But if this worked, he’d have some breathing room. Because he wasn’t just giving them the old plate, he was providing a car to go with it. They’d find the car, with his rental papers in the glove box. They’d find the smashed-up phone, and they’d probably get a print off the pizza box, and what conclusion would they draw? That he’d switched cars? That he’d switched plates and kept the same old car?

No, they’d almost certainly assume that he’d come to the airport because it was in fact an airport, with the intention of getting on a plane. And they’d have a tough time establishing unequivocally that he hadn’t somehow managed to slip through Security and do just that.

Eventually, of course, the real owner of the Sentra would return. But he wouldn’t find his car, because they’d have long since hauled it away and very likely stripped the thing down to the chassis, until it would be about as easy to put back together as the cell phone.

So what would he do? After he’d looked all over the lot for it, and very likely cursed a blue streak, what would the guy do?

Report it as stolen, most likely. And the police would add the vehicle to the national hot car list, where it would have thousands of others for company. That meant that police officers all over the country would be looking for it, but it didn’t mean they’d be looking very hard. If he was in an accident, if he got stopped for speeding, someone would run the plate and determine that the vehicle was stolen. But if he was just driving around and minding his own business, nobody would give him a second glance.

It would be just as well, though, to point them toward the Sentra sooner rather than later. It would probably be at least a day or two before the owner returned, but that wasn’t the only reason to get things moving. As soon as they identified the car and followed their noses into the airport terminal, they’d get out the word to stop searching for the car, and all Nissan Sentras, including the one he was driving, would stop attracting untoward attention.

So should he call it in?

Caller ID, a staple on every 911 line, would immediately pinpoint the pay phone he called from. He’d be long gone before anybody could stop by to ask questions, but was there a better way?

The station had a toll-free number, and it had imprinted itself on his memory somewhere in the course of the few hundred times they’d announced it. He picked a pay phone at the far end of a strip mall with all its stores closed for the night. When a man with a good radio voice said, “WHO, Central Iowa’s leader in news and opinion, you’re on the air,” he took a breath and said, “Hey, is there a reward for spotting that car everybody’s looking for? On account of I just seen it out by the airport.”

“You should have had your dial set to 740,” the fellow said. “They found the car, and we had it on the air a full five minutes ago. You missed the boat, hoss.”

He said, “So do I get the money or not?” and heard a short bark of laughter before the phone clicked in his ear.

“I guess that’s a no,” he said out loud. And got back in the car and started driving.


One moment he was dreaming, some variant on a dream he’d had off and on his whole life, the one where he was naked in public. It wasn’t a difficult dream to interpret, and had been one of the first things he and his therapist tackled in that long-ago failed experiment in self-discovery. But he still dreamed it every once in a while, and after all these years a sense of recognition took a lot of the edge off the dream. Oh, you again, he’d think, and then sink back into the apparent reality of the dream.

This time the dream was suddenly over and he was as suddenly awake, with no real memory of the dream and no other evidence that he’d been asleep. He was sitting upright behind the wheel of his car, and he kept his eyes closed while he got his bearings. He had the awful feeling that the car was surrounded by men with drawn guns, men who were just waiting for him to open his eyes. But they would go on waiting as long as he pretended to be asleep, so that’s what he had to do, just sit there with his eyes shut, his breathing regular and shallow.

He opened his eyes. There was nobody standing anywhere near the car. A pickup truck was parked at an angle half a dozen spaces away, its engine idling, and there was a big RV clear down at the other end of the strip, which he seemed to remember from when he pulled off the road and parked. Other than that the place was deserted.

He was in a rest area off U.S. Route 30 west of Cedar Rapids. He’d taken I-80 out of Des Moines, then decided he’d rather stay off the interstate, at least until he was out of Iowa. The map had shown him what looked like a good road angling northeast toward Marshalltown, and he took it as far as Route 30 and aimed himself at Cedar Rapids. From there he’d have a choice of a few routes — northeast to Dubuque, where he could cross the Mississippi into southern Wisconsin, or stay on 30 east to Clinton and cross into Illinois, or another road that angled between those two. He didn’t think it mattered much which route he chose, but the one thing he wanted to do was get out of Iowa and into either Illinois or Wisconsin as soon as possible. And it looked as though he could do that without having to fill the gas tank.

What he hadn’t taken into account was fatigue. It wasn’t that late, and he hadn’t gotten up that early, but the stress he’d been under had evidently taken its toll, and he started yawning and felt himself losing concentration well before the approach to Cedar Rapids. He tried to shake off the tiredness, and thought about stopping somewhere for a cup of coffee, but the whole point was not to stop before he had to and not to expose himself to human eyes if he could possibly avoid it. Besides, he knew coffee wasn’t going to do it. The last thing his body wanted was a stimulant. What it was crying out for was a chance to shut down for a while.

