A drop of the hard stuff, p.43
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       A Drop of the Hard Stuff, p.43

         Part #17 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 43

  “Sure. ”

  “Same story the second time around. ‘That’s good, have something for yourself. ’ And he says how this is a nice place, and an old buddy of his used to come here. ”

  “And he mentioned me by name. ”

  He nodded. By now he’d finished putting the Bloody Mary together and strained it into a stemmed glass. I’d assumed it was for a customer, but he took a sip of it himself. “Long night,” he explained. “Got to get the heart started. ”

  “Sound policy. ”

  He took another sip. “The impression I got,” he said, “was you were cops together. ”

  “He was a cop?”

  “Used to be, would be my guess. ”

  “I don’t suppose you got his name. ”

  “No, and I don’t think he got mine either. We never got that far. ”

  “What did he look like?”

  He frowned. “You know,” he said, “I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention. Middle-aged, not fat, not skinny. Sort of average. He was drinking Scotch, I remember that much, and I think it was Johnnie Red, but I couldn’t swear to it. ”

  “And he talked about me. ”

  “Just did I ever see you, and did you ever get here now that you weren’t drinking anymore, and how you used to be a bourbon drinker. ”

  “He remembered that. ”

  “But what he couldn’t remember,” he said, “was what your favorite bourbon used to be. ”

  “Ah. What did you tell him?”

  “I don’t think you had a favorite. But he wanted an answer. Say it was a special occasion. What was that bourbon you would order then? Like he used to know, and he wanted his memory refreshed. ”

  “What did you tell him?”

  “I don’t know if I ever poured it for you,” he said, “and what difference did it make what you used to drink, since you’re not drinking it now? But he had to have an answer, Mr. Have Something for Yourself, and I remember somebody else was going on about how one particular brand of poison was the best in the world, and I think it was Turkey, but it might have been Evan Williams, and you named another bourbon and said it was as good as either of them. You remember the conversation?”

  I shook my head.

  “No reason why you should. This was years ago. But it stuck in my mind, and a day or two later I had a taste of it myself, and I decided you were right. Can you guess the label?”

  “You tell me. ”

  For answer he reached and drew down the bottle from the top shelf. Maker’s Mark.

  And he hesitated for a second or two, it couldn’t have been any longer than that, and then he replaced the bottle on the shelf.

  “So that’s what I told him,” he said. “You know the guy, Matt?”

  “I had an idea who it was,” I said, “and your description nailed it down. ”

  “Yeah, I’m hopeless at describing people. He was wearing glasses, if that helps. Was it okay what I told him?”

  “Sure. ”

  He hesitated, then said, “You know, it’s funny. Just now, when I had the bottle in my hand, I had the feeling you were going to ask me to pour you one. ”

  “Really. ”

  “Just for a second. How long has it been?”

  “Just about a year. ”

  “No kidding? That long?”

  “A year today, as a matter of fact. ”

  “No shit. Jesus, you know what I almost said? ‘That calls for a drink. ’ But I guess it doesn’t, does it?”

  I caught the noon meeting at Fireside. I got the usual round of applause at the beginning when I announced my anniversary.

  I sat there drinking coffee and listening to somebody’s drinking story, and I remembered that moment when Lucian had brandished the long-necked bottle of bourbon. Oh, what the hell, said a voice in my head. Let’s see if it tastes as good as I remember.

  XLII

  THE FIRST TIME I’d met him at the Minstrel Boy I got there first, and I played John McCormack’s version of the bar’s theme song while I waited for him. This time I was a few minutes early, and I played the flip side of the record:

  She was lovely and fair as the rose of the summer

  Yet ’twas not her beauty alone that won me.

  Oh no, ’twas the truth in her eyes ever dawning

  That made me love Mary, the Rose of Tralee…

  Redmond came in during the final chorus, stopped at the bar for a drink, came over and sat down. He was respectfully silent until the record ended. “Hell of a voice,” he said. “How long you figure he’s been dead?”

  “No idea. ”

  “I know he was long gone before I ever heard of him. My mother had all his records. Well, a bunch of them, anyway. Seventy-eights, in an album. I can picture it on a shelf in our living room. Don’t ask me what became of them, but he’s still here on the jukebox, and the voice is still as clear as a bell, all these years later. ”

  He took a drink, put the glass on the table. I had a Coke in front of me, and no great urge to drink any of it. He said, “Well, what have you got?”

  “Hell of a document,” he said. He rolled Jack’s confession into a scroll, tapped it against the top of his now-empty glass. He’d read it through twice, and we’d talked for a while, and now he’d read it through again. “I suppose we could establish that he’s the one who wrote it. There must be samples of his handwriting around for comparison purposes. Of course there’s always going to be an expert witness for the defense swearing up and down it couldn’t possibly be his handwriting, because look at the little loops on the Ds. And that’s assuming you could get the document admitted as evidence, which is no sure thing. You found it in his room?”

  “Taped to the bottom of a drawer. ”

  “Where we’d have spotted it if we’d had any reason to look for it, but we didn’t. How’d you know to look?”

  “Stillman went to collect Jack’s effects from the super. But somebody’d already been there. ”

  “You thought it was me. ”

  “I thought it might be. ”

  “And it could have been me,” he said, “if we’d given the case a higher priority. But I’d already looked at everything in the room, and there wasn’t much. ”

  “No. ”

  “So it wasn’t me,” he said, “or my partner, or anybody else with a badge. It was whoever killed him, looking to see if there’d been anything in the room that he’d missed. ”

  “Right. ”

  “And was there?”

  “I think there was a copy of Jack’s Fourth Step. ”

  “Which you said he’d talked over with Stillman. ”

  “And that was when he told Stillman he’d killed someone,” I said, “but without saying who or when. It seemed likely to me that he’d written out a more detailed version for his own benefit, and that’s what I went to his room hoping to find. ”

  “It would have been better,” he said, “if I had found it. ”

  “Well, you didn’t know to look for it, and—”

  “If you’d come to me,” he said, “and we’d gone over there together, and made the discovery, that would have been better. But instead we’ve got you bribing the super to look the other way, and being on premises where you’ve got no legal right to be, and bringing back something you say you found in a particular place at a particular time. Which I don’t for a moment doubt you did, but I don’t get to decide what’s admissible and what isn’t. ”

  “I know. ”

  “So from an evidentiary standpoint—”

  “I know. ”

  “Not that it would prove anything anyway, beyond the fact that the dead man who wrote it claims he and a partner killed a couple of people. He doesn’t even name the partner. ”

  “No. ”

  “Even Steven. So it’s some guy named Steve. ”

  “I had a friend ch
eck a couple of files full of aliases and nicknames. He couldn’t come up with anything. ”

  “It might be on a list somewhere,” he said, “but that’s right up there with saying the cash or the dope or the stolen jewelry is in an evidence locker somewhere. That doesn’t mean anybody’s ever going to see it again. Even Steven. ” He shook his head. “But you know who he is. ”

 
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