Everybody dies, p.8
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       Everybody Dies, p.8

         Part #14 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 8

 

  "You did what you said youd do. "

  "I guess so, even if all I learned was that there was nothing to learn. Then two clowns turned up with a gun, and in an eye blink they confirmed the conclusion Id already drawn. If they were part of the package, then you couldnt possibly write off what happened across the river to coincidence and bad luck. Youve got an enemy, and thats why Kenny and McCartney wound up dead. "

  "Ah, I think I knew as much all along," he said. "But I wanted to be certain. "

  "Well, it got certain for me the minute they showed up to warn me off. I was already off. Thats what I said to them, and the hell of it is I think they believed me. "

  "But the fucker hit you all the same. "

  "He was apologetic about it," I said, "but that didnt make him pull the punch. So it didnt feel much like an apology. "

  "And you stood and took it. "

  "I didnt have a lot of choice. But one punch was as much as I wanted to take. "

  "And so you showed them what you could do. Jesus, I wish Id been there to see it. "

  "I wish youd been there to give me a hand," I said. "Im too old for this shit. "

  "Hows your stomach, man?"

  "Not as bad as itd be if Id let him hit me again. You know, I was damn lucky. If I dont come down just right on his foot, he doesnt let go. And then all Ive done is irritate them, and then where am I?" I shrugged. "On balance it was probably a mistake to fight back. He had a gun, for Christs sake. And I knew they were killers, or at least working for killers. Hell, I saw what happened to Kenny and McCartney. "

  "You helped to bury them. "

  "So if I make these two angry Im only going to get more of a beating, and they might use a gun instead of a fist, and they might even get carried away and shoot me. But I didnt have time to think it through. All I could do was react. And, as I said, I got lucky. "

  "Id have paid to see it. "

  "You wouldnt want to pay too much. It was over in less time than it took me to tell about it. The adrenaline gives you a rush, Ill say that. When I was standing there watching one of them hurrying away on his bad foot while the other rolled around hugging his liver, I felt like Supermans big brother. "

  "You had the right. "

  "And I thought, well, the hell with you assholes. I was off the case, I was done with it, but fuck the two of you, and Im back on it. " I took a breath. "But I realized that wasnt so about the time the adrenaline wore off. What happened didnt change anything. "

  "No. "

  "I walked half a block and had to hang on to a lamppost while I threw up. I havent puked on the street since I stopped drinking, and thats a few years now. "

  "Beyond the sore stomach," he said, "how do you feel now?"

  "Im all right. "

  "Id say you could do with a drink, but you wouldnt take one, would you?"

  "Not tonight. "

  "And doesnt your crowd ever recognize special circumstances? What manner of man would begrudge you a drink on a night like this?"

  "It doesnt matter what anybody else would do," I said. "Im the only man who can give me permission. "

  "And you wont. "

  "Suppose I decided it was all right to drink when I got punched in the stomach. What do you think would happen?"

  He grinned. "Youd soon have a sore midsection. "

  "I would, because Id make sure I got hit a lot. Mick, a drink wouldnt help me any. All it would do me is harm. "

  "Ah, I know that. "

  "And I dont really want one, anyway. All I want is to give you some of your money back, and then to go home and get in a hot tub. "

  "The lasts a good idea. The heat will draw the pain and make the morning easier. But Ill not take money from you. "

  "I had to rent a car," I said, "and I put in an afternoons work, and TJ spent a few hours riding the phone and the computer. I figure I earned about half of the thousand you gave me. "

  "You took a beating," he said, "and risked a bullet. For the love of God, man, keep the fucking money. "

  "Id have argued with him," I told Elaine, "but Id fought enough for one night. So I kept the money and treated myself to a cab home. I felt silly, riding that short a distance on a nice night like this, but I didnt really figure I needed the exercise. "

  "And you didnt want to run into them again. "

  "I never even thought about it," I said, "but maybe that was in the back of my mind. Not the idea of meeting up with them specifically, but the sense that the streets werent a safe place all of a sudden. "

  I hadnt planned on saying anything to her, not right away. But when I walked into the apartment she took one look at me and knew something was wrong.

  "So youre done working for Mick," she said now.

  "I was done anyway. In the movies the best way to keep a detective on the job is to try scaring him off, but thats not how it works in the real world. Not this time, anyway. Mick wouldnt let me give the money back, but he didnt try to talk me out of resigning, either. He knew Id done what I set out to do. "

  "Do they know that, honey?"

  "The two heavies? I told them so, and I think they believed me. Punching me out was part of their deal, so the guy took his best shot, but that didnt mean he didnt believe me. "

  "And now?"

  "You think he changed his mind?"

  "In his mind," she said, "you were quitting the job because hed managed to intimidate you. "

  "And that was partly the case. Although it would be more accurate to say hed reinforced a decision Id already made. "

  "But then you fought back," she said. "And won. "

  "It was a lucky punch. "

  "Whatever it was, it worked. You sent one scampering and left the other writhing in agony. Whats so funny?"

  "Writhing in agony. "

  "Rolling around and trying to put his liver back together? That sounds to me like writhing in agony. "

  "I suppose. "

  "What Im getting at is you werent acting intimidated. Though I suppose you must have been afraid. "

  "Not while it was going on. Youre too much in the moment to have any room left for fear. Afterward, walking across Fifty-third Street, I started sweating like the guy in Broadcast News. "

  "The guy in… oh, Albert Brooks. That was a funny movie. "

  "And then of course I had to stop and vomit. In the gutter, of course, because Im a gentleman. So I guess we can say I was scared, once it was over and there was nothing to be scared of. But for a few critical seconds there I was Mister Cool. "

  "My hero," she said. "Baby, they didnt see you afterward, did they? They missed the shakes and the flop sweat. All they ever saw was Mister Cool. "

  "Youre concerned theyre going to turn up again. "

  "Well, arent you?"

  "I cant rule out the possibility. But why should they? Theyll see for themselves Im not chasing out to Jersey or hanging out at Grogans. I went there tonight, but I wont be going there again until all of this blows over. "

  "And you dont think theyll want to get even?"

  "Again, its possible. Theyre pros, but even a pro can let his ego get caught up in his work. Ill keep my eyes open the next couple of weeks, and Ill stay out of dark alleys. "

  "Thats never a bad idea. "

  "And you know what else I think Ill do? Ill carry a gun. "

  "That one?"

  Id put it on the coffee table. I picked it up now and felt the weight of it on my palm. It was a revolver, a. 38-caliber Smith, with hollow-point shells in five of the cylinders six chambers.

  "I carried one a lot like this," I said, "when I was on the job. They always weigh more than you think theyre going to, even a stubby one like this. Its got a one-inch barrel. The piece I mostly carried had a two-inch. "

  "When you came up to my apartment," she said, "the first thing you would do was take off your gun and set it aside. "

  "As I remember it, the first thing I would do was kiss you. "

  "The second thing, the
n. You made a ritual of it. "

  "Did I?"

  "Uh-huh. Maybe it was a way of showing you felt safe with me. "

  "Maybe. "

  When we met, I was a married cop and she was a sweet and innocent young call girl. Ages ago, that was. Another lifetime, two other lifetimes.

  I said, "A few years ago they realized the cops were outgunned by the bad guys, especially the drug dealers. So they called in the revolvers and gave everybody nines. Nine-millimeter automatics. More rounds in the clip than you can load into one of these, and more stopping power. But I think this is as much gun as Ill need. "

  "I hope you wont need any gun at all, but I agree its not a bad idea for you to carry it. But is it legal?"

  "I have a carry permit. This guns not registered, or if it is its not registered to me. So in that sense its a violation for me to carry it, but Im not going to worry about it. "

  "Then I wont worry, either. "

  "If I have to use it, the fact that its unregistered is the least of my problems. And if theres an incident that Id just as soon not report, the lack of paper could be a plus. "

  "You mean if you shoot someone and walk away from it. "

  "Something like that. " I put the gun on the table and yawned. "What Id like to do is go straight to bed," I said, "but Im going to soak in a hot tub first. Come morning Ill be glad I did. "

  I didnt doze off in the tub, but I came close. I stayed in it until the water wasnt hot anymore. I toweled dry and headed for the bedroom, and when I got there the lights were dim and there was soft music playing, a John Pizzarelli album we both liked. She was standing beside the bed, wearing perfume and a smile, and she came over to me and unfastened the towel from around my waist.

  "Youve got something in mind," I said.

  "See what happens when a girl marries a detective? He doesnt miss a thing. Now why dont you get in the middle of the bed and lie on your back with your eyes closed?"

  "Ill fall asleep. "

  "Well see about that," she said.

  * * *

  Afterward she said, "Maybe its an affirmation of the life force. Or maybe I just got horny at the thought of you stretching those two goons. But that was nice, wasnt it? And it didnt hurt your sore tummy or anything else because you didnt have to move a muscle. Well, maybe one muscle.

  "And I love you so much, you old bear. It makes me crazy to think of anybody trying to hurt you, and all I want to do is hunt them down and kill them. But Im a girl and that means Im stuck with the traditional female role of providing aid and succor. Especially succor.

  "And all you want to do is sleep, you poor bear, and this crazy broad wont leave you alone. You had your succor- dont you love that word?- and now youre drifting off. Oh, sleep tight, my darling. Sweet dreams. I love you. "

  I awoke knowing Id had some unusually vivid dreams but unable to recall them. I showered and shaved and went into the kitchen. Elaine had gone off to a yoga class and left a note telling me as much, and that coffee was made. I poured myself a cup and drank it at the living room window.

 
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