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23

THE LOBBY OF the C&I International building did not look as Judson had expected from John's description. The openness, largeness, and airiness had somehow been left out. The space must have been three stories tall, sheathed in creamy mottled marble, with a sweeping wall of glass to face the street. The place mostly reminded Judson of a cathedral, particularly on a cloudless Sunday morning like this, with the thousand rays of thin November sun reverberating every which way through the lobby, reflected from all the other glass-and-steel buildings along the avenue.

It was like standing inside a halo. How could anybody ever bring himself to steal anything in a place like this? Never mind all the light, it was the saintliness that deterred.

And yet it was a bank. Over there were the two guards, behind their chest-high counter, the monitor screens set into the wall up behind them.

Would one of those screens show the vault, or at least the entrance to the vault? Why not?

Judson moved in the direction of the monitor screens, looking at black-and-white pictures of hallways and empty elevators, until he became aware that the guards were, in their turn, looking at him. Not because they suspected him of anything, but because he was the only thing they could see that was in motion. The shops on the other side of the lobby were closed on Sundays, and so were many of the offices on the floors above.

Belatedly deciding it would be a mistake to draw a lot of attention to himself, Judson veered from his monitor-bound route toward the register instead, deeper along that wall. They would think he was merely looking for one of the tenants here, wouldn't they?

Judson had no real business in the C&I building, not on Sunday nor on any other day. He had just been feeling so bad about John ever since he'd casually demolished everybody's hopes yesterday by saying flat out that they'd never get into that bank vault, and had seen the sag of John's face like a wedge of cheese in a microwave.

But why should they believe him? He was the kid, what did he know? Of course, it was just that all the others were pretending there was hope, to buoy John's spirits, and the kid had been too dumb to go along, so once he'd burst the bubble, there was nothing left for anybody else to say.

But was he right? Was it true that the vault was impregnable? Rising from bed in his Spanish Chelsea apartment this morning, he'd known the only thing he could do was look at the place for himself, just in case — just in case, you know — there might somehow, in some little tiny way nobody else had noticed, be a way to squiggle into that vault after all.

And back out. That was one of the most important life lessons he'd learned so far: It's nice to be able to get into a place, but it's essential to be able to get out again.

Over at the big black square rectangle of the register, with all the white letters and numbers on it defining every company with space in this building, Judson gazed upward, hoping the guards had lost interest in him (but certainly not looking over there to find out), and found himself marveling at how many different names there are in this world. All individual, most pronounceable. Think of that.

"Help you?"

Judson jumped like a hiccup, and turned to see one of the guards right there next to him, frowning at him, being polite in a very threatening way. "Oh, no!" he blurted. "I'm just… waiting for a friend of mine. He didn't come down yet, that's all."

"Where does he work?" the guard asked, pretending to be helpful, and then, more suddenly, more sharply, "Don't look at the board! Where does he work?"

Where does he work? Judson pawed desperately through his short-term memory, in search of just one of those names he'd so recently been reading and marveling on, and every last one of them was gone. His mind was a blank. "Well," he said. "Uh…"

"Hey, there you are! Sorry I'm late."

Judson turned his deer-in-the-headlights eyes and there was Andy Kelp, striding with great confidence across the sun-gleaming marble lobby, like the galactic commander in a science-fiction saga. "Oh," Judson said, relieved and bewildered. What words were he supposed to speak? "I," he said, "I forgot where you work. Isn't that stupid?"

"I wish I could," Andy said, cheerful as ever. "Let's not go up there, it's too nice a day."

"Oh. Okay."

Andy nodded a greeting at the guard. "How ya doin?"

"Fine," the guard said, but he didn't sound it.

Judson felt the guard's eyes on his back all the way out to Fifth Avenue. Once safely out there among the tourists and the taxis, Andy said, "Let's mosey southward a little." And, as they did so, he said, "Just implanting your facial features on the staff there, eh?"

"I wasn't trying to."

"No? What were you trying to do?"

"I felt so bad about John, I thought, why don't I just take a look, see if maybe…"

They stopped for a red light among the tourists, many of whom appeared to have been inflated beyond manufacturer's specifications, and Andy said, "My thought exactly. I even went to double-o that golden dome, the least I can do is give a gander to a bank. I get there, I can see you're in need of assistance."

"I was," Judson said humbly.

"See, kid — The light's green."

They crossed, amid all that padding, and Andy said, "See, if you're gonna case a place, it's not a good idea you give them a glossy photograph of yourself. What you do, you come in, you walk over to the elevators, you give that other door the eye, you look at your watch, you shake your head, you walk out. You don't look at guards, you don't stand still, you don't hang around, but when you're outside you've got the situation cold."

"There's no way to get into the vault," Judson said.

"You said that yesterday."

"But now I know it."

"I tell you what," Andy said. "It's a nice day, we're out here anyway, let's go see did John get over it."


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