Everybody dies, p.10
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       Everybody Dies, p.10

         Part #14 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
Page 10


  "Oho," she said. "Is that what I think it is? Or are you just glad to see me?"

  "Both. "

  She reached to unbutton the jacket. "Its less obvious that way," she said.

  "Until it opens up and becomes a lot more obvious. "

  "Oh, right. I didnt think of that. "

  "TJ was pushing hard for a Kangaroo. "

  "Just your style. "

  "Thats what I told him. "

  "This is a nice surprise," she said. "I was just getting ready to close up. "

  "And I was, hoping to take you out to dinner. "

  "Hmmm. I want to go home and wash up first. "

  "I figured you might. "

  "And change clothes. "

  "That too. "

  Heading up Ninth, she said, "Since were going home anyway, why dont I cook something?"

  "In this heat?"

  "Its not that hot, and itll be a cool evening. In fact it might rain. "

  "It doesnt feel like rain. "

  "The radio said it might. Anyway, its not hot in our apartment. I kind of feel like pasta and a salad. "

  "Youd be surprised how many restaurants can fix that for you. "

  "No better than I can fix it myself. "

  "Well, if you insist," I said. "But I was leaning toward Armstrongs or Paris Green, and afterward we could go down to the Village and hear some music. "

  "Oh. "

  "Now theres enthusiasm. "

  "Well, what I was thinking," she said, "was pasta and a salad at home, to be followed by a double feature on the VCR. " She patted her handbag. "Michael Collins and The English Patient. Romance and violence, in whichever order we decide. "

  "A quiet evening at home," I said.

  "He said, barely able to contain his excitement. Whats wrong with a quiet evening at home?"

  "Nothing. "

  "And we missed both of these movies, and weve been promising ourselves wed see them. "

  "True enough," I said.

  We left it at that until we hit the lobby of our building. Then I said, "Were both overreacting, arent we? You dont want me to leave the house. "

  "And you want to prove the bastards cant keep you from doing anything you want to do. "

  "Whether or not I really want to do it. One thing you forgot to mention is its Saturday night, and anyplace we go is likely to be crowded and noisy. If I werent such a stubborn son of a bitch, a quiet evening at home would probably strike me as a terrific idea. "

  "You dont sound like such a stubborn son of a bitch. "

  "I did a few minutes ago. "

  "But youre starting to come around," she said. "Will this tip the balance? I stocked up on Scotch bonnet peppers the other day. The sauce for the pasta will loosen your scalp, and thats a promise. "

  "Dinner first," I said, "and then Michael Collins. That way if I fall asleep in front of the set all Ill miss is The English Patient. "

  "You drive a hard bargain, mister. "

  "Well, I married a Jewish girl," I said. "She taught me well. "

  Sunday morning I looked at my middle and half the colors in the rainbow looked back at me. It felt a little better even though it looked a good deal worse, and it seemed to me my other aches and pains had receded some.

  I got dressed and went into the kitchen for a bagel and a cup of coffee. Elaine asked how I felt and I told her. "A few years ago," I said, "Id have come back a lot faster from a punch like that. I wouldnt have had to check every morning to see how I felt. "

  "And maintenance keeps taking more time and effort," she said. "Who the hell had to bother with exercise? Speaking of which, I think Ill get over to the gym for an hour. "

  "Im almost desperate enough to join you. "

  "Why dont you? Theres every machine you could possibly want, and plenty of free weights if you want to be a Luddite about it. And tons of women in Spandex to look at, and the whirlpool afterward for your aching muscles. And the look on your face tells me youre not coming. "

  "Not today," I said. "I used up too much energy just hearing about the machines. You know what I really feel like? Nothing so energetic as a gym workout, but a nice long walk. Down to the Village and back, or up to Ninety-sixth Street and back. "

  "Well, you could do that if you want to. "

  "But you dont think I should. "

  "Just dress warm, huh? Wear your vest and your shoulder holster. "

  "Maybe Ill hang around the house today. "

  "Why dont you, sweetie? You can do some very gentle partial sit-ups if you want to mend quicker. But why not give those jerks another day to lose interest in you?"

  "It makes sense. "

  "Plus youve got the Sunday Times to read, and just lifting it is more exercise than people in the rest of the country get in a month. And there must be plenty of sports on television. "

  "I think Ill have another bagel," I said. "It sounds as though Im going to need the energy. "

  I read the paper and watched the Giants game. When it ended I switched back and forth between the Jets and Bills on NBC and a seniors golf tournament. I didnt much care who won the football game- they didnt either, from the way they were playing- and the golf wasnt even interesting, although there was something curiously hypnotic about it.

  It had the same effect on Elaine, who brought me a cup of coffee and wound up staring transfixed at the set until they broke the spell with a Midas Muffler commercial. "Why was I watching that?" she demanded. "What do I care about golf?"

