Hit List

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“You can be grateful to the man and woman.”

“And to the guy who shot them, as far as that goes. And to the bikers who made all the noise in the first place. And to Ralph.”

“Who was Ralph?”

“The drunk’s friend, the one he was looking for in all the wrong places. I can be grateful to the drunk, too, except I don’t know his name. But then I don’t know any of their names, except for Ralph.”

“Maybe the names aren’t important.”

“I used to know the name of the man and woman, and of the man who shot them, the husband. I can’t remember them now. You’re right, the names aren’t important.”

“No.”

He looked at her. “The next year…”

“Will be dangerous.”

“What do I have to worry about? Should I think twice before I get on an airplane? Put on an extra sweater on windy days? Can you tell me where the threat’s coming from?”

She hesitated, then said, “You have an enemy, John.”

“An enemy?”

“An enemy. There’s someone out there who wants to kill you.”

Eleven

“I don’t know,” he told Dot.

“You don’t know? Keller, what’s to know? What could be simpler? It’s in Boston, for God’s sake, not on the dark side of the moon. You take a cab to La Guardia, you hop on the Delta Shuttle, you don’t even need a reservation, and half an hour later you’re on the ground at Logan. You take a cab into the city, you do the thing you do best, and you’re on the shuttle again before the day is over, and back in your own apartment in plenty of time for Jay Leno. The money’s right, the client’s strictly blue chip, and the job’s a piece of cake.”

“I understand all that, Dot.”

“But?”

“I don’t know.”

“Keller,” she said, “clearly I’m missing something. Help me out here. What part of ‘I don’t know’ don’t I understand?”

I don’t know, he very nearly answered, but caught himself in time. In high school, a teacher had taken the class to task for those very words. “The way you use it,” she said, “ ‘I don’t know’ is a lie. It’s not what you mean at all. What you mean is ‘I don’t want to say’ or ‘I’m afraid to tell you.’ “

“Hey, Keller,” one of the other boys had called out. “What’s the capital of South Dakota?”

“I’m afraid to tell you,” he’d replied.

And what was he afraid to tell Dot? That the Boston job just wasn’t in the stars? That the day the client had selected as ideal, this coming Wednesday, was a day specifically noted by his astrologer-his astrologer!-as a day fraught with danger, a day when he would be at extreme risk.

(“So what do I do on those days?” he’d asked her. “Stay in bed with the door locked? Order all my meals delivered?” “The first part’s not a terrible idea,” she’d advised him, “but I’d be careful who was on the other side of the door before I opened it. And I’d be careful what I ate, too.” The kid from the Chinese restaurant could be a Ninja assassin, he thought. The beef with oyster sauce could be laced with cyanide.)

“Keller?”

“The thing is, Wednesday’s not the best day for me. There was something I’d planned on doing.”

“What have you got, tickets to a matinee?”

“No.”

“No, of course not. It’s a stamp auction, isn’t it? The thing is, Wednesday’s the day the subject goes to his girlfriend’s apartment in Back Bay, and he has to sneak over there, so he leaves his security people behind. Which makes it far and away the easiest time to get next to him.”

“And she’s part of the package, the girlfriend?”

“Your call, whatever you want. She’s in or she’s out, whatever works.”

“And it doesn’t matter how? Doesn’t have to be an accident, doesn’t have to look like an execution?”

“Anything you want. You can plunge the son of a bitch into a vat of lanolin and soften him to death. Anything at all, just so he doesn’t have a pulse when you’re through with him.”

Hard job to say no to, he thought. Hard job to say I don’t know to.

“I suppose the following Wednesday might work,” Dot said. “The client would rather not wait, but my guess is he will if he has to. He said I was the first person he called, but I don’t believe it. He’s the type of guy’s not that comfortable doing business with a woman. Our kind of business, anyway. So I think I was more like the third or fourth person he called, and I think he’ll wait a week if I tell him he has to. Do you want me to see?”

Was he really going to lie in bed waiting for the bogeyman to get him?

“No, don’t do that,” he said. “This Wednesday’s fine.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure,” he said. He wasn’t sure, he was miles short of sure, but it had a much better ring to it than I don’t know.

Tuesday, the day before he was supposed to go to Boston, Keller had a strong urge to call Louise Carpenter. It had been a couple of weeks since she’d gone over his chart with him, and he wouldn’t be seeing her again for a year. He’d thought it might turn out to be like therapy, with weekly appointments, and he knew some of her clients dropped in frequently for an astrological tune-up and oil change, but he gathered that astrology was a sort of hobby for them. He already had a hobby, and Louise seemed to think an annual checkup was sufficient, and that was fine with him.

So he’d see her in a year’s time. If he was still alive.

