Everybody dies, p.4
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       Everybody Dies, p.4

         Part #14 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 4

 

  "I dont smell it on them. "

  "The room was full of whiskey, not the lad himself. "

  "But I smelled whiskey when I walked in the door," I said, "and I smell it now, but not on them. "

  "Ah," he said, and I looked where he was pointing. Broken glass covered a few square feet of the concrete floor at the base of the wall. Five or six feet above the heap of shards the wall was stained, with the stain trailing down the wall to the floor.

  I went over and had a look at it. "They were stealing your whiskey," I said, "and they broke a bottle. "

  "They did. "

  "But it didnt just slip out of their hands and break on impact," I said. "Somebody deliberately smashed the bottle against the wall. A full bottle, too. " I poked around in the debris, found the piece of glass with the label on it. "George Dickel," I said. "I thought I smelled bourbon. "

  "You still have the nose for it. "

  "McCartney and… Kenny, is it?"

  "John Kenny. "

  "I gather they both worked for you. "

  "They did. "

  "And it was your business that brought them here?"

  "It was. Last night I told them to drive out here sometime today and pick up half a dozen cases, scotch and bourbon and I dont remember what else. I told them and they wrote it down. John had a station wagon, a big old Ford consumed with rust. Plenty of room in it for a few cases of whiskey. Barry would give him a hand. Theyd be coming during the day, so they wouldnt need a key to the padlock. I had extra keys to this unit, and I gave them one. "

  "They knew how to get here?"

  "Theyd been here before, when we unloaded the truck the whiskey came in. They werent part of the taking of the truck, but they helped in the unloading. And they were here another time or two over the months. "

  "So they came to pick up some whiskey. And they were to deliver it where?"

  "To the bar. When they didnt show up I called around looking for them. I couldnt find hide nor hair, so I got in my own car and came out here myself. "

  "You were worried about them?"

  "Id no cause for worry. The errand I sent them on was of no great urgency. They might have put it off for a time. "

  "But you were worried all the same, werent you?"

  "I was," he admitted. "I had a feeling. "

  "I see. "

  "My mother always said I had the second sight. I dont know if its so, but sometimes Ill have a feeling. And we needed whiskey at the bar, and Id nothing else to do, so why not run out and have a look?"

  "And this is how you found them?"

  "It is. I added nothing and took nothing away. "

  "What happened to the station wagon?"

  "Ive no idea, beyond that it was nowhere to be seen. Id say whoever killed them drove off in it. "

  "But there was more whiskey than would fit in a station wagon," I said. "That would do for the half dozen cases, but to clear out the whole room- "

  "Youd need a panel truck. "

  "Or a couple of station wagons, each making several trips. But theyd want to get it all in one trip. They wouldnt want to come back to a room with dead men in it. They had a truck, and one of them drove away in it and the other drove off in Kennys station wagon. "

  "You couldnt sell the thing," he said. "Not even for parts. Take away the rust and thered be nothing holding it together. "

  "Maybe they needed the space. Maybe the truck or van they brought wouldnt take the whole load, and they had to stuff the extra cases into the station wagon. "

  "And had one bottle left over," he said, "and smashed it against the wall. "

  "Its hard to make sense out of that, isnt it? Its not as though the bottle just dropped. Somebody heaved it against the wall. "

  "If there was a scuffle- "

  "But theres no sign of one. The killers got the drop on your boys and pistol-whipped them and shot them. That part seems clear, and its hard to fit a broken bottle into that scenario. " I bent down, stood up. "The bottle was opened," I said. "Heres the neck, and the caps off and the seals broken. " I closed my eyes, trying to reconstruct the scene. "Kenny and McCartney are in here. Theyve loaded the cases and theyre having a drink before they head out. The bad guys come in with guns in their hand. Calm down, have a drink, Kenny says, or McCartney. He hands over the bottle, and the gunman takes it away from him and heaves it against the wall. "

  "Why?"

  "I dont know, unless you got knocked off by Carry Nation and the Anti-Saloon League. "

  "All this talk of whiskey," he said, and dug out his flask and took a short drink. "They wouldnt have found an opened bottle, man. All the cases were sealed. Theyd have had to open a case if they wanted a drink, and they wouldnt have done it. "

  I returned to the bodies. There was a little flake of glass floating on top of the blood that had gushed from John Kennys throat. "The bottle was broken after the men were killed," I said. "They killed them, then broke open a case and had a couple of drinks while they loaded the whiskey. And smashed the bottle. Why?"

  "Mayhaps they didnt care for the taste of it. "

  "In some localities its a violation to drive around with an opened bottle of liquor. But somehow I dont think that would have worried them. Its a gesture of contempt, isnt it? Smashing a bottle against the wall. Or maybe its like tossing your glass in the fireplace after you drink a toast. Whatever the reason, it was a stupid thing to do. "

  "Why is that?"

