Hope to die, p.24
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       Hope to Die, p.24

         Part #15 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 24

 

  I nursed a Coke at the bar while he chatted with a woman who looked too chubby to be a working girl, but who, dressed and made up as she was, could hardly be anything else. She was an overstuffed kewpie doll fresh out of a Stephen King novel, but any sense of malevolence was dispelled by her obvious jollity. She laughed with good humor, and at the conclusion of the interview she stood up, leaned over, and kissed Danny Boy smack on the mouth. She laughed again and strode out of the place, and when she passed me I got a whiff of her perfume. It was as demure and understated as everything else about her.

  When I got to his table Danny Boy was dipping a white handkerchief in vodka and wiping his lips with it. "Becky has a lovely mouth," he said, "but God only knows where its been. Its good to see you, Matthew. Its been too long. "

  "Time flies," I said.

  "When youre having fun," he said, "and also when youre not. " He cocked his head, looked me over. "Youre looking well," he announced. "Sobriety evidently agrees with you. I cant think it would agree with me. "

  He put his handkerchief away and took a big sip of vodka, churning it in his mouth like Listerine, then swallowing it down. "Germs," he explained, "though Im sure she tidies up after every little adventure. Still, better safe than sorry. " At both Mother Blues and Poogans they leave the bottle for him, and he took it from the ice bucket and filled his glass. "The only thing wrong with your sobriety," he said, "is you dont get to the bars as often. "

  "Im turning into a homebody," I said.

  "And how is the fair Elaine?"

  "Fine. She sends her love. "

  "And give her mine. " He picked up his glass, took a sip. He could still drink like a man twice his size and half his age. They say in the rooms of AA that its just a question of time, that nobody gets away with it forever, but Im not sure theyre right. Some friends of mine seem to do just fine.

  He swallowed and closed his eyes for a moment, and I could just about feel the drink going down. He opened his eyes and said, "Id miss it," to himself as much as to me, and thought about that for a moment. Then his eyes found mine and he said, "Well, Matthew? What brings you here?"

  When I got home Elaine was in the living room, reading a Susan Isaacs novel and drinking a cup of tea. She was barefoot and wore a silk robe that left a lot of her uncovered. I looked her over and made some appreciative noises, and she told me that men are swine. "It says so right here," she said, and tapped the book. "Hows Danny Boy?"

  "The same. He sends love. "

  "Thats sweet. Michael called. "

  "Michael?"

  "Your son. "

  "He never calls," I said, remembering the last call Id had from him. "What did he want?"

  "He must have called while we were at the concert. The message was on the machine when I got home. He wants you to call him, and he left a number. His cell phone, I think he said. The message is still on the machine. "

  I went and played it. Without preamble he said, "Dad, its Michael. Could you give me a call? Anytime, it doesnt matter. I dont know where Ill be, so call me on my cell phone…"

  I jotted down the number and went back to the living room. "Whatever it is," I said, "you dont get a clue from his tone of voice, do you? Its perfectly neutral. "

  "Theres probably an easy way to find out what he wants. "

  "Its almost midnight. "

  "Which is what, nine in California?"

  "If thats where he is. "

  "If hes in Paris," she said, "its six in the morning. "

  "Wherever you go," I said, "its always sometime. All I have to do is pick up the fucking phone, but I dont seem to want to. "

  "I know. But it might be good news, honey. Maybe Junes expecting another baby. "

  "I dont think thats it," I said, "and I dont think its good news. But whatever it is, I might as well hear about it. "

  "Dad," he said. "Thanks for calling back. Listen, are you at home? The number I called before?"

  "Sure, but- "

  "Let me call you back. Im getting an echo on this piece of crap. "

  He broke the connection, and I hung up myself and waited for the phone to ring. I suppose I ought to have a cell phone, but theres not a day goes by that Im not glad I dont.

  Elaine said, "What happened?" and I was starting to tell her when the phone rang.

  "Sorry," he said. "Listen, did Andy call you?"

  "No," I said. "Why?"

  "I didnt think he would. He said he wasnt going to, but I thought he might have changed his mind. But I guess he didnt. "

  "Michael…"

  "Im sorry, Dad. Hes got himself in a mess, thats all. He wouldnt call you, and he didnt want me to call you, but I felt I had to. "

  "What kind of a mess?"

  "Theres no great way to say this. He took some money. "

  "Stole it, you mean?"

  "Technically, yes. I dont think he thought of it that way, but when you take money from your employer that you cant pay back, I guess thats stealing. "

  A whole slew of questions came to mind. I reached out and picked one. "How much money?"

