All the flowers are dyin.., p.35
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       All the Flowers Are Dying, p.35

         Part #16 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 35

 

  Elaine was dozing lightly in the big armchair. TJ was doing something with her computer. I gave him one of the nines and a loaded clip, and he checked it out as if he’d done this before. He asked if I wanted him to stay over. He could sleep on the couch, he suggested. I sent him home, roused Elaine enough to put her back to sleep in our bed, and went and stood by the south window myself.

  The Towers were still absent, even as more gaps seemed to be forming in my own personal skyline. I went on looking for a while, and when nothing changed I went to bed.

  TJ called while we were having breakfast. Did we need him? Because he thought he might go out for a while. I told him to go, and he reminded me that he’d be carrying his cell phone. If we needed him, all we had to do was call him.

  After a second cup of coffee I put the two guns on the kitchen table, the nine and the . 38. Elaine picked them up in turn, held them gingerly in her hand, and announced she liked the nine better. It wasn’t as heavy, she said, and she liked the way it fit her hand. I told her I’d picked out the revolver for her, and why I thought it might suit her better. She said that was okay, but seemed disappointed.

  Her disappointment abated as she became more familiar with the thing. I taught her to load it and unload it, had her aim it and dry-fire it. I’d learned to shoot one-handed, that was the way they taught you back when I joined the department, but nowadays everybody holds a gun in two hands. I think it started around the time Chris Evert taught the world there was nothing sissy about a two-handed backhand, though I can’t see the connection. I don’t know that a second hand improves your aim, but it does lessen the effect of recoil, and that alone was reason enough to teach her to use both hands.

  The thing to remember, I told her, was to keep firing. Recoil would probably elevate the muzzle, so she’d have to take aim again, and pull the trigger again, and keep it up until the gun was empty. If she hit him the first time and dropped him, if he fell down and lay there dead, that was no reason to stop. If he’s face up, shoot him in the chest. If he’s face down, shoot him in the back. And then shoot him in the head.

  And then cut his head off, I thought, and put it on a stick, and we’ll carry it all through the town.

  TJ called around ten, to make sure we were okay. He might be a while, he said. I told him everything was fine. He called again an hour later to say he was on his way, and was there anything we needed? I told him to pick up a couple of newspapers, and he brought the Times and the Post when he showed up a little before noon.

  “I know it ain’t high priority,” he said, “but I didn’t know what else to do. So I decided to check out David Thompson. ”

  “How?”

  “Well, he be waitin’ on that check you said you’d send him, right? So I went up to Amsterdam Avenue an’ hung out there. Be good if there was a place right across the street where you could have something to eat and watch through the window, but there wasn’t, so I just stood up against a building. ”

  “That must have gotten old in a hurry,” Elaine said.

  “Legs was feeling it,” he admitted. “I got to wishing there was a way for me to sit down, but you sit yourself down in the middle of the sidewalk and people apt to look at you. ”

  “It’s no way to avoid attention,” I agreed.

  “And if you sitting down, you might miss what’s happening on the other side of the street, ’specially a wide street like Amsterdam. So what I did, I crossed the street and I sat down on the sidewalk right next to the place with the mailboxes. ”

  “To avoid calling attention to yourself. ”

  He grinned. “I’s wearing this,” he said, taking off a peaked cap of pieced denim, “in case the sun was to get in my eyes. And ’cause a hat be a good disguise. You put it on, you take it off, you changing your ’pearance. Older dude taught me that. ”

  “I didn’t know you were paying attention. ”

  “Man, I always listen to the voice of experience. How else I gone learn? What I did, I put the cap on the ground in front of me, dropped all my loose change in it, an’ sat with one leg sort of folded back under me. Anybody look at me, they think I be a cripple. ”

  “And if they saw you trot across the street and set up?”

  “Then they think I’s a fake cripple. Man, you think a beggar’s got an easy gig, but it ain’t so. People just pass you by, don’t even want to look at you. ”

  “Day trading’s probably a better deal,” Elaine said.

  “ ’Cept with begging, you not likely to end the day with less than you started with. Now and then, somebody stop an’ give you something. Had one dude put in a dollar an’ take change. ”

  “You’re kidding. ”

  “Just took a quarter,” he said. “ ’Pologized to me, said he needed it for a parking meter. Leaves me seventy-five cents ahead, so why he be ’pologizing? People are strange sometimes. ”

  Elaine said, “See? Look what you learned this morning. ”

  “Already knew that. What I learned is you just wait in the right place, you get what you lookin’ for. ”

  “He turned up?”

  He nodded. “Came for his mail. Walked in lookin’ hopeful an’ came out lookin’ disgusted. Guess he still waitin’ on that check. And he ain’t the guy in that drawing, case there was any question. He’s the dude came out of Louise’s building, the one lost us around the block. ”

  “Did you have any luck following him?”

