A drop of the hard stuff, p.6
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       A Drop of the Hard Stuff, p.6
 

         Part #17 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
Page 6

  “This way they’re never wrong. ”

  “That’s it exactly. ‘Well, we said only a ten percent chance of rain and it poured all day, so all that means is a long shot came in. ’ Just because you’re a meteorologist doesn’t mean you don’t feel the need to cover your ass. ” He took a breath. “I never asked you this, but do you prefer Matt or Matthew?”

  Either’s fine with me, but it only confuses people to tell them that. “Matt’s good,” I said.

  “Matt, why do they insist on a formal identification? He was in prison, he has a police record, they’d already identified him from fingerprints. Suppose there was nobody around who could do it. They’d get along without it, wouldn’t they?”

  “Sure. ”

  “I really didn’t want to see him like that. My father’s funeral was open-casket, and there he was, like something from a road-company Madame Tussauds, and that’s the image I was left with, this lifeless waxen effigy. We had our problems, God knows. I was not the son he’d had in mind, as he made all too clear. But we made it up during his last illness, and there was love and mutual respect there at the end, and then that final hideous glimpse of him eclipsed the strong and vigorous man I wanted to remember. I knew that would happen, I dreaded it, but at the same time I couldn’t not look. Do you know what I mean?”

  “How long ago was this?”

  “A little over a year. Why?”

  “Because time will probably change that,” I said. “The earlier memory will supplant the other. ”

  “That’s already begun to happen. I didn’t know whether I could trust it, whether it was real. Or just some form of wishful thinking. ”

  “Wishful thinking may have something to do with it,” I said, “but it’s still real. We wind up remembering people the way they were, or at least the way we knew them. I had an aunt with Alzheimer’s, she spent the last ten years of her life institutionalized, while the disease ate her mind and her personality and everything that made her human. And that’s how I knew her, and how I remembered her. ”

  “God. ”

  “And that all faded out after she was gone, and the real Aunt Peg came back. ”

  Over coffee he said, “I barely looked at him just now. All I really saw were the wounds. ”

  He’d been shot in the mouth and the forehead. They’d shown the corpse with a sheet covering him from the neck down, so if there were other wounds we wouldn’t have seen them.

  “I hope you’re right,” he said. “About the image fading. It can’t fade too soon for me. Thank you for that. More than that, thanks for making the trip. ”

  I hadn’t much wanted to keep him company, but it was a hard request to say no to.

  “I didn’t want to go at all,” he said, “and I certainly didn’t want to go by myself. I could have found someone else to come, some AA friend of Jack’s, but you felt like the right choice. Thank you. ”

  We’d headed north on First Avenue when we left the morgue, and stopped at a coffee shop called Mykonos just past Forty-second Street. When he ordered a grilled cheese sandwich, I realized it had been a while since I’d eaten, and said I’d have the same.

  “Besides,” he said, “there’s something else I want to talk about. ”

  “Oh?”

  “The two men at the back of the room. They were police officers. ”

  “Somehow I sensed as much. ”

  “Well, I didn’t need radar, because I saw their badges when they interviewed me. In fact they were the ones who asked me to make the formal ID. I asked them if they were close to solving the case, and they said something noncommittal. ”

  “That’s no surprise. ”

  “Do you think they’ll solve it?”

  “It’s possible they’ve solved it already,” I said, “in the sense that they may know who did it. Of course that’s not the same as having sufficient evidence to bring a case to trial. ”

  “Could you find out?”

  “Whether or not they know who did it?” He nodded. “I suppose I could ask around. An ordinary citizen wouldn’t get a straight answer, but I still know a few people in the department. Why?”

  “I have a reason. ”

  One he evidently preferred to keep to himself. I let it go.

  I said, “I’ll see if anybody wants to tell me anything. But I can make an educated guess right now as to who killed Jack. ”

  “You can?”

