Hope to die, p.17
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       Hope to Die, p.17

         Part #15 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 17

 

  "Yes. "

  "Someone else killed both of them. Im not going to say their names. "

  "All right. "

  "Im just not going to, not for the time being. They killed my parents, and somebody else killed them. " She frowned. "They were the ones who killed my parents, werent they?"

  "One of them was. " She hadnt said I couldnt say their names. "Carl Ivanko. Im not sure about Bierman. "

  "The one who had the apartment. "

  "Right. "

  "And who shot the other one, and then killed himself, or at least thats what we were supposed to think. Wouldnt we have thought that anyway, even without the bolt?"

  "Yes. "

  "Because if you find two men dead like that, and it looks as though one of them shot the other one and then committed suicide, youd think that, wouldnt you?"

  "Yes. The bolt was just to be cute. "

  "Cute?"

  "Showing off," I said. "Gilding the lily. "

  "I see. If he did it that way, though, killed them both and locked and bolted the door- "

  "Then how did he get out?"

  "Thats what I was wondering. Through the window?"

  I nodded. "The windows were closed, but this was the ground floor. It wouldnt have been terribly difficult to climb out a window and close it after yourself. You couldnt engage the window locks, assuming they worked, but I dont think theres any way to tell whether the windows were locked or not. The first thing the responding patrolmen would have done was open all the windows. "

  "Are they supposed to do that?"

  "No," I said, "definitely not, but they were in a small apartment with two dead bodies that had been in there for several days, and I dont know a lot of cops who wouldnt have opened a window without thinking twice. "

  "So the locked bolt was supposed to prove one thing," she said, "and instead it proves another. "

  "Proves the wrong word," I said, "because it doesnt really prove anything. It suggested something to me, but I was probably pretty suggestible. I went in there looking for something to be wrong. "

  "And the bolt was it. "

  "The bolt was part of it. "

  "What else?"

  "The way Ivanko was shot. Two in the torso, one in the head. "

  "The same as my father. "

  "Yes and no. "

  "What do you mean?"

  "I dont want to be too graphic here," I said.

  "I walked in," she said. "I found them. You can be as graphic as you want. "

  I said, "Your father was shot from the front. Two bullets in the chest from a couple of feet away, then a third fired point-blank into his temple. "

  "He was probably already dead by then. "

  Maybe, maybe not, but let her think so. "Ivanko was shot from behind. Two bullets, one of which got the heart, both shots leaving powder burns on his shirt. Then the killer knelt down next to him and put a third bullet in his temple. "

  "So?"

  "The killer didnt want Ivanko to know what was coming. He deliberately took him by surprise, followed him into the bedroom and shot him in the back. That doesnt sound like somebody who just had a sudden attack of conscience, or a mental breakdown. "

  "Suppose he decided he just wanted to keep everything for himself?"

  "The score wasnt big enough to make anybody kill his partner in order to hog it all. The killing was done in a calculated manner, but it wasnt the act of a calculating man. And the ritual of three bullets, two in the back and one in the temple, was an obvious signature, but there was no real reason for it except as a signature. Why just two shots in the back? Why not empty the gun into him? The only reason that jumps out is that hed shot your father twice in the chest. He wanted to establish a pattern. "

  "A third man," she said. "It sounds like a mole in a British spy novel. Or wasnt there an old movie with that title? An Orson Welles movie?"

  "Thats the song," I said.

  "I beg your pardon?"

  " The Third Man Theme, " I said, and hummed a couple of bars. "Its been running around in my head for days now and I couldnt think what it was or how it got there. "

  "A message from your subconscious. "

  "I suppose so. Of course Id had the phrase in my mind for days. Id gotten used to thinking in terms of a third man. "

  "Still, there must be something the songs trying to tell you. Not to get sidetracked, maybe. To trust your own reasoning. "

  "Thats possible. Or maybe the only way I could get the song out of my head was to remember what it was. "

  "Maybe. If there was a third man…"

  "Yes?"

  "Were there three of them here that night?"

  "No, I dont think so. "

  "Because the witness, the woman who thought they were going to do their laundry- "

  "Only saw two men. "

  "Yes. "

  "Eyewitnesses get things wrong," I said. "But in this case I think she got the number right. There were just two men. "

  "And the third man was waiting for them? Wait a minute, he was the driver, wasnt he? He was waiting for them in the car, and drove them back to Brooklyn, and…"

  Her words trailed off. I said, "Finish the thought. The three of them walk into the Coney Island Avenue place. The third man shoots Ivanko three times, then kills Bierman in a way that looks like suicide, first getting him to strip to his underwear. "

  "His underwear?"

  She hadnt known about that part, so I had to go back and fill in. Then I said, "It would be awfully hard to manage. I think I might be able to come a little closer to what actually happened. "

  She finished her coffee, put the cup down, sat up straight in her chair, and folded her hands on the table in front of her, waiting for me to explain.

