When he was driving her back to the Intercontinental, she said, “That’s a real lady you found yourself, Keller. I’m sorry, I’ll be a long time getting used to any other name for you. You’ve been just plain Keller to me for a long time now.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“But why did she blush when I asked if she ever called you Keller? Jesus, Keller, now you’re the one blushing.”

“The hell I am,” he said. “Just forget it, okay?”

“Okay,” she said. “Mea fucking culpa, and consider it forgotten.”

“Do I ever forget and call you Keller? I turned red as a beet.”

“I don’t think she noticed.”

“Oh? I doubt there’s a great deal that goes unnoticed around your friend Dot. I like her. Though she’s not quite what I expected.”

“What did you expect?”

“Someone older. And, well, on the dowdy side.”

“She used to be older.”

“How’s that?”

“Well, she seemed older, and dowdy too, I guess. She never wore makeup, and she sat around in housedresses. I think that’s what you call them.”

“Watching TV and drinking iced tea.”

“Both of which she still does,” he said, “but I guess she gets out more, and she’s lost a lot of weight, and she buys nice clothes now, and gets her hair done. It’s dyed.”

“I’m shocked, darling. She’s very flippant and sarcastic, but underneath it all she’s very much the lady. When I was showing off the house, she kept pointing out things like the window seat that reminded her of her house in White Plains. She must have loved that house, and yet she was tough-minded and decisive enough to burn the place down.”

“She didn’t have much choice.”

“I realize that, but it still couldn’t have made it easy. I wonder if I could do that.”

“If you had to.”

“When all is said and done, it’s just a house. And you could always build me a new one, couldn’t you? With an open-plan kitchen and ceramic tile in the bath.”

“And central air.”

“My hero. Didn’t you say they found a body in the wreckage?”

He was ready for this. “She left her false teeth behind,” he said. “Which they could identify from dental records. I never even knew her teeth weren’t her own, so the possibility never occurred to me.”

“Oh, that explains it. Nicholas?” She put a hand on his arm. “I was afraid I’d be jealous, even if it was never that kind of relationship in the past. But her whole vibe with you is somewhere between big sister and Auntie Mame. You know what the elephant was?”

“The elephant in the living room?”

“That we walked around and didn’t mention. What you’re going to do now.”

“I don’t really have to do anything.”

“I know. You’ve got your stamps, or at least you’re going to have them, and you’re going to have a lot of money, too. And we can just go on living this life, which is exactly the life I want to be living—”

“Me, too.”

“ — and not worry about money, and just be comfortable and happy.”


“And never really feel comfortable eating in the French Quarter. If you went after them, would you know where to look?”

“Not really.”

“Des Moines?”

“I don’t know if any of them live in Des Moines. It’s a sure bet Al doesn’t. I’ve got a Des Moines phone number, the one I called every day to find out if it was time to take out that poor mope who never did anything besides water his lawn. I wonder if he has any idea how close he came to getting his ticket punched.”

“You don’t think that phone number would lead anywhere?”

“No,” he said, “or they wouldn’t have given it to me. But as far as I can tell, it’s all we’ve got.”

“I wonder,” she said.

In the morning she drove him and Dot to the airport. Keller had thought they would take a cab, but Julia wouldn’t hear of it. Dot headed inside with her suitcase, to give them a moment, and Julia got out of the car to kiss him good-bye.

She said, “Be careful, you hear?”

“I will.”

“I’ll tell Donny you were called away. Family business, I’ll tell him.”

“Sure.” He studied her. “Is there something else?”

“Not really.”


“It’s nothing,” she said. “It’ll keep.”


“The area code’s five-one-five,” Dot said, squinting at the slip of paper. “That’s Des Moines? And you’ve been carrying this around for months and never dialed it?”

“Why would I dial it?”

“I see your point. If it’s the number they gave you, it’s not going to lead anywhere. Dial it anyway.”


“So we can rule it out, and you’ll have more room in your wallet for all the money you’ve got in the Caymans.”

He took out his cell phone, opened it, closed it again. “If it’s a live number, and I call it—”

“Is that the phone you called me on in Sedona? The one where not even you can say what the number is?”

“Well, yes, but—”

“Dial the number,” she said, “and if the guy with the hair in his ears picks up, we’ll throw the phone out the window.”


