Hope To Die Page 49


I said, ’’From Bergdorf\s?’’ They had a men\s store, she said, and this was gift-wrapped, and the card had my name on it. I took it from her, mystified.

It was an alligator wallet, a beauty. There was no card, and I took it out of the box and looked for a note, and the thing was crammed with money, crisp new hundred-dollar bills. There were fifty of them, and a card that said ’’A Gift for You’’ and was initialed K. H.

I got her on the phone and she said, ’’You did me a favor and I gave you a gift. Isn\ that how it works?’’

When someone gives you money, you thank them and put it in your pocket. A cop named Vince Mahaffey had taught me that many years ago, and I\d learned my lesson well.

I gave half the money to T J, figuring he\d done half the work, and maybe more. His eyes got very wide for a moment, and then he took the money and thanked me, and folded the bills and put them in his pocket. He\d learned, too.

Elaine and I had had dinner one night with Ira Wentworth and his wife, and one afternoon he came over, explaining he\d found himself in the neighborhood and couldn\ think of a better place to get a cup of coffee. We sat in the kitchen and talked mostly about baseball, and the chances of a Subway Series. ’’The rest of the country\ll hate that,’’ he said, ’’but you know what? The rest of the country can go screw itself.’’

And a little later he said, ’’You know, if you ever wanted to get your PI ticket back, there\s a few of us\d be more than happy to write letters on your behalf.’’

’’Thanks,’’ I said. ’’I appreciate it. But I think I\m happy leaving things the way they are.’’

’’Well, the offer\s open,’’ he said. ’’In case you happen to change your mind.’’

I had that conversation in mind after the gift arrived from Kristin Hollander, and it wasn\ long before I found myself climbing the steps and entering the sanctuary at St. Paul\s. The big room was empty, and I took a seat in a rear pew and just sat there for a while. Then I went to a side altar and lit a whole batch of candles, and then I sat down again and thought how things had changed, and how they hadn\ .

On my way out I stuffed $250 in the poor box. Don\ ask me why.

FORTY-ONE

There is so much to learn!

Take knives, for example. For the longest time all he knew about a knife was how to cut his meat with it. Then he bought a knife, a handsome one in a handsome sheath, paid fifty dollars for it, plus tax, and owned it for what, two, three hours?

Not that he regrets the cost. It\s gone, that handsome knife, and he thinks of it fondly, but it doesn\ owe him a penny. Oh, no. No, he got his money\s worth out of that piece of sharpened steel.

His new knife looks rather like the last one. It too is a Bowie-type, with the same overall design. It is perhaps an inch shorter, and the blood groove is perhaps a shade deeper, but otherwise it looks no different to the uneducated eye.

It cost four times what the first one did. Two hundred dollars- but there was no tax to pay, because no one collected tax at the knife and gun show where he bought it. He saw a knife quite like his for a little less than he\d paid, and he saw this one, right next to it, tagged $225, and he pointed to it and asked the bearded bear of a dealer why it was priced so high.

’’Randall made it,’’ the dealer said, and handed it to him. ’’It\s bench-made, not factory-made. You ever owned a bench-made knife?’’

He\d never heard of a bench-made knife. The dealer told him about custom knifemakers who made one knife at a time, the best of them working only on commission, and often booked up a year or two in advance. He drank in the information, and the man responded to his receptivity by bringing knife after knife out of his case, explaining the fine points, inviting him to hold the knives and feel their balance.

’’You have a feel for these,’’ the dealer told him. ’’You buy one of these, a year from now you\ e gonna have a whole wall cabinet full of \em. I can tell.’’

He looked at dozens of knives and bought the first one that had caught his eye, the Randall. And now, weeks later and a thousand miles to the west, he sits on the edge of his motel bed and holds the knife in his hand, appreciating its lines, feeling its perfect balance.

