“I know what you thought,” she said, “because what else could you think? But now’s not the time to go into it. I thought the same about you, as far as that goes. Where are you, and how long will it take you to get out here?”
“How did — oh, the area code. Well, not Flagstaff, but that’s close enough. Flagstaff’s got an airport, but it might be easier to fly to Phoenix and drive up. Or for all I know you’re close enough to drive the whole way. Where are you, anyway?”
In for a penny, in for a pound. “New Orleans,” he said, “but as far as coming out there, it’s not easy for me to get away.”
“You’re all right, aren’t you? Not under lock and key, for God’s sake.”
“No, nothing like that, but it’s complicated.”
“Oh? In that case I’ll come to you. The only thing to stop me is a hair appointment, and that shouldn’t be too hard to get out of. Give me your number, I’ll get right back to you… Keller? Where’d you go?”
“I just got this phone,” he said, “and there’s got to be a card somewhere with the number on it, but I don’t know what happened to it.”
“That’s the last word in unlisted numbers,” Dot said, “where even the owner himself can’t track it down. But don’t get too cocky, because somewhere in India there’s a little guy who’s going to call you on it and try to sell you Viagra. Here’s what we’ll do. You call me. Give me an hour, and by then I’ll know when I’m getting in and where I’m staying. And don’t worry if you can’t find my number. Just press the Redial button and that clever little phone of yours will do the rest.”
An hour later he learned that she wouldn’t be coming for three days, and he thought he’d wait a day or two to figure out what to tell Julia. He drove home and Julia met him in front of the house. She said the weather forecast was for rain but it didn’t feel like rain, and what did he think? He said he couldn’t really say one way or the other. She said neither could she, not really, and was there something on his mind?
“Dot’s alive,” he said.
The weather forecast turned out to be on the money. It started raining late that afternoon and kept raining on and off for the next three days. It never reached downpour proportions, but it never quite cleared up, either, and he had to use the windshield wipers driving downtown to Dot’s hotel.
She had booked herself into the Intercontinental. He brought his new cell phone along and called her after he’d turned his truck over to the valet, and she met him in the lobby and took him up to her room. Two other guests shared the elevator with them, so they didn’t say a word until they got off on her floor.
“Not that those two would have noticed,” she said. “What do you figure, cheaters or honeymooners?”
“I wasn’t paying attention.”
“Neither were they, Keller, which was my point. It doesn’t matter. My God, look at you. You look different, but I can’t put my finger on it.”
“There you go. The whole shape of your face is different. What did you do?”
“Cut it differently, raised the hairline. Lightened it a little.”
“And glasses. Those aren’t bifocals, are they?”
“They took a little getting used to.”
“They’re taking me a little getting used to, and you’re the one who’s wearing them. I like the effect, though. Very studious.”
“I see better,” he said. “But you, Dot, you look way different.”
“Well, I’m older than I used to be, Keller. What do you expect?”
But she didn’t look older, she looked younger. Her hair had been dark years ago, when they first met, and by the time he’d left for Des Moines there was far more salt than pepper in the mix. Now the salt was all gone — it was easier, as he well knew, to turn gray hair dark than to reverse the process — and along with the gray she’d lost twenty or thirty pounds. The pants suit she was wearing, a far cry from her usual at-home attire, showed off her new figure, and she was wearing lipstick and eye makeup for the first time he could recall.
“I’ve got a personal trainer,” she said, “if you can get your mind around that one, plus a sweet little Vietnamese girl who does my hair once a week. I closed on my condo out there expecting to lie in the sun like a beached whale and sit up nights with a box of soft-center chocolates, and will you look what happened to me?”
“You look terrific, Dot.”
“So do you. What did you do, take up golf or something? You never used to be so big in the shoulders.”
“It’s probably from swinging a hammer.”
“A garrote’s quieter,” she said, “but I don’t suppose it does as much in terms of muscular development.” She called room service, told them to send up two big pitchers of iced tea and two glasses, then hung up the phone and looked at him. “We’ve got a lot of catching up to do, haven’t we?”
He went first, starting with their last conversation in Des Moines and bringing her all the way to his new life in New Orleans. She listened carefully, interrupting now and then for amplification, and when he was done she sat there shaking her head. “You were going to retire,” she said, “and here you are doing manual labor.”