  "I know. "

  "And what do I care about Midas Mufflers? When I buy a muffler itll be the brand George Foreman advertises. "

  "Meineke. "

  "Whatever. "

  "Since we dont have a car…"

  "Youre right. When I buy a muffler itll be cashmere. "

  She left the room and I went back to watching the golf, and, while some fellow in too-bright clothing lined up his birdie putt, I found myself thinking of Lisa Holtzmann. What I was thinking was that it was just the right sort of lazy afternoon to spend at her apartment.

  Just a passing thought, even as Ill still have the thought of a drink, even in the absence of any real desire for one. Id smelled all that bourbon the other night, and the bouquet had gone straight to the memory banks, but it hadnt made me want a drink. Id smelled it again the next day, along with smells of blood and death and gunfire, fainter a day later but still very much there to be noted. I hadnt wanted a drink then, either.

  And I didnt want Lisa now, but evidently I wanted to be out of the space I was in, not the physical space of our apartment but the mental space, the chamber of self I occupied. Thats what shed always been, more than a source of pleasure, more than a conquest, more than good company. She was a way to get out, and I was a person who would always want to get out. No matter how comfortable my life was, no matter how well suited I was to it and it to me, I would always want to slip away and hide for a while.

  Part of who I am.

  Just seeing her there, just catching her eye, just watching her holding hands with Florian, had served to put her in mind. I wasnt going to see her. I wasnt even going to call her. But it was something I could talk about later with Jim, and something I wasnt going to bother thinking about anymore for now.

  Meanwhile, Id watch the fellows play golf.

  "You look nice," Elaine said. She reached to touch the front of my windbreaker and felt the gun through it. "Very nice. The way it billows out, the holsters completely hidden. And if you keep it zipped halfway like that, you can get it in a hurry, cant you?"

  I demonstrated, drawing the gun, putting it back.

  "And your red polo shirt," she said, and reached to undo a button. "Oh, I see, you had it buttoned so the vest wouldnt show. But it looks better open, and so what if the vest shows? You cant tell what it is. It could be an undershirt. "

  "Under a polo shirt?"

  "Or a tattoo," she said. "You look good. Theres just enough contrast between the windbreaker
and your khakis so it doesnt look like a uniform. "

  "Im glad," I said, "because I was really concerned about that. "

  "Well, you should be. Suppose some dame pulls up and asks you to check her oil? How would you feel?"

  "I dont think Im going to answer that. "

  "Youre a wise man," she said. "Gimme a kiss. Mmmm. Have fun. Be careful. Give my love to Jim. "

  I went outside. It felt like rain, and we could use it. The air was thick and heavy, and needed the rinsing a good downpour would provide. But my guess was it was going to hold off awhile longer, as it had been holding off for several days now.

  I walked the long crosstown block to Eighth Avenue and a few blocks downtown to the restaurant, which turned out to be the Lucky Panda. There was a panda depicted on the sign, conventionally black and white, and smiling as if hed just won the lottery.

  Jim Faber was already there, and he was easy to spot in a restaurant that was mostly empty. The table hed chosen was one Id have picked myself, against a side wall in the rear. He was reading the magazine section of the Times, and he put it aside at my approach and got to his feet.

  "Ike and Mike," he said.

  We shook hands, and I said, "Come again?"

  He pointed at me, then at himself. "Ike and Mike, they look alike. You never heard that expression?"

  "Not recently. "

  "I had twin cousins three years older than myself. I ever mention them?"

  "I dont think so. Their names were Ike and Mike?"

  "No, of course not. Their names were Paul and Philip, but everybody called Philip Buzzy. God knows why. But I had this uncle, not the twins father but another uncle, and every time he saw them he said the same thing. "

  "Hello, boys. "

  "Ike and Mike, they look alike. Every goddamn time, which meant every family event, and there were plenty of those. For a family full of people who didnt much like one another, we got together a lot. Ike and Mike, they look alike. Must have driven them up the fucking wall, but they never complained. But then you didnt complain in my family. You learned not to. "

  "Quit your crying or Ill give you something to cry about. "

  "Jesus, yes. Your father used to say that?"

  "No, never. But I had an uncle who was always saying that to his kids. And I gather it wasnt just talk. "

  "I heard it a lot myself growing up, and it wasnt just talk in our house, either. Anyway, thats the sorrowful saga of Ike and Mike. "

  We were both wearing tan windbreakers over red polo shirts and khaki slacks. "Were not quite twins," I said. "Im wearing a bulletproof vest. "

  "Thanks for telling me. Now Ill know to duck behind you when the lead starts flying. "

  "When you do," I said, "Ill be blazing away at the bastards. "

  "Oh? Youre packing heat?"

  "In a shoulder rig," I said, and slid the zipper down far enough to show it, then zipped it up again.

  "Ill sleep better," he said, "knowing my dinner companion is armed and dangerous. Change seats with me. "

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