All the flowers are dyin.., p.48
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       All the Flowers Are Dying, p.48

         Part #16 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 48

 

  Spinner looks up, and I look with him, and the waitress is there with a tray of drinks, and it’s Paula Wittlauer, who went out a high window. I barely knew her and she was gone, and her sister didn’t believe it was suicide and hired me, and it turned out she was right. Paula turns toward me with a glass in her hand, and then she changes, and now she’s a call girl named Portia Carr, and the man at her side is a crooked cop named Jerry Broadfield. He has a cocky grin on his face, and I watch it fade into sadness and regret.

  And the images come and go faster now. I am barely able to register one face before it’s gone and another is in its place. Skip Devoe and Bobby Ruslander, and Bobby betrayed Skip and Skip sold him out to the Morrissey brothers, who left him with a black hood over his head and his hands wired behind his back and a bullet in the back of his head. And now they’re friends again, they have their arms around each other as if they’re posing for a picture. And they’re gone, and there’s Tommy Tillary and Carolyn Cheatham, and Tommy’s wife, Margaret, whom I never met but recognize at once. Tommy killed Margaret, and got away with it, and Carolyn killed herself, and I framed him for it, and he went to prison and was murdered there.

  So many people, all of them dead…

  Miguelito Cruz and Angel Herrera. Martin Vanderpoel and his son Richie, and Wendy Hanniford. Henry Prager. John Lundgren. Glenn Holtzmann and Lisa Holtzmann and Jan Keane.

  Estrellita Rivera. Six years old, and it was my own wayward bullet that killed her so many years ago. Her eyes meet mine, and she smiles knowingly, and she’s gone.

  Jim Faber, wearing the old army jacket he wore when I first met him, at the very first AA meeting I ever attended. Jim looks as though he’s going to tell me something, and I strain to hear it, and then he’s gone.

  Roger Prysock, wearing a zoot suit. Adrian Whitfield and Richie Vollmer and Regis Kilbourne. James Leo Motley. Peter Khoury and Francine Khoury. Ray Callander. Andy Buckley. Vince Mahaffey. Gerry Billings. Moon Gafter and Paddy Dowling. And more men, passing through my field of vision faster than I can summon up their names.

  And then some women. Kim Dakkinen, with an emerald ring on her finger. Sunny Hendryx. Connie Cooperman. Toni Cleary. Elizabeth Scudder, who’d died because we shared a surname. I’d never met her, but somehow I recognize her, and then she’s gone.

  And then Elaine. What are you doing here, I want to ask, with all these dead people?

  Was I too late? Did he kill you, too?

  She’s floating above the others, and it’s only her face, her perfect face, and she’s so young. She looks like a girl now, she looks like the girl I first met at Danny Boy’s table.

  I look at her, and all I want to do is look at her, I want to look at her forever, I want to drown in her eyes.

  And below us now there’s a great sea of people, there’s every person I ever knew who’s gone. My first wife, Anita. My mother, my father. Aunts and uncles. Grandparents, stretching back to the beginning of time. Hundreds, thousands of people, and they fade out slowly, until there’s nothing there but space, empty space.

  Then everything shifts abruptly, like a fast cut in a film. I’m watching from on high, and below me men and women in surgical gowns and masks are hovering around a table. There’s a figure on the table but I can’t see who it is.

  But I can see the others. There’s Vince Edwards and Sam Jaffe from Ben Casey, and Richard Chamberlain and Raymond Massey from Dr. Kildare, and Robert Young as Marcus Welby. Mandy Patinkin and Adam Arkin from Chicago Hope, and that guy from St. Elsewhere, and George Clooney and Anthony Edwards from ER. And I look at the women, and each one starts out as somebody else but they all somehow turn into Elaine. And I know that’s me on the table. I can’t see myself but I know that it’s me.

  Someone says: Oh, fuck!

  It’s so hard to watch. It’s so hard to pay attention.

  Someone says: We’re losing him.

  So much easier to let go…

  Someone says: No. No!

  And the lights dim all the way down, and everything ends.

  40

  There may have been other times when I recovered consciousness, or at least hovered at its edge for a moment or two. But the first I retained any awareness of, after the curious vision of a roomful of television actors in surgical scrubs, was brief and indistinct. I was all at once present, after having been somewhere else for an indeterminate period of time. I was lying on my back, and I willed myself to move, and couldn’t.

  Someone was holding my hand. I opened an eye and confirmed what I already knew: It was Elaine.

  I thought, she’s alive. I squeezed her hand, or at least thought about it, and she turned her eyes toward mine.

  “You’re going to be all right,” she said.

  It seemed to me that I already knew that. I wanted to say something, but then my eyes closed and I went away again.

  I came back and went away again a few more times, but before it seemed possible a couple of nurses got me out of bed and made me walk around in the hospital corridor. I was getting enough Demerol to keep the pain manageable, but even so, walking was still no pleasure. They insist you do it, though, because that way you recover faster, so they can send you home and give your bed to somebody else.

