WHEN DORTMUNDER got to the intersection he made a U-turn and stopped, facing back the way he had come. He and May waited in the Caprice while Kelp got out and went around to the back of the car. Then he came around to the side again, rapped on Dortmunder’s window, and when Dortmunder rolled the window down Kelp said, “I need the key.”
“The key. For the trunk.”
“Oh.” The keys were all together on a key ring. Dortmunder switched off the engine and gave the keys to Kelp, who went and unlocked the trunk, then gave the keys to Dortmunder, then went back and got his sign. He stood there holding it, looking around but not doing anything, until Dortmunder leaned his head out and yelled, “What are you doing?”
“I forgot which one to block.”
Dortmunder pointed. “That one. The one on the kid’s route.”
“Oh, yeah. Right.”
Kelp went over and set up the sign. It was a three-by. four piece of thin metal that had once advertised 7-Up, and the shape of the bottle could still be seen vaguely through the yellow paint. Kelp had also thought to bring a triangular arrangement of sticks to lean the sign against, a detail not mentioned in Child Heist. He put the sign in place, then trotted back over to the Caprice and said, “How’s that?”
Dortmunder looked at it. It said ROAD CLOSED—DETORE. He said, “Jesus H. Goddam Christ.”
“What’s the matter?” Kelp looked all around the intersection, worried. “Did I put it in the wrong place?”
“Do you have that goddam book on you?”
“Sure,” Kelp said.
“Take it out,” Dortmunder said, “and find the page where they set up the sign.” Turning to May, he said, “I’m following a book he read, and he doesn’t even know how to read.”
Kelp said, “I got it.”
“Look at it. Now look at the sign.”
Kelp looked at the book. He looked at the sign. He said, “Son of a gun. Detour. I thought sure you—”
“You can’t even read!”
May said, “It’s okay, John, it really is. They’ll just think some local highway department people didn’t know how to spell.”
Dortmunder considered that. “You think so?”
Kelp hopped into the back seat. “Sure,” he said. “It makes it more realistic, like. Who’d expect a kidnap gang to put up a sign that’s spelled wrong?”
“I would,” Dortmunder said. “In fact, I’m surprised I didn’t think to check.”
“Listen, I don’t want to push you,” Kelp said, “but we ought to get down there to that dirt road.”
“I wonder what next,” Dortmunder said. He started the engine, drove a quarter mile back toward the city, then backed off into the dead-end dirt road Murch had been astonished to find last week.
“Now there’s nothing to do but wait,” Kelp said.
“I’ll lay five to two,” Dortmunder said, “some farmer comes along in a pickup truck, drives in, wants to know what we’re doing here, and pulls out a shotgun.”
“You’re on,” Kelp said.
Four miles away, the silver-gray Cadillac limousine took the curving ramp down from Interstate 80 to the county road and turned south. The chauffeur, Maurice K. Van Golden, drove at varying speeds above fifty-five, competing with the occasional other car he met. In the backseat, Jimmy Harrington read the “Letter from Washington” in the current New Yorker and wished he had the self-confidence to tell Maurice to quit racing the other drivers. Maurice behaved himself when Jimmy’s father was in the car, but when it was just Jimmy back there he obviously thought he could get away with being a cowboy. And the annoying part of it was, he could; Jimmy wouldn’t complain to his father, since that would be the act of a baby, but on the other hand he hadn’t yet felt quite secure enough to complain to Maurice directly.
Pretty soon I will, Jimmy thought, and read about the administration’s hopes for a settlement in the Middle East.
Five minutes later, May and Kelp both simultaneously said, “Here they come.”
“I see them,” Dortmunder said, and put the Caprice in gear as the Cadillac rocketed by them. The Caprice moved out from the dirt road and accelerated in the Cadillac’s wake.
“That’s five dollars you owe me,” Kelp said.
Dortmunder didn’t answer.
