A drop of the hard stuff, p.37
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       A Drop of the Hard Stuff, p.37
 

         Part #17 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
Page 37

  And why was I even bothering? I didn’t have a case, and my client was dead. He’d hanged himself. The only way someone else could have strung him up was by knocking him out first, and that hadn’t happened.

  Unless—

  Unless he had a visitor, a calm and credible fellow with a good cover story. Someone who might even pass for a cop, someone who might have turned up at Jack Ellery’s rooming house and convinced the fellow in charge to hand over whatever remained of Ellery’s belongings.

  Someone who inspired confidence. Someone who could get behind Greg Stillman and get him in a choke hold, cutting off the flow of blood to the brain, inducing unconsciousness. Not choking him enough to strangle him, just enough to put him under, just enough to render him helpless while he staged the suicide. Stripped to his shorts, the belt around his neck, its end secured by the closet door.

  And then what? Drop him and let him hang? Or wait until he began to come out of it, and then let him go, so you could watch him thrash around, kicking at the closed door, struggling for breath, for life.

  The choke hold might leave marks, some form of physical evidence. But the belt would cover up all of that.

  Even Steven.

  The super at Jack’s rooming house was named Ferdie Pardo. Short for Ferdinand, I suppose. He wore a dark blue work shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He had a pack of Kools in his shirt pocket and a pencil behind his ear, and he looked like a man who didn’t expect the day to turn out well.

  “There was a guy showed up maybe a week ago,” he said. “Asking the same question. What did I do with Ellery’s stuff?”

  “And what did you tell him?”

  “Same thing I’m telling you. Guy showed up and I gave it to him. ”

  “He sign for it?”

  He shook his head. “There was nothing,” he said. “Just crap, you know? Imagine you live your whole life and when you’re gone you leave some old clothes and a couple of books. ”

  “That’s all?”

  “Pair of shoes, a notebook, some papers. I didn’t think anybody was gonna come for it. I had it down in the basement, all packed up in this duffel bag, and I have to say the duffel bag was worth more than everything inside it put together. And it was a worn-out old duffel bag that wasn’t worth anything much to begin with. ”

  “So you didn’t think a signature was required. ”

  “Another week,” he said, “and I’d of put it out for the garbage pickup, and I wouldn’t make them sign for it, either. He was a cop, he had some reason to collect it, so I gave it to him. ”

  “You say he was a cop. ”

  He frowned. “He wasn’t a cop?”

  “I’m the one asking. ”

  “Well, now I’m asking you. ” Maybe so, but he didn’t wait for an answer. “I think he said he was a cop. He definitely gave that impression. ”

  “Did he show ID?”

  “Like a badge?” He frowned. “I had any sense, I’d just say yes, absolutely, showed me a badge, showed me his ID, Patrolman Joe Blow, Detective Joe Blow, whatever. ”

  “But as luck would have it you’re an honest man. ”

  “Shit,” he said. “What I am, I’m a man who thinks of things a couple of seconds too late. What I think he did, and even so I can’t swear to it, is he took out his wallet and flashed it at me. Like, I’m a cop and I can’t be bothered wasting my time showing some asshole like you my ID. Like that. ”

  “But the impression you got was police. ”

  “Yeah. He looked like a cop. ”

  “Can you describe him?”

  “Jesus,” he said. “I wish you’d ask me to describe the other one that showed up. Skinny fag with an earring. That’d be easier. He sure as shit didn’t look like a cop. ”

  One more flattering obituary notice for Greg. I said, “Take a shot at describing the cop, why don’t you. ”

  “Oh, so he’s a cop after all? Okay, fuck it. About your height and weight. ”

  “How old?”

  “I don’t know. What are you?”

  “Forty-five. ”

  “Yeah, that sounds about right. ”

  “So he’s about forty-five. ”

  “Well, forty, fifty, somewhere in there. Split the difference and you got forty-five. ”

  “Maybe it was me,” I suggested.

  “Huh?”

  “My age, my height, my weight—”

  “Maybe he was a little heavier,” he said grudgingly. “Sort of a blocky-type body, thicker through the middle. ”

  “What about his face?”

  “What about it?”

  “Can you describe it?”

  “It was a face, you know? Two eyes, a nose, a mouth—”

  “Oh, a face. ”

  “Huh?”

  “If you saw him again, would you know him?”

  “Sure, but what are the odds? What are there, a couple of million people in New York? When am I gonna see him again?”

  “How was he dressed?”

  “He was dressed okay. ”

  Jesus. “You recall what he was wearing?”

  “A suit. Suit and tie. ”

  “Like a cop might wear. ”

  “Yeah, I guess. And glasses. He was wearing glasses. ”

  “And he took Ellery’s duffel bag and left. ”

  “Right. ”

  “Never told you his name, that you remember, and I don’t suppose he gave you a business card. ”

  “No, nothing like that. Why give me a business card? What business am I gonna give him? Call him up, tell him the shitter in Room Four-oh-nine won’t flush? Let him know one of my deadbeats moved out in the middle of the night, and if he comes real quick he can have the room?”

  “And everything Ellery left,” I said, “was in the duffel bag. ”

  “Except for the suit they buried him in. ”

  They didn’t bury him, they cremated him, but that was more than my new friend needed to know.

  “And you rented his room. ”

  “The man’s dead,” he said, “and I cleaned all his crap outta there, and he’s not coming back, so what do you think I did with it? There’s a guy in there right now. ”

  “Even as we speak?”

  “Huh?”

  “Is the new tenant home?”

  “He’s not a new tenant,” he said. “He moved to Ellery’s room because it’s a little bigger than the one he was in. He’s been living here, oh, maybe three years at this point. ”

  “What I was asking—”

  “And no, he’s not home. This hour he’s at OTB, two blocks down on Second Avenue. That’s where you’ll find him, all day every day. ”

  “Good,” I said. “You can show me his room. ”

  “Huh? I told you, it’s rented. Somebody’s already living there. ”

  “And he’s welcome to it,” I said. “I just want a few minutes to look around. ”

  “Hey, I can’t let you do that. ”

  I took out my wallet.

  “What, you’re gonna show me ID? I still can’t let you in there no matter how many badges you show me. ”

  “I can do better than that,” I said.

  Pardo thought he should be in the room with me while I searched it. I told him he’d be better positioned in the hall, in case the current tenant made a sudden reappearance.

  “I told you,” he said. “He’s gone for the day. Long as those betting windows are open, he’s there. ”

  “Even so. ”

  “I don’t know,” he said. “I should be here to keep an eye, you know?”

 
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