Everybody dies, p.13
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       Everybody Dies, p.13

         Part #14 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 13

 

  "It didnt come up in conversation a lot. A couple of years ago he was talking about packing it in. "

  "Getting out of the business?"

  "He was tired of it and I guess business was slow enough to be discouraging. For a while he was looking into buying a coffee bar franchise. This was back when there was a new one opening every time you turned around. "

  "My brother-in-law bought one," Wister said. "Its been a pretty good thing for him, but theyre working every minute, him and my sister both. "

  "Anyway, he decided against it and stayed with the printshop. Sometimes he talked about retiring, but I never got the impression he was ready to do it. "

  "It says here he was sixty-three. "

  "That sounds about right. "

  "He in a position to retire?"

  "I have no idea. "

  "He didnt talk about investments or debts, anything like that?"

  "No. "

  He probed his chin stubble. "Anything about a criminal element?"

  "A criminal element?"

  "Trying to muscle in on his business, say. "

  "If anyone tried," I said, "hed have handed them the keys and wished them the best of luck. He squeezed a living out of the business, but its not something you get rich at, not something a gangster would want to take over. "

  "He do any work for them?"

  "For gangsters?"

  "For organized crime. "

  "Jesus," I said.

  "Its not as farfetched as it sounds, Matt. Criminal enterprises need the same kinds of goods and services as everybody else. They need letterhead and invoice forms and order blanks and, yes, business cards, and God knows what else. They own a lot of restaurants, so theyre always getting menus printed. No reason your friend couldnt have done some of their printing. He wouldnt necessarily have known who he was doing it for. "

  "I suppose its possible, but- "

  "Its also possible theyd have asked him to print up something that wasnt kosher. To duplicate government forms or somebody elses purchase order blanks, something dubious like that. Maybe he went along, maybe he refused to go along, maybe he learned something along the way he was better off not knowing. "

  "Whats your point?"

  "Whats my point? My point is your friend Faber was the victim of what looks like a very professional hit. Those guys dont shoot you just to keep in practice, if he was mobbed up in any kind of way, innocent or otherwise, youre doing him no favor by keeping it a secret. "

  "Believe me, Im not keeping any secrets. "

  "Can you think of anybody whod want to see him dead?"

  "No. "

  "Anyone associated with him who might have paid to have him killed? Or anyone in the criminal world who might have had any kind of a grudge against him?"

  "Same answer. "

  "You arrived at the restaurant, you sat down at the table. What was his state of mind?"

  "Same as always. Calm, serene. "

  "Nothing bothering him, far as you could tell?"

  "Nothing that showed. "

  "What did you talk about?"

  "Anything and everything. Oh, you mean tonight?"

  "You were with him a minute or two before you went to the john. What did the two of you talk about?"

  I had to think. Ike and Mike, and then what?

  "Air conditioning," I said.

  "Air conditioning?"

  "Air conditioning. They had theirs turned up so it was like an icebox in there, and we talked about that. "

  "Small talk, in other words. "

  "Too small to remember. "

  He took another tack, asked me if Id got even the slightest glimpse of the shooter. I said what Id been saying all along, that he was out the door and gone before I got back from the mens room.

  "Now memorys a funny thing," he said. "Different things affect it. Your mind doesnt want to let a piece of information in, it walls off a section of memory and wont give you access to it. "

  "I could give you examples," I said, "but thats not what happened here. I was in the john when I heard the gunshots. I came running, I saw what had happened, and I chased out into the street hoping to get a look at him. "

  "And you never saw him. "

  "Never. "

  "So you dont know if he was tall or short, fat or thin, black or white…"

  "I understand the witnesses said he was black. "

  "But you didnt see him yourself. "

  "No. "

  "Or any black man in the restaurant. "

  "I didnt pay much attention to the other customers, before or after the shooting. But the place was close to empty, and no, I dont believe any of the other people in it were black. "

  "How about seeing a car pulling away, which you didnt happen to take note of at the time?"

  "Id have taken notice, because thats what I was looking for, either a man on foot or a car puffing away. "

  "But you didnt see either one. "

  "No. "

  "Or a cab or…"

  "No. "

  "And now you cant come up with anyone with a reason to want James Faber dead. "

  I shook my head. "Not to say no such person exists," I said, "but I cant think of him, and Ive got no reason to believe in his existence. "

  "Except for what happened tonight. "

  "Except for that. "

  "How about yourself, Matt?"

  I stared hard at him. "I must be missing something here," I said levelly. "Are you really suggesting I set him up and ducked into the bathroom so some gunman Id hired could come in and start blasting?"

  "Take it easy…"

  "Because thats so far off base I didnt even know how to react to it. "

  "Easy," he said. "Sit down, Matt. Thats not at all what I was getting at. "

  "Its not?"

