Maybe that was the risk. On a fateful day, you stood in the rain in Boston and caught your death of cold.
He toughed it out, and shortly before two a cab pulled up and a man got out, bundled up anonymously enough in a hat and coat, neither of them green. Keller’s heart quickened. It could have been Thurnauer-it could have been anybody-and the fellow did stand looking across at the right house for a long moment before turning and heading off down the street. Keller gave up watching him when he got a couple of houses away. He retreated into the shadows, waiting for Thurnauer.
Who showed up right on time. Two on the button on Keller’s watch, and there was the man himself, easy to spot as he got out of his cab because he wasn’t wearing a hat. The mop of brown hair was a perfect field mark, identifiable at a glance.
Do it now?
It was doable. Just because he had keys didn’t mean he had to use them. He could dart across the street and catch up with Thurnauer before the man had the front door open. Do him on the spot, shove him into the vestibule where the whole world wouldn’t see him, and be out of sight himself in seconds.
That way he wouldn’t have to worry about the girlfriend. But there might be other witnesses, people passing on the street, some moody citizen staring out the window at the rain. And he’d be awfully visible racing across the street in his green coat. And the letter opener was still in its box, so he’d have to use his hands.
And by the time he’d weighed all these considerations the moment had passed and Thurnauer was inside the house.
Just as well. If a roll in the hay was going to cost Thurnauer his life, let him at least have a chance to enjoy it. That was better than rushing in and doing a slapdash job. Thurnauer could have an extra thirty or forty minutes of life, and Keller could get out of the goddam rain and have a cup of coffee.
At the lunch counter, feeling only a little like one of the lonely guys in his Edward Hopper poster, Keller remembered that he hadn’t eaten all day. He’d somehow missed breakfast, which was unusual for him.
Well, it was a high-risk day, wasn’t it? Pneumonia, starvation-there were a lot of hazards out there.
Eating would have to wait. He didn’t have the time, and he never liked to work on a full stomach. It made you sluggish, slowed your reflexes, spoiled your judgment. Better to wait and have a proper meal afterward.
While his coffee was cooling he went to the men’s room and took the letter opener out of its gift box, which he discarded. He put the letter opener in his jacket pocket where he could reach it in a hurry. You couldn’t cut with it, the blade’s edge was rounded, but it came to a good sharp point. But was it sharp enough to penetrate several layers of cloth? Just as well he hadn’t acted on the spur of the moment. Wait for Thurnauer to get out of his coat and jacket and shirt, and then the letter opener would have an easier time of it.
He drank his coffee, donned his green coat, picked up his umbrella, and went back to finish the job.
Nothing to it, really.
The keys worked. He didn’t run into anybody in the entryway or on the stairs. He listened at the door of the second-floor apartment, heard music playing and water running, and let himself in.
He put down his umbrella, took off his coat, slipped off his shoes, and made his way in silence through the living room and along a hallway to the bedroom door. That was where the music was coming from, and it was where the woman, a slender dishwater blonde with translucent white skin, was sitting cross-legged on the edge of an unmade bed, smoking a cigarette.
She looked frighteningly vulnerable, and Keller hoped he wouldn’t have to hurt her. If he could get Thurnauer alone, if he could do the man and get out without being seen, then he could let her live. If she saw him, well, then all bets were off.
The shower stopped running, and a moment later the bathroom door opened. A man emerged with a dark green towel around his waist. The guy was completely bald, and Keller wondered how the hell he’d managed to wind up in the wrong apartment. Then he realized it was Thurnauer after all. The guy had taken off his hair before he got in the shower.
Thurnauer walked over to the bed, made a face, and reached to take the cigarette away from the girl, stubbing it out in an ashtray. “I wish to God you’d quit,” he said.
“And I wish you’d quit wishing I would quit,” she said. “I’ve tried. I can’t quit, all right? Not everybody’s got your goddam willpower.”
“There’s the gum,” he said.
“I started smoking to get out of the habit of chewing gum. I hate how it looks, grown women chewing gum, like a herd of cows.”
“Or the patch,” he said. “Why can’t you wear a patch?”
“That was my last cigarette,” she said.
“You know, you’ve said that before, and much as I’d like to believe it-“
“No, you moron,” she snapped. “It was the last one I’ve got with me, not the last one I’m ever going to smoke. If you had to play the stern daddy and take a cigarette away from me, did it have to be my last one?”
“You can buy more.”
“No kidding,” she said. “You’re damn right I can buy more.”
“Go take a shower,” Thurnauer said.
“I don’t want to take a shower.”
“You’ll cool off and feel better.”
“You mean I’ll cool off and you’ll feel better. Anyway, you just took a shower and you came out grumpy as a bear with a sore foot. The hell with taking a shower.”
