All the flowers are dyin.., p.16
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       All the Flowers Are Dying, p.16

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

 

  The warden, his face lined with the demands of his office, recites a few pro forma words, then asks the condemned man if he has anything to say. There is an extended pause. Applegate—they’ve not yet strapped him to the gurney, he’s evidently allowed to be on his feet while he voices his last words—has his eyes lowered in thought, then raises them to look for the first time at the faces behind the glass. He finds his new friend Arne, and his eyes brighten in recognition, but only for a moment.

  When he speaks, his voice is soft, as if he doesn’t intend it to reach his audience. There’s a microphone, however, so it’s audible in the witness chamber.

  “You’re all certain I did these things,” he says. “I know otherwise, but there’s no reason for anyone to believe me. I almost wish I were guilty. Then I could confess, I could beg forgiveness. ” A pause, and the attendants move in, thinking he’s finished, but a quick shake of his head halts them. “I forgive you,” he says. “All of you. ”

  And at the end his eyes fix on those of the one man who professes to believe in his innocence. Has he figured it out? Is that the meaning of those final three words? But no, he’s looking for approval of his eloquence, and he gets it, a nod of acknowledgment from behind the glass. And Applewhite registers the nod, and seems grateful for it.

  Applewhite lies down on the gurney and they adjust the straps. The physician finds a good vein in his arm, swabs the skin with alcohol-soaked cotton, gets the IV inserted on the second attempt.

  And then he sits transfixed, watching, while a man dies before his eyes. There’s very little to see. The first drug, the pentothal, has no apparent effect. The second, the Pavulon, induces paralysis, rendering Applewhite incapable of breathing—or of changing expression. And the final ingredient, the potassium chloride, burns or does not burn, it’s impossible to tell, but what is evident, at least to those close enough to see the heart monitor, or the physician who checks the pulse, is that it does what it is supposed to do.

  Preston Applewhite is dead.

  And, behind the glass, the man who will soon discard forever the name Arne Bodinson is careful to maintain the expression he has worn throughout, one of somber detachment. He has an erection, but he’s fairly certain no one has noticed it.

  I-95, he knows, will be a nightmare on a Friday. He takes Interstates 64 and 81 instead, spends what’s left of the night at a motel in Pennsylvania,

  then drives east on I-80 Saturday morning, aiming to hit the George Washington Bridge when traffic’s likely to be light. And it works out as he’d planned.

  Lately, everything’s been working out as he planned.

  As he’d thought it would. He’d done the hard work years ago in Richmond, made his kills, planted the incriminating evidence, fitted the frame precisely around a man whose only mistake was to sustain a bloody nose at the worst possible moment. This past week came under the heading of unfinished business.

  He has unfinished business of another sort in New York.

  10

  Monday night I was having a cup of coffee in front of the television set when my cell phone rang.

  “I feel like a fucking spy,” Louise said. “I’m in the ladies’ room at the restaurant. We’re about to go back to my place. You’ve got the address?”

  I said I did.

  “This is so deeply weird. I’m going to take him home and have sex with him, and meanwhile you’ll be lurking outside waiting to follow him home. Tell me that’s not weird. ”

  “If you’d prefer—”

  “No, it makes sense, it’s just totally weird. If he’s who he says he is, then he never has to know about this. If he’s not, then I have to know about it. ”

  I asked if he was likely to stay overnight.

  “If he does, it’ll be a first. He usually comes over and stays for three or four hours, but this time we had dinner, which we usually don’t, so we’re getting a late start. What time is it, eight-thirty? No, closer to nine. My guess is he won’t stay past eleven-thirty. ”

  I asked what he was wearing, to make sure I didn’t follow the wrong guy. Designer jeans and a navy-blue polo shirt, she said. I suggested she could flick the lights on and off a half dozen times as soon as he left the apartment, and she said it was a great idea, but her apartment was in the rear of the building, so I’d never be able to see it from the street.

  “But I may just do it anyway,” she said, “because it’s such a cool Mata Hari–type thing to do. Hey, wait a minute. Won’t you have your cell phone with you? So why don’t I just call you when he leaves? And then I’ll flick the lights, too, just for fun. ”

  Her estimate wasn’t off by much. It was twenty to twelve when my cell phone rang.

  “Mata Hari speaking,” she said. “He’s all yours. I have to tell you, dinner was good but the dessert was better. Do me a favor, will you? Call me tomorrow to tell me that he’s David Thompson and he’s single and the only secret he’s keeping from me is that he’s fabulously wealthy. ”

  I told her I’d see what I could do, and then I rang off and the door opened and he came out. I’d probably have made him without the phone call. He was wearing jeans and a dark polo shirt, and the photo I had of him was a good likeness.

  Tailing somebody is complicated enough when you’ve got a full team, half a dozen in cars and about as many on foot. I had TJ along for company, and an off-duty cabby named Leo whom I’d promised fifty bucks for a couple of hours of chauffeur duty.

