All the flowers are dyin.., p.37
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       All the Flowers Are Dying, p.37

         Part #16 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 37

 

  “I can see why. ”

  “According to the warden, Bodinson told Applewhite he believed his claim of innocence. Of course we don’t know that’s what he told Applewhite, because nobody heard him but Applewhite, and he’s not talking. But that’s what he said he was going to tell him. But in the meantime he told the warden that he’d be lying to Applewhite for the sake of the study he was doing, that it was obvious to him the man was guilty as charged. How can you figure the son of a bitch?”

  “I suppose more will be revealed. ”

  “I wonder. If he knew Applewhite from before, why not just visit him in the normal fashion? You’re allowed to have friends visit. If he was a stranger, what was the point?”

  Elaine suggested the man might be a kindred spirit, part of an underground network of predatory pedophiles.

  “Offering aid and comfort to a fallen comrade,” I said, “and keeping it anonymous. He promised the warden he’d try to find out where the missing boy was buried. And evidently did find out, but instead of telling the warden what he’d learned he waited and tipped off the Richmond paper. I don’t get it. ”

  “Maybe Applewhite told him, but swore him to secrecy until after his death. Maybe he wanted to be able to die proclaiming his innocence. ”

  “It’s all so damn convoluted,” I said. “Applewhite’s just a pervert and a murderer, but Arne Bodinson a/k/a Abel Baker is something else again. You’ve got to wonder where he’ll turn up next. ”

  27

  It is, he has to admit, a disturbingly good likeness. It’s in the papers and on television, a full-face drawing of himself, the eyes gazing intently out at one, as in a photograph for which the subject has stared directly into the camera lens. But this is no photo, and must have been produced by a police artist, working in concert with a witness.

  But what witness? Surely not the doorman in the building on Jane Street. The man had barely opened his eyes, let alone had the wit to use them. And the other doorman, the one who’d been on duty when he left, had scarcely spared him a glance. It was his job to vet persons on their way in, not those headed out.

  Then who?

  Oh, of course. The woman in the shop. Elaine Scudder, dealer in art and antiques. The wife of the detective. The friend of the late Monica.

  Yes, he will definitely skin her. Start with her hands and feet, then work his way to the good parts.

  But first there is the problem of the drawing. He can’t move about effectively, can’t do what he has to do, if any passerby is apt to glance at him and sound the alarm. How can he give his full attention to the hunt if he’s at the same time cast in the role of quarry?

  He has a copy of the sketch before him, torn from this morning’s Daily News. How the eyes blaze! He’s only beginning to realize what a sense of strength and purpose emanates from them. Surely this ocular intensity is a continuing development, an ongoing part of his evolution. Aren’t the eyes said to be the windows of the soul? The soul is a myth, surely, but substitute spirit or essence for it and you got the idea. His eyes reflect the person he is, and as he has grown in power, the look in his eyes has evolved accordingly.

  He studies his reflection in the bathroom mirror, where the late Joseph Bohan must have viewed himself on those infrequent occasions when he remembered to shave. Yes, his eyes really do burn like the eyes in the drawing.

  This pleases him.

  He’s also pleased to note the prominence of the mustache in the drawing. It is a dominant feature, it draws the eye, and a casual viewer will remember the mustache and forget the face’s other features.

  And he doesn’t have the mustache anymore.

  That’s a help, but he’s not sure it’s enough. With eight million people out there in the city, it’s not unlikely that one of them will look beyond the portcullis of the mustache and see the face plain.

  His task, then, is to alter his appearance so that he looks less like the drawing. And hasn’t he a long history of reinventing himself? Isn’t his life an unending process of reinvention?

  It would be easy, he thinks, simply to shave his head. He did this once years ago, with no purpose beyond experimentation, and was pleased if not greatly surprised to discover that he has a nicely shaped head, with none of those bumps or craters best left covered.

  Shaving one’s head brings about an instantaneous radical transformation, but nevertheless he knows it’s a bad idea. A man with a shaved head has a commanding presence. The bald pate draws the eye. And the viewer can hardly help but wonder what the shaven head would look like without the razor’s intervention.

  No, the object is to avoid drawing glances. One wants to look different from one’s picture, but still to blend in with one’s fellows. One seeks not to stand out from the crowd but to fade into it, to be perfectly ordinary, invisible in one’s mundanity.

  He’s been to the drugstore, and now he lines up his purchases on the bathroom shelf. He strips to the waist and gets to work.

  First, the hairline. He’s been blessed with a full head of hair, and it’s every bit as full in the drawing as in reality. Eyes that would be drawn to a shaved head won’t look twice at a receding hairline. He uses the little scissors first, clearing a path for the razor, which he then wields with the precision of a plastic surgeon, carefully delineating a new hairline. It begins an inch and a half higher on his forehead, and the recession is more pronounced on the temples. The result, when he’s finished, is a textbook case of male-pattern baldness, lacking only a nascent bald spot at the crown. A bald spot, alas, is not something one can convincingly create on one’s own.

