“The best thing to do,” he said, “is follow me home.”

“Which he did, but he went to the wrong room.”

“No,” he said. “Follow me all the way home. Follow me back to New York, find out who I am and where I live and take me out at leisure, while I’m living my life.”

“Seeing a movie,” she said. “Pasting stamps in your album.”

“Whatever. That’s how he worked it with the guy who died in his sleep. Followed him home and bided his time.”

“But with you he couldn’t wait.”

“Evidently not, one reason or another. It’s a good thing, too, because he would have had me cold. I wouldn’t have expected a thing. And if he tried for me in New York and killed the wrong person, he could come back the next day and try again.”

“The miserable son of a bitch.”

“You could call him that.”

“It’s not like he doesn’t have enough work. The way you laid it out, he turns down a job every time.”

“Well, that’s the way I would do it.”

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“And I’ll bet it’s the way he does it, too, the rat bastard. Well, he made a mistake. He’s in trouble.”

“He’s in trouble? We don’t know anything about him, Dot. Not who he is or where he lives or what he looks like. How much trouble can he be in?”

“We know he’s out there,” she said grimly. “And that’s enough. Keller, go home.”

“Huh?”

“Go home, lie down, put your feet up. Play with your stamps. This guy’s not a danger today. He probably thinks he got the right person when he nailed Louis Minot. And even if he knows better, he doesn’t know where to look for you. So go home and live your life.”

“And?”

“And I’ll pick up the phone,” she said, “and ask a few questions, and see what I can find out about this unprincipled son of a bitch.”

“What I don’t get,” she was saying, “is where they get off calling this a Long Island Iced Tea. There must be half a dozen different kinds of booze in it, but is there any tea at all?”

“You’re asking the wrong person.”

“No tea,” she decided. “Are they being ironic? Like this is what they drink for tea on Long Island? Or do you figure it’s a reference to Prohibition?”

“Beats me.”

“And I bet you don’t care, either. Well, one of these is going to be enough, I’ll say that much. I want to be sober when I shop, and the last thing I want is to sleep through The Lion King tonight.”

They were at a restaurant on Madison Avenue. Dot didn’t come to the city often, and when she did she managed to look like a suburban matron all gussied up for a day of shopping and a night at the theater. Which was reasonable enough, he thought, since that pretty much described her.

When the food came she said, “Well, let’s get to it. I didn’t want to do this over the phone, and why make you chase up to White Plains when I had to come in anyway? I ordered this ticket so long ago I feel as though I’ve already seen the play. I made some calls.”

“You said you were going to.”

“And I found out a thing or two about Roger.”

“That’s his name?”

“Probably not,” she said, “but that’s what he goes by. No last name, just Roger.”

“Where does he live?”

“Nobody knows.”

“Somebody’s got to. Not his address necessarily, but the city.”

“Roger the Lodger,” she said. “But wherever he’s lodged, it’s a secret.”

“If somebody wants to reach me,” he said, “they go through you. Who do you call to reach Roger?”

“Any of several brokers. Or you call him direct.”

“Well, there you go. His number must have an area code. What is it?”

“Three-oh-nine.”

“I don’t know that one.”

“ Peoria, Illinois. But all you get when you call the number is his voice mail at Sprint’s central office, and that’s nowhere near Peoria. You leave a number and he calls you back.”

“You figure he lives in Peoria?”

“There’s a chance,” she said, “but I’ve probably got a better chance in the lottery, and I haven’t bought a ticket. I think he went to Peoria once and bought a cell phone just so he could have the voice mail.”

“He calls you back,” he said. “Probably not on his cell phone, he probably just uses that for his messages. Then what?”

“You tell him about the job and he says yes or no.”

“You give him the name and address, the other details.”

“And anything else he’s going to need.”

“Suppose you want to point out the target?”

She shook her head. “No finger men for Roger. Nobody ever meets his plane.”

“In other words, nobody ever sees the guy.”

“Right.”

“Well, that’s damn smart,” he said. “And from now on it’s how we do business, and not because we’re afraid of the client.”

“But because we’re afraid of Roger.”

“Not afraid exactly, but-“

“But close enough. How’s your veal?”

“It’s fine. What’s that, filet of sole?”

“And it’s nice,” she said, “only a Long Island Iced Tea may not be the best way in the world to pave the way for it. Very nice, though. Delicate. But you’re right, no more airport pickups, no more jerks supplying a car and a gun.”

“Still,” he said, “he must have a way to collect his half in advance. And if you want to send him keys or a gun.”

