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14

IN DORTMUNDER'S DREAM, it wasn't his old cell at all, it was much older, and smaller, and very rusty, and flooded with water knee-deep. His cellmate — a hulking guy he'd never met before, but who looked a lot like Hannibal Lecter — leered at him and said, "We like it this way."

Dortmunder opened his mouth to say he didn't at all like it this way, but out from between his lips came the sudden jangle of an alarm clock, startling him awake.

John Dortmunder was not an alarm clock kind of guy. He preferred to get out of bed when the fancy struck him, which was generally about the crack of noon. But with the necessity this morning of being way over on the Upper West Side at nine o'clock, he knew he had to make an exception. Two days in a row with morning appointments! What kind of evil cloud was he under here, all of a sudden?

Last night, May had helped him set the alarm for eight in the morning, and now at eight in the morning May's foot helped him bounce out of bed, slap the alarm clock silly until it shut up, then slope off to the bathroom.

Twenty minutes later, full of a hastily-ingested m'elange of corn flakes and milk and sugar, he went out into the morning cold — it was much colder out here in the morning — and after some time found a cab to take him up to Riverside Drive, where a black limo sat in front of Mr. Hemlow's building, white exhaust putt-putting out of its tailpipe. The skinny sour guy at the wheel, with the white hair sticking out from under his chauffeur's cap, would be Pembroke, and the satisfied guy in the rear-facing backseat, encased like a sausage in his black topcoat, would be Johnny Eppick in person, who pushed open the extra-wide door, grinned into the cold air, and said, "Right on time. We're all here, climb in."

"One to go," Dortmunder told him.

Eppick didn't think he liked that. "You're bringing somebody along?"

"You already know him," Dortmunder said. "So I thought he oughta know you."

"And he would be—"

"Andy Kelp."

Now Eppick's smile returned, bigger than ever. "Good thinking. You're starting to put your mind to it, John, that's good." Slight frown. "But where is he?"

"Coming up the street," Dortmunder said, nodding down to where Kelp walked toward them up Riverside Drive.

Kelp had a jaunty walk when he was going into a situation he wasn't sure of, and it was at its jauntiest as he approached the limo, looked at that smiling head leaning out of the limo's open door, and said, "You're gonna be Johnny Eppick, I bet."

"Got it in one," Eppick said. "And you'll be Andrew Octavian Kelp."

"Oh, I only use the Octavian on holidays."

"Well, get in, get in, we might as well get going."

The interior of the limo had been adjusted for Mr. Hemlow's wheelchair, so that a bench seat behind the chauffeur's compartment faced backward, and the rest of the floor was covered with curly black carpet, with lines in it that showed where the platform would extend out through the doorway when it was time to load Mr. Hemlow aboard. The bench seat would really be comfortable only for two and Eppick was already on it, but when Dortmunder bent to enter the limo somehow Kelp was already in there, seated to Eppick's right and looking as innocent as a poisoner.

So that left the floor for Dortmunder, unless he wanted to sit up in front of the partition with the chauffeur and not be part of the conversation. He went in on all fours and then turned himself around into a seated position as Eppick closed the door. The rear wall, beneath the window, was also covered with the black carpet, and wasn't really uncomfortable at all, anyway not at first. So Dortmunder might be on the floor, but at least he was facing front.

"All right, Pembroke," Eppick said, and off they went.

Kelp, with his amiable smile, said, "John tells me you know all about us."

"Oh, I doubt that," Eppick said. "I only know that little part of your activities that's made it into the filing system. The tip of the iceberg, you might say."

"And yet," Kelp said, "I don't seem to have any files on you at all. John says you're retired from the NYPD."

"Seventeen months ago."

"Congratulations."

"Thank you."

"Where was it in the NYPD," Kelp wondered, "did they make use of your talents?"

"The last seven years," Eppick told him, not seeming to mind the interrogation at all, "I was in the Bunco Squad."

"They still call it that? 'Say, did you drop this wallet? That kinda thing?"

Eppick laughed. "Oh, there's still some street hustle," he said, "but not so much any more. You watch television half an hour, you know every scam there is."

"Not every."

"No, not every," Eppick conceded. "But these days, it's mostly phone and Internet."

"The Nigerians."

"All that money they're trying to get out of Lagos and into your bank account," Eppick agreed. "Amazing how often we find the sender in Brooklyn."

"Amazing you find the sender," Kelp told him.

"Oh, now," Eppick said. "We do have our little successes."

"That's nice," Kelp said. "But now you're out on your own. John tells me you got a card and everything."

"Oh, I'm sorry," Eppick said. "I should of given you one." And, sliding two fingers under the lapel of his topcoat, he brought out another of his cards and gave it to Kelp.

Who studied it with interest. "'For Hire, " he read. "Doesn't narrow it much."

"I didn't want the clients to feel constricted."

"You had many of those?"

"Mr. Hemlow is my first," Eppick said, "and naturally the most important."

"Naturally."

"I don't want to let him down."

"No, of course not," Kelp agreed. "Here at the beginning of your second career."

"Exactly."

"Yet John tells me," Kelp said, "this little thing you put him on the send for, he tells me it isn't gonna be easy."

"If it was gonna be easy," Eppick said, "I woulda sent a boy."

"That's true."

"I got every confidence in your friend John," Eppick said. Looking at Dortmunder, who was at that moment shifting position this way and that because after a while and a few stops at red lights the limo floor and back weren't quite as comfortable as he'd thought at first, he said, "I believe also that John has every confidence in me."

"Sure," Dortmunder said. When he crumpled himself into the corner, it was a little better.


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