Keller was somewhat surprised to find out the man was also flying first class, and close enough so that Keller could almost reach out and touch him. Keller was in 3-B, on the aisle, and Maggie’s killer was in 2-E, one row up and on the other side of the aisle.
Suppose they’d been seated side by side. Suppose the guy turned out to be chatty.
That seemed unlikely, but you never knew. But Keller’s seat mate was a woman, middle-aged, and she was already engrossed in the book she’d brought along, and it looked thick enough to see her through a couple of flights around the world. She seemed happy to ignore Keller, and Keller felt free to ignore her in return.
The plane left the gate on schedule. There was one empty seat left in first class, but Roger didn’t show up at the last minute to claim it. Keller leaned back in his wide, comfortable seat, stretched out his legs, and relaxed.
It wasn’t the first time Keller had ever flown first class. He generally avoided it, because the price was ridiculous, and, really, what was the point? You had a wider seat and more legroom and a better meal, and the drinks were free. Big deal. Everybody got there at the same time.
And didn’t it make you more conspicuous? The flight attendants gave you more attention, so wouldn’t they be more likely to remember you?
Keller kept glancing across the aisle, taking the measure of the man in 2-E. Did the son of a bitch fly first class all the time? Keller supposed he could afford it, there was enough money in a job to cover a lot of overhead. He couldn’t remember what they’d arranged to pay this master of disguise to kill Maggie, wasn’t even sure Dot had mentioned a figure, but it stood to reason that it was comparable to what Keller got, and that was enough to pay for a lot of airline tickets.
Son of a bitch liked to spend money, didn’t he? Bought hats and scarves and jackets and just left them behind. Wasn’t it risky, strewing the landscape with your castoff clothing? Well, maybe not, Keller decided. If you bought new items and discarded them when you were done with them, there’d be no laundry marks, nothing that led back to you. Besides, you wouldn’t be leaving anything at the crime scene. If someone found your hat or your jacket, nobody would rush it to a forensic laboratory. It would just get tossed in the trash, or wind up in a thrift shop.
Where this bird would never see it again. Because he wasn’t the type to walk into a thrift shop, was he?
The man was no stamp collector.
Keller grinned at the thought, figuring it put him right up there with Sherlock Holmes. The man flew first class, the man bought and discarded great quantities of clothing, the man spent money like he didn’t know what to do with it. Therefore he wasn’t a stamp collector, because a stamp collector always knew what to do with money. He bought stamps with it. Keller, faced with the choice of tourist and first-class air travel, couldn’t help doing the math and translating the difference into potential philatelic purchases. The difference on this flight, for instance, would pay for a couple of mint high values from the set Canada issued in 1898 for Victoria’s jubilee. Keller, given the choice, would have taken the less comfortable seat and the stamps. The murderer across the aisle wouldn’t have any better use for those stamps than to paste them on a letter.
Keller looked at him again, saw he was wearing a black silk sleep mask. Had his head back, his hands in his lap. He’d killed an innocent girl, and he was sleeping like a lamb.
One thing Keller realized-he was glad the bastard wasn’t a stamp collector.
When they served the meal, the man across the aisle had a good appetite. The murder he’d committed on Crosby Street didn’t seem to have put him off his feed. Keller, fiercely hungry himself, couldn’t fault the guy on that score. For that matter, had he ever had trouble eating after a job?
Not that he could remember.
And the meal they served you was certainly better than what the peasants were making do with in the back of the plane. They even gave you real glasses and china and silverware instead of that plastic crap you got in coach. Well, not silverware, he thought, although people called it that. Stainless, he read on the back of the fork.
Stainless. Were there bloodstains in Maggie’s loft on Crosby Street? Had he shed her blood? It was supposed to look like an accident, but there were all kinds of accidents, and some of them broke the skin.
What difference did it make? Why was he even thinking about it?
He looked across the aisle. The killer had polished off his food and was sipping his wine. They gave you a half-bottle of wine in first class, red or white, and Maggie’s killer had gone for red. He’d had a drink before the meal, too, a scotch on the rocks. Well, why not? His work was done, he was heading for home, and he didn’t have any reason to think he needed to have his wits about him. He didn’t know about Roger.
Keller, who wasn’t crazy about wine in the first place, had turned it down, and for a drink before the meal he’d settled on orange juice. He knew this didn’t make him morally superior to the other man, but that’s how he felt, sitting there, eyeing the fellow, watching him smack his lips over the blood-red wine.
In Jacksonville, Keller managed to be the first one off the plane. He led the way, scanning the gate area for a sign of Roger. He was looking for a tan windbreaker and a cloth cap, but he was also looking for the face he’d seen in the coffee shop.
No sign of the man.
