“That’s a good policy.”

“Huh? Look, wiseass, how’d you pick my house? You got any idea who I am?”

“Marlin Taggert,” Keller said. “Now it’s your turn.”


“To tell me who I am,” Keller said.

“How the hell do I know who you are? Wait a minute. Do I know you?”

“That was my question.”

“Jesus,” he said. “You’re the guy.”

“I guess you remember.”

“You look different.”

“Well, I’ve been through a lot.”

“Look,” Taggert said, “I’m sorry that didn’t go the way it was supposed to.”

“Oh, I think it went exactly the way it was supposed to.”

“You’re probably upset that you didn’t get paid, and that’s something that can be taken care of. All you had to do was get in touch. I mean, there’s no need for violence.”

This was taking too long. Keller kicked him hard in the leg, and Taggert screamed.

“Cut the crap,” Keller said. “You set me up and left me hanging.”

“All I ever did,” Taggert said, “was what I got paid to do. Pick up this guy, take him here, take him there, show him this, tell him that. I was doing my job.”

“I realize that.”

“There was nothing personal to it. Jesus, you ought to be able to understand that. What the hell were you doing in Iowa? You weren’t there on a relief mission for the Red Fucking Cross. You went there to do a job, and if I didn’t keep telling you ‘Not today, not today,’ you’d have iced that poor schmuck we saw pruning his roses.”

“Watering his lawn.”

“Who gives a shit? One word from me and you’d have killed him without even knowing his name.”

“Gregory Dowling.”

“So you know his name. I guess that changes everything. You’d have killed him without it being personal, is what I’m saying here, and I did what I did, and that wasn’t personal, either.”

“I understand that.”

“So what do you want from me? Money? I got twenty thousand dollars in my safe. You want it, you can take it.”

“I thought you didn’t keep any money in the house.”

“And I thought you were the strong-arm division of the Little Sisters of the Poor. You want money?”

Keller shook his head. “We’re both professionals,” he said, “and I’ve got nothing against you. Like you said, you were just doing a job.”

“So what do you want from me?”



“I want to know who you did the job for.”

“Jesus,” Taggert said. “Why don’t you ask me something easy, like where’s Jimmy Hoffa? You want to know who put the hit on Longford, you’re pissing on the wrong tree. Nobody’s gonna tell me shit like that.”

“I don’t care who ordered the hit.”

“You don’t? Who are you after, the shooter?”

“No,” Keller said. “He was just doing his job.”

“Like you and me.”

“Just like us. Except we’re alive, and I have the feeling the shooter’s not.”

“I wouldn’t know.”

Oh, you’d know, Keller thought. But since he didn’t care either way, he didn’t bother to push the point. He said, “I don’t care about the shooter, or about the person who commissioned the job. And I’ll stop caring about you as soon as you give me somebody else to care about.”

“Like who?”

“Call me Al,” Dot said.


“The man who made the call to hire me,” Keller said. “The man who gave you your orders. Your boss.”

“Forget it.”

Keller touched the man’s shin with his foot, pressed just enough to get the message across. “You’re going to tell me,” he said. “It’s just a question of when.”

“So we’ll see who’s got the most patience,” Taggert said.

You had to admire the man’s nerve. “You really want the other leg broken? And everything else that comes after that?”

“Once I give you what you want, I’m dead.”

“And if you don’t—”

“If I don’t I’m dead anyway? Maybe, maybe not. Way I see it, if you’re up for killing me, you’ll do it whether I talk or not. In fact as long as I don’t talk, you’ll keep me alive hoping you can open me up. But once I turn rat and sell the boss out, I’m a dead man walking.”

“Not walking,” Keller said.

“Not on this leg, you’re right about that. Point is, either you kill me or he does. Either way it’s the same ending. So I think maybe I’ll see how long I can hold out.”

“There’s only one problem with that.”


“Sooner or later,” Keller said, “your wife’s going to come home. She was dressed for a day on the town, so maybe she’ll go shopping, maybe have lunch with a girlfriend. If we’re gone by the time she gets back, she’ll be fine. If we’re still here, we’ll have to deal with her.”

“You’d hurt an innocent woman?”

“It wouldn’t hurt her much. She’d get what the dog got.”

“Jesus Christ, what did you do with the dog?”

Keller brandished the pry bar, made a chopping motion with it. “Hated to do it,” he said, “but I couldn’t take the chance he’d bite somebody.”

