All the flowers are dyin.., p.23
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       All the Flowers Are Dying, p.23

         Part #16 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 23

 

  A cab came along and I flagged it.

  I hadn’t wanted to take her to the morgue, but then I hadn’t wanted to leave her alone, either. And it wasn’t my decision to make, anyway, it was hers, and she’d been adamant. She wanted to be with me, and she wanted to see her friend. At the morgue, when the woman warned us it wouldn’t be pretty, I told her she didn’t have to do this. She said she did.

  In the cab she said, “It makes it real. That’s why they have open caskets at funerals. So you’ll know, so you’ll accept it. Otherwise there’d be a part of me that wouldn’t really believe she was gone. I’d go on thinking that I could pick up the phone and dial her number and there she’d be. ”

  I didn’t say anything, just held her hand. We rode another block and she said, “I’ll believe that anyway. On some level. But a little bit less than if I hadn’t seen her sweet face. Oh, God, Matt. ”

  My first thought when we met Mark Sussman was that he was awfully young, and my second thought, a corrective to the first, was that he was within a couple of years of the age I’d been when I quit the job. He was short, with a well-developed upper body suggestive of frequent workouts with weights, and his dark brown eyes were hard to read.

  He was a college graduate, which seems barely worth noting these days. I don’t think there was a single man in my class at the academy who’d been to college, let alone got all the way through it. There was a general feeling in the department that college was no good for a cop, that you learned too many of the wrong things and not enough of the right ones, that it unmanned you while suffusing you with an unwarranted feeling of superiority. That was all a lot of crap, of course, but so was most of what we believed about most subjects.

  He’d had a split major at Brooklyn College, history and sociology, and was accepted at a couple of graduate schools when he realized he didn’t want a teaching career. He took a couple of graduate courses in criminology at John Jay and decided that was his field, but he didn’t want to study it, he wanted to get out there and do it. That was ten years ago, and now he had a gold shield and a desk in the detective squad room at the Sixth Precinct, on West Tenth Street in the Village.

  He sat behind that desk, and we took chairs alongside it. “Monica Driscoll,” he said. “Now we also found documents referring to her as Monica Wellbridge. ”

  “That was her ex-husband’s name,” Elaine told him. “She never used it. ”

  “Took her maiden name back. When was the divorce, fairly recent?”

  “Oh, God, no. Fifteen years ago? At least that, maybe twenty. ” And no, Monica hadn’t been in touch with Derek Wellbridge, and she had no idea how to reach him, or if he was alive to be reached.

  “It’s an unusual name,” Sussman said. “A computer search might turn him up, if there’s any reason to look for him. I think you said she was seeing somebody. ”

  “Yes, and he was very secretive. ”

  “I don’t suppose you met him. ”

  “No. She wouldn’t even tell me his name. At first I figured it was because he was married, although we met a few of her married boyfriends over the years. ”

  “She did this a lot? Dated married guys?”

  It should have been an easy question to answer, but Elaine didn’t want to make her friend sound easy, or undiscriminating. “If she was dating somebody,” she said after a moment, “he generally turned out to be married. ”

  “She kept making the same mistake?”

  “No, she liked it that way. She didn’t want to get married again, she didn’t want to be all wrapped up in another person. ”

  “This mystery man, how long had she been seeing him?”

  “Not long. Two weeks? Three? Less than a month, anyway. ”

  “What do you know about him?”

  “Oh, gosh, let me think. He was very secretive, he would have to leave town and not be able to tell her where he was going. She had the idea that he was working for the government. Or a government. You know, like some kind of an agent. ”

  “She give you any kind of a description?”

  “He dressed nicely, he was well groomed. But then I never saw her with anybody who wasn’t. Oh, I know. He had a mustache. ”

  “Yeah, that fits. ” He put down his pen, looked up at us. “The doorman sent somebody up to her apartment last night around nine-thirty or ten. Guy gave the doorman his name and she said send him up. ”

  “If he gave the doorman his name—”

  “Yeah, well, I think we’re lucky this particular genius remembers the mustache. And the flowers. ”

  “Flowers?”

  “Which checks out, because we found fresh flowers in a vase on the mantel. He must have had his hands full, too, because he had to set something down on the floor so he could stroke his mustache while he was waiting for the elevator. ”

  “He put something down so he could stroke his mustache?”

  “It was more like he was grooming it. You know, like this. ” He put his thumb and forefinger together in the center of his bare upper lip, then spread them apart. “Making sure he looked all right before he went upstairs. Anyway, that’s how come”—he checked his notes— “how come Hector Ruiz noticed the mustache. ” He looked at Elaine. “That’s all she mentioned about his appearance? He dressed nicely and wore a mustache?”

