A drop of the hard stuff, p.27
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       A Drop of the Hard Stuff, p.27

         Part #17 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 27

  More names for my list, if I ever actually took the Eighth Step. How did you make amends to men whose names you had managed to forget as soon as you’d written up the report? I wasn’t even sure I’d been wrong to take the money. If my partner and I left it, that just meant somebody else would pocket it. And who was legally supposed to get it? The State of New York? What the hell did some bureau in Albany need with five dollars here and ten dollars there, or even a princely $972?

  On the other hand, it wasn’t my money.

  A lot of John Does and Richard Roes for my list, plus a couple of Mary Moes. Because women died too, of causes natural and unnatural, and you had to look in their purses for ID, didn’t you? And you’d always find a couple of dollars.

  I was partnered with one prince of the city who took a pair of hoop earrings from the ears of a dead hooker. “These look like eighteen karat,” he said. “What does the poor darling need with gold earrings in potter’s field?”

  I told him to keep them. Was I sure? Yes, I said, I was sure. Be a shame to split the pair, I said.

  Noble of me. Maybe that’d be enough to get me into Heaven. What did I ever do that was good? Well, St. Peter, one time I could have stolen the gold from a dead whore’s ears. But I restrained myself.

  XXVI

  I ALMOST DIDN’T recognize you,” I said.

  Donna grinned, fluffed her hair. “Is it that different?”

  The long auburn hair that had flowed down over her shoulders, and occasionally drifted into her eyes, had been cropped boyishly short and permed into a tight cap of curls. Richard, behind the wheel, said, “Isn’t it fabulous? And positively transformative—or do I want to say transformational?”

  Nobody offered an opinion on that one.

  “Well,” he said, “whichever the word is, that’s it. What a metamorphosis! From Brenda Starr to Little Orphan Annie. ”

  “I wish you hadn’t told me that,” she said. “I always liked Brenda Starr. ”

  “What have you got against Annie?”

  “Nothing, but I never much wanted to look like her. ” She was in the front of the car, next to Richard, and she had an arm hooked over her seat back so that she could look at me. “Well, Matthew S. ? What’s your verdict?”

  “It looked nice long,” I said, “and it looks nice short. One thing it does, it shows off your face better. ”

  “It used to get lost in all that hair,” Richard said. “Now it pops. ”

  “I look like Little Orphan Annie and my face pops,” she said.

  “These are good things, sweetie. Trust me. ”

  “All I know,” she said, “is it’s done. The boy who does my hair couldn’t believe it when I went in there this morning and told him what I wanted. ”

  “Like, ‘Oooh, how can you possibly want me to do that to you?’ ”

  “Not at all,” she told him. “He’s been wanting to cut my hair forever. ‘I finally talked you into it!’ But it wasn’t his doing. ”

  “The occasion,” I guessed. “Washing that man right out of your hair. ”

  Richard said he always loved Mary Martin. Donna said, “Sort of, but not exactly. I called him last night. ”

  “Vinnie,” I said.

  “Which was probably a mistake, because I didn’t want to hear his voice, or for him to hear mine. But I thought I should remind him that I was coming for my things this afternoon, and that it would help if he could contrive to be elsewhere. ”

  “And?”

  “I don’t know if he was able to take in the information. He started going on and on about my hair, my beautiful long hair, and how he wanted to see it spread out on his pillow and, well, other things I’d just as soon not repeat. ”

  “We’ll use our overheated imaginations,” Richard said.

  “I’m sure you will. And I thought, You know, buster, if you like my hair that much, there must be something wrong with it. And whether there is or not, you’ve seen it for the last time. And I got up this morning and rushed straight to the beauty parlor, and Hervé was able to fit me in, and the rest is history. ”

  “It’s not history, sweetie, it’s art appreciation. Just fabulous. ”

  “Thank you, Richard. ”

  “But Hervé? Honestly?”

  “I think it used to be Harvey. ”

  “Ooh la la,” said Richard. “How continental. ”

  Vincent Cutrone’s apartment was in a six-story brick building on a street corner in Cobble Hill. A dry cleaner and a deli shared the ground floor, with half a dozen small apartments on each of the upper floors. Richard, who’d found the place with no trouble, was able to park right in front, and the three of us entered the building together. Donna had her key out, but pushed the button for 4-C anyway, and sighed deeply when the intercom made that throat-clearing noise it makes when someone’s about to respond.

