home   |   А-Я   |   A-Z   |   меню


IT TURNED OUT Mr. Hemlow's compound wasn't upstate after all, but upstate plus, which meant, having driven straight north out of the city up through New York State for more than two hours, they suddenly veered off to the right oblique, like a basketball forward going in for a layup, and here they were in Massachusetts. And still not there.

Long before Massachusetts, Dortmunder had come to the realization that the only way he was going to survive this trip was by not sitting on the floor, which was bonier than it had seemed at first and also did a certain amount of jolting and juking, less noticeable to people up there on the comfortable upholstery. His alternative, after several failed experiments, was to lie on his back on the floor and stretch his legs out, so that his ankles were more or less between the ankles of Eppick and Kelp. In that position, left arm under his head for a pillow, he could feel foolish but also believe he would somehow live through all this.

Being on the floor like that, he didn't get to see a lot of the scenery go by, nor to participate much in the conversation proceeding above him, though he could certainly hear everything those two had to say to one another. After an early period of parry-and-feint, in which Eppick tried to interrogate Kelp while pretending he wasn't doing any such thing, and Kelp pretended to answer all those questions without ever actually conveying any solid information — much like a politician at a press conference — they settled into their anecdotage, each telling little incidents from other people's lives, never their own. "A guy I know once—" and so on. Eppick's little tales tended to finish with the miscreant in handcuffs, while Kelp's had the rascal scampering over the rooftops to safety, but they obviously both enjoyed the exercise and each other.

From time to time, in order to give his cramping left arm a rest, Dortmunder would roll over onto his right side, use his bent right arm beneath his head as a pillow, and let the twinging left arm lie straight down his side. At those times, he was in even less contact with the rest of the world, so much so that, at one point, he actually fell asleep, though he would have said that was impossible. That is, before—

"Snr—? Wha?"

"We're here, John," Eppick said, and stopped poking Dortmunder's shins with his toe.

Dortmunder sat up, incautiously, became painfully aware of many of his body parts, and braced himself against the floor, which was not vibrating.

The limo had stopped. Blinking gummy eyes, Dortmunder looked past the looming forms of Eppick and Kelp, and saw the steering wheel. Where was the chauffeur? Whatsit, Pembroke.

Oh. Out there in the woods.

They were on a dirt road now, surrounded by huge Christmas trees, and when Dortmunder twisted around — ouch — he saw out the back window that they were very close to some sort of paved road, on which, as he watched, a truck piled high with monster logs went rolling by.

Meanwhile, this dirt road had come to a metal gate in a simple three-strand wire fence extending away to left and right into the sweeping lower branches of the Christmas trees. What Pembroke was doing now was working at two padlocks holding the halves of the gate shut.

Watching Pembroke at it, Dortmunder thought, that doesn't look very high-tech to me.

Kelp said, "That doesn't look very high-tech to me."

"It doesn't have to," Eppick said, and pointed. "See those square white metal plates at every post? Those'll be the notices. This is an electrified fence."

"Oh," Kelp said.

"It won't kill you," Eppick said, "but it will make you change your mind pretty quick."

Now Pembroke was walking the two sides of the gate open, first to the right, then to the left. Beyond the opening, the dirt road angled rightward and almost immediately disappeared among those big dark tree branches.

Pembroke slid back behind the wheel, drove forward past the gate, got out, shut the parts of the gate behind him but didn't refasten the padlocks, got back into the limo and started them slowly forward onto this private land.

As they drove, Eppick twisted around frontward to say, "Pembroke, a question."

«Sir,» Pembroke said, but kept his eye on the road curving back and forth ahead of them, nothing visible now but long curving green branches of pine needles and this well-maintained dirt road.

Eppick said, "Yesterday, Mr. Hemlow called this the compound. How big is it?"

"In land, sir?"

"Well, yeah, in land."

"I believe, sir," Pembroke said, while steering massively left and massively right, using his whole upper body as though this were a toboggan on fresh snow, "the compound consists of just under thirteen hundred acres."

"And the whole thing is circled with electric fence?"

"And alarmed, sir, yes."

"Alarmed?" Eppick sounded impressed. "Where's the alarm go off?"

"Boston, sir."

Less impressed, Eppick said, "Boston? That's the other end of the state."

"It is the capital of Massachusetts, sir. Orders received from Boston, by e-mail or fax, are acted upon much more rapidly than orders received from Great Barrington."

"Oh, I get it," Eppick said. "And is that back there the only entrance?"

"Oh, no, sir. The staff entrance is around to the other side of the hill."

"Staff entrance," Eppick echoed. "Staff entrance into this… forest."

"Yes, sir."

"Thank you, Pembroke."


Eppick faced the others. "Pretty good," he said.

Dortmunder had decided not to lie down any more, no matter what happened. Seated on the floor, semi-braced against the right door, with his left hand stiff-armed to the floor, he felt the limo sway to and fro as they continued their slow and steady serpentine progress through the forest, the road now tending more or less steadily uphill.

All these pine trees, and all so gigantic. It was like driving through a magic forest in a fairy tale. Dortmunder had just thought of that fanciful idea when the limo rounded yet another spreading tree, and in front of them appeared what at first looked to be several truckloads of dark brown shingles dumped in a pile in a clearing in the forest, but which, on further study, proved to be a sprawling three-story wood-shingle house with dark green window frames and a dark green shingle roof, as though it were more plant than structure and had grown in this place. A broad veranda girdled the house, both inviting and secretive.

To the right of this building was a pocket version of itself, being a garage with three green wooden doors, and this was where the dirt road became blacktop, opened to embrace all three doors, and stopped. To right and left, in among the trees, two more structures could be seen, also pretending to be abandoned piles of shingles, both of them smaller than the main house but larger than the garage.

As Pembroke angled the limo toward the garage door nearest the main house, Eppick said, "Those other buildings guesthouses?"

"On the left, sir. On the right is staff quarters."

"Who lives here now?"

"Oh, no one, sir." Pembroke stopped the limo and switched off the engine. "There has been no one on the property, sir," he said, "since the last time Mr. and Mrs. Hemlow attended a concert at Tanglewood more than three years ago. That would have been in August, sir."

предыдущая глава | What`s So Funny? | cледующая глава