Everybody Dies Page 2

"I don't think so. But he and his wife ate that ham you gave me."

"And pronounced it good, I believe you said."

"The best he ever tasted."

"High praise from a Zen Buddhist. Ah, Jesus, it's a strange old world, isn't it?" He clambered out of the hole. "Have one more go at it," he said, handing the shovel to Andy. "I think it's good enough as it is, but no harm if you even it up a bit."

Andy took his turn. I was feeling a chill now. I picked up my windbreaker from where I'd tossed it, put it on. The wind blew a cloud in front of the moon, and we lost a little of our light. The cloud passed and the moonlight came back. It was a waxing moon, and in a couple of days it would be full.

Gibbous- that's the word for the moon when there's more than half of it showing. It's Elaine's word. Well, Webster's, I suppose, but I learned it from her. And she was the one who told me that, if you fill a barrel in Iowa with seawater, the moon will cause tides in that water. And that blood's chemical makeup is very close to that of seawater, and the moon's tidal pull works in our veins.

Just some thoughts I had, under a gibbous moon…

"That'll do," Mick said, and Andy tossed the shovel and Mick gave him a hand out of the hole, and Andy got a flashlight from the glove compartment and aimed its beam down into the hole, and we all looked at it and pronounced it acceptable. And then we went to the car and Mick sighed heavily and unlocked the trunk.

For an instant I had the thought that it would be empty. There'd be the spare, of course, and a jack and a lug wrench, and maybe an old blanket and a couple of rags. But other than that it would be empty.

Just a passing thought, blowing across my mind like the cloud across the moon. I didn't really expect the trunk to be empty.

And of course it wasn't.

I don't know that it's my story to tell.

It's Mick's, really, far more than it's mine. He should be the one to tell it. But he won't.

There are others whose story it is as well. Every story belongs to everyone who has any part in it, and there were quite a few people who had a part in this one. It's none of their story as much as it's Mick's, but they could tell it, singly or in chorus, one way or another.

But they won't.

Nor will he, whose story it is more than anyone's. I've never known a better storyteller, and he could make a meal of this one, but it's not going to happen. He'll never tell it.

And I was there, after all. For some of the beginning and much of the middle and most of the end. And it's my story, too. Of course it is. How could it fail to be?

And I'm here to tell it. And, for some reason, I can't not tell it.

So I guess it's up to me.

Earlier that same night, a Wednesday, I'd gone to an AA meeting. Afterward I'd had a cup of coffee with Jim Faber and a couple of others, and when I got home Elaine said that Mick had called. "He said perhaps you could stop in," she said. "He didn't come right out and say it was urgent, but that was the impression I got."

So I got my windbreaker from the closet and put it on, and halfway to Grogan's I zipped it up. It was September, and a very transitional sort of September, with days like August and nights like October. Days to remind you of where you'd been, nights to make sure you knew where you were going.

I lived for something like twenty years in a room at the Hotel Northwestern, on the north side of Fifty-seventh Street a few doors east of Ninth Avenue. When I moved, finally, it was right across the street, to the Parc Vendфme, a large prewar building where Elaine and I have a spacious fourteenth-floor apartment with views south and west.

And I walked south and west, south to Fiftieth Street, west to Tenth Avenue. Grogan's is on the southeast corner, an old Irish taproom of the sort that is getting harder and harder to find in Hell's Kitchen, and indeed throughout New York. A floor of inch-square black and white tiles, a stamped tin ceiling, a long mahogany bar, a matching mirrored backbar. An office in the back, where Mick kept guns and cash and records, and sometimes napped on a long green leather couch. An alcove to the left of the office, with a dartboard at the end of it, under a stuffed sailfish. Doors on the right-hand wall of the alcove, leading to the restrooms.

I walked through the front door and took it all in, the mix of slackers and strivers and old lags at the bar, the handful of occupied tables. Burke behind the bar, giving me an expressionless nod of recognition, and Andy Buckley all by himself in the rear alcove, leaning forward, dart in hand. A man emerged from the restroom and Andy straightened up, either to pass the time of day with the fellow or to avoid hitting him with a dart. It seemed to me that the fellow looked familiar, and I tried to place the face, and then I caught sight of another face that drove the first one entirely out of my mind.

There's no table service at Grogan's, you have to fetch your own drinks from the bar, but there are tables, and about half of them were occupied, one by a trio of men in suits, the rest by couples. Mick Ballou is a notorious criminal and Grogan's is his headquarters and a hangout for much of what's left of the neighborhood tough guys, but the gentrification of Hell's Kitchen into Clinton has made it an atmospheric watering hole for the neighborhood's newer residents, a place to cool off with a beer after work, or to stop for a last drink after a night at the theater. It's also an okay place to have a serious drink-eased conversation with your spouse. Or, in her case, with someone else's.

She was dark and slender, with short hair framing a face that was not pretty, but occasionally beautiful. Her name was Lisa Holtzmann. When I met her she was married, and her husband was a guy I hadn't liked and couldn't say why. Then somebody shot him while he was making a telephone call, and she found a strongbox full of money in the closet and called me. I made sure she could keep the money, and I solved his murder, and somewhere along the way I went to bed with her.

