Hit Me Page 26

They found a place to have coffee, and Julia said, “You didn’t say, and I didn’t ask, but I’ll ask now. It’s done, isn’t it?”

“It’s done.”

“I want to hear, but I don’t want to hear now. Okay?”


“I miss Jenny. I miss her like crazy. I’ve been sort of holding that off to one side, how much I miss her, but now we’re on dry land and we’ll be home in a couple of hours and it’s okay to let myself feel it. I miss her something fierce.”

“So do I.”

“They were nice, weren’t they? Roy and Myrt.”


“And there was a lot to him besides the stamps. That opened the door, but he’s an interesting person in other respects, don’t you think?”


“I wouldn’t mind seeing them again. I wonder if we ever will.”

“We have their email.”

“And they have ours, but did you see all the people exchanging email addresses last night? How many of them do you think will ever get in touch?”

“We could make a point of it,” he said. “Maybe go on a cruise with them again sometime.”

“With Jenny, though.”


“And with no—”

“Work connected to it. Again, absolutely.”

“That might be fun. Okay, I think I’ll read the paper now. There won’t be anything in the paper, will there? No, of course there won’t, it’s far too soon. Honey? We’ll talk later.”


“When I’m ready.”


Keller always liked the New Orleans airport, not least of all because it was named for Louis Armstrong. He didn’t know who O’Hare was, but doubted he ever amounted to much as a horn player. Neither did JFK or LaGuardia. Orange County had named an airport after John Wayne, and that was pretty good, and there was Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, but Keller figured New Orleans had them all topped.

They drove straight from the airport to the Wallings house. Donny wasn’t home from work yet, but Claudia and the kids were there, and something unwound in Keller the second he saw his daughter, something he hadn’t even known was coiled tight. He picked her up and nodded happily as she told him a million things, some of which he could even understand.

Claudia poured coffee and put out a plate of cookies, and Julia unzipped her bag and played Lady Bountiful, passing out presents for everybody. Claudia got a blouse, which she professed to love, and for Donny Julia’d picked out a Hawaiian-style sport shirt with a desert island motif.

“I don’t know if he’ll ever wear it,” she said.

Claudia said, “Are you kidding? He’ll love it, and you know it’s something he’d never pick out and buy for himself. The hard part’ll be getting that man to take it off.”

The kids got what they got, and seemed content. And, as soon as they decently could, they packed up Jenny and headed for home.

He’d found a spare moment to call Dot from the Fort Lauderdale airport, reporting success in an ambiguous sentence or two, ringing off after she’d expressed congratulations. Now he busied himself with the week’s worth of mail. There was a new list from one of his favorite dealers, ten pages of Portugal and Colonies, and while it was hardly a priority, he’d been a week away from his stamps and couldn’t resist.

He was circling an 1899 set of four Lourenço Marques overprints when Julia came into the room. He looked up and saw her face.

“I found the story online,” she said.


“It was simple and straightforward. An American couple, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Carmody, were found in their cabin, the victims of a double homicide. He’d been stabbed once, she’d been stabbed multiple times. The cabin was ransacked, and the apparent motive was robbery. The killer left behind an extra key card for the cabin, and one seems to have gone missing from the desk.”

Keller nodded. That was the connection they were supposed to make.

“The murder weapon was also left behind. It was a steak knife, suggesting that a member of the kitchen or dining room staff might have been responsible.”

“I can see how they might think that.”

“Yes.” She was sitting down now. Her hands were loosely clasped on the table in front of her, and she was looking down at them. “I knew you had to do it that way. Not the knife, I didn’t even think about how, but I knew you were going to kill them both.”

“I didn’t really have much choice.”


“The minute she walked in on me in their cabin, it was pretty much settled. When I met her out on deck in the middle of the night—”

“Two a.m., wasn’t it?”

“Something like that. When she said what she wanted, I thought about doing her right then and there. Put her down fast and fling her overboard.”

“And take care of him later?”

“If I could figure out a way. What I decided was the best thing to do was wait until the last night.”

“And do them both.”


She thought about this. “If you did what she thought you were going to do, made his death look like a heart attack—could you have done that?”

“I could have tried. But a good medical examiner wouldn’t be fooled. And the guy was going to be a star witness, and his two bodyguards had gone down the first day out of port.”

