Everybody dies, p.12
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       Everybody Dies, p.12

         Part #14 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 12

 

  Hed never let me get away with crap like that. You must have one hell of an ego, he told me more than once, to be that hard on yourself. Where do you get off setting yourself such impossibly high standards? Who do you think you are, anyway? The piece of shit the world revolves around?

  I said, You mean Im not?

  Youre just a man, he said. Youre just another alcoholic.

  Thats all?

  Thats enough, he said.

  If only the past were subject to change.

  When TJ has second thoughts at the computer, he can press certain keys and undo the previous action. But, as a pinball addict told me years ago, the trouble with life is theres no reset button.

  Whats done can never be undone. Its set in concrete, carved in stone.

  Omar Khayyam wrote it ages ago, and put it so well that even I can remember the lines:

  The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,

  Moves on, nor all your Piety nor Wit

  Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,

  Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

  If only that were not so.

  If only…

  I was questioned at length at the crime scene, first by the uniforms who responded to the 911 call, then by somebody in plainclothes. Its impossible to remember the questions and answers because I was only dimly aware of the procedure while it was going on. A portion of my mind was struggling to pay attention, taking in what was being said by others within earshot, monitoring the questions I was asked and the answers I gave. The rest of me was somewhere else, wandering aimlessly through corridors of the past, sending out forays into an alternate future. An if-only future, a future in which, because Id done something differently, Jim was still alive.

  When I was eleven or twelve I got hit in the forehead with a baseball and walked around all day with a concussion. This was like that. As if Id been swathed in cotton wool, enveloped in fog. I wasnt really taking anything in, and it would all imprint on my memory like dream time, soft and hazy and out of focus, with pieces missing.

  It was a quarter to ten when the fog cleared, or lifted, or whatever it does. I noted the time on the wall clock in the squad room upstairs at Midtown North, where I dimly recall being taken in the back of a blue and white police cruiser. We could have walked; the station house was on Fifty-fourth west of Eighth, literally a stones throw from the Lucky Panda.

  I suppose the whole precinct house knew the restaurant. Cops have a legendary appetite for doughnuts, but they also put away a lot of Chinese food, and some of Midtown Norths Finest were likely to be at least occasional patrons of the Lucky Panda. That gave me one more entry in the If-Only sweepstakes. Why couldnt there have been a couple of uniforms at a front table? The shooter would have taken one look and gone home.

  A quarter to ten. I hadnt even noticed the time until now. Id met Jim around six-thirty. We talked for a minute or two. I went to the lavatory, I used the lavatory, I came rushing out of the lavatory…

  Three hours gone since then, and gone in no time at all. I must have spent a lot of it sitting or standing around, waiting for something to happen, waiting for somebody to tell me what to do. I must have been in a very tractable state. Unaware as I was of the passage of time, I hadnt grown bored or impatient.

  "Matt? Here, whyntcha have a seat? Well go over this one more time and then you can go home and get some rest. "

  "Sure," I said.

  This detectives name was George Wister. He was lean and angular, with a sharp nose and chin and a carefully trimmed little mustache. His beard was dark and heavy, and I suppose hed shaved when he got up that morning but he needed to shave again and knew it. He had a habit of touching his cheek or chin, running a finger against the grain of his whiskers, as if to check just how urgent was his need for a shave.

  He was around forty, 510", dark brown hair, deep-set dark brown eyes. I registered all this and wondered why. Nobody would be asking me to describe the investigating officer. What theyd have liked from me was a description of the killer, and I couldnt help them with that.

  "Im sorry to have kept you so long," Wister was saying. "But you know how these things work. You were on the job yourself. "

  "Years ago. "

  "And it seems to me Ive seen you around the house. Youre tight with Joe Durkin, arent you?"

  "Weve known each other awhile. "

  "And now youre working private. " I dug out my wallet and started to show him my license. "No, thats all right," he said. "You showed me before. "

  "Its hard to keep it straight. What I showed and who I showed it to. "

  "Yeah, and everybody wants to go over the same ground, and the whole experience takes it out of you to begin with. You must be dead on your feet. "

  Was I? I didnt even know.

  "And anxious to get home. " He touched his chin, his cheek. "Deceased is James Martin Faber," he read off a clipboard, and went on to read Jims address and the name and address of his place of business, looking at me each time for confirmation.

  I said, "His wife is- "

  "Mrs. Beverly Faber, same address. Shes being notified, in fact theyve probably been over to see her by now. Get her to make a formal ID. "

  "Ill have to see her myself. "

  "You want to get some rest first, Matt. Youre in shock yourself right now. "

  I could have told him it was wearing off. I was myself again, whatever that amounted to. But all I did was nod.

