All the flowers are dyin.., p.30
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       All the Flowers Are Dying, p.30

         Part #16 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 30

 

  “Which was this?”

  “It was somewhere in the middle, or at least that’s what it felt like, but it was distinctly creepy. It wasn’t anything he did, just the way he looked at me. ” A light came into her eyes, and she shuddered. “He wanted to kill me,” she said. “There was a moment there when he was considering something, I could see it in his eyes, and I thought it was, you know, making a pass. But he had the paper knife in his hand, and he was thinking about stabbing me with it. ”

  Sussman told her she couldn’t know that.

  “Fine,” she said. “So don’t write it down. But that’s what he was doing. You think he just happened to buy the murder weapon from somebody who just happened to be the victim’s best friend?”

  “No, I didn’t say that. ”

  “He was stalking you,” I said.

  “Yes, that’s exactly what he was doing. ”

  “Had you seen him before?”

  “I don’t think so. It’s possible. He was, well, pretty ordinary looking. ”

  “But you can picture him in your mind?”

  “I think so. You want me to sit down with a police artist?”

  “If you don’t mind,” Sussman said, and she looked at him like he was crazy. Mind? Why should she mind?

  The artist was of the new breed. He never picked up a pencil, just sat at a computer terminal loaded with a dedicated software program that had made sketches obsolete. He worked with her the same way a more traditional police artist would have worked, asking her were the eyebrows bushier, was there more definition in the jawline, and morphing the onscreen image accordingly. She sat next to him while he worked, answering his questions, occasionally reaching out to touch an area on the screen that seemed to her not to be right. A couple of us stood around watching and kept our mouths shut while the process continued.

  When she decided that was as close as they were going to get, he saved the image and printed out half a dozen copies, and we each took one and stared long and hard at it. I certainly couldn’t recognize the son of a bitch. He looked like everybody and nobody.

  One of the cops said, “There must be a million guys out there look like this. ”

  “Not a million,” Sussman said, “but I know what you mean. ”

  “He didn’t have any strong features,” Elaine said. “Or especially weak ones, either. There was something about his eyes, but I think that was a matter of the look in them, and how are you going to get that out of a computer?”

  “But the sketch resembles him?”

  She frowned. “It doesn’t not resemble him,” she said.

  “Meaning what exactly?”

  “I don’t know. Maybe I didn’t use my eyes right, maybe I didn’t want to look at him. Maybe all I saw was the mustache, and I locked in on that and didn’t pay enough attention to the rest of his face. ”

  A cop said, “It suits him, the mustache. I mean, you can see why he’d grow one. Makes his face look a little less generic. ”

  “I say thank God for the mustache,” Sussman said, “because we’re gonna braid a rope out of it and hang him with it. You did really well, Mrs. Scudder. ”

  “Elaine,” she said.

  “Elaine, then. You did good work. The sketch may look, I don’t know, sketchy, to you, but you know how to use your eyes, and my guess is it’s closer than you think. You should see some of the sketches people come up with. We had this guy, committed a string of rapes in and around the Morris Park section of the Bronx. They put three sketches of him on the news, all in a row, and I swear you thought you were looking at three different guys. They didn’t even look like brothers. ”

  “They damn well looked like brothers,” one of the cops said.

  “I’m gonna file on you,” Sussman told him. “Have you cited for racial insensitivity. I suppose you think you can get away with saying shit like that just because you’re black. They didn’t look like members of the same family, is that better?”

  “I say arrest all three of them,” someone else said. “How can you go wrong?”

  21

  The Canarsie line runs east from Eighth Avenue and Fourteenth Street to the Rockaway Parkway stop at the corner of Rockaway and Glenwood, in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn. Officially it’s the L train. Not too long ago it was the LL, or Double-L. Then someone in a position of authority (though not, I shouldn’t think, a whole lot of authority) decided to do away with all the double letters. The GG train became the G and the LL became the L. Meanwhile the AA became the K, because there already was an A, and eventually disappeared entirely. I don’t know who makes these decisions, or what he could possibly do for a living if he ever lost that job.

  I don’t often have occasion to take the L, and when I do I invariably think of my father, who died riding it. He stood on the platform between two cars, probably to sneak a smoke, and he fell, and the wheels passed over him. He was probably drunk when it happened, so you could blame the drink for it, or the tobacco, if you wanted to stretch a point. When I was a boy, of course, I blamed the train.

  The L train runs along Fourteenth Street and under the East River into Brooklyn. Eventually it comes up above ground and runs as an elevated line, as do most trains when they reach the outer boroughs, but we didn’t stay on it that long. We got off at the first stop in Brooklyn, which is Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg. We walked north on Bedford past several numbered streets until we came to an attractive three-story house in a row of attractive three-story houses. Once they’d all been covered up with asphalt or aluminum siding, but in recent years they’d all been restored, and Elaine thought they were adorable and the whole neighborhood charming.