Van Gelden, at the wheel of the Cadillac, suddenly slammed on the brakes and swerved all over the road when he saw the sign blocking the road ahead. Jimmy, flung off the seat, came sputtering up, crying, “Maurice! What in the name of God is going on?”
“Goddam denture!” Van Celden cried. He thought the word was spelled that way.
Jimmy got one quick flashing glimpse of the sign as the Cadillac slewed around, tires squealing, and roared off down the secondary road. “Detour?” He frowned out the back window; there’d been something about that sign, he wasn’t sure what. It had gone by so fast. As a soft drink commercial’s jingle started up in his brain, distracting him, he said to himself, “The detour wasn’t there before.”
This secondary road was narrower, bumpier, and curvier than the county road. Van Gelden, taking out his rage at the fact of the denture by flinging the car forward as rapidly as possible, was tossing Jimmy around the back seat like a sneaker in a dryer. Jimmy, holding on for dear life, found at last the maturity to shout out, “Damn it, Maurice, slow down!”
Van Celden didn’t touch the brake, but he did lift his foot from the accelerator. “I’m just trying to get you home,” he snarled, glaring in the rearview mirror at the boy, and as he did so he came around a curve in the road and saw vehicles stopped ahead. A school bus, facing this way, its red lights flashing, meaning it was unloading passengers and traffic wasn’t permitted to pass it in either direction. And a truck, a big tractor-trailer rig, facing the same direction as the Cadillac and obediently standing still. The two vehicles between them blocked the road completely.
“Goddammit,” Van Gelden said, and tromped on the brake again. He had to brake hard to stop in time, but it was less violent than if his foot had still been pressed on the accelerator when he’d rounded the bend. Jimmy, since he’d been clutching the armrest and a strap anyway, managed to stay on the seat as the Cadillac nosed down to a shuddering stop directly behind the tractor-trailer.
“One thing after another,” Van Golden said.
“Maurice,” Jimmy said, “you drive too fast.”
“It’s not my fault there’s all this stuff in the way.” Van Golden gestured angrily toward the truck and the bus.
“You drive too fast all the time,” Jimmy insisted. “Except when my father is in the car. From now on, I want you to drive me the way you drive my father.”
Van Golden, becoming sullen, jammed his uniform cap farther down on his forehead, folded his arms, and said nothing.
Jimmy said, “Did you hear me, Maurice?”
“I hear you.”
“I hear you!”
“Thank you, Maurice,” Jimmy said, and sat back to savor his triumph. After a moment he picked up the New Yorker again.
Back at the intersection, Dortmunder stopped the Caprice and Kelp jumped out to move the sign. He picked it up, moved it to another side, and started back, when Dortmunder leaned out the window and shouted, “Not there! Where we follow the Cadillac!”
“Huh?” Kelp looked around, pointing at various places, reorienting himself. Then, with a sudden sunny smile of recognition, he waved to Dortmunder and shouted, “Gotcha!” He ran back to the sign, picked it up, and put it back where it had been.
“Not there!” Dortmunder yelled. He was leaning his whole upper torso out of the car, pounding the door panel with his arm and the flat of his hand. Waving that hand violently around, he yelled, “Over there!”
“Right!” Kelp yelled. “Right! Right! I got it now!” And he picked up the sign and started trotting toward the last possible wrong choice.
Dortmunder came boiling out of the Caprice. “I’m going to wrap that sign around your head!”
“Now what?” Kelp stood there, bewildered, while Dortmunder came over and wrenched the sign and sticks away from him and put them where they belonged. Kelp watched, and when Dortmunder was finished the two men met again at the car, where Kelp said, “I would have got it, I really would have.”
“Get in the car,” Dortmunder said. He got behind the wheel and slammed the door.
Kelp got in the back seat again. May shook her head at him, not pleased, and he lifted his shoulders helplessly. Dortmunder punched the accelerator, and the Caprice bounced forward.
