Hit Me Page 24

If he was alone, that was how he’d want to do it. The girl was collateral damage. It was safer and easier to do two for the price of one, and while Carina was a good example of what Mother Nature could do when inspired, she was unlikely to find a cure for cancer or bring about a lasting peace in the Middle East. She’d assumed a certain risk when she agreed to share a cabin with a man like Carmody, and if her luck was bad, well, that was just bad luck. Killing her would bother Keller for a while, but he knew how to deal with that sort of thing, and he’d get over it.

That’s if he was alone. But he wasn’t, he had Julia along, and it was hard to know how Julia would take one death, let alone two. She knew that his assignments occasionally included women—Dot had more than once called him an equal-opportunity killer—but this was a woman she’d seen up close, and that made it different.

Well, maybe both he and Carina would be lucky this time, and Carmody would come back all by himself. But then what? Carina would return sooner or later and find the body, and just how much of a flap that raised would depend on whether or not he could make it look like natural causes. If he couldn’t, there’d be cops on board the next time they made port, and he could probably handle the questioning until he had a chance to get off the ship and disappear, but once again, dammit, he wasn’t alone, he had Julia along.

He paced the floor—the Sun Deck cabins provided ample room for pacing—and his mind kept working, trying to find a way, and then he stopped pacing and stopped thinking and froze in his tracks.

There was a key in the lock. So soon? How could they be done with dinner already?

He braced himself. Let it be Carmody, he thought, and the door flew open.

It was Carina.

His hands were out in front of him, ready to stifle her cries of alarm. But there were no cries, nor did she seem at all alarmed.

“Thank God!” she said.


“The way you look at me,” she said, moving closer to him, kicking the door shut. “And I know you saw the looks I gave you in return. But you have not approached me, and I saw you leave the dining room, and I thought maybe he’s going to my cabin, and I made some excuse, and—”

She really was quite beautiful.

“But there’s no time,” she said. “Not now, he’ll be here any minute. Oh, I want to be alone with you! What shall we do?”


“Later tonight,” she said. “One o’clock. No, one thirty, he’ll definitely be asleep by then. I’ll meet you on Deck Two out on the afterdeck.”

“Uh, port or starboard?”

“All the way at the back,” she said. “Behind the library. At the rail, at one thirty. Can you be there? Oh, I hope you can. Oh, God, there’s no time, but kiss me. You have to kiss me.”

And she pressed her mouth to his.

“I don’t get it,” he told Julia. “I wonder what she wants.”

“Your fair white body, if I had to guess.”

“Not unless she thinks I’m a Hollywood casting director,” he said. “And it’s just as well I’m not, because she wouldn’t get the part. She’s not that good an actress.”

“It was an act?”

“‘Oh, I want to be alone with you! What shall we do?’ Yes, I’d say it was an act.”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I frequently want to be alone with you. What shall we do? I ask myself that all the time.”

“You usually come up with something.”

“I asked myself just before you got back, and what I came up with was that we should call Donny and Claudia’s. It’s early, they’ll be up, and with any luck so will Jenny.”

Everyone was still awake at the Wallings house, and everybody talked to everybody else, until Donny Wallings took the phone and said, “This is costing y’all a fortune, and y’all are having fun and so’s Jenny, so I’m gonna say good-bye now.”

They ended the call, and Julia said, “She’s having a wonderful time.”

“That’s great.”

“She’ll probably want to stay there forever. With her new family, that she now likes ever so much better than her old one.”

“Maybe we can rent out her room.”

“Go ahead, make fun of a mother’s tears. Did you enjoy it? Was it hot?”

“Was what hot?”

“Kissing her. It must have been, that woman’s one of the chief causes of global warming.”

“It was just…I don’t know. Dumb.”


“I knew it had to be an act, and that she had an agenda. And even if it wasn’t, I didn’t want to be there.”

“Poor baby. Was she at least a good kisser? Did she use her tongue?”


“And press her tits against you? I’m sorry. I’m embarrassing you, aren’t I?”

“I don’t know. Yeah, sort of.”

“If she doesn’t want your body—”

“She doesn’t. It was an act, pure and simple.”

“Pure? Simple?”


“What do you suppose she wants?”

“I’ll find out in a couple of hours.”

“Well, I guess you will. One thirty, did you say?” She started to say something more, than stopped herself.


