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21

SATURDAY MORNING, AFTER May left for the Safeway, Dortmunder sat at the kitchen table and spread out the photos and spec sheets he'd been given by Fiona Hemlow last night. The chess set turned out to be a little smaller than he'd imagined, but also heavier: 680 pounds. Yeah, that would take more than one guy.

According to what it said on the description sheets, the chess pieces weren't actually gold all the way through, which would make them even heavier, but gold poured into forms around wood dowels, with three to five jewels set into each piece to make the two teams: pearls for the white gang, rubies for the red. The kings and queens were just under four inches tall, the others shorter. The gold had been shaped with extreme delicacy and care, as you would do if you were working for an absolute monarch.

Dortmunder had been looking at the pictures and reading the specs about half an hour when the phone rang, over there on the wall next to the refrigerator. It was going to be Andy Kelp, of course, and when Dortmunder got to his feet and walked to the phone and said into it, "Harya," it was.

"What's happening?"

"Well, I got the pictures," he said, reluctantly, looking over at the papers spread out on the table. He knew it was dumb to want to save that little trove of information for himself, but there it was.

"The pictures? Already?"

"And the specs, sizes, all that."

"I'll be right there," Kelp said, and was, walking into the kitchen, saying, "I didn't want to disturb you with the bell."

"I appreciate that," Dortmunder said. "How are my door locks holding up?"

"Oh, they're fine," Kelp assured him. "Let's see what we got here."

"One little puzzle," Dortmunder said.

Kelp had picked up a photo of the complete chess set, but now he looked at Dortmunder. "You mean, aside from how do we get our hands on it?"

"One of the rooks," Dortmunder told him, "is light."

"Light? How do you mean, light?"

Using the photo Kelp was holding, Dortmunder pointed to white king's rook and said, "That one's about three pounds lighter than this one," pointing to white queen's rook, "but that one's the same as the two on the other side."

While Dortmunder riffled through more photos, Kelp stared at the picture of the entire set. "You mean all of these others weigh the same?"

"Almost. There's little tiny differences because there's different jewels in each one. Here, here's the separate pictures of those two. The one on the right there is the light one."

"King's rook," Kelp read the caption at the bottom of the picture and looked at the squat golden castle decorated with four sparkly pearls. "I thought rook meant to cheat somebody."

"Outa three pounds, I know. But one of these pages here uses the word 'rook' and then that thing, that para thing…" He finger-drew in the air the icon of a lying-down smile face.

"I know what you mean," Kelp said.

"Good, (or castle) it says. So that's a word for it."

Kelp bent over the individual pictures of the two white rooks, then leaned back and shook his head. "Maybe," he said, "we'll be able to tell more when we've got 'em in our hands. Heft them."

Dortmunder frowned at him. "Got 'em in our hands? Don't you remember, they're still in that vault. This is just so Eppick and Hemlow think something's happening, but Andy, nothing is happening."

"I don't know why you're so negative," Kelp told him. "Look at these pictures. Every day, we get closer."

"Yeah, and I know to what," Dortmunder said, and the phone rang. "That's probably Eppick now," he said, getting to his feet. "Wanting to know is it time to send the arresting officers."

"Give the man credit for a little patience," Kelp suggested.

Dortmunder barked into the phone and Stan Murch's voice said, "The kid and I just finished breakfast, in a place over by his place."

"That's nice," Dortmunder said, and told Kelp, "Stan and Judson just had breakfast together."

"Why's he telling you that?"

"We didn't get there yet," Dortmunder said, and into the phone he said, "Why are you telling me that? This isn't something else about that dome, is it?"

"No, no," Stan said. "I gave that up."

"Good."

"Kind of like a lost love."

"Oh, yeah?"

"I'm traveling strictly Flatbush Avenue these days."

"Well, it's still Brooklyn."

"But no dome. Listen, the kid and me," Stan said, "were wondering, since the dome thing's no good, did you maybe have something going on with that cop."

"Mostly," Dortmunder said, "he's got something going on with me."

"If we could help—"

"I'm beyond help."

Kelp said, "Tell them come over. The more brains the merrier."

"Andy says you should come over to my place, bring your brains."

