All the flowers are dyin.., p.25
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       All the Flowers Are Dying, p.25

         Part #16 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 25

 

  After he’d finished, they went around the room instead of asking for a show of hands. By the time it was my turn, I’d already said everything I had to say, albeit in the privacy of my own mind. “My name’s Matt,” I said, “and I’m an alcoholic. I really enjoyed your qualification. I think I’ll just listen tonight. ”

  A little later a voice I knew said, “I’m really glad I got here tonight. It’s not a regular meeting of mine, but I see a few familiar faces here. And I got a lot out of your story. My name’s Abie and I’m an alcoholic. ”

  He went on to talk about having to put in long hours lately, and missing meetings, and how he had to remember that his sobriety has to come first. “If I lose that, then I lose everything that goes with it,” he said.

  It wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard a few thousand times over the years, but it didn’t hurt me any to hear it again.

  He caught up with me on the way out. “My first time here,” he said. “I didn’t even know it was a special-interest meeting. ”

  “Men over forty. ”

  “I knew that part from the listing in the book. What I didn’t know is everybody was gay. ”

  “Not everybody was. ”

  “Except for thee and me,” he said, and grinned. “I don’t mind gay people, in fact I enjoy the energy in a room full of gay men. But I wasn’t expecting it. ”

  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I thought.

  “Matt? I was surprised when you didn’t share tonight. ”

  “Well, I’m not in the same class with William the Silent,” I said, “but I don’t feel compelled to say something just because it’s my turn. ”

  “Except you looked as though you had something you wanted to get out. ”

  “Oh?”

  “Like you had something gnawing at you. ” He touched my shoulder. “You want to go get some coffee?”

  “I had two cups here tonight. I think that’s enough coffee for me. ”

  “Something to eat, then. ”

  “I don’t think so, Abie. ”

  “My first sponsor used to say we were people who couldn’t afford the luxury of keeping things to ourselves. ”

  “It’s probably a good thing he wasn’t in the CIA, then. ”

  “I suppose, but the point—”

  “I think I get the point. ”

  He stepped back, frowning, and pinched his upper lip, a physical tic I’d seen him make before. “Look, I didn’t mean any harm,” he said. “I guess you’d rather be alone tonight. ”

  I didn’t tell him otherwise.

  I took another cab, and got one with loud Arab music on the radio. I told the driver to turn it down. He looked at me, and I guess he saw something on my face that kept him from arguing. He turned it down and off, and we rode home in a welcome if stony silence.

  The pinochle game was still in progress when I walked in the door. I asked who was winning, and Elaine made a face and pointed across the table. “He swears he never played the game before,” she said, “and it hurts me to think such a sweet young man could lie like a rug. ”

  “Never did,” he said.

  “Then how come you could sit there and beat my brains out?”

  “You just a good teacher, is all. ”

  “That must be it. ” She gathered the cards. “Go home. You’re an angel for keeping me company, even if you didn’t have the decency to let me win. Wait a minute. Are you hungry? Do you want a cookie?”

  He shook his head.

  “You sure? I baked them myself, using the name ‘Mrs. Fields. ’ ”

  He shook his head again, and she gave him a hug and let him go. She put the cards away and went to the window again, the one that no longer had a view of the towers. She sighed and turned from it to me and said, “I’ve been thinking. She had other friends besides me. No one else was as close, but there were other women she’d meet for lunch, or talk to on the phone. ”

  “There’d have to be. ”

  “She might have let something slip about this guy. I mean, she told me he drinks Scotch and has a mustache. She might have said something else to somebody else. ”

  “And if you gather the somethings together, a picture might emerge. ”

  “Well, don’t you think it’s possible?”

  “I know it’s possible,” I said, “and so will Sussman. They’ll go through her address or her Rolodex, whatever she had, and they’ll check out every listing. He might be in there, as far as that goes. Just because she wouldn’t say his name doesn’t mean he didn’t give her one. If he also gave her a number, it’ll be in her book. ”

  “You think they’ll get him that way?”

  I didn’t, but I said it was possible.

  “All right, here’s another thing I was thinking. She might have gone back to her shrink. She stopped therapy years ago, but she’s been back a few times for a couple of sessions here and a couple of sessions there. And I remember having the feeling recently that she might have gone back. I don’t know what triggered it, but it was a feeling I got. ”

  “And she might have said something about the guy to the therapist?”

  “Well, you know, if she can’t feel free to say anything to anybody else…”

  “That’s a point. ”

  “But would the shrink say anything? Isn’t everything you tell your shrink privileged?”

  I said it was, but that there was a gray area here. When the patient was dead and the investigation was trying to uncover the killer, that would override doctor-patient privilege for some physicians, and not for others.

