All the flowers are dyin.., p.33
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       All the Flowers Are Dying, p.33

         Part #16 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
Page 33


  There’s no end of speculation. Did Applewhite, unwilling to admit his crimes, arrange for someone to speak for him from beyond the grave? Did he have a confederate—one theorist calls him an unindicted coconspirator— who’d participated in his crimes? Was Applewhite in fact part of a long-rumored satanic cult?

  The newspaper has reproduced a portion of the e-mail he’d sent them, along with his signature, and one newsgroup member has been quick to pick up on Abel Baker. “You younger types won’t know this,” he writes, “but these are the first two letters of the old phonetic alphabet. Able Baker Charlie Dog Easy Fox …Can anyone remember the rest?”

  Someone of course can and does, and someone else chimes in with the modern replacement, beginning with Alpha and Bravo. And another party wonders when exactly Alpha Bravo etc. replaced Able Baker, and someone supplies a date which someone else challenges, and the thread rapidly degenerates into a discussion of the relative merits of the two alphabets, and the implication of the change in terms of the evolving role of the military.

  He exits the newsgroup, Googles his way to the Times-Dispatch’s website. He reads everything he can find on the story, including an editorial calling for a review of the whole notion of capital punishment, and an op-ed piece taking an opposite tack and arguing that the process should be streamlined, so that less “time for mischief” separate the imposition of sentence and its execution. Neither piece, it seems to him, is a masterpiece of rational thinking.

  He reads on, and yes, some enterprising reporter has determined that Applewhite had a visitor before he died, that he spent more than a few hours during the several days before his death with one Arnold Bodinson. They’ve gone and anglicized the first name, he notes, probably having heard Arnie for Arne and opted for a more formal version, but surely they’ll correct that in the days to come. Dr. Bodinson is identified as a prominent psychologist affiliated with Yale University, and the coincidence of his initials matching those of Abel Baker has not escaped attention. No doubt the earnest chaps in the newsgroup will have something to say on the subject as well.

  Efforts to reach Dr. Bodinson have thus far been unsuccessful, the reporter states. And are doomed to remain so, he thinks, but tomorrow’s paper should hold the revelation that Yale University has never heard of Arne Bodinson, or Arnold either.

  Now won’t that be interesting?

  He thinks of Reinhold Messer and wonders if that, like Arne Bodinson, is a nom de guerre. It seems almost too good to be true, as Messer is the German word for knife. Messer certainly conformed to the militia–Aryan Brotherhood archetype, and if his name at birth had been, say, Cuthbert Lavender, a name change would seem inevitable.

  He has looked for Messer on the Internet, but the man doesn’t have a website, and hadn’t even provided a business card. You can look for me at shows, he’d said, which suggested a life lived off the books. Not so with the man who made the other knife he owns, an owlish boy-man named Thad Jenkins, called Thaddy by his colleagues. Jenkins specialized in folding knives, finding their manufacture more of an engineering challenge. ’Sides, he’d drawled, wasn’t anybody couldn’t find a use for a pocketknife.

  From Thaddy’s array of folders, he’d selected a beauty, almost six inches long when closed, and about the same length as Messer’s bowie when open. While it was neither a gravity knife nor a switchblade, its mechanism and balance were such that a simple flick of the wrist, quickly learned, would open it, whereupon the extended blade would lock securely in place.

  He turns it over in his hands. The grips are a tropical hardwood of exceptional density, with a color like pecan and a very close grain. It’s as smooth as glass, and quite beautiful, and over time the oils from his hand will burnish the wood and only make it more beautiful.

  Of course he may not own it long enough to see that happen. Things come in and out of his life. I came like water and like wind I go, he wrote once, on a basement wall, quoting Omar Khayyám but attributing the line to Aubrey Beardsley. And didn’t most things come like water, and go like wind? For some time he’d worn a disc of mottled pink rhodochrosite, for clarity, but he’d had to leave that behind in that very basement. But by then he’d internalized the mineral’s properties and didn’t need it anymore. Then he’d taken to wearing an amethyst crystal, for immortality, and it too was long gone, and he couldn’t even recall what had become of it. But he’d internalized the special properties of the amethyst as well.

  Would he live forever? Well, really, who was to say? But look at all the people he’s already outlived…

  He flicks the knife and the blade leaps from its casing and locks into place. The blade is slender, half the width of the bowie’s, and the knife overall weighs no more than a third of its bulkier fellow. Do knives have gender? In a sense they’re all masculine, all sharpened phalli. But if one were to regard some as male and others as female, it’s easy to see Messer’s creation as bluntly masculine, Jenkins’s folder as graceful in its femininity.

  The man, Scudder, the more difficult quarry, would fall to the sturdier weapon. It is Scudder who deprived him of the house on Seventy-fourth Street. He has long ceased to care about the house, he knows he never really wanted it in the first place, but that’s beside the point. It is Scudder, too, who made him leave New York. He’d had a thriving practice, he’d had a house full of people who loved and revered and, yes, needed him, and he’d had to stab them all dead and burn the house down around them. And yes, it was thrilling, sacrificing those men and women, but that too was beside the point, for it was Scudder who’d left him no choice but murder and flight, and Scudder who would pay for it.

