Hit Me Page 27

“I’ve heard of it,” he said. “It’s an online dating site. But isn’t it for Jewish people?”


“I never knew you were Jewish.”

“Look at it this way, Keller,” she said. “I’m a lot closer to being Jewish than Stuart Lichtblau is to being sixty-two.”


“He’s a widower,” she said, “and I gather he was sixty-one when his wife died, but that must have been fifteen years ago. He spent a few months mourning her and a few more searching for a replacement, and then he discovered he liked being single, and ever since he’s been spending his golden years screwing his brains out.”

He couldn’t say Oh again, but what else was there to say? He asked her if she’d had a good time.

“Yes,” she said, “and no. He’s retired, he had a chain of record stores that he sold back when people still bought records, and he’s got this town house in a gated community in Aurora. His bed’s the size of a tennis court, and I bet he spends more on Viagra than you spend on stamps. I have to say he taught me some new tricks, though I can’t say my life’s fuller for having learned them. And I had good food to eat and pricey wine to drink, and he treated me like a lady, and you know what? I couldn’t wait to go home.”

He thought about it. Then he said, “What’s annoying?”


“You said what’s annoying is you were in Denver this past weekend, but…”

“Right, right. I could have done it while I was there. Except of course for the fact that it’s your line of work, not mine. But, you know, call it irony. I made a trip to Denver, and now you have to make a trip to Denver. Assuming you feel like taking the job.”

“You have a job for me.”

“Well, of course,” she said. “Why else would I be calling? Just to tell you I got laid by a foxy old Jewish guy?”

He dialed the number, and when the woman answered he said, “Mrs. Soderling? This is Nicholas Edwards in New Orleans. We spoke last week.”

“Yes, Mr. Edwards.”

“I hope you still have the stamps.”

“Why, of course I do. And I hope you’re still interested. I believe I was to expect you sometime the middle of next month.”

“I was wondering if we could move it up,” he said. “I’m going to be making a trip to your part of the country early next week, and I hoped to come see you as early as this Friday, if that’s convenient.”

He listened for a few minutes, made notes, exchanged pleasantries. He found Julia in the kitchen, stirring something that smelled wonderful. “Friday’s fine,” he told her. “Her husband’s collection is still intact, and she’s happy I’m still interested.”

“And she’s in Denver?”

“Cheyenne. Well, outside of it. She gave me directions, and anyway I’m sure the rental car’ll have GPS.”

“So you’ll fly to Denver and drive up to Cheyenne.”

He shook his head. “I’ll fly to Cheyenne,” he said, “although I’ll probably have to change planes in Denver. I’ll drive from Cheyenne to Denver, and then I’ll drive back to Cheyenne, and I’ll fly home from there.”

“Even though you’ll once again have to change planes in Denver.”


“Because if anybody asks, you flew out to Cheyenne to buy a stamp collection and flew straight home afterward. Denver? You were only in Denver to change planes.”

“That’s the idea.”

“Is the collection worth the trip?”

“I won’t know until I see it,” he said, “but I was going to take the chance anyway.”

“Before you heard from Dot.”

He nodded. “The husband collected for years,” he said. “He subscribed to a couple of publications, and he was a life member of the American Philatelic Society, and he was sitting on the sofa reading the latest issue of Linn’s when he had a heart attack and died.”

“I suppose that’s not a bad way to go.”

“She watched it happen. That part couldn’t have been much fun. Anyway, by the time the body was in the ground she started getting letters. ‘So sorry at your hour of grief, but we’ll make sure you get the best price for your husband’s stamps.’”

“Vultures,” she said.

“When the first letter came she was pleased, because she figured she’d deal with these people and be done with it. But when all the other letters flooded in she began worrying that she’d make a mistake and deal with the wrong person. They were all in such a rush to send a buyer to her home that she got a little suspicious.”

“So she picked someone she hadn’t heard from at all.”

“Me,” he agreed. “Remember Mrs. Ricks?”

“Was that the one near Audubon Park?”

“That’s her.”

“This woman in Cheyenne is a friend of Mrs. Ricks?”

“No, never met her.”

“But she’s from New Orleans?”

“Never even visited.”


“You know that kids’ game, Telephone? Where a message passes all around the room, and gets garbled along the way?”

“I played it as a child,” she said. “But as I remember, it never worked out the way it was supposed to. The message didn’t get garbled. It just made its way around the room.”

