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49

WHEN DORTMUNDER WALKED into the O.J. at three minutes past ten that night, Rollo appeared to be deeply involved in taking an inventory, or a census, or something, of the bottles lined up on the backbar, doubling themselves in the mirror that ran along the wall back there. Tongue between teeth and left eye scrinched up like Popeye, he pointed the business end of a pencil at each bottle, sorting like with like and subtracting for mirror image before writing down the results on a piece of stationery from Opryland Hotel. Feeling Rollo shouldn't be disturbed at such a delicate moment, Dortmunder rested a forearm on the bar and watched.

Meanwhile, down at the left end of the bar, the regulars were discussing poker, one of them now saying, "Yeah, but why a flush?"

A second regular cocked his head in response. "And your question?" he asked.

"Just that," the first one said. "Okay, I mean, a pair, trips, I get that. Even a straight, you can see the concept, your numbers are in a straight line. But why a flush?"

A third regular, who maybe hadn't caught all the nuances of the original question, explained, "That means they're all in the same suit."

The first regular lowered a gaze on him. "And?"

"They just are," the third regular said. "All the same color."

"And?"

A fourth regular, sounding a bit tentative for a regular, said, "Well, if they're red…"

"Yeah, fine," the first regular allowed. "That could be. But what about when it's black? What about when it's clubs?"

The second regular, who hadn't been heard from for a while, said, "Well, you wanna talk about that, how come they're called clubs?"

It was the third regular who said, "That's because they look like clubs,"

"No, they don't," the second regular told him. "They look like clovers. Three-leaf clovers."

The fourth regular, still tentative, said, "So what about spades?"

"They're black," the third regular said.

The fourth regular, suddenly no longer tentative, said, "We know that, dummy, but whado they look like?"

The third regular looked into space. "Dummy?" he asked, as though uncertain of his hearing.

"Well, them," the first regular said. "Them, they look like spades."

"No they don't," the fourth regular said, all tentativeness forgot. "You wanna try to dig a hole with one of those things?"

"No," the first regular told him, "I don't wanna dig a hole with one of those things, they're cards, you play games with them."

"Dummy?"

"I go back to my original question," the first regular said. "Why a flush?"

"When you lose," the second regular suggested, "your money goes down the toilet."

"What's with this dummy?" the third regular insisted.

"They don't have dummies in poker," the first regular told him. "They have dummies in bridge."

"I can see," the second regular said, "you don't play poker."

"Oh, yeah?" The first regular turned away to call, "Rollo, you got a decka cards?"

Rollo turned half away from his bottle count to say, "No, I'd rather have a license." Then, catching a glimpse of the patient Dortmunder out of the corner of his eye he turned full around and said, "There you are."

"There I am," Dortmunder agreed.

"You got an envelope under your arm."

"That's true."

Having his research materials from Perly's office to bring to the meeting, Dortmunder had commandeered from the trash a manila envelope that had once contained color photos of flat scrubland in Florida that some misguided sales agent had been certain "J. A. Dortmunder or Resident" would eagerly look upon as the site of a "dream vacation or retirement residence." Feeling a little exposed to be walking around with an envelope too big to conceal on his person, he'd written on it Medical Records, in the belief that was something nobody would want to look too closely at. "It's just some stuff," he explained to Rollo, "to show the guys."

"Well, you got some guys back there," Rollo told him. "The other bourbon's got your glass."

"Good. I didn't want to disturb you," he said, gesturing at the bottles along the backbar.

"You don't disturb me," Rollo said. "It's a place of business."

"Right."

Leaving Rollo and that conversation, Dortmunder walked down to the end of the bar and past the regulars, as the fourth one was saying, "You know what's a very good card game? Frisk."

"Frisk?"

Suddenly tentative again, the fourth regular said, "Isn't that it? Frisk? Like bridge."

Rounding the end of the bar, Dortmunder walked down the hall, past the doors labeled POINTERS and SETTERS with black dog silhouettes, and past the former phone booth, now an unoccupied sentry box containing nothing but notes to and from the lovelorn plus a few frayed wire ends, and into a small square room with a concrete floor. Beer and liquor cases were stacked against all the walls, floor to ceiling, leaving just space enough for a beat-up old round wooden table with a once-green felt top, this surrounded by half a dozen armless wooden chairs. The only light source was a single bare bulb under a round tin reflector hanging from a long black wire over the center of the table.

This was where they would meet, and it turned out, this time Dortmunder was the last to arrive, and as usual, the prize awarded to the last arrival was that he got to sit at the table with his back to the door. Andy Kelp had apparently been the first to show up, since he now sat in the place of utmost security on the opposite side of the table, facing the door. In front of him on the felt stood the bottle of alleged bourbon, plus two short fat glasses, one half full and one containing only ice cubes.

To Kelp's left sat Stan Murch, and to Stan's left Judson Blint, the kid. In front of each of them was a glass of draft beer and between them the saltshaker they shared, it being a tenet of Stan's creed that a little salt sprinkled into a glass of beer would restore a faltering head, a belief the kid had lately signed onto.

Across from those two, more or less taking up that opposite quadrant, was Tiny Bulcher, his fist closed around a glass that looked as though it might have cherry soda in it but which actually contained a mixture of vodka and less expensive Chianti, a drink Tiny claimed was not only robust but also good for the digestion. His digestion, anyway.

It was Tiny who'd been speaking when Dortmunder entered the room: "If that's his attitude, fine, I put him back in the meat locker."

People tended to look for a distraction when Tiny was telling his stories, so the room significantly brightened when everybody saw Dortmunder walk in. "There you are!" Kelp sang out.

"You got my glass," Dortmunder said, shut the door, and sat with his back to it, putting the envelope on the table in front of him.

