Everybody dies, p.24
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       Everybody Dies, p.24

         Part #14 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 24

 

  "My name is Matt," I said, "and Im an alcoholic. Thanks for your qualification. It was very powerful. I think Ill just listen tonight. "

  Matt the Listener.

  "Matthew Scudder," Danny Boy said. "First I heard you were dead. Then I heard you werent. Logic told me that both of these reports could not be true. "

  "Where would we be without logic?"

  He smiled and pointed to a chair, and I pulled it back and sat down. When the meeting ended Id walked downtown on Amsterdam and looked for him at Mother Blues. When I didnt find him there I walked the rest of the way to Poogans Pub, on West Seventy-second. He was at his usual table, with a bottle of iced vodka in a hamper next to him and an unconvincing transsexual in the seat opposite him. She used her hands a lot while she talked, and what she said had Danny Boy laughing.

  I drank a Perrier at the bar while she talked and gestured and Danny Boy laughed and listened. I didnt think hed noticed me, but at one point he looked my way and caught my eye. A little later the TS stood up- she was tall enough for basketball- and extended a hand. It was a bigger hand than any woman ever sported, with long nails painted a bright blue. Danny Boy took her huge hand in his small one and pressed it to his lips. She whooped gaily and flounced away, and then it was my turn.

  Seven nights a week hes at one place or the other, sitting at the table they reserve for him, listening to music (live at Mother Blues, recorded at Poogans), chatting up the Girlfriend of the Month, and brokering information. After the bars close- and both of his places stay open as late as the law allows- hes apt to hit an after-hours club uptown.

  But he gets home before the sun comes up, and stays put until it goes down. Danny Boy Bell is African-American, and the cumbersome phrase fits him better than black, because in point of fact hes whiter than white, an albino with white hair and pink eyes and pale, almost translucent skin. Sunlights dangerous to him, and any strong light bothers him. What the whole world needs, he has often said, is a dimmer switch.

  I sat where the TS had been sitting, and Danny Boy picked up his glass of iced vodka and told me he was glad I was alive.

  "So am I," I said. "Exactly what did you hear?"

  "What I said. First the word came that youd been gunned down in a restaurant. Then the bush telegraph ran a correction. It wasnt you after all. It was somebody else. "

  "A friend of mine. I left the table and the shooter made a mistake. "

  "And didnt know it until later," he said. "Because he must have reported a successful mission in order for your name to be in the first word that hit the street. Who was your friend?"

  "Nobody you would have heard of. "

  "A square john?"

  "A fellow Perrier drinker. "

  "Oh, and thats how you knew him? A close friend?"

  "Very. "

  "Im sorry to hear it. On the other hand, Matthew, Im glad youre not on my list. "

  "What list is that?"

  "Just an expression. "

  "Its a new one on me. What kind of list?"

  He shrugged. "Its just something I did awhile back. I sat down and started writing down a list of everybody I could think of who was dead. "

  "Jesus Christ. "

  "Well, he might or might not belong on the list, depending on who you talk to. Same goes for Elvis. But this particular list was limited to people Id known personally. "

  "And you wrote down their names. "

  "It sounds stupid," he said, "and I think it probably was, but once I got started I couldnt seem to stop. I got pretty compulsive about it. Id think of a name and Id have to write it down. It was sort of like the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, except those guys got a wall, not some pages in a notebook. And they had something in common. They all died in the same war. "

  "And the others were all friends of yours. "

  "Not even that. Some of them I couldnt stand and others were people I just knew to say hello to. But it was a trip, Matthew. One name would lead to another, and it was like dominoes tumbling over in your memory. I found myself remembering people I hadnt thought of in years. Neighbors from when I was growing up. My pediatrician. A kid across the street who died of leukemia, and a girl in my fifth-grade class who got hit by a car. You know what I realized?"

  "What?"

  "Most of the people I know are dead. I guess that happens when youve been around long enough. I once heard George Burns say something like that. When youre my age, most of your friends are dead. Or words to that effect. The audience laughed, and Ive never been able to figure out why. Whats funny about it? Does it seem funny to you?"

  "Maybe it was the way he said it. "

  "Maybe. And now hes dead. George Burns. But I never met him, so hes not on my list. And neither are you, because your hearts still beating, and Im glad to know it. "

  "So am I," I said, "but somebody wants to put me on the list. "

  "Who?"

  "I wish I knew," I said, and filled him in.

  "I heard it got nasty at Ballous joint," he said. "Its all over the papers. It must have been a bloodbath. "

  "It was. "

  "I can believe it. I didnt know you were there. "

  "A couple of hours ago I told a cop I wasnt. "

  "Well, Ill never say different. Ballou really doesnt know whos sticking it to him?"