There was a video monitor with a list of upcoming departures, and he pretended to study it while the hitter got off the plane, then tagged him all the way to a Delta gate, where a flight to Atlanta was scheduled to depart in a little less than an hour.
Keller’s heart sank as he watched the man step up to the desk and show his ticket to the clerk. There were plenty of nonstops from New York to Atlanta, so getting there by way of Jacksonville was taking the long way round, clearly designed to throw a pursuer off the trail. And, he thought, if you were flying first class it was an expensive way to do it. Whatever they were paying this bastard, it was going to have to stretch to cover the kind of overhead he was piling up.
And Keller was certain Atlanta wouldn’t be the end of the line. Atlanta was a hub city for Delta, and the hitter would hop off the plane there and hop on another, and who knew where he’d wind up?
It had been easy enough to tail him to Jacksonville, but it wasn’t going to be that simple from here on. The flight to Atlanta might very well be sold out in all classes. Even if there was room for Keller, he couldn’t reasonably expect to set foot on the plane without drawing the man’s attention. If the guy was taking all these precautions, he’d certainly look around for a familiar face. Wherever Keller sat, in first class or in the last row in coach, the odds were he’d be spotted.
So? Wherever Roger was, he’d obviously lost the scent. If he hadn’t turned up by now, he wasn’t going to be lurking in a flight lounge in Atlanta or Des Moines or Keokuk, or wherever Mr. No-Hat-No-Muffler decided to go next. There was a slim chance that he’d somehow managed to learn the hitter’s name and address, as he’d evidently done with some of his previous victims. That would explain Roger’s disappearance-he’d go home for now, and in a week or a month he’d pay a visit to the hitter’s hometown and take him out at leisure.
Nothing Keller could do about that. What was he supposed to do, track this murderous bastard back and forth across the country until he finally pulled into his own garage? Even if there were some way for him to do that, then what? He pictured himself holed up on the hitter’s back porch, waiting patiently for Roger to show.
Time to pack it in, he told himself. Time to find the next flight to New York and buy a ticket. In coach this time, because he’d already spent enough money on a comfortable seat. He had better ways to waste his money.
Speaking of which, weren’t there a couple of stamp dealers in Jacksonville? He didn’t have his catalog with him, but he always had a few checklists in his wallet, so that he could tell what stamps he needed from those particular countries. He could check the Yellow Pages, drop in on a dealer or two before he caught a return flight to New York. No reason why the trip had to be a total loss.
So what was he waiting for?
Whatever it was, it kept him close to the gate for the Atlanta flight. He was still there when the man who’d killed Maggie went up to the counter for a brief conversation with the clerk, then walked off in the direction she’d indicated.
Where was he headed? Not the men’s room, it was directly opposite the gate, and clearly marked.
Keller tagged along in his wake, stopping at a newsstand to buy cigarettes. If he’d guessed wrong, if the man’s destination wasn’t what he thought it was, well, he was out the price of a pack of Winstons. But no, there was a sign for the smoking lounge, and that’s where the man was headed.
He slowed down and let his quarry get settled in. The man was puffing away by the time Keller opened the door and slipped inside. It was a glassed-in area, the furnishings limited to a double row of couches and a generous supply of standing metal ashtrays. The killer was at one end of the room, and two women were over at the other end, barely visible through the smoke, heads together, chatting away. And smoking, of course. No one would come to this foul little room except to smoke.
Keller shook a cigarette out of his pack, put it between his lips. He approached the man, patting at his pockets, reaching into the breast pocket of his jacket. “Excuse me,” he said, “but have you got a light?” And, as recognition came into the man’s eyes, Keller said, “Say, didn’t I see you on the flight from Newark? I don’t know what the hell I did with my matches.”
The man reached into a pocket, came out with a lighter. Keller bent toward the flame.
“Keller,” she said. “I swear to God I was sure you were dead.”
“Dead? I just talked to you on the phone.”
“Before that,” she said. “Well, don’t just stand there. Come on inside. What the hell happened to you, Keller? The last time I saw you, you were walking north on Crosby Street. Where have you been for the past four days?”
“Jacksonville,” he said.
“That’s the only Jacksonville I know of.”
“I’m pretty sure there’s one in North Carolina,” she said, “and there are probably others, but who cares? What the hell were you doing in Jacksonville, Florida?”
“I went to the movies,” he said. “Dropped in on a few stamp dealers. Watched television in my motel room.”
“Call a realtor? Look at some houses?”
“Well, that’s something. I don’t want to sound like your mother, Keller, but how come you didn’t call?”
He thought about it. “I was ashamed,” he said.
“I guess that’s what it was.”
“Ashamed of what?”
“Ashamed of myself.”
She rolled her eyes. “Keller,” she said, “do I look like a dentist?”