All the flowers are dyin.., p.22
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       All the Flowers Are Dying, p.22

         Part #16 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
Page 22


  “Well, I was just wondering what the impact of Viagra’s been on working girls. I mean, it would have to have a major effect, wouldn’t you think?”

  “I think you’re a fruitcake. ”

  “What? A fruitcake? How can you say that?”

  “A fruitcake’s not a bad thing. Good night. I love you. ”

  So it turned out to be a good night, a wonderful night. What I didn’t know was that there weren’t going to be any more of them.


  I woke up to the smell of coffee, and when I got to the kitchen Elaine had a cup poured for me, and an English muffin in the toaster. The TV was on, tuned to the Today show, and Katie Couric was trying to be reasonably cheerful while her guest talked about his new book on the genocide in the Sudan.

  Elaine said, “That poor schnook. He’s on national television, he’s got a book out on a serious subject, and all anybody’s going to notice is that he’s wearing a rug. ”

  “And not a very good one, either. ”

  “If it was a good one,” she said, “we wouldn’t spot it so easily. And imagine how hot it must be under those studio lights with that thing clinging to your scalp like a dead muskrat. ”

  She had a cup of coffee, but no breakfast. She was on her way to the yoga class she took two or three times a week, and felt it was more effective if she did it on an empty stomach. She was out the door and on her way by a quarter after eight, and that was something to be grateful for, as it turned out.

  Because she wasn’t around when they broke for the local news at 8:25. I was half listening to it, and just enough got through to engage my attention. A woman had been killed in Manhattan, although they didn’t say who or where. That’s not rare, it’s a big city and a hard world, but something made me change the channel to New York One, where they give you a steady diet of local news around the clock, and I waited through a pronouncement by the mayor and an optimistic weather report and a couple of commercials, and then an off-camera reporter was talking about the savage torture-murder of an unmarried Manhattan woman, and I got a sinking feeling.

  Then a shot of the building she lived in filled the screen, and that didn’t mean it had to be her, she wasn’t the building’s only tenant, and probably not the only single woman. It didn’t have to be her. It could have been someone else who’d been found nude in her bedroom, stabbed to death after what the reporter grimly described as “an apparent marathon session of torture and abuse. ”

  But I knew it was her.

  The name, I was told, was being withheld pending notification of kin. Did she have any kin? I couldn’t remember, and wasn’t sure if it was something I’d ever known. It seemed to me that her parents were dead, and she’d never had children. Wasn’t there an ex-husband, and was he someone they would need to notify? Were there brothers or sisters?

  I picked up the phone and dialed a number I didn’t have to look up, and a voice I didn’t recognize said, “Squad room,” and it took until then for me to remember that Friday had come and gone and Joe Durkin wasn’t working at Midtown North anymore. I knew a couple of other cops there, though not terribly well. And it wasn’t their case, it hadn’t happened in their precinct. Joe would have helped me out, made a few phone calls, but I couldn’t expect anybody else over there to take the trouble. They just knew me as a friend of Joe’s, a guy who’d been off the job more years than he’d been on it, and they didn’t owe me a thing.

  Who else did I know? The last cop I’d worked with at all closely was Ira Wentworth, a detective in the Two-Six on West 126th Street. We’d stayed in touch for a time after the case was resolved—actually, it pretty much resolved itself—and he liked to come over to our apartment, saying that Elaine made the best coffee in the city.

  But we hadn’t kept up the contact, aside from cards at Christmas, and there was no point calling him now, because it hadn’t happened in his precinct, either.

  I had her number, though. I dialed it. If she picked up, I could think of something to say. But I pretty much knew that wasn’t going to happen.

  It rang until voice mail cut in, and I hung up.

  Sooner or later they’d have a tip line set up, a dedicated number for people to call with information on the case, but there’d been nothing like that on the news. I knew which precinct it happened in, I’d been assigned there myself for several years, although I’d long since lost touch with the people I’d worked with there. It might not be their case, Homicide might have taken it away from them, but they’d have caught the initial squeal and somebody there ought to know something.

  I looked up the number, got whoever was holding down the desk. I gave my own name and phone number before he could ask and told him I’d caught an item on the news about a woman murdered in his precinct. I’d recognized the building and a friend of mine lived in it, and I hadn’t caught the name and was afraid it might be her.

  He told me to hang on, came back to say they weren’t giving out the name yet.

  I said I could understand that, I was a retired cop myself. Suppose I gave him the name of my friend. Could he tell me whether or not it was her?

  He thought about it and decided that would be okay. I told him her name, and the moment of silence was answer enough.

