Everybody dies, p.31
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       Everybody Dies, p.31

         Part #14 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
Page 31


  "Uh-huh. So maybe hes Guyanese. "

  "Maybe," I said. "Then again, maybe he stole the shirt. "

  "I used to like the Caymans," she said, "back when a suntan was considered sexy, instead of precancerous. Hes been sleeping pretty soundly. He woke up one time when I was taking his temperature and I got him to drink some water, and then he went right back to sleep. Hes running a slight fever, a little over a degree. "

  "I think thats to be expected. "

  "Yes, Id say so. One of us has to go buy beets and carrots. "

  I said Id go. The place she sent me was on Ninth Avenue near Forty-fourth. It was an oversized health food store with a big produce section and no end of herbs and vitamins. There was probably something on the shelves that would have him healed overnight without even a scar, but I didnt have a clue what it was or where to look for it. I bought enough beets and carrots to fill two shopping bags and took a cab home.

  She had the juicer set up by the time I got there, and I watched as she washed beets and carrots and cut them up and ran them through the thing. The result may have been half carrot but all you could see was the beet, dark and purplish as blood from a vein.

  She went into the bedroom with a big glass of the stuff and I tagged along to see how much of a fight he put up. "This is beet juice," she said, "mixed with carrot. The doctor said you have to drink it to replace the blood you lost. "

  He looked at her. "Like a transfusion?"

  "But without the needles and tubes. "

  "Doc said so? Same one as was here before?" She said yes, and he took the glass from her and drank it off in two swallows. "It aint bad," he said, sounding surprised. "Kind of sweet. What you say it was? Beet and carrot?"

  "Thats right. Could you drink some more?"

  "I believe I could," he said. "Got a powerful thirst. "

  While she prepared it I helped him to the bathroom, then back to bed. He couldnt believe how weak he was, or how much the few steps to the john and back exhausted him. "Its just a flesh wound," he said. "Aint that what they say? Then they up and runnin like nothin ever happened. "

  "Thats in the movies. "

  "Anyway," he said, "they all flesh wounds, cause thats what folks is made out of. Whad the doe give me, you happen to know? A. person could do okay sellin it on the street. "

  "Dont tell the doc," I said. "He might try it. "

  We nursed him through the day. Elaine napped on the couch and I took a turn watching him sleep and talking with him when he was awake. His fever rose during the afternoon, and when it hit 102° Elaine called Froelich. He said hed be over in two hours, but to call him again if it reached 104° before then. But it broke, and when the doctor arrived and took his temperature it was normal.

  Froelich changed the dressing, said the wound was healing nicely, and told TJ he should consider himself lucky. "If it had hit the artery," he said, "you could have bled out. If it hit the bone, you could be laid up for a month. "

  "If it missed me completely," TJ said, "I could be out playin basketball. "

  "Youre too short," Froelich told him. "These days theyre all giants. Keep doing what youve been doing, and stay with the beet juice. Incidentally, itll color your urine. "

  "Yeah, well, I found that out. Thought I was bleedin to death, Beth, and then it came to me where I seen that color before. Id been drinkin it by the quart. "

  He dozed off after the doctor left, and I wound up taking an unpremeditated nap of my own in front of the TV set. When I woke up Elaine reported that he was starting to complain a little, and she took it for a sign of recovery. "He says if he was in his own place, meaning across the street, he could check his e-mail and keep up with some message boards, whatever they are. "

  "Its a computer thing," I said. "You wouldnt understand. "

  We spent a quiet evening at home. TJ had an appetite, and finished a second portion of the lasagna. He also had the idea he could get to and from the bathroom on his own, and asked if Elaine still had the cane shed used in the spring when she sprained her ankle. She found it and he took a couple of hesitant steps with it and saw it wasnt going to work. His wound was too raw for him to put any weight at all on that leg.

  The phone rang intermittently. We let the machine pick up, and half the time the caller rang off without leaving a message. Maybe it was some phone sales rep who wanted to talk us into switching long-distance carriers, or maybe it was someone reluctant to issue death threats to an answering machine. I didnt waste a lot of time worrying about it.

  Then right around midnight it rang, and after the recorded message and the tone there was a pause that seemed eternal, but was probably only five or six seconds. Then a voice I knew said, "Ah, tis I. Are you there then?"

  I picked up and talked to him, put down the receiver and found Elaine. "Its Mick," I said. "Hes in his car, driving around. He wants to come by and pick me up. "

  "Did you tell him yes?"

  "I havent told him anything yet. "

  "TJs much better," she said. "I can manage here. And its not over yet, is it? TJ was shot, and the man who shot Jim is dead, but its not over till its over. Isnt that what they say?"

  "Thats what they say. And no, its not over. "

  "Then youd better go," she said.

