Everybody dies, p.19
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       Everybody Dies, p.19

         Part #14 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 19

 

  "But it must have been reflexive, dont you think? Something happened and he simply reacted. "

  "So?"

  "So he didnt consciously think, Matts in danger and I have to knock him down and shield him from bullets. He just did it. "

  "Would the act have scored higher on the nobility charts if hed thought it over first? If hed stopped to think wed both be dead. "

  "Youre right," she said. "You see what Im doing, dont you? Im trying to minimize what he did so you wont feel obligated to him. You almost got killed twice in one night. I want you to quit the game before your luck runs out. "

  "I dont think I can do that. "

  "Why not? How does what happened change anything? If Mick saved your life it was because he wants you to live, not so you can stand shoulder to shoulder with him on the battlefield. Didnt he tell you to take me to Ireland?"

  "Thats what he said. "

  "Ive never been there. And I get the feeling were not going. "

  "Not right now. "

  "Want to tell me why?"

  "Because it really is a war," I said, "and nobodys going to let me be Switzerland. What were we saying before? My names in the shawl. The only way I could stay neutral at this point is to pack up and leave the country. "

  "So? Your passports in order. "

  I shook my head. "I cant sit on a stone fence in County Kerry, hoping my problem will solve itself. "

  "So youre going to be involved. "

  "Thats got to be better than sitting around with my thumb up my ass waiting for something to happen. "

  "Besides, the man saved your life. "

  "Thats a factor. "

  "And a mans gotta do what a mans gotta do. Does that get factored in, too?"

  "Its probably part of the equation," I admitted. "I may think most of that guy stuff is bullshit, but that doesnt render me immune to it. And its not all crap. If Im going to live in this town I cant let people scare me out of it. And I have to live in this town. "

  "Why? We could live anywhere. "

  "We could, but we dont. We live here. "

  "I know," she said. "This is home. " She tried her coffee again, then gave up and carried her cup to the sink. "Its a shame," she said. "I dont know about sitting on stone fences, but it would have been fun to go to Ireland. "

  "You can still go. "

  "When? Oh, you mean now? No thanks. "

  "Or Paris, or anywhere you want. "

  "Where Ill be out of harms way. "

  "Thats right. "

  "So you wont have to worry about me. "

  "So?"

  "So forget about it. If Im gonna sit around waiting for the phone to ring, Id just as soon stay where its a local call. Dont try to talk me around, okay? Because it wont work. I may not be a Taurus but Im just as stubborn as you are. If you wont go, neither will I. "

  "Its your call. Will you close the shop?"

  "That Ill do. Ill even hang a sign that says Im off on a buying trip until the first of October. Will this be over and done with by the end of the month?"

  "One way or another. "

  "I wish you hadnt put it that way. "

  I said, "That couple I mentioned? At Grogans?"

  "The low-level lovers quarrel? What about them?"

  "Shes someone we used to know. "

  "Oh?"

  "Lisa Holtzmann. "

  The two women had met in an art history class at Hunter. Thats how I came to know her husband, and how she came to call me after he was killed.

  "My God," she said. "And she was killed?"

  "Instantly, from the look of things. "

  "That poor girl. What a life and what a death. Where was it we saw her?"

  "Armstrongs, and it was awhile ago. "

  "And we didnt bother saying hello. Who knew wed never see her again?" She frowned. "What was she doing at Grogans? I know what she was doing, but you wouldnt think that would be her kind of place, would you?"

  "As far as I know, thats the first time she ever went there. No, thats not true, because they were there the other night. "

  "The night before last?"

  "No, the night the whole thing started. Wednesday, it would have been. Before we went over to the storage place in Jersey. She was there with the same guy, and it may have been the same table. And it wasnt his kind of place, either. "

  "Who was he?"

  "His name was Florian. "

  "Florian? First name or last?

  "First, I assume. Matt, this is Florian. Florian, this is Matt. "

  "Snappy dialogue. Florian. Did he have long hair and play a Gypsy violin?"

  "He had a wedding ring. "

  "He did and she didnt. "

  "Right. "

  "So he was married and she wasnt, and maybe thats why they were in a low-down boozer instead of some more gentrified establishment. " She put her hand on mine. "First Jim and then Lisa. This has been quite a night for you, hasnt it?"

  "There were a lot of others killed at Grogans, too. "

  "You mentioned the bartender. Burke?"

  "And people I knew by sight, and others I didnt know at all. So much death. "

  "Im reeling from it myself and I wasnt even there. You were there both times. "

  "It doesnt feel real. "

  "Of course not. Its too much to take in. And you must be exhausted. Did you get any sleep at all before you went out to get shot at?"

