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29

FRIDAY AFTERNOON, ANNE Marie took a shuttle back up to LaGuardia from DC. Kelp cabbed out there from the city a little ahead of time, so he'd have leisure to find just the right wheels with which to deliver Anne Marie back to their love nest. His first priority, as always, was a car with MD plates, he being firmly of the conviction that doctors have a greater than average experience of the highs and lows of human life, and will therefore whenever possible gravitate toward the high; as in their choice of personal vehicle, for instance.

This trip, however, was more than ordinarily special, as being the return of Anne Marie after three days of travel to and from DC and dealing with the Earring Man while there, all on Kelp's behalf. So, when he began his ramble through long-term parking, keeping an eye out for MD plates and no dust (early in the long term), his other criterion was that he wanted a woman doctor's car. In the old days he would have looked for a modest sedan with lower-than-average mileage but more than the usual dents, but times had changed and the old signifiers no longer signified.

Well, something had to signify. Kelp strolled for a while among the wheels on offer, and then he saw a white Lexus RX 400h, the low-fuel-consumption hybrid, and yes, MD plates; unusual on a white car. This doctor drives a hybrid, so this doctor cares about the planet. And the bumper sticker: The Earth — Our Home — Keep It Tidy. Uh huh. And when he looked through the driver's window, there was the clincher: two bottles of Poland Spring water in the cup holders.

An electronically inclined acquaintance of Kelp's named Wally Knurr had recently sold him, at very little above cost, a carefully restructured universal remote. Originally meant to find its way through the various individual electronic signals of every known TV, VCR, and DVD, the machine now provided the same service for your most recent automobile models, thus bypassing all the physical violence of yesteryear. It took Kelp barely a dozen clicks with the remote to make the Lexus give him the bleep of welcome. He checked inside, to be sure the parking fee ticket was in its place behind the sun visor, saw that it was, locked the Lexus again and went off to find Anne Marie.

Who seemed to be the only one in her group to come down the long ramp from the gates without a briefcase. What she lugged instead was a bulky black leather shoulder bag bouncing on her right hip, which made her look like a particularly fetching stew out of uniform, and from the tail ends of a few conversations he observed as the herd headed this way some of her fellow passengers had dreamed of being in a position to get her even further out of uniform, but forget all that now: her boyfriend's back.

They kissed, to the disgust of the briefcase-toters, and made their way out to long-term, where Anne Marie gazed with pleasure upon the Lexus and said, "For me?"

"I picked it out special."

"You're very thoughtful," Anne Maria told him, as he remoted them into the car.

Once he had the seat adjusted back from somewhere up against the firewall, the Lexus was fine. Kelp happily paid the three-day parking charge and out they went to Grand Central Parkway, westbound toward the city.

As they drove, he said, "I guess it all went okay, then."

"You owe me four hundred bucks."

"Extra beyond the airfare, you mean. How'd I do that?"

"Mr. Earring Man wanted an advance," she said. "He smelled a felony, and would risk his reputation for no less."

"I can understand that," Kelp said. "You did right to pay him."

"You know, Andy," she said, "I'm not the gang's banker."

"Oh, I know that," Kelp assured her. "Me and John, over the weekend, we'll do a little this and that."

"Good."

"But otherwise, he says no problem, huh?"

"He didn't want to admit how easy it was going to be," she said, "but I could tell."

The 125th Street Bridge was near. "I missed you," he said.

"Good. I missed you, too."

"We'll have a nice dinner out."

She considered that. "We'll have a nice late dinner out," she decided.


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