Everybody dies, p.29
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       Everybody Dies, p.29

         Part #14 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 29

 

  "Then I would say it is a good deal. A fine deal. "

  "Just tell me who hired you," I said, "and where I can find him, and youll get paid. "

  "You have brought the money?"

  "Ive brought the money. "

  "Ah," he said. "I can give you this mons name. Would that be good?"

  "Yes. "

  "I wrote it down," he said. "On a slip of paper, along with his address. You want that as well? His address?"

  "That would be useful. "

  "Also a phone number. Just let me see where I put that slip of paper. " He fumbled in the topmost milk crate alongside the bed, his back to me, then spun around suddenly, a gun in his hand. The first two shots he snapped off went wide but the third and fourth hit me, one in the center of the chest, the other a few inches below and to the right.

  Id had my jacket unzipped, and I guess I must have sensed something, because I had my gun in my hand by the time he started shooting and I was squeezing the trigger and returning fire about the same time I got hit. I was wearing the Kevlar vest, of course, and its manufacturer would have been proud of it. The slugs didnt penetrate. This is not to say they bounced off like spitballs off an elephant. The effect was like getting punched with considerable force by someone with tiny hands. It didnt feel good, but knowing that it had worked, that the vest had stopped the bullets, felt wonderful.

  He wasnt wearing a vest. I fired twice and both bullets went home, one high on the right side of his chest, the other in the solar plexus two inches north of his navel. He threw up his hands when the bullets hit him and the gun went flying. He staggered, doing the little dance they do when they score a touchdown, and then his feet went out from under him and he sat down hard.

  "You shot me," he said.

  I caught my breath and went over and knelt next to him. "You shot me," I said.

  "It did me no good. Bulletproof vest, yes? A. 22 will not penetrate. Head shots! That is what one must have. But when you are forced to hurry your shot…"

  "Why shoot me in the first place?"

  "But that was my job!" He might have been explaining it to a child. "I try, I fail. Not my fault, but still. Then you come in my door and I have another chance. If I kill you they will pay me my two thousand dollars!"

  "But I was going to give you the two thousand. "

  "Be serious, mon. How I know you will give me the money? All I got to do is shoot you. That way I make sure. I take the money off your corpse, and I collect the money that they owe me. " He winced as pain gripped him, and blood seeped from his wounds. "Besides, you think I know their names? You hire a killer, you do not tell him your name. Not unless you are a crazy mon!"

  "And you didnt have a phone number for them?"

  "What you think?" He winced again and his eyes rolled. "Im shot bad, mon. You got to get me to a hospital. "

  I got the sketches from my wallet, unfolded them, showed him the one of the slugger. "Take a look," I said. "Have you seen this man before? Is he one of them?"

  "Yes, he is one. Him I know, but not his name. Now you must get me to the hospital. "

  I wondered if hed even looked at the sketch. I showed him the other one. "And this man?"

  "Yes! Him too! Both of them, they are the men who hired me, said come shoot this mon when we tell you. "

  "Youre useless," I told him. "If I showed you a hundred-dollar bill youd swear Ben Franklin hired you. "

  I put the sketches away. He said, "I am hurting bad, mon. Now you take me to the hospital?"

  I looked at him for a moment, and then I got to my feet. "No," I said.

  "No! What are you telling me, mon?"

  "You son of a bitch," I said. "You just tried to kill me and now you expect me to save your life? You killed a friend of mine, you son of a bitch. "

  "What are you going to do with me?"

  "Im going to leave you here in your blood. "

  "But I will die!"

  "Good," I said. "You can be on the list. "

  "You would leave me to die?"

  "Why not?"

  "Fuck you, mon! You hear what Im saying to you? Fuck your mother and fuck you!"

  "Well, fuck you too. "

  "Fuck you! I hope you die!"

  "Everybody dies," I said. "So fuck you. "

  I turned at a sound. Like a cough, but not a cough.

  TJ was down, his back against the wall. His skin was gray, his face twisted in pain. He had both hands pressed to his left thigh, and blood, nearly black in that light, seeped between his splayed fingers.

  "Direct pressure on the wound," I said. Id torn the pocket off my shirt, and now I placed his fingers on the wad Id made of it. "Can you hold it there good and tight?"

  "Think so. "

  "Youre not gushing blood," I said. "It didnt hit an artery. How do you feel?"

  "Hurts. "

  "Try to hang on," I said. "Try to keep pressure on the wound. "

  "Kay. "

  I took a quick tour around the room, running the sleeve of my jacket over any surfaces where we might have left prints. It didnt seem to me wed touched anything. The squalid little room didnt invite touching.

  Chilton Purvis lay where hed fallen. There was a pink froth bubbling out of the corner of his mouth, and I guessed that one bullet had hit a lung. His eyes stared accusingly at me and his lips worked but no words got past them.

