There was a painter on the third floor, another painter on the fourth. Keller didn’t know what their work looked like, or if they ever sold any of it. He knew that Maggie occupied the top floor, and that the architect on the second floor was somewhere in Europe and wouldn’t be back for months.
Keller used the new keys, opened the new locks, and stepped into an enormous white room. The floor was white, as the locksmith had told him, and so were the walls and the ceiling, along with the built-in desk and the built-in bookshelves. There were windows at either end of the loft. The ones at the rear were painted white, glass and all, while the ones in the front were out of sight behind white shutters.
With the track lighting on, the whiteness of the room was enough to give you a headache. Keller turned the lights off, and the room was plunged into darkness. He tried opening one of the shutters a few inches, letting in a little daylight, and that was better.
There was furniture, he discovered, although he could see how the locksmith had missed it. White cubes, some of them topped with white cushions, served as chairs, and a big white box on one wall held a Murphy bed. Some of the cube chairs were permanently installed, but others were movable, and he carried one over to the front window, cushion and all, and sat on it.
“I don’t know if you noticed,” Dot said, “but the books on the shelves are white, too. They didn’t start out that way, but somebody took white shelf paper and made individual covers for them.”
“You could lose your color vision around here. Between the ding-a-ling upstairs who only wears black, and this fruitcake with everything white. You want to switch? I’ll watch the street for a while.”
“There’s somebody across the street,” he said.
“Where?” She joined him at the window, squinted through the space between the shutters. “Oh, there he is. In the doorway, with the windbreaker and the cap.”
“I spotted him a few minutes ago. He’s just standing there.”
“Well, he can’t be waiting for a bus, or hoping to flag a cruising taxi. He’s waiting for somebody. Have you got the binoculars?”
“I thought you had them.”
“Here they are. He could look up and spot light glinting off them, if there was any light to glint. I can’t really make out his face. Here, you look.”
He peered through the binoculars, adjusted the focus. The man’s face was in shadow, and indistinct.
“Well, Keller? Is that the guy you saw in Boston?”
“I never really got a good look at him,” he said, “and I don’t even know if the guy I saw was the guy who tried to kill me.”
“And killed your raincoat by mistake.”
“But this guy’s here for a reason,” he said. “He’s either Roger or he’s not.”
“That’s true of everybody, Keller.”
“You know what I mean. He’s here to do a job upstairs, or he’s here to do a job on the guy who does.”
Whoever he was, he was right there on the opposite side of a narrow street. If he had a gun, Keller thought, he could shoot the son of a bitch, and then they could go across the street and take a closer look at him.
“There’s somebody else,” he said. “See?”
“Walking down from the corner.”
“Just a man walking,” she said, “but that’s rare enough on this street, isn’t it? How about this guy, Keller. Does he look familiar?”
Keller tracked him with the binoculars. This one wasn’t in shadows, but he wore a long coat and a wide-brimmed hat and a muffler and glasses, and about all you could say for sure was that he didn’t have a mustache. He was on the tall side, but then so was the lurker, the guy in the doorway.
“He’s turning around,” he said. “I think he’s looking for an address.”
“And look who’s coming.”
“What, in the doorway? He hasn’t moved.”
“Coming down the street, Keller. Is that who I think it is? Dressed all in black, surprise surprise?”
It was Maggie, on her way home. She was coming from the left, and the guy with the hat and muffler was coming from the right, and the guy in the windbreaker and cap was across the street, lurking.
“This is handy,” Dot said. “Everybody on stage at the same time. You want to go downstairs and handle the introductions, Keller?”
“He’s crossing the street,” he said. “He’s walking right toward her.”
“He’s still in the doorway. Oh, the hat and muffler. You think he’s going to do it here and now?”
“How? It’s supposed to look like an accident.”
“Maybe he’ll throw her in front of a truck. There should be a garbage truck coming through sometime after midnight. Maybe he just wants a close look at her. No, he’s stopping her.”
Keller had the impulse to shout a warning. He wouldn’t do that, but what was he supposed to do, just sit there and watch the woman get killed?
“They’re talking,” Dot said, her own voice reduced to a whisper. “If the window was open we could hear them.”
“Don’t open it now.”
“No. From this angle all I can see is the tops of their heads, and they’re both wearing hats.”
“What difference does that make?”
“I don’t know. Maybe he’s a friend of hers.”
“Maybe she’ll take him upstairs. Maybe she’ll do that even if he’s a stranger. That’d make it easy for him, and then Roger’ll be waiting across the street when he comes out. Ooops, false alarm.”
