Everybody dies, p.22
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       Everybody Dies, p.22

         Part #14 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
Page 22


  "Jim. Nobody ever called him Jimmy. "

  "Your friend Jim, then. As opposed to your friend Mick. "

  I let that go. "Then Elaine woke me around noon," I said, "after she heard about the incident at Grogans. "

  "The incident. "

  "The bombing, although I gather it was more than that. There was gunfire as well, wasnt there?"

  "You tell me. "

  "Hows that?"

  He picked up his empty coffee cup and tapped it against the edge of the saucer. "The way I hear it," he said, "you were there. "

  "I just got through telling you I was there. Then I went home, and it must have been two hours later that the shit hit the fan. "

  "Two hours later. "

  "Maybe three. "

  "Not the way I heard it. "

  "You heard I was there when it happened?"

  "Thats right, Matt," he said, looking straight at me. "Thats exactly what I heard. "

  "Whos saying that?"

  "Information received. You want to rethink your story?"

  "My story? I havent got a story. I told you what happened. "

  "And you were nowhere to be seen when the crap was flying. "

  "No. "

  He frowned. "I blame it on all those years on the job," he said. "If theres one thing a cop learns its how to tell a lie and stick with it. And its like riding a bicycle, right? You never forget how. "

  "You think I lied to you?"

  "What gives you that idea?"

  "Well, I think you lied to me. Information received. You never heard I was at Grogans. You were on a fishing trip. "

  He spread his hands. "We had a description, couple of guys seen leaving the scene. One was Ballou and the other could have been you. "

  "What did they say, it was a white male with two arms and two legs?"

  "All right, point taken. The description we had could fit half the precinct. If theyd thrown in pain in the ass, then Id have no doubts. Maybe I was fishing, but that doesnt make me wrong. Goddamn it, I still think you were there. "

  "Well, its a free country. You can think whatever you like. "

  "Im glad Ive got your permission. While youre at it, you want to give me your word you werent there when it all went down?"

  "What for? You just got through telling me my words not worth shit. "

  "I guess its still worth something," he said, "Or you wouldnt be reluctant to give it. Im not sure what kind of a game youre playing, my friend, but I dont think I like it. What are you trying to do, do you even fucking know?"

  "Im not sure I understand the question. "

  "Maybe all youre trying to do is stay alive, and in that case I cant say I blame you. Heres a question you can answer straight. Have you been over there this afternoon?"

  "Where, Grogans?"

  "Uh-huh. You happen to walk by, have a look-see?"

  I shook my head. "I came straight over here. From what I saw on the TV, theres nothing to see but plywood at this point. "

  "Its a shame you didnt get to see it the way I did. I was there this morning right after my shift started. Theyd removed the bodies by then, but I had pictures to look at. "

  "I dont envy you that. "

  "And I dont envy the poor bastards who were first on the scene, far as that goes. What a fucking nightmare. " He cocked his head. "If it was you looking at the pictures, there might have been one you recognized. "

  "What do you mean?"

  "Does the name Lisa Holtzmann mean anything to you?"

  "Of course," I said without hesitation. "From a few years ago. She was a client, her husband got shot making a phone call. "

  "Killed by mistake, as it turned out. Like your friend last night. "

  "What about Lisa? She was at Grogans last night?"

  "You didnt know?"

  "I didnt hear her name on the news. "

  "She was there," he said. "And come to think of it, maybe you wouldnt have recognized her from the picture. What I saw was strictly closed casket. "

  "Ive seen her around the neighborhood a few times over the years. Never at Grogans, as far as I can recall. "

  "She wasnt there when you dropped by earlier?"

  "Its possible, I suppose. If she was I didnt see her. "

  "If she was, she should have gone home when you did. You could have walked her home. "

  "What are you getting at?"

  "I dont even know. Matt, if youre holding out information that could help clear the case, youre not doing anybody any good. Straight answers for a minute, okay? Do you know who shot your friend Faber?"

  "No. I heard it was a black man, but I cant even say that out of my own knowledge. "

  "Guy was a pro, way it sounds to me. You dont know who might have hired him?"

  "No. "

  "Or who was behind the mess at Grogans?"

  "No, but Im willing to believe it was the same person who hired the other shooter. "

  "And you dont know who that might be, and neither does Ballou. "

  "Not unless hes holding out on me. "

  "And you dont think he is?"

  "I cant see why he would. Did they say on the news the shooter at Grogans was Asian?"

  "One of them was. Weve got zip on the second man. "

  "I didnt know there was a second man. "

  "The bomb chucker. Unless there was just the one guy, did the shooting and threw the bomb, but that seems a little unlikely. The eyewitness testimony suggests a second man, but its not conclusive. "

  "But the shooter was Asian. "

  "Vietnamese, as a matter of fact Wasnt that on the news?"