  “I hate to say it,” he said, “but that’s the name I’ve got here. You want to hang on? I’ll transfer you to someone connected to the case. ”

  I held, and I guess he briefed the guy before he put him through to me, because he came on the line knowing who I was and what I wanted. His name was Mark Sussman and he and his partner were first up on the case, so it was theirs until somebody took it away from them.

  Was I by any chance a relative? I said I wasn’t. Then did I have any contact information for the victim’s relatives? I said I didn’t, and wasn’t sure she had any living kin. I didn’t mention the ex-husband, since I wasn’t sure of his name and had no idea where—or even if—he was living.

  “We got an ID from a neighbor,” he said, “and she looks like the photo on the passport in her drawer, so there’s no real doubt of her identity. It might not be a bad idea for you to make a formal identification, if you wouldn’t mind doing that. ”

  Was the body still at the apartment?

  “No, we got her out of there once the ME had a look at her and the photographer was done taking pictures. She’s at the morgue, that’s… well, you’d know where that is. ”

  I would indeed. I said it might take me a while, that I had to stay put until my wife got home. He said there was no rush.

  “I’ll want to sit down and talk with you anyway,” he said. “Before or after you ID the body. If you knew the woman, maybe you can point us in a useful direction. ”

  “If I can. ”

  “Because we don’t even have a preliminary report from forensics, but it doesn’t looks like the cocksucker left us a lot of physical evidence. You could eat off the floor, the way it looked. If you had the appetite, which you wouldn’t, not after you saw what he did to her. ”

  I didn’t know what the hell to do. Out of habit I poured myself another cup of coffee, but I already felt as though I’d been drinking coffee for days. I poured it out and turned on the TV again, as if I’d learn more from it than I had from Sussman. The announcer got on my nerves and I turned it off before they could get any further than the traffic report.

  I kept picking up the phone and putting it down again. Who the hell was I going to call and what could I say? At one point I had Sussman’s number half-dialed before I second-guessed myself and hung up. What could I tell him? That I had a pretty good idea who’d done it, but that I didn’t know his name or where to look for him?

  I looked over at the phone and a number popped into my head, one I hadn’t called in years. It was Jim Faber’s, and I wished to God I could dial that number and hear my late sponsor’s voice on the other end of the line. What would he tell me? That was easy. He’d tell me not to drink.

I didn’t want to drink, hadn’t consciously thought of it, but now that I did I was just as glad that Elaine and I don’t keep anything alcoholic in the house. Because why do they distill whiskey, why do they put it in bottles, if not for occasions like this one?

  There were other program friends I could call, other men and women I could count on to tell me not to drink. But I wasn’t going to drink, and I didn’t want to have the rest of any of those conversations.

  I called TJ, brought him up to speed. He said, “Oh, man, that’s terrible news. ”

  “Yes, it is. ”

  “I had the news on, I heard what they said, but I never made the connection. ”

  “Well, why would you?”

  “Damn, I feel bad. ”

  “So do I. ”

  “Elaine home?”

  “She had a yoga class. She should be home any minute. ”

  “ ’Less she go straight to the store. You want, I’ll come over, sit with you until she gets there. ”

  “Isn’t the market open?”

  “They ’bout to ring the bell, but it don’t matter. New York Stock Exchange get along without me. ”

  “No, that’s all right,” I said.

  “You change your mind, just call. Won’t take me a minute to close down here and come over. ”

  I rang off and tried her number at the store. I didn’t think she’d go there, she rarely opens up before eleven, but it was possible. When the machine picked up I tried to keep my voice neutral, telling her it was me and to pick up if she was there. She didn’t, and I was just as glad.

  A few minutes later I heard her key in the lock.

  I was standing a few feet from the door when she opened it, and she knew something was wrong as soon as she saw my face. I told her to come in, took her gym bag from her, told her to sit down.

  I don’t know why we do that. Sit down, we say, pointing at chairs. Are you sitting down? we want to know, before imparting bad news over the phone. What difference does it make? Are we really afraid our words will knock the recipient off his feet? Do that many people injure themselves, falling down when they hear bad news?

  Brace yourself—that’s what we’re saying. As if a person can. As if one can prepare oneself for such awful intelligence.

  “It was on the news,” I said. “Monica’s dead. She’s been murdered. ”


  They weren’t really set up for viewing. The autopsy wasn’t finished, and a woman who looked as though she spent too much time around dead people had us wait, then took us into a large room and led us to a table on which a mound was covered with a plain white sheet. She uncovered the head, and there was no mistake. It was Monica.

  “Ah, no,” Elaine said. “No, no, no. ”

  Outside she said, “My best friend. The best friend I ever had. We talked every day, there wasn’t a day we didn’t talk. Who am I gonna talk to now? It’s not fair, I’m too fucking old to get another best friend. ”

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