MR. HEMLOW'S STAFF specialized in the kind of breakfast that didn't merely stick to your ribs but weighed them down so much it was a real effort to keep your chin above the level of the table. As a result, it was nearly ten on Tuesday morning before anybody in the compound began to show any vital signs at all, and that was Tiny, whose storage capacity, of course, was larger than everyone else's, so his recovery time tended to be more rapid as well. At last he stood, roamed around the big living room, paused to gaze at the chessboard waiting for its armies, strolled over to the front door and stepped out onto the porch. He left the door open, since the crisp mountain air, while cold, was also a tonic for that logy feeling. A minute later he came back to the doorway to say, "Who moved the Caddy?"
Several mumbles answered him, and then Kelp said, "Nobody, it's over there by the garages."
Standing in the doorway, Tiny looked that way. "The van is over there by the garages. A couple little staff cars are over there by the garages. The Caddy isn't there."
"Impossible," Kelp said. "That's where I left it."
"The Caddy," Tiny told him, "is not something you don't notice."
"I don't get this," Kelp said. Struggling to his feet, he followed Tiny back out into the cold.
Dortmunder roused himself. "I don't like that," he said.
Stan, chin slipping below table level, said, "What don't you like?"
"None of us moved it," Dortmunder said. "That's what I don't like."
Pushing himself two-handed up from the table, he weaved toward the open door. Behind him, Mr. Hemlow said to the hovering servant girl, "Was the upstairs seen to here?"
"No, sir," she said. "Everybody was at the guesthouse and you stayed down here."
"Have somebody look around up there."
"Yes, sir, I'll go."
Dortmunder went out onto the porch. Tiny and Kelp stood where lately the Colossus had stood. They seemed to be discussing the garage, and now Kelp lifted that door, and a car was in there.
Dortmunder went down off the porch and walked over to the garage, and it was a beat-up gray PT Cruiser with New Jersey plates that had been scuffed up with mud to make them hard to read.
Kelp was just closing the driver's door when Dortmunder arrived. "The key's in it," he said, "but nothing personal."
"They were staying here," Dortmunder said, as Judson walked over to join them from the house. "Empty house in the woods, they were smart enough to get in without setting off the alarm."
Tiny said, "Who?"
"We'll never know," Dortmunder said. "The Caddy was in their way, to get at their car. I figure, first they just wanted to move the Caddy over, then they said, what the hell, our car's stolen anyway, let's take the nice one."
Judson said, "How's the chess set?"
Kelp, horror-struck, looked away downhill. "The chess set!"
"Gone," Dortmunder told him.
"I gotta go— I gotta—"
Kelp, with Judson right behind him, climbed into the van. Dortmunder and Tiny turned and made their silent way back to the house, where Dortmunder found a nice old rocking chair not too close to the fire and sat there and waited for events to unfold.
They didn't take long. Kelp and Judson came back with the news that the green tarps were still there. The servant girl came downstairs with a slender pair of cherry-red panties. "They were under a pillow," she said. "What made me look, the bed wasn't made the way we make it."
"How could this have happened?" Mr. Hemlow wanted to know. He'd developed an extra two or three rumba routines this morning.
The answer arrived soon, in the person of Eppick, who came back from inspecting the rear entrance to the compound. "It's been rigged so you can bypass it, if you know how. It doesn't show itself to the eye, but if you know how you can get in. And out."
Mr. Hemlow said, "Johnny, you came up here with John to make sure the place was still secure."
"That was four months ago, Mr. Hemlow. I didn't do any sweep this time. We're all staying here."
Kelp said, "Mr. Hemlow, this is a blow to everybody, but at least you know one thing for sure. The chess set isn't ever going back to the Northwoods."
"Nor is it going," Mr. Hemlow said, "in any fashion at all, to its rightful inheritors."
Tiny, not sympathetic, said, "They can't miss what they didn't have."
"I keep reminding myself," Mr. Hemlow said, "just yesterday, I saw all those pieces, out there, beside the driveway. The lost chess set. I saw it, if only just the once, with these eyes."
"Hold the thought," Tiny suggested. "And before the rest of us get on the road here, let's work out how you're gonna get us our money."
Astonished, Mr. Hemlow said, "Are you serious? The set is gone."
"We delivered it," Tiny said. "We found it and we got it and we delivered it. If this place of yours is a sieve, that's no skin off our nose."
Mr. Hemlow said, "I am not without resources."
"That's right, so you can—"
"No, I mean, resources of self-defense." Mr. Hemlow glowered around at all the faces glowering right back at him. "I am not going to pay one hundred and fifty thousand dollars for a chess set I do not have."
Eppick said, "Mr. Hemlow, be fair. They worked hard. They delivered it to your door. And this isn't their fault. You gotta give them something."
Mr. Hemlow brooded. Never before in the history of the world has a wheelchair-bound sick man surrounded by hostile professional criminals looked less troubled by his situation. The loss of the chess set troubled him. About the attitudes and potential threats of the half-dozen men gathered around him he couldn't have cared less.
But he did finally say, "They deserve something, that's true.
Smiling, Stan said, "I knew you were a decent guy, Mr. Hemlow."
"I do not have the chess set, nor will I ever, but it is true the work was done, and as you point out the Northwoods will never have the set again either. I will pay ten thousand dollars per man."
Stan, no longer smiling, said, "That's a third!"
"Take it or leave it," Mr. Hemlow said. "You'll have a third of the original price. I'll have the chessboard. Fifty thousand dollars is a mighty steep price for a chessboard, gentlemen."
A long slow sigh circled the room. "We'll take it," Dortmunder said.