All the flowers are dyin.., p.43
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       All the Flowers Are Dying, p.43

         Part #16 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 43

 

  “Has anyone ever forgotten Mick?”

  “I asked him that. He said there’ve been some that wished they could. ”

  “I’ll bet. ”

  “The house has a burglar alarm and a good set of locks, and she’s got Mick in there with her. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to worry about her before, but now I don’t have to. He killed her parents, you know. ”

  “I know. ”

  “She’s still living there. All by herself, in that big house. ”

  “And now she’s got Mick for company. ”

  “They’re playing cribbage,” I said. “They played cribbage four years ago, when he went and guarded her. ”

  I picked up the phone and called Ira Wentworth and told him most of it, although I don’t think I mentioned that they were playing cribbage. “I don’t know how we forgot about her,” I said, “but she’ll be all right now. He’s not going to get in there, and God help him if he does. Still, it might not be a bad idea to stake the place out. ”

  “Because he might show up,” he said. “I talked to my captain, and we’re reopening the Lia Parkman file. I can probably spring a couple of plainclothes to sit in a car and watch the block. ”

  I put the phone down, and the next time it rang it was Sussman. The lab evidence was preliminary, and you couldn’t take it to the bank, but every indication was that the teenage male in Queens and the woman in Manhattan had been killed in the same manner—a single thrust from the rear, between two ribs and into the heart. The weapons used in the two homicides were at the very least similar, and probably identical.

  “And for now,” he said, “that’s as far as it’s gonna go. I don’t even want to write it up, let alone go and tell somebody. Because God help us all if the media get hold of this. You want to try imagining the subway at rush hour with every passenger trying to watch his back?”

  “They’d want metal detectors,” I said.

  “At every turnstile. Take the coins out of your pockets, put ’em in the tray, and swipe your Metrocard. Yeah, right. We got to catch this prick in a hurry, that’s all. Because you can only keep a lid on it for so long. If he does it one more time, takes out one more rush-hour straphanger, some media genius is gonna figure it out all by himself. And there goes the front page in every paper and the lead slot on every TV newscast, and we’ve got panic in the streets. And under them. ”

  That evening I was sitting in a chair with a book, and Elaine came over looking concerned and asked me if I was all right. Evidently I’d set the book down and had been staring off into space for five or ten minutes. I hadn’t been aware of it.

  I said, “I hate not doing anything. I hate waiting for something to happen and hoping I can react to it properly when it does. I hate feeling helpless and useless and out of the loop. ”

  “And old?”

  “And old,” I said. “I know there’s nothing I can do other than what I’m doing already. I know all that, and I’ll keep on doing it. But I don’t like the way it feels. ”

  It felt a little better in the morning. Sussman called, and I could hear the change in his voice. “We found him,” he said, and before I could react he corrected himself. “Found where he’s living, I should say. Way the hell west on Fifty-third Street. A woman recognized the sketch, said he was the nice young man come to take care of his Uncle Joe, who had to go to the Veterans Hospital up in the Bronx. Except the people at the VA never heard of Joe Bohan, and my guess is nobody’s ever gonna see poor old Joe again. ”

  “I don’t suppose our guy was on the premises. ”

  “No,” he said, “but his laptop was. The laptop’s password-protected, but we’ve got a guy we can go to who can crack it quicker than a high school kid can break into a locked car. We don’t have to get into it to know it’s our guy’s laptop, though, because Joe wasn’t an online kind of guy. In fact you wouldn’t know Joe ever lived there, because all of his things are gone. All that’s left would seem to belong to the owner of the laptop, and one of the articles in question is a big old knife. Even as we speak, they’re trying to match it up to the subway stabbings. And I’ve got a dozen men on the block, keeping an eye out, waiting for him to come back for his laptop. Or his knife. ”

  33

  Sometimes it seems to him that there truly are guardian angels, and that he has one. At more rational moments the notion of a guardian angel strikes him as essentially metaphorical, a convenient way to personify that portion of one’s mind-spirit-self capable of perceiving the imperceptible.

  Years ago, during his last stay in New York, he was away from his apartment on Central Park West when Scudder led a band of cops there. He was in a taxi, on his way home, ready to walk right into a lobby swarming with police officers just waiting for him to appear, and something warned him, something made him get out of the cab and approach the rest of the way on foot, cautiously, alert for any sign of danger.

  Looking back, he has never been able to pinpoint anything that should have made him wary. He can recall no police sirens wailing in the distance, no discernible change in the appearance of the neighborhood as the cab neared its destination. But whatever you choose to call it, a guardian angel, a higher self, an elevated level of ESP, it is undeniable that something warned him and that he’d had the presence of mind to act on the warning.

