"That was a while ago."
"You had a gold shield."
I suppose that accounted for the handshake. You can't shake hands over the phone, but even if you could I think he'd have passed it up. He'd been wary earlier, thrown off-stride by my having called him on Lia Parkman's cell phone. He'd picked it up once they'd established there were no fingerprints but hers to be found on it, and he'd been carrying it around ever since.
That was how he'd called me. The phone logged recent calls, and all he'd had to do was find the last call she'd made and open the mouthpiece to redial it. He'd called me without knowing who I was. Thus his original message, requesting I call back without identifying me by name.
Then I'd called back and left my name, and he'd called again, twice, and left messages, and I called him, and Charlie Acker had managed to reach him, and he was all set to call me when the phone in his pocket rang. And it was me, asking for him by name, and confusing the hell out of him for a minute there.
Over the phone, he hadn't even been willing to confirm that she was dead. But I already knew that. I knew the minute I heard his voice instead of hers, and I may have known when I placed the call.
"This is a nice building," he said. "I've never been inside, but I've admired it many times from the street. You been here long?"
"A couple of years. I've lived in the neighborhood a lot longer."
"Nice," he said. "Walk to the park, walk to the theaters. Very convenient." He admired the apartment, too, as I led him through it to the kitchen. Elaine was in the bedroom with the door closed, but she'd made a pot of coffee first, and I poured us each a cup and sat down with him at the kitchen table.
He tried the coffee and said it was outstanding, and I asked him about Lia Parkman, and he said, yes, she was dead. Her body had been discovered shortly after five that afternoon by one of her roommates. She lived in student housing on Claremont Avenue, shared a unit with three other students, and two of them were home at the time, and one of them knocked on the closed bathroom door, got no response, and walked in to find her in the bathtub, drowned, dead.
"Cause of death's drowning," he said. "Water in the lungs confirms that, pending final results from the medical examiner. Open pint bottle of Georgi vodka on the dresser next to the cell phone. Her prints on the bottle, nobody else's. Initial impression, she had a drink or two, went to take a bath, passed out and drowned."
"I can't believe that's what happened."
"Well," he said, "neither can I, but probably for reasons that are different from yours. First off, there's marks on her neck suggesting she might have been choked. That's also pending word from the ME's office, but it gets your attention. Then there's the vodka. Just a couple of ounces gone, and you don't figure that's enough to make a healthy young woman pass out. Granted, different people react differently, and if the water in the tub's real hot it could be a contributing factor, but it's unlikely. Of course she could have had a couple of pops before she got home, or pills of some sort, and the last slug of vodka made the difference. Once again, we'll know more when we get the autopsy results."
"Was she much of a drinker?"
He nodded approvingly. "That's where I was going next. According to the roommates, she hardly drank at all. Maybe a glass of white wine at a party, but the idea of her bringing a bottle back to her room, they couldn't see it. And then there's the prints on the bottle."
"Her prints, you said."
"Just her prints. What was the clerk in the liquor store doing, wearing gloves? Plus the prints are from her right hand, and she's right-handed."
"Bottle's got a twist-off cap. You're going to open a bottle, how do you do it?"
I moved my hands in the air, working it out for myself. It had been a long time since I uncapped a pint of liquor, but I suppose any bottle would qualify, even salad dressing. "I think I'd hold the bottle in my left hand," I said, "and turn the cap with my right."
"If you're right-handed," Wentworth said, "that's how you'd do it."
"Any prints on the cap?"
"None." He picked up his coffee cup, but it was empty. He didn't ask for more, but I got the carafe and filled both our cups, and he grinned. "I'll regret it," he said, "drinking a second cup this late at night, but the hell with it. Some sins are worth the punishment. You grind the beans yourself?" I said we did, and he said it made a difference. Then he said, "There's another thing, made a little alarm bell go off for me. Her clothes."
"Toilet lid's down and her clothes are folded and stacked on top of it, neat as a pin. She came in, ran a tub, got undressed, and hopped in."
"Where's her towel? They share the bathroom, the four of them, so they each have their own towels and keep them in their rooms. There's a hand towel there for everybody's use, but it's too small to use after a bath. How come she forgot her towel?"
"All that vodka," I said.
"Yeah, right." He ran a hand through his hair. "None of this is conclusive, but it makes me want to take a second look. Which I'd be doing anyway if the medical examiner comes up with anything interesting. But while we wait for word from him, I'm treating this as a homicide."
"I think you're right to."
"So you said, and I'd love to know why. I'd also like to know why you're the last person she called, and what your connection is to her in the first place."