  "Faber was a friend of yours. "

  "My sponsor. " The word puzzled him, and I was sorry Id used it because now I had to explain it. Not that there was any reason not to explain. Theres a tradition against breaking the anonymity of another AA member, but its a courtesy extended only to the living. "My AA sponsor," I said.

  "Thatd be Alcoholics Anonymous?"

  "Thats right. "

  "I thought anybody could join. I didnt know you had to be sponsored. "

  "You dont," I said. "A sponsors something you get after youve joined, more a combination friend and adviser. Sort of like a rabbi on the job. "

  "A more experienced guy? Pulls strings for you, helps you keep your nose clean?"

  "Its a little different," I said, "in that there are no promotions in AA, and the only way you can get in trouble is by picking up a drink. A sponsor is someone you can talk to, someone wholl help you stay sober. "

  "Not a problem Ive got," he said, "but a lot of cops do, and no wonder. The stress you got to deal with day in and day out. "

  Every jobs stressful when you need a drink.

  "So the two of you met for dinner. You have something special on your mind, something you needed to talk about?"

  "No. "

  "Youre married, hes married, but the two of you left your wives home on a Sunday night and went out for Chinese. "

  "Every Sunday night," I said.

  "That so?"

  "With rare exceptions, yes. "

  "So it was a regular thing. Is that standard procedure in AA?"

  "Nothings standard in AA," I said, "except not drinking, and even thats not as standard as you might think. Our Sunday dinners started as part of the sponsorial relationship, a way to get to know each other. Over the years it became just a part of our friendship. "

  "Over the years. He was your sponsor for a long time?"

  "Sixteen years. "

  "Youre kidding. Sixteen years? And you havent had a drink in all that time?"

  "Not so far. "

  "And you still go to the meetings?"

  "I do. "

  "What about him?"

  "He did. "

  "Meaning he stopped?"

  I was trying to figure out how I was supposed to answer that when he got the point and his face flushed. "Sorry," he said. "Been a long day. " He looked down at the clipboard. "Every Sunday night. Always the same restaurant?"

  "Always Chinese," I said. "Different restaurants. "

  "Why Chinese? Any parti
cular reason?"

  "Just a habit we got into. "

  "Well, you could pick a new Chinese restaurant every week and itd be awhile before you ran out. What Im getting at, who knew the two of you were going to be there tonight?"

  "Nobody. "

  "I take it you didnt make a reservation. "

  "At the Lucky Panda?"

  "Yeah, I wonder did anybody ever make a reservation there. At lunch, maybe, because theyll fill up noontime during the week, but on nights and weekends you can shoot deer in there. "

  "Or people," I said.

  He looked at me, unsure how to respond. He drew a breath and asked me who picked the restaurant.

  "Im not sure," I said. "Let me think. Hed suggested a place on Fifty-eighth, but theyd gone out of business. Then I suggested Chinatown and he said that was too much trouble, and I think he was the one who thought of the Lucky Panda. "

  "And when was this?"

  "Yesterday, it must have been. We talked on the phone. "

  "And picked the time and the place to meet. " He wrote something down. "And the last time you actually saw him was…"

  "Friday night at the meeting. "

  "Thatd be an AA meeting, right? And you spoke on the phone yesterday and met for dinner tonight as arranged. "

  "Thats right. "

  "Did you mention to anybody where youd be having dinner?"

  "I may have said something to my wife. I dont even know. "

  "But nobody else. "

  "No. "

  "And hed have told his wife?"

  "Possibly. Hed probably have told her he was having dinner with me, but I dont know that hed have bothered telling her where. "

  "You know his wife?"

  "To say hello to. I doubt Ive seen her twenty times in sixteen years. "

  "You didnt get along?"

  "He and I were friends, thats all. Elaine and I had dinner with Jim and Beverly a couple of times, but thats literally all it was. Two or three times. "

  "Elaine being your wife. "

  "Right. "

  "How were they getting along?"

  "Jim and his wife?"

  "Uh-huh. He ever talk about that?"

  "Not lately. "

  "So as far as you know…"

  "As far as I know, they were getting along fine. "

  "Hed have said if they werent?"

  "I think so. "

  "Who can you think of that he wasnt getting along with?"

  "Jim got along with everybody," I said. "He was a very easygoing guy. "

  "Didnt have an enemy in the world. "

  He sounded skeptical, the way cops do. "If he did," I said, "I didnt know about it. "

  "How about his business?"

  "His business?"

  "Uh-huh. He was a printer, right? Had a printshop here in the neighborhood?"

  I got out one of my business cards. "He printed these for me," I said.

  He ran his thumb across the raised lettering. Maybe he wanted to see if it needed a shave. "Nice work," he said. "Okay if I keep this?"

  "Sure. "

  "Know anything about his business?"

 
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