Her eyes are open, staring up through the water. Can she see him? Does she know what's happening?

Does it matter?

He holds her like that, drinking in the sight of her, until bubbles come out of her mouth and nose. He presses down on her chest and more bubbles emerge, float to the surface. And her eyes change. Something has gone out of them.

He takes a deep breath, lets it out. He lets go of her hair, and her head remains beneath the water's surface. He gives her breasts a last little squeeze, lets his hand trail down to her loins. He parts her thighs, slips a finger just the tiniest bit into her, then withdraws it, wondering briefly what impulse prompted the act.

No matter. He folds her clothes, stacks them neatly on the closed commode. He uses his handkerchief again, wiping any surfaces he may have touched.

He sees no one on his way out of the apartment. He takes the stairs again, and passes no one on his way through the lobby. There are a few people on the street, but nobody gives him a second glance.

It is not until he is on the elevated platform again, waiting for the train, that he takes the business card from the breast pocket of his blue shirt. He found it on her dresser, next to the cell phone, and read it then, but he reads it again now.

Matthew Scudder, he reads, and nods to himself, and puts the card back in his shirt pocket.

TWENTY-FIVE

If I'd gone straight home I might have been there when she called, but maybe not. It's hard to say.

And it's moot, because I didn't go straight home. I stopped across the street, watching CNN while T J booted up the computer and searched for Jason Bierman. There were already several Web sites devoted wholly or in part to the massacre on West Seventy-fourth, and he read out several bits of arcana to me, including the report of one incisive fellow who'd paced off the precise distance from the Hollanders' home to the spot in front of the Dakota where John Lennon was shot.

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I said, "How many more steps to the grassy knoll? That's what I want to know."

"Here's somethin' else," he said. "His mama says he didn't do it."

So had Oswald's, I told him, and how was that for coincidence? On the TV, Lynne Russell smiled bravely through a report of bad news from the Balkans and worse news from the Middle East. I turned her off when they went to a commercial and called Elaine at her shop. We arranged to meet for an early dinner at Armstrong's. I asked T J if he wanted to join us, but he said he had things to do.

I left him hunched over his Mac and went across the street. I collected the mail and took it upstairs, sorted it, and didn't find anything exciting. I checked the messages, and there was one from Lia Parkman, a disjointed, rambling riff in which she apologized for not having told me earlier that she could recall a conversation involving her Aunt Susan. It had been with a graduate student who was doing a doctoral dissertation on her writing. His name was Arden Brill. She went on to say I could call her, that I had her number, and then the machine cut her off in the middle of a sentence.

But I didn't have her number, T J had her number, and when I called him his line was busy. I tried his cell phone and he picked up, checked the number, and read it off to me. I dialed it and it rang four times, and then a recorded voice told me I'd reached Sprint voice mail, and invited me to leave a message for- and another recorded voice, hers, said, "Lia Parkman."

I decided I'd try her later, and rang off without leaving a message.

I took a shower and decided I didn't need to shave again, and after I got dressed I tried Lia's number again, with the same results. I watched the news some more, tried Lia a third time on my way out the door, and walked a long block west to Tenth Avenue, where Jimmy Armstrong keeps a saloon. I went in and got a Perrier at the bar, turning when I heard my name called. The man on his feet beckoning to me was Manny Karesh, a friend from the old days, when Jimmy's joint was on Ninth Avenue, just around the corner from my hotel.

Manny was at a table with a couple of nurses fresh off their shifts at Roosevelt. They were drinking Margaritas and he was nursing a beer- a Dos Equis, he said, to fit the Mexican theme of the girls' drinks. Perhaps, he suggested, I might want to switch to some Mexican brand of bottled water.

One of the nurses said they had a woman on the ward who'd gone to Mexico on vacation, and drank the water. Manny asked how she was doing. "We're all sort of waiting for her to die," the girl said.

Elaine showed up and we got our own table. "I'd apologize for being late," she said, "but maybe I ought to apologize for showing up at all. You looked as though you were doing just fine."

"Yeah, right," I said. "They take one look at me and they think 'Geriatric Ward.' "

"That might not be so bad," she said. "Maybe you could get them to give you an enema. Anyway, if they've got one eye on the calendar, what are they doing with Manny? He's twenty years older than you."

"He's got the heart of a boy."

"In the body of a dirty old man," she said, and reached for the menu.

She had the avocado salad and I had a bowl of chili, and while we waited for the food I told her I'd sent the check to Michael. "All I did was write a check," I said, "and that seems like too much and not enough, both at once."

I explained how I'd made the check payable to Michael, and he'd write a single check for the full amount payable to the employer. She asked if he'd know half of it was from me. I said, "His boss? He won't care who it's from. Oh, that's not what you mean, is it?"

