Hope to die, p.48
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       Hope to Die, p.48

         Part #15 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 48

 

  "So did I. You know what bothered me the most?"

  "The bloody footprints. "

  "Got it in one. The fucking bloody footprints. Leading right straight to the cellar stairs, just so wed know to look. You know the word that comes to mind? Cute. "

  "Which is something else hes done before. "

  "Every time he had the chance. "

  "What about dental records, Ira? Fire or no fire, hed still have teeth in his jaw. "

  "Absolutely, but what are you gonna match em to? The floater in the Hudson had teeth, too, but we had to know to look at Harold Fischers dental records before they told us anything. The problem with Adam Breit is we dont know who the hell he was before he became Adam Breit. He never lived in New York under that name, not that theres a record, except for a year and a half at Broadway and Waverly and eight months on Central Park West. He never went to medical school anywhere in America under that name, never joined any professional societies. Did he just fake the whole thing as far as his credentials as a therapist are concerned? It might not be the hardest thing in the world. Youre never called upon to remove an appendix, or read an x-ray. You just nod your head every once in a while and say things like Well, how did that make you feel? Thereve been impostors who posed successfully as doctors, as lawyers, and as the son of Sidney Poitier. "

  "And the daughter of the Czar of all the Russias," I said.

  "Posing as a shrink," he said, "should be childs play in comparison, especially since you could make the case that half of them are unqualified to begin with. "

  I got the pot, refilled our cups. I said, "No fingerprints, I dont suppose. "

  "Are you kidding? Theres barely fingers. And we did find some prints in the Central Park West apartment, but not a ton of them, and its impossible to know which ones are his. "

  "Whys that?"

  "Because no one set predominates. I think he wiped up a lot, and I wouldnt be surprised if he tended to be careful about fingerprints. Of the prints we did find, well, it stands to reason that the people from Meserole Street left some of them. They were there all the time for individual and group sessions with their fearless leader. And we cant get their prints for comparison, because the muriatic acid that didnt go on their faces went on their hands, and anyway they got burned up in the fire. "

  "What a fucking mess," I said.

  "You got that right. "

  I drank some coffee. "Howd he get there?"

  "Where? Brooklyn?"

  "He didnt walk. "

  "Subway, I suppose. Unless you can find a cabby wholl go to Brooklyn. Nobody logged the trip, incidentally, which doesnt mean nobody made it. "

  "Did he have a car?"

  "Not that anybody knows about. Nothing registered in his name at DMV. "

  "I think he had a car. "

  "Under another name? Could be. "

  "I think he used one when he and Ivanko took down the Hollanders. I thought that all along. "

  "Possible. Doesnt mean he drove it to Meserole Street. "

  "No. "

  "He wasnt carrying two pillowcases full of stolen goods this time, Matt. He could ride the subway and not get a second glance. "

  "Thats true. "

  "Or he could have got a ride out with one of the Meserole Street people. He could have called them, told one of them to come pick him up. They stood around with their thumbs up their asses while he made the rounds and stabbed them. You dont think theyd run into the city and pick him up if he snapped his fingers?"

  "Im sure they would have. "

  "If he had a car," he said, "he probably went out there some other way that day. And left his car in a garage, or parked at a curb somewhere. And sooner or later itll get towed, and wind up sold at an unclaimed property auction, and well never know, because its registered under some other name. "

  "Uh-huh. "

  We were both silent for a while, and then Wentworth said, "But if he did take his car, it should have been parked out front. "

  "Youd think so. "

  "And it wasnt. Of course he could have left the keys in it, and then it could be anywhere by now. "

  "True. "

  "Or not left the keys in it, with the same result. That neighborhood, the kids learn to hot-wire a car before they learn how to drive it. "

  "Uh-huh. "

  "Where would he get a stooge at a moments notice, will you tell me that? Just go out and pick one off the street?"

  "Easier said than done. "

  "Exactly. And did anybody turn up missing?"

  "I dont know. "

  "Well, neither do I," he said. "No reports, but how many people go missing and never get reported? Matt, I think its him. "

  "So do I. "

  "Wallet was in his pocket, you know. It was a mess, what with fire and water damage, but there was some ID in it. A library card, one of those universal Student ID cards they make for you on Times Square. The kind of crap you have when youre using a false name. "

  "No drivers license?"

  "No license, no registration. Which further supports the premise that he didnt have a car. "

  "Or that his license and registration were in another name, and he kept them separate. And made sure not to plant them on the corpse, because he might need them later. "

  "When he drove off into the sunset. He left money in the wallet, does that help convince you? I mean, who throws money away?"

  "How much money?"

