Everybody Dies Page 27

"I won't."

"Let's you and I stay in touch, huh? I'll call you if he calls me, and you do the same. I mean, I'm sitting tight here and that's cool, but I wish I knew what was going on."

"I know what you mean."

"You up for anything? You want me to drive you anywhere?"

"You should have asked me sooner. I just got back from Williamsburg."

"You don't mean Williamsbridge, do you?"

"No, I mean Williamsburg in Brooklyn."

"'Cause the Williamsbridge neighborhood's just the other side of the Bronx River Parkway, though I can't think why you'd want to go there. And neither could you, obviously, because you didn't. Why Williamsburg, and what did you do, take the Williamsburg Bridge? They been fixing that thing forever."

"I took the L train."

"You should have called me. You know what I think I'll do? I think I'll put Mick's car back in the garage before my twenty bucks runs out and it gets swiped by the kid I hired to watch it. But I'm serious, you want a ride, gimme a call. There's always a car I can take."

"I'll keep it in mind."

"And keep in touch," he said. "What happened the other night…"

"I know."

"Yeah, you were there, weren't you? Stay close, Matt. We got to watch each other's back, next little while."

I caught TJ in his room and met him at the Starbucks on Broadway and Eighty-seventh. He was already there when I arrived, sitting at a table with an iced mochaccino, wearing black jeans and a black shirt with a pink necktie an inch wide, all topped off with a Raiders warm-up jacket and a black beret.

"Had to stop and change clothes," he said, "an' I still beat you here."

"You're greased lightning," I said. "What did you change out of that was less appropriate than what you've got on?"

"You don't think this here's appropriate? For where we goin'?"

"It's fine."

"It's as appropriate as that sad old zip-up jacket of yours. What I had on earlier was camo pants and my flak jacket, and that was very appropriate for where I was at, but not for Mother Blue's."

"And where was that?"

"Flushing. See a girl I know."


"What you mean, 'Oh'? I was on the clock, Brock. I was gettin' the job done."

"How so?"

"Girl's got a black daddy, Vietnamese mama. Her face tends to break out. Wasn't for that, she could be a model. Girl is seriously fine lookin'."


"You got it. She had a brother was in Born To Kill, an' she used to know all those dudes. Guy who shot up the bar Sunday was Nguyen Tran Bao. Very violent cat, what she said, but we already knew that."

"I don't know," I said. "He seemed like such a nice quiet boy."

"He did his robbery and assault bit at Attica, an' when he came back he wasn't exactly rehabilitated. Matter of fact, he was hangin' out with a white dude he got to know upstate, and the general impression was the two of them was doin' bad things."

"A white dude."

"Very white, and what you call moon-faced."

"The bomb thrower."

"What I was thinkin', Lincoln."

"Did she happen to know his name?"

He shook his head. "Only way she knew what Goo been up to since prison is she made some phone calls. She pretty much lost touch with BTK when she moved out of Chinatown."

"Goo? Is that what they call Nguyen?"

"What I call him, 'cause it a whole lot easier to say. Anyway, I be callin' her tomorrow, see if she found anybody could come up with a name to go with his face. Even if she can't, we got Goo's full name an' we know where he went to college."

"Maybe the dean will give us a transcript of his record," I said. "You did good work."

"Just part of the service," he said, and lowered his head and sucked up the rest of his mochaccino. "Now what? We gonna hear some old people's music?"

The group on the small stage was a quartet, an alto sax and a rhythm section, and they were as white as I was and almost as white as Danny Boy. They all wore black suit jackets and white dress shirts and faded jeans, and I somehow knew they were European, though I'm not sure how I could tell. Their haircuts, maybe, or something in their faces. They finished the set and the audience, about three-quarters black, was generous with its applause.

They were Polish, Danny Boy told me. "I have this mental picture," he said. "This kid's sitting in his mother's kitchen in Warsaw, listening to this tinny little radio. And it's Bird and Dizzy playing 'Night in Tunisia,' and the kid's foot starts tapping, and right then and there he knows what he wants to do with his life."

"I guess that's how it happens."

"Who knows how it happens? But I have to say they can play." He glanced across the table at TJ. "But I suppose you're more a fan of rap and hip-hop."

"Mostly," TJ said, "Ah likes to go down by de river an' sing dem good ol' Negro spirituals."

Danny Boy's eyes brightened. "Matthew," he said, "this young man will go far. Unless, of course, someone shoots him." He helped himself to a little vodka. "I made some inquiries. The person who caused that unpleasantness in the Chinese restaurant the other night is a disillusioned and bitterly disappointed young man."

"How's that?"

