A drop of the hard stuff, p.29
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       A Drop of the Hard Stuff, p.29

         Part #17 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
Page 29

  “Look, I always admired your hair. ”

  “And you wish I hadn’t cut it. ”

  “No,” I said. “I actually think I like it better now. But I liked it fine before. ”

  “Men all think they like long hair,” she said, “but it’s a pain in the ass to take care of, and you know what else?”


  “It gets in your mouth when you fuck. Those things we haven’t done yet. Should we shower first?”

  I showered later, once I’d returned to my hotel. After our second session she’d announced that she was too tired to go anywhere, but that we ought to eat something, and what if she made us some sandwiches? I said that sounded fine, and she came back with a couple of sandwiches, liverwurst on dark rye, and a bag of corn chips made from organically grown blue corn.

  “I’m starting to fade,” she said. “It’s been a busy day. ”

  “I’ll say. ”

  “You’re welcome to stay over. ”

  But I knew better. I got dressed and she walked me to the door. “You’re a sweet man,” she said. “I’m glad we did this. ”

  It was cooler out, and I thought I’d take a bus straight down Columbus. But I got itchy standing around waiting for the bus to come, and I started walking, and was halfway home by the time a bus came along. I could have caught it, but I let it go and walked the rest of the way home. Sometimes walking is a good way to get some thinking done, but at other times it’s a handy alternative to thinking, and as long as I kept putting one foot in front of the other I didn’t have to turn over any rocks and see what was under them.

  There were messages at the hotel desk, as I thought there would be. Two calls, Jan and Greg. I looked at my watch and decided it was too late to call either of them. I went upstairs, and when I got out of the shower I picked up the phone and called Greg.

  “No luck,” he said.

  “He’d thrown out Jack’s things?”

  “No, he bundled them up, just the way he was supposed to. Then just the other day a policeman showed up to collect them. Is that usual?”

  Not when they’ve essentially decided to sign off on the case. “Maybe they’ve got a lead,” I said. “Whoever picked it up would have signed for it. Was it Redmond?”

  “It never occurred to me to ask. ”

  “I don’t suppose it matters,” I said. “Maybe I’ll give him a call and see what I can find out. ”

  I rang off, got in bed. Maybe I’d call Redmond, I thought, and maybe I wouldn’t. I couldn’t see that it made much difference either way.


  THEY HAD A STORY in the paper the other day,” Jim said. “There’s this new Chinatown out in Flushing. You take the Shea Stadium train clear to the end of the line. Main Street, Flushing—that’s the name of the stop. And there’s blocks of Chinese restaurants with different cuisines from the different sections of China. Stuff you wouldn’t get here. ”

  “Stir-fried panda,” I suggested.

  “Including parts of the panda it would never occur to you to eat. So I was thinking we really ought to get out there, just walk into the first restaurant that looks good and see what they serve us. ”

  “Good idea. ”

  He refilled our tea cups. “And then I thought, Hell, who am I kidding? The old established Chinatown’s ten minutes away on the A Train, and we never get there, so why would we chase out to Flushing?”

  “We’re creatures of habit. ”

  “They wrote up this Taiwanese restaurant, not two blocks from the subway stop. It sounded pretty good, I have to say. And yet we’ll never get there. ” He took a bite, chewed, swallowed. “Creatures of habit,” he said. “You’re in the habit of getting laid on Saturday night, and if one woman disappears you just go find yourself another. ”

  “I didn’t think of it that way. ”

  “No, I don’t suppose you did. Donna, huh? Fine-looking woman. ”

  “She cut her hair. ”

  “So you said. But you didn’t let that stop you, did you?”

  We were two of the seven customers at the Lucky Peony, a recent arrival on Eighth Avenue and Fifty-first Street. Until I walked over there to meet Jim, I hadn’t left my room all day, and the sesame noodles were my first nourishment since last night’s liverwurst sandwich.

  And Jim, when he called to pick a time and place for our Sunday dinner, was the first person I spoke to. I didn’t say much, but those few words were the only ones that passed my lips.

  I never made a conscious decision to spend the day walled off from the world. I kept thinking I’d go out for breakfast in a few minutes, and held on to the thought after I’d changed the meal’s name to lunch.

  Jan and I generally went to a Sunday morning meeting in SoHo, and I knew I wasn’t going to show up there, but there were plenty of other meetings available, all over the city and all through the day, and I thought I’d drop in on one of them. I checked my meeting book, and worked out a plan that would let me fit in a couple of meetings, or even three if I pushed it.

  And didn’t go to any of them.

  Instead I stayed in my room. I had the television set on more often than not, switching back and forth between a football game and a golf tournament, sometimes caught up in what I was watching, sometimes not.

  I thought of phone calls I could make, and didn’t make them. At one point I remembered the mysterious Mark who’d called a couple of days ago and left a number, which I’d wound up tossing in the wastebasket. I wondered who it was, since I’d determined it wasn’t Motorcycle Mark, and I looked in the basket, but it was gone. As one of the hotel’s permanent residents, I get weekly maid service—my bed made with clean linen, my bathroom cleaned, my carpet vacuumed, my wastebasket emptied. My room got this treatment every Saturday, so I was a day late as far as Mark’s number was concerned, but that was all right, because I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have called him anyway.

  My phone rang a couple of times. But the calls came after I’d already spoken with Jim, and there was nobody I wanted to talk to, so I let it ring. If it was important they’d leave messages, and I could collect them on my way to dinner. If I remembered to check.

  “Afterward,” I said, “I walked all the way home. ”

  “Whistling a happy tune?”

  “You know what ran through my mind? Jesus, am I going to have this woman around my neck for the rest of my life?”

  “Because how could she possibly let a fine fellow like you get away?”

  “Yeah, right. ”

  “Here’s what happened,” he said. “Just so you know. Donna just got out of a relationship she never should have gotten into in the first place. So she did two things to prove she was done with it. She got her hair cut and she got herself laid. And, to make sure she didn’t wind up back where she started, she picked somebody unavailable. ”

  “Because of Jan. But nothing would have happened if Jan hadn’t broken our date. That’s when Donna got interested. ”

  “Before that she was just grabbing your arm out of friendship. ”

  I had to think about that.

  “Look,” he said, “she liked you. She wanted to go to bed with you. Then she gave you a sandwich and sent you home. ”

  “She said I could stay. ”

  “ ‘Darling, please stay, and in the morning we’ll go out for brunch, and then we’ll come back here and make love some more. ’ Is that how she put it?”

  “Not exactly. ”

  “The message you got, and the one she intended to give, was you could stay if you wanted, but she’d just as soon you didn’t. Does that sound about right?”

  “She was probably thinking, Am I gonna have this guy hanging around for the rest of my life?”

  “Well, she’s an alcoholic, the same way you are. And she just got away from the Pride of Bensonhurst, so yeah, I suspect she was thinking something along those lines. But brighten up, will you? Here’s t
his great-looking woman with a nice apartment, and you’re the one she picked to share her canopy bed. ”

  “How’d you know it was a canopy bed?”

  “Jesus, who are you, Lieutenant Columbo? You described it. ”

  “Oh. ”

  “And the Oriental rug, and the portrait over the marble fireplace. ”

  “It was a landscape. ”

  “Thanks for clearing that up. She didn’t have to pick you, you know. She could have dragged Richard upstairs. ”

  “Richard’s gay. ”

  “You think that would have stopped her?”


  “All right, I’ll grant that you’re a little more available than Richard, and a little more suitable. You’re not in love with her, are you?”

  “With Donna? No. I like her, but—”

  “No fantasies about moving in?”

  “No. ”

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