Hit Me Page 13

And there he was, back in the blighted landscape of British East Africa, with its long-horned cattle skulls and poisoned water holes. And now, thanks to this helpful son of a bitch, the picture included little black children, their stomachs bloated with kwashiorkor, flies buzzing around their mournful eyes. It was a hard image to get rid of, and the only solution was to resume thinking about the stamp.

And he went on thinking about the stamp for the rest of the evening, except when he forced himself to think about what he would do in the steam room. He could guess why O’Herlihy had chosen it as the venue for their meeting, as it combined convenience with security. He was going there anyway for his massage appointment, so there’d be no unexplained absence from the monastery. And how could Timmy Hannan, with only a towel to cover himself, wear a wire into a steam room?

Keller hadn’t planned on wearing a wire, as a recording of the proceedings was the last thing he wanted. But it would be nice to have a weapon.

A gun, say. Keller wasn’t that crazy about guns. They were noisy, unless you used a suppressor. They left nitrate particles on your hand, unless you wore gloves. Sometimes they jammed, and sometimes they misfired. And, unless you got fairly close to your target, there was always the chance that you would miss. If you were close enough to rule out a miss, well, you were probably close enough to get the job done without a gun.

Still, O’Herlihy was an awfully large man. Sheer bulk was part of what made him so imposing. It might be mostly fat, but simply carrying all that weight around could make a man strong, couldn’t it? So there was a certain appeal in being a couple of steps away from him, maybe even three or four steps, and pointing a gun at him, and finding out if he could stop the bullets by sheer force of will.

Well, forget that. They wouldn’t make you go through a metal detector to get into the New York Athletic Club, but there’d be other people in the locker room, and possibly in the steam room as well, and even if he took a second towel and wrapped the gun in it—no, never mind, he couldn’t go in there with a gun.

Not that he had a gun, or knew offhand where to get hold of one.

Then what? A knife? Anything large enough to do the job would be a problem to conceal.

He walked around, letting his mind play with the problem. He remembered a television program he’d seen ages ago, in which the murder weapon was an icicle. A nice touch, he’d thought at the time. It was a locked-room murder, if he remembered correctly; the murderer and the victim were found in the room, the victim stabbed to death, and no murder weapon to be found. Because it melted.

Did they solve it? Find water droplets in the wound and put two and two together? Or did the killer get away with it? He couldn’t remember, and didn’t see that it mattered. Nor did he see where he was going to find an icicle at this time of year, let alone carry it into a steam room.

Maybe the best he could hope for from tomorrow’s meeting was to lay the groundwork for another meeting at a more promising venue. And then what? Set up something for Thursday afternoon and miss his shot at the German Colonials?

He spent twenty minutes in a chain drugstore. Then he headed back to his room at the Savoyard and went to bed.


It was a quarter after seven when Keller opened his eyes, and he was grateful for the opportunity to get up and start the day. He’d set the bedside alarm clock for eight and backed it up with an eight fifteen wake-up call, and he shut off the first and canceled the second and got under the shower, hoping the spray would sluice away the residue of the dream.

He’d dreamed about the stamp, of course, and managed to incorporate the old naked-in-public-places dream that he’d had in one form or another for most of his life. It had pretty much stopped since he wound up in New Orleans, but here it was again, with him sitting in Peachpit’s auction room and suddenly realizing that he was wearing a T-shirt and nothing else.

And all night long he kept realizing it was a dream, and turning over and going back to sleep, and slipping right back into the dream all over again, trying to find a way to make it come out right. He missed out on the lot he wanted to buy, and he made mistakes and bought other things that he didn’t want or need, and throughout it all he was hoping nobody would notice that he didn’t have any pants on.

Only a dream, he thought. Only a dream, only a hobby, only a stamp.


Downstairs, he visited the business center and checked the stamp’s current price. It was unchanged, still $2750. Keller had decided the most he was willing to pay was $4500, and he registered on the site and entered the bid. He waited a minute or two and refreshed the page, and saw that the opening bid had now increased to $3000. That meant he was the high bidder, and someone else would have to raise it another $1750 to top his maximum.

Was it time to meet O’Herlihy? No, not even close. He had plenty of time for breakfast, but he’d just committed himself to pay $4500 for a stamp, and it would cost him more than that by the time he was done. The auction gallery tacked on a buyer’s premium of 20 percent, and there was New York sales tax on top of that, so a lot he bought for $4500 would cost him something over $5800, which wasn’t that much less than its $6000 Scott valuation.

Shelling out $35 for breakfast never seemed like a great idea to Keller, but it was even less attractive after the bid he’d just made. So he passed on both the hotel’s buffet and the ersatz bistro and found a vendor’s cart on one of the side streets. He got a croissant and a cup of coffee, which was as much as he wanted, and the bright-eyed immigrant, no doubt from a dead country, gave him change back from his $5 bill.