  "Because glass takes fingerprints beautifully, and theres a good chance one of those chunks of glass has a usable print on it. And God only knows what else a lab technician might find here. " I turned to him. "You were careful not to disturb the integrity of the crime scene, but its largely wasted if Im the only one to see it. I havent got the training or the resources to do a good job. But I dont suppose you want to call this in to the cops. "

  "I do not. "

  "No, I didnt think so. What happens next? Are you planning to move the bodies?"

  "Well, now," he said. "I cant leave them here, can I?"

  We laid the two bodies in the single grave wed dug. Wed shrouded each in a pair of black plastic Hefty bags before loading them in the trunk, and we left the bags on when we transferred them to the grave.

  "There ought to be a prayer over them," Mick said, standing awkwardly at the side of the grave. "Would you ever have a prayer you could say?"

  I couldnt think of anything appropriate. I remained silent, as did Andy. Mick said, "John Kenny and Barry McCartney. Ah, you were good boys, and may God grant you glory. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, amen. " He made the sign of the cross over the grave, then dropped his hands and shook his head. "Youd think I could think of a fucking prayer. They ought to have a priest, but thats the least of it. They ought to have a proper funeral. Ah, Jesus, they ought to have thirty more years of life, as far as that goes, and its too fucking bad what they ought to have because this is all theyre after getting, a hole in the ground and three men shaking their heads over it. The poor bastards, lets bury em and be done with it. "

  It took a lot less time to fill in the hole than it had taken to dig it. Still, it took awhile. We had only the one shovel and took turns with it, as wed taken turns before. When wed finished there was earth left over. Mick shoveled it into a wheelbarrow from the toolshed and dumped it fifty yards away, deep in the orchard. He brought the barrow back, returned it to the toolshed along with the shovel, and came back for another look at the grave.

  He said, "Spot it a mile away, wouldnt you? Well, therell be no one back here but OGara, and it wont be the first one hes seen. Hes a good man, OGara. Knows when to turn a blind eye. "

  The light was still on in the farmhouse kitchen. I rinsed out the thermos and left it in the strainer, and Mick put back the unopened cans of ale and topped up his flask from the Jameson bottle. Then we all got back in the Cadillac and headed for home.

  It wa
s still dark when we left the farm, and there was less traffic than thered been before, and no bodies in the trunk to hold us to the posted speed limit. Still, Andy didnt exceed it by more than five miles an hour. After a while I closed my eyes. I didnt drift off, but thought my own thoughts in the stillness. When I opened my eyes we were on the George Washington Bridge and the eastern sky was beginning to brighten.

  So Id had a white night, my first in a while. Sometimes Mick and I would sit up all night at Grogans, with the door locked and all the lights off but the shaded bulb over our table, sharing stories and silence until the sun came up. Now and then we rounded off the night with the eight oclock Mass at St. Bernards, the Butchers Mass, where Mick was just one of a whole crew of men in bloodstained white aprons.

  As we came off the bridge and onto the West Side Drive, he said, "Were in good time for it, you know. Mass at St Bernards. "

  "You read my mind," I said. "But Im tired. I think Ill pass. "

  "Im tired myself, but I feel the need for it this morning. They should have had a priest. "

  "Kenny and McCartney. "

  "The same. The ones family is all in Belfast. All they need to know is there was trouble and he died, the poor lad. John Kennys mother died, but he had a sister as well, didnt he, Andy?"

  "Two sisters," Andy said. "Ones married and the others a nun. "

  "Married to Our Lord," Mick said. It wasnt always clear to me where reverence left off and irony began. Im not sure it was clear to him, either.

  Andy let us out at Grogans. Mick told him to drop the Cadillac at the garage. "Ill take a taxi to St. Bernards," he said. "Or I might walk. Ive time enough. "

  Burke had closed the place hours ago. Mick opened the steel accordion gates and unlocked the door. Inside, the lights were off, the chairs perched on top of the tables, so theyd be out of the way when the floor was mopped.

  We went into the back room he uses for an office. He spun the dial of the huge old Mosler safe and drew out a sheaf of bills. "I want to hire you," he announced.

  "You want to hire me?"

  "As a detective. Its what you do, isnt it? Someone hires you and you undertake an investigation. "

  "Its what I do," I agreed.

  "I want to know who did this. "

  Id been thinking about it. "It could have been spur of the moment," I said. "Somebody with an adjoining cubicle sees two guys standing around and all that booze there for the taking. What did you say it ran to?"

  "Fifty or sixty cases. "

  "Well, whats that worth? Twelve bottles to a case, and how much a bottle? Say ten dollars? Is that about right?"

  Amusement showed in his eyes. "Theyve raised the price of the creature since the day you stopped drinking it. "

  "Im surprised theyre still in business. "

  "Its hard for them without your custom, but they manage. Say two hundred dollars a case. "

 
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