DONALD E. WESTLAKE
It’s an accepted fact that Donald E. Westlake has excelled at every single subgenre the mystery field has to offer. Humorous books such as Sacred Monster and the John Dortmunder series; terrifying books like The Ax, about a man who wants vengeance on the company that downsized him out of a job, and probably Westlake’s most accomplished novel; and hard-boiled books that include the Parker series, a benchmark in the noir world of professional thieves and to which he recently returned to great acclaim; and insider books like The Hook, a twisty thriller about the peril and pitfalls of being a writer. One learns from his novels and short stories that he is possessed of a remarkable intelligence, and that he can translate that intelligence into plot, character, and realistic prose with what appears to be astonishing ease. He is the sort of writer other writers study endlessly; every Westlake novel has something to teach authors, no matter how long they’ve been at the word processor. And he seems to have been discovered—at last and long overdue—by a mass audience. His recent books include Ask the Parrot and What’s So Funny?, the latest featuring Dortmunder.
WALKING AROUND MONEY
Donald E. Westlake
“Ever since I reformed,” the man called Querk said, “I been havin’ trouble to sleep at night.”
This was a symptom Dortmunder had never heard of before; on the other hand, he didn’t know that many people who’d reformed. “Huh,” he said. He really didn’t know this man called Querk, so he didn’t have a lot to say so far.
But Querk did. “It’s my nerves,” he explained, and he looked as though it was his nerves. A skinny little guy, maybe fifty, with a long face, heavy black eyebrows over banana nose over thin-lipped mouth over long bony chin, he fidgeted constantly on that wire-mesh chair in Paley Park, a vest-pocket park on East 53rd Street in Manhattan, between Fifth and Madison Avenues.
It’s a very nice park, Paley Park, right in the middle of midtown, just forty-two feet wide and not quite a block deep, up several steps from the level of 53rd Street. The building walls on both sides are covered in ivy, and tall honey locust trees form a kind of leafy roof in the summer, which is what at this moment it was.
But the best thing about Paley Park is the wall of water at the back, a constant flow down the rear wall, splashing into a trough to be recycled, making a very nice kind of shooshing sound that almost completely covers the roar of the traffic, which makes for a peaceful retreat right there in the middle of everything and also makes it possible for two or three people—John Dortmunder, say, and his friend Andy Kelp, and the man called Querk, for instance—to sit near the wall of water and have a nice conversation that nobody, no matter what kind of microphone they’ve got, is going to record. It’s amazing, really, that every criminal enterprise in the city of New York isn’t plotted in Paley Park; or maybe they are.
“You see how it is,” the man called Querk said, and lifted both hands out of his lap to hold them in front of himself, where they trembled like a paint-mixing machine. “It’s a good thing,” he said, “I wasn’t a pickpocket before I reformed.”
“Huh,” Dortmunder commented.
“Or a safecracker,” Kelp said.
“Well, I was,” Querk told him. “But I was one of your liquid nitro persuasion, you know. Drill your hole next to the combination, pour in your jelly, stuff the detonator in there, stand back. No nerves involved at all.”
“Huh,” Dortmunder said.
Querk frowned at him. “You got asthma?” “No,” Dortmunder said. “I was just agreeing with you.”
“If you say so.” Querk frowned at the curtain of water, which just kept shooshing down that wall in front of them, splashing in the trough, never stopping for a second. You wouldn’t want to stay in Paley Park too long.
“The point is,” Querk said, “before I reformed, I’d always get a good night’s sleep, because I knew I was careful and everything was in its place, so I could relax. But then, the last time I went up, I decided I was too old for jail. You know, there comes a point, you say, jail is a job for the young.” He gave a sidelong look at Dortmunder. “You gonna do that huh thing again?”
“Only if you want me to.”
“We’ll skip it, then,” Querk said, and said, “This last time in, I learned another trade, you know how you always learn these trades on the inside. Air-conditioner repair, dry cleaning. This last time, I learned to be a printer.”
“Huh,” Dortmunder said. “I mean, that’s good, you’re a printer.”
“Except,” Querk said, “I’m not. I get out, I go to this printing plant upstate, up near where my cousin lives, I figure I’ll stay with him, he’s always been your straight arrow, I can get a look at an honest person up close, see how it’s done, but when I go to the printer to say look at this skill the State of New York gave me, they said, we don’t do it like that any more, we use computers now.” Querk shook his head. “Is that the criminal justice system for you, right there?” he wanted to know. “They spend all this time and money, they teach me an obsolete trade.”
Kelp said, “What you wanted to learn was computers.”
“Well, what I got,” Querk said, “I got a job at the printing plant, only not a printer. I’m a loader, when the different papers come in, I drive around in this forklift, put the papers where they go, different papers for different jobs. But because I’m reformed,” Querk went on, “and this isn’t the trade I learned, this is just going back and forth on a forklift truck, I don’t ever feel like I done anything. No planning, no preparation, nothing to be careful about. I get uneasy, I got no structure in my life, and the result is, I sleep lousy. Then, no sleep, I’m on the forklift, half the time I almost drive it into a wall.”
Dortmunder could see how that might happen. People are creatures of habit, and if you lose a habit that’s important to you—being on the run, for instance—it could throw off your whatayacallit. Biorhythm. Can’t sleep. Could happen.
Dortmunder and Andy Kelp and the man called Querk sat in silence (shoosh) a while, contemplating the position Querk found himself in, sitting here together on these nice wire-mesh chairs in the middle of New York in August, which of course meant it wasn’t New York at all, not the real New York, but the other New York, the August New York.
In August, the shrinks are all out of town, so the rest of the city population looks calmer, less stressed. Also, a lot of those are out of town, as well, replaced by American tourists in pastel polyester and foreign tourists in vinyl and corduroy. August among the tourists is like all at once living in a big herd of cows; slow, fat, dumb, and no idea where they’re going.
What Dortmunder had no idea was where Querk was going. All he knew was, Kelp had phoned him this morning to say there was a guy they might talk to who might have something to say and the name the guy was using as a password was Harry Matlock. Well, Harry Matlock was a guy Dortmunder had worked with in the past, with Matlock’s partner Ralph Demrovsky, but it seemed to him the last time he’d seen Ralph, during a little exercise in Las Vegas, Harry wasn’t there. So how good a passport was that, after all this time? That’s why Dortmunder’s part of the conversation so far, and on into the unforeseeable future, consisted primarily of huh.
“So finally,” the man called Querk said, breaking a long shoosh, “I couldn’t take it anymore. I’m imitating my cousin, walkin’ the straight and narrow, and that’s what it feels like, I’m imitating my cousin. Once a month I drive up to this town called Hudson, see my lady parole officer, I got nothin’ to hide. How can you talk to a parole officer in a circumstance like that? She keeps giving me these suspicious looks, and I know why. I got nothin’ to tell her but the truth.”
“Jeez, that’s tough,” Kelp said.
“You know it.” Querk shook his head. “And all along,” he said, “I’ve got a caper right there, right at the printing plant, staring me in the face, I don’t want to see it, I don’t want to know about it, I gotta act like I’m deaf and dumb and blind.”
Dortmunder couldn’t help himself; he said, “At the printing plant?”
“Oh, sure, I know,” Querk said. “Your inside job, I’m first in line to get my old cell back. But that isn’t the way it works.” Querk seemed very earnest about this. “The only way this scheme works,” he said, “is if the plant never knows it happened. If they find out, we don’t make a thing.”
Dortmunder said, “It’s a heist.”
“A quiet heist,” Querk told him. “No hostages, no explosions, no standoffs. In, out, nobody ever knows it happened. Believe me, the only way this scores for us is if nobody ever knows anything went missing.”
“Huh,” Dortmunder said.
“You oughta try cough drops,” Querk suggested. “But the point here is, this is a beautiful job, and I’m sick of getting no sleep, so maybe I’ll leave reform alone for a while. But.”
“Sure,” Kelp said, because there was always a “but.”
“I can’t do it alone,” Querk told them. “This is not a one-man job. So I was on the inside for six and a half years, and I’m both reformed and upstate for almost eighteen months, so I’m well and truly out of the picture. I try calling around, everybody’s inside or dead or disappeared, and finally I reach Harry Matlock, that I knew years ago, when he first partnered up with Ralph Demrovsky, and now Harry’s retired.”
“I thought he maybe was,” Dortmunder said.
Querk nodded. “He told me,” he said, “he’s not reformed, he’s retired. It’s a different thing. ‘I didn’t reform,’ he told me, ‘I just lost my nerve. So I retired.’”
“Pretty much the same thing,” Kelp suggested.
“But with more dignity,” Querk told him. “So he gave me your name, Andy Kelp, and now here we are, and we look each other over.”
“Right,” Kelp said. “So what next?”
“Well,” Querk said, “I check you guys out, and if you seem—”
Dortmunder said, “What? You check us out?” He’d thought the interview was supposed to go in the other direction.
“Naturally,” Querk said. “I don’t want us goin’ along and goin’ along, everything’s fine, and all of a sudden you yell surprise and pull out a badge.”
“That would surprise the hell out of me,” Dortmunder told him.
“We’re strangers to each other,” Querk pointed out. “I gave Kelp a few names, he could check on me, and he gave me a few names, I could check on him and you both—”
“Huh,” Dortmunder said.
“So after we all meet here now,” Querk said, “and we check each other out, and we think it’s gonna be okay, I’ll call Andy here, same as this time, and if you two are satisfied, we can make another meet.”
Dortmunder said, “You didn’t tell us what the heist is.”
“That’s right,” Querk said. Looking around, he said, “Okay with you guys if I go first? You’ll wanna talk about me behind my back anyway.”
“Sure,” Kelp agreed. “Nice to meet you, Kirby,” because, Querk had said, that was his first name.
“You, too,” Querk said, and nodded at Dortmunder. “I like the way you keep your own counsel.”
“Uh huh,” Dortmunder said.
If you walk far enough into the west side, even in August, you can find a bar without tourists, ferns, or menus, and where the lights won’t offend your eyes. In such a place, a little later that afternoon, Dortmunder and Kelp hunched over beers in a black Formica booth and muttered together, while the bartender behind his bar some distance away leaned his elbows on the Daily News, and the three other customers, here and there around the place, muttered to themselves in lieu of company.
“I’m not sure what I think about this guy,” Dortmunder muttered.
“He seems okay.” Kelp shrugged. “I mean, I could buy his story. Reforming and all.”
“But he’s pretty cagy,” Dortmunder muttered.
“Well, sure. He don’t know us.”
“He doesn’t tell us the caper.”
“That’s sensible, John.”
“He’s living upstate.” Dortmunder spread his hands. “Where upstate? Where’s this printing plant? All he says is he goes to some place called Hudson to see his parole officer.”
Kelp nodded, being open-minded. “Look at it from his point of view,” he muttered. “If things don’t work out between him and us, and he’s gonna go ahead with some other guys, why does he wanna have to worry we’re somewhere in the background, lookin’ to cut in?”
“I mean, what kind of heist is this?” Dortmunder complained. “You steal something from this plant, and the plant isn’t supposed to notice? ‘Hey, didn’t we use to have a whatchacallit over here?’ You take something, especially you take something with some value on it, people notice.”
“Well, that’s an intriguing part of it,” Kelp muttered.
“Also,” Kelp muttered, leaning closer, “August is a good time to get out of town. Go upstate, up into the mountains, a little cool air, how bad could it be?”
“I’ve been upstate,” Dortmunder reminded him. “I know how bad it could be.”
“Not that bad, John. And you were up there in the winter.”
“And the fall,” Dortmunder muttered. “Two different times.”
“They both worked out okay.”
“Okay? Every time I leave the five boroughs,” Dortmunder insisted, “I regret it.”
“Still,” Kelp muttered, “we shouldn’t just say no to this, without giving it a chance.”
Dortmunder made an irritable shrug. He’d had his say.
“I don’t know about your finances, John,” Kelp went on (although he did), “but mine are pretty shaky. A nice little upstate heist might be just the ticket.”
Dortmunder frowned at his beer.
“I tell you what we should do,” Kelp said. “We should find old Harry Matlock, get the skinny on this guy Querk, then make up our minds. Whadaya say?”
“Mutter,” Dortmunder muttered.
Where do you find a retired guy, sometime in August? Try a golf course; a municipal golf course.
“There he is, over there,” Kelp said, pointing. “Tossing the ball out of that sand trap.”
Dortmunder said, “Is that in the rules?”
“Well, remember,” Kelp said. “He’s retired, not reformed.”
This particular municipal golf course was in Brooklyn, not far enough from the Atlantic to keep you from smelling what the ocean offers for sea air these days. Duffers speckled the greensward as Dortmunder, and Kelp strolled over the fairway toward where Harry Matlock, who was fatter than he used to be and who’d always been thought of by everybody who knew him as fat, was struggling out of the sand trap, looking as though he needed an assistant to toss him up onto the grass. He was also probably as bald as ever, but you couldn’t tell because he was wearing a big pillowy maroon tam-o’-shanter with a woolly black ball on top and a little paisley spitcurl coming out the back. The rest of his garb was a pale blue polo shirt under an open white cashmere cardigan, red plaid pants very wide in the seat and leg, and bright toad-green golf shoes with little cleats like chipmunk teeth. This was a man in retirement.
“Hey, Harry!” Kelp shouted, and a guy off to his left sliced his shot then glared at Kelp, who didn’t notice.
Harry looked over, recognized them, and waved with a big smile, but didn’t shout. When they got closer, he said, “Hi, Andy, hi, John, you’re here about Kirby Querk.”
“Sure,” Kelp said.
Harry waved his golf club in a direction, saying, “Walk with me, my foursome’s up there somewhere, we can talk.” Then, pausing to kick his golf ball toward the fardistant flag, he picked up his big bulky leather golf bag by its strap, and started to stroll, dragging the pretty full golf bag behind him, leaving a crease in the fairway.
As they walked, Dortmunder said, “These your own rules?”
