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Matthew Scudder knows that justice is an elusive commodity in the big city, where a harmless man can be shot dead in a public place criminals fly free through holes in a tattered legal system. But now a vigilante is roaming among the millions, executing those he fees deserve to die. He calls himself "The Will of the People"-an ingenious serial killer who announces his specific murderous intentions to the media before carrying through on his threats. A child molester, a Mafia don, a violent anti-abortionist-even the protected and untouchable are being ruthlessly erased by New York's latest celebrity avenger. Scudder knows that no one is innocent-but who among us has the right to play God? It is a question that will haunt the licensed p.i. on his journey through the bleak city grays, as he searches for the sanity in urban madness. . .and for a frighteningly efficient killer who can do the impossible.
Even the Wicked
On a Tuesday night in August I was sitting in the living room with TJ, watching two guys hit each other on one of the Spanish-language cable channels, and enjoying the fresh air more than the fight. A heat wave had punished the city for two weeks, finally breaking over the weekend. Since then we'd had three perfect days, with bright blue skies and low humidity and the temperature in the seventies. You'd have called it ideal weather anywhere; in the middle of a New York summer, you could only call it a miracle.
I'd spent the day taking advantage of the weather, walking around the city. I got home and showered in time to drop into a chair and let Peter Jennings explain the world to me. Elaine joined me for the first fifteen minutes, then went into the kitchen to start dinner. TJ dropped by just around the time she was adding the pasta to the boiling water, insisting that he wasn't hungry and couldn't stay long anyway. Elaine, who had heard this song before, doubled the recipe on the spot, and TJ let himself be persuaded to take a plate and clean it several times.
"Trouble is," he told her, "you too good of a cook. Now on, I wait to come by until mealtimes is come and gone. I don't watch out, I be fat."
He has a ways to go. He's a street kid, lean and limber, indistinguishable at first glance from any of the young blacks you'll see hanging around Times Square, shilling for the monte dealers, running short cons, looking for a way to get over, or just to get by. He's much more than that as well, but for all I know there may be more to many of them than meets the eye. He's the one I know; with the others, all I get to see is what's on the surface.
And TJ's own surface, for that matter, is apt to change, chameleonlike, with his surroundings. I have watched him slip effortlessly from hip-hop street patter to a Brooks Brothers accent that would not be out of place on an Ivy League campus. His hairstyle, too, has varied over the several years I've known him, ranging from an old-style Afro through assorted versions of the high-top fade. A year or so ago he started helping Elaine at her shop, and on his own decided that a kinder, gentler 'do was more appropriate. He's kept it cropped relatively short ever since, while his dress ranges from the preppy outfits he wears to work to the in-your-face attire they favor on the Deuce. This evening he was dressed for success in khakis and a buttondown shirt. A day or two earlier, when I'd seen him last he was a vision in baggy camo trousers and a sequined jacket.
"Wish they was speakin' English," he complained. "Why they got to talk in Spanish?"
"It's better this way," I said.
"You tellin' me you know what they sayin'?"
"A word here and there. Mostly it's just noise."
"And that's how you like it?"
"The English-speaking announcers talk toomuch," I said. "They're afraid the audience won't notbe able to figure out what's going on if they're not chattering away all the time. And they say the same things over and over. 'He's not working hard enough to establish the left jab. I don't think I've watched five fights in the past ten years when the announcer hasn't observed that the fighter should be using the jab more. It must be the first thing they teach them in broadcasting school."
"Maybe this dude sayin' the same thing in Spanish."
"Maybe he is," I agreed, "but since I don't have a clue what he's saying it can't get on my nerves."
"You ever heard of the mute, Newt?"
"Not the same. You need the crowd noise, need to hear the punches land."
"These two ain't landin' many."
"Blame the one in the blue shorts," I said. "He's not working hard enough to establish the left jab."
He did enough to win the four-round prelim, though, getting a decision and a round of perfunctory applause from the crowd. Next on the card was a ten-round welterweight bout, a classic matchup of quick light-hitting youth against a strong puncher a couple of years past his prime. The old guy—I think he was all of thirty-four—was able to stun the kid when he landed a clean shot, but the years had slowed him some and he missed more often than he connected. In return, the kid peppered him with a barrage of blows that didn't have much on them.
"He pretty slick," TJ said, after a couple of rounds.
"Too bad he doesn't have a punch."
"He just keep at you, wear you down. Meanwhile he pilin' up the points. Other dude, he be tirin' more with each round."
"If we understood Spanish," I said, "we could listen to the announcer saying pretty much the same thing. If I were betting this fight I'd put my money on the old guy."
"Ain't no surprise. You ancient dudes has got to stick together. You think we need any of this here?"
"This here" was the line of goods in the Gehlen catalog. The Gehlen Company is an outfit in Elyria, Ohio, offering electronic espionage equipment, gear to bug other people's phones and offices, gear to keep one's own phones and offices bug-free. There's a curiously bipolar quality to the whole enterprise; they are, after all, promoting half their line as a defense against the other half, and the catalog copy keeps changing philosophical horses in midstream. "Knowledge is power," they assure you on one page, and two pages later they're championing "your most basic right-the right to personal and corporate privacy." Back and forth the argument rages, from "You have a right to know!" to "Keep their noses out of your business!"
Where, you have to wonder, do the company's sympathies lie? Given that their namesake was the legendary German intelligence chief, I figured they'd happily sell anything to anybody, committed only to increasing their sales and maximizing their profits. But would any of their wares increase my sales or boost my profits?
Excerpted from Even the Wicked by Lawrence Block All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.