All the flowers are dyin.., p.19
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       All the Flowers Are Dying, p.19

         Part #16 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 19

 

  I asked if she had mailboxes for rent and she nodded. I said I didn’t see them. Could she show me where they were?

  “Is not a mail box,” she said, framing a box with her hands, the sides, the top and bottom. “Is a mail service. ”

  “How does it work?”

  “You pay for the month, an’ you get a number, an’ you come in an’ tell me your number an’ I bring you your mail. ”

  “How much does the service cost?”

  “Not so much. Fifty dollars. You pay three months in advance, you get the fourth month free. ”

  I flipped open my wallet and showed her a card Joe Durkin had given me. It was a Detectives Endowment Association courtesy card, and it wouldn’t keep a meter maid from tagging you for parking too close to a hydrant, but it looked official enough from a distance. “I’m interested in one of your customers,” I said. “His number is twelve-seventeen. That’s one two one seven. ”

  She looked at me.

  “You know his name?”

  She shook her head.

  “You want to look it up for me?”

  She thought about it, shrugged, went in the back room. When she returned her broad forehead was creased with a deep frown. I asked her what was the matter.

  “No name,” she said.

  I thought she couldn’t tell me, but that wasn’t it. She meant she didn’t have a name to go with the number, and I believed her. Her puzzlement over the situation was evident.

  I said, “If there’s any mail for him—”

  “That’s why I take so long. If there is mail for him, there is his name on it, yes? No mail for him. He come in one, two times a week. Sometimes mail, sometimes no mail. ”

  “And when he comes in he tells you his number. ”

  “Twelve-seventeen. An’ I give him his mail. ”

  “And when he gets a letter, is there a name on the envelope?”

  “I don’t pay attention. ”

  “If you heard the name, would you recognize it?”

  “Maybe. I don’t know. ”

  “Is the name David Thompson?”

  “I don’t know. Is not José Jiménez. He’s Anglo, but that’s all I know. ”

  She excused herself, waited on another customer. She came back and said, “You buy the service, you get a number, we write your name in the book. Next to the number. ”

  “And there’s no name in the book next to 1217. ”

  “No name. Maybe he come in the first time when somebody else is working, somebody who forgets to write down the name. Is not right, but…” She shrugged, shook her head. I think it bothered her more than it did me.

  I’d brought along the photo Louise gave me, and I took it out and showed it to her. Her eyes lit up.

  “Yes!”

  “It’s him?”

  “Is him. Twelve-seventeen. ”

  “But you don’t know his name. ”

  “No. ”

  I gave her a card. Next time he got a letter, I told her, she should call me and read me the name off the envelope. She said she’d do that, and held my card as if it were a pearl of great price. She craned her neck, took another look at the photograph.

  She said, “He do something bad, this man?”

  “Not that I know of,” I said. “I just need to know who he is. ”

  I got home before Elaine did. She called ahead to say she was running a little late, could I put a pot of water on the stove? I did, and lit a fire under it, and it was boiling when she walked in the door. She tossed a salad and made pasta, and we left the dishes in the sink and walked down Ninth to a small off-Broadway house on Forty-second Street, where we had complimentary tickets for a staged reading of a play called Riga, about the destruction of the Latvian Jews. I knew the playwright from around the rooms, that’s why we were there, and after the curtain we congratulated him and told him how powerful it was.

  “Too powerful,” he said. “Nobody wants to produce it. ”

  On the way home Elaine said, “Gee, I can’t imagine why anybody would pass up a chance to produce that play. Why, it just makes a person feel good all over. ”

  “I’m glad we saw it, though. ”

  “I don’t know if I am or not. I’m afraid it’s all going to happen again. ”

  “You don’t mean that. ”

  “The hell I don’t. There are whole sections of the Times I can’t read anymore. Anything with national or international news. I can manage the Arts section, except half the time the Book Review’s as bad as a news story. The Tuesday Science section’s okay, and the Wednesday one with the recipes and restaurants. I never want to go to the restaurants or try the recipes, but I can stand to read it. ”

  “It’s a shame you’re not interested in sports. ”

  “Yeah, it’d be something I could keep up on and not wind up thinking about Prozac. Does TJ read the business section?”

  “I think so. ”

  “Maybe he’ll support us in our old age. If we have one. ”

  I stepped to the curb, held up a hand. A cab pulled up.

  She said, “I thought we were walking. What’s the matter, don’t you feel well, baby?”

  “Not well enough to walk fifty blocks. ” I told the driver to go up Tenth Avenue, that we wanted Amsterdam and Ninety-third.

  “Mother Blue’s?”

