“A dentist?”

“So why does every conversation with you have to be like pulling teeth? Of course you were ashamed of yourself. A person can’t be ashamed of somebody else. Ashamed of yourself for what?”

Why was he stalling? He drew a breath. “Ashamed of myself for what I did,” he said. “Dot, I killed a man.”

“You killed a man.”

“Yes.”

“Keller, do you want to sit down? Can I get you something to drink?”

“No, I’m fine.”

“But you killed a man.”

“In Jacksonville.”

“Keller,” she said, “that’s what you do. Remember? That’s what you’ve been doing all your life. Well, maybe not all your life, maybe not when you were a kid, but-“

“This was different, Dot.”

Advertisement..

“What was different about it?”

“I wasn’t supposed to kill him.”

“You’re not supposed to kill anybody, according to what they teach kids in Sunday school. It’s against the rules. But you haven’t lived by those rules for a while now, Keller.”

“I broke my own rules,” he said. “I killed somebody I shouldn’t have.”

“Who?”

“I don’t even know his name.”

“Is that what bothers you? Not knowing his name?”

“Dot,” he said, “I killed our guy. I killed the man we hired. He came to New York to do a job, a job we hired him to do, and he did everything just the way he was supposed to do, and I followed him from New York to Jacksonville and murdered him in cold blood.”

“In cold blood,” she said.

“Or maybe it was hot blood. I don’t know.”

“Come on into the kitchen,” she said. “Have a seat, let me make you a cup of tea. And tell me all about it.”

“So that’s basically it,” he said, “and one reason I stayed there in Jacksonville was I wanted to figure out why I did it before I came back and told you about it.”

“And?”

“And I still haven’t figured it out. I could have stayed there for a month and I don’t think I would have worked it out.”

“You must have some idea.”

“Well, I was frustrated,” he said. “That was a part of it. How many months have we had Roger to worry about? This was supposed to smoke him out, and it did, I even got a fairly close look at him, but then he slipped away. Either he got wind of what was going on or the man who killed Maggie gave him the slip, but either way I’d missed my chance at Roger.”

“And you just had to kill somebody.”

He thought about it, shook his head. “No,” he said. “It had to be this guy.”

“Why?”

“This is crazy. I was mad at him, Dot.”

“Because he killed your girlfriend.”

“It doesn’t make any sense, does it? He pulled the trigger, except it wouldn’t have been a trigger, because he wouldn’t have used a gun, not if he was making it look like an accident. How did he do it, do you happen to know?”

“Drowning.”

“Drowning? In a fifth-floor loft in lower Manhattan?”

“In her bathtub.”

“And it looked like an accident?”

“It didn’t look much like anything else. Either she passed out or she slipped and lost her footing, hit her head on the edge of the tub on the way down. Went under the surface and took a deep breath anyhow.”

“Water in the lungs?”

“So they said.”

“He drowned her,” he said, “the dirty son of a bitch. At least she was unconscious when it happened.”

“Maybe.”

“How could he do it if he didn’t knock her out first?”

“It’s too late to ask him,” she said, “but if he knocks her out first then he has to undress her and put her in the tub, and he might leave marks that wouldn’t be consistent with the scene he’s trying to set.”

“What else could he do?”

“How would you do it, Keller?”

He frowned, thinking it through. “Hold a gun on her,” he said. “Or a knife, whatever. Make her get undressed and draw a tub, make her get in the tub.”

“And then hold her head under?”

“The easy way,” he said, “is to pick up her feet. Lift them up and the head goes under.”

“And if the person struggles?”

“It doesn’t do any good,” he said. “He might splash a little water around, that’s all.”

“Wrong pronoun.”

“Well,” he said.

“I remember a few years ago,” she said. “A job you did, but don’t ask me where. A man drowned.”

“Salt Lake City,” he said.

“That how you did it? Hold a gun on him?”

“He was in the tub when I got there. He’d dozed off. I had a gun, I went in there to shoot him, but there he was, taking a nap in the tub.”

“So you picked up his feet?”

“I’d heard about it,” he said, “or maybe I read it somewhere, I don’t remember. I wanted to see if it would work.”

“And it did?”

“Nothing to it,” he said. “He woke up, but he couldn’t do anything. He was a big strong guy, too. I wiped up the water that got splashed out of the tub. I guess he would have done the same thing on Crosby Street, took a towel and wiped the floor.”

“He left the tub running.”

