Everybody dies, p.21
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       Everybody Dies, p.21

         Part #14 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 21

 

  "Never found the body, did they?"

  "No. "

  "Or the head, I guess. "

  "Or the head. "

  He considered this. "You ever been bowlin?"

  "Bowling? Not in years and years. There was a cops league in Suffolk County when I lived in Syosset. I was on a team for a few months. "

  "Yeah? You have one of those shirts, got your name on the pocket?"

  "I dont remember. "

  "I dont remember. That means you did, Sid, and you dont want to admit it. "

  "No, it means I dont remember. We ordered shirts for everybody, but I had to quit the team when I got a gold shield and my hours changed. "

  "And you didnt bowl no more after that?"

  "Once that I remember. I was off the police force and living at the hotel, and a friend of mine named Skip Devoe was always organizing things. " I turned to Elaine. "Did you ever meet Skip?"

  "No, but youve talked about him. "

  "He was an owner of a joint on Ninth and a hell of a fellow. Hed get a bee in his bonnet, and the next thing you knew wed all be traipsing out to Belmont for the racing, or to Randalls Island for an outdoor jazz concert. There used to be a bowling alley on the west side of Eighth two or three doors up from Fifty-seventh, and he got it in his head we had to go bowling, and the next thing you knew half a dozen drunks descended upon the place. "

  "And you just went the once?"

  "Just the one time. But we talked about it for weeks after. "

  "What became of him?"

  "Skip? He died a couple of years later. Acute pancreatitis, but then they never put on the death certificate that the deceased died of a broken heart. The storys too long to tell right now. Besides, Elaines already heard it. "

  "And the bowlin alleys gone. "

  "Long gone, along with the building it was in. "

  "I bowled once," he said. "Felt like a fool. Looked so easy, and then I couldnt do it. "

  "You get the hang of it. "

  "I can see how you would, and then you just be tryin to do the same thing over and over again. I see em sometimes on television, and those dudes are really good at it, and I keep waitin for em to nod off in the middle of the game. Howd we get on this subject?"

  "You brought it up. "

  "The bag. They never found the head, I was wonderin did they ever find the bag. Dont matter if they did or didnt. Point is, thats a nice friend you got. "

  "Youve met him. "

  "Yeah. "

  "Hes who he is," I said. "He can be very charming, but hes a lifelong criminal and hes got a lot of blood on his hands. "

  "Times I met him," he said, "was when I was with you, an we fell by that place of his that got trashed. "

  "Grogans. "

  "Didnt see a lot of black folks there. "

  "No. "

  "Not workin there, not havin a drink there. "

  "No. "

  "Dude was polite to me an all, but all the time I was there I was real conscious of what color I was. "

  "I can see how you would be," I said. "Micks an Irish kid from a bad neighborhood, and those were the people who hanged black men from lampposts during the Civil War draft riots. Hes not likely to decorate the windows for Martin Luther King Day. "

  "Probably uses the N word a lot. "

  "He does. "

  "Nigger nigger nigger," he said.

  "Sounds silly when you say it over and over. "

  "Most any word does. What you say, hes who he is. Wes all of us that. "

  "But you might not care to work for him. "

  "Not in his bar, Lamar. But then it dont look like it gone be open for business anytime soon. But that aint the way you mean. "

  "No. "

  "We was workin for him a couple days ago, wasnt we? He much more of a racist now than he was then?"

  "Probably not. "

  "So why would I all of a sudden not want to be workin for the man?"

  "Because its dangerous and illegal," Elaine said. "You could have some major trouble with the police, and you could even get killed. "

  He grinned. "Well, all thats cool," he said, "but I just know theres gotta be a downside. "

  "You think thats funny, dont you?"

  "So do you, or you wouldnt be tryin so hard to keep from laughin. " To me he said, "What we gonna do, exactly? Grab some guns and head for the OK Corral?"

  I shook my head. "I dont think either of us is cut out for that," I said. "There will probably come a time for that, and itll be tip to somebody else to do it. Right now, though, nobody knows where the OK Corral is, or whos holed up there. "

  "Was the Clantons, way I remember it. "

  "This time around the Clantons dont have names or faces. Whats called for is some detective work. "

  "An we the detectives," he said. He scratched his head. "We didnt get too far with E-Z Storage. Fact, we took it as far as we could and signed off the case. "

  "We havent got much more now than we did then, but there are a few things. "

  "Dude who shot your friend. "

  "Thats one. Right now the main thing we know about him is hes black. "

  "Narrows it down. "

  "It does, as a matter of fact, because we also know hes a professional. And he screwed up, he shot the wrong person. "

  "Word might get around. "

  "It might," I agreed. "Second, theres the gunman at Grogans. "

  "Asian dude. "

  "Southeast Asian, from the looks of him. "

  "Thats right, you saw the man. I was thinkin they didnt show his face on the TV, but you got to see him up close. "

  "Closer than Id have liked. They havent released his name or anything about him, but that doesnt mean they dont know it. "

  "Get his name, trace him back, see who he used to hang out with. "

  "Thats the idea. Our third openings the two guys who jumped me a few blocks from here. "

  "Pounded on you, till you went and pounded on them. "

  "I got a good look at one of them," I said. "Id recognize him again. "

  "You figure he lives in New York?

