All the flowers are dyin.., p.27
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       All the Flowers Are Dying, p.27

         Part #16 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 27

 

  Once the last physical remnant of Joe Bohan was gone, except for his enduring odor, he let the word out that he’d taken his uncle to the hospital. “I tried nursing him myself,” he told Mrs. Laskowski, “but I can’t give him the care he needs. Last night I got him downstairs and into a cab and we rode clear up to the VA. Cab cost a fortune, but what are you going to do? I’m all he’s got in the world. He wants me to stay here until he comes home from the hospital. I’m supposed to be in San Francisco, I’ve got a job offer out there, but I can’t just leave him here. He’s my uncle. ”

  And that was that.

  Now he sits at the kitchen table, its top scarred by hundreds of Joe Bohan’s neglected cigarettes. He touches his upper lip, then frowns, annoyed with himself. Habits, he thinks, take so little time to form, so much longer to break. He boots up his computer, which has sole claim on Joe Bohan’s phone line. The dial-up connection is slow today, and he’d love to install a DSL line, but that’s out of the question.

  Well, perhaps he won’t need to be here too much longer.

  18

  TJ said, “You already thought of this, and it don’t make sense anyway, but if I don’t say it I ain’t never gonna get it out of my head. ”

  “Okay. ”

  “You most likely know what’s coming. ”

  We were at the Morning Star. He’d called and asked me to meet him there, and I’d walked away from a much better cup of coffee than the one I was drinking now.

  “I might,” I said.

  “Gonna make me say it all the same. ’Kay. There any chance at all that David Thompson and Monica’s killer are the same person?”

  “The chief thing they’ve got in common,” I said, “is that you and I don’t know who they are or how to find them. ”

  “More’n that. ”

  “Oh?”

  “Both got a mustache. ”

  “Maybe they’re both Hitler, and he didn’t die in the bunker after all. Look at the timing and you’ll see they’re not the same person. Thompson—that’s probably not his name, but we’ve got to call him something. Thompson was with Louise Monday night from the time she met him at the restaurant until he got away from us a little before midnight. ”

  “And?”

  “And it was around nine-thirty or ten when he showed up in the lobby of Monica’s building, according to Sussman, who got it from the doorman. ”

  “That was Tuesday. Night before last, right?”

  “Jesus, you’re right. ”

  “Wouldn’t be much of a stretch to get downtown in what, twenty-two hours?”

  I shook my head. “He was there Monday night, too,” I said. “With Monica. She told Elaine. ”

  “He saw her Monday and Tuesday, then. We sure of that?”

  “We can’t call Monica and ask her. But yes, we’re sure. ”

  “But we don’t know what time. We got a time check for Tuesday, him comin’ and goin’, but not for Monday. ”

  I thought about it, nodded slowly.

  “So he leaves Louise at a quarter of twelve, an’ we know the first thing he does is whip out his cell an’ make a call. ”

  “To Monica, inviting himself over. But if I remember what Elaine said, he already had a date planned for Monday with Monica. ”

  “ ‘Sorry, honey, but I’m running a little late. Be over soon’s I can. ’ ”

  “He was a sharp dresser, according to Monica. Did David Thompson look like he fit Monica’s definition of a sharp dresser?”

  “Was jeans an’ a polo shirt, wasn’t it?”

  “Personally,” I said, “I can’t quite see our guy showing up on Jane Street with flowers and a bottle of Strega. ” I pictured him coming out of Louise’s building. “He lit a cigarette,” I remembered. “That was one thing she established online, before she met the guy. That he was a smoker, because if he wasn’t she didn’t want any part of him. ”

  “So?”

  “Monica was an ex-smoker, and she hated to be in the same room with a lit cigarette. She had that heightened sensitivity people seem to develop when they’ve been away from tobacco for a few years. If he was a heavy smoker—”

  “We don’t know about the heavy part. Maybe he just made sure to light one up when he was around Louise, to keep her happy. ”

  “And the minute he walks out of her building, he lights up another for show?”

  “See what you mean. Who you callin’?”

  “A cop,” I said. Sussman had given us his card, and I was punching the number into my cell phone. When I got him on the line I identified myself and said I had just one question. Was there any indication that anyone might have smoked a cigarette in Monica Driscoll’s apartment?

  “Why?”

  I couldn’t blame him. That would have been my response if our roles were reversed. Still, I’d have been happier if he hadn’t asked.

  “I’ve been looking into something for a friend,” I said. “She’s got no connection to Monica, nothing in common, except that there’s a mystery man in her life. I haven’t had much luck finding out anything about him, in fact he’s been damned elusive, and—”

  “And you thought maybe they were one and the same. ”

  “No,” I said, “I thought and continue to think that they’re not, but if I can make one phone call and rule it out altogether—”

  “I get you. I take it you know for a fact whether or not this second guy smokes. ”

  “I know for a fact that he does. ”

  “And Ms. Driscoll didn’t?”

