six years from now, or never because for the rest of her life theyre calling her every few years to testify at a parole hearing. Its never really over no matter what, because losing your parents like that is something that never goes away, but at least she can close the books on it, same as we can. "

  He sympathized with the girl, as anybody would have done, but that hadnt kept him from taking a good look at her. "Because thats got to be the first thing enters your mind," he said. "The parents killed in their own home, the daughter discovers the bodies, first thing you wonder is did she make it happen. Because theres cases all the time, one just four months ago in Astoria, high school girl, her parents didnt approve of the boy she was dating, and she shows them how mistaken they are by teaming up with him and shooting them both dead. "

  I remembered that one. "They didnt do too good a job," I said.

  "She stole her fathers gun," he
said, "and gave it to the boyfriend, and he shot the old man. Then he made the girl shoot her mother, or it was her idea, depending who you listen to. And then he goes out and steals a car and makes a drive-by shooting out of it, pumping three, four shots through the front window. And shes in the house when this happens, and she calls it in, all hysterical, and shes even got superficial cuts on her hands where shes presumably hit by flying glass from the drive-by. Which would be a nice touch except there was no flying glass, the bullets went right through, knocked out a little circle and thats all.

  "And when you play Whats Wrong with This Picture? the answer comes up Everything. The two bodies are in the front room, where they supposedly got shot from the drive-by, but theres blood spatters in the kitchen and other evidence indicating that at least one of them was killed there and dragged into the living room, including one slug that went through and wound up in the kitchen wall. And the bullets fired from the passing car, the trajectorys all wrong, they wound up in the living room ceiling, and with the woman, the mother, not only is the angle wrong but the wounds got powder burns. Thats a neat trick, leaving powder burns around a wound inflicted from outside the house. "

  So he could hardly avoid taking a careful look at Kristin Hollander. He wasnt hard on her, because chances were she was innocent, in which case the last thing anybody wanted to do was add to her pain and suffering. But he watched her reactions and he checked her alibi, and he kept an ear cocked for any false note.

  And there was none. "Anybody claims hes a hundred percent human lie detector, well, hes full of crap. But you develop an instinct. You were on the job yourself, so you know how many times a day you get lied to. Bad guys just lie all the time, even when they got no reason. They got a reason, theyll tell six different lies one after the other, hoping thatll sweeten the odds and youll believe one of them. That bag of dope? I never saw it before in my life, Officer. That bag of dope? It aint dope, its talcum powder, case I meet a baby needs his diaper changed. That bag of dope? Hey, man, whered that come from? Must be you planted it on me. Youre laughing, but thats how it plays out. "

  "Im laughing because the routine hasnt changed in thirty years. "

  "It never will. You dont tamper with a classic. And each of them thinks hes the first one to run this crap by you. Each ones a criminal genius in his own mind. But youre completely used to it and you know the body language that goes with it, and you can tell the lies on its way before the first words are out of his mouth. "

  And Kristin wasnt lying, he was positive of it. You couldnt fake a reaction like that, couldnt go pale on cue, couldnt have your voice climb to the top of its register without even being aware that it had done so. Shed been in shock, thats what the doctor had called it, that was the medical condition shed manifested, and you couldnt act your way into it.

  Plus her alibi stood up a hundred percent. She was with people the whole evening, some who knew her well and others, like the one who drove her home, whom shed met that night for the first time. No way they were all lying, and their statements overlapped, covering her for the entire evening.

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