Everybody dies, p.32
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       Everybody Dies, p.32

         Part #14 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 32

 

  "It was probably best for the child. "

  "Oh, of course it was, and for the girl, and for myself as well. But every now and then Ill find myself wondering. Not what might have been, but just wondering how the wee one turned out, and what sort of a life it had. Night thoughts, you know. Nobody has such thoughts in the light of day. "

  "Youre right about that. "

  "For all I know for certain," he said, "it may not have been my child at all. She was an aisy sort of a girl, if you know the word. "

  "Same as easy?"

  "Id say its the same word, but theres a softer sense to it when you say it the Irish way. An aisy girl. She swore it was me put her in the club, but how could she be sure? And how could I?" He looked at my can of Perrier and asked me if I wanted a glass for it. "You cant drink water straight out of a can," he said, and found a clean tumbler in a cupboard, and poured the water into it for me, and assured me it was better that way.

  "Thanks," I said.

  "Years later," he said, "there was another one I got in the family way, and I never heard about it until she told me shed got rid of it. Had an abortion, you know. Jesus, thats a sin, I told her. I dont believe that, says she, and if it is then the sins on me. Why didnt you tell me, says I. Mickey, says she, to what end? You werent about to marry me. Well, she was right about that. Youd only have tried to talk me out of it, says she, and Id already made up my mind. Then why tell me at all, says I. Well, says she, I thought youd want to know. Ill tell you, man, women are the strangest creatures God ever put on the earth. "

  "Amen," I said.

  "Theres a saying, or mayhaps its the words of a song. It holds there are three things a man must do in the course of a lifetime. Plant a tree, marry a woman, and father a son. Well, Ive planted trees. In the orchard, and then I put in a great windbreak of hemlock, and I planted horse chestnut trees along the drive. I dont know how many trees Ive planted, but Id call it a fair number. " He lowered his eyes. "I never found a woman I cared to marry. And never fathered a child. Even if it was my baby she had, it takes more than that to make a true father of a man. So Ill have to be content with my trees. "

  "Then again, your lifes not over yet. "

  "No," he said. "Not yet. "

  A little later he said, "You killed the man who killed your friend. Good for you. "

  "I dont know if it was good for me. It was better for me than it was for him, Ill say that much. "

  "I wouldnt have left him breathing, myself. Even if it was his last breaths he was taking. Id have put one more bullet into him to make sure. "

  "It never occurred to me. I wasnt planning on killing him. "

  "How could you not? He killed your friend. "

  "Well, Ive killed him now, and Jims still dead. So what difference did it make?"

  "It made a difference. "

  "I wonder. "

  "What the hell were you going to do? Pay him two thousand dollars and shake his bloody hand?"

  "I wasnt going to shake hands with him. And I wasnt going to pay him the money. I was going to stiff him. "

  "And then turn your back on him and walk out the door? How did you expect him to take it?"

  I was silent for a moment, thinking long thoughts. Then I said, "You know, maybe I set it up, and set myself up in the bargain. I didnt consciously intend to kill him. When I walked in there and saw him I couldnt even manage to hate him. Itd be like hating a scorpion for stinging you. Its what they do, so what else can you expect from him?"

  "Still, youd grind that scorpion under your heel. "

  "Maybe its not a good analogy. Or maybe it is, I dont know. But I wonder if I knew all along that I was going to kill him, and if I stage-managed things to give myself an excuse. Once he drew on me, I had permission. I wasnt murdering him, I wasnt executing him. It was self-defense. "

  "And it was. "

  "Not if I made him draw. "

  "You didnt make him draw, for Jesus sake! You offered him money. "

  "I told him I had the money on me, and I let him know I was the man he was supposed to kill. Isnt that baiting the trap? If I wanted to keep him from drawing on me, all I had to do was walk in there with a gun in my hand. I had every chance in the world to get the drop on him and I didnt take it. "

  "You didnt expect him to try anything. "

  "But I should have. What else could he be expected to do? And the fact of the matter is I did expect it. I must have, because I was already reaching for my gun by the time he came up with his. Somehow or other I anticipated his response or I could never have responded so quickly myself. He opened fire, and that was my excuse, and I gunned him down. "

  "I hear what youre saying. "

  "And?"

  "And whoever knows the reasons why we do what we do? Ill say this much. If you blame yourself for killing the bastard, youre off your head. "

  "I blame myself for getting TJ shot. "

  "Ah, I never took that into account. Still, whos to say its not for the best?" I looked at him, puzzled. "What the soldiers call a million-dollar wound," he explained. "For hes out of it now, isnt he? And should live to tell the tale. "

  A little later he said, "Twas the vest saved you, was it?"

  "The shirt I was wearing was ruined," I said. "But the vest stopped both rounds. "

  "They say it wont stop a knife thrust. "

  "So I understand. Its a kind of fabric, and evidently a knife blade can pierce it. I suppose the same thing would be true of an ice pick. "

  "Is it heavy? Like wearing a coat of mail?"