  Louise lived on the third floor of a brownstone on the uptown side of West Eighty-seventh Street between Broadway and West End. Like most odd-numbered streets, Eighty-seventh is one-way westbound. If David Thompson lived in or around Kips Bay, he’d probably take a cab home, and he’d probably walk to Broadway to catch it. The same was true if he wanted to go somewhere else by cab. If he wanted the subway, he’d catch it at Eighty-sixth and Broadway, so once again he’d be walking toward Broadway, and against the flow of traffic.

  We’d set up accordingly. TJ and I were standing in the doorway of a building directly opposite Louise’s, while Leo’s car was parked next to a hydrant on Broadway. If a cop rousted him he’d circle the block, but it wasn’t likely, not at that hour. All he had to do was say he was waiting on a fare.

  When Thompson left the building, we’d tag him to Broadway, then get in Leo’s car and follow whatever cab he hailed. If he walked down to Eighty-sixth and took the subway, TJ would go down into the tunnel after him. He’d try to stay in touch by cell phone, and we’d try to be there when he and Thompson got off the train.

  So Thompson came out the door and down the stoop, looked at his watch, hauled out a cell phone, and made a call. At first no one answered, but then someone did, or voice mail kicked in, because he talked with animation for a moment or two before snapping it shut. He held it out, looked at it, then put it away, got out a cigarette and lit it, blew out a cloud of smoke, and started walking, but not toward Broadway. He headed the other way, toward West End Avenue.

  Shit.

  “Plan B,” I said, and took off after Thompson, while TJ sprinted to the corner of Broadway and around it to where Leo was waiting with the bulldog edition of the Daily News open on the steering wheel. He had the motor running before TJ was in his seat. New York’s the one place in the country when you can’t make a right turn at a red light, the traffic’s just too chaotic for that to work here, but David Letterman pointed out once that New Yorkers think of traffic laws as guidelines, and Leo figures a grown man ought to be able to use his own judgment. He slid around the corner and picked me up halfway down the block.

  I got in back, and Leo coasted to the corner, where the light was red against us. Thompson, when he reached the corner, could have stepped to the curb to flag a southbound taxi, or he might have crossed Eighty-seventh Street himself, or waited for the light and crossed West End and headed for Riverside Drive.

  If he’d done any of those things we could have followed him with no t
rouble, but instead he turned right on West End and headed uptown. Leo might have been willing to push his luck and run another red light, but he’d be going the wrong way on a one-way street, and we couldn’t do that.

  “Son of a bitch,” he said with feeling.

  “Shoot across to Riverside and come back on Eighty-eighth,” I said, opening the door and getting out again. “I’ll try to stay with him. ”

  By the time I got going he had a half-block lead on me, which shouldn’t have been a problem, but I lost sight of him when he turned right at Eighty-eighth Street. I increased my pace and got to the corner where he’d turned and he was gone.

  Leo, who ran us back to Ninth and Fifty-seventh, wouldn’t take any money. “I thought we was gonna have an adventure,” he said. “ ‘Follow that cab!’ I thought I’d show off my driving skills and tail the bastard through parts of Brooklyn even Pete Hamill’d get lost in. All I did was drive around the fucking block. ”

  “It’s not your fault I lost him. ”

  “No, it’s his fault, for turning out to be such an elusive bastard. Put your money back in your pocket, Matt. Call me again sometime, and we’ll have fun, and you can pay me double. But this one’s on the house. ”

  He’d dropped us in front of the Morning Star, but neither of us felt like going there. We crossed the street to the Parc Vendôme and went upstairs. Elaine was on the couch with a novel Monica had recommended as a perfect guilty pleasure. “She called it the prose equivalent of a three-handkerchief movie,” she said, “and I have to say she was right. What’s the matter?”

  “The guy walked around the block and lost us,” I said.

  “The nerve of the son of a bitch. You want something?”

  “I wouldn’t mind starting the night over,” I said, “but that would be tricky. I don’t want more coffee. I don’t think I want anything. TJ?”

  “Maybe a Coke,” he said, and went off to fetch it himself.

  I joined him in the kitchen and the two of us tried to make sense out of what had happened to us up in the West Eighties. “It’s like he made us,” he said, “but he didn’t exactly act like it. ”

  “What I can’t figure out,” I said, “is how he disappeared like that. ”

  “Magician walks down the street and turns into a drugstore. ”

  “It was something like that, wasn’t it? He wasn’t that far ahead of me when he turned the corner. Maybe a hundred feet? Not much more than that, and I would have cut the distance some, because I walked faster once the corner building blocked my view of him. And then I got there and he was gone. ”

  “Even if he turns the corner and starts bookin’, you’d get a look at him soon as you come round the corner yourself. ”

  “You would think so. ”

  “ ’Less he ducked into that building. ”

  “The apartment house on the corner? I thought of that. The street door’s not locked, anybody can get into the vestibule. Then you’d need a key, or for someone to buzz you in. I looked in and didn’t see him, but I didn’t do that right away, not until I’d spent some time trying to spot him on the street. You know, it seemed strange that he would walk to West End instead of Broadway, but if he lived there—”

 
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