Hope to die, p.23
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       Hope to Die, p.23

         Part #15 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 23

 

  I asked him again which drawer had held the gun, and had him show me how it was locked and unlocked. The desk was an oval kneehole desk, mahogany, with a tooled leather top. There was a center drawer with three drawers on either side, and the gun had been kept in the second of the three drawers on the right. He was right-handed, he explained, so that would be most convenient, if he were at his desk and needed the gun.

  All of the drawers were fitted with locks, although the locking mechanisms on two of them had failed with age and rust. The small skeleton-type key was in the center drawer, with a piece of red yarn tied to it, I guess to make it easier to find.

  "During the burglary," I asked, "were all the drawers unlocked? Or only the one with the gun?"

  "It was the only one locked in the first place. "

  "Who knew about the gun?"

  "Who knew about it?"

  "That you owned it," I said, "and where you kept it. "

  "No one. "

  "Your wife? Your receptionist?"

  "My wife knew, yes, knew that I owned it but not where it was kept. My wife is somewhat phobic about guns and was opposed to my obtaining one in the first place. " He frowned. "I suppose thats one reason I didnt amend the insurance claim. As for Georgia, my receptionist, she wouldnt even have known the gun existed, let alone where it was kept. "

  Georgia was a middle-aged black woman with cool eyes and a warm smile, and I had the feeling she didnt miss much. I let that pass and asked about his patients. Had he ever had occasion to show the gun during a session?

  "Absolutely not," he said. "I never so much as opened that drawer with a patient in the room. I never even unlocked- no, thats not true. Twice, with a patient who was going through a critical time, I prepared for the session by unlocking the drawer. Because of my own anxiety, you see. But in the event I never even opened the drawer, let alone showed the weapon. "

  "And that patient…"

  His face clouded. "Took his own life, Im sorry to say. Lived in a second-floor apartment, rode the elevator up to the roof and threw himself off it. He left a note, said he was afraid if he didnt do this he might kill someone. So perhaps my anxiety hadnt been entirely misplaced. "

  "And this happened recently?"

  "His suicide? No, it was last winter, the week between Christmas and New Years. Not an unusual time for it. "

  "Before the gun was taken, then. "

  "Oh, yes. Months before. "

  "The two burglars," I said. "Their names were Jason Bierman and Carl Ivanko. "

  "Yes. "

  "Was either a patient of yours?"

  He didnt even hesitate. He might have refused to answer if hed thought I was a cop, but he wouldnt hold out on a guy from the insurance company looking to head off a lawsuit. "No," he said. "The first I heard of either of them was when I read about them in the newspaper. "

  "Of your other patients," I said, "can you think of any who might have served time in prison?"

  He shook his head. "My patients are middle-class professionals," he said. "Two-thirds or more of them suffer from depression. Several are young women with eating disorders. I have a blocked writer, the author of five novels. The fifth was his breakthrough book, a bestseller. It was published nine years ago and he hasnt been able to finish anything since. I have patients who are unhappy in their marriages, patients who feel their careers have dead-ended. "

  He came out from behind his desk, walked over to the window, looked out at the park. With his back to me he said, "When I was in medical school they talked admiringly of dermatology. The skin game, they used to call it. Nobody ever dies, nobody ever gets well. " He turned to face me, one hand holding the other. "You could say that about what I do, dabbing ointment on psoriasis of the psyche. Of course its not really true of a dermatologist. Some of his patients do recover, certainly, and some die of melanoma. And many of mine are better for having treatment. Their depression is lessened, their neuroses less debilitating. And, of course, now and then one flings himself off a roof. "

  He returned to his desk, picked up a letter opener, brass, with a handle of green malachite. "I had a patient who molested all four of his children, three girls and a boy," he said. "I had another who embezzled a quarter of a million dollars from his employer to finance an enthusiasm for sports gambling and cocaine. Neither of them went to jail. I suppose the work I do might benefit a criminal, an ex-inmate, but none has ever come to me. " He started to add something, then drew himself up short and looked at his watch.

  "Its ten minutes of two," he said. "I really cant spare you any more time. No one could have known the gun was there. No patient of mine ever saw it. If theres nothing else…"

  "Youve been very helpful," I said. "Im sorry to have taken so much of your time. Unofficially, let me just say that I dont think you have anything to worry about. "

  "Then I wont," he said, and gave me a wintry smile. I cant say he looked too worried. We shook hands, and he showed me to the door.

  NINETEEN

  It was drizzling when I left Nadlers office, but not enough to make me sorry Id left the umbrella home. We had a concert that evening and I wanted to fit in a meeting first, so I walked through the raindrops to Broadway and took the subway down to the Village. Theres a storefront on Perry Street thats been leased to an AA group for twice as long as Ive been sober. Back when I came in they used to hold two or three meetings a day there, and now they run pretty much continuously from early morning to late at night. I got there halfway through one meeting, went out for coffee when it ended, and came back for a little more than half of the next one. I heard a lot of the neurotic self-absorbed drivel that Seymour Nadler had to listen to all day, and I wasnt getting paid, either. But when I walked out of there I was sober.

