Hit Me Page 20

“He had escorts.”

“Yeah, that’s as good a word as any, though it’s got a couple different meanings. I had an escort the other night, called a number in the phone book. Two hundred and fifty bucks and she had one eye on her watch the whole time. Nice tits, I got to admit. That’s worth something, right?”

“Sure. Uh, his escorts—”

“Frick and Frack. I figure they’re just seeing him to his room, checking out the basic situation. But they don’t come back. No way anybody suckered them into thinking they won a cruise, so how do you figure that?”

Keller checked his watch. The escorts still had an hour before the scheduled departure time, but if they were still on the ship this late, they were probably there for the duration. The target’s minders, unable to dissuade him from the cruise, had simply booked a cabin for a pair of their own men. If a private citizen like Dot had been able to get Keller on the ship, why couldn’t the other side, with the full force of the law working for them, do as much themselves?

He asked Gallagher how he’d know them.

“You watch football? One’s built like a tight end, the other’s more of a running back. That give you a picture?”

“Sort of.”

“Just look for two guys in suits. Not gonna get many of those on a fuckin’ cruise, are you? And I know what you’re gonna say.”


“‘Suppose they change their clothes?’ Which, granted, they might. So look for two guys who look like they’re wearing casual clothes for the first time in twenty years. Hey, you’ll spot ’em, Shean. They’ll stick out like a couple of thumbs.”


A little after six, while Keller and Julia were in the Club Lounge for the Bon Voyage cocktail party, the Carefree Nights set sail for the Bahamas. Members of the dining room staff passed trays of drinks, and Keller picked off a pair of margaritas. He barely touched his, and offered it to Julia when she’d finished her own, but one was all she wanted.

She fell into conversation with an older woman who turned out to be from Mobile, and the two of them got caught up in a spirited game of Who Do You Know? That left Keller and the woman’s husband to talk about sports or the stock market, say, but the fellow wasn’t much of a talker, and the set of his face and the way he walked suggested that he might be recovering from a stroke. He seemed content to listen to the two women, or not listen, and that was fine with Keller, who was too busy scanning the room to pay much attention to anything else.

He didn’t see Michael Anthony Carmody, whose photo was now in Keller’s back pocket. Nor did he see any men in suits, or indeed anyone built like a football player, whether a tight end or a running back. Aside from the ship’s staff, most of the people in the room looked as though they’d had their AARP cards long enough to forget where they’d put them. Carmody wouldn’t stand out in their company, but his entourage would.

“Like thumbs,” he said, not realizing he’d spoken out loud until Julia and her new friend shot him a glance. “Nothing,” he said. “Just thinking out loud.”

“Well, I’m not planning on thinking for the next seven nights,” said the woman from Mobile. “Out loud or otherwise. I do enough of that back home. All I plan on doing is drinking and eating and laying out in the sun.”

“And shopping,” her husband said, proving he could speak after all.

“Well, maybe a little bit of that,” she said. “Just to stay in practice.”

After the lifeboat drill, Keller found his way to where they posted the names and cabin assignments. There was no Carmody listed, and Keller wasn’t surprised. He figured it wouldn’t be the trickiest thing in the world to get yourself listed under an alias, as long as you carried legitimate ID. Wasn’t that what celebrities did? And didn’t the people trying to keep Carmody alive have more than enough clout for that?

He went all the way through the list, and all four Sun Deck cabins were occupied, and none of the names meant anything to him.

There was an elevator—with the median age of this crowd, there would really have to be—but Keller took the stairs to the Sun Deck. There was a pool, which surprised him; he somehow hadn’t imagined that you’d carry a pool of your own out into the middle of the ocean. Lounge chairs ranged around the pool, and there was what looked to be a health club, with a couple of treadmills and a Universal machine. And, toward the rear of the ship, he saw a little block of staterooms.

The stern, he thought. That was what they called the back end of the ship, and the front was the bow. And port and starboard were left and right.

Keller, wondering why you needed a whole new vocabulary the minute you left shore, felt the ship’s motion. He hadn’t really paid any attention to it until now. It didn’t bother him, not as much as the new names for left and right and front and back and up and down. Topside, he thought. Below. Jesus.

He wasn’t seasick, not at all, but all the same he found himself feeling a common bond with Gallagher.

At dinner, they shared a table with three other couples, and Keller didn’t find out much about any of them. The conversation was mostly of other ships and past cruises, and that left him and Julia without much to contribute. It also made their company hugely useful to the others, who were able to tell them which ships they should avoid, which ones they were sure to love, and no end of other tips that demanded little more from Keller than a thoughtful nod, or the observation that he’d certainly have to keep that in mind.

