All the flowers are dyin.., p.20
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       All the Flowers Are Dying, p.20

         Part #16 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
Page 20


  “Oh, wow. ”

  “Of course, if it’s too unsettling for you—”

  “No, just the opposite. The whole idea’s a turn-on. ” Her hand tightens on him. “For you, too, I can see. My God. ”

  “Well, it does add a little something. ”

  “The old je ne sais quoi, the French call it. I, uh, don’t have any special equipment for it. ”

  “I, uh, do. ”

  “Well, aren’t you the devil!”

  He fetches the briefcase, opens it. They make a game of it, attaching the silk cuffs to her wrists and ankles, positioning her on the bed with a pillow under her bottom, fastening the cords, also silken, that secure her wrists and ankles to the bed’s four corners. Her eyes widen as he shows her some of the paraphernalia he’s brought. She looks excited, and he touches her, and yes, she’s wet, but then she’s always wet, this one, always ready and willing and able.

  He flicks the riding crop across her abdomen. It hurts a little, he notes, but she likes it.

  So far.

  “My God,” she said, “you must have bought out the Pleasure Chest. You really are a devil. ”

  He opens a condom, puts it on.

  “Darling, you don’t need one of those. Why would you use one now? Oh, don’t tell me that’s why you haven’t let yourself come! That’s so sweet, but the last thing you have to worry about is getting me pregnant. I’m afraid those years are over. ”

  He’s beginning to tire of listening to her. So why not put an end to her prattling? He tears off a strip of duct tape, pins her head with one hand, tapes her mouth with the other. This is unexpected, and not entirely welcome, and he watches her eyes as she begins to realize the extent of her helplessness.

  But that could be part of the turn-on. She’s not sure yet.

  He gives her a look at the letter opener. Her eyes widen, and she’d gape if her mouth weren’t taped shut.

  He gets on the bed with her, grips her breast, presses firmly with the letter opener until its point breaks the skin at the outer rim of the aureole. A bead of blood flows from the spot, and he takes it on the top of his index finger and shows it to her.

  Oh, my, the look in her eyes…

  “No bloodshed, you said, and I let you believe I agreed. A lie of omission, I’m afraid. You will be shedding some blood tonight after all. ”

  He puts his finger in his mouth and tastes her blood, relishing it, relishing too the look on her face as she watches him do it. Did she read Dracula at an impressionable age? Did she find it erotic, as so many girls seem to do?

  He uses the letter opener, enlarges the wound. He puts his mouth to it and sucks blood from her, letting it fill his mouth, letting it flow down his throat. He loves the taste of blood, loves the whole idea of drinking it. The vampire myth is a powerful one, composed largely of nonsense, of course, like all myths. Eternal life, a need to shun daylight, to sleep in a coffin—amusing, certainly, but ridiculous.

  And yet the satisfactions and benefits of blood would seem to transcend myth. What could be more nourishing than this vehicle that carries the very life force of its owner? Of course it rejuvenates the person who swallows it. How could it be otherwise?

  He sucks greedily, careful not to yield to the impulse to bite the soft flesh. Bundy was a biter, he left tooth marks in his victims, and might have dodged Old Sparky if he hadn’t. There will be no tooth marks in this plump titty, toothsome though it unquestionably is.

  She’s struggling against the bonds, trying to cry out against the strip of duct tape. It’s futile, of course. There’s nothing she can do.

  He, on the other hand, may do as he will.

  He props himself up, his face close to hers. “You never should have let me tie you up,” he says, his tone conversational. “But don’t blame yourself. The die was cast the moment you opened the door. If you’d said no, if you’d tried to resist, well, it wouldn’t have done you any good. There would have been a struggle, and you’d have lost, and you’d wind up just as you are now, restrained and helpless. ”

  He runs a hand over her flesh. Age may have softened her some, and gravity may have had an effect, but it’s left her with wonderfully soft skin.

  “How many times did you come this evening? I lost count. I hope you had a good time. Because I don’t think you’re going to enjoy the rest of this. I don’t think you’re going to care for it at all. ”

  The coup de grace (though it’s not much of a coup, and a little late in the day for grace) is performed with the letter opener, of course, and it’s essentially the same blow he’d wanted to deliver to the woman in the shop, a deliberate thrust from just below the rib cage arcing upward into the heart. He’s inside her at the moment, and he tries to time his climax to coincide with her death, but the body insists on following its own timetable, and perhaps its wisdom is the greater.

  Because this way his attention is fixed entirely upon the blade in his hand and the look in her eyes, and he feels her heart at the tip of the blade, feels it allow itself to be pierced, sees the light die in her eyes, and feels the life go out of her. And surely she’s a part of him now, as are all of them, all the ones he’s taken. Surely her loss is his gain, her pain his pleasure, her death his life.

  And now he finishes, moving slowly now, slowly, tantalizingly, within the envelope of lifeless flesh, until at last there’s no holding back, no choice but surrender, and he cries out in pain or joy as he reaches his goal.

