If they didn’t know his name, or where he lived—
But then the TV caught his attention again, and he found out that they — the authorities, not Al and his hairy-eared associate — knew a little more than they had a few minutes ago.
They had a name to go with the photo.
“Leroy Montrose,” the announcer said. The screen showed his photograph, then cut to an exterior shot of the Laurel Inn, then to a shot of Room 204, where a forensics unit looked to be hard at work, dredging the carpet for traces of the elusive Mr. Montrose.
While they kept at it, the off-camera voice informed Keller that a member of the Laurel Inn’s staff had recognized the photo as that of a patron who had checked in several days earlier — a neat trick, in Keller’s opinion, since he’d never checked in at all, or even passed the desk. He’d gone straight to his room from the parking lot in back via a flight of outside stairs, and he’d left the same way. He’d never passed Go, never collected two hundred dollars, and had never spotted or been spotted by anyone who worked for the hotel, or anyone who was staying there, either.
But then anyone could make a phone call. Anyone could claim to be a hotel employee with a good memory. The saving grace, it seemed to Keller, was that it wasn’t going to lead anywhere. They wouldn’t find his fingerprints in Room 204, or his DNA, or indeed anything of his other than the cell phone he’d left under the mattress, and who knew if they’d even get that far? And if they did, so what? He’d never used the phone, and had wiped his prints from it, so where could it lead them?
Across the street, he thought.
Across the street to Denny’s, where he’d sat at a well-lighted table eating that silly sandwich and fries. He could have used his credit card at Denny’s, which would have made things a little bit easier for them, but he’d paid cash, and then what had he done?
He’d called a cab from the pay phone inside the restaurant. And waited inside until the cab pulled up. And got in it and told the driver to take him to the airport.
By now they’d be canvassing stores and restaurants in the immediate vicinity of the Laurel Inn. By now, or within a matter of minutes, they’d have shown his picture to the waitresses and cashiers in Denny’s, and somebody would have identified it, and somebody would have remembered that he’d called a taxi. They’d check all the cab companies — they were the government, for Christ’s sake, they were the state and local cops and the FBI, they had enough manpower on the case to check everything — and they’d find the driver and know he’d gone to the airport, and they’d hit the car rental desks, and if they’d checked with them earlier they’d check them again, and they’d have the credit card and driver’s license he’d used, and they’d lighten up on Leroy Montrose and start looking real hard for Holden Blankenship. That was the name they’d be flashing on TV screens and shouting out over the radio, and the name they’d try on motel clerks throughout the Greater Des Moines metropolitan area.
How long before they got to his Days Inn? How long before they kicked his door in?
By the time they did, he’d better be someplace else.
Two rows over, a man in his thirties got out of an SUV, locked its doors with a remote, plunged his hands in the hand-warmer pockets of his windbreaker, and headed across the asphalt toward one of the entrances to the mall. He didn’t look particularly furtive, not to Keller, and the odds were he didn’t have anything to feel furtive about. He was younger than Keller, and a littler chunkier in the midsection, and the hair that showed under his baseball cap was longer and lighter. The only point of resemblance, as far as Keller could make out, was the windbreaker.
Keller watched him until he disappeared inside the mall. Then he watched somebody else, a woman pushing a shopping cart, and then he watched a kid whose job it was to roam the lot and collect the shopping carts people had abandoned.
Keller wondered what a job like that paid. Minimum wage, he figured. Not a lot of money in a job like that, and not a whole lot of prestige, either, or much in the way of opportunity for advancement. Still, it had its good points. You weren’t likely to wind up with your picture on national television and every cop in the world hunting for you.
Maybe that was his mistake, one he’d made a whole lot of years ago. Maybe he should have picked a career of rounding up shopping carts, instead of one that sent him all around the country killing people.
It was just as well he hadn’t driven around too much. The Sentra’s gas tank was still a little more than half full. He wasn’t sure of its capacity, or what kind of mileage the car got, but if you figured ten gallons left at twenty miles to the gallon then that gave him something like two hundred miles before he needed to gas up.
He’d left his room at the Days Inn just as the day was starting to fade off into twilight, and he’d have liked to have it still darker for the short walk from his room to his car. There was no one around, but he still felt impossibly conspicuous, and he was pretty sure he looked at least as furtive as he had in the photograph, because now he had so much more to be furtive about. He’d tried not to let it show in his walk or in the way he held himself, and either it worked or there was nobody looking at him to begin with, but he reached his car and got in it and got out of there.
He hadn’t gone very far. He’d driven directly to this large shopping mall, and had picked a spot that was out of the main stream of traffic without being conspicuous in its isolation. His bag was in the trunk, his gun tucked into his waistband and pressing into the small of his back. The box with the remaining three slices of pizza was on the seat beside him, along with the cup the Coke had come in; he’d rinsed it out, and now it held the broken bits of the cell phone. He could have abandoned them in his room, but decided he’d rather leave the place as empty as he’d found it. And why give them anything to work with?