  Keep it simple, he tells himself.

  Nice phrase, that. Keep it simple, easy does it, first things first. He’s been associating with a great gathering of simpletons lately, people he won’t be seeing anymore, but he does like some of their catchphrases, and when he dropped one or two of his own into their midst they generally seemed to like them as well.

  You get what you get, he said on one occasion, and watched their little puppet heads bob up and down in agreement.

  He keeps it simple, and is done with his hairline. Next the eyebrows, and for this operation he will need the little scissors and the pair of tweezers.

  His own eyebrows are by no means bushy, but are nevertheless somewhat prominent. Trimming and plucking reduces their prominence, and it’s remarkable how the change alters the whole appearance of his eyes. Looking out from beneath thinner, wispier brows, his gaze is somehow gentler, less unsettling.

  Next, hair dye. His own medium-brown hair has the advantage of near invisibility; it might draw a glance in Asia or Scandinavia, but in America it is utterly ordinary. That’s a good argument for leaving it alone, but after due reflection he follows the instructions on the package and renders it a shade or two darker. He knows not to dye it black— black hair, even when it’s natural, somehow always looks dyed—and the color he’s selected is very nearly as pedestrian as his own, yet undeniably different.

  He leaves his eyebrows undyed, so that they’ll appear even less distinct.

  His new hairline has exposed skin heretofore untouched by the sun, and consequently lighter than the rest. The contrast is slight, but noticeable all the same, like evidence of the former presence of a ring or wristwatch. He’s allowed for this, however, and he applies a small amount of sunless tanning lotion to the pale areas, and to the rest of his face as well. He’s naturally light-complected, and avoids the sun, so a little color in his face will make him just a little more ordinary.

  And, finally, a pair of glasses.

  Not sunglasses. While they do a wonderful job of hiding the eyes and masking the face, they have the disadvantage of looking like a disguise. Ordinary eyeglasses, on the other hand, are almost as good at concealing the eyes and changing the shape of the face without looking as though that’s what they’re doing.

  His distance vision is perfect, better than 20-20, and, while he’s reached an age
when presbyopia could be expected to show itself, his close vision is equally good. He doesn’t even need glasses for reading.

  He wanted real glasses, not a stage prop or a drugstore special. And yesterday he went to a LensCrafters shop and let the resident optometrist examine his eyes. He feigned difficulty with one of the chart’s lower lines, then let the man find a lens that “improved” his vision. It does no such thing, but it is mild enough so that it doesn’t greatly interfere with it. He won’t see any better with his new glasses, but he won’t see all that much worse, and he doesn’t think they will give him a headache.

  And he’ll only wear them when he’s out in public.

  With the glasses on, he stands at the bathroom mirror and shifts his gaze back and forth, from his reflection to the sketch to the reflection again.

  Why, his own mother wouldn’t recognize him.

  But that’s something he doesn’t want to think about, not now, not ever, and he quickly wills the thought away. No one will recognize him, that’s the point. Not the readers of the Daily News, not the viewers of Live at Five. The cops, fumbling about in the manner of their tribe, won’t give him a second glance. Matthew Scudder won’t recognize him until the Messer bowie is planted in his guts, opening him up, carving him from asshole to appetite. And as for Elaine…

  Yes, he’ll definitely skin her.

  A problem, of course, lies in the fact that the other residents in his building, Joe Bohan’s neighbors, have seen him as he appeared earlier— without the mustache, he has never worn that here, but with his full head of lighter hair, his paler skin, his fuller eyebrows, his unspectacled eyes. Few of them, to be sure, have had more than a glimpse of him, passing him on the stairs, perhaps. But he’s had several chats with Mrs. Laskowski and passed the time of day with one or two others.

  So it will be best to avoid them, best to minimize his own comings and goings. It might even be prudent to quit the premises and take up residence elsewhere. Not another transient hotel, though. That’s just the sort of place the police check first.

  Perhaps he’ll be able to stay where he is. Time is on his side; after the first fruitless days, the cops, having lost the scent, will lose their zeal as well. The press will tire of showing his picture, and the public, bombarded with new images and new horrors, will begin to forget what he looks like.

  Time takes time. And you get what you get.

  But he waits until dark to leave the building, waits until Mrs. Laskowski will surely have given up the glory of the front stoop for the comfort of her television set. Then, the Jenkins folding knife in his pocket, he descends into the night.

  At another Kinko’s, this one over on the East Side, he logs on and visits one of his newsgroups. He scans the new posts, gives a few of them a thorough reading, then starts a new thread of his own.

  He types:

  The experts, self-styled and otherwise, the criminologists and psychologists and journalists, see those of us who kill for pleasure as driven men, essentially helpless in the grip of our own overpowering compulsions. No doubt it is more comforting to believe a man has to kill than that he simply loves to kill.

 
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