  “Yo,” he said.

  She rolled her eyes. “I’m coming up,” she said. “I’ve got people with me. ”

  He didn’t say anything, nor did he buzz us in. She used her key, and we were getting on the elevator when we finally heard the buzzer sound.

  “Yo,” Donna said, and rolled her eyes again. “Why did I ever think—never mind. ”

  He must have been waiting at the door, because it opened inward as Donna was extending the key. Vinnie loomed in the doorway, his eyes taking in all three of us, then doing a pronounced double take. “Oh, Jesus,” he said. “What the fuck did you do to your hair?”

  “I had it cut,” she said.

  “By a fuckin’ butcher?” He looked past her at me and Richard. “You believe this, guys? Best thing the woman had goin’ for her and she chops it off. Hell of a thing. I’m the one who drinks and she’s the one who goes nuts. ”

  She said, “I came for my things, Vincent. I thought—”

  “Oh, now it’s Vincent. All the time it was ‘Oh, Vinnie, nobody ever made me feel like you made me feel. Oh, Vinnie, I love it when you—’ ”

  I’d seen him before. At meetings, here and there around town. I never heard his story, never knew his name, couldn’t recall ever seeing him with Donna. But I recognized the face.

  He was an inch or two shorter than I, and a few pounds heavier. His hair was dark brown and shaggy, and a little longer than the new Donna’s. He hadn’t shaved in a couple of days, and he smelled the way you do when the alcohol is working its way out of your pores. He was wearing a soiled white undershirt, the kind that leaves the shoulders uncovered, and a pair of cutoff jeans. His feet were bare.

  “You said you’d stay away from the apartment while I collected my things. ”

  “No, Donna, you’re the one who said that. But you moved out, right? It’s my apartment now, right?”

  “That’s right. ”

  “So it’s my apartment, who’s got a better right to be here? You want to kick me out of it? Hey, I wanted to, I could kick you out of it. ”

  “Vinnie—”

  “Ah, we’re back to Vinnie. I feel all warm and fuzzy now. ” He reached out a hand, rubbed her hair. “You know what you look like? You look like Raggedy fuckin’ Ann. ”

  “Don’t touch me. ”

  “ ‘Don’t touch me. ’ A different tune these days, Donna. Hey, don’t worry. I’m not gonna kick you out of my apartment. ” He stood aside, motioned her in. “Esta es su casa,” he said. “You know what that means?”

  “I know what it means. ”

  “It’s Spanish, it means this is your house. Except it’s mine. ”

  I said, “Vinnie, maybe it’d be a good idea if you gave us an hour. ”

  He looked at me. Before, he’d regarded me as an audience, but now I had a speaking part, and he responded accordingly. “I know you,” he said. “Matt, am I right? Used to be a cop before they kicked you off the force for bein’ an asshole. You the new boyfriend?”

  “Matt and Richard are helping me move,” Donna said.

&nb
sp; “They’re just what you need,” he said. “Matt can beat me up and Richard here can blow me. Between the two of ’em I got no fuckin’ chance. ”

  It was a long afternoon in Cobble Hill. Vinnie had been drinking around the clock for days now, and he got to show all his emotions in turn, from self-pity to belligerence. He said he wished that Donna hadn’t cut her hair, and that he’d like to wrap it around her neck and strangle her with it. He walked out of the room, turned up the volume on the TV, came back with a beer, wandered off again.

  The apartment must have been nice before he picked up a drink. Now it was all empty bottles and beer cans and pizza boxes, half-eaten containers of Chinese food, and copies of Hustler and Penthouse. There was a page torn from Screw, hooker ads with their photos and phone numbers, taped alongside the wall phone in the kitchen. Some of the ads were circled in Magic Marker.

  “This one,” he announced, pointing to one of the photos, “could give you cards and spades, Donna. Could suck a tennis ball through a garden hose. I dunno, though. Bet you could do the same, huh, Richard?”

  Nobody answered him, but this didn’t seem to bother him. I’m not sure he noticed.

  A long afternoon in Cobble Hill.

  XXVII

  WE WERE ACROSS the bridge and back in Manhattan when she said, “Raggedy Ann, for God’s sake. Little Orphan Annie and Raggedy Ann. ”

 
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