All the flowers are dyin.., p.32
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       All the Flowers Are Dying, p.32

         Part #16 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 32

 

  “I get a general idea. ”

  “Well, it kept runnin’ up like that for, I don’t know, two hours? An’ then it came back down a bit, an’ when it hit my stop-loss order I didn’t have to do nothin’, I was out of it automatically. They already had my order an’ they sold me out. An’ then of course the stock turns around an’ heads back up, an’ I’m like, wha’d I do that for? An’ then I’m like, should I buy more?”

  “You’re talking like a Valley Girl. ”

  “I am?” He frowned. “Don’t want to do that. What I did, I told myself to be cool, and it was a good thing, because it turned around and went all the way back down, an’ it finished the day two whole points below where I bought it at in the first place. ”

  “So you did all right. ”

  “I did real good. They want to print up a list of contented stockholders, they can put my name on it. ”

  “What’s the company?”

  “I dunno. Trading symbol’s NFI. I never did find out the name of it. ”

  “Do you know what they do?”

  “No. ”

  “Doesn’t any of that matter?”

  “Not if you ain’t gonna own it for more’n two hours. But we can have a look. ” He picked up a newspaper, ran his eyes down the stock table. “Name’s Novastar. Pays a nice dividend, must be a REIT or a MLP. Course you got to own it a little longer’n I did to collect the dividend. Who’s that there? That ain’t Louise’s boyfriend, is it?”

  “You don’t think it’s a good likeness?”

  “Don’t look like the man I saw. ”

  “This is someone else,” I said. “This is the man who killed Monica. ”

  After I’d brought him up to speed, the two of us went across the street. It seemed to me that at least one of us should be with Elaine whenever possible. I couldn’t be sure she was his primary target, and for all I knew he’d killed Monica and got on the next plane to Las Vegas, but until they ran him down and caught him I wasn’t taking any chances. The way it looked to me, the man was the worst possible combination, an off-the-page homicidal maniac with an incisive, methodical mind. You couldn’t wait for him to do something stupid, nor could you expect him to behave logically. He was crazy like a rabid fox, and all you could do was hope he ran out in front of a car.

  Around seven I went around the corner and picked up dinner from the Chinese restaurant. We usually call down and have them deliver, but deliveries weren’t part of the new regimen. No one was getting upstairs but the three of us, and if that meant a little extra coming and going, I figured I could live with that.

  I ordered more food than we were likely to eat, and I guess that too was part of the siege mentality we were operating under. “I guess I won’t be going out of the house much,” Elaine said, wielding her chop-sticks, and I told her she wouldn’t be going out of the house at all. She let herself get used to the idea, then picked up another piece of the coconut beef.

  I asked TJ if he owned a gun. He didn’t, and neither did I. A few years ago Mick Ballou and I had been at war with a gang that had taken up residence at his farm upstate in Sullivan County, and we’d gone out there armed and did a decade’s worth of shooting in a matter of minutes. I hadn’t had a gun in my hand since that night.

  “If you had a gun,” I said, “would you know how to use it?”

  “Learning curve can’t be too steep,” he said. “Some of the stupidest dudes I ever met did just fine at it. ”

  “What about you?” I asked Elaine. “Would you use a gun?”

  “Would I use one?”

  “If he got up here,” I said, “and you were alone, or he got past whoever was here with you. Could you pick up a gun and shoot him?”

  “It’s like a no-brainer camera, right? Point and shoot? I’d point it and shoot it. ”

  “If he was just standing here, say. No weapon in his hands and an explanation on his lips, telling you how it wasn’t his doing, some other man stole the letter opener from him, and—”

  “In other words, he’s not coming at me. He’s acting like a gentleman. Could I shoot him anyway? I swear I don’t know where you got the idea that I’m some kind of shrinking violet. We’re talking about the prick that killed my friend. Would I shoot him? He could be lying on this couch taking a nap and if I had a gun I’d blow his fucking brains out. You’re gonna go get some guns?”

  “I’m going to try. ”

  “Get three,” she said. “One for each of us. No more Mr. Nice Guy. ”

  23

  Knives are beautiful.

  Take this one, for instance. It is ten and three-quarters inches long, a bowie type, similar to that beautiful Randall-made knife he’d had to leave in Richmond. This knife, though, had been made not by the legendary Randall, but by a young Idahoan named Reinhold Messer. He’d bought the knife from Messer himself, a long-haired full-bearded bear of a man who’d sat behind his table at a knife show in Provo, Utah, and showed off his creations with hands as gently expressive as an orchestra conductor’s.

  All of Messer’s knives were beautiful, but he’d liked this one the best. It is heavy, you could hammer nails with the butt end, but its balance is so perfect it feels weightless in the hand. More, it feels like part of the hand itself.