“When only God can see you, John,” Harry told him, “there are no rules. And when it comes to Querk, I wouldn’t say I know what the rules are.”
Sounding alarmed, Kelp said, “You mean, you wouldn’t recommend him? But you sent him to me.”
“No, that’s not exactly what I—Hold on.” Harry kicked the ball again, then said, “Andy, would you do me a favor? Drag this bag around for a while? This arm’s gettin’ longer than that arm.”
Kelp said, “I think you’re supposed to carry it on your shoulder.”
“I tried that,” Harry said, “and it winds up, one shoulder lower than the other.” He extended the strap toward Kelp, with a little pleading gesture. “Just till we get to the green,” he said.
Kelp had not known his visit to the golf course today would end with his being a caddy, but he shrugged and said, “Okay. Till the green.”
Kelp hefted the bag up onto his shoulder, and he looked like a caddy. All he needed was the big-billed cloth cap and the tee stuck behind his ear. He did have the right put-upon expression.
Harry ambled on, in the direction he’d kicked the ball, and said, “About Querk, I don’t know anything bad about the guy, it’s only I don’t know that much good about him either.”
Dortmunder said, “You worked with him?”
“A few times. Me and Ralph—He didn’t retire when I did.” Harry Matlock and Ralph Demrovsky had been a burglary team so quick and so greedy they used to travel in a van, just in case they came across anything large.
Kelp said, “Ralph’s still working?”
“No, he’s in Sing Sing,” Harry said. “He should of retired when I did. Hold on.” He stopped, just behind his ball, and squinted toward the green, where three guys dressed from the same grab bag stood around waiting, all of them looking this way.
“I think I gotta hit it now,” Harry said. “Stand back a ways, I’m still kinda wild at this.”
They stood well back, and Harry addressed the ball. Then he addressed the ball some more. When he’d addressed the ball long enough for an entire post office, he took a whack at it and it went somewhere. Not toward the flag down there, exactly, but at least not behind them.
“Well, the point of it is the walk,” Harry said. As he sauntered off in the direction the ball had gone, trailed by Dortmunder and Kelp, he said, “Ralph and me used to team up with Querk, maybe four, five times over the years. He’s never the first choice, you know.”
“No. He’s competent,” Harry allowed, “he’ll get you in where you want to get in, but there are guys that are better. Wally Whistler. Herman Jones.”
“They’re good,” Kelp agreed.
“They are,” Harry said. “But if some time the guy we wanted was sick or on the lam or put away, there was nothing wrong with Querk.”
Kelp said, “Harry, you sent him to me, but you don’t sound enthusiastic.”
“I’m not not enthusiastic,” Harry said. He stopped to look at his ball, sitting there in the middle of an ocean of fairway, with the green like an island some way off, ahead and to the right. Two of the guys waiting over there were now sitting down, on the ground. “I don’t know about this thing,” Harry said. “Let me see those other clubs.”
Kelp unshouldered the bag and put it on the ground, so Harry could make his selection. While Harry frowned over his holdings in clubs, Kelp said, “What is it keeps you from being one hundred percent enthusiastic?”
Harry nodded, still looking at the clubs in the bag. Then he looked at Kelp. “I’ll tell you,” he said. “This is his heist. I never been around him when it’s his own thing. Ralph and me, we’d bring him in, point to a door, a gate, a safe, whatever, say, ‘Open that, Kirby,’ and he’d do it. Competent. Not an artist, but competent. How is he when it’s his own piece of work? I can’t give you a recommendation.”
“Okay,” Kelp said.
Harry pointed at one of the clubs in the bag, one of the big-headed ones. “That one, you think?”
Kelp, the judicious caddy, considered the possibilities, then pointed at a different one, with an even bigger head. “That one, I think.”
It didn’t help.
New York City made Kirby Querk nervous. Well, in fact, everything made him nervous, especially the need to never let it show, never let anybody guess, that he was scared.
He’d been away too long, is what it was, away from New York and also away from the entire world. That last six and a half years inside had broken him, had made him lose the habit of running his own life to his own plans. Jail was so seductive that way, so comfortable once you gave up and stopped fighting the system. Live by the clock, their clock, their rules, their rhythms, just go along and go along. Six and a half years, and then all at once they give you a smile and a pep talk and a handshake and an open door, and there you are, you’re on your own.
On his own? His two previous periods of incarceration had both been shorter, and he’d been younger, and the rhythms and routines of stir hadn’t engraved themselves so deeply into his brain. This time, when he was suddenly free, loose, on his own, he’d lost his own, didn’t have any own to be anymore.
Which was the main reason, as soon as those prison doors had clanged shut behind him, that he’d headed for Darbyville and Cousin Claude, even though he and Cousin Claude had never been close and didn’t really have that much use for one another, Claude having been a straight arrow his entire life while Querk had from the beginning been rather seriously bent.
But it was to Darbyville that Querk had gone, on a beeline, with a warning phone call ahead of time to ask Claude where he would recommend Querk find housing. The excuse was that Querk had learned the printing trade while inside (or so he’d thought), and he’d known the Sycamore Creek Printery was in the town of Sycamore, not far from Darbyville, one hundred miles north of New York City. Claude was a decent guy, married, with four kids, two out of the nest and two still in, so he’d invited Querk to move into the bedroom now vacated by the oldest, until he found a more permanent place for himself, and now, a year and a half later, Querk was still there.
He hadn’t known it then, and he still didn’t know it now, but the reason he’d gone to Cousin Claude in the first place was that he’d felt the need for a warden; someone to tell him when it’s exercise time, when it’s lights out. It hadn’t worked that way exactly, since Claude and his wife Eugenia were both too gentle and amiable to play warden, and the printing trade skills that were supposed to have given him a grounding had turned out to be just one more bubble blown into the air, but that was all right. He had the job at the printery, riding the forklift truck, which put some structure into his life, and he’d found somebody else to play warden.
And it was time to phone her.
One of the many things that made Querk nervous about New York City these days was the pay phones. He was afraid to use a phone on the street, to be talking into a phone while all these hulking people went by, many of them behind him, all of them unknowable in their intentions. You had to stop to make a call from a pay phone, but Querk didn’t want to stop on the street in New York City; he couldn’t get over the feeling that, if he stopped, a whole bunch of them would jump on him, rob him, hurt him, do who knew what to him. So if he was out and about in New York City, he wanted to keep moving. But he still had to make that phone call.
Grand Central Station was not exactly a solution, but it was a compromise. It was indoors and, even though there were just as many people hurtling by as out on the street, maybe more, it was possible to talk on the phone in Grand Central with his back to a wall, all those strangers safely out in front.
So that’s what he did. First he got a bunch of quarters and dimes, and then he chose a pay phone from a line of them not far from the Metro North ticket windows, where he could stand with his back mostly turned to the phone as he watched the streams of people hustle among all the entrances and all the exits, this way, that way, like protons in a cyclotron. He could watch the buttons over his shoulder when he made the call, then drop coins into the slot when the machine-voice told him how much it was.
One ring: “Seven Leagues.”
“Is Frank there?”
“Wrong number,” she said, and hung up, and he looked toward the big clock in the middle of the station. Five minutes to two in the afternoon, not a particularly hot time at Grand Central but still pretty crowded. He now had five minutes to wait, while she walked down to the phone booth outside the Hess station, the number for which he had in his pocket.
He didn’t like standing next to the phone when he wasn’t making a call; he thought it made him conspicuous. He thought there might be people in among all these people who would notice him and think about him and maybe even make notes on his appearance and actions. So he walked purposefully across the terminal and out a door onto Lexington Avenue and around to an entrance on 42nd Street, then down to the lower level and back up to the upper level, where at last the clock said two, straight up.
Querk dialed the pay phone number up in Sycamore, and it was answered immediately: “Hello.”
“I know. How’s it going?”
“Well, I got a couple guys,” Querk said. “I think they’re gonna be okay.”
“You tell them what we’re doing?”
“Not yet. We all hadda check each other out. I’m seeing them today at four o’clock. If they say yes, if they think I check out, I’ll tell them the story.”
“Not the whole story, Kirby.”
Querk laughed, feeling less nervous, because he was talking to the warden. “No, not the whole story,” he said. “Just the part they’ll like.”
For this meet they would be in a car, which Kelp would promote. He picked up Querk first, at the corner of Eleventh Avenue and 57th Street, steering the very nice black Infiniti to a stop at the curb, where Querk. was rubbernecking up 57th Street, eastward. Kelp thought he’d have to honk, but then Querk got in on the passenger side next to him and said, “I just saw Lesley Stahl get out of a cab up there.”
“Ah,” said Kelp, and drove back into traffic, uptown.
“I used to watch 60 Minutes regular as clockwork,” Querk said, “every Sunday. Even the summer reruns.”
“Ah,” said Kelp.
“When I was inside,” Querk explained. “It was kind of a highlight.”
“Ah,” said Kelp.
“I don’t watch it so much any more, I don’t know why.”
Kelp didn’t say anything. Querk looked around the interior of the car and said, “I happened to notice, you got MD plates.”
“I do,” Kelp agreed.
“You aren’t a doctor.”
“I’m not even a car owner,” Kelp told him.
Querk was surprised. “You boosted this?”
“From Roosevelt Hospital, just down the street. I give all my automotive trade to doctors. They’re very good on the difference between pleasure and pain. Also, I believe they have a clear understanding of infinity.”
“But you’re driving around—You’re still in the neighborhood, with a very hot car.”
“The hours they make those doctors work?” Kelp shrugged. “The owner’s not gonna miss this thing until Thursday. In the private lot there, I picked one without dust on it. There’s John.”
They were on West End Avenue now, stopped at the light at 72nd Street, and Dortmunder was visible catty-corner across the street, standing on the corner in the sunlight as though a mistake had been made here. Anybody who was that slumped and bedraggled should not be standing on a street corner in the summer in the sunlight. He had looked much more at home in the bar where he and Kelp had conferred. Out here, he looked mostly like he was waiting for the police sweep.
The green arrow lit up, and Kelp swept around to stop next to Dortmunder who, per original plan, slid into the backseat, saying, “Hello.”
Querk said, “Andy boosted this car.”
“He always does,” Dortmunder said, and to Kelp’s face in the rearview mirror as they turned northward on the West Side Highway, he said, “My compliments to the doctor.”
Traffic on the highway was light; Kelp drove moderately in the right lane, and nobody said anything until Dortmunder leaned forward, rested his forearms on the seatback, and said to Querk, “Jump in any time.”
“Oh.” Querk looked out ahead of them and said, “I thought we were headed somewhere.”
“We are,” Kelp told him. “But you can start.”
As Dortmunder leaned back, seated behind Kelp, Querk half-turned in his seat so he could see both of them, and said, “One of the things the printery prints, where I work, is money.”
That surprised them both. Kelp said, “I thought the mint printed the money.”
“Our money, yes,” Querk said. “But the thing is, your smaller countries, they don’t have the technology and the skills and all, they farm out the money. The printing. Most of the money in Europe and Africa is printed in London. Most of the money in South America is printed in Philadelphia.”
“You’re not in Philadelphia,” Kelp pointed out.
“No, this outfit I’m with, Sycamore, about ten years ago they decided to get some of that action. They had a big Canadian investor, they put in the machinery, hired the people, started to undercut the price of the Philadelphia people.”
“Free enterprise,” Kelp commented.
“Sure.” Querk shrugged. “Nobody says the money they do is as up to date as the Philadelphia money, with all the holograms and anti-counterfeiting things, but you get a small enough country, poor enough, nobody wants to counterfeit that money, so Sycamore’s got four of the most dragglyassed countries in Central and South America, and Sycamore makes their money.”
Dortmunder said, “You’re talking about stealing money you say isn’t worth anything.”
“Well, it’s worth something,” Querk said. “And I’m not talking about stealing it.”
“Counterfeiting,” Dortmunder suggested, as though he didn’t like that idea either.
But Querk shook his head. “I’m the guy,” he said, “keeps track of the paper coming in, signs off with the truck drivers, forklifts it here and there, depending what kinda paper, what’s it for. Each of these countries got their own special paper, with watermarks and hidden messages and all. Not high tech, you know, pretty sophomore, but not something you could imitate on your copier.”
“You’ve got the paper,” Dortmunder said. He still sounded skeptical.
“And I look around,” Querk said. “You know, I thought I was gonna be a printer, not a forklift jockey, so I’m looking to improve myself. Get enough ahead so I can choose my own life for myself, not to have to answer every whistle. You know what I mean.”
“Huh,” Dortmunder said.
“That’s back,” Querk pointed out. “That throat thing.” He looked forward as Kelp steered them off the highway at the 125th Street exit. “Isn’t this Harlem?” He didn’t sound as though he liked the idea.
“Not exactly,” Kelp said.
Dortmunder said, “Go on with your story.”
“I don’t think I can yet,” Querk said. He was frowning out the windshield as though rethinking some earlier decisions in his life.
“Be there in a couple minutes,” Kelp assured him.
Nobody talked while Kelp stopped at the stop sign, made the left around the huge steel pillars holding up the West Side Highway, drove a block past scruffy warehouses, turned left at the light, stopped at a stop sign, then drove across, through the wide opening in a chain-link fence, and turned left into a narrow long parking lot just above the Hudson River.
Querk. said, “What is this?”
“Fairway,” Kelp told him, as he found a parking space on the left and drove into it, front bumper against fence. It was hot outside, so he kept the engine on and the windows shut.
Querk said, “I don’t get it.”
“What it is,” Kelp told him, putting the Infiniti in park, “Harlem never had a big supermarket, save money on your groceries, they only had these little corner stores, not much selection on the shelves. So this Fairway comes in, that used to be a warehouse over there, see it?”
Querk nodded at the big warehouse with the supermarket entrance. “I see it.”
Kelp said, “So they put in a huge supermarket, great selections, everything cheap, the locals love it. But also the commuters, it’s easy on, easy off, see, there’s your northbound ramp back up to the highway, so they can come here, drop in, buy everything for the weekend, then head off to their country retreat.”