  “I could live here,” she said.

  She hadn’t been out here before. I had, though not recently, and I was able to pick out Ray and Bitsy’s house without having to look up the number in my book. Ray must have seen us coming; the door opened before I could knock on it, and as we followed him into the living room his wife, Bitsy, emerged from the kitchen with a plate of cookies and a carafe of coffee. It was Puerto Rican coffee, dark and rich, and I’d had a yen for a cup ever since I saw the Café Bustelo sign in the shop window on Amsterdam Avenue.

  Ray told us we were both looking terrific, and Elaine asked about their kids, and Elaine and I each took a cookie, although she could only manage a bite of hers. Ray said, “Well, we could sit and talk for hours, but I guess we should get down to it, huh?” and Elaine nodded and stood up and went to the room on the third floor where he had his studio.

  I sat down and reached for another cookie, and Bitsy said, “There’s more in the kitchen. First time I tried this recipe. I have to say I think they came out pretty good, and they couldn’t be simpler to make. That coffee okay?”

  “It’s a lot more than okay. ”

  “Matt? Is she all right?”

  “Her best friend was killed yesterday. ”

  “Aw, gee, that’s terrible. But, you know, I’m kind of relieved to hear it, in a way, because I was afraid, you know, that she might be ill. ”

  “When she feels something it shows in her face. ”

  “Well, besides that. Her energy’s way off. Like her aura’s a mess. ”

  “You can see people’s auras?”

  “Not exactly see,” she said. “It’s more I get a feeling. My mother was the same way. I don’t know, it’s hard to explain. Maybe it’s a load of crap. But losing a best friend, and you say she was murdered? That would do it, all right. That’s a terrible thing. ”

  We had turned right when we left the stationhouse, but before we’d gone ten steps she stopped in her tracks and said, “Ray. ” We know a few Rays, including Ray Gruliow, whose house is right there in the Sixth Precinct, but I didn’t need a last name to know which one she meant.

  Ray Galindez was a kid from El Barrio who became a cop and then discovered his true calling when they found out he could draw and made a police artist out of him. The IdentiKit software did
n’t take his job away, because they’d have been happy to train him to use it, but it took the joy out of it for him.

  Elaine thought his ability amounted to far more than a knack or a job skill, that he was in fact a talented artist who possessed the ability to bond with his subjects and channel their visions into black-and-white reality. Working together, the two of them had produced a portrait of her long-dead father, and she went on to get him assignments drawing other people’s dead relatives, including those of a Holocaust survivor who’d lost her whole family in the camps. It had been a remarkably cathartic experience for Elaine, who’d called the process the equivalent of a year or two of therapy. I don’t know what it was like for the others who tried it, but nobody ever asked for a refund.

  Because Elaine took him seriously, Ray began to take his art seriously himself. She showed his work at her shop, sold a few pieces, and managed to get a neighborhood paper, the Chelsea-Clinton News, to run a review. That got him some more work, and with Bitsy’s encouragement he quit the NYPD and set up shop as an artist. They already had a house they were renovating in Williamsburg, which by then was becoming the ideal place for an artist to live, and he managed to pick up some commercial work that helped pay the mortgage each month. Bitsy, a trained bookkeeper, built a practice in the neighborhood, crunching numbers for people who were better at mixing colors, and that kept the lights and phone on and the freezer stocked, and let her work at home and be a full-time mother in the bargain, with plenty of time for baking cookies.

  The IdentiKit software is pretty decent, and enables anyone with a decent eye and a brief course of instruction to function competently as a police artist. But Ray did something no amount of training or programming could achieve, somehow making his drawing hand function as an extension of his subject’s mind. Elaine wasn’t satisfied with what had come out of the squad room computer, and if there was a way to improve on it, we’d find it in Williamsburg.

  I was thinking about another cookie and telling myself I didn’t really want it when Ray and Elaine came downstairs. “Show Ray what their artist came up with,” she said, and I got out our copy of their sketch and unfolded it. Ray arranged the two sketches side by side on the coffee table, and Elaine said, “You see? All the difference in the world. ”

  That was a stretch. Considered together, the two pictures looked like two different views of the same man. I hadn’t seen the fellow, so I couldn’t say which was a better likeness. Elaine had, and as far as she was concerned there was no comparison.

  “Ray’s drawing looks less generic,” I allowed. “It’s hard to point to anything and say it’s different, but something’s different. ”

  “The affect is different,” Elaine said. “The other one feel’s like something you could put together with an advanced version of that kid’s toy. ”

  “Mr. Potato Head,” Bitsy said.

  “I used to love Mr. Potato Head,” Elaine said. “I couldn’t understand why my mother wanted the potato back so she could fix it for dinner. I started crying. My father took me on his lap and told me there would always be another potato. ”

 
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