Of course she wouldn't have had to be on the scene when her parents came home. She could have let the burglars in earlier, or she could have supplied them with a key and the keypad code and made sure she was elsewhere when the shit hit the fan. But there was no reason to suspect her, no evidence they could find of any conflict between her and her parents, no screaming fits, no simmering resentments. Nor was there any motive in sight but the admitted value of the house and whatever else she stood to inherit, and she already had the use of the house, she lived in it, for God's sake, and she didn't have any special need for money, so what would motivate her to do something so thoroughly monstrous?
You'd think Coney Island Avenue would run to if not through Coney Island, but it doesn't. It begins at the circle at the southwest corner of Prospect Park and extends due south until it winds up in Brighton Beach a few yards from the Boardwalk. I got there on the D train, and got off at Sixteenth Street and Avenue J. I'd have saved myself a few blocks if I'd stayed on one more stop to Avenue M, but I wasn't sure how the numbers ran.
I got my bearings and headed west on Avenue J, a commercial street that ran heavily to kosher restaurants and bakeries. The neighborhood was Midwood, and it had been solidly middle-class and Jewish in those days when pretty much all of Brooklyn was Jewish or Irish or Italian. From the signage it was still a Jewish neighborhood, but you didn't see the black frock coats and broad-brimmed hats you'll find in Borough Park and Crown Heights.
There was more ethnic variety on Coney Island Avenue, where a kosher dairy restaurant was flanked by a Pakistani grocery and a Turkish restaurant. I walked past used car lots and credit jewelers, crossed a couple of streets, and followed the house numbers down to the one I was looking for. I found it two houses from the corner of Locust, a little side street that angled off Coney Island Avenue midway between Avenues L and M.
The house where Bierman and Ivanko died was a squared-off box four stories tall. It had started life as a frame house, and I suppose that's what it still was, underneath it all, but someone had seen fit to improve it with aluminum siding. I understand that cuts heating bills and spares you the need to paint every few years, but the best thing you can ever say for a siding job is that it doesn't look like one, and this one looked like nothing else on earth. They'd done it on the cheap, simply encasing the house in siding without regard to any ornamentation or architectural details it might have boasted. Everything was squared off and covered over, and the siding itself was shoddy, or had been inexpertly applied, because it was buckling here and there.
"You're looking at it like you want to buy it."
I turned at the voice and saw a blue-and-white parked at the curb next to a fire hydrant. A fellow with a neat little mustache and a full head of dark hair was leaning out the window. He wore a Hawaiian shirt, and his forearms were tanned. "Ed Iverson," he said, grinning. "And you've got to be Scudder."
In the vestibule, there were eight buzzers, plus an unlabeled one off to the side. "Classy building," he said. "The super's got an unlisted number." He pushed the unmarked button, and when some static came over the intercom he said, "Police, Jorge. I brought somebody to see you."
There was more static, and a few minutes later the door opened to reveal a dark-skinned Hispanic. He was short and bandy-legged, and had the overdeveloped upper body of a weight lifter.
"Meet Mr. Scudder," Iverson said. "Your new tenant for One-L."
He shook his head. "Is rented."
"You're kidding, Jorge. You got a tenant in there already?"
"Firs' of the month, gonna be. Landlord tell me he sign the lease, mean I got to paint, got to clean up." He wrinkled his nose. "Got to get the smell out."
"Paint'll help with that."
"Some, but that stink's in the floorboards," Jorge said. "Is in the walls. What I think, maybe incense."
"Worth a try."
"But then you got the incense smell, an' how you get rid of that?"
"Hey, smoke some pot," Iverson suggested. "You want to show us the place, Jorge?"
"I tol' you, is rented."
"So Mr. Scudder'll see what he's missing. He don't really want to rent it, Jorge. He just wants to look at it. You gonna let us in or am I gonna kick that door in all over again?"
"The smell's a lot better," Iverson told the super. "You're here all the time, you don't notice the difference one day to the next. You wash the floors down with ammonia, keep the windows open like you got 'em now, spray some air freshener around, nobody's gonna notice a thing."
"You can't smell it?"
"Sure I can smell it, but it's nothing like it was. Anyway, didn't you say some genius already took the place? What did he have, a head cold?"
"Took it over the phone."
"Guy can't be too fussy, rents a place without even looking at it. Just tell that lady across the hall to keep busy in the kitchen. She wasn't the one complained about the smell, was she?"
"Was somebody from upstairs."
"Smelled it all the way up there?"
"Passed by the door, you know, an' smelled it that way."
"Guess she wasn't cooking at the time, across the hall, or the smells woulda canceled each other out. What's she cook, anyway?"
"Cambodian food, I guess."
