"Someone else killed both of them. I'm not going to say their names."
"I'm just not going to, not for the time being. They killed my parents, and somebody else killed them." She frowned. "They were the ones who killed my parents, weren't they?"
"One of them was." She hadn't said I couldn't say their names. "Carl Ivanko. I'm not sure about Bierman."
"The one who had the apartment."
"And who shot the other one, and then killed himself, or at least that's what we were supposed to think. Wouldn't we have thought that anyway, even without the bolt?"
"Because if you find two men dead like that, and it looks as though one of them shot the other one and then committed suicide, you'd think that, wouldn't you?"
"Yes. The bolt was just to be cute."
"Showing off," I said. "Gilding the lily."
"I see. If he did it that way, though, killed them both and locked and bolted the door- "
"Then how did he get out?"
"That's what I was wondering. Through the window?"
I nodded. "The windows were closed, but this was the ground floor. It wouldn't have been terribly difficult to climb out a window and close it after yourself. You couldn't engage the window locks, assuming they worked, but I don't think there's any way to tell whether the windows were locked or not. The first thing the responding patrolmen would have done was open all the windows."
"Are they supposed to do that?"
"No," I said, "definitely not, but they were in a small apartment with two dead bodies that had been in there for several days, and I don't know a lot of cops who wouldn't have opened a window without thinking twice."
"So the locked bolt was supposed to prove one thing," she said, "and instead it proves another."
"Prove's the wrong word," I said, "because it doesn't really prove anything. It suggested something to me, but I was probably pretty suggestible. I went in there looking for something to be wrong."
"And the bolt was it."
"The bolt was part of it."
"The way Ivanko was shot. Two in the torso, one in the head."
"The same as my father."
"Yes and no."
"What do you mean?"
"I don't want to be too graphic here," I said.
"I walked in," she said. "I found them. You can be as graphic as you want."
I said, "Your father was shot from the front. Two bullets in the chest from a couple of feet away, then a third fired point-blank into his temple."
"He was probably already dead by then."
Maybe, maybe not, but let her think so. "Ivanko was shot from behind. Two bullets, one of which got the heart, both shots leaving powder burns on his shirt. Then the killer knelt down next to him and put a third bullet in his temple."
"The killer didn't want Ivanko to know what was coming. He deliberately took him by surprise, followed him into the bedroom and shot him in the back. That doesn't sound like somebody who just had a sudden attack of conscience, or a mental breakdown."
"Suppose he decided he just wanted to keep everything for himself?"
"The score wasn't big enough to make anybody kill his partner in order to hog it all. The killing was done in a calculated manner, but it wasn't the act of a calculating man. And the ritual of three bullets, two in the back and one in the temple, was an obvious signature, but there was no real reason for it except as a signature. Why just two shots in the back? Why not empty the gun into him? The only reason that jumps out is that he'd shot your father twice in the chest. He wanted to establish a pattern."
"A third man," she said. "It sounds like a mole in a British spy novel. Or wasn't there an old movie with that title? An Orson Welles movie?"
"That's the song," I said.
"I beg your pardon?"
" 'The Third Man Theme,' " I said, and hummed a couple of bars. "It's been running around in my head for days now and I couldn't think what it was or how it got there."
"A message from your subconscious."
"I suppose so. Of course I'd had the phrase in my mind for days. I'd gotten used to thinking in terms of a third man."
"Still, there must be something the song's trying to tell you. Not to get sidetracked, maybe. To trust your own reasoning."
"That's possible. Or maybe the only way I could get the song out of my head was to remember what it was."
"Maybe. If there was a third man…"
"Were there three of them here that night?"
"No, I don't think so."
"Because the witness, the woman who thought they were going to do their laundry- "
"Only saw two men."
"Eyewitnesses get things wrong," I said. "But in this case I think she got the number right. There were just two men."
"And the third man was waiting for them? Wait a minute, he was the driver, wasn't he? He was waiting for them in the car, and drove them back to Brooklyn, and…"
Her words trailed off. I said, "Finish the thought. The three of them walk into the Coney Island Avenue place. The third man shoots Ivanko three times, then kills Bierman in a way that looks like suicide, first getting him to strip to his underwear."
She hadn't known about that part, so I had to go back and fill in. Then I said, "It would be awfully hard to manage. I think I might be able to come a little closer to what actually happened."
She finished her coffee, put the cup down, sat up straight in her chair, and folded her hands on the table in front of her, waiting for me to explain.
Bierman was never in the house, I told her. Never on West Seventy-fourth Street, never anywhere near Manhattan the night of the murder. Bierman never left the apartment on Coney Island Avenue, and in fact he couldn't leave, because he was already dead.
