“They call that an inverted overprint.”

“Are they worth more than the others?”

“It depends,” he said, “on how scarce they are.”

“It would, wouldn’t it? I’m really glad you’ve got your stamps back.”

At the golf course, he’d had a long walk back to the Cadillac, and was afraid someone with a badge might have taken an interest in it by then. But the car was where he’d left it, and he got in and drove to the mall. He parked at one end of it, made a quick call to Dot, then wiped the interior of the car and made sure to take his jacket with him when he left it.

The multiplex movie theater was at the other end of the mall, and he walked there and bought a ticket for a movie about penguins in Antarctica. He’d seen it before, and so had Dot, but it wasn’t the sort of film that was spoiled if you knew how it ended. He took a seat in the last row and got caught up in the action right away, barely noticing when someone took the seat beside him.

It was Dot, of course, and she offered him some popcorn, and he took a handful. They sat there, neither of them saying a word, until the entire tub of popcorn was empty.

“I feel like a spy in an old movie,” she whispered. “You saw this already, didn’t you? Well, so did I. Is there any reason we have to watch the rest of it?”

She got up without waiting for an answer, and he followed her out. “Every last piece of popcorn,” she said, tossing the tub in the trash bin. “Except for the old maids. What? You’re not familiar with the term?”

“I never heard it before.”

“Because they never got popped. Well? We’re all set?”

“All set. The car’s parked in a good spot, and it’ll probably be a day or two before anybody notices it. I left the shotgun in the trunk.”

“Is that what you used to—”

“No, it would have been awkward and messy. I used the revolver, and then I left it in Wheeler’s hand.”

“You left him holding it?”

“Why not? That’ll be puzzling, a man with his neck broken and a gun in his hand, and then when they match the gun to the slugs in Taggert, it’ll give them something to think about.”

“Retribution in Portland’s dark underworld.”

“Something like that.”

“I got us on an early flight tomorrow, and we have to change planes twice. With the time change, it’s going to take the whole day to get to Albany.”

“That’s okay.”

“I reserved a rental car, and two rooms in a motel a quarter of a mile from the airport. We’ll drive to the storage place in Latham first thing Wednesday morning, and then you can drop me back at the airport.”

“And you’ll fly back to Sedona.”

“With a few more changes en route. I’ll tell you something, Keller, I’m too old for this shit.”

“You’re not the only one.”

“When I get home I’m going to stay put. Make a big pitcher of iced tea and sit out on the terrace.”

“And listen to Bell Rock.”

“Ding Fucking Dong. And on that subject, did you have any trouble with Big Ben?”

“The hardest part was following him around all day. He and everybody else got to ride those little carts. I was the only person on the whole course who was walking.”

“Thank your lucky stars, Keller. That’s why you’re in so much better shape than he is. Did he know who you were?”

He recounted the final exchange. “But I’m not sure it meant anything to him,” he said. “Something came into his eyes, but it may just have been that he could see what was coming.”

“The Grim Reaper, swinging a sand wedge. And Taggert?”

“Just a matter of doing it,” he said. “The man was in the trunk of his car with his leg broken. You couldn’t call him a hard target.”

“Unless your mind got in the way.”

“My mind?”

“You know, after he cooperated and all.”

“He cooperated because he had to. He thought it might buy him a little more life, but there was never any question of letting him off the hook. How could we risk that?”

“You don’t have to convince me, Keller.”

“I tried to make it quick,” he said, “but he had a couple of seconds to see it coming, and I can’t say he looked surprised. I don’t think he expected to get out of it alive.”

“It’s a hard old world, all right.”

“I guess. He didn’t want us to leave him where his wife would find him, and we didn’t. And his dog’s alive.”

“And Taggert lasted a good half hour longer than he would have if he hadn’t come through for us. Maybe longer, maybe a full hour. And just think how much that is in dog years.”

After three plane rides, after ten hours in an airport motel in Albany and a ride to Latham, the two of them managed to get the stamp albums loaded into the trunk of Keller’s latest rental car, a Toyota Camry. The car was comfortable, and held the road even better with the extra weight in the trunk.

“You’ve got a long ride ahead of you,” Dot said, “but I guess you’re not keen on sending the stamps home by UPS and flying home yourself. No? I didn’t think so. Well, have a good trip, Keller. I’m glad you got your stamps back.”

“I’m glad you’re alive.”

