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'Yes,' Dortmunder said. 'You can reserve all this, for yourself and your family, for simply a ten-dollar deposit.'
'My,' said the lady. She was a pretty woman in her mid-thirties, small and compact, and from the looks of this living room she kept a tight ship. The room was cool and comfortable and neat, packaged with no individuality but a great passion for cleanliness, like a new mobile home. The draperies flanking the picture window were so straight, each fold so perfectly rounded and smooth, that they didn't look like cloth at all but a clever plaster forgery. The picture they framed showed a neat treeless lawn that drained away from the house, the neat curving blacktop suburban street in spring sunshine, and a ranch-style house across the way identical in every exterior detail to this one. I bet their drapes aren't this neat, Dortmunder thought.
'Yes,' he said, and gestured at the promo leaflets now scattered all over the coffee table and the near-by floor. 'You get the encyclopedia and the bookcase and the Junior Wonder Science Library and its bookcase, and the globe, and the five-year free use of research facilities at our gigantic modern research facility at Butte, Montana, and –'
'We wouldn't have to go to Butte, Montana, would we?' She was one of those neat, snug women who can still look pretty with their brows furrowed. Her true role in life would be to operate a U.S.O. canteen, but here she was in this white-collar ghetto in the middle of Long Island.
'No, no,' Dortmunder said with an honest smile. Most of the housewives he met in the course of business left him cold, but every once in a while he ran across one like this who hadn't been lobotomized by life in the suburbs, and the contact always made him cheerful. She's sprightly, he thought, and smiled some more at the rare chance to use a word like that, even in interior monologue. Then he turned the smile on the customer and said, 'You write to them in Butte, Montana. You tell them you want to know about, uh ...'
'Anguilla,' she suggested.
'Sure,' Dortmunder said, as though he knew just what she meant. 'Anything you want. And they send you the whole story.'
'My,' she said and looked again at all the promo papers spread around her neat living room.
'And don't forget the five annual roundups,' Dortmunder told her, 'to keep your encyclopedia right up to date for the next five years.'
'My,' she said.
'And you can reserve the whole thing,' Dortmunder said, 'for a simple ten-dollar deposit.' There had been a time when he had been using the phrase 'measly ten-dollar deposit,' but gradually he'd noticed that the prospects who eventually turned the deal down almost always gave a visible wince at the word 'measly', so he'd switched to 'simple' and the results had been a lot better. Keep it simple, he decided, and you can't go wrong.
'Well, that's certainly something,' the woman said. 'Do you mind waiting while I get my purse?'
'Not at all,' Dortmunder said.
She left the room, and Dortmunder sat back on the sofa and smiled lazily at the world outside the picture window. A man had to stay alive somehow while waiting for a big score to develop, and there was nothing better for that than an encyclopedia con. In the spring and fall, that is; winter was too cold for house-to-house work and summer was too hot. But given the right time of year, the old encyclopedia scam was unbeatable. It kept you in the fresh air and in nice neighborhoods, it gave you a chance to stretch your legs in comfortable living rooms and chat with mostly pleasant suburban ladies, and it bought the groceries.
Figure ten or fifteen minutes per prospect, though the losers usually didn't take that long. If only one out of five bit, that was ten bucks an hour. On a six-hour day and a five-day week, that was three hundred a week, which was more than enough for a man of simple tastes to live on, even in New York.
And the ten-dollar bite was just the perfect size. Anything smaller than that, the effort wouldn't be worth the return. And if you went up above ten dollars, you got into the area where the housewives either wanted to talk it over with their husbands first or wanted to write you checks; and Dortmunder wasn't about to go cash a check made out to an encyclopedia company. The few checks he got at the ten-dollar level he simply threw away at the end of the day's business.
It was now nearly four in the afternoon. He figured he'd make this the last customer of the day, go find the nearest Long Island Railroad station, and head on back into the city. May would be home from Bohack's by the time he got there.
Should he start packing the promo material back in his attaché case? No, there wasn't any hurry. Besides, it was psychologically good to keep the pretty pictures out where the customer could see what she was buying until she'd actually handed over the ten spot.