  "Not at all. "

  "Thats what it sounded like. "

  "Well, then, thats my fault, because its not what I intended. I said How about you? meaning is there anybody with a reason to have you hit. "

  "Oh. "

  "But you thought…"

  "I know what I thought. Im sorry I went off like that. "

  "Well, you didnt yell and scream, but your face got so dark I was afraid you were going to stroke out on me. "

  "I guess Im more exhausted than I realized," I said. "Youre saying the shooter could have got the wrong man?"

  "Its always possible when the shooter doesnt know the vic personally. Faber was what, a couple of years older?"

  "Im taller by a few inches, and he was heavier, and thicker in the middle. I dont think we looked much alike. Nobody ever called me Jim by mistake, Ill tell you that much. "

  "You have any old enemies? From when you were on the job, say?"

  "Thats over twenty years ago, George. Im off the job longer than I was ever on it. "

  "Well, what enemies have you made lately? Youre a PI. You working on any mob-related cases?"

  "No. "

  "Anything at all where you might have rubbed some hard case the wrong way?"

  "Nothing," I said. "These days I work mostly for lawyers, checking out witnesses in personal injury and product liability lawsuits. I got a kid with a computer who does most of the heavy lifting for me. "

  "So you cant think of a thing. "

  "No. "

  "Well, why dont you run on home, then? Sleep on it, see what comes to you overnight. You know how its probably going to turn out, dont you?"

  "How?"

  "Mistaken identity. I got a feeling what happened, and God knows it wouldnt be the first time. Somebody saw your friend, mistook him for a mope who burned him in a drug deal, or dicked his wife, some damned fool thing. Or, and Ive known of cases, theres a contract out on some guy, some poor bastard looked nothing like your friend, and somebody spots him and drops a dime on him, and the guy who gets the call goes to the wrong fucking Chinese restaurant. He shows up at the Lucky Panda on Eighth instead of the Golden Rabbit on Seventh or the Hoo F
lung Poo on Ninth. "

  "Maybe. "

  "The moons full, you know. "

  "I didnt notice. "

  "Well, its overcast. You cant see it, but its on the calendar. Tomorrow night, actually, but thats close enough. Thats when weird shit happens. "

  I remembered the moon Wednesday night, the gibbous moon. And now it was full.

  "So go on home. Theres uniforms chasing down witnesses now, taking testimony from people who were on the street when it went down, or maybe looking out their windows, wondering is it ever gonna rain. You know how it works. Well check everything out, well see what our snitches have to tell us, and if we get lucky well come up with the shitbag who pulled the trigger. " He worried his chin. "It wont bring him back, your friend," he said, "but its what we do. Its all we can do. "

  I walked home on Ninth Avenue. I passed a few bars along the way, and each time I felt my heart race just the least little bit at the sight of them. It was an appropriate response. I couldnt stand the movie that was playing in my head, and booze was a sure bet to drown the sound track and fade the image to black.

  Heres looking at you, Jim. Down the hatch. Bombs away. Mud in your eye, fella.

  Thanks for helping me stay sober for the past sixteen years. Whos to say I could have done it without you? And now Ill honor your memory by forgetting everything you taught me

  No, I dont think so.

  Jim stopped watching NYPD Blue when Sipowicz drank after his sons death. What a jerk, he said. What a fucking asshole.

  He cant help it, I said. Hes just a character, all he can do is what it says in the script.

  Im talking about the writer, he said.

  So I wasnt going to pick up a drink, but I couldnt pretend the desire wasnt there. My eyes took note of each gin joint, each winking neon beer sign. My mouth may have watered a little. But my feet kept on walking.

  I looked for the moon, the full moon, but couldnt see it.

  Anxiety grabbed me as I walked into the lobby of our building, and in the elevator I had a sudden vision of what I was going to find on the fourteenth floor. The door kicked in, furniture overturned, pictures slashed.

  And worse…

  The door was shut and locked. I rang the bell before I used my key, and Elaine was on the other side of the door when I got it open. She started to say something and stopped when she got a look at my face.

  "Jims dead," I said. "I got him killed. "

  "I suppose I was in shock," I said, "and I suppose I still am, to some extent. But no matter how thick the fog got, I never lost sight of my commitment to the obstruction of justice. "

  "Because you didnt tell them everything?"

  "Because I deliberately misled them and withheld information I knew to be pertinent. I sat there parrying questions about Jims printing business when it was crystal clear to me why he was killed. The shooter made a mistake, all right, and it had nothing to do with phases of the moon. He was supposed to shoot a middle-aged guy in khakis and a windbreaker and a red polo shirt, and thats what he did. "

 
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