Querk said, “But why us? What are we doin’ here?”
Dortmunder told him, “You look around, you’ll see one, two people, even three, sitting in the cars around here. The wife—usually, it’s the wife—goes in and shops, the husband and the houseguests, they stay out here, keep outa the way, sit in the car, tell each other stories.”
Kelp said, “Tell us a story, Kirby.”
Querk shook his head. “I been away too long,” he said. “I hate to have to admit it. I don’t know how to maneuver anymore. That’s why I need a cushion.”
Dortmunder said, “Made out of South American money.”
“Exactly,” Querk said, “I’m pretty much on my own at the plant, and I’ve always been handy around machinery—starting with locks, you know, that was my specialty—and also including now the printing presses they don’t use anymore, and so I finally figured out the numbers.”
Kelp said, “Numbers?”
“Every bill in your pocket,” Querk told him, “has a number on it, and no two bills in this country have the same number. That’s the same for every country’s money. Everything’s identical on every bill except the number changes every time, and it never goes back. That’s part of the special machinery they bought, when they went into this business.”
Kelp said, “Kirby, am I all of a sudden ahead of you here? You figured out how to make the numbers go back.”
Querk was pleased with himself. “I know,” he said, “how to tell the machine, ‘That last run was a test. This is the real run.’” Grinning at Dortmunder, he said, “I also am the guy puts the paper here and there inside the plant, and checks it in when it’s delivered, and maybe makes it disappear off the books. So you see what I got.”
Kelp said, “It’s the real paper, on the real machine, doing the real numbers.”
“There’s no record of it anywhere,” Querk said. “It isn’t counterfeit, it’s real, and it isn’t stolen because it was never there.”
As they drove back down the West Side Highway toward midtown, each of them drinking a St. Pauli Girl beer Kelp had actually paid for in Fairway, Dortmunder said, “You know, it seems to me, there’s gotta be more than one chapter to this story.”
“You mean,” Querk said, “what do we do with it, once we got it.”
“We can’t take it to a bank a hundred dollars a time to change it back,” Dortmunder said.
“No, I know that.”
Kelp said, “I suppose we could go to the country and buy a hotel or something …”
Dortmunder said, “With cash?”
“There’s that. And then sell it again for dollars.” He shook his head. “Too complicated.”
“I got a guy,” Querk said. His shoulders twitched.
They gave him their full attention.
“He’s from that country, it’s called Guerrera,” Querk said. “He’s a kind of a hustler down there.”
Dortmunder said, “What is he up here?”
“Well, he isn’t up here,” Querk said. “Basically, he’s down there.”
Dortmunder said, “And how do you know this guy?”
“I got a friend,” Querk said, “a travel agent, she goes all over, she knows the guy.”
Dortmunder and Kelp exchanged a glance in the rearview mirror at that pronoun, which Querk didn’t appear to see. “We run off the money,” he went on, “and it comes out in cardboard boxes, already packed by the machinery, with black metal straps around it. We get it out of the plant, and I got a way to do that, too, and we turn it over to this guy, and he gives us fifty cents on the dollar.”
“Half,” Kelp said. “What are we talking about here?”
“The most useful currency for Rodrigo—that’s my guy—is the twenty million siapa note.”
Kelp said, “Twenty million?”
Dortmunder said, “How much is that in money?”
“A hundred dollars.” Querk shrugged. “They been havin’ a little inflation problem down there. They think they got it under control now.”
Kelp said, “So how much is this run?”
“What we’ll print? A hundred billion.”
Dortmunder said, “Not dollars.”
“No, siapas. That’s five thousand bills, all the twenty million siapa note.”
Dortmunder, pretending patience, said, “And what’s that in money?”
“Five hundred grand,” Querk said.
Kelp said, “Now I’m getting confused. Five hundred. This is in dollars?”
“Five hundred thousand dollars,” Querk said.
Dortmunder said, “And we get half. Two hundred fifty thousand. And Kelp and me?”
“Half of the half,” Querk said promptly.
They were now back down in a realm where Dortmunder could do calculations in his head. “Sixty-two thousand, five hundred apiece,” he said.
“And a little vacation in the mountains,” Kelp said.
“Next week,” Querk said.
They looked at him. Dortmunder said, “Next week?”
“Or maybe the week after that,” Querk said. “Anyway, when the plant’s shut down.”
“We,” Dortmunder decided, “are gonna have to talk more.”
“May?” Dortmunder called, and stood in the doorway to listen. Nothing. “Not home yet,” he said, and went on into the apartment, followed by Kelp and Querk.
“Nice place,” Querk said.
“Thanks,” Dortmunder said. “Living room’s in here, on the left.”
“I used to have a place in New York,” Querk said. “Years ago. I don’t think I’d like the pace now.”
They trooped into the living room, here on East 19th Street, and Dortmunder looked around at the sagging sofa and his easy chair with the maroon hassock in front of it and May’s easy chair with the cigarette burns on the arms (good thing she quit when she did) and the television set where the colors never would come right and the window with its view of a brick wall just a little too far away to touch and the coffee table with all the rings and scars on it, and he said, “I dunno, the pace don’t seem to bother me that much. Take a seat. Anybody want a beer?”
Everybody wanted a beer, so Dortmunder went away to the kitchen to play host. When he was coming back down the hall toward the living room, spilling beer on his wrists because three was one more can than he could carry all at once, the apartment door at the other end of the hall opened and May came in, struggling with the key in the door and the big sack of groceries in her arm. A tall thin woman with slightly graying black hair, May worked as a cashier at Safeway until Dortmunder should score one of these times, and she felt the sack of groceries a day was a perk that went with the position, whether management thought so or not.
“Damn, May!” Dortmunder said, spilling more beer on his wrists. “I can’t help you with that.”
“That’s okay, I got it,” she said, letting the door close behind her as she counted his beer cans. “We’ve got company.”
“Andy and a guy. Come in and say hello.”
“Let me put this stuff away.”
As May passed the living room doorway, Kelp could be heard to cry, “Hey, May!” She nodded at the doorway, she and Dortmunder slid by each other in the hall, and he went on into the living room, where the other two were both standing, like early guests at a party.
Distributing the beers, wiping his wrists on his shirt, Dortmunder said, “May’ll come in in a minute, say hello.”
Kelp lifted his beer. “To crime.”
“Good,” said Querk, and they all drank.
May came in, with a beer of her own. “Hi, Andy,” she said.
Dortmunder said, “May, this is Kirby Querk.” They both said hello, and he said, “Whyn’t we all sit down? You two take the sofa.”
Sounding surprised, Querk said, “You want me to tell this in front of, uh, the lady?”
“Aw, that’s nice,” May said, smiling at Querk as she settled into her chair.
Dortmunder said, “I’ll just tell her anyway, after you go, so you can save me some time.”
“Well, all right.”
They all seated themselves, and Dortmunder said to May, “Querk has a job upstate at a printery, where one of the things they print is South American money, and he’s got a way to run off a batch nobody knows about.”
“Well, that’s pretty good,” May said.
“Only now, it turns out,” Dortmunder said, “there’s some kind of deadline here, so we come over to talk about it.”
Kelp explained, “Up till now, we weren’t sure we were all gonna team up, so we met in other places.”
“Sure,” May said.
“So now,” Dortmunder said, “Querk’s gonna explain the deadline.”
They all looked at Querk, who put his beer can on the coffee table, making another mark, and said, “The plant’s called Sycamore Creek, and there’s this creek runs through town, with a dam where it goes under the road, and that’s where the electricity comes from to run the plant. But every year in August there’s two weeks when they gotta open the dam and just let the water go, because there’s always a drought up there in the summer and it could get too low downstream for the fish. So the plant closes, two weeks, everybody gets a vacation, they do their annual maintenance and all, but there’s no electricity to run the plant, so that’s why they have to close.”
Dortmunder said, “Your idea is, you do this when there’s no electricity.”
“We bring in our own,” Querk said.
Dortmunder visualized himself walking with a double handful of electricity, lots of little blue sparks. Zit-zit; worse than beer cans. He said, “How do we do that?”
“With a generator,” Querk told him. “See, up there, it’s all volunteer fire departments and rescue squads, and my cousin, where I’ve been living temporarily until I find a place, he’s the captain of the Combined Darby County Fire Department and Rescue Squad, and what they got, besides the ambulance and the fire engine, is a big truck with a generator on it, for emergencies.”
Dortmunder said, “So first you boost this truck—”
“Which I could do with my eyes closed,” Querk said. “The locks up there are a joke, believe me. And the keys to the emergency vehicles are kept right in them.”
Kelp said, “Do we do it day or night?”
“Oh, night,” Querk said. “I figure, we go pick up the generator truck around one in the morning, there’s nobody awake up there at one in the morning, we take it over to the plant, hook up the stuff we need, the run’ll take just about three hours for the whole thing, we take the boxes with the money, we put the generator truck back, we’re done before daylight.”
Dortmunder said, “You’re gonna have to have some light in there. And some noise.”
“Not a problem,” Querk said.
Dortmunder said, “Why, is this plant out in the woods all by itself or something?”
“Not really,” Querk said. “But nobody can see it.”
Kelp said, “How come?”
“High walls, low buildings.” Querk spread his hands. “The way I understand it, in the old days the plant used to dump all its waste straight into the creek, the people downstream used to make bets, what color’s the water gonna be tomorrow. Every time the state did an inspection, somehow the plant got tipped off ahead of time, and that day the water’s clean and clear, good enough to drink. But finally, about thirty years ago, they got caught. People’d been complaining about noise and stink outa the plant, in addition to this water even an irreligious person could walk on, so they did a consent. The plant upgraded its waste treatment, and did a sound-baffle wall all around, and planted trees so people wouldn’t have to look at the wall, and now those trees are all big, you’d think it’s a forest there, except the two drives in, with the gates, one for the workers and one for deliveries, and they’re both around on the stream side, no houses across the way.”
Dortmunder said, “We’d have to go up there, ahead of time, take a look at this place.”
“Definitely,” Kelp said.
“That’s a good idea,” Querk said, “you can help me refine the details. I could drive you up there tomorrow, I’ve got my cousin’s van, I’ve been sleeping in it down in Greenwich Village.”
“Nice neighborhood,” May commented.
“Yeah, it is.”
Dortmunder said, “We oughta have our own wheels, we’ll drive up, meet you there.”
Grinning, Querk said, “Another doctor gonna be on his feet?”
“Possibly,” Kelp said. “You say this place is a hundred miles upstate? About two hours?”
“Yeah, no more. You go up the Taconic.” Dortmunder said, “If this is a plant, with workers, there’s probably a place to eat around it.”
“Yeah, just up from the bridge, you know, where the dam is, there’s a place called Sycamore House. It’s mostly a bar, but you can get lunch.”
Dortmunder nodded. “You got a problem, up there, being seen with us?”
“No, it’s not that small a town. You’re just people I happen to know, passing through.”
“So before you leave here,” Dortmunder said, “do a little map, how we find this town, we’ll get some lunch there, come out at one o’clock, there you are.”
“Fine,” Querk said.
Kelp said, “What if there’s an emergency around there, the night we go, and we’ve got the generator truck?”
“For three hours in the middle of the night in August?” Querk shrugged. “There isn’t gonna be a blizzard. The three vehicles in the garage are in separate bays, so even if they come for the fire engine or the ambulance, which would almost never happen, middle of the summer, they still won’t see the generator truck’s gone.”
“But what if,” Kelp said.
“Then we’re screwed,” Querk said. “Me more than you guys, because there won’t be any question who put the generator truck in the printery, and there goes my quiet life not being on the run.”
Kelp said, “So you’ll take the chance.”
“The odds are so extreme,” Querk said. “I mean, unless one of you guys is a Jonah, I don’t see I’ve got anything to worry about. I’ll risk it.”
Nobody said anything.
First Querk split, and then Kelp, and then Dortmunder filled May in on the rest of the setup; Rodrigo, and the half of a half of a half, and the barely mentioned female travel agent.
“Well, she’s the one behind it all,” May said.
“Yeah, I got that part,” Dortmunder said. “So what was your reading on the guy?”
“Something’s bothering you,” May said.
Dortmunder shook his head. “I don’t even know what it is. The thing is, this job seems to be doing everything you shouldn’t do, and yet somehow it doesn’t. You should never rip off the place where you work or you used to work, because you’re who they look at, but that’s what Querk’s doing, but this time it’s supposed to be okay, because, like Querk says, nobody’s supposed to know any rip-off happened. If they know there’s a hundred billion siapas gone missing, then the job’s no good.”
“I can’t imagine money like that,” May said. “But how do you get your money, that’s the question. The dollars.”
“We gotta work on that,” Dortmunder said. “So far, Querk hasn’t made any suggestions. And the other thing, I keep thinking about what Harry Matlock said, how he knew Querk was all right, not a star, when he was just a sideman in somebody else’s scheme, but he couldn’t say how Querk would be when the scheme was his own. And this is a weird scheme.”
“In parts,” May agreed.
“In all the parts. You got a factory closed because they open the dam to help out the fish downstream, you like that part?”
“Well, if that’s what they do,” May said.
“I guess.” Dortmunder frowned, massively. “It’s the country, see, I don’t know what makes sense in the country. So that’s what’s got me geechy. Querk talks about how he isn’t comfortable in the city anymore, but you know, I never been comfortable in the country. Why can’t they print these siapas in the city? In Brooklyn somewhere.”
“Well,” May said, “there isn’t any fish downstream in the city.”
“Oh, yes, there is,” Dortmunder said. “I just hope I’m not one of them.”
As Querk walked toward Cousin Claude’s van, he thought what a pity it was he couldn’t phone now, give this progress report. But it was after five, so Seven Leagues was closed, and he couldn’t call her at home, even if she’d got home so soon. Well, he’d see her in the morning, when he drove up to Sycamore, so he’d tell her then.
