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12

WHEN DORTMUNDER WALKED into the O.J. at ten that night Andy Kelp had not yet arrived, and the regulars, freed from last night's Eppick-inspired verbal paralysis, were discussing James Bond movies. "That was the one," the first regular said, "where the bad guy went after his basket with a laser."

"You're wrong about that," the second regular told him. "You happen to be confusing that one with that guy George Laserby, he was the Bond only that one time— What was it called?"

Dortmunder angled toward the other end of the bar, where Rollo the bartender repetitively rag-wiped one spot on the bar's surface as though he believed that's where the genie lived, while a third regular said, "In His Majesty's Secret Police."

The second regular frowned, as Dortmunder almost reached the bar: "Wasn't that Timothy Danton?"

The third regular frowned right back: "Timothy who?"

"Danton. The polite one."

"No, no," the first regular said. "This is much earlier, and, it's a laser, not a laserby, a light that slices you in half."

The third regular remained bewildered: "This is a light?"

"It's green."

"You're thinking," the second regular told him, "of Star Wars."

"Rollo," Dortmunder said.

"Forget Star Wars," the first regular said. "It was a laser, and it was green. Wasn't the bad guy Doctor No?"

"Doctor Maybe Not," said the joker. There's a joker in every crowd.

"Rollo," Dortmunder explained, and Rollo came slowly up from REM sleep, stopped his rag-wiping, focused on Dortmunder, and said, "Two nights in a row. You could become a regular."

"Maybe not," Dortmunder said, echoing the joker, though not on purpose. "But tonight, yeah. Just me and the other bourbon." Because Rollo knew his customers by their drink, which he felt was the way to inspire consumer loyalty.

"Happy to see you both," Rollo said.

"It's just the two of us, so we don't need the back room."

"Woody Allen," demanded the ever-perplexed third regular, "played James Bond?"

"I think that was him," said the second regular, showing a rare moment of regular doubt.

"Fine," said Rollo, and went away to prepare a tray containing two glasses with ice cubes and a full bottle bearing a label that read Amsterdam Liquor Store Bourbon — "Our Own Brand." "Drink it in good health," he said, and pushed the tray across the genie.

"Thanks."

Dortmunder turned around, carrying the tray, looked to choose just the right booth, and Kelp appeared in the bar doorway. He entered, saw Dortmunder, gazed around the room, and pointed at the booth next to him, the one where last night — just last night! — Dortmunder had met his personal ex-cop doom.

The same booth? Well, the farther from the Bondsmen the better. Dortmunder shrugged: Okay.

Once they were seated facing one another and their glasses were no longer empty, Kelp said, "This is about that cop."

"You know it. Johnny Eppick For Hire."

"How much of that is his name?"

"The front half."

"So he used to be a cop," Kelp suggested, "and now he's a private eye."

"Or whatever. He's working for a rich guy that wants this valuable heavy golden chess set that just happens to be in a sub-basement bank vault in midtown."

"Forget it," Kelp advised.

"I'd like to," Dortmunder said. "Only he's got pictures of me in a compromising position."

"Oh, yeah?" Kelp seemed very interested. "What, is he gonna show them to May?"

"Not that kind," Dortmunder said. "The kind he could show to the cops that didn't retire yet."

"Oh." Kelp nodded. "Miami could be nice, this time of year."

"I was thinking Chicago. Only, Eppick thought of it, too. He says, him and the Internet and his cop buddies would find me anywhere I went, and I believe him."

"How much time you got?"

"Before my arrest, arraignment, plea bargain, and bus ride north?" Dortmunder shrugged. "I can stall a little, I guess. But Eppick is leaning, and the guy he works for is old and sick and wouldn't be interested in any long-term plans."

"Sheesh." Kelp shook his head. "I hate to say this, but better you than me."

"Don't hate to say it," Dortmunder advised him, "because you're already kinda involved."

Kelp didn't like that. "You two've been talking about me?"

"He already knows you," Dortmunder said. "He researched me or something. Last night, when he left here, he looked down toward you and said, 'Give my hello to Andy Kelp. He knows about Arnie Albright. He knows us all."

"I don't like this," Kelp said. "I don't like your friend Eppick even thinking about me."

"Oh, is that how it is?" Dortmunder wanted to know. "Now he's my friend?"

"You know what I mean."

"I'm not sure I do."

Kelp looked around the room, as though to fix the location more securely in his mind. "You asked me to meet you here tonight," he said. "Now I get it, you asked me here because you want me to help. So when are you gonna ask me to help?"

"There is no help," Dortmunder said.

Kelp slowly sipped some of his bourbon, while gazing at Dortmunder over the glass. Then he put the glass down and continued to gaze at Dortmunder.

"Okay," Dortmunder said. "Help."

"Sure," Kelp said. "Where is this bank vault?"

"C&I International, up on Fifth Avenue."

"That's a big bank," Kelp said. He sounded faintly alarmed.

"It's a big building," Dortmunder said. "Underneath it is a sub-basement, and in the sub-basement is the chess set that's out to ruin my life."

"I could go up tomorrow," Kelp offered, "and take a look."

"Well," Dortmunder said, "I'd like you to do something else tomorrow."

Looking hopeful, Kelp said, "You already got a plan?"

"No, I already got a disaster." Dortmunder drank some of his own bourbon, more copiously than Kelp had, and said, "Let me say first, this Eppick already figures you're in. He said to me today, 'I suppose you'll work with your pal Andy Kelp. "

"Conversations about me," Kelp said, and shivered.

"I know. I feel the same way. But here's the thing. It's just as important you get to see this Eppick as it is you get to see some bank building."

"Oh, yeah?"

"Tomorrow morning," Dortmunder said, "in the rich guy's limo, we're going upstate somewhere, Eppick and me, to see if what the rich guy called his compound is secure enough for us to stash the chess set after we ha-ha lift it."

"You want me to ride upstate tomorrow," Kelp said, "in a limo with you and Eppick."

"And a chauffeur."

Kelp contemplated that, while back at the bar, "Shaken but not slurred!" piped the joker.

Kelp observed his glass, but did not drink. "And why," he wanted to know, "am I doing this?"

"Maybe we'll learn something."

"Nothing we want to know, I bet." Kelp did knock back a little more bourbon. "What time are we doing this foolish thing?"


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