All the flowers are dyin.., p.38
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       All the Flowers Are Dying, p.38

         Part #16 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 38

 

  We kill, they tell us, according to the calendar, our behavior often dictated by phases of the moon. Much was made of the fact that our late brother Preston Applewhite dispatched his young friends at one-month intervals. Of course if one wished to establish a pattern, to draw public attention to the idea that a serial killer was operating, mightn’t one deliberately wait a month between incidents? But no one seems to have considered this possibility.

  There are, to be sure, those of us who are at the effect of our compulsions. But there are also those of us who are not. We can wait, if need be, no matter how the moon draws tides in our blood. And, when it is expedient, we can act in an instant in the absence of any inner prompting. We are much more dangerous and far less predictable than you find it comforting to believe.

  He reads it over, ponders a signature, decides none is required. And hits SEND.

  Back at the apartment, he thinks about what he has posted. The one thing he must do, he knows, is give himself time. Time for the Scudders to let their guard down. Time for the police to lose interest. Time for the public to forget.

  But earlier, walking across town, he looked up and caught a glimpse of the moon. And it told him of what his very own blood has already informed him. That in a day, two at the most, it will be full.

  He is not an automaton. He does not simply react to stimuli. He does not exist at the whim of fate. He makes his own fate, carves out his own destiny.

  Yet how can he argue that the full moon is without influence?

  It draws up the very seas, for heaven’s sake. No one denies its role as the source of the tides. How then deny its pull upon the blood in one’s veins?

  Was the moon full that night in Durango? Along with the glow of the bedside lamp, did moonlight fall upon the throat and lead the bowie to it?

  He rather thinks so.

  Tomorrow, he knows, the pull will be at its strongest. Will it be irresistible? No, certainly not. His will is stronger than the tides, stronger than the moon.

  But it might influence him to hurry things, to take needless chances. The longer he delays resolving matters with the Scudders, the more certain he can be of success. So must he stifle the moon-driven urges? Must he put them aside, perhaps until the next full moon, perhaps even longer?

  Often, counseling patients, he’s stressed the importance of getting away from binary thinking. Beware the trap of the two alternatives, he advised them. So often, if you but look for it, you discover a third choice.

  For him, the third choice, the only real choice, is obvious. All he has to do is take the pressure off.

  Late Monday afternoon, at the peak of rush hour, he’s crammed into a subway car on the southbound E train. As the train pulls out of the Fiftieth Street station, he draws the knife from his pocket, opens it with a practiced flick of the wrist. The bodies of his fellow passengers screen his actions from view, and no one can see him slip the knife between two ribs of the woman he’s pressed against.

  He’s aware of the sudden intake of breath that stops when the blade finds her heart. For an instant she seems to be dancing on the end of his knife. Then the dance is over. He feels the life go out of her and breathes it in along with her scent.

  The train pulls into Times Square. The doors open. He’s one of many heading out the doors, and he’s on the platform before the woman he’s just killed has room enough to fall down. By the time they clear enough space to attempt to help her, he’s up the stairs. He’s out on the street long before anyone has the slightest suspicion she’s dead.

  There.

  It’s so easy. Because the moon is full, or simply because he likes to do what gives him pleasure, he’s felt the need to kill. But he hasn’t allowed that need to hurry his plan or expose him to unnecessary risk. He’s found a simple risk-free way to act on it, and has done so with great success.

  Now he can wait. Now he can bide his time, cocooned in Joe Bohan’s cozy apartment, keeping up with his newsgroups, surfing the Internet, watching the Applewhite story (which is fast becoming the Bodinson story) unfold in fascinating fashion in Richmond.

  The moon won’t be full for another four weeks. And, should he feel the urge before then, how hard will it be to find and dispatch someone else? This city has human beings in great abundance. It won’t miss a few here and there.

  You can go to the ocean with a teaspoon or a bucket, he used to tell his clients. The ocean does not care.

  A useful image, getting across the notion of the infinite abundance of the Universe. He’s always liked it.

  Indeed. With a teaspoon or a bucket. Or a knife.

  28

  “I see your wife’s shop is closed until further notice,” Sussman said. “Until all of this is over, I take that to mean. ”

  “And I hope it’s soon. ”

  “She’s staying close to home?”

  “She’s staying home,” I said. “Period. ”

  “Because I had a thought. ”

  “Oh?”

  “It can’t be much fun for her, sitting home every day. And I don’t know what kind of business she does there, little shop like that, but you can’t do any at all when you’re not open. ”

  “I think I see where this is going. ”

  “Well, I figured you would. We can protect her, you know. I’d have two men in that back office, I’d park a panel truck in front with another two men in it, I’d have the place wired for sound. He couldn’t get anywhere near her. ”

  “No,” I said.

  “Take a minute and think about it, why don’t you? We’ve got a chance to take a proactive stance here. Isn’t that better than just sitting around waiting for something to happen?”