  “That’s all I can remember. She said he was a good lover. Very forceful, very imaginative. ”

  “More than she knew. ” She looked questioningly at him, and he said, “You’re going to get this anyway from the media, as much as we’d like to keep a lid on it. There’s evidence of ligatures on her wrists and ankles, and tape residue in the area of her mouth. Was she into that whole scene, would you happen to know?”

  “She was a sophisticated woman of a certain age,” she told him. “Living alone in Greenwich Village. I mean, you do the math. ”

  “Okay, but—”

  She stopped him. “I don’t think she was kinky,” she said. “I don’t think she was into anything in particular. I think, you know, if she liked a guy and he wanted to do something, she wouldn’t run out of there screaming for her mother. ”

  “That’s just a figure of speech, right? Because what I’ve got is both parents are deceased. ”

  “Yes, a long time ago. ”

  “And no relatives that you know of. ”

  “She had a brother who died. There could be, I don’t know, an aunt or a cousin somewhere, but nobody I knew about. Nobody she kept in touch with. ”

  He said, “As far as her not being into bondage, S & M, whatever you want to call it, that would actually fit right in with our take on it. ” To me he said, “I don’t know if you ever ran into this, but you must have if you worked this precinct. Anybody who’s at all serious about kink, they’ve got a closet full of gear, leather and rubber and masks and chains, you’d almost think the equipment’s more important to them than what they do with it. She didn’t have a thing, no handcuffs, no whips, none of that garbage. Not that—” He stopped short, started to laugh. “You watch Seinfeld? I was starting to say ‘Not that there’s anything wrong with that. ’ You remember that episode?”

  “Sure. ”

  “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to make light. What it looks like, he brought along what he figured he’d need, and he took it away with him when he was done. Did she say he was neat? You’d have to say he was the neatest heterosexual male on the planet. There was a bottle of liquor, an Italian after-dinner drink. I’ve got it written down here somewhere. It doesn’t matter, it’s just a bottle of fancy booze. We think he brought it with him, along with the flowers, and they each had a drink out of it, and he wiped the bottle and glasses before he left. He wiped everything, he didn’t leave a print in the whole damned apartment, as far as we’ve been able to tell. We’ll probably lift a partial somewhere or other before we’re done, we usually do, but I have to say I wouldn’t bet on it. ”

  “Because he was neat. ”

&nb
sp; “He even ran the vacuum cleaner. The downstairs neighbor heard it sometime around midnight. He wasn’t about to complain about it, it wasn’t that noisy, it was just unexpected at that hour. It was evidently out of character for her to vacuum in the middle of the night. ”

  “Or ever,” Elaine said. “She had a maid come in once a week, and vacuuming was something the maid did. ”

  “The maid probably didn’t take the vacuum cleaner bag with her when she left, either, like this guy did. She thought he was some kind of government agent? Well, if he wasn’t he could have been. He was really professional about not leaving anything behind that could be traced back to him. You know that TV show with the forensics? And then there’s another version set in Miami, but it’s not as good. The original one’s an excellent show, but I have to say I wish they’d take it off the air. ”

  “Because it gives people ideas?”

  “No, the nut jobs out there, you don’t have to give them ideas. They come up with plenty all on their own. What it does, it makes them harder to catch. It tells them what kind of mistakes not to make. ”

  “You think this man was just showing what he learned on television?”

  “No, I don’t. I don’t know what I think about the guy. That was the spookiest crime scene I’ve ever seen. I don’t want to go into detail, and I’m sorry Mrs. Scudder has to hear this at all, but he tortured that woman a long time before he killed her. And then to leave the place immaculate, everything in apple-pie order, and her naked and dead in the middle of it, it was like that painter, that Frenchman…”

  “Magritte,” she said.

  “Yeah, that’s the one. Like, what’s wrong with this picture? I mean, if this is the man she’s been seeing, and it would almost have to be, given that he gave his name and she told the doorman to send him up. If he’s been dating her, and sleeping with her—they were sleeping together?”

  “She said he was a good lover. ”

  “Right, you told me that. There are guys who go nuts, get hold of some poor woman and do a number on her. But they don’t date her first. Usually they pick a stranger, some hooker off the street or some poor woman who just winds up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Once in a while there’s one who thinks he’s having a relationship with the woman, but it’s only in the privacy of his own mind. Erotomania, that’s what they call it. It’s delusional, your perp thinks it’s dating but anybody else would call it stalking. ”

  He was right, it didn’t add up.

  “It would help,” he said, “if either of you could remember anything else she might have let slip about the guy. Anything at all, like did he have a regional accent, was he educated or uneducated, even small things like was he a baseball fan, did he smell of cologne. You think something’s too trivial to mention, and then it matches up with something else and you’ve got a clue. ”

 
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