But it was far too public for a man with his picture on the nation’s TV screens. He’d be cooped up for hours with forty or fifty people, and how many of them would take a look at his face? And, even if they didn’t make the connection right away, there he’d be, with no place to hide, and there they’d be, with plenty of time to think about things, and what were the odds that one of them wouldn’t put two and two together?
No bus, no train. A voice on the radio, pondering his apparent escape via the Des Moines airport, had theorized that Montrose/Blankenship might have made his way across the tarmac to the area where the private planes landed and took off. He might have had a plane stashed there, with a confederate to fly it, or he might even have possessed the skills to fly it himself. Or, the fellow had gone on to suggest, the desperate assassin might have hijacked a private plane, taking the pilot hostage and forcing him to fly the plane to parts unknown.
Keller had welcomed the notion, because it was so wonderfully ludicrous that it had given him a laugh when he’d sorely needed one. Now, though, he wondered if it was such a bad idea after all. There were small private airports all over the country, with dinky little planes landing and taking off all the time. Suppose he found one, some single-runway operation out in the boondocks. And suppose he bided his time and waited until some hotshot bush pilot had his plane all fueled and ready to go, only to have Keller, the desperate assassin himself, stick a gun in his face and demand to be taken to the corner of East Forty-ninth Street and First Avenue?
Well, maybe not.
The motel was a Travelodge, on the edge of a town the name of which he hadn’t bothered to notice. He’d pulled around to the rear of the lot like a registered guest on the way to his room, chosen an out-of-the-way parking spot, and cut the lights and engine. He sat behind the wheel, eating one of the cold burgers and drinking water, and watched a man and woman get out of a square-back Honda and walk a short distance to a ground-floor unit. They didn’t have any luggage, Keller noted, and the inference he drew from this was strengthened when the man extended a hand and grabbed the woman by the butt. She swatted his hand away, but when he replaced it she let him keep it there, and the hand stayed in place until he needed it to unlock the door. Then they disappeared into the room.
Keller envied them, and less for what they were about to do than for having a room to do it in. He had no idea what this Travelodge got for a room, but it had to be at least fifty dollars, didn’t it? All that money, and they weren’t even going to sleep there. They were married, he was fairly certain, but not to each other, and they were going to roll around on rented sheets for an hour, two at the most, while Keller was destined to spend another night sleeping in his car.
Was there an opportunity here? Suppose he waited until they finished. Would they lock the door after they left? He somehow doubted it would be their top priority, and they might leave it ajar, in which case he could walk right in the minute they were out of sight.
And even if they locked it, how hard would it be to get in? He had his Swiss Army knife, and if it wouldn’t get him through the lock he could try kicking the door in. This was a roadside motel, not Fort Knox.
As far as the management was concerned, the room was rented for the night. Even if they suspected the room had been vacated, they couldn’t hand it out again until the maid had serviced it. Judging from the number of cars in the lot, the place was half empty, so that left them with plenty of other rooms to rent. Keller could be in and out of this one without anyone ever knowing he was there.
He could catch a couple of hours of real sleep in an actual bed. God, he could take a shower.
Waiting wasn’t that easy. He couldn’t turn his mind off, and it kept telling him he was wasting time, that he ought to be back on the highway knocking off the miles.
And how did he know they’d be leaving anytime soon? Maybe they were travelers, too tired from a long day on the road to bother hauling their luggage inside. She’d been carrying a purse, and that might hold all she needed until they had a chance to go out to the car for their bags in the morning. That seemed a little odd to Keller, but people did odd things all the time.
He went over to their car, and there was nothing in the back seat, but they could have stowed their bags in the trunk, as he’d done with his. Their car carried an Indiana plate, but did that necessarily mean they were local? Indiana was a pretty big state. He couldn’t say exactly how big it was, or where he was in it, because the only maps he had were for Iowa, where he didn’t intend to return, and Oregon, where he wouldn’t be going, either, the considerable allure of Roseburg and Klamath Falls notwithstanding. But he knew Indiana had some size to it. It might not be Texas, but it wasn’t Delaware, either.
He returned to his car. They were probably local, he had to admit, but they might still stay until morning. Say he lived with his parents, and she had a roommate. They’d need a place to be together in private, but they could stay all night in it without making trouble for themselves. And here he was, sitting in his car, staring with eyes that kept wanting to close at a door that might not open until dawn.
When the door did open, he checked his watch and was surprised to note that they’d only been in there for a little under an hour. The guy emerged first, and stood there in the doorway, holding the door for the woman, then giving her another proprietary pat on the rear as she passed. They were dressed as he’d seen them before, and there was nothing in their appearance to indicate they’d spent the preceding fifty minutes doing anything more adventurous than watching Indiana’s own David Letterman, but Keller suspected otherwise.