“Well,” he said, “the same thing happened with Mrs. Ricks’s message, which was that there was a young man in New Orleans who bought stamps, and you could trust him all the way.”

“I remember now,” Julia said. “You bought her stamps, and then they turned out to be worth more than you thought. And you handed her an extra check out of the blue.”

“Well, it just seemed like the right thing to do,” he said. “It never occurred to me she’d run around telling everybody.”

“I know they’re very valuable,” Edith Ricks had said.

She perched on the edge of a ladder-back chair and fixed her clear blue eyes on Keller. On the coffee table between them were three stacks of albums designed to hold sheets of mint postage stamps.

There was coffee as well, in two bone china cups, and shortbread cookies on a matching plate. The coffee was strong, and flavored with chicory, and he was fairly sure she’d baked the cookies herself.

“When my husband was a young boy,” she said, “his father realized that there was a foolproof way to invest. You didn’t have to pay a commission to a broker, and your money was safe, because it was guaranteed by the government.”

Keller had seen this coming. “He bought stamps at the post office,” he said.

“Exactly! He bought full sheets, and put them in these folders with this special paper to keep them in perfect condition—”

Glassine interleaving, Keller thought.

“—and he tucked them away for safekeeping. And for quite a few years he continued his regular visits to the post office. Then he got out of the habit, but now and then he’d show me some of the stamps. They go all the way back to 1948, when his father first got started.”

That figured, Keller thought. It was in the years right after the Second World War that the whole country discovered the can’t-lose investment potential of mint U.S. postage stamps.

“And now he’s gone,” she said.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s been almost five years since he passed,” she said. “And, you know, I’ve thought about the stamps. If we’d had children, I wouldn’t even consider selling them now. I’d pass them on.”

“That would be ideal,” Keller said.

“But I lost one baby, and then I could never have another. I have a niece and nephews, but we’re not close. And I don’t really need the money, but I’m not doing anything with the stamps, and who knows what would become of them if anything happened to me?”

A clock chimed. They were in the parlor of a substantial three-story house on Hurst Street, just east of Audubon Park. Keller could have had a look at one of the albums, but felt he ought to wait for an invitation. Besides, he was in no hurry. He knew what he would find, and what the ensuing conversation would be like.

“I know there are people who deal in postage stamps,” she said, “and I did look in the Yellow Pages once, but that’s as far as I went. Because it’s very difficult to know whom to trust.”

“Your husband never did any business with stamp dealers?”

“Oh, no. He and his father dealt only with the post office. So I really didn’t know how to avoid being cheated, and then I was talking to a friend, and she mentioned that someone had told her that the young man who married the Roussard girl had an interest in buying old stamp collections, and…”

She’d gone to school with Julia’s mother, who had herself died many years ago, but that was enough of a connection to suggest that he was the sort of person she could admit to her house, and entertain with coffee and cookies. He’d be well-mannered and soft-spoken, and wouldn’t try to cheat her out of her inheritance.

Nor would he. But he was going to have to break her heart.


The stamp business was Julia’s idea.

He’d come home from a day on a construction crew, his muscles sore from ten hours of installing Sheetrock, his head throbbing from ten hours of salsa music pouring out of one crew member’s boom box. He’d been paid in cash at the day’s end, and he put three twenties and a five on the kitchen table and stood there for a moment staring at his earnings.

“Let me draw you a bath,” Julia said. “You must be exhausted.”

The bath helped. He returned to the kitchen, where the four bills were still on the table, along with a welcome cup of coffee. “I must be out of shape,” he told Julia. “Used to be Donny and I’d work dawn to dusk and I’d feel fine at the end of it. Tired after a long day, but not like I’d just had a beating.”

“You’re not used to it.”

“No,” he said, and thought for a moment. “And it’s different. We had a business, we were working to accomplish something. Now all I’m working for is six fifty an hour.”

“Which you don’t really need in the first place.”

“Donny got the guy to take me on. I didn’t really know how to turn it down. Donny’s doing me a favor, I can’t throw it back in his face.”

“There ought to be a way,” she said. “You don’t want to keep on doing this. Or do you?”

“I suppose my body would get used to it before too long. But what’s the point? We don’t need the money.”


“And even if my body gets used to it, I’m not sure my head will. They’re mostly Hispanic, which is fine, except that the opportunity for conversation is limited. But the music they like, and the volume they play it at—”

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