And what he’d tell her was that it was all coming together. Yes, it was. The two guys he’d wound up with were sharp enough to do the job without lousing anything up, but not so sharp as to be trouble later. He had a good feeling about them.
Walking along, he kept his hands in his pockets, even though it was a very hot August afternoon, because otherwise they’d shake like buckskin fringe at the ends of his arms. Well, when this was over, when at last they’d be safe—and rich—he wouldn’t tremble at all. Hold a glass of wine, not a single wave in it.
Traveling from Dortmunder’s place on East 19th Street to where he’d parked the van in the West Village seemed to just naturally lead Querk along West 14th Street, the closest thing Manhattan has to a casbah. Open-fronted stores with huge signs, selling stuff you never knew you wanted, but cheap. Gnomish customers draped with gnomish children and lugging shopping bags half their size roamed the broad littered sidewalk and oozed in and out of the storefronts, adding more and more things to their bags.
What got to Querk in this spectacle, though, was the guard on duty in front of every one of those stores. Not in a uniform or anything, usually in just jeans and a T-shirt, bulky stern-looking guys positioned halfway between the storefront and curb, some of them sitting on top of a low ladder, some of them just standing there in the middle of the sidewalk, but all of them doing nothing but glaring into their store. Usually, they had their arms folded, to emphasize their muscles, and a beetle-browed angry look on their faces to emphasize their willingness to dismember shoplifters.
Walking this gauntlet, Querk was sorry his hands were in his pockets, because those guys could see that as a provocation, particularly in this August heat, but he figured, if they saw him trembling all over instead that would not be an improvement in his image.
Finally, he got off 14th Street and plodded on down to 12th, which was much more comforting to walk along, being mostly old nineteenth-century townhouses wellmaintained, intermixed with more recent bigger apartment buildings that weren’t as offensive as they might be. The pedestrians here were less frightening, too, being mostly people either from the townhouses or who had things to do with the New School for Social Research, and therefore less likely to be homicidal maniacs than the people on 14th Street or up in Midtown.
When Greenwich Village becomes the West Village, the numbered grid of streets common to Manhattan acts all at once as though it’s been smoking dope, at the very least. Names start mingling with the numbers—Jane, Perry, Horatio, who are these people?—and the numbers themselves turn a little weird. You don’t, for instance, expect West 4th Street to cross West 10th Street, but it does … on its way to cross West 11th Street.
Cousin Claude’s van was parked a little beyond that example of street-design as funhouse mirror, on something called Greenwich Street, lined with low dark apartment buildings and low dark warehouses, some of those being converted into low dark apartment buildings. The van was still there—it always surprised him, in New York City, when something was still there after he’d left it—and Querk unlocked his way in.
This was a dirty white Ford Econoline van that Claude used mostly for fishing trips or other excursions, so behind the bucket front seats he had installed a bunk bed and a small metal cabinet with drawers that was bolted to the side wall. Querk could plug his electric razor into the cigarette lighter, and could wash and brush teeth and do other things in restaurant bathrooms.
It was too early for dinner now, not yet six, so he settled himself behind the wheel, looked at the books and magazines lying on the passenger seat, and tried to decide what he wanted to read next. But then, all at once, he thought: Why wait? I’m done here. I don’t have to wait here all night and drive up there in the morning. It’s still daylight, I’m home before eight o’clock.
Key in ignition. Seatbelt on. Querk drove north to West 11th Street, seeming none the worse for wear after its encounter with West 4th Street, turned left, turned right on the West Side Highway, and joined rush hour north. Didn’t even mind that it was rush hour; just to be going home.
After a while he passed the big Fairway billboard on top of the Fairway supermarket. Those two guys sure know the city, don’t they?
Well, Querk knew Sycamore.
In the end, Kelp decided to leave the medical profession alone this morning and rent a car for the trip upstate, which would mean fewer nervous looks in the rearview mirror for a hundred miles up and a hundred miles back. Less eyestrain, even though this decision meant he would have to go promote a credit card, which in turn meant a visit to Arnie Albright, a fence, which was the least of the things wrong with him.
Kelp truly didn’t want to have to visit with Arnie Albright, but when he dropped by at John’s apartment at eight-thirty in the morning, just in time to wish May bon voyage on her journey to Safeway, to suggest that John might be the one to go promote the credit card, John turned mulish. “I’ve done my time with Arnie Albright,” he said. “Step right up to the plate.”
Kelp sighed. He knew, when John turned mulish, there was no arguing with him. Still, “You could wait out front,” he suggested.
“He could look out the window and see me.”
“His apartment’s at the back.”
“He could sense me. You gonna use O’Malley’s?”
“Sure,” Kelp said. O’Malley’s was a single-location car rental agency that operated out of a parking garage way down on the Bowery near the Manhattan Bridge. Most of the clientele were Asians, so O’Malley mostly had compact cars, but more important, O’Malley did not have a world-wide interconnected web of computers that could pick up every little nitpick in a customer’s credit card and driver’s license, so whenever Kelp decided to go elsewhere than doctors for his wheels it was O’Malley got the business.
“I’ll meet you at O’Malley’s,” John demanded, “at nine-thirty.”
So that was that. Kelp walked a bit and took a subway a bit and walked a bit and pretty soon there he was on 89th Street between Broadway and West End Avenue, entering the tiny vestibule of Arnie’s building. He pushed the button next to Albright, waited a pretty long time, and suddenly the intercom snarled, “Who the hell is that?”
“Well, Andy Kelp,” Kelp said, wishing it weren’t so.
“What the hell do you want?”
He wants me to tell him here? Leaning confidentially closer to the intercom—he’d been leaning fastidiously away from it before this—Kelp said, “Well, I wanna come upstairs and tell you there, Arnie.”
Rather than argue any more, Arnie made the awful squawk happen that let Kelp push the door open and go inside to a narrow hall that smelled of cooking from some ethnicity that made you look around for shrunken heads. Seeing none, Kelp went up the long flight of stairs to where the unlovely Arnie stood at his open door, glaring out. A grizzled gnarly guy with a tree-root nose, he had chosen to welcome summer in a pair of stained British Army shorts, very wide, a much-too-big bilious green polo shirt, and black sandals that permitted views of toes like rotting tree stumps; not a wise decision.
“It’s buy or sell,” this gargoyle snarled as Kelp neared the top of the stairs, “buy or sell, that’s the only reason anybody comes to see Arnie Albright. It’s not my lovable personality is gonna bring anybody here.”
“Well, people know you’re busy,” Kelp said, and went past Arnie into the apartment.
“Busy?” Arnie snarled, and slammed the door. “Do I look busy? I look like somebody where the undertaker said, ‘Don’t do the open coffin, it would be a mistake,’ and the family went ahead anyway, and now they’re sorry. That’s what I look like.”
“Not that bad, Arnie,” Kelp assured him, looking around at the apartment as a relief from looking at Arnie, who, in truth, would look much better with the lid down.
The apartment was strange in its own way. Small underfurnished rooms with big dirty viewless windows, it was decorated mostly with samples from Arnie’s calendar collection, Januarys down the ages, girls with their skirts blowing, Boy Scouts saluting, antique cars, your ever-popular kittens in baskets with balls of wool. Among the Januarys starting on every possible day of the week, there were what Arnie called his “incompletes,” calendars hailing June or September.
Following Kelp into the living room, Arnie snarled, “I see John Dortmunder isn’t with you. Even he can’t stand to be around me anymore. Wha’d you do, toss a coin, the loser comes to see Arnie?”
“He wouldn’t toss,” Kelp said. “Arnie, the last time I saw you, you were taking some medicine to make you pleasant.”
“Yeah, I was still obnoxious, but I wasn’t angry about it anymore.”
“You’re not taking it?”
“You noticed,” Arnie said. “No, it made me give money away.”
Kelp said, “What?”
“I couldn’t believe it myself, I thought I had holes in my pockets, the super was coming in to lift cash—not that he could find the upstairs in this place, the useless putz—but it turned out, my new pleasant personality, learning to live with my inner scumbag, every time I’d smile at somebody, like out in the street, and they’d smile back, I’d give them money.”
“That’s terrible,” Kelp said.
“You know it is,” Arnie said. “I’d rather be frowning and obnoxious and have money than smiling and obnoxious and throwing it away. I suppose you’re sorry you didn’t get some of it.”
“That’s okay, Arnie,” Kelp said, “I already got a way to make a living. Which by the way—”
“Get it over with, I know,” Arnie said. “You want outa here, and so do I. You think I enjoy being in here with me? Okay, I know, tell me, we’ll get it over with, I won’t say a word.”
“I need a credit card,” Kelp said.
Arnie nodded. As an aid to thought, he sucked at his teeth. Kelp looked at Januarys.
Arnie said, “How long must this card live?”
“That’s easy,” Arnie said. “That won’t even cost you much. Lemme try to match you with a signature. Siddown.”
Kelp sat at a table with incompletes shellacked on the top—aircraft carrier with airplanes flying, two bears and a honeypot—while Arnie went away to rummage and shuffle in some other room, soon returning with three credit cards, a ballpoint pen, and an empty tissue box.
“Hold on,” he said, and ripped the tissue box open so Kelp could write on its inside. “I’ll incinerate it later.”
Kelp looked at his choice of cards. “Howard Joostine looks pretty good.”
“Give it a whack.”
Kelp wrote Howard Joostine four times on the tissue box, then compared them with the one on the credit card. “Good enough for O’Malley,” he said.
Dortmunder’s only objection to the car was the legroom, but that was objection enough. “This is a sub-compact,” he complained.
“Well, no,” Kelp told him. “With the sub-compact, you gotta straddle the engine block.”
They were not the only people fleeing the city northbound on this bright hot morning in August, but it is true that most of the other people around them, even the Asians, were in cars with more legroom. (O’Malley’s bent toward Oriental customers was because his operation was on the fringe of Chinatown. However, he was also on the fringe of Little Italy, but did he offer bulletproof limos? No.)
In almost every state in the Union, the state capital is not in the largest city, and the reason for that is, the states were all founded by farmers, not businessmen or academics, and farmers don’t trust cities. In Maryland, for instance, the city is Baltimore and the capital is Annapolis. In California, the city is Los Angeles and the capital is Sacramento. And in New York, the capital is Albany, a hundred fifty miles up the Hudson.
When the twentieth century introduced the automobile, and then the paved road, and then the highway, the first highway in every state was built for the state legislators; it connected the capital with the largest city, and let the rest of the state go fend for itself. In New York State, that road is called the Taconic Parkway, and it’s still underutilized, nearly a century later. That’s planning.
But it also made for a pleasant drive. Let others swelter in bumper-to-bumper traffic on purpose-built roads, the Taconic was a joy, almost as empty as a road in a car commercial. The farther north of the city you drove, the fewer cars you drove among (and no trucks!), while the more beautiful became the mountain scenery through which this empty road swooped and soared. It was almost enough to make you believe there was an upside to the internal combustion engine.
After a while, the congeniality of the road and the landscape soothed Dortmunder’s put-upon feelings about legroom. He figured out a way to disport his legs that did not lead immediately to cramps, his upper body settled comfortably into the curve of the seat, and he spent his time, more fruitfully than fretting about legroom, thinking about what could go wrong.
An emergency in town while they were in possession of the generator truck, that could go wrong. The woman travel agent who was running Querk, and whose bona fides and motives were unknown, she could go wrong. (Harry Matlock’s instincts had been right, when he’d said he could recommend Querk as a follower but not as a leader. He was still a follower. The question was, who vouched for the leader?)
Other things that could go wrong. Rodrigo, for one. No, Rodrigo for four or five. Described as mostly a hustler down on his home turf, he could run foul of the law himself at just the wrong moment, and have neither the cash nor the leisure to take delivery on the print job. Or, as unknown as the travel agent, he could be planning a double-cross from the get-go. Or, he could be reasonably trustworthy himself, but unaware of untrustworthy friends waiting just out of sight. Or, he could get one of those South American illnesses that people get when they leave the five boroughs, and die.
All in all, it was a pleasant drive.
Querk’s instructions had said to exit the Taconic at Darby Corners and turn east and then north, following the signs past Darbyville, where Querk lived temporarily with his cousin, and on to Sycamore, where the Sycamore Creek Printery stood in woodland disguise beside Sycamore Creek.
They approached Sycamore from the south, while the creek approached the town from the north, so for the last few miles they were aware of the stream in the woods and fields off to their right, spritzing in the sun as it rushed and tumbled the other way.
There were farmhouses all along the route here, some of them still connected to farms, and there were fields of ripe corn and orchards of almost-ripe apples. The collapse of the local dairy farming industry due to the tender loving care of the state politicians meant several of the farms they passed were growing things that would have left the original settlers scratching their heads: Ilamas, goats, anemones, ostriches, Christmas trees, Icelandic horses, long-horn cattle.
The town was commercial right from the city line: lumberyard on the left, tractor dealership on the right. Far ahead was the only traffic light. As they drove toward it, private housing was mixed with shops on the left, but after the tractor man it was all forested on the right almost all the way to the intersection, where an Italian restaurant on that side signaled the return of civilization.
“That’ll be it in there,” Kelp said, taking a hand off the steering wheel to point at the dubious woodland.
“And all evergreens, so people don’t have to look at it in winter, either.”
“Very tasteful,” Dortmunder agreed.
It wasn’t quite eleven-thirty. The traffic light was with them, so Kelp drove through the intersection, and just a little farther, on the right, they passed Sycamore House, where they would eat lunch. It was a very old building, two stories high, the upper story extending out over and sagging down toward an open front porch. The windows were decorated with neon beer logos.
A little beyond Sycamore House a storefront window proclaimed SEVEN LEAGUES TRAVEL. This time, Kelp only pointed his nose: “And there she is.”
Kelp drove to the northern end of town—cemetery on left, church on right, “Go and Sin No More” the suggestion on the announcement board out front—where he made a U-turn through the church’s empty parking lot and headed south again. “We’ll see what we see from the bridge,” he said.