  “Didn’t even try. He drove up in a big old Chevy Caprice, pulled up by the hydrant, was in and out in a couple of minutes. Hopped back in the car and drove off. I got the plate number. That do us any good?”

  Joe Durkin said, “Didn’t I tell you? I’m a private citizen, I put in my last day for the City of New York. I’m officially retired. ”

  “I’ll bet they haven’t got the word yet at the DMV. ”

  “I’d be breaking the law,” he said. “Impersonating a police officer. ”

  “Gee, I didn’t think of that. ”

  “Yeah, I bet. Why can’t you do it yourself? You’ve been breaking laws right and left for years. ”

  “You know the procedure. It’s changed in the past thirty years. ”

  “Thirty years,” he said. “Jesus, I guess it has. Did they even have license plates thirty years ago?”

  “They did, but they kept falling off the horses. ”

  “Off the horses’ asses, you mean. And speaking of horses’ asses, I thought you were the next thing to retired yourself. ”

  “Something came up. ”

  “As the bishop said to the actress. Give me the fucking plate number, I’ll see what I can do. ”

  It didn’t take him long. He called back fifteen minutes later and said, “Next time we have dinner, it’s on you. And it won’t be any cheap joint like the one I took you to, either. Write this down: David Joel Thompson, 118 Manhattan Avenue, Apartment 4-C for Charlie. Zip is10025. Phone number—”

  “They have a phone number listed?”

  “They could probably tell you his favorite color, if you knew how to ask for it. ” He gave me Thompson’s phone number and his date of birth, which made him forty-one. “And a Sagittarius,” he added, “in case Elaine wants to try doing his chart. Five-nine, a hundred sixty pounds, color of hair brown, color of eyes brown. That help?”

  “You’re a prince, Joe. ”

  “A retired prince,” he said. “A prince with a pension. ”

  The name was the one he had given Louise, and the address was a five-minute walk from his mail drop. The phone number had a 212 prefix, so it would be a land line, not his cell phone. I dialed it and it rang five times before a mechanical voice informed me that the number I had reached had been disconnected.

  It didn’t matter, David Thompson didn’t matter, but I was interested in spite of myself. If I’d had anything better to do I’d have done it, but I didn’t. I could sit around waiting for Sussman to call, or I could get out of the house and do som
ething.

  I asked TJ to stick around, and made sure he had the gun with him. He’d been carrying it in the small of his back, held there by his belt and covered by the baggy blue chambray workshirt he’d neglected to tuck in. “New York is a tough town, Myrtle,” he said, his accent suitably midwestern. “Even the beggars carry guns. ”

  It was overcast, and by the time I got out of the subway the sky had darkened and I was sorry I hadn’t brought an umbrella. I’d taken the One train and stayed on a stop past Ninety-sixth Street, to 103rd and Broadway. Manhattan Avenue runs north and south a short block west of Central Park, extending from 100th Street up to just below 125th. I walked there and found 118. There was no Thompson nameplate on the row of buzzers, and both the buzzer and the mailbox for Apartment 4-C for Charlie bore small plastic inserts imprinted with the name KOSTAKIS.

  I rang the bell and waited and rang it again, and nobody answered. I rang the super’s bell and nobody answered that, either, and I was on my way out the door when the door from the hallway opened and a man with a voice thick with phlegm asked me what I wanted.

  I told him, and he frowned and scratched his head. “David Thompson,” he said. “He don’t live here. I got a Greek couple in there now, been with me the better part of a year now. Very nice people. Guy who was in there before them, tell the truth, I don’t remember his name. It’s funny, ’cause I can picture him. ”

  I showed him the photo and he didn’t hesitate. “That’s him,” he said. “Moved, no forwarding. And I remember the name now, because the first week or two he’d get mail here, and I’d have to give it back to the postman. Then that stopped, and I could forget him, which I did. ”

  “He didn’t pay his rent,” I told TJ and Elaine. “He got a couple of months behind and ignored the notices they sent him. Eviction proceedings can take a while, but the super’s not a man who does everything by the book. He made sure Thompson was out of the house, then changed the locks and got a friend to help him put all of Thompson’s stuff on the street. The stuff disappeared gradually, he said. People would come by and take what they wanted, and eventually the sanitation men carted off the rest. ”

  “Thompson never showed up?”

  “If he did, the super never noticed, but I’m not sure how much he notices. Thompson may have moved out on his own before the locks were changed, and not bothered to tell anybody. ”

  “And just left everything. ”

  “Everything that the super wound up tossing. We don’t know what he may have taken with him. ”

  TJ said, “We got a plan?”

  “No,” I said. “Not really. ”

  26

  That was Friday, and according to the Times it was the longest day of the year. I could have told them as much myself, but I wouldn’t have been talking about the relative proportion of daylight and darkness. The hours crawled, and there seemed to be more of them than usual.

 
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