All the flowers are dyin.., p.47
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       All the Flowers Are Dying, p.47

         Part #16 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 47

 

  He rushes her. The gun’s pointing at the ceiling, the recoil must have elevated it, but she’s lowering it, bringing it to bear on him. She fires too soon, though, and the bullet passes harmlessly over his head, and before she can steady herself for a third shot he’s reached her. His left hand won’t work, the arm hangs at his side. He grabs her wrist in his right hand, shakes it until the gun drops to the floor, then lifts his hand and backhands her hard across the face.

  He hits her again, in the pit of the stomach, and when she doubles up he gives her a shove and sends her sprawling. She’s scrabbling for the gun, but he gets to it first and grabs it, then straightens up and points it at her.

  She’s on her hands and knees on the floor, staring up at him. Her robe has fallen open and he can see her breasts. Her eyes look right into the muzzle of the gun. And it’s odd, because there’s no fear in them now. He wonders what happened to the terror.

  Wherever it’s gone, it’ll be back soon enough.

  “In a little while,” he says softly, “you’ll wish I’d pulled the trigger. ”

  It would be easier to get the cylinder to swing out if he had both hands to work with. But he manages it, and tilts the gun so that the remaining rounds spill out onto the carpet. He kicks at them, sends them scurrying like bugs across the room.

  “Now that that’s out of the way,” he says, “we can enjoy ourselves. Get up, Elaine. Come on, on your feet!”

  She stays where she is until he draws back a foot and kicks her hard in the ribs. Then she gets up, and it’s delicious just looking at her face, reading her thoughts in the expressions that pass over it. She’s trying to think of something to do, something that will save her, and there’s nothing, and the hopelessness of her situation is beginning to dawn on her.

  And this is just the beginning! Oh, he’s going to enjoy this. He’s going to make it last as long as he can.

  “Take off the robe, Elaine. ”

  She stands there, obdurate. He reaches out with the knife and she backs up until the wall stops her.

  His shoulder is throbbing now. There’s still no pain, and the throbbing is like a very strong pulse working in the area of the wound. There’s no blood, either, except for a minimal amount at the very edge of the wound, and he wonders if the bullet could have cauterized the wound even as it inflicted it.

  Is it possible that the wound is healing itself? He’s heard of such things but always dismissed them as comic book fantasies. Still, something is shielding him from the pain, even as something is keeping him from losing blood.

  He wore amethyst for months. Perhaps it worked, perhaps he’s absorbed its essence. Perhaps he is in fact immortal…

  He reaches out with the knife, and there’s nowhere for her to go, nothing for her to do. She unbelts the robe, lets it fall from her shoulders.

  Oh, lovely. Just lovely.

  She’s on her back on the living room floor. He’s naked, his clothes where he dropped them, and he’s on top of her, and it’s good he didn’t let himself reach climax earlier with that fat queen, because all that energy is at his disposal now, and he’s rock-hard and enormous, and he’s inside her, buried in her clear to the hilt, and her breasts are cushioning him, and he’s holding the knife to her throat. And he could lie like this forever, thrusting lazily into her, gripped so perfectly by the envelope of her flesh, forever on the edge of his passion and yet entirely in control of it, able to go on this way for all eternity.

  And, as he moves inside her, he talks to her. He tells her what he’s going to do to her, how he’ll cut her and drink her blood, how he’ll scoop out her eyes like melon balls, how he’ll slice her nipples off, how he’ll skin her alive. His voice is conversational, almost gentle. But is she paying attention? Is she taking this all in?

  With the tip of the knife blade, he draws an inch-long line on her shoulder. The left shoulder. She shot him in the left shoulder, inflicting a painless but paralyzing wound, and he’s merely piercing the skin, drawing a white line that turns red as blood oozes from it.

  He puts his mouth to the cut and tastes her blood.

  And the door bursts open.

  38

  Could I have heard something?

  I don’t think it’s possible. There were two gunshots, and one or both of them might have rung out while I was in the elevator on the way down to the lobby. But it seems unlikely that I could have heard them, or paid much attention to them if I did.

  I was just going out for the paper. Elevator to the lobby, a few steps to the newsstand on the corner, a few steps back. I hadn’t even bothered to take my gun along. I’d thought of it, but it was on the bedside table and I was standing at the door, and it would have been silly, wouldn’t it?

  Maybe we were linked, she and I, and something within me could sense an attack on her. I don’t know how these things work, or if they work. But when the elevator reached the lobby I had the feeling that something was wrong.

  I have to get back there, I thought.

  First get the paper, I told myself, so you won’t look like an idiot when you burst into the apartment and she’s got her feet up and the TV on.

  No. Screw the paper.

  I got back on the elevator. There were other people on it, and it crawled, stopping at three or four floors en route to mine. The closer I got the greater my sense of urgency grew, and by the time I got off at Fourteen I knew with absolute certainty that he was in there. I didn’t know if she was alive, I was afraid he’d had enough time to kill her, but I knew he was there and I had no time to waste.

