All the flowers are dyin.., p.46
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       All the Flowers Are Dying, p.46

         Part #16 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 46

 

  And they would anyway. There are too many people who’ve seen him and would be able to pick him out of a lineup. If they catch him, if they pick him up for drunk driving in Wisconsin or Wyoming, a routine fingerprint check is all it will take to end his career, if not his life.

  But he never gets drunk, and never drinks before driving.

  So it won’t be that. It may be something else, sooner or later, but it’s all far in the future—or near in the future, but in any event not in the present. And the present, after all, is what time it is now, and now’s the only time it ever is. And when all is said and done, really, what do you get?

  You get what you get.

  There are staircases at either end of the building, but it seems simpler to take the elevator. It’s empty when it arrives on Nine, and the only thing that concerns him is the possibility that someone who might recognize him—Scudder, Elaine, the black youth, some police officer—will be waiting for the elevator when the door opens on Fourteen. But it’s early, it’s not seven yet, and that reduces the likelihood substantially.

  And he doesn’t have much time to worry about it, because the elevator is at its destination before he can give the whole business much thought. When he rode up with Selwyn, he noted the placement of the elevator’s security camera, monitored (if the fellow bothers) by the lobby attendant. He positions himself now to minimize his exposure to the camera, and makes sure his body conceals the knife, which he holds open at his side.

  But of course there’s no one waiting for the elevator, and indeed the entire hallway is empty. He walks to the door of Apartment 14-G, where a glance at the nameplate confirms that this is indeed the Scudder apartment.

  If he had a key—

  But, alas, he doesn’t. And any approach he can think of is likely to prompt the apartment’s male occupant to come to the door with a drawn gun, or to leave the door locked and simply call 911.

  Stick to the plan, then.

  He walks the length of the hallway to the rear stairwell. A few yards from the door leading to it is another door, which opens on a small room holding the chute for the trash compactor and a pair of recycling bins. A service elevator allows the hall porter to clear the bins.

  There might be a security camera in the stairwell, though it seems unlikely that they’d have one for every floor. There’s no camera here, in the compactor room, but tenants are apt to wander in with their trash, and how could he account for his presence?

  He has a sudden vision of a stream of tenants, old ladies carrying shopping bags full of trash, and himself with no choice but to stab them each in turn, dismembering them and stuffing them piecemeal down the compactor chute, desperate to get one out of the way before the next one shows up.

  He chooses the stairwell instead. There’s no camera anywhere to be seen, and if he can’t see it how can it see him?

  He props the door open an inch or two. That’s enough to provide a clear view of the entrance of 14-G without giving his own presence away.

  Now all he requires is patience. And that quality is one he’s always had in abundance.

  36

  I slept poorly, and kept slipping in and out of a drinking dream. I woke up remembering none of the details, but concerned at first that it was somehow more than a dream, that I’d actually had a drink.

  Elaine was still sleeping. I got out of bed quietly to keep from waking her. Our bedside tables each sported a handgun—the nine on my side, the . 38 on hers. In the shower, I tried unsuccessfully to come up with some suitable version of The family that prays together stays together. When I got back to the bedroom the bed was empty, and so was her night table.

  I got dressed and went to the kitchen. She wasn’t there, but she’d made coffee, and the . 38 now rested on the counter next to the coffee urn. I walked around looking for her, then returned to the kitchen when I heard the shower running. I poured myself a cup of coffee and toasted a muffin, and I was pouring a second cup by the time she joined me. She was wearing a belted silk robe, one I’d given her for Christmas a couple of years back. It had been one of my more successful presents. She hadn’t put on makeup yet, and her scrubbed face looked like a girl’s.

  She asked if I wanted some eggs, and I thought about it and decided I didn’t. She turned on the TV and got the local news, and there was nothing on it that demanded my attention. There was really only one topic of interest to either of us.

  I said, “He may have left town. ”

  “No. He’s out there. ”

  “If he is, he hasn’t got much time. They’ve got his prints. ”

  “That’ll help a lot. ‘Attention—be on the lookout for a man with the following fingerprints …’”

  “The point is the city’s closing down around him. If he didn’t catch a train yesterday, he’ll have trouble boarding one today. They’ll be looking for him at Penn Station. And Grand Central, and the bus terminal and the airports. ”

  “He could have a car,” she said. “Or he could kill somebody and take theirs. ”

  “Possible. ”

  “He’s still in town. I can tell. ”

  I’d be quicker to dismiss claims of intuitive knowledge if I hadn’t learned over the years to trust them when I have them myself. And I’d have been especially hard put to argue with her this time because I agreed with her. I wasn’t as certain as she was, but I didn’t think he’d left.

  And hadn’t I felt him watching me on the way home from the meeting last night?

  Maybe, and maybe not. Maybe anxiety was sufficient explanation for the way I’d felt. God knows there was enough of it on hand to do the job.