“I didn’t know what I was doing at first,” he said, “but it’s not that hard to pick up.”
“It shouldn’t be. Look at all the morons who do just fine at it.”
“And it’s satisfying,” he said. “Especially when what you’re doing is taking something that’s a real mess and straightening it out.”
“You’ve been doing that for years, Keller. Though I can’t recall you ever using a paint roller before. But tell me more about this lady friend of yours.”
He shook his head. “Your turn,” he said.
She said, “Once we knew what was going on, all I could do was disappear, and the sooner the better. I figured you might get away or you might not, but there was nothing I could do about it either way.
“So the first thing I did was go online and sell everything we owned, every last share, every bond, everything. The whole works, every lock, every stock, every barrel. And then I arranged a wire transfer and stashed every single dime of it in our account in the Caymans.”
“We have an account in the Caymans?”
“Well, I do,” she said, “the same as I had the Ameritrade account. I set it up as soon as the Ameritrade balance started to amount to something, just in case, and it was sitting there waiting when I needed it. I transferred the money, and then I took care of the house, and then I walked a few blocks and waited for the bus.”
“You took care of the house. What does that mean?”
“You’re a smart boy, Keller. What do you think it means?”
“You set it on fire.”
“I got rid of anything that might point anywhere,” she said, “and I pulled the hard drive out of the computer and treated it the same way you did the cell phone, and I put it back right where I found it, and then, yes, I set the house on fire.”
“They found a body.”
She made a face. “I was going to skip that part,” she said. “You know, I was going to take my chances, and then this woman turned up, and all I could think was that God sent her.”
“God sent her?”
“You remember how Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac? And God sent a ram for him to sacrifice instead?”
“That story never made much sense to me,” he said.
“Well, it’s the Bible, Keller. What the hell do you want from it? All I know is I was scrambling, trying to decide where to pour gasoline, and the doorbell rang. And I went there, and there she was.”
“Selling magazine subscriptions? Taking a survey?”
“She was a Jehovah’s Witness,” she said. “You know what you get when you cross a Jehovah’s Witness with an agnostic?”
“Someone who rings your doorbell for no apparent reason. You can figure out the rest, can’t you? I invited her in and sat her down, and then I got the gun from the silverware drawer and shot her a couple of times, and she got to be the corpse they found in the kitchen. I poured enough gas on her hands so I wouldn’t have to worry about fingerprints. Mine aren’t on file anywhere, but how did I know hers weren’t? People who turn up on your doorstep, you never know where they’ve been. Why are you frowning?”
“I read something about a positive identification based on dental records.”
“Well, how did you manage that?”
“That’s why I have to figure God sent her, Keller. The little darling had false teeth.”
“She had false teeth.”
“Cheap ones, too. You could just about spot ’em before she opened her mouth. First thing I did, I yanked ’em out and popped mine in.”
“What’s so remarkable about that?”
“I didn’t know your teeth were false.”
“You weren’t supposed to know,” she said. “That’s why I paid ten or twenty times as much for them as Jehovah’s little godchild paid for hers, so they’d look like the original equipment. I lost all my teeth before I was thirty, Keller, and I’ll save that story for another day, if it’s all the same to you. I switched the teeth and set the fire and got the hell out.”
“I always thought—”
“That my teeth were real? See these?” She drew back her lips. “I have to say I like them even better than the ones I left in White Plains. They don’t look perfect, that’s the giveaway with so many of them, and yet they look really nice. Don’t ask what they cost.”
“I won’t,” he said, “and that’s not what I was going to say. What I always thought was that Jehovah’s Witnesses always came around in pairs.”
“Oh, right. Him.”
“I shot him first,” she said, “because he was bigger, and looked more like trouble, although I can’t say either one of them struck me as a dangerous customer. I shot him, and then I shot her, and I put him in the trunk of my car and dumped him where nobody would find him for a while, and then I came back and switched the teeth and set the fire, di dah di dah di dah.”
She left her car in the garage, so no one would go looking for it, and she took no more than would fit into a small overnight bag. She took a bus to the train station and a train to Albany and holed up there for six weeks in an apartment hotel catering mostly to people with political business in the state capital.
“State senators and assemblymen and the lobbyists who throw money at them,” she said. “I had plenty of cash, and credit cards in my new name, and I bought a car and picked up a laptop and did a little research. I decided Sedona looked good.”