The Devil Knows You're Dead Page 30

 “I believe it was cops started it,” he said. “You know how they got to carry a gun when they off duty? Only they don’t want no gun weighin’ down their pocket or spoilin’ the lines of their suit. Then a lot of the players, they was usin’ these shoulder bags, but that’s a little too much like a purse, you know? ’Sides, anything you carry like that, there be times you put it down an’ forget to pick it back up again. The Kan-garoos, they sell ’em everywhere, you don’t even know you wearin’ one. Leave the zipper open, you ready to quick-draw. An’ they cheap. Ten, twelve dollars. ’Course you can buy one in leather an’ spend more. I seen a dope dealer has one in eelskin. That be a fish or a snake?”

 “A fish.”

 “Didn’t know you could make leather out of no fish. Charge a lot for it, too. I guess you could get a Kangaroo made out of alligator if you was fool enough to want it.”

 “I guess.”

 I asked about Julia. “She a strange one,” he said. “How old you think she is?”

 “How old?”

 “Take a guess, Les. How old you think?”

 “I don’t know. Nineteen or twenty.”


 I shrugged. “Well, I was close.”

 “She seem younger,” he said. “An’ she seem older. One minute she this little girl an’ you want to keep her safe. Next minute she your teacher, gone keep you after school. She know a whole lot of things, you know?”

 “I’ll bet she does.”

 “Not just what you thinkin’. She knows all kind of shit. She made those pajamas she was wearin’. You believe that? Designed ’em herself, too. Lotta ways she could make money. She don’t have to be gettin’ in cars on Eleventh Av-enue. ’Course, right now she need the money.”

 “What about you?”

 His eyes turned wary. “What about me?”

 “I just wondered how we stand as far as money is con-cerned. Did you make out all right on the gun?”

 “Yeah, we cool. Got a good deal on the gun. Only real ex-penses I had was all the dope I had to buy.”

 “What dope?”

 “Well, hangin’ out by the Captain an’ all. You want to start askin’ a bunch of questions, people got to know you all right. Best way is buy some drugs. They makin’ money off you, they got a reason to like you.”

 “Did you have to spend very much? Because it’s only right for me to reimburse you.”

 “No need, Reed. I made out fine.”

 “What do you mean?”

 “Mean I took what I bought and sold it right here on the Deuce. Lost money on one deal but made some on another one. All said an’ done, I come out a few dollars ahead.”

 “You sold drugs.”

 “Well, shit, man, what else was I gonna do? I don’t use none of that shit. I wasn’t gonna throw the shit away. That’s bread, Ed. I ain’t in the business, not any more’n I’m in the gun business. Only business I want to be in is the detectin’ business, but if I has to buy the shit I might as well get my money back. There be anything wrong with that?”

 “I guess not,” I said. “Not when you explain it like that.”

 In my room I took the gun apart and cleaned it. I didn’t have the right tools, but Q-tips and Three-in-One oil were better than nothing. When I was done I put the gun in the drawer with the five thousand dollars. I’d been meaning to put the cash in my safe-deposit box, but I had missed my chance. I’d have to wait until Monday.

 I turned the TV on and off, then picked up the phone and called Jan. “I think I’m going to be able to get that item we discussed,” I told her. “Before I follow through, I just wanted to make sure you were still in the market.” She as-sured me that she was. “Well, I should have something by the end of next week,” I said.

 I hung up and checked the dresser drawer, as if the gun might have magically dematerialized while I was on the phone. No such luck.

 That night I reprised most of my conversation with T J for Elaine, of course leaving out the part about the gun. I told her how he’d bought and sold dope on my behalf, and how he seemed to be getting involved with a pre-op transsexual.

 “Entranced by a transsexual,” she said. “Or transfixed. Just how fascinated is he, do you know? What do we do if he shows up with tits?”

 “That’s a stretch. He’s just experimenting.”

 “That’s all they were doing at the Manhattan Project, and look what happened to Hiroshima. What’s the story? Are they an item?”

 “I think she probably took him to bed and showed him a good time. I think the novelty of it impressed him and shook him up a little. That doesn’t mean he’ll be running down to the nearest clinic for electrolysis and hormone shots. Or that the two of them are going to be picking out drapes together.”

 “I guess. Have you ever tried that?”

 “Picking out drapes?”

 “You know. Have you?”

 “Not that I know of.”

 “Not that you know of? How could you do it and not know it?”

 “Well, strange things happen when you drink yourself to Bolivia. I did lots of things I don’t remember, so how can I say for certain who I did them with? And if the girl was post-op, and if the surgeon did good work, how could you tell?”

 “But you never did it that you know of. Would you?”

 “I’ve already got a girlfriend.”

 “Well, this is hypothetical. I wasn’t propositioning you on behalf of Julia. How did you feel about her? Did you want to do her?”

 “It never entered my mind.”

 “Because you’ve got a cleaner greener maiden in a neater sweeter land, except I just got it backward, didn’t I? A neater sweeter maiden. Will I ever get to meet Ms. Julia? Or do I have to take a walk on Eleventh Avenue?”

 “No need,” I said. “I’m sure they’ll invite us to the wed-ding.”

 I spent Saturday night at Elaine’s. Sunday morning I went back to my hotel right after breakfast and turned off Call Forwarding. I checked the drawer, confirmed the continuing existence of the gun and the money, and called Jan.

