Hope to die, p.13
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       Hope to Die, p.13

         Part #15 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 13

 

  "You just said a true fact," he said. "It all evens out. "

  We talked some more as I walked around the apartment, getting the feel of the place, trying to imagine how it had all played out. Two men walk in the door, laden down with what theyve stolen. Theyve just raped a woman, killed her and her husband, and they feel- how do they feel? How could I possibly guess how they felt?

  They walk in, and moments later (or hours later, I didnt know the time frame here) one of them shoots the other. Then strips to his undershorts (unless he stripped first, before he shot his partner) and sits in the corner and eats his gun. Or, in Iversons memorable imagery, fellates it.

  I asked if theyd both lived here.

  "Place was Biermans," he said. "Signed a lease back in April, and, far as any of the neighbors knew, he lived here by himself. Clothes in the closet were his. Just one pillow on the mattress, and even if two people share a bed, wouldnt each one have his own pillow?"

  "Youd think so. "

  "Maybe he brought Ivanko back so they could stash the loot, divvy it up, whatever they were going to do. " He shrugged. "Maybe Bierman was queer for him, made a move and Ivanko didnt go for it. Bang bang, youre dead, bang again and Im dead. If one of em lived through it we could ask, but theyre both dead and we cant. "

  "You had to kick the door in," I said.

  "Once again, if they were alive they could have opened it for us. But yes, we had to kick it in. Not me personally but the two uniforms who got here first. They must have known what they were gonna find. Nobodys on the job any length of time without getting a whiff of eau de corpse, and for the rest of your life you never mistake it for anything else, do you?"

  "Was the super here when they got here?"

  "Jorge? He was the one who called them. A neighbor complained and he went and called 911. "

  "He just let us in," I said. "Why couldnt he let the uniforms in?"

  "Oh, I wondered where the hell you were going. The door was bolted from the inside. "

  "And the key wouldnt turn the deadbolt?"

  "Not that kind of a bolt," he said. "This had nothing to do with the lock. It was the kind of gizmo you buy in the hardware store and screw onto the back of your door, half of it, and the other half onto the jamb. And you slide the bolt over and lock the door. Here, you can see the holes where the screws were. One more thing for Jorge to spackle before he starts painting, if he even takes the trouble. I saw the bolt itself when I came in, nice shiny brass thing. The door itself was intact, kicking didnt damage it, the inside bolt just pulled loose from where it was attached. Didnt the bolt show in any of the photos Schering showed you?"

  "Maybe I didnt have a complete set. " I walked around some more, looked out the bedroom window at the lot in back. There were four garbage cans out there, three upright and one on its side, with trash spilling out of it. There was a black Hefty bag alongside it, and it looked to have been gnawed open by a rat. The rat wasnt there to be seen, but I saw what might have been rat shit. The boys from Forensics could have identified it as such, and told me what the rat had for breakfast.

  You could grow flowers back there, I thought, or cook on a barbecue grill, but youd have to be out of your mind to want to.

  "I wish I knew why he took his clothes off," I said.

  "Bierman?"

  "Was Ivanko undressed too?"

  "No, just Bierman. It was warm, and you may have noticed that one of the things this place lacks is an air conditioner, or even a fan. They probably worked up a sweat, toting all that shit back from Manhattan. Bierman was wearing jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. He may have figured hed be cooler without em. "

  "I guess. "

  "And maybe he just didnt like wearing clothes with blood on them. "

  "There was blood on his clothing?"

  "Pants and shirt both. "

  "Ivankos blood?"

  He shook his head. "From the Hollander killing. Hers, I guess, but thatd be in the report. She got her throat cut, shes the one whose bloodd get on everything. "

  "Wasnt it Ivanko who cut her throat?"

  "Did they decide for sure one way or the other? Does it matter? They both had blood on their clothes. You cut a throat, one thing theres plenty of is blood. Everybody can have some. "

  I said, "I wonder why they locked themselves in. "

  "Theyd just killed two people and brought home a couple of sacks full of stolen goods. Maybe they didnt want anybody to walk in on them just then. "

  "Maybe. "

  "Or Bierman shot his buddy and wanted a few minutes of guaranteed peace and quiet before he went and joined him. But thats beside the point, isnt it? What you want to know is were they locked in, and they were, and from the inside. "

  Iverson had things to do, and he made sure the apartment was locked up again before he went off to do them. I dont know what he thought I could find to steal.

  When he was gone I went down to the basement for a few words with Jorge, then went through the rest of the building looking for someone else to talk to. Half the tenants were out and most of the others either couldnt speak English or preferred to give that impression. I didnt learn anything, and I wasnt sure there was anything to learn.

  I walked up to Avenue M, turned left, and realized when I got to the corner that I could have cut diagonally across Locust and saved myself some steps.

  I had to laugh. If Id wanted to save time, I could have skipped Brooklyn altogether. I walked a few more blocks, climbed the steps to the platform, and waited for my train.