The rest area, when he came upon it, was a godsend. A sign announced that it was closed from two to five A.M., and that violators would be prosecuted. He’d heard somewhere that rules like that were designed to keep prostitutes from working the area, setting up shop and hailing passing truckers on their CB radios. Keller, who couldn’t imagine how either of the parties involved, the hookers or the truckers, could be quite that desperate, also couldn’t figure out what business it was of anybody else’s. But he gathered that an ordinary motorist closing his eyes for a couple of hours wouldn’t get bothered, and the presence of the trailer at one end of the rest area and a couple of cars at the midpoint suggested he wasn’t alone in this conclusion. So he’d found a place to park, far away from the others, and he’d shut down the engine and locked the doors, and then he closed his eyes, figuring twenty minutes or a half hour would have him as good as new.

He hadn’t bothered to check the time when he called it a night, but it couldn’t have been much later than one or two, and it was just past five now, so he’d slept three or four hours. That was time he couldn’t afford to spend standing still, but on the other hand he had clearly needed the rest. Now he could get back on the road. Or, even better, he could think things through with a sleep-refreshed brain, and then he could get back on the road.

He looked at the map, decided he’d do best to stay on 30. That was the most direct route. Earlier, Dubuque had held some appeal for him because he’d at least heard of it, which wasn’t true of Clinton. Now, in the cool light of day, or what would be the cool light of day in an hour or so when the sun came up, he could see that the most important thing was to get across a state line, not to pass through a town he’d heard of. (And it wasn’t as though he’d heard anything particularly alluring about Dubuque. In fact, the only thing he could recall about it was the advertising slogan The New Yorker magazine had used back when he was a boy. Not for the Old Lady from Dubuque, they’d boasted, which had had the effect of making the magazine sound wonderfully sophisticated, while no doubt pissing off any number of old ladies and Dubuquers.)

How you do go on, he thought to himself, only the voice he could imagine speaking those words was Dot’s. He wished he could hear her voice now, saying those words or almost any others. She was the only person he ever really had a conversation with. He didn’t spend his days in stony silence, he’d exchange a few words with his doorman, banter with the waitress in the coffee shop on Lexington Avenue, talk about the weather with the guy at the newsstand or discuss the fortunes of the Mets and Yankees, Nets and Knicks, Giants and Jets — depending on the season — with guys he ran into at the gym or in a bar or waiting for an elevator.

But he didn’t really know anybody except Dot, and hadn’t let anyone else know him. It was rare that he went more than a couple of days without talking to her. And now she was the one person he couldn’t call.

Well, actually, she was one of the several hundred million people he couldn’t call, because he couldn’t call anybody. But she was the one person he wanted to call and couldn’t, and it bothered him.

And then he heard her voice in his head. It wasn’t uncanny, it wasn’t some eerie visitation, it was just his own mind pretending to be Dot and telling him what it thought she would tell him. You damn near threw your back out shifting all that crap from one trunk to the other, the voice said. Don’t you think you ought to at least see what you’ve got?

Whoever’s idea it was, his or Dot’s, it wasn’t a bad one, and this was the perfect time to do it, with no one around to take an interest in him or what he was doing. He popped the trunk and pulled out a cardboard carton that he’d shifted intact and unexamined from one trunk to the other. He sorted through it now, and if he made it all the way to the ocean it might prove useful, because it was all stuff for the beach — little toy buckets and sand shovels, bathing suits, beach towels, and a Frisbee. That last wasn’t exclusively for the beach, you could throw a Frisbee just about anywhere, as long as you had somebody to throw it to. If he had to throw it, he supposed he would throw it away.

And why not toss the whole carton? There was a trash bin just steps from his car, and was there any reason to keep any of this junk? He hoisted it, headed for the bin, then changed his mind, returning to the car and distributing items from the carton on the back seat and floor. A blue and yellow plastic bucket here, a red shovel there. It would be good camouflage, he told himself, because anybody taking a quick peek at the car’s interior would know he was looking at the car of a husband and father, not an assassin on the run.

Unless they just figured him for a pedophile…

Back to the trunk. There was a metal tool chest of the sort he supposed most men carried in their cars, tricked out with all manner of tools and gadgets, not all of which he was able to identify. Some, he was pretty sure, had to do with fishing; he recognized lead sinkers and plastic floats, as well as a couple of lures with hooks attached, one shaped like a minnow, the other looking for all the world like the little spoons employed by cocaine users. For an instant he let himself imagine some pie-eyed fish, nostrils dilated in glorious anticipation, taking a deep sniff and getting hooked through the gills. Which, metaphorically, was what was supposed to happen to people, though he had no firsthand experience in that area. If Keller was addicted to anything it was to stamps, and they had never been accused of burning holes in anybody’s septum.

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