The Devil Knows You're Dead Page 38

 “Are you all right, man?”

 “I suppose so,” I said. “I finished up three days of per diem for Reliable yesterday. Then I spent this afternoon comforting a widow.”


 “Or she comforted me. Right now it seems cold comfort all around.”

 He waited.

 “A former client,” I said finally. “You remember the fel-low who was shot on Eleventh Avenue.”

 “I do. I thought you were done with that.”

 “I don’t seem to be done with his wife.”


 Someone tried the door. It was locked and gated, but the one light burning and ourselves at a table was enough to kin-dle hope in the breast of some poor drunk every now and then. Mick stood, walked halfway to the door, and motioned for the fellow to go away. He tried the knob one more time before he gave up and moved on.

 Mick sat down again and filled his glass. “He came in here a time or two,” he said. “Did I ever tell you that?”


 “Himself. This past summer we got our share of them that don’t belong here. Part of it’s the neighborhood changing, and then there was that fucking newspaper article.”

 Newsday had run a column on Grogan’s, an affectionately Runyonesque report on the raffish crowd, with special em-phasis on the legends surrounding Mick himself. I said, “That drew people? You’d have thought it would have scared them away.”

 “You would,” he said, “but humans are a strange race of men. Your man came in around that time, looking around the way they’ll do. As if he might spy a corpse in the corner.”

 “He was an informer,” I said.


 “He sold out an uncle to the IRS, then set up another lawyer for a drug bust.”

 “By God,” he said.

 “He did pretty well at it. But it may have been what got him killed.”

 “It wasn’t the other lad? Your man in the army jacket?”

 “Well, it might have been. There’s no telling.”

 “No telling,” he said reflectively. “And if it wasn’t the bum? Who then?”

 “Someone he was setting up.”

 “Was he a blackmailer, then?”

 “No, not unless he decided to branch out.”

 He frowned. “Then who’d know to kill him? The uncle? The lawyer?”

 “It doesn’t seem very likely.”

 “Not a case in progress, I shouldn’t think, or ye’d have seen federal agents buzzing round like blowflies in carrion. Someone he was setting up, you said. And hadn’t yet gone to the DEA or the IRS or whatever collection of initials he was planning to run to.”


 “So how would your man know to kill him? And why kill him? Why not warn him off? What do you think he’d do if someone had a word with him?”

 “Run like a rabbit.”

 “I’d say the same. Ye wouldn’t even have to raise your hand to the man. If it had been me, I’d never have raised my voice. I’d have lowered it, I’d have spoken very softly.”

 “And carried a big stick?”

 “You wouldn’t need the stick for that lad.”

 “Maybe it was someone from the past,” I said. “Not the uncle or the lawyer but someone from another job he did, one I don’t know about. Someone who had a score to settle with Holtzmann.”

 “And found him on Eleventh Avenue? Was he to be found there often? Is that where a man would go looking for him?”

 “Someone could have followed him there.”

 “And shot him down when he reached for the telephone?” He picked up his glass. “Ah, Jesus, who am I to tell you your business?”

 “Somebody’s got to do it,” I said.

 We talked of other things and let the silence stretch out between our stories. He wasn’t hitting the Jameson bottle very hard, just topping up his glass often enough to keep from losing that edge. It was maintenance drinking, and I re-membered it well; I had done my own share of it, until life took me to a point where maintaining was no longer possible because the traitorous booze would get me drunk before it would let me get comfortable.

 Something was playing hide-and-seek in my memory, something I’d heard or read in the past day or two. But I couldn’t quite manage to grab on to it. . . .

 The days are short that time of year, but eventually the sky outside turned light. Mick went behind the bar and started a pot of coffee brewing. He filled two mugs and sweetened his with whiskey, and I’d hate to guess how many times I had mixed the two. The perfect combination—caffeine to en-liven the mind, alcohol to silence the soul.

 We drank our coffee. He looked at his watch, checked the time against the clock over the back bar. “Time for mass,” he announced. “Will you come?”

 The priest was Irish born, almost young enough to be an al-tar boy. There were only a dozen or so in the congregation, most of them nuns, and no one but Mick robed in butcher’s white. I think the two of us were the only ones who didn’t take communion.

 He’d parked the silver Cadillac in front of the funeral par-lor next door to the church. We got in and he put the key in the ignition but didn’t start the car right away. He said, “Are ye all right, man?”

 “I think so.”

 “How is it with you and herself?”

 He meant Elaine. “It’s a little strained,” I said.

 “Does she know about the other one?”


 “And do ye care for her? The other one, I mean.”

 “She’s a decent woman,” I said. “I wish her well.”

 He waited.

 “No,” I said. “I don’t care for her. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing in her life. I don’t know what the hell she’s doing in mine.”

