But as long as they were there, he could forget about getting into the garage. He didn’t know if the Jeep was there or if Betsy Hirschhorn was out stocking up at the Safeway, but for now it hardly mattered. And he couldn’t stay where he was, not for very long, or somebody would call 911 to report a suspicious man lurking on a block full of children.
He got out of there. The development had been laid out by someone with a profound disdain for straight lines and right angles, balanced by a special fondness for dead-end streets. It was hard to keep one’s bearings, but he found his way out, and had a cup of coffee at the suburb’s equivalent of Starbucks. The other customers were mostly women, and they looked restless. If you wanted to pick up a caffeinated housewife with attitude to spare, this was the place to do it.
He found his way back to Winding Acres Drive, where the two boys were still playing basketball. They had switched games and were now doing a White Guys Can’t Jump version of driving layups. He parked in a different spot and decided he could stay there for ten minutes.
When the ten minutes were up, he decided to give it five minutes more, and just before they ran out Betsy Hirschhorn came home, honking the Cherokee’s horn to clear the boys from the driveway. The garage door ascended even as they dribbled out of her path, and she drove in. Before the door closed, Keller drove by the driveway himself. Her Jeep was the only vehicle in the garage, unless you wanted to count the power lawn mower. Walter Hirschhorn’s Subaru squareback hadn’t come home yet.
Keller drove away and came back, drove away and came back, passing the Hirschhorn house at five- to ten-minute intervals. The idea was to be waiting inside the garage when Hirschhorn came home, but first the boys had to finish their game. For Christ’s sake, how long could two unathletic kids keep this up? Why weren’t they inside playing video games or visiting Internet porn sites? Why didn’t Jason take the family dog for a walk? Why didn’t his friend go home?
Then the door opened, and Jason’s sister emerged with Powhatan on his leash. (Tiffany? No, something else. Tamara!) How had she gotten home? On the bus with her brother? Or had she been in the Jeep just now with her mother? And what possible difference could it make to Keller?
None that he could make out, but off she went, walking the dog, and the boys went on with their interminable game. Weren’t kids these days supposed to be turning into couch potatoes? Somebody ought to tell these two they were bucking a trend.
They were still at it the next time he passed, and now time was starting to work against him. It was past five. Hirschhorn might well have left his office by now, and might get home any minute. Suppose he arrived before the boys ended their game? Maybe that’s how they knew to quit for the day. When Daddy comes home, Jason goes in for dinner and his friend Zachary goes home.
He drove out of the development-no wrong turns this time, he was getting the hang of it, and beginning to feel as though he lived there himself. He left the car at a strip mall, parked in front of a discount shoe outlet, and returned on foot, with the.22 in a pocket.
On his way out he’d counted houses, and now he circled halfway around the block, trying to estimate which house backed up on the Hirschhorn property. He narrowed it down to two and settled on the one with no lights burning, walked the length of its driveway, skirted the garage, and stood in the backyard, looking around, trying to get his bearings. The house directly opposite him was one story tall with an attached garage, so it wasn’t Hirschhorn’s, but he knew he wasn’t off by much. He walked through the yards-they didn’t have fences here, thank God for small favors-and he knew when he was in the right place because he could hear the sound of the basketball being dribbled.
In addition to the big garage door that rose when you triggered the remote, there was a door on the side to let humans in and out. You couldn’t see it from the street, but Keller had watched the boy come out of it with a basketball, so he knew it was there. It was, he now saw, about a third of the way back on the left wall of the garage, facing the house, at the end of an overhang that let you get from the house to the garage without getting rained on.
Which wasn’t a problem today, because it wasn’t raining. Not that he wouldn’t welcome rain, which would put an end to the basketball game and give him access to the garage.
He flattened out against the garage wall and moved quickly if stealthily toward the door, staying in the shadows and wishing they were deeper. The boys, dribbling and shooting, moved in and out of his field of vision. If he could see them, they could see him.
But they didn’t. He reached the door and stood beside it with a hand on the knob until the boys dribbled to a spot where the garage blocked his view of them and theirs of him. He waited until their voices were raised in argument. You never had to wait long for this, they argued as much as they dribbled and far more than they jumped, they’d make better lawyers than NBA all-stars, but the argument never got serious enough to send one of them inside and the other one home for dinner. At last, to the strains of Did not! Did too! Did not! Did too! he opened the door and ducked inside.
Where, with the door safely shut, it was pitch dark and, aside from the dribbling and bickering, quiet as the tomb. Keller stood perfectly still while his eyes adjusted to the dimness. He got so he could make out shapes and move around without bumping into things. The Jeep Cherokee was there, where Betsy Hirschhorn had parked it, and, he was pleased to note, the Subaru was not. He’d been gone for almost twenty minutes, finding a place to leave the car and coming back on foot, and there was always the chance that Hirschhorn would make it home while he was sneaking into strangers’ backyards. In which case he could either sneak out and go home or curl up on the car seat and wait for morning.
