The first thing he did was call Dot. After all the years they’d worked together, that was pretty much an automatic reaction. He picked up the phone, hit Redial, and let it ring. Voice mail cut in after the fourth ring, and he sat there with his mouth open for a long moment, then decided it was pointless to leave a message. He closed the phone and sat there, looking at the TV some more.
Ten minutes later he was in the bathroom, taking a shower.
He’d resisted the idea at first, deeming it a waste of time, but what else was he going to do with his time? Waste some more of it staring at the TV, switching channels until he found one that would proclaim his innocence? Hop in the car and make a run for it? Drive over to Dowling’s house and strangle him with his garden hose? He’d showered that morning, he didn’t really need a shower, but who could say when he’d get the chance to shower again? Maybe he’d be living in subway tunnels and sleeping in his clothes, maybe he’d be hopping freight trains. He might as well stay as clean as possible for as long as he could.
Or was he running a risk by showering? Hair from his head or his body could wind up going down the drain and get caught in the trap, and a CSI crew could recover it and determine his DNA. But he’d already showered several times in the course of his stay, so the trap was probably overflowing with his DNA.
For a moment he considered opening the drain himself and trying to get rid of the evidence, but then it struck him that DNA was the least of his worries. They already had his fingerprints, so what possible difference could it make if they had his DNA as well? Once they picked him up, once they got their hands on him, he was finished. DNA wasn’t going to figure in the equation.
He got out of the shower and stood in front of the sink and shaved. He’d already done so a few hours ago, he could barely feel any stubble even against the grain, but when would he get to shave again? And why not leave a little more DNA in the sink trap, just for the hell of it?
He got dressed, and packed his bag. He might not be going anywhere, not until he figured out what to do next and when to do it, but it wouldn’t hurt to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
His bag was black, like everybody else’s, and had wheels and a handle. It was small enough to carry onto an airplane, and would fit easily in an overhead compartment, but nowadays he always checked it because anything as dangerous as a pair of stamp tongs or as potentially explosive as a tube of hair gel would send the airport security people into a frenzy. And when they spotted his Swiss Army knife they’d call out the National Guard.
If he’d known he was going to be checking it all the time, he’d have bought another color. It seemed to him that three out of four bags coming down the baggage carousel were essentially indistinguishable from his, and he’d come to envy the few garishly colored ones that you saw now and then. To make it a little easier to find his own bag, he’d bought a flame-orange device to wrap around the handle, and it helped. Dot had assured him it would serve a dual purpose; it might help keep some hunter from mistaking his suitcase for a deer.
Dot. He picked up the phone, hesitated, then hit Redial. It rang four times and switched him to voice mail, with a computerized voice inviting him to leave a message. Once again he decided against it, and was about to ring off when he noticed an icon on the screen indicating that he’d received a voice mail message himself. It took him a moment to remember how to retrieve it.
“You have one messages,” a recorded voice informed him. “First message.”
First and only, he thought.
And then there was silence, ten or fifteen seconds of it, enough to make him wonder if there was going to be a message after all. And then a computer-generated voice, completely uninflected and straight out of a science-fiction movie, pronounced a series of words one at a time:
“Ditch. The. Phone. Repeat. Ditch. The. Damn. Phone.”
He stared at the phone as he might have stared at a talking dog. It was Dot, it could only be Dot. Nobody else had his cell number, and who else would have repeated the message and inserted damn the second time around? But how had Dot managed to turn herself into a robot?
Then he remembered. A neat trick she’d discovered in one of the applications she ran on her computer. You highlighted a piece of text, pressed something or other, and the computer read the words aloud in a voice all its own. Just. Like. That. One. Robotic. Word. At. A. Time.
Voiceprints, he thought. That’s what she was guarding against. You could beat voiceprint identification by whispering, or at least you used to be able to, but who knew how much better they’d made the mousetrap?
He called voice mail again, listened to the message again, and this time when the voice mail lady offered him the options of repeating or saving or erasing the message, he chose Erase. “Message is erased,” she told him, and the little voice mail icon vanished from the screen.
Ditch the phone. Ditch the damn phone.
How? Just toss it?
If someone found it, and if FBI technicians went to work on it, who could say what it would tell them? They could find out the number he’d called and when he’d called it. They couldn’t recover the actual conversations, at least he didn’t see how they could, but why leave anything to chance?
One bullet would take care of the phone forever, but it might attract unwelcome attention, and at the very least it would reduce his arsenal by a fourth. He should have taken Hairy Ears up on his offer of a box of shells, but at the time all he’d had to be able to do was kill one person. It never occurred to him that he’d wind up running for his life.