  "If it was I missed it All I heard was Asian. "

  "Maybe they didnt release it yet. Dont ask me his name, but its on file, along with his fingerprints and his pictures, full face and profile. Been on file a few years now. "

  "Youve got a sheet on him?"

  "He was a troubled youth," he said. "Remember Born To Kill? Slope gang based downtown, got a lot of press a few years ago for being more homicidal than the Viet Cong?"

  "Werent they the ones who shot up a wedding party in Jersey?"

  "Was it a wedding or a funeral? Whatever it was, it had all the old Mafia guys shaking their heads, wondering what the world was coming to. BTK was mostly running protection gangs in Chinatown, giving the tongs some grief, the usual first-generation crap. Reason you dont hear about them anymore is they mostly wound up dead or in jail. Or both, like our friend from last night. He did three years upstate for robbery and assault, and then last night he was dead at the scene. " He leaned forward. "Somebody shot his lights out. Maybe you, with what you got right there inside your jacket. "

  "Its a. 38," I said. "Is that what you dug out of Mr. Dead at the Scene?"

  "We left that little chore to the medical examiner. But no, he got punched out with three shots from a. 45. When did you start carrying a gun?"

  "When I saw the news this morning. Ive got a carry permit, if thats been worrying you. "

  "Yeah, its a load off my mind. "

  "What was his name?"

  "Who, the dead shooter? Theyve all got the same name. "

  "That must be handy," I said. "You call out one name and they all come running. "

  "You know what I mean. They all got names like youd order in a restaurant if you could just figure out how to pronounce it. This one, his name started with NG, so even if I remembered it I wouldnt know how to say it"

  "If you get sick of being a cop, you can always go to work for the UN. "

  "Or the State Department, teaching em how to be diplomatic. What the hell do you care about the name of some dead slope?"

  "It was just an idle question. "

  "Only it didnt sound that idle. What are you holding out?"

  "Not a thing. "

  "Am I supposed to believe that?"

  "Believe what you want. "

  "You know," he said, "youre licensed by the state of New York. You cant withhold evidence. "
  "I dont have any evidence to withhold. Any suspicions or theories I might have arent evidence, and Im under no obligation to pass them on. "

  "If you were there last night, what you saw is evidence. "

  "I was in the bathroom," I said deliberately, "and what I saw was my own face in the mirror, and I already told Wister- "

  "Im talking about Grogans. You son of a bitch, you knew I was talking about Grogans. "

  "I already told you I left before there was anything to see. "

  "You were home in your own kitchen. "

  "Thats right. "

  "Drinking coffee. That what you do when you cant sleep? Drink coffee?"

  "If only Id checked in with you, you could have told me to make it warm milk instead. "

  "Youre making a joke, but its the best thing in the world before you go to bed. Even better, sweeten it with a stiff shot of scotch. But I guess youd leave the scotch out, wouldnt you?"

  "Probably. "

  "Or maybe not. Maybe you chip around. Is that why you like hanging out with your gangster friend? Do you sneak drinks from time to time?"

  "So far I havent. "

  "Well, give yourself time. What did your other friend think of you hanging out in ginmills with cheap crooks? Your friend Jim. I bet he thought it was a great idea. "

  "Is there a point to all this?"

  "The point is I think you were there last night. "

  "No matter what I say. "

  "No matter what. You were at Grogans when the shit hit the fan, and you must have been standing right in front of it, which is why youre so full of it right now. You know what he wants to do? George Wister? He wants to put out an order and have you picked up. "

  "I suppose he can do that if he wants. "

  "Nice of you to give him permission. "

  "But hes not going to learn anything he doesnt already know. "

  "Matt, Matt, Matt," he said. "I thought we were friends. "

  "So did I. "

  "Except they say a cop can only be friends with another cop, and thats not what you are anymore, is it?"

  "Im the same thing Ive been for as long as weve known each other. "

  "Seems to me youve changed. But maybe not. " He sat back in his seat. "Lets wrap this up, okay? I dont know how deep youre into all of this, but the main reason Im here now is to warn you off. Stay the hell away from Ballou. "

  I didnt say anything.

  "Because hes finished, Matt. Somebody came real close to doing the world a favor last night. He dodged the bullet, but he may not be that lucky next time. And you know theres gonna be a next time. "

  "Unless first-rate police work leads to the quick arrest of those responsible. "

  "And how can we miss, with the cooperation were getting from the public? Not the point. Which is that hes going down. Hes the focus of a major departmental investigation. If the next bomb or bullet doesnt get him, all that means is hell do time. "

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