  “Send a cop to college,” I said, “and he comes out using words like proactive. ”

  “What’s the matter with proactive? We’ve got a chance to quit sitting around with our thumbs up our asses. You like that better?”

  “What I don’t like,” I said, “is staking my wife out like a sacrificial goat. ”

  There was more, and both our voices got a little louder toward the end. When I hung up, Elaine asked me just what the role of sacrificial goat consisted of. I told her to forget it.

  “They want me to open the store?”

  “It’s a bad idea. Sussman likes it because it gives him a chance to do something. ”

  “That must be where proactive came in. ”

  “He can station men here and there and have them all stay in touch with walkie-talkies. He gets to be the general, he gets to direct the movie. But you’re the one who’d be taking the risk, and to no purpose, because this guy’s not stupid. ”

  “So you’re saying it wouldn’t work?”

  “Not in a million years. You think he’ll just waltz into the shop? They can have two guys in a Con Ed truck, looking like they’re working in a manhole, and they can have another guy dressed like a bum and collecting coins in a paper cup—”

  “Like TJ, with his denim cap. ”

  “—and two cops in the back room, and one in the basement and another on the roof, for all I know. The guy’ll spot ’em in a hot second, and he’ll stay away. ”

  “Say he does. Nobody gets hurt, and at least I’m out there doing something instead of just sitting here like a piece of Wedgwood that’s too delicate to put on the table. What’s the downside?”

  “They put you out there,” I said. “They bait the hook and he doesn’t bite. ”

  “They bait the hook with a goat? Never mind. So he doesn’t bite. Does that mean it wasn’t worth trying?”

  “It does if it means they lose their edge,” I said. “They keep preparing for something that keeps not happening, and they start taking it for granted that nothing’s going to happen. And they get sloppy, and they let their guard down. And he sits back and waits and watches, and when he finally makes his move nobody notices until it’s too late. ”

  “You really think that would happen?”

 
; “Yes. ”

  “Oh. ”

  “And you wouldn’t just be standing there behind the counter for six or seven hours a day. You’d have to get there and back. They’d give you a police escort, and don’t you think he’d spot it? And figure out a way around it?”

  “I see what you mean,” she said. “You can only take precautions so long and then you start loosening up. But won’t the same thing happen to us here? I’m already getting a fierce case of cabin fever. We’ve got a nice roomy apartment, so I’ve got more than four walls to stare at, but I’m getting pretty tired of them just the same. I’ve been good, I do my yoga in the living room, but I don’t know how long I can take it. ”

  “We’ll take it a day at a time. ”

  “Like staying sober, huh?”

  “Like getting through anything. Even guys in prison figure that much out. You take it a day at a time and you wait it out. ”

  “I know you’re right,” she said. She was silent for a moment, and then she said, “Suppose it was you. ”

  “Suppose what was me?”

  “Suppose it was you on this asshole’s shit list. And as far as that goes, how do we know it isn’t? Maybe I’m not the only one he wants to kill, did you ever think of that?”

  “If he makes a move on me, I hope he doesn’t bring me a bottle of Strega. ”

  “I’m serious. ”

  “I guess the flowers would be okay, though. But no Strega. ”

  A little later she said, “You take risks. You’ve even let yourself be the bait in the trap. What about the time that Colombian came at you with a machete?”

  “That was more than twenty years ago. I was young and reckless then. ”

  “You still take risks. When you and Mick went out to his farm after those men—”

  “There was nothing else to do, honey. ”

  “I know. ”

  “There was no way to bring the cops in, and we were in no position to hang back and wait it out. It was a different situation. ”

  She nodded. She said, “I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the time I was stabbed. It must have hurt, don’t you think? But it’s funny, the only pain I remember is post-op, waiting to heal. I almost died, didn’t I?”

  “It was touch and go. ”

  “They had to take out my spleen. ”

  “They did,” I said, “though anyone who knows you would find that hard to believe. ”

  “Thanks a lot. He was trying to kill you, too. Me first, but then you. I think this is the same idea. ”

  “Why do you say that?”

  “I just have a feeling. He may not be too fussy about the order, either. I’m staying inside, I’ve been cooped up here for days, but you get to go out. ”

  “What’s your point?”

  “Well, you have to be careful. I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to you. ”

  “If I lost you,” I said, “I really wouldn’t want to go on. ”

  “Don’t say that. ”

  “I’m not saying I’d kill myself. I just wouldn’t want to live anymore. You reach a certain age and it can get pretty grim, you spend all your time going to other people’s funerals and waiting around for your own. Your body and your mind both start giving up ground, and the best you can hope for is that they both quit on you at the same time. I can handle all that if I’ve got you keeping me company, but without you, well, I don’t know that there’d be much point. So I realize it’s a pain in the ass staying inside twenty-four hours a day, but do it anyway, okay? Humor me. ”

 
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