Don't forget the best part, he says, and hands Ivanko the fireplace poker. Imagine it's burning hot, he says. Go ahead, he says, you know what you want to do.

And Ivanko takes the poker. It's metal, it ought to take a print.

And how'll he finish up? Shoot her? He'd reloaded after killing Bierman earlier, had a full clip when the Hollanders walked in, but he's used three bullets on Hollander and he'll need more when they get back to Brooklyn. He has a spare clip in the car, he could always reload, but how would that look?

Besides, Hollander hadn't bled much, and it would be good to have some blood now. Blood on him, blood on Ivanko.

He'd brought the knife from the kitchen, just in case. Wicked-looking thing. Let Ivanko do her? He'd probably enjoy it, the pervert. On the other hand, he'd probably fuck it up. You wanted something done right, you did it yourself. And he didn't mind doing it himself, might find it interesting, might even get, oh, not a thrill, but a certain sort of satisfaction out of it…

Done.

He'd had the presence of mind to pick up the three ejected cartridge cases while Ivanko was thrusting into the woman. Picked up Ivanko's gloves, too. Now what? Reset the burglar alarm? No, that made no sense. Just walk out the front door and pull it shut after you. Stroll off without a care in the world, two roommates looking for a coin laundry. Young men on the way up, putting in long hours, stuck with doing their wash in the middle of the night.

He drives to Brooklyn, while the woman's blood dries on his shirt and pants. He's careful not to get any on the upholstery, and hopes Ivanko exercises similar care.

Maybe he should have shot Ivanko and left him at the scene. Would have been easy, the way he was grunting and straining like an animal. He never would have seen it coming, could have died in the act. Wasn't that how men were always saying they wanted to go?

Shoot him and leave him and what message are you leaving? Bierman got disgusted and killed his partner? And then went all the way home and got depressed enough to kill himself? And, if you shoot Ivanko in the act, what do you do with the woman? Shoot her? Cut her throat? You were so disgusted with Bierman that you killed him to keep him from raping the woman, and then you were so disgusted with her that you cut her throat?

Better the way he'd done it, with the two of them driving to Brooklyn, where Ivanko knows there's a kindly old Jew waiting to pay them top dollar for the jewelry and sterling.

Advertisement..

He gets there, he parks the car, he unlocks the door and ushers Ivanko inside. Does Ivanko wonder how come he has keys? No, because this is a friend's apartment, one he uses sometimes, and a handy place to sort their loot and divvy up the cash before they go to the fence's place, which is only a few blocks away.

They're inside, and he points Ivanko toward the bedroom. "Open a window," he says, steering him toward it, moving up behind him. Does Ivanko see Bierman's body out of the corner of his eye? Before he can turn, before he can do anything, there's a gun pressed against his back and two bullets fired into him.

And one more in his temple. How's that for symmetry?

The ejected cartridge casings roll around on the floor. They can stay wherever they wind up. No prints on them anyway. Should he press a finger of Bierman's to one of them? No, not worth the bother. He returns the gun to Bierman's hand, poses the stiffening Bierman just as he wants him.

Then, quickly, he returns to the kitchen, fastens the bolt he installed earlier. Strips off his shirt- Bierman's shirt, originally, and now Bierman's once more- and tosses it on the floor. Unbuttons Bierman's jeans, steps out of them, leaves them. The clothes smell of Bierman, the animal stink of his crotch and armpits, so they're probably swarming with his DNA, and wet with her blood. Perfect. Just perfect, nails the lid on tight.

He gets his own clothes from the closet and puts them on. Empties one of the Hollander pillowcases, puts the chest of sterling flatware on the table in the kitchen, strews the rest of the booty on the floor, wads the case itself and tosses it in a corner. Leaves the other pillowcase on the floor, its contents undisturbed.

Has he forgotten anything? Missed anything, left anything undone? He looks around quickly, sees nothing amiss. Still wearing his sheer surgeon's gloves, he raises the window in the bedroom, steps out into the rubbish-strewn back yard. Closes the window. By the time he is back on the street his gloves are off, tucked away in a pocket. Later he'll discard them, along with the brass cartridge casings he picked up from the Hollanders' living room floor.

The car's where he left it. He pulls away from the curb. Is there any reason to get rid of the car? He could, but it should be more than enough if he just takes it to the car wash, lets them give it the full treatment. Detail it, make it showroom-new.

Or maybe not. Trace evidence won't matter, not really. Nobody is going to look at his car, or at him. His crime is perfect, and brilliantly so, the case essentially closed before it can be opened. The criminals, tied inextricably to their crime by heaps of solid physical evidence, have already been punished. And he's nowhere near them, and in no way involved.

Perfect.

FOURTEEN

When I stopped talking she sat for a while, back straight, eyes lowered. I was starting to wonder if I'd unwittingly hypnotized her, or if she'd slipped into some sort of fugue state, when she looked up at me. She said, "If that's the way it happened…"

"It's just guesswork on my part," I said. "An educated guess is still a guess."