  “And had strong feelings on the subject. ”

  He said he’d get back to me and rang off. TJ asked about Elaine. I said she’d been out the door that morning before I’d made it to the kitchen, that it was one of her gym days. I said I figured it was a good sign that she went, because I was pretty sure she hadn’t felt like it.

  Something like that, he said, that was the secret to it. You had to do it all the time, not just on the days you felt like it. I told him staying sober was like that.

  “Last night,” he said, “she’d be sad an’ cry from time to time, and then it’d pass, you know, and her mind’d be on the card game. You know how to play pinochle?”

  “No. ”

  “Well, she could teach you. She can teach a game real good. It’s an okay game. All you got in the world is two people an’ a deck of cards, you could get by with it. Course it’d have to be a pinochle deck, so you’d need two decks of cards to make it. You take two decks, an’ you don’t use from deuce through eight, just nine on up to ace. ”

  “I’m really glad you’re telling me all this. ”

  “Yeah, well, it be just the two of us an’ we ain’t even got a deck of cards, and we’s waiting for the damn phone to ring. But I guess you don’t need to hear all this shit about pinochle. ”

  “No, it’s all right. ”

  “Thing is, even when she was fine, playing cards and joking, it was there, you know? This deep-down sadness, kind that runs clear to the bone. ”

  Sussman said, “You’d think it would be a simple question to answer. This age of science we live in, where you can multiply your date of birth by the change in your pocket and feed the result into a computer, and it tells you what you ate for breakfast. Did anybody smoke a cigarette in the apartment where the murder took place? What’s so tricky about that?”

  “I gather it wasn’t that simple. ”

  “First of all,” he said, “the son of a bitch was a neatnik. I believe I told you he vacuumed, in addition to wiping every surface but the ceiling. So there wouldn’t be any cigarette butts lying around, or any ashes in the ashtrays. Something I didn’t notice at the time, but I can tell you now, is there weren’t any ashtrays in the place, period. So it’s pretty clear she wasn’t a smoker, and didn’t have regular company that smoked. ”

  “She wasn’t and didn’t. ”

  “Now he could have been a smoker and not smoked in her apartment, out of respe
ct for her wishes. ”

  “I suppose,” I said, “but when he had her tied up and started torturing her, I wouldn’t think respect would play much of a role. ”

  “No, you’re absolutely right. She’s tied up with tape on her mouth, first thing he’d do is light one up. And most likely use her for an ashtray, far as that goes, and that’s one thing I can tell you we didn’t find. ”

  “Burn marks. ”

  “He worked her over pretty good. I didn’t want to go into detail in front of your wife, but this guy was a fucking animal. If he’d had a cigarette going, we’d have seen evidence on the corpse. ”

  “You don’t smoke yourself. ”

  “No, I never started. ”

  “When you walked into the crime scene—”

  “I’ve been asking myself the same question. Did I smell smoke? I didn’t notice, but would I? I can’t answer that. Plus my partner and I weren’t the first people there. A pair of uniforms responded to the 911 call and were first on the scene. She hadn’t been dead that long, so there wasn’t the intense odor of advanced decomposition that develops over time, but you know the things that happen. The bowels let go, the bladder lets go. You know right away you’re not in a perfume factory. ”

  “So one of the blues might have lit a cigarette. ”

  “They’re not supposed to,” he said, “but people do it. To mask the smell and just because you’re standing around and there’s a dead body there and it’s the middle of the night and you’re a smoker and you want a cigarette so you light one up. But I didn’t notice the smell of smoke, and neither did my partner, and I’ve got a call in to ask the two uniforms if they noticed the smell of smoke when they went in, but if they’re smokers all bets are off. ”

  “If they say no, they’re too used to it to notice. If they say yes, they might be lying to cover up their own smoking. ”

  “You know how a cop thinks,” he said with approval. “Long and short of it, strongest argument is he’s not a smoker because he didn’t put out his cigarettes on her. And now that we’ve ruled your guy out, suppose you tell me who he is and how to get ahold of him. ”

  “Now that we’ve ruled him out. ”

  “Right. ”

  I told him I had a problem with that. I’d be compromising my client’s interests. She’d wanted a confidential investigation of a new boyfriend, just to make sure he didn’t have an arrest record or a wife in Mamaroneck, and the last thing she’d want me to do was put the guy front and center in a murder investigation.

  He said, “I thought you were looking into something for a friend. Now she’s a client. You licensed? You working for an attorney? If not, there’s no privilege here. ”

 
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