"And it all comes to you?"
"Yes," she said. "Well, essentially all of it."
"One of my dad's partners went over the will with me. Except for a couple of small bequests, I'm the sole beneficiary."
"Do you remember any of the small bequests?"
"Well, let me think. I didn't pay close attention, and I don't have a copy of the will around. Is it important?"
"Probably not. Just tell me what you can remember."
"Well, there were about two or three dozen charitable bequests. Most of them were in the five-thousand-dollar range, but I think I remember twenty-five thousand each to the New York Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall, and the Met. The opera, I mean. The Metropolitan Museum was in the five-thousand range, along with MOMA and the Whitney and, oh, there were a lot of museum bequests."
It added up, and some of those outfits certainly pursue donations aggressively, but somehow I couldn't see any of them killing for it.
"And some charities," she went on. "Goddard-Riverside, the Coalition for the Homeless. Meals on Wheels."
"Any bequests to individuals?"
"Several small bequests of one or two thousand dollars. To the woman who cleans for us twice a week, to a nurse who took care of my grandmother toward the end. And some larger bequests to relatives." She named several, names I didn't know and didn't bother taking in, and then I snapped to when she said, "And twenty thousand dollars to my cousin Lia."
I thought T J might react visibly, but the street is a good teacher. I could only hope my face stayed as opaque as his. I said, "That's more substantial, isn't it? Were your parents particularly close to your cousin?"
"They added a codicil," she said. "Within the past year. Lia's a sweet kid, she's on full scholarship at Columbia, and my mother liked to have her over for dinner. Lia's mother and my mom were sisters, and Aunt Frankie made a really bad marriage and things never really went well for her. She and my mom pretty much lost touch, so with Lia here in New York, Mom welcomed the chance to do something for her. Plus Lia's really nice, so it was pleasant to have her around."
"So your father would have added the codicil…"
"I guess the idea was this'll be enough to see Lia through college. Her tuition and dorm rent was covered by the scholarship, but the kind of budget she was on, well, let's see, will I replace that worn-out pair of panty hose or will I have lunch?"
"So your mother was helping her out."
"Well, you know. 'Lia, this was on sale and I thought how nice it would look on you and I just couldn't resist it.' Or after dinner, 'Here, it's late, I insist you take a cab home,' and giving her twenty dollars, and how much is the cab going to run? Maybe eight dollars?"
"Have you seen Lia since- "
"Since it happened? Twice. No, three times. I was in shock the whole first week, you know. Looking back, it's as though I was walking around with a concussion. I guess that's protective, the psyche walling itself off, not letting much information in. And I think Lia was in the same state, though of course not as intense. She couldn't look at me, and then I remember once I glanced over at her, caught her off-guard, I suppose, and she was staring at me. But a lot of people stare at you when something like this occurs."
"I can imagine," I said. "Do you suppose Lia knows about the codicil?"
She shook her head. "I just found out myself when I went over the will with Mr. Ziegler. I haven't seen her since. I suppose I should call her and tell her. It's not a fortune, but in her circumstances it could really make a difference over the next couple of years."
"That's true," I said, "but why don't you wait and let the lawyer notify her?"
"You think that's better?"
"Yes," I said. "I'd have to say I do."
Later she said, "I was just thinking. About something Mr. Ziegler said."
"You mentioned him before. He's your attorney?"
"Well, he was my father's partner. Is he my attorney? I suppose that's what he is." She furrowed her brow, considering the concept, and T J asked her what the man had said.
"Oh," she said. "He asked me if I had a will, and I said of course not, what did I need a will for, and he said, well, now I'm a woman with a substantial estate, and I should think about executing a will."
"I suppose he's right."
"Except I don't see what's the hurry. I know anything can happen at any time, believe me, I know that. But it would be one thing if I had someone it was very important for me to leave it to. But what happens if I get hit by a bus tomorrow? It wouldn't all go to the state, would it?"
"Only in the absence of living relatives."
"So it would go to them?"
"One way or another. I'm not sure how it would be apportioned, and someone you hardly know might get more than someone you're close to, which might not be the way you'd do it if you had a will drawn."
"I'm not even sure it ought to be up to me to decide," she said. "I mean, it doesn't feel like my money." She leaned forward, looked at me. "What do you think?"
"I think it's your money."
"No, I don't mean that. Do you think I have to be in a rush to get a will drawn?"
"No," I said. "No, I don't think so."
He sits in his car across the street from the house. The living room drapes are drawn. So are the curtains on the higher floors, but these are not light-tight, and he can see that there are lights on upstairs.
She's at home. He's fairly certain of that.
