Lawrence Block’s Keller thriller HIT ME, praised in starred reviews by Booklist as “delightful,” by Library Journal as “Block at the top of his form,” and Publishers Weekly as “highly enjoyable”, hits bookstores today! Can’t wait to get started on Larry’s latest and greatest? Start reading right here.
Keller limited himself to monosyllables en route to the airport, and gave the driver a tip neither large nor small enough to be memorable. He walked through the door for departing flights, took an escalator one flight down, and a bubbly girl at the Hertz counter found his reservation right away. He showed her a driver’s license and a credit card, both in the same name—one that was neither J. P. Keller nor Nicholas Edwards. They were good enough to get him the keys to a green Subaru hatchback, and in due course he was behind the wheel and on his way.
The house he was looking for was on Caruth Boulevard, in the University Park section. He’d located it online and printed out a map, and he found it now with no trouble, one of a whole block of upscale Spanish-style homes on substantial landscaped lots not far from the Southern Methodist campus. Sculpted stucco walls, a red tile roof, an attached three-car garage. You’d think a family could be very happy in a house like that, Keller thought, but in the present instance you’d be wrong, because the place was home to Charles and Portia Walmsley, and neither of them could be happy until the other was dead.
Keller slowed down as he passed the house, then circled the block for another look at it. Was anyone at home? As far as he could see, there was no way to tell. Charles Walmsley had moved out a few weeks earlier, and Portia shared the house with the Salvadoran housekeeper. Keller hadn’t learned the housekeeper’s name, or that of the man who was a frequent overnight guest of Mrs. Walmsley, but he’d been told that the man drove a Lexus SUV. Keller didn’t see it in the driveway, but he couldn’t be sure it wasn’t in the garage.
“The man drives an SUV,” Dot had said, “and he once played football for TCU. I know what an SUV is, but—”
“Texas Christian University,” Keller supplied. “In Fort Worth.”
“I thought that might be it. Do they have something to do with horny frogs?”
“Horned Frogs. That’s their football team, the Horned Frogs. They’re archrivals of SMU.”
“That would be Southern Methodist.”
“Right. They’re the Mustangs.”
“Frogs and Mustangs. How do you know all this crap, Keller? Don’t tell me it’s on a stamp. Never mind, it’s not important. What’s important is that something permanent happens to Mrs. Walmsley. And it would be good if something happened to the boyfriend, too.”
“He’ll pay a bonus.”
“A bonus? What kind of a bonus?”
“Unspecified, which makes it tricky to know what to expect, let alone collect it. And he’ll double the bonus if they nail the boyfriend for the wife’s murder, but when you double an unspecified number, what have you got? Two times what?”
Keller drove past the Walmsley house a second time, and didn’t learn anything new in the process. He consulted his map, figured out his route, and left the Subaru in a parking garage three blocks from the Lombardy.
In his room, he picked up the phone to call Julia, then remembered what hotels charge you for phone calls. Charles Walmsley was paying top dollar, bonus or no, but making a call from a hotel room was like burning the money in the street. He used his cell phone instead, first making sure that it was the iPhone Julia had given him for his birthday and not the prepaid one he used only for calls to Dot.
The hotel room was okay, he told her. And he’d had a good look at the stamps he was interested in, and that was always helpful. And she put Jenny on, and he cooed to his daughter and she babbled at him. He told her he loved her, and when Julia came back on the phone he told her the same.
Portia Walmsley didn’t have any children. Her husband did, from a previous marriage, but they lived with their mother across the Red River in Oklahoma. So there wouldn’t be any kids to worry about in the house on Caruth Boulevard.
As far as the Salvadoran maid was concerned, Dot had told him the client didn’t care one way or the other. He wasn’t paying a bonus for her, that was for sure. He’d pointed out that she was an illegal immigrant, and Keller wondered what that had to do with anything.
That first night, he hadn’t called Dot back right away. First he and Julia had tucked Jenny in for the night—or for as much of it as the child would sleep through. Then the two of them sat over coffee in the kitchen, and he mentioned that Donny had called earlier, not because some work had come in but on the chance that he might want to go fishing.
“But you didn’t want to go?”
He shook his head. “Neither did Donny, not really. He just wanted to pick up the phone.”
“It’s hard for him, isn’t it?”
“He’s not used to sitting around.”
“Neither are you, these days. But I guess it must be like old times for you. You know, with lots of time off between jobs.”
“Stamp collecting helped take up the slack.”
“And I guess it still does,” she said. “And that way there’s no fish to clean.”
He went upstairs and sat down with his stamps for a few minutes, then made the call. “So you’re back in business,” he said. “And you didn’t call me, and then you did.”
“And I guess it was a mistake,” she said, “and I apologize. But how could I be in the business and not let you know about it? That didn’t seem right.”
“And it’s not like you’re a recovering alcoholic and I’m opening wine bottles in front of you. You’re a grown-up. If you’re not interested you’ll tell me so and that’s the end of it. Keller? You still there?”
“So you are,” she said. “And yet you haven’t told me you’re not interested.”
One of his stamp albums was open on the table in front of him, and he looked at a page of Italian stamps overprinted for use in the Aegean Islands. There were a few stamps missing, and while they weren’t at all expensive they’d proved difficult to find.
“Business dried up,” he said. “There’s no financing. We can’t buy houses and we can’t sell them, and nobody’s hiring us to repair them, either, because there’s no money around.”
“Well, I’m not surprised. It’s the same everywhere. Still, you’ve got enough money to see you through, haven’t you?”
“We’re all right,” he said. “But I’ve gotten used to living on what I earn, and now I’m dipping into capital. I’m not about to run through it, there’s no danger of that, but still…”
“I know what you mean. Keller, I’ve got something if you want it. I had a guy lined up for it and I just learned he’s in the hospital, he flipped his car and they had to yank him out of there with the Jaws of Death.”
“Isn’t it the Jaws of Life?”
“Whatever. His own jaw is about the only part of him that didn’t get broken. I guess he’ll live, and he may even walk again, but there’s no way he can get it all together by the end of the month and spare my client the agony of divorce.”
“And the heartbreak of community property.”
“Something like that. It has to happen before the first of April, and either I find somebody who can take care of it or I have to send back the money. You probably remember how much I like doing that.”
“Once I have it in hand,” she said, “I think of it as my money, and I hate like the devil to part with it. So what do you think? Can you get away for a few days in the next couple of weeks?”
“My calendar’s wide open,” he said. “All I’ve got is a stamp auction I was thinking about going to. That’s the weekend after next, if I go at all.”
“Where is it?”
There was a thoughtful silence. “Keller,” she said at length, “call me crazy, but I see the hand of Providence at work here.”