"Coming up," Kelp said, and poured into the emptier glass at his disposal, then paused with the bottle hovering. "Good?"

"That's fine," Dortmunder agreed.

As the glass relayed from Kelp to Stan to the kid to Dortmunder, Kelp said, "We just been waiting for you to get here with the stuff."

"You tell them what I got?"

"No," Kelp said. "I thought you'd like that pleasure yourself."

"Thank you, Andy," Dortmunder said, took a sip of his drink, and nodded at the others. "I got it all here," he said, and patted the envelope.

Judson said, "Medical records?"

"That's just the cover story," Dortmunder told him. "Inside, it's a different story."

Kelp said, "He had an interesting night, John did."

"Andy and I," Dortmunder said, "we thought we'd check out the place where the chess set's gonna be when it's outa that damn vault, and the place is a private eye's office down in the West Village."

Judson said, "An office?"

"Well, he's got the whole building."

Stan said, "That's some private eye."

Dortmunder shrugged. "It's only a two-story building. Anyway, what with one thing and another, I'm on this roof I gotta get off, and down into this space behind all these buildings, and I thought the only way out was through this Perly's building."

Judson said, "Perly?"

"That's the guy's name. Jacques Perly."

"Very pretty," Tiny said, not as a compliment.

"Anyway," Dortmunder said, "Andy was out ahead of me, turned out he went a different way, through an apartment building I didn't notice."

Stan said, "An apartment building you didn't notice? How do you not notice an apartment building?"

Kelp, to offer some assistance, said, "It was nighttime, Stan, and it was very dark and confusing down in there."

"If you say so," Stan said.

Ignoring that, Dortmunder said, "So I went through Perly's building, without, I might say, leaving one single trace that I went through there. And while I was there, I figured, let's see what it looks like here. So I tossed it, and I found some stuff."

Stan said, "What stuff?"

"Well, their other garage door opener," Dortmunder told him. "I didn't bring that with me, I got it at home."

Stan said, "This is a place with a garage? In Manhattan?"

Kelp said, "You see them sometimes, Stan, with the sign. No Parking, Active Driveway."

"It's an old industrial building," Dortmunder explained. "Converted for Perly."

Abruptly, Judson laughed. "You got their garage door opener! You could go there any time, bing-bing, you're in."

"It's loud," Dortmunder cautioned him. "You go in that way, you're not exactly sneaking up on anybody."

"Still," Judson said." It's nice."

Kelp said, "John, tell them what else you got."

"Well, Perly is a very organized guy," Dortmunder said, taking from Medical Records the sheets of paper covered with copies of Perly's neat small handwriting. "He put down the time the chess set's getting there, who's moving it, the security people they're gonna have then and later, the extra security stuff they're gonna lay on like motion sensors—"

"I hate motion sensors," Tiny said.

"We all do, Tiny," Dortmunder agreed. "Anyway, I made copies, so we can know what he knows."

Tiny said, "How many copies?"

"Just one, Tiny. I didn't wanna hang out there too long."

"Well, I don't wanna hang out here too long," Tiny said. "Kid, read it."

So for the next five minutes Judson read Perly's careful notes, while the others listened in a silence that moved steadily toward awe. When he finished, the silence went on for another few seconds, until Kelp said, "They really don't want us in there."

"Not up to them," Tiny said.

"Well, let's do a little recap here," Stan said. "I think I got it, but tell me if I'm right. This guy Perly gets to his office at ten tomorrow night." He looked at Judson. "Right?"

"That's what it says," Judson agreed.

Stan nodded. "He's got stuff to do, get ready for his house-guests. And they're gonna show up at eleven. Am I still right?"

"Absolutely," Judson told him. "These are the security guys and the tech guys with the equipment."

"And with them," Stan said, "they got Tiny's motion sensors."

"I don't like motion sensors," Tiny said.

"We know, Tiny," Stan told him. He looked around. "They also got — what? New phones."

"A cell phone," Kelp said. "And a special landline phone doesn't use Perly's connections."

"They've also got," Dortmunder said, "a metal cabinet with thirty-two lockable drawers for the chess pieces."

"And the complete security thing at the office door like at the airport with the doorway you go through," Stan said. He looked around. "Am I leaving anything out?"

"The moat," Kelp suggested.

Stan frowned at him. "The what?"

"Forget it," Kelp said.

"You can't do a moat in the city," Stan told him.

"I understand that. Just forget it. Go on with the recap. Now they're setting up all this stuff."

"And Perly goes home," Dortmunder said.

"Right," Stan said. "So it's turned over to the security guys now, and when they've got the office the way they like it they call their people at the bank."

"But the people at the bank," Judson said, "they don't move when they get the call. They wait, and they don't move until two o'clock."

"That's right," Dortmunder said. "It's all timed, so they can coordinate with the cops, because they get a cop escort coming down."

"And they figure to get to the office with the armored car," Stan said, "a little after two-thirty in the morning, drive the armored car into the building and up to the second floor and the cops go away. So now it's just the security from the armored car and the security already in the office." He looked around. "And there's some sort of idea that's where we come in."

"That's what we're working on," Dortmunder said.

"The good thing about this," Judson said, and they all looked at him. "Well, kind of good," he said. "We can go in ahead of time. We can go in before they set up."

Stan said, "And then what?"

"I dunno," Judson said. "It's gotta help."

Tiny said, "Dortmunder, does this Pearl guy live there?"

"No, it's just his office."

"Anybody there right now?"

"No, not until the chess set is gonna get there. Late tomorrow night."

"Then what we do," Tiny said, "we go in there now. We look it over, see what we can use. Dortmunder, go get your opener and meet us there."

"I will," Dortmunder said, rising, half-turning so he could at last see the door.

Kelp said, "John, take taxis."

"Oh, I know," Dortmunder said.


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