Keller didn’t see Carmody anywhere, or anybody who looked young enough to be his daughter, or to move Gallagher to cup his hands and say whatever it was he’d said. Va-va-voom?

Of course Carmody, like any of Carefree Night’s passengers, had the option of dining in his stateroom. And if his companion was indeed of the va-va-voom sort, and if this was a maiden voyage for the two of them, well, it stood to reason that the man might be reluctant to leave his cabin, at least for the first day or two. And there was also the chance that—

“Oh, my,” Julia murmured.

Keller looked up, and saw where she was looking, and noted that half the people in the dining room were looking in the same direction.


“I didn’t know it would be like this,” Julia said.

“What? The ship? Our cabin?”

They were back in their cabin now, and free at last to talk about the strawberry blonde knockout who’d stopped all dining room conversation in its tracks.

She shook her head. “Seeing him ahead of time. Oh, come on. That was him, wasn’t it? The man playing Mr. December to her Miss May? Except that sweet young thing’s barely made it into April. Is statutory rape legal in international waters?”

“I don’t think anybody’s going to arrest him.”

“Still, he’s got to be your assignment. Did you get a look at the two hoods keeping the charming couple company? A nice little table for four, and they all came in together and left together. I’m sure those two were carrying guns.”

“The two younger men, you mean.”

She gave him a look. “Just tell me I’m not spinning an elaborate story out of thin air. It’s him, isn’t it?”

“I wasn’t going to say anything.”

“No, and I wasn’t going to try to coax it out of you, because I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. Although it might be worse, having to be careful not to get too friendly with any of the women because one of their husbands might be the very man my husband was here to—do I want a euphemism? To nullify, to take off the board, what?”

“There’s just the two of us here,” he pointed out.

“You’re right. To kill. Although I’m not sure you’re going to have to kill anybody. She’ll do it for you.”

“Because she’s young?”

“Darling, did you look at her? And don’t tell me you didn’t, because every man on the ship did, even the gay waiter. Her youth is just part of it. The woman oozes sex. It drips from her. Didn’t you notice?”


“Of course you did, and why shouldn’t you? Right now you’d love to be in bed with her, and don’t deny it, because so would everybody else, and once again I’m including the gay waiter. Girls don’t do a thing for me, darling, and even so I’d like to be in bed with her.”


“I wouldn’t literally want to, but I picture her with that pouty mouth and that hot body and those get-lost-in-here eyes and my mouth waters. Doesn’t yours?”

She didn’t wait for an answer. “But she’s not here,” she went on, “so neither one of us is going to get her tonight. But we’re here in this lovely stateroom, and the two beds have an aisle between them, but I don’t see why we’ll need more than one bed anyway, at least for the next hour or so. There’s a little movement to the ship, I think they call it a swell, and I can see where it might actually add something to the proceedings, can’t you? And speaking of swells, what have we here? Hmm?”

A little later she said, “I got carried away there. I wonder how thick these walls are. Do you suppose people could hear me?”

“Only the ones in the Western Hemisphere.”

“Was I really that loud?”

“You were a perfect southern gentlewoman.”

“That sweet young thing got things started, but then she disappeared and it was just us, and wasn’t it lovely? I was wondering. Do you figure she’s a prostitute? Or just a talented amateur?”

“Probably somewhere in between, would be my guess. She’s his girlfriend for the duration of the cruise, and when we dock in Fort Lauderdale there’ll be a present for her.”

“And by a present you mean—”

“Cash, I would think.”

“But they wouldn’t have set a price ahead of time.”

“No, because it wouldn’t be a price. It would be a week of sun and sea for her, with a present at the end of it. But she’d expect the present, and he’d know it was expected.”

“How big a present?”

“No way to know. I would think it would have to be at least a thousand, and that seems a little low. Say two, three thousand.”

“And it could be more.”

“It could, but I wouldn’t think it would be a whole lot more than that. Say five thousand tops—if he’s rich, and if he likes to throw it around. What?”

“I didn’t say anything.”

“No, but you were about to.”

“Well,” she said. “The present comes at the end of the trip, right?”


“So I was just thinking,” she said, “that if all goes well from our point of view, she’s essentially getting screwed, isn’t she?”


Keller woke up when the ship cut its engines. It was six thirty, and he figured that was Nassau he could see through the window. Or were you supposed to call it a porthole? It was large and square, not small and round, so that argued for window. And it was on the ship’s starboard side—Keller had figured that out earlier. Could you call it a porthole if it was on the starboard side?

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