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“The hell I do. I must have been brain-dead when I joined. We do things like pick up trash once a month around Bell Rock, and I approve of that, since I’ve got a view of the damned thing from my bedroom window, and it looks better without the beer bottles and gum wrappers. I’m not crazy about walking around in the hot sun hunting for other people’s garbage, but I go once in a while. And we raise money to give some deserving girl a scholarship to college, and if I’m not out there running a table at the bake sale, or God forbid baking something, at least I’ll write out a check. But I mostly pass on the monthly meetings. I’ve never been a meeting person. Endless talking, and then the damn song.”

“What song?”

“The Athenian song, and no, I’m not about to sing it for you. But that’s how we close the meeting. We all stand in a circle and cross our arms over our chests and clasp hands and sing this Mickey Mouse song.”

“Minnie Mouse,” he suggested.

“I stand corrected. The thing is, most of the members have careers of one sort or another, and we don’t just pick up garbage. We network, which means we take in each other’s laundry.”


“Beth’s a travel agent, Alison’s a real-estate agent, Lindsay does Tupperware parties.”

“So you’ve been buying Tupperware,” he suggested. “And houses.”

“No houses. But when I went to Hawaii for a week I let Beth make the booking,” she said, “and one of our members is a lawyer, and when I need a lawyer she’s the one I go to. And of course I bought the Tupperware. You go to the party, you buy the Tupperware.”

“And drink the Kool-Aid. I’m sorry, go on.”

“Anyway,” she said, “there they all were with their careers, and there I was, with all the money I needed, and it couldn’t keep me from feeling time was passing me by.”

“That’s what time does.”

“I know. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I ought to be doing something. But what? Volunteer at a hospital? Help out at a soup kitchen?”

“Doesn’t sound like you.”

“So I picked up the phone,” she said, “and made a few calls.”

“How’d that go? I mean, officially, aren’t you dead?”

“As a doornail,” she agreed. “Shot in the head and burned up in a fire. You Google Dorothea Harbison and that’s what you’ll find out. But the people who would call me to arrange a booking, they never heard of Dorothea Harbison. A few of them knew me as Dot, but most of them didn’t even have that much. I was a phone number, and a voice on the phone, and a mail drop where they sent payments. And that was as much as anybody needed to know.”

“And how much did you know about them?”

“My customers? Next to nothing. But I did have a couple of phone numbers.”

And one day she drove to Flagstaff and rented a private mailbox at a franchise operation on South Milton Road, a block from the Embassy Suites hotel. On her way home she picked up a prepaid and presumably untraceable phone, and over the next few days she made a couple of calls. “I wondered what happened to you,” the first man said. “I tried your number, but it was disconnected.”

“I got married,” she told him, “and don’t bother congratulating me, because it didn’t work out.”

“That was quick.”

“For you, maybe. You weren’t there. Long and short, I’m here for you when you need me. Let me give you the number.”

She had other numbers, too, of men who’d done what Keller used to do. Not all of those numbers worked anymore, but she was able to reestablish a contact or two, and one fellow said he could really use the work. Then she sat back and waited for something to happen, not entirely sure she wanted her new phone to ring, but it did, and within the week.

“And here’s something interesting, Keller. The call was from someone I hadn’t called myself, someone I hadn’t even worked with before. One of my old clients passed the word, and here was this guy calling me out of the blue, with a piece of work to be done in the great state of Georgia. So I called the guy who’d told me how he needed work, and he couldn’t believe I was getting back to him so quick. And I sat back and got paid.”

Like old times, Keller suggested, and she agreed. “I’m still me,” she said. “I’m a rich lady, and I look better than I used to. I moved to Sedona and the pounds started to drop off right away. The place is crawling with energy vortexes, except I think the plural is vortices.”

“What are they?”

“Beats me, Keller. I think it’s something like an intersection, except the streets are imaginary. Anyway, some of the women I know are fat as pigs, and they’ve got the same vortices I do. I belong to a gym, can you believe it?”

“You told me.”

“And I’ve got a personal trainer. Did I tell you that, too? His name is Scott, and I sometimes get the feeling he’d like to get a little more personal, but I’m probably wrong about that. It’s not as though I turned into whistle bait, and what would he want with a woman old enough to use a term like that? Whistle bait, for God’s sake.”

“I guess people don’t say that anymore.”

“They don’t whistle much, either. Look, this is a mistake, isn’t it? I shouldn’t have called.”


“For God’s sake, you’ve got your life to live. You’ve got a beautiful wife and an amazing daughter and you’re the rehab king of New Orleans real estate. So why don’t you just wish me luck in my new venture and hang up, and I’ll leave you alone.”


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.”

“It would?”

“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.”

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