The papers hadn’t come yet, but the clerk managed to find yesterday’s Times. Keller didn’t offer to pay for it, figuring a cop wouldn’t. He sat down with the paper and tried to look interested in it.
At first there was no activity at all, but then as dawn approached, the elevator would open every few minutes, and someone would emerge from it and head for the desk to check out. Some looked tired, others looked wide awake, but none looked like the man who had paid Maggie a visit. He kept an eye on the hotel entrance, too, and now and then walked out onto the street for a quick look around. One time he saw a fellow in a cap and windbreaker, caught a quick glimpse of him entering a deli across the street.
Roger, he thought, and tried to position himself so he could watch the front door of the deli and still keep an eye on the hotel lobby. His eyes darted from side to side, it was like watching a tennis match, and then the man in the cap and windbreaker came out of the deli with a plastic bag in each hand, and a frontal view made it clear it wasn’t the man he’d seen on Crosby Street. This guy was shorter and heavier, with a big gut on him, and Keller had a hunch the shopping bags each held a six-pack.
He returned to the lobby, settled in with the paper. And, just a few minutes later, he almost missed the guy in the hat.
That’s because the sonofabitch wasn’t wearing a hat this time. Four men got off the elevator, all bareheaded, all wearing suits and ties, all carrying briefcases. One walked to the desk, while the other three headed for the street. Keller looked down at his newspaper, then looked up suddenly. He hadn’t recognized the man, but he recognized the walk, the way the guy moved. He went out after him, and there he was, getting into the first cab at the taxi stand. No hat, and he was wearing the mustache again, and his hair was blond and shaggy.
He was leaning into the cab, and Keller got so close he could have reached out and touched him. He had the momentary urge to do just that, to spin him around, grab hold of his necktie and throttle him with it. The impulse startled Keller, and of course he didn’t act on it, nor did it keep him from hearing what the man told the driver.
Keller watched the cab pull away, then got into the one next in line. He got in back, made himself comfortable. “Newark Airport,” he said. “Continental Airlines.”
Newark was a hub city for Continental, and the airline had a whole terminal for itself and its code-share partners. Keller sort of liked the idea of partner airlines, hanging out together like the costars of a buddy movie, sharing a secret code. What he liked less was the number of gates Continental had. He didn’t see his man in the ticketing area, and had to assume he already had his ticket and had proceeded directly to the gate.
But which gate? There were dozens of them, and it wasn’t as if he could page the guy. He had to go from gate to gate until he spotted him.
The woman in front of him at Security kept setting off the metals detector, and the delay, only a matter of seconds, drove him nuts. It had been a mistake, he told himself, to give the cabdriver the destination and let it go at that. He never should have let the man out of his sight. Of course it was easier this way, and they might very well have lost the other taxi in the tunnel traffic, but now he was scurrying from gate to gate, scanning the passengers, trying to move as quickly as he could without making himself conspicuous, and where the hell was the sonofabitch, anyway?
And he almost missed him again. Because he wasn’t a blond anymore, he had short dark hair, and the mustache was gone. And he’d taken off his tie, which meant Keller could forget about choking him with it, and instead of the suit jacket he was wearing a windbreaker.
A windbreaker! But this one was black, not tan like Roger’s. He wasn’t Roger, for God’s sake. Still, he managed to look different every time Keller saw him, and was it even him this time? Could he be sure?
He was in a flight lounge waiting for a flight to Jacksonville. He still had the briefcase, and Keller wondered what it held. So far the man had dispensed with a hat, a long coat, a blond wig, a muffler, a suit jacket, and a necktie. They couldn’t all be in the briefcase, which meant he must have abandoned various articles along the way. That seemed to Keller like an awfully complicated aftermath to a fairly straightforward assignment. He’d been hired to kill a woman in a loft on Crosby Street, and had been instructed to make it look like an accident. He’d spent a long time looking over the scene, sitting in a window across the street and working his way through a carton of cigarettes, and-
That’s what he had in the briefcase. Cigarettes. Packs of them, Keller figured, and he couldn’t smoke a single one of them, not in the airport and not on the plane. And his flight didn’t leave for an hour and a half. Poor bastard would be chewing his nails by the time he got to Jacksonville.
Was that where he lived? Jacksonville? Dot hadn’t known anything about the guy, booking him through a broker, and with this fellow it stood to reason that the broker didn’t know where he lived, either. Wherever it was, Keller would be willing to bet it wasn’t Jacksonville. Everything he’d done so far suggested the guy would change planes three times before he went to ground.
Maybe, Keller thought, just maybe the guy was on to something. Maybe he himself had been altogether too casual about his work. He generally just flew in, did the job, and flew straight home. He’d been a little more circumspect lately, but that was because he had Roger to worry about. But this clown didn’t know about Roger, and certainly didn’t have a clue that he’d been the bait designed to lure Roger into the open. It stood to reason, then, that he took precautions of this sort all the time, and Keller had to say he was impressed.
