Everybody dies, p.27
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       Everybody Dies, p.27

         Part #14 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 27

  "I wont. "

  "Lets you and I stay in touch, huh? Ill call you if he calls me, and you do the same. I mean, Im sitting tight here and thats cool, but I wish I knew what was going on. "

  "I know what you mean. "

  "You up for anything? You want me to drive you anywhere?"

  "You should have asked me sooner. I just got back from Williamsburg. "

  "You dont mean Williamsbridge, do you?"

  "No, I mean Williamsburg in Brooklyn. "

  "Cause the Williamsbridge neighborhoods just the other side of the Bronx River Parkway, though I cant think why youd want to go there. And neither could you, obviously, because you didnt. Why Williamsburg, and what did you do, take the Williamsburg Bridge? They been fixing that thing forever. "

  "I took the L train. "

  "You should have called me. You know what I think Ill do? I think Ill put Micks car back in the garage before my twenty bucks runs out and it gets swiped by the kid I hired to watch it. But Im serious, you want a ride, gimme a call. Theres always a car I can take. "

  "Ill keep it in mind. "

  "And keep in touch," he said. "What happened the other night…"

  "I know. "

  "Yeah, you were there, werent you? Stay close, Matt. We got to watch each others back, next little while. "

  I caught TJ in his room and met him at the Starbucks on Broadway and Eighty-seventh. He was already there when I arrived, sitting at a table with an iced mochaccino, wearing black jeans and a black shirt with a pink necktie an inch wide, all topped off with a Raiders warm-up jacket and a black beret.

  "Had to stop and change clothes," he said, "an I still beat you here. "

  "Youre greased lightning," I said. "What did you change out of that was less appropriate than what youve got on?"

  "You dont think this heres appropriate? For where we goin?"

  "Its fine. "

  "Its as appropriate as that sad old zip-up jacket of yours. What I had on earlier was camo pants and my flak jacket, and that was very appropriate for where I was at, but not for Mother Blues. "

  "And where was that?"

  "Flushing. See a girl I know. "

  "Oh. "

  "What you mean, Oh? I was on the clock, Brock. I was gettin the job done. "

  "How so?"

  "Girls got a black daddy, Vietnamese mama. Her face tends to break out. Wasnt for that, she could be a model. Girl is seriously fine lookin. "

  "Vietnamese…"

  "You got it. She had a brother was in Born To Kill, an she used to know all those dudes. Guy who shot up the bar Sunday was Nguyen Tran Bao. Very violent cat, what she said, but we already knew that. "

  "I dont know," I said. "He seemed like such a nice quiet boy. "

  "He did his robbery and assault bit at Attica, an when he came back he wasnt exactly rehabilitated. Matter of fact, he was hangin out with a white dude he got to know upstate, and the general impression was the two of them was doin bad things. "

  "A white dude. "

  "Very white, and what you call moon-faced. "

  "The bomb thrower. "

  "What I was thinkin, Lincoln. "

  "Did she happen to know his name?"

  He shook his head. "Only way she knew what Goo been up to since prison is she made some phone calls. She pretty much lost touch with BTK when she moved out of Chinatown. "

  "Goo? Is that what they call Nguyen?"

  "What I call him, cause it a whole lot easier to say. Anyway, I be callin her tomorrow, see if she found anybody could come up with a name to go with his face. Even if she cant, we got Goos full name an we know where he went to college. "

  "Maybe the dean will give us a transcript of his record," I said. "You did good work. "

  "Just part of the service," he said, and lowered his head and sucked up the rest of his mochaccino. "Now what? We gonna hear some old peoples music?"

  The group on the small stage was a quartet, an alto sax and a rhythm section, and they were as white as I was and almost as white as Danny Boy. They all wore black suit jackets and white dress shirts and faded jeans, and I somehow knew they were European, though Im not sure how I could tell. Their haircuts, maybe, or something in their faces. They finished the set and the audience, about three-quarters black, was generous with its applause.

  They were Polish, Danny Boy told me. "I have this mental picture," he said. "This kids sitting in his mothers kitchen in Warsaw, listening to this tinny little radio. And its Bird and Dizzy playing Night in Tunisia, and the kids foot starts tapping, and right then and there he knows what he wants to do with his life. "

  "I guess thats how it happens. "

  "Who knows how it happens? But I have to say they can play. " He glanced across the table at TJ. "But I suppose youre more a fan of rap and hip-hop. "

  "Mostly," TJ said, "Ah likes to go down by de river an sing dem good ol Negro spirituals. "

  Danny Boys eyes brightened. "Matthew," he said, "this young man will go far. Unless, of course, someone shoots him. " He helped himself to a little vodka. "I made some inquiries. The person who caused that unpleasantness in the Chinese restaurant the other night is a disillusioned and bitterly disappointed young man. "

  "Hows that?"

