Hit Me Page 19

“…can’t thank you enough,” he heard, which wouldn’t stop her from trying. Phone calls in New Orleans seemed to go on longer than in most places, especially if there was a woman on either end of the line. He tuned out again, and stayed lost in the magazine until Julia returned to the table.

“We’re all set,” she announced. “Claudia can’t think of anything she and Donny’d rather have than Jenny’s company for a week, not to mention her kids’ll be over the moon about it. They place her somewhere between a baby sister and a house pet. And she loves going over there, so she’ll just have a slightly longer visit than usual.”

He got to his feet. “I’d better book our flight,” he said.

“You’ve got the easy part, mister. I have to figure out what to pack.”


Cruise ships out of Fort Lauderdale docked at Port Everglades, a six-mile cab ride from the airport. Keller paid the driver, who wished them both buen viaje, which was close enough to bon voyage for Keller to figure it out.

If packing for Julia had been a trial, she’d nevertheless managed to narrow down her choices to fit in a single medium-size suitcase. Keller’s bag was smaller, and he carried his and wheeled hers through the cruise terminal and down the walkway to where their ship was receiving passengers.

Their ship, the Carefree Nights, looked large to Keller, but not after he’d seen the leviathans berthed on either side of her. Their cabin was on the second of five passenger decks, and once they were in it Keller excused himself and made his way back to the terminal.

He’d had an eye out for a man in a Hawaiian shirt and a New York Yankees baseball cap, and the guy had evidently had his eye out for Keller, too, because they’d exchanged nods and glances the first time through. Keller found him now, and, though it struck him as unnecessary, went through the prescribed ritual.

“Mr. Gallagher?”

“Absolutely,” the man said. “Mr. Shean?”


“That fuckin’ Dot,” said the man, whose name was no more Gallagher than Keller’s was Shean. “I swear the woman watches too much TV. Like we’re not gonna be able to find each other.” He took off his cap, set it on the floor under his seat. “There’s some who look good in hats and some who don’t, and we know which kind I am. And this fuckin’ shirt.” He glanced at the shirt Keller was wearing. “That one’s her idea, too, right?”

The polo shirt, with narrow red horizontal stripes on a navy field, was one of Keller’s favorites. He couldn’t think of a response, and that turned out to be response enough.

“Actually,” Gallagher said, “it’s an okay shirt. Here, have a seat. I wish I could tell you to enjoy the boat ride, that it’s all taken care of. Though how anybody could enjoy a boat ride’s beyond me altogether.”

“I guess it’s not your thing.”

“Let me put it this way, Shean. I take lots of showers. You know why?”

Keller could guess—guilt, a need to expunge the recent past. But that wasn’t it.

“Because I don’t even like bathtubs is why. They show The Poseidon Adventure on TV, I change the channel. The remote’s on the fritz, I’ll walk across the room to do it.”

Keller, who couldn’t help thinking of the man as Gallagher, felt that showed real commitment.

“What I like,” Gallagher said, “is the long shot. I’m not talking gambling here, Shean. I’m talking riflery. I grew up in L.A., I never touched a gun my whole life, and I went in the service and they took me out to the rifle range, and I couldn’t miss. Qualified as expert rifleman first time out, and the next thing I know I’m in sniper school. Join the army, learn a trade.”

It would have been different, Keller thought, if he’d joined the navy.

“So I get a call. The subject’s holed up in a house in Hallandale. That’s a little ways south of here. Takes some doing, but I find a spot where I can set up. Minute he walks out the door, he’s mine.”

“But he never leaves the house.”

“Oh, Dot told you? Maybe he leaves and maybe he don’t, I couldn’t tell you, because all I ever see is this black Lexus with tinted glass all around. Fuckin’ car comes and goes, in and out of the attached garage. Is he ever inside it? Maybe yes, maybe no. When he’s home, does he ever stand in front of the nice big picture window? Again, maybe yes, maybe no, because it’s got curtains and they’re never open. Two weeks I’m sitting on that house, and I never get a glimpse of the son of a bitch, let alone get to draw a bead on him. So let me ask you, Shean. What would you do?”

“I don’t know. Maybe try to get into the house.”

Gallagher shook his head. “What I didn’t mention,” he said, “is they got guards posted. There’s a car just sits across the street twenty-four seven, three shifts, two men to a shift. UPS shows up, somebody pops out of the car, braces the driver, takes the package, and walks it up to the door. The newsboy knows the drill; he don’t even throw the paper onto the porch, he brings it straight to the car and lets them deliver it for him. Nobody gets close to the house, let alone into it.”

Keller thought of Thessalonian House, the phoned-in bomb threat, the meeting in the steam room. “You’d have to draw him out,” he said.

