“And no one ever has to,” Dot said, “because we’re in Oregon, where God waters everybody’s lawn. How come the sun’s out, Keller? Isn’t it supposed to rain here all the time? Or is that just a rumor they started to keep Californians from moving in?”
He parked two doors down on the other side of the street. That gave him a good view of Taggert’s house, but put them where he wouldn’t spot them unless he decided to take a good look around.
Still, they couldn’t park here long enough to sink roots. Taggert might not be expecting trouble, but his was a line of work where trouble was never entirely out of the question. Even if there was no one with a reason to wish him ill, he almost had to be a person of interest to law enforcement officers of all descriptions, local and state and federal. He and his boss might have gotten away clean in Des Moines, but Taggert couldn’t have lived this long without getting tied into something somewhere. Keller, who’d met the man, was willing to bet he’d done time, though he couldn’t have said where or for what.
So he’d be cautious out of habit, whether or not he had anything specific to be cautious about. Which made surveillance complicated. You couldn’t park on the block for too long, or come back too often.
That afternoon they returned to the airport, where Dot went to a different rental car counter and rented a car for herself, paying extra for an SUV so that it would be recognizably different from the sedan Keller had rented. With two cars, Keller figured they were that much less likely to be spotted. But even with a whole fleet, they had to be circumspect in their surveillance, or Taggert would simply conclude that he was being watched by a government agency with a whole motor pool at its disposal.
A couple of times a day they took one of the two vehicles and found their way back to Belle Mead Lane. They’d do a couple of drive-bys, park at curbside for five or ten minutes, circle the block a time or two, and then return to the motel. They were staying nearby at the Comfort Inn, and there was a shopping mall with a multiplex theater just half a mile from the motel, and plenty of places to eat. But most of the time they sat in their separate rooms and read the paper or watched television.
“If we had a gun,” Dot said, “we could speed things up a little. Just walk up to the front door and ring the bell. He answers, we shoot him and go home.”
“And if someone else answers?”
“‘Hi, is your daddy home?’ Bang. But even if you drove from New Orleans to Des Moines with the gun in the car, we still couldn’t have brought it to Portland. Not without driving across the whole damn country. You think it would be impossible to buy a gun here?”
“But you don’t want to.”
“No. Anyway, how can we shoot him dead and then expect him to talk?”
Saturday morning they had breakfast across the street from the motel. Over coffee they went over what they’d learned in several days of intermittent surveillance:
— A couple of sightings had confirmed that Marlin Taggert, if that was the name of the man residing at 71 Belle Mead Lane, was definitely the man who’d been Keller’s contact in Des Moines. The same fleshy face, the same big nose, the same loose mouth, and the same characteristic walk, not quite shambling but not far from it. And, of course, the same Dumbo ears, though they were too far away to see if his barber had done anything to make them more presentable.
— The rest of the family included a woman, presumably Mrs. Taggert, who was younger than her husband and a lot better-looking. There were three children, a boy and two girls, ranging in age from ten to fourteen. The dog was a Welsh corgi, its puppyhood barely a memory. Once they’d seen Taggert and one of his children take it for an agonizingly slow walk around the block.
— There were two cars housed in the Taggert garage, a brown Lexus SUV and a black Cadillac. When Mrs. Taggert left the house, with or without her children, she took the Lexus. Except for the single excursion with the dog, Taggert barely left the house and never ventured off the property, and the Cadillac stayed put in the garage.
“Monday morning,” Keller said. “Until then I don’t want either of us to go anywhere near Belle Mead Lane. We’re not going to catch him alone over the weekend, and just in case he noticed our cars parked on the block or driving by, he’ll have a couple of days not to notice them. Then Monday morning we’ll take him.”
Later he asked Dot if she felt like a visit to the mall, but she’d found something she liked on television. He went to a hardware store and picked up a few things, including a heavy steel pry bar with its end bent into a U, a roll of wire for hanging pictures, a roll of heavy-gauge duct tape, and a pair of wire-cutting pliers. He put his purchases in the trunk and drove around to the theater entrance. He watched a movie, and when it ended he stopped at the men’s room, then bought popcorn before sneaking into one of the other theaters to watch another movie.
Just like old times, he thought. But at least he wouldn’t have to spend the night in the car.
At 8:30 Monday morning they were on Belle Mead Lane, parked where they could see the Taggert house. They hadn’t been there five minutes before the garage door rose and the brown SUV emerged from it.
“Taking them to school,” Dot said. “If she’s coming back right away, we’ll want to wait until later. But there’s no way to know, is there?”
“There is if she turns this way,” he said.
