"Or Kristin could have let it slip," I said. " 'My parents are so sentimental…' and if the right person's listening…"
She nodded, taking it all in, then frowned. "They got in the front door," she said. "They must have had a key."
"Do we know they used the front door?"
"They would have had to, wouldn't they, to turn off the alarm in time?"
"They'd have forty-five seconds or a minute, depending on the system. That's enough time if you know what you're looking for. But you're probably right, they probably went in the front door. That doesn't mean they had a key."
"Wouldn't it show if they broke in? And wouldn't my aunt and uncle have seen the door was forced, and not gone in?"
"Same answer to both questions," I said. "Maybe and maybe not. A skilled burglar can pick a standard pin-and-tumbler lock without leaving obvious signs. It takes a few minutes, it's not as easy as they make it look in the movies, but you don't have to be Houdini. If you're not up to picking a lock, there are any number of ways to force a door without leaving it in splinters. Would there be any signs of forced entry? Probably, but you might need good light and a magnifying glass to spot them. Returning to your own house after a brief absence, with no reason to think anyone might have paid you a visit, you might not look too closely."
We went over it some more, and she kept nodding and fussing with her hair and emitting soundless whistles. "I was just making something out of nothing," she said. "I should have called you and told you not to come. I dragged you up here for nothing."
T J pointed out that it wasn't as though we'd flown in from London. "Rode up on the One train," he said. "Not a big deal."
And I told her it wasn't for nothing. "You had suspicions, and they weren't entirely groundless. There were questions in your mind that you couldn't put answers to. How do you feel now?"
"A little foolish, I guess."
She thought about it, then nodded slowly. "Better," she said. "Kristin's all I've got left of my aunt and uncle, and at the funeral I couldn't look at her without thinking, well, uncomfortable thoughts. I just hope she didn't get any sense of what was going through my mind."
"She probably had other things to think about."
"Yes, of course."
We talked some more, and she and T J said something about someone with a French name, probably from the course they were taking. Then she reached for the check, but I already had it. She protested that the least she could do was pay for our meal. Or, failing that, for her own.
"Next time," I said.
We were at 122nd and Broadway, and the IRT stops at 116th, then comes up from underground and stops again at 125th. We were three blocks closer to the elevated platform at 125th Street, but it goes against the grain to walk opposite from the direction you're headed. I don't know why it should, you wind up catching the same train either way, and if it had been pouring I suppose we'd have worked it out logically and walked uptown to catch our downtown train. But it was a nice enough day, cooler and drier than it had been, and we felt like walking. At 116th Street we looked at each other, shrugged, and kept going.
Someone made a TV documentary a few years ago about a walk the whole length of Broadway, from the foot of Manhattan to the island's northern tip. Or maybe they didn't stop there, because Broadway doesn't. There's a bridge over the Harlem River and the street keeps going on the northern side, through Marble Hill (which is technically part of Manhattan, although there are people living there who think they're in the Bronx). If the TV people went that far, they probably pushed on through Kingsbridge and Riverdale to the Westchester County line, but if they'd wanted to they could have stayed on Broadway clear to Albany.
It's a great street, following an old road and thus cutting across the rectilinear grid of Manhattan. It had been a long time since I'd walked this stretch of it, and I was enjoying it.
Aside from reaching for the check at coffee shops, walking's about the only exercise I get. Elaine goes to the gym three mornings a week and takes a yoga class a couple of times a month, and every other New Year's I resolve to do something similar, and invariably give it up, whatever it is, before January's out. But they say walking's the best exercise of all, and I hope they're right, because it's all I've got.
Uptown-downtown blocks run twenty to a mile, so we'd covered something like a mile and a quarter when we got to Ninety-sixth Street. "Case you getting sick of this," T J said, "this here's an express stop."
"We need a local anyway," I said.
"How you figure?"
"Columbus Circle's not an express stop," I said. "On the D or the A, yes, but not on the IRT."
"Seventy-second's an express stop," he said.
"Ain't that where we goin'?"
"Seventy-fourth, you're thinking about."
"No real point in going there."
"So you want to catch the local and go on home?"
We had walked a block past Ninety-fifth while we were having this conversation. No harm, there's another entrance at Ninety-fourth, and it saves you an extra two flights of stairs, one down and one up.
I said, "Ninety-fourth to Seventy-fourth, that's what, twenty blocks?"
"I could work that out, but I do believe I left my calculator in my other pants."
"We walked this far," I said. "We could walk the rest of the way, if you're up to it."
"If I up to it," he said, and rolled his eyes.