"We'll be right there," Stan said, and they were, but they used the traditional entry method of ringing the street doorbell, and it so happened they did so just as the phone rang again.

"You get the phone," Kelp suggested, standing, "and I'll get the door."

"Good." Dortmunder crossed to the phone and said, "Harya," into it as Kelp pressed the release button on the wall and walked away down the hall to wait for the arrivals to climb the two flights.

A voice that could only belong to Tiny Bulcher said, "Dortmunder, I worry about you."

"Good," Dortmunder said. "I wouldn't want to worry about me all alone."

"You having trouble with that cop?"

"Yes. Listen, Andy's here and now Stan and Judson are just showing up."

"You're having a meeting without me?"

"It didn't start out to be a meeting. People just keep showing up, like a wake. You wanna come over?"

"I'll be right there," Tiny said, and was.

There were four chairs around the kitchen table, and Judson could sit on the radiator, so once Tiny had been added to the mix they were all more or less comfortable. Since Dortmunder had just finished describing the current situation to Stan and Judson, Kelp did the honors with Tiny, including a description of Eppick's apparently broad and entirely unnecessary background data bank on everybody in the room.

"There are people," Tiny commented, "who, when they retire, they oughta retire."

"Tiny," Dortmunder said, "the way it looks, I'm the only one he's really putting the pressure on. When I don't get that chess set, I'm the one he's gonna blame, nobody else."

"San Francisco isn't a bad place to hang out sometimes," Tiny observed.

"I was thinking Chicago," Dortmunder told him, "and Andy suggested Miami, but Eppick knows all about that. He tells me, with all the millions of cops all connected now, he'll find me wherever I go."

Tiny nodded, thinking it over. "It's true," he said. "It's harder to disappear than it used to be in the old days. In the old days, you just burn your fingerprints off with acid and there you are."

"Ow," Judson said. "Wouldn't that hurt?"

"Not for twenty-five years," Tiny told him. "Anyway, you can't burn DNA off. Not and live through it."

Kelp said, "You know, we got another little conundrum here. I know it isn't as important as the main problem—"

"The vault," Dortmunder said.

"That's the problem I was thinking of," Kelp agreed. "Anyway," he told the others, "you see these pictures of these two rooks."

"Those are castles," Stan said.

"Yes, but," Kelp said, "rook is a name for them in chess. Anyway, everything weighs the way it's supposed to, except this one rook here is three pounds lighter than the other rooks."

They all leaned over the pictures, including Judson, who got up from the radiator and came over to stand beside the table, gazing down. Stan said, "They look alike."

"But you see the weight," Kelp said. "They wrote it down right there."

Stan nodded. "Maybe it's a typo."

"This stuff is all pretty careful," Kelp said.

Dortmunder said, "I don't find this as gripping as the main problem."

"No, of course not," Kelp said. "It's just a mystery, that's all."

"No, it isn't," Judson said. "That part's easy."

They all watched him go back to sit on the radiator again. Kelp said, "You know why this one's different."

"Sure." Judson shrugged. "You just got to put yourself in that sergeant's place, Northwood. There he is in Chicago with this thing, very valuable but it weighs almost seven hundred pounds. He's as broke as the other guys, but he's gotta get out of there fast before the platoon gets back. So he has a guy, maybe a jeweler, somebody, make up a fake, looks just like the real thing. That way, he can sell the pearls, sell the gold, get on that train, show up in New York in style and start his wheeling and dealing."

Everybody thought that was brilliant. Tiny said, "Kid, you're an asset."

"Thank you, Tiny."

Judson beamed all over. Since he also looked as though any second he might start to blush, everybody else went back to looking at the pictures and talking to one another, Kelp saying, "So when we do our own little switcheroo, we want to make sure we don't do this guy."

Dortmunder said, "What do you mean, our own switcheroo? We got a vault between us and them, remember?"

Stan said, "I gotta say, from my perspective, it does seem worth the effort."

"Effort isn't the question," Dortmunder said. "The vault is the question."

"So let's ask the kid," Tiny said. "Kid, you solved the mystery of the rook; very good. Here's question number two: How do we get into the vault?"

Judson looked surprised. "We can't," he said.


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