“I’m sorry, Dot.”

“I figured Roger got you and the hitter both. Figured the bastard turned the hat trick.”

“The hat trick is three,” he said.

“I know that, Keller. The old man was a hockey fan, remember? Knew the names of all the Rangers back to the first year of the franchise. I used to watch hockey matches with him.”

“I didn’t know you were a fan.”

“I wasn’t. I hated it. But I know what a hat trick is. Three goals in one game, all scored by the same player.”

“Right.”

“So I figured Roger got the hat trick.”

“Roger got shut out,” he said. “Roger sat in the doorway with his thumb up his ass while I took out the hitter for him. But even the way you figured it, it wouldn’t have been the hat trick. If he killed me and the hitter, that’s two. Who’s the third?”

“Your girlfriend.”

“My-you mean Maggie?”

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“That’s right, I wasn’t supposed to call her your girlfriend. I keep forgetting.”

“Roger didn’t kill her.”

“You sure about that, Keller?”

He stared at her, tried to read her face. He said, “Dot, we saw what happened. She brought a guy home and he left and our hitter went up, and he left, and a little while later the painter on the fourth floor had water coming through the ceiling.”

“Right.”

“The guy she brought home,” he said. “If that was Roger… but it couldn’t have been, because we saw him. And she was still alive when he left, remember? He forgot his keys, and she threw them down to him.”

“His wallet.”

“Whatever. Roger didn’t do anything except lurk in a doorway and eat at a lunch counter, and that’s the one good thing to come out of all this, Dot. Because I got a good look at him. I didn’t know who was who at the time, but I do now, and I can recognize him when I see him again.”

“The man in the cap and windbreaker.”

“Right, Roger.”

“You’d know him if you saw him again.”

“Absolutely.”

“Maybe you would,” she said, “but we’ll never know. Because you’ll never see him again.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Keller,” she said, “you’d better sit down.”

“I am sitting down. I’ve been sitting down for the past twenty minutes.”

“So you are,” she said. “And it’s a good thing. And don’t get up now, Keller. Stay right where you are.”

It was just as well that he was sitting. He didn’t know that what she told him would have knocked him off his feet, but he didn’t know that it wouldn’t, either. One thing he could say was that it was hard to take it all in.

“He was Roger,” he said.

“Right.”

“The guy in the hat and muffler. The guy who sat upstairs across the street, smoking one cigarette after another.”

“Most smokers do it that way, Keller. They smoke them in turn, rather than all at once.”

“The guy who went upstairs to Maggie’s loft. If he was Roger, why would he kill Maggie? He wasn’t getting paid for it. He turned down the assignment, remember? And came in on the sly so he could have a chance to kill off the competition.”

“That’s right.”

“So he was watching the building, waiting for the hitter to make his move. Did he think the guy she brought home was the hitter? No, he would have seen what we saw, her throwing his wallet down to him. He knew she was alive when he went up there.”

“And he knew she was dead when he left.”

“Thus depriving himself of the chance to draw a bead on the man who had a contract on her. So he threw away his hat and went home.”

“With you in hot pursuit.”

“Why would he leave New York without killing the man he came to kill? And why do the hitter’s work for him? What was he trying to do, make him lose face and kill himself? That might work in Japan, but-“

“He already did it, Keller.”

“Did what?”

“Hit the hitter. And we can stop calling him that, incidentally. His name was Marcus Allenby, or at least that’s the name he was registered under.”

“Registered where?”

“The Woodleigh,” she said. “And he had a couple different names on the ID in his wallet, and Allenby wasn’t one of them, and he’d hanged himself with a sheet from the bed, and it was all dramatic enough to get his picture in the Post. The picture didn’t show the cap or the windbreaker, but it was the same guy.”

“Roger drowned Maggie,” Keller said, working it out. “And then he went to the Woodleigh, went to Allenby’s room-Allenby?”

“Got to call him something.”

“Forced his way in, strung the guy up, and left.”

“I think he went to the Woodleigh first. Followed Allenby there, got into the room by posing as a cop or a hotel employee. That part wouldn’t be hard. Then he caught Allenby off guard.”

“And killed him? Then why did he come back after he killed Maggie?”

“Maybe he left Allenby trussed up,” she said. “And then, after he’d killed her and left the tub running to establish the time of death, he went back to the Woodleigh, took the Do Not Disturb sign off the knob, let himself in with the key he’d taken from Allenby on his first visit, hanged the poor bastard with a sheet from his own bed, and wrote out the note.”

“What note?”

