All the flowers are dyin.., p.31
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       All the Flowers Are Dying, p.31

         Part #16 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 31

 

  “There always will,” I said.

  “Somehow I used to find that reassuring. This sketch looks just like him, Ray. You know how I can tell? Because I can’t stand to look at it. I get sick to my stomach. ”

  My reaction was less extreme, but I did get a funny feeling looking at Ray’s drawing. He’d managed to convey not just what Elaine had seen in the face but how she felt about it now that she knew what the man had done. It was in the eyes, I guess, but whatever it was there was something chilling about it.

  I said, “He looks familiar. ”

  “Maybe because of the time you spent staring at the other sketch. ”

  “Maybe. ”

  She turned to me. “Are you serious? Do you know him?”

  “The best I can do is say he looks familiar. Maybe I saw him on the street, or in the subway. Him or somebody with a similar look to him. You see so many people in this town, so many glancing images. ”

  “But you’re pretty good at paying attention to what you see. ”

  Cop training, I suppose. I told Ray we’d want to make copies of the drawing, and was there a place in the neighborhood? He gave me a look and went upstairs, drawing in hand, and returned with a folder holding a dozen copies, plus the original pencil sketch in a manila envelope.

  As we prepared to go, he took me aside. “I’ve never seen her like this,” he said. “She’s scared to death of this guy. ”

  We’d have taken the subway home, the L and the A, but Ray called a car service. A good thing about living in Brooklyn is that you can do that, while the downside is that you have to, as you’re not often able to flag a cruising taxi. Our driver was cheerful and talkative, but when we didn’t respond he took the hint and lapsed into a wounded silence. When he pulled up in front of the Parc Vendôme I got out first and looked around before I helped Elaine out of the cab.

  The doorman on duty was one of the regular crew, his service there dating back almost to the year we moved in. I established that no one had come around looking for us since he came on duty, and told him not to send anybody up to our apartment.

  “Unless it’s TJ,” Elaine said.

  I amended my instructions. But no one else, I said, no matter what credentials the person might show. He could have a badge, I said. He could wear a blue uniform. That didn’t mean he was a cop.

  We went upstairs, and I said, “I just realized what I’m doing. I’m like a general, preparing for the previous war. ”

  “Motley,” she said.

  She meant not the garb jesters wear but a man named James Leo Motley, who got past her doorman wearing the uniform and carrying the badge and baton of an auxiliary policeman he’d murdered. He was a cop, so why would the doorman think to turn him away? He’d stabbed Elaine, and she’d come close to dying.

  That was—Christ, it was fifteen years ago, and Motley, who’d menaced us both, had served too to bring us together after about that many years apart. I suppose that meant we owed him something, but I was glad we’d never be able to pay it, grateful beyond measure that the son of a bitch was dead.

  Now we had a new one on our hands, resourceful enough to come in uniform, resourceful enough to think of something else.

  When we got off the elevator I checked the hallway, then left her standing in it while I checked the apartment. I told her she could come in, and once she did I locked the door.

  She said, “I guess I won’t go to the shop again until this is over. ”

  “No kidding. ”

  “I’ve got someone coming tomorrow afternoon. A Russian woman, or maybe she’s Ukrainian. As if it makes a difference. She’s got some icons she’d like to sell, and I wouldn’t mind buying them if they’re authentic. Or even if they’re not, if the price is right and they look good. I could tell her to come here instead. ”

  “You could tell her to come next month. ”

  “Is it going to take that long?”

  “To find this guy? There’s no telling. They could pick him up tonight or he could stay out there for weeks. ”

  “God. You really don’t think it’s safe to have her come here? She’s a little old lady in a babushka. ”

  “The staff here’s pretty good,” I said, “but they’re not Marines guarding an embassy. If the rule’s ironclad, they might get the idea that it’s important. Every time you make an exception, they take the whole business a little less seriously. ”

  She opened her mouth to debate the point, then changed her mind and told me I was right. “If he’s really stalking me,” she said.

  “What else would you call it?”

  “He really did want to kill me. I don’t read minds, but you pick things up. That’s what I was picking up. He had this weapon in his hand, and there I was, and the thought went through his mind. But maybe it was just an opportunity, you know? He had a weapon and I was there, and he’s a nut who likes to kill women, and…”

  “And?”

  “And why was he there? Why my shop? It had to be because I was Monica’s friend, and he had to know that. From something she said, or from following her around. ”

  “Or from following you around, and that’s how he found his way to Monica. ”

  “You think?”

