All the flowers are dyin.., p.45
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       All the Flowers Are Dying, p.45

         Part #16 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
Page 45


  And he’s armed, too. You can’t see the gun, but you know just where it is—tucked into his waistband on the right hip. His sport shirt, worn outside his trousers, hangs down far enough to cover it, but when you watch him it’s no trick to pinpoint its location because of the way his right hand hovers nearby, ready to reach for the gun should the occasion arise.

  And would he be fast enough? The man’s in his middle sixties, and isn’t likely to have the reflexes of a teenager. He’s on edge, he’s undoubtedly visualizing quick draws in his mind, but suppose you rush him, suppose you run hard at him from the rear with the knife open in your hand. How long will it take him to register the sound of approaching footsteps? How quickly will he turn, how swiftly can the left hand draw the shirttail aside while the right hand yanks the gun free?

  There are other people on the street, but you can forget about them. By the time they figure out what’s happening in front of their eyes, it will be over and done with, and you’ll be around the corner while he’s bleeding into the pavement.

  You could do it. Care to give it a try?

  No, not just yet.

  Perhaps he should have bought a ticket. A reserved seat on the Metroliner to Washington, say. In a name they’ll recognize, Arden Brill or Alan Breit or Arne Bodinson.

  But would they even check ticket sales? And would they attach much significance to such a purchase if they even managed to spot it?

  Probably a waste of time. A waste of money, too.

  He has money to waste, if it comes to that. His wallet holds a fresh supply of cash, courtesy of the late William the Silent, who hadn’t been so silent after all. Old Bill had given up his ATM card and the PIN number when it was clear nothing else would save his life. That didn’t save it either, of course, and he couldn’t have thought it would, but it’s hard to think clearly when someone has you pinned to the floor and keeps on sticking a knife into you.

  With the PIN revealed, he’d used the knife one last time. Then he’d withdrawn it, and shortly thereafter he’d made another withdrawal, this for $500 from Bill’s account. That, plus the cash Bill kept in his sock drawer, has improved his financial position considerably.

  Money won’t be a problem.

  But he needs a place to stay. He’ll want to sleep, and he could use a shower.

  And he needs a way to get at the Scudders.

  A smile comes to his lips, the cautious half-smile he practiced in the rear-view mirror in Virginia. Two birds, he thinks. And he knows where to find a stone.

  The man’s name is Tom Selwyn. He’s a few inches over six feet in height, and must weigh well over 250 pounds. He carries the weight well, and is the sort of fat man who’s inevitably described as being light on his feet. No doubt he’s a good dancer, although one’s not likely to find out. While the jukebox holds a decent selection of jazz and standards, there’s no dance floor in the dimly lit Fifty-eighth Street bar.

  “Alden,” Tom Selwyn says. “Alden. As in Miles Standish’s very good friend?”

  Now there’s a thought. “As a matter of fact,” he says, “my mother, who would never forgive me if I didn’t at once point out her membership in the DAR—”

  “I can well imagine. ”

  “Well, she managed to find a genealogist who was able to establish a direct line of descent from John Alden and Priscilla Mullins”—now how did he manage to summon up that name?— “to herself, and hence to me. Whom she would have liked to name John Alden Beals, but my father was already named John and felt one John in the family was plenty. ”

  “I’ll omit any wordplay relating to Johns and lavatories. ”

  “That’s because you’re a gentleman, and I in turn will avoid any allusions to peeping Toms and doubting Thomases. ”

  “Fair enough. ”

  “She dropped the John and named me Alden. ”

  “Alden Beals. ”

  He bows his head, just the slightest bit theatrically. “Myself,” he says.

  “I’ve noticed you before, you know. ”


  “You’ve been here at Griselda’s before. Two or three times I’ve seen you march in, order a single-malt Scotch, perhaps the same brand you’ve been drinking tonight—”

  “Perhaps not. I’m not terribly loyal. Always looking for something better, you know. ”

  “Oh, indeed I do. ”

  “But willing to keep sampling as I search, one might say. ”

  “I suspect one might. You’ve come in, ordered one drink, took your time drinking it, and then left without a word to anyone. ”

  “I never thought anyone noticed me. ”

  “Oh, please. An attractive man like yourself? Surely you felt the eyes, mine among them. But you never seemed to be looking for company. ”

  He is silent for a moment. Then he says, “I have someone at home. ”

  “I see. ”

  “But that’s not always where I want to be. ”

  “And just where would you like to be now, Alden?”

  “At the moment,” he says, “I’d like to be precisely where I am. Right here in this congenial atmosphere, engaged in conversation with a very personable and attractive gentleman. ”

  “You’re very kind. ”

  “It’s no more than the truth. The only problem—”

  “Oh, I hope there’s not a problem. ”

  “Only that it’s getting close to closing time. ”

  Selwyn looks at his watch, a Tourneau with a thin case and an oversize dial. “It is,” he agrees. “And where would you like to go when they close this pop stand?” And, when he hesitates, “What was it your great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother said? ‘Why don’t you speak for yourself, Alden?’ ”

  He has lowered his eyes. Now he raises them to gaze directly and openly into Tom Selwyn’s. “I’d like to go back to your place,” he says.