He came here yesterday, parked where he could watch the house. He was still sitting there, calm, patient, when she opened the front door and descended the steps to the street. The shopkeeper on the ground floor, the dyed redhead, spotted her and opened the door, called her over for a few words. Then the old hen retreated into her jumble shop and the Hollander girl turned to her left and walked west. Seventy-fourth was an eastbound street, so his car faced Central Park West, and he had to turn around in his seat to watch her proceed a half block to the corner of Columbus and disappear around the corner.
The very route he and Ivanko had taken on that fateful night, pillowcases slung over their shoulders like laundry bags. Heavier than laundry bags, though, and the weight had thrown Carl's balance off, exaggerated his limp.
Couple of fags off to do their wash together, he'd thought, but he hadn't risked saying as much to Carl. And there'd been no chance to mention it later on, because he hadn't wanted to wait, hadn't dared wait, and as soon as he got the chance he'd drawn the gun, and it bucked twice in his hand, just a little thing, not much recoil, but it bucked and Carl went sprawling, and it bucked once more and Carl lay still, forever still.
He'd waited in his car, one arm over the back of his seat, peering through the rear window and remembering it, replaying the memory, and then she came back into view, headed for the house once more, a white plastic grocery bag in hand. He turned around, not wanting to be caught staring, and watched her out of the corner of his eye as she reached the house and mounted the steps again.
Key in the lock, he thought. Now turn and push, that's right. And don't forget the alarm…
Now, a day later, he is not sure what he wants to do. Twice this morning he was on the verge of calling her. He tried out a variety of conversations in his head, deciding in the end not to make the call. Sitting here, knowing she's home, he considers ringing her doorbell, explaining that he was in the neighborhood. Or would it be better if she thinks he made a special trip to see her? Perhaps he should say he was just in the neighborhood, but in such a way that she infers he came especially to pay his respects and offer counsel.
But is it a good idea? Perhaps, as he so often advises people, perhaps it is necessary to give time time. Sometimes the best action is to take none. Sometimes one can but wait. And what is it Pascal wrote? Something about all of man's ills growing out of his inability to sit alone in a room.
He sits alone in a car…
And what's this? Two men, appearing as if from out of nowhere. One is middle-aged and white, the other much younger and black. And they are mounting the steps to her house, and the older one rings the doorbell.
They could be anyone, he thinks. Jehovah's Witnesses, come to forecast the end of the world. An unlikely pair, an old white man, a young black man. First thing comes to mind, a combination like that, you figure they're gay. White guy's a john, black guy's a hustler.
The door opens, and she lets them in.
Maybe they'll come out with laundry bags, he thinks. Couple of fags heading for the laundromat. But they're in there for a long time, the better part of an hour. His watch beeps at ten minutes before the hour, and he tells himself he ought to go home.
But he doesn't. Something keeps him there, some quiet certainty that this is important, that these two are more than casual visitors.
He keeps his eyes on the door, and he's looking at it when it opens and the two men emerge. It closes behind them and they descend the flight of steps, and he shrinks back into the shadows, not wanting to be seen. It's ridiculous, he's on the other side of the street, he's in his car. No one can see him, and he realizes that he's hiding because he has something to hide.
Hide in plain sight, he tells himself, and wills himself to sit forward, to turn and take a good look at the two of them.
And shrinks back in spite of himself, because he's seen the older man before. He didn't recognize him until this minute, perhaps because he didn't take a good look at him earlier, but now he does, and he recognizes him.
What about the black youth? Has he seen him before?
Well, honestly, how can you tell? It is not that all young black males look alike, he knows better than that. It's that one sees them that way, one simply registers Young Black Man mentally and lets it go at that. Deliberately, he inventories this one's facial features, determined to know him when he sees him again.
Assuming that he will in fact see him again…
They're on their way west. It's the same as yesterday, when she went out for groceries. He's parked facing the wrong way, he has to turn around to watch them. As they near the corner it comes to him with perfect certainty that they play an important role in all of this, that it's a mistake to let them walk out of the picture so easily.
He doesn't hesitate. He gets out of his car, locks it, and starts off after them.
And now, he thinks, they'll turn the corner and get in their car, leaving him on foot. Or they'll hail a taxi. Well, if there's one cab there'll be two. With luck his taxi can follow their taxi.
But they don't get in a car, or hail a cab. They turn down Columbus Avenue, and the young one whips out a cellular phone and makes a call, talks, then hands the phone to the older man, who's done talking by the time they cross Seventy-second Street. The young one puts the phone away and they walk west another block, disappearing into the subway entrance at the corner of Broadway and Seventy-second.
It's remarkably easy to follow them. The station's poorly designed, and there are separate turnstiles for the uptown and downtown platforms, but he's lucky, he's close enough to see them go through the uptown turnstiles, and he follows in their wake and picks a spot a dozen yards from where they're standing. He positions himself so that he can watch them out of the corner of his eye, but they will only see him in profile, with his body largely screened by others.