Hope to die, p.41
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       Hope to Die, p.41

         Part #15 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 41

 

  A few minutes later I realized that Kristin hadnt called back. But then how could she, while I was on the phone with Michael? I called her number again and got the machine again, and asked her a couple of times to pick up if she was there.

  When she didnt, and when five minutes went by without a call from her or anyone else, I decided that something was wrong.

  Im not sure how rational that was. I dont know how much of it derived from circumstance and how much from a combination of the dream and Michaels phone call. But I was sure something was wrong, and that Id damn well better do something about it.

  I called Wentworth, and for a change I got him at his desk. "Scudder," I said. "I just wanted to know if youve got men on Kristin Hollander. "

  "The order went in," he said.

  "I know the order went in. What I wanted to know- "

  "Just a minute," he said, and went away. I stood there, shifting my weight from foot to foot, and he came back and said the order was still awaiting approval.

  I started to say something but Id have been talking to myself. He was no longer on the line. I got a dial tone and tried Kristin one more time, but before the machine could pick up I cradled the receiver and got the hell out of there.

  I got a cab right away. The driver may have been the only cabby in the city to brake for yellow lights, so it took a little longer getting there than it might have, but I made myself sit back and take it easy. By the time we turned into Seventy-fourth Street Id cooled down enough to realize I was overreacting. We pulled up and I paid off my cabby and went up and rang her bell.

  It didnt take her long, although it probably seemed longer than it was. Then I heard the cover of the peephole snick back, and I said my name, just in case age and anxiety had rendered me unrecognizable. And then she opened the door.

  I felt a great rush of relief, and at the same time felt like an alarmist and a damned fool. I was on the point of apologizing- Im not sure what for- but she beat me to it.

  "Im sorry," she said. "You were afraid something happened to me, werent you? Thats why youre here. "

  "You didnt answer. "

  "Oh, God," she said, and sagged against me. She was sobbing, and I held her for a moment, then took hold of her by her upper arms and set her upright. "Im sorry," she said again. "Just give me a minute. "

  She turned and disappeared through a doorway, and when she came back a minute or two later the tears were gone and shed regained her composure. "I did something I wasnt supposed to do," she said. "Peter called, it must have been the third or fourth time, and he talked right through the machine to me. Its as if we were having this conversation, except he was doing all the talking, and I hadnt picked up the phone. "

  "And then you did pick up. "

  "I couldnt help it," she said. "I tried to walk away but I couldnt, it would have been like hanging up on a person, except somehow worse. I dont know, it doesnt make any sense, but I picked up the phone. "

  "Dont worry about it. "

  "He was going on and on about destiny, and how he wanted to be there for me, how all of them wanted to be there for me, and I just couldnt take it. "

  "Destiny," I said.

  "And I knew the only way to end this was to end it, so I told him to forget about destiny and forget about me, because I had to make a life for myself, and the life I had in mind didnt have room for him in it. " She frowned. "That sounds terribly cold and cruel, doesnt it? If anybody talked to me like that Id probably want to stick my head in the oven. But thats not how he took it. "

  "Oh?"

  "He said he was really grateful to me for telling the truth about how I felt. He said it helped cut through a lot of illusions. He said it was liberating. "

  "You think he meant it?"

  "You dont know Peter. If he didnt mean it, he wouldnt say it. "

  But the conversation took a long time, she said, and that must have been when I was getting the endless busy signals. Then when she got off the phone she felt exhausted, and decided she wanted to sit in the tub with last months Vanity Fair and just wallow in somebody elses misery. She was just ready to get into the tub when the phone started to ring, and she thought it might be Peter, and she didnt want to talk to him again, and if it wasnt Peter it was probably some reporter, and whoever it was she wasnt supposed to answer it, so she just got in the tub.

  And while she was soaking and reading about the murder of a Connecticut socialite, still unsolved after thirty years, the phone rang again. And again she let the machine get it, and stayed right where she was.

  "And then I got out and got dressed and came down here and played the messages," she said, "and they were both from you, and you sounded really upset, and I grabbed the phone and called your number, but all I did was get your machine. "

  "Id left the house by then. "

  "And youre here, and you made the trip for nothing, and Im really sorry. "

  "Forget it. I was as much to blame as you, and it got me out of the house, and thats not the worst thing that ever happened to me. "

  "Oh?"

  "I had a bad dream last night," I said, "about one of my sons. It was groundless, and everythings fine, but sometimes you cant really shake off that sort of thing without a change of scene. "

  "I know what you mean. "

  "Yes, Im sure you do. "

  "Well," she said, a little awkwardly. "Well, you were wonderful to come rushing over, but fortunately Im fine, and, uh, actually I was going through some papers upstairs. And I know youve got things to do, and, well…"

  "Youre right," I said. "Id better be going. Its just that Im a little leery of leaving you here. "

  "Even if I promise not to answer the phone? Unless its you, in which case I promise to answer right away? Remember, Ive got a couple of guardian angels posted outside. "

  "Oh?"

