Hit Me Page 22

“Guns and drugs,” the broker’s wife said. “And it makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Two men, traveling together, and sharing a cabin.”

Her husband asked her what that was supposed to mean. She said it was just something to take into account.

In their own cabin, Julia said, “I’m still trying to figure it out. Was she suggesting they’re gay? And what would that have to do with them both getting sick at the same time?”

Keller shrugged. “Beats me. AIDS, maybe?”

“I suppose. ‘Two men sharing a cabin.’ I don’t know if you saw the look she got when she said that, but the schoolmarms didn’t appreciate the implication. Given that they’re two women sharing a cabin.”

“And they’re annoyed because they’re lesbians?”

“Or they’re not lesbians, and that’s why they’re annoyed. At the implication.”

“The world’s a complicated place,” Keller said.


The lounge chair Keller selected gave him a good view of the block of four staterooms, one of which housed Carmody and his strawberry blonde. He sat down, put his legs up, and set about the business of anointing himself with suntan lotion. It boasted a high SPF number, and he found himself wondering if there was any point to the whole process. Wouldn’t it be simpler to skip the lotion and stay in your cabin? Wouldn’t you come out about the same?

Earlier, Keller had checked the listings, and found that Mr. Aldredge Smith and Mr. John Westin had occupied a cabin one flight below. That was unfortunate, because if their removal to a hospital in Nassau had left a Sun Deck stateroom vacant, Keller might have used it as a base of operations.

Keller hadn’t thought to pack a bathing suit, but the shipboard shop had been happy to sell him one. It was black, and not too skimpily cut, but he still felt conspicuous in it, though less so than if he’d stretched out on the lounge chair in long pants and a shirt. And the sun felt good, and the ship had set sail shortly after lunch for Virgin Gorda, wherever that was, and Keller found its motion soothing. All he had to do was lie there and relax and keep his eyes open.

The third requirement turned out to be impossible. Your eyes are closed, he realized at one point, and told himself he’d have to do something about it, but by then it was too late. His mind had found a corridor to explore, and he drifted right off…

And came to abruptly. There was no sudden noise, and no one jostled his lounge chair or walked past it to block the sun. He wondered later if it might simply have been an unconscious awareness of her presence that did it, because when he opened his eyes there she was, not ten yards away from him, Ms. Va-va-voom herself, sitting sidesaddle on a lounge chair of her own, and applying coconut-scented suntan oil to those portions of her anatomy not covered by the scarlet bikini.

Which was to say almost all of her.

She took her time oiling her golden-brown skin, and it seemed to Keller that she was caressing herself as much as she was protecting it from the sun. He didn’t want to stare at her, but seemed incapable of averting his eyes, and the next thing he knew she was looking right back at him.

He looked away, but it was as if he could see her no matter where his eyes were turned. He looked her way again, and she was still gazing at him, with an expression on her face that was not quite a smile, although it was definitely headed in that direction.

Then she turned her eyes from him, and swung her legs up onto the lounge chair, and worked the controls to lower the back into a horizontal position. She was still sitting up, and Keller watched as she put her hands behind her back, uncoupled the bikini top, and removed it altogether.

She couldn’t have exposed her breasts to him for more than a couple of seconds, but they were longer seconds than most. Then she was lying facedown on the lounge chair.

Had anyone else seen what Keller had seen? He looked around and saw no one who gave any evidence of having witnessed the performance. Had it been for his benefit? Or had he merely chanced to be present when a free-spirited creature displayed her charms without thinking twice about it?

Her head was turned to one side, resting on her arm, and facing toward Keller. Her eyes were closed. And she was smiling.

Go back to his cabin? Go to the bar for a drink, or the lounge for a cup of coffee? Find his way to the library and pick out something to read?

Or wait for her to give up on the sun and return to her cabin, so that he could see which one it was?

Keller closed his eyes to give the matter some thought, and once again the combination of sun and waves carried him off. He didn’t doze for long, but when he opened his eyes he saw that the girl had changed position. She was lying on her back now, and was once again wearing the bikini top.

And she was no longer alone. On the lounge chair just beyond hers, wearing knee-length Bermuda shorts and a loose-fitting shirt with a palm tree on it, sat Carmody himself. His feet were bare—a pair of pink flip-flops rested at the foot of his chair—and from the knees down the man was fish-belly white, while from the knees up he was pretty much invisible, with the shirt and the shorts and his sunglasses and his pink cotton sun hat covering up most of him.

The contrast between the two of them, dramatic enough in the dining room, was far greater beneath the sun. Earlier he’d looked old enough to be her father, or perhaps her father’s older brother; now you’d be more apt to cast him as her dead grandfather.

