Everybody Dies Page 31

"Uh-huh. So maybe he's Guyanese."

"Maybe," I said. "Then again, maybe he stole the shirt."

"I used to like the Caymans," she said, "back when a suntan was considered sexy, instead of precancerous. He's been sleeping pretty soundly. He woke up one time when I was taking his temperature and I got him to drink some water, and then he went right back to sleep. He's running a slight fever, a little over a degree."

"I think that's to be expected."

"Yes, I'd say so. One of us has to go buy beets and carrots."

I said I'd go. The place she sent me was on Ninth Avenue near Forty-fourth. It was an oversized health food store with a big produce section and no end of herbs and vitamins. There was probably something on the shelves that would have him healed overnight without even a scar, but I didn't have a clue what it was or where to look for it. I bought enough beets and carrots to fill two shopping bags and took a cab home.

She had the juicer set up by the time I got there, and I watched as she washed beets and carrots and cut them up and ran them through the thing. The result may have been half carrot but all you could see was the beet, dark and purplish as blood from a vein.

She went into the bedroom with a big glass of the stuff and I tagged along to see how much of a fight he put up. "This is beet juice," she said, "mixed with carrot. The doctor said you have to drink it to replace the blood you lost."

He looked at her. "Like a transfusion?"

"But without the needles and tubes."

"Doc said so? Same one as was here before?" She said yes, and he took the glass from her and drank it off in two swallows. "It ain't bad," he said, sounding surprised. "Kind of sweet. What you say it was? Beet and carrot?"

"That's right. Could you drink some more?"

"I believe I could," he said. "Got a powerful thirst."

While she prepared it I helped him to the bathroom, then back to bed. He couldn't believe how weak he was, or how much the few steps to the john and back exhausted him. "It's just a flesh wound," he said. "Ain't that what they say? Then they up and runnin' like nothin' ever happened."

"That's in the movies."

"Anyway," he said, "they all flesh wounds, 'cause that's what folks is made out of. Wha'd the doe give me, you happen to know? A. person could do okay sellin' it on the street."

"Don't tell the doc," I said. "He might try it."

We nursed him through the day. Elaine napped on the couch and I took a turn watching him sleep and talking with him when he was awake. His fever rose during the afternoon, and when it hit 102° Elaine called Froelich. He said he'd be over in two hours, but to call him again if it reached 104° before then. But it broke, and when the doctor arrived and took his temperature it was normal.

Froelich changed the dressing, said the wound was healing nicely, and told TJ he should consider himself lucky. "If it had hit the artery," he said, "you could have bled out. If it hit the bone, you could be laid up for a month."

"If it missed me completely," TJ said, "I could be out playin' basketball."

"You're too short," Froelich told him. "These days they're all giants. Keep doing what you've been doing, and stay with the beet juice. Incidentally, it'll color your urine."

"Yeah, well, I found that out. Thought I was bleedin' to death, Beth, and then it came to me where I seen that color before. I'd been drinkin' it by the quart."

He dozed off after the doctor left, and I wound up taking an unpremeditated nap of my own in front of the TV set. When I woke up Elaine reported that he was starting to complain a little, and she took it for a sign of recovery. "He says if he was in his own place, meaning across the street, he could check his e-mail and keep up with some message boards, whatever they are."

"It's a computer thing," I said. "You wouldn't understand."

We spent a quiet evening at home. TJ had an appetite, and finished a second portion of the lasagna. He also had the idea he could get to and from the bathroom on his own, and asked if Elaine still had the cane she'd used in the spring when she sprained her ankle. She found it and he took a couple of hesitant steps with it and saw it wasn't going to work. His wound was too raw for him to put any weight at all on that leg.

The phone rang intermittently. We let the machine pick up, and half the time the caller rang off without leaving a message. Maybe it was some phone sales rep who wanted to talk us into switching long-distance carriers, or maybe it was someone reluctant to issue death threats to an answering machine. I didn't waste a lot of time worrying about it.

Then right around midnight it rang, and after the recorded message and the tone there was a pause that seemed eternal, but was probably only five or six seconds. Then a voice I knew said, "Ah, 'tis I. Are you there then?"

I picked up and talked to him, put down the receiver and found Elaine. "It's Mick," I said. "He's in his car, driving around. He wants to come by and pick me up."

"Did you tell him yes?"

"I haven't told him anything yet."

"TJ's much better," she said. "I can manage here. And it's not over yet, is it? TJ was shot, and the man who shot Jim is dead, but it's not over till it's over. Isn't that what they say?"

"That's what they say. And no, it's not over."

"Then you'd better go," she said.