Maggie was entering the building. And the man in the hat had drawn away from her and was crossing the street, moving to the right, away from the man in the doorway. He walked fifteen or twenty yards to another darkened building and stood at the door.
“He was asking directions,” Dot explained. “And she pointed him over there, and that’s where he’s going. See? He’s waiting for somebody to buzz him in. And somebody just did, and there he goes.”
“And the lurker, the guy in the cap? He’s not in the doorway.”
“That’s him two doors down,” she said. “Heading to the corner. The coffee shop’s still open. Maybe he’s hungry.”
“The locksmith seemed to like the Boston cream pie.”
“I wouldn’t mind a piece myself,” she said. “This watching and waiting takes a lot out of you.”
Around midnight, Dot took her suitcase into the bathroom and emerged wearing a flannel robe and slippers. She had trouble with the Murphy bed, but stopped Keller when he rose to give her a hand. “Wait until I take over for you,” she said. “We want a pair of eyes at that window all the time.”
“There’s nothing happening out there.”
“And how long would it take for someone to cross the street and pop into the building? Okay, now you can get the bed down.”
He knew she was right. That was the whole point of her joining him, so that at least one of them would be watching at all times. They could take turns sleeping, and one could go on watching while the other went out for sandwiches and coffee, or for a closer look at whoever was lurking in the neighborhood.
It was good, too, to have company. That had felt odd at first, because he was on a job, and he never had anyone with him when he was working. But this was a little different anyway, because his work was rarely this passive a process. There was often a fair amount of waiting involved, but you generally knew who you were waiting for, and you got to pick the time when waiting stopped and action commenced. If you were going to spend an indeterminate period of time just sitting at a window, peering through an inch-wide gap between the shutters, it didn’t hurt to have someone to talk to.
She got into bed. Earlier she’d found a lamp-white, of course, with a white shade-but now she turned it out, and the sole illumination was what light came through the half-open bathroom door. “The minute you get tired,” she said, “you wake me, and I’ll take a turn.”
While she slept, he kept an eye on the street scene. It was hard to keep his mind on what he was doing. When you stared long enough, waiting for something to change in your field of vision, and nothing did, well, your mind tended to wander. Keller, willing himself to maintain his vigil, thought of those sentries in wartime who were punished for falling asleep on duty. Like it was their choice.
Maybe it was to motivate them, he thought. Maybe the threat of execution helped them fight off fatigue. It seemed to him, though, that the best way to doze off was to struggle to stay awake. Sitting in front of the television set, staring drowsily at afternoon football, the harder he worked to stay alert, the more certain he was to drift off. His mind would slip away on some tangential thought, and the next thing he knew the Giants were trying to squeeze in a play before the two-minute warning.
This was different. His eyes stayed open without much effort on his part. But one thought would lead to another, and it was hard to pay any real attention to what was happening outside the window. Especially in view of the fact that nothing was happening. The guy in the windbreaker and cap had disappeared, and the guy with the hat and muffler had never returned, and what was the point?
They’d made a mistake early on, he realized. When Dot let out the contract, she should have specified that the job had to be done during normal business hours. Monday to Friday, nine to five. All concerned-their hitter, Roger, and Keller himself-could have the rest of the time off.
As it was, they were stuck. Not the hitter-he could return to his hotel room whenever he wanted, or kill a few hours at a movie. That was one of the nice things about the business, you could pretty much write your own schedule. There was plenty to do in New York, and time to do it. If the guy wanted to see Cats, say, that was up to him.
Not so for Roger, who had to be on call twenty-four hours a day. And not so for Keller, who had to be able to identify both men, and then had to be Johnny-on-the-spot when the hit happened, sitting on the hitter’s shoulder and waiting for Roger to make his move.
A car appeared at the far end of Crosby Street. It traversed the block without speeding up or slowing down, then turned at the corner and disappeared from view. Across the street, a cigarette glowed in an upstairs window.
After a few hours he thought about waking Dot, but couldn’t figure out how to do it without deserting his post. He didn’t want to shout, and was reluctant to take his eyes off the street. Around four-thirty she woke up on her own and told him to go to bed, for God’s sake. She didn’t have to tell him twice.
“The guy over there,” Dot said. “Standing over by the garbage cans, eating the sandwich.”
“I think it’s a hot dog.”
“Thanks for pointing that out, Keller. It makes all the difference. Is he the guy with the hat and the muffler?”
“He’s not wearing a hat.”
“Or a muffler,” she said. “Or a long coat, as far as that goes. But could it be the same guy?”