Hit Me Page 38

“I guess I knew you could do that,” Julia said, “but it never would have occurred to me. And she’s happy with the price?”

“Very much so.”

“And your other business?”

“All taken care of. I’ll be home tomorrow.”

She put Jenny on, and he listened happily as she babbled away about a puppy. Was it too early to get her a dog? This was not the first time he’d asked himself this question, and the answer still seemed to be yes, that she wasn’t old enough yet. Soon, though.

He rang off, switched phones, called Dot. “You won’t believe this,” she said, “but the damnedest thing happened on Arapahoe Street in downtown Denver. An ex-con not too long out of Cañon City looked up his old girlfriend and slapped her around enough to leave marks. So she got her gun and put three rounds in his chest, and then I guess she felt remorseful, because she turned the gun on herself.”

“These things happen.”

“One in the heart. I understand men go for head shots, the mouth or the temple, but a girl wants to look her best.”

“So they say.”

“And they found something, don’t ask me what, that has them looking at the dead guy for that house that burned down a few nights ago.”

“Maybe there was something in his wallet with the address on it.”

“Of the house that went up in smoke? That might do it. Whatever it is, my guess is it’s enough for them to clear the case. Time for Pablo to head for home.”

“Tomorrow,” he said. “Uh, as far as us getting paid—”

“Won’t be a problem.”

“When the husband recovers—”

“That won’t be a problem, either.”

It took him a moment. “You’re saying he—”

“Died, Pablo. El esposo es muerto. Or should it be está? I think es, because it’s a permanent condition.”

“I thought she hired security.”

“She did, amigo, but all the king’s horses can’t keep a man’s kidneys from quitting on him. Acute renal failure, and I gather the only surprise at the hospital was that he lasted as long as he did. And this way she got to forgive him and fall back in love with him and get revenge on the people responsible for his death, and she doesn’t have to worry that he’ll find some other tootsie and put her through it all over again. Which we both know he would have done sooner or later. I have to say she comes out of this in good shape, Pablo. The little lady got her money’s worth.”


The boeuf bourguignon was tender and savory, the little potatoes crisp on the outside and soft in the center. The wine was a Burgundy, appropriately enough, full-bodied and hearty, but neither of them managed more than a glass of it.

They talked through the meal, but mostly about the philatelic transaction. Of the two bids they’d opened, E. J. Griffey’s was the higher by a substantial margin, and that had surprised them both.

Over coffee, she said she wanted to pay him a bonus. The stamps he’d selected, he told her, were ample compensation for his time. He’d enjoyed the visit, and he’d learned a great deal from the three men, from listening to what they said and from paying attention to the way they operated.

“You made me an offer,” she said. “A quarter of a million dollars. And in the next breath you advised me not to take it.”

“Aren’t you glad you didn’t?”

“I wound up with almost five times as much.”

“I thought you might.”

“You’re an honest man,” she said, “and an ethical one, but I don’t see why that should stop you from accepting a bonus. You have a daughter. You told me her name but I don’t remember it.”


“I bet she’s smart.”

“Like her mother,” he said.

“Oh, I think you probably deserve some of the credit. But she’s college material, wouldn’t you say?”

“Not for a few years now.”

“That’s just as well,” she said, “because what I’m going to do is put a hundred thousand dollars into a trust fund to mature on her eighteenth birthday. It should appreciate considerably by then, and might even increase as much as the cost of a college education. You really can’t object to this, Nicholas. It doesn’t even concern you. It’s between me and Jennifer.”


“Jenny, but isn’t it Jennifer on her birth certificate?”

“No, just Jenny.”

“And my husband’s given name was Jeb, not short for Jebediah, as some people tended to assume. His full name was Jeb Stuart Soderling, though I’ve no idea why his father, a North Dakota Swede, would name his son after a Civil War general. And Jeb was an acronym to begin with, you know.”

“It was J. E. B. Stuart, wasn’t it? I don’t remember what the initials stood for.”

“James Ewell Brown Stuart. I would know, wouldn’t I, having been married to his namesake. Well, that’s a handful, isn’t it? You can see why they went with Jeb. But won’t it be awkward for your daughter? She’ll spend half her life correcting people who assume her full name is Jennifer.”

He’d had this conversation with Julia. “She can always change it,” he said. “But for now it’s Jenny. See, she was a breech birth.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“A breech presentation. She was upside down in the birth canal, and—”

“I understand the term, Nicholas. What I don’t begin to understand is why that would make her a Jenny instead of a Jennifer.”

He reached for his cup, took a sip of coffee. “I’m not sure this will make any sense,” he said, “but that’s when we realized she wasn’t going to be, you know, ordinary. And there were so many little girls named Jennifer, and we knew we weren’t going to call her Jennifer anyway, so—well, that’s why it says Jenny on her birth certificate.”

