The Devil Knows You're Dead Page 29

 I read the opening of “The Waste Land,” with its observa-tions about April’s cruelty. October, I thought, could be fairly savage in its own right. I read a few other things, and then I read a poem of the First World War, “I Have a Ren-dezvous With Death,” by Alan Seeger. I had read it before, but that was no reason not to read it again.

 It reminded me of the poem at the base of the statue in DeWitt Clinton Park. I didn’t know the author, but there was a title index and I found it that way. The author was John McCrae, and the lines on the monument were from the third and final stanza. Here’s the complete poem:

In Flanders fields, the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved; and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch. Be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

 I was all set to copy it down when I thought to look inside the front cover. For five dollars I could own it. I paid for it and my coffee and went home.

 It was close to ten-thirty when I got to Paris Green. Elaine was at the bar drinking a Perrier. I apologized for being late and she said she’d made good use of the time, that she’d spent it flirting with Gary. Gary, Paris Green’s bartender, had an-nounced at the beginning of the summer that he was through hiding from the world; he had accordingly shaved the great oriole’s nest of a beard he’d worn as long as I’d known him.

 Now he was growing it back. “Time to hide,” he ex-plained. “Lot to be said for hiding.”

 We went to our table and ordered, the large garden salad for her, fish for me. She assured me I would have hated every minute of the lecture. “I hated it,” she said, “and I was interested in the subject.”

 I had the book with me, and back at her place I found the poem again and read it to her.

 “That’s why I was late,” I said.

 “You were busy grabbing the torch?”

 “I walked a few blocks out of my way,” I said. “To Clinton Park, where the last three lines are carved at the base of a war memorial. Except they got it wrong.”

 “What do you mean?”

 “They misquoted it.” I got out my notebook. “Here’s how they’ve got it on the monument. ‘If ye break faith / With those who died / We shall not sleep / Though poppies grow / On Flanders fields.’ ”

 “Isn’t that what you just read me?”

 “Not quite. Somebody changed ‘us’ to ‘those’ and ‘die’ to ‘died.’ And ‘in’ to ‘on.’ They used eighteen words from the poem and got three of them wrong. And they left off the au-thor’s name.”

 “Maybe he insisted on it, like a disenchanted screenwriter taking his name off a movie.”

 “I don’t think he was in a position to insist on anything. I think he finished the war beneath the poppies.”

 “But his words live on. That’s what I keep forgetting to ask you. Something you said a few days ago about Lisa Holtzmann.”

 “What about her?”

 “Something about a cleaner, greener maiden, but that can’t be right.”

 “‘I’ve a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land.’”

 “That’s it, and it’s been driving me crazy. I know the line, but where do I know it from?”

 “It’s Kipling,” I said. “ ‘The Road to Mandalay.’ ”

 “Oh, of course. And that explains why I know it. You sing it in the shower.”

 “What do you say we keep that to ourselves?”

 “I had no idea who wrote it. I thought it must be the title song from a Bob Hope–Bing Crosby movie. Wasn’t there a movie called that, or am I nuts?”

 “Or (C) Both of the above.”

 “Nice. Kipling, huh? What do you think, are you in the mood for a little Kipling?”

 “Sure,” I said. “Let’s kipple.”

 Afterward she said, “Wow. I’d have to say we haven’t lost our touch. You know something, you old bear? I love you.”

 “I love you.”

 “You didn’t talk with T J, did you? I hope Julia’s not teaching him how to dress for success.”

 “He’ll be all right.”

 “How did you know the inscription was off?”

 “It just wasn’t the way I remembered it.”

 “That’s some memory.”

 “Not really. I just read it a couple of days ago. If I had a great memory I’d have known then and there that they’d got it wrong. After all, I read it in high school.”

 Chapter 19

 The next day was Friday, and I spent it downtown having another crack at government records before they locked them all away for the weekend. I didn’t learn much.

 I quit in time to beat the rush hour and rode uptown on the subway. There was a message to call Eleanor Yount. It was almost five o’clock but I managed to catch her at her desk.

 She was delighted to report that there had been no embez-zlement. “My accountant was quite startled when I sug-gested the possibility,” she said, “and very much relieved when he was able to rule it out. I hate to think that Glenn might have been a thief, but it does make the thought less unsettling to know he didn’t steal anything from me.”

 I hadn’t really figured him as an embezzler. Nor had I pic-tured an enraged Eleanor Yount keeping a rendezvous in Hell’s Kitchen and pumping four bullets into her in-house counsel.

 She asked me if I’d learned anything.

 Not much, I said. I knew a few things I hadn’t known be-fore, but I couldn’t make them add up to anything.

 “I wonder when it started,” she said.

 I asked her what she meant.

 “I always wonder,” she said. “Don’t you? Whether some-one’s a born criminal, or is it the scar of some childhood ex-perience, or is there some pivotal incident later on. Glenn seemed such a supremely ordinary young man. But he seems to have told so many lies, and lived a life so different from what it appeared. I suppose it will turn out that he was beaten by his father or molested by his uncle. And then one day a cartoon light bulb formed over his head and he said, ‘Aha! I’ll commit embezzlement!’ Or traffic in drugs, or blackmail someone. It would be convenient if one knew what exactly it was that he did.”