If he’d had the run of the mall, there was a lot he could have accomplished. A wig or a false beard would look ridiculous (though probably not much more so than the real beard he’d tried, years ago, to grow), but he ought to be able to change his appearance a little bit without calling attention to himself.
Glasses would help. He didn’t need glasses, not even for reading, although he had a feeling he would in a couple of years.
If he lived that long—
No, he thought, willing the thought away. He didn’t need glasses, not even for reading, but he kept a pair of reading glasses at home for when he put in long hours working on his stamp collection. They were nondistorting magnifying lenses, and all they did was make print a tiny bit larger and more visible. There was no reason to wear them away from his desk, but he didn’t get dizzy when he did, and he’d seen how he looked in them. They’d changed the whole shape of his face, and changed his affect at the same time. Glasses were supposed to make you look studious, and he supposed they did, but beyond that they made you look less threatening.
It would help if he had them now, he thought, because this would be a good time to look less threatening. And he could find a pair just like them in any drugstore, they were a standard and unexceptional item, but he couldn’t go shopping for them without giving people a look at his face, and that was something he didn’t want to do just now.
The same drugstore where he didn’t dare buy reading glasses (or sunglasses, which were even better at changing one’s appearance, but which had the disadvantage, especially when the sun was down, of looking like a disguise) would also be a source of hair dye and clippers. A short haircut would make him look less like his photograph, and so would a change of color. Both were on the tricky side, and he certainly didn’t want to wind up with a cut that was so amateurish as to attract attention, or hair that screamed Dye Job at the top of its roots. Better to wait until he figured out how to do it right, and in the meantime a cap of some sort would help.
How hard was that? It was almost more difficult to find a store that didn’t sell baseball caps than one that did. They were all over the place, in all colors and with all manner of logos — sports teams, tractors, brands of beer, anything to which your average unthinking lout could proudly proclaim his allegiance. The nonfurtive guy in the windbreaker had been wearing a cap, and Keller wondered if he owed some of his nonfurtiveness to the cap on his head. A ball cap made you look like a regular guy, just like everybody else.
He looked out the window, and there was a guy with a cap, and there was another.
Maybe that was the answer. Stick around, wait for some poor goober in a ball cap to come back to his car, logy and brain-dead after a carbo-laden meal at Applebee’s. Bop him on the head (but not too hard, you didn’t want him to bleed all over his baseball cap), snatch the thing off his head, and you were in business.
God, would it come to that? The people he typically dealt with had a five-or six-figure price on their heads. All this guy had on his head was a cap, and the price on it was three figures, with two of them coming after the decimal point.
Well, if he couldn’t do any better than that, he could follow the two-birds-with-one-stone principle and pick a guy wearing glasses. And they’d better be sunglasses, because otherwise they’d almost certainly have prescription lenses and he’d get dizzy the minute he put them on.
Bop the guy, grab the ball cap, snatch off the sunglasses — and then go through his pockets, because anybody rich enough to afford a cap and shades probably had fifteen or twenty bucks in his pocket, and, along with everything else, Keller was running out of money.
But he didn’t go looking for a man with a cap and sunglasses. He stayed in his car and listened to the radio.
He had it tuned to WHO, an AM station right there in Des Moines, one that billed itself as offering “a well-balanced mixture of news and good old American talk radio.” According to the labeling laws, you were supposed to list the ingredients in order, according to the relative proportion of each in the product. If WHO had been playing by the rules, they’d have to call it “a well-balanced mix of commercials, news, and good old etc.” And a person would be within his rights to question the use of the word well-balanced.
The trouble with radio, Keller had come to realize, was that you couldn’t mute it. You could turn it off when a commercial aired, but then how would you know when to turn it on again? Well, you wouldn’t. About the best you could do was lower the volume when a commercial came on and raise it again when it ended, but that was really more trouble than it was worth, especially in light of the fact that, more often than not, one commercial ended only to be followed by another.
Between the commercials, though, what got said was pretty interesting. The news was centered almost entirely upon the John Tatum Longford assassination and the ensuing manhunt for Leroy Montrose aka Holden Blankenship.
And so, not too surprisingly, was the talk radio. That was the topic of choice for the great majority of the callers, and those few who got through wanting to discuss something else got short shrift from the host, who was far more interested in the ramifications of the shooting. His callers had a variety of points of view on the subject; while nobody came out and said it was just as well that Longford was permanently out of the running for the presidency, it was clear some of them felt that way, just as others saw the man as a tragic victim right up there with a King and a pair of Kennedys.