All the flowers are dyin.., p.40
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       All the Flowers Are Dying, p.40

         Part #16 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 40

 

  “So now’s your chance. What did I say?”

  “It had to do with his mustache. The subject came up, and you said something like the mustache is a good thing, because you could braid a rope out of it and hang him with it. ”

  “I said that?”

  “Something like it, anyway. ”

  “I guess we can blame it on Brooklyn College,” he said. “Colorful figures of speech, when I’m not using words like proactive. So?”

  “What did you mean?”

  “Oh, you weren’t there when that came out? I guess maybe you weren’t. All his vacuuming only worked up to a point. We found three little hairs, and they didn’t belong to the woman. One on the sheet next to her and two in the bush, you should pardon the expression. ”

  “Hairs from a mustache. ”

  “So the lab techs tell me. Facial hair, anyway, and enough for a DNA profile. That’s not gonna find him for us, but once we do it’s golden. If there’s one thing the DAs like it’s some good hard physical evidence to put on the table. ”

  I walked a block and called him again. I guess he had Caller ID and I guess my phone wasn’t blocking it, because his opening words were, “Now what?”

  “About the mustache,” I said.

  “So?”

  “One thing it tells me is he’s clean-shaven. ”

  “Now, you mean? How do you figure that? He doesn’t know he left a couple of hairs behind when he was having a snack. And even if he does, the DNA’s not specific to the mustache. It’s in every cell in his body. ”

  “He didn’t shave,” I said. “He didn’t have to. He just used a little solvent and peeled it off. ”

  For a moment I thought the connection was broken. Then he said, “You’re saying it’s a fake mustache. ”

  “That’s exactly what I’m saying. ”

  “And it was no accident he left those hairs there. He placed them there on purpose so that we’d find them. ”

  “Right. ”

  “Jesus, that’s convoluted. ”

  “We know he’s a planner. ”

  “And a tricky bastard altogether. But this doesn’t make any sense, Matthew. Giving us somebody else’s DNA doesn’t lead us down any primrose path. It’s not like he’s trying to frame somebody else for this. I mean, he knows we’ve got an eyewitness, a friend of the victim who sold him the murder weapon. We pull him in, we’re not gonna cut him loose because the DNA’s not a match. ”

  “It gives his lawyer something to play with in court,” I said.

  “ ‘Isn’t it true that you found male facial hair at the crime scene? And isn’t it true that you tried and failed to match that DNA with that of the defendant’s?’ ”

  “ ‘And isn’t it within the realm of possibility that another man visited the victim’s apartment after my client had gone home, and how can you rule out the possibility that this other man was responsible for her death?’ ”

  “Yeah, that sounds about right,” Sussman said. “But what kind of psycho pervert murderer is so fucking painstaking? Listen, are you gonna be around for the next couple of hours?”

  “Whether I am or not, I’ll have my cell with me. ”

  “Good. I want to talk to the lab guys, and then I want to talk to you some more. ”

  I was just walking in the door when the phone rang. “They didn’t have to do anything,” he said. “All I had to do was ask. The three hairs they recovered are male human facial hair, like I said. Facial hair is like body hair, it grows to a certain length and then it falls out, at which time the follicle sets about sprouting another hair. ”

  “And?”

  “And these hairs didn’t fall out. They were severed, probably by a scissors. Now what happens sometimes is you take a scissors and trim your mustache, and you don’t comb it when you’re done, and some of the trimmings stay in the mustache and get dislodged later. Which is why they weren’t suspicious when they examined the hairs and saw they’d been cut. ”

  “Makes sense. ”

  “And the thing is it could have happened just that way. I can’t prove it didn’t. But I know it didn’t, because if our Mr. Neat trimmed his fucking mustache he’d have damn well combed it afterward. ”

  “Right. ”

  “He combed her crotch. Either that or he shaved his own bush, the way some of them do, to keep from leaving telltale evidence. Man, I bet every TV in every prison is tuned to C. S. I. when it comes on, I bet the motherfuckers sit there and take notes. Anyway, we didn’t come up with any loose pubic hairs there, not his and not hers, but what we did find were those hairs from his mustache. So it was a fake. ”

  “Had to be. ”

  “And he wore it all along. When he met her, when he went to your wife’s shop. Incidentally, forget what I said before about her going back to work. This prick’s too fucking clever. ”

  “My thought exactly. ”

  “I don’t know if we should change the sketch for TV and the papers. It might just tip him off that we know what he’s doing. Besides, he could have a full beard by now. ”

  “If he found someone to sell it to him. ”

  “That’s a line of inquiry I was just thinking about. Theatrical supply houses, because somebody had to sell him that mustache. Matt, I’ve got to thank you for this one. I never even thought of a false mustache. I’m not used to thinking that way. Maybe criminals were a shiftier lot back in the day, huh?”

