Everybody dies, p.28
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       Everybody Dies, p.28

         Part #14 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 28

 

  "So?"

  "So in my young mind, it was the parked cars that were dangerous. Id sort of slink past them on the street, like they were crouched and ready to spring. Wasnt until later I realized that the cars that were parked were essentially benign. It was the moving ones that would kill you. "

  "Parked cars," I said.

  "Thats it. A fucking menace. "

  I thought for a moment, then turned to TJ. "If you really want to tag along to Brooklyn," I said, "why dont you do me a favor? Go to the mens room and stow this under your shirt. "

  He took the padded envelope, weighed it in his hand. "Dont seem fair," he said. "You got your state-of-the-art Kevlar vest, an I got cardboard. You think thisll stop a bullet?"

  "Its so youll have your hands free," I said, "although Im not sure thats an advantage. And put it in back, not in front, so that it doesnt spoil the lines of your shirt. "

  "Already planning on it," he said.

  When he was out of earshot, I said, "Ive been thinking about your list, Danny Boy. "

  "Just so you stay off it. "

  "Hows your health?"

  He gave me a look. "What did you hear?"

  "Not a thing. "

  "Then whats the matter? Dont I look good?"

  "You look fine. The question is Elaines, as a matter of fact. It was her first reaction when I told her about your little list. "

  "She was always a perceptive woman," he said. "Shes the real detective in the family, you know. "

  "I know. "

  "Well," he said, and folded his hands on the table. "I had this little operation. "

  "Oh?"

  "Colon cancer," he said, "and they got it all. Caught it early and got it all. "

  "Thats good news. "

  "It is," he agreed. "The surgery got it before it could spread, and they wanted to do chemo afterward just in case, and I let them. I mean, whos gonna roll the dice on that one, right?"

  "Right. "

  "But it was the kind of chemo where you get to keep your hair, so it wasnt all that bad. The worst part was the colostomy bag, but there was a second operation to reattach the colon- Jesus, you dont want to hear this, do you?"

  "No, go on. "

  "Thats it, really. I felt a lot better about life after the second operation. A colostomy bag puts a crimp in a mans love life. There may be girls who are turned on by that sort of thing, but I hope I never meet one. "

  "I never heard a word, Danny Boy. "

  "Nobody did. "

  "You didnt want visitors?"

  "Or cards in the mail, or phone calls, or any of that shit. Funny, because informations my life, but I wanted a lid on this. I trust youll keep it quiet. Youll tell Elaine but thats all. "

  "Absolutely. "

  "Theres always a chance of a recurrence," he said, "but they assure me its slim. No reason I cant live to be a hundred. Youll die on someone elses specialty, the doc tells me. I thought it was a nice way to put it. " He poured himself some more vodka and left the glass on the table in front of him. "But it gets your attention," he said.

  "It must. "

  "It does. Thats when I started making the list. I knew all along that nobody lives forever, but I guess I didnt quite believe that it applied to me. And then I did. "

  "So you started writing down names. "

  "I suppose every name I put down was one more person Id outlasted. I dont know what I thought that would prove. No matter how long your list gets, sooner or later you get to be the final entry on it. "

  "If I made a list," I said, "itd be a long one. "

  "They all keep getting longer," he said, "until they dont. Here comes TJ, so well talk about something else. Hes a good boy. Keep his name off the list, will you? And your own, too. "

  The rain had quit, at least for the time being. There were cabs cruising on Amsterdam and I hailed one. "Waste of time," TJ said. "He aint about to go to Brooklyn. "

  I told the driver Ninth and Fifty-seventh. TJ said, "Why we goin there, Claire?"

  "Because I dont happen to have two grand on me," I said, "and Chilton Purvis might want a look at it. "

  "Show me the money! Mean to say we actually gonna pay him that much?"

  "Were going to say so. "

  "Oh," he said, and thought it over. "You keep that kind of money round your house? Ida knowed that, Ida stuck you up. "

  We got out of the cab on the northeast corner and walked to the hotel entrance. "Lets go up for a minute," I said. "I want to use the phone to make sure I havent got cops in the living room. And you can get that envelope for me. Ill leave it across the street. "

  Upstairs in his room he said, "If you was all along meanin to leave the envelope at your house, whyd I have to stick it up under my shirt?"

  "To make sure you wouldnt leave it in the cab. "

  "You wanted to talk private with Danny Boy. "

  "Go to the head of the class. "

  "I been at the head of the class all along, so aint no need for me to go there. Whad you an him talk about?"

  "If Id wanted to share it with you," I said, "I wouldnt have sent you to the mens room. "

  I called across the street, and talked to the machine until Elaine picked up and said the coast was clear. TJ and I went downstairs, and he waited at the hotel entrance while I crossed the street and entered the Parc Vend?me lobby. I went upstairs, got twenty hundred-dollar bills from our emergency stash, and told Elaine not to wait up.