He unloaded the gun, weighed the four bullets in his hand, set them down gently on the bed. A revolver was a pretty simple device, and you couldn’t make it fire by hitting something with the butt, but enough strange things had already happened today and he didn’t want to risk another. He took the unloaded revolver and the treacherous cell phone into the bathroom, wrapped the phone in a towel, placed it on the floor, and smashed it to bits with the gun butt.
He opened the towel and looked at the collections of bits and pieces of what had moments ago been a sophisticated and very useful machine. It was no longer a threat to him, could not lead anyone to him, wherever he might be, or to Dot’s house in White Plains.
Nor was it the lifeline it had been, the link to the only person on earth who could help him, or was likely to want to. Well, she couldn’t help him now. Nobody could help him.
He was on his own.
He was ready when the knock came. The pizza and Coke came to twelve dollars and change, and he had a ten and a five in hand. “Just leave it outside the door,” he told the delivery man. “We’re, uh, a little on the informal side at the moment. Here you go, fifteen bucks, keep the change.”
He slid the bills under the door and watched them disappear. There was a peephole in the door, and he saw the delivery guy straighten up, hesitate for a long moment, and then walk away. Keller waited a couple of minutes, then opened the door and retrieved his meal.
He wasn’t hungry, but he made himself eat just as he’d made himself shower and shave, and for a similar reason, because who knew when he’d get the chance again? His face was appearing on every TV screen in America, and when the paper came out it would be there, too. It wasn’t a very good likeness, and he’d been blessed with a fairly generic face, with no outstanding features to grab onto, but when a few hundred million people had been exposed to that picture, it stood to reason that one of them would recognize him.
So it wouldn’t be a good idea to go to Denny’s, say, and treat himself to another of those patty melts.
No, he’d have to stick to food he could have delivered, and that would only work so long as he had a place for them to deliver it to. The only person who’d seen his face at the Days Inn was the clerk on duty when he’d registered, and that had been quick and easy and he doubted he’d made much of an impression. Desk clerks saw hundreds of people every day, and barely looked at them. He himself had only seen one desk clerk this trip, and had entirely forgotten what she looked like, so why shouldn’t she have forgotten him as completely?
On the other hand, suppose he were to see her picture, over and over and over. How long would it take before she started looking curiously familiar to him? How long before he remembered who she was?
He ate some of the pizza, drank half of the Coke. The four bullets were still on the bed where he’d put them, and he scooped them up and loaded them back into the gun, leaving an empty chamber under the firing pin. He tried the gun in a pocket, then slipped it under the waistband of his trousers, then put it in the suitcase. And if he needed it in a hurry? What was he going to do, open the suitcase for a quick draw? He got it out of the suitcase and returned it to its place under his waistband.
He didn’t want to watch television, but what else could he do? How else would he know when it was time to cut and run?
They kept showing his picture, and he began studying it, no longer interested in what his facial expression suggested or how good a likeness it was, but instead trying to figure out when and where they’d taken it. Not this past week, not here in Des Moines, because he was wearing a khaki poplin windbreaker in the photo, and he hadn’t even brought it along this trip, choosing a navy blue blazer instead. He recognized that windbreaker, he’d bought it from a Lands’ End catalog two years ago and, while there was nothing wrong with it, he hadn’t worn it much.
Albuquerque, he thought. He’d worn it to Albuquerque.
And had he been wearing that burnt-orange polo shirt? That’s what he seemed to be wearing in the photo, although it was a little hard to be sure of the color. Had he worn it when he did that other job for Al, when he’d shuttled a man named Warren Heggman out of this world and into the next?
Maybe, maybe not. That wasn’t the sort of thing he could remember. But he was pretty sure he’d worn the windbreaker to Albuquerque, and he’d have still had it on when he rang Heggman’s bell and punched Heggman’s ticket, because he hadn’t had time to unpack and change. He’d checked into three different rooms under three different names, but never left his bag in any of them, never even opened it until he was back in New York.
So they were setting him up even then. Taking his picture. They’d probably have done more if he’d given them more time, but he was in and out in nothing flat, so all they had was that one picture of him.
And they’d managed to give it to the authorities. With what sort of story? “I saw this man running away, and then he stopped and turned and I got this picture of him.” It might not make much sense, but a picture was a picture, and it was something to hand to the media so they could plaster it all over the public consciousness, and maybe it would lead to something.
Did the bastards know his name? They wouldn’t have learned it from Dot, and he couldn’t think how else they might have found it out. If he’d taken his time in Albuquerque it might have been different, they might have searched his room, might have even tailed him back to New York. He’d flown to Albuquerque via Dallas but took the long way home, through Los Angeles, and it didn’t seem likely anyone could have followed him.