Hit Me Page 5

“Where is that damn girl? For what I pay her you’d think she could do what she’s supposed to. Margarita!”

“Maybe she’s in her room.”

“At this hour?”

His eyes snapped open. A man and a woman, but now they were speaking English, and he could hear them on the stairs. He sprang from the bed, crossed to the door, worked the bolt. No sooner had it slid home than they had reached the door, and the woman was calling the maid’s name—Margarita, evidently—at the top of her brassy voice.

“Give it up,” the man said. “Ain’t nobody home.”

A hand took hold of the doorknob, turned, pushed. The bolt held.

“She’s in there. The lazy bitch is sleeping.”

“Oh, come on, Portsie.” Portsie? “Couldn’t nobody sleep through the racket you’re making.”

“Then why’s the door locked?”

“Maybe she don’t want you rummaging through her underwear.”

“As if,” Portia said, and rattled the doorknob. “This is something new, locking the door. I don’t think you can lock it, except from inside. You slide a bolt and it goes through a little loop, but how can you do that from outside?”

“Maybe she’s in there with a boyfriend.”

“My God, maybe she is. Margarita! God damn you, open the fucking door or I’ll call the fucking INS on you.” There was a pause, and then Keller heard them moving around, and some heavy breathing.

“Hey,” the woman said. “And what do you think you’re doing, sport?”

“Rummaging through your underwear, Portsie.”

“It’s distracting me.”

“That’s the general idea.”

“If she’s in there fucking some pint-sized cholo—”

“She’s not. She was in there, all by herself, and she locked the door.”

“So where is she now?”


“Out? How’d she get out?”

“Through the keyhole.”

“You’re terrible, baby.”

“C’mon,” he said. “I need a drink, and so do you. And that’s not all we need.”

And Keller stood there while their footsteps receded.

Once he’d had time to think about it, Keller realized he’d missed an opportunity. There they were, the target and the bonus, all ready to walk right into the room where he was waiting for them. And what had he done? He’d locked the door, as if he were not a hired assassin but the timid little chambermaid who’d been the room’s rightful if unlawful occupant.

He was half asleep, and unprepared, and that’s why he’d been so quick to lock the door. Alert and prepared, he’d have flung it open and yanked them inside, and in no time at all he’d have been around the block and out of the neighborhood, and they’d be working their way toward room temperature.

Now, because he hadn’t been clever enough to let them burst in on him, he’d have to do the bursting.


It wasn’t hard to find them. From the hallway outside Margarita’s room, he could hear them—laughing, grunting, sounding for all the world like a pair of drunken lovers. He made his way to the door of the master bedroom, which they had not troubled to close, and there they were, doing the dirty deed. One glance established as much for Keller, and he quickly averted his eyes.

The woman was Portia Walmsley; Keller had glimpsed more than enough of her to match her with her pictures. Not that he’d been in much doubt, with her companion calling her Portsie. And the man looked vaguely familiar as well, though Keller couldn’t think why. Had he seen him in the auction room? Jesus, was the sonofabitch a stamp collector?

He could take another look, but he didn’t really want to. Keller had never regarded lovemaking as a spectator sport. When he was in high school a classmate had brought some dirty pictures to class, and Keller had looked at them, and found them erotic enough. But he wasn’t in high school anymore.

Even without watching them he could tell they were pretty well wrapped up in each other, and unlikely to offer much resistance if he went in there and did what he was supposed to do. He rehearsed it in his mind, visualized himself moving purposefully into the room, taking the lover out of the play with a judo chop to the side of the neck, grabbing the woman and breaking her neck, then doing the same for the immobilized man. It would all be over before they knew it, almost before he knew it.

Go on, he thought. Don’t just stand there. You know what you’re supposed to do. So why aren’t you doing it?

Maybe there was a better way.

If he just went in there and got the job done, he’d have earned his fee—plus a bonus for the boyfriend. But he’d also be leaving the kind of mess that would make headlines, and the cops would be all over their client. It was Walmsley’s responsibility to provide himself with an alibi, and he’d probably come up with a good one, but would he have the sense to lawyer up right away and keep his mouth shut? Or would he fall apart when it became clear that he was the sole suspect?

Not Keller’s worry. Walmsley could hang himself by talking, but he didn’t know enough to hang anybody else.

Still, what if Keller left the Dallas cops a case they could close as soon as they opened it? He could see a way to do it, and earn a double bonus in the process.

It would take time, though. So he went back to Margarita’s room to wait.

Was it the same crucifix? He could swear it was larger than he remembered.

He left the door open. He didn’t really want to hear the two of them—though that wasn’t nearly as bad as seeing them. But he wanted to know when they fell silent.

