Out On The Cutting Edge Page 34


’’The merciful angel of death.’’

’’Matt?’’

I took her hands from my shoulders, stepped back. Her eyes widened, and I could see her trying to gauge which way I was leaning. I took a full breath and let it out and took off my suit jacket and hung it over the back of the chair.

’’Ah, my darling,’’ she said.

I took off my tie and strung it over the jacket. I unbuttoned my shirt, tugged it out of the waistband of my slacks. She smiled and moved to embrace me. I lifted a hand to hold her off.

’’Matt-’’

I drew my undershirt up over my head and off. She couldn\ miss the wire. She saw it right away, wrapped around my middle, taped to my skin, but it took a minute or two for the implications to sink in.

Then she got it, and her shoulders sagged with the knowledge and her face collapsed. One hand reached out, gripping the table to keep her from falling.

While she was pouring herself more scotch, I got back into my clothes.

I brought her in. It was a nice collar for Joe Durkin, with an assist for Bellamy and Andreotti. Willa didn\ stay inside long. The equity in her buildings allowed her to make bond, and she\s out on bail now pending disposition of her case.

I don\ think it\ll come to trial. The newspaper coverage was heavy, and neither her good looks nor her radical past got in the way of the story. The recording I made of our conversation should prove to be admissible evidence, although her lawyer will do what he can to hold it back, but aside from that there\s not a wealth of physical evidence, so the betting right now is that her lawyer will want to plea-bargain the case and the Manhattan DA\s office will be agreeable. She\ll probably have to go away for a year or two. Most people would very likely say she\ll be getting off too easy, but then most people haven\ spent very much time in prison.

I had taken a few things from Eddie\s apartment- books, mostly, and his wallet. I brought all his AA literature along to St. Paul\s one night, and added the pamphlets to the stack on the free table. I gave his copies of the Big Book and the Twelve &Twelve to a newcomer named Ray, whom I haven\ laid eyes on since. I don\ know if he\s going to other meetings, or if he\s staying sober, but I don\ suppose the books drove him to drink.

I kept his mother\s Bible. I have one of my own, the King James version, and I figured it wouldn\ hurt to have a Catholic Bible to keep it company. I still like the King James better, but I don\ open either of them all that often.

I spent more than seventy-two dollars\ worth of mental energy trying to decide what to do with the forty bucks in the Bible and the thirty-two dollars in his wallet. Ultimately I appointed myself his executor and hired myself retroactively to solve his murder, and paid myself seventy-two dollars for my services on his behalf. I dropped the empty wallet in a trash basket, where it no doubt proved a major disappointment for some sharp-eyed scavenger.

Eddie was buried out of Twomey &Sons funeral parlor, on Fourteenth Street next to St. Bernard\s. Mickey Ballou arranged for the service and footed the bill for it. ’’At least he\ll have a priest reading over him and a decent burial in a proper cemetery,’’ he said, ’’though you and I\ll probably be the only ones there for him.’’ But I mentioned the event at a meeting, and as it turned out there were about two dozen of us who came to see him off.

Ballou was astonished, and drew me aside. ’’I thought it\d just be you and me,’’ he said. ’’If I\d known there\d be all this turnout I\d have laid on something after, a couple of bottles and some food. Do you suppose we could ask them all to come back to Grogan\s for a few jars?’’

’’These people won\ want to do that,’’ I said.

’’Ah,’’ he said, and looked thoughtfully around the room. ’’They don\ drink.’’

’’Not today.’’

’’And that\s where they knew him from. And they\ e here for him now.’’ He considered this for a moment, then nodded shortly. ’’I guess he came out of it all right,’’ he said.

’’I guess he did.’’

Not long after Eddie\s funeral I got a call from Warren Hoeldtke. They\d just had a small service for Paula, and I guess his call to me was a part of the mourning process.

’’We announced that she\d died in a boating accident,’’ he said. ’’We talked it over, and that seemed like the best way to handle it. And I suppose it\s the truth, if not the whole truth.’’

He said he and his wife had agreed that I hadn\ been paid enough for my services. ’’I\ve put a check in the mail to you,’’ he said. I didn\ argue with him. I\d been a New York cop long enough not to argue with people who wanted to give me money.

’’And if you ever want a car,’’ he said, ’’you\ e more than welcome to anything on the lot at actual cost. It would be a genuine plea-sure for me.’’

’’I wouldn\ know where to park it.’’

