All the flowers are dyin.., p.34
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       All the Flowers Are Dying, p.34

         Part #16 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 34

 

  “Not anymore. ”

  “No, now you’re with an old friend, and so am I. ” He started to look for the waitress, then saw I already had a drink. He hadn’t done anything with his Stoli but pour it and look at it, and now he raised it and said, “Old friends. ” I raised my own glass and sipped my soda water, and he drank half of his vodka.

  He asked what had brought me, and I said I had a little time to kill, and he laughed and said we’d kill it together.

  “But I was going to get here sooner or later anyway,” I said, and showed him a copy of Ray’s drawing.

  “You showed me the other night,” he said. “At Mother’s. Wait a minute. Is this the same guy?”

  “No, a different one entirely. ”

  “That’s what I was thinking, although I can’t say I have the other chap’s features engraved on my heart. This one looks menacing. ”

  “Part of that may be the sensibilities of the person who told the artist what to draw. This is the man who murdered a woman in the Village the night before last. ”

  “All over the TV,” he said. “Give me a minute and I’ll tell you her name. ”

  I supplied it myself, along with the fact that she’d been Elaine’s best friend, and Elaine had sold him the murder weapon. With Danny Boy, you could give him the first sentence and he had the whole page; what he said was, “I hope you put her on a plane. ”

  “It might come to that. I don’t know. ” I detailed the security precautions we were taking, and that I was going to pick up a gun for her. He asked if she’d know what to do with it, and I said there wasn’t too much you had to know to shoot someone at close range.

  He said, “All my life, all the players and hard cases I’ve known, I’ve never once fired a gun, Matthew. I’m trying to think if I ever even had one in my hand. You know, I don’t think I did. ”

  “Well, you’re still a young man, Danny. ”

  “That’s what the Yellow Peril tells me. Jodie, you met her the other night. ‘Danny, you are so amazing!’ For a man my age, she means. And as long as they keep making those little blue pills, I can go on amazing her. ”

  “Science is wonderful. ”

  “Yeah. ”

  Something made me ask about his health. It had been more than five years, and he hadn’t had a recurrence. So he was out of the woods, wasn’t he?

  “Out of the woods? Matthew, you can’t even see a tree from where I’m sitting. ”

  “That’s great. ”

  “I beat colon cancer. That’s a funny expression, don’t you think? Like I got in the ring with it and kicked the shit out of it. Cancer of the colon, off its feet and down for the count. I didn’t have much to do with it, to tell you the truth. They cut me up and stitched me back together and filled me full of chemicals, and when they quit I was alive and the cancer wasn’t. ‘I beat colon cancer. ’ It’s like saying you beat a slot machine, when all you did was pick the right time to drop your quarter in it. ”

  “The point is you’re okay. ”

  “That’s the good news,” he said, and waited for me to ask what the bad news was. But I’d heard too much bad news lately to seek it out.

  When I didn’t ask he told me.

  “Prostate cancer,” he said, “and there’s good news there, too, because I’ve got a low Gleason score. Gleason, all I could think of was The Honeymooners. A low Gleason means it’s slow-growing. I can treat it and risk impotence and incontinence, or I can live with it and, according to the doctor, almost certainly die of something else before the prostate cancer can get me. ‘If you keep on drinking like you do,’ he said, and I swear he was smiling while he said it, ‘your liver’s likely to give out long before your prostate can kill you. ’ Guess what I had as soon as I got out of his office. ”

  “A glass of Stoli. ”

  “As a matter of fact it was Absolut, but you’ve got the right idea. Doctor’s orders, the way I look at it. Let me tell you something, put this in perspective, before you start feeling sorry for me. It’s a complete fucking miracle I’ve lived this long. When I was born the obstetrician told my parents I would probably die within the week. Then I wasn’t supposed to survive childhood. ‘Give him all the love you can now,’ the pediatrician told them, ‘because you’re not going to have him long. The Lord’s likely to want him back. ’ That was great for me, because they took me home and spoiled me rotten. And the Lord evidently took a good long look at me and decided he didn’t want me all that much. ”

  “Well, you can’t really blame him, can you?”

  “I don’t blame anybody,” he said, “for anything. I’ve had a good life, and I figure everything past the first week of it’s been a bonus. I listen to music whenever I want, and I drink as much as I want, and I get all the pussy I want, and when little Jodie gets sick of me I’ll find somebody else, because there’s always one there to be found. So don’t feel sorry for me. ”

  I told him I wouldn’t dream of it.

  When I got down to Grogan’s, Mick said I’d just missed him by a few minutes. “We were busy earlier,” he said. “Busy enough for me to join Con behind the wood. I don’t mind it. It’s honest work, pouring an honest drink. ”

  Most of what he did wouldn’t fit most people’s definition of honest work. A few years back, when the loosely allied Irish mob the press called the Westies was in full force, Mick Ballou led a faction of it, and led it with brutal efficiency. He was a career criminal and he had become my best friend, and Joe Durkin wasn’t the only man who found this puzzling. I didn’t really understand it myself.

