“Mistakes were made,” I admitted.
“Nixon said that,” Duke remembered. Not helpfully, though it gave me another moment to think. Which was not helpful either.
“Start at the beginning. One thing at a time,” Doris said. This was not warmly put. “You killed Leo like you killed Artie.”
“He didn’t kill Artie,” said Duke. “No one killed Artie. He died. Maybe a little earlier that he might have. Leo, same. He wasn’t going to live forever.”
“Let’s define murder,” Doris said. “You die earlier than you would have. Because somebody did something to you. Like what happened to Artie, to Leo.”
“Extremely narrow definition,” Duke said.
“I thought I was talking to Charles.”
“Let the man explain himself,” Brimsnod said.
“What’s going on here?” In the wretched light I had no idea where the voice came from.
“Pimlipper,” Duke said.
The dead attorney emerged from the murk.
“You have a meeting, you don’t invite your partners?”
“Not really a meeting,” Duke said. “Fatman’s got issues. House surrounded by reporters. Other odds and ends.”
“Reporters!” said Pimlipper. “According to plan. Excellent!”
“Murder is excellent, Charles? According to plan? This is what you’ve come to?”
“Of course not, baby. But if you saw Leo…”
“What about him? I want to hear.”
“Barely walking. Barely thinking. A shell of his former self. Chaff. Who wants to live like that?”
“You’re edging God out of the office? Taking over?”
“What’s all this about?” Pimlipper asked. “We’re even talking about this?”
He pulled folded papers out of his suit pocket. Our contract.
“Section three (D) seven a,” Pimlipper read. “Activities including but not limited to redefinition of life span, so forth and so on, blah blah blah, shall be at the discretion of the parties of the first part, meaning me, Graydon, our friend Duke. Our associate Fatman not being included for the purposes of the contract.”
“I don’t care what’s in the contract.” Doris said.
“I understand the sentiment, nonetheless, it’s signed in blood,” said Pimlipper. “You want to take a look?” For a dead lawyer, he seemed to be enjoying himself.
“We had an understanding, Charles. After what happened to Artie. Then apparently you decided that didn’t mean anything. What else doesn’t mean anything?”
“Faithfulness,” said Brimsnod. “Such an old-fashioned word. Or, constancy. That’s another.”
“So we’re done with Leo?” Doris said. “Dead. You killed him. On to item two? Jen?”
“Grateful,” said Duke. “Appropriately? We can discuss that.”
“There’s plenty to talk about here.” Pimlipper rubbed his hands together.
“Not so much, I think,” Doris replied. “How many times was Jen grateful, Charles?”
There was a lot to look at down around my shoes.
“Once,” I said. “Maybe twice.”
“It’s that hard to count to two? Or is it more like four? Or ten? How long have you played me for a fool, Charles? Why should I believe anything you say? I gave away I don’t even know how much money so you would be happy. A mansion. A pair of Mercedes. I went back to collecting from deadbeats. All to make you happy. While you’re killing off senior citizens and fucking their trophy wives? Not that I expect an honest answer. But Jen Litely, is she the baton girl at the head of the parade? How many more grateful wives are out there?”
She kicked at the dust. A cloud rose like a tiny Hiroshima from beneath her boot.
“You think you should tell her?” Pimlipper said to Duke. “Tell him?”
“Tell me what?” Doris said.
Had I seen a tear in Doris’ eye I might have been relieved. Not much, but a bit. Instead I got an icy glare.
“What?” said Brimsnod.
Duke nodded at Pimlipper. “In consideration of…”
“Exactly,” Pimlipper replied.
They traded another look that I couldn’t decode.
“You two, stay here,” Duke said to me and Brimsnod.
“Doris,” he said. “I understand. You don’t want to listen to me right now. Nonetheless. Come with me and Pimlipper. We got matters to discuss.”
Tomorrow: Players always playin’