The croissant was fine, and so was the coffee, and they had pedestrianized Times Square since he moved away, so he was able to pull a little chair up to a little table and have his breakfast in—well, not peace and quiet, not exactly, but it was pleasant all the same.

When he was done he glanced at his watch. There was time, he saw, but he’d have to hurry.

He walked quickly back to his hotel. The business center had four people in it, but it had five computers, and Keller was grateful for that.

The New York Athletic Club was on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Central Park South, not far from the Savoyard and even closer to the Peachpit offices on 57th Street. Parked out in front, next to a convenient fire hydrant, stood a black limousine, its chauffeur chatting away on a no-hands cell phone. And waiting, Keller suspected, to drive the abbot back to the monastery.

Keller had put on a suit and tie, thinking the place might have a dress code, and realized the absurdity of it when a couple of overage preppies passed him wearing workout clothes. Still, the suit might make a decent impression on the desk attendant, who looked up at his approach. “Hannan,” Keller told him. “I’m Father Paul O’Herlihy’s guest.”

“You have some ID?”

To sit in a steam bath? Keller had a full set of ID, but nothing that proclaimed him to be Timothy Hannan.

He patted his pockets. “No idea I’d need it,” he said. “I don’t like to leave my wallet in a locker.”

The clerk, whose totem animal was clearly the weasel, explained that all guests had to show identification. “I’m afraid I can’t make an exception,” he said.

Oh, I’ll bet you can, Keller thought. “Fine,” he said, and turned toward the door. “I’ll just tell the abbot that the fellow behind the desk took his job a little too seriously.”

He took three steps, but before he could take a fourth the weasel must have imagined the conversation he’d wind up having with Father O’Herlihy. In view of the abbot’s prominence, he suggested, and because Mr. Hannan hadn’t been informed of standard procedures, well, perhaps these were special circumstances. And here’s a locker key, and to get to the locker room, all you do is…

Well, Keller thought, now for the hard part.

In the locker room, one flight below ground level, two men in their fifties were discussing a proposed corporate merger while they got back into their business attire. “These things always take too long,” one of them said. “But then everything’s like that these days. I’m with my girlfriend the other day and I realize I can’t wait for it to be over. I didn’t want the pleasure, I wanted the memory of the pleasure.”

The other nodded. “Some days,” he said, “all I want is to move everything in my life from the in-box to the out-box.”

Keller picked up a towel and found the right locker. He stripped and loaded his clothes into it. There was a wooden hanger for his jacket, another for his shirt. Before he took off his pants, he drew his homemade weapon from his pocket. He’d bought a few yards of picture-hanging wire at the drugstore the night before, and in his room he’d bent it back and forth until he’d equipped himself with a piece two feet long. He’d fashioned a loop at either end and wound up with what ought to be a perfectly serviceable garrote, which he now wound around his left wrist.

It looked like a bracelet, an arts and crafts project from some facility for the developmentally challenged, but when Keller slipped his hand through the locker key’s elastic band, it pretty much blended in. And he could have it off his wrist and his hands in its loops in a matter of seconds. He’d spent half an hour last night trying, and if practice hadn’t made him perfect, it had at least made his movements swift and sure.

He secured the towel around his middle and headed for the steam room.

And walked into a fog bank. One thing he somehow hadn’t taken into account was the presence of steam, though it now seemed to him an obvious component of a steam room, like water in a swimming pool. The steam was hot, and right there in his face, and he couldn’t really see anything, just colorless shapes looming in the colorless mist.

While he couldn’t see much, that didn’t mean he was himself invisible. He learned as much when a voice he recognized said, “Hannan? Over here.”

He blinked, moved toward the voice. Either the steam was clearing or his eyes were getting used to it, because he could see a little better now. There were seven men—well, he could only assume they were men—seated on ledges on three of the room’s sides. The abbot of the Thessalonians was all by himself at the extreme right of the far wall.

“Sit beside me, Hannan. No, get closer, but not so close that your leg is touching mine. Ye might fancy that but I would not.”

Keller so arranged himself that there was a good six-inch gap between his leg and O’Herlihy’s. He’d have preferred to be on the man’s other side, so that his wire-wrapped wrist would be shielded from view, but there was a wall on that side.

“Now remove the towel.”

Oh, Jesus, Keller thought.

“So that I may assure myself you’re not wearing a wire, lad. I’ve no interest in any part of your wretched self that’s beneath the towel.”

But he was in fact wearing a wire, Keller thought, and then realized the man was talking about a recording device, not something Keller hoped to loop around his thick neck. Keller lifted the towel, and the man looked at him and looked away so quickly that Keller found himself feeling somehow inadequate.

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