Monday, August 08, 2011

What He Didn't Do

A quote from the middle of Lawrence Block's absolutely excellent mystery novel A Drop of the Hard Stuff, the book that has nearly restored my faith in fiction after a disastrous Hugo-reading season. If it doesn't entirely make sense in context, then, you'll just have to read the whole thing, won't you?

But if the deceased takes his last breath in a Bowery flophouse or an SRO welfare hotel, if the cops zip him into a body bag and cart him down a couple of flights of stairs, then anything worth the taking is pretty sure to get taken. The little stash of emergency cash, the couple of bucks left over from the most recent government check, the folded ten-dollar bill in the shoe -- if a relative does turn up, it will have long since disappeared. The cops take it.

I always did. I learned from a partner, who explained the ethics of the situation. The ethical thing, he told me, was to divvy up with your partner.


I was partnered with one prince of the city who took a pair of hoop earrings from the ears of a dead hooker. "These look like eighteen karat," he said. "What does the poor darling need with gold earrings in potter's field?"

I told him to keep them. Was I sure? Yes, I said, I was sure. Be a shame to split the pair, I said.

Noble of me. Maybe that'd be enough to get me into Heaven. What did I ever do that was good? Well, St. Peter, one time I could have stolen the gold from a dead whore's ears. But I restrained myself.

-- pp.185-186

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