’’I know,’’ he said. ’’Personally I wouldn\ own a car in New York if someone gave it to me. But then I wouldn\ care to live there either, with or without a car. Well. You should have that check in a few days.’’

It took three days, and it was for $1,500. I tried to decide if it bothered me to take it, and I concluded that it didn\ . I had earned it, had put in sufficient effort to justify it and had produced sufficient results. I had pushed against the wall, and the wall had moved a little, so I had done real work and deserved real pay for it.

I put the check in the bank and drew some cash and paid some bills. And I took a tenth of the sum in singles and made sure I always had a supply in my pocket, and I went on giving them out haphazardly to some of the people who stood on the street and asked for them.

The same day the check came, I had dinner with Jim Faber and told him the whole story. I needed an ear to pour it all into, and he was decent enough to listen to it. ’’I figured out how the payment breaks down,’’ I told him. ’’A thousand dollars for finding out how Paula died and fifteen hundred for lying about it.’’

’’You couldn\ tell him the truth.’’

’’I don\ see how I could have, no. I told him a truth. I told him that she died because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I told him that the person who killed her was dead. Burial at sea sounds a lot more wholesome than getting dumped in a pigpen, but what\s the real difference? Either way you\ e dead, and either way something eats you.’’

’’I suppose.’’

’’Fish or hogs,’’ I said. ’’What\s the difference, when you come right down to it?’’

He nodded. ’’Why did you want Willa to listen in on your conversation with the Hoeldtkes?’’

’’I wanted to start with the focus on Paula instead of on Eddie, so I could come up on her blind side. And I wanted her to have the same version they were getting, so she couldn\ blurt anything out after she was in police custody.’’ I thought about it. ’’Maybe I just wanted to lie to her,’’ I said.

’’Why?’’

’’Because I\d already shared a lot of myself with her, before I got Eddie\s autopsy results and found the chloral hydrate in her medicine chest. From that point I started drawing away. I never slept with her after that. The one time we went out, I think I encouraged her to drink. I wanted her to pass out, I wanted us to keep our clothes on. I wasn\ sure she\d done it, I didn\ know everything at that point, but I was afraid of it and I didn\ want the intimacy, or the illusion of intimacy.’’

’’You cared about her.’’

’’I was starting to.’’

’’How do you feel now?’’

’’Not great.’’

He nodded and poured himself another cup of tea. We were in a Chinese place, and they\d refilled the teapot twice already. ’’Oh, before I forget,’’ he said, and reached into a pocket of his army jacket and came out with a small cardboard box. ’’This may not cheer you up,’’ he said, ’’but it\s something. It\s a present. Go on, open it.’’

The box contained business cards, nice ones, with raised lettering. They had my name, Matthew Scudder, and my telephone number. Nothing else.

’’Thank you,’’ I said. ’’These are nice.’’

’’I thought to myself that you ought to have cards, for God\s sake. You\ve got a buddy with a printshop, you really ought to have cards.’’

I thanked him again, then started to laugh. He asked what was so funny.

’’If I\d had them earlier,’’ I said, ’’I never would have found out who killed Paula.’’

* * *

And that was that. The Mets went ahead and clinched their division, and they\ll start the playoffs next week against the Dodgers. The Yankees still have a mathematical chance, but it looks as though it\ll be the Red Sox and Oakland in the American League.

The night the Mets clinched, I had a call from Mickey Ballou. ’’I was thinking about you,’’ he said. ’’You ought to come round to Grogan\s one of these nights. We could sit up all night telling lies and sad stories.’’

’’That sounds good.’’

’’And in the morning we\ll catch the butchers\ mass.’’

’’One of these days,’’ I said.

’’I was thinking,’’ he went on, ’’about all those people who came to say goodbye to Eddie. You go to those meetings yourself, don\ you?’’

’’Yes, I do.’’

After a moment he said, ’’One of these days I might ask you to take me along with you. Just for curiosity, don\ you know. Just to see what it\s like.’’

’’Anytime at all, Mick.’’

’’Ah, there\s no hurry,’’ he said. ’’It\s nothing you\d want to rush into, is it? But one of these days.’’

’’Just let me know when.’’

’’Ah,’’ he said. ’’We\ll see.’’

I\ll probably get out to Shea for a game or two during the playoffs. They shouldn\ have trouble with the Dodgers. They beat them eleven games out of twelve during the regular season, so they ought to breeze right past them.

Still, you can never tell. Anything can happen in a short series.


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