  "Its not featherweight. " I unbuttoned my shirt and let him examine the vest, then buttoned it up again. "Its an extra layer," I said, "and might be welcome on a cold day. On a warm day, youre tempted to leave it at home. "

  "Its a great thing, science. They make a vest that can stop a bullet, and next they make a bullet that can pierce a vest. Its the same as armies are forever doing, but on a more personal level. A good thing you were wearing one last night. "

  "Do you want one? Because theyre easy enough to buy, and nobody has to teach you how to use it. You just put it on. "

  "Where would you get one?"

  "The cop shops have them. I went downtown, but theres one on Second Avenue near the academy, and others in the other boroughs. Whats the matter?"

  "Im just seeing myself walking into a cop shop. Theyd never let me walk out again. "

  "Id pick one up for you, if you want. "

  "Would they ever have my size?"

  "Im sure they would. "

  He thought about it, then let out a sigh. "I wouldnt wear it," he said.

  "Why not?"

  "Because I never would. Because Im a fool, I suppose, but its the way I am. Id have it in mind that I was trying to get the best of the Lord, and that Hed show me whos boss by making sure I got shot in the head, or done with a knife or an ice pick. "

  "Like Achilles. "

  "Just so. The heel was the only vulnerable part of him. And so he was shot in the heel, and died of it. "

  "Thats superstition though, isnt it?"

  "Didnt I say I was a fool? And a superstitious one in the bargain. Ah, theres differences between us, man. When you get in a car you always fasten your seat belt. "

  "And a good thing, too, when you stop short the way you did tonight. "

  "Didnt you give me a turn, though, saying the boy was shot? But the point is that you always wear a seat belt and I never do. I cant bear the feeling of being confined that way. "

  "A vest wouldnt confine you any more than a shirt does. It would just keep bullets out. "

  "Im not explaining it well. "

  "No, I guess I understand. "

  "I just dont want to do what I should," he said. "Im a contrary bastard. Thats all. "

  "Theres just the four of us," he said. "Tom and Andy and yourself and myself. "

  "Dont you have anybody else?"

  "Ive people who work for me, or do the odd job. Theyll head for
the hills now theres a war on, and why shouldnt they? Theyre not soldiers at all, theyre what you could call civilian employees. So thats four of us, and who knows how many there are of them?"

  "Fewer than there used to be. "

  "We each did for one, didnt we? Though the one you shot was hired help, and the same could be true of the Vietnamese. Wasnt he the murderous little bastard?" He shook his head. "I wonder how many that leaves. More than four, Id guess. "

  "Youre probably right. "

  "So were outnumbered, and outgunned as well if that automatic rifle of his is anything to go by. "

  "Except you took it, didnt you? So its ours now. "

  "And small use to us, with the clip close to empty. I should have seen if he had a spare in his pocket. Although as I recall we were in a bit of a hurry. "

  "You saved my life that night. "

  "Ah, go on with you. "

  "Just stating a fact. "

  "What did we say when we were kids? I saved your life the other day, I killed a shit-eating dog. Im glad childhood comes early in life because Id hate to go through it now. Tell me something. What did you think of that movie?"

  "To change the subject. "

  "It could do with changing. Did you care for it?"

  "What movie was that?"

  "Michael Collins. Didnt you tell me you rented the video?"

  "I thought it was good. "

  "Did you? It was all true, you know. "

  "I was wondering about that. "

  "They took the odd liberty. The scene in Croke Park, when the British rake the crowd with gunfire? In fact they used a machine gun, not the revolving gun in the armored car. It was an image sticks in your mind, the way they did it, but what happened was terrible enough. "

  "Its hard to believe it happened at all. "

  "Oh, it happened well enough. The other thing they did, they had his friend Harry Boland die in the fighting at the Four Courts. Collinss friend, he dives into the Liffey and a soldier shoots him?"

  "I remember. "

  "Twas years later he died, long after Collins was buried. He lived to be a minister in Devs government. He was a sanctimonious bastard, Dev. Your man who played him had him just right. Even looked like him. " He took a drink. "He was the best of them. Collins, I mean. He was a fucking genius. "

  "When he wiped out the British agents," I said. "Was that part accurate? Killing them all the same day?"

  "That was the genius of it! He had his spy in Dublin Castle, yes, but then he gathered his information and bided his time. And killed all of the flickers of a Sunday morning. It was over before they knew it had begun. " He shook his head. "Listen to me, will you? Youd think I knew him. He was dead and in his grave fifteen years before I was born. But Ive studied him, you know. Ive heard the old mens stories and Ive read books. You start off with a lot of heroes, you know, and then you learn a bit about them and theyre heroes no more. But Ive never ceased to admire Collins. I wish… no, youll think it too queer. "

 
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