“And it was and it does.”
“Keller,” she said, “you keep this one, you hear me? Don’t send her off to walk the dog. Hang on to her.”
They sat in the car, and he read the phone numbers out loud while she copied them down. “In case the phone goes ker-blooey,” she said. “First thing we can do is toss all the numbers with a five-one-five area code. You think there’s a chance on earth Al lives in Des Moines?”
“What about Harry?”
“Harry? Oh, you mean the guy with hair in his ears.”
“If you’d rather,” she said, “I suppose we could call him Eerie. You think he was local?”
“He seemed to know the city. He found the Laurel Inn without any trouble.”
“So did I, Keller, and the closest I’ve ever been to Des Moines before was thirty thousand feet, and I was in a plane at the time.”
“He knew enough to recommend the patty melt at the Denny’s.”
“So he lives in a city that has a Denny’s. That sure narrows it down.”
He thought about it. “He knew his way around,” he said, “but maybe he was just well prepared. I don’t think it matters. Either way we can forget the five-one-five numbers. If Hairy Ears was local, then he was way down on the totem pole. They wouldn’t pick up someone locally and let him know much.”
“In fact,” he said, “if he was local, he’s probably dead.”
“Because they’d clean up after themselves.”
“If Al would send a team of men to White Plains to kill you and burn your house down—”
“Keller, that was me. Remember? I was the one who did that.”
“But I take your point. We’ll concentrate on the out-of-towners.”
The most promising number, with three calls to it, had a 702 area code, and turned out to be a Las Vegas tip line for sports bettors. Another was a hotel in San Diego. Dot said the third time was the charm, and tried the third number, and got coo-wheeeet for her troubles.
“The only way to look at it,” she said, “is it’s enough of a miracle that the phone was still there, and we’d be asking too much if we expected it to do us any good. I’ve got one more number to try, and then we can go back to the Laurel Inn and stick this damn thing under the mattress where it belongs.”
He watched as she dialed, held the phone to her ear, raised her eyebrows as the call went through. Someone answered it, and she promptly pressed a button to put the call on speakerphone.
She looked at Keller, and he hand-gestured Come on, wanting to hear more. In a voice a little higher than her own, she said, “Arnie? You sound like you got a cold.”
“You sound like you got a wrong number,” the man said, “not to mention the brains of a gerbil.”
“Oh, come on, Arnie,” she cooed. “Be nice. You know who this is?”
The phone clicked.
“Arnie doesn’t want to play,” she said. “Well?”
He nodded. It was the man with the Hairy Ears.
“Well, no wonder he hung up,” Dot said. “It turns out his name’s not Arnie after all.”
“There’s a surprise.”
“It’s Marlin Taggert. That’s Marlin like the fish, not Marlon like Brando. And he lives at seventy-one Belle Mead Lane in Beaverton, Oregon.”
“There was an Oregon map in the car.”
“This car? Just now?”
“You think he left it there?”
“No, how could he? And it wasn’t the car I rented, it was the one I switched plates with at the airport. Never mind, it’s got nothing to do with anything. It’s an actual coincidence.”
“And a real interesting one, too, Keller. Brightens my whole day.”
“Sorry. Where’s Beaverton? Is it near anything?”
“Tell you in a second,” she said. “There you go. It’s just outside of Portland.”
And just like that they knew his name and where he lived. They were in a Kinko’s on Hickman Road, where they’d set her up at a PC for $5 an hour. He’d been watching over her shoulder, so he didn’t have to ask how she did it, but that didn’t render the performance any less remarkable. Google had led her to a site where all you had to do was enter a phone number and it would see if it could find it; once it determined that it was available, you had the option of buying it for $14.95. After a quick credit-card transaction, it coughed up the data.
“I knew the government could find out anything,” he said, “but what I didn’t realize was everybody else can, too. You’d think he’d have an unlisted number.”
“He does. Unpublished, anyway. It said so, right there on the screen, at the same time it was offering to sell it to me for fifteen dollars.”
“Can’t argue with the price, can you?”
“There’s probably a way to get it for free,” she said, “if I’d wanted to devote the time to it. And no, you really can’t argue with the price. I figured the absolute minimum it would cost us was thirty pieces of silver. I wonder who flies to Portland?”
“I’ll go,” he said. “There’s no reason why you have to.”
She gave him a look.
“We’re both going to Portland, Keller. That goes without saying.”
“You just said—”
“What airline, Keller. And I don’t have to wonder, not since God created Google.”
