Everybody dies, p.17
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       Everybody Dies, p.17

         Part #14 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 17

 

  Andy said, "Youre in the same place, Tom? Perry Avenue?" and Tom nodded. We drove there through unfamiliar streets and Tom got out in front of a little box of a house clad in asphalt siding. Mick said hed be in touch, and Tom nodded and trotted to the door and stuck his key in the lock, and Andy turned the car around.

  At a red light he said, "Mick, are you sure I cant run you back to the city? You can keep this car and Ill get a subway home. "

  "Dont be silly. "

  "Or you can pick up the Caddy. Or Ill get the Caddy, whatever you say. "

  "Drive yourself home, Andy. "

  Andy lived on Bainbridge Avenue, on the other side of the Mosholu Parkway from Tom. He pulled up in front of his house and got out of the car. Mick leaned out the window and motioned him over, and Andy walked around the car and leaned against it with his hand on the roof. "My best to your mother," Mick said.

  "Shell be sleeping now, Mick. "

  "By Jesus, I should hope so. "

  "But Ill tell her when she wakes up. She asks about you all the time. "

  "Ah, shes a good woman," Mick said. "Youll be all right now? Youll have no trouble getting your hands on a car?"

  "My cousin Dennyll let me take his. Or somebody else will. Or Ill grab one off the street. "

  "Be careful, Andy. "

  "Always, Mick. "

  "Theyre hunting us down like rats in a sewer, the bastards. And who are they? Niggers and Chinamen. "

  "Looked more like Vietnamese, Mick. Or Thai, could be. "

  "Theyre all one to me," he said, "and what am I to them? Whats their quarrel with me? Or poor Burke, for Jesus sake, or any of the boys?"

  "They just wanted to kill everybody. "

  "Everybody. Even the customers. Old men drinking their pints. Decent people from the neighborhood having a last jar before bed. Ah, twas a last jar for some of them, right enough. "

  Andy stepped back and Mick got out of the car himself and looked around, then shook himself like a dog shaking off water. He walked around the car and got behind the wheel, and I got out myself and got in front next to him. Andy stood on the sidewalk and watched us drive off.

  Neither of us said anything on the way back, and I guess I must have faded out. By the time I checked in again we were back in Manhattan, somewhere down in Chelsea. I could tell because I recognized a Cuban-Chinese restaurant and got a sudden sense memory of their coffee, thick and dark and strong, and remembered the waiter whod brought it to the table, a slow-moving old fellow who walked as though his feet had been bothering him for years.

  Funny what you remember, funny what you dont.

  On Twenty-fourth Street off Sixth Avenue, at the edge of the Flower District, Mick braked to a stop in front of a narrow brick building eight stories tall. There was a steel roll-up door like the kind at E-Z Storage, but narrower, only a little wider than a car, with a pair of windowless doors on either side of it. The door on the right had a column of buzzers at its side, suggesting that it led to the offices or apartments above. The door on the left showed two rows of stenciled lettering, black edged in silver on the red door. MCGINLEY & CALDECOTT, it proclaimed. ARCHITECTURAL SALVAGE.

  Mick unlocked and rolled up the metal door, revealing a small street-level garage. Once hed kicked a couple of cartons out of the way there was just enough room to park a full-size car or a small van. He motioned, and I slid behind the wheel and maneuvered the Chevy into the space.

  I got out and joined him on the sidewalk, and he lowered the door and locked it, then unlocked the red door with the lettering on it. We stepped inside and he drew the door shut, leaving us in darkness until he found a light switch. We were at the head of a flight of stairs, and he led me down them to the basement.

  We wound up in a huge room, with narrow aisles threaded among dense rows packed with bureaus and tables and chests of drawers and boxes stacked to shoulder height. It was, as promised, an architectural salvage firm, and the full basement constituted the showroom and stockroom all in one.

  Ever since the Dutch bought the place, Manhattans been a town where they throw buildings up only to knock them down again. Demolition is an industry in itself, constructions twin, and, if its main goal is an empty lot, I was looking at its by-products. Drawers and boxes spilled over with every sort of hardware you could strip from a structure before you took a wrecking ball to it. There were cartons full of nothing but doorknobs, brass ones and glass ones and nickel-plated ones. There were boxes of escutcheon plates and hinges and locks and things I recognized but didnt know the names of, and there were other things I couldnt identify at all.

  Carved wooden columns stood here and there, looking for a ceiling to hold up. One section was crammed with ornamental stone and cement work from the outsides of buildings- gargoyles with their tongues protruding, real and imaginary animals, some sharply detailed, others as hard to make out as the inscriptions on old gravestones, weathered by time and acid rain.

  A year or two ago Elaine and I spent a weekend in Washington, and in the course of it we dragged ourselves through the Holocaust Museum. It was wrenching, of course- its supposed to be- but what hit us the hardest was a room full of shoes. Just shoes, an endless heap of shoes. Neither of us could quite explain the rooms ghastly impact, but I gather our response was not atypical.