  His gun had caromed off a wall and landed on top of his mattress. I thought, Thats the gun that killed Jim. But of course it wasnt, hed dropped that one at the scene. I left this one where it lay, left the little portable radio playing reggae, left everything where it was, including Chilton Purvis. I knelt down, got one hand under TJs legs and the other beneath the small of his back, and got him up over my shoulder in a firemans carry.

  "Keep the pressure on the wound," I said.

  "We goin?"

  "Unless you like it here. "

  We just leavin him?"

  "Ones all I can carry," I said.

  I made it down the stairs and onto the street. Light still showed under the doors of some of the other apartments, but none of the doors flew open, and no one rushed out to see what all the shooting was about. I guess you learn to keep a damper on your curiosity when youre living in an abandoned building.

  We werent going to find a cab cruising on Tapscott Street. I headed for East New York Avenue, a block and a half away, but at the corner of Sutter I caught sight of a gypsy cab and hollered at it.

  The car was an old Ford, the driver a Bangladeshi. TJ was at my side when the cab pulled up to us, keeping all his weight on the uninjured leg, maintaining pressure on the wound. I had an arm around him to steady him as I reached for the cab door with the other hand.

  "What is the matter with that man?" the driver demanded. "Is he sick?"

  "I have to get him to a doctor," I said, and lifted TJ into the back seat and crawled in after him. "I want to go to Manhattan, to Fifty-seventh Street and Ninth Avenue. The best way to go- "

  "But look at him! He is injured. Look! He is bleeding!"

  "Yes, and youre wasting time. "

  "This is impossible," he said. "I cannot have this man bleeding in my cab. It will stain the upholstery. It is impossible. "

  "Ill give you a hundred dollars to drive us to Manhattan," I said. I showed him the gun. "Or Ill shoot you in the head and drive us there myself. You decide. "

  I guess he believed Id do it, and for all I know he was right. He put the car in gear and pulled away from the curb. I told him to take the Manhattan Bridge.

  We were on Flatbush Avenue crossing Atlantic when he said, "How did he hurt himself, your friend?"

  "He cut himself shaving. "

  "I think he was shot, yes?"

  "And if he was?"

  "He should be in a hospital. "

  "Thats where were going. "

  "There is a hospital there?"

  Roosevelt is at Tenth and Fifty-eighth, but that wasnt where we w
ere going. "A private hospital," I said.

  "Sir, there are hospitals in Brooklyn. There is Methodist Hospital quite near here, there is Brooklyn Jewish. "

  "Just go where I said. "

  "Yes, sir. Sir, you will try to keep the blood to a minimum? The cab is my wifes brothers, it does not belong to me. "

  I got out a hundred-dollar bill and passed it to him. "Just so you know youre getting this," I said.

  "Oh, thank you, sir. Some people, they say they will pay extra, you know, and then they do not. Thank you, sir. "

  "If there is any blood on the seat, that should pay for cleaning it. "

  "Most certainly, sir. "

  I had my fingers on top of TJs and kept pressure on the wound. I felt his grip slacken as I took over. He was in shock, and that can be as dangerous as the wound itself. I tried to remember what you did for shock victims. Elevate the feet, I seemed to recall, and keep the patient warm. I didnt see how I could manage either of those things for the time being.

  The driver was right, he belonged in a hospital, and I wondered if I had the right to keep him away from them. Bellevue was probably tops for gunshot trauma, and we were on the bridge approach now. Easy enough to redirect the driver to First Avenue and Twenty-fifth.

  For that matter, Roosevelts ER was first-rate, and closer to home. And I could delay the decision until we got uptown.

  I managed to delay it all the way to the Parc Vend?me. When the cab pulled up in front of our entrance I gave him a second $100. "This is so you can forget all about us," I told him.

  "You are very generous, sir. I assure you, I have no memory at all. Can I help you with your friend?"

  "Ive got him. Just hold the door. "

  "Certainly. And sir?" I turned. "My card. Call me anytime, any hour, day or night. Anytime, sir!"

  The doctor was a spare, trim gentleman with perfect posture. His hair and mustache were white but his eyebrows were still dark. He came out of the bedroom carrying his disposable Pliofilm gloves and some other sickroom debris, and Elaine pointed him to a wastebasket.

  "Wait now," he said, and fished around in the basket. He straightened up, holding a chunk of lead between his thumb and forefinger. "The young man may want this," he said. "For a souvenir. "

  Elaine took it, weighed it on her palm. "Its not very big," she said.

  "No, and he can be grateful for that. A larger bullet would have done more damage. If youre going to get shot, always go for small caliber and low muzzle velocity. A BB from an air rifle would be best, but they always seem to find their way into childrens eyes. "

  Elaine had known whom to call, as Id guessed she would. What we needed was a doctor who wouldnt insist on moving TJ to a hospital, a doctor prepared to ignore the regulation requiring him to report all gunshot wounds to the authorities. I knew that Mick had a tame physician, if he was still alive since he patched up Tom Heaney a few years back, and if a few more years on the booze had left him with hands still capable of keeping a grip on his forceps and scalpel. But Micks doctor was upstate. I needed somebody here in the city.

 
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