"That's interesting," I said. "But I must have missed something. I don't think I understand how the two of you happened to meet."

"We bumped into each other."

"At a conference or- "

"In the lobby. The lobby of our building."

"You live in the same building?"

"Well, where did you think we lived? Breit moved in, oh, sometime around Christmas. You know Harold Fischer? The paleontologist?"

"I don't believe so."

"Brilliant man. He's on sabbatical, a full year in France, poking around in caves. Breit's subletting his apartment."

"He lives in the same building."

"Didn't I just say this?"

"Yes, of course. Was he at your apartment only the one time?"

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"Maybe twice. No more than that. He was pleasant company, but we didn't have that much in common."

"Did he know about the gun?"

"The gun? What gun are we talking about?"

"The one taken in the burglary."

"This was before the burglary," he said, "so how could he know about it?"

"Did he know the gun existed, Dr. Nadler?"

"Oh," he said. "Oh, now I see what you mean," and laughed heartily. "Oh, have you got the wrong number, Detective."

"How do you mean?"

"He was afraid to touch it."

"You showed him the gun?"

"I tried to show him the gun. I took it out of the drawer, I held it out to him, you'd have thought I was trying to hand him a coral snake. It wasn't loaded, he knew it wasn't loaded, and still he wouldn't touch it."

"How did you happen to show him the gun?"

"I don't know. The subject came up. Is there anything else? Because we have guests, and I'd like to get back to them."

THIRTY-SEVEN

Harold Fischer's phone was listed, his Central Park West address the same as Nadler's. I tried the number and it rang four times before the machine picked up. An uninflected male voice repeated the last four digits of the telephone number and invited me to leave a message at the tone.

"If you were leaving the country for a year," I asked T J, "and if you were subletting your apartment, wouldn't you turn off the phone?"

"I don't, could be I come home to a nasty phone bill."

"Maybe Fischer told them to cut it off," I said, "and Breit told them to turn it back on again."

"Said he was Fischer, you mean."

"Maybe. I wonder if Fischer even knew he was subletting his apartment. Maybe he closed it up and Breit moved in."

"Best for Breit if he leave before Fischer come back from France."

"Best for Fischer, too." I tried the number again, got the machine again. "He's not home," I said.

"Then what we waitin' for?"

The doorman took a lot of convincing. I showed him a letter from Harold Fischer, advising anyone concerned that one Matthew Scudder was hereby authorized to enter his premises at 242 Central Park West. The letterhead bore two addresses, the permanent New York address on the left, and a temporary address on the Rue de la Paix in Paris on the right. T J had cobbled it up, letterhead and all, on his computer, and I'd signed Harold P. Fischer in a hand any paleontologist would be proud of.

In the past, when a fellow needed phony letterhead, he had to go to a printshop for it. Now anyone can make his own at home in five minutes. Desktop forgery, T J calls it.

After the doorman had a good look at the letter, I had three more things to show him. I led off with my Detectives' Endowment Association courtesy card, and followed with a photocopy of my New York State private investigator's license. It had long since expired, but I kept my thumb over the date. In case these items were insufficiently impressive, I finished up with a pair of fifty-dollar bills. "For your trouble," I murmured. "Mr. Fischer wanted to show his appreciation."

"I could get in trouble," the man said.

"In the first place, you're authorized," I told him, "and in the second place nobody's going to know."

"Suppose he comes in while you're up there?"

"He's in Paris," I said, "and I'm acting on his behalf in the first place, and- "

"Not Mr. Fischer. The new man, Dr. Breit."

"Just send him up," I said. "I'd love to meet him."

In the end he sorted through a drawer and came up with a set of keys to the Fischer apartment. "Anybody asks," he said, "you went and grabbed these out of the desk on your own. You didn't get them from me."

"We never met," I agreed.

We took the elevator to the fourteenth floor, found Fischer's apartment. There was a bell to ring and I rang it, and knocked on the door as well. No response. I tried the key in the lock, opened the door, and walked in, with T J right behind me. I called out, "Harold? Harold Fischer?" and walked through the large high-ceilinged room with its windows overlooking the park. There was a couch and a couple of chairs, and a desk with a computer on it. T J went straight to it, while I checked out the rest of the apartment. In the bedroom, the bed was made, the drapes drawn. In the bathroom, one towel was still damp.

T J called to me, and I went back to the living room and found him hunched over the computer, his eyes on the screen. "Something here you better look at," he said.

Ira Wentworth read the two-page printout a couple of times through, pausing now and then to shake his head. He looked up when he was done and said, "Tell me again where you got this."

"Off the Internet."

"You know what this is, don't you? This is a murder happened just hours ago. Did it even make the news yet?"