“FedEx.”

“FedEx to where?”

“A FedEx office, and he calls for it.”

“I don’t suppose it’s the same FedEx office every time.”

“Never the same one twice, never the same city twice. Then afterward when it’s time to pay him, it’s another FedEx office in another city. And the recipient’s name is different each time, too. This guy doesn’t make the obvious mistakes.”

“No.”

“He’s a pro.”

“Right, a pro,” he said. “You know, I got back from Boston and I couldn’t stop looking over my shoulder. I was jumpy, I couldn’t sit still.”

“I can imagine.”

“But you get used to it. At first I thought, all right, I’ll pack it in. Who needs it? I was thinking about retiring that one time, and this time I’ll do it.”

“Neat trick, now that you’ve spent all your retirement fund on stamps.”

“Not all of it,” he said. “A good part of it, but not all of it. But even if I had the money back, even if I could afford to retire, am I going to let this son of a bitch chase me out of the business?”

“I get the sense the answer is no.”

“We’ll be very careful,” he said. “We’ll take a cue from Roger. No face-to-face with the client or any of his people. If they insist, we’ll pass.”

“And I’ll ask some questions I don’t normally ask. Like who turned this job down before you offered it to us? Sometimes a contract goes through different brokers, so the man who calls me may not know who had first refusal, but I’ll make it a point to find out what I can. And if I get a whiff of Roger anywhere near it, I’ll find a reason for us to take a pass.”

“And I’ll keep my eyes open.”

“Never a bad idea.”

“And somewhere down the line,” he said, “we’ll find a way to cut his trail.”

“ ‘Cut his trail’? What’s that mean?”

“They say it in westerns,” he said. “I don’t know exactly what it means. We’ll double back, get behind him, something like that.”

“What I more or less surmised.”

“Well, we’ll do it,” he said. “He’s a pro, but so what? I’m a pro myself, but that doesn’t mean I never make a mistake. I’ve made plenty of them over the years.”

“He’ll make one.”

“Damn right,” he said. “And when he does…”

“Bang bang. Excuse me, better make that pop pop.”

“No, bang bang is fine,” he said. “When I get this guy, I don’t care if I make a little noise.”

Fifteen

Keller, chasing the last forkful of omelet with the last bite of toast, watched while the waitress filled his coffee cup. He wasn’t sure he wanted more coffee, but it was easier to leave it behind than to stop the woman from pouring it for him. The restaurant had signs touting their bottomless cup of coffee. Keller, who’d been brought up to finish what was on his plate, had a problem with that. You couldn’t finish your coffee, they didn’t let you finish your coffee, they refilled your cup before you could empty it. He supposed that was good for people with scarcity issues, but it bothered him.

And what about the tea drinkers? It seemed to him that they got screwed royally. If you finished your tea, they’d give you more hot water to go with the same tea bag. He supposed you could get a second cup of tea out of a tea bag, if you didn’t mind weak and flavorless tea, but a third cup would be a real stretch. Meanwhile, a coffee drinker could polish off gallons of coffee, each cup as strong as the last.

Then again, who ever said life was fair?

“I’d have to say it looks good,” Dot had told him. “The man I talked to is dealing directly with the client, and according to him I’m the first person who got called. And we’ve got a name and address, and a photo’s on its way, and there’s nobody going to be waiting for you at the baggage claim at O’Hare. It’s a pretty safe bet our friend Roger doesn’t know zip about this one, and neither does Klinger.”

“Klinger?”

“The fellow in Lake Forest you’ll be saying hello and goodbye to. He’s not going to be looking over his shoulder. And you won’t have to spend a lot of time looking over your own shoulder, either.”

“Maybe an occasional glance.”

Back at his apartment, Keller’s first glance was at the horoscope Louise Carpenter had drawn for him. The period of great danger, peaking right around the time of his trip to Boston, had passed. Right now he had several relatively safe months ahead of him, at least as far as the stars were concerned. Things might get a bit perilous in the summer, but that was a whole season away.

Still, there was no point in being a damned fool. Lake Forest, Illinois, was on Lake Michigan north of Chicago, and you got there by flying to O’Hare Airport. Keller flew to Milwaukee instead, rented a car, and got a room at a motel fifteen minutes north of Lake Forest.

No rush. The client wasn’t in a hurry, and Klinger wasn’t going anywhere, except to the office and back, five days a week. Keller, keeping an eye on him, kept the other eye open for any sign of an alien presence. If Roger was around, Keller wanted to see him first.