All the flowers are dyin.., p.41
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       All the Flowers Are Dying, p.41

         Part #16 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 41

 

  “Yes. ”

  “And he brought her a bottle of that Italian crap. ”

  “Strega. ”

  “Right, Strega. He came around and talked about his ten years of sobriety, he qualified at meetings, and then he went to her place and drank a little Scotch. And why shouldn’t he, if he wasn’t an alcoholic in the first place?”

  I picked up the phone, looked up a number, made a call. It rang almost enough times for me to hang up before Bill picked up. I said, “It’s Matt, Bill. How’s it going? Say, you sponsor Abie, don’t you? Have you seen him at meetings lately? Well, why I’m asking, and I don’t want you to breach a confidence, but I’ve got a reason to suspect him of something serious. Pretty damned serious, actually. I think he may be running a game, that he might not be sober at all. That’s not the serious part, which I don’t want to say just yet. Uh-huh. That’s interesting. What’s his last name, do you happen to know? Well, do you know where he’s been living? I see. Yes, sure, Bill. I will, and thanks. ”

  I hung up and said, “He hasn’t seen him in several days, doesn’t know his last name, no idea where he lives. He smelled whiskey on him one time, and he didn’t say anything, and Abie must have sensed something, because he preempted the subject by saying how he’d had a drink spilled on him at a restaurant and it was driving him crazy, walking around smelling the booze on himself. But thinking back, Bill has the feeling that might have been crap, and the booze was on his breath, not his clothes. ”

  “You want a cup of tea, baby? Or something to eat? You’re all—”

  “I’m all keyed up, and I damn well ought to be. Bill was his sponsor and Abie never told him his last name. ”

  “Abie’s an odd name to pick. Short for Abraham, I suppose. ”

  “You would think, but he corrected you if you called him that. Or if you shortened it to Abe, come to think of it. And people are so polite in AA, so fucking accepting. He could have called himself Dolores and everybody would have gone along with it. ”

  “What’s wrong with Dolores?”

  TJ asked if he used a last initial, like Matt S. or Bill W.

  I said, “No, just Abie. ” And then I stopped in my tracks, and I guess my eyes widened and my jaw dropped, because TJ gaped at me and Elaine took my arm and asked me what was the matter.

  “So fucking clever,” I said. “So goddam cute. Abie, see? Just plain Abie. Those are his initials. A period B period. AB. ”

  “I don’t see—”

  “A fucking B. As in Abel Baker, or Arne Bodinson. ”

  “You can’t think—”

  “Or Arden Brill,” I said. “Or Adam Breit. Or what did he write on the wall? Aubrey Beardsley. Always AB. Oh, sweet Jesus, it’s him. ”

  30

  “You know,” Ira Wentworth said, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about that son of a bitch over the past few years. And each time I’ve tried to think of something else instead, because I didn’t want him taking up space in my head. I wanted that chapter to be closed. ”

  Ira Wentworth was still at the Twenty-sixth Precinct. That’s where he’d been a few years ago when the man with many names but a single set of initials ambushed a young woman named Lia Parkman in her residence on Claremont Avenue. Her roommates were in the apartment at the time, but he managed to get in and out, and not incidentally drown Lia in the bathtub, without anyone noticing his presence. Lia, a student at Columbia, had been a friend of TJ’s, and a cousin of another young woman named Kristin Hollander, whose parents had already been brutally murdered by two men in an apparent home invasion. AB—Lia knew him as Arden Brill, a doctoral candidate in English; Kristin had known him as Adam Breit, an unconventional psychotherapist—killed his accomplice in the burglary, along with another young man. Earlier, he’d killed the owner of an apartment on Central Park West, then moved in, proclaiming himself the subtenant. Down the line he strangled a girl in a Korean massage parlor, wrung her neck and left her there. And, for a coda, he’d stabbed to death five homesteaders renovating a house in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, disfiguring their corpses with muriatic acid before apparently dying himself in the basement, burned to death in the fire he’d set.

  I wanted that chapter to be closed, Wentworth said, and it wasn’t hard to figure out why.

  Sussman said, “The body in the basement. You couldn’t get a positive ID?”

  “Nothing that was a hundred percent. He was wearing a pendant, this pink stone identified as stolen in the Hollander burglary. He had a knife next to him, which we were able to tie to the five killings upstairs. The body was good and charbroiled, all you could say was it could be him. We could get DNA from it, but we didn’t have anything to match it to. If he wasn’t such a fucking trickster, such a cutie pie, there would have been no question. ”

  “So you closed the case. ”

  “I couldn’t justify leaving it open. And if I had any kind of a gut feeling that maybe he staged the whole thing and disappeared, well, where were we going to go with it? Send out a nationwide BOLO, be on the lookout for some slick dude who kills people?” He picked up a copy of Ray’s sketch. “Is this what he looks like? You couldn’t prove it by me. I never got to see him, or a picture of him. I never even came across a detailed description. But I know it’s the same guy. ”

  “Because of the initials. ”

  “They nail it down, don’t they? That’s where he gets stupid, using the same initials all the time, making it his trademark. It’s how he signs his work. The only thing bigger than his brain is his ego. You know, when we closed the case, I knew there was a chance he got out alive. But that meant he was out of the jurisdiction, and out of our hair. ”

  “You said as much at the time,” I remembered.