  Its grips, the half-round slabs on either side of the handle, are made of Micarta, a resin-based material favored by knife makers because they deem it superior to natural materials like wood and stone, ivory and oosik. (They use these materials, too, and he has seen grips of rosewood and rare tropical hardwoods, of malachite and lapis lazuli, of elephant and walrus and mastodon ivory, and of oosik, which is the name, Inuit in origin, for the bone in the penis of the walrus. Who even knew such a thing existed? Investigate any area thoroughly, he is delighted to observe, and you will acquire all manner of arcane knowledge. )

  A knife like this, he believes, is artisanship of the highest order, with form always following function, and beauty growing out of the synthesis of the two. The blade itself continues past the hilt to the very butt of the knife, a single piece of steel, with the part above the hilt known as the tang. (Who would guess there was a word for it, and a lovely word at that. ) This particular blade is made of Damascus steel, which means not that it was imported from Syria—it was made right here in the good old U. S. of A. —but that it was produced by a venerable process that probably originated in Damascus, of bending a piece of steel back upon itself, hammering it flat, bending and hammering, over and over, until the resulting blade is almost infinitely layered, with the layers showing in the finished knife like the wood grain on a hardwood tabletop. Each Damascus blade is unique and each is beautiful, but the purpose of the process is not beauty but strength; every time the piece of steel is hammered and hardened and folded and hammered again, it grows stronger and more durable. The beauty grows out of the functionality, and who wouldn’t want to own that sort of beauty? Who wouldn’t want to wield it like a baton in his hand, to wave it like a wand, like the épée of a fencing master? Who wouldn’t be proud to wear it on his belt and stride down the street with it?

  Who wouldn’t yearn to draw it smoothly from its sheath and across a throat?

  He’s used it twice, and one time he did in fact cut a throat with it. It was surprising, too, because it was as if it happened without his willing it, as if the knife acted on its own.

  He remembers the occasion well, although it’s sometimes difficult to place events in a time frame. This was in southern Colorado, in a town called Durango, and he never lived there, never even spent an entire night there. He was passing through, and he stopped for dinner, and the waitress, who brought him first a welcome glass of Scotch on the rocks and then an equally welcome blood-rare steak, flirted with him in a manner that seemed aimed at more than a good tip. He flirted back, and told her she looked a little like a movie star, if only he could remember the name. It was, he assured her, right on the tip of his tongue. Stick out your tongue, she said, an
d maybe I’ll be able to see it.

  He asked her what time she got off work. Ten-thirty, she said, and told him to wait for her at the far end of the parking lot, because she didn’t want anyone knowing her business.

  He was in cowboy mode, dressed in boots and jeans and a western shirt with snaps instead of buttons, and it seemed natural to wear the knife on his belt. He waited for her in his car and followed her back to her trailer, where he fucked her to their mutual satisfaction and fell asleep at her side. He woke up after an hour and found her sleeping, her bottle-blonde hair spread out on the pillow, her jaw slack. She was snoring, and her breath smelled. He’d never told her the name of the actress she reminded him of—of course there was no such actress—and he thought now that she wasn’t very pretty, although she’d been a good enough sexual partner. He could stick around for a while, if only to find out what she would and wouldn’t do. He had no place to go, and this town was probably as good a one as the next to spend a few days or a week or a month.

  He reached for his pants, and his hand brushed the sheathed knife, and it was as if the knife decided. Because the next thing he knew the knife was in his hand, its unsheathed blade resplendent in the light of the bedside lamp. If she’d turned off the light before she passed out, if he hadn’t seen the light glinting off the beautiful knife blade, if she weren’t lying on her back, giving him such a good look at her pale throat…

  Did she even feel the knife? He drew it across her throat in one fluid motion and the flesh offered no resistance at all. It was like cutting warm butter. Her eyes fell open, but never saw anything. The light was already gone from them.

  He dressed and left, and by the time the sun cleared the horizon he was a hundred miles from Durango. He’d cleaned up after himself in a limited fashion. He’d left his seed in her, so there was nothing to be done about that, and no point in worrying about hairs and trace evidence when he’d already provided them with a good DNA sample. Much luck to them, a small-town police force with the nearest competent lab where, in Denver? They were welcome to his DNA, they could store it in a test tube on a shelf in some back room, and what harm could it do him? None unless they arrested him, and that wasn’t going to happen.

  He wiped away his fingerprints. That was enough. No one even knew he’d been to Durango, much less that he’d picked up the waitress. Anyone who’d watched her would have seen her get in her own car and drive off. No one could have noticed him pull out and drive off in her wake.

  He’d paid cash for his meal. He hadn’t even bought gas in Durango. No trace of him in the town, except for a few cc’s of semen in a dead girl’s vagina.

  Besides, he had an alibi. It wasn’t he who did it. It was the knife.

  Online, he visits his newsgroups. There is, he’s pleased to note, a flurry of activity on the subject of Preston Applewhite. Several of the newsgroup’s more devoted participants have been following the coverage in the Richmond paper. Human remains have been unearthed from the private cemetery of an abandoned farmhouse, and preliminary evidence suggests strongly that the Willis boy has indeed been found.

 
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