Hit Man Page 43


’’Vividly.’’

’’Natural causes,’’ he prompted.

’’Well, what could be more natural? You live too long, you got a mind that\s starting to turn to pablum, you become erratic and unreliable, what\s the natural thing for someone to do?’’

’’It was that bad, huh?’’

’’Keller,’’ she said, ’’three weeks ago this reporter showed up. A kid barely old enough to shave, working his first job on the local paper. I\ll tell you, I thought he was there to sell me a subscription, but no, he came to interview the old man.’’

’’You\d think the editor would have sent somebody more experienced.’’

’’It wasn\ the editor\s idea,’’ she said, ’’or the kid\s either, God help him. And who does that leave?’’

’’You mean... ’’

’’He\d decided it was time to write his memoirs. Time to tell all the untold stories, time to tell where the bodies were buried. And I do mean bodies, Keller, and I do mean buried.’’

’’Jesus.’’

’’He saw this kid\s byline on some high school basketball roundup and decided he was the perfect person to collaborate with.’’

’’For God\s sake.’’

’’Need I say more? I\d already reached the point where I made sure all incoming calls got routed downstairs. Now I had to worry about the calls he made on his own. Keller, it\s the hardest decision I ever had to make in my life.’’

’’I can imagine.’’

’’But what choice did I have? It had to be done.’’

’’Sounds that way.’’ He picked up his tea, put it down untasted. ’’Who\d you get for it, Dot?’’

’’Who do you think, Keller? You know the story about the little red hen?’’

’’No.’’

’’Well, I\m not about to tell it to you, but she couldn\ find anyone to help her, so she did it all herself.’’

’’You...’’

’’Right.’’

’’Dot, for God\s sake. I would have done it.’’

’’I didn\ even want you within five hundred miles, Keller. I wanted you to have an alibi that nobody could crack. Just in case somebody knew about the connection and decided to shake the box and see what fell out.’’

’’I understand,’’ he said, ’’but under the circumstances... ’’

’’No,’’ she said. ’’And I have to say it was easy for me, Keller. The hardest decision, but the easiest thing in the world. Something in his cocoa to make him sleep, and a pillow over his face to keep him from waking up.’’

’’That\s the kind of thing that shows up in an autopsy.’’

’’Only if they hold one,’’ she said. ’’His age, and then his regular doctor came over and signed the death certificate, and that\s all you need. I had him cremated. It was his last wish.’’

’’It was?’’

’’How do I know? I said it was, and they gave me the ashes in a tin can, and if some joker wants to do an autopsy now I\d say he\s got his work cut out for him. I don\ know what the hell to do with the ashes. Well, I\m sure I\ll think of something. There\s no hurry.’’

’’No.’’

’’It was something I never thought I\d have to do, something I never even figured I\d be capable of doing. Well, you never know, do you?’’

’’No.’’

’’It\s on my mind a lot, but I guess I\ll get over that. This too shall pass, right?’’

’’You\ll be fine,’’ he said.

’’I know. I\m fine now, as far as that goes. Now all I have to do is figure out what I\m going to do with the rest of my life.’’

’’I was going to ask you about that.’’

She frowned. ’’What I suppose I\ll do,’’ she said, ’’is retire. I can afford it. I\ve put money aside myself, and he left me the house. I can sell it.’’

’’Probably bring a good price.’’

’’You would think so. And there\s the cash on hand, which he didn\ specifically leave me, but since I\m the only one who knows about it... ’’

’’That makes it yours.’’

’’You bet. So it\s enough to live on. I can even afford to travel some. Go on cruises, put my feet up, see the world from the deck of a ship.’’

’’You don\ actually sound that enthusiastic, Dot.’’

’’Well,’’ she said, ’’it\s probably because I\m not. What I\d rather do is keep on keeping on.’’

’’Stay here, you mean?’’

’’Why not? And stay in the business. You know, I\m the one who\s been pretty much running things lately.’’

’’I know.’’

’’But with you deciding to pack it in, it would mean finding other people to work with, and the ones I have access to are not people I\m crazy about. So I don\ know.’’

’’You can\ work with people unless you feel a hundred percent about them.’’

’’I know it. Look, I\m better off hanging it up. All I have to do is follow the same advice I gave you.’’

’’And get a hobby.’’

’’There you go. It really worked for you, didn\ it?You\ e a full-fledged philatelist, and don\ ask me to say that three times.’’

’’I wouldn\ dream of it. But that\s me, all right.’’

’’I\ll bet you even found a stamp dealer in Kansas City. To pass the time while you were there.’’

’’Actually,’’ he said, ’’that\s how I picked Kansas City.’’ And he told her a little about the auction. ’’It\s pretty amazing,’’ he said. ’’You\ll be sitting next to some rube in baggy pants and a dirty T-shirt, and he\ll raise his index finger a few times and spend fifty or a hundred thousand dollars on postmasters\ provisionals.’’

’’Whatever they are,’’ she said. ’’No, don\ tell me. I have a feeling stamp collecting\s not going to be my hobby, Keller, but I think it\s great that it\s yours. I guess we can say you\ e retired, can\ we? And fully prepared to enjoy the Golden Years.’’

’’Well,’’ he said.

’’Well what?’’

’’Well, not exactly.’’

’’What\s the matter?’’

’’Well, it\s an expensive hobby,’’ he said. ’’It doesn\ have to be, you can buy thousands of stamps for two and three cents apiece, but if you really get serious about it... ’’

’’It runs into money.’’

’’It does,’’ he agreed. ’’I\m afraid I\ve been dipping into my retirement fund the last month or so. I\ve spent more money than I expected to.’’

’’No kidding.’’

’’And the thing is I\m really enjoying it,’’ he said, ’’and learning more and more about it as I go along. I\d like to keep on spending serious money on stamps.’’

She gave him a thoughtful look. ’’It doesn\ sound as though you\ e quite ready to retire after all.’’

’’I\m not in a position to,’’ he said. ’’Not anymore. And I don\ really want to, either. In fact I\d like to get as much work as I can, because I can use the money.’’

’’To buy stamps.’’

’’It sounds silly, I know, but... ’’

’’No it doesn\ ,’’ she said. ’’It sounds like the answer to a maiden\s prayer. We always worked well together, didn\ we, Keller?’’

’’Always.’’

’’Some of the other jokers I was considering, I think they might have a hard time coming to terms with the idea of working for a woman. But I don\ see that as a problem for you and me.’’

’’Certainly not.’’

’’Well,’’ she said. ’’Thank God for stamp collecting is all that I can say. How about another glass of iced tea, Keller? And you can even tell me about postmasters\ promotionals, if it makes you happy.’’

’’Provisionals,’’ he said. ’’And you don\ have to hear about them. I\m happy already.’’


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