“Didn’t I mention that? A note on hotel letterhead. ‘I can’t do this anymore. God forgive me.’ “

“Allenby’s handwriting?”

“How would anybody know?”

He nodded. “The drowning looks like an accident,” he said, “but the client who ordered the job-“

“Which is to say us.”

“-knows it’s a hit, and figures it was one job too many for Allenby, and the guy’s conscience tortured him into ending it all. Either he left Allenby alive while he went down and did Maggie-“

“Risky.”

“-or he killed him the first time, figuring nobody was going to discover the body, and so what if they did? But by coming back he could make a phone call from the dead man’s room, and the phone records would establish time of death regardless of the forensic evidence.”

Keller frowned. “It’s too tricky,” he said. “Too many things could go wrong.”

“Well, he was a tricky guy.”

“Speaking of tricky, didn’t you say he hanged him with a bed sheet? That’s what guys do in prison, but would you hang yourself with a sheet if you had other things to choose from?”

“I wouldn’t hang myself at all, Keller.”

“But a sheet,” he said. “Why not a belt?”

“Maybe Allenby wore suspenders. Or maybe it was part of the game Roger was playing.”

“He liked playing games,” he agreed. “The whole thing was a game, wasn’t it? I mean, chasing around the country to murder other people in the same line of work as yourself. The idea is you increase your income that way, but do you? What you really do is use up a lot of time and spend a ton of money on airfare.”

“Not a good career move, you’re saying.”

“But it made him feel smarter than the rest of us. Smarter than everybody. Switching clothes, pasting on a mustache and peeling it off. All that phony crap. You’d expect it from some jerk in the CIA, but would a pro waste his time like that?”

“He wasn’t perfect, Keller. He killed the couple in Louisville that wound up in your old motel room, and he popped the guy in Boston who stole your coat.”

“I was lucky.”

“And he was a little too cute for his own good. I guess he spotted Allenby easily enough. Well, so did we. Allenby wasn’t worried about being spotted by anybody but the designated victim. And then I guess he got tired of waiting. Well, I can understand that. We were getting pretty sick of it ourselves, as I recall. You even said something about killing them both and getting it over with.”

“I remember.”

“Once he spotted Allenby, why wait? He could just follow him home and take him out, and he did, in his hotel room.”

“He didn’t have to kill Maggie,” Keller said.

“But the contract was always carried out, remember? That was Roger’s trademark, he bided his time until the hitter got the job done, and then he did a job of his own on the hitter. This time the hitter was out of the picture early, so Roger felt it was up to him to do the job. Maybe he thought it was part of being a pro.”

“Maybe.”

“And it got him killed.”

He sat there for a while. She went on talking, going over it, and he let the words wash over him without taking in everything she was saying. He’d avenged Maggie, which had seemed important at the time, for reasons that made no sense at all now. He tried to picture her, and realized that her image was already fading, getting smaller, losing color and definition. Fading into the past, fading the way everything faded.

And Roger was gone. He’d been looking over his shoulder for months, stalked by a faceless killer, and now that threat had been removed. And he’d done it himself. He hadn’t known that was what he was doing, but he’d done it anyway.

“If I’d done the right thing,” he said, “he would have gotten away.”

“Roger.”

“Uh-huh. I’d have turned around and gone home, convinced that Roger wasn’t going to show. And I’d have been letting the real Roger off the hook, and we wouldn’t know anything more about him. Not his name or where he lived. We wouldn’t know any of those things.”

“We still don’t,” she pointed out.

“But now we don’t need to.”

“No.”

“The broker who found Allenby for us says we owe the balance.”

“What did he get, half in advance?”

“And the rest due on completion, and the guy’s point is the job was completed. Woman’s dead and it goes in the books as an accident, so we should be satisfied, right? If Allenby gets pangs of conscience afterward and decides to kill himself, well, what does that have to do with us? He offed himself without blowing the Crosby Street hit, so we got what we ordered.”

“What did you tell him?”

“I wasn’t about to explain what really happened.”

“No, of course not.”

“He thought I had booked this on behalf of a client, and that the client should pay. And I told him I agreed, but on the other hand we both knew the money wasn’t going to Allenby, because Allenby wasn’t alive to collect it.”

“The broker would keep it.”

“Of course. So I said, ‘Look, your guy killed himself, and that’s a shame because he did good work.’ “

“All he did was stand in a doorway.”

“Let me finish, will you? ‘He did good work,’ I said, ‘but he’s dead, and you’re not gonna pay him, and I’m not gonna give my client a refund. So what do you say we split it?’ And I sent him half of the half we owed.”