Everybody dies, p.25
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       Everybody Dies, p.25

         Part #14 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
Page 25


  "But with Michael Moriarty, you can see the character thinking. You can just about see the thoughts. "

  And a little later she said, "Why does the judge always suppress the confession and the vital evidence?"

  "Because its true to life," I said.

  It was one of the darker shows in the series; the Colombian enforcer gets acquitted and the prosecutions chief witness gets whacked after the verdict, along with whats left of his family. Elaine said, "Well, doesnt that just make you feel good all over?" and turned off the set and went into the other room. I picked up the phone and dialed the number Ballou had given me.

  He answered on the third ring. "I hope youre at the airport," he said.

  "How did you know it was me?"

  "Nobody else has the number. Its only the second time I heard it ring, and the first time was when I called myself from another phone, just to make sure the fucker worked. Its a curious thing, having a phone go off in your pocket. I was a minute thinking what it was. What times your flight?"

  "Im not at the airport. "

  "I was afraid of that. Are you at home?"

  "I am, but why?"

  "Ill call you back on the other phone," he said, and broke the connection. I hung up myself, and the phone rang almost immediately, and it was him.

  "Thats better," he said. "Thats an awful little thing for a man to be talking into, and you never know who might be listening to you. Some fucker could pick us up on his car radio, or the fillings in his teeth. I talked to Rosenstein and he told me Id hired you. That was days ago, says I, and how did you even hear of it? It seems your lawyer called him. Youd think one of us was getting ready to sue the other. "

  "I hope not. "

  "Id say it was unlikely. Im glad for your help, but I have to say I wish you were in Ireland. "

  "I may wish it myself before this is over. "

  "What are you doing now? Ill take the car out and pick you up, we can go for a ride. "

  "I think Im going to make it an early night. "

  "I dont blame you, but Ive the urge to be doing something. I didnt do a fucking thing all day. "

  "When I first got sober, my sponsor told me it was a successful day if I got through it without picking up a drink. "

  "Then I had a most unsuccessful day," he said, "for first I drank myself drunk and then I drank myself sober. Your sponsor. Thats the Buddhist, the one who was killed?"

  "Thats right. And what he told me was perfectly true. If I didnt drink it was a successful day for me. And its a successful day for you if youre still alive at the end of it. "

  "Ah. I take your meaning. "

  "You want to fight back, but first you have to know what youre up against. And thats where I come in. "

  "Its detective work, is it?"

  "Yes. "

  "But youve nothing to work with. Are you getting anywhere?"

  "Its hard to tell. But Im working a couple of different angles, and if one of them doesnt work then another one will. "

  "Jaysus, thats the first good news Ive had all day. "

  "Its not even news. Im just getting started. "

  "Youll bring it off," he said. "Ah, I wish you were in Ireland but Im fucking glad youre not. Well find out who he is, this dirty bastard, and well get him. And well kill him. "

  "Yes," I said. Well kill him. "

  George Wister had called while I was at Poogans, and he called again Tuesday morning and told the machine he wanted to talk to me. He sounded as though he meant it. He left his home number and said to call him there up until noon, and at Midtown North after that.

  I had breakfast and read the paper. A few minutes before eleven I called him at the precinct and whoever caught the call told me he hadnt come in yet. I left my name and said I was returning his call. "He has my number," I said, "but Ill be out all day. Ill try him again later. "

  I went and sat at the window and watched the rain.

  Around twelve-thirty I called his home. The area code was 914, which would put him north of the city, most likely in Westchester or Orange County. A woman answered and said Id just missed him. I left my name and said Id try him at work.

  Later on I called TJ to see if he wanted to take a run out to Williamsburg with me. He wasnt in his room across the street, so I called his beeper number. I hung around for fifteen minutes, then gave up. I put on my windbreaker and remembered to take an umbrella. Elaine caught me at the door and asked if Id be home for dinner. I said Id catch something on the run, and if TJ called to tell him it was nothing important, I just wanted company.

  I rode the A train to Fourteenth Street and transferred to the L. My father died on the L train. He was riding between two cars, and he fell, and the train ran over him. I suppose he ducked out for a smoke, although it was no more legal to smoke on the platform between the cars than in the cars themselves. For that matter, you werent allowed to ride between the cars like that, smoking or not. He was probably liquored up at the time, which may have had something to do with his decision to slip out for a cigarette, and with his falling, too.

  I never ride the L train without thinking of that. Id probably get over it if I rode it on a regular basis, but its the line that runs across Fourteenth Street and under the East River, then through north Brooklyn until it ends up in Canarsie. I havent been on it often enough over the years for my mind to tire of reminding me each time of how my old man died.

  Not as though it were the L trains fault. I couldnt blame the train, and I couldnt really blame him, either. Shit happens.