  I had my key in my hand when the elevator door opened, and I rushed the length of the hall and got the key in the lock and threw the door open.

  There was a chair overturned and clothes here and there on the floor, and she was on the floor and he was on top of her, and even as I registered this he was disengaging from her, getting to his feet, and she was lying there, motionless.

  There was a trail of blood from her shoulder down toward her breast, and I couldn’t tell if she was alive or dead, and I couldn’t take time to look because he was there, facing me, and he had a knife in his hand and there was blood on the tip of it, her blood.

  “Matt,” he said. “Now this is providential, wouldn’t you say? As soon as you and I have concluded our business”—he moved the knife from side to side, like a hypnotist swinging an amulet in front of a subject’s eyes—“then Elaine and I can take our time. It would be nice if you could watch me kill her, but you can’t have everything, can you? You get what you get, Matthew. Don’t ever forget that. ”

  Then she was alive. That was all that really registered from his little speech. She was alive. I was in time. If I could kill him then she could survive.

  He stood leaning slightly forward with his weight balanced on the balls of his feet, moving the knife from side to side. He was naked, and he would have looked ridiculous, except for the fact that he clearly knew how to use the knife and just as clearly looked forward to using it.

  There was something wrong with his left arm. It hung at his side. There was a wound, too, a hole in his shoulder, and at first I thought it was an old wound, scarred over, and then I realized she’d shot him, although he didn’t seem to be bleeding.

  That ought to be to my advantage, though I couldn’t see how. A knife’s not a gun, nobody needs two hands to use it properly.

  He was saying something else but I wasn’t paying attention. I’m not sure I could have heard him if I’d tried. I stood there looking at him and he took a step toward me and I couldn’t think of the right way to do this and I didn’t care. I ran at him and threw myself at him, and I felt the knife dig into my middle, and I knocked him sprawling and landed on top of him, and he twisted the knife and the pain was thin and high and insistent, like a scream.

  I got a hand on his throat and bore down, and he tucked his chin down, and I drew back my hand and hammered at his face with both hands. He couldn
t fight back, he had one hand that didn’t work and another that was pinned between our two bodies, and in order to retrieve it he’d have to let go of the knife, and he wouldn’t do that, not while he could twist the knife in my guts and send pain coursing through me like a jackhammer tearing up pavement.

  I wanted to pull away from him, I wanted to cry out, I wanted to let go and let the curtain come down, but I couldn’t, I couldn’t, because I had to finish this, I had to end it forever, and the only way to do that was to kill him, and the only way to kill him was by hitting him and hitting him and hitting him until he was dead.

  My hands were bloody and his mouth and nose were bloody and I hit him again and his front teeth were broken off at the gum line and I hammered him with my fists and his head thumped against the floor and I took hold of his head with my thumbs digging into his eyes and I gouged with my thumbs and I raised his head and pounded it against the floor and his blood spread on the carpet and my own blood was seeping out of me. The blood was welling up behind my eyes, filling my field of vision, and I had the sense that as soon as I could see nothing but the red tidal wave of blood it would sweep me up and I would drown in it.

  And then I lost track of things, because all I seemed able to pay attention to was the rising curtain of blood, and all I could do was try to hold on to the few degrees of vision at the very top edge of it. And then there was a noise like a clap of thunder, and at first I thought Oh it’s a gunshot and then I thought Oh it’s a crack in the universe and then I thought No it’s the end, the end of everything and then the wave of blood swept me up and everything was red and red and red and the red darkened and then everything was black.

  39

  I’m floating. I’m in empty sky, or in a sea of nothingness. I’m floating.

  There are voices but I can’t make out what they’re saying. Some of them are familiar and some of them are not, but I can’t identify any of them. By the time I’ve heard a word I’ve forgotten the words before it, and I forget it as well when I hear the next one.

  Floating…

  I’m in a room, a huge room, an enormous room. It may extend forever, this room. There may be no walls. Just people, strewn across the length and breadth of it.

  And I’m somehow above them, looking down at them, but I can only bring into focus the person I am looking at, and I don’t seem able to direct my gaze where I want. It just goes here and there, centering on this person for a moment, then moving elsewhere. It’s as though I’m watching a movie, with someone else operating the camera.

  And there’s no time. The camera moves neither slowly nor rapidly. Everything somehow exists outside of time. There’s all the time in the world, but there’s no time at all.

  A portion of the room is familiar. It’s Jimmy Armstrong’s saloon, the old one on Ninth Avenue. And there’s Billie Keegan behind the bar, drawing a beer for Manny Karesh. And Jimmy’s at a table, not heavy and bloated as he became in his later years, but the thin elfin Jimmy I first met, sitting at a table with a plate of steamed fish and bean sprouts. I want to say something to him but he drifts off to the edge of vision, and I see a fellow in a sharp suit spin a silver dollar on the tabletop, then snatch it up just as it begins to wobble. And it’s Spinner Jablon, who knew he would be murdered and hired me ahead of time to catch his killer.

 
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