THOUGH FIONA AND Brian ended their workdays at radically different hours, they began them together, up no later than eight, soon out of the apartment, a stop at Starbucks for coffee and a sweet roll as breakfast on the subway, then the ride downtown together until Fiona got off the train in midtown, Brian continuing on toward his cable company employer's studios down in Tribeca.
This Monday morning was the same, with the usual hurried peck on the lips as Fiona left the train, paused to throw her empty coffee cup into the same trash barrel as always, and walked up the flights of concrete stairs to the street, then down Broadway and over to Fifth, where a poor beggar huddled against the chill air near the entrance to C&I.
Fiona reached into her coat pocket in search of a dollar — she always gave such unfortunates a dollar, not caring how they might spend it — when she realized it wasn't a beggar at all, it was Mr. Dortmunder. Terribly embarrassed, feeling her face flush crimson, hoping he hadn't seen her reach into her pocket or at least hadn't interpreted it for what it was, she forced a large smile onto her face, stopped in front of him and, too brightly, said, "Mr. Dortmunder! Hello again."
"I figured," he said, "we should maybe talk out here, not all the time up in Feinberg. You got a few minutes, we could walk around the block?"
She checked her watch, and she was in fact running a little early today, so she said, "Of course." To make it up to him for mistaking him for a beggar, she said, "I'd be happy to."
"Nice," he said. "So we'll walk."
So they walked, amid the morning scurry of office workers. The Monday crowds on Fifth Avenue were very different from Sunday's; those tourists were still in their hotel rooms, discussing the comparative excitements of a sightseeing bus around Manhattan or a ride on the Staten Island ferry, while the people on the sidewalks this morning were much faster, much leaner, and much more tightly focused on where they were going and why. It was hard for Fiona and Mr. Dortmunder to move among them at the slower pace required for conversation, but they tried, taking the occasional shoulder block along the way.
"What it is," Mr. Dortmunder said, "we got a real problem getting at that thing down in that place, like I told you last time."
"I'm sorry this whole thing got started," she said.
"Well, so am I, but here we are." He shrugged. "The thing is," he said, "your grandfather and the guy working for him, they're pretty set on getting that thing. Or, I mean, me getting that thing."
She felt so guilty about this, much worse than mistaking him for a beggar. "Would it help," she said, "if I talked to my grandfather?"
"Defeatist isn't gonna get far with him."
That sounded like her grandfather, all right. Sighing, she said, "I suppose not."
"But there maybe could be another way," he said.
Surprised, ready to be pleased, she said, "Oh, really?"
"Only," he said, "it's gonna mean I'm gonna have to ask you to help out."
She stopped, absorbed a couple rabbit punches from the hurrying throng, and said, "Oh, no, Mr. Dortmunder!"
They'd reached the corner now, and he said, "Come on around here, before they knock you out."
The side street was easier. Walking along it, she said, "You have to understand, Mr. Dortmunder, I'm an attorney. I'm an officer of the court. I can't be involved in crime."
"That's funny," he said. "I've heard of one or two lawyers involved in crime."
"Criminal lawyers, yes."
"That's not what I mean."
A luggage store with an inset entrance wasn't yet open for business. Pulling him into the space, surrounded by luggage behind windows, she said, "Let me explain." Sure.
"Feinberg," she said, "is a respectable serious law firm. If they knew I was even this much involved in— Mr. Dortmunder, let's be honest here."
"Uh," he said.
"What we're talking about," she said, "is robbery. Burglary. It's a felony, Mr. Dortmunder."
"That's what it is, all right."
"You simply can't ask me to be involved in a felony," she said. "I mean, I'm trying to be good at what I do."
"I'm not asking," he said, "for you to slip this thing out under your coat or anything. Let me tell you the situation, okay?"
"I'll have to tell my grandfather," she said, "that neither you nor he nor anyone else can expect any help from me of any kind. Not on this matter."
"That's nice," he said. "I'd like to tell him the same thing myself. Will you listen to what I got to say?"
Fiona could be mulish when pushed. Feeling pushed, face closed, she said, "Go right ahead."
"Those specs and pictures you gave me of the thing—"
"Already I'm in so deep!"
"Miss Hemlow," he said, "you don't know deep. Here's the thing about those specs. One of the rooks is the wrong weight."
This snagged her attention. "It's what?"
"It weighs three pounds less than the other ones," he said. "We figure, Northwood had a fake made up, sold the real one off for railroad fare."
"Yeah, I know. Anyway, your company has one of these family members, right?"
"Yes, of course."
"If we could get the news to that one," he said, "that there's a problem with one of the pieces, then maybe there's problems with more than one, maybe somebody in the family was up to some hanky-panky, and maybe he wants to—"
"Okay. Maybe she wants to get the whole chess set investigated by some experts. You know," he said, and his eyes actually gleamed. "Bring it up out of that vault, bring it to the expert's lab or wherever it is, have the thing there for a while."
"Oh, my God," she said.
"I can't do it," he pointed out. "You can see that I can't go talk to this person, how do I know any of this stuff? You could talk to her."
"Oh, my God," she said, more faintly.
He cocked his head and studied her. "Will you do it? I gotta tell you, it's the only way your grandfather's gonna get the thing."
"I have to," she stammered, "I have to think." And she fled the storefront, leaving him there, looking more than ever like a beggar.