Hit Me Page 21

Julia was sleeping soundly. He showered and dressed and went to the dining room, where they were serving a buffet breakfast, with a happy chef on hand to make you whatever sort of omelet you wanted.

Keller wasn’t sure he wanted that much human contact. He sat by himself at a table for two, nodded at the waiter’s offer of orange juice, nodded a second time for coffee. He picked out a plateful of items from the buffet, and was agreeing to a second cup of coffee when Carmody’s pair of bodyguards showed up. It took him a moment to recognize them, because they’d finally embraced casual dress. At dinner their suits had given way to blue blazers and Dockers, and this morning they’d come all the way down to floral-patterned short-sleeve shirts. Something in their stance suggested they didn’t feel entirely happy with their attire, but Keller wondered if maybe he was imagining that part.

He’d been giving the two some thought. Last night, before he drifted off, he’d wondered what he was going to do about them; this morning, in the shower, he’d had them on his mind.

Because, no question, they were a complication. They’d make it more difficult to get to Carmody, or even to do reconnaissance toward that end. But he had a week, and Carmody had already shown that he wasn’t going to spend every minute in his stateroom, so Keller figured the opportunity would arise before the ship was back in Port Everglades.

So he could probably arrange some sort of accident. But with these two around, would it pass as an accident? Not likely. If they couldn’t keep their charge safe, the least they could do was straighten things out after the fact. They’d turn the ship upside down looking for Carmody’s killer, and if the net they cast didn’t scoop up Keller, it still wouldn’t make his life simpler, or the remainder of the cruise more comfortable.

Keller got to his feet, set his napkin beside his plate. “I’ll be back,” he told a passing waiter. “Don’t clear the table.”

Julia opened her eyes when he let himself into their stateroom. “Forgot something,” he said. “Go back to sleep.” He rummaged in his bag, found what he was looking for, and hurried back to the dining room.

His table was as he’d left it, and the waiter had refilled his coffee cup. More important, Carmody’s minders were still at their table. They were in fact built like football players, though a little small for the pros. College, Keller decided, and not the NCAA top tier but one level below it. Appalachian State, University of Delaware—something like that.

What Keller hoped was that they’d have football-player appetites. They were both at the table now, with plates of food in front of them. Keller’s best chance would have been right after they ordered their coffee and headed for the buffet, but he’d needed to get to the cabin first.

Packing for the cruise, Keller had made do with a small bag, but had managed to find room for more than his clothes. He knew he wouldn’t have access to chain drugstores or neighborhood hardware stores or ghetto entrepreneurs, not aboard ship, so he’d brought along what he thought he might need. His toilet kit included some special pills and powders, besides the usual aspirin, and an improvised garrote, of the sort he’d made and discarded in New York, was wound into a coil and tucked into the toe of a spare shoe.

And he’d packed the HandyMan traveler’s tool kit that had belonged to Julia’s father. It was a sort of industrial-strength Swiss army knife, with a few implements Keller doubted he’d need. There was a little chrome-plated hammer, handy if he needed to check somebody’s patellar reflex, and a pair of needle-nose pliers, and a belt punch. But there was also a knife blade long enough to be useful.

He sipped his coffee and set about watching the two men without being obvious about it. A waiter approached, filled their coffee cups. The running back took a sip, put his cup down, and got to his feet. He picked up his plate, and evidently the tight end reminded him that you were supposed to use a clean plate each time, because he returned his plate to the table and headed for the buffet.

A waiter appeared immediately and whisked away the abandoned plate. The tight end stayed seated and had a sip of coffee.

Come on, Keller urged him silently. The bacon’s crisp, the sausages are tangy. What the hell, let the guy make you an omelet.

For a moment Keller thought his message had gotten through, because the man’s hands fastened on the arms of his chair as if to brace himself for the hard work of standing up. But no, the son of a bitch stayed where he was, and all he did with his hands was reach for his coffee.

The running back took his time and came back with a plate piled high with enough food for both of them, and evidently the tight end thought it looked pretty good, because even as his friend was brandishing his fork, he was moving his hands again to the arms of his chair. And this time he followed through and got to his feet, plate in hand, and it was the running back’s turn to remind him about the fresh plate requirement, and the tight end gave a laugh and put his plate back on the table.

Well, maybe they weren’t terribly bright. Keller found that a hopeful sign.

But, bright or not, it seemed as though one of them was always going to be at the table. And if he waited any longer they’d leave the table together, and he wouldn’t get another shot until breakfast the next day, if then—tomorrow morning might as easily find them at a table for four, with Carmody and his sexpot.

