Hit Me Page 9

“If we put our heads together,” he said, “maybe we can come up with something.”

Back in his room at the Savoyard, Keller figured it out. Asperger’s syndrome—that’s what Feldspar had, or what his wife said he had.

Though Ass-Backward syndrome wasn’t a bad fit.

“If I’d known what it would lead to,” he said, “I’d have told you right away.”

“But you didn’t.”

“No. I was afraid, I guess. That it would ruin things between us.”

“So you didn’t say anything.”


“And then you did.”


She didn’t say anything, but he felt besieged by her thoughts, bombarded with them. He said, “I figured I was done with it, I’d never do it again, so why bother mentioning it? I could just keep my mouth shut and seal off the episode and let it fade out into the past.”

“Like the faces you picture in your mind.”

“Something like that, yes.”

“I guess you got another phone call.”

“This afternoon.”

“I noticed something was different,” she said, “when Jenny and I got home from Advanced Sandbox. How’s Dot these days?”

“She’s good.” He cleared his throat. “I reminded her what I’d told her right after Dallas. That I didn’t want to do this sort of thing anymore.”

“But she called you anyway.”

“Well,” he said, “it’s complicated.”


Keller, who’d found it hard to leave his hotel room earlier, now found it impossible to spend any time in it. He showered, got dressed, turned the TV on and then off again, and went out.

In New Orleans, Keller drove his pickup truck for business and Julia’s car on other occasions. If he walked north for a couple of blocks, he could hop on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar. And there was a fair network of buses, and it was never hard to get a cab.

For all the choices available to him, Keller did a lot of walking. New Orleans was one of a relatively small number of pedestrian-friendly American cities. Not only could you get around on foot and find interesting things to look at while you did so, but New Orleanians—total strangers—would actually greet you in passing with a smile and a kind word. The ones who didn’t might well draw a gun and hold you up, post-Katrina street crime being a definite problem, but among the law-abiding citizenry you were apt to encounter a high level of politeness and genuine warmth. “Lovely morning, innit?” “Just grand! And how are y’all keeping this fine day?”

New York was at least as much of a city for walkers, to the point where Keller couldn’t understand why some people lived in the city and still felt compelled to own cars. The sidewalks might not be as quaintly friendly as those of New Orleans—there was, after all, good reason for the popularity of the line “Can you tell me how to get to the Empire State Building or should I just go fuck myself?”—but nevertheless it was a walker’s city, and Keller didn’t have to think about it. He left his hotel and started walking.

After his shower, he’d checked in the mirror to see if he needed a shave. He’d decided he could wait until morning, and looked a moment longer at the face Irv Feldspar had been able to recognize. It had changed some since Feldspar (or anyone else in New York) had last had a look at it. Back then his hair had been dark brown, almost black, and it had grown further down on his forehead. When he surfaced in New Orleans, with his face in newspapers and on TV, not to mention on post office walls, he wore a cap all the time, and tried to figure out how to dye his hair gray.

Julia had dyed his hair for him, not gray but a sort of tan shade she called mouse brown. And she had cut his hair short, and had given him a receding hairline. He’d had to shave the stubble where the hairline grew back, but he didn’t have to do that anymore, as Time had worked its own barbering tricks on him. Julia still touched up the dye job periodically, but the dark roots she’d had to lighten were now evolving into gray roots she needed to color.

And yet for all that transformation, worked by Julia and by the years, a guy Keller didn’t recall at all had placed him immediately. Of course he’d seen him in context, he knew him from one stamp auction and recognized him at another, so if they’d run into each other on a subway platform, say, Feldspar might not have given him a second glance.

If he had, Keller could have thrown him in front of a train.

“You may have read about the case,” Dot said. “Or caught it on the evening news. Political corruption in northern New Jersey.”

“I’m shocked,” Keller said.

“I know. It’s almost impossible to believe. Elected public officials taking bribes, laundering money, selling kidneys—”

“Selling kidneys?”

“So I understand, though who’d want to buy a politician’s kidney is a question I’d be hard put to answer. You must have seen something in the paper or on TV.”

“In New Orleans,” he told her, “we don’t pay much mind to political corruption in faraway places.”

“Y’all like to eat your own cooking?”

“There you go,” he said.

“A lot of people got arrested, Keller, and a couple of them went so far as to resign, but most of them are out on bail and still collecting their municipal paychecks. But it looks as though they’ll all have to step down sooner or later, and the abbot will probably have to give up his position, and—”

“The abbot?”

“Well, I don’t see how he can go on heading the monastery.”

“There’s an abbot heading a monastery?”

“Keller, that’s what they do. Not all of them can be partners with Lou Costello.” She paused, and he realized too late that she’d been waiting for him to laugh. When he didn’t, she said, “I don’t know how any of this works. I guess he can go on being a monk, unless he gets defrocked. And as for the other monks, well, I guess they’ll go on doing what they do. What do they do, anyway?”

“Pray,” Keller guessed. “Bake bread. Make cordials.”


“Bénédictine? Chartreuse?”

“Monks make those? I thought that was Seagram’s.”

“Monks started it. Maybe they sold the business. I think basically they pray, and maybe work in the garden.”

“The garden-variety monks work in the garden,” she suggested. “The laundry-variety monks keep themselves occupied with money and kidneys. See, the abbot was in cahoots with all the politicians.”

“Felonious monks,” Keller said. “Dot? You don’t think that was funny?”

“I chuckled a little,” she said, “the first time I heard it.”

“I just made it up.”

“You and every newscaster in the country.”


“Long story short,” she said, “here’s the long and the short of it. The abbot’s the guy who knows where all the kidneys are buried. If he talks, nobody walks. Keller? You beginning to get a sense of what your role’s going to be?”

To Keller, the word monastery called up an image of a walled medieval building, set off somewhere in a secluded rural location, its design combining elements of a Romanesque cathedral and a fortified castle. There’d be those narrow windows, to shoot arrows out of, and there’d be places to sit on the battlements, whatever exactly battlements were, while you poured boiling oil on people. And there’d be a dungeon, and there’d be little individual cells where the little individual monks slept. And there’d be grains of rice, to kneel on during prayer.

And singing, there’d be lots of singing. Gregorian chants, mostly, but maybe some sea chanteys, too, because Keller tended to mix up chants and chanteys in his mind. He knew the difference, but he mixed them up anyhow.

You wouldn’t look for a monastery on a quiet residential block in the East 30s. You wouldn’t expect to find a monastic order housed in a five-story limestone-front row house in Murray Hill.

Yet there it was.

It stood on the downtown side of East 36th Street between Park and Madison, flanked on either side by similar structures. A small brass plaque identified one of them as the Embassy of the Republic of Chad, while the other looked to be what all of these houses had once been—an elegant private residence. Between them, the building whose plaque read simply THESSALONIAN HOUSE looked no more monastic than either of its neighbors.

Dot had referred to Paul Vincent O’Herlihy, abbot of the Thessalonians, as a fine figure of a man, giving the words a touch of stage-Irish lilt. Keller knew why when he checked him out via Google Images. The abbot was tall and broad-shouldered, heavily built but not fat, with a leonine head and a full mane of white hair. He had one of those open faces that tend to inspire trust, often unwarranted, and Keller could see right away how, if this man were to become a monk, he might very well wind up as the man in charge. With the same looks and bearing, he could as readily have become some city’s commissioner of police, or chairman of the board of a Wall Street firm, or an insurance company CEO. Or, back when Tammany Hall ran New York, he might have been mayor.

Likes his food, Keller had thought, noting O’Herlihy’s bulk, the fit of his jacket, and in his head he heard the voice of a middle-aged Irishwoman: “Ah, but doesn’t he carry it well?” Likes a drink, Keller added, taking note of the florid complexion, the network of broken blood vessels in the cheeks and nose. “Ah, shure, and don’t they call that a strong man’s weakness?”

He was in there now, this fine figure of a man. He’d been there when a crew of federal agents came to the door and rang the bell. (If there was one; Keller noted a great brass door knocker mounted in the middle of the door, and perhaps that had been what the Feds used to make their presence known.)

Keller liked the idea of them using the knocker. When they rounded up drug dealers, they generally used a battering ram and knocked the door down. That was how they did it on TV, anyway, and it was impressively dramatic. But when they had to pay a call on a man of God, they didn’t even need to disturb the tranquillity with a doorbell’s chime. A discreet knock would serve.

So they’d knocked, Keller decided. And he knew that the visit had been no surprise to Father O’Herlihy, that he’d been forewarned by a phone call and was accordingly forearmed, with his attorney at his side when the door opened.

Had they cuffed him for the ride downtown? It was usually mandatory, but maybe they’d spared him that indignity. Keller couldn’t remember seeing news photos of a priest in handcuffs, and it was the kind of image that tended to stay with you.

Keller walked to the end of the block, crossed the street, and looked back at where he’d been. Having posted bond, Father O’Herlihy was now free to go where he pleased, but Keller was willing to bet he was under self-imposed house arrest, living the cloistered life in Thessalonian House. He’d be comfortable there, and those walls would keep him safe from reporters and photographers and other intrusive types.

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