The Devil Knows You're Dead Page 3

 They rarely get much of a crowd at Grogan’s, and this night was no exception. Burke was behind the bar, watching an old movie on one of the cable channels. I ordered a Coke and he brought it to me. I asked if Mick had been in and he shook his head. “Later,” he said.

 This was a long speech for him. The bartenders at Gro-gan’s are a closemouthed lot. It’s part of the job description.

 I sipped my Coke and scanned the room. There were a few familiar faces but no one I knew well enough to say hello to, and that was fine with me. I watched the movie. I could have been watching the same picture at home but there I’d been unable to watch anything, or even sit still. Here, wrapped in the smell of tobacco smoke and spilled beer, I felt curiously at ease.

 On the screen, Bette Davis sighed and tossed her head, looking younger than springtime.

 I managed to get lost in the movie, and then I got lost in thought, caught up in some sort of reverie. I came out of it when I heard my name mentioned. I turned, and there was Glenn Holtzmann. He was wearing a tan windbreaker over a checked sport shirt. It was the first time I’d seen him in any-thing other than a business suit.

 “Couldn’t sleep,” he said. “I went to Armstrong’s but it was too crowded. So I came here. What’s that you’re drink-ing, Guinness? Wait a minute, you’ve got ice in your glass. Is that how they serve it here?”

 “It’s Coca-Cola,” I said, “but they’ve got Guinness on draft, and I suppose they’ll give it to you with ice if that’s how you want it.”

 “I don’t want it at all,” he said, “with or without ice. What do I want?” Burke was right in front of us. He hadn’t said a word, and didn’t say anything now. “What kind of beer do you have? Never mind, I don’t feel like a beer. How about Johnny Walker Red? Rocks, a little water.”

 Burke brought the drink with the water on the side in a small glass pitcher. Holtzmann added water to his glass, held the drink to the light, then took a sip. I got a rush of sense-memory. The last thing I wanted was a drink, but for a second there I could damn well taste it.

 “I like this place,” he said, “but I hardly ever come here. How about yourself?”

 “I like it well enough.”

 “Do you get here often?”

 “Not too often. I know the owner.”

 “You do? Isn’t he the guy they call ‘the Butcher’?”

 “I don’t know that anybody actually calls him that,” I said. “I think some newspaperman came up with the name, possi-bly the same one who started calling the local hoodlums ‘the Westies.’ ”

 “They don’t call themselves that?”

 “They do now,” I said. “They never used to. As far as Mick Ballou is concerned, I can tell you this much. Nobody calls him ‘Butcher’ in his own joint.”

 “If I spoke out of turn—”

 “Don’t worry about it.”

 “I’ve been in here, I don’t know, a handful of times. I’ve yet to run into him. I think I’d recognize him from his pic-tures. He’s a big man, isn’t he?”


 “How did you come to know him, if you don’t mind my asking?”

 “Oh, I’ve known him for years,” I said. “Our paths crossed a long time ago.”

 He drank some of his scotch. “I bet you could tell some stories,” he said.

 “I’m not much of a storyteller.”

 “I wonder.” He got a business card from his wallet, handed it to me. “Are you ever free for lunch, Matt? Give me a call one of these days. Will you do that?”

 “One of these days.”

 “I hope you will,” he said, “because I’d love to really kick back and have a real conversation, and who knows? It might lead to something.”


 “Like a book, for instance. The experiences you’ve had, the characters you’ve known, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a book there waiting to be written.”

 “I’m no writer.”

 “If the material’s there it’s no big deal to hook you up with a writer. And I’ve got a feeling the material’s there. But we can talk about all that at lunch.”

 He left a few minutes later, and I decided to pack it in myself when the movie ended, but before that happened Mick showed up and we wound up making a night of it. I had told Holtzmann I wasn’t much of a storyteller but I told my share that night, and Mick told a few himself. He drank Irish whiskey and I drank coffee and we didn’t quit when Burke put the chairs up on the tables and closed for the night.

 The sky was light by the time we got out of there. “And now we’ll get something to eat,” Mick said, “and then ’twill be time for the butchers’ mass at St. Bernard’s.”

 “Not for me it won’t,” I said. “I’m tired. I’m going home.”

 “Ah, ye’re no fun at all,” he said, and gave me a ride home. “ ’Twas a good old night,” he said when we reached my hotel, “for all that it’s ending too early.”

 “The last thing I want to do,” I told Elaine, “is write a book about my fascinating experiences. But even if I were open to the idea he’s the person least likely to get me to do it. All he has to do is ask me a question and I automatically look for a way not to answer it.”

 “I wonder why that is.”

 “I don’t know. Why would he want to talk to me about writing a book? His company publishes large-print editions. And he’s not an editor, he’s a lawyer.”

 “He could know people at other houses,” she suggested. “And couldn’t he have a book-packaging operation going on the side?”

 “He’s got something going.”

 “What do you mean?”

 “Just that he’s got a hidden agenda. He wants something, and he doesn’t let you know what it is. I’ll tell you some-thing, I don’t believe he wants me to write a book. Because if that was what he really wanted he would have proposed something else.”

