All the flowers are dyin.., p.11
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       All the Flowers Are Dying, p.11

         Part #16 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
Page 11


  “I don’t understand. ”

  “No, how could you? Here’s the thing, Preston. There’s a piece of information I have, and it might upset you to know it, but you might be more upset later if you don’t know it. ”

  “After the tunnel and the white light, there’s another cell just like this one. ”

  “God, what a thought. Actually, that helps me make the decision. Your strength, your tough-mindedness. ”

  “Whatever it is, Arne, let’s hear it. ”

  “It has to do with the procedure tomorrow. The lethal injection. It’s a three-part procedure, as you know. Three drugs are administered intravenously. The first is thiopental sodium, more commonly known as sodium pentothal, and popularly if inaccurately thought of as truth serum. It’s classed as a hypnotic, it calms and sedates you and keeps you from feeling anything. The second, Pavulon, is derived from curare, which South American Indians use to tip their arrows. It’s a paralytic, it paralyzes the lungs and brings your breathing to a halt. Finally, a massive dose of potassium chloride stops the heart. ”

  “And you die. ”

  “Yes, but there’s a strong argument to the effect that the procedure is not painless as advertised, that it’s actually hideously painful. Onlookers get no indication of this, as the subject’s facial expression never changes, but that’s because it can’t, the muscles are paralyzed by the Pavulon. The subject actually feels excruciating pain, and it goes on almost to the moment of death. ”

  “Jesus. ”

  “Now I don’t see how they can possibly know this,” he says. “No one’s ever returned to furnish a firsthand report. So what I’m saying, I guess, is that you should be aware of the possibility of pain. And I’ve told you because it seems to me it would be worse coming as a complete surprise, but maybe I’ve made a mistake. Maybe I’ve just given you something unnecessary to worry about during your final hours. ”

  “Except I won’t,” Applewhite says. “Pain almost seems beside the point. Once you get used to the idea of dying, what difference does it make if it hurts a little? Or even more than a little? It won’t last long, no matter what it feels like. ”

  “That’s a wonderful attitude, Preston. ”

  “It’s not going to spoil my ice cream, Arne. I’ll tell you that much. ”

  Driving south on I-95, he slows down when he sees the sign for the Outback Steakhouse, then decides to keep going. There’s a Circle K near his Days Inn, and he can stop there for a pint of vanilla ice cream and bring it back to his room.


  The first thing TJ tried was the phone number. It was his cell phone, Louise had told us, and the prefix was 917, which is one of two area codes set aside for mobile phones in the New York area. There’s an online reverse directory TJ knows how to use, and that’s where he went, hoping to find a name and address. But there was no listing for that number.

  “Might be he walked into a store, bought a phone with prepaid minutes on it. You dealing in product, that’s how you do. Walk into one of those stores on Fourteenth Street, pay cash for a phone, and you in business. Don’t even have to give a name, ’cause you ain’t opening an account, you just buying a phone with the minutes already on it. They start to run out, you go back where you bought it and give the man more money, and they give you some more minutes. ”

  “And it’s all off the books. ”

  “Far as you’re concerned, it is. Whether the store declares the cash, well, we don’t care about that part, do we?”

  “It won’t keep us up nights. I don’t suppose you have to be a dope dealer to get a phone that way. ”

  “Way I got mine. It’s simpler and you don’t get no bill every month. Don’t get no telemarketers, either. Don’t have to get on the Do Not Call list, ’cause you ain’t on the Call list to begin with. ”

  “Those are definite advantages,” I had to admit. “The only way to improve on it would be not to have a phone at all. For David Thompson, though, you wouldn’t think he’d want to play hard to get. He’s a freelance copywriter. If nobody knows his phone number, how does he get work?”

  “His clients would have the number. Same as the dope dealers. ”

  “What about new business?”

  “Be a problem. ”

  “He told Louise it’s feast or famine in his line of work. During famine times, I wouldn’t think you’d want to make it hard for people to get in touch with you. He’s got to have more than one phone. ”

  “ ’Less he stupid. ”

  “He’d have a land line in his office. He might not give her the number because that’s his business line. ”

  “Or because he ain’t who he says he is. ”

  “Always a possibility. ”

  “Whole lot of David Thompsons in the phone book. Plus all the D Thompsons. ”

  “It’s a place to start,” I said.

  And it didn’t require computer skills, either, just a sedentary version of the kind of doggedness I’d learned fresh out of the Police Academy. GOYAKOD was the acronym, and it stood for Get Off Your Ass and Knock On Doors. I did just that, albeit metaphorically, and made phone calls, working my way through the D and David Thompsons in the Manhattan white pages.

  “I’m not sure I have the right party,” I’d tell whoever answered. “I’m trying to reach the David Thompson who writes direct-mail advertising copy. ”

  One man pointed out that the one thing to be said for direct-mail advertising was that it didn’t interrupt your day the way a phone call did. But most of the people I reached were polite enough, if unhelpful; they weren’t the David Thompson I was looking for, nor had they heard of the fellow. I thanked them and put a check mark next to their names and moved on to the next listing.