  "A hundred and seventy dollars," he said, "which, to refresh your memory, is exactly the amount he boasted about walking out of the massage parlor with. His hundred-dollar bill plus three twenties and a ten. "

  "The exact amount. "

  "Thats right. "

  "He walked around all day, and wound up having exactly that amount left in his wallet. "

  We looked at each other, and his eyes widened. "You know the word that comes to mind," he said.

  "I think so, yes. "

  "Cute. "

  "Thats the word. "

  "Oh, Jesus," he said. "Look, Im not going to make myself any nuttier with this than I already am. Thats him at the foot of the stairs unless Ive got a real reason to think otherwise. "

  "Im with you. "

  "Hes dead," Wentworth said. "And if by some godforsaken chance hes not dead, at least hes out of here. And if hes out of here hes somebody elses problem and not ours. What did it say on that basement wall?"

  " I came like water, and like wind I go. "

  "Well," he said, "all I can say is its an ill wind. "

  It was about a week later that Elaine answered the phone and chatted enthusiastically for a few minutes, then covered the mouthpiece and said, "For you. Its Andy. "

  And indeed it was. He was just calling, he said, to let me know hed moved again. Hed left Tucson, he said, and had knocked around a little, seeing something of the country, and now he was in Coeur dAlene, Idaho, just up the river from Spokane.

  "In a few months," he said, "Ill probably wish I was in Tucson, because everybody tells me they get a whole lot of winter here. But I have to say its pretty nice so far. " He had a job tending bar, he said, and a decent room a five-minute walk from where he worked.

  "If I get loaded," he said, "I can make it home real easy. Dont even have to cross any big streets. "

  "Always a plus," I said.

  "Speaking of loaded," he said, "I was out of line, what I said at Hersheys after the funeral. Plus I guess I was, I dont know, emotionally overwrought?"

  "Dont worry about it. "

  "I guess what Im trying to say is I apologize. "

  I told him he was forgiven and it was forgotten, and I wrote down his address and phone number, and we told each other wed stay in touch. To Elaine I said, "Well, that was nice, but as conversations go it was like an iceberg. "

  "Cold? It didnt feel that way to me. "

  "Invisible," I said. "Mostly underwater. He knows where the money came from. "

  "Michael told him?"<
br />
  "Not in so many words. Id say Michael told him without telling him, the way Andy just told me he knows, and thanks. "

  "Hes in Idaho, he said. "

  "Tending bar across the river from Spokane, Washington. And living close enough to the job that he can make it home on foot no matter how drunk he is. "

  "Are you worried about him?"

  "Ive got no business worrying about him. "

  "Thats not what I asked. "

  "It isnt, is it? I dont know if worried is the right word. I cant make myself believe that things are going to be different. People change, but only when they have to. Tucsons just one more thing that he got away with. The consequences would have been serious, but he didnt suffer them. He dodged the bullet, and a miss is as good as a mile. "

  "And next time?"

  "Therell be a next time," I said, "and maybe a time or two after that, and all I can hope is hes alive and out of prison at the end of it. I have to care because hes my son, but Im not really involved. Im not his Higher Power. Im not even his sponsor. "

  "Just his father. "

  "And barely that," I said.

  Afterward I found myself thinking about a conversation Id had with Helen Watling, Jason Biermans mother. She was deeply gratified that her sons name had been cleared, that he was now known to have been not a multiple murderer but the first in a chain of innocent victims. Yet hers was a bittersweet victory. Her son was still dead, and hed died a useless, senseless death. And the man shed credited with helping him turn his life around had in fact betrayed him, and taken his life.

  "But you know," she said, "I hate to say this, but I wonder if maybe he isnt better off this way. Because I dont think things were ever going to work out for Jason. But maybe I shouldnt say that, because we cant know that, can we?"

  "No," I said. "We cant know that. "

  Id had a couple of conversations with Kristin Hollander along the way, and then she called one afternoon to tell me Id never sent her a final bill. I reminded her I didnt send bills, and that I didnt figure she owed me anything.

  "That doesnt seem right," she said. "With all the time you and T J put in? And you must have had expenses, too. "

  "Nothing to speak of," I told her. "I didnt accomplish a hell of a lot. "

  "Oh? Im still alive. "

  "Your cousins not," I said, "and neither are those people in Williamsburg. You already gave me a thousand dollars, and thats plenty. "

  She tried to argue the point, but gave up after a while, and I figured that was the end of it. Then two days later the doorman called up to announce a delivery from Bergdorfs that had to be signed for. He sent the fellow upstairs, and while I was signing for it I told him the doorman was empowered to receive and sign for deliveries to us.

  "This one, it had to be the addressee," he said.

  I pointed it out to Elaine when she got home, and she started to unwrap it, then stopped to announce that it was for me.

 
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