Hit Me Page 7

“To me?”

“To the cops, after I got out of there. I wanted to make sure they showed up before he could come to his senses and head for the hills.”

“Hills would be hard to find,” she said, “in that part of the country. Look, don’t worry about it. You had no way of knowing he was the client, or that he’d canceled the contract. One way to look at it, he’s a lucky man.”


“You wanted the double bonus, right? That’s why you left him with the knife in his hand.”


“So otherwise you’d have killed them both. This way at least he’s alive.”

“What a lucky guy.”

“Well, yes and no. See, he’s consumed with guilt.”

“Because he didn’t call it off soon enough?”

“Because he got drunk and killed his wife. He doesn’t actually remember doing it, but then he can’t remember much of anything after the third drink, and what’s a man supposed to think when he comes out of a blackout with a knife in his hand and a dead woman next to him? He figures he must have done it, and he’ll plead guilty, and that’s the end of it.”

“And now he’s got to live with the guilt.”

“Keller,” she said, “everybody’s got to live with something.”



Keller, his suitcase unpacked, found himself curiously reluctant to leave his hotel room. He turned on the TV, channel surfed without finding anything that held his attention, threw himself down on the bed, picked himself up, test-drove every chair in the room, and finally told himself to get over it. He wasn’t sure what it was that he had to get over, but he wasn’t going to find it sitting in his room. Or lying down, or pacing the floor.

One explanation occurred to him in the elevator. Keller, who’d lived all his life in and around New York, had never had occasion to stay at a New York hotel before. Why would he? For years he’d had a wonderfully comfortable apartment on First Avenue in the 40s, and unless he was out of town, or had been invited to spend the night in the bed of some congenial female companion, that was where he slept.

Nowadays the only female companion in his life, congenial or otherwise, was his wife, Julia, and he lived in her house in New Orleans’s Garden District. His name in New Orleans—and, for that matter, everywhere he went—was Edwards, Nicholas Edwards. He was a partner in a construction business, doing post-Katrina residential rehabilitation, and his partner called him Nick, as did the men they worked with. Julia called him Nicholas, except in intimate moments, when she sometimes called him Keller.

But she didn’t do that so often anymore. Oh, the intimate moments were no less frequent, but she was apt to call him Nicholas then. And, he thought, why not? That was his name. Nicholas Edwards. That’s what it said on his driver’s license, issued to him by the state of Louisiana, and on his passport, issued to him by the United States of America. And that was the name on every credit card and piece of ID in his wallet, so how could you say that wasn’t who he was? And why shouldn’t his wife call him by his rightful name?

His daughter, Jenny, called him Daddy.

He realized that he missed them both, Jenny and Julia, and it struck him that this was ridiculous. They’d driven him to the airport that morning, so it had been only a matter of hours since he’d seen them, and he went longer than that without seeing them on any busy workday. Of course there’d been fewer busy workdays lately, the economy being what it was, and that in fact had a little to do with this visit to New York, but even so…

How you do go on, he told himself. And, shaking his head, walked through the lobby and out onto the street.

His hotel, the Savoyard, stood at the corner of Sixth Avenue and West 53rd Street. He took a moment to get his bearings, then headed uptown. There was a Starbucks two blocks from his hotel, and he waited at the counter while a young woman with a snake coiled around her upper arm—well, the inked representation of a snake, not an actual living reptile—made sure the barista understood exactly what she did and didn’t want in her latte. Keller couldn’t imagine caring quite that much about the composition of a cup of coffee, but neither could he imagine getting tattooed, so he let it go. When it was finally his turn, he asked for a small black coffee.

“That would be a ‘Tall,’” said the barista, herself sporting a tattoo and a few piercings. She drew the coffee without waiting for his reply, which was just as well, because Keller didn’t have one. The tables were all taken, but there was a high counter where you could stand while your coffee cooled. He did, and when it was cool enough to drink he drank it, and when he was done he left.

By then he’d come up with another explanation for his disinclination to leave his hotel room. He wasn’t used to being in a hotel in New York, and consequently he wasn’t quite prepared for what they cost. This one, decent enough but hardly palatial, was charging him close to $500 for no more space than they gave you in a Days Inn.

Spend that much on a room, you wanted to get your money’s worth. If you never left the room, it would only be costing you $40 an hour. If, on the other hand, you used it solely to sleep and shower…

At 56th Street he crossed to the west side of the avenue, and at 57th Street he turned to his left and walked about a third of a block, stopping to look into the window of a shop that sold watches and earrings. Once Keller had heard one woman tell another on QVC that you couldn’t have too many earrings, a statement that he had found every bit as baffling as the snake tattoo.

