All the flowers are dyin.., p.15
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       All the Flowers Are Dying, p.15

         Part #16 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
Page 15


  Two days later he exchanges cars, picking up the dark Camry, leaving the beige Tempo in the storage shed. He starts cruising when school lets out and soon picks up an older, more knowledgeable boy than Jeffrey Willis. Scott Sawyer is fifteen, with knowing eyes and a crooked smile. His T-shirt is too small, the worn blue jeans provocatively tight on his thighs and buttocks. When he gets in the Camry, he drapes an arm over the seatback and tries to look seductive.

  The effect is comical, but he doesn’t laugh.

  I think you’ll find something interesting in the glove compartment, he tells the boy. And, at the right moment, he swings the rubber mallet.

  There’s a failed country club north and west of the city, off Creighton Road on the way to Old Cold Harbor. The property’s for sale, and the sign to that effect has been there long enough to have served for drive-by target practice. The nine-hole golf course is all weeds, the greens neglected, the fairways overgrown. Earlier he scouted the place, picked a spot. Halfway there the youth comes to, tries to scream through the duct tape, tries to free his hands, thrashes around within the confines of his seat belt.

  He tells him to stop it, and when the thrashing continues he takes up the rubber mallet and hits the boy hard on the knee. The thrashing stops.

  Out on the golf course, he drives into the rough bordering the fifth hole, hauls the boy out of the car and drags him deep into the woods. He immobilizes the boy by smashing his kneecaps with the spade, strips him, and positions him appropriately, then dons a condom and rapes him.

  The younger boy, Jeffrey Willis, was more appealing. Softer, smaller, his innocence more palpable. Too, there was the novelty of sex with a male. But for all that the experience with Scott Sawyer is savagely exciting, and there’s no need to hold back his climax. Straining for it, he reaches down, picks up the knife—how sweetly it fits his hand—and strikes, and strikes again.

  He wraps the body in a blanket, the one that’s been in the trunk of Applewhite’s car, where it could pick up fibers from the trunk lining and leave fibers of its own. Every contact involves the transfer of fibers, that’s why he did what he did with the blanket, and why he jettisoned the clothes he wore when he killed the Willis boy. He’ll do the same with these clothes, everything down to the sneakers on his feet. They’ll pick up fibers, they’ll carry grass stains and soil residue, and none of that will matter because they’ll wind up in a clothing donation box in Pennsylvania and no crime lab will ever look at them.

  He starts to dig a grave, but it’s getting dark and he’s tired, and the ground underneath is a maze of tree roots, impossible to dig in. Besides, he’s going to want this body to be found.

  He snips a lock of hair, tucks it into a glassine envelope. He stashes it in the trunk of the Camry, along with the tools he’ll need for his next visit to Richmond.

  He leaves the body shrouded in the army blanket, piles loose brush over it, and heads for the storage shed, where he switches the Camry for the Tempo. He takes I-64, then I-81. The condom he used, its end knotted to secure its contents, is on the seat beside him; when he’s crossed the state line into Maryland he lowers the window, tosses it, and drives on.

  After two more weeks he’s had enough of York. He’s paid up through the end of the month, so he keeps the keys to leave himself the option of returning, but erases all traces of his occupancy so that he need not come back. He drives to Richmond and begins setting the stage, dressing the sets.

  By now the cheap laptop contains on its hard drive a description of the second murder. He’s still somewhat vague concerning the location of the killing ground and dump site, but does call it a golf course, and he downloads and saves on his hard drive a MapQuest close-up map of the failed country club. There are also two drafts of an essay in which he, as Applewhite, expounds on the morality of murder, justifying his actions through a line of reasoning that, he has to admit, owes a good deal to the Marquis de Sade, for all that he dredges up supporting arguments from Nietzsche and Ayn Rand. One draft of the essay, including specific references to the killings of Willis and Sawyer, he erases, knowing it will prove recoverable; the other, which covers the same ground but is less damning, he saves on the hard drive, adding to the file the notation:

  Publish this? Where???

  One afternoon he drives to Applewhite’s suburban neighborhood. Both cars are gone, and school’s still in session. He lets himself into the house, tingling with excitement as he walks from room to room. Applewhite has a den, which his tax return no doubt identifies as a home office, and he leaves the computer in a desk drawer.

  In the bedroom, he takes socks and underwear from Applewhite’s dresser, a shirt and a pair of khaki trousers from his closet. The shirt has a laundry mark, he notes, and the pants, hanging on a peg, have been worn at least once since their last washing.

  Shoes? He considers a pair, then remembers some ragged sneakers he spotted on an earlier visit to the garage, no doubt reserved for gardening and yard work. And ideal for his purposes.

  The selection and disposal of the third victim is almost beside the point, because by now his chief concern is the web he’s weaving for Preston Applewhite. Slow down, he admonishes himself. Take time to smell the flowers. And, remembering how Scott Sawyer had amused him less than Jeffrey Willis, he takes pains this time to select a boy from the younger, more innocent end of the spectrum.