  "Hed pretty much have to. Why?"

  "Cause thats how well do it, Hewitt. Just drive around lookin at people, an pick him out of the eight million faces we see. "

  "Well, thats one way. "

  "But you can think of another. "

  "I can," I said. "The trouble is, its not a whole lot better than your way. "

  "Well, we flexible," he said. "We try your way, an if it dont work we try mine. "

  "George Wisters not a bad guy," Joe Durkin said. "A good cop and a bright fellow. He doesnt know what to make of you. You want to know something? Im not so sure I know what to make of you myself. "

  "What do you mean?"

  "You were having dinner with your friend last night. You went to the can and he got shot. And you couldnt think of a reason on earth why somebodyd want to kill good old Jim. "

  "I still cant. "

  "Bullshit," he said. "That the same jacket you were wearing last night?"

  "So?"

  "Same as your friend had on. Dont jerk me around, will you? You were the intended vic. Only reason youre here now is you picked the right time to take a leak. "

  We were in a Greek coffee shop on Eighth, just a block down from the Lucky Panda. Id have preferred a different meeting place, but Id already rejected his first suggestion, the squad room at Midtown North, and he hadnt liked my idea of getting out of the neighborhood altogether and meeting somewhere down in Chelsea or the Village.

  When Id got there he was at a back booth, drinking coffee and halfway through a piece of cherry cheesecake. He said it was good and I ought to have some, but I told the waiter Id just have a cup of coffee. Joe said it was good wed stayed in the neighborhood, that it was going to rain. I said they kept predicting rain and it kept not raining. He said theyd be right sooner or later, and the guy brought my coffee and we got down to it.

  Now I
said, "I guess thats true. I was evidently the shooters actual target. "

  "It took you until today to figure that out?"

  "Wister suggested as much last night. In an offhand way, after hed gotten through floating the idea that Jim had been printing up green cards and bearer bonds for the Five Families. I took it about as seriously. "

  "When did you change your mind?"

  "When I talked to Mick Ballou. "

  "Your friend,"

  "Hes a friend of mine, yes. You know that. "

  "And you know what I think about it. A lot of guys on the job have made themselves grief that way, having friends like that. Buddies from the old neighborhood, guys who went one way while they went another. "

  "Im not on the job anymore, Joe. "

  "No, youre not. "

  "And Ballou and I dont go back that far. I put in my papers years before I met him. "

  "And the two of you just hit it off, huh?"

  "Since when do I have to explain my friendships to you? Youre a friend of mine, and I dont get a grilling from Ballou on the subject. "

  "Is that a fact? I guess hes more broad-minded than I am. Where were we? You were saying you changed your mind when you talked to your good friend the murderer. When was this?"

  "After I finished with Wister. I stopped at his place on my way home. "

  "Not exactly on your way. You walked over to Ninth and turned left instead of right I dont suppose you dropped in for a drink. "

  "Id just lost one friend and felt the need to say hello to another," I said. "And when I got there he told me how hed been having problems. "

  "Oh?"

  "There was a fellow who did some odds and ends for him who wound up in a garbage can on Eleventh Avenue. "

  "Peter Rooney, and the odds and ends had to do with Ballous shylocking operation. Whatd he do, hold out a few dollars and Ballou put him in the Dumpster?"

  "He didnt know whod killed Rooney, but I gather there had been other incidents as well, and the implication was somebody was trying to muscle in on him. His take on Jims shooting was that Id been the target, and it was because I was a friend of his. "

  "Thats what he told you. "

  "Yes. "

  "And I dont suppose he mentioned who was putting the screws to him. "

  "He said he didnt know. "

  "Like getting roses from a secret admirer? Except instead of roses its death threats?"

  "Maybe he knew and didnt say. "

  "Yeah, and maybe he said and its you that doesnt want to say. And then what happened?"

  "What happened?"

  "Yeah. What did you do next?"

  "I went home. I cant say I took it all that seriously. Why should a friendship make me the target of a presumably professional hit?" I shrugged. "I couldnt sleep. I was up late, drinking coffee in the kitchen and grieving for my friend. "

  "Thats your friend Jimmy. "

 
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