Hit Me Page 11

“Oh, yeah?”

“He thought very highly of them,” Keller said. “But you know, you lose track of people. I don’t know whether he joined up or not. Say, isn’t that—”

“Father O’Herlihy,” the cop said. “He hasn’t got enough on his plate, he needs a bomb threat on top of everything else.”

The man in question looked to Keller as though very little stayed for very long on any plate of his. He had a full face and an extra chin, and looked massive even though his robe hid his figure. His was a plain brown robe, but somehow it seemed less plain and even less brown than those worn by the other monks. He was quite clearly in command, and while Keller couldn’t make out what he was saying he could see how the rest rearranged themselves according to his orders.

“And here comes Eyewitness News,” the cop said sourly. “Fuckin’ media won’t leave the man alone. Jersey’s got a certain level of corruption, and it don’t matter whether you’re the Church or some local businessman, you gotta go along to get along. But maybe you see it different.”

“No, I’m with you,” Keller said.

“But as soon as a man of God’s involved, and especially if he just happens to be a Catholic man of God, then it’s all over the goddamn papers. These days, beating up on the Church is everybody’s favorite sport. Not too many years ago this woulda got swept back under the rug, where it belongs.”

“Absolutely,” Keller said.

“What did the man do, for Christ’s sake? I didn’t hear no scandals about altar boys. All right, somebody goes and sells a kidney, that’s gonna draw attention. I’ll grant you that. But is it any reason to sling mud at a man who does as much good in the world as Father O’Herlihy?”

Keller was ready to express agreement, when someone off to the side said, “Hey, look, a dog!” And indeed a uniformed bomb squad officer was fastening a leash to the collar of a sprightly beagle.

“Jesus,” somebody said. “Don’t tell me the monks are selling drugs on top of everything else.”

“It’s a bomb-sniffing dog, you moron,” someone else said.

“It’s cute, whatever it is,” a woman said.

“We had one just like that when I was a kid,” a man said. “Dumber than dirt. Couldn’t find food in his dish.”

The dog disappeared into the building, and the conversation looked for other topics. The abbot continued to move among his corps of monks, patting this one on the back, touching this one on the shoulder, looking like an officer rallying the troops.

“Hey, O’Herlihy,” someone called out. “I hear you’re running a special on kidneys this week!”

The crowd had been buzzing with casual conversation, and it stopped dead, as if someone had unplugged it. Keller sensed his fellow spectators gathering themselves, brought up short by the combination of shock and a sense of opportunity. The speaker had clearly crossed the line, and they were deciding whether to disapprove or join in. It would depend, he figured, on whether they came up with things too clever to suppress.

But the abbot made the decision for them. He broke off his conversation, spun around to his left, and stalked up to the curb. He drew himself up to his full height and silenced the crowd with a stare.

Then he spoke. “Disperse,” he said. “All of ye. Have ye nothing better to do? Go about your proper business, or return to your homes. There’s no need for ye here.”

And damned if they didn’t do exactly that, and Keller with them.


It was pretty impressive,” he told Dot. “He just assumed command.”

“I guess he must be used to it. Comes with the job, wouldn’t you say?”

“I suppose so, but I got the feeling he’s been like that all his life. I can picture him as a ten-year-old in the schoolyard, settling disputes in kickball games.”

“I always wanted to play kickball,” Dot said, “but at my school it was boys only. I’ll bet it’s different now.”

He’d bought another prepaid phone, with a chip good for one hundred minutes or one call to 911, whichever came first. His first call was to Julia; he told her how it felt to be in New York, and how the auction was shaping up, and she filled him in on Jenny’s day, and passed on some gossip about a couple two doors down the street. He hadn’t told her anything specific about his assignment, and didn’t talk about it now.

To Dot he said, “I’m not sure I accomplished anything with that call I made.”

“Oh, I don’t know, Keller. You got a look at him, didn’t you?”

“It’s not as though I hadn’t seen enough pictures of him.”

“But seeing him in person’s a little different. You got a sense of the person.”

“I guess.”

“And you established for certain that he’s in residence there. You’d assumed as much, but now you know it for a fact.”

“I suppose you’re right.”

“You don’t sound convinced, Keller. What’s the matter?”

“The phone.”

“Why’d you toss it? I know they log 911 calls, but I thought your phone’s untraceable.”

“They can’t tie it to me,” he said, “but they can tell what numbers I call with that phone. Then all they have to do is walk back the cat.”

“To Sedona,” she said, “and to New Orleans. No, you wouldn’t want them to do that. So what’s the problem? You bought a disposable phone and then you disposed of it.”

