And he was calling now because someone had just killed the governor of Ohio. Which would have been noteworthy under any circumstances, given that John Tatum Longford, the best OSU running back since Archie Griffin, who’d gone to law school after he blew out his knee in his one pro season with the Bengals, was personable and charismatic and the first black governor ever to grace the statehouse in Columbus. But Governor Longford had not been in Columbus when a well-placed bullet blew out more than his knee, had not in fact been anywhere in Ohio. The man was a hot presidential prospect, and Iowa was one of those important early states, and the night before Longford had been in Ames, addressing a group of students and faculty at Iowa State University. From there the governor and his party had driven down to Des Moines, where he’d spent the night at Terrace Hill as the guest of the governor of Iowa. At 10:30 the next morning he’d appeared onstage at a high school auditorium, and around noon he’d shown up to address a Rotary luncheon. Then the gunshot, and the race to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

“My guy’s white,” he told Dot. “And short and fat, like the photograph.”

“It was a head shot, wasn’t it? I mean the photograph, not what happened just now. So you couldn’t really tell that he was short. Or fat, as far as that goes.”

“He was jowly.”


“And you could certainly tell he was white.”

“No argument there. The man was white as the ace of clouds.”


“Never mind. What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know. I saw my guy just yesterday morning, I was almost close enough to spit on him.”

“Why would you want to do that?”

“What I’m getting at is that I could have done the job and been home by now. I almost did it, anyway, Dot. With the gun or with my hands. I was supposed to wait but I thought, hell, why wait? They’d have been pissed but I’d have been out of here, and instead I’m in the middle of a manhunt for a killer they haven’t identified yet. Unless there’s been something on the news in the last few minutes?”

“I’ve got the set on,” she said, “and there hasn’t. Maybe you should just come home.”

“I was thinking of that. But when you think what airport security is going to be like around here—”

“No, don’t even try. You’ve got a rental, right? You could drive to, I don’t know, Chicago? And catch a flight there.”


“Or just drive all the way. Whatever you’re more comfortable with.”

“You don’t think they’ll have road blocks set up?”

“I didn’t think of that.”

“Of course I didn’t do anything, but the ID’s fake, and just attracting any attention—”

“Is not the greatest idea in the world.”

He took a moment, thought about it. “You know,” he said, “the son of a bitch who did this, they’ll probably catch him in a matter of hours. My guess is he’ll be killed resisting arrest.”

“Which will save somebody the trouble of sending a latter-day Jack Ruby to take him out.”

“You asked if this was my doing.”

“I really knew it wasn’t.”

“Of course not,” he said, “because you know I’d never touch anything like this. High-profile stuff, it doesn’t matter how much they pay, because you don’t live long enough to spend it. If the cops don’t kill you your employers will, because it’s not safe to leave you around. You know what I’m going to do?”


“Sit tight,” he said.

“And wait for it to blow over.”

“Or burn itself out, or something. It shouldn’t take too long. A few days and either they catch the guy or they know he got away from them, and people stop giving a rat’s ass about what’s happening in Des Moines.”

“And then you can come home.”

“I could even do the job, as far as that goes. Or not. Right now it wouldn’t bother me to give the money back.”

“For perhaps the first time in my life,” Dot said, “I feel that way myself. Still, all things being equal—”

“Whatever that means.”

“I’ve often wondered myself. It does get a sentence started, though. All things being equal, I’d just as soon keep the money. And it’s the last job.”

“That’s what we said,” he said, “about the job before this one.”

“I know.”

“But then this one came along.”

“It was a special situation.”

“I know.”

“You know, if it really bothered you, you should have said something.”

“It didn’t really bother me until a few minutes ago,” he said, “when the radio switched from ‘The Girl with Emphysema’ to ‘This Just In.’”



“‘The Girl from Ipanema,’ Keller.”

“That’s what I said.”

“You said ‘The Girl with Emphysema.’”

“Are you sure?”

“Never mind.”

“Because why would I say that?”

“Never mind, for God’s sake.”

“It just doesn’t sound like something I would say.”

“Call it a slip of the ear, Keller, if that makes you happy. We’re both a little rattled, and who can blame us? Go back to your room and wait this out.”

“I will.”

“And if anything comes up—”

“I’ll let you know,” he said.