"I understand that. If, though. If that's how it happened, the burglary was just… incidental. The third man, the man who engineered it all, didn't even keep what he took from this house."

"He left it at the apartment in Brooklyn."

"As part of the stage setting," she said. "My mother's jewelry, the family silver. So the point wasn't what they could take from the house."

"Ivanko thought it was."

"But that was just to get him to play his part. And the other one, did he even know there was going to be a burglary? No, there wouldn't have been any reason for him to know anything. He never even heard of my parents, never knew anything. He was dead before it started and now the whole world thinks he killed three people and committed suicide."

I thought about Bierman, whose criminal career peaked with subway-fare-beating. "I don't think he was much concerned about what people thought," I said. "Anyway, he's beyond caring now."

She nodded slowly. "This was very carefully planned," she said.

"If it happened the way I just sketched it out, yes. Very carefully planned."

"He had a key. They said he wouldn't have needed a key, that a skilled burglar could have gotten in without one."

"If there was a third man," I said, "I'm sure he had a key."

"Because he wouldn't have left it to chance."

"That's right."

"And he knew how to turn off the burglar alarm."

"I would assume so, yes."

"They said my parents forgot to set it. I couldn't believe that. They always set the alarm. When I was a teenager I went through an idealistic stage when I didn't even think doors should be locked, let alone protected by alarm systems. I thought it showed a sad lack of faith in one's fellow man." She shook her head ruefully. "I got over it, but it made my parents crazy while it lasted. They absolutely insisted I set the alarm when I left the house, no matter what other head-in-the-clouds crap I spouted. Believe me, they didn't leave the house without setting the alarm." She frowned. "But the code's a secret. Nobody knows it."

"One-zero-one-seven," I said, and her mouth fell open. "You'll want to change it, if you haven't already. Somebody told me, somebody who wouldn't be expected to know. There are always more people than you think who know our private codes and passwords. I don't know where he got the key and I don't know who gave him the four-digit password, but neither would have proved all that elusive to a resourceful man. And we know this man's resourceful."

"Who is he?"

"I don't know."

"And why? The only thing he accomplished was that they died. They suffered horribly and they died." She looked at me. "Was that the whole point of this? To make them dead?"

"It looks that way."

Always the beautiful answer that asks the more beautiful question.

"But… but why?"

"That's one of the questions I've been trying to answer. I came here today so I could ask you some of the questions I've been asking other people."

"Ask me anything," she said.

Always the beautiful questions. I asked the easy ones first, saved the harder ones for later on. Did her father have any enemies, anyone who might have felt justly or otherwise that he'd cheated him in a business deal, that he'd represented him ineffectually? Had he had a serious falling-out with an old friend or colleague? I found a dozen or two variations on the theme, looking for someone with something against either or both of the Hollanders, and if such a person existed, Kristin didn't know about it.

Then the questions got more personal.

She said, "Their marriage?" and frowned, giving the question some thought. "I guess it was what every marriage ought to be like," she said. "They loved each other, they cared for each other. They had private space in their lives, she had her writing and he had his work, his legal practice, but they spent most of their time together and they delighted in it. I don't know what else to say about it. Is that what you meant?"

"Was the marriage ever in trouble?"

"I think it was stressful for them when Sean died. I was thirteen and a half, so it was ten years ago this summer. It seems so long ago sometimes, and there are other times when it really does seem like only yesterday. I don't understand time."

"Nobody does."

"It was so totally senseless, what happened to Sean. Nobody gets killed playing baseball. The worst that happens is you pull a muscle, or skin your knee sliding into a base. It seemed completely unreal to me. And I kept seeing him."

"He would appear to you?"

"No, nothing like that. I guess that happens, I don't disbelieve in it, but it never happened to me. No, it was just my perceptions. I would think I saw him on the street, or in a crowd at school, anywhere, and then it would turn out to be somebody else, somebody who didn't look like him at all. You're nodding. I guess that happens a lot."

"I was about the same age when my father died. Fourteen, I was. And it was sudden, too. He was riding between two cars on the subway and must have lost his footing."

"That's terrible."

"For a couple of years afterward I had the same experience you described. Certain I was seeing him, even though I knew it was impossible. Well, it's somebody who looks a lot like him, I'd tell myself, and if I got close there'd be no resemblance there at all."

"I guess it's the mind's way of getting from denial to acceptance."

"Something like that. You said it was a strain for your parents. A strain on the marriage?"

"Neither of them ever moved out, and they didn't stop speaking. I was just the age to be super-aware of things without knowing what they amounted to. I was afraid that they were going to separate, to get divorced, but I think it was just that I'd lost my brother so now I was scared I was going to lose everybody else." Her eyes widened. "That's what happened, though, isn't it? It just took longer than I thought, but I'm all alone now."