All the flowers are dyin.., p.42
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       All the Flowers Are Dying, p.42

         Part #16 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 42

 

  “It seems to me we got one big edge right now,” Sussman said. “We know who he is and where he’s coming from, and he doesn’t know we know. We go public with it and that’s out the window. ”

  “I don’t know,” Wentworth said. “What’s our edge amount to, anyway? First place, he might assume we know. It’s not as though he’s been working all that hard to disguise it. He’s not using the same initials just so he can go on wearing the monogrammed cuff links. Some level, he wants the whole world to know. ”

  “ ‘Catch me before I kill more. ’ ”

  “No, I’m not saying he’s itching to get caught. He’s doing everything he can to keep from getting caught, but consciously or unconsciously he damn well wants us to know just who it is we’re not catching. ”

  “If we go public, what does he do?”

  “I know what he did last time,” Wentworth said. “He killed five people and disappeared. Six, counting the crispy critter he left behind in his place. I don’t know that we’d trigger another bloodbath, but I’ll bet he’d decide to get out of Dodge. ”

  “So what do we do? Besides quietly expanding the task force, putting more bodies on the case. How do we find him?”

  “For a starter, we get serious about protecting Matt and Elaine. Next we get out there and look for him. He’s got to be holed up someplace. Matt, how long did you say he’s been turning up at meetings?”

  “At least a month. ”

  “So he’s living somewhere. Any idea where?”

  “Be this neighborhood,” TJ said. “Puts him close to this apartment, close to the meetings, close to Elaine’s shop. ”

  “Say the West Fifties,” Sussman said, “from Eighth Avenue to the river. Midtown North, in other words. Who do we know there?”

  I let them toss names back and forth. One of the names they mentioned was Joe Durkin, and I chimed in to tell them he’d retired. They worked out details, figured out how to proceed. There were still quite a number of SRO hotels and rooming houses in the area, and that’s where they thought they should concentrate.

  I said, “I don’t think he’ll be in a hotel. ”

  “No?”

  TJ said, “This another one gonna be sleeping in his car?”

  They didn’t know what he was talking about, and I didn’t bother to enlighten them. “He’ll find an apartment,” I said.

  “Then he’s a genius, if he can find an apartment in this city. ”

  “It doesn’t have to be an empty one,” I said, and reminded them how his neighbors on Central Park West had all been given to understand that he was subletting the apartment of a paleontologist on sabbatical in France. “It was the perfect low-cost open-end sublet,” I said. “All he had to do was kill the paleontologist and sink the body in the Hudson. ”

  “And you think he’d do it again?”

  “The price is right,” I said, “and it’s not as though killing’s a stretch for him. ”

  “No,” Sussman said. “He seems to be developing a taste for it, doesn’t he?”

  When the two cops left, Elaine and TJ and I sat around with nothing much to say. Nobody felt like eating. I put on the TV, changed channels aimlessly for a few minutes, and turned the set off. I sat there and drifted into a curious sort of reverie in which I was trying to get a count of just how many people AB had killed that we knew about. I kept losing track and having to start over.

  A few months earlier, when baseball season was just getting under way, I’d driven myself crazy one afternoon trying to remember the teams in the major leagues when I was a boy, when there were eight teams in each league and no divisions or playoffs, let alone exploding scoreboards and designated hitters. I wasn’t using pencil and paper, I was doing it in my head, and it was harder than you’d think. I got all eight National League teams but only seven in the AL, and I couldn’t seem to come up with the one I was missing. I forgot the whole thing, and then two days later the Yankees had a home stand against Detroit, and that was my answer, and one that raised another question. How the hell could I have forgotten the Detroit Tigers?

  It was a very different country then. The westernmost city in the majors was St. Louis, the southernmost Washington, D. C. Chicago had two teams, of course, but so did Boston and Philly and, yes, St. Louis. New York had three.

  Elaine asked me what I was thinking about. “Baseball,” I said.

  “See if there’s a game on,” she suggested. “Come on, it’s something to do. I’ll make popcorn. ”

  The Yankees were in Baltimore, playing a franchise that had once been the St. Louis Browns. The Mets were winding up a three-game series at home with the Braves, who’d moved in my lifetime from Boston to Milwaukee to Atlanta. But you still get four balls and three strikes, three outs and nine innings, and if the hitters are stronger these days, well, the pitchers throw harder. We sat there on the couch and ate popcorn, the three of us, and watched the young men on the field play the old game.

  31

  He sits in the coffee shop. He has a table next to the window, and he can sit here and eat his breakfast and keep an eye on the building diagonally across the street. Scudder lives there, Scudder and the fair Elaine, and there is a young black man who seems to spend a lot of time with them. Ever since he returned to New York he has seen Scudder in the young man’s company, sometimes walking on the street, sometimes having a meal together in this very coffee shop.

