“They’re for hunting,” Taggert said, “and if I’ve gone out three times in the last ten years it’s a lot. Hell, if I was a hunter, you think my dog’d be a corgi? I still can’t believe you killed my dog.”
“You said that before. You must have handguns.”
“Just the one, in the bedside table. For emergencies.”
It was a revolver, a.38 Ivor Johnson, immobilized with a cylinder lock. Keller had a vision of an intruder surprising the Taggerts in their sleep, and Taggert yanking the gun out and rushing to the den for the key. Handy.
“It’s hard to believe you’re a pro,” Taggert said. “Taking my guns? You didn’t bring your own?”
“You offered me a choice of guns in Des Moines,” Keller reminded him. “So I’ve come to think of you as my regular supplier.”
“You took the revolver. Were you even planning on using it?”
“No,” Keller said, “but it came in handy later on.”
“You could have an AK-47 and you wouldn’t have a chance with Mr. Wheeler. You know what I would do in your position?”
“Put the guns back, let yourselves out, and go home. Mr. Wheeler won’t send anybody after you because he’ll never know you were here. He’s sure not about to hear it from me.”
“You can tell him you broke your leg tripping over your dog.”
“Jesus,” Taggert said. “I can’t believe you killed the poor damn dog.”
“Let’s be clear on this,” Keller said. “Packing up and going home, that’s not on the table. So what you’ve got to do is come up with a way for us to get to him.”
“Mr. Wheeler, you mean.”
“You want to use my gun, and you want me to work out how you’re gonna do it.”
“That’s your best shot.”
“It’s my best shot? How the hell do you figure that?”
“It’s pretty simple,” Keller told him. “That’s the only way you stand a chance of coming out of this alive. Say we go up against Wheeler and we wind up dead.”
“Which you will.”
“If we do, so do you. He’ll know how we got to him. We’ll tell him if he asks, and he’ll figure it out if we don’t. How long do you figure he’d let you live, and how far could you run with a broken leg?”
“And if I help you, and you get lucky? Then you turn around and kill me.”
“Not if you help us. Why kill you?”
“Shit, why kill Mr. Wheeler, for all you’re going to get out of it? Why would you kill me? Because you’re some kind of a psychopath, is all I can think of. Look what you went and did to Sulky.”
“Jesus,” Dot said.
“I still can’t believe it,” Taggert said. “I can’t believe you killed a poor old dog like that.”
“I can’t fucking stand any more of this,” Dot said, and went over to the door Keller had closed earlier. She opened it and made clucking noises, and Taggert turned his head in time to see the old dog waddle into the room.
“My God,” he said.
“It’s Sulky,” Dot announced, “back from the dead, and I bet you can’t believe that, either.”
“If you didn’t have to go and break my leg,” Taggert said, “this part would be a whole lot easier.”
Keller couldn’t argue the point. Getting the man from the living room floor to the back seat of his Cadillac took a lot of work on everybody’s part. Keller had snipped the wire from around his ankles, which made it a little easier, but security concerns had led him to leave Taggert’s wrists tied together behind his back. The whole process, through the kitchen and into the garage, was difficult to negotiate, and Taggert inevitably bumped into something here and there, and yelped with pain.
“What’s funny,” Taggert said, “is I was ready to beg you to take me in the car. Instead of killing me right there in my own house. On account of I didn’t want her to walk in and find her husband dead on the floor. I figured it was bad enough she’d come in and trip over the dead dog. See, this was back when I still thought the dog was dead.”
“Now she’ll trip over the live dog.”
Taggert didn’t seem to appreciate the line. It was hard to tell, he was in back where Keller couldn’t see his face, not and concentrate on his driving at the same time. Dot would have enjoyed it, but she was in the other car, tagging along in Keller’s wake. So there were no cars in the garage at 71 Belle Mead Lane, and the garage door was shut and the other doors locked, and the only signs of their visit were the absence of a shotgun and a revolver, both now in the trunk of the Cadillac, a table lamp that refused to light, and a dent in one wall where the glass ashtray had struck it.
“You want to take your next left turn,” Taggert said. “Point is, I didn’t want her to see that. Or the kids, if they came home the same time she did. And I thought that was the best I could do, just fix it so I could die somewhere else, because I didn’t think I had a chance of getting out of this alive.”
Keller waited until the oncoming traffic cleared, then took the left turn. He kept an eye on the mirror, made sure Dot had gone straight through the intersection, heading back to the motel.
“Now you got me believing I might have a shot,” Taggert said. “Not a real good one, but I have to say it’s better than nothing.”