"I'm doing some work for Kristin Hollander."
"She's the daughter of Byrne and Susan Hollander."
"Couple killed in that home invasion end of July."
"That's right. Lia Parkman is Kristin's cousin, Susan Hollander's niece."
"Jesus," he said. "Now why the hell didn't anybody tell me that? The one roommate said something about she was depressed about a recent death in the family, but that wasn't just a death, it was a fucking bloodbath. But the perps are dead, aren't they? Murder and suicide out in Coney Island?"
"Coney Island Avenue," I said. "Which is actually in Midwood."
"Close enough. You're doing some work for the daughter, and I don't suppose you're putting a new roof on the house. You're doing what, investigating?"
"It's unofficial," I said. "But yes, I'm investigating."
"And offhand I can only think of one thing you could be investigating. Case is closed, right?"
"And the daughter thinks the whole story hasn't come out yet. Or you think that, or both. Which is it?"
"And that's what put you on to the cousin? Help me out here. How does she fit in?"
I brought him up to speed, just hitting the high points- the front door key, the numeric code for the burglar alarm. "Lia Parkman had a key and she knew the keypad code," I said. "This afternoon I managed to sit down with her and ask her who might have borrowed the key or doped out the code. She said she couldn't think of anybody, but I knew she was holding something back."
"Sometimes you can tell."
"I could tell," I said, "but I couldn't do anything about it. Maybe I should have kept at her. I had to make a judgment call, and I decided I was better off letting her think about it. I gave her a card, told her to call me if she came up with anything."
"And she did."
"If I'd come straight home," I said, then broke it off. "But I didn't, and by the time I got here she'd called and left a message. I called her right back and got her voice mail."
"That's because her phone was turned off. When that happens the voice mail kicks in. You leave her a message?"
"No, what for? I figured I'd try her until I got her. And I did, a couple of times, with the same results. I didn't even know it was a cell phone, I figured it was the phone in her room and she was out."
"They rarely have actual phones in their rooms, the college kids. It's all cell phones. It's simpler, when you're moving all the time."
"Even if I'd left a message," I said, "she never would have received it. He must have already killed her by then."
"He must have been very fucking slick," he said. "Did I mention two of her three roommates were home when it happened? They were studying, they had music playing, but even so. He had to get in the building, get in the apartment, get into her bedroom, take her down, then drag her into the bathroom, strip her, hold her under until she drowns, and then get out of the place without bumping into anybody."
"If he's clever about it," I said, "and if his luck is running- "
"Oh, it's doable, no question. And he wasn't perfect."
"The towel is one. He probably just assumed towels are in the bathroom, you don't have to take one. But her bath towel was on a hook in her closet, and she wouldn't have left it there and then got in the tub. The vodka bottle's another. It's more plausible without the liquor- she stumbles, hits her head on the tub, whatever, drowns before she recovers consciousness. That's more plausible than an afternoon drunk on two ounces of Georgi with a girl who's not a drinker to begin with. Plus where's the bag?"
"You ever buy a pint of booze and not have them put it in a paper bag for you? She'd have left the bottle in the bag until she got home, not tossed the bag on her way home. And the fingerprints. He was cute, wiping the bottle, getting her prints on it, but he used the wrong hand and didn't bother with the cap. That's not enough to hang him, but it's plenty to make a person take a second look."
"You think so? Most people wouldn't even notice."
"Well, I noticed."
"But you're pretty good at this," I said. "A little smarter than the average bear."
He colored, surprised by the compliment. "I don't know about that," he said. "If I was that goddam good, I'd be able to tell you who killed her."
"According to Lia," I said, "his name is Arden Brill."
"Hell," he said. "It sounds more like Arden than anything else, doesn't it? Could you play it one more time?"
I had gone into the bedroom to fetch the answering machine, but Elaine woke up while I was unplugging it and insisted I leave the machine where it was and bring Wentworth in. She disappeared into the bathroom, and emerged during the second playing of the message, wearing a robe and fresh makeup. Since then we'd heard the message another half-dozen times, and were getting less certain with each hearing.
"Arden," he said. "Isn't that a place? The Arden Forest?"
"In Shakespeare," Elaine said. "I don't think there's a real forest."
"No? It's just made up?"
No one was entirely sure, and he pointed out that either way, it was an unusual first name. A last name, sure. Elizabeth Arden, for example. Elaine recalled Eve Arden, the actress, who was before Wentworth's time. I pushed the button and we listened to the message again.
"It could be Auden," he said. "Like the poet?"