  Elaine never seems to leave the building. Scudder comes and goes, the black man comes and goes, but he never sees Scudder and the black man together anymore. It is hard to be certain, he doesn’t spend twenty-four hours a day observing the building’s entrance, but it seems to him as though at least one of the two men is always inside the building. Scudder never leaves until the black man has come to take his place at her side.

  Which suggests to him that they’re guarding her. Keeping her inside where no one can get at her, and standing by to protect her in the event that he might manage to get inside the building.

  And if he were to go away?

  The idea intrigues him. He wants to think about it. He pays for his meal, leaves the coffee shop, and walks.

  He could just disappear. That’s what he always does, sooner or later. He walks away from the life he’s been living like a snake shedding its skin. He goes somewhere else, becomes someone else.

  And does the things he does.

  And if he were to do so now? Not, as he’d planned, after he’d finished his business with Mr. and Mrs. S cudder. Suppose he were to leave his business unfinished and simply vanish? He could go south or west, he could go anywhere, with his darker hair and his reshaped hairline and his eyeglasses, and no one would know him.

  And the Scudders could remain here, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Keeping their guard up, with the woman afraid to leave the building and the man afraid to leave her alone, both of them chained by their terror, while he, the cause of that terror, is nowhere to be found. Gone, vanished, absent without leave, but they in their ignorance are unable to relax, unable to live their lives.

  Like the whole country, he thinks. They’ll have their own personal equivalent of long lines at airport security, they’ll cower for the blow that never comes, while he’s thousands of miles away.

  He has the great advantage of patience. He’s lived for years with unfinished business, ever since Scudder drove him out of this city. It’s never eaten at him, never preyed on his mind. It’s always been an item on the agenda, something to take care of sooner or later, when the time is right.

  Suppose he returns it to the back burner. And suppose he’s gone for a few more years, and the Scudders return to their ordinary lives, and time passes. Thoughts of him, unbidden and unwelcome, will trouble them from time to time. They’ll know he’s out there, they’ll be aware that he might come back. But every month will make that threat a little less urgent, and they’ll reach a point where they’ve relaxed entirely.

  And then h
e’ll return. Oh, he won’t have this particular knife in his pocket when he does. He’ll have let it go somewhere, for one reason or another. But he’ll have another knife, and perhaps he’ll like the new one even better.

  And when the time is right he’ll get to use it.

  But he ought to do something before he goes. So that they don’t forget him too soon.

  32

  It was late morning when Mark Sussman called. Had I caught the item about the rush-hour subway stabbing in Queens? The victim was a male, sixteen years old, who’d earlier been in a shoving match with two other teenage males on the subway platform. The killing was assumed to have grown out of that argument, although no one had seen it occur; the bodies of the other passengers kept the youth’s body upright until the train reached a station and the crowd thinned enough for him to fall down.

  “They figured gang-related,” he said, “but I thought about it, and then I thought about that woman killed a couple of days ago here in Manhattan. Miles apart, but it’s the same train, and both times it’s a stabbing and nobody saw it happen. Two different boroughs and two different medical examiners, so who’s going to look at both of them at once, you know?”

  He’d talked to the right people, and he was waiting for them to compare notes and get back to him. “What I want to hear,” he said, “is it’s two different knives, two different kinds of wounds, two different everything. But you know what I think it is. ”

  He said he’d let me know as soon as he heard one way or the other. An hour or so later the phone rang and I thought it was him, but it wasn’t. It was Mick Ballou.

  “That picture you showed me,” he said. “Didn’t I tell you he looked familiar? I’ve tried to place him, and late last night it came to me. ”

  “You saw him at Grogan’s?”

  “I did not. ’Twas years ago I saw him, and then only for a moment. Do you recall when you had me go to a house on West Seventy-fourth Street? There was a girl there you thought might be in harm’s way. ”

  “Kristin Hollander. ”

  “And a very nice young woman she was. He came to the door, your man in the drawing. Of course I’d no idea who he might be. I opened the door and told him to piss off, and he pissed off. I barely looked at him, but I’ve a fine old memory, haven’t I? It was the same man. ”

  “Oh, God,” I said. “I never even thought of her. I don’t know what the hell’s the matter with me. Listen, I’ll have to get off the line so I can arrange police protection for her. Assuming she’s all right, assuming he hasn’t already paid her a visit. Christ, if he’s got to her, if he’s killed her—”

  “No one’s touched a hair on her head. ”

  “How do you know?”

  “How do I know? Why, amn’t I sitting across the table from her even now?”

  “He drove over there late last night,” I told Elaine, “but felt it was too late to show up on her doorstep, so he parked across the street and kept his eyes open. Then this morning, as soon as it seemed to him to be a decent hour, he rang her doorbell. He found it remarkable that she remembered him. ”

 
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