"NOT ENTIRELY," DORTMUNDER Said.
"But you're working on it."
"And naturally you'll have to consult with your pals, whoever it is you bring in on the job. Who do you figure you'll work with this time?"
Dortmunder looked at him. "You told that grandfather," he said, "how I learned a few things over the years."
"You're right, you're right." Eppick shrugged and grinned, not at all put out, dropping the whole subject. "So let's take a cab," he said, and crossed the sidewalk to the curb.
Helpless, Dortmunder followed. "Where we taking it?"
Eppick's arm was up now, but he didn't bother to watch oncoming traffic, instead continuing his cheerful grin at Dortmunder as he said, "Mr. Hemlow wants to see you."
"He already saw me."
"Well, now he's gonna see you again," Eppick said, as a cab pulled to a stop in their general neighborhood. Eppick opened its door, saying, "Hop in, I'll tell you about it."
So Dortmunder hopped in and slid across the seat so Eppick could follow. Eppick slammed the door and told the turbaned driver, "Two-eleven Riverside Drive."
Dortmunder said, "Not your office."
"Mr. Hemlow's place," Eppick said, as the cab headed west. "Mr. Hemlow's a distinguished man, you know."
"I don't know anything about him."
"He's retired now," Eppick said, "mostly because of this illness he's got. He used to be a chemist, invented a couple things, started a couple businesses, got very rich, sold the stuff off, gives millions away to charity."
"Pretty good," Dortmunder said.
"The point is," Eppick told him, "Mr. Hemlow isn't used to being around roughnecks. He didn't know how he was gonna take to you, so that's why the first meeting was at my place. We knew we'd have to check in with you again after you saw the granddaughter, but Mr. Hemlow decided you were okay, or okay enough, and it isn't easy for him to get around town, so this time we're going to his place."
"I guess I'm honored," Dortmunder said.
"You'll be honored," Eppick told him, "when Mr. Hemlow's got the chess set."
It was a narrow stone building, ten stories high, midblock, taller wider buildings on both sides. The windows were all very elaborate, which made sense, because they faced a tree-dotted park sloping down toward the Hudson, with the West Side Highway and its traffic a sketched-in border between grass and water and New Jersey across the way looking good at this distance.
Eppick paid and they got out of the cab and went up the two broad stone steps to where a dark green-uniformed doorman held the big brass-fitted door open for them and said, "Yes, gentlemen?"
"Mr. Hemlow. I'm Mr. Eppick."
The lobby was small and dark and looked like a carpet salesroom in a mausoleum. Dortmunder and Eppick waited while the doorman made his call, then said, "You may go up."
The elevator had an operator, in a uniform from the same army as the doorman, although Dortmunder noticed there weren't any operator type controls, just the same buttons that in other elevators the customer has to figure out how to push all by himself. But here the operator did it, and by looming over the panel in a very stiff manner he made sure nobody else got close to the buttons.
"Mr. Hemlow, penthouse."
The operator pushed P and up they went, and at the top the operator held Door Open while they exited, so he was either being very conscientious or he was hoping nobody'd notice he wasn't actually required.
Apparently Mr. Hemlow had the entire top floor, because the elevator opened onto his living room, a broad muted space with a wall of large old-fashioned windows overlooking the river but too high up to show the park or the highway. Mr. Hemlow himself waited for them in his wheelchair, and said, "Well, Johnny, from the smile on your face, things are going well."
"Oh, they are, Mr. Hemlow," Eppick assured him. "But mostly I'm smiling because I just love this room. Every time I see it."
"My late wife thanks you," Mr. Hemlow said, a little grimly. "It's all her taste. Come along and sit down." And his motorized wheelchair spun around in place and took off at a pretty good clip, which was probably why he didn't have any rugs on the nice hardwood floor.
Dortmunder and Eppick followed him over closer to the view, where Mr. Hemlow did his spin-around thing again and gestured to them to take a pair of easy chairs with an ornate antique table between them and a good view of the view. However, he then rolled himself into the middle of the view and said, "So tell me where we stand."
On the wing of the airplane, Dortmunder wanted to tell him, but instead said, "Could I ask you, did your granddaughter tell you where they're keeping this chess set?"
"She said a group of law firms was holding it while some lawsuit was being worked out. Apparently, it used to be in an extremely well-guarded place."
"So that's good," Eppick said, and grinned at Dortmunder. "Some law firm won't be so tough to break into, will it?"
"It's not in a law firm," Dortmunder said. "Not in their office."
Mr. Hemlow said, "But my granddaughter said it was."