 “So what do you figure he wants?”

 “I don’t know.”

 “Be easy to find out,” she said. “Have lunch with him.”

 “I could,” I said. “I could also live without knowing.”

 I didn’t see him again until the first week in August. It was the middle of the afternoon and I was at a window table at the Morning Star, eating a piece of pie and drinking a cup of coffee and reading a copy of Newsday that someone had left on an adjacent table. A shadow fell on the page and I looked up, and there was Holtzmann on the other side of the glass. He had his tie loosened and his collar open and his suit jacket over his arm. He smiled, pointed at himself and at the entrance. I figured this meant he was about to join me, and I was right.

 He said, “Good to see you, Matt. Mind if I sit? Or were you expecting someone?”

 I pointed to the chair opposite mine and he took it. The waitress came over with a menu and he waved it off and said he’d just have coffee. He told me he’d been hoping I’d call, that he’d looked forward to our getting together for lunch. “I guess you’ve been busy,” he said.

 “Pretty busy.”

 “I can imagine.”

 “And,” I said, “I don’t honestly think I’d be interested in doing a book. Even if I had one to write, I think I’d be hap-pier leaving it unwritten.”

 “Say no more,” he said. “I can respect that. Still, who says you have to have a book in the works in order for us to have lunch? We could probably find other things to talk about.”

 “Well, when my work schedule thins out a little—”

 “Sure.” The coffee came and he frowned at it and wiped his brow with his napkin. “I don’t know why I ordered cof-fee,” he said. “Iced tea would have made more sense in this heat. Still, it’s cool enough in here, isn’t it? Thank God for air-conditioning.”

 “Amen to that.”

 “Do you know that we keep our public places cooler in the summer than in the winter? If this place was the same temperature in January that it is right now we’d complain to the management. And people wonder why we’ve got an en-ergy crisis.” He grinned engagingly. “See? We can find plenty of things to talk about. The weather. The energy cri-sis. Quirks in the American national character. Be a cinch for us to get through a lunch hour.”

 “Unless we use up all our topics ahead of time.”

 “Oh, I’m not worried about that. How’s Elaine, by the way? Lisa hasn’t seen her since school let out.”

 “She’s fine.”

 “Is she taking any courses over the summer? Lisa wanted to, but she decided her pregnancy might get in the way.”

 I said that Elaine would probably enroll for something or other in the fall, but that she’d decided to keep the summer open so that we could take long weekends.

 “Lisa was talking about calling her,” he said, “but I don’t think she got around to it.” He stirred his coffee. Abruptly he said, “She lost the baby. I guess you wouldn’t have heard.”

 “Jesus, no. I’m sorry, Glenn.”


 “When did it—”

 “I don’t know, ten days ago, something like that. She was just into her seventh month. Bright side, it could have been worse. They told us the baby was malformed, it couldn’t have lived, but suppose she carried it to term, even had a live delivery? Would have been twice the heartache, the way I figure it.”

 “I see what you mean.”

 “She was the one who wanted a kid,” he said. “I got along this long without any, I more or less figured I could go the distance. But it was important to her, so I figured why not. The doctor says we can try again.”


 “And I don’t know if I want to. Not right away, anyhow. It’s funny, I didn’t mean to tell you all this. Shows what a good detective you are, you get people talking even without trying. I’ll let you get back to your paper.” He stood up, pushed two dollars across the table at me. “For the coffee,” he said.

 “That’s too much.”

 “So leave a big tip,” he said. “And call me when you get the chance. We’ll have that lunch.”

 When I recounted the conversation to Elaine, her immediate response was to call Lisa. She made the call, got the answer-ing machine, and rang off without leaving a message.

 “It occurred to me,” she explained, “that she can deal with her grief just fine without my help. All she and I ever had in common was the class, and it ended two months ago. I feel for her, I really do, but why do I have to get involved?”

 “You don’t.”

 “That’s what I decided. Maybe I’m actually getting some-thing out of Al-Anon. I’d probably get even more if I went more than once every three or four weeks.”

 “It’s a shame you don’t like the meetings.”

 “All that whining. They make me want to vomit. Other than that they’re great. What about you? Do you like Glenn any better now that he shared his grief with you?”

 “You’d have to,” I said. “But I still don’t want to have lunch with him.”

 “Oh, you won’t have any choice,” she said. “He’ll keep grinding away at you until you wake up one day and realize he’s your new best friend. You’ll see.”

 But that’s not what happened. Instead six or seven weeks passed during which I never caught a glimpse of Glenn Holtzmann, or gave him a passing thought. And then some-body with a gun changed everything, and from that point on Glenn was on my mind more than he’d ever been in life.

 Chapter 3

 Within the hour, I knew as much as Lisa Holtzmann did.

 Elaine and I had gone out to dinner after an early movie. We got back to her place in time for all but the first five min-utes of L.A. Law. “I hate to say this,” she said when it was over, “and I know it’s not politically correct, but I’ve had it up to here with Benny. He’s so relentlessly dim.”

 “What do you want from him?” I said. “He’s retarded.”

 “You’re not supposed to say that. You’re supposed to say he has a learning disability.”


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