"It seems he got half his money in advance," he said, "upon acceptance of the assignment, with the balance due on completion. As far as he's concerned, he completed the job. He went where he was told to go and did what he was supposed to do. How was he to know there were two gentlemen in the restaurant fitting the same description? There was in fact only one such gentleman to be seen when he entered, and he dealt with the man accordingly."

"And they don't want to pay him the rest of his money?"

"Not only that, but they've had the effrontery to ask for a refund of their initial payment. Not, I shouldn't think, with any realistic expectation of receiving it, but as a sort of counter to his demand for payment in full."

TJ nodded. "Somebody ask you for money, you turn around an' ask him for money. An' maybe he go away."

"That seems the theory," Danny Boy said. "I think they should have paid the man."

"Keep him from runnin' his mouth."

"Exactly. But they didn't and he did."

"What do they owe him?"

"Two thousand dollars," Danny Boy said.

"Two thousand still owing? Out of four?"

"Guess you ain't worth much," TJ said.

"You get what you pay for," Danny Boy said. He took a sheet of paper from his wallet, put on reading glasses and squinted through them. "Chilton Purvis," he read. "My guess is they call him Chili, but maybe not. He's living at 117 Tapscott, third floor rear. I never heard of Tapscott Street myself, but it's supposed to be in Brooklyn."

"It is," I said. "Right around where Crown Heights butts up against Brownsville." His eyebrows rose, and I said I'd worked there years ago. "Not in the same precinct, but close enough. I don't remember a thing about Tapscott Street specifically, and I suppose it's changed since then anyway."

"What hasn't? A lot of Haitians in the area these days, and Guyanese, and folks from Ghana and Senegal."

"All looking to make a better life for themselves," TJ said, "in this land of opportunity for all."

"He's afraid the police are coming for him," Danny Boy said, "or that his employers will show up to seal his lips with a bullet. So he stays in his room all the time. Except when he gets the urge to party and smoke crack and run his mouth."

"Suppose he could pick up the two thou he's got coming just by fingering the man who stiffed him. You think he'd go for that?"

"He'd be a fool not to."

"We already know he a fool," TJ said. "Killin' folks for chump change."

"I'll want to show him a sketch," I said. "But first let me show you, Danny Boy." I opened the envelope, got out one of the copies of Ray's drawing of the slugger. He studied it through his reading glasses, then took them off and held it at arm's length.

"Nasty," he decided, "and not too bright."

"And nobody you know?"

"Unfortunately not, but I wouldn't be surprised if he and I have friends in common. May I keep this, Matthew?"

"I can let you have a couple of extras," I said. I counted out three or four for him, and passed one to TJ, who was edging over for a look.

"Don't know him," he said without hesitation. "Who the other dude?"

"What other dude?" Danny Boy wanted to know.

I produced the second sketch. "Just an exercise," I said, and explained how Ray Galindez had drawn it to clear my mind. But it hadn't worked, I said, in that I'd still been unable to summon up the face of the second mugger.

Danny Boy looked at the second sketch, shook his head, passed it back. TJ said, "I's seen him."

"You have? Where?"

"Round the neighborhood. Can't say where or when, but he got one of those faces sticks in your mind."

"That must be it," I said. "I caught a glimpse of him last week in Grogan's, and I thought he looked familiar, and it's probably because I'd seen him the same as you did. And you're right, he's definitely got one of those faces."

"All those strong features," Danny Boy said, "and you don't expect to find them all on the same face, do you? That nose shouldn't go with that mouth."

I gave TJ a sketch of the slugger and folded one and tucked it in my wallet. As an afterthought I added a copy of the second sketch as well. I put everything else back in the padded mailing envelope.

I looked at my watch, and Danny Boy said, "The band'll be back in a couple of minutes. You want to catch the next set?"

"I was thinking I might go over to Brooklyn."

"To see our friend? You might find him in."

"And if not I could wait for him."

"Keep you company," TJ said. "He ain't in, you can tell me stories to pass the time, an' I can pretend I ain't heard 'em before."

"Past your bedtime," I said.

"You need someone to watch your back, Jack, 'specially when you's the wrong skin tone for the neighborhood. An' if you's to brace this dude Chili, you got to know two's better than one." At the concern in my face, he said, "Hey, I'll be safe. You armed and dangerous, man. You'll protect me."

"Just stay away from parked cars," Danny Boy said, and we both stared at him. "Oh, from when I was a kid," he said. "I told you about my list, right? Well, when I was growing up there were always a few kids every year who got run over by cars, and the cops sent someone around every spring and every fall to tell the schoolkids about traffic safety. You ever pull that detail, Matthew?"

"I was spared."

"There'd be this slide show, and an explanation of how each victim bought it. 'Mary Louise, age seven. Ran from between parked cars.' And half the time or more, that was it, running out from between parked cars. Because the motorist didn't see you coming."

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