Here came the traffic light, this time red. Moderate traffic poked along, locals and summer folk. Kelp turned left when he could, and now the pocket forest was on their right, and the creek up ahead. Just before the creek, where the bosk ended, a two-lane road ran off to the right, between the evergreens and creek, marked at the entrance by a large black-on-white sign:
SYCAMORE CREEK PRINTERY
Right after that, there was what seemed to be a lake on their left, and a steep drop to a stream on their right, so the road must be the dam. Dortmunder craned around, banging his legs into car parts, trying to see something other than pine trees along the streamside back there, and just caught a glimpse of something or other where the private road turned in. “Pretty hid,” he said.
There were no intersections on the far side of the creek, and in fact no more town over here. All the development was behind them, along the west side of the creek. On this side the land climbed steeply through a more diversified woods, the road twisting back and forth, and when they finally did come to a turnoff, seven miles later, it was beyond the crest, and the turnoff was to a parking area where you could enjoy the view of the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts, farther east.
They didn’t spend a lot of time contemplating the Berkshires, but drove back to Sycamore, ignoring the traffic that piled up behind them because they insisted on going so slowly down the twisty road, trying to see signs of the printing plant inside the wall of trees. Here and there a hint, nothing more.
“So if he’s careful,” Kelp said, “with the light and the noise, it should be okay.”
“I’d like to get in there,” Dortmunder said, “just give it the double-o.”
“We’ll discuss it with him,” Kelp said.
It was still too early for lunch. Kelp parked the little car in the parking lot next to Sycamore House, in among several cars owned by people who didn’t know it was too early for lunch, and they got out to stretch, Dortmunder doing overly elaborate knee-bends and massaging of his thighs that Kelp chose not to notice, saying, “I think I’ll take a look at the League.”
“I’ll walk around a little,” Dortmunder said, sounding pained. “Work the kinks out.”
They separated, and Kelp walked up the block to Seven Leagues Travel, the middle shop in a brief row of storefronts, a white clapboard one-story building, with an entrance and a plate glass display window for each of the three shops. The one on the right was video rental and the one on the left was a frame shop.
Kelp pushed open the door for Seven Leagues, and a bell sounded. He entered and shut the door, and it sounded again, and a female voice called, “Just a minute! I got a bite!”
A bite? Kelp looked around an empty room, not much deeper than it was wide. Filing cabinets were along the left wall and two desks, one behind the other, faced forward on the right. Every otherwise empty vertical space was covered with travel posters, including the side of the nearest filing cabinet and the front of both desks. The forward desk was as messy as a Texas trailer camp after a tornado, but the desk behind it was so neat and empty as to be obviously unused. At the rear, a door with a travel poster on it was partly open, showing just a bit of the lake formed by the dam and the steep wooded slope beyond.
Kelp, wondering if assistance was needed here—if a person was being bitten, that was possible—walked down the length of the room past the desks, pulled the rear door open the rest of the way, and leaned out to see a narrow roofless porch and a woman on it fighting with a fishing pole. She was middle-aged, which meant impossible to tell exactly, and not too overweight, dressed in full tan slacks, a man’s blue dress shirt open at the collar and with the sleeves cut off above the elbow, huge dark sunglasses, and a narrow-brimmed cloth cap with a lot of fishing lures and things stuck in it.
“Oh!” he said. “A bite!”
“Don’t break my concentration!”
So he stood there and watched. A person, man or woman, fighting a fish can look a little odd, if the light is just so and the fishing line can’t be seen. There she was with the bent rod, and nothing else visible, so that she looked as though she were doing one of those really esoteric Oriental exercise routines, bobbing and weaving, hunching her shoulders, kicking left and right, spinning the reel first one way, then the other, and muttering and grumbling and swearing beneath her breath the entire time, until all at once a fish jumped out of the water and flew over the white wood porch railing to start its own energetic exercise program on the porch floor. The fish was about a foot long, and was a number of colors Kelp didn’t know the names of.
She was gasping, the woman (so was the fish), but she was grinning as well (the fish wasn’t). “Isn’t he a beauty?” she demanded, as she leaned the pole against the rear wall.
“Sure,” Kelp said. “What is it? I mean, I know it’s a fish, but what’s his name?”
“Trout,” she said. “I can tell already, I give you one more word, it’s gonna get too technical.”
“Trout is good enough,” he agreed. “They’re good to eat, aren’t they?”
“They’re wonderful to eat,” she said. “But not this one.” Going to one knee beside the flopping fish, she said, “We do catch and release around here.”
Kelp watched her stick a finger into the fish’s mouth to start working the hook out of its lower lip. He imagined a hook in his own lower lip, then was sorry he’d imagined it, and said, “Catch and release? You let it go again?”
“Sure,” she said. Standing, she scooped the fish up with both hands and, before it could shimmy away from her, tossed it well out into the lake. “See you again, fella!” she called, then said to Kelp, “Just let me wash my hands, I’ll be right with you.”
They both went back into the office and she headed for the bathroom, a separate wedge in the rear corner of the room. Opening its door, she looked back at him and waved her free hand toward her desk. “Take a seat, I’ll be right with you.”
He nodded, and she went inside, shutting the door. He walked over to the diorama of tornado damage and noticed, half-hidden under a cataract of various forms and brochures, one of those three-sided brass plaques with a name on it, this one JANET TWILLEY.
He wandered around the room, looking at the various travel posters, noting there was none to tout Guerrera, and that in fact the only South American poster showed some amazing naked bodies in Rio, and then the toilet flushed and a minute later Janet Twilley came out, shut the bathroom door, frowned at Kelp, and said, “I told you, take a seat.”
“I was admiring the posters.”
“Okay.” Coming briskly forward, she gestured at the chair beside the front desk. “So now you can take a seat.”
Bossy woman. They both sat, and she said, “So where did you want to go?”
“That’s why I was looking at the posters,” he said. He noticed she kept her sunglasses on. Then he noticed a little discoloration visible around her left eye.
She peered at him through the dark glasses. “You don’t know where you want to go?”
“Well, not exactly,” he said.
She disapproved. “That’s not the usual way,” she said.
“See,” he told her, “I have this problem with time zones.”
“I change time zones, it throws me off,” he explained, “louses up my sleep, I don’t enjoy the trip.”
“Jet lag,” she said.
“Oh, good, you know about that.”
“Everybody knows about jet lag,” she said.
“They do? Well, then, you know what I mean. Me and the wife, we’d like to go somewhere that we don’t change a lot of time zones.”
“Canada,” she said.
“We been to Canada. Very nice. We were thinking of somewhere else, some other direction.”
She shook her head. “You mean Florida?”
“No, a different country, you know, different language, different people, different cuisine.”
“There’s Rio,” she said, nodding at the poster he’d been admiring.
“But that’s so far away,” he said. “I mean, really far away. Maybe somewhere not quite that far.”
“Mexico has many—”
“Oh, Mexico,” he said. “Isn’t that full of Americans? We’d like maybe somewhere a little off the beaten path.”
Over the next ten minutes, she suggested Argentina, Belize, Peru, Ecuador, all of the Caribbean, even Colombia, but not once did she mention the name Guerrera. Finally, he said, “Well, I better discuss this with the missus. Thank you for the suggestions.”
“It would be better,” she told him, a little severely, “if you made your mind up before you saw a travel agent.”
“Yeah, but I’m closing with it now,” he assured her. “You got a card?”
“Certainly,” she said, and dumped half the crap from her desk onto the floor before she found it.
The less said about lunch, the better. After it, Dortmunder and Kelp came out to find Querk perched on the porch rail out front. Dortmunder burped and said, “Well, look who’s here.”
“Fancy meeting you two,” Querk said.
Kelp said, “We should all shake hands now, surprised to see each other.”
So they did a round of handshakes, and then Dortmunder said, “I feel like I gotta see the plant.”
“I could show you a little,” Querk said. “Not inside the buildings, though, around the machines, the management gets all geechy about insurance.”
“Just for the idea,” Dortmunder said.
So they walked to the corner, crossed with the light, and turned left, first past the Italian restaurant (not open for lunch, unfortunately), and then the abrupt stand of pines. Looking into those dense branches, Dortmunder could occasionally make out a blank grayness back in there that would be the sound-baffle wall.
At the no-trespassing sign, they turned right and trespassed, walking down the two-lane blacktop entrance drive with the creek down to their left, natural woods on the hillside across the way, and the “forest” on their right.
A big truck came slowly toward them from the plant entrance, wheezing and moving as though it had rheumatism. The black guy driving—moustache, cigar stub, dark blue Yankees cap—waved at Querk, who waved back, then said, “He delivers paper. That’s what I’ll be doing this afternoon, move that stuff around.” With a look at his watch, he said, “I should of started three minutes ago.”
“Stay late,” Dortmunder suggested.
At the entrance, the shallowness of the tree-screen became apparent. The trees were barely more than two deep, in complicated diagonal patterns, not quite random, and behind them loomed the neutral gray wall, probably ten feet high.
Passing through the entrance, Dortmunder saw tall gray metal gates opened to both sides, and said, “They close those when the plant is shut?”
“And lock them,” Querk said. “Which is my specialty, remember. I could deal with them before we get the truck, leave them shut but unlocked.”
And the closed gates, Dortmunder realized, would also help keep light in here from being seen anywhere outside.
They walked through the entrance, and inside was a series of low cream-colored corrugated metal buildings, or maybe all one building, in sections that stretched to left and right and were surrounded by blacktop right up to the sound-baffle wall, which on the inside looked mostly like an infinitude of egg cartons. The only tall item was a gray metal water tower in the middle of the complex, built on a roof. The roofs were low A shapes, so snow wouldn’t pile too thick in the winter.
Directly in front of them was a wide loading bay, the overhead doors all open showing a deep, dark, high-ceilinged interior. One truck, smaller than the paper deliverer, was backed up to the loading bay and cartons were being unloaded by three workmen while the driver leaned against his truck and watched. Beyond, huge rolls of paper, like paper towels in Brobdingnag, were strewn around the concrete floor.
“My work for this afternoon,” Querk said, nodding at the paper rolls.
“That driver’s doing okay,” Dortmunder said.
Querk grinned. “What did Jesus Christ say to the Teamsters? ‘Do nothing till I get back.’”
Dortmunder said, “Where’s the presses?”
“All over,” Querk said, gesturing generally at the complex of buildings. “The one we’ll use is down to the right. We’ll be able to park down there, snake the wires in through the window.”
Kelp said, “Alarm systems?”
“I’ve got keys to everything,” Querk said. “I studied this place, I could parade elephants through here, nobody the wiser.” Here on his own turf he seemed more sure of himself, less, as May had said, rabbity.
Kelp said, “Well, to me it looks doable.”
Querk raised an eyebrow at Dortmunder. “And to you?”
“Could be,” Dortmunder said.
“I like your enthusiasm,” Querk said. “Shall we figure to do it one night next week?”
“I got a question,” Dortmunder said, “about payout.”
Querk looked alert, ready to help. “Yeah?”
“When do we get it?”
“I don’t follow,” Querk said.
Dortmunder pointed at the building in front of them. “When we leave there,” he said, “what we got is siapas. Money we get from Rodrigo.”
“Sure,” Querk said.
“Well, first the siapas gotta go to Guerrera,” Querk said, “and then Rodrigo has stuff he’s gonna do, and then the dollars come up here.”
“What if they don’t?” Dortmunder said.
“Listen,” Querk said, “I trust Rodrigo, he’ll come through.”
“I dunno about this,” Dortmunder said.
Querk. looked at his watch again. He was antsy to get to work. “Lemme get a message to him,” he said, “work out a guarantee. What if I come back to the city this Saturday? We’ll meet. Maybe your place again?”
“Three in the afternoon,” Dortmunder said, because he didn’t want to have to give everybody lunch.
“We’ll work it out then,” Querk said. “Listen, I better get on my forklift, I wouldn’t want to get fired before vacation time.”
He nodded a farewell and walked toward the loading bay, while Dortmunder and Kelp turned around and headed out. As they walked toward the public street, Kelp said, “Maybe the dollars should come up before the siapas go down.”
“I was thinking that,” Dortmunder said. “Or maybe one of us rides shotgun.”
“You mean, go to this place?” Kelp was astonished. “Would you wanna do that?”
“No,” Dortmunder said. “I said, ‘one of us.’”
“We’ll see how it plays,” Kelp said. They turned toward the intersection, and he said, “I talked to Seven Leagues.”
“Her name is Janet Twilley. She’s bossy, and she’s got a black eye.”
“Oh, yeah?” Dortmunder was surprised. “Querk doesn’t seem the type.”
“No, he doesn’t. I think we oughta see is there a Mr. Twilley.”
Roger Twilley’s shift as a repairman for Darby Telephone & Electronics (slogan: “The 5th Largest Phone Co. in New York State!”) ended every day at four, an hour before Janet would close her travel agency, which was good. It gave him an hour by himself to listen to the day’s tapes.
Twilley, a leathery, bony, loose-jointed fellow who wore his hair too long because he didn’t like barbers, was known to his coworkers as an okay guy who didn’t have much to say for himself. If he ever were to put his thoughts into words (which he wouldn’t), their opinion would change, because in fact Twilley despised and mistrusted them all. He despised and mistrusted everybody he knew, and believed he would despise and mistrust everybody else in the world if he got to know them. Thus the tapes.
Being a phone company repairman, often alone on the job with his own cherry picker, and having a knack with phone gadgets he’d developed over the years on the job, Twilley had found it easy to bug the phones of everybody he knew that he cared the slightest bit about eavesdropping on. His mother, certainly, and Janet, naturally, and half a dozen other relatives and friends scattered around the general Sycamore area. The bugs were voice-activated, and the tapes were in his “den” in the basement, a room Janet knew damn well to keep out of, or she knew what she’d get.