Van Gelden, his sullenness boiling over all at once into rage, pushed the button that rolled his window down, stuck his head out, and yelled toward the school bus, “Get with it, will ya! We don’t have all day!”
Jimmy looked up from his magazine. “What’s the matter, Maurice?”
“Bus just sitting there,” Van Golden said. “Tying up traffic.” Looking in the rearview mirror, he said, “And here comes somebody else.”
Jimmy looked back, and saw the blue car approaching around the curve. The road here was hemmed in by trees and shrubbery on both sides. Scrub pine gave some swaths of green, but the rest of the trees had lost about half their foliage, making black trunks and branches form jagged lines against the orange and gold of autumn leaves. Dead leaves swirled around the tires of the blue car as it came silently toward them, slowed, and stopped. The figures through the windshield were indistinct, but in some sort of motion back there.
Jimmy faced front again. The woods were close on both sides, the rear of the tractor-trailer was like a looming silver wall directly in front of the Cadillac, and leaves kept fluttering down off the trees, rustling down past the windows. The driver of the school bus was a vague mound through the big flat windshield; afternoon sunlight glinted from that windshield, reddish-yellow with a bright white center.
“There’s something wrong,” Jimmy said.
“What?” Van Golden looked at Jimmy in the rearview mirror, and caught a glimpse of somebody going by with a Mickey Mouse mask on his head. “What the hell?”
Jimmy said, “What?” and his right-hand door opened, and a woman wearing a Mickey Mouse mask slid in. “Hi, Jimmy,” she said. Her voice was so muffled by the mask he could barely make out what she was saying. It was, “Do you know whose face this is I’m wearing?”
Dortmunder, trotting forward, yanked at the driver’s door, but it was locked. Van Golden, seeing the big man with the jacket and the Mickey Mouse mask and the gun, pushed the button again to roll his window back up. but Dortmunder stuck the barrel through the diminishing space and said, “Stop that. Stop it now.”
Van Golden released the button. He blinked at the gun barrel pointing more or less at him.
Jimmy, not only knowing whose face the woman was wearing but also realizing at once why she was wearing it, reached out for the telephone. May, expecting a dialogue on the subject of Mickey Mouse, was too startled to react until the boy had already dialed Operator. Then she grabbed for the phone, saying, “Stop that! Don’t be like that!”
Kelp, reaching the passenger door on the front right, found it locked and looked across the top of the Cadillac at Dortmunder. “Make him unlock it,” he said.
Dortmunder said, “Unlock the doors. Make it snappy.”
A switch on the driver’s door would lock or unlock all the others. Van Golden, also realizing right away what these people had to be up to, and seeing no point in making trouble for himself in a situation where he. was essentially an innocent bystander, pushed the switch and unlocked the doors. He also slid his window open again.
In the back seat, May had finally wrestled the telephone out of Jimmy’s hands and disconnected the bewildered operator. “Now,” she said, panting from exertion, “we’re going to play make-believe. I’m going to make believe I’m Mickey Mouse, and you’re going to make believe you can behave.”
“Kidnapping,” Jimmy said, “is a Federal offense. Conviction carries a mandatory life sentence.”
“Just be quiet,” May said. “I’m here to soothe you, and you’re making me upset.”
In the front seat, Kelp had entered and was holding a gun pointed at the chauffeur. Every time he inhaled, the rubber mask pressed itself to his face. He was getting enough air, but nevertheless he felt as though he was suffocating. His voice garbled by the mask, he said, “Let’s not scare the kid. Nobody’s gonna get hurt.”
Van Golden said, “What? I don’t know what you’re saying.”
Holding the mask out from his mouth with his free hand, Kelp said, “Let’s not scare the kid. Nobody’s gonna get hurt.” It was a line word for word from Child Heist, which Kelp had been rehearsing for two weeks now.
According to the book, the chauffeur was now supposed to ask Kelp what he wanted. Instead of which, Ven Golden pointed at the pistol and said, “Scare the kid?” Then he gestured a thumb over his shoulder and said, “Scare that kid? Hah!”