"She's from Cambodia," Jorge said, "so must be Cambodian food, no?"
"I guess the national dish is Wet Dog with Garlic," Iverson said, "and her family can't get enough of it. Okay, Jorge, we'll take it from here."
Iverson grinned. "Take a hike," he said. "Go on, go drink some steroids and do some bench presses."
"No steroids. All natural."
"That juice is bad for you," Jorge said. "Shrink you balls."
"Like garbanzo beans," Iverson said. When the door closed he said, "You see the shoulders on that little fucker? All natural my ass. The little guys, they all want to be big, and there's a point where they try the steroid route, and it works, so how can they walk away from it? It does shrink your balls, and they're the first to say so, but they figure it's like lung cancer, it just happens to other people." He shook his head. "But we're all like that, aren't we? Figuring everything happens to other people. Otherwise we'd never get on a plane or drive home from a bar or smoke a cigarette or leave the goddam house."
"Or go to a concert," I said.
"Or anything. This is where it happened, and you can still smell it, can't you? Even if it's not as bad as Jorge thinks it is. And about all you can do is smell it, because there's not a hell of a lot to see. He cleaned up. Well, he had to, and there was no reason not to, once we cut the seals off the place. Forensics was done and we had the evidence bagged and the crime scene photos taken, and the case was essentially closed from the minute it was open, so why worry about preserving the integrity of the scene?"
He led me to the front room, then back through the kitchen where we'd entered to a third room at the rear. "Furniture's gone," he said. "Wasn't much to begin with, and God knows it wasn't worth keeping. Couple of Salvation Army chairs in the living room, and a TV sitting on top of a milk case. Card table in the kitchen, another chair or two. This here was the bedroom, but he didn't have a bed in it, just a foam mattress on the floor with a sheet over it. Was there a chest of drawers? I can't even remember. One thing I know there was, there was another TV, but it was right on the floor, so you could watch it from the bed without getting a crick in your neck."
"They thought of everything," I said.
"Including the importance of getting plenty of fresh air while you slept, because the mattress was over there by the window. The one mutt, Ivanko, was right about where you're standing, sprawled more or less facedown, half on and half off the mattress. You know what, we shoulda met at the station house and I could show you the photos, give you a better picture than you can get pacing around an empty apartment. Assuming they're still around the house, and assuming I could find 'em."
I told him Schering had shown me a set.
"So you just wanted to look around, get the feel of the place." He grinned. "Smell the smells."
"And talk to someone who was on the scene."
He nodded. "Well, if you saw the photos, you pretty much got it all. Shooter was in the corner opposite the bed, right there, in his shorts, which he messed up after he shot himself, which did nothing for the smell, believe me. I don't know why he took his shirt and pants off before he shot himself, or why he stopped when he got to his underwear, unless it was a sudden attack of modesty. His jeans were on the floor next to the television set, right about there, and his shirt, I don't remember where his shirt was. In here, anyway, and it had to be on the floor, because that's all there was."
"And he was seated in the corner?"
"Well, slumped there," he said. "He fell forward after he shot himself, so he wound up folded at the waist, more or less. So the first thing you saw was the exit wound in the back of his head." He walked over and pointed to a darkened area at the juncture of the walls, a couple of feet from the floor. There was a white circle in the middle, where a hole had been spackled. "Jorge scrubbed it down," he said, "and plugged up where they dug the bullet out, but he didn't get all of it. You might if the surface was a good semi-glossy, but with flat wall paint it soaks in. Doesn't matter, the paint'll cover it, even the cheap shit that's all landlords'll pay for. But you can see how it went down."
"First thing I thought, well, care to take a guess?"
"Got it in one. Two males, one mattress, and the one who did the shooting's in his shorts and nothing else. He killed his lover, realized what he'd done, and pretended his gun was a dick. Then the next thing I saw was an empty pillowcase, and then another pillowcase that wasn't empty, and I went back into the kitchen and there was a little walnut chest on the card table, with everything inside it including oyster forks. You don't get too many sterling silver oyster forks on Coney Island Avenue."
"Did you guess right off where it came from?"
He nodded. "All the press the case had, all the bulletins coming out of One Police Plaza, that was the first thing came into my mind. My partner, too, and I don't know which of us said it first. It gets your blood going, something like that. You can probably imagine."
"But there's a letdown comes about a minute later, because where are you gonna go with it? They're the ones did it, they're both dead, case closed, end of story. Of course you check it out to make sure, you check it out in detail, but nothing ever turns up to make you change your mind. What's funny is me and Fitz'll both wind up with commendations for this, and what the hell did we do besides look around and call it in?"
"The letter in your file's just as good whether you did anything or not," I said, "and it'll offset all the times you earned a commendation and didn't get one."