The killer might not know about Roger, but Keller did. And, because they’d both been in the corner coffee shop at the same time, he’d managed a good look at Roger’s face.
He looked around now, trying to spot it.
He was also keeping an eye open for a cloth cap and a tan windbreaker, but he didn’t really expect to see that outfit again. That had been Roger’s street attire, designed to render him inconspicuous in a shadowed doorway. For an airport, he’d choose a tie and jacket.
Of course, the hitter had chosen a windbreaker for his airport appearance. So, for all Keller knew, Roger might show up in a clown costume, or a suit of armor. He wasn’t in the Jacksonville flight lounge, Keller made sure of that, and he wasn’t lurking nearby, either.
Had the hitter lost him? It had been well past midnight when the boyfriend du jour left Maggie’s loft and the hitter came over to take his place. Climbed all those stairs, probably took them two at a time, eager now, champing at the bit. The way he smoked, you’d think he’d be winded by the time he got to her floor, but not this son of a bitch, not with the adrenaline pumping through his system. Then he knocked, and Maggie opened the door. Maybe she checked, and couldn’t see anything because his hand was over the peephole. She asks who it is, can’t make out his intentionally muffled reply. And it occurs to her that she shouldn’t open the door, it just crosses her mind for an instant, but no, it has to be the boyfriend returning, coming back for something else he’d forgotten, something besides the wallet, or coming back because he couldn’t get enough of her and wants to take her in his arms one more time, and then, once she’s unlocked the door, it explodes inward and a stranger bursts in, one gloved hand over her mouth, the other reaching for her throat-
Keller got hold of himself. The question, he reminded himself, wasn’t how the killer had gotten into her loft, or how she’d reacted, or any of that. He’d been pondering whether Roger had been on the scene at the time, or whether he’d been cooped up somewhere, getting some sleep.
He decided there was no way to tell, short of running into the bastard. All he could do, really, was stay where he was until they called the Jacksonville flight for boarding. Once the man who’d killed Maggie got on that flight, he was out of harm’s way. Keller could only conclude that Roger had dropped the ball somewhere along the way, which was beginning to look more and more likely. If he’d been sleeping while the hit went down, well, he wouldn’t know about it.
So what would he do? He’d show up on Crosby Street, Keller decided, finding another doorway to lurk in while he waited for something to happen. In fact, if Keller went back right now, or as soon as the Jacksonville flight was in the air, he stood a fair chance of finding Roger on the scene, and this time he’d know the guy was Roger. He wouldn’t have to wait for him to make a move. Instead, Keller could make the move. “Say, do you happen to have the time?” “Sure, it’s… arrrggghhhh!” Just take him out right there on the street and be done with it.
But sooner or later there would be cops called to the Crosby Street loft, and then you could forget about finding Roger anywhere in the neighborhood. He’d realize he’d missed his chance and he’d get the hell out of there. So the thing to do was go back right now and hope to surprise him there before the cops showed up.
He’d wait, though, until the Jacksonville flight left. Just because he couldn’t spot Roger didn’t mean the man hadn’t found his way to the airport. Suppose he were Roger. Would he hang around the departure gate while the minutes crawled by? Not a chance. He’d show up at the last minute, ticket in hand, and board the flight just before it pulled away from the gate.
So what Keller would do was stay right where he was, keeping an eye out for last-minute travelers, and if Roger turned up…
Then what? If Roger turned up he’d have a ticket and a boarding pass, and he’d get on the plane, and what the hell was Keller going to do about it?
Or suppose Roger was being ultra-cute, which was entirely possible. Suppose Roger had spotted the hitter early on, and had tagged him back to the Woodleigh. How hard would it have been for a resourceful guy like Roger to get into the guy’s hotel room? Say he found a ticket there, knew where his quarry was headed and what flight he’d be on.
Wouldn’t he be tempted to catch another flight, an earlier flight, so he’d be waiting at Jacksonville Airport when the man arrived?
As far as Keller could make out, there was only one way to play this.
The flight was sold out in coach, but they had a couple of seats left in first class. They boarded the first-class passengers ahead of everybody else, along with the passengers requiring special assistance and the small children traveling alone. You didn’t have to board ahead of the others, you could bide your time, but Keller didn’t see the advantage. Keller was in the third row. If Roger was there, if he boarded now or at the last minute, he’d have to pass Keller to get to his seat.
Unless he was flying the plane, or artfully disguised as a stewardess.
The passengers filed onto the plane, and Keller checked them out as they came into view. His eyes widened when the man in the black windbreaker appeared, and then he reminded himself that he shouldn’t be surprised to find Maggie’s killer on board. He’d already known the guy was going to be on the flight, and that was why Keller himself was on it.