Hope to die, p.32
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       Hope to Die, p.32

         Part #15 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
Page 32


  "That was a while ago. "

  "You had a gold shield. "

  I suppose that accounted for the handshake. You cant shake hands over the phone, but even if you could I think hed have passed it up. Hed been wary earlier, thrown off-stride by my having called him on Lia Parkmans cell phone. Hed picked it up once theyd established there were no fingerprints but hers to be found on it, and hed been carrying it around ever since.

  That was how hed called me. The phone logged recent calls, and all hed had to do was find the last call shed made and open the mouthpiece to redial it. Hed called me without knowing who I was. Thus his original message, requesting I call back without identifying me by name.

  Then Id called back and left my name, and hed called again, twice, and left messages, and I called him, and Charlie Acker had managed to reach him, and he was all set to call me when the phone in his pocket rang. And it was me, asking for him by name, and confusing the hell out of him for a minute there.

  Over the phone, he hadnt even been willing to confirm that she was dead. But I already knew that. I knew the minute I heard his voice instead of hers, and I may have known when I placed the call.

  "This is a nice building," he said. "Ive never been inside, but Ive admired it many times from the street. You been here long?"

  "A couple of years. Ive lived in the neighborhood a lot longer. "

  "Nice," he said. "Walk to the park, walk to the theaters. Very convenient. " He admired the apartment, too, as I led him through it to the kitchen. Elaine was in the bedroom with the door closed, but shed made a pot of coffee first, and I poured us each a cup and sat down with him at the kitchen table.

  He tried the coffee and said it was outstanding, and I asked him about Lia Parkman, and he said, yes, she was dead. Her body had been discovered shortly after five that afternoon by one of her roommates. She lived in student housing on Claremont Avenue, shared a unit with three other students, and two of them were home at the time, and one of them knocked on the closed bathroom door, got no response, and walked in to find her in the bathtub, drowned, dead.

  "Cause of deaths drowning," he said. "Water in the lungs confirms that, pending final results from the medical examiner. Open pint bottle of Georgi vodka on the dresser next to the cell phone. Her prints on the bottle, nobody elses. Initial impression, she had a drink or two, went to take a bath, passed out and drowned. "

  "I cant believe thats what happened. "

  "Well," he said, "neither can I, but probably for reasons that are different from yours. First off, theres marks on her neck suggesting she might have been choked. Thats also pending word from the MEs office, but it gets your attention. Then theres the vodka. Just a couple of ounces gone, and you dont figure thats enough to make a healthy young woman pass out. Granted, different people react differently, and if the water in the tubs real hot it could be a contributing factor, but its unlikely. Of course she could have had a couple of pops before she got home, or pills of some sort, and the last slug of vodka made the difference. Once again, well know more when we get the autopsy results. "

  "Was she much of a drinker?"

  He nodded approvingly. "Thats where I was going next. According to the roommates, she hardly drank at all. Maybe a glass of white wine at a party, but the idea of her bringing a bottle back to her room, they couldnt see it. And then theres the prints on the bottle. "

  "Her prints, you said. "

  "Just her prints. What was the clerk in the liquor store doing, wearing gloves? Plus the prints are from her right hand, and shes right-handed. "


  "Bottles got a twist-off cap. Youre going to open a bottle, how do you do it?"

  I moved my hands in the air, working it out for myself. It had been a long time since I uncapped a pint of liquor, but I suppose any bottle would qualify, even salad dressing. "I think Id hold the bottle in my left hand," I said, "and turn the cap with my right. "

  "If youre right-handed," Wentworth said, "thats how youd do it. "

  "Any prints on the cap?"

  "None. " He picked up his coffee cup, but it was empty. He didnt ask for more, but I got the carafe and filled both our cups, and he grinned. "Ill regret it," he said, "drinking a second cup this late at night, but the hell with it. Some sins are worth the punishment. You grind the beans yourself?" I said we did, and he said it made a difference. Then he said, "Theres another thing, made a little alarm bell go off for me. Her clothes. "

  "Her clothes?"

  "Toilet lids down and her clothes are folded and stacked on top of it, neat as a pin. She came in, ran a tub, got undressed, and hopped in. "


  "Wheres her towel? They share the bathroom, the four of them, so they each have their own towels and keep them in their rooms. Theres a hand towel there for everybodys use, but its too small to use after a bath. How come she forgot her towel?"

  "All that vodka," I said.