“And it doesn’t have to be short for Jennifer,” Denia said. “Think of Pirate Jenny, in The Threepenny Opera. But your little pirate’s name is Jenny Edwards. And does she have a middle name, Nicholas? Because I’m serious about putting that money in trust for her.”

“It’s Roussard,” he said, and spelled it. “My wife’s maiden name.”


Pirate Jenny,” he said. “Maybe that’s what you’ll be next Halloween. We’ll get you an eye patch, and your mother can make you a cutlass out of cardboard.”

“Daddy home,” said the future pirate, bouncing happily on his lap. “Daddy home!”

“Daddy’s home,” he agreed. “And in fifteen years or so, he’ll be the one stuck at home while you toddle off to college.”

“And it’s all paid for,” Julia said. “You really think she’ll go through with it? Set up our little bundle of joy with a six-figure trust fund?”

“Well, you never know,” he said. “It was her idea, and I couldn’t talk her out of it. She could change her mind, but I don’t think she will.”

“And where will the pirate go to college, do you suppose? She could follow in her mommy’s footsteps and go to Sophie Newcomb, but they went and merged my old school into Tulane. I’m not sure it would be the same. With all that money she could go someplace fancy. All New England preppy. Where would you want her to go?”

“Nowhere, for the time being. Fifteen years from now? I don’t know. Some school where there aren’t any boys, how’s that?”

“Aren’t you the dreamer. How about Sweet Briar, in Virginia? I knew a girl who went there, and don’t you know she got to keep her own horse there.”

“Right in the dormitory?”

“In the stable, you idiot. Jenny, you’ll be a pirate on horseback. How does that sound?”

“Daddy home,” Jenny said.

“Well, you know what’s important, don’t you? Yes, Daddy’s home. Aren’t we lucky?”

After they’d put Jenny to bed and then gone to bed themselves, after the lovemaking and the easy shared silence that followed the lovemaking, she said she didn’t think she’d ever known anyone named Gardenia.

“I gather no one ever calls her that,” he said. “I believe she said she’d had it changed legally.”

“Better than changing it illegally. Jeb, Jenny, Denia—all of y’all have got names that are short for something, except they’re not.”

“That’s true, isn’t it?”

“I guess. Is she pretty?”

“Denia Soderling? She’s an attractive woman.”

“Why didn’t you sleep with her? Or did you? No, you didn’t. What stopped you?”

“Huh?” He doubled up his pillow, propped himself up with it. “Where did this come from? Why would that even be a possibility?”

“Oh, come on,” she said. “A beautiful lonely widow? A handsome mysterious stranger? ‘Stay in my guest room, it’ll be so much more comfortable than that nasty old motel.’ She didn’t offer you the guest room in the hope that you’d stay in it.”

“I guess she may have been interested.”

“And you weren’t?”

He considered the question. “The last night,” he said, “when she wanted to set up a fund for Jenny’s education, we talked about her name, and how it was just plain Jenny, and not short for anything.”

“So they’d get it right on the paperwork.”

“I suppose. I told her how Jenny was a breech presentation.”

“And she got it right away? Or did you have to explain?”

What he could have told Denia Soderling:

“See, there’s a very famous U.S. airmail stamp of 1918, Scott C3a. There were actually three stamps with the same design—a six-cent orange, a sixteen-cent green, and a twenty-four-cent carmine rose and blue. They all pictured a Curtiss biplane, called the Jenny because it was part of the company’s JN series of aircraft.

“The high value, the twenty-four-cent stamp, was a bicolor, and that meant each pane of stamps had to make two passes through the printing process, once for each color. Only one sheet went through upside down, and as a result the stamps had what’s called an inverted center.

“Now, this was an occasional consequence of bicolor printing. In some countries, where quality control wasn’t a priority, or where enterprising employees had learned to make profitable mistakes, inverted centers turned up with some frequency. In 1901 the U.S. issued a stamp series to mark the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, the one where President McKinley was assassinated, and three of the six stamps could be found with their centers inverted. They all illustrated modes of transportation, so depending on the denomination, you’d have a steamship or a locomotive or an electric automobile, and it’d be upside down.

“Those three stamps were legitimate rarities, and nowadays bring substantial five-figure prices. But they didn’t catch the imagination of the public the way that upside-down plane did. These were the first airmail stamps, and aviation was very new and very exciting, and here’s this plane putting on an exhibition of philatelic stunt flying. You can buy a decent copy of the regular stamp, Scott C3, for around a hundred dollars. If you want the error, with the plane upside down, you’ll probably have to spend over a million.

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