All the Flowers Are Dying (Matthew Scudder Mysteries)Lawrence Block
For a pair of Knockaround Guys:
1. When I got there, Joe Durkin was already holding down a corner table…
2. He’d originally suggested dinner at seven, but I’d pushed it back to…
3. The Greensville Correctional Center is located just outside of Jarratt…
4. The cell is larger than he’d expected, and more comfortably appointed.
5. At a meeting over the weekend a woman whom I knew by sight came up…
6. There’s a Red Roof Inn just outside of Jarratt, at the exit off I-95, but on…
7. The first thing TJ tried was the phone number. It was his cell phone…
8. He’s up before the alarm rings. He showers, shaves, dresses. He’s saved a…
9. It’s noon, and no one has yet made an appearance on the other side of the…
10. Monday night I was having a cup of coffee in front of the television set…
11. He holds the bronze letter opener in his hands, turns it over, runs a finger…
12. I didn’t much want to give my client a report of the night’s proceedings, …
13. Downstairs, he gives his name. He gets off the elevator to find her framed…
14. Mother Blue’s was either half full or half empty, depending I suppose…
15. I woke up to the smell of coffee, and when I got to the kitchen Elaine…
16. They weren’t really set up for viewing. The autopsy wasn’t finished…
17. In a Kinko’s on Columbus Avenue, he sits at a computer terminal, where…
18. TJ said, “You already thought of this, and it don’t make sense anyway, …
19. “I guess you’ll want to get upstairs,” I said. “Don’t you have to see how…
20. The letter opener was sealed in a clear plastic evidence bag. Sussman…
21. The Canarsie line runs east from Eighth Avenue and Fourteenth…
22. After they left I checked Elaine’s appointment book. I started to copy…
23. Knives are beautiful.
24. I went first to Grogan’s, the uncompromising old Irish bar at Fiftieth…
25. I took the long way home from Grogan’s, up Tenth Avenue to…
26. That was Friday, and according to the Times it was the longest day of…
27. It is, he has to admit, a disturbingly good likeness. It’s in the papers and…
28. “I see your wife’s shop is closed until further notice,” Sussman said.
29. He had a rough time,” I said. “He had a job and a girlfriend, and he…
30. “You know,” Ira Wentworth said, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve…
31. He sits in the coffee shop. He has a table next to the window, and he can…
32. It was late morning when Mark Sussman called. Had I caught the item…
33. Sometimes it seems to him that there truly are guardian angels, and that…
34. The phone call came a few minutes after five. I let the machine pick…
35. The bastard’s wary.
36. I slept poorly, and kept slipping in and out of a drinking dream. I woke…
37. He is completely tuned in, perfectly focused, and he hears the turning of…
38. Could I have heard something?
39. I’m floating. I’m in empty sky, or in a sea of nothingness. I’m floating.
40. There may have been other times when I recovered consciousness, or…
About the Author
Other Books by Lawrence Block
About the Publisher
O Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are callin’,
From glen to glen, and down the mountainside,
The summer’s gone, the roses all are fallen,
And now ’tis you must go, and I must bide.
But come ye back when spring is in the meadow,
Or when the hills are hushed and white with snow,
Ye’ll find me there, in sunshine or in shadow,
O Danny Boy, O Danny Boy, I love you so.
But if ye come, and all the flowers are dyin’,
And I am dead, as dead I well may be,
Then you will find the place where I am lyin’,
And kneel and say an Ave there for me.
And I will hear, though soft you tread above me,
And then my grave will warmer, softer be,
And you will bend and tell me that you love me,
And I will wait in peace until you come to me.
—Frederic Edward Weatherly, “Danny Boy”
Listen, O judges: here is yet another madness, and that comes before the deed. Alas, you have not yet crept deep enough into this soul.
Thus speaks the red judge, “Why did this criminal murder? He wanted to rob.” But I say unto you: his soul wanted blood, not robbery; he thirsted after the bliss of the knife.
—Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra
Translated by Walter Kaufmann
When I got there, Joe Durkin was already holding down a corner table and working on a drink—vodka on the rocks, from the looks of it. I took in the room and listened to the hum of conversation at the bar, and I guess some of what I was feeling must have found its way to my face, because the first thing Joe asked me was if I was all right. I said I was fine, and why?
“Because you look like you saw a ghost,” he said.
“Be funny if I didn’t,” I said. “The room is full of them.”
“A little new for ghosts, isn’t it? How long have they been open, two years?”
