The Devil Knows You're Dead Page 19

 “Fine. Very busy, suddenly, but that’s how it is with me. Long stretches with nothing to do, and then a batch of things all at once.”

 “That’s how you like it.”

 “I guess so, but it does get hectic. But I will take care of that little matter for you. I’ve been working on it.”

 “Well, now,” Mick said. “What shall I look for on my next phone bill? Have you called China?”

 “Just Tribeca.”

 “There’s those would call it another country, but the phone rates don’t reflect their view. You’ve time for a little chat, haven’t you? Burke’s just started a fresh pot of coffee.”

 “No coffee right now. I’ve been drinking it all day.”

 “A Coca-Cola, then.”

 “Maybe some club soda.”

 “By God, you’re a cheap date,” he said. “Sit down, I’ll fetch something for both of us.”

 He brought his private bottle of twelve-year-old Jameson and the Waterford tumbler he liked to drink from, and for me he provided a stemmed glass and a bottle of Perrier. I hadn’t even known he stocked the stuff. I couldn’t believe many of his customers called for it, or even knew how to pronounce it.

 “We’ll make it an early night,” I said. “I’m not in shape for a marathon.”

 “Are you all right, man? Are you feeling fit?”

 “I’m fine, but I’m working a case that’s starting to heat up. I want to be able to get an early start tomorrow.”

 “Is that all it is? Because you look troubled.”

 I thought about it. “Well,” I said, “I guess I am.”


 “A woman I know,” I said, “is very ill.”

 “Very ill, you say.”

 “Pancreatic cancer. It’s incurable, and it looks as though she doesn’t have very much time.”

 Carefully he said, “Do I know her, man?”

 I had to think. “I don’t believe you do,” I said. “She and I had stopped seeing each other by the time you and I got ac-quainted. I’ve stayed on friendly terms with her, but I’m sure I never brought her here.”

 “Thanks be to God,” he said, visibly relieved. “You gave me a turn for a moment there.”

 “How? Oh, you thought I was talking about—”

 “About herself,” he said, unwilling even to say Elaine’s name in such a context. “Which God forbid. She’s well, then?”

 “She’s fine. She sends her best.”

 “And you’ll give her mine. But that’s hard news about the other one. Not much time, you said.” He filled his glass, held it to the light. It had a fine color to it. He said, “You don’t know what to wish someone in such circumstances. Some-times it’s better if it’s over sooner.”

 “That’s how she wants it.”


 “And that’s probably part of why I look troubled. She’s decided she wants to shoot herself, and she’s picked me to get her the gun.”

 I don’t know what I expected, but certainly not the shock that showed on his face. He asked if I’d accepted the mis-sion, and I said that I had.

 “You were not raised in the church,” he said. “For all that I drag ye along to mass, you weren’t brought up Catholic.”


 “So I could never do what you’ve undertaken to do. Aid and abet a suicide? I’m a terrible Catholic, but I couldn’t do it. They take a hard line on suicide, you know.”

 “They’re pretty strict on homicide, too, aren’t they? I seem to remember a whole commandment on the subject.”

 “ ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ ”

 “But maybe they don’t take it seriously. Or maybe it went by the board with the Latin mass and eating meat on Friday.”

 “They take it seriously,” he said. “And I have killed men. You know that.”


 “I’ve taken life,” he said, “and I’ll likely die with my sins unconfessed, and as likely burn for them. But taking your own life is a very grave matter.”

 “Why? I’ve never understood that. You’re not harming anybody but yourself.”

 “The thought is that you’re hurting God.”


 “You’re saying you know better than Himself how long you should live. You’re saying, ‘Thanks very much for this gift of life, but why don’t You take it and shove it up Your ass.’ You’re committing the one sin that cannot be undone, and cannot be confessed because you’re not around to con-fess it. Oh, I’m no theologian, I can’t explain it worth a damn.”

 “I think I understand.”

 “Do you? You’d likely have to be born to it for it to make sense to you. I take it your friend’s not Catholic.”

 “Not anymore.”

 “She was raised in the church? There’s few of us ever get over it, you know. It doesn’t bother her, what she plans to do?”

 “It bothers her.”

 “But she’s resolved to do it anyway?”

 “It’s likely to get very bad in the later stages,” I said. “She doesn’t want to go through all that.”

 “Nor would anyone, but are there not things they can give her for the pain?”

 “She doesn’t want to take them.”

 “Why not, for God’s sake? And, you know, she could al-ways take a little too much. It’s easy to grow confused under the circumstances, and before you know it you’ve gone and taken the whole bottle.”

 “And isn’t that suicide? The worst sin of all, you just fin-ished explaining.”

 “Ah, but you wouldn’t be in full possession of your facul-ties at the time. It doesn’t count against you if you’re not in your right mind. Besides,” he said, “don’t you think the Lord would overlook it if you gave Him half a chance?”

 “Do you think so, Mick?”

 “I do,” he said, “but I told you I’m no theologian. Theol-ogy aside, aren’t pills easier to get hold of than a gun? And isn’t it a gentler death they offer you?”

 “It is if you do it right,” I said, “but not everybody does. Sometimes people come out of it choking on their own vomit. But that’s not the real reason she’d prefer a gun.”

 I explained Jan’s commitment to sobriety, and how in her eyes that ruled out drugs either to kill the pain or to ease the passage. His green eyes were first incredulous and then thoughtful as he took it all in.

 He freshened his drink while he thought about it. At length he said, “Your lot takes this business very seriously.”

 “Not all of us would make the choices Jan has made,” I said. “Most of us would take something for the pain, and I don’t know how many of us would see a gun as providing a more sober way out than a handful of Seconal. But yes, you could say that we take sobriety pretty seriously.”