  Three cabbies in a row passed up the added incentive of a twenty-dollar tip for a ride to Brooklyn. Theres a regulation, they have to take you anywhere in the five boroughs, but what are you going to do if they wont?

  "That dude just now," TJ said. "He was tempted. He wouldnt do it for twenty, but heda done it for fifty. "

  "The cityll do it for a buck and a half each," I said, and we walked over to Eighth and caught the subway.

  There may have been a closer subway stop than the one where we got off. We wound up walking eight or ten blocks on East New York Avenue. It wasnt the best neighborhood in town, nor was this the best time to be in it- well after midnight when we left the subway station, and close to one by the time we found Tapscott Avenue.

  Number 117 was a brick-and-frame house three stories tall. The siding salesman had evidently missed this part of town, and his efforts might have helped. As it was, the structure and the ones on either side of it looked abandoned, the ground-floor windows covered with plywood, some of the other windows broken, and a sour air of neglect that hovered like fog.

  "Nice," TJ said.

  The front door was open, the lock missing. The hall lights were out, but it wasnt pitch black inside. A little light filtered in from the street. I could see from the buzzers and mailboxes that there were two apartments on each of the three floors. Third-floor rear shouldnt be all that hard to find.

  We gave our eyes time to get accustomed to the dim light, then found the stairs and climbed the two flights. The building may have been abandoned but that didnt mean it was empty. Light seeped from under the front and rear doors on the second floor, and someone had either cooked an Italian meal or ordered in a pizza. The smell was there, along with the smells of mice and urine. There was also what I took at first for conversation, but then they cut to a commercial and I realized it was a radio or TV set.

  There was more light on the top floor. The front apartment was dark and silent, but the door of the rear apartment was ajar, and light poured through the inch-wide gap. There was music playing at low volume, too, something with an insistent beat.

  "Reggae," TJ murmured. "He supposed to be from the islands?"

  I approached the door, listened, and heard nothing but the music. I weighed my options, then knocked on the door. No answer. I knocked again, a little louder.

  "Yes, come on in," a man said. "You can see it is open. "

  I pushed the door open and walked in, TJ right behind me. A slender dark-skinned man rose to his feet from a broken-do
wn easy chair. He had an egg-shaped head topped with short hair and a button nose over a pencil-line mustache. He was wearing a Georgetown University sweatshirt and powder-blue double-pleated slacks.

  "I fell asleep," he explained, "listening to the music. Who the hell are you? What are you doing in my house?"

  He came across as more curious than outraged. The accent may have had something to do with it. He would have sounded West Indian even without the background music.

  I said, "If youre Chilton Purvis, then Im the man youve been hoping to see. "

  "Tell me more," he said. "And tell me who is your darker companion. Can he be your shadow?"

  "Hes a witness," I said. "Hes here to make sure I do what Im supposed to do. "

  "And what are you supposed to do, mon?"

  "Im supposed to give you two thousand dollars. "

  His face lit up, his teeth gleaming in the light from a battery-operated lantern. "Then you are indeed the mon I hope to see! Close the door, sit down, make yourselves comfortable. "

  That was easier said than done. The room was squalid, with crackled plaster and water-stained walls. There was a mattress on the floor, with a couple of red plastic milk crates stacked beside it. The only chair was the one hed recently vacated. TJ did draw the door shut, or as close to shut as it went, but we stayed on our feet.

  "So they saw the rightness of my position," Chilton Purvis said. "And quite proper, too! I went where I was supposed to go, I did what I was supposed to do. Did I leave the mon alive? No. Did I leave a trail? No. How am I supposed to know there is another mon? Nobody tells me. There is one mon in the restaurant who fits the description. I do my job. I put him down. And they do not wish to pay me?"

  "But youre going to get paid," I said.

  "Yes! And that is excellent news, the most excellent news. Give me the money and we will smoke some herb, if that is to your liking. But the money, before anything else. "

  "First youll have to tell me who hired you. "

  He looked at me, and it was like what Elaine said about Michael Moriarty. You could see him think.

  "If you do not know," he began, and stopped, and thought some more.

  "They wouldnt pay you," I said. "But I will. "

  "You are the mon. "

  "Im not the police, if thats what you mean. "

  "I know you are not the police," he said, as if that much was obvious. For the longest time people looked at me and knew I was a policeman. Now this one looked at me and knew I was not. "You," he said, "are the mon I was supposed to kill. " His smile was sudden, and very wide. "And now you bring me money!"

  "The world is a curious place. "

  "The world is strange, mon, and every day more strange. You pay me the money to point my finger at the mon who paid me to kill you. I say that is very strange!"

  "But its not a bad deal," I said. "You get your money. "

 
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