  Scudder was an ox, a brute. A bull, really, and he’d fight him as one would fight a bull, tricking him with a flourish of the cape, then dispatching him with a single thrust of the Damascus steel blade.

  The folder will do for the woman.

  And a far more serviceable tool it will be than the elegant bit of bronze he’d left behind on Jane Street. It had been poetic, surely, to buy from one woman what he’d used to kill the other, and it had done what he’d required of it, opening a hole to let out life as efficiently as it had ever opened an envelope. But this folding knife of Jenkins will do more, and do it with grace.

  And she knows, he’s sure she knows. Not how or when, but only that he’s coming for her. Her shop, a sign in her window proclaims, is closed until further notice. Her answering machine carries the same message. Closed until further notice.

  Closed for All Time, it might better say. Closed until Grand Opening under New Management.

  Her knowledge will make her wary. Thus she’ll be a more elusive quarry than her friend Monica (who was really almost too easy) but she won’t elude him forever. He’ll find a way. And he has worlds of time.

  He holds the knife, so light, so graceful, so feminine in its supple elegance. He works the catch that allows the blade to close, then flicks it open. Supple indeed, elegant indeed, but sturdy. According to the man who made it, it is more than equal to the task of skinning out big game.

  There’s a thought. Perhaps he’ll flay her. Skin her alive, with her eyelids taped open and a mirror positioned so that she can watch, and her mouth taped shut to stifle her screams.

  The image delights him, so much so that he can’t sit still. Before he leaves Joe Bohan’s apartment, he folds the knife shut and drops it in a pocket. It is, after all, a dangerous city. One would be well advised not to walk its streets unarmed.


  I went first to Grogan’s, the uncompromising old Irish bar at Fiftieth and Tenth. There was nothing in its appearance to suggest that it had been the scene of a massacre a few years ago, a bomb hurled against the back bar, the room’s interior sprayed with a burst from an updated version of the tommy gun. But most of the crowd would know this, and some of them could tell you the death toll. Grogan’s had drawn a good crowd ever since it opened, as the new upscale residents of Hell’s Kitchen began to
discover the place and treasure it for its old-time authenticity, even as their patronage eroded the very quality that pulled them in.

  Gangster chic, always in good supply in this town, at least since Jimmy Walker was mayor, got a boost from The Sopranos, and young lawyers and account execs liked to be able to tell their coworkers that they’d spent the previous night drinking whiskey alongside Mick Ballou.

  Tonight’s crowd wouldn’t be able to make that claim, however, because the proprietor of Grogan’s wasn’t on the premises. I learned as much from the tight-lipped bartender, the latest lad to come straight from County Antrim to Grogan’s, looking to Mick for sanctuary and a job. I suspect I wasn’t the first to inquire, and I got the same answer as everybody else—he wasn’t in, and as to whether he’d be in later, why, who was to say?

  “It’s Matt Scudder who’s looking for him,” I said. I lowered my voice when I said this, not because it would mean anything to anyone else, but to impress the guy behind the stick. It wouldn’t get an answer out of him, but if Mick was in the back room, the fellow would find an unobtrusive way to ring him on the house phone. When that didn’t happen I knocked back the rest of my Coke and left.

  I could have spent an hour in a meeting, and it might even have done me good, but I didn’t feel like it. If I was going to kill time I’d sooner kill it in a bar. That’s not recommended, and I can understand why, but I didn’t give a damn.

  I called the apartment and the machine picked up, which was as we’d arranged; Elaine would screen her calls, picking up only when she recognized the caller. I said a few words and she took the call, and I said I’d be a while. She said that would be fine.

  I rang off and took a cab to Poogan’s.

  They keep the place dimly lit, which is part of its appeal for Danny Boy, who has occasionally observed that what the world needs most is a volume control and a dimmer switch, that the damn place is always too loud and too bright. I let my eyes accustom themselves to the dark, and I didn’t see Danny Boy but I did see his table. Poogan’s, like Mother Blue’s, sells him his vodka by the bottle, and lets him keep it close at hand in an ice bucket. I think there’s a state law against that, but so far nobody’s turned up to enforce it.

  I stood at the bar with a glass of soda water and ice—I didn’t want any more Coke yet—and one record finished its play on the jukebox and another replaced it, and I looked over to see Danny Boy returning from the men’s room. It struck me that he looked old, but I decided it must be my eyes, because lately I was starting to see age in every face I looked at, and I didn’t need a mirror to know I’d be able to spot it in mine.

  He sat down heavily, took a glass, held it at a tilt the way you do when you pour a beer, and filled it halfway with iced Stolichnaya. He held it up and looked at it, and I remembered doing that with bourbon, and remembered too how the bourbon tasted when I quit just looking at it and did with it what one was meant to do.

  My thoughts bothered me, and so did my actions, which felt oddly like spying. I carried my drink to his table, and he looked up as I pulled over a chair for myself. He said, “Well, this is a treat, Matthew. I don’t see you for months and then I have the pleasure of your company twice in a single week. You’re alone tonight?”

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