  “I was just a few blocks from there this afternoon,” I said, “but there’s no reason to go there at that hour. At night it’s got music. ”

  “And Danny Boy. ”

  “Unless tonight’s one of his nights at Poogan’s. Either way, I think we should go listen to some music. ”

  “I suppose you’re right,” she said. “I suppose that’s a better idea than going home and killing ourselves. ”

  13

  Downstairs, he gives his name. He gets off the elevator to find her framed in the doorway of her apartment, leaning a little against the doorjamb. She’s wearing a belted silk robe with a bold floral pattern. Her slippers are open-toed, and the polish on her toenails is blood red, a match for her lipstick.

  He’s carrying a briefcase, and he’s also brought a bouquet from the Korean greengrocer, a bottle from the liquor store. “These will pale beside your robe,” he tells her, handing her the flowers.

  “Do you like it? I can’t decide whether it’s elegant or trashy. ”

  “Why can’t it be both?”

  “Sometimes I ask the same question of myself. These are lovely, darling. I’ll put them in water. ”

  She fills a vase at the sink, arranges the flowers in it, puts them on the mantel. He unwraps the bottle and shows it to her.

  “Strega,” she reads. “What is it, a cordial?”

  “A postprandial libation. Italian, of course. Strega means witch. ”

  “Moi?”

  “You’re certainly enchanting. ”

  “And you’re a sweetie. ”

  She comes into his arms and they kiss. Her body, lush and full-breasted, presses against him. She’s naked under the robe, and he draws her close and runs a hand down her back, stroking her bottom.

  He’s hard already, in anticipation. He’s been like that all day, on and off.

  “This is such a nice surprise,” she says. “Two nights in a row. You’ll spoil me. ”

  “I have very little free time,” he says. “I’ve told you that. ”

  “Yes. ”

  “And it’s unpredictable. Sometimes I have to go away for months at a stretch. ”

  “It must be a difficult life. ”

  “It has its moments. When I do have time to myself, I try to spend it in the most enjoyable way possible. And that’s why I’m here again tonight. ”

  “Believe me, I wasn’t complaining. Shall we sample the Strega? I don’t believe I’ve ever had any. Or would you rather have Scotch?”

  He says he’ll try the cordial, that he hasn’t had it in years. She finds a pair of suitable glasses and pours drinks for both
of them, and they touch glasses and sip.

  “Nice. A very complicated flavor, isn’t it? Herbs, but I can’t tell which ones. How clever you were to bring this. ”

  “Perhaps we can take our drinks to the bedroom. ”

  “More than clever,” she says. “The man’s a genius. ”

  In her bedroom he embraces her, draws the robe from her shoulders. She’s a few years older than he, and her body is that of a mature woman, but diet and exercise have kept her in good shape, and her skin is lovely, soft as velvet.

  He removes his own clothes quickly, puts them on a chair. “Oh, my,” she says, in mock horror. “You’re not going to put that big thing in me, are you?”

  “Not right away. ”

  She’s very responsive, has been since their first time together. He brings her to orgasm first with his fingers, then with his mouth.

  “My God,” she says, after her second climax. “My God, I think you’re going to kill me. ”

  “Oh, not just yet,” he says.

  He has her in a variety of postures, moving her from one to another, slipping out of her after each orgasm and taking her again in a new position. No effort is required for him to postpone his own climax. It will wait for the right moment.

  At one point she takes him in her mouth. She’s good at this, and he lets her perform for a good length of time, then rolls her onto her stomach, preps her with a lubricant from the nightstand, and eases himself into her ass. They’ve done this before, they did it last night, in fact, and he’d gotten her to touch herself in front and make herself come.

  Tonight she does so without being told.

  She learns quickly, he thinks. He could probably get her to do anything he wants, and the thought is intriguing. Should he draw this out, keep her around for a few more days or weeks?

  No, it’s time.

  “Darling? Is there something I can do?”

  “You’re doing fine,” he says.

  “But I want you to come. ”

  “You can come for both of us. ”

  “I never came so much in my life, but it’s not fair. Now it’s your turn. ”

  “I’m having a good time. ”

  “I know you are, but—”

  “I don’t need to have an orgasm to be satisfied. ”

  “That’s what you said last night. ”

  “It was true then and it’s true now. ”

  “But it thrills me when you come,” she says, her hand on him. “I love it, and you seem to enjoy it yourself. ”

  “Well, of course. ”

  “So tell me if there’s something I can do. ”

  “Well…”

  “You’re not going to shock me,” she says. “I didn’t just get out of a convent. ”

  “No, I don’t suppose you did. ”

  “There’s something, isn’t there? Look, as long as it doesn’t involve bloodshed or broken bones, I’m up for it. ”

  He hesitates, largely to enjoy the line she’s just delivered. Then he says, “Well, how would it be if I tied you up?”

 
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