Except that what she was really buying with her ten dollars was a receipt. Which he might as well get out, come to think of it. He opened the snaps on the attaché case beside him on the sofa and lifted the lid.
To the left of the sofa was an end table holding a lamp and a cream-colored European-style telephone, not normal Bell issue. Now, as Dortmunder reached into his attaché case for his receipt pad, this telephone said, very softly, 'dit-dit-dit-dit-dit-dit-dit-dit-dit.'
Dortmunder glanced at it. His left hand was holding the lid of the case up, his right hand was inside holding the receipt pad, but he didn't move. Somebody must be dialing an extension somewhere else in the house. Dortmunder frowned at the phone and it said, 'dit.' A smaller number that time, probably a 1. Then 'dit', said the phone again, which would be another 1. Dortmunder waited, not moving, but the phone didn't say anything else.
Just a three-digit number? A high digit first, and then two low ones. What kind of phone number was ...
911. The police emergency number.
Dortmunder took his hand out of the attaché case without the receipt pad. No time to pick up the promo papers. He methodically snicked shut the attaché case snaps, got to his feet, walked to the door, opened it, and stepped outside. Carefully closing the door behind him, he walked briskly over the curving slate path to the sidewalk, turned right, and kept on walking.
What he needed was a store, a movie theater, a cab, even a church. Someplace to get inside for a little while. Walking along the street like this, he didn't have a chance. But there was nothing as far as the eye could see, nothing but houses and lawns and tricycles. Like the Arab who fell off his camel in Lawrence of Arabia, Dortmunder just kept walking, even though he was doomed.
A purple Oldsmobile Toronado with M.D. plates roared by, heading in the direction he was coming from. Dortmunder thought nothing of it until he heard the brakes squeal back there, and then his face lit up and he said, 'Kelp!'
He turned to look, and the Oldsmobile was making a complicated U-turn, backing and filling, making little progress. The driver could be seen spinning the wheel madly, first in one direction and then the other, like a pirate captain in a hurricane, while the Oldsmobile bumped back and forth between the curbs.
'Come on, Kelp,' Dortmunder muttered. He shook the attaché case a little, as though to help straighten the car out.
Finally the driver lunged the car up over the curb and in a sweeping arc over the sidewalk and back down, and slammed it to a stop in front of where Dortmunder was standing. Dortmunder, whose enthusiasm had already faded somewhat, opened the passenger door and slid in.
'So there you are,' Kelp said.
'There I am,' Dortmunder said. 'Let's get out of here.'
Kelp was aggrieved. 'I been looking all over for you.'
'You aren't the only one,' Dortmunder said. He twisted around to look out the rear window; nothing yet. 'Come on, let's go,' he said.
But Kelp was still aggrieved. 'Last night,' he said, 'you told me you were gonna be today in Ranch Cove Estates.'
Dortmunder's attention had been caught. 'I'm not?'
Kelp pointed at the windshield. 'Ranch Cove Estates stops three blocks down there,' he said. 'This is Elm Valley Heights.'
Dortmunder looked around at no elms, no valleys and no heights. 'I must have slipped across the border,' he said.
'I been driving up and down and up and down. I just now gave up, I was going back to the city, I figured I never would find you.'
Was that a siren in the distance? 'Well, now you found me,' Dortmunder said. 'So why don't we go someplace?'
But Kelp didn't want to distract himself with driving. He had the engine still running, but the gear shift was in Park and he had more to say. 'Do you know what it's like, you spend the whole day just driving up and down and up and down, and the guy you're looking for isn't even in Ranch Cove Estates?'
It was definitely a siren, and it was coming closer. Dortmunder said, 'Why don't we go there now?'
'Very funny,' Kelp said. 'Do you realise I had to put a dollar's worth of gas of my own money in this car, and it was almost full when I picked it up?'
'I'll reimburse you,' Dortmunder said. 'If you'll just use some of it to drive us away from here.' Far down the street was a tiny winking red light, and it was coming this way.
'I don't want your money,' Kelp said. He was somewhat mollified, but still irritated. 'All I want is if you say you're gonna be in Ranch Cove Estates be in Ranch Cove Estates.'
There was a police car under the winking red light, and it was coming like hell. 'I'm sorry,' Dortmunder said. 'From now on I'll do better.'