  “That must be it,” I said. “The guy’s a throwback. ”

  TJ was on the computer and Elaine was reading a magazine, but they both took a break to hear about David Thompson. Elaine was bothered by the idea that Louise was going to break up with him. “So he hasn’t got a place to live. So what?”

  “I think it bothers her that he didn’t tell her. ”

  “It’s like herpes,” she said. “You don’t tell anybody until they need to know. Besides, he did tell her his place was too small for company. He just didn’t tell her quite how small it was. ”

  “He said it was in Kips Bay. ”

  “Well, maybe he likes to park there, maybe there are lots of good spaces. I think she should buy a house in Montclair and let him park in her driveway. ”

  “You’re just a sucker for happy endings. ”

  “Well, you’re right about that. ”

  TJ remembered how, on the night we tried to tail him, Thompson had stopped to make a quick phone call as soon as he was out of Louise’s building.

  “We figured he was calling a woman,” I said, “and we were right. He called Louise, to tell her what a good time he’d had. Then he took the route he did, over to West End and up to Eighty-eighth, because that’s where his car was parked. And when he got in it, well, that was how he gave us the slip, without even knowing we were there. ”

  “An’ he just got in it an’ didn’t start the engine or nothin’. ”

  “Why go anywhere? He had a space that was good until seven the next morning. ”

  Elaine said, “That’s men for you. After they make love, all they want to do is get in their car and go to sleep. ”

  “Least he got a car,” TJ said. “They could go for rides. ”

  “He could take her to drive-in movies,” she said. “If they still had them. Or he could park somewhere and lure her into the back seat. ”

  “An’ he fall right asleep. ”

  “Out of force of habit,” she agreed. “Oh, I love it. ”

  They turned more serious when I told them about the mustache hairs Monica’s killer had left behind, and the inferences Sussman and I had drawn. I asked Elaine if the mustache had looked phony to her, and she said it hadn’t, that she’d have said something if it had.

  “But you don’t expect a mustache to be a fake,” she said. “A certain kind of hairline, you take a second glance to see if you can spot any of the standard telltale signs of a rug. Even then, like we were saying the other day, if it’s a good one you can’t tell. A false mustache should be ea
sier to get away with, because no one would be looking for it. ”

  Something struck me, and I asked where the drawing was.

  “Right there on the table, a whole stack of them. ”

  “I mean the original. ”

  “Oh,” she said. “Just a minute, I think I know where I put it. ”

  “Bring an eraser, will you?”

  “An eraser? Why do you—oh, I get it. Okay. ”

  She came back with Ray’s pencil sketch and a cube of Artgum and said, “Let me do it, okay? Now you want the mustache off but nothing else touched, am I right?”

  “Right. ”

  “So I’ll do it, because my hands are better than yours at detail work. ”

  “And lettering. ”

  “And lettering, and it’s all because I’m a girl. That’s the same reason I can’t throw a baseball. ”

  “Or understand the infield fly rule. ”

  “Except I could throw a baseball fine if I were a lesbian. I don’t know about the infield fly rule, though. ” She leaned forward, blew away the shreds of Art Gum detritus. “There! What do you think?”

  “Jesus Christ,” I said.

  “What’s the matter? Are you all right?”

  “I’m fine. ”

  “You don’t look fine. You look sick. What’s the matter?”

  “I think I know him,” I said. “I think it’s Abie. ”

  “His name’s Abie. I’ve known him for, well, I don’t know. One, two months? He’s new in New York, but he’s been sober something like ten years. He comes to meetings at St. Paul’s and Fireside, and just the other night he turned up at a gay men’s meeting in Chelsea. I thought it was strange, running into him there. And there was something odd about his manner. I guess I thought he was gay but didn’t want me to know it. He wanted to talk, tried to get me to talk, but I just wanted to be alone that night. ”

  “He was stalking you. ”

  I couldn’t sit still. I was on my feet, walking around the room as I talked.

  I said, “It just doesn’t make sense. He’s been in the program ten years, for God’s sake. ”

  “How do you know that?”

  “Because he said so, and why would anybody lie about something like that? It’s like a mustache, you don’t look at it closely. ” I frowned. “I’m the one he latched on to, aren’t I? I thought it was Monica and then you, or maybe the other way around, but it must have been me. He tagged me to AA and started coming to meetings. I don’t know how he got to Monica. ”

  “She’s over here a lot. Was over here a lot. ”

  “Then he found a way to meet her, which probably wouldn’t have been too hard. And impressed upon her the need for secrecy, so she couldn’t tell us about him. Didn’t she buy Scotch for him?”

 
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