  I cant say the plastic milk crates overflowing with doorknobs elicited a similar emotional reaction. My gut didnt churn at the thought of what had happened to all the doors to which those knobs had once been fitted, or the long-vanished rooms behind those doors. But somehow the endless array of hardware, sifted and sorted with Teutonic thoroughness, did call to mind that room full of shoes.

  "Where buildings go to die," Mick said.

  "Just what I was thinking. "

  "Its a good old business. Who could guess what you can strip off an old building before you knock her down? You pull the plumbing, of course, and the boiler, and sell all that for scrap, but there are people who find a use for all the old hardware and ornamentation. If you were restoring an old brownstone, say, youd want all the details authentic. Youd come here and go home with replacement crystals for the chandelier, or a better chandelier entirely. And door hinges, and a marble mantel for the fireplace. Its all here, whatever you might want and much you wouldnt. "

  "So I see. "

  "And did you know there are those that collect bits of ornamentation? Caldecott has one customer with a passion for gargoyles. There was one he bought too heavy to carry, and your man delivered it and saw his collection. Two small rooms in Christopher Street was all he had, and theres shelves all round stuffed with dozens of fucking gargoyles of all sizes, all of them making horrible faces, and one uglier than the next. From the description it must have been as cluttered as this place, but thats how it is when youre a collector. You must be forever getting more of whatever it is you fancy. "

  "Do you own this place, Mick?"

  "Ive an interest in it. You might say Im a silent partner. " He picked up a tarnished brass hinge, turned it in his hand, put it back where hed found it. "Tis a good business for a man. You sell for cash, and youve no purchase records because you dont purchase your stock, you salvage it. So youve cash coming in and cash going out, and thats a useful sort of business in this day and age. "

  "I imagine it is. "

  "And Im a useful partner for the lads. Ive connections in the construction and demolition trade, labor and management both, and thats a help in securing salvage rights to a building. Oh, it works out well for all concerned. "

  "And I dont suppose your names on the paperwork. "

  "You know my thoughts on the subject. What you dont own cant be taken from you. Ive a set of keys, and the use of the office when I want it, and a place to park a car where it cant be seen. They keep their van there, they use that bay for loading and unloading, but Brian McGinley takes the van home at the days end. And that reminds me. "

  He dug the cell phone out of his pocket, th
en changed his mind and put it back. We walked the length of one aisle to an office in the back, where he sat at the gray metal desk and looked up a number and made a call. The phone had a rotary dial, and might have been salvage itself.

  He said, "Mr. McGinley, please… I know it is, and Id not call at this hour but out of necessity… Im afraid youll have to wake him. Just tell him its the big fellow. "

  He covered the mouthpiece and rolled his eyes. "Ah, Brian," he said. "Good man. Do you know, I think you and Caldecott are closed for the week. No ones to come in until you hear from me… Thats the idea. And my apologies to your wife from the lateness of the hour. Why dont you make it up to her and take her to Puerto Rico for a few days?… Well, Canc?n then, if she likes it better… And youll phone Caldecott? And anyone else that ought to be told? Good man. "

  He hung up. "The big fellow," he said. "Its presumption, hanging that tag on myself. Thats what they called Collins. "

  "And De Valera didnt like it. "

  "A sanctimonious bastard, wasnt he? Tell me something. Where the hells Canc?n?"

  "The Yucat?n Peninsula. "

  "Thats Mexico, isnt it? Mrs. McGinley like is there, likes it better than phone calls in the middle of the night. I cant wake him, hes sleeping. Well, if he wasnt sleeping, you wouldnt need to wake him, you silly cow. " He sighed, leaned back in the oak desk chair. "How the hell do you know Dev didnt like it? You never went to the movie. "

  "Elaine rented it," I said, "and we watched it on the VCR. Jesus Christ. "

  "What?"

  "That was last night we saw it. It doesnt seem possible. It feels more like a week. "

  "Its a fully day you had, isnt it?"

  "So much death," I said.

  "The two we buried at the farm, and that was what, four nights ago? Then Peter Rooney, but you only know of him from my telling you. And then your friend, the Buddhist. I drank to his memory, and the next minute they were making a charnel house of Grogans, killing people left and right. Burke was killed, you know. "

  "I didnt know. "

  "I looked for him and found him on the floorboards behind the bar, covered with glass from the mirror and with a terrible hole in his chest. Dead at his post, like a captain going down with the ship. Id say thats the end of that bar. Next time you see it some Koreanll have it, selling fruits and vegetables around the clock. "

  He fell silent, and after a long moment I said, "I knew her, Mick. "

  "I thought you did. "

  "You know who I meant?"

  "Of course I do. Herself as was sitting nearby, that you didnt want to be hearing their conversation. I had a feeling right then. "

  "Did you?"

  "I did. Do you know, moving to the next table probably saved our lives. It put us off to the side and gave us that extra fraction of time to hit the floor before the bullets reached us. " He cocked his head, looked at something on the wall. "Unless its all worked out in advance," he said, "and you die when your time comes and not before. "

 
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