“Here she comes,” Keller said, and as the car approached he opened his door and got out from behind the wheel. He’d brought the Gideon Bible from his motel room, but he left that in his car. He stepped out into the street in front of the oncoming SUV, raising a hand palm-out and waving it from side to side. The Lexus stopped, and Keller smiled the kind of benign smile you’d expect from a studious balding man wearing glasses. He walked over to the side of the car, and when she rolled down the window he explained that he was having trouble finding Frontenac Drive.
“Oh, it doesn’t exist,” she said. “It’s on maps, but they changed their minds and never cut it through.”
“That explains it,” he said, and she drove away, and he got back in the car.
“I knew it,” he said. “There is no Frontenac. The map lied.”
“That’s wonderful, Keller. I’ll sleep better knowing that. But why on earth—”
“She’s dressed to meet the world,” he said, “not just to dump the kids and come home. Lipstick, earrings, and a purse on the seat beside her.”
“And all three kids?”
“Two in the back and one in front. And not a sound, because two of them were listening to their iPods and the other, the boy, was playing something where you use your thumbs a lot.”
“Some video game?”
“A nice little family group. Keller, you’re having second thoughts about this, aren’t you?”
He said, “She’ll be gone a couple of hours, would be my guess, but we don’t have time to waste. Let’s get it done.”
Keller pulled into the driveway and they got out of the car. Dot, carrying her handbag, led the way up the flagstone path to the front door. Keller, with the Bible in one hand and the pry bar in the other, was a step or two behind her.
She rang the doorbell, and Keller heard it chime. Then nothing, and then footsteps. He flipped the Bible open and held it in his left hand as if he were reading it, so that it obscured the lower portion of his face. His right hand clutched the pry bar, holding it out of sight at his side.
The door opened, and Marlin Taggert, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a pair of camo cargo pants, took a look at the two of them. “Oh, Christ,” he said.
“The very subject I wanted to raise with you,” Dot said. “I hope you’re having a divine day, Mr. Taggert.”
“I don’t need this,” he said. “No disrespect, lady, but I got no use for you or the Jesus shit you’re peddling, so if you’ll just take it somewhere else—”
But that was all he said, because by then Keller had driven the rounded end of the pry bar into the pit of his stomach.
The reaction was heartening. Taggert gasped, clutched at his middle, took an involuntary step backward, stumbled, caught his balance. Keller rushed in after him, with Dot right behind, drawing the door shut after her. Taggert retreated, picked up a glass ashtray, hurled it at Keller. It sailed wide, and Keller went after him, and Taggert yanked a lamp off a table and flung it.
“Son of a bitch,” Taggert bellowed, and charged Keller, swinging a wild right hand. Keller ducked under the blow, swung the pry bar like a sickle, and heard the bone snap when he connected with Taggert’s leg. The man let out a roar and crumpled to the floor, and Keller had the pry bar high overhead and just caught himself in time; he was that close to smashing the man’s skull and rendering him forever silent.
Taggert had an arm raised to ward off a blow. Keller feinted with the pry bar, then swung it in an easy arc that caught the man high on the left temple. Taggert’s eyes rolled up in his head and he pitched over onto his side.
Dot said, “Oh, hell.”
What? Had he struck too hard a blow after all? He looked up and saw the old dog waddling across the carpet toward them. Keller walked toward it, still holding the pry bar, and with a visible effort the dog raised its head to look up at him.
Keller put down the bar, took hold of the dog’s collar, put it in another room, and closed the door.
“For a second there,” Dot said, “I thought it was about to attack. But it was just waiting for Queen Elizabeth to take it for a walk.”
He checked Taggert, found him unconscious but breathing. He rolled him over, secured his hands behind his back with a few loops of the wire he’d bought, and used some more of the wire to bind his ankles together.
He straightened up, handed the pry bar to Dot. “Watch him,” he said, and went looking for the kitchen.
A door from the kitchen led into the attached garage. Keller found a button to raise the garage door, parked his car alongside the Cadillac, and lowered the door. He wasn’t gone long, and Taggert was still out when he returned to the living room. The lamp was back on its table, he noticed, and so was the glass ashtray.
Dot shrugged. “What can I say, Keller? I’m neat. And this mope’s still out. What do we do, throw water on him?”
“We can give him a minute or two.”
“You know, I thought you were exaggerating about the hair in his ears. If he doesn’t come to on his own, I’ll find a tweezers and start ripping out ear hair. That should bring him around.”
“This is simpler,” he said, and poked his toe gently into Taggert’s shin. He found the spot where he’d struck with the pry bar, and the pain cut right through. Taggert yelped and opened his eyes.
He said, “Jesus, my leg. I think you broke it.”
“‘So?’ So you broke my fucking leg. Who the hell are you people? If this is some religious cult, you got a hell of a way of recruiting, is all I can say. If it’s a robbery, you’re out of luck. I don’t keep any money in the house.”