“He just dropped dead.”

“In front of God and everybody.”

“Especially everybody.” She took a long drink of iced tea. “We got paid,” she said.

“That was quick.”

“Well, you’ve got a real fan club in Albuquerque, Keller. There are some people there who may not know your name, but they’re sure crazy about your work.”

“So they paid the second half. How about the escalator?”

“It was marble steps. Oh, sorry, I got lost there. Yes, they paid the escalator. You nailed the bastard before they could even swear him in. They paid the escalator, and they paid a bonus.”

“A bonus?”

“A bonus.”

“Why? What for?”

“To make themselves feel good, would be my guess. I don’t know what the prisons are like in New Mexico, but I gather they’re grateful not to be going, and they wanted to make a grand gesture. What they said, the bonus was for dramatic effect.”

Advertisement..

“Dramatic effect?”

“On the courthouse steps, Keller? The man dies surrounded by G-men, and the whole world gets to see him do it over and over again? Believe me, they’ll get their money’s worth out of this one. They’ll be playing that tape every time they swear in a new member. ‘You think you can ever cross us and get away with it? Look what happened to Petrosian.’ “

He thought about it. “Dot,” he said, “I didn’t do anything.”

“You just went out every morning for a Mexican breakfast.”

“Huevos rancheros.”

“And here I always thought a Mexican breakfast was a cigarette and a glass of water. You ate eggs and watched television. What else? Get to a movie?”

“Once or twice.”

“Buy any stamps?”

He shook his head. “ Roswell ’s like a three- or four-hour drive from Albuquerque. The stamp dealers in town, a couple of them just work through the mails, and the one shop I went to was basically a coin dealer. He sells supplies and albums, a few packets, but he doesn’t really have a stamp stock.”

“Well, you can buy stamps now, Keller. Lots of them.”

“I suppose so.”

She frowned. “Something’s bothering you,” she said.

“I told you. I didn’t do anything.”

“I know, and that’ll have to be our little secret. And who’s to say it’s true?”

“What do you mean?”

“Think about it,” she said, and hummed the Twilight Zone theme. “You go to Illinois and Klinger gets hit by a car. You go to Albuquerque and Petrosian has a handy little heart attack. Coincidence?”

“But…”

“Maybe your thoughts are powerful, Keller. Maybe all you have to do is get to thinking about a guy and his ticket’s punched.”

“That’s crazy,” he said.

“Be that as it may,” said Dot.

Seventeen

“It’s been a while,” Maggie Griscomb said.

They were in her loft on Crosby Street. Keller’s clothes were neatly folded on the couch, while Maggie’s lay in a black heap on the floor. Music played on her stereo, something weird and electronic. Keller couldn’t guess what the instruments were, let alone why they were being played like that.

“I thought you weren’t going to call me anymore,” she said. “And then you did. And here you are.”

Here he was, in her bed, his perspiration evaporating beneath the overhead fan.

“I was out of town,” he said.

“I know.”

“How?” He turned to face her, worked to keep the alarm from showing on his face or in his voice. “That I was out of town,” he said. “How did you know that?”

“You told me.”

“I told you?”

“Two hours ago,” she said, “or whenever it was that you called. ‘Hi, it’s me, I was out of town.’ “

“Oh.”

“Or words to that effect. Does it all come back to you now?”

“Sure,” he said. “I was confused there for a minute, that’s all.”

“Addled by lovemaking.”

“Must be.”

She rolled over on her side, propped her pointed chin on his chest. “You thought I was checking up on you,” she said.

“No.”

“Sure you did. You thought I meant I already knew you were out of town, before you told me.”

That was what he’d thought, all right. And that was why alarm bells had gone off.

“But I didn’t,” she said, “or I wouldn’t have thought our superficial relationship was coming to an end. ‘He’ll call when he gets back to town,’ I would have thought.”

Maybe it was the music, he thought. If they played it in a movie, you’d be waiting for something to happen. Something scary, if it was that kind of picture. Something unexpected, whatever kind of picture it was.

“Or maybe not,” she said. Her eyes were so close to his that it was impossible to read them, or even to look into them without getting a headache. He wanted to close his own eyes, but could you do that when someone was staring into them like that? Wouldn’t it be impolite?

“I almost called you, Keller. A few days ago. You never gave me your number.”

“You never asked for it.”

“No. But I’ve got Caller ID on my phone, and I’ve got your number. Or I used to.”

“You lost it?”

“I looked it up, when I almost called you. And I decided calling you was no way to maintain a superficial relationship. So I burned up your phone number.”