I waited in the lobby and watched the street while the midnight-to-eight doorman shared his views on global warming. I can't remember the thread of his argument, but he saw it as a direct result of the collapse of world communism.

Then Andy Buckley's battered Caprice pulled up at the curb, and started rolling again as soon as I was inside it. The night was clear and cool and I caught a glimpse of the moon. It was gibbous, and just about the same shape as it had been the night we dug the grave. It had been waxing then and now it was on the wane.

"Andy was trying to reach you," I remembered to tell him. "He wanted your number, but I let him think I didn't have it."

"When was this?"

"Yesterday, early evening. Have you talked to him since?"

"Yesterday and today as well. He had the Cadillac and wanted to trade cars."

"So he said."

"I told him he had the better of the deal, but he was afraid to park the thing for fear some harm would come to it. Least of my worries, I said, but he would have none of it. He put it back in the garage and now he's driving some old wreck of his cousin's."

"That's what he said he was going to do."

We'd turned on Broadway and were heading downtown. "Now where'll we go?" he wondered. "Just so we're going somewhere and doing something. It's the inactivity drives a man mad. Knowing the other side is up to something, whoever they are, and not knowing what, and doing not a thing about it. I sat up all last night with a bottle and a glass. I don't mind drinking and I don't mind drinking alone, but I wasn't doing it for the pleasure of it. It was out of boredom, and that class of drinking is deadening to the soul."

"I know what you mean."

"You did some of the same in your day, did you? And lived to tell the tale. What luck have you had with the detecting? Are we any closer to knowing what we're up against?"

"We know more than we did," I said. "TJ found out a few things about the Vietnamese who shot up the bar, and we've got a line out for something on his partner."

"The bomb thrower, that would be."

"That's right. And I've got a sketch of one of the two men who mugged me."

"They were the ones mugged, by the time it was over."

I let that go. "I've got a sketch," I said, "but so far no one's recognized it. There were a lot of things I might have done today, but I had to spend it at home taking care of TJ."

"Why, for the love of God? Hasn't he managed for years taking care of himself?"

"Oh, of course, we haven't talked since then. How could you know?"

"How could I know what?"

"He was shot last night," I said.

"Fucking Jesus," he said, and hit the brake pedal. A car behind us braked hard, and the driver leaned on his horn. "Aaah, fuck yourself," Mick told him, and demanded to know what had happened.

I told him the whole story. I broke it off when we got to McGinley & Caldecott, resumed the narration after we'd stowed the car in its parking space and made our way down the stairs and through the narrow aisle to the office. He poured himself a drink, and from a table-model refrigerator he produced a can of Perrier.

"They didn't have bottles," he said. "Only the cans. It should be all right, don't you think?"

"I'm sure it'll be fine. I've been known to drink tap water in a pinch, as far as that goes."

"Nasty stuff," he said. "You don't know where it's been. Get on with it, man. You left him for dead, the black bastard?"

"He was on his way out. He couldn't have lasted long. It was black comedy, now that I think about it. The two of us stood there snarling 'fuck you' at each other. I can't swear to it, but I think those were his last words."

"I wouldn't doubt they're the last words of more than a few of us."

I told him how TJ'd been shot, and how I got him home. "I put a gun to the cabdriver's head," I said, "and at the end of the ride he gave me his card and said to call him anytime, any hour of the day or night. I love New York."

"There's no place can touch it for people."

When I was finished he sat back in his chair and looked at the drink in his hand. "It must have gone hard when you turned to the boy and saw he'd been shot."

"It was strange," I said. "I'd just been shot twice myself and watched the bullets bounce off. And I'd shot back and my bullets didn't bounce off, and I felt as though I was in charge of the world. Then I turned around and the bottom fell out, because while I'd been feeling like the master of the universe TJ's blood was oozing out between his fingers, and I didn't even know what was going on."

"He's a son to you, isn't he?"

"Is he? I don't know. I've already got sons, two of them. I wasn't around much when they were growing up and I don't see much of them now. Michael's out in California and Andy's in a different place every time I hear from him. I don't know that I've installed TJ in their place, but I suppose he's a sort of surrogate son. To Elaine, certainly. She mothers him, and he doesn't seem to mind."

"Why should he?"

"I don't know that I act like a father to him. More like a crusty old uncle. Our relationship's fairly ritualized. We joke around a lot, trade good-natured insults."

"He loves you."

"I suppose he does."

"And you love him."

"I suppose I do."

"I never had a son. There was a time I got a girl in trouble and she went off and had the baby and put it up for adoption. I never heard if it was a boy or girl she had. I never cared." He drank some whiskey. "I was young. What did I care about children? I wanted only to be left alone, and she went off and had the child and gave it away, and I heard no more about it. Which was as much as I cared to hear."

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