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20

WHEN DORTMUNDER woke up he was stiff as board. He sat up, creaking in every joint, and discovered that his air mattress had developed a leak during the night. In order to have something for them to sleep on, without having to cart half a dozen beds out here from New York, Murch and his Mom had bought a bunch of inflatable air mattresses, the kind that people use in their swimming pools. And Dortmunders had sprung a leak during the night, lowering him slowly to the dining room floor, on which he had done the rest of his sleeping. The result being that he was now so stiff he could barely move.

Gray-white daylight crept through the boarded windows, showing him the empty room, the black hole in the center of the ceiling where a chandelier had been removed, and the other two air mattresses. Murchs was empty, but a blanketed mound breathed slowly and evenly on the other one; Dortmunder felt fatalistic irritation at that. Kelps air mattress had not leaked, he was over there sleeping like a baby.

Last night, after the movie, the kid had been put back up in his room with the door locked, for whatever good it might do. But hed been asleep by thenDortmunder had had to carry him upstairsso maybe he was still around. In any event, mattresses had been blown up for the ladies in the living room and for the gentlemen next door in the dining room, and to the pity-pat of rain on the floorthe roof leakedthey had all gone off to sleep.

Speaking of pitter-pat, there wasnt any. Dortmunder frowned at the windows, but the boards were too close together for him to see out or even to tell what kind of day it was; though this light did seem too pale to be direct sunshine. Anyway. the rain had apparently stopped.

Well, there was nothing for it but to get up, or at least to make the attempt. Also, there was the smell of coffee in the air, which made Dortmunders stomach growl softly to itself in anticipation. Last nights Lurps had been better than nothing, but they werent exactly the kind of meal he was used to.

Urn, he said, when he leaned forward, and, Oof, when he stretched one hand out on the floor and shifted his weight over onto it. Aggghh, he said, when he heaved his body heavily over onto one knee, and, Oh, Jee-sus, when at last he struggled to his feet.

What a back. It felt as though somebody had pounded a lot of finishing nails into it last night. He bent, twisted, arched his back, and listened to his body creak and snap and complain. Moving a lot like Boris Karloff in that movie last nightin fact, he looked a bit like that characterhe staggered out of the dining room and into the living room, where he found May, Murchs Mom and the kid sitting at the card table, playing hearts. May said, Good morning. Theres hot water on the hibachi, if you want to make yourself some coffee.

I dont want to make myself some coffee, Dortmunder said. My mattress leaked, I slept on the floor, Im too stiff to bend over.

In other words, May said, you want me to make it.

Thats right, Dortmunder said.

After this hand, May said.

Dortmunder grunted, and went over to open the door and look out at the world. The sky was very gray and the ground was very wet and there was still a damp chill in the air.

Shut that door, Murchs Mom called. Its nice and warm in here, lets keep it that way.

Dortmunder shut the door. Wheres Stan? he said.

Murchs Mom said, He went to get some groceries.

Groceries?

May said, Jimmy says hes an expert at scrambled eggs.

I always make my own breakfast, Jimmy said. Mrs. Engelberg is hopeless. Looking slyly at Murchs Mom he said, You wouldnt be shooting the moon, would you?

Of course not, Murchs Mom said. With this hand? Dortmunder walked slowly around the room, bending this way and that, shrugging his shoulders, twisting his head around. Everything hurt. His wrists hurt. He said, Isnt that hand over?

Not quite, Murchs Mom said.

Dortmunder went over and looked at the hand. They each had two cards left and it was Murchs Moms lead. Dortmunder, kibitzing over her shoulder, saw that she had the ace of clubs and the ten of diamonds left. Well, I might as well get rid of my last winner, she said, and tossed out the ace of clubs.

Dortmunder walked around to kibitz Mays hand, while Jimmy said, I thought you werent shooting the moon.

Im not, Murchs Mom said. I just dont want to get stuck with the last lead.

Sure, Jimmy said.

May had to play second, on Murchs Moms ace of clubs, and she had the ace of hearts and the jack of diamonds. Dortmunder watched Mays hand hover over the jack of diamonds, which would beat Murchs Moms final ten of diamonds lead, then hover over the ace of hearts.

Then it hovered over the jack of diamonds again. Then the ace of hearts again.

Dortmunders stomach growled. Loudly.

Oh, all right, May said, and threw the jack of diamonds, holding back the ace of hearts.

I didnt say anything, Dortmunder said.

Your stomach did, May told him.

I cant help that. Dortmunder went on around the table to look at Jimmys hand. The kid had the king of hearts and the queen of diamonds, and he barely hesitated at all before throwing the king of hearts. If you want to shoot the moon, he said, I might as well help.

Murchs Mom, drawing in the trick, looked at the kid with sudden sharp suspicion. What have you done, you bad boy? she asked, and tossed out the ten of diamonds.

Oh, dear, May said, and dropped the ace of hearts on it.

I kept a stopper, Jimmy said calmly. He dropped the queen of diamonds and said, Thats twenty-five for you and one for me.

And coffee for me, Dortmunder said.

Yes yes, May said.

Murchs Mom, who was well-known as a poor loser, wrote down the scores and said, You think youre pretty cute, dont you?

Ive learned over the course of years, Jimmy told her, that defensive play is much more profitable in the long run.

The course of years? Are you kidding me?

His face as innocent as a choirboys, Jimmy said, Whats the score, anyway?

Murchs Mom tossed the pad across the table to him. Read it yourself, she said.

Dortmunder got his coffee from May, who then went back to her game. Dortmunder walked around and around, drinking coffee and trying to limber up, and after a while Murch came in, with eggs and milk and butter and bread and a newspaper and a frying pan and a pale blue flight bag that said Air France on it and God knows what else. Dortmunder said, We gonna live here?

Murchs Mom said, Theres things we need. Dont complain all the time.

Dortmunder said, Whats with the Air France bag?

May was pulling clothing out of it: sweater, socks, trousers, all boy-size. Jimmy doesnt have anything to wear, she said. Its too cold for what he had on, and thats all dirty now anyway.

Murch said to Jimmy, Im sorry, kid, they didnt have an avocado.

Thats okay, Jimmy said. We can make a fine salad without it.

Dortmunder said, Avocado? Things, it seemed to him, were getting out of hand: Air France bags, avocados. However, nobody else in this room seemed to think things were getting out of hand, and he knew better than to raise the question with any of them, so he went back to the dining room.

Where Kelp was wide awake, sitting up, reading Child Heist. Morning, Kelp said, grinning from ear to ear. I slept like a top. How about you?

Like a bottom, Dortmunder told him. My mattress leaked.

Oh, thats a shame.

Dont you ever get tired of that book?

Well, we got the money switch coming up this afternoon, Kelp said. I thought I ought to refresh my memory, read that chapter again. You oughta take a look at it, too.

Oh, yeah?

Absolutely, Kelp said. Chapter twelve. Page a hundred and nine.


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