“Burned it up?”

“Well, no. Tore it into little tiny scraps and threw them out the window like confetti. Which I guess is what they were, because confetti’s just little scraps of paper, isn’t it?”

His mind filled with the image of a squad of police technicians, piecing together tiny scraps of paper, deliberately assembling a tiny jigsaw puzzle until his telephone number reappeared.

“You’re losing interest,” she said. “Admit it-the only reason you called me tonight was you felt like having sex.”

He opened his mouth, prepared to deny the charge, then stopped and frowned. “That’s all we do,” he said.

“That’s a point.”

“So why else would I call?”

“Right,” she said, drawing away. “Got to hand you that one. Why else would you call?”

“I mean-“

“I know what you mean. And I made the rules, didn’t I? I’ll tell you something, superficial relationships are as hard to maintain as the other kind. I’m not going to see you again, am I?”

“Well…”

“I’m not,” she said decisively, “and I think it’s better that way. You with your downtown bohemian mistress, dressed all in black and playing weird music. Me with my buttoned-down corporate lover, living uptown somewhere. I don’t even know where you live.”

Good, Keller thought.

“Of course I could find out if I hadn’t turned your phone number into a ticker-tape parade. Just check out the number in a reverse directory. Oh, hell.”

“What’s the matter?”

“You called me a couple of hours ago. I don’t suppose you used a pay phone, did you?”

“No.”

“You called from your place.”

“Well, yes.”

“Damn right you did. I knew it was you before I picked up. Remember how I answered the phone? ‘Well, hello there,’ like I knew who it was. Or did you figure I answer all my calls that way?”

“I didn’t think about it,” he said.

“Maybe I should. It would confuse the telemarketers, wouldn’t it? Anyway, I saw the number on the screen, and I recognized it. I never actually memorized it, but I still recognized it when I saw it.”

“So?”

“So nobody called me since then, which means it’s still on my called ID screen. I pick up the phone and there’s your number. Listen, do me a favor? First pay phone you come to, call me. Then wherever you’re calling from, that’ll be the number on my Caller ID screen, and I won’t have to have your home number around, complicating my life.”

The music, he thought, was by no means the weirdest thing going. His phone number? Complicating her life? “Sure,” he said carefully. “I could do that.”

“In fact, make the call from the pay phone down on the corner. So you don’t forget.”

“All right.”

“And the best thing,” she said, “would be if you put your clothes on now, and went straight out and made that call.”

“If you say so,” he said, “but can’t it wait, and I’ll do it on my way home?”

“Make the call now,” she said, “on your way home.”

“Oh.”

“Or wherever else you want to go. Because we’re history, Keller. So get your number off my phone, and lose my number, and we’ll both get on with our lives. How does that sound?”

He wasn’t sure if the question required an answer, but in any event he couldn’t come up with one. He got out of bed and into his clothes and out of her loft, and he called her from a pay phone in a bar at the corner of Broadway and Bleecker.

She picked up right away, and without preamble she said, “It was great fun, but it was just one of those things.” And hung up.

Keller, feeling he’d missed something, took a seat at the bar. The crowd was mixed-downtown types, uptown types, out-of-town types. The bartender was a Chinese girl with long straight hair the color of buttercups. She had a nose ring, but almost everybody did these days. Keller wondered how the hell that had caught on.

He heard someone order a Black Russian. He’d had one years ago and couldn’t remember if he’d liked it or not. He had the yellow-haired Chinese girl make him one, took a sip, and decided he could go years before he ordered another.

A song played on the jukebox. Keller didn’t recognize it, but, listening to it, he realized Maggie’s parting shot had been a line from a song. She’d delivered it like conversation, with no irony, none of the cadence you gave lines when you were quoting them, and it had taken him until now to place it. Great fun. Just one of those things.

I was out of town, he’d said. I know, she’d said.

And there’d been a tingling in his hands.

Had she sensed anything? Had she had any idea how close she’d come, how his hands had been ready to reach for her?

He thought about it and decided she hadn’t, not consciously. But maybe she’d picked something up on a deeper level, and maybe that was why, still in the afterglow of their lovemaking, she’d rushed him into his clothes and out of her life.

After all, his thoughts were powerful. Why shouldn’t she pick up on them?

He took another sip of his drink. Somewhere out there, the man they were calling Roger had him on a list. Not by name-Roger wouldn’t know his name, any more than he knew Roger’s. But Roger had tried to kill him twice, and would very likely try to kill him again.