  “Not by name,” I said. “Maybe it’s more accurate to say I can guess why he was killed. Somebody wanted to shut him up. ”

  “He was shot in the mouth. ”

  “At very close range. Essentially, somebody stuck the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger, and this would have been after the forehead shot killed him. Put that together with the Ninth Step work Jack kept talking about and the message is pretty clear. ”

  “I was afraid of that,” he said.

  “Oh?”

  He looked at his hands, then raised his eyes to meet mine. “I got him killed,” he said.

  VI

  DENNIS REDMOND WAS a detective attached to the Nineteenth Precinct, on East Sixty-seventh Street. I reached him at his desk, and let him pick a time and a place to meet.

  “I got a few calls to make,” he said, “and then I can get out of here. You know the Minstrel Boy?”

  “I know the song. ”

  “On Lexington,” he said, “right around the corner from us. Say two o’clock?”

  The minstrel boy to the war has gone

  In the ranks of death you will find him…

  It was, not surprisingly, an Irish tavern, and I got there a few minutes early and took a booth on the side, sitting where I could see him come in. I walked over to the jukebox while I waited for the waiter to bring me my club soda. There were a lot of Irish selections, and among them was “The Minstrel Boy,” the Thomas Moore song, with “The Rose of Tralee” on the flip side, both of them performed by John McCormack. I spent a quarter and listened to that great tenor voice from the past singing about a war that was before my time or his.

  The record ended and I sipped my club soda and glanced now and then at my watch, and wondered how McCormack would do with “The Rose of Tralee” and thought about spending another quarter to find out, and then at 2:12 Redmond came through the door. I recognized him right away from Jack’s memorial service, and he may even have been wearing the same suit. He took a moment to scan the bar and tables—there wasn’t much of a crowd—and came right over.

  “Dennis Redmond,” he said. “And you’re Matt Scudder, and you didn’t happen to mention you were at the service yesterday. ”

  “I saw you there,” I said, “with another fellow—”

  “That’d be Rich Bikelski. ”

  “—but I didn’t know it was you, not until you walked in just now. ”

  “No, how would you?” He shook his head. “Been a long day. I can use something. What’s that you got there, vodka tonic?”

  “Club soda. ”

  He straightened up. “I don’t think I’m gonna follow your lead on that one,” he said, and went over to the bar. He came back with a tall glass of pale amber liquid over ice. Whiskey and water, from the look of it, and I found myself wondering what kind of whiskey it was, and which brand.

  He sat down, raised his glass to me, and took a sip. He was a bulky man with a beefy face and a whiskey drinker’s ruddy complexion, but a look at his eyes let you know there was a working brain in there. “Joe Durkin called to put in a word for you,” he said. “Says you’re all right. You were on the job, had a gold shield. That how you came to know Joe?”

  I shook my head. “We didn’t meet until a little over a year ago. I was a few years off the force by then. ”

  “Working private. ”

  “That’s right. ”

  “But I guess the two of you got along. That what you’re doing now? Working private?


  “When something comes my way,” I said. “But my interest in Ellery is personal. ”

  “Oh?” He frowned in concentration. “You were at the Six, and it seems to me he took a bust down there once. Nothing came of it, but was that your case? Years ago, that would have been. ”

  I told him that was a good guess, that it hadn’t been my case but that I’d been present as a spectator when the witness blew the ID. “We went back a little further than that,” I said, and explained how I’d known Jack briefly in the Bronx.

  “Boys together,” he said. “One turns bad, the other goes on the cops. Years pass and they’re facing each other down in a darkened alley. A shot rings out. I think I saw the movie. ”

  “You probably did. Barry Fitzgerald played the priest. ”

  He took a hit of his drink, and I got enough of a whiff of it to identify it as Scotch. He said, “Then you lose touch, and he goes off to the joint for something else, and he gets out and gets himself killed, and a couple dozen people from AA hold a service for him, and here you sit drinking club soda. Is it any wonder they made me a detective?”

  “I’m surprised they didn’t name you commissioner. ”

 
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