  By now I knew I was at Roosevelt Hospital, and that he’d done quite a number on me with his knife. They’d had to remove a couple of sections of small intestine and stitch the rest back together in what they hoped would be a serviceable fashion. I’d lost a lot of blood, and kept losing some of the blood they transfused into me, and it was touch and go in there for a while. The moment I seemed to recall—We’re losing him!—had several real-life counterparts. There were several moments when they’d thought I was slipping away, and maybe I did, but each time something called me back.

  “I yelled at you,” she said. “I said, ‘Don’t you dare leave me!’ ”

  “Evidently I couldn’t. ”

  “Not with the all-star medical team you had. Marcus Welby, though? I didn’t think he spent much time in the operating room. I thought he pretty much confined himself to dispensing good homespun wisdom. ”

  “I never realized I watched that many medical shows,” I said. “I guess they did a good job of imprinting on my consciousness. ”

  “Or unconsciousness,” she said.

  They’d be feeding me through an IV line for a while, and it would be an indeterminate period of time before some parts of me worked as well as they used to.

  One doctor advised Elaine that I might never be able to handle spicy foods again. “And I told him he obviously doesn’t know who he’s dealing with,” she said. “My man takes on killers with his bare hands, I told him. No Scotch bonnet pepper is going to lay him low. ”

  “The only reason I went after him with my bare hands,” I said, “is that’s all I had. ”

  “He had a knife and you ran right at him. ”

  “I’d risk anything to keep him from hurting you. And if you were already dead, well, then I didn’t really care what happened to me. ”

  What had happened to him, meanwhile, was that he was dead. While I was smashing his head against the floor, Elaine had managed to get the pistol from my bedside table. That noise I’d heard, the last thing I was aware of before the blood-dimmed tide swept over me, was indeed a gunshot, the first of several. She’d had to figure out how to disengage the safety, and then she’d had to get up close enough to get off a shot at him without hitting me. She wound up sticking the gun in his ear and pulling the trigger, and I registered the sound of it even as I was letting go and slipping away.

  “You told me if I ever used the gun I was supposed to keep on firing until it was empty,” she said, “and that’s what I did. The recoil didn’t seem any worse than with the thirty-eight. Or maybe I was better at anticipating it, I don’t know. When it started going click instead of bang I picked up the phone and called 911, but the cops were already on their way, and so was the ambula
nce. ”

  I told her she’d saved my life, and she repeated that the cop and ambulance had already been on their way by the time she made the call. “Not by calling,” I said. “By killing the bastard. ”

  “I don’t know if I killed him. ”

  “He’s dead,” I said, “and you shot him seven or eight times in the head. I think it’s safe to infer a cause-and-effect relationship there. ”

  “Except that he may have been dead already. They think you may have beaten him to death. ”

  “Oh. Well, I don’t think I could have managed it if he’d had two hands at his disposal. You took a lot of fight out of him by putting a bullet in his shoulder. ”

  “I could have saved us both a lot of aggravation by putting it in his heart instead. ”

  “He’s dead,” I said. “It doesn’t really matter who did it. We saved each other’s lives. ”

  “That’s nothing new,” she said. “We do that every day. ”

  They never did pin a name to the son of a bitch. His prints weren’t on file anywhere, except as an unidentified suspect in a murder somewhere out west. Name or no name, Wentworth and Sussman assured me that his death would clear a lot of cases all over the country, including some that had already been attributed to other people, like Preston Applewhite.

  “God knows how many people he killed,” Sussman said. “We pulled a lot out of his computer, but he’s only had that particular laptop for a year or two. Taking out someone like him, it’s not so much a win for the criminal justice system as it’s a vitally important public health measure. You kill him and it’s like you found a cure for cancer. ”

  Elaine had some bruises where he’d hit her and some more from falling and hurting herself, and there was a narrow scar about an inch long on her shoulder, where he’d cut her. She was putting Vitamin E on it, though, and she’d picked up something at the drugstore that would make scars disappear.

  I said it wasn’t all that much of a scar, and she said it didn’t matter. “I don’t want his mark on me,” she said.

  And he’d raped her.

  “Aside from yours,” she said, “it’s been over a dozen years since I had anybody’s dick in me. I could probably find a more graceful way of putting it—”

  “But why bother?”

  “My thought exactly. I was so disgusted, baby. Not while it was going on, not while he had the knife at my throat. I was too busy with fear to have any time left for disgust. But later, thinking about him, I kept wanting to vomit. I kept taking baths and douching, trying to get clean, and then I just declared myself clean and said the hell with it. Because there wasn’t anything there to wash away, you know?”

  I had a lot of visitors. TJ, of course, and Danny Boy, and Mick, who came alone a couple of times and showed up once with Kristin Hollander. (“I wonder,” Elaine said, after the two of them left, and I told her not to be silly. She gave me a look. )

  A number of cops came, in addition to Sussman and Wentworth, and ex-cops like Joe Durkin and Ray Galindez. There were people I knew from AA and men from the Club of Thirty-one, and Ray Gruliow, who fit both categories. And friends and acquaintances from the building, and from all around the neighborhood.

 
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