Read In the Midst of Death Online

Authors: Lawrence Block

Tags: #Private Investigators, #Police corruption, #Mystery & Detective, #Private investigators - New York (State) - New York, #New York (N.Y.), #Hard-Boiled, #General, #Mystery Fiction, #Fiction, #Scudder; Matt (Fictitious character)

In the Midst of Death (8 page)

BOOK: In the Midst of Death
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"I never even knew about the strongbox until just before he began consulting with that Special Prosecutor. I can never remember that man's name."

"AbnerPrejanian."

"Yes. Of course I knew Jerry took money. He never said so in so many words, but it was obvious, and he did hint at it. As if he wanted me to know but didn't want to tell me outright. It was obvious to me that we weren't living on what he earned legitimately. And he spends so much money on his clothes, and I suppose he spends money on other women."

Her voice came close to breaking, but she sailed right on as if nothing had happened. "One day he took me aside and showed me the box.

There's a combination lock, and he taught me the combination. He said I could help myself to money anytime I needed it, that there would always be more where that came from.

"I never opened the box until just now. Not to count it or anything.

I didn't want to look atit, I didn't want to think about it, I didn't want to know how much money was in there. Do you want to know something interesting? One night last week I was thinking of leaving him and I couldn't imagine how I would be able to afford to do it. Financially, I mean. And I never even gave a thought to the money in the strongbox. It never occurred to me.

"I don't know if I'm a very moral person or not. I don't think I am, really. But there is so very much money there, don't you see, and I don't like to think what a person would have to have done in order to get all that money. Am I making any sense at all to you, Matthew?"

"Yes."

"Maybe he did kill that woman. If he decided he ought to kill a person, I don't think he'd have any moralcompunctions about doing it."

"Did he ever kill anyone in the line of duty?"

"No. He shot several criminals but none of them died."

"Was he in the service?"

"He was based inGermany for a couple of years. He was never in combat."

"Is he violent? Has he ever struck you?"

"No, never.Sometimes I've been afraid of him, but I couldn't explain why. He's never given me real reason for fear. I would leave any man who hit me." She smiled bitterly. "At least I think I would. But I once thought I'd leave any man who had other women. Why do we never know ourselves as well as we think we do, Matthew?"

"That's a good question."

"I have so many good questions. I don't really know that man at all.

Isn't that remarkable? I've been married to him for all these years and I don't know him. I have never known him. Did he tell you why he decided to cooperate with the Special Prosecutor?"

"I was hoping he might have told you."

She shook her head. "And I have no idea whatsoever. But then I never know why he does things. Why did he marry me? Now there's a good question. There's what I'd call a damn good question, Matthew.

What did JeromeBroadfield see in mousy little Diana Cummings?"

"Oh, come on. You must know you're attractive."

"I know I'm not ugly."

"You're a lot more than not ugly." And your hands perch upon your thigh like a pair of doves. And a man could get altogether lost in your eyes.

"I'm not very dramatic, Matthew."

"I don't follow you."

"How to explain?Let me see. Do you know how some actors can just walk onto a stage and every eye is drawn to them? It doesn't matter if someone else is in the middle of a speech. They just have so much dramatic quality that you have to look at them. I'm not like that, not at all. And of course Jerry is."

"He's striking, certainly. His height probably has something to do with it."

"It's more than that. He's tall and good-looking but it's more than that. There's a quality he has. People look at him on the street. They always have as long as I've known him. And don't think he doesn't work at it. Sometimes I've seen him at work on it, Matthew. I'll recognize a deliberately casual gesture that I've caught him using before, and I will know just how calculated it is, and at moments like that I can honestly despise the man."

A car passed by outside. We sat, our eyes not quite meeting, and we listened to distant street sounds and private thoughts.

"You said you were divorced."

"Yes."

"Recently?"

"A few years."

"Children?"

"Two boys.My wife has custody."

"I have two girls and a boy. I must have told you that."

"Sara and Jennifer and Eric."

"You have a remarkable memory." She looked at her hands. "Is it better? Being divorced?"