Cost aside, Elaine and I never even considered buying a house. We both preferred apartment living, with a doorman to receive packages and screen visitors, and porters and handymen on staff to fix plumbing leaks and replace blown fuses, to put out the trash and clear the walk of snow. When you owned a house you didn't have to do all that yourself, you could hire people to do it for you, but it was still your responsibility to see that it got done. In our well-run building, everything was magically taken care of. We never had to give it a thought.
You get more room in a house, but we had all the room we needed, and more than we were used to. From the time I'd left the house in Syosset, I'd been perfectly content in a little coat closet of a hotel room, and Elaine had lived and worked in a one-bedroom apartment on East Fiftieth Street a block from the river. To us, our big two-bedroom felt as spacious as Utah.
Still, standing across the street from the Hollander brownstone, I could understand the satisfaction of living in it. It was a fine architectural specimen, of a piece with the houses on either side. The location was hard to beat, with the park a block and a half away and a choice of two subway stops almost as close. You couldn't see it from the street, but there was sure to be a garden in back. You could keep a grill there and barbecue, or just sit outside on a nice day with a book and a pitcher of iced tea.
It had been twelve days since the murder, and just a week since they'd found the two dead men on Coney Island Avenue. The case had finally disappeared from the papers, if not from the collective consciousness of the neighborhood. I couldn't see any yellow Crime Scene tape on the front entrance, or any official seal on the door.
I crossed the street and mounted the steps for a better look. T J, tagging along, asked what we were doing.
"Snooping," I said.
The drapes were drawn, and the front door was windowless except for a frosted fanlight above the lintel. I put my ear to the door, and T J asked me if I could hear the ocean. I couldn't, or anything else. I stepped back and gave the doorbell a poke. I hadn't expected a response, and didn't get one.
"Nobody home," T J said.
I looked at the lock. I could have used more light, but if there was evidence of tampering I couldn't see it. No gouging around the jamb, no fresh scratches on the face of the cylinder. Of course the cylinder itself might have been replaced since the incident. If you were going to occupy the premises, or even if you weren't, changing the locks would be the first order of business.
The ground-floor antique shop was closed, the gates drawn and locked. A card in the door announced the shop's hours, Monday to Friday, noon to six, or by appointment. A decal warned that the premises were protected by an alarm system, and threatened an armed response.
"If we was burglars," T J said, "that'd have us shaking in our boots. 'Armed response.' Not just cops, but cops with guns."
"It's a comforting thought for a lot of people."
"A cop with a gun?" He shook his head. "They best hope they never meet one. You want to break in upstairs? Keypad's in the coat closet, and the password's ten-seventeen."
"Maybe another time."
"You just scared of that armed response."
"If we going to Brooklyn, tell you right now I ain't walking."
"Why would we go to Brooklyn?"
"Coney Island Avenue," he said. "See where the cops kicked the door in."
"I don't think so," I said. "I want to go home. We can take the subway."
"We this close," he said, "we might as well walk."
Elaine fixed a light supper, pasta and a green salad, and I watched the fight on HBO. Afterward I took a hot bath before I went to bed, but I was still a little stiff and sore the next day from all that walking. We left the house around two and walked up to Lincoln Center, where we had tickets for an afternoon concert of chamber music at Alice Tully Hall. There was a string quartet, with a clarinetist joining them for one selection.
They played Mozart and Haydn and Schubert, and it certainly didn't sound like jazz, but there's something about chamber music, and especially string quartets, that puts me in mind of a jazz combo. The intimacy of it, I suppose, and the way the instruments feed off one another. And it feels improvisational, even when you know they're playing notes written down a couple of centuries ago.
We stopped for Thai food after and got home in time for her to watch Masterpiece Theatre. It was Part Three, and she'd missed Parts One and Two, but it didn't matter; she'll watch anything on television where the performers have English accents. I was in the kitchen, fixing her a cup of tea, when the doorman rang up on the intercom to announce a Mr. T. J. Santamaria.
I brought her the tea and told her we had a guest coming up. She said, "Santamaria? Eddie was on the door when we came in. I guess Raul must have relieved him at eight."
We've never managed to learn what T J's last name is (or his first name, come to think of it), but it's a safe bet it's not Santamaria. Somewhere along the way one of the guys working the door insisted on a last name before he would call up and announce him, so he became T. J. Smith. He used that name some of the time, switching now and then to Jones or Brown, or Mr. Smith's partner, T. J. Wesson. ("He sort of an oily dude," he explained.) If the doorman du jour had a discernible ethnic identity, he'd pick a handle to fit, and on occasion he'd been announced as T. J. O'Hanrahan, T. J. Goldberg ("Whoopi's kid brother"), and, as now, T. J. Santamaria. For a few months we'd had a guy from St. Kitts with perfect posture and a piss-elegant manner, and T J'd delighted in making the poor bastard announce him as T. J. Spade.