Keller took the little vial of pills from his pocket, uncapped the lid, shook two white tablets into his palm. Anyone watching would have seen him pop them into his mouth and chase them with a sip of water, but in fact the pills remained in his hand.

The ship had drawn up at the dock, and at nine its passengers would be able to disembark and spend the morning in Nassau. Keller’s plan would work better, he knew, if they were in open waters with a lively sea under them. That would add verisimilitude, but at the same time it would add a degree of difficulty to his own moves.

Still, this was his chance, and he took it.

He got to his feet, walked down the aisle toward the table where the running back was plying his fork with enthusiasm. The deck was perfectly firm underfoot, no surprise given that the Carefree Nights lay at anchor, but Keller managed to teeter a bit as he walked, as if he might have equilibrium problems even on dry land.

He made sure not to overdo it, aiming for a diagnosis of unsteady on his pins, but when he reached their table he contrived to lose his balance big-time, lurching into the running back’s chair and grabbing onto the man’s shoulder for support.

While the fellow reacted, Keller reached with his left hand and dropped one of the pills in the man’s coffee.

“Jesus! You all right, fellow? Here, let me give you a hand.”

“Sorry, sorry. I was fine when the ship was rocking and rolling and now I can’t—oops!”

And one more hearty lurch, this time into the now-standing running back, who had to work to keep his own balance now that Keller had assumed the role of loose cannon. But somehow both men stayed on their feet, even as somehow the second pill found its way into the other coffee cup.

Apologies from Keller, assurances from the running back. And then Keller was on his way back, passing his own table, and giving here a lurch and there a lurch, until he had made his stumbling way out of the dining room altogether.

As far as Keller could make out, everybody in Nassau had just disembarked from one of the cruise ships that thronged the docks. He figured there had to be other people around, but that they had the good sense to stay away from the harbor.

“Who buys all these T-shirts?” Julia wondered. “‘Grandma and Grampa went to Nassau and all I got was this lousy shirt.’ How stunningly original. Is there a tourist attraction on God’s earth where they don’t sell that shirt?”

“Auschwitz,” Keller suggested.

“Were you ever here before?”

“Nassau? No. Were you?”

“Once,” she said. “A man brought me here for a dirty weekend. I never heard the term before, and I gather it’s English.”

“He was English?”

“Welsh. His wife was English.”


“Are you jealous?”

“It was before we met, wasn’t it?”

“Oh, years ago.”

“Then no,” he said. “I’m not jealous.”

Something in a shop window caught her eye, and they talked about that for a few minutes, while Keller glanced around to see if the two football types were around. He’d kept an eye out earlier, but hadn’t seen either of them leave the ship, with or without Carmody and the girl.

Then Julia broke a silence to say, “It never happened.”

“What never happened?”

“The married Englishman.”

“Welsh,” he said. “The wife was English.”

“What difference does it make? I just told you it never happened. Neither of those two people ever existed, and I’ve never been to Nassau before.”


“You really weren’t jealous, were you?”

“Would you be happier if I said I was?”

“No, silly. I just didn’t know if you would be or not, and I wanted to find out. Because you’re a strange and unpredictable creature, Nicholas Edwards.”

“I’m strange? You’re the one who just dreamed up an adulterous affair with an English twit.”

“Welsh,” she said. “The wife was English.”

They were heading back to the ship when they heard the siren. It was loud, and of a type familiar to Keller from films set in Europe—a long high note followed by a long note an octave lower, a sort of ooh-gah-ooh-gah effect. An ambulance roared past them, and it looked boxy and old-fashioned, but was unmistakably an ambulance.

Julia wondered if it was on its way to their ship. Keller hoped so.

They had lunch on the ship, and shared a table with two women, both of them retired schoolteachers from Crawfordsville, Indiana, along with a stockbroker and his wife who had retired to Florida from North or South Dakota, Keller wasn’t sure which. The ambulance and its mission gave the six of them something to talk about.

“Now, I don’t believe I met either of the two men,” one of the schoolteachers said. “If I’ve got the names right, one was a Mr. Westin and the other was a Mr. Smith.”

“Should have been Smith and Wesson,” the stockbroker said. “Way I heard it, after they took them off to the hospital, the cabin attendants packed up their bags, and they found a small arsenal there. A couple of guns, anyway, and ammunition to fit them.”

“My goodness. On a cruise?”

“Oh, men and their guns,” the second teacher said. She was taller and bulkier than her companion, and built not unlike a tight end herself, or maybe a linebacker. “I understand there are men who feel naked without their guns. But here we are having lunch, and not knowing what they ate that made them so ill.”

“Nothing they ate,” the broker said. “It was evidently an allergic reaction to some sort of drug. Analeptic shock, I think they call it.”

“Anaphylactic,” the first teacher said.

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