All the flowers are dyin.., p.36
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       All the Flowers Are Dying, p.36

         Part #16 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 36

 

  We sat around, the three of us, and we read the papers and watched TV, and for a while TJ and Elaine played canasta, which didn’t work too well because neither of them was too clear on the rules. Eventually he went home and we went to bed, and when we got up it was Saturday and nothing had changed but the weather. The rain that had threatened to fall yesterday was falling now, and it contiunued off and on throughout the day.

  “I keep thinking I should call Monica,” Elaine said.

  I kept thinking I should call Sussman, and eventually I did. He had some progress to report, though it didn’t seem to me as though it led anywhere. They’d found the liquor store where he’d bought the bottle of Strega, paying cash for it, and the clerk had given a firm positive ID of the sketch. Assuming you could get it admitted as evidence, it was no more than circumstantial, the sort of thing Ray Gruliow liked to call “a mere feather on the scales of Justice. ”

  Sussman admitted it was light. “It means we can stop sending guys to check out liquor stores,” he said, “and I guess that’s a plus. How are you and your wife holding up?”

  I told him we were all right, but we’d be a lot happier when the case was wrapped up.

  “As would I,” he said. “What I’ve been doing is going through all the Unsolveds, trying to find something that matches up just a little bit. You have to figure he’s done this before, wouldn’t you say?”

  I hadn’t thought about that, but of course he was right. Monica’s murder was too well staged, too carefully worked out, to be anybody’s maiden effort.

  “But there’s not a thing with his prints on it. Not literally his prints, you know what I mean. ”

  “Sure. ”

  “I’ve been running the MO through NCIC, and I’ve got a call in to an FBI field agent, one of the few I know who doubles as a human being. Because I had the thought that maybe our guy’s from somewhere else. So he won’t fit any of our Unsolveds, but he might fit just fine in Oshkosh or Kokomo. ”

  “Maybe he’s like lightning and never strikes twice in the same place. ”

  “Then he’d be as hard to catch as lightning, because nobody’d be in a position to see a pattern develop. Unless the individual murders are rubber stamp affairs, so similar that the feds’ computer can’t help picking up on it. Otherwise, you know, he just crisscrosses the country, kills one person here and one person there, and there’s never a full-scale manhunt because nobody realizes they’re dealing with a one-man crime wave. ”

  “Wasn’t there somebody like that a few years ago? Turned out to be a long-haul trucker?”

  “Rings a bell. I can’t see our guy behind the wheel of a Peterbilt, somehow. ”

  “No. ”

  “Maybe he’s filled his New York quota,” he said, “and he’s off to bring his own special brand of joy to El Paso. That would put him out of our reach, but he’d also be out of our hair, and your wife could open up her store and sell me that sketch. I really liked it, you know. ”

  “Get this son of a bitch and she’ll give it to you. ”

  “I would just plain love to take you up on that,” he said. “But if he’s gone and we never hear from him again? Right now I have to say that’d be fine with me. ”

  I hung up feeling as though I’d missed something, that he’d said something I should have picked up on. There’s a way to use the answering machine as a recorder, although I’ve never had occasion to do so and would have to consult the manual for instructions. I’d never considered it, but it occurred to me now that it would be handy to have it on tape so I could play it back and puzzle it out.

  And there was something else he’d said the other day, something that had gone right by me and I’d only thought of later on, when it was too late to ask him what he’d meant. But what the hell was it?

  My memory’s always been good, except for all those things I’ve chosen to forget. Just as Elaine had secretly believed age would never make visible inroads upon her looks, so I’d managed to tell myself I was somehow immune to the erosion of memory that comes with the years. I suppose it’s pride that makes us think things will be different for us, that the universe will grant us a special dispensation. And she did, God knows, look young for her years, and was still as beautiful a woman as I’d ever known. And my memory was still pretty sharp.

  But every once in a while something would come along to remind me that it wasn’t as sharp as it used to be.

  I said as much to Elaine, and she said, “That reminds me. The one thing Monica always dreaded was Alzheimer’s. There’s some of it in her family, and she was terrified she’d get it if she lived long enough. ” She winced at that. “She made me promise I wouldn’t let her live like that. She had a living will, but that’s no help with Alzheimer’s, not until the late stages, because there’s no plug to pull. You’re perfectly healthy, you just don’t have a mind anymore.

  “So what I had to promise was that I’d find some way to put her out of her misery. Get her to take sleeping pills, I suppose. We didn’t get into the details. And God knows what I would have done if it came to that, but at any rate I promised her.

  “And she said, ‘Yeah, right, and a fat lot of good that’s gonna do me. Because there I’ll be, gaga, with my eyes looking in different directions and drool running down the corner of my mouth, and you’ll stand there saying, “Gosh, let me think now. There’s something I was supposed to do for Monica and I can’t for the life of me remember what the hell it was. ” ’ ”

  Sunday morning TJ showed up early with a bag of lox and bagels and cream cheese. I ate quickly and left the two of them at the breakfast table and rode down to the Village for the eleven o’clock at Perry Street. A lot of old-timers tend to go to that meeting, and I always run into a few old friends there.