“How?” Keller didn’t have the answer, and Gallagher said, “Yeah, well, there you go. Then I get the word, they’re so fuckin’ proud of themselves, on account of they got him booked on a cruise, and there’s a cabin just waiting for me. Yeah, right. So that’s where you come in.”

“He gets seasick,” Dot had said. “Who knew? And even if I had known, nobody asked me. The client went ahead on his own and hooked him with a free cruise.”


“‘Dear Mr. Dimwit, you’ve won a free all-expenses-paid cruise of the West Indies on the Good Ship Lollipop.’”

“And he fell for it?”

“Keller, how many times have the cops mailed out announcements to all the mopes with outstanding wants and warrants? ‘You just won a free flat-panel plasma TV! Show up such and such a place, such and such a time, to claim your prize!’ These are wanted criminals, Keller, and you’d think if they wanted a television set they’d go out and steal one, but year after year the cops throw a party like this, and year after year morons show up for it.”

“Even so.”

“I know, I know. Maybe he was going stir-crazy, cooped up and guarded around the clock. Maybe he just wanted to assert himself. ‘Yes, I need your protection, but I still get to live my life.’ And who knows if he’ll actually wind up getting on the ship? He could come to his senses by Saturday, but let’s hope he doesn’t. Because he’s a lot softer target on open water. As long as you’re not stuck in your cabin, puking your guts out.”

“No way I’m getting on a boat,” Gallagher said. “Sitting here is as close as I want to get, and we’re on a concrete floor on dry land, and I swear I can just about feel the motion. So I thought, okay, I got a couple of days, maybe I’ll get a shot. Yeah, right. You know what I wanted to do? The garage door rolls up, the black Lexus comes out, and what I wanted to do was empty a clip into the fucking thing.”

“That might work,” Keller allowed.

“If he’s in the vehicle, and if it’s not reinforced and bulletproof six ways and backwards, and if I get lucky. Shean, getting lucky’s not what I’m about. What I’m about is the subject’s in the crosshairs and a single well-placed shot puts him forever in the past tense.”

Keller thought that last phrase was a nice one. He had a feeling Gallagher must have heard it somewhere before making it his own.

“So I got no real complaints,” Gallagher said, “on account of I get to keep the advance. It would have been nice to close the deal, but I got paid and I get to go home now, and that’s not so bad. I thought they might get sloppy today, but the Lexus pulled out of the garage same as always, and I kept my finger off the trigger. I jumped in my ride and got here before they did, and if you were already here I’d a pointed him out to you, but I didn’t see anybody fitting your description, and nobody approached me looking for Mr. Gallagher.”

“I came straight from the airport.”

“I found this seat,” Gallagher said, “on account of the good view it gave me, and twenty minutes goes by, and thirty, and forty, and where is he? Did he get past me? Well, you’re not here, so there’s nobody to point him out to, but if I don’t see him get on maybe he changed his mind, in which case my job’s not done. You follow me?”


“Then he shows, and he’s got this babe with him.” Gallagher cupped his hands and held them in front of his chest. “Va-va-voom, right? Maybe she’s old enough to vote, but not by much. Maybe Latina, maybe not, and what’s the difference what she is? The woman is a total fox.” He sighed. “Son of a bitch’s got thirty-five, maybe forty years on her. Was she in the house all along? I never saw her, but I never saw him, neither, or anybody else but the guys sitting in the car across the street. My guess is that’s where the forty minutes went, driving somewhere to pick her up, and she’s still got packing to do, and makeup to freshen and all those things women find to do with time.” He shook his head. “I’m talking too much. Sorry. I been sitting on my ass for two weeks, staring at nothing and doing less, and the only talking I’ve done’s been to the weather guy on TV. ‘Oh, yeah? Call that a perfect day, asshole? It’s too fuckin’ hot.’”

“Well,” Keller said.

“Right. Here’s the photo they sent me. He lost the beard since it was taken, and in my opinion he shoulda kept it, but otherwise he looks about the same. Don’t ask me what name he’s using.”

“They booked his cabin under his own name,” Keller said.

“Carmody, huh?”

“Michael Carmody. I’ll check the passenger manifest. Anyway, he’s got one of the premium cabins on the Sun Deck, and there are only four of them, so he won’t be hard to find.”

“Please,” Gallagher said, holding a hand to his stomach. “Stop it with the nautical terms, okay? I had lunch just three hours ago.”


“I been sitting here all along,” Gallagher said. “And I been keeping one eye on the entrance and exit over there, and they haven’t come back.”

“Him and his girlfriend?”

“Why would they come back? If they weren’t fixing to take their boat ride they wouldn’t’ve come here in the first place. No, I’m talking about the muscle.”


“Security, bodyguards, whatever you want to call ’em. The two guys in suits who walked him and her through the door and up to where they look at your tickets and make sure you’re getting on the right boat.”

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