Every afternoon, once he’d shucked out of his dark blue Darby Telephone jumpsuit and opened himself a can of beer, Twilley would go down to the den to listen to what these people had to say for themselves. He knew at least a few of them were scheming against him—Mom, for instance, and Janet—but he hadn’t caught any of them yet. It was, he knew, only a matter of time. Sooner or later, they’d condemn themselves out of their own mouths.
There are a lot of factors that might help explain how Twilley had turned out this way. There was his father’s abrupt abandonment of the family when Twilley was six, for instance, a betrayal he’d never gotten over. There was his mother’s catting around for a good ten years or more after that first trauma, well into Twilley’s sexually agonized teens. There was the so-called girlfriend, Renee, who had publicly humiliated him in seventh grade. But the fact is, what it came down to, Twilley was a jerk.
The jerk now sat for thirty-five minutes at the table in his den, earphones on as he listened to the day the town had lived through, starting with Janet. Her phone calls today were all strictly business, talking to airlines, hotels, clients. There was nothing like the other day’s “wrong number,” somebody supposedly asking for somebody named Frank, that Twilley had immediately leaped on as code. A signal, some kind of signal. He’d played that fragment of tape over and over—“Is Frank there?” “Is Frank there?” “Is Frank there?”—and he would recognize that voice if it ever called again, no matter what it had to say.
On to the rest of the tapes. His mother and her friend Helen yakked the whole goddam day away, as usual—they told each other recipes, bird sightings, funny newspaper items, plots of television shows—and as usual Twilley fast-forwarded through it all, just dropping in for spot checks here and there—“ … and she said Emmaline looked pregnant to her …”—or he’d be down here in the den half the night, listening to two women who had raised boringness to a kind of holy art form. Stained glass for the ear.
The rest of the tapes contained nothing useful. Twilley reset them for tomorrow and went upstairs. He sat on the sofa in the living room, opened the drawer in the end table beside him, and his tarot deck had been moved. He frowned at it. He always kept it lined up in a neat row between the coasters and the notepad, and now all three were out of alignment, the tarot deck most noticeably.
He looked around the room. Janet wouldn’t move it. She wouldn’t open this drawer. Had somebody been in the house?
He walked through the place, a small two-bedroom Cape Cod, and saw nothing else disturbed. Nothing was missing. He must have jostled the table one time, walking by.
He did a run of the cards on the living room coffee table, a little more hastily than usual, to be done before Janet got home. He wasn’t embarrassed by the cards and his daily consultation of them, he could certainly do anything he damn well pleased in his own home, but it just felt a little awkward somehow to shuffle the deck and deal out the cards if he knew Janet could see him.
Nothing much in the cards today. A few strangers hovered here and there, but they always did. Life, according to the tarot deck, was normal.
He put the deck away, neatly aligned in the drawer, and when Janet came home a quarter hour later he was sprawled on the sofa, watching the early news. She took the sunglasses off right away, as soon as she walked in the door, to spite him. He squinted at her, and that shouldn’t look that bruised, not four, five days later. She must be poking her thumb in her eye to make it look worse, so he’d feel bad.
You want somebody to poke a thumb in your eye, is that it? Is that what you want? “How was your day?” he said.
“I caught a fish.” She’d been speaking to him in a monotone for so long he thought it was normal. “I’ll see about dinner,” she said, and went on through toward the kitchen.
Watching antacid commercials on television, Twilley told himself he knew she was up to something, and the reason he knew, she didn’t fight back anymore. She didn’t get mad at him anymore, and she almost never tried to boss him around anymore.
Back at the beginning of the marriage, years ago, she had been an improver and he had been her most important project. Not her only project, she bossed everybody around, but the most important one. She’d married him, and they both knew it, because she’d believed he needed improving, and further believed he’d be somebody she’d be happy to live with once the improvement was complete.
No. Nobody pushes Roger Twilley. Roger Twilley pushes back.
But she wasn’t pushing any more, hardly at all, only in an automatic unguarded way every once in a while. Like a few days ago. So that’s how he knew she was up to something. Up to something.
“Is Frank there?”
Since he didn’t plan to stay overnight in the city this time, Querk didn’t borrow Claude’s van but drove his own old clunker of a Honda with the resale value of a brick. But it would take him to New York and back, and last as long as he’d need it, which wouldn’t be very long at all.
Three o’clock. He walked from his parked heap to the entrance to Dortmunder’s building and would have rung the bell but Kelp was just ahead of him, standing in front of the door as he pulled his wallet out. “Whadaya say, Kirby?” he said, and withdrew a credit card from the wallet.
A credit card? To enter an apartment building? Querk said, “What are you doing?” but then he saw what he was doing, as Kelp slid the credit card down the gap between door and frame, like slicing off a wedge of soft cheese, and the door sagged open with a little forlorn creak.
“Come on in,” Kelp said, and led the way.
Following, Querk said, “Why don’t you ring the doorbell?”
“Why disturb them? This is just as easy. And practice.”
Querk was not pleased, but not surprised either, when Kelp treated the apartment door upstairs the same way, going through it like a movie ghost, then pausing to call down the hallway, “Hello! Anybody there?” He turned his head to explain over his shoulder, “May doesn’t like me to just barge in.”
“No,” agreed Querk, while down the hall Dortmunder appeared from the living room, racing form in one hand, red pencil in the other and scowl on face.
“God damn it, Andy,” he said. “The building spent a lot of money on those doorbells.”
“People spend money on anything,” Kelp said, as he and Querk entered the apartment, Querk closing the door, yet wondering why he bothered.
Dortmunder shook his head, giving up the fight, and led the way into the living room as Kelp said, “May here?”
“She’s doing a matinee.” Dortmunder explained to Querk, “She likes movies, so if I got something to do she goes to them.”
“You don’t? Like movies?”
Dortmunder shrugged. “They’re okay. Siddown.”
Querk took the sofa, Dortmunder and Kelp the chairs. Kelp said, “So here we all are, Kirby, and now you’re going to ease our minds.”
“Well, I’ll try.” This was going to be tricky now, as Querk well knew. He said, “Maybe I should first tell you about the other person in this.”
“Rodrigo, you mean,” Kelp said.
“No, the travel agent.”
“That’s right,” Kelp said, “you said there was a travel agent, he’s the one gonna ship the siapas south.”
“She,” Querk corrected him. “Janet Twilley, her name is. She’s got a travel agency, up there in Sycamore.”
“Oh, ho,” said Kelp. He looked roguish. “A little something happening there, Kirby?”
“No no,” Querk said, because he certainly didn’t want them to think that. “It’s strictly business. She and I are gonna split our share, the same as you two.”
“Half of a half,” Kelp said.
Dortmunder said, “You trust this person.”
“Oh, absolutely,” Querk said.
Dortmunder said, “Without anything special between you, just a business thing, you trust her.”
Treading with extreme caution, Querk said, “To tell you the truth, I think she’s got an unhappy marriage. I think she wants money so she can get away from there.”
“But not with you,” Kelp said.
“No, not with an ex-con.” Querk figured if he put himself down it would sound more believable. “She just wants to use me,” he explained, “to make it so she can get out of that marriage.”
Dortmunder shrugged. “Okay. So she’s the one takes the siapas to Rodrigo. You trust her to come back with the dollars. But we still got the same question, why do we trust her?”
“We talked about that,” Querk said, “Janet and me, and the only thing we could come up with is, one of you has to travel with her.”
Kelp nodded at Dortmunder. “Told you so.”
“See,” Querk said, hurrying through the story now that they’d reached it, “she’s putting together this travel package, I dunno, fifteen or twenty people on this South American bus tour. Plane down, then bus. And she’ll have the boxes in with the whole container load of everybody’s luggage. So what she can do, she can slip in one more person, and she’ll get the ticket for free, but you’ll have to tell me which one so she’ll know what name to put on the ticket.”
Dortmunder and Kelp looked at each other. Kelp sighed. “I knew this was gonna happen,” he said.
Querk said, “It won’t be bad. A few days’ vacation, and you come back.”
Kelp said, “Can she promote two tickets?”
“You mean, both of you go down?”
“No,” Kelp said. “I mean my lady friend. I could see myself doing this, I mean it would be easier, if she could come along.”
“Sure,” Querk said, because why not, and also because this was turning out to be easier than he’d feared. “Just give me her name. Write it down on something.”
Dortmunder, rising, said, “I got a pad in the kitchen. Anybody want a beer?”
Everybody wanted a beer. Dortmunder went away, and Kelp said to Querk, “Her name is Anne Marie Carpinaw. Your friend—Janet?—they’ll like each other.”
“I’m sure they will,” Querk said. Then, because he was nervous, he repeated himself, saying, “It won’t be bad. A few days’ vacation, that’s all. You’ll have a good time.”
“Sure,” Kelp said.
Dortmunder came back with a notepad and three unopened beer cans. “Here, everybody can open their own,” he said.
Kelp took the pad and wrote his lady friend’s name on it, while the other two opened their beer cans, Dortmunder slopping beer onto his pants leg. “Damn!”
“Here it is,” Kelp said, and handed the slip of paper to Querk,
“Thanks.” Querk pocketed the paper and lifted his beer. “What was that toast of yours? To crime.”
Kelp offered the world’s blandest smile. “To crime, with good friends,” he said.
“Hear, hear,” Dortmunder and Querk said.
Wednesday. The last thing Janet did before shutting Seven Leagues for the day was cut the two tickets, in the names of Anne Marie Carpinaw and Andrew Octavian Kelp, JFK to San Cristobal, Guerrera, change in Miami, intermediate stop in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, departure 10 P.M. tomorrow night, arrival 6:47 A.M., first leg Delta, second leg the charter carrier InterAir. She tucked these two tickets into her shoulder bag, put on her sunglasses, locked up the shop, took a last long look at it through the front plate glass window, and drove home to the rat.
At almost the exact same instant Janet was opening the door of her hated home, Kelp was opening the driver’s door of another O’Malley special (small but spunky) rented with another short-life-expectancy credit card. Dortmunder tossed his bag in the back and slid in beside Kelp.
Kirby Querk, being on vacation along with the entire workforce of Sycamore Creek Printery, spent the afternoon fishing with a couple of friends from the plant, well downstream from town. (It was while fishing this part of this stream, almost a year ago, that he’d first met Janet, beautiful in her fishing hat and waders.) The unusually high water made for a rather interesting day, with a few spills, nothing serious. The influx of water from the opened dam starting last Saturday had roiled the streambed for a while, making turbid water in which the fishing would have been bad to useless, but by Wednesday Sycamore Creek was its normal sparkling self and Querk spent a happy day playing catch and release with the fish. There were times he almost forgot his nervousness about tonight.
Roger Twilley watched television news every chance he got, a sneer on his face. He despised and mistrusted them all, and watched mainly so he could catch the lies. A lot of the lies got past him, he knew that, but some of them he caught, the blatant obvious untruths the powers that be tell to keep the shmos in line. Well, Roger Twilley was no shmo; he was on to them, there in their 6:30 network news.
Meanwhile Janet, allegedly in the kitchen working on dinner, was actually in the bedroom, packing a small bag. Toiletries, cosmetics, a week’s worth of clothing. She left much more than she took, but still the bag was crammed full when she was finished, and surprisingly heavy. She lugged it from the bedroom through the kitchen, out the back door, and around to the side of the house where a band of blacktop had been added, for her to keep her car. (His car got the attached garage, of course, which was all right in the summer, less so in the winter.) She heaved the bag into the trunk, which already contained her fishing gear, and went back into the house to actually make dinner, asking herself yet again, as she did every evening at this time, why she didn’t just go ahead and poison the rat. But she answered the question, too, as she always did, with the knowledge that she’d simply never get away with it. A battered wife and a poisoned husband; even a Darby County cop could draw that connector.
Using the same credit card that had promoted the rental car, outside which now Dortmunder was stretching and groaning and wailing, “Why me?” Kelp took two adjoining rooms in the Taconic Lakes Motel, just about twenty miles north of Sycamore. It was not quite 7:30; even leaving the city in the middle of rush hour, they’d made good time.
Querk ate a bland dinner (meat loaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, water) with Cousin Claude and Eugenia and the two kids, then went into “his” room and packed his own bag. His years of being in and out of various jails had left him a man of very few possessions, all of which either fit into the bag or he wouldn’t mind leaving behind. He put the bag on the floor next to the bed, on the side away from the door, and went out to watch television with the family.
Dortmunder and Kelp, after resting a little while in the motel, drove down to Sycamore and had dinner in the Italian restaurant by the traffic light there, the printery’s forest crowding in on it from two sides. Dinner wasn’t bad, and the same credit card still had some life in it. After dinner, they strolled around town a while, seeing how absolutely dense and black that forest was. There was some traffic, not much, and by evening the other joint in town, Sycamore House, where they’d had that lunch they were trying to forget, turned out to be where the rowdies hung out, the kind of place where the usual greeting is, “Wanna fight?” Their bark was presumably worse than their bite, though, because there was absolutely no police presence in town, neither around Sycamore House nor anywhere else, nor did it appear to be needed. Maybe on weekends.
When Janet washed her hair, which she usually did about three evenings a week, she was in the bathroom absolutely forever: This was a one-bathroom house, so Roger complained bitterly about the time she hogged in the bathroom, forcing him to go outside to piss on the lawn, but secretly this was the time he would take to search her possessions. Sooner or later, she would slip, leave something incriminating where he could find it.
And tonight, by God, was it! His hand shook, holding the airline tickets, and something gnawed at his heart, as though in reality he’d never wanted to find the proof of her perfidy after all, which was of course nonsense. Because here it was. She was Anne Marie Carpinaw, of course, a stupid alias to try to hide behind. But who was Andrew Octavian Kelp?
