All the flowers are dyin.., p.5
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       All the Flowers Are Dying, p.5

         Part #16 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 5

 

  “And in their minds they can’t shake off the slim hope that he’s alive. ”

  “They know he’s not,” Humphries says. “They know he’s dead and they know Applewhite killed him. There was a manila envelope in a locked drawer of the man’s desk, and in it were three glassine envelopes, each containing a lock of hair. One was the Willis boy’s, and the others were from the other two victims. ” He shakes his head. “Of course Applewhite had no explanation. Of course someone must have planted the trophies in his desk. Of course he’d never seen them before. ”

  “He may believe that. ”

  “All anyone wants from him now, all he can do in the world on his way out of it, is tell those poor people where their son’s body is buried. That might get him a call from the governor, at the very least staying his execution long enough to recover the body. But if he honestly believes he didn’t do it—”

  “Then he can’t admit it. And couldn’t locate the body, because he no longer knows where it is. ”

  “If that’s what he believes, I don’t suppose there’s anything to be done in that regard. But if he’s just putting on an act, and if he were somehow convinced that it’s in his own best interests to provide us with the whereabouts of the body…”

  “I’ll see what I can do,” he says.

  4

  The cell is larger than he’d expected, and more comfortably appointed. There’s a built-in concrete platform to support the mattress, a built-in kneehole desk. There’s a television set mounted high on the wall, out of reach, with a remote control pointed toward it and bolted to the desktop. A single molded plastic chair—white, stackable if there were another to stack upon it—is the cell’s only movable furniture. After a tentative handshake, Applewhite motions him to the chair, takes a seat for himself on the bed.

  He is a handsome man, is Preston Applewhite, although the years in confinement have taken a toll. He’s five years older than when he was arrested, and they’ve been hard years, soul-deadening years. They’ve rounded his broad shoulders, bowed his back. They’ve put some gray in his dark blond hair, even as they’ve etched vertical lines at the sides of his full-lipped mouth. Have they washed some of the blue from his eyes? Perhaps, or it could be that it’s not the color but the expression in those eyes that has faded. The thousand-yard stare, the unfocused gaze into the middle distance, and on into the abyss.

  When he speaks, his voice is flat, uninflected. “I hope this isn’t a ruse, Dr. Bodinson. I hope you’re not from the media. ”

  “Certainly not. ”

  “I’ve turned down their requests. I don’t want to be interviewed, I don’t want a chance to tell my story. I don’t have a story to tell. My only story is that I’m innocent, that I’m living in a nightmare, and that’s not a story anyone wants to hear. ”

  “I’m not from the media. ”

  “Or from the boy’s parents? They want to know where their son is buried, so they can dig him up and bury him again. For the love of God, don’t they think I’d tell them if I knew?”

  “They think you’re unwilling to own up to knowing. ”

  “Why? Friday they’re going to pump a mix of chemicals into me, and what little life I’ve got is going to come to an end. That’s going to happen no matter what I do. I don’t deserve it, I never harmed anyone in my life, but that’s beside the point. Twelve men and women looked at the evidence and decided I was guilty, and then they thought it over and decided I deserved to die for it, and I can’t really blame them for either of those decisions. I mean, look at the evidence. ”

  “Yes. ”

  “Child pornography on my computer hard drive. Little envelopes of hair from the dead boys in my desk drawer. A bloody handkerchief found at the burial site, and the blood’s mine. There was even a file on my computer, an elaborate obscene third-person account of one of the murders. It had been erased, but they managed to recover it, and only a monster could have written it. It contained details of the crime that could only have been known to the person who committed it. If I’d been on that jury, I wouldn’t have hesitated for a moment. A guilty verdict was the only verdict possible. ”

  “They didn’t spend much time in deliberations. ”

  “They didn’t have to. I read an account, an interview with one of the jurors. They went around the room, and everyone said guilty. Then they discussed the evidence, trying to find arguments refuting some of it, and they voted again, and it was unanimous again. And then they discussed it some more, just to make absolutely certain they were all on the same page, and then they voted formally, and it was twelve for conviction and none for acquittal, and there was really no reason to waste any more time. So they filed back into the courtroom and announced the verdict. Then my lawyer insisted the jury be polled, and one by one they said the same thing, over and over. Guilty, guilty, guilty. What else did he expect them to say?”

  “And the penalty phase?”

  “My lawyer wanted me to change my story. He’d never believed me, although he wouldn’t come right out and say so. Well, why should he have believed me? To take my story at face value would have been evidence of incompetence on his part. ”

  “He thought you’d have a better chance at escaping a death sentence if you said you’d done it. ”

  “Which is nonsense,” he says, “because the sentence would have been the same either way. He wanted me to express remorse. Remorse! What remorse could possibly match the enormity of those crimes? And how could I express remorse for something I hadn’t done? I asked him as much and he just looked at me. He wouldn’t come right out and tell me I was full of shit, but that’s what he was thinking. But he didn’t push it, because he knew it wouldn’t make any difference. The death sentence didn’t take them any more time than the guilty verdict. ”

  “Did it surprise you?”