  That’s how it went when I got an actual person on the phone, which didn’t happen all that often. Most of the time I got a machine or a voice mail system, in which case I left a message saying essentially what I’d have said to a human being, and adding my phone number. I didn’t expect a lot of callbacks, but you never know, and there was always the chance someone might be monitoring his machine, waiting to see who it was before picking up. That happened once; I was halfway through my spiel when a woman came on the line to tell me her husband was not a copywriter but an insurance agent with Vermont Life. But maybe she could help me after all, she suggested. How long had it been since I’d had a thorough review of my insurance needs?

  “I suppose I had that coming,” I said. “I’ll make you a deal. I won’t call you anymore, and you don’t call me. ”

  She said that sounded fair enough, and I put a check mark next to her husband’s name.

  I’ve known a few people in advertising over the years, but if I’d met them in AA I rarely knew their last names, or where they worked. There was a fellow named Ken McCutcheon I’d known when I first got sober, but I’d long since lost touch with him, and I spent a lot of time calling people I thought might have kept track of him. Eventually one of them remembered he’d moved to Dobbs Ferry, in Westchester County. I found a listing for him, not in Dobbs Ferry but nearby in Hastings, and reached a woman who turned out to be his widow. Ken had died six, no, seven years ago, she told me. I said I was sorry to hear it. She asked my name, and how I’d known him.

  He was dead, and anyway she’d been his wife, so preserving his anonymity wasn’t an issue, and I’ve never made much of a thing out of preserving my own. I said I’d known him in AA, and she surprised me by asking if I was still sober. I said I was.

  “Then you’re one of the lucky ones,” she said. “Ken had nine years, nine wonderful years, and then I guess he thought he was cured. And he just couldn’t stop drinking. He was in and out of treatment, he went out to Hazelden for thirty days. He flew home, and I met him at the airport, and he got off the plane drunk. And drank for another year or two after that, and then he had a seizure and died. ”

  I apologized for disturbing her, and she apologized for telling me more than I
may have wanted to know. “I should change the listing,” she said. “In the phone book. But I never get around to it. ”

  “They don’t like to call it direct mail anymore,” Bob Ripley told me. “Don’t ask me why. Nowadays it’s either direct marketing or direct-response advertising. And that’s very nearly the extent of my knowledge of the subject, but I know a guy who can tell you anything you need to know, including why you get six copies of the Lands’ End catalog every goddam month. ”

  I suppose I should have thought of Bob sooner. I’d seen him less than two months ago, the same night I’d booked Ray Gruliow to speak at St. Paul’s. Bob, like Ray, was a fellow member of the Club of Thirty-one, and a vice president of Fowler & Kresge. I didn’t know what he did in that capacity, but I knew F&K was an advertising agency, and that was enough.

  Mark Safran, the fellow he referred me to, was in a meeting, but I left my number and mentioned Bob’s name, and that got me a callback within the hour. “I could tell you a lot about direct marketing,” he said, “but you’re looking to find a particular guy, is that right?”

  “Or to find out that there is no such guy. ”

  “That’d be tough, because there’s a ton of freelance copy guys out there, and it’d be hard to prove he’s not one of them. It’s not like doctors or lawyers, there’s no single professional organization you have to belong to. No state or municipal licensing bureau, like I guess there is in your field. ”

  I let that pass.

  “The thing is,” he said, “we do almost everything in-house, and when we’re in a hurry and need to go outside, we use somebody we’ve worked with in the past. So we’ve got our own list of six or eight guys, and then there are the big corporate shops, but your guy’s not there because he’s a freelance. You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to put you in touch with one of the guys we use. ”

  He gave me a name and number, and it was easy to believe the guy was a freelance because he actually answered his own phone. “Peter Hochstein,” he said, and when I explained my quest he asked the name of my quarry. “Never heard of him,” he said, “but that doesn’t prove anything. I don’t go out and meet my colleagues. Mostly I stay home and work. And if I had heard of him, it’s not a name that sticks in your mind. ”

  “No. ”

  “He might belong to the DMA, but probably not. Most of the members are corporate, because membership’s expensive. But he could have a free listing in Who’s Charging What. Or he could be the kind of guy who runs small-space ads offering his services in DM News or Direct or Target Marketing. You could check there, and also in the classifieds in Adweek and Advertising Age. ”

  He was full of suggestions, and I wrote everything down. If David Thompson had won an award or made a speech, he’d probably turn up on a Google search, but that might be tricky because his name was such a common one. “You could find me that way,” he said, “along with the Peter Hochstein who’s serving a life sentence for a contract killing in Nebraska, not to mention Peter Hochstein the German scientist. ”

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