Cousin Claude and his family were early to bed, early to rise, and usually so was Querk; jail does not encourage the habit of rising late. This evening, as usual, the entire household was tucked in and dark before eleven o’clock, but this evening Querk couldn’t sleep, not even if he wanted to, which he didn’t. He lay in the dark in “his” room, the packed bag a dark bulk on the floor beside the bed, and he gazed at the ceiling, thinking about the plan he and Janet had worked out, seeing how good it was, how really good. They’d gone over it together he didn’t know how many times, looking for flaws, finding some, correcting them. By now, the plan was honed as smooth as a river rock.
Janet almost always went to bed before Roger, and by the time he got there she would be asleep or at least pretending. Tonight, without a word, she went off to the bedroom and their separate beds just as he started watching the eleven o’clock news. He listened, and when he heard the bedroom door close he quietly got up, went to the kitchen, then through the connecting door to the garage. There was an automatic electric garage door opener, but it was very loud, and it caused a bright light to switch on for three minutes, so tonight Roger opened his car door to cause the interior light to go on, and by that light he found the red-and-white cord he could pull to separate the door from the opener, designed for emergencies like the power being off. Then he lifted the door by hand, leaned into the car to put it in neutral, and pushed it backward out of the garage. There was a slight downhill slope from garage to street, so the car did get away from him just a little bit, but there was no traffic on this residential side street this late at night, so he just followed it, and it stopped of its own accord when the rear wheels reached the street. He turned the wheel through the open window, and wrestled the car backward in a long arc until it was parked on the opposite side of the street one door down. A dark street, trees in leaf, a car like any other. Janet would have no reason to notice it. He went back to the house, into the garage, and pulled the door down. He could reattach the cord in the morning.
11:45 said Querk’s bedside clock, red numbers glowing in the dark. He got up, dressed quickly and silently, picked up his bag, and tiptoed from the house. Tonight, he had parked the Honda down the block a ways. He walked to it, put the bag on the passenger seat, and drove away from there.
In their separate beds in the dark room, Janet and Roger were each convinced the other was asleep. Both were fully clothed except for their shoes under the light summer covers, and both worked very hard to breathe like a sleeping person. They had each other fooled completely.
Every time Janet, lying on her left side, cautiously opened her right eye to see the table between the beds, plus the dark mound of Roger over there, the illuminated alarm clock on the table failed to say midnight. She had no fear of accidentally falling asleep, not tonight of all nights, but why did time have to creep so? But then at last she opened that eye one more time and now the clock read 11:58, and darn it, that was good enough. Being very careful, making absolutely no noise—well, a faint rustle or two—she rolled over and rose from the bed. She stooped to pick up her shoes, then carried them tiptoe from the room.
The instant he heard Janet move, Roger tensed like a bowstring. He forced himself to keep his eyes shut, believing eyes reflect whatever light might be around and she might see them and know he was awake. It wasn’t until the rustle of her movements receded toward the bedroom door that he dared to look. Yes, there she goes, through the doorway, open now because it was only shut if she was in bed while he was watching television.
Janet turned left, toward the kitchen, to go out the back door and around to the car. It was too bad she’d have to start its engine so close to the house, but the bedroom was way on the other side, with the bulk of the house and the garage in between, so it should be all right. In any case, she was going.
The instant Janet disappeared from the doorway, Roger was up, stepping into his loafers, streaking silently through the house to the front door, out, and running full tilt across the street to crouch down on the far side of his car. Hunkered down there, he heard her car motor start, saw the headlights switch on, and then saw the car come out and swing away toward town, which is what he’d been hoping. It meant his car was faced the right way. He let her travel a block, then jumped into the car, started it, didn’t turn the lights on, and drove off in pursuit.
12:20 by the dashboard clock, and Querk parked in the lot next to Sycamore House. There was no all-night street parking permitted in Central Sycamore, but there were always a few cars left at Sycamore House, by people whose friends had decided maybe they shouldn’t drive home after all, so the Honda wouldn’t attract attention. He got out and walked down the absolutely deserted silent street to the traffic light doggedly giving its signals to nothing, then crossed and walked to the entrance to Sycamore Creek and on in.
There was no problem unlocking the main gate, nor temporarily locking it again behind him. He crossed to the building, unlocked the one loading bay door with a faulty alarm he happened to know about, and made his way through the silent, dark, stuffy plant to the managers’ offices, where it was a simple matter to disarm the alarm systems, running now on the backup batteries. Then he retraced his steps, out to the street.
Janet had expected to be the only person driving around this area this late at night, but partway to town another car’s headlights appeared in her rearview mirror. Another night owl, she thought, and hoped he wasn’t a drunken speed demon who would try to pass her. These roads were narrow and twisty. But, no; thankfully, he kept well back. She drove on into town, turned into the Sycamore House parking lot, recognized the Honda right away, and parked next to it.
Roger had kept well back, sorry he had to use his headlights at all but not wanting to run into a deer out here, the deer population having exploded in this part of the world once all of the predator animals had been removed, unless you count hunters, and don’t. He followed the car ahead all the way into town, and when he saw the brake lights go on he thought at first she was braking for the traffic light up ahead, but then she suddenly made the left turn into the Sycamore House parking lot. Damn! He hadn’t expected that. Should he go past? Should he stop? If he tried to park along here, you just knew some damn cop would pop out of nowhere to give him both a hard time and a ticket, while Janet got away to who knows where. Guerrera, that’s where. San Cristobal, Guerrera.
He drove on by, peering in at the Sycamore House parking lot, but she’d switched her lights off and there was nothing to see. He got to the corner, and the light was against him, so he stopped, while no traffic went by in all directions. Diagonally across the street was Luigi’s, the Italian restaurant, and at the far end of it, he knew, was a small parking lot, hemmed in by the fake forest. He could leave the car there and hoof it back to Sycamore House, just as soon as this damn light changed. When would it—? Ah! At last.
He drove across the empty intersection, turned left at the small and empty parking lot, and stopped, car’s nose against pine branches. He switched off lights and engine, so now it was only by the vague streetlight glow well behind him that he saw, in his rearview mirror, the apparition rise from the floor behind the front seat, exactly like all those horror stories! He stared, convulsed with terror, and the apparition showed him a wide horrible smile, a big horrible pistol and a pair of shiny horrible handcuffs. “Didn’t that tarot deck,” it asked him, “tell you not to go out tonight?”
When Querk walked back into the Sycamore House parking lot, Janet’s Chrysler Cirrus was parked next to his little Honda; a bigger, more comfortable car, though not very new. She must have seen him in the rearview mirror because she popped out of her car, the brief illumination of the interior light showing the hugeness of her smile but still the dark around her left eye. Then the door closed, the light went out, and she was in his arms.
They embraced a long time, he feeling her body tremble with the release of weeks of tension. Months. But now it was over. He was off parole, a free man. She was out of that house, a free woman. Start here.
At last he released her and whispered, “Everything’s going fine. Three, four hours, it’ll be all over.”
“I know you’ll do it,” she whispered, then shook a finger at him. “Don’t let them get any ideas.”
He took his bag from the Honda and put it in the Chrysler, then kissed her one last time, got into the Honda, and drove out to the street. He turned left, ignored the red light, drove through the intersection, and stopped next to the Hess station across the street from Luigi’s. Promptly, Dortmunder stepped out of the dimness inside the phone booth there, crossed the sidewalk, and slid in next to him.
Querk looked around. “Where’s Kelp?”
“A couple things came up,” Dortmunder told him, “nothing to do with us. He’ll take care of them, then catch up with us later.”
Querk didn’t like this, didn’t like the idea that one of his partners was going to be out of sight while the job was going down. “We’re gonna need Kelp in the plant there,” he said.
“He’ll be there,” Dortmunder promised. “He’ll be right there when we get back with the truck.”
There was nothing Querk could do about this development short of to call the whole thing off, which he didn’t want to do, so he nodded reluctantly and said, “I hope nothing’s gonna get screwed up.”
“How could it? Come on, let’s go.”
The Combined Darby County Fire Department and Rescue Squad existed in an extremely fireproof brick building in the middle of nowhere. Seven local volunteer fire departments and two local volunteer ambulance services, each with its own firehouse or garage, had been combined into this organization, made necessary by the worsening shortage of volunteers, and political infighting had made it impossible to use any of the existing facilities. A local nob had donated land here in the middle of the responsibility area, and the building was erected, empty and alone unless a fundraiser dinner were being held or the volunteers’ beepers sounded off.
Querk. parked the Honda behind the building, out of sight, and used a copy of Cousin Claude’s key to unlock the right garage door. He lifted it, stepped inside, and drove out the truck, which was red like a fire engine, with high metal sides full of cubicles containing emergency equipment, a metal roof, but open at the back to show the big generator bolted to the truck body in there.
Querk waited while Dortmunder lowered the garage door and climbed up onto the seat next to him. “Pretty good machine,” he said.
“It does the job,” Querk said.
It was with relief that Querk saw Kelp actually standing there next to the NO TRESPASSING sign. Kelp waved, and Dortmunder waved back, while Querk drove down to the closed entrance gates. “They’re unlocked,” he assured Dortmunder, who climbed out to open the gates, then close them again after the truck and Kelp had both entered.
Driving slowly alongside the building toward the window he wanted, Querk saw in all his rearview mirrors, illuminated by a smallish moon, Dortmunder and Kelp walking along in his wake, talking together. Kelp must be telling Dortmunder what he’d done about whatever problem he’d gone off to fix.
Querk wondered; should he ask Kelp what the problem was? No, he shouldn’t. Dortmunder had said it was nothing to do with tonight’s job, so that meant it was none of his business. The fact that Kelp was here was all that mattered. A tight-lipped man knows when other people expect him to be tight-lipped.
Dortmunder was bored. There was nothing to do about it but admit it; he was bored.
Usually, in a heist, what you do is, you case the joint, then you plan and plan, and then there’s a certain amount of tension when you break into whatever the place is, and then you grab what you came for and you get out of there.
Not this time. This time, the doors are open, the alarms are off, and nobody’s around. So you just waltz in. But then you don’t grab anything, and you certainly don’t get out of there.
What you do instead, you shlep heavy cable off a wheel out of the generator truck, shove it through a window Querk has opened, and then shlep it across a concrete floor in the dark, around and sometimes into a lot of huge machines that are not the machine Querk wants, until at last you can hook the cables to both a machine and a control panel. This control panel also controls some lights, so finally you can see what you’re doing.
Meanwhile, Querk has been collecting his supplies. He needs three different inks, and two big rolls of special paper, that he brings over with his forklift. He needs one particular size of paper cutter, a wickedly sharp big rectangle criss-crossed with extremely dangerous lines of metal, that has to be slid into an opening in the side of the machine without sacrificing any fingers to it, and which will, at the appropriate moments, descend inside the machine to slice sheets of paper into many individual siapas.
The boxes for the siapas already exist, but laid out flat, and have to be inserted into a wide slot in the back of the machine. The nasty wire bands to close the boxes—hard, springy, with extremely sharp edges—have to be inserted onto rolls and fed into the machine like feeding movie film into a projector. Having three guys for this part is a help, because it would take one guy working alone a whole lot longer just to set things up, even if he could wrestle the big paper roll into position by himself, which he probably couldn’t.
But after everything was in position, then you really needed three guys. It was a three-guy machine. Guy number one (Querk) was at the control panel, keeping an eye on the gauges that told him how the ink flow was coming along, how the paper feed was doing, how the boxes were filling up. Guy number two (Kelp) was physically all around the machine, which was a little delicate and touchy, following Querk’s orders on how to adjust the various feeds and watch the paper, which would have liked to jam up if anybody looked away for a minute.
And guy number three, Dortmunder, was the utility man. It was his job to replenish the ink supply when needed, which was rarely. It was also his job to wrestle the full boxes off the end of the chute at the back of the machine, but since in three hours there were only going to be five boxes, that didn’t take up a lot of his time. It was also his job occasionally to go out to see how the generator truck was coming along, which was fine. In addition, it was his job to keep checking on the laid-out boxes inside the machine with the money stacking up on them, and the alignment of the big papercutter, to make sure nothing was getting off kilter and to warn Querk to shut down temporarily if something did, which only happened twice. And generally it was his job to stand chicky; but if anybody were to come into the plant that they wouldn’t like to come in, it would already be too late to do anything about it.
So here he was, the gofer in a slow-motion heist, and he was bored. It was like having an actual job.
They’d started at ten after one, and it was just a few ticks after four when the last of the paper rolled into the machine and Querk started shutting its parts down, one section at a time until the fifth and final box came gliding out of the chute and Dortmunder wrestled it over onto the concrete floor with the others. Five boxes, very heavy, each containing a thousand bills compressed into the space, a thousand twenty million siapa notes per box, for a value of a hundred thousand dollars per box. In Guerrera.
Dortmunder stepped back from the final box. “Done,” he said. “At last.”
“Not exactly done,” Querk said. “Remember, this run never happened. We gotta clean up everything in here, put it all back the way it was.”
Yes; exactly like having a job.
Querk’s nervousness, once they’d driven the generator truck actually onto the plant property, had turned into a kind of paralysis, a cauterizing in which he couldn’t feel his feelings. He was just doing it, everything he’d been going over and over in his mind all this time, acting out the fantasy, reassuring Janet and himself that everything would work out just fine, playing it out in his head again and again so that, when the time came to finally do it, actually in the real world do it, it was as though he’d already done it and this was just remembering.
And the job went, if anything, even better than the fantasy, smooth and quick and easy. Not a single problem with the two guys he’d found to help, and that had always been one of the scarier parts of the whole thing. He couldn’t do it alone, but he couldn’t use locals, none of these birds around here had the faintest idea how to keep their mouths shut. Amateurs. He had to use pros, but he didn’t know anybody anymore.
Nevertheless, if he was going to do it, he would have to reach out, find somebody with the right resume that he could talk into the job, and boy, did he come up lucky. Dortmunder and Kelp were definitely pros, but at the same time they were surprisingly gullible. He could count on them to do the job and to keep their mouths shut, and he could also count on them to never even notice what he was really up to.