 There was a message from T J as well. I beeped him and he called me back, but the things we had to talk about weren’t suited to an open line, so we didn’t say much. I gathered that he didn’t have the gun yet but he was working on it.

 He didn’t volunteer anything about Julia, and I didn’t ask.

 At St. Paul’s that night the speaker was from Co-op City in the Bronx. He worked construction, mostly as a window installer, and he told a good basic drinking story. My atten-tion drifted some, but he brought me back when he said, very solemnly, “And every single night I would lock myself in my furnished room and drink myself to Bolivia.”

 Jim Faber was there, and during the break he said, “Did you happen to catch that one? I thought you had to drop LSD if you wanted to take a trip, but this fellow got all the way to La Paz on Clan MacGregor. They could use that in their ads.”

 “I guess he thinks that’s the expression, drinking yourself to Bolivia. I mean, it wasn’t a slip of the tongue.”

 “No, he meant to say it. Well, many’s the time I tried drinking myself to Bolivia. And nine times out of ten I wound up in Cleveland.”

 When the meeting ended we established that we were on for Sunday dinner. I asked him if he felt like a cup of coffee but he had to get home. I thought about calling Lisa, maybe dropping in on her. Instead I hooked up with a few others from the meeting and went over to the Flame. When I got out of there I still felt like calling Lisa, but I didn’t. I went home and called Elaine to confirm our Saturday night date.

 Afterward I watched CNN for a little while, then turned off the set and looked through the book of poems until I found one that gave me something to think about. Sometime after midnight I turned out the light and went to bed.

 It was like not drinking, I thought, like staying away from a drink a day at a time. If I could stay away from bourbon that way, I ought to be able to resist Lisa Holtzmann. Saturday afternoon I got a call from T J. He said, “You know the bagel shop in the bus station?”

 “Like the back of my hand.”

 “You ask me, they better at doughnuts than bagels. You want to meet me there?”

 “What time?”

 “You say. Won’t take me five minutes.”

 I said it would take me a little longer than that, and it was closer to half an hour before I was seated next to him at the counter of Lite Bite Bagels on the ground floor of the Port Authority Bus Terminal. He had a doughnut and a Coke. I ordered a cup of coffee.

 “They got good doughnuts,” he said. “Sure you don’t want one?”

 “Not right now.”

 “The bagels is mushy. You eatin’ a bagel, you ’spect it to fight back some. Doughnuts, you don’t mind if they’s mushy. Weird, huh?”

 “The world’s a mysterious place.”

 “And that’s the truth, Ruth. Almost called you last night, woulda been real late. Dude had a Uzi he lookin’ to sell.”

 “That’s not what I was looking for.”

 “Yeah, I know. It was pretty slick, though. Had an extra clip, had this case to carry it in, all fitted an’ all. Cheap, too, ’cause all he wanted was to get high.”

 I pictured Jan trying to kill herself firing at full automatic. “I don’t think so,” I said.

 “Oh, must be he sold it by now. Else he used it to hold somebody up. Anyway, I got what you want.”


 He patted the blue canvas Kangaroo pouch he was wear-ing around his waist. “Right in here,” he said softly. “Thirty-eight revolver, three bullets for it. Holds five, but he didn’t have but three. Maybe he went an’ shot two people. Three bullets be enough?”

 I nodded. One was enough.

 “Know the men’s room around to the right? I’ll catch you there in a minute or two.”

 He slipped off his stool and left the bagel shop. I finished my coffee and paid for both of us. I found him in the men’s room, leaning over a sink, checking his hair in the mirror. I moved to the sink beside him and washed my hands while the fellow at the urinal finished up and left. When he was out the door T J unclasped the pouch from around his waist and handed it to me. “Check it out,” he said.

 I went into one of the stalls. The gun was a Dienstag five-shot revolver with checkered grips and a two-inch barrel. It smelled as though it hadn’t been cleaned since it was last fired. The front sight had been filed down. The cylinder was empty. The pouch held three bullets, each individually wrapped in tissue paper. I unwrapped one and made sure it fit the cylinder, then took it out and wrapped it back in the tissue paper. I put the three bullets in my pocket and tucked the gun under my belt in the small of my back. My jacket concealed it well enough, as long as it didn’t slip.

 I left the stall and handed the blue pouch to T J. He started to ask what was wrong, then felt the weight of the pouch and realized that it was empty. He said, “Man, don’t you want the Kangaroo? To carry it.”

 “I thought it was yours.”

 “It came with the goods. Here.”

 I returned to the stall and put the gun and the bullets into the pouch and adjusted the strap so that it would fit around my waist. The gun felt a lot more secure there than wedged under my belt. Outside, T J explained that the pouches had become the holster of choice on both sides of the law.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies