A Long Line Of Dead Men Page 46

’’If it ain\ broke-’’

’’Well, I\ve been broke,’’ I said, ’’from time to time. But something always turns up.’’

’’And always will.’’

’’Let\s hope so. Here\s something else I decided. I don\ want to put off the things I really want to do. You\ve been to Europe what, three times?’’


’’Well, I\ve never been, and I\d like to get over there before I have to use a walker. I want to go to London and Paris.’’

’’I think that\s a great idea.’’

’’They gave me a nice bonus,’’ I said. ’’So as soon as the check cleared I went to a travel agent and booked a trip. I figured I\d better spend the money right away.’’

’’Otherwise you might piss it away on necessities.’’

’’That was my thinking. Our flight leaves JFK a week from Monday. We\ll be gone for fifteen days. That gives us a week in each city. It\ll mean closing the shop, but-’’

’’Oh, screw the shop. It\s my shop. I ought to be able to decide when to close up. God, this is exciting! I promise I won\ pack too much. We\ll travel light.’’

’’Yeah, sure.’’

’’You\ve heard that song before, huh? I\ll try to travel light. How\s that?’’

’’Pack all you want,’’ I said. ’’It\s your honeymoon, so why shouldn\ you have whatever you want with you?’’

She looked at me.

’’We keep saying we\ e going to get married,’’ I said, ’’and we keep not quite getting around to it. Trying to figure out where to have the wedding and who to invite and every other damn thing. Here\s what I want to do, if it\s okay with you. I want to go down to City Hall Monday morning and have the standard three-minute ceremony. Twenty-four hours later we\ll be landing at Heathrow.’’

’’You\ e full of surprises, aren\ you?’’

’’What do you say?’’

She put her hand on mine. ’’In the words of Gary Gilmore,’’ she said, ’’ \Let\s do it.\ ’’

In Paris, drinking the same kind of coffee at the same sort of cafй on the Rive Gauche, I found myself talking about James Severance. ’’I keep seeing him sitting there,’’ I said. ’’Sitting on the edge of his bed with a chain on his leg, and over his shoulder I could see the noose dangling from a hook in the ceiling beam.’’

’’Rumpelstiltskin,’’ she said. ’’The evil dwarf. What did that mean, anyway? Did he tell you?’’

’’He probably would have, if I\d thought to ask him. I forgot. But I think I know what he meant. In the story, the dwarf told the girl he\d let her off the hook if she guessed his name. In other words, if you know my name then you have the power. If I looked at all the names he used over the years I\d see the pattern of the initials, and then I\d know who he was.’’

’’But you got there backwards, didn\ you? First you learned who he was, and then you figured out what the clue meant. Some clue.’’

’’I don\ think it was supposed to lead me anywhere.’’

’’Why do you think he gave it to you?’’

’’To feel powerful. The man in control, handing out clues like alms, and feeling superior to the beggars standing around with their hands out.’’

’’I suppose,’’ she said. ’’What do you think he\ll do?’’

’’I don\ know. Kill himself, I guess. How long can you stay there before you stick your neck in the noose and step off into the air?’’

’’It seems so cruel,’’ she said.

’’I know, and if there\d been a more humane alternative I would have argued for it. The noose was my idea, that and the cyanide capsule. If you\ e going to lock a man up for life, it seems to me he should have the option of shortening that life. I\ve never been able to understand why they have suicide watches on death row. Why stop a condemned man from killing himself? Hasn\ he got the right?’’

’’I guess so.’’

’’Gruliow\s completely opposed to capital punishment. I can\ say I agree with him. That doesn\ mean I want to lead parades in favor of it.’’

’’It\s like my position on abortion,’’ she said. ’’Strictly middle-of-the-road. I don\ believe it should be illegal, but I don\ believe it should be compulsory, either.’’

’’You\ e a moderate.’’

’’You bet.’’ She gave me what I believe they call a sidelong glance. I don\ know what the French call it, but I\m sure they\ve got a word for it. ’’All this talk about death,’’ she said. ’’You wouldn\ want to go back to the hotel for an affirmation of life, would you?’’

A while later she said, ’’Wow. You really, uh, made me see les йtoiles. That means stars.’’

’’No kidding.’’

’’You old bear. God, what you did to me.’’

’’Well, when in France-’’

’’That\s right, they invented that particular activity, didn\ they? Or at least they get the credit. You want to hear something ridiculous?’’

’’It wouldn\ be the first time.’’

’’I was afraid it might not be as good after we were married.’’

’’And here we are, acting like a couple of newlyweds.’’

’’Newlyweds, at our age. Who\da thought?’’ Her fingers moved to toy with the hair on my chest. She said, ’’I like being married.’’

