“That’s what I’m afraid of. Listen, Liam, did he talk to anyone besides you?”
“The shark in shoes?”
“Yeah, him. Did he talk to any customers?”
“No. Just to me.”
“Maybe he went upstairs to talk to Michelle.”
“No. She was here behind the bar with me when he came in.”
“Somebody gave him my name. And he got my cell number.”
“Not here, he didn’t. Isn’t your cell unlisted?”
“That’s what the phone company tells me.”
“Tim, who is that guy?”
“I’d sure like to know. Hey, Liam, I’m out of practice with women, you’ve got to help me.”
Rooney said, “You lost me on the transition. Women?”
“Give me something nice to say to a woman.”
“Nice? Nice about what?”
“I don’t know. About her hair.”
“You could say ‘I like your hair.’”
“How did you ever get Michelle to marry you?”
“I told her, if she didn’t accept my proposal, I’d kill myself.”
“It’s a little early in this relationship,” Tim said, “to use a suicide threat. Gotta go.”
When she came out of the bathroom, with her face freshly washed and her hair held back by a barrette, she was radiant. She had also been radiant when she went into the bathroom.
He said, “I like your hair.”
“My hair? I’m thinking of cutting it.”
“It’s so glossy and so dark, it’s almost black.”
“I don’t dye it.”
“No, of course you don’t. I didn’t mean you did or that it was a wig or anything.”
“Wig? Does it look like a wig?”
“No, no. The last thing it looks like is a wig.”
He decided to flee the room. On the threshold of the bathroom, he made the mistake of turning to her again and saying, “I want you to know, I won’t use your toothbrush.”
“It never crossed my mind that you would.”
“I thought it might have. Crossed your mind, I mean.”
“Well, now it has.”
“If I could have some of your toothpaste, I’ll just use one of my fingers for a brush.”
“A forefinger works better than a thumb,” she advised.
Minutes later, when he came out of the bathroom, she was lying atop the blankets, eyes closed, hands resting on her abdomen.
In the subdued light, Tim thought that she was asleep. He went to his bed and, as quietly as possible, sat with his back against the headboard.
She said, “What if Pete Santo can’t winnow all those names down to the right one?”
“What if he doesn’t?”
“Then we’ll try something different.”
“What would that be?”
“I’ll have it figured out by morning.”
After a silence, she said, “You always know what to do, don’t you?”
“You must be joking.”
“Don’t shine me on.”
After a silence of his own, Tim admitted, “Seems like, under enough pressure, I tend to make right choices.”
“Are you under enough pressure yet?”
“And when you’re not under pressure?”
“Then I’m clueless.”
His cell phone rang. He plucked it off the nightstand, where it had been charging.
Pete Santo said, “A funny thing happened.”
“Good. I could use a laugh. Let me put this on speakerphone.” He set the phone on the nightstand. “All right.”
“I’m running all these names through law-enforcement databases, state and national,” Pete said, “see if maybe one of his identities is real enough to have some kind of badge and a job. My phone rings. It’s Hitch Lombard. My chief of detectives.”
“Your boss? When—just now, after midnight?”
“I just got off the phone with him. Hitch heard I’m on sick leave tomorrow, he hopes I’m okay.”
“Does he also make chicken soup for his sick detectives?”
“Pretending it makes any sense for him to be calling me, I say it’s just a stomach thing, and then he asks what case I’m working on, and I say there’s like three at the moment, which I name for him, as if he doesn’t know them.”
“He would know them?”
“He would definitely. So then he says, being as how I’m always an obsessive about my cases, he bets I’m probably working on one of them right now, at home, on my computer, even though I’m sick.”
“That freaks,” Tim said.
“It freaked me right up out of my office chair.”
“How would anyone know you’re cruising databases for Kravet and his multiple personalities?”
“Something in their software. Interest in Kravet and his other names trips an alarm. Somebody gets notified.”
Having sat up in bed, Linda said, “Somebody who?”
“Somebody a lot higher up the food chain than me,” Pete said. “Somebody higher than Hitch Lombard, high enough they could tell Hitch to shut me down, and he’d say Yes, sir, I’ll do it right away, but could I kiss your ass first?”
“What kind of a guy is Lombard?” Linda asked.
“He’s not as bad as it gets. But if you’re on the street, you’re happy he’s an office guy, not on the street with you. He says when I feel better and I’m back at work, he has an important investigation for me, he wants me to put all my time to it.”
“So he’s taking you off your current cases?” Tim asked.
“As of now, tonight,” Pete confirmed.
“He thinks something in one of those cases must have led you to Kravet.”
“Not that he ever said so, but yeah. He never mentioned Kravet, but yeah.”
Linda said, “Maybe he doesn’t even know Kravet’s name or any of the guy’s other names, or what this is about.”
Pete agreed. “Somebody somewhere has Lombard in a nut-cracker and they’ll use it if he doesn’t back me off. Hitch doesn’t have to be told why they want me shut down. He just has to believe they’ll crack him.”
In the low lamplight, as he spoke and listened, Tim had been studying his hands. They were rough and callused.
When this business was finished, perhaps his hands would be even rougher, and too hard to be capable of a tender touch.
He said, “You’ve been a lot of help, Pete. I appreciate it.”
“I’m not done with this.”
“You’re done, all right. They’re on to you.”
“I just gotta change tactics,” Pete said.
“I’m serious. You’re done. Don’t you go off a cliff.”
“What’re cliffs for? Anyway, this is as much for me as you.”
“How does that make any sense? It doesn’t.”
“Don’t you remember when we grew up together?” Pete asked.
“It happened so fast, there’s not much to forget.”
“Did we come from there to here for nothing?”
“I wouldn’t like to think so.”
“We sure didn’t come from there to here just to let the usual sonsofbitches have their way.”