Kelp frowned at him. 'What? That's not like you, to talk like that. Something wrong?'
The police car was two blocks away and moving fast. Dortmunder put his head in his hands.
Kelp said, 'Hey, what's the matter?' He said something else after that, but the noise of the siren was so loud that his voice was blotted out. The siren shrilled to a peak of noise, and then modulated all at once into minor key and receded.
Dortmunder lifted his head and looked around. The police car was a block behind them and slowing at last as it neared the house Dortmunder had come from.
Kelp was frowning at the rear-view mirror. 'I wonder who they want,' he said.
'Me,' Dortmunder said. His voice was a little shaky. 'Now do you mind if we get away from here?'CHAPTER 2
Kelp drove along with one eye on the empty street ahead and one eye on the rearview mirror showing the empty street behind. He was tense but alert. He said, 'You should've told me sooner.'
'I tried,' Dortmunder said. He was being sullen and grumpy in the corner.
'You could've got us both in trouble,' Kelp said. The memory of the police car's siren was making him nervous, and nervousness made him talkative.
Dortmunder didn't say anything. Kelp took a quick glance at him and saw him brooding at the glove compartment, as though wondering if it had an ax in it. Kelp went back to watching the street and the rear-view mirror and said, 'With that record of yours, you know, you get picked up for anything, you'll get life.'
'Is that right?' Dortmunder said. He was really being very sour, even worse than usual.
Kelp drove one-handed for a minute while he got out his pack of Trues, shook one out, and put it between his lips. He extended the pack sideways, saying, 'Cigarette?'
'True? What the hell kind of brand is that?'
'It's one of the new ones with the low nicotine and tars. Try it.'
'I'll stick to Camels,' Dortmunder said, and out of the corner of his eye Kelp saw him pull a battered pack of them from his jacket pocket. 'True,' Dortmunder grumbled. 'I don't know what the hell kind of name that is for a cigarette.'
Kelp was stung. He said, 'Well, what kind of name is Camel? True means something. What the hell does Camel mean?'
'It means cigarettes,' Dortmunder said. 'For years and years it means cigarettes. I see something called True, I figure right away it's a fake.'
'Just because you've been working a con,' Kelp said, 'you figure everybody else is too.'
'That's right,' Dortmunder said.
Kelp could deal with anything at that point except being agreed with; not knowing where to go from there, he let the conversation lapse. Also, realising he was still holding the cigarette pack in his right hand, he tucked it away again in his shirt pocket.
Dortmunder said, 'I thought you quit anyway.'
Kelp shrugged. 'I started again.' He put both hands on the wheel while he negotiated a right turn onto Merrick Avenue, a major street with a good amount of traffic.
Dortmunder said, 'I thought the cancer commercials on television scared you off.'
'They did,' Kelp said. There were now cars both in front of him and behind him, but none of them contained police. 'They don't show them any more,' he said. 'They took the cigarette commercials off, and they took the cancer commercials off at the same time. So I went back.' Still watching the street, he reached out to press the lighter button in. Windshield washer fluid suddenly sprayed all over the glass in front of him, and he couldn't see a thing.
Dortmunder shouted, 'What the hell are you doing?'
'God damn it!' Kelp yelled and stomped on the brake. It was a power brake, and the car stopped on a dime and gave them change. 'These American cars!' Kelp yelled, and something crashed into them from behind.
Dortmunder, peeling himself off the dashboard, said, 'I suppose this is better than life imprisonment.'
Kelp had found the windshield wipers and now they started sweeping back and forth over the glass, flinging gobs of fluid left and right. 'We're okay now,' Kelp said, and somebody knocked on the side window next to his left ear. He turned his head, and there was a heavyset guy in a topcoat out there, shouting. 'Now what?' Kelp said. He found the button that would slide the power window down, pushed it, and the power window slid down. Now he could hear that the heavyset guy was shouting, 'Look what you done to my car!'
Kelp looked out front, but there wasn't anything in front of him at all. Then he looked in the rear-view mirror and saw a car very close to him in the back.
The heavyset guy was shouting, 'Come look! Come see for yourself!'
