But then a lot of guys have a bum hip or a trick knee, and maybe had a beard once. What made the connection, see, was the poker, and that wasn't based on anything that happened, not as far as the caller knew. It was what he'd said, Carl, and he'd said it more than once. Of a woman who'd failed to reciprocate his interest, and of another woman who'd caught his eye on the street. What I'd like to do, Carl said, I'd like to take a hot poker and shove it up her cunt.

Or words to that effect.

No one was hugely surprised to learn that Carl Ivanko had a sheet. His juvenile record was sealed, but since then he'd been arrested twice for burglary. He pleaded out on both occasions, drawing a suspended sentence the first time and doing three years upstate for the second charge. He'd also been picked up once for attempted rape, but the charges were dropped when the victim couldn't pick him out of the lineup.

The last known address for him was his mother's place on East Sixth Street, four flights up, with an Indian restaurant on the ground floor. That was the block between First and Second, where almost every building had an Indian restaurant on the ground floor. Mrs. Ivanko didn't live there anymore, and no one in the building knew who Carl was, let alone what had become of him.

There are lots of ways to find someone when you want to badly enough, but Carl turned up on his own before they could try most of them. Brooklyn police officers responding to a complaint of a bad odor emanating from a locked ground-floor apartment in the 1600 block of Coney Island Avenue broke in to find two male Caucasians, ages twenty-five to thirty-five, who had apparently been dead for several days. Documents on the bodies, later confirmed by fingerprints, identified the two men as Jason Paul Bierman and Carl Jon Ivanko. Bierman's wallet held a driver's license with the Coney Island Avenue address. Ivanko didn't seem to have a driver's license, but a generic Student ID card in his wallet supplied some information. It was the kind you can buy in souvenir shops, and gave Ivanko's college affiliation as " Mean Streets University " and his address as "the Gutters of New York." There was a space for someone to notify in case of accident or serious illness. "The

City Morgue" was Ivanko's suggestion.

Both men had died of gunshot wounds. Ivanko, sprawled full-length on the uncarpeted floor, had been shot twice in the chest and once in the temple, in a manner more or less identical to Byrne Hollander, and, ballistics later established, with the same.22-caliber automatic. The cops didn't have to look hard for the gun; it was still in Jason Bierman's hand. He was sitting on the floor in the corner of the room, his back against the wall, his gun hand in his lap. He had apparently put the barrel in his mouth, tilted it upward, and fired a single shot through the roof of his mouth and into the brain. Professional killers are supposed to favor.22s for head shots because the bullet typically caroms around inside the skull, with fatal results a strong possibility. It had worked for Bierman, but it might have worked whatever gun he used. Cops, drunk or depressed or both, have used their service revolvers in this manner for years; the.38-caliber slugs may not bounce much, but they do the job.

Both of the pillowcases from the Hollander bedroom turned up in the Bierman apartment, one empty and wadded up on the floor, the other half full of stolen goods on the unmade double bed. The wooden chest of sterling silver, service for twelve, rested on top of Bierman's chest of drawers. Kristin Hollander was able to identify it, along with several pieces of her mother's jewelry and other articles taken from her home.

Forensic analysis established that the facial hairs found at the crime scene were from Carl Ivanko's beard, and the semen recovered from Susan Hollander's anus was his as well. Posthumous x-rays of Ivanko revealed deterioration of the hip socket that would account for the limp the witness had reported and the caller confirmed.

I didn't know all of this at the time, although it was all reported at considerable length on television and in the papers. By then I had something else on my mind.

Besides sending in a contribution, Elaine typically orders tickets to around a dozen concerts during the month-long Mostly Mozart festival. I keep her company more often than not, and when business or inclination keeps me away, she can always find a friend to use my ticket. Last year she took T J to one performance, a countertenor singing with a small orchestra of period instruments. I'd have enjoyed it myself, but I had a case I had to work. It was T J's first classical concert, as far as we knew, and she said he seemed to like the whole thing, music and all, but not to expect him to run out and buy a whole batch of CDs.

Advertisement..

We went to the opening concert on Monday night, and our next tickets were for Thursday night, a sold-out affair with Alicia de Larrocha at the piano. By then we'd learned that the Hollanders had not only attended Monday's concert but had been at the patrons' dinner as well. The killers had not yet been found, and Avery Fisher Hall was buzzing with the story. As far as I could tell, it was all anyone was talking about.

I made a point of heading for the patrons' lounge during intermission, more for the conversation than the free coffee and Toblerone bars they give you. One couple we see there often enough to nod to asked if they hadn't seen us at the dinner, and if we'd seen or known the Hollanders. We said we hadn't known them, and we might or might not have seen them there, that it was impossible to say.

"That's just it," the woman said. "We sat with three other couples we didn't know. We could as easily have been seated with Byrne and Susan Hollander."

