Everybody Dies Page 32

"It was probably best for the child."

"Oh, of course it was, and for the girl, and for myself as well. But every now and then I'll find myself wondering. Not what might have been, but just wondering how the wee one turned out, and what sort of a life it had. Night thoughts, you know. Nobody has such thoughts in the light of day."

"You're right about that."

"For all I know for certain," he said, "it may not have been my child at all. She was an aisy sort of a girl, if you know the word."

"Same as easy?"

"I'd say it's the same word, but there's a softer sense to it when you say it the Irish way. An aisy girl. She swore it was me put her in the club, but how could she be sure? And how could I?" He looked at my can of Perrier and asked me if I wanted a glass for it. "You can't drink water straight out of a can," he said, and found a clean tumbler in a cupboard, and poured the water into it for me, and assured me it was better that way.

"Thanks," I said.

"Years later," he said, "there was another one I got in the family way, and I never heard about it until she told me she'd got rid of it. Had an abortion, you know. Jesus, that's a sin, I told her. I don't believe that, says she, and if it is then the sin's on me. Why didn't you tell me, says I. Mickey, says she, to what end? You weren't about to marry me. Well, she was right about that. You'd only have tried to talk me out of it, says she, and I'd already made up my mind. Then why tell me at all, says I. Well, says she, I thought you'd want to know. I'll tell you, man, women are the strangest creatures God ever put on the earth."

"Amen," I said.

"There's a saying, or mayhaps it's the words of a song. It holds there are three things a man must do in the course of a lifetime. Plant a tree, marry a woman, and father a son. Well, I've planted trees. In the orchard, and then I put in a great windbreak of hemlock, and I planted horse chestnut trees along the drive. I don't know how many trees I've planted, but I'd call it a fair number." He lowered his eyes. "I never found a woman I cared to marry. And never fathered a child. Even if it was my baby she had, it takes more than that to make a true father of a man. So I'll have to be content with my trees."

"Then again, your life's not over yet."

"No," he said. "Not yet."

A little later he said, "You killed the man who killed your friend. Good for you."

"I don't know if it was good for me. It was better for me than it was for him, I'll say that much."

"I wouldn't have left him breathing, myself. Even if it was his last breaths he was taking. I'd have put one more bullet into him to make sure."

"It never occurred to me. I wasn't planning on killing him."

"How could you not? He killed your friend."

"Well, I've killed him now, and Jim's still dead. So what difference did it make?"

"It made a difference."

"I wonder."

"What the hell were you going to do? Pay him two thousand dollars and shake his bloody hand?"

"I wasn't going to shake hands with him. And I wasn't going to pay him the money. I was going to stiff him."

"And then turn your back on him and walk out the door? How did you expect him to take it?"

I was silent for a moment, thinking long thoughts. Then I said, "You know, maybe I set it up, and set myself up in the bargain. I didn't consciously intend to kill him. When I walked in there and saw him I couldn't even manage to hate him. It'd be like hating a scorpion for stinging you. It's what they do, so what else can you expect from him?"

"Still, you'd grind that scorpion under your heel."

"Maybe it's not a good analogy. Or maybe it is, I don't know. But I wonder if I knew all along that I was going to kill him, and if I stage-managed things to give myself an excuse. Once he drew on me, I had permission. I wasn't murdering him, I wasn't executing him. It was self-defense."

"And it was."

"Not if I made him draw."

"You didn't make him draw, for Jesus' sake! You offered him money."

"I told him I had the money on me, and I let him know I was the man he was supposed to kill. Isn't that baiting the trap? If I wanted to keep him from drawing on me, all I had to do was walk in there with a gun in my hand. I had every chance in the world to get the drop on him and I didn't take it."

"You didn't expect him to try anything."

"But I should have. What else could he be expected to do? And the fact of the matter is I did expect it. I must have, because I was already reaching for my gun by the time he came up with his. Somehow or other I anticipated his response or I could never have responded so quickly myself. He opened fire, and that was my excuse, and I gunned him down."

"I hear what you're saying."


"And whoever knows the reasons why we do what we do? I'll say this much. If you blame yourself for killing the bastard, you're off your head."

"I blame myself for getting TJ shot."

"Ah, I never took that into account. Still, who's to say it's not for the best?" I looked at him, puzzled. "What the soldiers call a million-dollar wound," he explained. "For he's out of it now, isn't he? And should live to tell the tale."

A little later he said, "'Twas the vest saved you, was it?"

"The shirt I was wearing was ruined," I said. "But the vest stopped both rounds."

"They say it won't stop a knife thrust."

"So I understand. It's a kind of fabric, and evidently a knife blade can pierce it. I suppose the same thing would be true of an ice pick."