  "Thats not why I went out. And no, I couldnt even keep my eyes closed. "

  "I bet you could now. "

  "I think youre right," I said, and got to my feet. "You know, I used to be able to miss a nights sleep now and then and just keep going. Of course I had an engine back then that burned alcohol for fuel. "

  "Your engine didnt have quite so many miles on it then, either. "

  "You think thats got something to do with it?"

  "Of course not," she said. "You havent lost a step. Get some sleep, slugger. Now. "

  I dropped off right away, and I dont think I so much as changed position until my eyes snapped open a little past noon. I hadnt awakened that abruptly in years. It wasnt like waking up, it was like coming out of a blackout.

  When Id showered and shaved, Elaine met me with a cup of coffee and told me the phone had been ringing all morning. "I let the machine pick up," she said. "A lot of people who wanted to know about Jim, or who wanted to tell you about Jim. And other people, too. Names I didnt recognize and some I did. Joe Durkin, and that other cop, the one from last night. "

  "George Wister?"

  "Thats the one. He called twice. The second time I thought he could see me. Please pick up the phone if youre listening to this. Very stern, very parent-to-child, and just the sort of thing guaranteed to elicit a strong fuck-you response from moi. Needless to say, I did not pick up. "

  "What a surprise. "

  "I didnt even pick up when it was for me. It was Monica, and I wasnt in the mood to hear about her latest married boyfriend. The one time I did pick up, though, was when TJ called. Hed seen the news and he wanted to make sure you were all right. I told him you were, and I also told him not to open up today. In fact I had him put a sign in the window. "

  "We Be Closed for the Month Sos We Can Be Buyin Some New Stock, Jock. "

  "I also called Beverly Faber. You can imagine how much I wanted to make that call, but I figured I had to. She sounded sedated, or maybe she was just groggy from shock and lack of sleep. The cops had her up until all hours answering questions. The impression they left her with, or maybe its the one she wanted to be left with, is that Jims murder was a case of mistaken identity. "

  "Well, it was. "

  "Right now she seems to see it as the workings of random fate. Do you remember when that actress dropped something out a window? I think it was a flower pot. "

  "God, that was ages ago. I was a cop when it happened. In fact I was still in Brooklyn, I hadnt transferred to the Sixth. Thats how long ago it was. "

  "T
he flower pot fell something like sixteen stories and killed a guy walking home from dinner. Wasnt that it?"

  "Something like that. The question at the time was how the flower pot got out the window. Not that she was aiming at the poor jerk, but did it really just happen to fall or did she pick it up and throw it at somebody?"

  "And he ducked and it went out the window?"

  "Maybe. Whatever it was, it was a hell of a long time ago. "

  "Well, Beverly remembers it like it was yesterday. Her Jim was like the guy who got hit with the flower pot, just minding his business until Gods thumb came down and squashed him like a bug. " She made a face. "You know," she said, "I never liked Beverly. But I certainly felt for her, and I really wanted to like her for the duration of the phone call. "

  "I know what you mean. "

  "Shes not an easy woman to like. I think its her voice, she sounds like shes whining even when shes not. Listen, are you hungry?"

  "Starving. "

  "Well, thank God, because I was afraid I was going to have to tie you down and force-feed you. Go listen to your messages while I fix you something. "

  I played the messages and jotted down names and numbers, even though I didnt much want to return any of the calls, especially the ones from either of the cops. Wisters second message was as Elaine had described it, and drew much the same response from me as it had from her. Joe Durkins call, logged in just half an hour before Id opened my eyes, sounded at once urgent and irritated, and didnt make me eager to get him on the phone.

  I deleted the messages- you cant really erase them, its digital, so theres no tape to erase. I went into the kitchen and ate everything Elaine put in front of me, and when the phone rang again I let the machine screen it. The caller hung up without leaving a message.

  "There were a lot of those," she said. "Hangups. "

  "There always are. A lot of the time its telemarketers. "

  "God, do you remember my brief career as a telemarketer? What a washout I was. "

  "That wasnt telemarketing. "

  "Of course it was. "

  "It was phone sex," I said.

  "Well, its the same thing. Either way youre jerking people off over the phone. God, that was funny, wasnt it?"

  "You didnt think so at the time. "

  "I thought it was something I could do, and it turned out it wasnt. That was around the time I met Lisa. "

  "Right. "

  "Before you and I moved in together, and before I opened the shop. Id stopped seeing clients and I couldnt figure out what to do with the rest of my life. "

  "I remember. "

  "Matt?"

  "What?"

  "Oh, nothing. "

  I rinsed my plate at the sink, put it in the rack to dry.

  She said, "Youll want to call TJ. "

  "In a little while. "

  "And did you want to catch the TV news? New York One had a lot of crime scene footage. "

 
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