  “It’s thinned out some,” he said, “though it’s always busier than it used to be. The afternoons are still slow. That’s the nicest time in a bar, I’d say, when your only customers are men who want to sit quietly with a drink. Or late at night, when there’s no one there at all but two old friends talking the night away. ”

  “We’ve had our share of nights like that. ”

  “And never a one but I was glad of it. We’ve not had a late night in a while, but that’s not what brings you here this evening, is it?”

  “No, it’s not. ”

  I told him about it. He’d met Monica, although I had to refresh his memory. We’d brought her there once after the three of us saw a Brian Friel play at the Irish Arts Centre, and he’d joined us at our table, and Monica had teased him about having poetry readings, which she assured him would be good for business at Grogan’s. Yeats would be perfect, she’d said, and he’d topped her by nodding judiciously and reciting “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” with a flair and cadence that would not have been out of place on the stage of the Abbey.

  “She had a lovely sense of humor,” he recalled. “And she liked my poem. ”

  “She did. ”

  “Killing’s terrible enough when it’s done for a reason. Oh, it’s an awful thing. And yet there’s joy in it, you know. ”

  “I know. ”

  “But the joy can never be the reason. If I let that happen what would I be? By God, I’m bad enough as I am. ”

  We went into his office and he opened the big old Mosler safe and sorted through an array of handguns. I picked out a pair of nine millimeter pistols for TJ and myself and a . 38-special revolver for Elaine. It had less stopping power than the nines, but it struck me as simpler for her to operate; there was no safety catch to mess with, it was less likely to jam, and all she had to do was keep squeezing the trigger until she ran out of bullets.

  Back at our table, with the guns and two boxes of shells in an old gym bag at my feet, he said I was welcome to the weapons, but that he hoped I’d have no need for them.

  “The police’ll pick him up tomorrow,” I said, “and I’ll bring them back as good as new. ”

  “Would you need a hand, do you think?”

  “I’ll let you know if I do, but I don’t think so, Mick. All I’m going to do is keep her where he can’t get at her. And we’re not going to leave her alone. I
f I’m not there, TJ’ll be. ”

  “I’d stand a shift anytime. Just let me know. ”

  “Thank you. ”

  He took another look at the drawing. “The dirty man,” he said, and it sounded far worse than a curse. “By God, he looks familiar. ”

  “I said the same thing, and so did Danny Boy. He sends regards, I’m supposed to tell you. ”

  “Does he, then. And how is the young fellow?”

  “He’s fine, but I don’t know about the ‘young fellow’ part. He’s our age. ”

  “Is he indeed? I guess he would have to be, wouldn’t he? It’s his size makes me think him younger than he is. Ah, Jaysus, man, we’re all of us getting old. ”

  “Tell me about it. ”

  “I complain about all my customers, these lawyers and stockbrokers who want to come in here and drink with the devil, but ’tis their custom that supports me. I’m making my living from this place, can you believe it? This and the few little businesses I own. I have to walk outside and spit in the street once a week so I won’t forget what it’s like to break a law. By God, I’m a toothless old lion, and it’s a nerve I have to resent the keeper who slips food through the bars of my cage. ”

  “Bread soaked in milk,” I said, “so you can handle it. ”

  “And yourself, waiting for the police to do what once you’d have tried to do on your own. ”

  “They have the resources. ”

  “Of course they do. ”

  “I don‘t even know who he is. I wouldn’t know where to start looking for him. ”

  “You’ll keep herself safe and sound. That’s all you need to do. ” He touched a forefinger to Ray’s sketch. “I could swear he’s been in here. Or is there an actor he looks like?”

  “There’s probably a dozen. ”

  “You could look at him and never see him. Your eyes could glide right over him, for there’s nothing there to hold you. But I’ll now remember him if I see him. That poor woman. Did you say he gave her a hard death?”

  “It couldn’t have been an easy one. He tortured her. ”

  “There’s never a call for that,” he said. “Isn’t there enough suffering in the world without making a point of creating more of it? I’d kill him in an instant, should God give me the chance, but I’d not make him suffer. I’d just kill him and be done with it. ”

  25

  I took the long way home from Grogan’s, up Tenth Avenue to Fifty-eighth Street, east two long blocks to Eighth Avenue, then back to Fifty-seventh Street, where I stayed on the north side and made my way to the corner of Ninth. I guess I was looking for him, looking for someone who might be lurking in my neighborhood and keeping an eye on the entrance to our building. I saw a drunk peeing in a doorway, I saw a man with an aluminum walker making his painfully slow way to the Chaldean deli, I saw a man and woman I recognized having an argument I’d watched them have a dozen times before. I saw any number of my fellow citizens, waiting for buses, descending into subway tunnels, getting in or out of taxis, or going someplace on foot, some of them taking their time, others in a New York hurry. But I didn’t see the one man I was looking for, and in due course it struck me that I might be behaving in a manner likely to call attention to myself, not a good idea when I was carrying three unregistered handguns and enough ammo to start a gang war. I quit while I was ahead and went upstairs.

 
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