  Something made him turn away from that Central Park West apartment, retrieve his car from the garage where he kept it, and drive straight to Brooklyn. It hadn’t taken him long to get there, nor had it taken him long to take care of his business and leave the Meserole Street house in flames, and get out of the city altogether.

  All because he was able to listen to that inner prompting and not let logic overrule what it told him.

  And now he experiences it again, that same sort of warning. He feels a tightness in the back of his neck, a tingling in the palms of his hands. He’s walking south on Ninth Avenue when he first notices it, he’s just passed Elaine’s shop, and his first thought is that he’s under observation, that someone is watching him.

  He stops to look at the menu in a restaurant window, turns this way and that, getting a look around without making it too obvious that’s what he’s doing. He doesn’t see anyone, and that’s not what it is, this sensation he’s experiencing. He’s not being watched.

  There’s something waiting for him, that’s what it is. And he remembers the sensation from four years ago, remembers stopping the cab abruptly, telling the driver he’ll walk the rest of the way.

  Remembers what was waiting for him a few blocks further along on Central Park West.

  He walks to Fifty-third Street, turns right, walks west. And he’s like a child playing a game, with others telling him You’re getting warmer or You’re getting colder as he turns this way and that. He’s getting warmer, and he feels warmer, feels the increasing sense of a hostile presence in front of him.

  Eventually he gets close enough to see them, on the block where he’s been living. There are no blue uniforms, but all it takes is a glance and he is able to spot them for what they are. There’s a car with its hood up, and the two men peering into its engine compartment might as well be dressed in blue. And there’s a woman with a baby carriage, paying more attention to the street scene than to the infant—a doll, he’s certain— within the carriage. Two men share the stoop next door to Joe Bohan’s building, drinking from cans held in paper bags. Cops, all of them.

  So much for his laptop. No point going back for it now, even if he could somehow thread his way through the maze of police. They’ll have long since carried it off, along with everything else he owns.

  What’s on the laptop? The password will secure it for a while, but if you build a better mousetrap someone will surely build a better mouse, and that applies to his own mousetraps as well as those of others. They’ll get past his password, in an hour or a day or a week, and what will they learn?

  Is the matter of Preston Applewhite documen
ted there? He rather thinks it must be.

  No harm. Applewhite, poor fellow, has long since gone to glory, and if this serves to rehabilitate his reputation, well, he’d set that in motion with his tip to the Richmond newspaper. And it’s a zero-sum universe, isn’t it? Because any gain to Applewhite’s reputation will come at the expense of the reputations of the whole criminal justice system of the state of Virginia.

  Let them have the laptop. He can always get another. Meanwhile, there’s always Kinko’s.

  And what else has he lost? Some clothing, some personal articles. A razor, a toothbrush, a comb.

  And, of course, that beautiful knife. The Reinhold Messer bowie, with its blade of Damascus steel, so skillfully made, so perfectly balanced.

  He slips a hand into his pocket, where the Thaddy Jenkins folder waits, smooth and cool to his touch. He can’t help taking it out, opening it with a flick of his hand that has by now become purely reflexive. He tests the blade with his thumb, feels its keenness.

  And then, a little reluctantly, he works the catch, closes the knife, returns it to his pocket.

  The house?

  He’s thought of it before, that house on West Seventy-fourth Street. It seems to him that there would be some sort of poetic justice in taking it up as his next temporary residence, a larger and more comfortable shell for the hermit crab than poor old Joe Bohan’s tenement flat. It was, after all, supposed to be his house, back in the time when he still thought a house was something he wanted.

  Why he’d even had fantasies—they seem quite laughable now—of marrying Kristin Hollander, and helping her deal with the grief of having lost her parents. She is a pretty thing, Kristin, and she’d have been amusing company for a while. He might have convinced her, for example, of the therapeutic necessity of making love in the front room, the very place where he’d killed her mother and father.

  And then, of course, when the amusement faded, the poor grief-stricken thing would take her own life—easy enough to arrange—and the house would be his, free and clear.

  If not for Matthew Scudder…

  He shakes his head, dismisses that whole train of thought. The past, he reminds himself, is called that for a reason—it has passed, it is over and done with. Someone has called it another country, and if so it’s not one to live in, or even the place for an extended visit. It is the here and now that concerns him.

  Should the here and now include the Hollander house?

  She still lives there. He knows that much, and not merely because he’s seen the listing in the phone book. He’s seen her, too, leaving her house and walking to the corner to hail a taxi, and looking just as he remembers her. How old would she be? Twenty-five, twenty-six? Midtwenties, certainly, and still quite lovely.

  There was a time when he had a key to her house, and knew the code for the burglar alarm. Both the lock and the code have long since been changed. Still, there ought to be some way to get into the house.

  And if he were simply to ring the bell?

 
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