  "My police protection," she said. "I still havent been able to spot them, but its good to know theyre there. "

  Should I let her go on believing that? And what if she waltzed out the front door, confident her guards were there to protect her?

  I said, "I spoke to Wentworth. He hasnt been able to get authorization. "

  "But I thought it was just a formality. "

  "I guess some precincts are more formal than others," I said, "and some precinct commanders, or whatever deadheads in charge up there. May I use your phone?"

  "Of course," she said, and grinned suddenly. "I cant, but you can. "

  I have four numbers for Ballou, and at that hour I wasnt at all confident hed be at any of them. But he picked up the phone at the third one I tried. I told him what I wanted in about five sentences, and all he wanted to know was the address.

  "A friend of mine," I told her. "Hell stay here in the house with you, and God help anybody who tries to get through the door. " And I told her a little about my friend Mick Ballou, and watched her eyes widen.

  We were sitting in the kitchen, waiting for him to ring the doorbell, when she said, "Oh, I almost forgot. At least I managed to do something right when I talked to Peter. "

  "If you cooled his ardor for keeps, Id say you did a lot of things right. "

  "Besides that. I found out his name. " My confusion must have shown in my face, because she said, "No, not Peters name. Remember you wanted to know the man we saw for couple counseling?"

  "You said Peter called him Doc. "

  "They all called him Doc. I asked Peter what Docs name was, and he couldnt believe I didnt remember. Doc played a much bigger role in Peters life than in mine. Anyway, it turns out his name is Adam, and I swear I never knew that. I just remember him being introduced as Doc. "

  "Adam. "

  "And what did you say Dr. Nadlers first name was? Sheldon?"

  "Seymour. "

  "Well, I was close. But not Adam, anyway. "

  "No," I said. "You said they all called him Doc. All his patients?"

  She shook her head. "Peter and his friends. Maybe his other
patients, too, but I dont know about them, just Peter and the four artists we were going to be sharing a house with in Williamsburg. "

  "They all knew Adam?"

  "They were all patients of his. I think they all met each other in group therapy, or something like that. "

  "Really. "

  "When Peter was talking about destiny," she said, "and everything else he was saying, you could tell he was just parroting something he got from Adam. That was another reason I was sort of relieved when we broke up. Adam was good for Peter, I guess he was good for all of them, but I could picture the five of them all turning into little Adam Breit clones. "

  "Adam Breit. "

  "Yes. "

  "Describe him, would you?"

  "Oh, gosh," she said. "I only met him at the counseling sessions, and Peter and I spent most of our time looking at each other. Or not looking at each other. Lets see. Hes about your height, and maybe a little slimmer, and, well, sort of ordinary-looking. This isnt helping much, is it?"

  "I need to use the phone again," I said, and went and picked it up. I found the number I wanted in my notebook, and dialed it, and caught her in. I said, "Its Matthew Scudder again, Mrs. Watling. About the name of that therapist. "

  "Im afraid it hasnt come to me," she said. "Im so ashamed of myself. "

  "A cheerful, optimistic name, you said. "

  "Yes, but I cant- "

  I wasnt in court, no one was going to accuse me of leading the witness. I said, "Could it have been Adam Breit?"

  "Yes!"

  "Youre sure? I dont want to- "

  "Yes, thats it! I couldnt swear to the Adam part, but the Breit part is absolutely right. Bright and sunny, bright and cheerful, bright as day, bright as a new copper penny. I dont know why that name wouldnt come to me. It seems so obvious now. "

  I thanked her and told her Id let her know how things worked out. Then I took a chair and we waited for Mick Ballou.

  THIRTY-FIVE

  Smile in place, he emerges from the little room, saying, "Bye-bye, see you soon," as he draws the door shut. He nods and smiles his way past the expressionless Korean minding the desk, and keeps the smile on his face until he is down the stairs and out of the building. He walks quickly to the corner, turns, and maintains a brisk pace, but not so brisk as to draw attention.

  No great need to hurry. No one will open her door, not right away. Theyll wait for her to come out on her own. And, when they do lose patience and knock, and open the door when the knock goes unanswered, all theyll see is an empty room. She must have come out unnoticed, theyll think, and gone to the bathroom.

  Eventually, of course, someone will open the metal wardrobe, where he stuffed her body, along with her slippers and her red-orange dress.

  No one notices him, and in return he notices no one; waiting for the light at Columbus Avenue, hes so involved in his own thoughts that it changes twice before he remembers to cross the street.

  Hes had a revelation, and he has to get it written down. It may have some scientific merit, but thats almost beside the point.

 
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