“I paid seventy bucks for that phone,” he said, “and I made one useless call with it, and now it’s floating in the New York sewer system.”

“I doubt it’s floating, Keller. It probably sank like a stone.”


“And landed on the bottom,” she said, “unless an alligator ate it. Remember Tick-Tock the alligator? In Peter Pan?”

“Wasn’t that a crocodile?”

“Keller, I know there’s a difference between alligators and crocodiles, but is it one we have to care about? Tick-Tock swallowed a clock once, and that’s why you could always hear him coming.”

“Probably how he got his name, too.”

“Odds are. You know, I always wondered how come it didn’t run down. You figure it was like a self-winding watch? Just swimming around was enough to keep it going?”


“So here’s your phone,” she said, “and this alligator swallows it, and now what happens if somebody calls you?”

How did he get into conversations like this? “Nobody has the number,” he said.

“Is that a fact?”

“Besides, I turned the phone off after I made the call. So it wouldn’t ring.”

“That was wise of you, Keller. Because all you need is an alligator in the sewer with a phone ringing inside his belly.”

“And anyway it’s a myth. There aren’t really any alligators in the New York sewers.”

She sighed heavily. “Keller,” she said, “you know what you are? A genuine killjoy. You got any inside information about Santa Claus, kindly keep it to yourself. And I wouldn’t worry too much about the seventy dollars. It’s not gonna keep you from buying any stamps, is it?”


“Well, there you go. How’s New York?”

“It’s okay.”

“You comfortable there?”

“Pretty much. At first I was worried someone would recognize me, but nobody did, so I stopped worrying.”

“I guess so, if you actually started a conversation with a cop.”

“Until this moment,” he said, “it never occurred to me that I was doing anything risky.”

“Maybe you weren’t, Keller. The world has a short memory, and I have to say that’s just as well. Look, you’ll figure out a way to get the job done. You always do.”

Keller had Thai food for lunch. You could get perfectly decent Thai food, and almost everything else, in New Orleans, but there was a Thai restaurant two blocks from his old apartment that he remembered fondly. He walked over there, and the hostess put him at a table for two on the left wall, about halfway between the front door and the kitchen.

He was studying the menu when the waitress brought him a glass of Thai iced tea before he could ask for it. How did she know that was what he wanted? He reached for it, and she said, “Papaya salad? Shrimp pad thai, very spicy?”

Was the young woman psychic? No, of course not. She remembered him.

And so had the hostess. Because, he realized, this was the table where he’d always sat years ago, and the meal was the one he’d almost invariably ordered.

Now what? He’d always paid cash, so they wouldn’t know his name. Still, they would certainly have seen his photograph, in the papers or on the TV news. But would it have registered out of context?

More to the point, what should he do now? Get up and make a run for it? Or, more discreetly, invent a pretext: “Uh-oh, forgot my wallet, I’ll be back in a minute.” And they’d never see him again.

But wouldn’t that create suspicion where it might well not already exist? And once he’d done that, they’d have reason to wonder what was the matter, and at that point one of them might link this old customer of theirs to a photo dimly recalled, and they could call 911 and it wouldn’t even cost them a $70 phone.

On the other hand, he’d be gone by then.

But the authorities, who’d had years to get used to the idea that Keller the Assassin had been liquidated by his employers, would have reason to believe he wasn’t dead after all. And there’d be a manhunt, and attention from the media, and what would happen to his life in New Orleans?

The papaya salad came. If he wanted to allay suspicion, he thought, then he ought to act like a man with nothing to hide. So he picked up his fork and dug in.

It was just as he remembered it.

So was the pad thai—the rice noodles nicely slippery on the tongue, the shrimp tender and flavorful, the whole thing fiercely hot. He’d lost his appetite when he realized he’d been recognized, but it returned in full measure once he started eating, and he cleaned both his plates. He might have ordered dessert, there was a baked coconut rice pudding he used to like, but he decided not to push it.

He scribbled in the air, and the hostess brought the check, took his money, and brought his change. He left a tip designed to be generous without being memorable, and on the way out the hostess said, “Long time we don’t see you.”

“I moved away.”

“Ah, that’s what I say! Somebody say maybe you don’t like us no more, but I say he move. Where you now, Upper West Side?”


“Oh, so far! What city?”

The first thought that came to him was Cheyenne, but that was in Wyoming. “Billings,” he said, pretty sure it was in Montana.

“My brother’s in Helena,” she told him. “Big problem getting people there to try Thai food. So he put sushi on the menu. Sushi very big in Helena.”

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