A drop of the hard stuff, p.16
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       A Drop of the Hard Stuff, p.16

         Part #17 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 16

  “Did you?”

  “What was I going to say? ‘Hey, why give me a key if I’m not supposed to use it?’ ”

  “So you waited for it to blow over, and it didn’t. ”

  “We went upstairs, and she made some coffee, which I don’t think either of us really needed at this point. And she put the radio on, and we’d picked up the Sunday Times on the way home, and we each settled in with a section of the paper. ”

  “The old folks at home,” he said. “This chicken’s good. ”

  “It’s always good. ”

  “I know, but somehow it always exceeds my expectations. So, domestic bliss. Unless you had a fight over the Arts and Leisure section. ”

  I shook my head. “But I didn’t want to be there. And she didn’t want me there, either. And there was no way either of us could say anything or do anything, so we were stuck with each other until morning. ”

  “And a few minutes earlier you’d been thinking of names for your kids. ”

  “Well, not exactly. But close enough. Still, it was quiet. ”

  “Duke Ellington working away in the background. ”

  “Among others. The jazz station. Except for what was going on in both our minds, everything was fine. ”

  “Not that you knew what was going on in any mind other than your own. ”

  “Well, I picked up vibes. ”

  “Ah, vibes. And who was playing them? Lionel Hampton or Milt Jackson?”

  “I didn’t know what she was thinking,” I said, “but I had a pretty good idea. And I thought, All right, the thing to do is make the best of it, and there’s not really anything wrong, and it’ll work itself out. And when I was done with the sports section I went to take a shower, figuring that maybe she’d like me a little better if I smelled nice when we made love. ”

  “Which you always do on Saturday night?”

  “Pretty much. And I thought, you know, that it might help things work out. ”

  “Because sometimes sex has that effect. ”

  “Sometimes it does. ”

  “And even if it doesn’t,” he said, “at least you wind up getting laid. But somehow I gather the physical manifestation of your mutual affection wasn’t a great success. ”

  “I went to bed,” I said, “and she said she’d be along in a few minutes. She went to the kitchen first, to wash the coffee cups. Usually she leaves them until morning. ”

  “The detective speaks. ”

  “And she was a long time in the shower, and a long time in the bathroom after the shower stopped running. And lying there waiting for her, I thought of pretending to be asleep. ”

  “So that you wouldn’t have to have sex. ”

  “And then she came in, quiet as a mouse, and she asked me if I was awake. In a whisper, too low to rouse me if I wasn’t paying attention. And I knew she was hoping I was asleep, so she wouldn’t have to have sex. ”

  “The cute little couple on the wedding cake, as I recall. ”

  “So I rolled over,” I said, “and made room for her beside me, and we worked our way into this slow and gentle lovemaking, and eventually she either had an orgasm or faked one, but either way I was grateful. It took me forever to fall asleep. ”

  Sunday morning she said she didn’t feel much like brunch, and I said I ought to skip the morning meeting and see if I could get some work done. She made coffee and we each had a cup and accompanied it with sections of the paper we hadn’t gotten to the night before. Then we kissed good-bye and I got out of there.

  I wound up walking all the way uptown to my hotel. I kept thinking I’d catch a meeting or a subway, but I just kept on walking, stopping once for coffee and another time for a sausage roll. By the time I got home I was ready to lie down, and I napped for an hour until it was time to watch the Giants lose to the Packers. There was snow on the field in Green Bay, which surprised me. It was still sport jacket weather in New York, except on those days when the wind had an edge to it.

  The phone never rang. I had some calls to make, but first I watched the game through to the bitter end, and then I pulled my chair over to the window and watched the sky darken. When I finally picked up the phone it was to call Jim, so he could decide where we’d have our sesame noodles.

  Now he said, “You’re coming up on a year. ”

  “No kidding. ”

  “Generally a tense time, immediately before and after an anniversary. ”

  “So they tell me. ”

  “Not that the rest of the time’s a piece of cake, but anniversaries seem to polarize things for us. You know, you got involved way too soon. ”

  “I know. ”

  “But maybe you didn’t have much choice. ”

  I’d known Jan before I ever saw the inside of an AA room. There’d been a string of murders, a guy using an ice pick on women, and a few years after I left the force they got the guy. Except there was one killing he wouldn’t cop to, and it turned out he couldn’t have done it, he was inside at the time. It was an ice-cold case as far as the police department was concerned, and they certainly weren’t going to waste time on it, so a cop who knew me steered the victim’s father in my direction, and he hired me.

  The investigation led me to Jan’s loft on Lispenard Street, among other places, and we liked each other’s looks enough to get drunk and go to bed together.

  That worked out pretty well, and it looked as though I had a girlfriend, and a drinking buddy in the bargain. And I did, until she started going to meetings. That meant she was no longer a drinking buddy, and the people she met in church basements convinced her that she couldn’t be a girlfriend either, not of a man with a powerful thirst. I wished her the very best of luck and went off to get something to drink.

