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60

WHEN KELP STEERED the Colossus up to the closed gate to Mr. Hemlow's compound in Massachusetts around one-thirty that afternoon, the van was already there, parked in front of the gate. Stan and Judson, with all the time in the world, strolled back and forth on the recently snow-cleared drive, working out the kinks after all those hours in the car.

Looking grim, Kelp said, "I'm not gonna ask him," as he pulled in behind the van.

"I will," Tiny said.

"He'll only tell you," Kelp warned him.

"Then I'll know something," Tiny said.

They all climbed out of the Colossus and said hellos back and forth, and then Tiny said, "Kelp wants to know how you went to Queens and got here first."

"I don't care one way or the other," Kelp said.

"If you're headed north," Stan told them all, "that's the best way out of midtown. You take the bridge and Northern Boulevard, then the BQE to Grand Central to the Triboro Bridge—"

"And there you are back in Manhattan," Kelp said.

"They call it Triboro because it goes to three boroughs," Stan said. "You take it north to the Bronx, to the Major Deegan, which happens to be the Thruway, which is the widest fastest road in any of the boroughs. Meanwhile, when you do it your way, you're in traffic jams on the FDR, traffic jams on the Harlem River Drive and traffic jams on the West Side Highway, and you're not even outa Manhattan yet. Also, I suppose you had to fill the tank on that thing six, seven times to get here."

"It is a little thirsty, this beast," Kelp admitted, and spread his hands, forgiving everybody. "But we're all here now, so what difference does it make?"

Judson, admiration in his voice, said, "Stan is one heck of a driver."

"We know," Kelp said.

"Andy," Dortmunder said, before any tension could develop, "you're supposed to buzz them now, aren't you?"

"Right."

Kelp went off to the intercom mounted on the post beside the gate, and Dortmunder said to Stan, "There's a flat clear spot we found the last time in there. That's where we'll switch."

Stan, not sounding thrilled, said, "And I get to drive the monster."

"It's not so bad," Dortmunder told him. "It's kinda like driving a waterbed."

As Kelp got off the intercom, the two halves of the gate swung silently outward. "They say they got lunch ready for us," he said.

"That's a good thing," Tiny said.

They climbed back into the vehicles and drove through, the van moving over to let the Colossus go first. Behind them as they went, the gate closed itself.

Soon Kelp stopped once more, at a spot where, on the left side of the driveway, there was a small clearing. There might have been a little house there at one time, or just a turnaround for cars, or possibly extra parking for parties. Whatever the original idea, the space now was just a small clearing without the usual towering pines, the land at this time of year showing hardy weeds growing up through old snow.

Once again, they all piled out of the cars, but this time Stan and Judson took green plastic tarpaulins from the back of the van and spread them on the weedy patch while the other three dragged the box containing the chess set out far enough to get at the interior box containing the chess pieces. This part of the set was heavy enough all by itself for Tiny, who carried it over to the green tarps, to say, "Huh," before putting it down.

While he was doing that, Dortmunder and Kelp were pulling several cans of spray enamel out of the van and placing them on the periphery of the tarps.

"We'll see you up there," Stan said, when everything was ready.

"Shouldn't take us long," Kelp said. "Save us some lunch."

"Tell Tiny," Stan suggested.

"Don't be too long," Tiny suggested.

Judson gestured at the tarps. "The people up at the house," he said. "What are they supposed to think about all this?"

"They're servants," Tiny told him. "They're supposed to think, what a nice job I got."

"Oh. Okay."

As Stan and Judson got into the front of the Colossus, Tiny resumed his usual occupation of the backseat. Dortmunder and Kelp started rattling spray paint cans, listening to the little balls bounce around inside, and the Colossus disappeared around the next curve into the pines.

Kelp said, "Hold on, I need the red queen."

"Right."

Now they bent to the chess pieces and distributed them into two sections on the tarps, all standing in place, the red-gem pieces over here, the white-gem pieces over there. Kelp took the Earring Man's red queen from his pocket, put the original into his pocket in its place, and now the two of them went to work. Dortmunder sprayed his bunch black, Kelp went for the red. Fortunately, there was very little breeze, so they managed not to spray one another but still could circle the clusters of chessmen and get a pretty good shot at them from all sides.

As they sprayed, Dortmunder said, "We're only switching the one piece. We're leaving a lot of value up here."

"The way I figure," Kelp said, bending to get to the deeper crevices, "the four hundred bucks we paid for the queen was like seed money. We break up the queen and sell the parts and Anne Marie goes back to Earring Man for a few more second-team members, after the chess set heist is yesterday's news. We know the set's gonna stay up here. We just come back from time to time, do another little switcheroo. Money in the bank."

"Kings and queens in the bank," Dortmunder said. "Even better."

The job didn't take long. The box that had held the pieces went back into the van, along with a couple unused cans of paint, and then they got into the van, Kelp driving, to go the rest of the way to the compound.

As they started off, Dortmunder looked back at the two clusters of martial figures spread on the green tarps like a pair of abandoned armies, as though feudalism had just abruptly shut down in this part of the world. He said, "They'll be okay there, right?"

"Sure, why not," Kelp said. "Stay out in the air, dry overnight, tomorrow we'll set them up in that big living room. In the meantime, what could happen?"


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