Time to Murder and Create Page 1

Therefore was a single man only first created, to teach thee that whosoever destroyeth a single soul from the children of man, Scripture charges him as though he had destroyed the whole world.

-The Talmud

Chapter 1

For seven consecutive Fridays I got telephone calls from him. I wasn't always there to receive them. It didn't matter, because he and I had nothing to say to each other. If I was out when he called, there would be a message slip in my box when I got back to the hotel. I would glance at it and throw it away and forget about it.

Then, on the second Friday in April, he didn't call. I spent the evening around the corner at Armstrong's, drinking bourbon and coffee and watching a couple of interns fail to impress a couple of nurses. The place thinned out early for a Friday, and around two Trina went home and Billie locked the door to keep Ninth Avenue outside. We had a couple of drinks and talked about the Knicks and how it all depended on Willis Reed. At a quarter of three I took my coat off the peg and went home.

No messages.

It didn't have to mean anything. Our arrangement was that he would call every Friday to let me know he was alive. If I was there to catch his call, we would say hello to each other. Otherwise he'd leave a message: Your laundry is ready. But he could have forgotten or he could be drunk or almost anything.

I got undressed and into bed and lay on my side looking out the window. There's an office building ten or twelve blocks downtown where they leave the lights on at night. You can gauge the pollution level fairly accurately by how much the lights appear to flicker. They were not only flickering wildly that night, they even had a yellow cast to them.

I rolled over and closed my eyes and thought about the phone call that hadn't come. I decided he hadn't forgotten and he wasn't drunk.

The Spinner was dead.

They called him the Spinner because of a habit he had. He carried an old silver dollar as a good-luck charm, and he would haul it out of his pants pocket all the time, prop it up on a table top with his left forefinger, then cock his right middle finger and give the edge of the coin a flick. If he was talking to you, his eyes would stay on the spinning coin while he spoke, and he seemed to be directing his words as much to the dollar as to you.

I had last witnessed this performance on a weekday afternoon in early February. He found me at my usual corner table in Armstrong's. He was dressed Broadway sharp: a pearl-gray suit with a lot of flash, a dark-gray monogrammed shirt, a silk tie the same color as the shirt, a pearl tie tack. He was wearing a pair of those platform shoes that give you an extra inch and a half or so. They boosted his height to maybe five six, five seven. The coat over his arm was navy blue and looked like cashmere.

"Matthew Scudder," he said. "You look the same, and how long has it been?"

"A couple of years."

"Too damn long." He put his coat on an empty chair, settled a slim attachй case on top of it, and placed a narrow-brimmed gray hat on top of the attachй case. He seated himself across the table from me and dug his lucky charm out of his pocket. I watched him set it spinning. "Too goddamned long, Matt," he told the coin.

"You're looking good, Spinner."

"Been havin' a nice run of luck."

"That's always good."

"Long as it keeps runnin'."

Trina came over, and I ordered another cup of coffee and a shot of bourbon. Spinner turned to her and worked his narrow little face into a quizzical frown. "Gee, I don't know," he said. "Do you suppose I could have a glass of milk?"

She said he could and went away to fetch it. "I can't drink no more," he said. "It's this fuckin' ulcer."

"They tell me it goes with success."

"It goes with aggravation is what it goes with. Doc gave me a list of what I can't eat. Everything I like is on it. I got it aced, I can go to the best restaurants and then I can order myself a plate of fuckin' cottage cheese."

He picked up the dollar and gave it a spin.

I had known him over the years while I was on the force. He'd been picked up maybe a dozen times, always on minor things, but he'd never done any time. He always managed to buy his way off the hook, with either money or information. He set me up for a good collar, a receiver of stolen goods, and another time he gave us a handle on a homicide case. In between he would peddle us information, trading something he'd overheard for a ten- or twenty-dollar bill. He was small and unimpressive and he knew the right moves and a lot of people were stupid enough to talk in his presence.

He said, "Matt, I didn't just happen to walk in here off the street."

"I had that feeling."

"Yeah." The dollar started to wobble, and he snatched it up. He had very quick hands. We always figured him for a sometime pickpocket, but I don't think anybody ever nailed him for it. "The thing is, I got problems."

"They go with ulcers, too."

"You bet your ass they do." Spin. "What it is, I got something I want you to hold for me."


He took a sip of milk. He put the glass down and reached over to drum his fingers against the attachй case. "I got an envelope in here. What I want is for you to hold on to it for me. Put it some place safe where nobody's gonna run across it, you know?"

"What's in the envelope?"

He gave his head an impatient little shake. "Part of it is you don't have to know what's in the envelope."

"How long do I have to hold it?"