He closed the phone. He was sitting behind the wheel of the rented Nissan, parked at the first strip mall he’d come to since leaving McCue’s place. His new stamps were in an envelope in one pocket, his tongs in another, and his Scott catalog was on the seat beside him. He was still holding the cell phone, and he had no sooner put it in a pocket than he changed his mind and took it out again. He opened it and was looking for the Redial button when it rang. The caller ID screen was blank, but there was only one person it could be.

He answered it and said, “I was just about to call you.”

“Because you had the same thought I did.”

“I guess so. Either it’s a coincidence—”

“Or it’s not.”


“I have a feeling that thought was in both our minds from the minute we got the news flash.”

“I think you’re right,” he said, “because when it just now came to me it felt like something I’ve known all along.”

“Day to day,” she said, “before Longford made the news, did it feel wrong?”

“It always does.”


“Lately, yeah. That’s one reason I want to pack it in. You remember Indianapolis? The plan there was that they’d kill me once I took out the target. They put a bug on my car so they’d always be able to find me.”

“I remember.”

“If I hadn’t overheard two of them talking—”

“I know.”

“And then the other job for Al, the one in Albuquerque, I was so paranoid I booked three motel rooms under three different names.”

“And didn’t stay in any of them, as I recall.”

“Or anywhere else, either. I did the job and came home. Most of the time everything’s fine, Dot, but I’m gun-shy, and I take so many precautions I trip over them. And then when I start to relax, somebody shoots the governor of Ohio.”

She was quiet for a moment. Then she said, “Be careful, Keller.”

“I intend to.”

“Lay low as long as you have to, if you’re sure you’re in a safe place. Don’t even think about doing the job for Al, not as long as there’s the slightest chance that this might be a setup.”

“All right.”

“And stay in touch,” she said, and rang off.


Was it a setup?

That would explain the delays. His purported quarry, the short fat white guy who was manifestly not the governor of Ohio or anyplace else, was not a terribly difficult target. An hour or so after Keller’s plane had landed, the man who’d met it was driving Keller through a tree-lined neighborhood in West Des Moines, near Holiday Park. The driver, a big man with large facial features and a lot of hair growing out of his ears, eased up on the accelerator as they passed a ranch house with compulsively symmetrical shrubbery in front of it. A man in Bermuda shorts and a baggy T-shirt stood on the flawless front lawn, watering it with a hose.

“Everybody else on earth,” he said, “sets up a sprinkler and leaves it the hell alone. That jerkoff has to stand there and hold it. I guess he’s the kind’s got to be in charge.”

“Well,” Keller said.

“Don’t he look just like his picture? That’s your guy. Okay, now you know where he lives. Next thing we’ll do is drive past his office.”

And, in downtown Des Moines, the driver pointed out a ten-story office building, on the sixth floor of which Gregory Dowling had an office. “Except you’d have to be nuts to hit him down here,” he told Keller, “with all the people around, and they even got a security staff in the building, and there’s traffic to make it tough to get away when the job’s finished. You go to his house, catch him watering his lawn, just cram the nozzle down his throat till it comes out of his ass.”

“Slick,” Keller said.

“Just a manner of speaking. You know where he lives, you know where he works, now it’s time to take you home.”


“We’re putting you up at this place, the Laurel Inn. Nothing fancy but not too shabby, either, you know? Nice pool, decent coffee shop, plus you got a Denny’s right across the road. You’re right at an interstate exit, so you’re on and off in a hurry. And it’s all taken care of, so you got no bill to pay. Charge anything you want to the room, it’s on the boss.”

The place certainly looked good from the highway. Around back in the parking lot, the big fellow handed Keller a palm-size cardboard folder holding a key card. Only the name of the motel appeared on the key card; the room number, 204, was written on the folder.

“They never told me your name,” the fellow said.

“They never told me yours, either.”

“Meaning let’s keep it that way? Fair enough. Name you’re registered under is Leroy Montrose, and don’t blame me, ’cause I ain’t the one picked it out.”

The hair on the man’s head was neatly cut and styled, and Keller wondered why his barber didn’t do something about the hair growing out of his ears. Keller had never thought of himself as particularly fastidious, but he really didn’t like to look at it, all that hair sprouting out of the guy’s ears.

“Leroy Montrose, Room 204. Any charges, just sign your name. Well, Leroy’s name. You sign your own name, which I guess you like keeping a secret, and they’ll just look at you funny.” Copyright 2016 - 2024