A Stab in the Dark (Matthew Scudder Series #4)by Lawrence Block, William Roberts (Read by)
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Matthew Scudder, ex-cop and recovering alcoholic, has finally gtten his life together. Suddenly, trouble arrives in the form of and old enemy, psychotic James Leo Motley, who is brutally murdering anyone close to Scudder--with Scudder's name on the list!
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I didn't see him coming. I was in Armstrong's at my usual table in the rear. The lunch crowd had thinned out and the noise level had dropped. There was classical music on the radio and you could hear it now without straining. It was a gray day out, a mean wind blowing, the air holding a promise of rain. A good day to be stuck in a Ninth Avenue saloon, drinking bourbon-spiked coffee and reading the Post's story about some madman slashing passersby on First Avenue.
Sixty or thereabouts. High forehead, rimless eye-glasses over pale blue eyes. Graying blond hair combed to lie flat on the scalp. Say five-nine or -ten. Say a hundred seventy pounds. Light complexion. Cleanshaven. Narrow nose. Small thin-lipped mouth. Gray suit, white shirt, tie striped in red and black and gold. Briefcase in one hand, umbrella in the other.
“May I sit down?”
I nodded at the chair opposite mine. He took it, drew a wallet from his breast pocket and handed me a card. His hands were small and he was wearing a Masonic ring.
I glanced at the card, handed it back. “Sorry,” I said.
“I don't want any insurance,” I said. “And you wouldn't want to sell me any. I'm a bad risk.”
He made a sound that might have been nervous laughter. “God,” he said. “Of course you'd think that, wouldn't you? I didn't come to sell you anything. I can't remember the last time I wrote an individual policy. My area's group policies for corporations.” He placed the card on the blue-checked cloth betweenus. “Please,” he said.
The card identified him as Charles F. London, a general agent with Mutual Life of New Hampshire. The address shown was 42 Pine Street, downtown in the financial district.
There were two telephone numbers, one local, the other with a 914 area code. The northern suburbs, that would be. Westchester County, probably.
I was still holding his card when Trina came over to take our order. He asked for Dewar's and soda. I had half a cup of coffee left. When she was out of earshot he said, “Francis Fitzroy recommended you.”
“Detective Fitzroy. Eighteenth Precinct.”
“Oh, Frank,” I said. “I haven't seen him in a while. I didn't even know he was at the Eighteenth now.”
“I saw him yesterday afternoon.” He took off his glasses, polished their lenses with his napkin. “He recommended you, as I said, and I decided I wanted to sleep on it. I didn't sleep much. I had appointments this morning, and then I went to your hotel, and they said I might find you here.”
“Do you know who I am, Mr. Scudder?”
“I'm Barbara Ettinger's father.”
“Barbara Ettinger. I don't -- wait a minute.”
Trina brought his drink, set it down, slipped wordlessly away. His fingers curled around the glass but he didn't lift it from the table.
I said, “The Icepick Prowler. Is that how I know the name?”
“Must have been ten years ago.”
“She was one of the victims. I was working over in Brooklyn at the time. The Seventy-eighth Precinct, Bergen and Flatbush. Barbara Ettinger. That was our case, wasn't it?”
I closed my eyes, letting the memory come back. “She was one of the last victims. The fifth or sixth, she must have been.”
“And there were two more after her, and then he went out of business. Barbara Ettinger. She was a schoolteacher. No, but it was something like that. A day-care center. She worked at a day-care center.”
“You have a good memory.”
“It could be better. I just had the case long enough to determine it was the Icepick Prowler again. At that point we turned it over to whoever had been working that case all along. Midtown North, I think it was. In fact I think Frank Fitzroy was at Midtown North at the time.”
I had a sudden rush of sense memory. I remembered a kitchen in Brooklyn, cooking smells overladen with the reek of recent death. A young woman lay on the linoleum, her clothing disarrayed, innumerable wounds in her flesh. I had no memory of what she looked like, only that she was dead.
I finished my coffee, wishing it were straight bourbon. Across the table from me, Charles London was taking a small tentative sip of his scotch. I looked at the Masonic symbols on his gold ring and wondered what they were supposed to mean, and what they meant to him.
I said, “He killed eight women within a period of a couple months. Used the same M.O. throughout, attacked them in their own homes during daylight hours. Multiple stab wounds with an icepick. Struck eight times and then went out of business.”
He didn't say anything.
“Then nine years later they catch him. When was it? Two weeks ago?”
“Almost three weeks.”
I hadn't paid too much attention to the newspaper coverage. A couple of patrolmen on the Upper West Side had stopped a suspicious character on the streets, and a frisk turned up an icepick. They took him into the station house and ran a check on him, and it turned out he was back on the streets after an extended confinement in Manhattan State Hospital. Somebody took the trouble to ask him why he was toting an icepick, and they got lucky the way you sometimes do. Before anybody knew what was happening he'd confessed to a whole list of unsolved homicides.
“They ran his picture,” I said. “A little guy, wasn't he? I don't remember the name.”
I glanced at him. His hands rested on the table, fingertips just touching, and he...A Stab in the Dark. Copyright © by Lawrence Block. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Lawrence Block is one of the most widely recognized names in the mystery genre. He has been named a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America and is a four-time winner of the prestigious Edgar and Shamus awards, as well as a recipient of prizes in France, Germany, and Japan. He received the Diamond Dagger from the British Crime Writers' Association, only the third American to be given this award. He is a prolific author, having written more than fifty books and numerous short stories, and is a devoted New Yorker and enthusiastic global traveler.
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