Which it looked as though he might have to do anyway. Because suppose Hirschhorn came home now, while the basketball players were still at it. The boys would stand aside respectfully, the garage door would pop up like toast in a toaster, the Subaru would slide into its slot next to the Cherokee, and its driver would emerge, striding out to greet his son. The kids would be right there, and Keller wouldn’t be able to do a thing before they were all tucked away for the night.
And if he did stay cooped up in the garage all night, then what? When Hirschhorn got in the car the next morning, he’d have the goddam kids with him, all set to be driven to school. Why couldn’t the little bastards take the bus? If it was good enough to bring them home from school, why wasn’t it good enough to take them there?
Not that it mattered, he thought savagely. After a night in the garage, he’d be ready to kill the father and toss in both kids as a bonus. And the wife, if she showed her face. No one was safe, not even the goddam dog.
Seriously, he thought, suppose it did play out that way, with the boys still at their game when the man arrived. He couldn’t do anything in front of the boys, let alone make it look like an accident. And he couldn’t see himself hanging around all night, either.
What did that leave? Could he break into the house while everybody was asleep? Hold off and sandbag Hirschhorn during the dog’s morning constitutional?
What he’d probably do, he decided, was go back to the Super 8 and work on Plan B. Which might not be better than Plan A, but couldn’t be much worse. And if that didn’t work he had the whole rest of the alphabet, and…
They’d stopped dribbling.
Stopped shooting baskets, too. Stopped talking. While he’d been building ruined castles in the air, the boys had finally called it a day.
Back to Plan A.
Waiting wasn’t all that easy, with or without the sounds of basketball for company. At first he just stood there in the dark, but eventually he found ways to make himself more comfortable. There was a Peg Board on one wall, he discovered, with tools hanging on it, and among them he found a flashlight. He flicked it rapidly on and off and found other tools he could envision a use for, including a pair of thin cotton gloves to keep what he touched free of fingerprints. Duct tape, pruning shears, garden hose-Hirschhorn had it all. And there were a couple of folding patio chairs, aluminum frames and nylon webbing, and he unfolded one of them and parked himself in it.
He was bored and edgy. The job still didn’t feel right, hadn’t felt right since he got off the plane. But at least he was sitting in a comfortable chair. That was something.
Day or night, Winding Acres Drive didn’t get a lot of traffic. He could hear what there was of it from where he sat, and his ears would perk up when a car approached. Then it would drive on by and his ears would do whatever it was they did. Unperk? Whatever.
He checked his watch from time to time. At 7:20 he decided Hirschhorn wasn’t going to make it home in time for dinner. At 8:14 he started wondering if the man might have left town on a business trip. He was weighing the possibility, and then a car approached, and he drew a short breath. The car kept on going and he let it out.
He thought about the stamps he’d bought the previous day. When he got back to New York, whenever that might be, he could look forward to several hours at his desk, mounting them in his albums. It was curiously satisfying, adding the first stamp to a hitherto blank page, then watching the spaces fill in over the months. Schaffner’s stock had been spotty, strong in some areas and weak in others, but Keller had been particularly interested in Portugal, that was the first thing he’d asked to see, and he’d done well in that area. Funny how you were drawn to some countries and not to others. It didn’t have anything to do with the nations themselves, as political or geographic entities. It was just something about their stamps, and how you responded to them.
Another car. He perked up, and prepared to perk down. But no, it was turning into the driveway, and the garage door was on its way up.
By the time the headlights were filling the garage with light, Keller was hunkered down behind the Jeep. The Subaru pulled into the garage. Hirschhorn, alone in the car, cut the engine, doused the headlights. The garage went dark, and then the dome light came on as Hirschhorn opened the car door.
When he stepped out, Keller was waiting for him.
There was an outdoor pay phone at the strip mall where he’d left the car, but the mall stores had all closed for the night, and the Olds was the only car still parked there. Keller felt too visible, and too close to Winding Acres Drive. He got into the car and on and off the interstate and called Dot from a pay phone at an Exxon station.
“All done,” he said.
“That was quick.”
“It didn’t seem quick,” he said, “but I suppose it was. All I know is it’s done. I’d like to get off the phone and hop on a plane.”
“Why don’t you?”
“It’s too late,” he said. “I have to figure the last flight’s in the air by now, and I still have to go back to the motel for my stuff. Anyway, the room’s paid for.”
“And maybe the Hell’s Angels are in a mellow mood tonight.”
“They’re probably in a different time zone by now,” he said, “but all the same they put me in another room. On the top floor, so nobody’s going to raise hell overhead.”