The cleaning up after the print job took another half hour. The next to the last thing they did, before switching off the lights, was forklift the five boxes of siapas out to the generator truck, where they fit nicely at the back. Then it was disconnect the cables, reel them back into the truck, and drive out of there, pausing to lock the big gates on the way by.
Still dark on the streets of Sycamore. Still no vehicles for the dutiful traffic light to oversee. Dortmunder and Kelp rode on the wide bench seat of the truck beside Querk, who drove down the street to stop in front of Seven Leagues. “I’ll just unlock the door,” he said, as he climbed down to the street.
The story he’d told them was that the travel group going down there to Guerrera contained a bunch of evangelicals, looking for converts, so Janet would ship the boxes out of the United States as missals and hymnals. Tonight, they’d leave the boxes at Seven Leagues, and in the morning she’d cover them with all the necessary tags and stickers, and the van carrying all the tour group’s luggage would come by to pick them up and take them down to JFK.
Once the boxes had been lugged into Seven Leagues and the door relocked, Querk said, “You fellas need a lift to your car?”
“No, that’s okay,” Kelp said, pointing vaguely north, out of town. “We’re parked just up there.”
Dortmunder said, “You want to get the truck back.”
“I sure do.”
Should he shake hands with them? He felt he should; it would be the more comradely thing to do. Sticking his hand out in Kelp’s direction, he said, “It’s been good working with you.”
Kelp had a sunny smile, even in the middle of the night. Pumping Querk’s hand, he said, “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Shaking Dortmunder’s hand, bonier than Kelp’s but less powerful, Querk said, “We’ll be in touch.”
“You know it,” Dortmunder said.
“You know where to find me.”
“Sure do,” Dortmunder said.
Well. That was comradely enough. “I better get this truck back before sunup,” he said.
“Sure,” they said, and waved at him, and he got into the truck.
He had to make a K turn to go back the other way, cumbersome with this big vehicle. He headed toward the traffic light as Dortmunder and Kelp walked off northward, disappearing almost immediately into the darkness, there being streetlights only here in the center of town.
As he drove toward the traffic light, he passed Sycamore House on his left, and resisted the impulse to tap the horn. But Janet would see him, and a horn sounding here in the middle of the night might attract attention. Attention from Dortmunder and Kelp, in any case.
So he drove on, the traffic light graciously turning green as he reached the intersection. Behind him, Janet in the Cirrus would now have seen the truck go by twice, and would know the job had gone well. He could hardly wait to get back to her.
Querk grinned all the way to the garage, where he put the truck away, backing it in the way it had been before. Then he got into the Honda for the last time in his life and drove it back to Sycamore, not only grinning now but also humming a little and at times even whistling between his teeth. To his right, the sky was just beginning to pale; dawn was on the way.
Sycamore. Once again the traffic light gave him a green. He drove through the intersection, turned into the Sycamore House parking lot, and put the Honda next to the Cirrus. He switched off the lights and the engine and stepped out to the blacktop, leaving the keys in the car. Turning to the Cirrus, he expected Janet to either start the engine or step out to speak to him. When she did neither, he bent to look into the car, and it was empty.
What? Why? They’d agreed to meet here when the job was done, so what happened? Where was she?
Maybe she’d needed to go to the bathroom. Or maybe she started to get uncomfortable in the car, after almost four hours, and decided to go wait in the office instead. The whole purpose of her being here the whole time was so he’d have his own backup means of escape in case anything were to go wrong with the job. Once she’d seen the truck, she had to know the job had gone well.
So she must be up at Seven Leagues. Querk left the parking lot and walked up the street, taking the Seven Leagues key out of his pocket. When he reached the place, there were no lights on inside. That was strange.
He unlocked the door, entered, closed the door, felt around on the wall for the light switch, found it, and stared, unbelieving.
“Surprise,” Dortmunder said.
Between dinner and the job, in fact, Dortmunder and Kelp had found a number of things to keep them interested, if not completely surprised. Primarily, they’d wanted to know what part Janet Twilley planned to take in tonight’s exercises, if any, and so had driven out to the Twilley house a little before eleven, seeing lights still on in there. They’d visited that house last week, learning more about Roger Twilley than anybody else on Earth, and had found none of it pleasant. If Janet Twilley wanted to begin life anew with Kirby Querk, they couldn’t argue the case, not with what they knew of Roger, just so she didn’t plan to do it with their siapas.
They were parked down the block from the Twilley residence, discussing how to play this—should Kelp drive Dortmunder back to town, to keep an eye on the plant, while Kelp kept the car and maintained an observation post chez Twilley—when Roger decided their moves for them. The first thing they saw was the garage door open over there.
“The light didn’t come on,” Dortmunder said.
“I knew there was something,” Kelp said.
Next, a car backed out of the garage, also with no lights on, and moving very slowly. Not only .that, Roger himself came trotting out of the garage right after the car, so who was driving?
Turned out, nobody. Fascinated, they watched Roger push his car around in a great loop to park it on their side of the street, about two houses away.
“He, too, knows something’s up,” Kelp said.
Dortmunder said, “But he doesn’t know what.”
“He’s gonna follow her.”
“So we,” Dortmunder said, “follow him.”
“I got a better idea,” Kelp said. “Have we got that bag in the back?”
“In the trunk? Yeah.”
On an outing like this, they always traveled with that bag. Small, it was packed with extra materials that, who knew, might come in handy. Tools of various kinds, ID of various kinds, weapons of various kinds, and handcuffs of just one kind.
“What do you need from it?” Dortmunder asked.
“The cuffs. I’ll ride in the back of the peeping tom’s car, take him out if there’s a problem, borrow it myself if she doesn’t come out to be followed. You stash this car in town, tell Kirby I’ll meet up with you guys at the plant.”
So that’s what they did, Dortmunder learning some more along the way, beginning with the fact that the driver’s seat had even less legroom than the passenger seat. He stashed the compact in the Sycamore House parking lot, but stayed with it, and was there when Querk arrived, parked his Honda, and went off to set things up over at the printery.
A little later, he was also about to leave when Janet Twilley drove in, shut down, but didn’t get out of her car. That was interesting. Not wanting to call attention to himself, he removed the bulb from the compact’s interior light so that everything remained dark when he eased out of the car and out of the parking lot to go over to the Hess station and wait for Querk.
One thing about the phone booth outside the Hess station; it had legroom. Dortmunder leaned his back against the phone, folded his arms, and watched the traffic light change. After a while he saw Querk cross the street and walk north, and then here he came in the Honda south.
After the job at the plant and the departure of Querk to return the generator truck, there’d been nothing left to do but gather up Janet Twilley, still at her post in her Chrysler Cirrus, and use her keys to gain entrance to Seven Leagues. As for her husband, he could stay where he was, trussed up on the floor of his own car down by Luigi’s. Good place for him.
And now it was simply a matter of waiting for Querk. And here he is.
Querk stared, pole-axed with shock. Janet was gagged and tied to her office chair, wide-eyed and trembling. Even her bruise was pale. Kelp, still with that sunny smile, sat near her in the client’s chair. And Dortmunder stood near Querk; not too near, but close enough so that, if Querk decided to spin around and pull the door open and run, it wouldn’t happen.
Stammering, the tremble in his hands back and worse than ever, Querk said, “What? What happened?”
“We came to settle up,” Dortmunder said, while Kelp got to his feet, walked back to the unused desk, took the client’s chair from it, and brought it back to stand facing himself and Janet. “Take a load off,” he offered.
Dortmunder said, “Andy, turn the desk light on, will you? It’s too bright in here.”
Kelp did, and Dortmunder switched off the overheads that Querk had switched on. It became much dimmer in the long room, the light softer, though not what Querk thought of as cozy. Watching all this, he tried desperately to think, without much success. What was going on? What were they going to do? He said, “What’s wrong? Fellas? I thought everything was okay.”
“Not exactly okay,” Dortmunder said, as he perched on the corner of Janet’s desk.
Kelp said, “Come on, Kirby, take a chair. We’ll tell you all about it.”
So Querk sat in the chair Kelp had brought for him, and folded his shaking hands in his lap. He could feel Janet’s eyes on him, but he couldn’t bring himself to look directly at her. He was supposed to make things better for her. Tied up in a chair by two heisters from New York wasn’t better.
Kelp said, “You know, Kirby, the thing was, at first we believed there really was a Rodrigo.” He still seemed cheerful, not angry or upset, but Querk didn’t believe any of it.
“You got us there, for a while,” Dortmunder agreed. He sounded sullen, and that Querk could believe.
“What we figured,” Kelp said, “why would you go through this whole scheme unless you had a payout coming? So that’s why we believed in Rodrigo. Until, of course, we heard about Janet Just as a by the by.”
“Just dropped in the conversation,” Dortmunder said.
“And Harry Matlock said you were a better follower than a leader,” Kelp said, “so we began to wonder, who exactly were you following? So when we came up here last week, I stopped in to see Janet.”
What? Querk now did stare directly at Janet, and she was frantically nodding, eyebrows raised almost to her hairline. “She—” Querk had to clear his throat. “She didn’t tell me.”
“She didn’t know,” Kelp said. “See, I was a customer, I was interested in going somewhere in South America, I wasn’t sure where, and we talked about, oh …” He looked at Janet, amiable, inquiring. “About fifteen minutes, right?” Looking at Querk again, he said, “And the funny thing, never once did she mention that tour going to Guerrera. In fact, she never even mentioned Guerrera, the whole country.”
“Probably,” Querk said, even though he knew it was hopeless, “the tour was full by then.”
“Which gets to how easy the extra two tickets were,” Kelp said. “First she can wangle one ticket, but then two tickets is easy, no sweat, you don’t even have to check back with her. But I’m getting ahead of my story.”
“I thought you were buying it,” Querk said.
Kelp’s grin got even wider. “Yeah, I know. Anyway, when I was here that time, I noticed the shiner on Janet, and you didn’t seem the type—”
“We both thought that,” Dortmunder said.
“Thank you,” Querk said.
“So we checked out her house,” Kelp said, “and that’s some winner she decided to marry.”
“I guess he didn’t seem that bad at first,” Querk said.
“Maybe,” Kelp said. “Anyway, here’s this bossy woman—”
Janet gave him a glare, which Kelp ignored.
“—with a shiner and a bad husband. And here’s you, likes to be bossed around. So we decided, what it was, you didn’t have any Rodrigo, because how is this Janet here in upstate New York gonna make that kinda connection. Also, this is not a really successful travel agency here, which you can see by the fact that the other desk isn’t used, so if she ever had an assistant or a partner the business couldn’t support that person. So maybe, just maybe, the idea is, you’ll run these half million dollars’ worth of siapas, and you and Janet will drive to Guerrera, down through Mexico and all that, maxing out your credit cards along the way. And when you get there, you find a nice place to stay, you start living on the siapas. You put ’em in a few banks down there, you can even come back up to the States sometimes and spend them like money. Of course, there wouldn’t be any for us.”
“I’m sorry,” Querk said.
Dortmunder nodded. “You certainly are.”
“You needed two guys,” Kelp said. “You couldn’t go with local amateurs, so you had to reach out for pros, and what you got was us.”
“I underestimated you,” Querk said.
“Don’t feel bad,” Kelp advised him. “That’s what we specialize in. So here you are, you’ve kissed us off, and Anne Marie and me are gonna feel really stupid tomorrow night at JFK with those imitation tickets—”
“I’m sorry,” Querk said again.
“We know,” Dortmunder said. He didn’t sound sympathetic.
“But, you know,” Kelp said, “this is better for you, because Roger knew something was up. You know, the paranoid is sometimes right, and Roger was right. So he was following Janet tonight, and if it hadn’t been for us, Roger would be making a whole lot of trouble for you people right now.”
Querk was rather afraid of Roger Twilley. “Roger?” he said. “Where is he?”
“Tied up in his car, down at Luigi’s.”
Dortmunder said, “You owe us for that one.”
“Well,” Kelp said, “he owes us for the whole score.”
“That’s true,” Dortmunder said.
Rising, Kelp said, “I’ll go get our wheels, you explain it.”
Kelp was the pleasant one. Why couldn’t Dortmunder go get their car? But, no; Kelp nodded at Querk and left the shop, and it was Dortmunder who said, “This is what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna leave you one box of the siapas, that’s a hundred grand you can take down to Guerrera, get you started. In six months, you come up to New York, you buy at least one more box from us, half price. Fifty grand for a hundred grand of siapas. You can buy them all then, or you can buy a box every six months.”
Querk said, “Where am I gonna get that money?”
“You’re gonna steal it,” Dortmunder told him. “That’s what you do, remember? You gave up on reform.”
Querk hung his head. The thought of a Guerreran jail moved irresistably through his mind.
Meanwhile, Dortmunder said, “If you don’t show up in six months, the four boxes go to the cops with an anonymous letter with your names and a description of the scheme and where you’re hiding out, and the probable numbers on your siapas. And then you’ve got nothing.”
“Jeez,” Querk said.
“Look at it this way,” Dortmunder suggested. “You lied to us, you abused our trust, but we aren’t getting even, we aren’t hurting you. Because all we want is what’s ours. So, one way or another, you keep your side of the bargain, and we keep ours.” Looking past Querk at the window, he said, “Here’s the goddam compact. I hope we can fit these boxes in there. Come on, Querk, help me carry the loot.”
“All right.” Rising, Querk said, “What do we do about Roger?”
“Nothing,” Dortmunder said. “Luigi’s cook’ll find him in the morning, let him decide what to do. Come on, grab a box.”
So Querk did, the two of them shlepping the boxes one at a time, Kelp busily moving crap around inside the car. They managed to cram three of the boxes into the trunk and one on its side on the alleged back seat, with their luggage on top.
At the end, feeling humble, Querk said to them both, on the sidewalk, “I wanna thank you guys. You could of made things a lot tougher for me.”
“Well,” Dortmunder said, “I wouldn’t say you were getting off scot free.” He nodded at Seven Leagues. “Sooner or later, you’re gonna have to take off that gag.”
Copyright © 2005 by Hui Corporation