  "No. "

  "Got to be the same person that ordered you hit. "

  "I would think so. "

  "Whoever he is, hes an equal opportunity employer. Hires killers in every available color. Black, white, and yellow. "

  "A few white guys, if you count the pair who braced me on the street. "

  "And you didnt recognize anybody?"

  "There was only one guy I got a really good look at. And no, Id never seen him before. Next lime I see you Ill show you his picture. In the meantime, Id like to know what you know. "

  "Less than you do, Id have to say. The big news was that you were dead, and then the not-so-big news was that the big news was bogus. "

  "The fact that I was alive was less newsworthy?"

  "What do you expect? Look at the Times. They print corrections all the time, but they dont stick them on the front page. " He frowned. "The other big item is that somebodys going to war with Mick Ballou, and I have to say I know a lot more about that from TV than I hear through the grapevine. "

  "Somebodys got to know something. "

  "Absolutely. The question is where do you start, and Im thinking the shooter. "

  "There were two shooters. "

  "The black one, because the yellow ones not talking, whereas the black one must be talking a blue streak, to add one more color to the palette. Incidentally, speaking of blue, how did you like Ramonas fingernails?"

  "I was meaning to ask about those. Does she paint them or is that their natural color?"

  "Matthew, if you asked her shed think you were serious. She honestly believes shes got the world fooled. She doesnt think anybody can tell. "

  "Can tell what? That she paints her nails?"

  "That she wasnt born with a pussy. That she didnt get those cantaloupe tits from a surgeon. "

  "Shes what, Danny? Six-four?"

  "In her nylons. And big hands and feet, and an Adams apple, although thats in line for a paring as soon as she gets the money together. All that and shes still convinced the whole world thinks shes the real deal. And before you even ask, you prying son of a bitch, the answer is no, I havent. " He poured some vodka, held it aloft, looked at the world through it. "Not that I havent thought about it," he said, and drank it down.

  "You could hardly help thinking about it. "

  "Shes a nice kid," he said. "She makes me laugh, which gets harder and harder to do. And the size, you know. Thats an attraction in itself. The contrast. "

  "Whether it was God or the medical profession," I said, "somebody sure made a lot of her. "

  "Well, God made a lot of Texas, too, but thats no reason to go there. But shes attractive. Woul
dnt you say shes attractive?"

  "No question. "

  "And of course shes nuts. She is genuinely out there, and, you know, Ive never regarded that as a fault in a woman. "

  "No, Ive noticed that. "

  "So Im tempted," he said, "but Ive essentially decided to wait until shes had her Adams apple done. You know, with the height difference and all, that Adams apple would be hard for me to overlook. " He frowned. "Talk about losing the thread of a conversation. Where were we?"

  "The black shooter. "

  "Right, and heres what I was thinking. The word got around that you were dead. Now that word could only have come from the man who thought he shot you- before he learned otherwise. So hes a talker, and now hes got something new to talk about. It shouldnt be too hard to get a line on him. Sometimes you can backtrack a piece of information and see where it came from. Other times you sort of circle around it. "

  "Whatever works. "

  "Keep in touch, Matthew. And one other thing. The guy knows he missed, and whoever sent him knows he missed. Either hell try again or somebody else will. "

  "I thought of that. "

  "Of course you did. Thats why youve got a bulge under your jacket. Nice jacket, by the way, bulge or no bulge. "

  "Thanks. "

  "Anyway, be careful, will you? And stay off my list. "

  It was raining by the time I left Poogans. That reminded me, and I went back for my umbrella, which Id left at Danny Boys table. The miracle was that I hadnt left it at the meeting.

  Cabs disappear when it rains, and I guess it had been coming down long enough to thin their ranks. Id just about decided to walk the fifteen blocks when a cab pulled up and let out a fat black man who looked a lot like Al Roker, the jolly TV weatherman, but who was actually a pimp named Bad Dog Dunstan. If he was jolly, hed kept the word from getting out.

  He had two girls with him, and weighed as much as the two of them together. They hurried into Poogans, trying to keep their hair from getting wet, while he dug a roll out of his pocket to pay the driver and I held the door so the cab wouldnt take off without me.

  Dunstans eyes went wide at the sight of me, and I sensed that hed heard the big news and missed the retraction. We knew each other only by sight and had never spoken, but I didnt stand on ceremony. A passed-along cab on a rainy night seemed to me enough of an introduction.

  "False alarm," I said. "Im not dead yet. "

  He smiled broadly, but the effect was somehow more savage than jolly. "Glad to hear it," he boomed. "We all dead soon enough. No need to rush the season. "

  He went into Poogans. I got in the cab and went home.

  Elaine was watching a Law & Order rerun on A&E, one of the earlier shows with Michael Moriarty and Dann Florek. Wed both seen the episode before, but that never seems to matter.

  "I miss Michael Moriarty," Elaine said. "Not that theres anything wrong with Sam Waterston. "

  "They always get good people. "

 
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