Everybody dies, p.18
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       Everybody Dies, p.18

         Part #14 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 18

 

  "I wonder. "

  "Ah, thats mans lot, isnt it? To wonder. " He opened desk drawers until he found the one with the bottle of Jameson in it. He cracked the seal and drank from the bottle. He said, "Was she the one, then?"

  "The one?"

  "Your bit on the side. "

  "I guess thats as good a phrase as any. We stopped seeing each other awhile ago. "

  "Did you love her?"

  "No. "

  "Ah. "

  "I cared for her, though. "

  "Thats rare enough," he said, and took another drink. "I never loved anyone. Aside from my mother and my brothers, but thats a different matter, isnt it?"

  "Yes. "

  "Of women, I loved none and cared for few. "

  "I love Elaine," I said. "I dont think Ive ever loved anyone else. "

  "You were married before. "

  "A long time ago. "

  "Did you love her?"

  "There was a time when I thought I did. "

  "Ah. What was this ones name?"

  "Lisa. "

  "She was a fine-looking woman. "

  My mind filled with a picture of her as I saw her last, her skull shattered. I blinked it away and saw her in her apartment, wearing jeans and a sweater, standing in front of a window with a view of the setting sun. That was better.

  "Yes," I said. "She was. "

  "It was sudden, you know. I doubt she ever knew what hit her. "

  "But shes gone. "

  "That she is," he said.

  He had the old leather satchel on top of the desk and was poking around in it. "Cash from the safe," he said. "Some papers. All the guns I could grab up. The police can get a court order and torch the safe, or theyll do it without a court order. What they cant use as evidence against me theyll shove in their pockets. So I didnt want to leave them too much. "

  "No. "

  "And anything they left would be useless to me, as I couldnt go back for it. Theyll have it sealed off, once theyve finished with their photographs and measurements, all the scientific things they do. Youd know more about that than I. "

  "The crime scene routines changed since my day," I said. "It seems to me they shoot a lot of videotape these days. And they keep getting more scientific. "

  "Though whats the need for science in this? One man sprays a room with. bullets and another hurls a bomb. I wonder have they finished carrying out the dead yet. I wonder how many dead there were, and others dying. "

  "Well hear it on the news. "

  "Too many, whatever the number. A whole row drinking their pints at the bar, and a stream of bullets to knock them off their stools. Not Eamonn Dougherty, though. Never a scratch on him. Did I not once tell you hed outlive us all?"

  "I believe you did. "

  "The murderous wee bastard. I wonder how old he is. Jesus, he was in Tom Barrys flying column. He has to be ninety, and he could be ninety-five. A long life to live when youve all that blood on your hands. Or do you suppose the blood washes off after so many years?"

  "I dont know. "

  "I wonder," he said, and looked down at his own hands. "You saw the gunman. Vietnamese, Andy thought. Or Thai, or God knows what else. Did you get a look at the one that threw the bomb?"

  "No. "

  "He got away, and I scarcely saw him myself. There was his big face, looming over the others shoulder, and then he threw the bomb and after that I never saw him again. It seems to me he was a very pale washed-out sort of white. "

  "And partnered with an Asian. "

  "Its the entire United fucking Nations arrayed against me," he said. "Its no more than luck they werent trying to kill me. "

  "You mean all that was just to get your attention?"

  "Oh, they came to do murder, and it was murder they did. But Id say the man who sent them never expected to find me there, or yourself either. He sent those two to destroy the place and kill as many people as they could. " He hefted the weapon hed taken from the dead Asian. "If I hadnt shot the fucker," he said, "hed have gone on firing until he killed everyone in the room. "

  And if he hadnt been quick as a cat, knocking me down even as he drew the gun…

  "A big moon face pale as death. Does that sound like anyone you know?"

  "A cop said the moons full tonight. "

  "Then maybe that was himself. The man in the moon, come down to pay his respects. What about the two who waylaid you the other night?"

  I described them as well as I could and he just shook his head. They could be anybody, he said. Anybody at all.

  "And it was a black man did the shooting at the Chinese restaurant. It makes a man long for the old days, when the only people I had to worry about were the Eyetalians. And they may have been bad bastards but you could reason with them. Now its the Rainbow Coalition, with all the races of man uniting against me. Whats next, do you suppose? Cats and dogs?"

  "Are you safe here, Mick?"

  "Safe enough, for as long as Ill be here. I didnt want to go to any of my apartments. Theres people who know about them. Only a few people, and theyre people I trust, but how do I know whos to be trusted? Andy Buckleys almost a son to me, but whos to say what hell do if some bastard puts a gun to his head?"

  "Thats why you wouldnt let him drop us off. "

  "No, I wanted a car handy, and a less noticeable car than the Cadillac. But hes no need to know where I am. He cant reveal whats been kept from him. "

  "Couldnt you go to the farm?"

