Hope to die, p.18
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       Hope to Die, p.18

         Part #15 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
Page 18


  Dont forget the best part, he says, and hands Ivanko the fireplace poker. Imagine its burning hot, he says. Go ahead, he says, you know what you want to do.

  And Ivanko takes the poker. Its metal, it ought to take a print.

  And howll he finish up? Shoot her? Hed reloaded after killing Bierman earlier, had a full clip when the Hollanders walked in, but hes used three bullets on Hollander and hell need more when they get back to Brooklyn. He has a spare clip in the car, he could always reload, but how would that look?

  Besides, Hollander hadnt bled much, and it would be good to have some blood now. Blood on him, blood on Ivanko.

  Hed brought the knife from the kitchen, just in case. Wicked-looking thing. Let Ivanko do her? Hed probably enjoy it, the pervert. On the other hand, hed probably fuck it up. You wanted something done right, you did it yourself. And he didnt mind doing it himself, might find it interesting, might even get, oh, not a thrill, but a certain sort of satisfaction out of it…


  Hed had the presence of mind to pick up the three ejected cartridge cases while Ivanko was thrusting into the woman. Picked up Ivankos gloves, too. Now what? Reset the burglar alarm? No, that made no sense. Just walk out the front door and pull it shut after you. Stroll off without a care in the world, two roommates looking for a coin laundry. Young men on the way up, putting in long hours, stuck with doing their wash in the middle of the night.

  He drives to Brooklyn, while the womans blood dries on his shirt and pants. Hes careful not to get any on the upholstery, and hopes Ivanko exercises similar care.

  Maybe he should have shot Ivanko and left him at the scene. Would have been easy, the way he was grunting and straining like an animal. He never would have seen it coming, could have died in the act. Wasnt that how men were always saying they wanted to go?

  Shoot him and leave him and what message are you leaving? Bierman got disgusted and killed his partner? And then went all the way home and got depressed enough to kill himself? And, if you shoot Ivanko in the act, what do you do with the woman? Shoot her? Cut her throat? You were so disgusted with Bierman that you killed him to keep him from raping the woman, and then you were so disgusted with her that you cut her throat?

  Better the way hed done it, with the two of them driving to Brooklyn, where Ivanko knows theres a kindly old Jew waiting to pay them top dollar for the jewelry and sterling.

  He gets there, he parks the car, he unlocks the door and ushers Ivanko inside. Does Ivanko wonder how come he has keys? No, because this is a friends apartment, one he uses sometimes, and a handy place to sort their loot and divvy up the cash before they go to the fences place, which is only a few blocks away.

  Theyre inside, and he points Ivanko toward the bedroom. "Open a window," he says, steering him toward it, moving up behind him. Does Ivanko see Biermans body out of the corner of his eye? Before he can turn, before he can do anything, theres a gun pressed against his back and two bullets fired into him.

  And one more in his temple. Hows that for symmetry?

  The ejected cartridge casings roll around on the floor. They can stay wherever they wind up. No prints on them anyway. Should he press a finger of Biermans to one of them? No, not worth the bother. He returns the gun to Biermans hand, poses the stiffening Bierman just as he wants him.

  Then, quickly, he returns to the kitchen, fastens the bolt he installed earlier. Strips off his shirt- Biermans shirt, originally, and now Biermans once more- and tosses it on the floor. Unbuttons Biermans jeans, steps out of them, leaves them. The clothes smell of Bierman, the animal stink of his crotch and armpits, so theyre probably swarming with his DNA, and wet with her blood. Perfect. Just perfect, nails the lid on tight.

  He gets his own clothes from the closet and puts them on. Empties one of the Hollander pillowcases, puts the chest of sterling flatware on the table in the kitchen, strews the rest of the booty on the floor, wads the case itself and tosses it in a corner. Leaves the other pillowcase on the floor, its contents undisturbed.

  Has he forgotten anything? Missed anything, left anything undone? He looks around quickly, sees nothing amiss. Still wearing his sheer surgeons gloves, he raises the window in the bedroom, steps out into the rubbish-strewn back yard. Closes the window. By the time he is back on the street his gloves are off, tucked away in a pocket. Later hell discard them, along with the brass cartridge casings he picked up from the Hollanders living room floor.

  The cars where he left it. He pulls away from the curb. Is there any reason to get rid of the car? He could, but it should be more than enough if he just takes it to the car wash, lets them give it the full treatment. Detail it, make it showroom-new.

  Or maybe not. Trace evidence wont matter, not really. Nobody is going to look at his car, or at him. His crime is perfect, and brilliantly so, the case essentially closed before it can be opened. The criminals, tied inextricably to their crime by heaps of solid physical evidence, have already been punished. And hes nowhere near them, and in no way involved.