  "It seems he got half his money in advance," he said, "upon acceptance of the assignment, with the balance due on completion. As far as hes concerned, he completed the job. He went where he was told to go and did what he was supposed to do. How was he to know there were two gentlemen in the restaurant fitting the same description? There was in fact only one such gentleman to be seen when he entered, and he dealt with the man accordingly. "

  "And they dont want to pay him the rest of his money?"

  "Not only that, but theyve had the effrontery to ask for a refund of their initial payment. Not, I shouldnt think, with any realistic expectation of receiving it, but as a sort of counter to his demand for payment in full. "

  TJ nodded. "Somebody ask you for money, you turn around an ask him for money. An maybe he go away. "

  "That seems the theory," Danny Boy said. "I think they should have paid the man. "

  "Keep him from runnin his mouth. "

  "Exactly. But they didnt and he did. "

  "What do they owe him?"

  "Two thousand dollars," Danny Boy said.

  "Two thousand still owing? Out of four?"

  "Guess you aint worth much," TJ said.

  "You get what you pay for," Danny Boy said. He took a sheet of paper from his wallet, put on reading glasses and squinted through them. "Chilton Purvis," he read. "My guess is they call him Chili, but maybe not. Hes living at 117 Tapscott, third floor rear. I never heard of Tapscott Street myself, but its supposed to be in Brooklyn. "

  "It is," I said. "Right around where Crown Heights butts up against Brownsville. " His eyebrows rose, and I said Id worked there years ago. "Not in the same precinct, but close enough. I dont remember a thing about Tapscott Street specifically, and I suppose its changed since then anyway. "

  "What hasnt? A lot of Haitians in the area these days, and Guyanese, and folks from Ghana and Senegal. "

  "All looking to make a better life for themselves," TJ said, "in this land of opportunity for all. "

  "Hes afraid the police are coming for him," Danny Boy said, "or that his employers will show up to seal his lips with a bullet. So he stays in his room all the time. Except when he gets the urge to party and smoke crack and run his mouth. "

  "Suppose he could pick up the two thou hes got coming just by fingering the man who stiffed him. You think hed go for that?"

  "Hed be a fool not to. "

  "We already know he a fool," TJ said. "Killin folks for chump change. "

  "Ill want to show him a sketch," I said. "But first let me show you, Danny Boy. " I opened the envelope, got out one of the copies of Rays drawing of the slugger. He studied it through his reading glasses, then took them off and held it at arms length.

  "Nasty," he decided,
"and not too bright. "

  "And nobody you know?"

  "Unfortunately not, but I wouldnt be surprised if he and I have friends in common. May I keep this, Matthew?"

  "I can let you have a couple of extras," I said. I counted out three or four for him, and passed one to TJ, who was edging over for a look.

  "Dont know him," he said without hesitation. "Who the other dude?"

  "What other dude?" Danny Boy wanted to know.

  I produced the second sketch. "Just an exercise," I said, and explained how Ray Galindez had drawn it to clear my mind. But it hadnt worked, I said, in that Id still been unable to summon up the face of the second mugger.

  Danny Boy looked at the second sketch, shook his head, passed it back. TJ said, "Is seen him. "

  "You have? Where?"

  "Round the neighborhood. Cant say where or when, but he got one of those faces sticks in your mind. "

  "That must be it," I said. "I caught a glimpse of him last week in Grogans, and I thought he looked familiar, and its probably because Id seen him the same as you did. And youre right, hes definitely got one of those faces. "

  "All those strong features," Danny Boy said, "and you dont expect to find them all on the same face, do you? That nose shouldnt go with that mouth. "

  I gave TJ a sketch of the slugger and folded one and tucked it in my wallet. As an afterthought I added a copy of the second sketch as well. I put everything else back in the padded mailing envelope.

  I looked at my watch, and Danny Boy said, "The bandll be back in a couple of minutes. You want to catch the next set?"

  "I was thinking I might go over to Brooklyn. "

  "To see our friend? You might find him in. "

  "And if not I could wait for him. "

  "Keep you company," TJ said. "He aint in, you can tell me stories to pass the time, an I can pretend I aint heard em before. "

  "Past your bedtime," I said.

  "You need someone to watch your back, Jack, specially when yous the wrong skin tone for the neighborhood. An if yous to brace this dude Chili, you got to know twos better than one. " At the concern in my face, he said, "Hey, Ill be safe. You armed and dangerous, man. Youll protect me. "

  "Just stay away from parked cars," Danny Boy said, and we both stared at him. "Oh, from when I was a kid," he said. "I told you about my list, right? Well, when I was growing up there were always a few kids every year who got run over by cars, and the cops sent someone around every spring and every fall to tell the schoolkids about traffic safety. You ever pull that detail, Matthew?"

  "I was spared. "

  "Thered be this slide show, and an explanation of how each victim bought it. Mary Louise, age seven. Ran from between parked cars. And half the time or more, that was it, running out from between parked cars. Because the motorist didnt see you coming. "

 
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