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8

SHE BLINKED. "I'M sorry?"

"Don't you be sorry," be said. "I'll be sorry for both of us."

"I don't understand," she admitted. "What's wrong?"

"I know about banks," he told her. "When it comes to money, they are very serious. They got no sense of humor at all. You ever been down to this vault?"

"Oh, no," she said. "I'm not authorized."

"There it is right there," he said. "Do you know anybody is authorized?"

"The partners, I suppose."

"Feinberg and them."

"Well, Mr. Feinberg isn't alive any more, but the other partners, yes."

"So if — Wait a minute. Feinberg's name is there, head of the crowd, and he's dead?"

"Oh, that's very common," she said. "There are firms, and not just law firms either, where not one person in the firm name is still alive."

"Saves on new letterhead, I guess."

"I think it's reputation," she said. "If a firm suddenly had different names, then it wouldn't be the same firm any more, and it wouldn't have the reputation any more."

Dortmunder was about to ask another question — how a name could sport a reputation without a body behind it — when he realized he was straying widely away from the subject here, so he took a deep breath and said, "This vault."

"Yes," she said, as alert as a dog who's just seen you pick up a ball.

He said, "Do you know what it looks like? Do you know how you get there? Does it have its own elevator?"

"I don't know," she said. "I suppose it could."

"So do I. These partners that can get down there, can you talk to them about this? Ask 'em what it's like?"

"Oh, no," she said. "I've hardly ever even seen one of the partners."

"The living ones, you mean."

"Wait," she said. "Let me show you something." And she stood, went over to the construction that contained everything, and came back with a sheet of paper. She slid it across the table to him and it was the company's letterhead stationery. Pointing, she said, "These names across the top, that's the name of the firm."

"Yeah, I got that. All the way to Klatsch."

"Exactly. Now these names down the left side, those are the actual current partners and associates."

"The ones that are alive."

"Yes, of course."

He looked, and the names were not in alphabetical order, so they must be in order of how important you were. "You're not here," he said.

"Oh, no, I'm not — Those are the partners and associates, I'm—" She laughed, in a flustered way, and said, "I'm just a wee beastie."

Dortmunder waved a finger at the descending left-hand column. "So these guys—"

"And women."

"Right. They're the ones can go down to the vault, if they got business there."

"Well, the top ones, yes."

"So not even all of them." Dortmunder was trying not to be exasperated with this well-meaning young person, but with all the troubles he now found staring him in the face it was hard. "So tell me," he said, "this chess set being down there in that vault, how is this good news?"

"Well, we know where it is," she said. "For all those years, nobody knew where it was, nobody knew what happened to it. Now we know."

"And you love history."

Sounding confused, she said, "Yes, I do."

"So just knowing where the thing is, that's good enough for you."

"I… I suppose so."

"Your grandfather would like to get his hands on it."

"Oh, we'd all like that," she said. "Naturally we would."

"Your grandfather hired himself an ex-cop to help him get it," Dortmunder told her, "and the ex-cop fixed me up with a burglary charge if I don't bring it back with me."

"If you don't bring it back?" Her bewilderment was getting worse. "Where's the burglary if you don't bring it back?"

"A different burglary," he explained. "A in-the-past burglary."

"Oh!" She looked horribly embarrassed, as though she'd stumbled upon something she wasn't supposed to see.

"So the idea was," he told her, "I come here and you tell me where the chess set is, and I go there and get it and give it to your grandfather, and his ex-cop lets me off the hook." I see.

"This vault under this— What is this building, sixty stories?"

"I think so, something like that."

"So this vault way down under this sixty-story building, probably with its own elevator, with a special guest list that your name has to be on it or you don't even get to board the elevator, in a building owned by a bank that used to be called Capitalists and Immigrants, two groups of people with really no sense of humor, is not a place I'm likely to walk out of with a chess set I'm told is too heavy for one guy to carry."

"I'm sorry," she said, and she sounded as though she really was.

"I don't suppose you could get a copy of the building's plans. The architect plans with the vault and all."

"I have no idea," she said.

"It would be research."

"Yes, but—" She looked extremely doubtful. "I could look into it, I suppose. The problem is, I couldn't let anybody know what I was looking for."

"That's right."

"And I don't actually see how it could help," she said. "I mean, I don't think you could, say, dig a tunnel to the vault. So far as I know, there is no actual dirt under midtown, it's all sub-basements and water tunnels and steam pipes and sewer lines and subway tunnels."

"I believe," Dortmunder said, "there's some power lines down in there, too."

"Exactly."

"It doesn't look good," Dortmunder suggested.

"No, I have to admit."

They brooded in silence together a minute, and then she said, "If I'd known, I'd never have told Granddad."

"It isn't him, it's the ex-cop he hired."

"I'm still sorry I told him."

Which meant there was nothing more to say. With a deep breath that some might have been called a sigh, he moved his arms preparatory to standing, saying, "Well—"

"Wait a minute," she said, and produced both notepad and pen. "Give me a number where I can reach you. Give me your cell."

"I don't have a cell," he said. But I'm going to, he thought.

"Your landline, then. You do have a landline, don't you?"

"You mean a phone? I got a phone."

He gave her the number. Briskly she wrote it down, then said, "And you should have mine," and handed him a small neat white business card, which he obediently tucked into a shirt pocket. She looked at the landline number he'd given her, as though it somehow certified his existence, then nodded at him and said, "I don't promise anything, Mr. Dortmunder, but I will do my best to find something that might help."

"Good. That's good."

"I'll call you if I have anything at all."

"Yeah, good idea."

Now he did stand, and she said, "I'll show you out."

So he tried a joke, just for the hell of it: "That's okay, I left a trail of breadcrumbs on my way in."

She was still looking blank when she shook his hand good-bye at the elevators; so much for jokes.

Riding down, alone this trip, he thought his best move now was go straight over to Grand Central, take the first train out for Chicago. That's supposed to be an okay place, not that different from a city. It could even work out. Meet up with some guys there, get plugged in a little, learn all those new neighborhoods. Get settled, then send word to May, she could bring out his winter clothes. Chicago was alleged to be very cold.

Leaving the C&I International building, he figured it'd be just as quick to walk over to the station when here on the sidewalk is Eppick with a big grin, saying, "So. You got it all worked out, I bet."


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