C’mon, he urged them silently. Leave the door open.
And for a moment he thought they were going to, but no, the son of a bitch had to reach for the handle and pull the thing shut. They walked toward their car, and then the guy held up something, a white card of some sort, and offered it to the woman. She backed away, holding up her hands as if to ward the thing off, and he reached to tuck it into her purse, and she grabbed it away from him and threw it at him. He ducked and it sailed over his shoulder, and they both laughed and walked the rest of the way to their car, his hand on her behind once again, and Keller watched where the white card landed because now he knew what it was.
The room key, of course. Here, honey, a little souvenir of the evening. Let me just tuck it in your purse. Keller picked it up and brushed it off, tried it in the lock, opened the door. Then he went back for his suitcase and wheeled it to his room, just like any legitimate tourist.
He had done what he could to prepare himself for the prospect of sleeping on the fun couple’s sheets, but it turned out he didn’t have to. The room was furnished with twin double beds, and they’d only used one of them — and used it thoroughly, from the evidence. Keller covered that bed with its spread and turned down the other one. He treated himself to a shower, then slipped between the sheets and closed his eyes. He’d hung the DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door, but had he also remembered to lock the door so it couldn’t be opened from outside? He was trying to remember, and thinking he ought to go check, and before he knew it he was asleep.
He was awake before the maid started her rounds. He had another shower, and shaved, and put on clean clothes. He had one more change of underwear in his bag, and a clean pair of socks, and after that he’d have to start recycling the dirty ones, because he couldn’t afford to wash his clothes or buy new ones.
Two and a half million dollars in investments and he couldn’t afford underwear.
Nobody was going to dust the room for prints, but he wiped it down anyway, out of habit. Back in the Sentra, he ate the last hamburger and drank some bottled water and pretended he’d just had a hearty breakfast. He threw out the cold french fries, the cement milkshake.
He started the car, checked the gas gauge. He would be needing gas soon, and he supposed he could spare a twenty.
At first glance, he wasn’t entirely certain the gas station was open, or even still in business. The basic setup was fairly standard, a pint-size convenience store with a couple of pumps out in front, an air hose and a pay phone off to one side. The only vehicle in sight was a tow truck parked around back.
Was anybody home? Keller pulled up to the pump, where a home-made sign instructed all customers, cash or credit, to pay inside before pumping gas. Something felt off to Keller, and he thought about driving on to the next station, but he’d already passed up a couple of opportunities, and pretty soon he’d be running on faith and fumes.
He patted his hair down, put on his blazer and made sure it concealed the gun in the small of his back. Why couldn’t the happy fornicators at the Travelodge have left something useful, along with a set of spectacularly soiled sheets? A baseball cap, say, or a bottle of hair dye, or a few hundred dollars and a collection of live credit cards.
Keller had a twenty in hand when he cleared the threshold. Behind the counter sat a stocky man with a broad forehead and a nose that had been broken at least once. Iron-gray hair cut short enough for boot camp showed around the edges of a baseball cap on which an embroidered Homer Simpson held up a mug of beer. The man was reading a magazine, and Keller would have bet anything it wasn’t Soap Opera Digest. Nor did he seem to find his magazine as gripping as the girl had found hers, because he looked up from it before Keller could open his mouth or put the money on the counter.
“Twenty dollars’ worth of regular,” Keller said, and handed him the bill.
“Hang on a second,” the man said, catching Keller just as he was turning around. He turned back, and the man was taking a good look at the twenty. Jesus, was there anything wrong with it?
“Been some funny twenties around lately,” the man said. “This here looks to be okay.”
Keller would have said he’d just made it himself, but couldn’t count on the man recognizing it for a joke. “It came straight out of an ATM,” he said instead.
“Is that a fact.”
Suspicious old bastard. Keller said, “Well, if everything’s okay,” and started for the door again, but the voice stopped him in his tracks.
“No, hold it right there, son. And turn around slow, you hear?”
Keller turned, and was not surprised to see the gun in the man’s hand. It was an automatic, and looked like a cannon to Keller.
“I’m not too good with names,” the man said, “but it seems like you’ve got a few of them, and who’s to say any of ’em’s the right one? Keep your hands where I can see ’em, you understand?”
“You’re making a mistake,” Keller said.
“Your damn picture’s all over the place, son. And if I’m not much on names I’m pretty good on faces. Bet there’s a pretty decent reward on you.”
“By God,” Keller said. “You think I’m the son of a bitch who shot that man in Iowa.”
“Shot that high-stepping coon,” the man said. “Well, if you had to gun somebody down, I got no problem with the choice you made. But that don’t mean God gave you the right to do it.”