Kelp’s memorized response didn’t suit any of that, so he stayed silent.
Dortmunder, meantime, had gone around to the rear doors of the tractor-trailer. He rapped on them, and the doors swung open, pushed out by Murch, also in a Mickey Mouse mask. He looked critically out and down at the Cadillac and said, “You’ll have to back it up. Just like in the book.”
“I know,” Dortmunder said. Just like in the book. Dortmunder turned and walked back past the Cadillac toward the Caprice. Inside the Cadillac, Kelp’s Mickey Mouse face was staring at the chauffeur and May’s Mickey Mouse face was staring at the boy. She was supposed to be chattering at him, keeping him calm with a soothing flow of words, but she was just staring at him. They seemed to have some sort of Mexican standoff in there.
Dortmunder backed up the Caprice, then walked to the Cadillac again, opened the chauffeur’s door and said, “Move over.”
Kelp made room, and Van Golden slid over into the middle of the seat. He said, “I hope you birds are bright enough to surrender if some state trooper happens by. I don’t want to be a hostage or a victim or anything like that.”
Kelp, given an opportunity to produce another of his lines from the book, said, “Keep it down. I told you, we don’t scare the kid.”
But he’d said it without lifting his mask away from his mouth. Van Golden looked at him and said, “What?”
“Forget it,” Kelp said.
Kelp took the mask away from his mouth. “Forget it!”
“You don’t have to shout, fella,” Van Golden said. “I’m right next to you.”
Dortmunder started the Cadillac and backed it away from the truck. Then Murch pulled out the two wooden planks they were going to use instead of a metal ramp. May was the one who had pointed out that if they used a ramp they wouldn’t be able to put it back in after the car was inside the truck, since the car’s wheels would be in the way. Dortmunder had said, “And that’s the book we’re supposed to follow,” but Murch had immediately suggested a pair of planks, which could be stored under the Cadillac once it was inside.
But it took a while to place them. Dortmunder sat with both hands on the wheel, and Murch kept running back and forth between the truck and the car, making minor shifts in the two planks, lining them up with the front wheels and trying to keep them nice and parallel. Finally, content, he climbed up into the truck and gestured for Dortmunder to drive forward.
Slowly they went up the ramp. They could feel the planks bending beneath the weight, but Murch had positioned them properly and the tires were nicely in the middle of each plank. The front tires; the rear tires were still on the ground when the bumper scraped against the rear of the truck.
“Now what?” Dortmunder said.
Murch, frowning, went to look at the left front fender of the Cadillac, and then at the right front fender. He shook his head, frowned more deeply, put his hands on his hips, and went back to consider the left front fender again. Then, leaning on that fender, he called to Dortmunder, “It’s too wide!”
Dortmunder stuck his head out the side window. “What do you mean it’s too wide?”
“It won’t fit.”
Murch backed up from the Cadillac, standing inside the truck and studying the two vehicles. He held his hands up, palms facing one another, and peered through them. He shook his head.
Murch’s Mom, sitting at the wheel of the school bus and not knowing what the hell was going on, considered honking the horn to try to attract somebody’s attention. But probably this wasn’t a good time to distract them all from whatever they were doing over there. On the other hand, it did seem to be taking them a long time to get that Cadillac into that truck.
Inside the Cadillac, Kelp said, “I never heard of such a thing. Cars always fit inside trucks.”
Van Golden said, “What?”
“Nothing,” Kelp said.
“I should have known,” Dortmunder said.
Jimmy, in the back seat, found himself considering the situation as though it were a problem to be solved. Like the problems in Scientific American, to which he was a subscriber. But that wasn’t the right thing to do; he wasn’t on their side, he was on the other side. So he tabled the problem, to be considered at some later time.
May, leaning forward, said, “Maybe we could—” and the phone rang.
Everybody jumped. The Cadillac sagged on the boards. May stared at the phone in horror and said, “What do I do?”
