Hope to die, p.28
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       Hope to Die, p.28

         Part #15 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 28

 

  Not that theyre looking around, not that they suspect a thing. He could probably stand right next to them without arousing suspicion.

  He considers it, thinking it might be interesting to know what they are saying.

  If it were just the one man, the older man, and if there were fewer people on the platform- well, that sort of thing happens all the time, doesnt it? You stand close, waiting, timing the approach of the oncoming train, then give a sudden lurch, a shove, and, if you are clever about it, you can even make it appear to anyone watching as though you are trying to save the person, trying to grab hold of the fellow youve just sent hurtling into the trains path.

  Ridiculous even to think about it. But he has to acknowledge that his hands are tingling, as if anticipating their role.

  Interesting, what you learned about yourself…

  An express train comes. They board it and so does he, entering the same car by a different door. They stand, their hands a foot apart on the overhead rail. He sits, watching them without being watched in return.

  One stop to Ninety-sixth Street. The doors open. They get out, talking, paying no attention, and he follows. Again he plants himself ten or a dozen yards away, and follows them onto the Broadway local when it arrives.

  TWENTY-THREE

  On the street I said, "I hope I was right. "

  " Bout her not needin a will?"

  "Uh-huh. Shes sitting on what, nine or ten million dollars? This may be hard to believe, but there are cases on record where people have killed for less than that. "

  "Some for as little as twenty thousand. "

  "Just what I was thinking. "

  "She didnt know about it, though. Lia. "

  "Thats according to Kristin. No way of telling what Aunt Susan might have let slip, along with the combination for the keypad. "

  "Coulda known about it," he allowed. "Coulda thought itd be more. Cant quite see her as the Third Man, though. "

  "Does she have a boyfriend?"

  "Never mentioned one. Dont mean she dont have one. " We were walking as we talked, and as we neared the corner he said, "Heres what dont make sense. If shes involved, what she wants is what happens- the cops wrap it up an close the case. Otherwise why stage it that way?"

  "So why does she say anything to you? Why let on shes suspicious of Kristin?"

  He nodded. "Thats what dont make sense. "

  "Twenty thousands not really all that much," I said. "Not as a payoff for an operation like this. Maybe she was expecting more. "

  "Like how much?"

  "I dont know, pick a number. A hundred thousand? She sees how the Hollanders live and they look to her like theyve got more money than God, and Aunt Susan says shes made a provision for her to see her through college, and who knows what kind of dollar-sign sugarplums start dancing in her head? Then she finds out its twenty thousand dollars and that seems like nothing. On the other hand, if Kristins implicated, she cant profit from her parents death. And the whole pie gets chopped up among the surviving relatives. "

  "So whats she get?"

  "How many relatives did she name before, eight or ten? Say there are more she didnt mention, say a total of twenty, and say they all get equal shares. What is that, half a million dollars?"

  "Moren twenty thousand. "

  "A lot more," I said, and pictured the ash-blond waif, the see-through skin, the big soulful eyes. "But I cant believe she was involved. Not knowingly. "

  "What you lookin for?"

  "A pay phone," I said. "Do you see one anywhere?"

  "Got a free one," he said, and took his cell phone from his pocket. I said I didnt suppose he remembered Lia Parkmans number, and he rolled his eyes. "Dont need to remember it," he said. "Got her on my speed dial. " He punched some numbers, flicked a lever, and held the contraption to his ear. After a moment he said, "Lia? T J. Hold on a second. "

  He covered the mouthpiece with his hand. "You really oughta get one of these," he said, and handed me the phone.

  We rode up on the subway, meeting her at the Salonika, the same place as last time. She was waiting for us in a booth, an iced tea half finished in front of her. I said Id have the same, and T J ordered a Coke. The waitress didnt seem to mind that no one was having any food. It was an off-hour, and if we werent there the booth would be empty.

  Lia had been surprised to hear from me. Id done such a good job of setting her mind to rest that shed never have guessed I was following up on the inquiry shed set in motion. Her first reaction was one of alarm. She didnt want to make trouble for Kristin, that was the last thing she wanted, and now that the initial shock had worn off she couldnt imagine what had ever led her to have such a crazy idea in the first place. Shed seen Kristin since then, and Kristin was completely rocked by the death of her parents, and…

  I assured her that Kristin wasnt a suspect. But, I said, there were some unanswered questions in the case, some possibility that the burglary had been arranged, that the killers had had inside help.

  "The burglar alarm," she said.

  "The burglar alarm code, the front door key, the Hollanders schedule. I was just wondering if someone could have wormed any pertinent information out of you. "

  "Out of me?"

  "Well, you or your boyfriend. "

  "Well, I dont have a boyfriend," she said, "so thats not it. And nobody even knew about my aunt and uncle or where they lived or anything. So I cant think how anybody could have gotten any information from me. "

  There was something she wasnt telling me. I could feel its presence there, parked on the edge of thought. I tried a few approaches, and then I said, "How about the key? Did anybody borrow it?"