“They’re always going to have their way,” Tim said.
“All right. Mostly. But once in a while, they have to see one of their own get his package cut off just so they’ll stop and wonder if maybe there is a god.”
“I’ve heard that somewhere.”
“You said it somewhere.”
“Well, I’m not going to argue with myself. Okay, we’re gonna get some rest.”
“Maybe tomorrow you can tell me what this is all about.”
“Maybe,” Tim said, and terminated the call.
Linda had stretched out on her bed again, her head on a pillow, eyes closed, hands at rest on her abdomen. She said, “Poetry.”
“What poetry?” When she didn’t answer, he said, “The stuff that happened, the stuff that made you write festering books—”
“Books full of festering sorrow.”
“That stuff, whatever it was—you’re absolutely sure something from then isn’t behind this thing now.”
“I’m positive. I’ve thought it through from a dozen directions.”
“Think it through from thirteen.”
He removed the pistol from her purse on the nightstand, and he put it within easy reach.
Without opening her eyes, she asked, “Are we going to die here?”
He said, “We’ll try not to.”
The third-floor hotel room began to feel like a box canyon in an old Western movie. With a single exit, if the wrong people showed up, you had no way out except through them.
The average hired killer, if there was such a thing, probably wouldn’t try to execute a hit in a hotel. He would prefer to nail his target in the street, where his escape routes would be more numerous.
Remembering the insatiable hunger in those black voids at the center of the killer’s eyes, Tim suspected nothing about the guy was average. Kravet had no limits. He might do anything.
Still sitting up in his bed, Tim watched Linda as she lay with her eyes closed. He liked looking at her, especially when he wasn’t being dissected by her stare.
He had seen many women more beautiful than she was. He had never seen one at whom he more enjoyed looking.
Why this should be, he didn’t know. He didn’t try to analyze it. These days, people spent too much time striving to understand their feelings—and then ended up with none that were genuine.
Although a third-floor hotel room might prove to be a trap rather than a refuge, he could not think of any place to go that might be safer. Currently, the world was nothing but box canyons.
Instinct told him that the more they stayed on the move, the safer they would be. But they needed rest. If they returned to the SUV, they couldn’t drive anywhere except to exhaustion.
He got out of his bed as quietly as possible and stood gazing down at her for a minute, and then whispered, “Are you asleep?”
“No,” she whispered. “Are you?”
“I’m just going out to the hallway for two minutes.”
“To look around.”
“I’m not sure. The gun is here on the nightstand.”
“I won’t shoot you when you come back.”
“That was my hope.”
He left the room and eased the door shut behind him. He checked to be sure that it had locked.
Red EXIT signs, denoting stairwells, glowed at each end of the corridor. The elevators were at the north end.
On the west side of the hallway, six rooms lay to the left of theirs. From the knobs of four doors hung signs reading DO NOT DISTURB.
Four units lay to the right of theirs. Only the nearest two featured the signs.
At the south stairs, the door complained with a thin squeal when he opened it. On the landing, he listened for the murmur of the sea in the nautilus-shell turns of the stairwell, but heard only silence.
He descended two flights to the ground level. A door on the left served the first floor of guest rooms. To the right, a door opened on a lighted exterior pathway leading toward the front of the hotel.
Hibiscus bushes bordered the sidewalk. Shuddering in the wind, the big red blooms seemed to burst toward him with ominous portent.
The walkway passed between the hotel and its three-story parking structure. He went to his Explorer in the garage.
Everyone arriving at the hotel, regardless of the hour, was required to use valet parking. Tim would no more have given his car keys to an attendant, thus compromising mobility, than he would have traded his feet for a claim check.
Between midnight and six in the morning, only one valet was on duty. During those quiet hours, he doubled as a bellman, and he was not at his usual portico station. Upon arrival, a guest had to ring for valet service.
Tim hadn’t rung. He had parked where he wished.
Now, shortly before one o’clock in the morning, at the Explorer, he retrieved the flashlight. From the jack well in the cargo space, he withdrew a small zippered vinyl kit of tools.
Wind thrummed and soughed past the open sides of the parking structure, and from various points throughout the hollow concrete bays came sinister whispers and ghostly voices that were only the same wind playing ventriloquist.
When he returned to their room on the third floor, Tim closed the door and engaged the deadbolt. He put on the security chain, too, though it wouldn’t stand up to a single kick in a determined assault. If it delayed entrance only two or three seconds, that could be a life-saving margin.
He went to the foot of Linda’s bed. As before, she lay on her back with her eyes closed.
He whispered, “Are you asleep?”
“No,” she whispered, “I’m dead.”
“I need to turn on more lights.”
“I need to check out something.”
“I’ll try to be quiet about it.”
“You can’t bother a dead woman.”
He stood looking down at her.
After a moment, without opening her eyes, she said, “Is it my hair again?”
Leaving her with her magnificent hair, Tim switched on the overhead light and went to the balcony doors.
His reflection in the glass dismayed him. He looked like a bear. A big, clumsy, disheveled, clueless bear. No wonder she kept her eyes closed.
Each of the two glass doors was four feet wide. The one on the right had been fixed in place. Only the left one slid, bypassing the right-hand door on the inside.
Because this was a high-end hotel, care had been taken with details. The metal frame of the door-set had not been mounted over the sheetrock, but instead had been plastered into the wall, allowing the wallpaper to be trimmed out to the glass.
Even flat-head anchoring screws would have spoiled the look, so the fixed door had not been secured from inside.
He slid open the operable door a few inches. A curious wind sniffed at him as he worked the latch lever several times.
The hotel had been built long ago, and these doors had been here since day one. Because that had been a more innocent age and because the balcony hung about fifty feet above the beach, the door had not been fitted with a serious lock.