Everybody dies, p.33
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       Everybody Dies, p.33

         Part #14 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
Page 33



  "I wish I could have been him. "

  "Elaines answer to that would be that maybe you were. "

  "In a past life, do you mean? Ah, it makes a nice story, but its hard to believe in it, isnt it now?"

  "This from a man who has no trouble with transubstantiation?"

  "But thats different," he protested. "If the nuns had drilled reincarnation into my head Id believe that, too. " He looked away. "Twould be pleasant to believe I was the Big Fella once. But what a fucking comedown for himself, eh? To be Michael Collins in one lifetime, and to come back as Mick Ballou. "

  He said, "We were talking of guns before. Are you still carrying the same one?"

  I nodded. He held out a hand and I gave it to him. He turned it over in his hand, lowered his head and sniffed it.

  "Cleaned it since you fired it," he said.

  "Yes, and reloaded it. At least the cop who takes it off me wont know its been fired recently. But I ought to get rid of it altogether. "

  "Ballistics. "

  "Yes. They wouldnt make the match unless they looked for it, but they might look for it. Id have tossed it by now but I didnt want to walk around unarmed. "

  "No, you cant do that. But I can help you out. " He opened the satchel hed brought from Grogans, pulled out guns and set them on the desk. "These automatics are good," he said. "Or are you partial to revolvers?"

  "Thats what Im used to. And dont automatics tend to jam?"

  "So they say, but Ive never had it happen to me. Either of these would give you more firepower than what youve been carrying. "

  "I dont know if theyd fit in the holster. " I tried one, and it didnt. I put it back and picked up a revolver not unlike the one Id been using. It was another Smith, but chambered for magnum loads. I tried it in the holster and it was a perfect fit.

  "Ive no extra rounds for it," he said. "Thered be a box in the safe, and there theyll stay. Have you had a look at the old place?"

  "The bar, you mean? Only on television. "

  "I drove past it. Sad to see it like that. " He shook off the memory. "I ought to be able to get hold of some shells to fit this thing. "

  "Ill buy a box tomorrow. "

  "Jesus, thats right. Youve a permit, theyll sell you whatever you want. "

  "Well, they wont sell me a bazooka. "

  "I wish they would. Id buy one, if I knew where to point it. Its hard to fight what you cant see. Take this, in the meantime. "

  He handed me a little nickel-plated automatic that lay in the palm of his hand like a toy.

  "Here," he said. "Put it in your pocket, it weighs next to nothing. Theres only the clip thats in it, but its not the sort of thing youd be likely to reload. "

  "Where did you get it?"

  "I took it away from a man years ago, and I can tell you hell have no further use for it. Go ahead, put it in your pocket. "

  "Two-Gun Scudder," I said.

  It was like one of our long nights at Grogans, with the door locked and only the two of us left. There were people dead and the world going to hell around us, but for all that it was an easy night, or even an aisy one. The conversation flowed, and when it ran out from time to time there would be a long silence.

  "When you die," he said thoughtfully, "tis said you see your whole life. But you dont see it minute by minute, like a speeded-up film. Its like everything you ever did in all your days was a brushstroke, and now you see the whole painting all at once. "

  "Its hard to imagine. "

  "It is. What a picture that would be! Twould be worse than the dying, to have to look at it. "

  There was something Id forgotten. I was wondering what it was and thinking I ought to get on home when Mick said, "So he was no help at all to you. "

  "Who are we talking about?"

  "The man you left for dead. Did you ever tell me his name? I cant recall. "

  "Chilton Purvis. "

  "Ah, you told me. I remember now. He had nothing to tell you?"

  "They never told him a name, or gave him a number to call. "

  "Or if they did he wouldnt tell it. "

  "Hed have told me anything at that point," I said. "All he cared about was getting to the hospital. When I showed him the sketch, he IDd the thing before I got it unfolded. Hed have sworn that was the guy who shot JFK if he thought thats what I wanted. "

  "You mentioned a sketch," he said. "Just before you told me that the boy was shot. "

  "Which was right around the time you stood up on the brake pedal and gave the guy behind us a heart attack. "

  "Aaah, he should learn how to fucking drive. But this sketch. You never said your man in Brooklyn saw it. "

  "I dont know that he really saw it. Yes, mon, thats him- but he barely looked at it. I showed him another sketch by the same artist, someone he couldnt possibly have seen, and yes, mon, that was him, too. Which one, I asked him. Both of them, he said. And anyone else I wanted to throw in the hopper, just so I hauled his ass to the ER. "

  "Hes looked at another picture now," he said. "His whole life laid out before him. Hell identify that straight enough. Do you have that sketch on you?"