  T J called in, reporting that no one had questioned his performance as a deputy inspector for the Department of Buildings, City of New York, Borough of Brooklyn. Hed had no trouble finding the house on Meserole Street, but said hed have felt more comfortable in that part of town if hed stayed with the camo shorts. There were Dumpsters here and there and a lot of renovation going on, so the neighborhood was evidently in the process of improving, but it looked to him like it had a ways to go.

  Hed met Peter Meredith, and three of his four housemates, and hed report at length face to face, but for now hed summarize it by saying Meredith might not have gained weight since Kristin saw him last, but it didnt look as though hed lost any, either, and he wasnt about to fit into Jason Biermans shirt and jeans. And two of the other people hed met were women, and the other man was black, and, while wed never actually spelled it out, he more or less assumed our mystery dude was of the Caucasian persuasion.

  That left one member of the team he didnt get to see, I told Elaine, and another visit from the same buildings inspector might arouse suspicions. But he had the name of the missing man, and we could figure out some way to check him out.

  "I know its never a complete waste," she said, "but it sounds as though he had a long trip for nothing. "

  "Thats what I said. He said it wasnt that long a trip, and he got to see a part of town he hadnt known before. Besides, it wasnt for nothing. "

  "Because you get to rule these people out. "

  "Thats only half of it. He got paid. They believed he was a genuine buildings inspector, and evidently theyd had dealings with the breed before, or knew someone who had. So, when he kept hanging around, wanting to look at one thing after another to no particular purpose, Peter Meredith took him aside and slipped him a hundred-dollar bill. "

  "And of course T J took it. "

  "If he hadnt," I said, "I dont know what I would do with him. Yes, of course he took it. It would have spiked his whole act to turn it down, and on top of that it would have contravened a fundamental principle. "

  " When they give you money, put it in your pocket. "

  "Thats the one. "

  We ate at home and walked up Ninth to Lincoln Center. It was raining in ea
rnest by the time we set out, so we might have taken a cab, but the rain made it impossible to get one. It was only half a dozen blocks, and we both had umbrellas, and stayed dry under them.

  The concert featured a Belgian pianist who performed on a Mozart piano, which was evidently some intermediate stage in evolution between a harpsichord and the modern piano. The program notes told me more than I cared to know about the differences and similarities involved. The Mostly Mozart orchestra provided accompaniment, and what they played was certainly easy to listen to.

  And, in my case, easy not to listen to, because I couldnt keep my mind on it. I kept playing different conversations through my mind- with Nadler, with Kristin Hollander, with my police contacts in Brooklyn and Manhattan. I ran switches on the scenario Id spun out for Kristin ("Scudders variations on the Third Man Theme") until they became a dream I couldnt wake up from, or a song I couldnt get out of my head.

  At intermission Elaine asked me if I wanted to go. "Youre not squirming in your seat," she said, "but your minds miles away, isnt it?"

  I said Id stay. The festival had only a week to run, and we had tickets for two of the remaining concerts. Shed be taking a friend to one of them, and then thered be the last night, and eleven months before we did it again. It was early, and Danny Boys day was just starting. It wouldnt hurt me to sit back and let them play beautiful music for me, whether I listened to it or not.

  A Ninth Avenue bus pulled up just as we were leaving. The rain had lessened and she said shed walk, and I said either shed take the bus or I would walk with her.

  She said, "And then turn around and walk all the way back to Seventy-second Street?"

  "So take the bus," I said, and she did.

  Poogans is on Seventy-second east of Broadway, a dark little hole in the wall with precious little to recommend it, as far as Im concerned, aside from the frequent presence of Danny Boy Bell. Ive known him for years- Elaine was sitting at his table the night I first laid eyes on her. Id say he hasnt changed, that he looks exactly the same, but I know that cant be true. He was around twenty-eight when I met him, and looked much younger. He still looks young for his years, but there are more of them, and it shows.

  Back then he looked like nobody else in the world, and that hasnt changed. Hes African-American, a term I dont tend to use much, but it fits him better than "black," which doesnt fit him at all. Danny Boys a true albino, his skin whiter than white, his hair colorless, his eyes pink and light-sensitive. Even in the summer, he manages to see about as much daylight as an overly cautious vampire.

  Nights, he generally holds court at one of two places where the lighting and sound are both muted. Mother Blues, farther uptown, has live music and a more upscale salt-and-pepper clientele; Poogans, with a tasteful if eclectic jukebox, is a little more raffish. At either place he takes his usual table and waits for people to come join him. Some bring him information and others take information away with them. If this is the Information Age, Danny Boys up to date- information is his stock in trade.

 
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