Kelp opened the car door and got out. A bronze Pinto was nuzzling the purple Toronado in the rear. Kelp said, 'Well, for Christ's sake.'
'Look what you done to my car!'
Kelp walked down to where the two cars met and studied the damage. Glass was broken, chrome was bent, and what looked like radiator fluid was making a green puddle on the blacktop.
'I tell you,' the heavyset guy shouted, 'to go ahead, just go ahead and look what you done to my car!'
Kelp shook his head. 'Oh, no,' he said. 'You hit me from the rear. I didn't do anything to –'
'You jammed on your brakes! How'm I supposed to –'
'Any insurance company in the world will tell you the driver in the back is the one who –'
'You jammed on your – We'll see what the cops say!'
The cops. Kelp gave the heavyset guy a bland, unworried smile and started to walk around the Pinto, as though to inspect the damage on the other side. There was a row of stores on the right here, and he'd already spotted an alley between two of them.
On the way around the Pinto, Kelp glanced in and saw that the storage area in the back was full of open-top card-board cartons full of paperback books. About five or six titles, with dozens of copies of each title. One was called Passion Doll, another Man Hungry, another Strange Affair. The covers featured undressed girls. There were Call Me Sinner and Off Limits and Apprentice Virgin. Kelp paused.
The heavyset guy had been following him, ranting and raving, waving his arms around so that his topcoat flapped – imagine somebody wearing a topcoat on a day like this – but now he stopped when Kelp did, and his voice lowered, and in an almost normal tone of voice he said, 'So what?'
Kelp stood looking in at the paperback books. 'You were talking about the cops,' he said.
Other traffic was now having to detour around them. A woman in a Cadillac shouted as she went by, 'Why don't you bums get off the road?'
'I'm talking about traffic cops,' the heavyset guy said.
'Whatever you're talking about,' Kelp said, 'what you're gonna get is cops. And they're likely to care more about the back of your car than the front.'
'The Supreme Court –'
'I didn't figure we'd get the Supreme Court to come out for a traffic accident,' Kelp said. 'What I figured, we'd probably get just local Suffolk County cops.'
Excerpted from Bank Shot by Donald E. Westlake. Copyright © 1972 Donald E. Westlake. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted April 6, 2001
John Dortmunder is a careful guy who is always looking for a reasonable way to make crime pay. Between major jobs, he's pulling the old 'give me a deposit for the encyclopedia' con, working door-to-door in the suburbs. During the recession in the early 1970s, he can earn a pretty decent living doing this. But Mae (his live-in girl friend) knows that Dortmunder needs something to occupy his mind. So when the crazy ex-FBI agent kid shows up with a nutty scheme to steal a whole bank, she encourages Dortmunder to plan it out. From that humble beginning, the humorous complications just keep piling on in unexpected ways! Donald Westlake is a master of setting up the absolutely ridiculous situation. He uses the Dortmunder character as a surrogate for the reader's perspective, so you can laugh at how you would react in the same situation. Like Jane Langton, he also likes to have fun with pointing out how people miss what is just under their noses. The book is also a satire on all of those great theft stories, like The Thomas Crown Affair, in which little is what it seems. The difference is that this is The Thomas Crown Affair Meets the Three Stooges. Dortmunder's gang is as rag-tag a group as you can imagine, but they manage to keep stumbling forward. I particularly admired how the same story element of the bank's mobility is reused time and again for different plot and humor developments. Mr. Westlake is a most imaginative writer! One of the book's most interesting themes is that a piece of good luck is always met by a piece of bad luck, and vice versa. These reversals take the story off in all kinds of unexpected ways (not unlike the unfolding of The Sting). The basic plot revolves around a quite clever idea, using a bank office located in a mobile home as a large version of the letter in 'The Purloined Letter.' If you were planning to steal a bank, where would you hide it? I know that my drives will never be the same in the future. I'll be looking for places to hide banks! Mr. Westlake does a marvelous job of keeping the reader in suspense about how the story will end. I suspect that few will guess the book's final three scenes. This audio cassette version of the book is very well in presenting the dry humor necessary to carry off the wonderfully witty fictional pictures Westlake draws in your mind.
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Posted December 19, 2011
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Posted December 19, 2011
No text was provided for this review.