Hit Me Page 25

“The running back.”

“Right. I guess he didn’t push her away when she made her move.”

“I guess he didn’t have a wife along.”

“I don’t know if he was stringing her along, or if she’d even made her pitch about how they could be together forever if only something happened to her husband. I can’t think he’d have actually followed through with it. But when he and the tight end went off in the ambulance, her whole plan fell apart.”

“And that’s when she started giving you the eye.”

“Along with a peek at what she had under her bikini top.”

“And she thought it worked, because there you were waiting for her in her cabin. And when she found out she was wrong, she just went and made another plan. Except it’s the same plan, isn’t it? But with a different prize instead of her body. What’s she offering? It would almost have to be money.”

“An unspecified amount, payable after the estate’s settled.”

“Lord, who wouldn’t rush to commit murder for terms like that?”

“She’s given up the idea that I’m blinded by lust, but she evidently still thinks I’m pretty stupid. I agreed, and the first thing I explained was that we couldn’t see each other again. No more secret meetings, no kisses, no long looks. And I told her what we’d do for now was nothing at all, not until the last night of the cruise.”

“So that we’ll be off the ship by the time they find him.”

“And so will everybody else. She’ll be unable to rouse him, and they’ll haul him off to a Fort Lauderdale hospital and pronounce him dead, and once the estate clears probate I’ll get my very generous payment from an extremely grateful widow.”

“So what’s the next step?”

“Breakfast,” he said. “I’m starving.”

“I mean—”

“I know what you mean. There’s no next step until the night before we dock in Fort Lauderdale. All you and I have to do between now and then is enjoy the cruise.”

“My God,” she said. “What a concept.”

“And another little collection I’ve got,” Roy said, “is mourning covers. You probably know what those are.”

“With the black bands?”

“That’s right. They’ve been around about as long as stamps, since sometime in the mid-nineteenth century. Stationers made up envelopes with the black bands printed on ’em, and that’s what you bought for notes of condolence. They got a lot of use, mostly in Europe and America, and then right around 1940 the whole custom pretty much died out. Which is ironic, considering how people were dying faster than ever once the war started.”

“Interesting thing to collect,” Keller said.

“Morbid, you mean? That’s what Myrt says, but it’s no more about death than my other collections are about Turkey and fish.”

“I meant interesting because of the variety. Different stamps, different dates, different countries.”

“And sometimes the letter’s still in the envelope,” Roy said, “and like as not it barely mentions the deceased. Just a nice newsy letter, who’s getting married, who just had a baby, who got a new job. And oh, by the way, I’m sorry for your loss. Now that’s interesting, don’t you think?”


“Well, different times. Now what would they send, text messages? ‘Heard N8 dead. Bummer. R U OK?’” He sighed. “The covers, I must have close to two hundred of ’em. They’re not high priority, but when I see one that’s a little different, or that I like, well, I pick it up. But I’ve got to figure out what to do with the damn things. I’ve got a Scott Specialized album for my Turkish, and I print out my own pages for the fish, but all I’ve managed to do so far with my mourning covers is heave ’em in a box. Sometimes I haul ’em out and look at ’em, and then I just toss ’em right back in the box.”

And did Keller collect any postal history, or just stamps? As a matter of fact, Keller said, he’d begun picking up covers mailed in Martinique, if they were interesting and attractive and reasonably priced. Martinique wasn’t exactly a specialty, but he had all of the country’s stamps through 1940, and had begun acquiring minor varieties, and somebody gave him a cover once, and—

“Say no more, Nick. I can see the same thing happening with Turkey, when I run out of stamps to buy. Ah, here come the ladies. I wonder what they found to buy this time.”

The cruise was an unalloyed pleasure once he was free of the need to do anything. The Huysendahls continued to provide good company, and the shore visits weren’t limited to shopping for the wives and postal expeditions for him and Roy. Twice they signed up for shore excursions, and got to see some wildlife and swim beneath a waterfall, or at least look at it.

As he’d noted the first night, one of the chief activities of people on a cruise seemed to be talking about other cruises they’d taken, and Keller, who’d never thought much about cruises, began to see what a world of possibilities they presented.

A smaller ship would be nice. Carefree Nights was comfortable and luxurious enough, but cruising on it was like being a guest in a huge floating hotel. In one port, they’d been berthed next to an actual sailing ship, carrying just over a hundred passengers. It had engines, so they could make good time when they had to and never worry about getting becalmed, but the ship was really beautiful with its sails flying, or whatever it was that they did.

