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52

"THE WHOLE THING'S going to hell from the get-go," Tiny said. He didn't sound happy.

"It's goddam Perly's own schedule," Stan complained. "Can't he read his own writing?"

The four had retreated down the ramp to take up a position over by the stairs to the basement. But this wasn't the way things were supposed to be. Relying on Perly's schedule, they'd fitted their own schedule into it like a burglar's hand in a stolen glove. They would get here a little before nine, and they'd have a leisurely time to study the offices for unknown problems — or opportunities, you never knew — and then come down here and continue on down to the basement about a quarter to ten.

Then Perly was supposed to show up, not now. Then he would show up, at ten, dammit, and do his packing and his filing until eleven, when Continental Detective Agency people would show up with the security stuff. A little five-handed poker would be played in the basement while Perly and the security guys set things up, and then left, and the office would be in the charge of the two uniformed Continentals, who would call their people at the bank.

Shortly before two in the morning, according to the plan, the game would be ended, and they'd come up from the basement and go on up the ramp to persuade the Continentals to cooperate — Tiny was particularly good at that part. The uniforms would be borrowed from their previous wearers, and whichever of the group they fit best would become the new security detail. When the set showed up, they would accept delivery, then go get the borrowed van they'd stashed around the corner.

Simple. Plain. Nice. No trickery, no complications. But now?

"I think the whole job's in the tank," Tiny said. "And if it is, where we all go is home."

Kelp said, "John's still up there, you know."

Tiny looked around. "Dortmunder? Where is he?"

"He went into the bathroom," Kelp said.

"At a time like this?"

"He went to hide in the bathroom."

"You can't hide in bathrooms," Judson said.

Tiny said, "The kid's right."

Kelp, looking for a ray of hope, said, "Does this bathroom have a window?"

Stan, who'd studied all the territory up there as carefully as if he were going to drive around in it, said, "No. One of those exhaust fan things."

"Jump-the-gun Perly," Tiny said, "is gonna take a leak, and guess what. We don't wanna be here when that happens."

Stan said, "What if we just went up and take him prisoner now? There's five of us."

Kelp shook his head. "Perly has to front the operation until the chess set's here."

Tiny said, "So it's time to say good night."

Kelp didn't want to leave with John still stuck up there. "No, wait, Tiny," he said. "Nothing bad's happened yet. We can still hope."

Tiny doubted it. "Hope? Hope what? Hope Perly's blind? Hope he doesn't take leaks? Forget it, Kelp, Dortmunder's history. Where's that door zapper?"

"The garage door opener?" Kelp pointed upward. "John's got it."

"Perfect," Tiny said, then looked around and pointed. "That looks like a door."

"Tiny," Kelp said, "why not wait a little while, see what happens."

"We don't want to be here," Tiny said, "when Perly makes the phone call. You know the precinct in this neighborhood already has this address on their minds tonight. When Perly calls the precinct, it's already too late to leave here."

"I tell you what," Kelp said. "I'll just go back up there, take a look, see what's going on."

"Couldn't hurt," Stan said. "What the hell, we're here,"

"And if there's a problem," Kelp said, "we can always go out the way John came in last night, the back door out of the basement. Could be some other rich apartments across the way, so it isn't a total loss."

Tiny considered, then shrugged. "Five minutes," he said. "Then I'm outa here, and I won't mind making noise."

"Thanks, Tiny," Kelp said, and turned toward the ramp.

"If you two wind up upstate," Tiny said after him, "I don't visit."

Not feeling that needed an answer, Kelp went on up the ramp. The office door had an automatic lock on it, but he'd already automatically unlocked it once tonight, so he just breezed through it, being very quiet, then tiptoed across the outer office to peek around the corner of the doorway.

There was Perly, seated at his desk, taking folders out of a side drawer. He sorted the folders into two stacks, then reached for more. And just beyond him was the bathroom door.

A distraction might help John, but a distraction would also ruin the heist. Kelp held his position and watched, and Perly stood, picked up one of the stacks of folders, and carried it over to an open safe along the same wall as the bathroom. He stooped to put the folders into the safe, turned around, and went back to the desk.

Twice more Kelp watched Perly sort folders and carry some to the safe. Then he put the rest of the folders back in the drawer, locked the drawer, and stood up to go over to some bookshelves full of tall binders, all neatly marked on their spines with tape. He stood looking at the binders, then turned to look at the bathroom door instead.

Uh oh. Did John make a noise in there?

Perly crossed to the bathroom door and opened it. He switched on the light, stepped in, and closed the door.

Kelp didn't know what to do. Stay here and see if he could help John? Or get fast down the ramp to warn the others?

The toilet flushed.

Kelp frowned at the bathroom door. Water ran in a sink in there. Perly came out, switched off the light, and went back to the bookcase, where he started to sort through the binders as Kelp raced down the ramp and over to the others. In a shrill half-whisper, he said, "Perly went in there!"

"We're gone," Tiny said.

"No, listen," Kelp said. "He went in there, he took a leak, he came out, calm as ever. He never saw John!"

"Impossible," Tiny said.

"But that's what happened, Tiny, I saw it."

Judson said, "Are you sure he's in there?"

"I watched him go in," Kelp said. "And he didn't come back out, or where is he?"

"If he come out," Stan said, "even if Perly didn't see him, we would."

"Tiny," Kelp said, "we can stick around, because somehow John made himself invisible in there."

"Then I will stick around," Tiny said. "I'll want him to tell me how he did it."


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