"I don't know. Sometimes it's better and sometimes it's worse. I don't actually think of it in those terms because there wasn't really any choice involved. It had to be that way."

"Your wife wanted the divorce."

"No, I was the one who wanted it.The one who had to live alone.

But my wanting wasn't a matter of choice, if that makes any sense to you. I had to be by myself."

"Are you still living alone?"

"Yes."

"Do you enjoy it?"

"Does anyone?"

She was silent for a long moment. She sat with her hands gripping her knee, her head tilted back, her eyes closed, and her thoughts turned inward. Without opening her eyes she said, "What's going to happen to Jerry?"

"It's impossible to say. Unless something turns up he'll go to trial.

He might get off or he might not. A high-powered lawyer could drag things out for a long time."

"But it's possible he'll be convicted?"

I hesitated,then nodded.

"And go to prison?"

"It's possible."

"God."

She picked up her mug and stared down into it, then raised her eyes to meet mine."Should I get us more coffee, Matthew?"

"No more for me."

"Should I have some more?Should I have another drink?"

"If it's what you need."

She thought about it. "It's not what I need," she decided. "Do you know what I need?"

I didn't say anything.

"I need you to come over here and sit next to me. I need to be held."

I sat on the couch beside her and she came into my arms eagerly like a small animal seeking warmth.

Her face was very soft against mine, her breath warm and sweet.

When my mouth found hers she stiffened for a moment. Then, as if realizing that her decision had long since been reached, she relaxed in my arms and returned the kiss.

At one point she said, "Let's just make everything go away.

Everything." And then she did not have to say anything after that, and neither did I.

A little later we were sitting as before, she on the couch, I on my chair. She was sippingunspiked coffee, and I had a glass of straight bourbon that I'd finished a little more than half of. We were talking quietly and we stopped our conversation when footsteps sounded on the stairs. A girl about ten years old entered the room. She looked like her mother.

She said, "Mommy, me and Jennifer want to- "

"Jennifer and I."

The child sighed theatrically. "Mommy, Jennifer and I want to watch Fantastic Voyage and Eric is being a pig and wants to watch The Flintstones and me and Jennifer I mean Jennifer and I hate The Flintstones."

"Don't call Eric a pig."

"I didn't call Eric a pig. I just said he was being a pig."

"I suppose there's a difference. You and Jennifer can watch your program in my room. Is that what you wanted?"

"Why doesn't Eric watch in your room? After all, Mommy, he's watching our set in our room."

"I don't want Eric alone in my room."

"Well, me and Jennifer don't want him alone in our room, Mommy, and- "

"Sara- "

"Okay. We'll watch in your room."

"Sara, this is Mr. Scudder."

"Hello, Mr. Scudder. Can I go now, Mommy?"

"Go ahead."

When the child had disappeared up the staircase, her mother let out a long, low-pitched whistle. "I don't know what on earthis the matter with me ," she said. "I've never done anything like that before. I don't mean I've been a saint. I was … last year there was someone I was involved with.But in my own house, God, and with my children at home. Sara could have walked right in on us. I'd never have heard her."

She smiled suddenly. "I wouldn't have heard World War Three. You're a sweet man, Matthew. I don't know how this happened, but I am not going to make excuses for it. I'm glad it happened."

"So am I."

"Do you know that you still haven't spoken my name? All you've called me is Mrs.Broadfield ."

I'd said her name once aloud and many times silently. But I said it again now. "Diana."

"That's much better."

"Diana, goddess of the moon."

"And of the hunt."

"Of the hunt, too?I just knew about the moon."

"I wonder if it will be out tonight.The moon. It's getting dark already, isn't it? I can't believe it. Where did the summer go? It was just spring the other day and now it's October. In a couple of weeks my three wild Indians will put on costumes and extort candy from the neighbors."

Her face clouded. "It's a family tradition, after all. Extortion."

"Diana- "

"And Thanksgiving is just a month away. Doesn't it seem as though we had Thanksgiving three months ago?Or four at the very most?"

"I know what you mean. The days take as long to pass as ever, but the years fly by."