  I waited in the lobby and watched the street while the midnight-to-eight doorman shared his views on global warming. I cant remember the thread of his argument, but he saw it as a direct result of the collapse of world communism.

  Then Andy Buckleys battered Caprice pulled up at the curb, and started rolling again as soon as I was inside it. The night was clear and cool and I caught a glimpse of the moon. It was gibbous, and just about the same shape as it had been the night we dug the grave. It had been waxing then and now it was on the wane.

  "Andy was trying to reach you," I remembered to tell him. "He wanted your number, but I let him think I didnt have it. "

  "When was this?"

  "Yesterday, early evening. Have you talked to him since?"

  "Yesterday and today as well. He had the Cadillac and wanted to trade cars. "

  "So he said. "

  "I told him he had the better of the deal, but he was afraid to park the thing for fear some harm would come to it. Least of my worries, I said, but he would have none of it. He put it back in the garage and now hes driving some old wreck of his cousins. "

  "Thats what he said he was going to do. "

  Wed turned on Broadway and were heading downtown. "Now wherell we go?" he wondered. "Just so were going somewhere and doing something. Its the inactivity drives a man mad. Knowing the other side is up to something, whoever they are, and not knowing what, and doing not a thing about it. I sat up all last night with a bottle and a glass. I dont mind drinking and I dont mind drinking alone, but I wasnt doing it for the pleasure of it. It was out of boredom, and that class of drinking is deadening to the soul. "

  "I know what you mean. "

  "You did some of the same in your day, did you? And lived to tell the tale. What luck have you had with the detecting? Are we any closer to knowing what were up against?"

  "We know more than we did," I said. "TJ found out a few things about the Vietnamese who shot up the bar, and weve got a line out for something on his partner. "

  "The bomb thrower, that would be. "

  "Thats right. And Ive got a sketch of one of the two men who mugged me. "

  "They were the ones mugged, by the time it was over. "

  I let that go. "Ive got a sketch," I said, "but so far no ones recognized it. There were a lot of things I might have done today, but I had to spend it at home taking care of TJ. "

  "Why, for the love of God? Hasnt he managed for years taking care of himself?"

  "Oh, of course, we havent talked since then. How could you know?"

  "How could I know what?"

  "He was shot last night," I said.

  "Fucking Jesus," he said, and hit the brake pedal. A car behind us braked
hard, and the driver leaned on his horn. "Aaah, fuck yourself," Mick told him, and demanded to know what had happened.

  I told him the whole story. I broke it off when we got to McGinley & Caldecott, resumed the narration after wed stowed the car in its parking space and made our way down the stairs and through the narrow aisle to the office. He poured himself a drink, and from a table-model refrigerator he produced a can of Perrier.

  "They didnt have bottles," he said. "Only the cans. It should be all right, dont you think?"

  "Im sure itll be fine. Ive been known to drink tap water in a pinch, as far as that goes. "

  "Nasty stuff," he said. "You dont know where its been. Get on with it, man. You left him for dead, the black bastard?"

  "He was on his way out. He couldnt have lasted long. It was black comedy, now that I think about it. The two of us stood there snarling fuck you at each other. I cant swear to it, but I think those were his last words. "

  "I wouldnt doubt theyre the last words of more than a few of us. "

  I told him how TJd been shot, and how I got him home. "I put a gun to the cabdrivers head," I said, "and at the end of the ride he gave me his card and said to call him anytime, any hour of the day or night. I love New York. "

  "Theres no place can touch it for people. "

  When I was finished he sat back in his chair and looked at the drink in his hand. "It must have gone hard when you turned to the boy and saw hed been shot. "

  "It was strange," I said. "Id just been shot twice myself and watched the bullets bounce off. And Id shot back and my bullets didnt bounce off, and I felt as though I was in charge of the world. Then I turned around and the bottom fell out, because while Id been feeling like the master of the universe TJs blood was oozing out between his fingers, and I didnt even know what was going on. "

  "Hes a son to you, isnt he?"

  "Is he? I dont know. Ive already got sons, two of them. I wasnt around much when they were growing up and I dont see much of them now. Michaels out in California and Andys in a different place every time I hear from him. I dont know that Ive installed TJ in their place, but I suppose hes a sort of surrogate son. To Elaine, certainly. She mothers him, and he doesnt seem to mind. "

  "Why should he?"

  "I dont know that I act like a father to him. More like a crusty old uncle. Our relationships fairly ritualized. We joke around a lot, trade good-natured insults. "

  "He loves you. "

  "I suppose he does. "

  "And you love him. "

  "I suppose I do. "

  "I never had a son. There was a time I got a girl in trouble and she went off and had the baby and put it up for adoption. I never heard if it was a boy or girl she had. I never cared. " He drank some whiskey. "I was young. What did I care about children? I wanted only to be left alone, and she went off and had the child and gave it away, and I heard no more about it. Which was as much as I cared to hear. "

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