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Answers to Soldier
Keller flew United to Portland. He read a magazine on the leg from JFK to O'Hare, ate lunch on the ground, and watched the movie on the nonstop flight from Chicago to Portland. It was a-quarter to three local time when he carried his hand luggage off the plane, and then he had only an hour's wait before his connecting flight to Roseburg.
But when he got a look at the size of the plane he walked over to the Hertz desk and told them he wanted a car for a few days. He showed them a driver's license and a credit card and they let him have a Ford Taurus with thirty-two hundred miles on the clock. He didn't bother trying to refund his Portland-to-Roseburg ticket.
The Hertz clerk showed him how to get on 1-5. Keller pointed the car in the right direction and set the cruise control three miles an hour over the posted speed limit. Everybody else was going a few miles an hour faster than that, but he was in no hurry, and he didn't want to invite a dose look at his driver's license. It was probably all right, but why ask for trouble?
It was still light out when he took the off ramp for the second Roseburg exit. He had a reservation at the Douglas Inn, a Best Western on Stephens Street. He found it without any trouble. They had him in a ground-floor room in the front, and he had them change it to one a flight up in the rear.
He unpacked, showered. The phone book had a street map of downtown Roseburg, and he studied it, getting his bearings, then tore it out and took it with him when he went out for a walk. The little print shop was only a few blocks away on Jackson, two doors in from the comer, between a tobacconist and a photographer with his window full of wedding pictures. A sign in Quik Print's window offered a special on wedding invitations, perhaps to catch the eye of bridal couples making arrangements with the photographer.
Quik Print was dosed, of course, as were the tobacconist and the photographer and the credit jeweler next door to the photographer and, as far as Keller, could tell, everybody else in the neighborhood. He didn't stick around long. Two blocks away he found a Mexican restaurant that looked dingy enough to be authentic. He bought a local paper from the coin box out front and read it while he ate his chicken enchiladas. The food was good, and ridiculously inexpensive. If the place were in New York, he thought, everything would be three or four times as much and there'd be a line in front.
The waitress was a slender blonde, not Mexican at all. She had short hair and granny glasses and an overbite, and she sported an engagement ring on the appropriate finger, a diamond solitaire with a tiny stone. Maybe she and her fiance had picked it out at the credit jeweler's, Keller thought. Maybe the photographer next door would take their wedding Pictures. Maybe they'd get Burt Engleman to print their wedding invitations. Quality printing, reasonable rates, service you can count on.
In the morning he returned to Quik Print and looked in the window. A woman with brown hair was sitting at a gray metal desk, talking on the telephone. A man in shirtsleeves stood at a copying machine. He wore hom-rimmed glasses with round lenses and his hair was cropped short on his egg-shaped head. He was balding, and that made him look older, but Keller knew he was only thirty-eight.
Keller stood in front of the jeweler's and pictured the waitress and her fiance picking out rings. They'd have a double-ring ceremony, of course, and there would be something engraved on the inside of each of their wedding bands, something no one else would ever see. Would they live in an apartment? For a while, he decided, until they saved the down payment for a starter home. That was the phrase you saw in real estate ads and Keller liked it. A starter home, something to practice on until you got the hang of it.
At a drugstore on the next block, he bought an unlined paper tablet and a black felt-tipped pen. He used four sheets of paper before he was pleased with the result. Back at Quik Print, he showed his work to the brown-haired woman.
"My dog ran off," he explained. "I thought I'd get some flyers printed, post them around town."
LOST DOG, he'd printed. PART GER. SHEPHERD. ANSWERS TO SOLDIER. CALL 555-1904.
"I hope you get him back," the woman said. "Is it a him? Soldier sounds like a male dog, but it doesn't say."
"It's a male," Keller said. "Maybe I should have specified."
"It's probably not important. Did you want to offer a reward? People usually do, though I don't know if it makes any difference. If I found somebody's dog, I wouldn't care about a reward. I'd just want to get him back with his owner."
"Everybody's not as decent as you are," Keller said. 'Maybe I should say something about a reward. I didn't even think of that." He put his palms on the desk and leaned forward, looking down at the sheet of paper. "I don't know," he said. "It looks kind of homemade, doesn't it? Maybe I should have you set it in type, do it right. What do you think?"
"I don't know," she said. "Ed? Would you come and take a look at this, please?"
The man in the horn-rims came over and said he thought a hand-lettered look was best for a lost-dog notice. "It makes it more personal," he said. "I could do it in type for you, but I think people would respond to it better as it is. Assuming somebody finds the dog, that is."Hit Man. Copyright © by Lawrence Block. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from Hit Man by Lawrence Block
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