  “Her shrink’s name is Brigitte Dufy. She’s French, she’s got the same last name as the painter Raoul Dufy, and she may even be a relative. I know Monica asked her but I don’t remember what the answer was. As if it matters. She grew up around here, her father was a souschef at the Brittany du Soir. You remember that place?”

  “Yes, of course. ”

  “It was terrific, I wonder what happened to it. One day it was just gone. Anyway, Brigitte grew up here with a neighborhood accent that was solid Hell’s Kitchen Irish. Monica liked to call her Bridget Duffy. They’ll probably find her name in Monica’s address book, but maybe not. You know how when you copy an address book you don’t bother transferring the names of people who’ve dropped out of your life? Because why bother, since you’re not going to call them again? Well, if she’d stopped therapy…”

  I said I’d mention it to Sussman in the morning.

  “I can’t stand that she’s gone,” she said. “But I’ll get used to it. That’s what life is, getting used to people dying. But I can’t stand the thought of somebody doing this to her and getting away with it. And I don’t want to get used to it. ”

  “They’ll get him. ”

  “You promise?”

  How could I promise something like that? Then again, how could I deny her?

  “I promise. ”

  “Is there anything you can do?”

  “Besides get in everybody’s way? I don’t know. I’ll see if I can come up with anything. ”

  “I don’t expect you to get out there and find him,” she said. “Except, see, the thing is I do. You’re my hero, you know. You always have been. ”

  “I think you’d be better off with Spider-man. ”

  “No,” she said. “No, I’m happy with the choice I made. ”

  17

  In a Kinko’s on Columbus Avenue, he sits at a computer terminal, where a small hourly fee provides him with utterly anonymous Internet access. He goes to the Yahoo website and, at no cost and in a matter of minutes, he opens an account with a user name that is just a meaningless jumble of letters and numbers. It would be difficult to remember, but he won’t need to remember it because he’ll never use it again. It’s a one-time-only account, almost certainly untraceable, but if they trace it they won’t get any farther than this computer, open to the public and used by dozens of people every day.

  He rememb
ers wondering how anyone was ever caught and convicted a century ago, in the absence of forensics. But didn’t science aid the criminal with one hand while it aided the criminologist with the other? He’d come across a line somewhere that had always struck him as the perfect explanation of Darwinian evolution: If you build a better mousetrap, Nature will build a better mouse.

  He meditates upon this principle for a spell, then brings himself reluctantly back to the present moment. He clicks on WRITE MAIL and begins typing:

  I am writing to you because it troubles me to think of the unfortunate parents of Jeffrey Willis, for whose murder Preston Applewhite recently paid the ultimate penalty. Hard as it is to lose a son, it must be harder still when his body is never recovered. One hates the thought of one’s own flesh and blood lying forever in an unmarked grave, although, on reflection, I can’t see that I’d much prefer lying in a marked grave. It is, I should think, one and the same to the person lying there.

  Still, it seems only right for me to tell you that the spirit of Preston Applewhite (may all curse his memory!) came to me last night in a spirit of profound contrition. “You must tell the good people at the Richmond Times-Dispatch,” it said, in an appropriately spectral tone, “that I deeply regret what I’ve done, and seek to make amends by telling you just where to look for all that remains of the Willis boy. ”

  And here is where it said to look….

  He writes out detailed instructions, creating a perfect verbal treasure map that will lead whoever follows it to the very spot in the old family graveyard where he had such a pleasant time with young Jeffrey, who’d not had a terribly pleasant time of it himself. It brings it all back for him, and he’s tempted to add a precise description of Jeffrey’s last moments, but that would be inconsistent with the letter’s content and tone.

  Though it would surely be fun. He’s reminded of Albert Fish, the deranged cannibal who murdered young children and ate them. After killing and devouring one Grace Budd, he wrote a note to her parents describing the murder and attesting to their daughter’s succulence on the dinner table. But, he swore to them, “I never fucked her. She died a virgin. ”

  A Budd never forced to bloom, he thinks. How reassuring that must have been for the elder Budds!

  You will think at first that this is a hoax, for how could any intelligent person think otherwise? But you can hardly fail to send out a couple of men with a couple of shovels, if there’s the slightest possibility that Jeffrey’s bones (for the rest of him surely has long since rotted away) are where the spirit has said they are.

  When you find them, as surely you shall, you and your readers and the appropriate authorities will have much to ponder. Are you to believe in spirits and their revelations? Or has someone made a grievous error?

  I trust you’ll forgive my not signing this. I have lately learned the importance of anonymity. It is, to be sure, the spiritual foundation of all our traditions.

 
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