  I said, “I think you’re probably right. Right or wrong, though, we have to act as if he’s here. ”

  “Meaning stay inside. ”

  “I’m afraid so. ”

  “I’m not going to argue with you. I’ve got the worst case of cabin fever I’ve ever had in my life, but I’m also scared to death. At this point it would be hard to get me to leave the apartment. ”

  “Good. ”

  “I hope it’s not a permanent case of agoraphobia. I heard about a man once, he used to edit a science-fiction magazine, and he wouldn’t leave his apartment building. ”

  “Afraid of aliens?”

  “God knows what he was afraid of. God knows if it even happened, some john told me the story, he used to sell stories to the guy and I think played poker with him. None of that matters. The point is it started with him never leaving the Village, always finding an excuse not to go north of Fourteenth Street or south of Canal. Then he wouldn’t leave the block, and then he wouldn’t leave the building. ”

  “And then it got worse?”

  “Quite a bit worse. He wouldn’t set foot out of the apartment itself, and then he wouldn’t leave the bedroom, and finally he wouldn’t get out of bed. Except to go to the bathroom. I assume he would get out of bed to go to the bathroom. ”

  “Let’s hope so. ”

  “He was editing a magazine where people walked around on the moons of Jupiter, but he couldn’t get out of his own bed. And finally the men in the white coats came and took him away, and I don’t think he ever did make it back. ”

  “I don’t think that’s going to happen to you. ”

  “Probably not. But I bet there are lots of people like that, never going out the door. You don’t have to in New York, you can get everything delivered. ”

  “Speaking of which,” I said, “you know how they keep trying to sell us home delivery of the Times?”

  “ ‘Available at no extra cost now for a limited time only. ’ ”

  “I never saw the point,” I said, “but if we’re going to stay cooped up like this, maybe I ought to call them. ”

  “Where are you going? Oh, to get the paper? You want to bring me…”

  I waited, but the sentence didn’t come to an end. “Bring you what?”

  “Nothing,” she said. “There’s got to be som
ething I want, but I can’t think what it is. ”

  I gave her a kiss. She held on to me for a little longer than usual, then let go.

  37

  He is completely tuned in, perfectly focused, and he hears the turning of the lock. There are several doors closer than 14-G, but he knows that’s the one he’s just heard, and without having to think about it he flicks his wrist and opens the knife. It makes a noise equal in volume to the lock, but he knows no one will hear it, because no one is listening for it.

  The door opens. Scudder? Elaine?

  It is Scudder, grim-faced, and he draws the door shut, then takes a moment to look this way and that, assuring himself that the hallway is empty. If he notices the slight gap between the stairwell door and its jamb, he pays it no mind.

  He turns, walks to the elevator, reaches out a finger and jabs the button. He’s wearing a short-sleeved sport shirt and a pair of dark trousers. His shoes are canvas slip-ons.

  Is he carrying a gun? His shirt’s tucked in, which suggests he’s left the gun at home.

  Should he take him now? The man’s unarmed, with only his bare hands to defend against the knife. And he’s not expecting anything, either.

  He’d hear the approach, though, hear his nemesis rushing the length of the hallway at him. He’d turn, he’d prepare himself, and he’d cry out to summon help. The hue and cry would certainly alert Elaine.

  Still…

  The elevator arrives and spares him the decision. Scudder steps inside. The door closes and whisks him away.

  Now.

  He listens for a moment at the closed door. Then he draws back his fist and pounds on it.

  Her voice: “What is it?”

  He notes the pronoun—What, not Who. Good.

  He hammers on the door again, puts his other hand in front of his mouth to muffle his voice. Lowering it to a pitch close to Scudder’s, infusing it with urgency, he says, “Let me in. He’s in the building, he got past the doorman. Let me in!”

  Nothing but the truth, he thinks.

  She’s saying something, he can’t make it out, but it doesn’t matter, because the lock is turning. The instant it begins to open he hurls himself against it and it flies back, catching her shoulder and sending her reeling.

  He flings the door shut, turns to her. She’s staggering backward like a drunk in high heels. The wall stops her and she’s trying to get her balance, and her face is something right out of a horror movie, a study in terror, and he holds the knife so she can see it.

  Oh, this is going to be lovely…

  She reaches into a pocket of the robe, comes up with a gun. Holds it in both hands, points it his way.

  “Now put that down,” he says, his voice ringing with authority. “You little fool, put that down this minute. ”

  She’s shaking, trembling violently. He takes a confident step toward her, speaking gently to her, telling her to put the gun down, that her only chance is calm cooperation. It’s going to work, he knows it’s going to work, and—

  She pulls the trigger.

  He feels the punch of the bullet before his ears register the sound of the gunshot. It hits him high on the left shoulder, and he knows at once that it’s broken the bone. There must be pain, and doubtless there will be eventually, but the pain hasn’t come yet.

 
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