 “Ah, Jesus,” he said. “You don’t drink.”

 As if that explained everything.


 “So a man has to do something, some fucking thing or other.” He turned the key in the ignition, fed gas to the big engine. “It’s nature,” he said.

 Chapter 24

 There was a message at the hotel desk. Call Jan Keane.

 “Happy anniversary,” she said. “I’m what, a month late?”

 “A little less than that.”

 “Close enough. You know, I remembered the date, I had myself all set to call you, and then it slipped my mind en-tirely. Fell right through a hole in my brain.”

 “It happens.”

 “With increasing frequency, as a matter of fact. I’d be afraid it was the early stages of Alzheimer’s, but you know what? That’s really not something I’m going to have to worry about.”

 I said, “How are you, Jan?”

 “Oh, Matthew, I’m not so bad. Not so hot but not so bad. I’m sorry I missed your anniversary. Was it a good one?”

 “It was fine.”

 “I’m glad,” she said. “Can I ask you a favor? And I prom-ise it’s a less exacting favor than the last one I asked you. Can you come see me?”

 “Sure,” I said. “When?”

 “The sooner the better.”

 I’d been up all night but I wasn’t tired. “Now?”


 “It’s what, twenty to ten? I’ll be there sometime around eleven.”

 “I’ll be here,” she said. I was a few minutes early, showered and shaved and wearing clean clothes. I rang her bell and went out to wait for the key. She tossed it straight at me and I caught it on the fly. She ap-plauded, and clapped her hands some more when I got off the elevator.

 “It was a lucky catch,” I said.

 “That’s the best kind. Okay, now say it. ‘You look like hell, Jan.’ ”

 “You don’t look so bad.”

 “Oh, come on. My eyes still work and so does the mirror. Although I’ve been thinking of covering mine. Jews do that, don’t they? When somebody dies?”

 “I think the Orthodox do.”

 “Well, I’d say they’re on the right track but their timing’s off. It’s when you’re dying that the mirror ought to be cov-ered. After you’re dead what difference does it make?”

 I wasn’t going to say it, but she didn’t look good. Her complexion was off, sallow, with a yellow cast to it. The skin on her face had drawn closer to the bone, and her nose and ears and brow seemed to have grown, even as her eyes had sunk back into her skull. Her impending death had been real enough before, but now it was undeniable. It stared you in the face.

 “Hang on,” she said. “I’ve got fresh coffee made.” And, when we each had a cup, she said, “First things first. I want to thank you one more time for the gun. It has made all the difference.”


 “All the difference. I wake up in the morning and I ask myself, well, old girl, do you have to use that thing? Is it time? And I say to myself, no, not yet, it’s not time yet. And then I’m free to enjoy the day.”

 “I see.”

 “So I thank you again. But that’s not what I dragged you down here for. I could have managed that part over the phone. Matthew, I’m leaving you my Medusa.”

 I looked at her.

 “You have only yourself to blame,” she said. “You ad-mired her extravagantly the first night we met.”

 “You warned me not to look her in the eye. Her gaze turns men to stone, you said.”

 “I may have been warning you about myself. Either way, you didn’t listen. Stubborn bastard, aren’t you?”

 “That’s what everybody tells me.”

 “Seriously,” she said, “you’ve always been drawn to that piece, so either you genuinely like it—”

 “Of course I do.”

 “—or you’re trapped in your own lies, because I want you to have it.”

 “It’s a great piece of work,” I said, “and I am indeed very fond of it, and I hope I have to wait a long time for it.”

 “Ha!” She clapped her hands. “That’s why you’re here this morning. She’s going home with you. No, don’t argue. I don’t want to go through all that crap of codicils in my will and everybody waiting until it goes through probate. I re-member how much fun it was when my grandmother died and the family fought pitched battles over the table linens and the silverware. My own mother went to her grave con-vinced that her brother Pat slipped Grandma’s good earrings in his pocket the morning of the wake. And nobody in the family had anything, so it’s not as though they were fighting over the Hope diamond. No, I’m distributing all my specific bequests in advance. That’s one of the good things about knowing you’ve got a date with the Reaper. You can get all that stuff out of the way, and make sure things wind up where you want.”

 “Suppose you live.”

 She gave me an incredulous look, then let out a bark of laughter. “Hey, a deal’s a deal,” she said. “You still get to keep the statue. How’s that?”

 “Now you’re talking.”

 She had had the piece crated, and the wooden box stood on the floor alongside the plinth. The plinth was mine, too, she said, but it would be easier if I came back another time for it. The crated bronze was compact but heavy, the plinth easy to lift but hard to maneuver. Could I even manage the statue unassisted? I got a grip on the crate, hoisted it up onto my shoulder. The weight was substantial but manageable. I carried it through the loft and set it down in front of the ele-vator to catch my breath.

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