"Michael said he could only send five thousand, so will he say where he got the rest?"

"We didn't discuss it," I said. "He can do what he wants."

When we got home there were three messages. The one from Lia was still on there, joined by a message from Danny Boy, who suggested I might want to drop over to Mother Blue's anytime after nine.

The third message said, "Will the party who receives this message please call Ira Wentworth." There was a number to call, and nothing else.

I found Elaine and asked her if she knew anybody named Ira Wentworth. She didn't, and when she asked why I played the message for her. She said, "Guess what? We just won a free trip to inspect a time-share resort on beautiful Grand Cayman Island. Except he doesn't sound like a telemarketer. You know what he sounds like? A cop."

I played it again, and I knew what she meant. I dialed the number, and it rang a long time. I was on the point of hanging up when a woman picked it up and said, "Squad room, this is McLaren."

I asked for Ira Wentworth and she said he was out. Did I want to leave a message? I said I was Matthew Scudder, returning his call. Did I want to leave a number? "He must have it," I said. "He dialed it."

Did I know what this was in reference to? "Well, I figure he'll know," I said. "He called me."

"You were right," I told Elaine. "He's a cop, according to somebody named McLaren. Who's also a cop, or she wouldn't be answering the phone, though I can't say she sounds like one."

"I wonder what he wants."

"No idea. She didn't even say which precinct, she just said 'squad room,' and I didn't think to ask."

"You could call back."

"I could also say the hell with it," I said. "I'm going to see what Danny's got. While I'm at it I can ask him what he knows about Wentworth and McLaren."

"Wentworth & McLaren. It sounds like a team of architects. Or maybe a design studio."

"They're cops," I said, "first and foremost, and design's strictly a sideline. Look, if he calls, see if you can find out what it's about, will you?"

When I got to Mother Blue's, the house rhythm section was working its way tastefully through "Walking," the Miles Davis tune. I joined Danny Boy, and when the number ended the drummer and bass player left the stage and went to the bar, and the pianist played a Thelonious Monk composition. Danny and I both recognized the tune, but neither of us could come up with the title. When the number ended the pianist joined his fellow musicians at the bar, the jukebox kicked in, and Danny poured himself an inch of vodka and said that everybody had the same thing to say about Ivanko and Bierman.

"Which is that it's a good thing they're dead," he said. "The consensus seems to be that they're the sort of people who give crime a bad name. Especially Ivanko, who they all figured would do something like this sooner or later. Of course that's hindsight talking, but in this case it spoke with rare conviction."

"And Bierman?"

"Now that's what's interesting," he said, "and the reason I called. Nobody had much of anything to say about Bierman. If they were just as glad he was dead, that's because they knew him as Ivanko's partner in this particular outrage of the week. The one exception is Jason Bierman's mother."

"According to T J," I said, "she's all over the Internet."

"All over New York, too. She flew into town to clear her boy's name."

"Bierman's not from New York?"

"I don't know where he's from," he said, "or her either, originally, but she lives in Wisconsin these days. The city's one I never heard of before, and it's got ten or twelve letters and half of them are O's. Not that it matters, because she's not there anymore. She's here."

"In New York."

"At the old Hotel Peralda, known to the cognoscenti as the Paraldehyde Arms."

"Just west of Broadway in the Nineties," I said.

"Ninety-seventh Street," he said, "and what a pesthole it always was. Babies crying and bullets flying, and the only quiet rooms were the ones where the tenants were dead. Some hotel chain bought the place, if you can believe it, and they've converted it to a budget hotel for respectable travelers. I just hope they tented it first and fumigated the daylights out of it."

"And that's where she's staying?"

"If she hasn't gotten herself killed yet, or reinvented herself as a transvestite hooker, or hopped a freight back to Ocomocoloco. She swears her son was a good boy, and he couldn't possibly have done what they say he did. According to her, Jason was a fall guy for a player to be named later."

"Either I'm as crazy as she is," I said, "or the woman's right."

He poured himself some more vodka. "You were made for each other," he said. "She's been talking some to the press, from what I hear, but the only ones who want to bother with her are from the supermarket tabloids, and what they really want her to do is tell how young Jase used to pull the wings off flies and use stray cats for scientific experiments. When she insisted on making him sound like a choirboy, they lost interest. And of course the cops don't want to hear from her. They make some rookie take her statement, and then they just shine her on."

"Can't blame them."

"No. So what she's doing, even though she doesn't have a pot to piss in, and God knows the Colonial Inn expects you to bring your own- "

"That's the new name of the Paraldehyde?"

"Yes, and it's wonderfully descriptive, as long as your idea of a colony is Devil's Island. What the woman's doing, and why I couldn't wait to call you, is she's looking for a private detective to represent her interests and clear her poor boy's reputation. Made for each other, the two of you. Made for each other!"