Hope to die, p.29
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       Hope to Die, p.29

         Part #15 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 29

 

  He mustnt stand here, staring in the window. They cant see him, but whats the point of drawing attention from anyone? He walks fifty yards south on Broadway, where theres a bus stop. No one thinks youre loitering when you do so at a bus stop.

  And it provides a fine view of the coffee shop entrance.

  His own fault, but it wasnt just simple carelessness. Because hed found himself itching to tie off that loose end, and hed been suspicious of his motives. His hand remembers the way the gun had bucked in it, remembers gripping the knife, cutting that throat with surgical precision. And his whole being remembers the way it felt.

  Thrilling?

  Well, perhaps. But he doesnt much care for the word. Roller-coaster rides are thrilling. Drugs are thrilling. Breaking rules is thrilling.

  What hed done was… what?

  Satisfying?

  Whatever you called it, he had wanted more of it. And so hed overruled the impulse to tie off this loose end, talked himself out of it on the grounds that hed be running a risk to no real purpose.

  Instead, hed run a greater risk by leaving the deed undone.

  There is a lesson here, he thinks, if one can but find it. There is almost certainly an important underlying principle. He will have to think about it.

  Whats the best that can happen?

  Shes in there, sitting with them (whoever they are, Mr. Salt and Mr. Pepper, whatever it is they really want). Well, the best thing that can happen is that the only questions they think to ask lead to answers that have nothing to do with him. In which case the only harm done by this meeting in this dubious restaurant will be to their respective digestive tracts.

  Conversely, whats the worst that can happen?

  The worst that can happen is not that dire. She can tell them she met with a man named Arden Brill. Thats the name he gave her, and it is manifestly not his own. If they look for Arden Brill, they will search in vain.

  Still, it was incredibly stupid to give her that name. Why not John Smith, for Gods sake? Why not John Doe or Richard Roe, or, hell, anything properly anonymous and uninformative? He was being cute, calling himself Arden Brill, and to what purpose? Making little jokes only he himself could appreciate? That was ego in action, setting traps into which he alone could fall.

  Stupid.

  God, he loathes and detests stupidity! He finds it annoying in others, though unquestionably useful at times. But he just plain hates it in himself.

  She can tell them his name, Arden Brills name. She can furnish a description of Arden Brill. She cant provide a photograph of him, cant supply anything his fingertips have touched. He never spilled any DNA anywhere near her- though, he has to admit, shes physically attractive, and that aching vulnerability adds to the strength of the attraction.

  Not that it should make any difference. Hes not going to make love to her. He doesnt want to, and even if he did, its not something he would permit himself to do. He would not be quite that stupid, thanks all the same.

  What he is going to do- and the sooner the better- is kill her. And why on earth should it be any more satisfying to kill a pretty woman than a plain one?

  But it is. He knows it, knows it in his tingling hands, knows it in his surging blood.

  Knows it in his bones.

  The two men are first to leave. Side by side, youth and age, black and white, they walk uptown on Broadway, headed away from him, looking like a poster for National Brotherhood Week. Well? Shall he follow them?

  No, his business is with Lia.

  Shall he seize the moment? Stride into the restaurant, do a plausible double-take. Lia, my goodness, Ive never seen you in here before. Do you have time for a cup of coffee? No? Well, which way are you headed? Ill walk with you…

  No, too visible. People around, and someone might remember something. Theres no Bierman handy to take the blame. This is going to be murder by person or persons unknown, so best to stay unknown, and out of sight.

  Anyway, shes leaving the restaurant. Now what? Shall he follow her?

  Without his willing it, his hand moves to his throat, touches the disc of mottled pink stone. So smooth, so cool to the touch. Different minerals have special properties, thats why men have chosen to wear them since time immemorial. Its not just for adornment. Amethyst is supposed to make you immortal, especially if you dissolve it in brandy and drink it. He doesnt know the traditional properties of rhodochrosite, but it seems- seems - to clarify thought.

  Because its suddenly all quite clear to him. Shes bound for home. She may stop somewhere en route, may go home directly. It doesnt matter. He neednt follow her if he knows where shes headed.

  First, he has to do something about his car. It wont do to leave it parked where it is, across the street from the Hollander house. And hed better figure out just what hes going to do about Lia Parkman, and what tools the job will require.

  How they met:

  Excuse me, but arent you Lia Parkman?

  Yes, and youre-

  Arden Brill. You dont know me, theres no reason why you should know me. But… well, let me plunge right in. Someone told me youre related to the writer Susan Hollander.

  Shes my aunt.

  By marriage, or…?

  My mother is her sister.

  And you, uh, you know her?

  Well, sure. Shes my aunt.

  Im sorry, I must be coming off as very silly. You see, I happen to think shes an outstanding writer. One of the best of her generation. As a matter of fact…

  Yes?

  Well, shes the subject of my dissertation.

  Youre doing your masters on her?

  A doctoral dissertation, actually.

  Oh, a doctorate. Im impressed.

  Im the one whos impressed. Susan Hollanders niece. Could I buy you a cup of coffee? Because I have a million questions Im dying to ask you.

  Well, sure. And if you want…

  Yes?

