Everybody Dies Page 45

"Not long."

"And they might keep it for a good long while, especially if we took care to leave it with a full tank of gas. Of course if they had a flat tire, and went looking for the spare…"

"God, what a thought."

"Ah, it's a hard old world if you can't laugh, and even if you can. Do you know what I think I'll do? I'll wipe the fucker free of prints, as it's full of mine after all the use I've given it this past week. And then I'll take it over to the piers and run it into the river, with the windows rolled down so it'll sink and stay sunk. Can they get fingerprints off a car hauled out of the water?"

"There was a time when they couldn't," I said, "but they probably can by now. I think they can just about lift them off motes of dust dancing in a beam of light."

"I'll wipe it good," he said, "before I shove it off the edge. Just to be sure."

After a moment I said, "What'll you tell his mother?"

"That he had to go away," he said without hesitation, "on a dangerous mission, and that it might be awhile before she heard from him. That should hold her for the few years she's got left in the world. She has cancer, you know."

"I didn't."

"Poor thing. I'll pray for her, and him too, once they've taught me how."

"Pray for all of us," I said.

I rode up in the elevator, used my key in the lock. By the time I had the door open she was standing in front of me, wearing a black robe I'd bought for her. It had white and yellow flowers on it, and tiny butterflies.

"You're all right," she said. "Thank God."

"I'm fine."

"TJ's sleeping on the couch," she said. "I was going to bring dinner over to him but he insisted he could come over for it, and then I wouldn't let him go home. I was afraid, but I don't know who I was afraid for, him or me."

"Either way, you're both all right."

"And you're all right, and thank God. It's over, isn't it?"

"Yes, it's over."

"Thank God. And what about Mick? Is Mick all right?"

"He had a premonition," I said, "and that's a story in itself, but it turns out he's got a touch of astigmatism in his third eye, because he's fine. In fact you could say he's never been better."

"And everybody else?"

I said, "Everybody else? Everybody else is dead."

"I'll remind you," Ray Gruliow said, "that Mr. Scudder is here of his own volition, and that he'll answer only those questions I'm willing for him to answer."

"Which means he won't say a goddamn thing," George Wister said.

And that turned out to be pretty close to the truth. There were half a dozen cops in the room, Joe Durkin and George Wister and two guys from Brooklyn Homicide and two others whose function was never explained to me. I didn't much care who they were, because all they could do was sit there while I said essentially nothing.

They had no end of questions, though. They wanted to know what I knew about Chilton Purvis, whom they'd linked to the murder of Jim Faber as a result of information received, which meant that somebody's snitch had indeed come up with the news. They didn't have any evidence to support the snitch's word, however, and so far they hadn't been able to find an eyewitness to the Lucky Panda shooting who would look at Purvis's body and ID him as the shooter.

I couldn't help them out. Anyway, I figured it was their own fault. If they'd coached their witness properly he'd have given them what they wanted.

Maybe one or both of the unidentified men in the room were from the Bronx, because there were questions about Tom Heaney and Mary Eileen Rafferty, which turned out to be the name of Tom's landlady. Tom, I learned, had been shot with bullets from two different guns, and none of the slugs matched any of the bullets retrieved in any of the other homicides in question, although one matched up to a bullet dug out of a corpse in SoHo in 1995. Since most of the players had spent that year in Attica, I figured the gun had some old history attached to it.

All in all, I didn't really give them anything, and I didn't pay close attention, either. I just sat there and watched Ray, and I didn't open my mouth unless he gave me a nod. And he didn't do that very often.

I suppose we were there for about an hour, and then Wister lost it a little and said something nasty, and Ray had been waiting for that. "That's it," he said, getting to his feet "We're out of here."

"You can't do that," Joe said.

"Oh, really? Just watch us."

"And kiss your license goodbye," Wister said. "I got papers on my desk, formal request for the state to pull your ticket, with all the reasons laid out to make it real easy for them. You walk out of here and I fill out the rest of it and toss it right in the mail."

"And there'll be a hearing," Ray said, "and you'll be subpoenaed, which I know you fellows just love. And by the time the dust settles he'll have his license back, along with a whole lot of newspaper coverage to make him look like a hero."

"He won't look like a hero," Joe said. "He'll look like a fucking criminal is all he'll look like. Which more and more is what he's been looking like anyway."

"That's enough," Ray said.

"No it's not, it's nowhere near enough. Matt, what the hell's the matter with you? You'll lose your license."

I said, "You know something? I don't care if I do."

"Don't say another word," Ray said.

"No," I said, "I'll say this much, and I'm saying it to you as much as to them. They can do what they want, and if the state rescinds my license that's fine. You could fight it, and maybe we'd win, but it's not worth the bother."

"You don't know what you're talking about," Joe said.

"I know I got along fine without a license for over twenty years," I said. "I don't know what the hell made me ever think I needed it. Maybe I make a few more dollars with it than without it, but I always made enough. I never missed a meal, and back when I drank I never lacked the price of the next drink. You want to pull my license? Go right ahead. What the hell do I care?"

We walked out of the station house and down the steps, and when we were out of earshot Ray said, "They'll get your license pulled, and I'll get it back. Not a problem."

"No," I said. "Thanks, but I wasn't just sounding off. I mean what I said. We'll let it go, and the hell with it."

"You never needed it in the first place," Elaine assured me. "What, so you can work for a few more lawyers? And they can bill a little higher for your services? The hell with that."

"Exactly my point."

"Besides," she said, "we know the real reason you got the license. You wanted to be respectable. And it's like all those folks on the Yellow Brick Road, baby. You were respectable all along."

"No," I said. "I wasn't, and I'm still not. But the license didn't change anything."

And that would be a good place to leave it, except there's a little more to the story. Like everything else, it's not over till it's over.

That was in September, and in mid-December we got a Christmas card with a return address on Staten Island. It said Season's Greetings instead of Merry Christmas, no doubt in deference to the Jewish vegetarian he'd once given a ham to, and inside, beneath an unexceptionable printed message, he'd written God's love to you both and signed it Mick.

Elaine said she was sure he'd sign it Fr. Michael F. Ballou, S. J. I said he was with the Thessalonians, not the Jesuits, and she said goyim is goyim.

Then in late April TJ mentioned that he'd passed Grogan's and had seen a Dumpster at the curb and a construction crew hard at work. I said evidently there'd be a Korean greengrocer in there before long.

And then a week later the phone rang, and Elaine answered it and came to tell me I'd never guess who it was.

"I bet it's Father Mick," I said.

"Ah, Jaysus," she said, "and get along with ye, and haven't the wee folk gifted ye with the second sight your own self?"

"Begorrah," I said.

I picked up the phone and he invited me to come down and see how the work was progressing. "Of course it's impossible to get it so it looks old," he said, "and there are bullet holes they want to cover up, and they ought to be left as they are. There's history to them."

I went over there, and for all of that they seemed to be doing a good job, and getting it more right than not. I said I gathered this meant he was back in business.

"I am," he said.

"You said you'd stay there until they kicked you out."

"Ah. Well, they didn't do that. They'd never do that." He took a drink from his silver flask. "They're lovely men," he said. "The nicest men I've ever met in my life. And they were so good as to let me take my time to realize for myself that I didn't belong there. I half wish I did, but I don't, and they allowed me to see as much."

"And here you are."

"And here I am," he agreed. "And glad to be back, and are you glad to have me?"

"Damn glad," I said, "and so's Elaine. We missed you."

His story, as I said early on, his story far more than mine. But how could you ever get him to tell it?

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