“Aw, God,” Taggert said. “Poor old Sulky? He never bit anybody in his life. He could barely bite his dinner. Why’d you go and do a thing like that?”

“I didn’t feel I had any choice.”

“Yeah, the poor old guy might have licked your face. Slobbered all over you. He’s got arthritis, he can barely walk, most of his teeth are gone—”

“It sounds like I did him a favor.”

“Sometimes I think I’m a hard case,” Taggert said, “and then I run into a son of a bitch like you. My kids loved that fucking dog. He’s been part of the family longer’n they’ve been alive. How am I gonna explain to them that their buddy Sulky’s dead?”

“Make up some story about Doggie Heaven,” Dot suggested. “Kids buy that crap all the time.”

“Jesus, you’re colder’n he is.”

“And speaking of the kids,” Keller said, “if you’re still holding out when they come home—”

“You’d do that?”

“I’d rather not, but if we’re still here when they turn up, you want to tell me what choice I’d have?”

He looked at Keller, looked at Dot, looked down at his own broken leg. “It hurts like a bastard,” he said.

“Sorry about that.”

“Yeah, I can tell. Okay, you win. Between you and him, either one of you would kill me, but he wouldn’t come after my family.”

“What’s his name?”

“Benjamin Wheeler. And you never heard of him. That’s his fucking secret, nobody ever heard of him.”

“Call me Ben,” Dot said.

“How’s that?”

“Never mind,” Keller said. “Keep talking. His address, his schedule, everything you can think of.”


“That’s a nice computer his kids have,” Dot said, “and a real fast broadband connection. You go to Google Image and type in ‘Benjamin Wheeler’ and you get a ton of hits. You make it ‘Benjamin Wheeler Portland’ and it narrows it down.” She was holding three sheets of paper, and she showed one to Taggert. He nodded, and nodded again at each of the other two sheets.

Keller took one of the sheets he’d nodded at and looked at a color photo of three men standing next to a horse. A fourth man, the jockey, was on top of the horse, and one of the men was holding a trophy, to be presented to the horse, the jockey, or the owner. Keller couldn’t tell which, nor did he know which of the men was Wheeler — although he was ready to rule out the jockey.

He looked at the other photos, and there was only one man who appeared in all three. In one he was with two women, posing for the camera, while the third shot showed him and another man in conversation. In each of the pictures Wheeler was the dominant figure, taller than anyone else, except for the horse. He dressed in expensive suits conservatively cut, and wore them with the ease of a retired athlete. His dark hair was well barbered, his face deeply tanned, and he wore a mustache.

“‘Financier, sportsman, and philanthropist,’” Keller read aloud.

“A hell of a guy,” Dot said. “On all these committees for civic betterment. Patron of local cultural events. That one woman there is an opera star, and there was a pretty good shot of him shaking hands with the new mayor, but I thought three was plenty.”

“You could have a hundred pictures,” Taggert said, “and that’s as close as you’re gonna get to him, because you can’t just pick up a Bible and go ring his doorbell. He’s got a house that’s the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a castle, up on a hill with an electric fence around the whole property. You got to go through a gate to get close to the house, and the guy on the gate confirms by intercom before he lets anyone in. If you got over the fence, you’d have the dogs to contend with, and you couldn’t deal with them the way you did with poor Sulky. Man, I can’t believe you killed my dog.”

“Then don’t.”

“They’re Rhodesian ridgebacks, a boy and a girl, and if you took a swat at one of them, he’d take your hand off at the wrist, while his sister was having your balls for dinner. Get past ’em somehow and make it into the house and he’s got four guys on staff, and they’ve all got guns and know how to use ’em. When he leaves the house, two of them go with him, one to drive and one to ride shotgun. The other two stick around and guard the house.”

“All those precautions,” Keller said. “I guess a lot of people must have tried to kill him over the years.”

“Why? Mr. Wheeler’s respected throughout the state, he calls the mayor and the governor by their first names. As far as I know, there’s never been a single attempt on his life.”

“No kidding. Where do you keep your guns?”

“My guns?”

“You know.” He pointed his finger, wiggled his thumb. “Bang! Your guns.”

There was a locked gun rack in the den, and the key was where Taggert had said it would be — and, Keller thought, right where any kid would look for it. Keller took the shotgun and slipped a few shells in his pocket. He left the rifle in the rack. He could fire a rifle but wasn’t that confident of his ability to hit anything with it. With a shotgun, all you had to do was get close enough to the target. A clay pigeon might present a certain challenge, but a human being standing still would be pretty hard to miss.

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