A more interesting itinerary would be a plus, too. Cruising the Baltic, cruising the South Pacific—there were some genuinely exotic routes available to cruise ships, going places he’d like to see.

Places he’d like to take Jenny. She was sure to love life aboard ship, and there were plenty of activities for kids if he and Julia wanted some private time.

Plenty to think about. And he’d much rather keep his mind busy with that sort of thing than with their final hours aboard the Carefree Nights. Which didn’t promise to be all that carefree.


The fish on the dinner menu that last night was marlin, lightly grilled and served with a brown butter sauce. The two women ordered it, as did Roy. Keller asked for the filet mignon, medium rare.

“Well, that’s a switch,” Roy said. “This must be the first time I’ve seen you have anything but fish. I was beginning to wonder if you shouldn’t be the one collecting fish stamps.”

When you ordered fish, the waiter took away your ordinary table knife and gave you an oddly shaped fish knife. No one ever seemed to use it, and Keller figured any piece of fish he couldn’t cut with the side of his fork was one he didn’t much want to eat.

When you ordered steak, they brought you a steak knife.

At one thirty, Keller scanned the Sun Deck. All was quiet, and he couldn’t see anyone around. At dinner they’d requested that all bags be placed out in the corridor by three a.m., so that crew members could collect them prior to departure, and the occupants of all four Sun Deck cabins had already complied.

Keller positioned himself in front of the door to stateroom 501. Several pieces of luggage were on the deck to his right. There was music playing within the cabin, barely audible through the heavy door, and the DO NOT DISTURB sign was suspended from the knob.

He had the key in his pocket, the one Julia had picked up for him, but he left it there and knocked. Carina opened it at once, wearing a pale yellow nightgown to which he supposed the word diaphanous might apply. He got a whiff of her perfume and a sense of her body heat as she reached to embrace him, then stopped herself when she realized that wasn’t in the script anymore.

Instead she made do with stating the obvious: “You’re here.”

He was, and so was Carmody, stretched out on the bed on his back, naked to the world but for a pair of boxer shorts and an arresting amount of body hair. The man’s mouth was hanging open and he was breathing slowly and heavily through it. The music Keller had heard through the door was still low in volume. Soft jazz, and Keller recognized the song but couldn’t put a name to it.

“I put the powder in his nightcap,” she said. “He drank it.”

No kidding, Keller thought.

“He wanted to fuck me,” she said, “but he passed out instead. You know where I can get some more of that powder?”

Keller had obtained it by crushing two capsules, collecting the powder in a folded-up slip of paper. As arranged, he’d met Carina that afternoon and passed it to her, along with instructions for its use. If he’d given it to her earlier she might have rushed things, and he hadn’t wanted that.

“Out like a light,” she said. “Look at him, hairy like an ape. You know what I almost did?”


“Put a pillow over his face. I thought, what if he wakes up? But he wouldn’t wake up. He’s dead to the world, and a few minutes with a pillow over his face and he’d stay that way forever. Save you the trouble, huh?”

Satin Doll, Duke Ellington and his orchestra. That’s what was playing.

He said, “It’s good you restrained yourself.”

“Why? I would have paid you all the same. You’re the one gave me the magic powder.”

“You want it to look like death by natural causes.”

“So? He stops breathing, his heart stops beating, he’s dead. What’s more natural than that?”

“He’d have these pinpoint hemorrhages in his eyeballs.”

“So his eyes bleed, what do I care? What’s it gonna hurt him if he’s dead?”

“They’d see the hemorrhages,” he said patiently, “and they’d know immediately that he’d been smothered.”

“Oh, fuck,” she said. “Like CSI?”

“Something like that. And who do you think they just might suspect of smothering him?”

“Fuck. Good I didn’t do it.”

“I’d say.”

“So,” she said. “How you gonna make it look natural?”

He moved quickly to the side of the bed, drew the steak knife from his pocket, and sank it between two of Michael Carmody’s ribs and into his heart. The body shook with a brief tremor, the hands raised up an inch or so from the bed, and then all was still.

“Holy fuck!”

“Well,” Keller said.

“You just killed him. Just like that.”

“You’re a rich widow. That’s what you wanted, isn’t it?”

“But you stabbed him! The knife’s right there sticking out of him!”

“Good point,” Keller said, and removed the knife. There was hardly any blood on it.

“But won’t they see the wound? How’s that gonna look like natural causes?”

“Now, that’s a good question,” he said, and reached for her.


The ship docked in Port Everglades before breakfast, and at nine o’clock passengers were allowed to disembark. Keller collected their bags in the cruise terminal, and a cab had them at the airport three hours before their flight home.

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