Lawrence Block

In the Midst of Death

Scudder 03

For an absent friend

Chapter 1

October is about as good as the city gets. The last of the summer heat is gone and the real bite of cold weather hasn't arrived yet. There had been rain in September, quite a bit of it, but that was past now.

The air was a little less polluted than usual, and its temperature made it seem even cleaner than it was.

I stopped at a phone booth on Third Avenue in the Fifties. On the corneran old woman scattered bread crumbs for the pigeons and cooed to them as she fed them. I believe there's a city ordinance against feeding pigeons. We used to cite it in the department when explaining to rookies that there were laws you enforced and laws you forgot about.

I went into the booth. It had been mistaken at least once for a public lavatory, which is par for the course. At least the phone worked.

Most of them do these days. Five or six years ago most of the phones in outdoor booths didn't work.So not everything in our world is getting worse. Some things are actually getting better.

I called Portia Carr's number. Her answering machine always picked up on the second ring, so when the phone rang a third time, I figured I'd dialed a wrong number. I'd begun to take it for granted that she would never be home when I called.

Then she answered the phone. 'Yes?'

'Miss Carr?'

'Yes, this is she speaking.' The voice was not pitched quiteso low as on the tape of the answering machine, and theMayfair accent was less noticeable.

'My name is Scudder,' I said. 'I'd like to come over and see you.

I'm in the neighborhood and- '

'Terribly sorry,' she cut in.' 'Fraid I'm not seeing people anymore.

Thank you.'

'I wanted to- '

'Do call someone else.' And she broke the connection.

I found another dime and was set to drop it in the slot and call her again when I changed my mind and put the dime back in my pocket. I walked two blocks downtown and one block east toSecond AvenueandFifty-fourth Street , where I scouted up a lunch counter with a pay phone that was in view of the entrance of her building. I dropped my dime in that phone and dialed her number.

As soon as she came on the line I said, 'My name is Scudder, and I want to talk to you about JerryBroadfield .'

There was a pause. Then she said, 'Who is this?'

'I told you. My name is Matthew Scudder.'

'You called a few moments ago.'

'Right.You hung up on me.'

'I thought- '

'I know what you thought. I want to talk to you.'

'I'm terribly sorry, don't you know, but I'm not giving interviews.'

'I'm not from the press.'

'Then what is your interest, Mr. Scudder?'

'You'll find out when you see me. I think you'd better see me, Miss Carr.'

'I think not, actually.'

'I'm not sure you have any choice. I'm in your neighborhood. I'll be at your place in five minutes.'

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