Keller wasn’t really interested in looking at earrings, and it wasn’t long before he’d turned to gaze instead across 57th Street. Number 119 West 57th Street was directly across the street, and Keller stayed where he was and tried to pay attention to the people entering and leaving the office building. People came and went, and Keller didn’t see anyone who looked familiar to him, but 57th was one of the wide crosstown streets, so he wasn’t getting a really good look at the faces of those who were coming and going.

It wasn’t the hotel room, he realized. The price of it, the novelty of being in a New York hotel. He hadn’t wanted to leave the room because he was afraid to be out in public in New York.

Where there were people who used to know him as Keller, and who knew, too, that one fine day in Des Moines, that very Keller had assassinated a popular, charismatic midwestern governor with presidential aspirations.


Except he didn’t. It was a frame, he was the fall guy, and it cost him his comfortable New York life and the name under which he’d lived it. When all was said and done he didn’t have any regrets, because the life he now led in New Orleans was worlds better than what he’d left behind. But that hadn’t been the plan of the man who set him up.

That plan had called for Keller to be arrested, or, better yet, killed outright, and it had taken all Keller’s resourcefulness to keep it from turning out that way. The man who’d done the planning was dead now, thanks to Keller, and so was the man who’d helped him, and that was as far as Keller saw any need to carry it. Someone somewhere had pulled the trigger and gunned down the governor, but Keller figured that faceless fellow was probably dead himself, murdered by the man who’d hired him, a loose end carefully tied off. And if not, well, the best of luck to him. He’d just been a man doing a job, and that was something Keller could relate to.

And Keller? He had a new name and a new life. So what was he doing back in New York?

He walked back to the corner of Sixth and 57th, waited for the light to change, then crossed the street and walked to the entrance of 119 West 57th. This was a building he’d entered a dozen or more times over the years, and always for the same purpose. There had been a firm called Stampazine on the second floor, and every couple of months they held a Saturday auction, and there was always some interesting and affordable material up for grabs. Keller would sit in a wooden chair with a catalog in one hand and a pen in the other, and every now and then he would raise a forefinger, and sometimes he’d wind up the high bidder. At six or six thirty he’d pick up his lots, pay cash for them, and go home happy.

Stampazine was gone now. Had they closed before or after he’d left New York? He couldn’t remember.

He recognized the uniformed lobby attendant. “Peachpit,” he said, and the man nodded in recognition—not of Keller but of Keller’s purpose. “Seven,” he said, and Keller went over and waited for the elevator.

Peachpit Auction Galleries was a cut or two above Stampazine. Keller had never visited them during his New York years, but after he was settled in New Orleans an ad in Linn’s Stamp News sent him to the Peachpit website. He bid on a couple of lots—unsuccessfully; someone else outbid him—but, having registered, he began to receive their catalogs several times a year. They were magnificently printed, with a color photograph of every lot, and he always found an abundance of choice material.

There was a way to bid online in real time, during the actual floor auction, and he’d planned on doing so but always seemed to be at work during their midweek auctions. Then a few months ago he’d had the day off—he and Donny had the whole week off, actually, although they’d have preferred it otherwise. And he remembered the Peachpit sale, and logged on and went through what you had to go through to bid, and he found the whole process impossibly nerve-racking. An auction was anxiety-ridden anyway, but when you showed up in person you could at least see what was going on, and know that the guy with the gavel could see you in return. Online, well, he supposed a person could get the hang of it, but he hadn’t, and wasn’t inclined to try again.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, Julia and Jenny walked into his upstairs office—Daddy’s Stamp Room—to find him shaking his head over the new Peachpit catalog. Julia asked what was the matter.

“Oh, this,” he said, tapping the catalog. “There are some lots I’d like to buy.”


“Well, the sale’s in New York.”

“Oh,” she said.

“Daddy ’tamps,” said Jenny.

“Yes, Daddy’s stamps,” Keller said, and picked up his daughter and set her on his lap. “See?” he said, pointing at a picture in the catalog, a German Colonial issue from Kiauchau showing the kaiser’s yacht, Hohenzollern. “Kiauchau,” he told Jenny, “was an area of two hundred square miles in southeast China. The Germans grabbed it in 1897, and then made arrangements to lease it from China. I don’t imagine the Chinese had a lot of choice in the matter. Isn’t that a pretty stamp?”

“Pity ’tamp,” Jenny said, and there the matter lay.

Until the phone rang two days later. It was Dot, calling from Sedona, and the first thing she did was apologize for calling at all.

“I told myself I’d just call to see how you’re doing,” she said, “and to find out the latest cute thing Jenny said, but you know something, Keller? I’m too damn old to start fooling myself.”

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