  And that was the bell that had tried to ring in a phone conversation with Mark Sussman. Maybe he’d filled his New York quota, maybe he was on his way to El Paso. If so, he’d be out of our hair. I’d got an echo then, but hadn’t been able to hold on to it.

  “Worst-case scenario, he was somebody else’s headache,” Wentworth said, finishing the thought. “One thing never even crossed my mind was he might come back. ”

  I’d called the two of them, Sussman and Wentworth, and we were all gathered in our living room. There was a carafe of coffee on the table, along with a little cream pitcher and a sugar bowl and a dish containing envelopes of artificial sweetener, both pink ones and blue ones. For boy babies and girl babies, I suppose. There was a plate of cookies, too. No one had touched the cookies, or used cream or sugar, but Wentworth had already had two cups of coffee.

  There were other cops I could have invited to the party. There was Ed Iverson, from Brooklyn, who’d investigated the apparent murder and suicide on Coney Island Avenue. AB had staged that one, making it look as though Jason Bierman had killed first Carl Ivanko and then himself, effectively closing the book on the Hollander murders. There was Dan Schering, who’d had the Hollander case until Homicide North claimed it as their own. And I could think of a few others, cops from Homicide and from the Two-Six, along with a fire inspector out in Bushwick, but I’d have been hard-pressed to come up with their names, let alone guess where to reach them.

  Wentworth said, “What’s it been, four years? Not hard to guess what he’s been doing to get through the days. ”

  “Been killing people,” TJ said.

  “Four that we know of,” Wentworth said. “No, make that five. ”

  “Who besides Monica?” Elaine wanted to know.

  “Your friend is one. Plus three boys in Virginia, unless there’s anyone here who doesn’t think our guy and Abel Baker and Arne Bodinger are one and the same. ”

  “Bodinson. ”

  “I stand corrected. Same guy, right?”

  “Has to be,” I said.

  Sussman agreed, but wondered how that meant he’d killed the boys in Richmond. Wasn’t the evidence ironclad against Preston Applewhite?

  “Evidence,
” Wentworth said, “would seem to be a specialty of this guy’s. The Richmond killings were done with a knife, if I remember right. And the knife was recovered, it was part of the evidence. And our guy does seem to have a fondness for knives. ”

  “He strangled the Korean masseuse,” I reminded him. “And he used a gun to kill Bierman and Ivanko and Byrne Hollander. ”

  “You don’t think he did the three kids in Richmond?”

  “I’m sure he did,” I said, “and I agree he likes knives, but he doesn’t limit himself. ”

  Elaine said, “Weren’t the boys molested? Sexually, I mean. ”

  “So?”

  “So I thought he was straight, that’s all. ‘Nothing queer about Chumley. ’ You remember that joke?”

  Wentworth said, “About buggering an elephant, wasn’t it? ‘Male or female elephant?’ ‘Why, female elephant, old man, nothing queer about Chumley. ’ ”

  “But those boys were killed years ago,” Sussman said. “Virginia’s quicker than most states, they move that appeal process right along, but even so he’d have had to put it all in motion way back when. ”

  “He’s a patient man, Mark. And he probably found other ways to pass the time. There’s a whole lot of people get killed every year, and plenty of the killings go unsolved. And you don’t have to limit yourself to the unsolved ones, either. I mean, the Richmond murders, the cops down there put that one in the Wins column. Case closed, right? Same as we closed the books on all the people he killed here. ”

  “I don’t know,” Sussman said. “What do we do now, call Richmond?”

  They went back and forth on that one. On the one hand, the Richmond murders were a can of worms; on the other, the can was already open. Either way, the main thing to concentrate on was catching the son of a bitch, and if you brought in Richmond and the Bureau, were you increasing the odds of nailing him or setting yourself up for the Too Many Cooks syndrome?

  There was a lull, and Elaine said, “You said five. ”

  “How’s that?”

  “You said five killings,” she said to Wentworth. “Monica is one, and the three boys in Richmond. That makes four. Who’s the fifth?”

  “Applegate, except that’s not his name. I said it a minute ago. What the hell is it?”

  “Applewhite. ”

  “There you go. Applewhite got a hot shot from the state of Virginia, but our friend was there to see him get it, and he’s the one who put him on the gurney in the first place. He’s not going to get indicted for that, and there’s plenty of other things to hang him for instead, but wouldn’t you say he was as much the cause of Applewhite’s death as the chemicals they pumped into him? And wouldn’t you call that murder?”

  If the Richmond cops and the FBI came in, the whole thing turned into a media circus overnight.

 
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