Everybody dies, p.20
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       Everybody Dies, p.20

         Part #14 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 20

 

  "Itll keep. "

  She was silent for a moment, gathering her thoughts. Then she said, "You and Lisa were close, werent you?"

  "Close?"

  "Look, do me a favor, okay? Tell me to shut up and mind my own business. "

  "Im not going to tell you that. "

  "I wish you would. "

  "Ask your question. "

  "Was she the one you were sleeping with? God, I cant believe I said that. "

  "The answers yes. "

  "I know the answers yes. It ended awhile ago, didnt it?"

  "Quite a while ago. I hadnt seen her since before the two of us saw her at Armstrongs. "

  "Thats what I thought. I knew you were seeing somebody. Thats what I meant when I said…"

  "I know. "

  "That marriage didnt have to change anything. And I meant it. Did you think I was being noble? Because I wasnt. "

  "I figured you meant it. "

  "And I did, and I was not for one minute being noble. I was being realistic. Men and women are different, and one of the ways theyre different is sex. They can throw me out of the Sisterhood for saying so, but I dont care. Its true. And I ought to know, right?"

  "Right. "

  "Men screw around, and for years I made a very nice living being somebody they screwed around with. And most of them were married, and none of it had anything to do with their marriages. They screwed around for a lot of reasons, but all of them added up to one reason: Men are like that. "

  She picked up my hand, turned my wedding ring around and around.

  She said, "I think its probably biological. Other animals are the same way, and dont tell me theyre all neurotic or responding to peer pressure. So why should I expect you to be different, or why should I even want you to be different? The only thing to worry about is if you found somebody else you liked better than me, and I didnt think that would happen. "

  "It never will. "

  "Thats what I decided, because I know what weve got. Did you fall in love with her?"

  "No. "

  "It was never a threat, was it? To us. "

  "Not for a minute. "

  "Look at me," she said. "Ive got tears in my eyes. Can you believe it?"

  "I can believe it"

  "The wife crying over the death of the mistress. Youd think theyd be tears of joy, wouldnt you?"

  "Not from you. "

  "And mistress is the wrong word for her. Youd have to be paying her rent, and seeing her every afternoon from five to seven. Isnt that how the French manage these things?"

  "Youre asking the wrong person. "

  "Cinq ? sept, thats what they call it. Whatll we call her? How about the Designated Girlfriend?"

  "Thats not bad. "

  "I just feel so sad. Oh, yes, hold me. Thats better. You know how I feel, baby? Like we lost a member of the family. Isnt that ridiculous? Isnt that nuts?"

  * * *

  One of the first calls I returned was from Ray Gruliow. "I need your professional services," he said, "and for a change Ive got a client with reasonably deep pockets, which means you can bill at your full hourly rate. "

  "I dont suppose he can wait a couple of weeks. "

  "I wouldnt even want to wait a couple days on this one. Dont tell me youre booked up. "

  "Thats what I just told another member of your profession. Ill be a little more candid with you. "

  "In light of our warm personal and professional relationship. "

  "Thats the idea. Ive got some personal business, Ray, and I cant even think about work for the time being. "

  "Personal business. "

  "Right. "

  "Some would call that oxymoronic, dont you think? If its personal, how can it be business?"

  "How indeed?"

  "Wait a minute. This wouldnt have anything to do with something that happened last night in your part of town, would it?"

  "Like what?"

  "You see the headline in the Post? Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, they called it, with the originality for which theyre famous. "

  "I havent seen the papers yet. "

  "Or the TV?"

  "No. "

  "Then you dont know what Im talking about?"

  "I didnt say that. "

  "I see," he said. "Very interesting. "

  I was silent for a moment. Then I said, "I think I need legal advice. "

  "Well, young man, todays your lucky day. I just happen to be an attorney. "

  "I was there last night. "

  "Are we talking about Tenth Avenue?"

  "Yes. "

  "And you were there when the excrement hit the ventilating system?"

  "Yes. "

  "Jesus Christ. You know the body count? The last I heard it stood at twelve dead and seven wounded, and at least one of the wounded is circling the drain. One of the morning news shows had an interior shot of the bar, and it looked a lot like Rotterdam after the Luftwaffe paid a call. "

  "It looked pretty bad when I saw it last. "

  "But youre all right?"

  "Im fine," I said.

  "And you got out before the cops turned up. "

  "Yes," I said. "Earlier in the evening I had dinner with a friend at a Chinese restaurant. "

  "And in Beijing I understand everybodys favorite place is McDonalds. Go figure, huh?"

  "I guess it didnt make the news. "

  "You guess what didnt make the- This is a restaurant in the same neighborhood as the other place?"

  "More or less. Eighth Avenue. "

  "It made the news, all right, probably because it was in the same neighborhood. Lone gunman shoots a lone diner for no reason at all. He ran a copy shop in the neighborhood, if I remember correctly. "

  "Well, a printshop. "

  "Close enough. So?"