"They got," Dortmunder told him, "whatchacallit. Custody. The outfit your granddaughter works for, this Feinberg and all of them, except Feinberg isn't with us any more, but that's okay, it's the reputation that counts. Feinberg and them, and some other law companies, they're all in these lawsuits together, so they all got custody of the chess set together. So Feinberg and three of the other companies are all in this C&I International Bank building, so where the chess set is is in the bank building vault, like three sub-basements down or something, under the building, guarded like an underground vault in a bank building."
"Sounds difficult," Mr. Hemlow commented.
Dortmunder was prepared to agree with him wholeheartedly, with details, but Eppick came in first, saying, "That won't stop John and his pals. They've come up against worse problems than that, eh, John?"
"Well…" Dortmunder said.
But Eppick wasn't listening. "It seems to me, Mr. Hemlow," he said, "the hard work's all been done here. At the start, you didn't even know where it was. Could've been anywhere in the world. Could've been broken up in different places."
"True," Mr. Hemlow said.
"Now we know where it is," Eppick went on, "and we know it's right here in New York City, in a bank vault. And we have a person with us, John here, has been inside bank vaults before. Haven't you, John?"
"Once or twice," Dortmunder admitted.
"So the only thing left to discuss," Mr. Hemlow said, "is where you'll deliver the chess set once you've laid your hands on it. You'll probably have it in a van or something like that, won't you?"
"Probably," Dortmunder said. If everybody wanted to spin out a fantasy here, he was content to go along. However; Chicago.
"I think the best place for it, at least at first," Mr. Hemlow said, "would be our compound in the Berkshires. It's been closed for a few years since Elaine died, but I can arrange to have it open and staffed by the time of your arrival."
Eppick said, "Mr. Hemlow? Some kind of country place? You sure that's secure enough?"
"It's enclosed and gated," Mr. Hemlow told him. "Not visible from the road. Elaine and I used to go to Tanglewood for the concerts in the summertime, so we built the compound up there, our rustic retreat. After Elaine passed and I became less… mobile, I stopped going. The rest of my family seems to prefer the ocean, for some reason, though why anyone would wish to be immersed in salt water all summer is beyond me. At any rate, the place is there, it has never been broken into or bothered, and it's the safest location I can think of."
"If you don't mind, Mr. Hemlow," Eppick said, "me and John here, maybe we oughta go look at it. Just to see if there's any little tweaks to be done, help out a little. Better safe than sorry."
Mr. Hemlow considered that. "When would you go?"
"First thing in the morning," Eppick told him. "I'm sure John isn't doing anything much, in the daytime."
Except fleeing to Chicago. "Naw, I'm okay," Dortmunder said.
"With your permission," Eppick said, "I'll rent a car and bill you for it later."
"Take my car," Mr. Hemlow said. "I hadn't planned to use it tomorrow. Pembroke knows how to get to the compound, and he'll have the keys."
Doubtful, Eppick said, "You're sure."
"Absolutely." From the left arm of the wheelchair, moving that medicine ball body with little grunts, Mr. Hemlow produced a phone, which he slowly buttoned, saying, "I'll leave Pembroke a message to— Oh, you're there. Very good. I'll want the car around front at" — as much as possible, the head on the medicine ball cocked to one side in a questioning way — "nine?"
"Fine," Eppick said.
"Good. Yes. It won't be me, you'll be driving Mr. Eppick and another gentleman up to the compound. You still have the keys? Excellent." He broke the connection and said, "You should be back late afternoon. Come up and tell me what you think."
"Thank you for coming," Mr. Hemlow said, so Eppick stood, so Dortmunder stood. Good-byes were said, they walked to the elevator while Mr. Hemlow watched from back by the view, and neither spoke until they were out on Riverside Drive, when Eppick said, "So you'll be here at nine in the morning."
"Sure," Dortmunder said.
Eppick did a more successful cocking of the head. "I get little whiffs from you, John," he said, "that you're not as keen as you might be on this job."
"That's not easy, that vault."
"But there it is," Eppick pointed out. "If you're thinking, maybe you'll just get out of town for a while until this all blows over, let me tell you, it isn't going to blow over. Mr. Hemlow's into this for sentimental reasons, but I'm in it for profit, and you'd better be, too."
"Police departments around America," Eppick said, "are getting better and better at cooperation, what with the Internet and all. Everybody helps everybody, and nobody can disappear." Lacing his fingers together to show what he meant, in a gesture very like a stranglehold, he said, "We're all intertwined these days. See you at nine."