“No, it’s nothing. Well. What I was going to say was we could fool around a little first, to take some of the pressure off, but you’re not in the mood, are you?”

“Not really, no.”

“I’m as bad as she is, trying to make this about sex, and it’s not about that, is it? And I at least should know better. Have you got something to read? I’ll let you alone.”

When Keller left their cabin, it was a little after one and most of the ship’s passengers had retired for the night. There were still some holdouts in the bars and lounges, making up in volume what they’d lost in number, and a few passengers hung around on deck, looking out at the stars or thinking deep thoughts at the rail.

He got to the spot designated for their rendezvous a good ten minutes ahead of schedule, and found a vantage point nearby where he could observe Carina’s approach and assure himself that she didn’t have anyone trailing her. He’d changed to dark clothing, and found a dark spot to lurk, and evidently succeeded in rendering himself invisible; a couple passed within a few feet of him, pausing to kiss with surprising passion, and then walked on, never aware that he was almost close enough to reach out and touch them.

One thirty came and went. Keller stayed where he was, half hoping she’d stand him up. But then, seven minutes late by his watch, she hurried by without seeing him, positioned herself at the rail, and looked around in what looked like genuine concern.

“Right here,” Keller said softly, and came out where she could see him.

“Oh, thank God. I thought that you weren’t coming, or that you came and left when I was not here. I had to wait until he was sleeping. But come here, come kiss me.”

She moved toward him, stopped when he held up a hand. “No kisses,” he said. “You’ve got an agenda, and I want to know what it is.”


“Tell me what you want.”

“The same thing you want,” she said. “I saw you looking at me.”

“Lots of men were looking at you.”

“Yes, and women, too. But there was something about the way you looked at me.” She frowned, the original act shelved for now. “You don’t want to fuck me?”

“You’re a very attractive young woman,” he said, “but I’m married, and no, I don’t want to have sex with you.”

She said something in a language he didn’t recognize, frowned again, then looked up to meet his eyes as recognition dawned in hers. “Then what were you doing in my cabin?”

His hands were at his sides, and he raised them to waist level. There was no one around, and all he had to do was break her neck and fling her overboard. If she managed to cry out first, it might pass for a scream she’d uttered on the way down.

“Maybe we want the same thing,” she said.

Oh? “Tell me what you want.”

“What do I want?” She said the foreign word again. “What do you think I want? I want you to kill my husband.”


Julia had been awake at one o’clock, reading what she’d called a novel of magnolias and miscegenation, but she was sleeping soundly when he let himself into the cabin. He didn’t think he’d be able to sleep himself, but a hot shower took some of the tension out of him, and he went right out.

In the morning he told her what happened. “Apparently they’re married,” he said. “That’s why it took as long as it did for them to get to the ship Saturday afternoon. They went through a quickie wedding ceremony first.”

“Why? To make the cruise line happy?”

He shook his head. “Not the cruise line. The Witness Protection Program. After he testifies, they’ll set him up in some little town somewhere out west, but the only way she can be part of the deal is if she’s his wife. And I guess he didn’t think the local talent in East Frogskin would be up to his standards, so he bit the bullet and proposed.”

“How romantic. But why did she go along? And why change her mind and want him dead?”

“Two questions with one answer.”


He nodded. “He’s got a lot of money, or at least she thinks he does. And she’s living the life we figured, going on dates and getting presents, and the life’s not that great and neither are the presents, and these are her peak years.”

“She’s got a lot of her youth left.”

“But she can see what’s coming. And here’s this rich guy who wants to marry her.”

“But that means living in, what did you call it? East Frogskin? And that’s more than she signed on for?”

“Actually,” he said, “I think it’s exactly what she signed on for, but that was before she had a chance to think it through.”

“And now she wants to tear up the contract. Can’t she divorce him? Get an annulment? Oh, but she wants the money.”

“She also would like him to be dead.”

“Oh, it’s personal?”

“He takes a lot of Viagra,” he said, “and he has certain preferences in bed that she doesn’t care for.”

“Like what?”

“She didn’t get specific.”

“What a tease. I bet I can guess, and I’d like to sit her down and explain that once you get used to it it’s actually quite enjoyable. Are you blushing?”

“No. It’s not just what he likes to do, it’s apparently that now that they’re married she finds everything about him objectionable.”

“And if he dies she’s a rich widow.”

“She was pitching one of the minders, the shorter of the two.”

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