Sometime late that afternoon the third man pays Bierman a visit. He's been there before, and this time he brings along a bolt from the hardware store and the tools he'll need to install it. First, though, he manages to catch Bierman unawares.
He overpowers him, or simply knocks him out. He strips Bierman down to his underwear, props him up in the corner of the room where he'll be least visible to someone entering the apartment, presses the butt of a little Italian automatic into his hand, sticks the business end of the gun in his mouth, wraps his own hand over Bierman's hand, and gives the trigger a squeeze.
It's just one shot from a small gun, and there's not much likelihood anyone'll take any notice of it. It's a pistol, not a revolver, so he could even have a suppressor on it. But even without a suppressor it's not all that loud, and both their hands are clutching it, his and Bierman's, and that should muffle the report some. And it's not like it's a whole string of shots, and there's nobody screaming, no doors slamming. It's just one little gunshot, about as noisy as blowing up a paper bag and smashing it with your fist. But it's enough to kill Bierman.
You'd think he'd be in a hurry to get out of there, but you'd be wrong. He's pleased with himself, exhilarated by how well it went with Bierman. First thing he does is put on Bierman's shirt and pants. It might be messy later on, in fact he'll want to make sure it's messy later on, and wearing Bierman's clothes serves a double purpose, keeping his own clothes clean and providing some solid physical evidence for the cops. He leaves his own clothes in Bierman's closet, where they'll be handy later on.
If Bierman's body is discovered before he can get back to the apartment, well, that'll be inconvenient, but nobody's going to look twice at his clothes in Bierman's closet. They'll look twice, or even three times, at the body in the corner, an obvious suicide, you'd think, but what happened to the gun? Maybe they'd decide it wasn't suicide, maybe they'd figure someone else wandered in, found Bierman dead, and walked off with the gun.
But the odds are nobody's going to find the body. He'll be back in a matter of hours, and then he'll be ready to return the gun to Bierman's hand.
Until then, though, he has a use for it.
But first he has that bolt he bought earlier, and a drill or an awl to make holes for the screws, and a screwdriver. It doesn't take him long to mount the bolt, and when he's finished he takes his tools with him and walks out the door, leaving the bolt unfastened and locking the door with the key- he's got Bierman's keys now, and he's wearing Bierman's shirt and jeans, and no neighbor's going to give him a second glance.
Then, as arranged, he goes to meet Ivanko.
Ivanko has never met Bierman, doesn't know Bierman exists. Ivanko knows he and his friend are going to pull a job, and there's money in it, and an opportunity to have some fun.
The friend, the third man, drives. He has a car, although he may tell Ivanko it's stolen. He drives, and finds a place to park.
He has a key to the house on West Seventy-fourth Street. As soon as he's inside he opens the closet door, where he keys in the code to deactivate the burglar alarm. They go through the house, and he guides Ivanko, tells him where to look, what to take. Meanwhile he holds the pillowcases so Ivanko can drop in the loot. That way he's not touching anything, not leaving his prints anywhere. He encourages Ivanko to be messy, dumping drawers, pawing through their contents, because he doesn't mind if Ivanko leaves prints here and there. But Ivanko's not entirely unprofessional, and may even be wearing surgical gloves. That's annoying, he'd like a print or two left behind, but for the time being it can't be helped.
Then they're done, and waiting for the Hollanders to return. Now he has to keep Ivanko eager to stick around for the last part. They've got two sacks of money and valuables, and Ivanko would have to feel the natural impulse to get out while the getting's good, to take the money (and jewelry and silver) and run.
She's pretty and she's hot-looking, he tells Ivanko, and you can have her and do anything you want to her. Anything you want, anything at all.
Knows what to tell him, knows how to keep him right at the end of his leash.
Then the Hollanders come home…
And it's really not that difficult. He killed earlier that day, killed Bierman, and that went just as smooth as silk. He didn't mind doing it again. Sort of looked forward to it, actually, had been looking forward to it all along. Nothing tricky this time, no gun in the mouth, no hand clamped over Hollander's hand, because this is supposed to look like what it is, a murder committed by burglars. And so he shoots Byrne Hollander twice in the chest. For insurance (and perhaps because he likes it, pulling the trigger, feeling the little gun buck in his hand) he fires a third round into Hollander's temple.
Smooth as silk, easy as pie.
And it's time to let Ivanko off his leash. Take the gloves off, he tells him. You want to feel everything, don't you? Wearing gloves, be as stupid as wearing a rubber. You don't think you're going to catch AIDS from her, do you? Nice respectable married lady?
Except Ivanko still doesn't leave prints, he's ripping cloth and grabbing skin, nothing that will take a print. Oh, he'll leave his DNA, but a set of prints would be so handy. If they knew who it was before they found the bodies…