  "No, of course not. "

  "But you did have a key, didnt you?"

  "Aunt Susan gave it to me. "

  "You didnt mention it before," I said. "You and your aunt came home one day, and she had her arms full of packages, so she gave you the key and had you open the door. Then she told you the keypad code so you could turn off the alarm. "

  I hadnt meant to scare her, but I did. She looked like a waif caught in the headlights.

  Gently I said, "Isnt that what you said?"

  "Yes. Thats what happened, but the way you said it just now- "

  "If you had your own key, why did your aunt hand you hers?"

  "I didnt have a key then. Later on she gave me one. In case I needed to get in when nobody was home, she said. And she reminded me I already knew how to deactivate the alarm. Just be sure to set it again before I left, she said. "

  "And did you have much occasion to use your key?"

  "I dont think I ever used it," she said. "Until you mentioned it just now, I more or less forgot I had it. And nobody else knew I had it, and I certainly never let anybody borrow it. "

  "Do you have it with you now?"

  She fished in her purse, brought out a ring of keys, identified one as being the key to the Hollander house. "So even if somebody took it when I wasnt looking," she said, "which wouldnt make sense because nobody even knew I had it, but if somebody did, and he took it, well, he couldnt have, because here it is. "

  "That just means he gave it back. "

  "Dont you think I would remember? Especially after what happened, dont you think it would get my attention if someone gave back a key to the house where my aunt and uncle were murdered?"

  T J pointed out that he could have returned the key the same way he took it, without her knowledge. "And it wouldnt have had to be after the break-in," I added. "He wouldnt have kept the key for long, wouldnt have wanted to chance your missing it. Hed just need it long enough to have a copy made. Its not a hard key to duplicate. Any neighborhood locksmith could do it in five minutes. "

  She was silent for a long moment, then announced she had to go to the bathroom. She took a step away from the table, then came back for her purse.

  "She fraid we might look through it," T J said.

  "And didnt want to let us know she
was thinking that, but didnt want to leave the purse, either. "

  "Hidin something. "

  "Feels that way to me, too. "

  When she came back to the table I fed her a few easy questions, ones it wouldnt disturb her to answer. They were designed to make our relationship feel a little less adversarial. Then I asked her if there was anything else she could think of, something she might feel reluctant to mention. I could feel her wrestling with the question, deciding whether or not to give it up.

  "No," she said at length. "Im sorry, but theres nothing. "

  Back on Broadway, T J said he didnt suppose I felt like walking all the way home again. I didnt, and we headed for the subway.

  "Thought youd keep at her," he said as we walked. "Thought youd get her to open up. "

  "I thought about it. "

  "Just handed her a card. Call me if you think of anything, however far-fetched or unimportant it might seem. "

  "When you go fishing," I said, "and you get a bite, you have to know when to give line and when to reel in. "

  "I didnt know you liked to go fishing. "

  "I dont," I said. "It bores me to death. "

  "So you gave Lia some line. "

  "I gave her an easy way to change her mind," I said. "She knows something, or thinks she does, or is afraid she does. Now shell go home and think about it, and shell feel guilty, because she lied to me and I acted as though I believed her. And maybe shell pick up the phone. " I was silent for a moment, and then I added, "But its all guesswork, you know. If she makes the call, then I guessed right. "

  Not exactly, as it turned out. She made the call, but that didnt mean Id played it right.

  TWENTY-FOUR

  Lia!

  He is on the street in front of the coffee shop, squinting through the plate glass window, and they are in a booth with their backs to him. He wouldnt be able to pick out either of them, just seeing the backs of their heads from this distance, but the combination, black and white, makes it easy to spot them. And, across from them, a blond girl sits, and she is instantly recognizable.

  And what business do these two have with Lia Parkman? How do they even know she exists?

  Kristin Hollander, of course. They went to Kristin Hollanders house, she let them in, they stayed for the better part of an hour, and they left, made a phone call, and here they are, sitting across a table from Lia Parkman, Kristins cousin.

  What are they talking about?

  What is she telling them?

  She cant tell them too much. She doesnt really know anything. But she knows him, and she could conceivably put them on his track.

  He doesnt want that. Whoever they are, whatever theyre after, he doesnt want that.

  His hand goes to his throat. Hes not wearing a tie today, nor a jacket, just a blue shirt with the collar open and the sleeves rolled up for comfort. He lifts out the rhodochrosite disc, feels its smoothness, tucks it away beneath his shirt.

  His own fault. He knew she was a loose end, dangling invitingly, waiting for someone to grab hold and give a tug. But, because everything went so smoothly, he let himself believe it was all right to leave a loose end.

 
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