Everybody Dies Page 9

My stomach was predictably sore from the blow I'd taken, and there was some equally predictable discoloration. It would be worse tomorrow, in all likelihood, and then it would start getting better.

Both my hands were a little stiff and sore, too, from the right that had glanced off the side of his head and the left that had gone where it was supposed to. I had other muscular aches here and there, in the arms and shoulders, in the calf of one leg, and in my upper back. I'd used various muscles in ways I didn't often use them, and there was a price to pay. There always is.

I took a couple of aspirin and dialed a phone number I didn't have to look up. "I almost called you last night," I told Jim Faber, after I'd filled him in on what he'd missed after we'd parted company.

"You could have."

"I thought about it. But 'it was pretty late. If Elaine hadn't been here I wouldn't have hesitated, it was no time for me to be alone, but she was here and I was all right."

"And you don't keep booze around the house."

"No, and I didn't want a drink."

"Still, going straight to a ginmill right after a street fight…"

"I paused at the threshold," I said, "and decided I was all right. I had a message to deliver, and I delivered it, and then I got the hell out of there and came home."

"How do you feel now?"


"Really? I'd think you'd be feeling like a young lion. How old were the guys you beat up?"

"I wouldn't say I beat them up. I surprised them and I lucked out. How old? I don't know. Say thirty-five."


"Not exactly."

"Still, that's got to feel good, Matt. Two young fellows and you knock them on their asses? Even if luck had a little to do with it- "

"More than a little."

"- it still goes in the books as a win."

We talked some more, and he steered the conversation to our Sunday dinner date, suggesting we meet at the Chinese vegetarian place across from the Coliseum. "Months since we ate there," he said, "and I'm in the mood for some of that famous ersatz eel of theirs."

"Out of business," I said.

"You're kidding. Since when?"

"I don't know, but I saw the sign in their window sometime early last week. 'Restaurant Close. Go Somewhere Else. Thanks You.' Not quite the way they'd put it in the English as a Second Language class, but the message was crystal clear."

"Elaine must be distraught."

"Try inconsolable. We found a vegetarian place in Chinatown, there are a few of them down there now, but the one on Fifty-eighth was a favorite of hers and it was right around the corner. It's going to leave a hole in her life."

"It'll leave a small one in mine. Where else am I gonna find eel made from soybeans? I don't care for real eel, only the phony kind."

"You want to try the place in Chinatown?"

"Well, I'd like to have that eel dish one more time before I die, but that's a long way to go for it."

"I'm not even sure they've got eel on the menu. The joint on Fifty-eighth's the only place I've ever seen it."

"In other words we could drag our asses all the way downtown and I'd wind up having abalone made out of gluten?"

"It's a risk you'd be running."

"Or lamb chops made out of library paste. Eel aside, I'd just as soon stick to real food, so let's forget about Chinatown. God knows there are enough Chinese places in the neighborhood."

"Pick one."

"Hmmm," he said. "Where haven't we been in a while? How about the little place on Eighth and Fifty-third? You know the one I'm thinking of? The northeast corner, except it's not right at the corner, it's one or two doors up the avenue."

"I know the one you mean. The Something Panda. I want to say Golden, but that's not right."

"Pandas are generally black and white."

"Thanks. You're right, though, we haven't been there in ages. And as I recall it was pretty good."

"They're all pretty good. Six-thirty?"


"And can I trust you to stay out of fistfights between now and then? And ginmills?"

"It's a deal," I said.

There's a gun shop on Centre Market Place, around the block from the old Centre Street police headquarters. They've been there forever, and they carry a wide range of weapons, along with a full stock of police gear and training manuals. I went there to buy a shoulder holster, and as an afterthought I picked up a box of shells, the same hollow-point ammunition as the five in the Smith. Anybody can buy a holster, but I had to show a permit to buy the shells. I'd brought mine, and showed it, and signed the register.

They had Kevlar vests, too, but I already owned one. In fact I was wearing it, I'd put it on before I left the house.

It was a warm day to be wearing a bulletproof vest, with the humidity a few percentage points beyond the comfort range. I didn't need a jacket on a day like that, but I was wearing my navy blazer. I had the little Smith jammed under my belt, and I needed the jacket to keep it from showing, even as I'd need it to conceal the shoulder holster.

They gave me the shells and the holster in a paper bag, and I walked around carrying it, looking for a place to have lunch. I passed up a slew of Asian restaurants and wound up on Mulberry Street, on the two-block stretch that's about all that's left of Little Italy. I sat in the rear garden at Luna and ordered a plate of linguini with red clam sauce. While they were fixing it I locked myself in the men's room. I shucked my jacket and put on the holster, adjusted the straps, then drew the gun from my waistband and tucked it in place. I checked the mirror, and it seemed to me that the bulge of the holster would be visible clear across the room. It was more comfortable, though, than walking around with the gun in my belt, especially with my middle as sore as it was.