  “I think either’s equally possible. ”

  “I guess. Matt, he wouldn’t come into my shop looking to buy a murder weapon. It’s this little chichi art and antiques shop, not Macho Toys for Butch Boys. The letter opener was probably the only thing in the shop you could use to kill somebody, unless you smothered them with a hooked rug or beat them to death with one of the marble book-ends. He came in because he wanted an up-close look at me. ”

  “That sounds right. ”

  “The hell with the icons. I’m Jewish, you couldn’t even bury them with me. I hate for her to make the trip for nothing, though. ”

  “Where is she, out in Brighton Beach?”

  “No, I think she’s in the neighborhood somewhere, but even so she shouldn’t have to schlep icons there and back. I’ve got her number at the store. ”

  “I’ll go over there later and get it. ”

  “Will you? And I’ll call her and tell her what? That the shop is closed until further notice. You know what you could do while you’re at it—”

  “I’ll put a sign in the window. ”

  “I’ll print it out. I print neater than you. ”

  “You’re a girl. ”

  “That must be it. Who are you calling?”

  “Sussman,” I said. “I want to give him something he doesn’t know he needs, and save myself a trip while I’m at it. ”

  I was waiting at the shop when Sussman got there, a lab technician in tow. I let them in, and the techie gave us each a pair of gloves, then went around collecting fingerprints from all the likely surfaces, concentrating on the glass countertops. I opened the cash box and took out the three twenty-dollar bills it contained and gave them to Sussman. He bagged them and made a point of writing out a receipt for me. I didn’t care about the sixty bucks, which was just as well for all the good the receipt would do. If the past was anything to go by, those bills were destined to spend eternity in an NYPD evidence locker.

  “Now where’s this sketch I’ve heard so much about?” Sussman asked, and I showed it to him. He said it didn’t look a whole lot different to him, and I said he’d see the difference when he looked at the two sketches side by side.

  He said, “This one’s more artistic, I can see that much. It looks like it was drawn by a human being and not by a machine. That wouldn’t necessarily make it a better likeness. ”

  “Elaine says it is. ”

  “Well, she should know. She’s the only one who’s seen the original. Who’d you say did it?”

  I told him a little bit about Ray, and pointed to a framed drawing he’d done. It showed the profile of a middle-aged man sitting in a chair with a book. He was an uncle of Bitsy’s who was finishing out his days in a nursing home in Sant
urce. This was how she remembered him, but she’d told Ray to sell the drawing if anyone wanted to buy it. “We don’t need my whole damn family all over the walls,” she’d said. “You know how many cousins I got?”

  “Guy’s very good,” Sussman said. “What would something like that go for, you happen to know?”

  “I’d have to ask Elaine. ”

  “When this is over,” he said, “I might be interested. The more you look at it, the more you see. I could definitely find wall space for something like that. Plus the fact that he’s a former cop adds something to it for me. I don’t know why it should but it does. She have other work of his?”

  “In back, but—”

  “No, don’t drag ’em out now, just for future reference. I really like that one. ” He turned to the sketch Ray had done a couple of hours ago. “This one too,” he said, “but not to hang on the wall. This one I’d like to hang by the balls. I’ll take this along, call in the other sketch, get this one out there. Even without seeing the original I can tell this one’s a better likeness. You know how? Because you get a sense of the guy. ”

  22

  After they left I checked Elaine’s appointment book. I started to copy down the name and number of a Mrs. Federenko, then simplified things by calling the woman myself. I told her I was calling for Mrs. Scudder, who wouldn’t be able to look at the icons tomorrow because the shop was closed until further notice.

  That’s what it said, too, on the sheet of paper she’d given me, which I taped to the inside of the window. I left a new message on the shop’s answering machine: “Thank you for calling Elaine Scudder Art and Antiques. The shop is closed until further notice. ”

  I pulled the gates shut and headed uptown. When I got to Fifty-seventh Street I called TJ and said I wanted to talk to him. He offered to come down, and I said to stay where he was, that I’d be right up. I crossed the street and went into the lobby of the old hotel. Vinnie was still working there, he’d had that job for thirty years that I knew about, and he just gave me a nod and didn’t even bother calling to let TJ know I was coming. For all I know, he may have been under the impression that I still lived there. God knows I’d put in enough time in that little room.

  “You didn’t have to come up,” TJ told me. A game of computer solitaire filled the screen, and he saw what I was looking at and turned it off. “Wall Street’s been closed since four o’clock,” he said, “and I dumped everything before three. Had a wild ride. ”

  “Oh?”

  “When did I get up here this morning? Whenever it was, there’s this stock I been watching, an’ it made a move, you know, it broke through this particular price point, so I bought some. An’ it went up. ”

  “Isn’t that what it was supposed to do?”

  “Yeah, well, they don’t always be doin’ what they supposed to do. So it’s movin’ up an’ movin’ up, an’ I pop in this trailing stop-loss order, so if it goes down I’ll be out of it, but each time it goes up a notch the stop-loss order goes up a notch with it, an’ you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, do you?”

 
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