"We could have been Byrne and Susan Hollander," her husband said. He meant they could have suffered the Hollanders' fate. How convenient it had been, after all, for the killers to know that the Hollanders were out for the evening, and when they could be expected to return home. Was it impossible that they'd had a list of people expected to attend the patrons' dinner? And couldn't they have just as easily selected any of the names on that list?

It was a stretch, but I knew what he meant and how he'd gotten there. Any disaster- a crime or an earthquake, anything at all- has a lesser or greater impact upon us in proportion to the likelihood that it could have happened to us. The Hollanders were people like us, we might but for the luck of the draw have been seated next to them at dinner, and was it impossible that it was precisely what we shared with them that had gotten them killed? It was not impossible, so it could have been us instead of them- and we shivered with the odd blend of terror and relief that is so often the consequence of a narrow escape.

The patrons' lounge was full of people who were glad to be alive- and the least bit afraid to go home, because who could be certain the killers were finished?

That was Thursday. Saturday morning the cops kicked the door in on Coney Island Avenue, and a few hours later the media had the story and the city- especially that part of it that lived on the Upper West Side and went to concerts- breathed a sigh of relief. The killers were no longer at large, which was wonderful, and in fact they were dead, which was even better. The story would still be interesting enough to sell newspapers for several more days, maybe even a week, but it was already beginning to fade into the past. It wasn't scary anymore. Burglar alarm sales, which had spiked during the week, would drop back to normal. Women could leave the can of pepper spray home, after having gotten in the habit of tucking it in their purse on the way to a concert. Men who'd told their lawyers to find out just how hard it was to get a carry permit could now decide it was more trouble than it was worth.

I was no less interested in the story now, listened to the news reports, and read whatever appeared in print. On Monday I had lunch with Joe Durkin. It was social, I wasn't working on anything, but our relationship had been strained a year or so ago when I had some work that cost me my PI license. I could live fine without a license, I'd done so for twenty years, but I couldn't get along without some of the friendships I'd built up with people in and out of the police department. So I made it a point to get together with Joe now and then, and not just when I needed a favor.

He's a detective at Midtown North, so it wasn't his case, or even his precinct's, but it was part of our lunchtime conversation as it was part of so many others, with or without a professional interest in the subject. "The crime rate's down," he said, "but I swear the guys who are out there are trying to make up for it by being twice as nasty. When did burglary become a contact sport, for Christ's sake? A burglar was always a guy who wanted to avoid human contact."

"A gentleman jewel thief," I suggested.

"Not too many of those, were there? But your professional burglar acted like a pro, took what he could use and left the rest, got in and got out in a hurry, and your run-of-the-mill break-in was the work of some smash-and-grab junkie who kicked the door in, grabbed a portable radio, something he could get ten bucks for, and ran like the thief he was. These fucks stole all they could, tore the place apart, and then sat down to wait for the folks to come home. You know what it was? It was a cross between a burglary and a home invasion. A home invasion, you don't go in unless you know the vics are in the house, because you want the confrontation."

"Drug dealers."

"A prime target," he agreed. " 'Tell us where the money is or we cut your kid's head off.' Which they'll probably do anyway, the cocksuckers. These two went in, tossed the place, and waited for it to turn into a home invasion. Why? More money?"

"Could be. Maybe they didn't find as much as they expected."

"I guess it's a line of work where you live in hope. Maybe they saw a picture of the lady and decided they wanted to make her acquaintance."

"Or they already knew what she looked like."

"Either way. I'll tell you, Matt, gentleman jewel thief or junkie with a monkey, rape never used to be part of the game plan. Now it happens all the time. She's there, she's cute, what the hell, might as well. Hey, if there's something you like in the fridge, wouldn't you grab a bite?"

"It's not supposed to be sexual," I said.

"That's what they keep telling us. It's hostility toward women, or some such crap."

"Well, I'd say a guy has to be the least bit hostile to do what this one did with the poker."

"The son of a bitch. Yeah, of course, no question. I mean, it's never a loving act, is it? Raping a woman. But how the hell can they claim it's not about sex? If sex has nothing to do with it, where did the son of a bitch get his hard-on from? What, did somebody sprinkle Viagra on his cornflakes?"

"And somehow they only feel this hostility toward the ones they find attractive."

"Yeah," he said, "isn't that a coincidence? He does her, he gets off, you'd think he'd be feeling grateful if he's feeling anything at all. So he shows his gratitude by doing her with the poker, and then he cuts her fucking throat. I swear, one like this makes me wish we had the death penalty."

"We do have the death penalty."

He gave me a look. "Makes me wish we had the death penalty the way Texas has the death penalty. You know what I mean."

"Anyway, there's no need for it in this case. They're already dead."

"Yeah, and thank God for that. No lawyer's gonna get 'em off and no parole board's gonna decide they've learned the error of their ways. The one prick, Bierman? The shooter? At least for once in his life he did the right thing."