The forecast for Wednesday was rain and more rain, and when he woke up he saw they weren’t kidding. It was a bleak, gray day, and the rain was coming down hard. An apologetic announcer on New York One said the downpour was expected to continue throughout the day and evening, accompanied by high winds and low temperatures. The way he was carrying on, you’d have thought it was his fault.

Keller put on a suit and tie, good protective coloration in a formal kind of city like Boston, and the standard uniform on the air shuttle. He got his trench coat out of the closet, put it on, and wasn’t crazy about what he saw in the mirror. The salesman had called it olive, and maybe it was, at least in the store under their fluorescent lights. In the cold damp light of a rainy morning, however, the damn thing looked green.

Not shamrock green, not Kelly green, not even putting green. But it was green, all right. You could slip into it on St. Patrick’s Day and march up Fifth Avenue, and no one would mistake you for an Orangeman. No question about it, the sucker was green.

In the ordinary course of things, the coat’s color wouldn’t have bothered him. It wasn’t so green as to bring on stares and catcalls, just green enough to draw the occasional appreciative glance. And there was a certain convenience in having a coat that didn’t look like every other coat on the rack. You knew it on sight, and you could point it out to the cloakroom attendant when you couldn’t find the check. “Right there, a little to your left,” you’d say. “The green one.”

But when you were flying up to Boston to kill a man, you didn’t want to stand out in a crowd. You wanted to blend right in, to look like everybody else. Keller, in his unremarkable suit and tie, looked pretty much like everybody else.

In his coat, no question, he stood out.

Could he skip the coat? No, it was cold outside, and it would be colder in Boston. Wear his other topcoat, unobtrusively beige? No, it was porous, and he’d get soaked. He’d take an umbrella, but that wouldn’t help much, not with a strong wind driving the rain.

What if he bought another coat?

But that was ridiculous. He’d have to wait for the stores to open, and then he’d spend an hour picking out the new coat and dropping off the old one at his apartment. And for what? There weren’t going to be any witnesses in Boston, and anyone who did happen to see him go into the building would only remember the coat.

And maybe that was a plus. Like putting on a postman’s uniform or a priest’s collar, or dressing up as Santa Claus. People remembered what you were wearing, but that was all they remembered. Nobody noticed anything else about you that might be distinctive. Your thumb, for instance. And, once you took off the uniform or the collar or the red suit and the beard, you became invisible.

Ordinarily he wouldn’t have had to think twice. But this was an ominous day, one of the days his motherly astrologer had warned him about, and that made every little detail something to worry about.

And wasn’t that silly? He had an enemy, and this enemy was trying to kill him, and on this particular day he was particularly at risk. And he had an assignment to kill a man, and that task inevitably carried risks of its own.

And, with all that going on, he was worrying about the coat he was wearing? That it was too discernibly green, for God’s sake?

Get over it, he told himself.

A cab took him to La Guardia and a plane took him to Logan, where another cab dropped him in front of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. He walked through the lobby, came out on Newbury Street, and walked along looking for a sporting goods store. He walked a while without seeing one, and wasn’t sure Newbury Street was the place for it. Antiques, leather goods, designer clothes, Limoges boxes-that was what you bought here, not Polartec sweats and climbing gear.

Or hunting knives. If you could find such an article here in Back Bay, it would probably have an ivory handle and a sterling silver blade, along with a three-figure price tag. He was sure it would be a beautiful object, and worth every penny, but how would he feel about tossing it down a storm drain when he was done with it?

Anyway, was it a good idea to buy a hunting knife in the middle of a big city on a rainy spring day in the middle of the week? Deer season was, what, seven or eight months off? How many hunting knives would be sold in Boston today? How many of them would be bought by men in green trench coats?

In a stationery store he browsed among the desk accessories and picked out a letter opener with a sturdy chrome-plated steel blade and an inlaid onyx handle. The salesgirl put it in a gift box without asking. It evidently didn’t occur to her that anyone might buy an item like that for himself.

And in a sense Keller hadn’t. He’d bought it for Alvin Thurnauer, and now it was time to deliver it.

That was the subject’s name, Alvin Thurnauer, and Keller had seen a photograph of a big, outdoorsy guy with a full head of light brown hair. Along with the photo, the client had supplied an address on Exeter Street and a set of keys, one for the front door and one for the second-floor apartment where Thurnauer and his girlfriend would be playing Thank God It’s Wednesday.

Thurnauer generally showed up around two, Dot had told him, and Keller was planted in a doorway across the street by half past one. The air was a little colder in Boston, and the wind a little stiffer, but the rain was about the same as it had been in New York. Keller’s coat was waterproof, and his umbrella had not yet been blown inside-out, but he still didn’t stay a hundred percent dry. You couldn’t, not when the rain came at you like God was pitching sidearm.

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