  Forty years ago, that was. More, closer to forty-five.

  "A little different from the last time you saw it," Ray Galindez said. "We pulled off all the asphalt siding. Ill tell you, there must have been one hell of a siding salesman came through Brooklyn back in the early fifties. When me and Bitsy bought this place, I dont think there were two houses on the block didnt have some kind of siding covering up the brick. Now that green monstrosity across the street is the lone holdout. I dont know why anybody ever thought that crap was a good idea. "

  "Isnt it supposed to cut your heating bills?"

  "Thats what weve got global warming for. But it was some job, puffing it off and repointing the brick. I had help working on the brick, but me and Bitsy did the rest of the work ourselves. "

  "I guess thats where your summer went. "

  "Spring and summer both, but its worth it, you know. And real satisfying. Which is more than you can say for the job these days. Come on in, and what can I get you to drink? Theres coffee, but its like superstrong. Except you like real strong coffee, dont you? You sure youre not Puerto Rican, Matt?"

  "Me llamo Matteo," I said.

  We sat in the kitchen. Theyd bought a narrow two-story row house on Bedford Avenue, midway between the subway stop and McCarren Park. The neighborhood, Northside, was turning increasingly artsy, as were nearby Greenpoint and much of the rest of Williamsburg. Industrial buildings were being converted to artists lofts, far more affordable than those across the river in SoHo and TriBeCa, and little houses like Ray and Bitsys were shedding their siding like butterflies emerging from cocoons.

  It was an unusual neighborhood for a cop to choose but a natural one for an artist, and Ray was both. A police sketch artist, he had an uncanny ability to render in black and white the images summoned up from a witnesss memory. And there was a further dimension, a genuine artistry that had led Elaine to request a drawing hed done of a chilling sociopath as my Christmas gift to her. Then shed engaged him to draw her long-dead father, working not from photos but extracting the mans features from her memory. Shed since given Ray a show in her shop, and steered some commissions his way. Someday I wanted him to do a real portrait of her, but right now I needed him to do that same thing the city paid him to do.

  "Two goons jumped me a few nights ago," I told him, "and I got a good look at one of them. But I didnt report it, and its almost certainly connected to some other matters where Im pl
aying a lone hand. "

  "So the departments not supposed to know about this. Ive got no problem with that, Matt. "

  "Youre sure?"

  "No problem at all. Ill tell you something, Im sitting on the fence. Id put in my papers tomorrow if money wasnt an issue. " He waved a hand, brushing the whole subject aside. "Tell me about this mutt that wanted a piece of you," he said, pencil in hand. "What did you happen to notice about him?"

  We had done this before, though not recently, and we worked well together. In this instance our task was an easy one, because I could close my eyes and bring the image into sharp focus. I could picture the face of the man whod held a gun on me, could see the expression hed shown when he set himself to take a swing at my middle.

  "Thats it," I said, when the pencil lines on the pad matched the face I remembered. "You know, no matter how many times we do this it never ceases to amaze me. Its like a Polaroid camera, the film pops out and turns into a picture before your eyes. "

  "Sometimes theyll catch the guy and youd swear I drew him from life, its that close. And I have to tell you that feels good. "

  "I can imagine. "

  "And other times they get the guy, and I see his photo, and I look back and forth between the photo and my drawing, and I swear theres no resemblance whatsoever. Like they could be members of different species. "

  "Well, thats the witnesss fault, Ray. "

  "Its both our fault. "

  "Hes the one who remembered the guy wrong. "

  "And Im the one didnt dig out the right memory, which is part of what I do. "

  "Well, yeah, I see what you mean. But you can never expect to be a hundred percent. "

  "Oh, I know that. Its frustrating, thats all. "

  "And youre not crazy about the job these days. "

  "Im marking time, Matt. "

  "How old are you and how close are you to your twenty?"

  "Im thirty-three and Ive got eleven years in. "

  "So youre more than halfway there. "

  "I know, and I hate to give it up. And its not just the pension, its the benefits. I could quit now and cover the basics, paying the mortgage and putting food on the table, but what about medical insurance?"

  I asked why the job was getting to him.

  "Im obsolete," he said. "When they had the Identi-Kits I thought, well, hell, its Mr. Potato Head for cops. Paste on a mustache, paste on a different hairline, you know how it goes. "

  "Sure. "

  "I could run rings around that thing, and I knew it. Then they developed a computer program that did the same thing but was a lot more sophisticated about it, and now they got it so you can take an image and morph it. You know, stretching a feature, shrinking it, whatever. "

  "I cant believe its better than you at getting a likeness. "

  "I have to say I agree with you. But the thing is anybody can do it. All they do is train you and you can do it. Maybe you cant draw a straight line with a ruler, but you can be a police artist all the same. And theres more. See, they like the way the computer likenesses present. "

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