  And some time went by, and she got sober and stayed that way, and I went on living my life. Then, when it got bad enough, I started going to meetings myself. I was in and out, I’d stay sober for a while and then I wouldn’t. Jim began to take an interest in me, and talked to me when he saw me, or tried to anyway. Pretty much everybody else left me alone. My name’s Matt. I’ll pass. Right.

  Over the months I’d called Jan once in a while, when I was drunk enough to think it was a good idea. She was always polite, but knew better than to spend time talking to a drunk. Then I called her when I was trying to stay sober. I had to talk to someone and I couldn’t think of anybody else to call.

  And we started keeping company of a sort. And one day I ordered a drink I didn’t really want, which was nothing new, and left it untouched on a bar, which was. And since then I’d been sober, and we were a couple. More or less.

  Jim said he’d have to pass on St. Clare’s. There was something on PBS Beverly wanted to watch, and he’d agreed to keep her company. Did I want to join the two of them? I knew I didn’t, and headed for the meeting instead. I left at the break and went home.

  No calls. I went to bed.

  XVI

  THAT WAS SUNDAY. A week and a half later, on Wednesday, I cleared the last suspect. I didn’t put in long hours and I can’t say I made any brilliant deductions, but I used the phone and the subway to good avail, and that turned out to be enough. By the time I was done I still didn’t know who’d killed Jack Ellery, but I knew five people who hadn’t, and that was all I’d signed on for.

  I’d spent Monday renewing my acquaintance with some cops I’d known over the years. There was a guy I’d worked with a long time back in Brooklyn, and just a few blocks from me at Midtown North there was Joe Durkin; we’d had dealings right around the time I first started trying to get sober, and since then he’d earned a couple of extralegal dollars by steering a case or two my way.

  Neither of them had anything for me, but they made a few phone calls and set up other cops for me to see. A guy from a downtown precinct knew the name Crosby Hart. He wasn’t a hood, he was a Wall Street guy, but he’d developed a fondness for cocaine that led him to embezzle from his e
mployers. Which added up: Screwed him on a coke deal was next to his name on Jack’s Eighth Step list.

  “Skinny guy in a suit, skinny tie, all the time tapping his long bony fingers, bobbing his head. Could not sit still. Cocaine, the miracle drug. We hauled him in, airtight case, but the firm changed their mind, insisted on dropping the charges. Restitution, treatment, never do it again, di dah di dah di dah. Which is fine, because once the coke’s out of the picture you’ve got a respectable guy leading a respectable life. Isn’t he better off with the wife and kids in Dobbs Ferry than a few miles further up the river in Ossining?”

  “Is that where he lived? Dobbs Ferry?”

  “Someplace like that. He was a commuter, took the train in from Westchester every morning. Of course when he was on a coke run he might not make it home that night. Dobbs Ferry, Hastings, Tuckahoe—one of those places. And Crosby’s his middle name, if you’re looking for him in the phone book. ” And what was his first name? “He just used the initial. H. Crosby Hart, and everybody called him Crosby. Far as what the H stood for, I have to admit I got no fucking idea. I must have known at one time, because it would have been on his sheet. You book a guy, his first name gets written out. Unless he’s F. Scott Fitzgerald. ”

  “Or E. Howard Hunt?”

  “Howard,” he said. “That’s it. Sonofabitch, how’d you manage that? Howard Crosby Hart. That’s his name. ”

  Except it wasn’t. It was Harold, not Howard, as I learned from Sheila Hart, who had not yet gotten around to changing the listing in the phone book for Lower Westchester County. He no longer lived there, and his current residence had an unlisted number. I sensed that she had it, but wasn’t about to give it out. I could try him at his place of business, she told me.

  And where was that? She turned suspicious, and questioned my need to know. She hadn’t caught my name, and wondered just what sort of business I had with her former husband.

  I gave my name, and said I was with Calder, Jennings & Skoog, reeling off the name as if it were one she ought to recognize and not one I’d invented on the spot. I said I understood her husband to be a nephew of the recently deceased Kelton Hart of Fort Myers, Florida, and—

  Who was she to stand in the way of a legacy, especially if some of it might find its way to her? She told me what I needed to know, and I reached him at his desk a couple of hours later. I said my name but left out the imaginary Mr. Calder and his partners and said I’d like to meet with him. He didn’t even ask what it was about, which suggested he’d heard my name before, and not all that long ago.

  He offered to meet me after work at the Cattle Baron, at the corner of William and Platt, just around the corner from his Wall Street firm. Say 5:30? I said 5:30 was fine, and put on a suit jacket and a tie before I left my hotel room. I was done playing the part of a lawyer hunting missing heirs, but he didn’t know that, and was expecting a lawyer to show up. So I figured I might as well look like one.

 
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