  When I stopped talking she sat for a while, back straight, eyes lowered. I was starting to wonder if Id unwittingly hypnotized her, or if shed slipped into some sort of fugue state, when she looked up at me. She said, "If thats the way it happened…"

  "Its just guesswork on my part," I said. "An educated guess is still a guess. "

  "I understand that. If, though. If thats how it happened, the burglary was just… incidental. The third man, the man who engineered it all, didnt even keep what he took from this house. "

  "He left it at the apartment in Brooklyn. "

  "As part of the stage setting," she said. "My mothers jewelry, the family silver. So the point wasnt what they could take from the house. "

  "Ivanko thought it was. "

  "But that was just to get him to play his part. And the other one, did he even know there was going to be a burglary? No, there wouldnt have been any reason for him to know anything. He never even heard of my parents, never knew anything. He was dead before it started and now the whole world thinks he killed three people and committed suicide. "

  I thought about Bierman, whose criminal career peaked with subway-fare-beating. "I dont think he was much concerned about what people thought," I said. "Anyway, hes beyond caring now. "

  She nodded slowly. "This was very carefully planned," she said.

  "If it happened the way I just sketched it out, yes. Very carefully planned. "

  "He had a key. They said he wouldnt have needed a key, that a skilled burglar could have gotten in without one. "

  "If there was a third man," I said, "Im sure he had a key. "

  "Because he wouldnt have left it to chance. "

  "Thats right. "

  "And he knew how to turn off the burglar alarm. "

  "I would assume so, yes. "

  "They said my parents forgot to set it. I couldnt believe that. They always set the alarm. When I was a teenager I went through an idealistic stage when I didnt even think doors should be locked, let alone protected by alarm systems. I thought it showed a sad lack of faith in ones fellow man. " She shook her head ruefully. "I got over it, but it made my parents crazy while it lasted. They absolutely insisted I set the alarm when I left the house, no matter what other head-in-the-clouds crap I spouted. Believe me, they didnt leave the house without setting the alarm. " She frowned. "But the codes a secret. Nobody knows it. "

  "One-zero-one-seven," I said, and her mouth fell open. "Youll want to change it, if you havent already. Somebody told me, somebody who wouldnt be expected to know. There are always more people than you think who know our private codes and passwords. I dont know where he got the key and I dont know who gave him the four-digit password, but neither would have proved all that elusive to a resourceful man. And we know this mans resourceful. "

  "Who is he?"

  "I dont know. "

  "And why? The only thing he accompli
shed was that they died. They suffered horribly and they died. " She looked at me. "Was that the whole point of this? To make them dead?"

  "It looks that way. "

  Always the beautiful answer that asks the more beautiful question.

  "But… but why?"

  "Thats one of the questions Ive been trying to answer. I came here today so I could ask you some of the questions Ive been asking other people. "

  "Ask me anything," she said.

  Always the beautiful questions. I asked the easy ones first, saved the harder ones for later on. Did her father have any enemies, anyone who might have felt justly or otherwise that hed cheated him in a business deal, that hed represented him ineffectually? Had he had a serious falling-out with an old friend or colleague? I found a dozen or two variations on the theme, looking for someone with something against either or both of the Hollanders, and if such a person existed, Kristin didnt know about it.

  Then the questions got more personal.

  She said, "Their marriage?" and frowned, giving the question some thought. "I guess it was what every marriage ought to be like," she said. "They loved each other, they cared for each other. They had private space in their lives, she had her writing and he had his work, his legal practice, but they spent most of their time together and they delighted in it. I dont know what else to say about it. Is that what you meant?"

  "Was the marriage ever in trouble?"

  "I think it was stressful for them when Sean died. I was thirteen and a half, so it was ten years ago this summer. It seems so long ago sometimes, and there are other times when it really does seem like only yesterday. I dont understand time. "

  "Nobody does. "

  "It was so totally senseless, what happened to Sean. Nobody gets killed playing baseball. The worst that happens is you pull a muscle, or skin your knee sliding into a base. It seemed completely unreal to me. And I kept seeing him. "

  "He would appear to you?"

  "No, nothing like that. I guess that happens, I dont disbelieve in it, but it never happened to me. No, it was just my perceptions. I would think I saw him on the street, or in a crowd at school, anywhere, and then it would turn out to be somebody else, somebody who didnt look like him at all. Youre nodding. I guess that happens a lot. "

  "I was about the same age when my father died. Fourteen, I was. And it was sudden, too. He was riding between two cars on the subway and must have lost his footing. "

  "Thats terrible. "

  "For a couple of years afterward I had the same experience you described. Certain I was seeing him, even though I knew it was impossible. Well, its somebody who looks a lot like him, Id tell myself, and if I got close thered be no resemblance there at all. "

  "I guess its the minds way of getting from denial to acceptance. "

  "Something like that. You said it was a strain for your parents. A strain on the marriage?"

  "Neither of them ever moved out, and they didnt stop speaking. I was just the age to be super-aware of things without knowing what they amounted to. I was afraid that they were going to separate, to get divorced, but I think it was just that Id lost my brother so now I was scared I was going to lose everybody else. " Her eyes widened. "Thats what happened, though, isnt it? It just took longer than I thought, but Im all alone now. "

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