  The online newsgroups and bulletin boards for pedophiles (and yes, he’s found his way to them, and ScoutMasterBates has contributed observations of his own to more than one) have taught him a new vocabulary. A boy on the threshold of adolescence, he has learned, is said to be in his bloom, the dew of youth still on him. That is what he seeks, and what he finds in the thirteen-year-old person of Marcus Leacock. Who is not hitchhiking at all when he finds him, but merely walking home from school.

  He’s driving the Camry now. And he changed clothes at the storage shed. He’s rolled up the sleeves of Applewhite’s shirt, turned up the cuffs of the khaki trousers. The sneakers are a little large, too, and he experimented with tissue paper in the toes, but decided against it. They’re not that big, and it’s not as if he’s going to be walking long distances in them.

  “Son? Come here a minute, will you? There’s an address I’m having trouble finding. ”

  Delicious. He’s spent enough time on the man-boy bulletin boards to have little regard for the pedophiles, but their enthusiasm is not entirely incomprehensible. Out at the abandoned golf course, he takes his time with Marcus, and, while that increases his own enjoyment of the enterprise, it perforce adds to the boy’s pain and suffering. Well, sometimes it does appear to be a zero-sum universe, doesn’t it? A gain for one is a loss for another, and one knows on which side of the equation one would prefer to be.

  Anyway, it’s soon enough over, and once it’s done the boy has to endure neither pain nor the memory of pain. The boy is gone, wherever people go.

  Wherever that is…

  And the finishing touches: The body, minus a lock of hair, covered in brush and a blanket a few yards from Scott Sawyer’s body. Underneath it, apparently dropped and overlooked, the handkerchief that set all of this in motion, his own handkerchief, soaked two months ago in Applewhite’s blood. The mallet, the spade, the tape, the scissors, stowed first in the Camry’s trunk and transferred in the dead of night to Applewhite’s, where they’ll be found hidden away in the spare tire well. The box of a dozen condoms, minus the two he used, stashed in Applewhite’s glove compartment, so they can be matched to the residue to be found on the bodies. The clothes he wore, the sneakers and socks and underwear, the khakis, the laundry-marked shirt, all go in a Hefty bag and the bag in the trunk, as if Applewhite were planning to dispose of them.

  And does he dare enter the house one more time?

  He does, moving slowly and silently. There’s no dog, no burglar alarm. This is a safe neighborhood, a low-crime suburb, and the sleep of all the Applewhites is deep and unt
roubled. Standing there in their darkened house, an alternate plan suggests itself to him. He has the knife with him; how hard would it be to murder the children in their beds, to slit the throat of the sleeping wife, and to arrange a convenient suicide for the master of the house?

  No, he decides. Better to stick with the original plan, better to let the Commonwealth of Virginia handle the business of punishment.

  He tapes the three glassine envelopes to the underside of a desk drawer. The knife, the magnificent knife that Randall made, wiped clean of visible blood and prints but surely bearing blood traces from all three victims, proves difficult to part with.

  All the more reason to part with it. One must never allow oneself to become too deeply attached to anything—not a place, not a person, not a possession. One’s only attachment, and it must be total, should be to oneself. If thy right eye offend thee, get over it; if thy house or car or custom-made knife delight thee overmuch, cast it out.

  The knife goes in a desk drawer. As he leaves the house, moving slowly and silently, he transforms the pain of losing the knife into the satisfaction of having chosen the right course of action. And it’s only a knife, after all, a tool, a means to an end. In the course of time there will be other knives, and he’ll like some of them as much as he’s liked this one.

  He’s been driving the Camry, and he keeps it and takes I-95 into Washington. It’s morning by the time he gets there. He runs the car through a car wash, then leaves it parked on the street a few blocks from Dupont Circle, with the key in the ignition and the windows rolled down. He takes the Metro to Union Station, confident that the car will have been stolen by the time his train departs for Richmond.

  He goes to the rented storage shed, reclaims his Ford, and drives off.

  Two days later, after the boy’s disappearance has made the newspaper headlines and led the TV news, after an eyewitness has turned up who saw a boy fitting Marcus Leacock’s description getting into a small dark sedan, he uses an untraceable phone to call the number provided for tips in the case. He reports having noticed a dark-colored car leaving the grounds of the old Fairview Country Club on the evening of the boy’s disappearance, and that there was something about the incident that made him suspicious enough to jot down the first four digits of the license number, which was as much as he could get.

  And of course it is enough…

  And here’s the guest of honor. Here’s Preston Applewhite, the star of our little spectacle, making his belated entrance. He’s wearing leg shackles and wrist restraints, so it’s a less elegant entrance than it might be, but he’s here now, and the show can go on.

  His face is expressionless, his mood unreadable. What fills his mind now? Dread of the unknown? Fury at the failure of the system to exonerate an innocent man? Hope, however unwarranted, that some miracle may come along to save his life?

  A week ago he, Arne Bodinson, could have furnished just such a miracle. He might have confessed, openly or anonymously, and proved his claim by offering up the location of the Willis boy’s grave. Now, having spent so many hours with Applewhite, anything he might say would be discredited out of hand. You say you know where the body is, Dr. Bodinson? If so, it’s because Applewhite told you. You’re only confirming his guilt.

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