  Fortunately, there’s no hurry. He’s eager to get away, to put distance between himself and the dead woman, but he knows not to rush his departure. He wants to leave no traces, or at least to keep them to a minimum. The police will give his efforts their full attention, and their forensic capability is legendary. It is very much in his interest to provide them with as little to work with as possible.

  He’s had two orgasms, one well before her death, one in its immediate aftermath, and has consequently filled two condoms. Both are knotted now, his DNA secured within. He can flush them down the toilet, surely the plumbing in a New York apartment building will be equal to the task, but suppose one gets caught in a clogged trap? Safer to pop the pair into a Ziploc bag, which can join the wrist and ankle restraints, the silk cords, the riding crop, and the rest of the Pleasure Chest playthings in his briefcase.

  There’s not much blood. Her breast bled some, beyond what he sucked from it, and he has managed to get some of it on his own chest and forearms. The final wound, the piercing and stopping of her heart, never had a chance to bleed, and the letter opener is still buried in her heart.

  First a shower. But, as preparation, he’s brought along a five-inch square of fine-mesh screening, sold to enable a do-it-yourselfer to repair a hole in a window screen. He places this over the drain in the tub and secures it with duct tape. Any head or body hair, any trace evidence that might wind up in the trap, will now be prevented from reaching the drain in the first place.

  He showers thoroughly, using her soap, her shampoo and conditioner. He uses a big blue bath towel, bagging it when he’s finished for removal and safe disposal. He takes up the square of screening and the tape he used to hold it in place, and bags them as well.

  In a closet he finds a vacuum cleaner. Will neighbors hear the vacuum running? Perhaps, and so what if they do? He vacuums the floors throughout the large one-bedroom apartment, then changes attachments and vacuums the bed, body and all.

  Hair is the enemy, hair and sweat and other secretions. He imagines, not for the first time, how absurdly easy it must have been for a criminal a century or more ago, before DNA, before blood types, before ballistics, before forensics was a word, let alone a science. It was a wonder that anyone ever got caught.

  And, really, how many did? Of the bright ones, the planners, the Übermenschen of murder? There must have been a multitude who got away with it, even as he gets away with it, year after year after year.

  He bathed before coming here, bath
ed and shampooed, but one is forever losing hairs, shedding skin cells. He’s just finishing the vacuuming when he remembers that he was here the previous night, and God knows what hair and skin cells he may have left behind. And she’s changed the sheets since then, hasn’t she?

  He finds yesterday’s sheets in the hamper, bundles them up, and, for good measure, adds everything else in the clothes hamper. A small detail, probably an unnecessary precaution, but why take a chance?

  She keeps her cash, he discovers, in the drawer with her underclothes. It’s not a fortune, less than a thousand dollars, but he can find a use for it, and she manifestly cannot. He’s had expenses—$200 for the bronze paper knife, as much again for the erotic paraphernalia, plus the cost of the bottle and the bouquet. With her cash in his wallet, the night’s work becomes a self-liquidating enterprise. Except, of course, that hers is the self that’s been liquidated.

  Next he wipes the place down for fingerprints. He hasn’t touched much, tonight or on previous visits. He wipes the bottle of Strega, and both of their glasses. He retrieves from her liquor cabinet the bottle of Glenmorangie Scotch she bought for him, pours and downs a drink, wipes and replaces the bottle. He leaves the vase of flowers on the mantel. He never touched the vase, and flowers won’t hold a print.

  But paper will, and he had his hands all over the paper they were wrapped in. He finds it in the kitchen wastebasket, adds it to one of his bags of trash.

  Throughout this entire process he’s been naked. Now, the job done, he puts on the clothes he’d left on the chair in the bedroom. He gathers everything he means to take away with him and lines it up alongside the apartment’s front door. Is he done? Can he go now?

  One more thing.

  He picks up a manicure scissors from the top of her dresser, uses the wall-mounted magnifying mirror, and clips three hairs from his mustache. He leaves one on the bedsheet, alongside her right arm, and drops the other two into her nest of pubic hair.



  Mother Blue’s was either half full or half empty, depending I suppose on whether or not you had money in the joint. It’s a rarity these days, a jazz club away from Midtown and SoHo and the Village, and not many out-of-towners find their way to it. Its clientele is an even-up mix of people who come from all over the city for the music, and neighborhood locals who don’t object to the music, and find it a pleasant place to kick back and get a buzz. It was always a pretty even mix of black and white, but lately the mixture’s been liberally spiced with Asians.

  Danny Boy’s there three or four nights a week, giving the rest of his custom to Poogan’s Pub, on West Seventy-second between Columbus and Amsterdam. There’s no music at Poogan’s, except what sneaks out of the jukebox, and if there’s any charm to it beyond a certain raffish straightforwardness, I’ve never spotted it. I only go to Poogan’s if I’m looking for Danny Boy, but I’ll go to Mother Blue’s just for the music.

  Danny Boy was at a table close to the bandstand, and he saw us before we saw him. He was smiling when my eyes picked him up, and beckoning us to his table.

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