 I said, “Will you be home for the next hour or so? I’d like to stop by.”

 “I’ll be here,” she said.

 Half an hour later I was standing on the sidewalk on Lispenard Street, waiting for her to toss down the key. I was wearing the blue Kangaroo pouch. The zipper was closed. I wasn’t looking to make any quick draws.

 When I got off the elevator she noticed the pouch right away. “Very snazzy,” she said. “And very sensible. I never saw you as the backpack type, but that’s handy, isn’t it?”

 “It lets me keep my hands free.”

 “And blue’s the right color for you.”

 “They come in eelskin, too.”

 “I don’t think so, not for you. But come on in. Coffee? I just made a fresh pot.”

 I guess she looked the same. I don’t know what change I expected. It had only been a week. At first glance her hair seemed grayer, but that was because it had darkened some in my memory. She brought the coffee and we tried to find things to talk about. I remembered the speaker at the Friday meeting and told her how he’d drunk himself to Bolivia, and we got through a cup of coffee apiece by trotting out mala-propisms and curious turns of phrase we’d heard in various AA rooms over the years.

 During a lull I said, “I brought you the gun.”

 “You did?”

 I tapped the pouch.

 “For heaven’s sake,” she said. “It never occurred to me to wonder what you were carrying in that thing. From what you said yesterday I figured it would be the better part of a week before you managed to get it.”

 “I already had it when I called.”


 “I guess I was hoping you’d tell me you didn’t want it.”

 “I see.”

 “So I was stalling. At least I think that’s what I was doing. I don’t always know what I’m doing.”

 “Welcome to the club.”

 “What do you know about guns, Jan?”

 “You pull the trigger and a bullet comes out. What do I know about them? Next to nothing. Is there a lot I have to know?”

 I spent the next half hour teaching her some basic rules about handguns. There was an underlying absurdity in pro-viding firearm-safety instruction to a potential suicide, but she didn’t seem to think it was silly. “If I’m going to kill my-self,” she said, “I don’t want to do it by accident.” I taught her how to work the cylinder, how to load and unload the gun. I made sure it was unloaded, showed her how to make sure it was unloaded, and told her how to place the gun when the time came. The technique I suggested was the police-man’s old favorite, the time-honored ritual known as eating one’s gun. The barrel in the mouth, tilted upward, firing up through the soft palate and into the brain.

 “That should do it,” I told her. “The bullets are thirty-eight caliber, hollow-pointed so that they tend to expand upon im-pact.” I must have winced because she asked me what was the matter. “I’ve seen people who did this,” I said. “It’s not pretty. It distorts the face.”

 “So does cancer.”

 “A smaller bullet doesn’t make as much of a mess, but the chance of missing a vital spot—”

 “No, this is better,” she said. “What do I care what I look like?”

 “I care.”

 “Oh, baby,” she said. “I’m sorry. But it tastes terrible, doesn’t it? Sticking a gun in your mouth. Have you ever done it?”

 “Not in years.”

 “Were you—?”

 “Considering it? I don’t know. I remember one night, sit-ting up late in the house in Syosset. Anita was sleeping. I was still married, obviously, and still a cop.”

 “And drinking.”

 “That goes without saying, doesn’t it? Anita was asleep, the boys were asleep. I was in the front room and I stuck the gun in my mouth to see what it was like.”

 “Were you depressed?”

 “Not particularly. I was drunk, but I wouldn’t say I was positively shitfaced. I probably would have blown the cir-cuits on a Breathalyzer, but hell, I drove like that all the time.”

 “And never had an accident.”

 “Oh, I had a couple, but nothing serious, and I never got in trouble for it. A cop pretty much has to kill somebody to get cited for drunk driving. It never happened to me, and I did my share of it. Looking back, I’d have to say leaving the force and moving to the city probably saved my life. Be-cause I stopped carrying a gun and I stopped driving a car, and either one would have killed me sooner or later.”

 “Tell me about the night you put the gun in your mouth.”

 “I don’t know what more there is to tell. I remember the taste, metal and gun oil. I thought, So this is what it feels like. And I thought that all I had to do was do it, and I thought that I didn’t want to.”

 “And you took the gun out of your mouth.”

 “And I took the gun out of my mouth, and didn’t do it again. I thought about it some, living alone in NewYork, bot-toming out on the booze. Of course I didn’t have a gun any-more, but the city gives you plenty of ways to kill yourself. The easiest way was to do nothing and just go on drinking.”

 She picked up the gun, turned it over in her hands. “It’s heavy,” she said. “I didn’t realize it would be that heavy.”

 “People are always surprised about that.”

 “I don’t know why I didn’t expect it. It’s metal, of course it’s heavy.” She put it on the table. “I had a pretty good week,” she said. “I’m not in any great rush to use this, be-lieve me.”

 “I’m glad to hear that.”

 “But it’s a relief to have it in the house. I know it’s here for when I need it, and I find that very reassuring. Can you understand that?”

 “I think so.”

 “You know,” she said, “when people find out you’ve got cancer, you’re really in for it. I haven’t run around telling people, but I can’t go to meetings and not talk about what’s going on in my life. So a lot of people know about it. And as soon as they know that your doctor’s given up on you, that what you’ve got is hopelessly incurable, then they come at you with the advice.”

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