“Closer to three.”
“Time flies,” he said, “whether you’re having fun or not. Jake’s Place, whoever Jake is. You got a history with him?”
“I don’t know who he is. I had a history with the place before it was his.”
“He died, didn’t he? Was that before or after 9/11?”
That’s our watershed; everything in our lives is before or after that date. “After,” I said, “by five or six months. He left the place to a nephew, who tried running it for a few months and then decided it wasn’t the life he wanted for himself. So I guess he sold it to Jake, whoever Jake is.”
“Whoever Jake is,” he said, “he puts a good meal on the table. You know what they’ve got here? You can get an Irish breakfast all day long.”
“What’s that, a cigarette and a six-pack?”
“Very funny. You must know what an Irish breakfast is, a sophisticated guy like yourself.”
I nodded. “It’s the cardiac special, right? Bacon and eggs and sausage.”
“And grilled tomato.”
“Ah, health food.”
“And black pudding,” he said, “which is hard to find. You know what you want? Because I’ll have the Irish breakfast.”
I told the waitress I’d have the same, and a cup of coffee. Joe said one vodka was enough, but she could bring him a beer. Something Irish, to go with the breakfast, but not Guinness. She suggested a Harp, and he said that would be fine.
I’ve known Joe for twenty years, though I don’t know that ours is an intimate friendship. He’s spent those years as a detective at Midtown North, working out of the old stationhouse on West Fifty-fourth Street, and we’d developed a working relationship over time. I went to him f
or favors, and returned them, sometimes in cash, sometimes in kind. Now and then he steered a client my way. There were times when our relations had been strained; my close friendship with a career criminal never sat well with him, while his attitude after one vodka too many didn’t make me relish his company. But we’d been around long enough to know how to make it work, overlooking what we didn’t like to look at and staying close but not too close.
Around the time our food arrived, he told me he’d put in his papers. I said he’d been threatening to do so for years, and he said he’d had everything filled out and ready to go a few years ago, and then the towers came down. “That was no time to retire,” he said. “Although guys did, and how could you blame ’em? They lost their heart for the job. Me, I’d already lost my heart for it. Shoveling shit against the tide, all we ever do. Right then, though, I managed to convince myself I was needed.”
“I can imagine.”
“So I stayed three years longer than I intended, and if I did anything useful in those three years I can’t remember what it was. Anyway, I’m done. Today’s what, Wednesday? A week from Friday’s my last day. So all I have to do now is figure out what the hell to do with the rest of my life.”
Which was why he’d asked me to meet him for dinner, in a room full of ghosts.
It had been over thirty years since I put in my papers and retired from the NYPD, and shortly thereafter I’d retired as well from my role as husband and father, and moved from a comfortable suburban house in Syosset to a monastic little room at the Hotel Northwestern. I didn’t spend much time in that room; Jimmy Armstrong’s saloon, around the corner on Ninth between Fifty-seventh and Fifty-eighth, served as a combination of living room and office for me. I met clients there, I ate meals there, and what social life I had was centered there. I drank there, too, day in and day out, because that’s what I did back then.
I kept it up for as long as I could. Then I put the plug in the jug, as the old-timers say, and began spending my idle hours not at Jimmy’s joint but two blocks north of there, in the basement of St. Paul the Apostle. And in other church basements and storefronts, where I looked for something to put in the empty places alcohol used to fill.
Somewhere along the way, Jimmy lost his lease and moved half a block south and a long block west, to the corner of Fifty-seventh and Tenth. I’d kept my distance from the old place after I sobered up, and I avoided the new one for a while as well. It never did become a hangout, but Elaine and I would drop in for a meal from time to time. Jimmy always served good food, and the kitchen stayed open late, which made it a good choice after an evening at the theater or Lincoln Center.
I’d been to the service, at a funeral parlor on West Forty-fourth, where someone played a favorite song of his. It was “Last Call,” by Dave Van Ronk, and I’d first heard it when Billie Keegan played it for me after a long night of whiskey. I’d made him play the song over and over. Keegan worked for Jimmy back then, tending bar on weekday evenings; he’d long since moved out to California. And Van Ronk, who wrote the song and sang it a capella, had died a month or so before Jimmy, and so I’d sat there listening to one dead man sing a song to another dead man.