On the way back to my table I had the feeling that everybody in the restaurant, if not everyone in the neighborhood, knew I was armed.

I ate my lunch and went home.

When TJ called I was watching Notre Dame beat up on Miami. I'd slung my blazer over the back of a chair and I was sitting around in my shirtsleeves, with the holster in place and the gun in it. I put on the blazer and went across the street to the Morning Star.

We usually sat at one of the window tables, and he was there when I arrived, sipping orange juice through a straw. I moved us to a table near the kitchen, far away from the windows, and sat where I could keep an eye on the entrance.

TJ noted all this without comment. After I'd ordered coffee he said, "Heard all about you. How you the baddest dude in the 'hood, kickin' ass and takin' names."

"At my age," I said, "it's more a matter of kicking ass and forgetting names. What did you hear and where did you hear it?"

"Already said what I heard, and where you think I heard it? I was over at Elaine's shop. Oh, did I hear it on the street? No, but if you tryin' to build yourself a rep, I be happy to spread the word."

"Don't do me any favors."

"You all dressed for success. Where we goin', Owen?"

"Nowhere that I know of."

"Elaine says you be all done investigatin' what went down in Jersey, but I was thinkin' maybe you just told her that to put her at ease."

"I wouldn't do that. I was done anyway, before the incident last night, and all it did was confirm what you and I already determined."

"We ain't workin', must be you dressed up just to come here for coffee." He cocked his head, eyed the bulge on the left side of my chest. "That what I think it is?"

"How would I know?"

"Cause how you know what I thinkin'? 'Cept you do know, an' I know, too, 'cause she already said how you takin' precautions. That the piece you took off of the dude?"

"The very same. It's not hard to spot, is it?"

"Not when you lookin' for it, but it ain't like you wearin' a sign. You was to go around like that all the time, you'd want to get your jacket tailored so it don't bulge."

"I used to carry night and day," I said. "On duty or off. There was a departmental regulation that said you had to. I wonder if it's still on the books. With all the drunken off-duty cops who've shot themselves and each other over the years, the brass might have decided to rethink that particular rule."

"Cops'd carry anyway, wouldn't they? Reg or no reg?"

"Probably. I lived out on Long Island for years, and the regulation was only in force within the five boroughs, but I carried all the time. Of course there was another regulation requiring a New York City police officer to reside within the five boroughs, but it was never hard to find a way around that one."

He sucked up the last of the orange juice and the straw made a gurgling noise. He said, "Don't know who thought up orange juice, but the man was a genius. Tastes so good it's near impossible to believe it's good for you. But it is. Unless they lyin', Brian?"

"As far as I know, they're telling the truth."

"Restores my faith," he said. "'Member the time I bought a gun on the street for you? Gave it to you in a Kangaroo, same as the seller gave it to me."

"So you did. It was a blue one."

"Blue, right. Sort of a lame color, if I remember right."

"If you say so."

"You still got it?"

I'd obtained the gun for a friend who was dying of pancreatic cancer. She wanted a quick way out if it got too bad to be borne. It got very bad indeed before it finally killed her, but she'd somehow been able to live with it until she died of it, and she'd never had to use the gun.

I didn't know what became of the gun. I suppose it sat on a shelf in her closet, snug in the blue Kangaroo fanny pack in which I'd delivered it. I suppose somebody found it when they went through her effects, and I had not the slightest idea what might have become of it since.

"They ain't hard to find," he went on. "All those Korean dudes, got them little stores, tables out front full of sunglasses and baseball caps? They all got Kangaroos. Set you back ten, fifteen dollars, few dollars more if you go for all leather. How much you have to pay for that shoulder rig?"

"More than ten or fifteen dollars."

"Kangaroo wouldn't spoil the line of your jacket. Wouldn't need to be wearin' a jacket, far as that goes."

"I probably won't need the gun at all," I said. "But if I do I won't want to screw around with a zipper."

"You sayin' that's not how Quick Draw McGraw does it."


"What a lot of the dudes do is leave the zipper open. That looks sort of cool anyway."

"Like wearing sneakers with the laces untied."

"Sort of like that, 'cept you ain't likely to trip over your Kangaroos. Things turn tense, you just reach in your hand and there you are." He rolled his eyes. "But I be wastin' my breath, Beth, on account of you ain't about to get no Kangaroo, are you?"

"I guess not," I said. "I guess I'm just not a Kangaroo kind of guy."

I went back and watched some more football, changing channels whenever they went to a commercial and not really keeping track of any of the games. A little before six I turned off the TV and walked down to Elaine's shop. elaine mardell, the sign above the window says, and the shop within is a good reflection of the proprietor- folk art and antiques, paintings she's salvaged from thrift shops and rummage sales, and the oils and drawings of a few contemporary artists she's discovered. She has an artist's eye, and spotted the gun instantly.

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