Hit Me Page 10

And, of course, from Keller.

Suppose he just walked up and thumped away with the brass door knocker? Somebody would open the door. And who was to say it wouldn’t be the man himself?

Keller, who was ordinarily inclined to take his time, had been in a hurry once in Albuquerque. And so he’d gone straight to the home of the designated victim, walked from his rented car to the front door, and rang the bell. The door was opened by the man in the photo they’d sent Keller, who’d promptly killed him and left. The girl at the Hertz counter said, “So soon? Is there something wrong with it?” He said something about a change in plans, and flew back to New York.

Keller couldn’t believe the duty of opening the front door would fall to the abbot, not even in more ordinary circumstances. So Keller would have to deal with whoever came to the door, and then there’d probably be other people to deal with before he got to O’Herlihy.

He turned his back on the monastery and started walking.

Keller had lived for years in an Art Deco apartment building on First Avenue in the 40s. He had rented the apartment, then bought it when the building went co-op. Since then it had appreciated enormously in value, although he supposed it must have dropped some in the current recession.

Not that it mattered, because he was pretty sure he didn’t own it anymore. How could he? He hadn’t paid the maintenance since his world turned upside down and left him running for his life. It had probably taken the co-op board a while to figure out how to proceed, but they’d have long since worked it out, and someone else would be living there now.

It was, he thought, stupid to walk over there, stupid to show his face in his old neighborhood. But he couldn’t seem to help himself, and while his mind wandered here and there—thinking about O’Herlihy, thinking about stamps, thinking about Julia and Jenny—his feet insisted on carrying him to the block he used to live on, and planted him in a doorway directly across the street.

There was a light on in his window.

He felt very strange. Years and years ago, he’d had occasion to walk down the suburban street where he’d lived as a boy. By then it had been ages since he and his mother lived there, and he’d never had an urge to go back, and that unplanned visit hadn’t had much impact. Someone had painted it another color, he’d noted, but the old basketball backboard was still mounted on the garage. It seemed to him that the shrubbery looked different, though he couldn’t have said just how.

And he’d turned away and never given the place another thought.

Now, though, it was somehow different. He hadn’t moved out of this apartment. He was just there, and then one day he wasn’t. He’d sneaked back in the dead of night, slipped the doorman a few bucks to look the other way, and went upstairs to retrieve his stamp collection. Only he was too late for that…

And so he’d gone off, never to return. Until now, when he was suddenly back in New York. He wasn’t Keller anymore, and he didn’t live here anymore, and just what did he think he was doing here, anyway?

He walked halfway across the street until he could get a look at the doorman. The fellow was wearing the uniform they all wore, maroon with gold piping, but as far as Keller could make out there was nothing else familiar about him. It had been a couple of years, and a certain amount of staff turnover was to be expected. And if Keller didn’t recognize the guy, why should the guy recognize Keller?

He probably wouldn’t. That didn’t necessarily mean Keller could get past him, but it seemed likely Keller could at the very least get close to him, close enough to get his hands on him. And there was the package room, right off the lobby. He could put the guy in the package room and they wouldn’t find him until morning.

And then all he’d have to do was go upstairs, and give the doorbell a poke—no knocker on his door, not unless the new tenant had added one. “Hi, I’m your neighbor from downstairs, I don’t mean to disturb you but I’ve got water coming through my bathroom ceiling—”

Then the door would open, and there’d be a man or a woman standing there—or a man and a woman, or two men, or two women, it hardly mattered. And he didn’t have a weapon, but he had his hands, and that was all he’d need.

He drew back into the shadows, flattened himself against the brick wall of the building behind him. Across the street, the doorman stepped out onto the street for a quick cigarette break. He still didn’t look familiar to Keller, who found himself wondering why he’d been contemplating snapping the guy’s neck and sticking him in the package room.

Just so he could go upstairs and kill some stranger for no good reason at all.

The impulse—or fantasy, or whatever you might want to call it—was gone now. Go home, he told himself sternly.

He stepped over to the curb, held up a hand for a cab. One came along, its dome light lit, and headed his way, whereupon Keller shook his head and waved him off. Keller wasn’t able to see the expression on the driver’s face, but he could imagine it.

He started walking.

He walked all the way back to his hotel, and he took his time getting there. On the way, he stopped for a slice of pizza and ate it standing at the counter, drank a cup of coffee at the diner that had been his regular breakfast place. He bought a newspaper at a deli, dropped it unread into the next trash can he came to.

And wondered throughout just what he was doing.

He wasn’t entirely certain whether or not he recognized anybody. There were faces that looked familiar, but the waitress at the diner wasn’t the one who’d served him all those breakfasts. She’d have finished her shift hours ago.