  It was raining when I left the house, dry by the time I got to the meeting, raining again at 12:30 when it ended. I picked up the Sunday Times on the way home and the three of us sat around reading sections of it. It was the perfect picture of domestic tranquility, except that Elaine would lapse periodically into troughs of deep sadness. And, of course, there was someone out there trying to kill her.

  I had the Sports section and was reading a story about golf, a pastime in which I have not the slightest interest, when she said, “I think you should read this. ”

  “Me?”

  “Uh-huh. Or maybe you already did. About that man who killed the three boys in Richmond, and earlier this month he was executed. ”

  “I saw it. ”

  “Today?”

  “Yesterday, or it might have been Friday. ” The days sort of run together when you’re not doing anything. “I noticed it because I had two conversations about the case just a couple of days before they put him down. Somebody tipped them off as to the location of the missing body, isn’t that it?”

  “There’s a little more in today’s paper. ”

  “And people are jumping up and down and saying they executed an innocent man,” I said. “That sort of thing’s been tried before, you know. Say I’m on Death Row, awaiting execution for a murder that I damn well did commit. What I do, I slip some details of the crime to you, and you have a great crisis of conscience and confess to it, supplying details that have been withheld by the police and could only be known by the actual killer. Well, right, and the actual killer told them to you. It’s an old game, and when it’s worked right it clouds the issue, and sometimes you’ll even see a temporary stay of execution come out of it. But it can’t hold up, and it doesn’t. ”

  “This seems a little different. ”

  “Because the information didn’t come to light until the guy got the needle. And didn’t the tip come to them by untraceable e-mail? You have to wonder why the tipster bothered. He’d held off too long to save his buddy, not that it would have worked anyway. ”

  “Maybe he sent the message in time,” TJ suggested, “but it got hung up in cyberspace somewhere. There’s days when some of the service pr
oviders are as slow as the post office. ”

  “You know,” Elaine said, “there’s a lot more information in today’s paper. Would it kill you to read the fucking article?”

  “Probably not,” I said. “Where is it?”

  “Never mind. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to snap. ”

  “Can I see the article?”

  “It’s probably not gonna be that interesting. ”

  “Elaine—”

  TJ, his eyes rolling, got to his feet, walked over to her, took the paper out of her hand, and came over to present it to me. “It’s nice having a family,” he said, “even if it is what you call dysfunctional. ”

  I read the article.

  One or two paragraphs in, I said, “I see what you mean. ”

  “It’s weird, isn’t it?”

  “And complicated,” I said. “Let me finish. ”

  A Times-Dispatch reporter had thought to contact the authorities at Greensville, where the execution of Preston Applewhite had taken place. The warden there recalled several visits by a Yale professor of psychology named Arne Bodinson. Bodinson’s initials were the same as those of the rather transparent pseudonym of the e-mail tipster, which might or might not be purely coincidental.

  This was where I’d come in, as all of the foregoing had been in the story I read yesterday or the day before—except for Bodinson’s first name, which had originally been erroneously reported as Arnold. Since then, the reporter had established conclusively that no one at Yale had ever heard of Bodinson, Arne or Arnold, that he was not a member of the Yale faculty, nor had he, as his résumé claimed, earned a doctorate from that institution. This prompted the reporter to check with the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where Bodinson had allegedly done his undergraduate work, and where they too had no record of his ever having attended, let alone having been awarded a degree.

  “This is fascinating,” I said. “Did you see where this Bodinson actually attended the execution? As an invited guest of Applewhite?”

  “Isn’t that something? The best thing we ever get invited to is the Mostly Mozart patrons’ dinner. ”

  “Least they gave you a T-shirt,” TJ put in. “Bet you Bodinson didn’t get one. ”

  “ ‘My Friend Just Got a Lethal Injection,’ ” Elaine said, “ ‘and All I Got Was This Fucking Shirt. ’ ”

  I said, “It’s hard to figure this out. There doesn’t seem to be any trace of Bodinson. He was in the area for several days, he kept visiting Applewhite in his cell, but none of the local motels remember him. There’s a picture. ”

  “Where? I didn’t see it. ”

  “Not in the paper. Everyone who passes through security at Greensville walks in front of a security camera. They don’t have a photo in hand, but they will, once they run through all the stored tapes. Of course, if Bodinson was savvy enough to fake credentials that got him into Applewhite’s cell, he probably didn’t give the security camera a very good look at him. They’ll have shots with his hand in front of his face, or his head turned away. They’ll probably be in tomorrow’s paper, because this story’s going to get a lot of national play. ”

 
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