And, while he waited, he ran an amended scenario through his mind. He liked it, he thought it would work, but there was still one question he couldn’t answer.

Could he do it?

For a couple of years now he’d been leading a very different life, and it struck him as possible that he’d become a different person in the process. He had a wife, he had a daughter, he had a house, he had a business. He might cross the street against the light, and he and Donny managed to keep their cash receipts a secret from the tax man, but all in all he was a law-abiding individual, a reasonably solid citizen. He’d always had a penchant for civic responsibility; he’d served on a jury when called, and volunteered at Ground Zero in the aftermath of 9/11. But all along he’d had this dark side, this other life, and he’d left that part of himself behind when he settled in New Orleans.

So maybe that was what had led him to throw the bolt and lock himself in the maid’s room. And maybe he wasn’t waiting now for a better opportunity. Maybe he was stalling, and waiting for a chance to pull the plug on the whole operation.

He mulled it over, running various possibilities through his mind. And then it struck him that he couldn’t hear them anymore, and in fact hadn’t heard them for a while now.

How long? Could they have put their clothes on and gone out? If so, he decided, then he was going to say the hell with it. He’d climb out the window and drive away, and leave Portia Walmsley to work out for herself what had happened to her maid and her window, one having jumped the track and the other having disappeared altogether. But she’d get to stay alive, at least until her husband hired somebody else, and she’d never know what a close call she’d had.

Scratch that, he told himself. Because there she was in the bedroom, lying on her back with her mouth open, snoring away in a very unappealing fashion. And, lying beside her and snoring twice as loud, was the oaf she’d picked to be her boyfriend. He still looked familiar, and Keller figured out why. It was the mustache, identical in shape to that of Michael, his companion at breakfast.

Keller found his way to the kitchen, and came back with a knife.


Oh, it was a lazy day,” he said. “I got to talking with a U.S. collector over breakfast, and wound up hanging out in the auction room to see how he did when his lots came up. I meant to call earlier so I could talk to Jenny before her bedtime, but I guess it’s too late now.”

His first call, when he got back to his hotel room, was on his other cell phone, the one he used only for calls to Dot. When there was no answer he put that phone away, got out the other one, and called Julia, and when he heard her voice he felt a great sense of relief.

After the phone call, after she’d told him about her day and he’d made up a day for himself, he tried to figure out what that sense of relief was all about. He hadn’t been aware of any anxiety until the sound of her voice dispelled it.

It took him a few minutes to sort it out, but what he decided was that he’d been afraid his whole new life was gone, that he’d somehow thrown it away in the Spanish-style house on Caruth Boulevard. Then he’d heard her voice and been reassured.

Now, though, he wasn’t sure how he felt.

He tried Dot again, watched a half hour of television, tried Dot one more time, and tried to decide if he felt like getting something to eat. He hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so he ought to be hungry, but he didn’t have much of an appetite. He checked the room-service menu and decided he could eat a sandwich, but when the waiter brought it he knew it was a mistake. There was coffee, and he drank that, but he left the sandwich untouched.

Years ago he’d learned how to clear his mind after a job. Very deliberately he let himself picture the master bedroom on Caruth Boulevard as he had last seen it. Portia Walmsley lay on her back, stabbed through the heart. Beside her was her unnamed lover, comatose with drink, his fingers clenched around the hilt of the murder weapon. It was the sort of image you’d want to blink away, especially if you’d had something to do with it, but Keller fixed it in his mind and brought it into focus, saw it in full color and sharp relief.

And then, as he’d learned to do, he willed the image to grow smaller and less distinct. He shrank it, as if viewing it through the wrong end of a telescope, and he washed out the bright colors, dimming the image to black and white, then fading it to gray. The details blurred, the faces became unrecognizable, and as the image disappeared, the incident itself lost its emotional charge. It had happened, there was no getting around it, but it was as if it had happened years and years ago, and to somebody else.

Keller, in line for the breakfast buffet, knew he was going to get his money’s worth. He’d put the room-service tray outside his door without taking the first bite of the sandwich, and went to bed uncertain if he’d be able to sleep on an empty stomach. The next thing he knew it was morning, and one of the first things that came to mind was an expression his mother had used now and then: My stomach thinks my throat’s been cut. Keller was shaving when the line came to him, which might have given him a turn, but he used a twin-blade safety razor, hardly something you’d use to cut a throat, your own or anybody else’s.

He piled his plate high and looked around for an empty table, and there was his friend of yesterday morning, mustachioed Michael, wielding a fork with one hand and beckoning to Keller with the other. Keller, glad for the company, went over and joined him.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies