One

Keller, fresh off the plane from Newark, followed the signs marked Baggage Claim. He hadn’t checked a bag, he never did, but the airport signage more or less assumed that everybody checked their luggage, because you got to the exit by heading for the baggage claim. You couldn’t count on a series of signs that said This is the way to get out of this goddam place.

There was a down escalator after you cleared security, and ten or a dozen men stood around at the foot of it, some in uniform, most holding hand-lettered signs. Keller found himself drawn to one man, a droopy guy in khakis and a leather jacket. He was the guy, Keller decided, and his eyes went to the sign the man was holding.

But you couldn’t read the damn thing. Keller walked closer, squinting at it. Did it say Archibald? Keller couldn’t tell.

He turned, and there was the name he was looking for, on a card held by another man, this one taller and heavier and wearing a suit and tie. Keller veered away from the man with the illegible sign-what was the point of a sign that nobody could read?-and walked up to the man with the Archibald sign. “I’m Mr. Archibald,” he said.

“Mr. Richard Archibald?”

What possible difference could it make? He started to nod, then remembered the name Dot had given him. “Nathan Archibald,” he said.

“That’s the ticket,” the man said. “Welcome to Louisville, Mr. Archibald. Carry that for you?”

“Never mind,” Keller said, and held on to his carry-on bag. He followed the man out of the terminal and across a couple of lanes of traffic to the short-term parking lot.

“About the name,” the man said. “What I figured, anybody can read a name off a card. Some clown’s got to figure, why take a cab when I can say I’m Archibald and ride for free? I mean, it’s not like they gave me a picture of you. Nobody here even knows what you look like.”

“I don’t come here often,” Keller said.

Advertisement..

“Well, it’s a pretty nice town,” the man said, “but that’s beside the point. Which is I want to make sure I’m driving the right person, so I throw out a first name, and it’s a wrong first name. ‘Richard Archibald?’ Guy says yeah, that’s me, Richard Archibald, right away I know he’s full of crap.”

“Unless that’s his real name.”

“Yeah, but what’s the odds of that? Two men fresh off a plane and they both got the name Archibald?”

“Only one.”

“How’s that?”

“My name’s not really Archibald,” Keller said, figuring he wasn’t exactly letting state secrets slip by the admission. “So it’s only one man named Archibald, so how much of a long shot is it?”

The man set his jaw. “Guy claims to be Richard Archibald,” he said, “he’s not my guy. Whether it’s his name or not.”

“You’re right about that.”

“But you came up with Nathan, so we’re in business. Case closed. It’s the Toyota there, the blue one. Get in and we’ll take a run over to long-term parking. Your car’s there, full tank of gas, registration in the glove box. When you’re done, just put her back in the same spot, tuck the keys and the claim check in the ashtray. Somebody’ll pick it up.”

The car turned out to be a mid-size Olds, dark green in color. The man unlocked it and handed Keller the keys and a cardboard claim check. “Cost you a few dollars,” he said apologetically. “We brought her over last night. On the passenger seat there you got a street map of the area. Open it up, you’ll see two spots marked, home and office. I don’t know how much you been told.”

“Name and address,” Keller said.

“What was the name?”

“It wasn’t Archibald.”

“You don’t want to say? I don’t blame you. You seen a photo?”

Keller shook his head. The man drew a small envelope from his inside pocket, retrieved a card from it. The card’s face displayed a family photograph, a man, a woman, two children and a dog. The humans were all smiling, and looked as though they’d been smiling for days, waiting for someone to figure out how to work the camera. The dog, a golden retriever, wasn’t smiling, but he looked happy enough. “Season’s Greetings…” it said below the photo.

Keller opened the card. He read: “… from the Hirschhorns-Walt, Betsy, Jason, Tamara, and Powhatan.”

“I guess Powhatan’s the dog,” he said.

“Powhatan? What’s that, an Indian name?”

“Pocahontas’s father.”

“Unusual name for a dog.”

“It’s a fairly unusual name for a human being,” Keller said. “As far as I know it’s only been used once. Was this the only picture they could come up with?”

“What’s the matter with it? Nice clear shot, and I’m here to tell you it looks just like the man.”

“Nice that you could get them to pose for you.”

“It’s from a Christmas card. Musta been taken during the summer, though. How they’re dressed, and the background. You know where I bet this was taken? He’s got a summer place out by McNeely Lake.”

Wherever that was.

“So it woulda been taken in the summer, which’d make it what, fifteen months old? He still looks the same, so what’s the problem?”

“It shows the whole family.”

“Right,” the man said. “Oh, I see where you’re going. No, it’s just him, Walter Hirschhorn. Just the man himself.”

That was Keller’s understanding, but it was good to have it confirmed. Still, he’d have been happier with a solo headshot of Hirschhorn, eyes narrowed and mouth set in a line. Not surrounded by his nearest and dearest, all of them with fixed smiles.

He didn’t much like the way this felt. Hadn’t liked it since he walked off the plane.

“I don’t know if you’ll want it,” the man was saying, “but there’s a piece in the glove box.”

A piece of what, Keller wondered, and then realized what the man meant. “Along with the registration,” he said.

“Except the piece ain’t registered. It’s a nice little twenty-two auto with a spare clip, not that you’re gonna need it. The clip, I mean. Whether you need the piece altogether is not for me to say.”

“Well,” Keller said.

“That’s what you guys like, isn’t it? A twenty-two?”

If you shot a man in the head with a.22, the slug would generally stay within the skull, bouncing around in there, doing no good to the skull’s owner. The small-calibre weapon was supposed to be more accurate, and had less recoil, and would presumably be the weapon of choice for an assassin who prided himself in his artistry.

Keller didn’t spend much time thinking about guns. When he had to use one, he chose whatever was at hand. Why make it complicated? It was like photography. You could learn all about f-stops and shutter speeds, or you could pick up a Japanese camera and just point and shoot.

“Just use it and lose it,” the man was saying. “Or if you don’t use it just leave it in the glove box. Otherwise it goes in a Dumpster or down a storm drain, but why am I telling you this? You’re the man.” He pursed his lips and whistled without making a sound. “I have to say I envy a man like you.”

“Oh?”

“You ride into town, do what you do, and ride on out. Well, fly on out, but you get the picture. In and out with no hassles, no complications, no dealing with the same assholes day in and day out.”

You dealt with different ones every time, Keller thought. Was that supposed to be better?

“But I couldn’t do it. Could I pull a trigger? Maybe I could. Maybe I already done that, one time or another. But your way is different, isn’t it?”

Was it?

The man didn’t wait for an answer. “By the baggage claim,” he said, “you didn’t see me right away. You were headed for one of the other guys.”

“I couldn’t make out the sign he was holding,” Keller said. “The letters were all jammed together. And I had the sense that he was waiting for somebody.”

“They’re all of them waiting for somebody. Point is, I was watching you, before you took notice of me. And I pictured myself living the life you lead. I mean, what do I know about your life? But based on my own ideas of it. And I realized something.”

“Oh?”

“It’s just not for me,” the man said. “I couldn’t do it.”

It cost Keller eight dollars to get his car out of the long-term lot, which struck him as reasonable enough. He got on the interstate going south, got off at Eastern Parkway, and found a place to have coffee and a sandwich. It called itself a family restaurant, which was a term Keller had never entirely understood. It seemed to embody low prices, Middle American food, and a casual atmosphere, but where did family come into the picture? There were no families there this afternoon, just single diners.

Like Keller himself, sitting in a booth and studying his map. He had no trouble finding Hirschhorn’s downtown office (on Fourth Street between Main and Jefferson, just a few blocks from the river) and his home in Norbourne Estates, a suburb a dozen miles to the east.

He could look for a hotel downtown, possibly within walking distance of the man’s office. Or-he studied the map-or he could continue east on Eastern Parkway, and there would almost certainly be a cluster of motels where it crossed I-64. That would give him easy access to the residence and, afterward, to the airport. He could get downtown from there as well, but he might not have to go there at all, because it would almost certainly be easier and simpler to deal with Hirschhorn at home.

Except for the damned picture.

Betsy, Jason, Tamara, and Powhatan. He’d have been happier not knowing their names, and happier still not knowing what they looked like. There were certain bare facts about the quarry it was useful to have, but everything else, all the personal stuff, just got in the way. It could be valuable to know that a man owned a dog-whether or not you chose to break into his home might hinge upon the knowledge-but you didn’t have to know the breed, let alone the animal’s name.

It made it personal, and it wasn’t supposed to be personal. Suppose the best way to do it was in a room in the man’s house, a home office in the basement, say. Well, somebody would find him there, and it would probably be a family member, and that was just the way it went. You couldn’t go around killing people if you were going to agonize over the potential traumatic effect on whoever discovered the body.

But it was easier if you didn’t know too much about the people. You could live easier with the prospect of a wife recoiling in horror if you didn’t know her name, or that she had close-cropped blond hair and bright blue eyes and cute little chipmunk cheeks. It didn’t take too much in the way of imagination to picture that face when she walked in on the death scene.

So it was unfortunate that the man with the Archibald sign had shown him that particular photograph. But it wouldn’t keep him from doing the job at Hirschhorn’s residence any more than it would lead him to abort the mission altogether. He might not care what calibre gun he used, and he didn’t know that he took a craftsman’s pride in his work, but he was a professional. He used what came to hand, and he got the job done.