  Well, I could probably introduce you, and-

  No, youre wonderful to offer, but I dont think that would be a good idea.

  Oh.

  Academic distance and all that. I think Id be compromising my objectivity if I actually met the woman. But to meet her niece, I think that lies well within the bounds of the permissible.

  I see.

  Especially when the niece in question is so charming…

  She lives on Claremont near La Salle, in an apartment house purchased years ago by the university for student housing. She shares a fourth-floor apartment with three other female students. Theres a large living room with a Pullman kitchen, and a long hallway with four small bedrooms off it, and a bathroom at the end of it.

  When he moved the car, he went into his office and got a ring of keys from his desk. There are three keys on the ring and they are all shiny. One of them fits the front door of the house on West Seventy-fourth Street, and it has been used only once since he had it made. The others, made the same day by the same locksmith, have not been used at all, so he cant be entirely certain that they will work.

  He waits until theres no one around, then picks one of the keys and tries it in the front door. It works perfectly. He turns the key and walks in, crosses the bare lobby.

  Theres an elevator, but he passes it up and takes the stairs to the fourth floor, walks the length of an empty hallway to the door he knows is hers. He puts his ear to the door, listens, hears nothing.

  Ring the bell?

  No.

  He slips the remaining key in the lock, turns it slowly, eases the door open. The living room is empty, but theres music playing behind closed doors elsewhere in the apartment. He walks quickly down the hall to the last door before the bathroom. He listens, hears talking within.

  The doors closed, but not shut tight. He nudges it open an inch or so. Shes on the phone, and, incredibly, he hears her say his name.

  Well, not his name. Arden Brills name.

  "You have the number if you want to call me
. Im sorry I didnt tell you this before but I had to think about it. Im sure its nothing and I dont want to make trouble for anybody but I thought you should know. I just thought- "

  And she stops, just like that. She cant see him, but did he unwittingly make a noise? Has she somehow sensed his presence?

  He pushes the door open.

  Her reaction is remarkable- mouth wide open, eyes big as saucers, hands rising of their own accord, about tit-high, palms out, as if to ward him off.

  Her cell phones on the dresser top, the mouthpiece shut. The answering tape ran out, he realizes. Thats why she stopped herself in midsentence. When the machine cut out, she broke the connection.

  "Lia!" he says, refusing to react to her reaction, letting her know how glad he is to see her, taking it for granted shes just as delighted to see him. "Lia, whereve you been? Ive been trying to reach you. "

  He keeps talking as he strides across the room toward her, and she cant say anything, cant do anything, because it would mean interrupting him in the middle of a sentence, and how can a well-brought-up girl like Lia do anything of the sort? Besides, shes hypnotized, frozen, shes the bird and hes the snake, and its just delicious looking at her and knowing that she knows that she doesnt have a chance.

  He has the little Mace canister in his hand. Its the size of a disposable lighter, and hes had it for weeks, hed been ready to use it on Jason Bierman, but it hadnt been necessary. It probably isnt necessary now, but she might try to scratch him, she might cry out, and why take the chance? Besides, hed really like to see just how this stuff works. Hes read descriptions, but he has never seen it in action.

  He presses the little button, hits her smack in the face with the spray.

  And it puts her right on the ground. Its remarkable, really. Shes rolling on the floor, her eyes clenched shut, her hands to her face, rubbing her eyes with the heels of her hands-

  He feels a great surge of emotion. It takes him by surprise, just as the Mace took her, and the effect is almost as dramatic. He has all of this feeling for her, a feeling rather like love, or, more accurately, like what he imagines love must be like.

  Eyes welling with tears, he drops to his knees and reaches for her.

  The tricky part is getting her into the bathroom. Its only steps away, but someone could be out there in the hall, could see him carrying her. He cant run that risk.

  Easier to finish her in her room. Tear strips from a bedsheet, fasten a noose, hang her from an overhead pipe. Shes despondent, sad about her aunts death. Why not?

  Or just smash her skull with the lamp base. Someone broke in, robbed her, killed her.

  But hes already put her to sleep with a choke hold, already cracked the seal on the pint of vodka and forced a few ounces down her throat.

  Stay with the plan, he tells himself.

  He opens her door, checks the hallway. He steps out alone, knocks on the closed bathroom door, opens it when theres no response. The room is empty.

  He comes back for her. Using a handkerchief, he wipes down the room for fingerprints. That done, he gets her to her feet, checks the hallway again, then half-drags, half-carries her out of her room and into the bathroom. As soon as theyre inside he closes and locks the door.

  He puts the stopper in the tub, turns the faucets. While the water runs he stretches her out on the cold tile floor, kneels beside her. He undresses her, strips her to her skin, delighted as her slender body reveals itself to him. Like a Christmas present, he thinks, and sees himself as a willful child, smashing and discarding his toy before he or anyone else has a chance to play with it.

  He smiles at the metaphor.

  When she is naked and the tub full to a depth of about ten inches, he slips one arm under her thighs and the other under her shoulders and lifts, then lowers her into the tub. He grabs her blond hair with one hand, puts the other on her chest, his fingers spread out so that he is touching both her small breasts at once. He presses down, holding her head under water.

 
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