  The lobby attendant is seated at a desk on the left. He has anticipated this, and contrives to be on Selwyn’s right as they enter the building, letting the big man screen him from the attendant’s view. The two exchange greetings. (“Evening, Mr. Selwyn. ” “A lovely evening, Jorge. I see Sammy hit one tonight. ”)

  In the elevator Selwyn pushes Nine and sighs as the door closes. “Sammy Sosa,” he explains. “He and Jorge hail from the same village in the Dominican Republic. Although it may not be large enough to be called a village. What’s smaller than a village?”

  “A hamlet?”

  “Perhaps. Or it may be more of a coriolanus. Do you follow baseball?”

  “No. ”

  “Neither do I, but I contrive to find out what Sammy Sosa has done, so Jorge and I will have something to talk about. He’s with the Cubs. Sosa, that is. Not Jorge. The Cubs play in Chicago, in the stadium that didn’t have lights, but now it does. And here we are. ”

  The apartment consists of one large high-ceilinged room, perhaps thirty feet square, with a small kitchen alcove. Except for the king-size platform bed, piled high with pillows, the furnishings are antique. There’s a large abstract oil on one wall, with a simple black gallery frame, and groups of prints and drawings on the other walls. It is, he decides, a very pleasing room, and a great improvement on Joe Bohan’s apartment; it’s a shame he won’t be able to stay here very long.

  “I have Scotch,” Selwyn says.

  “Maybe later. ”

  “Ah. Someone doesn’t wish to wait. ”

  “Someone doesn’t even wish to talk,” he says, and begins taking off his clothes. His host raises an eyebrow, then unbuttons his own shirt, takes it off, steps out of his trousers. His clothes had concealed some of his bulk; naked, it’s evident just how heavy he is.

  “I was always shy about disrobing,” Tom Selwyn says. “You can imagine how I hated gym class. In recent years I’ve learned that there are people who don’t mind a Rubenesque figure. And it would appear you’re one of those, wouldn’t it? My word, no wonder you don’t want to waste
time on drink or small talk. You’re fully prepared, aren’t you? Not to say splendidly endowed. And speaking of preparation, the drawer there holds a supply of rubber goods. You’ll find the large ones on the left. But here, let me help you get dressed. If I may?”

  Selwyn offers a bit of artful oral homage before fitting him with the condom, then kneels at the side of the bed, his forearms planted on the mattress, his enormous buttocks on display. There’s nothing attractive about the sight, nothing about Selwyn to make him a desirable sex object, and yet he finds himself consumed with the need to have this man.

  First, though, he gets the knife from his pants pocket, concealing it in his hand. Then he does what is expected of him, bringing Selwyn to climax while holding back his own orgasm.

  Selwyn’s breathing returns to normal, and he starts to get up, but a hand on his shoulder keeps him where he is.

  “My goodness,” he says, “you’re still hard. You haven’t finished, have you? Do so, by all means. I want you to come. ”

  “I can’t. ”

  “Is it physiological? A drug or something? Because if there’s anything I can do—”

  “I won’t let myself finish,” he says. “I’m saving it for a woman on the fourteenth floor. ”

  There is a pause, a rather delicious pause, and Selwyn opens his mouth at last to say something, but he never gets the chance. The hand moves, the knife moves, and blood gouts from his slashed throat. His body bucks and heaves, twisting violently this way and that, and blood spurts everywhere.

  Fortunately, the bathroom is magnificently appointed, the shower a great luxury. And afterward there’s a sofa, untouched by blood spatters, and if it’s not as comfortable as the king-size bed might be, well, surely it’s more than satisfactory.

  His sleep comes easily. It’s deep, and of course untroubled.

  The alarm wakes him at six. He’s had four hours sleep, and he’d like one or two more. Morning, though, is the best time.

  Suppose he stays here another twenty-four hours? It seems unlikely that anyone will come looking for Selwyn. On the other hand, the man’s continuing presence will make the place increasingly unpleasant. The air-conditioning is doing what it can, but still the air is heavy with the sweet reek of decomposing flesh and blood. In another twenty-four hours—

  No, it doesn’t bear thinking about. And he’d have to stay, because once he leaves he won’t be able to get back in. He would need Selwyn at his side in order to gain access to the Parc Vendôme, but Selwyn’s not the buoyant companion he was a few hours ago.

  Time to go.

  He doesn’t even make an attempt to clean up, to erase traces of his presence. By now they’re sure to have a full set of his fingerprints from Joe Bohan’s apartment on West Fifty-third Street. He’d followed his usual policy of not touching surfaces unnecessarily, but his prints were all over his laptop and the table on which it had rested, and what difference does it really make? They have his prints, and now they’ll get his DNA from the towel he used after his shower, and all that means is that they’ll be able to identify him if they ever get their hands on him.

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