  "You met the guy. "

  "I met him?"

  "You heard him qualify six months ago at St. Lukes," I said. "He had seventeen years. Jim F. "

  "Your sponsor. "

  "Right. "

  "Hes the guy you have dinner with every Sunday. They said he was a lone diner, but I guess he wasnt. "

  "He was alone when it happened. I was washing my hands. Ray, the two things are related and Im the link. I held out on the cops last night, and then I got the hell out of Grogans before they arrived on the scene. Theyve been leaving messages on my machine and I dont want to talk to them. "

  "So dont talk to them. Youre under no obligation to do so. "

  "Im a licensed private investigator. "

  "Oh, thats a point. That does obligate you in certain ways, doesnt it? On the other hand, if youre working for an attorney, youre shielded to a degree by lawyer-client privilege. "

  "You want to hire me?"

  "No, this time around Im going to be your lawyer. Is your friend still ably represented by the resourceful Mark Rosenstein?"

  "I believe so. "

  "Have him call Mark," he said, "and have him tell Mark to hire you to investigate various matters in connection with pending legal action. Can you remember all this?"

  "Im writing it down. The only thing is, my guy could be hard to reach. "

  "Ill call Mark. Its not as though he has to do anything. Meanwhile, you might want to read the papers and look at the television. "

  "I suppose Ill have to. "

  "New York One profiled your friend in the course of a stand-up in front of whats left of his place of business. They made him sound like Al Capone out of Damon Runyon. Bloodthirsty but somehow engaging. "

  "Thats fair enough. "

  "That great piece of theater with the bowling ball. Did that really happen?"

  "I wasnt there," I said. "And you never get a straight answer from him on the subject. "

  "If it didnt happen," he said, "it damn well should have. Remember, dont tell them a thing. And call me if you need me. "

  I called TJ, and he picked up the papers and brought them over. We sat in front of the TV and he channel-surfed w
hile I saw what the tabloids had to say. They both gave it the front page- the News just slugged it hells kitchen- but it had broken too late to get the full treatment inside, and must have missed the early editions altogether. The columnists and feature writers would be all over it tomorrow morning, but for now there were just the bare facts. The body count varied, the Post had one more dead than the News, and names were withheld pending notification of kin.

  The TV reporters didnt have a whole lot more hard news, aside from more recent numbers for the casualties. But they had names and photos of some of the dead. Some of the photos looked familiar, but otherwise none were of people I knew. They evidently hadnt identified Lisa or her friend yet, or hadnt managed to notify family members.

  The interior shots of Grogans were as described, and as I remembered the place when Mick was dragging me out of it. And the exteriors were what youd expect, with one reporter after another doing a stand-up in front of the sweet old saloon, its windows swathed in sheets of plywood now, the sidewalk in front still carpeted with debris and broken glass.

  TVs edge was in sidebars and backgrounders, in interviews with survivors and neighborhood residents, in profiles of Michael "The Butcher" Ballou, Grogans legendary unofficial proprietor, and heir to a long-standing tradition of savage Hells Kitchen barkeeps. They trotted out the old stories, some truer than others, and of course they didnt fail to include the one about the bowling ball.

  "That happen?" TJ wanted to know.

  According to all versions of the tale, Mick Ballou had had a serious difference of opinion with another neighborhood character named Paddy Farrelly, who disappeared one day and was never seen again. The day after Farrelly was last sighted, Mick allegedly made the rounds of the neighborhood ginmills (including Grogans, no doubt, which had not yet come into his hands) carrying the sort of bag in which a bowler carries his ball.

  What he did in the various saloons, aside from having a glass of whiskey, depended on which version of the story you were hearing. In some he simply made a show of setting the bag significantly on top of the bar, then asking after the absent Farrelly and drinking his health "wherever the dear lad may be. "

  In other renditions he opened the bag, offering a look within to those who wanted it. And in one over-the-top version he went door to door, saloon to saloon, each time yanking the severed head of Paddy Farrelly out by the hair and showing it around. "Doesnt he look grand?" he said. "When did he ever look so fine?" And then he invited people to buy old Paddy a drink.

  "I dont know what happened," I told TJ. "I was over in Brooklyn, still in uniform, and Id never heard of Paddy Farrelly or of Mick, either. If I had to guess, Id say he did make the rounds and he did have a bowling bag with him, but I dont believe he opened it. He might have, if he was wild and drunk enough, but I dont think he did. "

  "And if he had? Where Im goin, what you figure was in the bag?"

  "He could have had the head in there," I said. "I dont doubt for a minute that he killed Farrelly. I understand they really hated each other, and if he got the chance he probably killed him with a cleaver, and wore his fathers apron while he did it. He might well have dismembered the body for disposal, and that would have involved cutting the head off, so yes, he could very well have had the head in the bag. "

 
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