“One of them died.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“It was in the article. And the other one’s still in the hospital in Nassau. Just a coincidence, as far as the early story is concerned, just a sign that this was a hard-luck cruise, because they don’t know there’s a connection between those two men and the Carmodys.”

“They will.”

“If he died and she didn’t, they’d question her.”


“And she’d fall apart.”

“Within a couple of hours, would be my guess.”

“Even if it passed for a heart attack—but it wouldn’t, would it?”

“If it was a genuine bona fide heart attack,” he said, “and she’s the just-married younger wife, who’s pretty much of a semipro hooker, they’d still grill her six ways and backwards.”

“Yes, of course they would. And she’d give you up in a New York minute, so there’s no question, you had to do them both. Multiple stab wounds?”

“The first one killed her,” he said. “The others were for show.”

“So at least it was fast. For whatever that’s worth.” She looked up. “Oh, what am I going on about? She was trash to the bone, she was trying to get her husband killed, so why should her dying bother me? ’Cause she was a woman? Like that makes a difference? Please.”

He didn’t say anything.

“They were both horrible people, and the two bodyguards were a pair of thugs, and what do I care about any of them? You know what it is?”

“You were there.”

“That’s exactly right. I was there. If I stayed home and you flew off somewhere and came back and told me the story, I wouldn’t be able to wait to get you in bed. Now all I am is slightly sick to my stomach. And I wasn’t just there, darling. I was a participant. I got you the card key.”

“That’s true.”

“Doesn’t that make me an accessory? Of course it does. I don’t mean legally, I don’t care about that. I mean the way I feel. Is there something I can do? So I don’t feel like this?”

“Take a shower.”



She went off to do so, and he returned to his price list, but had trouble staying focused. He was still sitting there when she came back wearing a robe with her hair wrapped up in a white towel.

She said, “I couldn’t see what good a shower would do, but I have to say I feel a little better. Isn’t there something you do afterward to get over it?”

He’d performed the exercise the previous evening, before he fell asleep, and he talked her through it now: picturing the victim, concentrating hard on the image, and then turning it over to the Photoshop of the mind: shrinking it, fading it, pushing it off into the distance, until it was an undefined gray dot that ultimately vanished altogether.

“It’s hard to do,” she said.

“It gets easier with practice.”

“I suppose it must. I’ll work with it. And I may take more showers than usual over the next week or so. But I don’t want to have to do this again.”


“I’m not sorry I was there. This is something you do, and I’m fine that you do it, and I even like it a lot more than I don’t. And I should know what it’s like, what it feels like. I didn’t, and now I do.”

“But once is enough.”

“Once is plenty. Oh, a price list. ‘Portugal and Colonies.’ Are you finding stamps that you need?”

“A few.”

“That’s good,” she said. “What and where is Lourenço Marques?”

“It’s part of Mozambique.”

“Well, I know where that is. And they have their own stamps?”

“Not since 1920.”

“I guess nothing lasts forever. You know what I’m going to do now? Besides making the mental picture shrink and turn gray? I’m going to email Myrt Huysendahl to make sure we don’t lose touch. Do you think Jenny would like a small-ship cruise of the Turkish Riviera?”

“You know, I’ll bet that’s what she was saying earlier.”

“Must have been. I think you and I would like it, and Roy could see where his stamps come from. I’m going to be fine, you know.”

“I know,” he said.



I’ll tell you what’s annoying,” Dot said. “I was in Denver myself this past weekend.”

“What’s the matter with Denver?”

“Nothing,” she said, “aside from the fact that I had a perfectly nice room for two nights at the Brown Palace, and I didn’t get to sleep in it.”


“I never have insomnia, Keller. Nothing keeps me awake. That’s one of the benefits of leading a blameless life. I slept fine, but not in my room. And don’t ask.”

“I won’t.”

“I had a dirty weekend. Flew up to Denver and slept with a strange man.”


“That’s it? ‘Oh?’ That’s all you’ve got to say on the subject?”

“You said not to ask.”

“It’s an expression, Keller. If I really didn’t want you to ask I wouldn’t have brought it up in the first place.”


“You’re just insisting on hearing it all, aren’t you? All right. I met this man on JDate. You know what that is?”

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