  "Yeah, right. " He ran a hand through his hair. "None of this is conclusive, but it makes me want to take a second look. Which Id be doing anyway if the medical examiner comes up with anything interesting. But while we wait for word from him, Im treating this as a homicide. "

  "I think youre right to. "

  "So you said, and Id love to know why. Id also like to know why youre the last person she called, and what your connection is to her in the first place. "

  "Im doing some work for Kristin Hollander. "

  "Names familiar. "

  "Shes the daughter of Byrne and Susan Hollander. "

  "Couple killed in that home invasion end of July. "

  "Thats right. Lia Parkman is Kristins cousin, Susan Hollanders niece. "

  "Jesus," he said. "Now why the hell didnt anybody tell me that? The one roommate said something about she was depressed about a recent death in the family, but that wasnt just a death, it was a fucking bloodbath. But the perps are dead, arent they? Murder and suicide out in Coney Island?"

  "Coney Island Avenue," I said. "Which is actually in Midwood. "

  "Close enough. Youre doing some work for the daughter, and I dont suppose youre putting a new roof on the house. Youre doing what, investigating?"

  "Its unofficial," I said. "But yes, Im investigating. "

  "And offhand I can only think of one thing you could be investigating. Case is closed, right?"

  "Yes. "

  "And the daughter thinks the whole story hasnt come out yet. Or you think that, or both. Which is it?"

  "Both. "

  "And thats what put you on to the cousin? Help me out here. How does she fit in?"

  I brought him up to speed, just hitting the high points- the front door key, the numeric code for the burglar alarm. "Lia Parkman had a key and she knew the keypad code," I said. "This afternoon I managed to sit down with her and ask her who might have borrowed the key or doped out the code. She said she couldnt think of anybody, but I knew she was holding something back. "

  "Sometimes you can tell. "

  "I could tell," I said, "but I couldnt do anything about it. Maybe I should have kept at her. I had to make a judgment call, and I decided I was better off letting her think about it. I gave her a card, told her to call me if she came up with anything. "

  "And she did. "

  "If Id come straight home," I said, then broke it off. "But I didnt, and by the time I got here shed called and left a message. I called her right back and got her voice mail. "

  "Thats because her phone was turned off. When that happens the voice mail kicks in. You leave her a message?"

  "No, what for? I figured Id try her until I got her. And I did, a couple of times, with the same results. I didnt even know it was a cell phone, I figured it was the phone in her room and she was out. "

  "They rarely have actual phones in their rooms, the college kids. Its all cell phones. Its simpler, when youre moving all the time. "

  "Even if Id left a message," I said, "she never would have received it. He must have al
ready killed her by then. "

  "He must have been very fucking slick," he said. "Did I mention two of her three roommates were home when it happened? They were studying, they had music playing, but even so. He had to get in the building, get in the apartment, get into her bedroom, take her down, then drag her into the bathroom, strip her, hold her under until she drowns, and then get out of the place without bumping into anybody. "

  "If hes clever about it," I said, "and if his luck is running- "

  "Oh, its doable, no question. And he wasnt perfect. "

  "The towel. "

  "The towel is one. He probably just assumed towels are in the bathroom, you dont have to take one. But her bath towel was on a hook in her closet, and she wouldnt have left it there and then got in the tub. The vodka bottles another. Its more plausible without the liquor- she stumbles, hits her head on the tub, whatever, drowns before she recovers consciousness. Thats more plausible than an afternoon drunk on two ounces of Georgi with a girl whos not a drinker to begin with. Plus wheres the bag?"

  "The bag?"

  "You ever buy a pint of booze and not have them put it in a paper bag for you? Shed have left the bottle in the bag until she got home, not tossed the bag on her way home. And the fingerprints. He was cute, wiping the bottle, getting her prints on it, but he used the wrong hand and didnt bother with the cap. Thats not enough to hang him, but its plenty to make a person take a second look. "

  "You think so? Most people wouldnt even notice. "

  "Well, I noticed. "

  "But youre pretty good at this," I said. "A little smarter than the average bear. "

  He colored, surprised by the compliment. "I dont know about that," he said. "If I was that goddam good, Id be able to tell you who killed her. "

  "According to Lia," I said, "his name is Arden Brill. "

  "Hell," he said. "It sounds more like Arden than anything else, doesnt it? Could you play it one more time?"

  I had gone into the bedroom to fetch the answering machine, but Elaine woke up while I was unplugging it and insisted I leave the machine where it was and bring Wentworth in. She disappeared into the bathroom, and emerged during the second playing of the message, wearing a robe and fresh makeup. Since then wed heard the message another half-dozen times, and were getting less certain with each hearing.

  "Arden," he said. "Isnt that a place? The Arden Forest?"

  "In Shakespeare," Elaine said. "I dont think theres a real forest. "

  "No? Its just made up?"

  No one was entirely sure, and he pointed out that either way, it was an unusual first name. A last name, sure. Elizabeth Arden, for example. Elaine recalled Eve Arden, the actress, who was before Wentworths time. I pushed the button and we listened to the message again.

  "It could be Auden," he said. "Like the poet?"

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