“Why? What’s the matter, do I stink? Or do you just want to get me out of the room so you can make a phone call?”
“Mavis, for Christ’s sake…”
“You can call some other girl who doesn’t smoke and doesn’t sweat and-“
“Oh, go to hell,” Mavis said. “I’m gonna go take a shower. And put your hair on, will you? You look like a damn cue ball.”
The shower was running and Thurnauer was hunched over her makeup mirror, adjusting his hairpiece, when Keller got a hand over his mouth and plunged the letter opener into his back, fitting it deftly between two ribs and driving it home into his heart. The big man had no time to struggle; by the time he knew what was happening, it had already happened. His body convulsed once, then went slack, and Keller lowered him to the floor.
The shower was still running. Keller could be out the door before she was out of the shower. But as soon as she did come out she would see Thurnauer, and she’d know at a glance that he was dead, and she’d scream and yell and carry on and call 911, and who needed that?
Besides, the pity he’d felt for her had dried up during her argument with her lover. He’d responded to a sense of her vulnerability, a fragile quality that he’d since decided was conveyed by that see-through skin of hers. She was actually a whining, sniping, carping nag of a woman, and about as fragile as an army boot.
So, when she stepped out of the bathroom, he took her from behind and broke her neck. He left her where she fell, just as he’d left Thurnauer on the bedroom floor. You could try to set a scene, make it look as though she had stabbed him and then broke her neck in a fall, but it would never fool anybody, so why bother? The client had merely stipulated that the man be dead, and that’s what Keller had delivered.
It was sort of a shame about the girl, but it wasn’t all that much of a shame. She was no Mother Teresa. And you couldn’t let sentiment get in the way. That was always a bad idea, and especially on a high-risk day.
There were good restaurants in Boston, and Keller thought about going to Locke-Ober’s, say, and treating himself to a really good meal. But the timing was wrong. It was just after three, too late for lunch and too early for dinner. If he went someplace decent they would just stare at him.
He could kill a couple of hours. He hadn’t brought his catalog, so there was no point making the rounds of the stamp shops, but he could see a movie, or go to a museum. It couldn’t be that hard to find a way to get through an afternoon, not in a city like Boston, for God’s sake.
On a nicer day he’d have been happy enough just walking around Back Bay or Beacon Hill. Boston was a good city for walking, not as good as New York, but better than most cities. With the rain still coming down, though, walking was no pleasure, and cabs were hard to come by.
Keller, back on Newbury Street, walked until he found an upscale coffee shop that looked okay. It wasn’t going to remind anybody of Locke-Ober, but it was here and they would serve him now, and he was too hungry to wait.
The waitress wanted to know what the problem was. “It’s my coat,” Keller told her.
“What happened to your coat?”
“Well, that’s the problem,” he said. “I hung it on the hook over there, and it’s gone.”
“You sure it’s not there?”
“Because coats tend to look alike, and there’s coats hanging there, and-“
“Mine is green.”
“Green green? Or more like an olive green?”
What difference did it make? There were three coats over there, all of them shades of beige, none at all like his. “The salesman called it olive,” he said, “but it was pretty green. And it’s not here.”
“Are you sure you had it when you came in?”
Keller pointed at the window. “It’s been like that all day,” he said. “What kind of an idiot would go out without a coat?”
“Maybe you left it somewhere else.”
Was it possible? He’d shucked the coat in the Exeter Street living room. Could he have left it there?
No, not a chance. He remembered putting it on, remembered opening his umbrella when he hit the street, remembered hanging both coat and umbrella on the peg before he slid into the booth and reached for the menu. And where was the umbrella? Gone, just like the coat.
“I didn’t leave it anywhere else,” he said firmly. “I was wearing the coat when I came in, and I hung it up right there, and it’s not there now. And neither is my umbrella.”
“Somebody must of taken it by mistake.”
“How? It’s green.”
“Maybe they’re color-blind,” she suggested. “Or they got a green coat at home, and they forgot they were wearing the tan one today, so they took yours by mistake. When they bring it back-“
“Nobody’s going to bring it back. Somebody stole my coat.”
“Why would anybody steal a coat?”
“Probably because he didn’t have a coat of his own,” Keller said patiently, “and it’s pouring out there, and he didn’t want to get wet any more than I do. The three coats on the wall belong to your three other customers, and I’m not going to steal a coat from one of them, and the guy who stole my coat’s not going to bring it back, so what am I supposed to do?”
“We’re not responsible,” she said, and pointed to a sign that agreed with her. Keller wasn’t convinced the sign was enough to get the restaurant off the hook, but it didn’t matter. He wasn’t about to sue them.