She nodded. "I always thought my grandmother was crazy. She would tell me time passed much more quickly when you were older.

Either she was crazy or she considered me a very gullible child because how could time possibly alter its pace according to one's age? But there is a difference. A year is three percent of my life and ten percent of Sara's, so of course it flies for me and crawls for her. And she's in a hurry for time to rush by, and I wish it would slow itself down a bit. Oh, Matthew, it's not all that much fun getting old."

"Silly."

"Me? Why?"

"Talking about being old when you're just a kid yourself."

"You can't be a kid anymore when you're somebody's mother."

"The hell you can't."

"And I'm getting older, Matthew. Look how much older I am today than yesterday."

"Older? But younger, too, aren't you?In one way?"

"Oh, yes," she said. "Yes, you're right. And I hadn't even thought of that."

When my glass was empty I got to my feet and told her I'd better be going. She said it would be nice if I could stay and I said it was probably a good thing that I couldn't. She thought about that and agreed it was probably true but said it would have been nice all the same.

"You'll be cold," she said. "It cools off quickly once the sun is down. I'll drive you toManhattan . Shall I do that? Sara's old enough to baby-sit for that length of time. I'll run youin, it's faster than the train."

"Let me take the train, Diana."

"Then I'll drive you to it."

"I'd just as soon walk off some of the booze."

She studied me,then nodded."All right."

"I'll call you as soon as I know anything."

"Or even if you don't?"

"Or even if I don't."

I reached out for her, but she backed away. "I want you to know I'm not going to cling, Matthew."

"I know that."

"You don't have to feel you owe me anything."

"Come here."

"Oh, my sweet man."

And at the door she said, "And you'll go on working for Jerry. Is this going to complicate things?"

"Everything generally does," I said.

IT was cold outside. When I got to the corner and turned north, there was a wind with a lot of bite to it coming right up behind me. I was wearing my suit and it wasn't enough.

Halfway to the subway stop I realized I could have borrowed an overcoat of his. A man with JerryBroadfield's enthusiasm for clothing was sure to have three or four of them, and Diana would have been happy enough to lend me one. I hadn't thought of it and she hadn't volunteered, and now I decided that it was just as well. So far today I'd sat in his chair and drunk his whiskey and taken his money and made love to his wife. I didn't have to walk around town in his clothes.

The subway platform was elevated and looked like a stop on theLong Island Rail Road . Evidently a train had just gone through, although I hadn't heard it. I was the only person waiting on the westbound platform. Gradually other people joined me and stood around smoking.

It's theoretically illegal to smoke in subway stations whether they're above or below ground. Almost everyone honors this rule below the surface of the earth, and virtually all smokers feel free to smoke on elevated platforms. I've no idea why this is so.Subway stations, above or below ground, are equally fireproof, and the air in both is so foul that smoke won't make it noticeably worse. But the law is obeyed in one type of station and routinely violated (andunenforced ) in the other, and no one has ever explained why.

Curious.

The train came eventually. People threw away their cigarettes and boarded it. The car I rode in was festooned with graffiti, but the legends were limited to the now-conventional nicknames and numbers.

Nothing as imaginative as WE ARE PEOPLE TWO.

I hadn't planned on fucking his wife.

There was a point where I hadn't even considered it, and another point where I knew for certain that it was going to happen, and the two points had been placed remarkably close together in time.

Hard to say exactly why it happened.

I don't all that frequently meet women I want. It is a less and less frequent occurrence, either because of some facet of the aging process or as a result of my personal metamorphoses. I had met one such woman a day ago, and for a variety of reasons, some known and some unknown, I had done nothing about it. And now she and I would never have a chance to happen to each other.

Perhaps some idiot cells in my brain had managed to convince themselves that, if I did not take DianaBroadfield on her living-room couch, some maniac would come along and slaughter her.

The car was warm but I shivered as if I were still standing on the elevated platform exposed to the sharp edge of the wind. It was the best time of the year but it was also the saddest.Because winter was coming.

BOOK: In the Midst of Death
7.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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