  "Oh, for Christs sake. "

  "No harm if you dont. Next timell do. "

  "Ive got it," I said, "and I meant to show it to you hours ago. Hes hired help, but my guess is hes a lot closer to the top man than Chilton Purvis or the Vietnamese. Maybe youll know him. "

  I got out my wallet, found the sketch of the man whod hit me, showed it to him. It was well drawn, he observed. You got a real sense of the man. But it was no one he recognized.

  "Now the other one," he said.

  "Its just a face," I said. "Somebody I thought I recognized, but couldnt place. I couldnt get the face out of my mind, so my artist friend drew it. "

  He took the sketch and the color drained from his face. He looked at me and his green eyes were fierce. "Is this a joke?" he demanded. "Is this a fucking joke?"

  "I dont know what youre talking about. "

  "Youve seen this man, have you?"

  "At Grogans, the night we buried Kenny and McCartney. I just had a quick glimpse of him but hes got a memorable face. "

  "Indeed he does. Ill never forget it. "

  "You know him?"

  He ignored the question. "And you recognized him. "

  "He looked familiar to me but I couldnt place him. TJ says he thinks hes seen him around the neighborhood. "

  "And is that where youve seen him? Around the neighborhood?"

  "I dont know. I almost think…"


  "That its a face from the past. That I saw it years and years ago, if I ever saw it at all. "

  "Years and years. "

  "But who is he? You know him, obviously, but I never saw you react like that. Its almost as if…"

  "As if Id seen a ghost. " He stuck out his finger, touched the sketch. "And what do you think that is? Whats that if its not a ghost?"

  "Youve lost me. "

  "Ive lost it all," he said, "for how am I to contend with a ghost? What chance have I against a man whos thirty years dead?"

  "Thirty years?"

  "Thirty years and more. " He took the sheet of paper in both hands, brought it closer, held it at arms length. "Just the head," he said. "All youd put in a drawing, isnt it? And its how I saw him last, and how I see him in my mind. Just the head. "

  He threw down the sketch, turned to me. "Dont you see it, man? Its Paddy Fucking Farrelly. "

  "How old was he, this man you saw?"

  "I dont know. Somewhere in his thirties. "

  "That was Farrellys age when he died. I killed him, you know. "

  "Thats what I always understood. "

  "By God, I have to say he had it coming. He was a bad bastard, that one. I had my troubles with him in school days. A few years older than myself, and a bully he was, a terrible bully. That ended when I got my size and gave as good as I got. He didnt care for that, th
e dirty bastard.

  "Tis a vast city, New York, but the old Kitchens not so big, and the pool we swam in wasnt large at all. We were forever in each others way, forever coming head to head with each other, and everybody knew how it had to end. By God, I thought, if someones after getting killed it neednt be myself, and I laid for the bastard, and I did for him.

  "Youve heard the stories, and theres a mix of the true and the false in them. This much is true: I took his great ugly head off his shoulders. Do that, I thought, and your troubles with a man are at an end, for the best doctors in the world wont sew him together again.

  "I never thought to run a stake through his heart. "

  "Lets figure this out," I said.

  "Its a mystery," he said. "If youd been brought up in the Church youd know that mysteries cant be figured out. They can only be contemplated. "

  We were in an all-night diner he knew in Queens, way the hell out in Howard Beach not far from JFK. Hed wanted to get away from McGinley & Caldecott, as if Paddy Farrellys ghost had itself taken up residence there. I dont know how he managed to find the diner, or how he knew of it to begin with, but I figured we were safe there. The place was as remote as Montana.

  For a man whod just seen a ghost he had a good appetite. He put away a big plate of bacon and eggs and home fries. I had the same, and it was good. I could probably be a vegetarian like Elaine, but only if bacon was declared a vegetable.

  "A mystery," I said. "Well, I didnt have the advantage of a Catholic education. I think of a mystery as something to be solved. Can we agree that its not a ghost I saw?"

  "Then its a resurrection," he said, "and Paddys an odd candidate for it. "

  "I think it would have to be his son. "

  "He never married. "

  "Did he like the ladies?"

  "Too well," he said. "Hed have his way with them if they liked it or not. "

  "Rape, you mean?"

  "Words change their meaning," he said. "Over time. When we were young it was scarcely rape if they knew each other. Unless it was a grown man with a child, or someone forcing himself upon a married woman. But if a girl was out with a man, well, what did she think she was getting into?"

  "Now they call it date rape. "

  "They do," he said, "and quite right. Well, if a girl was with Paddy, she ought to know what she was in for. There was one was going to press charges, but Paddy talked to her brother and her brother talked her out of it. No doubt he threatened to kill the whole family, and no doubt the brother believed him. "

  "Nice fellow. "

  "If I go to hell," he said, "as I likely will, it wont be his blood on my hands that puts me there. But, you know, there were enough he didnt need to force. Some women are drawn to men like him, and the worse the man the greater the attraction. "

  "I know. "

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