She was lying down. Carmody’s chair was in what the airlines call the full upright position, and he sat there looking like a man waiting for his number to be called. Then, after a few moments, he reached out and rested a hand on his companion’s shoulder. Keller thought that was a tender gesture until the hand moved lower and slipped inside a cup of the bikini halter.

Keller looked away, willing the old goat to keep his hands to himself, and when he looked their way again it was as if his wish had been Carmody’s command. Both the man’s hands were now resting on the arms of his own lounge chair.

Well, that was better. On the other hand, a little more touchy-feely and they might get up and return to their cabin, and Keller could note its number. And he wished that would happen sooner rather than later, as there was a limit to how much sun he could handle.

But how much sun could Carmody take? Not too much on those pale white legs, so…

Hell. Keller watched as Carmody picked up his towel and draped it carefully over his feet and lower legs. Taking the sun without taking the sun, he thought. Wonderful.

Time to give up and get out of the sun himself? Wait, Carmody was saying something.

“Carina? You don’t want to get too much sun, honey.”

“Feels so good,” she replied, so softly that Keller could barely make out the words.

“I can think of something else that’ll feel good. Time to go inside, Carina.”

“Give me a few more minutes, Mickey. You go. I’ll be there by the time you’re out of the shower.”

“You and the sun,” Carmody said.

“Makes me warm. You like me warm, don’t you, Mickey?”

The man answered by leaning over to cop another feel, and Carina contrived to show her appreciation by squirming a little on the lounge chair. Then Carmody slipped his feet into his flip-flops, told her not to be too long, and stood up.

Keller gave him a head start. He got to his feet, and out of the corner of his eye he thought he saw Carina glancing at him. He didn’t turn to check, but took off in Carmody’s wake.

He followed the man around the pool and over to the four cabins. Carmody led him to one of two on the far side, so if he’d stayed where he was he’d only have been able to halve the possibilities from four to two, but now he was half a dozen steps behind the man by the time he’d used his key card to let himself into number 501.

The door closed, and Keller moved in front of it. His immediate mission had been one of reconnaissance, and it had paid off, but did he have to stop there? If he knocked, Carmody would open the door. And once he did, he was there to be taken.

Keller’s swimsuit had a pocket, but all it held was his own key card. No garrote, no HandyMan, no pills or powders. All he had were his two hands, but if he needed more than that to cope with Michael Carmody he was in the wrong business.

He looked in both directions, and there was nobody around. How soon would the girl come back? Could he dispatch Carmody in time to be out of the room before she made her appearance?

If not, well, that would be bad luck all around, especially for her. Keller preferred to avoid that sort of situation, but sometimes you couldn’t, and he had learned to do what had to be done.

He knocked on the door, listened for footsteps.

And didn’t hear any. No, of course not, the son of a bitch was taking his shower. He wouldn’t be able to hear Keller knocking, or if he did he wouldn’t feel the need to cut short his shower to go see who it was.

Knock again? He was about to, but now there was someone in view, a maid pushing a service cart. And when she passed there would be somebody else, and sooner or later the girl would show up, and Keller would have to wait for a better time.

Maybe it was time to check out the library, see if he could find something to read. First, though, he’d get his own shower.

Mickey, he thought. Mickey and Carina. Well, the afternoon hadn’t been a total loss. He now knew which cabin they occupied. And, though he couldn’t see what good it did him, he knew what they called each other.


Julia had made a new friend during the afternoon, and worked things out so that the two couples could share a table for four at dinner. They were Atlantans, though both had grown up in the Midwest. The husband, Roy, said he had the perfect job. He worked for an insurance company, but he didn’t sell anything, or weasel out of paying claims, or sit at a desk and crunch numbers. Instead he flew around the country and met with groups of insurance agents, explaining why they should push his company’s policies instead of the competition’s.

“I buy the pizza, I buy the doughnuts, I’ve always got the latest jokes, and whenever I show up everybody’s glad to see me. I swear it never feels like I’m working.”

“He works very hard,” said his wife, who was called Myrt, which Keller figured had to be short for Myrtle. “On and off planes all the time.”

“The planes are fine,” Roy said. “It’s the blankety-blank airports. But don’t get me started.”

Nobody did, and the subject shifted to the two men who’d left the ship, and whom everybody had taken to calling Smith and Wesson, and who were assumed to be very dangerous men. Mafia torpedoes, the consensus seemed to be, no doubt dispatched to kill one of the passengers, or even a crew member.

“It could be anyone,” Myrt said darkly. “The captain looks perfectly decent, but he could have gambling debts.”

“Are we playing Pick the Victim?” her husband wondered. “My candidate’s Foxy Grandpa. Oh, you know who I mean. The dirty old man with the hot redhead.”

“Gambling debts, Roy?”

“Hell, who needs a motive? I’d kill him myself if I thought it’d get me a shot at her.”

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