"Well, that's the whole thing." Spin. "See, lots of things can happen to a person. I could walk out, step off the curb, get hit by the Ninth Avenue bus. All the things that can happen to a person, I mean, you just never know."

"Is somebody trying for you, Spinner?"

The eyes came up to meet mine, then dropped quickly. "It could be," he said.

"You know who?"

"I don't even know if, never mind who." Wobble, snatch. Spin.

"The envelope's your insurance."

"Something like that."

I sipped coffee. I said, "I don't know if I'm right for this, Spinner. The usual thing, you take your envelope to a lawyer and work out a set of instructions. He tosses it into a safe and that's it."

"I thought of that."


"No point to it. The kind of lawyers I know, the minute I walk out of their office they got the fuckin' envelope open. A straight lawyer, he's gonna run his eyes over me and go out and wash his hands."

"Not necessarily."

"There's something else. Say I get hit by a bus, then the lawyer would only have to get the envelope to you. This way we cut out the middleman, right?"

"Why do I have to wind up with the envelope?"

"You'll find out when you open it. If you open it."

"Everything's very roundabout, isn't it?"

"Everything's very tricky lately, Matt. Ulcers and aggravation."

"And better clothes than I ever saw you wear in your life."

"Yeah, they can fuckin' bury me in 'em." Spin. "Look, all you gotta do is take the envelope, you stick it in a safe-deposit box, something, somewhere, that's up to you."

"Suppose I get hit by a bus?"

He thought it over and we worked it out. The envelope would go under the rug in my hotel room. If I died suddenly, Spinner could come around and retrieve his property. He wouldn't need a key. He'd never needed one in the past.

We worked out details, the weekly phone call, the bland message if I wasn't in. I ordered another drink. Spinner still had plenty of milk left.

I asked him why he had picked me.

"Well, you were always straight with me, Matt. You been off the force how long? A couple of years?"

"Something like that."

"Yeah, you quit. I'm not good on the details. You killed some kid or something?"

"Yeah. Line of duty, a bullet took a bad hop."

"Catch a lot of static from on top?"

I looked at my coffee and thought about it. A summer night, the heat almost visible in the air, the air conditioning working overtime in the Spectacle, a bar in Washington Heights where a cop got his drinks on the house. I was off duty, except you never really are, and two kids picked that night to hold up the place. They shot the bartender dead on their way out. I chased them into the street, killed one of them, splintered the other one's thigh bone.

But one shot was off and took a richochet that bounced it right into the eye of a seven-year-old girl named Estrellita Rivera. Right in the eye, and through soft tissue and on into the brain.

"That was out of line," the Spinner said. "I shouldn'ta brought it up."

"No, that's all right. I didn't get any static. I got a commendation, as a matter of fact. There was a hearing, and I was completely exonerated."

"And then you quit the force."

"I sort of lost my taste for the work. And for other things. A house on the Island. A wife. My sons."

"I guess it happens," he said.

"I guess it does."

"So what you're doing, you're sort of a private cop, huh?"

I shrugged. "I don't have a license. Sometimes I do favors for people and they pay me for it."

"Well, getting back to our little business…" Spin. "You'd be doing me a favor is what you'd be doing."

"If you think so."

He picked up the dollar in mid-spin, looked at it, set it down on the blue-and-white checkered tablecloth.

I said, "You don't want to get killed, Spinner."

"Fuck, no."

"Can't you get out from under?"

"Maybe. Maybe not. Let's don't talk about that part of it, huh?"

"Whatever you say."

" 'Cause if somebody wants to kill you, what the fuck can you do about it? Nothin'."

"You're probably right."

"You'll handle this for me, Matt?"

"I'll hang on to your envelope. I'm not saying what I'll do if I have to open it, because I don't know what's in it."

"If it happens, then you'll know."

"No guarantees I'll do it, whatever it is."

He took a long look at me, reading something in my face that I didn't know was there. "You'll do it," he said.


"You'll do it. And if you don't I won't know about it, so what the fuck. Listen, what do you want in front?"

"I don't know what it is I'm supposed to do."

"I mean for keeping the envelope. How much do you want?"

I never know how to set fees. I thought for a moment. I said, "That's a nice suit you're wearing."

"Huh? Thanks."

"Where'd you get it?"

"Phil Kronfeld's. Over on Broadway?"

"I know where it is."

"You really like it?"

"It looks good on you. What did it set you back?"

"Three twenty."

"Then that's my fee."

"You want the fuckin' suit?"

"I want three hundred and twenty dollars."

"Oh." He tossed his head, amused. "You had me goin' there for a minute. I couldn't understand what the fuck you'd want with the suit."

"I don't think it would fit."

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