  THIRTEEN

  Bierman was never in the house, I told her. Never on West Seventy-fourth Street, never anywhere near Manhattan the night of the murder. Bierman never left the apartment on Coney Island Avenue, and in fact he couldnt leave, because he was already dead.

  Sometime late that afternoon the third man pays Bierman a visit. Hes been there before, and this time he brings along a bolt from the hardware store and the tools hell need to install it. First, though, he manages to catch Bierman unawares.

  He overpowers him, or simply knocks him out. He strips Bierman down to his underwear, props him up in the corner of the room where hell be least visible to someone entering the apartment, presses the butt of a little Italian automatic into his hand, sticks the business end of the gun in his mouth, wraps his own hand over Biermans hand, and gives the trigger a squeeze.

  Its just one shot from a small gun, and theres not much likelihood anyonell take any notice of it. Its a pistol, not a revolver, so he could even have a suppressor on it. But even without a suppressor its not all that loud, and both their hands are clutching it, his and Biermans, and that should muffle the report some. And its not like its a whole string of shots, and theres nobody screaming, no doors slamming. Its just one little gunshot, about as noisy as blowing up a paper bag and smashing it with your fist. But its enough to kill Bierman.

  Youd think hed be in a hurry to get out of there, but youd be wrong. Hes pleased with himself, exhilarated by how well it went with Bierman. First thing he does is put on Biermans shirt and pants. It might be messy later on, in fact hell want to make sure its messy later on, and wearing Biermans clothes serves a double purpose, keeping his own clothes clean and providing some solid physical evidence for the cops. He leaves his own clothes in Biermans closet, where theyll be handy later on.

  If Biermans body is discovered before he can get back to the apartment, well, thatll be inconvenient, but nobodys going to look twice at his clothes in Biermans closet. Theyll look twice, or even three times, at the body in the corner, an obvious suicide, youd think, but what happened to the gun? Maybe theyd decide it wasnt suicide, maybe theyd figure someone else wandered in, found Bierman dead, and walked off with the gun.

  Bu
t the odds are nobodys going to find the body. Hell be back in a matter of hours, and then hell be ready to return the gun to Biermans hand.

  Until then, though, he has a use for it.

  But first he has that bolt he bought earlier, and a drill or an awl to make holes for the screws, and a screwdriver. It doesnt take him long to mount the bolt, and when hes finished he takes his tools with him and walks out the door, leaving the bolt unfastened and locking the door with the key- hes got Biermans keys now, and hes wearing Biermans shirt and jeans, and no neighbors going to give him a second glance.

  Then, as arranged, he goes to meet Ivanko.

  Ivanko has never met Bierman, doesnt know Bierman exists. Ivanko knows he and his friend are going to pull a job, and theres money in it, and an opportunity to have some fun.

  The friend, the third man, drives. He has a car, although he may tell Ivanko its stolen. He drives, and finds a place to park.

  He has a key to the house on West Seventy-fourth Street. As soon as hes inside he opens the closet door, where he keys in the code to deactivate the burglar alarm. They go through the house, and he guides Ivanko, tells him where to look, what to take. Meanwhile he holds the pillowcases so Ivanko can drop in the loot. That way hes not touching anything, not leaving his prints anywhere. He encourages Ivanko to be messy, dumping drawers, pawing through their contents, because he doesnt mind if Ivanko leaves prints here and there. But Ivankos not entirely unprofessional, and may even be wearing surgical gloves. Thats annoying, hed like a print or two left behind, but for the time being it cant be helped.

  Then theyre done, and waiting for the Hollanders to return. Now he has to keep Ivanko eager to stick around for the last part. Theyve got two sacks of money and valuables, and Ivanko would have to feel the natural impulse to get out while the gettings good, to take the money (and jewelry and silver) and run.

  Shes pretty and shes hot-looking, he tells Ivanko, and you can have her and do anything you want to her. Anything you want, anything at all.

  Knows what to tell him, knows how to keep him right at the end of his leash.

  Then the Hollanders come home…

  And its really not that difficult. He killed earlier that day, killed Bierman, and that went just as smooth as silk. He didnt mind doing it again. Sort of looked forward to it, actually, had been looking forward to it all along. Nothing tricky this time, no gun in the mouth, no hand clamped over Hollanders hand, because this is supposed to look like what it is, a murder committed by burglars. And so he shoots Byrne Hollander twice in the chest. For insurance (and perhaps because he likes it, pulling the trigger, feeling the little gun buck in his hand) he fires a third round into Hollanders temple.

  Smooth as silk, easy as pie.

  And its time to let Ivanko off his leash. Take the gloves off, he tells him. You want to feel everything, dont you? Wearing gloves, be as stupid as wearing a rubber. You dont think youre going to catch AIDS from her, do you? Nice respectable married lady?

  Except Ivanko still doesnt leave prints, hes ripping cloth and grabbing skin, nothing that will take a print. Oh, hell leave his DNA, but a set of prints would be so handy. If they knew who it was before they found the bodies…

 
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