“That’s what I thought,” she said, “but now we know for sure. What else do we know? I talked to Al a couple of times on the phone. Not for very long, and he didn’t say much, but I might recognize his voice. Enough to pick him out of an auditory lineup, if there was such a thing.”

“I just wish we had a place to start.”

“So do I. He called me out of the clear blue sky, you know. Never a word about how he heard of me, who gave him the number. But he had to have heard from somewhere, and he didn’t just dial numbers at random. He knew my number and he knew my address. The first FedEx envelope full of money, he didn’t have to ask me where to send it. He just sent it.”

“So somebody who knows you also knows him.”

“We don’t know that, Keller. Somebody who knows me talked to somebody who knows him, and we don’t know how many extra somebodies may have gotten into the act. And the old man was running that show a long time, and never changed his phone number once in all those years.”

“So there are a lot of people out there who could have had the number.”

“And there could be a long chain between the first one and Al, and all you’d need is one broken link along the way and you wouldn’t get anywhere.” She frowned. “Still, if I ask enough people, somebody might know something. You think it’s a different name every time he picks up the phone? Call me Al, call me Bill, call me Carlos?”

“Or he’s a creature of habit and never got past Al.”

“That would make it easier for him to remember who he was supposed to be. One of the few things I brought along from White Plains was my phone book, and there are a lot of numbers I could call. The more people I talk to, the better the chance that one of them will know what I’m talking about. Of course that’s only the half of it.”

“The more people you talk to, the more likely it is he’ll know somebody’s looking for him.”

“That’s the other half, all right. And I’ll have to talk to these people without letting them know who I am, because I died in a fire in White Plains, as you may recall.”

“Now that you mention it, it seems to me I heard something along those lines.”

“I don’t know who else did. It would have been a pretty small story outside of the New York area. But I can’t be alive with one person and dead with another. It’s too small a world for that.” She shrugged. “I’ll figure something out. Maybe I’ll use one of those gizmos you clamp on the phone and it changes your voice. If there was anyplace else to start…”

“Well, there might be.”


“They gave me a phone,” he said. “The guy with the ears gave it to me when he took me to the motel they picked out for me.”

“The Laurel Inn, or something like that.”

“That was it. The Laurel Inn. Gave me this phone, told me to use it to call in. Well, I wasn’t going to use that phone any more than I was going to stay in that room.”

“You were suspicious from the jump.”

“There are certain precautions that are automatic, and yes, it felt a little hinky, but it was my last job and it was going to feel that way no matter what. I wasn’t going to stay at the Laurel Inn, and I wasn’t going to make any calls on that phone, and I wasn’t even going to carry it around with me, because I figured they could locate it whether or not it was turned on.”

“They can do that?”

“My rule of thumb is anybody can do anything. So if they tried to locate the phone, all it would do was lead them to the Laurel Inn, because that’s where I left it.”

“In your room.”

“Room two-oh-four.”

“You remember the number. I’m impressed, Keller. It’s almost as impressive as your trick with the presidents. Who was our fourteenth president, do you happen to remember?”

“Franklin Pierce.”

“That’s my boy. Now for the bonus round, what color stamp was he on?”


“Blue, Franklin Pierce, and room two-oh-four. That’s some memory, but—”

“But so what? Dot, it’s possible that they bought that phone the same way I bought this one, and never made a call with it before Hairy Ears handed it to me.”

She was right on it. “But if not,” she said, “you could press a button and get a list of the last eight or ten numbers called.”


“And you might even be able to trace it, find out who bought it and when.”

“It’s possible.”

“Same question, Keller. So what? I never stayed at the Laurel Inn, and maybe the maids there aren’t in the same league with your average Dutch housewife, but do you really think the phone’s going to be there after all this time?”

“It might be.”


“They gave me a room with a king-size bed,” he said.

“Which is nice, I suppose, but since you were never going to sleep in it—”

“And when I left the phone, I didn’t want anybody using it. So I lifted up the mattress and stuck the thing all the way in the middle of the bed.”

“Can you imagine the way the cops must have tossed that room?”

“After a high-profile political assassination? Yes, I think I can.”

“All they had to do was take the mattress completely off the bed.”

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