"Is it heavy? Like wearing a coat of mail?"

"It's not featherweight." I unbuttoned my shirt and let him examine the vest, then buttoned it up again. "It's an extra layer," I said, "and might be welcome on a cold day. On a warm day, you're tempted to leave it at home."

"It's a great thing, science. They make a vest that can stop a bullet, and next they make a bullet that can pierce a vest. It's the same as armies are forever doing, but on a more personal level. A good thing you were wearing one last night."

"Do you want one? Because they're easy enough to buy, and nobody has to teach you how to use it. You just put it on."

"Where would you get one?"

"The cop shops have them. I went downtown, but there's one on Second Avenue near the academy, and others in the other boroughs. What's the matter?"

"I'm just seeing myself walking into a cop shop. They'd never let me walk out again."

"I'd pick one up for you, if you want."

"Would they ever have my size?"

"I'm sure they would."

He thought about it, then let out a sigh. "I wouldn't wear it," he said.

"Why not?"

"Because I never would. Because I'm a fool, I suppose, but it's the way I am. I'd have it in mind that I was trying to get the best of the Lord, and that He'd show me who's boss by making sure I got shot in the head, or done with a knife or an ice pick."

"Like Achilles."

"Just so. The heel was the only vulnerable part of him. And so he was shot in the heel, and died of it."

"That's superstition though, isn't it?"

"Didn't I say I was a fool? And a superstitious one in the bargain. Ah, there's differences between us, man. When you get in a car you always fasten your seat belt."

"And a good thing, too, when you stop short the way you did tonight."

"Didn't you give me a turn, though, saying the boy was shot? But the point is that you always wear a seat belt and I never do. I can't bear the feeling of being confined that way."

"A vest wouldn't confine you any more than a shirt does. It would just keep bullets out."

"I'm not explaining it well."

"No, I guess I understand."

"I just don't want to do what I should," he said. "I'm a contrary bastard. That's all."

"There's just the four of us," he said. "Tom and Andy and yourself and myself."

"Don't you have anybody else?"

"I've people who work for me, or do the odd job. They'll head for the hills now there's a war on, and why shouldn't they? They're not soldiers at all, they're what you could call civilian employees. So that's four of us, and who knows how many there are of them?"

"Fewer than there used to be."

"We each did for one, didn't we? Though the one you shot was hired help, and the same could be true of the Vietnamese. Wasn't he the murderous little bastard?" He shook his head. "I wonder how many that leaves. More than four, I'd guess."

"You're probably right."

"So we're outnumbered, and outgunned as well if that automatic rifle of his is anything to go by."

"Except you took it, didn't you? So it's ours now."

"And small use to us, with the clip close to empty. I should have seen if he had a spare in his pocket. Although as I recall we were in a bit of a hurry."

"You saved my life that night."

"Ah, go on with you."

"Just stating a fact."

"What did we say when we were kids? 'I saved your life the other day, I killed a shit-eating dog.' I'm glad childhood comes early in life because I'd hate to go through it now. Tell me something. What did you think of that movie?"

"To change the subject."

"It could do with changing. Did you care for it?"

"What movie was that?"

"Michael Collins. Didn't you tell me you rented the video?"

"I thought it was good."

"Did you? It was all true, you know."

"I was wondering about that."

"They took the odd liberty. The scene in Croke Park, when the British rake the crowd with gunfire? In fact they used a machine gun, not the revolving gun in the armored car. It was an image sticks in your mind, the way they did it, but what happened was terrible enough."

"It's hard to believe it happened at all."

"Oh, it happened well enough. The other thing they did, they had his friend Harry Boland die in the fighting at the Four Courts. Collins's friend, he dives into the Liffey and a soldier shoots him?"

"I remember."

"'Twas years later he died, long after Collins was buried. He lived to be a minister in Dev's government. He was a sanctimonious bastard, Dev. Your man who played him had him just right. Even looked like him." He took a drink. "He was the best of them. Collins, I mean. He was a fucking genius."

"When he wiped out the British agents," I said. "Was that part accurate? Killing them all the same day?"

"That was the genius of it! He had his spy in Dublin Castle, yes, but then he gathered his information and bided his time. And killed all of the flickers of a Sunday morning. It was over before they knew it had begun." He shook his head. "Listen to me, will you? You'd think I knew him. He was dead and in his grave fifteen years before I was born. But I've studied him, you know. I've heard the old men's stories and I've read books. You start off with a lot of heroes, you know, and then you learn a bit about them and they're heroes no more. But I've never ceased to admire Collins. I wish… no, you'll think it too queer."

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