 “As seriously as our lot takes suicide.” He drank, regarded me over the brim of the glass. “Let me ask you this. What would you do in her position?”

 “I don’t know,” I said. “I’m not in her shoes, and that makes it impossible for me to say what I’d do if I were. I think I’d take painkillers, but on the other hand I’d want a clear head at the end. As for killing myself, well, I don’t think that’s a choice I would make. But who can say? I’m not in her shoes.”

 “Nor am I, thanks be to God. And I’m just as glad not to be in yours, either.”

 “What would you do, Mick?”

 “Ah, Jesus, that’s a good question. If I loved her, how could I refuse her? Yet how could I do her such a horrible service? I’m sorry for her trouble, but I’m grateful it’s not me she asked.”

 “And if it were I that asked you?”

 “God, what a question,” he said. “It’s not, is it? You that’s asking.”

 “No,” I said. “Of course not.” We talked of other things, but not for too much longer. I made it a fairly early night.

 On the way home I thought about Lisa Holtzmann and the money she had shown me. I wondered where it had come from and what was going to become of it.

 Did Kaplan even have a safe in his office? It seemed to me he must, that any lawyer would require one. I hoped his was roomy, and as secure as Mick’s huge old Mosler.

 I’d seen that Mosler open on more than one occasion. I knew some of the items it typically contained. Money, of course, both U.S. and foreign. Records of his outstanding loans—money he had out working on the street, yielding usurious interest and collected, if need be, by violence or the threat of violence. Occasional articles of value—watches, jewelry, presumably stolen.

 And guns, of course. He always had a few guns in the safe. Now and then I’d needed a gun, and he’d provided one without question, and refused to take any money for it. Sit-ting in his office, talking on the phone with the old-fash-ioned rotary dial, I’d looked over at the safe and figured I’d get the gun from Mick.

 He’d have furnished it with no questions asked. But now I’d have to get it somewhere else.

 Because now he would know what I wanted it for. He might provide it, but my asking for it would be an abuse of our friendship. And that is something I take seriously. Like sobriety, or suicide.

 Chapter 14

 Waddell & Yount had offices on the eighth floor of a twelve-story building at Nineteenth and Broadway. Two stores shared the ground floor, one selling cameras and dark-room supplies, the other a stationer. The building directory included a supplier of advertising specialty items and an en-vironmentalist magazine. The floor immediately below Waddell & Yount was occupied by a men’s discount clothier, offering closeouts and bankrupt stock at bargain prices.

 The building was an old one, and the Waddell & Yount of-fices had not been recently refurbished. The carpet was ma-roon and threadbare, and the furniture ran to scarred sixty-inch wooden desks with matching swivel chairs and glassed-in stacking mahogany bookshelves. The overhead lighting consisted of bare bulbs in green metal shades. The period look was convincing, with technology providing the only anachronism; there were computers and digital phones on the old desks, and here and there a FAX and a copier. But at least one Luddite still clung to an old-fashioned type-writer. I could hear it clacking away as I followed Eleanor Yount through a maze of cubicles to her office.

 She was a handsome woman in her early sixties, stout now, with iron-gray hair and alert blue eyes. She wore a cameo brooch on the lapel of her navy suit, a gold band set with diamonds on her left ring finger. When I’d called at ten that morning to ask for an appointment she had told me to come in an hour. I’d taken my time walking there, stopping for a cup of coffee along the way, and now it was eleven and she was seating herself at her desk and pointing to a chair for me.

 She said, “Here’s a funny thing. After we spoke I began to wonder about the propriety of this meeting. I wanted advice, and the first thought I had was that I ought to consult Glenn.” She smiled gently. “But of course that’s not possible, is it? I called my personal attorney and explained the situation to him. He pointed out that, since I had nothing either to con-ceal or reveal, I needn’t worry about being indiscreet.” She picked up a pencil from the desk top. “So there’s my good and bad news, Mr. Scudder. It’s all right for me to talk with you, but I’m afraid I have next to nothing to say.”

 “How long did Glenn Holtzmann work for you?”

 “A little over three years. I hired him shortly after my hus-band’s death. Howard died in April, and I believe Glenn started here the first week in June. I interviewed him right before ABA. That’s the annual booksellers’ convention, it’s always Memorial Day weekend.” She turned the pencil in her hand. “My husband was his own in-house attorney. He was a graduate of Columbia Law School and a member of the bar, so of course he trusted himself to read contracts.”

 “And after Mr. Yount died—”

 “Mr. Waddell,” she said. “At home we were Mr. and Mrs. Waddell, while here we were Mr. Waddell and Ms. Yount. Of course that was Miss Yount for many years, before Ms. became a part of the language. To Howard’s great dismay, I might add, and not for reasons of male chauvinism. He just couldn’t brook the notion of an abbreviation that wasn’t an abbreviation of anything.” Her eyes aimed themselves some-where past my left shoulder, gazing down the years. “Eisen-hower was president when we moved into these offices,” she said. “And we had only half our present space, we shared the suite with a man named Morrie Kelton who was a booking agent for dance bands and strippers and the most hopeless sort of latter-day vaudevillians. The strangest people in New York were apt to walk in that door. Did you ever see Broad-way Danny Rose? We saw it and thought right away of Mor-rie. I wonder what happened to him. I suppose he’s gone. He’d have to be close to ninety by now.”

 The typewriter clattered in the distance. “Morrie Kelton,” she said. “He was a crude, hard-bitten little man, but he had a sweetness about him. Do you wear reading glasses, Mr. Scudder?”

 “I beg your pardon?”

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