“I suppose you could knock out the power,” Taggert had said. “Find a way to take out a power line and you’ll do two things at once. The fence won’t be electrified anymore, so all you have to do is climb over it. And, if you go in at night, you’ll have all the confusion of darkness going for you. No lights in the house, and everybody running around and bumping into each other.”
“Unless they’ve got one of those generators,” Dot said, “that kicks in automatically if the power supply’s compromised.”
“I wouldn’t know about that. But I have to say it’s the kind of thing Mr. Wheeler would have.”
“Suppose we had you with us,” Keller said. “Wouldn’t that get us through the gate?”
“Only if he knew I was coming, and he told them to let me in. Say if I called him, made up something I had to see him about.”
“Well, I can’t come up with anything right off the top of my head. I’d have to think of something.”
“You’d have to think up some way to explain what I was doing in the car with you,” Keller pointed out. “That might be tricky.”
“Say you’re my prisoner,” Taggert said, and snapped his fingers. “That’s it! I’ll tell him the guy we set up in Des Moines turned up, and I managed to subdue him and now I want to bring him over for questioning. Then I march you in there and it looks as though you’re tied up securely, but you get loose and—”
Keller was shaking his head.
“Okay, this is better yet,” Taggert said. “I go over to see him, I make up some story, doesn’t matter what. And you’re in the trunk.”
“I’m in the trunk?”
“The trunk of my car. I park the car, Mr. Wheeler and I go in the house, and when the time’s right you open the trunk—”
“From the inside?”
“They got a way to do that now, to save kidnap victims. Or small children who crawl in car trunks when they can’t find an abandoned refrigerator to play in. So that’s what you do, you pop out of the trunk and go to work.”
“Mowing the lawn?”
“You do what you came to do. They’ll be off guard, all you got to worry about is the dogs.”
“Those Rhodesian ridgebacks.”
“I grant you they’re vicious,” Taggert said, “but do you think they’re gonna bother with a parked car?”
“They might take an interest,” Dot said, “what with everybody else standing there with guns in their hands, waiting for the trunk to open. You’re driving and he’s in the trunk? I don’t think so.”
“You don’t trust me,” Taggert said. He sounded hurt.
“I don’t even trust you to drive,” she said. “How are you going to work the gas pedal with that leg?”
“I could use my other foot.”
“And the brake?”
“Same thing. I mean, it’s not as if I’d have a clutch pedal to contend with. The Cadillac’s got automatic transmission.”
“You’re kidding. What’ll they think of next?”
Keller said, “I like cutting the power line. It seems to me you don’t run an auxiliary generator all the time, you just switch it on when the lights go out. So you do it in the daytime, and the only thing that goes out is the fence.”
“And the TV,” Dot said, “and the air conditioner, and everything else with a plug and a switch.”
“Still, it’s better than at night.”
“Then what you want is a rainy day,” Taggert said. “So you’ll have a decent shot of finding him at home. Day like today, Mr. Wheeler’s gonna be playing golf. What? Did I say something?”
Benjamin Wheeler belonged to three country clubs, and when he played a round of golf the drill was always the same. Two of his aides would accompany him, while the other two remained at the house. One man, the driver, would stay with the car; the other, more of an all-purpose bodyguard, would walk to the first tee with Wheeler, then wait at the clubhouse while Wheeler and his playmates buzzed around in their golf carts for eighteen holes.
Rose Hill, according to Taggert, was Wheeler’s most likely choice, so that was the first place Dot called. Posing as the secretary of one of Wheeler’s fellow golfers, she said she wanted to confirm the foursome’s tee time. It was scheduled for 11:15, said a young woman with a snooty English accent, and would there be four? Because she had Mr. Wheeler down as a party of three.
“Yes, three,” Dot said. “That’s quite right, because Mr. Podston won’t be able to make it after all.”
She hung up and Keller said, “Mr. Podston?”
“What I almost said,” she said, “was Pond Scum. Podston was the best I could do. Eleven-fifteen, that’s when they’re teeing off, so there’s not a lot of time to waste.”
You had to pass a gate attendant and assorted other functionaries at the entrance to Rose Hill Country Club, and then a valet would turn up to park your car. Keller drove right past the entrance and followed the map from the club’s website. Dot had printed out a copy, and he studied it again and decided the best bet was the seventh hole, a 465-yard par four with a dogleg to the left and woods on the right. A slice would put Wheeler in the woods, and that was where Keller decided to wait for him.
And there was a place forty or fifty yards from the fairway where he could park. He had a feeling it wasn’t entirely legal to park there, but any cop who felt compelled to do something about a nice big Cadillac with Oregon plates parked where it wasn’t in anybody’s way, well, the worst result would be a ticket, not a tow.