"First we heard of it," T J said, "was readin' this-here on the Web. Went to this site I been watchin', has a lot of shit about the Hollander murders. People speculatin', offerin' their own theories 'bout the case."

"Buffs," Wentworth said, the way a man might look around a kitchen and say cockroaches. He looked at the papers he was holding, shook his head again, and said, "This is the man who killed that girl. Amsterdam and Eighty-eighth, earlier today, did it just the way he says he did it. Different precinct, but everybody's talking about it, because you don't get just one of these. Maniac's out there, he's gonna do it again."

"This one's done it before."

"Yeah, that's clear, isn't it? But there's nothing here about the Hollanders, nothing about Parkman. Nothing saying who he is, either, far as that goes."

"He implies he's a mental-health professional."

"He's a mental-health case, is what he fucking is. You say his name's Breit?"

"Adam Breit."

"And how do you tie him in? You told me, but tell me again."

I said, "He met Kristin Hollander when he did couple counseling for her and a former boyfriend. He still sees the boyfriend and his little circle professionally. He was a counselor, court-appointed or self-appointed, I don't know which, for Jason Bierman."

"Mope who had the place in Coney Island."

Midwood, I thought, but the hell with it. "He's subletting an apartment in the same building with Nadler," I said, "and Nadler had him over for drinks and showed him the gun."

"Which was later stolen, and used at the Hollanders' and out in Brooklyn."

"Right."

"Makes him look awfully good for it," he said. "You know what we got? We got everything but evidence."

T J said, "He posted this. Every chance in the world he used his home computer, an' if he didn't erase it…"

"Even if he did," Wentworth said, "there's geniuses who can recover stuff after you erased it. But we can't seize his computer without a warrant. We can't even walk in his door without a warrant."

"It's not his apartment."

"He's subletting it, isn't he?"

"There's some question about the legality of that. There's a chance he moved in without informing the apartment's owner."

"And the owner?"

"Is in France and can't be reached," I said. I pointed to the paper he was holding. "Isn't that enough to obtain a warrant?"

"This? How can you tell where it came from?"

T J pointed to the upper left corner of the first page, where a Web address appeared in a different typeface from the rest. "Person runnin' the site could ID the account of the person made the post," he said.

"Take forever, wouldn't it?"

"Take a while."

"And you'd have to get cooperation, and those people out on the Web aren't always in a hurry to cooperate."

"That's a fact."

"But that's what we did," Wentworth said, "and we reached the guy, and got the confirmation from him over the phone. Of course, there's some judges who'd want to see proof of that before they issue a warrant." He grinned. "But there's some who won't."

By the time we got there, armed with a warrant authorizing a search of Apartment 14-G at 242 Central Park West, City of New York, County of New York, State of New York, our party had grown to include Dan Schering from the Twentieth Precinct, two detectives named Hannon and Fisk from the Two-six, and two more from Manhattan North Homicide whose names I never did get. There was somebody from the crime lab as well, equipped with a camera and whatever gear he'd stuffed in his backpack. The same doorman was on duty downstairs, but we were careful not to recognize one another. Wentworth showed him the warrant and he took us right upstairs.

" 'Stead of a letter from Harold Fischer," T J murmured, "I shoulda printed up a warrant. Save you a hundred bucks that way."

"Next time," I said.

The doorman opened the door for us and stood aside, and Wentworth led the way. I was ready to point out the computer, but he saw it right away and went straight to it, drawing on a surgical glove so he wouldn't leave prints. "The New York skyline," he said, noting the screensaver. "Love it or leave it. Now let's hope he liked what he wrote so much he couldn't bear to erase it."

He extended a gloved forefinger and touched a key, and the screensaver winked away, and there was Adam Breit's last message. We'd left it right where we'd found it.

"Jesus," he said. He called the crime lab guy over and asked him if he could shoot a photo of the computer screen. There was a question of glare, I gather, but the fellow said the right filter might help, and he'd see what he could do.

He left him to it and came over to where the rest of us were standing. He stood there shaking his head. "This is almost too good to be true," he said.

I suppose he was right. It was a little bit too good to be true. But it was close enough.

The Web address on the printout we'd prepared for Wentworth was a real site, one T J had been keeping tabs on for the past week or so. And Breit might have posted his observations there or somewhere else, after he'd found a safe way to do so, but he hadn't, and we hadn't posted them for him. We'd considered it, T J thought he knew a way to make it work, but it would have taken too much time.

So we'd gambled that Wentworth would take what we showed him at face value, and T J had inserted the address in the appropriate spot of Breit's open file, printed it out that way on Breit's printer, then deleted his addition to the document and left everything as he'd found it.