He has two guns, too, both purchased at the same wonderfully convenient show. One is a.22, a pistol, very much like the one he used in New York, but this has a ten-shot clip, and he has three spare clips for it. The other is a five-shot revolver, and he has a box of.38-caliber shells for it.

He likes them, but he likes the knife better.

But, for all that he likes them, the guns and the wonderful Randall-made knife, they are, finally, just things. They exist to be owned, to be employed, to be appreciated, but they\ e things, and they come and go.

You get what you get.

You make what you can of it.

And then you move on.

It was sad to leave so many things behind. It was sad to leave his apartment, with its splendid view of the park. It was sad to leave all his clothes, including some perfectly fine shirts and ties. Harold Fischer had excellent taste when it came to shirts and ties.

It was sad to leave his house, to leave it before it had even come into his possession. He\d worked so hard for that house, he\d planned to thoroughly...

It was gone. Let it go.

Oh, and saddest of all, he\d had to leave his friends, the people who loved him so. He remembers the joy with which they greeted him. ’’Doc! Hello, Doc! Doc, it\s so good to see you! We love you, Doc!’’

Lucian and Marsha appearing on the stairs. And, behind them, shy and wide-eyed, a college friend of Marsha\s, who\d just shown up that afternoon, unannounced and unexpected, but welcome. And his name?

Isaac.

Could anything be more perfect, more of a sign from on high? But where is the ram for the sacrifice, father? The Lord will provide the ram for the sacrifice, my son, my beloved Isaac.

Gone now, all of them. Unforgettable, all of them, but replaceable, every one of them. Consider the knife. He\d loved that knife, loved the reassuring presence of it on his hip, the feel of it in his hand. It\s gone- but now he has a better one!

He reaches into his open shirt collar, remembering the feel of the disc of rhodochrosite, remembering too the clarity it had provided. But one can absorb and internalize an amulet, he has come to realize. The rhodochrosite is gone, left behind in a city he need never return to, but the clarity it provided will be a part of him forever. He could get another amulet of the same mineral, it\s neither rare nor costly, but, you see, he doesn\ need to.

He draws out the stone he is wearing now, a crystal, almost colorless at its point, a deep purple at its broken end. He holds it, and feels its power.

He sits at the desk, boots up his computer, gets on-line. He liked the other computer better, liked the larger keyboard, liked his New York Night screensaver. This machine\s a laptop, and he doesn\ need a screensaver. He shuts it down entirely when he\s not using it. He\s less fond of it in many respects than his desk model, but he must admit it suits his lifestyle. When he\s ready to put down roots again, that will be time enough to get a desk model computer.

And he\ll be careful what he leaves on its desktop, too.

The cheery voice welcomes him, but does not tell him he has mail. He\s just opened this account, and there\s no one who knows of it, no one to send him mail.

He goes straight to alt.crime.serialkillers.

And catches up on the new posts in the several current threads centering on the late and variously lamented Adam Breit. Here again, he thinks, you can see the glass half empty or half full. On the one hand, Adam Breit is dead;on the other, Adam Breit lives!

Breit lives, indeed, as he had never lived before. Adam Breit has made a name for himself, a name with a long line of notches carved next to it. As he reads the new messages, he shakes his head at some of the comments. There are people out there who would credit Adam Breit with every dead massage-parlor whore from Maine to California, others who are sure he was personally acquainted with John Wayne Gacy. And, here and on the several Web sites devoted to Breit, there\s a certain amount of speculation that Breit might somehow have survived, that the body burned beyond recognition might not be his, that he might have escaped to kill again.

Idiots.

Adam Breit is dead. Adam Breit will live on in memory, in legend, but in the flesh he has gone out in a blaze of glory, not unlike Jim Bowie at the Alamo. Another great knife-fighter, gone to his reward.

He won\ be back.

Alvin Benjamin, on the other hand, is very much alive. Of course no one has heard of him.

But they will...

His fingers find his new amulet, and he caresses the stone. The mineral is quartz, and its color marks it as the variety known as amethyst.

For immortality.

THE END


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