’’So do I.’’

’’But it\s really just a piece of paper. It doesn\ have to change anything.’’

’’What do you mean?’’

’’I mean our life works. We don\ have to fool with it just because we\ e wearing wedding rings. They\ e on our fingers, not in our noses. We can have just as much space in our lives as we had before. I think you should keep your hotel room across the street.’’

’’Think so?’’

’’Definitely. Even if all you do is go there when you feel like watching a ball game and staring out the window. That doesn\ have to change.’’ Her hand found mine, squeezed. ’’Nothing has to change. We can still go to Marilyn\s Chamber once in a while. I can still wear leather and look dangerous.’’

’’And I can wear my guayabera and look ridiculous.’’

’’Nothing has to change,’’ she said. ’’Do you hear what I\m saying?’’

’’I think so.’’

’’Your private life is your business. Just don\ stop loving me.’’

’’I never have,’’ I said. ’’I never will.’’

’’You\ e my bear and I love you,’’ she said. ’’And nothing has to change.’’

Early in December I had lunch with Lewis Hildebrand at the Addison Club. Our conversation ranged far and wide in the course of the meal, and over coffee he said, ’’I have something to propose to you, and I\m not quite sure how to begin. As you know, our little club has a member who\s no longer able to attend meetings. In point of fact, he resigned his membership years ago, but we were under the impression that he had died. Is he still a member? Shall we resume reading his name when he does in fact pass on?’’

’’Those are interesting questions.’’

’’And there\s no need to answer them now. But in addition to having this member who\s not a member, we also have for the first time in our history a nonmember who is intimately acquainted with the club. You\ve met most of our members, you know our history. As a matter of fact, you\ve been a part of our history. Some of us were discussing the rather special status you enjoy, and someone suggested that perhaps you ought to be a member.’’

I didn\ know what to say.

’’We have never taken in a new member before,’’ he said, ’’and we\ve never replaced members who have died, because that would be contrary to our whole design. But this would be a case of replacing a member who has not died, and it seems curiously appropriate. Obviously a step of this nature would require the unanimous endorsement of the entire membership.’’

’’I would think so, yes.’’

’’And it has received it. Matt, I\ve been authorized to invite you to take up membership in the club of thirty-one.’’

I took a breath. ’’I\m honored,’’ I said.


’’And I accept.’’

This year the first Thursday in May fell on the fifth. I was there in the upstairs banquet room at Keens with the other thirteen surviving members. I listened as Raymond Gruliow, our chapter\s senior member, read the names of the deceased members, starting with Philip Kalish and ending with Gerard Billings. He did not read James Severance\s name, but the omission did not require a policy decision. Severance is still alive, still chained to the floor of the cabin on Red Hawk Island.

Maybe he\ll outlive us all.

Three weeks and a day after our annual dinner, Ray Gruliow called me. ’’You\d know this,’’ he said. ’’Do they still have AA meetings at the little storefront on Perry Street?’’

’’They do indeed,’’ I said. ’’Six or seven times a day.’’

’’The times I went, the room was so smoky you couldn\ see from one end of it to the other.’’

’’It\s smoke-free these days,’’ I said.

’’Well, that\s something,’’ he said. ’’I was thinking I might see what the place looks like these days. How\d you like to keep me company?’’

I met him at his house and we walked over there together. He said, ’’I feel a little funny about this. I\m sort of a controversial character. And I haven\ exactly kept a low profile over the years. I\m in the media all the time.’’

’’You\ve even got a sandwich named after you.’’

’’I told you about that, huh?’’

’’Listen, if some deli owner made a sandwich and called it the Matt Scudder, I\d tell the whole world. But what\s your biggest fear, Ray? That people at Perry Street will recognize you? Or that they won\ ?’’

He stopped in midstride, looked at me, and let out a bark of laugher. ’’Jesus,’’ he said, ’’it really is all ego, isn\ it?’’

’’Pretty much.’’

’’My wife left. That\s three marriages down the toilet. Last week I was hung over during jury selection and made a really bad call. And my liver\s swollen, and I woke up the day before yesterday and couldn\ remember how I got home. And just before I called you I was thinking about Severance and it struck me that it wouldn\ be that bad to stick my neck in a noose and kick the chair away. You know something? I don\ give a shit who recognizes me and who doesn\ . Something\s got to change while I can still recognize myself.’’

’’It sounds as though you\ e ready.’’

’’Jesus,’’ he said, ’’I hope you\ e right.’’

’’So do I,’’ I said. ’’The last time I took a guy to a meeting, it didn\ work out too well.’’

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