  He shook his head. "Theres altogether too many know of the farm. And its too far away from everything. " He took a drink. "If I wanted to be away from it all," he said, "I could stay with the brothers. "

  That puzzled me for a moment. Then I said, "Oh. The monastery?"

  "The Thessalonians, of course. What were you thinking?"

  "You said the brothers, and we were talking about the shooter being black and the Rainbow Coalition, and…"

  "Ah, thats rich," he said. "No, its the brothers on Staten Island, not the brothers on Lenox Avenue. " He looked at his hands again. "Im a terrible Catholic," he said. "Ages since my last confession, and a soul well blackened with sins. But I could go there, to the brothers, and theyd take me in and ask me no questions. Whoever he is, hed never think to hunt me there. Hed not be sending his black and brown shooters, or his pale white bomb throwers, either. "

  "Maybe thats not a bad idea, Mick. "

  "Its no idea at all," he said, "because I cant do it. "

  "Why not? Suppose you just walk away from it all. "

  He shook his head. "Theres nothing to walk away from. I dont know who he is or what he wants, the man whos set all this in motion, but it cant be anything I have. Am I a crime boss with a great territory? Im nothing of the sort. I own a few pieces of property, I have some business interests, but thats not what he wants. Dont you see? Its personal with him. He wants to destroy me. " He uncapped the bottle, took a drink. "And all I can do," he said, "is try to get him first. "

  "Before he gets you. "

  "Is there another way? Youre the policeman. "

  "Years ago. "

  "But you can still think like one. Give me a policemans advice. Shall I go swear out a complaint? Against person or persons unknown?"

  "No. "

  "Or ask for police protection? They couldnt protect me if they wanted to, and whyever should they want to? Havent I lived my whole life on the other side of the law? And now its kill or be killed, and how can I be hoisting a white flag and asking them to change the rules?"

  A door at the left rear corner of the basement opened onto a flight of steps leading up to the air shaft. Mick unbolted the door and asked me again if I didnt want to catch a few hours sleep before I went home. I could have the couch, he said. He was drinking, hed just sit in the chair and sip whiskey until he dozed off.

  I told him I didnt want Elaine to wake up before I got home. Shed turn on the news and hear what had happened at Grogans.

  "Twill be every
ones lead story," he said. "Id put on the radio to learn the number of dead, but Ill know soon enough. " He gripped my shoulder. "Go on home. And keep your eyes open, will you?"

  "I will. "

  "And pack your bags and take herself off to Ireland or Italy or wherever she wants to go. Just so you get the hell away from here. Will you do that?"

  "Ill let you know. "

  "Thats what I want to hear from you, that youre at the airport waiting for your flight to board. "

  "How will I call you? Whats the phone number here?"

  "Wait a minute," he said, and scribbled on a piece of paper, straightened up and handed it to me. "The cellular phone. I never give out the number because I dont want a fucking telephone ringing in my pocket. I just bought the creature because you can never find a pay phone that works, or if you do youve no quarters for it. I dont know how much time Ill spend here, and I dont want to answer the store phone anyway, with people calling to inquire about doorknobs and strap hinges. Call me from the airport, eh? Will you do that?"

  He didnt wait for an answer, just gave me a pat on the back and a shove out the door. I headed up the dark stairs and heard the door close, heard the lock turn.

  "He saved my life," I said. "No question. The one guy was spraying the room with bullets, trying to kill everything with a pulse. There was a couple two tables away having a low-voltage lovers quarrel. Killed, both of them. Same thing would have happened to me if Id stayed in my chair. "

  "But not if youd stayed in bed. "

  "Id have been fine," I said. "Until the next time I walked out the door. "

  Shed been sleeping when I got home, but not deeply. The sound of my key in the lock was enough to wake her. She got up, rubbing sleep out of her eyes, put on a robe and followed me into the kitchen. I made the coffee for a change, and while it dripped through I told her everything that had happened.

  She said, "Bombs and bullets. Id say it sounds like The Godfather, Part Four, except it doesnt, not really. It sounds like a war. "

  "Thats what it feels like. "

  "Welcome to Sarajevo. Or isnt there a bar in the East Village called Downtown Beirut?"

  "On Second Avenue, if its still in business. "

  "Two people go out for a beer so they can talk about their relationship, and the next thing you know theyre wearing toe tags. Caught in the crossfire. Was there any crossfire?"

  "Not from me. Mick emptied his gun at him. He was the one who shot the shooter. My gun never made it out of the holster, and Tom and Andy were all the way in the back, so I dont think anybody else on our side got any shots off. "

  "Our side. " She sipped her coffee and made a face. It was too strong. When I make the coffee it always comes out too strong.

  She said, "He was saving his own life, you know. "

  "He covered me with his body. Flopped on top of me, deliberately shielded me. "

 
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