“I’m glad we’re both alive,” she said, “and I’m glad they’re not. If you ever get to Sedona…”

“Or if you get to New Orleans.”

“There you go. Or pick up the phone, if you get the urge. And if you lose the number, just check the White Pages. I’m listed.”

“Wilma Corder.”

“Known to her friends as Dot. So long, Keller. Take care.”

The drive to New Orleans took three full days. He could have driven faster, or put in longer hours behind the wheel, but he made himself take his time.

He spent the first night in a Red Roof Inn off I-81. He left the stamps in the trunk of the Camry, and after he’d been in the room for half an hour he went to the desk and switched his room for one on the first floor. Then he moved the car and brought all ten stamp albums into the room.

The second night, he specified a ground-floor room when he checked in. The third night he parked in their driveway. He used his key and found Julia in the kitchen, and one thing led to another. A couple of hours later, he went out for his stamps.

Donny was happy to see him, glad to have him back. The fiction Keller and Julia had cooked up was a family emergency, a health crisis for a favorite uncle, and Donny asked a few polite questions that Keller couldn’t answer, but he managed to slip and slide his way through the conversation. Then the subject shifted to a house Donny thought had real possibilities, and Keller was on firmer ground.

Over coffee Julia said, “According to Linn’s, kids today aren’t interested in collecting stamps.”

“They’ve got Internet porn sites,” he said, “and a hundred channels of cable TV, and lots more things to do than when I was a kid.”

“More homework, too,” she said, “so we can keep up with the Chinese.”

“You think it’ll work?”

“No,” she said. “I suppose a little boy would be a lot more likely to take up philately — did I say that right?”

“No one ever said it better.”

“More likely to take up philately if his father introduced him to it.”

“‘Billy, I’d like you to meet Philately. Philately, this is Billy.’”

“Don’t you think that would make a difference?”

“I suppose it might. I didn’t have a father around the house.”

“I know.”

“But if I had, and if he collected stamps… but, see, I got there on my own.”

“So it’s hard to say what might have happened, because it happened anyway.”


“Well,” she said, “maybe you’ll get to find out.”

He looked at her.

“Maybe it’ll be a boy,” she said, “and you can teach him all about stamps. And where Griqualand West is, and useful stuff like that. Not right away, I suppose you have to wait until he can walk and talk, but eventually.”

He said, “Did you tell me something earlier, and I wasn’t paying attention?”


“But you’re telling me something now.”


“And we’re going to have a boy?”

“Not necessarily. I’d say it’s about fifty-fifty. I haven’t gone for the ultrasound yet. Do you think I should? I always used to think I’d rather wait, but just about everybody finds out ahead of time nowadays, and maybe it’s just goofy not to. What do you think?”

“I think I’d like some more coffee,” he said, and went to refill his cup. He brought it back to the table and said, “There was something you were going to say before I left for Des Moines, and then you decided it would keep. Was that it?”

“Uh-huh. And I was right, it kept.”

“I might not have gone.”

“That’s one reason I decided it would keep.”

“Because you wanted me to go?”

“Because I didn’t want to stop you from going.”

He thought that over, then nodded. “That’s one reason. What’s the other?”

“I didn’t know how you’d feel.”

“How could you? I’m not sure how I feel myself. Excited, of course, and happy, but—”

“Really? Excited and happy?”

“Sure. How did you think I’d feel?”

“Well, that’s just it. I didn’t know. I was afraid you might want me to, you know.”

“To what?”

“To do something. You know.”

“You mean like an abortion?”

“And I knew I didn’t want to do that.”

“I should hope not,” he said.

“But I was afraid you might want me to.”


“It might be a girl,” she said. “Can girls collect stamps?”

“I don’t see why not,” he said. “They’ve probably got more time for it, because they spend so much less of it at Internet porn sites. You know, this is a lot to take in.”

“I know.”

“I’m going to be a father.”

“A daddy.”

“God. We’re going to be a family. I never thought, well, I had no idea it was an option. Even if it was, I never dreamed it was something I would want.”

“But it is?”

“Yes. We’ll have to get married. Sooner rather than later, don’t you think?”

“That’s not something we absolutely have to do, you know.”

“Yes it is. I was thinking we ought to do it anyway, I was thinking that during the drive back from Albany.”

“And bringing your stamps into the motel room each night.”

readonlinefreebook.com Copyright 2016 - 2024