“And what, it overflowed? You couldn’t tell there was a struggle, not if the tub overflowed.”

“And?”

“And what else would it do?” He thought about it. “Well, it would make it look as though it happened while the tub was filling. She slipped getting into the tub, knocked herself out, and drowned before she could wake up.”

“Or drugs. She got in the tub while it was filling and passed out from the drugs she’d taken.”

“What drugs?”

“She was an artist, right? Lived in SoHo?”

“NoHo.”

“Huh?”

“SoHo is south of Houston,” he explained. “That’s where the name comes from. Where she lived is a couple blocks north of Houston, so they call it NoHo.”

“Thanks for the geography lesson, Keller. Look, she just went out to a bar, picked up some stud and partied with him. I’d say there’s a fair chance she provided herself with a little chemical assistance along the way. But it doesn’t matter. We’re getting off-track here. Where’d the water go?”

“The water?”

“The water. Where’d it go?”

“All over the floor,” he said.

“And then?”

“Oh.”

“Right, and the people downstairs banged on her door, and when that didn’t work they called the cops. It’s a way to let the client know the job’s been done. You don’t have to wait for the smell to tip off the neighbors. You should have thought of that in Salt Lake City.”

“It wasn’t a consideration,” he said. “Besides, it was a house in the suburbs. The tub overflows, the water winds up in the basement.”

Dot nodded. “Could run for days before anybody noticed.”

“I suppose.”

“Waste all that water. Bad enough anywhere, but in Salt Lake City? That’s the desert, isn’t it?”

“Well,” he said.

“Right,” she said. “Who cares? All water over the dam, or through the floorboards. How’d we get on this, anyway? Oh, right, you wanted to know how she died.”

“What I wanted,” he said, “was to kill the man who killed her. And that doesn’t make any sense, Dot. If you look at it in a certain way, I was the person who killed her.”

“Because if you never got involved with her…”

“It’s more direct than that. I was the client, I ordered the hit on her.”

“If you want to be technical,” she said, “I was the one who ordered it and set it up.”

“Maybe deep down I was angry at you,” he said, “and at myself, but that wasn’t how it felt. I sat there in the plane and I hated the guy, Dot. Him and his toupee and his fake mustache and his costume changes. He did just what I’d wanted him to do, what we were paying him to do, and I hated him for it.”

“I sort of get it,” she said.

“And the other one, Roger, had given us the slip. We went through all this and Roger slept through it, or whatever he did, and he’s still out there for us to worry about. Maybe he was lurking on Crosby Street when the neighbor called the cops, maybe he saw them bring her body out. I didn’t have a shot at Roger, but I had a shot at this bastard that I hated. So I took it.” He shook his head. “Roger’s home by now, cursing his luck. He doesn’t know I did his dirty work for him.”

“How’d you do it, Keller?”

“Followed him to the smoking lounge and stabbed him.”

“Stabbed him?”

“I leaned forward so he could light my cigarette, and I had a knife in my hand, and next thing you knew it was in his chest.”

“A knife.”

“Right.”

“How’d you get it through airport security?”

“It was already there.”

She looked at him.

“I had to fly first class,” he said, “and they serve you a real meal there, as if you were in a restaurant. Cloth napkin, china cup and plate, and metal utensils. When I was done eating, I put the knife in my pocket.”

“You were already planning to do it.”

“What struck me,” he said, “was this was a way to arm yourself after you had cleared the metal detector. At this point there was still a chance I’d find Roger waiting for us at Jacksonville.”

“And you could attack him with your butter knife.”

“It wasn’t a butter knife.”

“No, it was just the sort of thing Davy Crockett killed a bear with.”

“It had a serrated edge,” he said. “You could cut meat with it.”

“My God,” Dot said. “And they let just anybody have these lethal weapons? You’d think they’d fingerprint you before they passed them out.”

“Well, it worked just fine,” he said. “Went between the ribs and into the heart, and he wouldn’t have died any faster if I’d used a twelve-inch Bowie. There were a couple of women yakking away at the other end of the smoking lounge, and they didn’t notice a thing.”

“And you got rid of the knife.”

“And the cigarettes.”

“And spent a few days in Jacksonville, thinking about it.”

“That’s right.”

“Didn’t pick up a phone.”

“I thought about it.”

“Well, that’s the next best thing, isn’t it? If thoughts had wings, I could have heard them flapping. Instead I figured you were dead.”