"Well, I'm expecting someone this afternoon."
"His name's David Hamm. He's the man who gave me the ride home the night I found… the night it happened."
He'd waited at the curb, making sure she got in all right.
"It couldn't be him," she said, anticipating my thought, "because he was there all evening, at my friend's house. And the police investigated him thoroughly before they found the two dead bodies in Brooklyn."
"Whose idea was it for him to come over this afternoon?"
"Well, he called. I invited him. He called once before, after the funeral, all concerned, and…"
Her voice trailed off. I said, "Call him now and tell him something's come up, you won't be home, you can't have company."
"If he calls back, don't take the call, and don't return it."
"But… all right."
"Call him now, and then call me back."
He was probably perfectly all right. He couldn't have been in two places at one time, and the police would have checked him inside and out during the early stages of the investigation. I didn't give a damn. I didn't want him getting close to her, him or anybody else.
I was just starting to wonder what was taking so goddam long when the phone rang and she said it was all taken care of, and was there anything else?
"Yes," I said. "As a matter of fact, there is. Do you know anyone named Arden Brill?"
"Yes. Does the name ring a bell?"
"No, should it?"
"Did anyone ever get in touch with you, recently or in the past, with the explanation that he was doing a doctoral dissertation on your mother?"
"On my mother?"
"On her writing."
"Gosh, no," she said. "I can't imagine that anyone would. I mean, she was serious about her work, and I think she was a fine writer, but she wasn't important to the extent that anyone would write a thesis about her."
"But someone could have been interested in her work."
"Well, sure. I mean, she was an interesting writer, so why wouldn't people be interested?"
"Could you see if she had any correspondence from Arden Brill?"
"Is that who- "
"I don't think he exists," I said, "but I think that's one name that he used."
"I could check her files," she said. "She filed all her correspondence in a cabinet in her studio, and there's a pile of miscellaneous papers, and I could go through those. And I could check her computer, too, and see if his name comes up. First name A-R-D-E-N, last name B-R-I-L-L? I'll call and let you know if I find anything."
I'd tried T J a couple of times earlier but he was out. The second time I remembered to try him on his cell phone- it's never the first thing I think of- and it rang unanswered. I took another shot when I got off the phone with Kristin, and this time he picked up right away.
He already knew about Lia. He'd been on the Columbia campus, and there were a lot of conflicting stories going around- that she was the latest victim of the man the tabloids had dubbed the Dorm Rapist, that she had killed herself, that the boyfriend of one of her roommates had killed her accidentally in some sort of rough sex play involving water.
"The last part's right," I said. "The part about the water." I filled him in, then asked if he was home.
"You just called me," he said, "and I picked up. Where else I gonna be?"
"You could be anyplace," I said. "I called you on your cell phone, didn't I?"
"Oh," he said. "So you did."
"I think I did, but I suppose- "
"No, must be you did," he said, " 'cause here I be, talkin' on it."
"You didn't answer when I tried you before."
"Had the sound turned off when I was in the classroom. Professors get all hinky when they're in the middle of a sentence and some fool's phone goes off."
"But you're home now. Don't go anywhere, I'm on my way over."
"Force yourself," I said. "And while you're waiting, start looking for Arden Brill."
There was an Alden Brill in Yreka, California, and an Arlen Brill in Gadsden, Alabama, and their names popped up without much effort on his part. I was impressed, but he frowned and shook his head.
"Ain't gonna find him this way," he said. "Even if we do, we don't be findin' nothin'. This ain't about some dude flew in from California an' killed a bunch of people. Guy we lookin' for is homegrown."
"That's true, but- "
"An' his name ain't Arden Brill, neither."
"Still," I said, "it's a place to start, and it's all we have."
He was nodding. "What you said before," he said, "that Elaine said. Why'd he pick a name like Arden Brill?"
"That's the question."
"Maybe that's where we ought to go."
"Let's see something," he said, bending over the keyboard. "This here'll take a minute. Y'all just talk amongst yourselves."
I put the TV on but muted it so the sound wouldn't distract him. When I found myself trying to read Judy Fortin's lips I gave up and turned it off. I reached for a magazine and got one called MacAddict, which wasn't, as I might have guessed, for people who filled up regularly on Happy Meals and Egg McMuffins, but for users of Macintosh computers. I was trying to find an article I could make head or tail out of when he said, "Arden Brill."
"You found something?"
"Coulda called himself Abe," he said, " 'less he thought it was too ethnic. Or AA, only then you'd likely go lookin' for him at a meetin'."
"What are you talking about?"