A week or two later they had a wake for Jimmy at the bar, and I went to that and didn’t stay long. Some people showed up I hadn’t seen for years, and it was good to see them, but it was a relief to get out of there and go home. One night in the summer, after the lease had been sold, they closed things out by letting everybody drink free. Several different people told me to be sure and show up, and I didn’t even have to think about it. I stayed home and watched the Yankees game.
And here I was, in a roomful of ghosts. Manny Karesh was one of them. I’d known him in the old days on Ninth Avenue, and he’d never moved out of the neighborhood. He dropped in at Jimmy’s just about every day, to drink one or two beers and chat up the nurses. He was at the wake, of course, and he’d have been there for the final night, but I don’t know if he made it. He told me at the wake that he didn’t have much time left. They’d offered him chemotherapy, he said, but they didn’t hold out much hope that it would do any good, so he couldn’t see any reason to subject himself to it. He died sometime that summer, not too long after the bar closed, but I didn’t hear about it until the fall. So that’s one funeral I missed, but these days there’s always another funeral to go to. They’re like buses. If you miss one, there’ll be another coming your way in a few minutes.
“I’m fifty-eight,” Joe said. “That’s plenty old enough to retire, but too young to be retired, you know what I mean?”
“You know what you’re going to do?”
“What I’m not gonna do,” he said, “is buy a little house in fucking Florida. I don’t fish, I don’t play golf, and I got this County Waterford skin, I can get a sunburn from a desk lamp.”
“I don’t think you’d like Florida.”
“No kidding. I could stay here and live on my pension, but I’d go nuts without something to do. I’d spend all my time in bars, which is no good, or I’d stay home and drink, which is worse. This is the best, this black pudding. There aren’t many places you can get it. I suppose the old Irish neighborhoods, Woodside, Fordham Road, but who’s got the time to chase out there?”
“Well, now that you’re retired.”
“Yeah, I can spend a day looking for black pudding.”
“You wouldn’t have to go that far,” I said. “Any bodega can sell you all you want.”
“You’re kidding. Black pudding?”
“They call it morcilla, but it’s the same thing.”
“What is it, Puerto Rican? I bet it’s spicier.”
“Spicier than Irish cuisine? Gee, do you suppose that’s possible? But it’s pretty much the same thing. You can call it morcilla or black pudding, but either way you’ve got sausage made from pig’s blood.”
“What’s the matter?”
“Do you fucking mind? I’m eating.”
“You didn’t know what it was?”
“Of course I know, but that doesn’t mean I want to fucking dwell on it.” He drank some beer, put the glass down, shook his head. “Some of the guys wind up working private security. Not at the rent-a-cop level, but higher up. Guy I knew put his papers in ten years ago, went to work overseeing security at the stock exchange. Regular hours, and better money than he ever made on the job. Now he’s retired from that, and he’s got two pensions, plus his Social Security. And he’s down in Florida, playing golf and fishing.”
“You interested in something like that?”
“Florida? I already said…oh, the private security thing. Well, see, I carried a gold shield for a lot of years. I was a detective, and the job he had, it’s more administrative. I could do it, but I don’t know that I’d love it. Probably a fair amount of chickenshit involved, too.” He picked up his empty glass, looked at it, put it down again. Without looking at me he said, “I was thinking about a private ticket.”
I’d seen this coming.
“To do it right,” I said, “you have to be a businessman, keeping records and filing reports and networking in order to get cases. That’s if you’re in business for yourself, but the other way, going to work for one of the big agencies, you’re mostly doing boring work for short money, and doing it without a badge. I don’t think it would suit you.”
“Neither would the reports and the record keeping. But you didn’t do all that.”
“Well, I was never very good at doing things by the book,” I said. “I worked for years without a license, and when I finally got one I didn’t hang on to it very long.”
“I remember. You got by okay without it.”
“I guess. It was hand to mouth sometimes.”
“Well, I got that pension. It’s a cushion.”
“What I was thinking…”
And what he was thinking, of course, was that the two of us could work together. I had the experience on the private si
de, and he’d be bringing much fresher contacts within the department. I let him pitch the idea, and when he’d run through it I told him he was a few years too late.
“I’m pretty much retired,” I said. “Not formally, because there’s no need. But I don’t go looking for business, and the phone doesn’t ring very often, and when it does I usually find a reason to turn down whatever’s on offer. Do that a few times and people quit calling, and that’s okay with me. I don’t need the dough. I’ve got Social Security, plus a small monthly check from the city, and we’ve got the income from some rental property Elaine owns, plus the profits from her shop.”