Dortmunder twisted around. It was hard, with three men crammed in together in the front seat, but he turned sufficiently to be able to look through the eyeholes in his Mickey Mouse mask at both May and the boy. He said, “The kid has to answer it.”
The phone rang again.
Dortmunder said to the boy, “You play it like everything’s okay. You got the idea?”
“I won’t cause any trouble,” Jimmy said. He wasn’t exactly frightened of these people, but he was well aware that a tense situation could sometimes make a person react more violently than they would normally. He didn’t want any of this gang going into a panic.
“You just answer the phone,” Dortmunder said. “You act normal, and you make it as short as you can.”
“All right,” Jimmy said. He reached out to pick up the phone as it rang for the third time.
Dortmunder said, “Hold it away from your ear, so we can all hear what they’re saying.”
Jimmy nodded. His mouth and throat were dry. Picking up the phone, he held it so the back part was out and away from his ear. “Hello?”
“Hel-lo, there, is this James Harrington?” The cheerful male voice came tinnily from the phone.
“Yes, it is.”
“Well, this is Bob Dodge of radio WRTZ, the voice of Sussex County, calling you from Hotline For Facts. Your postcard has been selected at random, and you have the opportunity to win prizes totaling over five hundred dollars! And now, here’s Lou Sweet to tell you what prizes are in this week’s Hotline Jackpot!”
Another voice began to ripple from the phone, describing prizes, in each case giving the name of the merchant who had contributed the prize. A camera from a drugstore. Dog food from a supermarket. A dictionary and a table radio from a department store. Dinner for two at a local restaurant.
“I don’t believe this,” Dortmunder said, and May shushed him again.
Bob Dodge came back on the phone. “Are you familiar with the rules of our game?” he asked, but before Jimmy could answer he gave them anyway, talking at top speed. There seemed to be something about levels, options of subject matter, various other sophistications, but the main idea was that they would ask him questions and he would try to answer them. “Are you ready, James?”
“Yes, sir,” Jimmy said. He sometimes listened to this program in the car on the way home from Dr. Schraubenzieher, and it always seemed as though he knew the right answers whenever the contestants got them wrong. About six months ago he’d sent in a postcard, giving both his home phone and the mobile telephone unit in the car, but he’d never expected them to call him. Particularly not the mobile telephone number.
And he sure wished it hadn’t happened now. It was embarrassing to be here on the phone like this, answering some quiz show’s silly questions, with a lot of strangers looking on.
“And here’s your first question,” Bob Dodge said. “Name four of the states of Australia.”
Australia. Concentrating, Jimmy said, “New South Wales. Queensland. Victoria. And Northern Territory.”
“Very good! Next, give the atomic number of samarium.”
“What is hemialgia?”
“Pain on one side of the head.”
“I’ve got pain on both sides of my head,” Dortmunder muttered.
“Sshh!” Kelp said.
“Who wrote Adrienne Toner?”
“What year was the battle of Lancaster Abbey?”
Jimmy hesitated. The others in the car all tensed, looking at him, waiting. Finally, with the question apparent in his voice, he said, “Fourteen ninety-three?”
Everybody in the car sighed with relief; three Mickey Mouse masks ballooned.
Jimmy answered four more questions, on astronomy, economics, French history and physics, and then the next question was, “In astrology, what are the signs before and after Gemini?”
Astrology; that was one of Jimmy’s weak areas. He had no belief in it, and so had never studied it. He said, “The signs before and after?”
“Before and after Gemini, yes.”
“Before Gemini… is Taurus.”
“Yes! And after?”
Kelp whispered, “Cancer.”
Dortmunder glared at him. He whispered, “If you’re wrong—”
“Time is almost up, James.”
Jimmy took a deep breath. He didn’t like accepting help on a test, but what else could he do? He hadn’t asked for it, and it might not even be right. He said, “Cancer?”