I was still at the Northwestern when it started. Then Elaine and I took the Parc Vendфme apartment together, and after we'd been there for a year or so we got married. Throughout this period I went on spending time with Lisa. It was always I who called, asking her if she wanted company, and she was always agreeable, always happy to see me. Sometimes I'd go weeks and weeks without seeing her, and I'd begin to believe the affair had run its course. Then the day would come when I wanted the escape that her bed afforded, and I would call, and she would make me welcome.

As far as I've ever been able to tell, the whole business didn't affect my relationship with Elaine at all. That's what everybody always wants to think, but in this case I honestly think it's true. It seemed to exist outside of space and time. It was sexual, of course, but it wasn't about sex, any more than drinking was ever about the way the stuff tasted. In fact it was like drinking, or its role for me was like the role drinking had played. It was a place to go when I didn't want to be where I was.

Shortly after we were married- on our honeymoon, as a matter of fact- Elaine gave me to understand that she knew I was seeing somebody and that she didn't care. She didn't say this in so many words. What she said was that marriage didn't have to change anything, that we could go on being the people we were. But the implication was unmistakable. Perhaps all the years she'd spent as a call girl had given her a unique perspective on the ways of men, married or not.

I went on seeing Lisa after we were married, though less frequently. And then it ended, with neither a bang nor a whimper. I was there one afternoon, in her eagle's nest twenty-some stories up in a new building on Fifty-seventh and Tenth. We were drinking coffee, and she told me, hesitantly, that she had started seeing someone, that it wasn't serious yet but might be.

And then we went to bed, and it was as it always was, nothing special, really, but good enough. All the while, though, I kept finding myself wondering what the hell I was doing there. I didn't think it was sinful, I didn't think it was wrong, I didn't think I was hurting anybody, not Elaine, not Lisa, not myself. But it seemed to me that it was somehow inappropriate.

I said, without making too much of it, that I probably wouldn't call for a while, that I'd give her some space. And she said, just as offhandedly, that she thought that was probably a good idea for now.

And I never called her again.

I'd seen her a couple of times. Once on the street, on her way home with a cartful of groceries from D'Agostino's. Hi. How are you? Not so bad. And you? Oh, about the same. Keeping busy. Me too. You're looking well. Thanks. So are you. Well. Well, it's good to see you. Same here. Take care. You too. And once with Elaine, across a crowded room at Armstrong's. Isn't that Lisa Holtzmann? Yes. I think it is. She's with somebody. Did she remarry? I don't know. She had a bad run of luck, didn't she? The miscarriage, and then losing her husband. Do you want to say hello? Oh, I don't know. She looks all wrapped up in the guy she's with, and we knew her when she was married. Another time…

But there hadn't been another time. And here she was, in Grogan's.

I was on my way to the bar, but just then she looked up, and our eyes met. Hers brightened. "Matt," she said, and motioned me over. "This is Florian."

He looked too ordinary for the name. He was around forty, with light brown hair going thin on top, horn-rimmed glasses, a blue blazer over a denim shirt and striped tie. He had a wedding ring, I noted, and she did not.

He said hello and I said hello and she said it was good to see me, and I went over to the bar and let Burke fill a glass with Coke for me. "He should be back in a minute," he said. "He said you'd be coming by."

"He was right," I said, or something like that, not really paying attention to what I was saying, taking a sip of the Coke and not paying attention to that either, and looking over the brim of my glass at the table I'd just left. Neither of them was looking my way. They were holding hands now, I noticed, or rather he was holding her hand. Florian and Lisa, Lisa and Florian.

Ages since I'd been with her. Years, really.

"Andy's in back," Burke said.

I nodded and pushed away from the bar. I saw something out of the corner of my eye, and turned, and my eyes locked with those of the man I'd seen coming out of the bathroom. He had a wide wedge-shaped face, prominent eyebrows, a broad forehead, a long narrow nose, a full-lipped mouth. I knew him, and at the same time I didn't have a clue who the hell he was.

He gave me the least little nod, but I couldn't say whether it was a nod of recognition or a simple acknowledgment of our eyes having met. Then he turned back to the bar and I walked on past him to where Andy Buckley was toeing the line and leaning way over it, aiming a dart at the board.

"The big fellow stepped out," he said. "Care to throw a dart or two while you wait?"

"I don't think so," I said. "It just makes me feel inadequate."

"I didn't do things made me feel inadequate, I'd never get out of bed."

"What about darts? What about driving a car?"

"Jesus, that's the worst of it. Voice in my head goes, 'Look at you, you bum. Thirty-eight years old and all you can do is drive and throw darts. You call that a life, you bum, you?'"

He tossed the dart, and it landed in the bull's-eye. "Well," he said, "if all you can do is throw darts, you might as well be good at it."

He got the darts from the board, and when he came back I said, "There's a guy at the bar, or was, a minute ago. Where the hell did he go?"

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies