“This is where the weird starts. According to the DMV, these licenses were applied for in nine different offices up and down the state. But every one has the same photo, not nine different ones.”
As Tim processed that news, Linda turned in her seat to stare out the rear window, as though the moment they had come to a stop, they had become easier to find.
Tim said, “So the guy’s working with someone inside the DMV.”
“Your garden-variety dirtbag,” Pete said, “when he wants fake ID, he doesn’t go to the DMV. He buys it from a fake-doc shop. It’s good for a lot of things, but not all. Say he’s stopped for speeding. If the officer ticketing him runs his license for priors, the DMV won’t have a record of it. It’s just a doc-shop job with no roots.”
“But these nine licenses have roots. They’ll stand up.”
“Man, they’ll stand up and sing ‘God Bless America.’ So he’s got someone in the DMV or he can funnify their files himself.”
“Funny them up, insert bogus records.”
“I should take one of those vocabulary-enhancement courses.”
Pete said, “Save your money and get a personality transplant first. Here’s another thing. California has some new DMV-access agreements with a couple of neighboring states. This Kravet Krane Konrad Whoever—he has three licenses in Nevada and two in Arizona, no repeats on the names, but all with the same photo.”
“Well, it is a handsome photo,” Tim said.
“It is,” Pete agreed.
“Those eyes. What is this about, compadre?”
“We’ve been through that. Parrot mug, egg-custard pie.”
“These licenses, funnifying DMV records, these are felonies. Now that I know about this, I can’t sit on it forever, not even for you.”
The name Richard Lee Kravet was almost certainly not the killer’s real name, so the burnt-out Chevy in the alleyway might not be easily tied to him under his true identity. Anyway, the wrecked car was not evidence of anything other than of reckless driving.
“Maybe if you can shake out the real ID from all the fake ones, maybe if we get the guy’s born name, who he really works for, where he lives, maybe then I can tell you the story.”
“Three maybes. I’m just warning you. I’ve got a hard ass, and I’ll sit on this for you, but not all the way till Judgment Day.”
Tim said, “Thanks, Pete. Call when you have something.”
“I suspect I’ll be working on this into the wee hours. I’ve already phoned in sick for tomorrow.”
“No matter what time it is, if you get something, call.”
“She still with you?”
“Yeah. She eats bacon cheeseburgers and hates arugula.”
“American Idol—does she like it?”
“Doesn’t watch it.”
“I told you she was something. Didn’t I tell you? Ask her what is her favorite chick flick of all time.”
To Linda, he said, “Pete wants to know what is your favorite chick flick of all time.”
“It’s a tossup between Die Hard and Man on Fire, the Denzel Washington version.”
Tim repeated her answer, and Pete said, “You lucky sonofabitch.”
In the laundry room, Krait located spare hangers for his pants, shirt, and sports coat. He hung these clothes from handles on the kitchen cabinetry.
Attired only in underwear, socks, and shoes, he closed the blinds at the kitchen windows. He did not approve of people who made spectacles of themselves.
He found a clothes brush with stiff bristles and another with soft bristles. The discovery of a clothes sponge delighted him.
The homeowners seemed to be as fastidious about the condition of their garments as they were about their house-cleaning.
Before departing, he would be tempted to leave them a note of approval, but also some advice. Currently on the market were nontoxic, biodegradable dry-cleaning fluids for home use, of which they had none. He felt certain they would be pleased with the products he recommended.
Using the lightly dampened sponge only where necessary, and then each brush as the nature and the condition of the different fabrics required, he had soon completed refreshing the garments.
Because the laundry room was small, he set up the ironing board in the kitchen. The homeowners possessed a high-quality, versatile steam iron.
He had once employed this same brand of steam iron to torture a young man before killing him. Unfortunately, the superb appliance had been ruined by the end of the session.
When he had finished pressing his clothes, he went in search of black shoe polish, a suitable brush, and a buffing cloth. He found a shoeshine kit under the kitchen sink.
After returning everything he had used to its proper place, he dressed and went upstairs in search of a full-length mirror. He found one in the master bathroom.