  "Ten thousand dollars. "

  "From his employer. "

  "From the company he works for, yes. "

  "I dont even know who he works for," I said, "or what he does. "

  "Theyre an independent auto parts wholesaler. Andys a sort of branch manager of the Tucson operation, services some accounts, does some back office work. "

  "It doesnt sound like a business that would handle much cash. "

  "No, its all checks. The way he did it, I dont know the details, but he evidently set up some dummy accounts and cut company checks payable to them. Then he set up a bank account where he could deposit the checks, and wrote checks from that account and cashed them through his own account. "

  Thats one way to do it, and it always works like a charm until they catch you.

  "His boss found out, and- "

  "They always do. "

  "I know, I cant believe he was that stupid. Anyway, his boss gave him a choice. If he pays the money back before the end of the month hell let it go. Otherwise hell press charges, and Andyll go to jail. "

  "And ten thousands the amount he took?"

  "Thats what it rounds off to, and thats what he has to pay back. "

  "And he called you asking for the money. "

  "Im the one he calls," he said.

  "This has happened before. "

  "Not exactly. "

  "Not exactly? Meaning what, it wasnt auto parts and it wasnt in Tucson?"

  "It was never this serious. He calls me, I dont know, every once in a while. Once or twice a year, I guess. Whenever its him on the phone, I know hes in some kind of a jam. "

  "Like what?"

  "Hes broke, he needs money, something didnt work out. His car died and he has to get it fixed. He borrowed money from people who break your legs if you dont pay. Its always something. "

  "I didnt know anything about this, Michael. "

  "No, Im always the one he calls. "

  "And you bail him out?"

  "Well, hes my brother. "

  "Sure. "

  "And, like I said, it was never this serious. Its usually a thousand dollars. Sometimes its less, and the most it ever was was twenty-five hundred. "

  "He calls and you send the money. Does he ever pay you back?"

  "Every once in a while Ill get a check or a money order in the mail, part of what he owes me. And hes very generous at Christmas. Since Melanie was born, theres always an expensive gift for her, at Christmas and on her birthday. But as far as how we stand, well, you dont like to keep accounts with your brother. "

  "But you have to know where you stand. "

  "Well, I keep track, you know?"

  "Whats he into you for?"

  "Something around twelve thousand dollars. "

  "Twelve thousand," I said.

  "I feel funny saying it. June doesnt know how much it comes to. She knows I give Andy m
oney from time to time, but not what it adds up to. "

  "I had no idea. I knew he was drifting, taking his time finding himself, never staying in one place too long. But it sounds like hes a fuckup. "

  "Hes Andy, Dad. Hes charming, hes funny, everybody likes him. But yeah, I dont like to say it, but hes a fuckup. "

  "Where does it go, Mike? Gambling? Cocaine?"

  "He was betting basketball games for a while, I remember that. But I dont think hes a serious gambler. I know hes done coke from something he said once, but just in the sense that hell take some if hes out partying, more or less to keep going. I gather there are a lot of people who do that. "

  Otherwise all those other people wouldnt be getting rich selling it.

  "He took the ten thousand because he had this investment opportunity. I forget what it was, some new business he could buy a half-interest in if he could come up with ten grand. As a matter of fact he called me, wanted me to invest in it. I didnt pay attention to the details because I never considered it for a minute. We dont have a lot of extra dough to invest, but when we do it goes in an index fund. No glamour there, but I like that a lot better than the idea of waking up one morning and the moneys gone. "

  "He couldnt borrow from you, so he borrowed from his boss. "

  "Thats how he saw it. "

  "And he made the investment?"

  "No, the deal fell apart. "

  "And what happened to the money?"

  "He pissed it away. "

  "Nice. "

  "He was depressed because he had high hopes, you know. Hes always got high hopes. But he was down, so he got to drinking, and he decided he had to spend some money to cheer himself up. He took a girl to Canc?n, he traded his car for a new one. "

  "And now he pays up or goes to jail. "

  "Thats right. "

  "What did you tell him?"

  "Dad, I didnt know what to tell him. Mikey, I swear this is the last time, I learned a big lesson here. What am I supposed to say, youre full of shit and I know youre full of shit? Mikey, youll get it back. Yeah, right. I work my ass off, June works as hard as I do, we got the kid, we got the house…"

  "I know. "

  "Could I give him ten grand? Yes, I could. Id have to sell some securities, take out a loan, but I could do it. Am I going to?" He paused, as if considering the question anew. "I said it was too much. I said I could manage half of that. "

  "What did he say?"

  "That wouldnt do it. His boss told him if he presses charges, then his insurance company covers the loss. So if the guy settled for half hed have to eat a five-thousand-dollar loss, and hes not willing to do that. Andy said if all I can send him is half I should just wire it to him, because what hell do is take the money in cash and run with it. I told him I didnt think that was such a good idea. "

  "It may be the worst idea hes ever had in his life," I said, "although Im beginning to realize that covers a lot of ground. The last thing he wants to do is make himself a fugitive from justice. "

 
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