They spent the night at the Laurel Inn after all, but in separate rooms. It was Dot’s idea, after she’d gone to the United website and booked them on a flight the next morning. “We have to stay someplace,” she said, “and we’ve already got the one room.”
His room was on the ground floor in the front. He checked in and had a shower, then went up to 204. She was drinking a bottle of Snapple from the vending machine and making a face every time she took a sip. She asked if he knew a decent place for dinner, and he said the only place he could think of was the Denny’s across the street, and he didn’t think it would be a good idea to go there.
“It’s probably not the only Denny’s in town,” she said, “but let’s not go to any of the others, either.” She found a steakhouse in the Yellow Pages that billed itself as Iowa’s best, and they agreed it was pretty good.
Back in his room, he watched cop show reruns on A&E. It seemed to him they were episodes he’d seen before, but that didn’t matter. He watched them anyway.
When he got home, he thought, he’d upgrade their TV, spring for a big flat-panel set like the one he’d left behind in New York. Get TiVo, too, and a decent DVD player. No reason not to, not if he had all that money in a bank in the Caymans.
He could think of a batch of reasons not to call Julia, but in the end he went ahead and called anyway. She said hello, and he said “It’s me,” and she said “Nicholas.” Just her voice saying his name, and he felt his chest swell up.
He said, “It worked. The thing was there, and it had what it was supposed to have, and she says you’re a genius.”
“All pronouns and nonspecific nouns. Because we’re on the phone?”
“The night has a thousand ears.”
“I thought it was eyes, but I suppose it could be ears, too. A thousand eyes, a thousand ears, and five hundred noses.”
“Because it worked,” he said, “I’ve got more places to go.”
“I won’t call until—”
“Until it’s over. I understand. You’ll be careful.”
“I know you will. Give her my best.”
“I will. She says you’re a keeper.”
“But you knew that.”
“Yes,” he said. “I knew that.”
In the morning they had breakfast at the airport while they waited for their flight for Denver, where they ate again before the flight to Portland. The rental car there was booked in his name, and he showed his driver’s license and paid with his credit card. He didn’t have to worry about either of them, or any of the pieces of ID he was carrying, including the passport he’d shown at check-in. They were legitimate and authentic, even if the name they carried was not the one he’d been born with.
It was easy to locate Belle Mead Lane on the street map Keller bought, but not so easy to find it when you were driving. The development it was in, on the western edge of Beaverton, seemed to specialize in thoroughfares that twisted this way and that, often winding up more or less back where they’d started. Add in a rich complement of dead-end streets, plus some fantasy roads that existed only in the mind of the cartographer, and the whole business got tricky.
“That’s supposed to be Frontenac,” he said, glowering at a street sign, “but it says Shoshone. How do you suppose Taggert finds his way home at night?”
“He must leave a trail of bread crumbs. What’s that off to the left?”
“I can’t see the sign from here. Whatever it is, maybe it goes somewhere.”
“Don’t count on it.”
“Here we go,” he said a few minutes later. “Belle Mead Lane. Number seventy-one, wasn’t it?”
“So it’ll be on the left. Okay, that’s it.”
He slowed for a moment across from a red-brick ranch with white trim, set back on a spacious and well-landscaped lot.
“Nice,” Dot said. “Be a showplace when the trees get some size to them. I call it a positive sign, Keller. He’s got to be more than an errand boy to afford a place like this.”
“Unless he married money.”
“There you go. What heiress could resist a small-time crook with hair growing out of his ears?”
“Well,” he said.
“Well, indeed. Now what?”
“Now we find a motel.”
“And wait until tomorrow?”
“At the earliest,” he said. “This may take a while. He doesn’t live here all by himself. But we want to get him when he’s alone, and when he can’t see it coming.”
“It’s like when you work, isn’t it? You go out and have a look around and plan your approach.”
“I don’t know any better way to do it.”
“No, it makes sense. I guess I expected it to be more straightforward, the way it was yesterday in Des Moines. Go there, get what we came for, and leave.”
“We were just picking up a phone,” he pointed out. “Our task here is a little more complicated.”
“Just finding the damn house was more complicated than anything we did in Des Moines. Will you be able to find it again tomorrow?”
It wasn’t hard to find, not once he’d been there and knew when to disregard the map. When he turned onto Belle Mead Lane the next morning, he half-expected to see Marlin Taggert out in front of his house, watering his lawn. But that was Gregory Dowling who’d been watering his lawn, and who might be watering it still, never knowing what a close brush with death he’d had. No one was watering Marlin Taggert’s lawn.