His appearance pleased him. He might have been a schoolteacher or a salesman, or anyone at all.
Mirrors intrigued him. Everything was reversed in a mirror, which suggested to him some mysterious truth about life that he had not yet been able to grasp.
He had once read an interview with a woman writer who said the fictional character with whom she most intensely identified was Lewis Carroll’s young Alice. She claimed that in spirit she was Alice.
Because she had many lamentable opinions, Krait visited the writer one evening. She proved to be quite petite. He easily picked her up and threw her at a full-length mirror to see if she would magically pass through and vanish into Wonderland.
In fact, she was not Alice. The mirror shattered. When she failed to pass through the mirror, he spent some time passing the fragments of the mirror through her.
Only when his phone vibrated did Krait become aware that he had been standing in front of this particular looking glass for more than a minute or two.
A text message informed him that the order he had placed would be delivered by 2:00 A.M.
According to his wristwatch, he had one hour and fifty-five minutes to wait.
Impatience did not trouble him. He viewed this as an opportunity to visit with the family who, unknowingly, had provided his refuge.
He began by looking through the cabinets in the master bathroom. There he learned, to his satisfaction, that he shared a number of brand preferences with these people: toothpaste, antacids, a headache remedy….
Each time he encountered a brand choice that he believed to be misguided, he dropped the item in a nearby wastebasket.
In two dresser drawers in the master bedroom, Krait found a collection of sexy lingerie. With interest, he unfolded each item, examined it, and then refolded it.
He did not disapprove of this discovery. If the average person was entitled to anything, it was the unrestrained expression of his or her sexuality.
Krait briefly considered expressing his sexuality directly into one of the most provocative pieces of lingerie and returning it to the drawer, but he decided to save himself for the Paquette woman.
At the farther end of the second-floor hall from the parents’ room lay the bedroom of their daughter. The immediate evidence suggested that she was a teenager.
The girl’s clothes, the manner in which she decorated her room, and her taste in music as embodied in her small collection of CDs suggested that she was not in rebellion against her parents.
Krait did not approve of her apparent complete submission to her mother and father.
As inscrutable and annoying as children were, he could nevertheless see one purpose for them. Contempt and animosity between generations provided tools with which a society could be shaped and controlled.
A nightstand drawer contained, among other things, a locked, leather-bound diary. Krait broke the lock.
The girl’s name was Emily Pelletrino. She had clear, graceful handwriting.
Krait read a few pages, then a paragraph here and there, but he encountered no revelations that needed to be kept under lock and key. Emily thought her parents were unintentionally amusing, but she loved and respected them. She wasn’t taking drugs. At fourteen, she still seemed to be a virgin. She sounded intent about earning high grades in school.
Until this prissy Emily person, Krait had found nothing in this house to dislike with intensity. Something about her struck him as smug.
Once the current assignment had been fulfilled, if his schedule permitted, he might return for Emily. He would like to take her away somewhere private for a week or two.
After he introduced the girl to a regimen of new experiences, mind-altering substances, and ideas, he would be able to return her home with confidence that she would no longer have such a high opinion of herself. She would also have a new attitude toward her mother and father, and the current unnatural dynamics of this family would have been repaired.
Later, in the living room, as Krait continued visiting the Pelletrino clan, he heard a car in the driveway. When he consulted his watch, he saw that the delivery had arrived right on time—2:00.
He did not go outside to greet the couriers. That would have been a breach of protocol.
Neither did he go to a window to peer between draperies. He had no interest in the couriers. They were mere footmen, walk-ons in the drama.
In the kitchen once more, Krait explored the contents of the freezer and found an ideal portion of homemade lasagna. He heated it in the microwave and accompanied it with a bottle of beer.
The lasagna was delectable. Whenever possible, he preferred to eat homemade food.
After cleaning up after himself, switching off the lights, and locking the front door, he went out to the driveway.
The Chevrolet that waited for him was dark blue, not white, but otherwise it appeared all but identical to the car that he had been forced to abandon in the alleyway.
No conditions of light or environment could have made the plain sedan look sporty. Under the low fast-moving clouds, however, and in the dream-strange lamplight of the sleeping street, and in the wind that chased thrashing jacaranda shadows across the night, the dark-blue Chevrolet appeared more powerful than the white version, a difference that appealed to Krait.
The keys were in the ignition. An attaché case lay on the passenger’s seat.
He didn’t have to look in the trunk to know that it contained a small suitcase.
At 2:32 A.M., he felt not in the least weary. In anticipation of a long night with the Paquette woman, he had slept until four o’clock the previous afternoon.
In a few minutes, he would know where to find her and her self-knighted champion. Long before dawn, Timothy Carrier would be as intimate with the earth as every man who had sat at King Arthur’s Round Table.
Carrier’s boldness and expertise with firearms intrigued but did not intimidate Krait. His confidence had not been cracked by recent events, not even dented, and he would not at this time seek to find out more about the man.
The more he knew about his targets, the more likely he might learn the reasons they were wanted dead. If he knew too much about why they were wanted dead, the day would come when people would want him dead, too.
Carrier was a target by association, but Krait still thought it wise to operate by the usual don’t-ask rule.
If the woman was not dead long before dawn, as well, she would be in Krait’s custody. He would not be as lenient with her as he might have been if she had stayed home and had taken what was coming to her.
After all, because of her and the lummox mason, Krait had lost the parrot-handled mug, which had been so special to him.
At least he still had the tube of effective lip balm.
He started the engine. The dashboard brightened.
The Wrong Place
at the Right Time
Long ago, the small five-story hotel had been built into a bluff along the coast. Bougainvillea vines with trunks as thick as trees draped purple and red capes across the entry-walk trellis, and the wind stirred a confetti of petals across the pavement.
At a quarter past midnight, when Tim signed the hotel registry, he wrote Mr. and Mrs. Timothy Carrier, while the clerk ran his Visa card through the verification machine.
In their third-floor room, sliding glass doors served a balcony with two wrought-iron chairs and a cocktail table. A three-foot gap separated their balcony from the adjacent one.
Under a charcoal sky lay a soot-black sea. Like gray smoke, the froth on the low waves drifted ashore, dissipating on an ashen beach.
To the north and below them, wind shook more noise from massive phoenix palms than was made by the gently breaking surf.
Standing at the railing, staring toward a western horizon that could not be discerned, Linda said, “They don’t care these days.”
Beside her, he said, “Who doesn’t care about what?”
“Hotel clerks about whether a couple is married.”
“Oh, I know. But it didn’t seem right.”
“Guarding my honor, were you?”
“I think you’ve got that handled yourself.”
She shifted her attention from the lost horizon to him. “I like the way you talk.”
“What way is that?”
“I can’t quite find the best word for it.”
“And you’re a writer.”
Leaving the balcony to the wind, they went inside and closed the sliding door.
“Which bed do you want?” he asked.
Pulling back the spread, she said, “This one will do.”
“I’m pretty sure we’re safe here.”
She frowned. “Why wouldn’t we be?”
“I keep wondering how he found us at the coffee shop.”
“He must really have a place near the vacant lot that was on his car registration. So he just happened to see us checking it out.”
“‘Just happened’ doesn’t just happen.”
“Sometimes it does. There’s such a thing as bad luck.”
“Anyway,” he said, “maybe we should be ready for anything. Maybe we should sleep with our clothes on.”
“I already had every intention of sleeping with my clothes on.”
“Oh. Yes. Well, of course you did.”
“Don’t look so disappointed.”
“I’m not disappointed. I’m devastated.”
While Linda was in the bathroom, Tim turned off the overhead lights. On the nightstand between the beds, the lamp had a three-way switch, and he clicked it to the softest setting.
He perched on the edge of his bed and speed-dialed the tavern, where Rooney remained at work behind the bar.
“Where are you?” Rooney asked.
“Just this side of paradise.”
“You’re never getting any closer.”