" 'Bout Arden Brill. Could called himself Carl Young, an' then we never woulda got nowhere 'cause we never woulda knowed how he spelled it. You don't see what I'm sayin', do you?"
"Not a clue."
"Thing is," he said, "I heard the name Brill, an' I knew it was familiar. But there's this Steven Brill, started Court TV and all."
"I think we can rule him out."
"Yeah, well I know that. But there was another Brill naggin' at my mind, but 'tween Steve an' Arden I couldn't get him sorted out. An' when I typed in Brill on Google I got about a million hits, and most of 'em had to do with Contentville, which is this Web site he started. Steven Brill, I'm talkin' about."
"Let me print this out," he said, "and you can read it for yourself."
"If it's as crystal-clear as this magazine- "
"No," he said, tapping keys. "It's real simple. You'll see."
He switched on the printer, and in less than a minute a sheet of paper scrolled into the tray. He picked it up and handed it to me.
BRILL, Abraham Arden, 1874-1948. Born in Austria, came to United States alone at age 13, resided in New York City. Graduated NYU 1901, MD Columbia University 1903. Studied in Switzerland with Carl Jung, returned to US in 1908. An early and outspoken advocate of psychoanalysis, Brill was one of the first to translate Freud and Jung into English, and did much to make their theories accessible in the United States. He taught for years at NYU and Columbia; publications include Psychoanalysis, Its Theories and Application (1912) and Fundamental Conceptions of Psychoanalysis (1921).
"Could be a coincidence," he said.
"You still see his books on reading lists. That's what rang a bell. Arden, though, that kept the penny from dropping. It's usually A. A. Brill, or Abraham Brill."
He'd dropped the hip-hop speech patterns, and sounded like someone who'd know about Freud and Jung, and Abraham Brill.
I said, "It's not a coincidence."
"It really couldn't be, could it?"
"He picked the name because it meant something to him, and he was confident it wouldn't mean anything to her."
"To Lia, you mean."
"No one else was ever supposed to hear the name. He went to Lia's dorm and killed her to keep her from repeating it. He was too late, but not by much. 'Arden Brill' were two of the last words she ever spoke."
"Good thing you had your machine on."
"If I'd been home to take the call- "
"Good thing you weren't."
"How do you figure that?"
"Because she'd have said she thought of something, that it might be important. And you'd have said, 'No, not over the phone, I'll meet you in twenty minutes at the Salonika.' Only you'd have been waiting a long time at that restaurant, because she'd be floating in the bathtub, and you never would have heard the name Arden Brill."
I thought about it, agreed it was possible.
"Or," he said, "she hears your voice, and she gets flustered and hangs up."
"She could just as easily have hung up on the answering machine."
"But she didn't," he said.
"If I'd questioned her a little more intensively at the Salonika- "
"Maybe she'd have said then and there."
"And maybe not," he said. "Maybe she'd have clammed up tight, and not made a phone call later, because of how hard you pressed her."
"And he would have shown up right on schedule," he went on, "and she'd be just as dead as she is now, same as if we never even made the call and went up there yesterday in the first place. This way we got a name, Arden Brill, and otherwise we wouldn't have a thing."
"Arden Brill," I said.
"Figure it's him?"
"It pretty much has to be."
"Yeah," he said. "I guess."
"I suppose," I said, "when you turn around and take a good long look at it, it all becomes very obvious. But I was right in the room with the son of a bitch and it never even occurred to me. For Christ's sake, it was his gun. The son of a bitch used his own gun!"
He sits, watching the lights of the city go on and off, on and off. It's the middle of the afternoon, but on his computer it is forever night, and his screensaver is tireless. Office and apartment lights wink on and wink off, and gradually buildings change their shapes, adding floors, losing floors, becoming wider or narrower. The idea, of course, is that each tiny subsection of the monitor will have its turn to be dark, and thus no single high-traffic spot will burn out ahead of the others.
Is this a real problem? Do computer screens ever burn out? With the relentless march of technology, does anyone actually keep a piece of equipment long enough for wear and tear to affect it?
Probably not. Every year- every six months- the new computers are faster and more powerful, and cost less than the previous generation. Soon he'll replace his own computer. There is nothing wrong with it, it does everything he could possibly require of it, but he'll replace it with one that is newer-better-faster… and he'll dutifully install his screensaver on his new hard drive.
All so he can watch lights wink on and off…
He lowers a finger, touches a key, and the screensaver is gone. He touches more keys, clicks his mouse, and in no time at all (though the next machine will do it even faster) he's on-line.