  “It shocked me. Later, when the judge pronounced sentence, that shocked me, too. Shock’s not the same thing as surprise. ”

  “No. ”

  “The idea of it. ‘You’re going to die. ’ Well, everybody’s going to die. But when someone sits there and tells you, well, it has an impact. ”

  “I can imagine. ”

  “Remorse. Could you express remorse by proxy? Because I couldn’t be sorry that I’d killed those boys, because I hadn’t, but I was damn well sorry that someone had. ” He frowns, a vertical line in his forehead forming to match the ones at the sides of his mouth. “He told me it would be a great help if I could tell them where to find the third body. But how could I do that if I’d never set eyes on the Willis boy and had no idea where he might be? I could tell him, he said, and he could say I let it slip while still maintaining my innocence. I told him I couldn’t quite see the logic of that. I’d be sticking to a lie while admitting it was a lie. He hemmed and hawed, and I said it hardly mattered, because I couldn’t tell what I didn’t know. You know, I didn’t care if he believed me, or if anyone else believed me. My wife didn’t believe me, she couldn’t even look at me. She’s divorced me, you know. ”

  “So I understand. ”

  “I haven’t seen her or my children since I was taken into custody. No, I take that back. I saw her once. She came to the jail and asked me how I could do such a thing. I said I was innocent and she had to believe me. But she didn’t, and something died in me, and from that point on it didn’t really matter what anyone else believed or didn’t believe. ”

  Fascinating, just fascinating.

  “You wrote that you believed me. ”

  “Yes. ”

  “I suppose that was just a way to get me to approve the visit. Well, it worked. ”

  “I’m glad it got me here,” he says, “but it wasn’t a ruse. I know you didn’t commit those barbarities. ”

  “I almost think you’re serious. ”

  “I am. ”

  “But how can you possibly be? You’re a rational man, a scientist. ”

  “If psychology’s a science, and there are th
ose who’d argue that it’s not. ”

  “What else could it be?”

  “An art. A black art, some would say. There were those, you know, who wanted to give Freud the Nobel, not in medicine but in literature. A backhanded compliment, that. I like to think there’s a scientific basis to what I do, Preston, but—I’m sorry, is it all right if I call you Preston?”

  “I don’t mind. ”

  “And my name is Arne. That’s A-R-N-E, the Scandinavian spelling, though it’s pronounced like the diminutive for Arnold. My parents were English and Scots-Irish on both sides, I can’t think why they thought to give me a Swedish name. But that’s off the point, and I’m afraid I’ve lost track of what I was saying. ”

  “A scientific basis to what you do. ”

  “Yes, of course. ” He hadn’t lost track, but is pleased to note that Applewhite’s been paying attention. “But even pure science has an intuitive element. Most scientific discovery comes out of intuition, out of an inspired leap of faith that owes little to logic or scientific method. I know you’re innocent. I know it with a certainty that leaves no room for doubt. I can’t explain how I know it, to you or to myself, but I know it. ” He treats Applewhite to a gentler version of the rueful smile. “I’m afraid,” he says, “that you’ll have to take my word for it. ”

  Applewhite just looks at him, his face soft now, defenseless. And, unbidden and quite unexpected, tears begin to flow down his cheeks.

  “I’m sorry. I haven’t cried in, hell, I couldn’t even guess how long it’s been. Ages. ”

  “It’s nothing to apologize for. Perhaps I’m the one who should apologize. ”

  “For what? For being the first person to believe me?” He laughed shortly. “Except that’s not strictly true. I’ve received letters from half a dozen women over the years. They just know I couldn’t have done such things, and their hearts go out to me, and they want me to know how strongly they support me in my hour of need. I’m told everyone on Death Row gets letters like that, and the nastier and more publicized your crimes, the more mail you get. ”

  “It’s a curious phenomenon. ”

  “Most of them sent their pictures. I didn’t keep the photos, or the letters, for that matter, and I didn’t even think about answering them, but a couple of them kept writing all the same. They wanted to visit me, and one just wouldn’t give up. She wants to marry me. Now that my divorce is final, she explained, we can get married. And it’s my constitutional right, according to her. It’s a right I’m somehow not tempted to exercise. ”

  “No, I wouldn’t think you would be. ”

  “And I don’t really think for a moment that she or any of the others really believed I was innocent. Because they don’t want a romance with some poor bastard who’s going to die for no reason whatsoever. They want an affair, or the fantasy of an affair, with a man who’s the very personification of evil. Each of them wants to be the one selfless woman able to see the good in this worst of men, and if there’s a chance I might wring her neck, well, the danger just adds spice to the mix. ”

 
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