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Authors: John Dunning

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Police Procedural

Booked to Die (32 page)

BOOK: Booked to Die
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54

I was out
of my apartment in two hours.

I was surprised at how little I had. I wanted few things from that old life: my furniture, such as it was, was old and worn; the Salvation Army had been glad to come for it, and I was having new stuff delivered that afternoon. There had been some doubt about the bed arriving today, and I was prepared to bag it tonight on the floor. I arrived on Madison Street before noon. It was a warm day for December, but Denver is like that: it can have rain, snow, and a heat wave all in the same week.

Greenwald was sitting in a rocker reading a book when I drove up. He greeted me with a wave. I began to move my things in, arranging as I went. I gloried in the bookshelves: how many book dealers have room for ten thousand books at home? I looked through the front window and saw that Greenwald had fallen asleep with the book spread open across his chest. When I looked again, some minutes later, he was gone. But he was back again, wearing a sweater, when I made my last trip to the trailer.

“It’s going to snow tonight,” he said. “I just saw it on the weather. You can feel it coming already; there’s a chill in the air.”

He had made us some lunch. “Just come over when you’re ready,” he said. I went into my bathroom to wash. The floor had two small smooth spots where Stanley Ballard had stood every morning. Untold numbers of shaves he had had, standing at this same glass. Scraping his face with an old-fashioned straight razor (the hook for the strop was still there, fastened to the wall). Looking in his own eyes and seeing no mystery there. Knowing himself thoroughly.

Satori, I thought.

Maybe I’ll become a Buddhist.

I knew things I hadn’t known before. I could see Emery Neff sitting in his store that day. Ruby had walked up the street for a cup of coffee. Pinky had just called to say that she’d be closing up alone. But Peter was coming in, so everything would be fine.

He knew then what he was going to do. He picked up the phone and dialed a number he had called often in the past few months.

I want to see you… today, this afternoon… I need you.

And Millie, who thought she’d come to love him, could never say no.

The problem is, I’ve been gone from the store a lot. Ruby’s starting to think I’m not pulling my weight. So here’s what we’ll do. You call back in ten minutes. I’ll see that he answers the phone. Don’t tell him who you are, just ask for me. Be formal… cool and distant. Call me Mr. Neff. He’ll think I’m coming over on a buy, and we’ll spend the afternoon together.

But he never came. Millie sat by the phone and it rang an hour later.

Sorry, hon, it’s not gonna work… not feeling well… think I’ve got the flu. Going home to lie down…no, don’t come up, you’ll just get what I’ve got. I’ll make it up to you…

An illusion, like one of his old magic tricks. Now you see him, now you don’t.

Like that illusion of death he had performed for me alone: two cold capsules popped into his mouth, and you were ready-to believe anything.

So simple, so easy, once you knew how it was done.

I tried to call Rita, without much hope. There had been no answer up there for weeks, and there was none now.

Then 1 remembered that other number. Bobby Westfall had written it down and dropped the paper when he’d been in talking to Harkness. It took me a few minutes to find it, and another few minutes to figure it out.

An out-of-state exchange.

I tried it with a Los Angeles area code and got the intercept operator.

San Francisco.

Intercept.

It rang through to New York. A woman answered.

“Greenpeace Action.”

“Is this Greenpeace… International?”

“We’re part of it.”

“Uh…is Rita McKinley there?”

“She was here yesterday.”

Now what the hell was this about? What had Bobby been doing with a number for Greenpeace?

“Do you know if she’s coming back?”

“I don’t know, sir. I believe she was going to Europe.”

He had been trying to reach Rita, just before he was killed. About the time she was off saving whales.

She had been on NBC. Was it not possible that he had seen her Brokaw interview?

Which would mean… what?

Could it be Bobby’s Christian conscience at work? He and Neff had just pulled off the literary heist of the decade, and you could bet that something was at work.

The woman on the phone was talking.

“Is there a message, sir…in case we do hear from her?”

“Just tell her Janeway called.”

And please, please call back.

55

Now I sit
with old Mr. Greenwald and I know the end is coming. I think I may even know what it is. Satori is working overtime, and my enlightenment is both sudden and overwhelming. It comes in waves, like a tide pushed up by a hurricane.

“So the house is finally yours—the deal, as they say these days, is truly finished.”

“It’s truly finished, Mr. Greenwald.”

“Have some more coffee.”

This is how it is in Greenwald’s world: civilized society comes first and business is done in its own good time.

Being among the newly enlightened, I don’t push him.

And eventually he does get to it. “Things have been preying on my mind since Stan died. I only wanted to do right by him, to do what he wanted done.”

“I think you’ve done that, sir.”

He gives me a little smile, gratitude and appreciation, but laced with doubt. Four people, after all, have died. It’s hard to know what to do when you don’t come equipped with a crystal ball.

“Oscar Wilde once said that a cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Judith and Val have become cynics in just that definition of the word.”

“I’d agree with that.”

“They have not turned out to be good people.”

“No one’s responsible for that but them.”

“Stan felt responsible. He was also horrified. He had a dream one night, not long before he died. They were fighting over his books, tearing them apart. The next morning he told me about it. He said, I don’t care about the house, don’t care about any of it…I just don’t want them to have my books. Give them away, throw them away, I don’t care, but I won’t rest easy unless I know they won’t get them.“

“He had no idea what they were worth, did he?”

“I think he knew, toward the end, that they were worth some money. Enough, at least, that there would be a squabble over them. But you’re right—he had no real idea. He’d be mortified if he knew.”

“He could’ve saved a lot of trouble and just left them to you.”

“Where would I put them? I have my own books, my house is full of books, most of them the same titles he had. Where would I put them?”

“So he figured it the way he always figured—that his library would do the most good by being broken up and given away.”

“Sure: give them to the people. Stan gave away books by the carload. He used the book club as his first line of reading, and gave those books away. Gave them to nursing homes, hospitals, people he knew and people he barely knew. He was especially interested in helping young people discover the world of books. So he gave them away, but the ones he liked he kept for himself. Gave away the club books and bought his own copies in the stores downtown.”

“And the easiest way to break up the library…”

“… was to leave a document proving that the books had no money value. Done by an expert no one would challenge. Only Stan and 1 knew, and he asked me to keep that secret until the last of his estate was disposed of. The house was the last of it.”

And now we all know. Ballard left the appraisal among his papers but tucked a copy for good measure among his books. Emery Neff found that appraisal, scanned it, and jumped to the logical conclusion: that McKinley was a crook, lowballing so she could buy the books for a song. But Bobby had taken the time to actually read the appraisal. He alone knew the truth, that McKinley had been duped. That’s why he was trying to reach McKinley when the deal between Neff and himself had begun to go sour. Maybe a better deal could be struck with McKinley.

Greenwald offers more coffee, served with a sad little smile.

“Stan got the appraisal he wanted. We traded houses the night the appraiser came out. The books she looked at were mine.”

BOOK: Booked to Die
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