There’d been changes in the neighborhood. He saw a bank that hadn’t been there before, and a chain drugstore. What was missing? It seemed to him that a Chinese restaurant was gone, and a dry cleaner, and what happened to the shoe-repair guy? Or was he over on the next block?

He was exhausted by the time he got back to his hotel. He took a shower, drank a bottle of water from the minibar. And went to bed.


Keller’s first thought was to have breakfast in the hotel. They had a huge buffet, but they charged $35 for it, and he couldn’t see starting the day with $35 worth of food in his stomach. He went across the street to an imitation French bistro, where an Asian girl with her hair in pigtails brought him a croque madame, which was essentially a grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich with a fried egg on top. He had orange juice, and a side of home fries, and finished up with a two-cup pot of filtered coffee, and the check came to $31.25, plus tip.

But it was money well spent, he decided, because his attitude was better after breakfast. A good night’s sleep had rid him of most of last night’s mood, and the meal had finished the job.

And, speaking of jobs, it was time he got to work on his.

Abbot O’Herlihy, Paul Vincent O’Herlihy, was tucked away in the Thessalonian residence in Murray Hill. There were, as far as Keller could make out, only two ways to carry out his assignment. He could get the man to leave the building, or he could contrive to get himself inside it.

The first way was better, he decided, if he could find a way to manage it. The second way had two parts to it, getting in and getting out, and both of them could present problems. Not that getting O’Herlihy out of his refuge was a piece of cake, but there ought to be a way to manage it.

It was Tuesday morning, and, according to his watch, not quite a quarter to ten. The Peachpit auction would take the form of morning and afternoon sessions Wednesday and Thursday. All of Wednesday was given over to general foreign, with British Commonwealth in the morning and the rest of the world in the afternoon. Thursday morning was a specialized offering of U.S. issues, and the final session on Thursday afternoon was devoted to a remarkable collection of German offices and colonies, including that stamp from Kiauchau he’d pointed out to his daughter.

So he had all of Tuesday, and Wednesday night and Thursday morning. And he could miss one or both of the Wednesday sessions if he had to, but he really wanted to be in the room Thursday afternoon when they sold the German collection.

And Thursday night he wanted to be on his way to New Orleans. The last flight out was JetBlue’s, at 8:59, and with luck he’d be on it.

He walked all the way to Thessalonian House, and it looked no different than it had the previous afternoon. The brass knocker was just as inviting, the heavy door just as forbidding. He looked over at it from the uptown side of the street, and barely slowed as he passed on by.

He didn’t see a pay phone at the corner of 36th and Park, and walked another block to Lexington. No pay phones there, either, and he walked a block uptown before he found one, and it didn’t work. He had a prepaid cell phone in his pocket, which he’d bought at the New Orleans airport, and he’d hoped he could use it to call Julia, but it looked as though he was only going to be able to get one call out of it.

Well, too bad.

He punched in 911, spoke briefly, and disconnected. Then he walked over to the curb and slipped the inoffensive phone down a storm drain.

He retraced his steps slowly, south to 36th Street, west toward Thessalonian House. He was halfway to Park Avenue when he heard the first siren, but maintained his measured pace. By the time he reached the scene, three city vehicles had already arrived, two NYPD squad cars and an FDNY hook and ladder.

Not surprisingly, a crowd was gathering, with a couple of uniformed cops moving spectators to the uptown side of the street, and firefighters setting up barricades to block the sidewalk on either side of the monastery.

Keller picked out one of the cops and asked him what was going on. The man didn’t answer, but a fellow spectator chimed in. “Guy broke in, shot two nuns, and he’s holding the rest of ’em hostage.”

The doors opened, and the monastery began to empty out, the sidewalk filling up with men, some of them in robes, some in business suits. The man who’d just spoken said he might have been wrong about the nuns, and a woman said you didn’t have nuns in a monastery, and another man said, “What meat can a priest eat on Friday? None. Get it?”

Keller was the first to spot the bomb squad truck, but he let somebody else point it out. It looked like one of the Brink’s armored cars used to transport large amounts of cash, but it said BOMB SQUAD on the side, in letters large enough to command attention. “Oh, it must be a bomb,” someone said, and everyone immediately moved one step in from the street.

So did Keller, even though he couldn’t imagine what protection an additional foot of distance from a blast could possibly afford. And in any event he knew there was no bomb, having called in the threat himself.

Another cop, younger and larger than the first, was standing off to the side. He was smoking a cigarette, and Keller got the impression that doing so was against department regulations, and that the man didn’t give a damn.

Keller moved closer to him, but not too close, and asked if the building across the street was the Thessalonian monastery.

The cop bristled. “And if it is?”

“I just wondered,” Keller said. “A fellow I went to school with, a good friend, actually, he was going to join the Thessalonians.”

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