Again, general relief. Even with the mask over his face, Kelp could be seen smiling.
“You, James Harrington,” Bob Dodge was saying, “have won our Hotline Jackpot!”
“Thank you,” Jimmy said, and when he saw Dortmunder gesturing violently at him he added, “I have to hang up now,” and hung up.
“Well,” May said. “Jimmy, that was really impressive.”
“Okay,” Dortmunder said. “Now that the kid got his dog food and his dinner for two, let’s get back to—”
And the planks gave way; both of them at once. The Cadillac slapped down onto the road like a palm slapping down on a table. Everybody was tossed up, ricocheted off the roof, and jolted into their seats again. In the process, Dortmunder’s gun went sailing out the open window next to him, and Kelp’s gun bounced off the roof, the steering wheel and the dashboard before landing in Van Gelden’s lap.
“Hands up!” Van Golden yelled, and scrabbled in his lap for the gun. Both Dortmunder and Kelp were obediently lifting their arms, and Van Golden was still bobbling the gun, when May reached over his shoulder, took it away from him, and handed it to Dortmunder.
“All right,” Dortmunder said. “All right, that’s enough fooling around.” To May he said, “Put the mask on the kid and put him in our car.” To Kelp he said, “Put the cuffs on this guy. If it won’t upset you too much, we’re gonna rewrite that book of yours a little bit.”
“Anything you say,” Kelp said. He was puffing the handcuffs out of his hip pocket.
“And you,” Dortmunder told the chauffeur, “you just sit there and keep your mouth shut. ‘Hands up,’ is it?” Giving the chauffeur a look of disgust that the chauffeur couldn’t see through the Mickey Mouse mask, Dortmunder got out of the Cadillac, picked up his gun from the road, and said to Murch, “Forget that goddam truck. We’ll go straight to the hideout from here. All that other crap was more complicated than it had to be anyway?’
“Right,” Murch said. “I’ll get my Mom,” he said, and jumped down out of the truck.
May had put the Mickey Mouse mask with the taped eyeholes over Jimmy’s head. She’d considered using the dialogue from the book about pretending it was night and all that, but somehow it didn’t seem to fit the case, so all she’d said was, “I’m going to blindfold you now.”
“Of course,” Jimmy said.
Murch rid himself of his mask and went over to the school bus, where his Mom was impatiently tapping her fingernails on the steering wheel. She pushed the lever on her left, the door accordioned open, and she said, “So? You want to tell me something?”
“We’re all taking off in our car, Mom. Run the bus out of the way and come on over.”
“I been sitting here,” she said. “Wondering what’s going on.”
“It would take a while to tell, Mom.”
“I saw the Caddy bounce,” she said.
“That was part of it.”
“I wish I had springs like that in the cab,” she said. “Climb aboard.” She shifted into first, and Murch stepped up into the bus as she eased it forward and off onto the shoulder of the road.
May had now led the boy from the Cadillac to the back seat of the Caprice, Kelp had handcuffed Van Golden to the steering wheel, and Dortmunder had filled his pockets with guns and was standing beside the Cadillac looking mulish. When Murch and his Mom came over from the school bus Dortmunder said, “Stan, you drive.”
Murch’s Mom got in the back seat with May and Jimmy. “Well, hello, Jimmy,” she said. “I see you’re playing Mickey Mouse.”
May shook her head. “It’s not quite like that,” she said. Inside his mask, Jimmy said, “I really am a bit old for this kind of psychological reassurance.”
“Hmp,” Murch’s Mom said. “A smart aleck.”
In the front seat, Kelp sat in the middle, with Murch on his left and Dortmunder on his right. As Murch started the engine, Kelp said to Dortmunder, “Can I have my gun back?”
“No,” Dortmunder said. He looked around at the setting they were leaving, giving everything the same impartial look of disgust: truck, school bus, planks, Cadillac, chauffeur. “Hands up,” he muttered, and the Caprice drove off in a flurry of falling leaves.