  NINE

  He gets in the car and starts driving, with no destination in mind. He just feels like a drive, thats all.

  And the cars so clean its a pleasure to be in it. Hes a neat person, he keeps his car neat, inside and out, and frequently runs it through a car wash. But he just recently had it detailed for the first time, and when he got into it hed have sworn it was fresh from the dealers showroom. It even smelled like a new car, and hes since learned how they managed that. Theres this product, comes in a spray can, called New Car Smell.

  They think of everything.

  Hes not paying attention to the route, because if you dont know where youre going, what does it matter how you get there? On Canal Street he sees the signs for the Manhattan Bridge, and he crosses into Brooklyn and drives south on Flatbush Avenue, and now he knows where hes headed.

  If you just wait, he thinks, you find out where youre going.

  And you get what you get.

  And isnt it traditional, returning to the scene of the crime? And hes done it before. Twice, since that evening, hes found himself walking across that block of West Seventy-fourth Street. Hes slowed as he passed the house, but hasnt wanted to linger, hasnt cared to invite a second glance. Still, people will stare at the house for perfectly innocent reasons, wont they? With all the news, all the media coverage, the house has become a notorious site. It hasnt reached the point of tour buses cruising by, the drivers rattling off the gory details over their loudspeaker systems, and it wouldnt come to that, not in this city where there was always a fresh outrage to erase the memory of the last one.

  Still, why tempt fate? On his second walk past the house, hed been tempted to browse the ground-floor antique shop, maybe buy something for a souvenir. And what could be more innocent than to patronize a retail establishment? But no, he let it go.

  He keeps one hand on the wheel, reaches to his throat with the other. Puts a finger inside his shirt collar, touches the thin gold chain around his neck.

  The best souvenirs, he thinks, are ones you dont have to buy.

  He turns right off Flatbush onto Cortelyou Road, turns left again on Coney Island Avenue. He drives to the house where it happened, and coasts right on by when he notices a police cruiser parked illegally two doors away. Theres no one in it, and there could be any number of reasons to park a police car beside a hydrant on that particular block. There are a good many homes and apartment houses within walking
distance, and a cop might have cause to visit any of them. There didnt even have to be a crime involved, or a complaint. He could just be visiting a girlfriend, or a favorite uncle.

  He circles the block, parks legally a few doors down the street where he can watch the house. Hes got his eye on it when the door opens and two men come out, the younger one looking Brooklyn-debonair in a boisterous Hawaiian shirt and dark trousers, the other older and more conservative in his dress. The two men shake hands, and then the younger man- and yes, he looks like a cop on vacation, a cop on his day off- gets into the police car and pulls away from the curb. The older man watches him go and heads back into the house.

  The landlord, making sure he can rent out the apartment again without destroying evidence? Some city employee, some political functionary?

  Or maybe the next tenant, concerned about building security. Except he looks wrong for the neighborhood.

  The landlord, he decides. But it doesnt concern him, not really. He doesnt live here, and theres really no reason why he ever has to return to this neighborhood.

  Its not like Seventy-fourth Street, where he has ongoing interests to consider.

  TEN

  Over the next several days I talked to ten or a dozen people, some on the phone, some face to face. I didnt have a client, or any real reason to be running an investigation, but I couldnt have been busier if I had.

  I called a few lawyers I knew, including Ray Gruliow and Drew Kaplan, on the chance that somebody might know something interesting about Byrne Hollander. Ray had met a junior partner of his once, a fellow named Sylvan Harding, but remembered him chiefly because of his name. "Only man I ever met named Sylvan," he said, "and it was a constant struggle to keep from calling him Mr. Fields, because I absolutely could not get the phrase Sylvan Fields out of my head. And still cant evidently. Im not sure hed even remember who I am. "

  "When did anyone ever forget Hard-Way Ray?"

  "Well, youve got a point. If you want, I can call him and tell him to expect to hear from you. But Im not sure if thatll smooth the way for you or just get him to keep his guard up. "

  "Just so it gets me past the reception desk," I said.

  He made the call, and it got me past reception and all the way into Sylvan Hardings office. The first thing he did was apologize for the view. "If youre in the Empire State Building," he said, "you ought to be able to see three or four states, wouldnt you think? But were on the seventh floor, and for all the view weve got we might as well be in the basement. " He smiled in the right places as he told me this, and it had a very pat feel to it; I had the feeling every visitor got to hear the same little speech.

  I was on a fishing expedition, looking for anyone who might have had something against the late Byrne Hollander, and I didnt get a lot from Harding. He couldnt come up with a single disappointed client or disgruntled employee, and seemed puzzled by the notion that anyone anywhere could actually harbor ill feeling toward a member of the legal profession.

  I learned that Hollander had specialized in estate and trust work, which made it even less likely that a resentful client had sent Bierman and Ivanko to his door. In his line of work, his clients were dead and gone before any failings on his part became evident.

 
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