“I USED to like dogs,” May said. “In fact, I had one once.”
“Lincoln Tunnel coming up,” Murch called to them.
“That’s not all that’s coming up,” May said.
They’d been in this truck for nearly two hours, except for three pauses at rest stops along route 80, when they would all get out and do a lot of breathing. Dortmunder, whose stiffness wasn’t being helped by sitting on a cage floor and leaning his back against a cage wall, would simply stand behind the truck during the rest stops, hanging there like an elm tree struck by the blight, but the others would all walk around, inhaling and limbering up.
“It’ll be over soon,” Kelp said, but not with his usual sparkle. He’d cut out the sparkle about an hour ago, when after one optimistic remark he’d made Dortmunder had given him a flat look and had started thumping his right fist into his left palm. Now, Kelp too seemed beaten by events, even if only temporarily.
Lincoln Tunnel. Murch paid the toll, and they drove through, following a slow-moving, belching tractor-trailer bringing—if the back doors could be believed—pork fat to an anxious city.
Out the other side, Murch scooted the van around the tractor-trailer and headed up Dyer Avenue to Forty-second Street, where a red light stopped him. “Where to?” he called back.
“Out,” Dortmunder said.
Kelp said, “Don’t we have to let the kid off first?”
“That’s right,” Dortmunder said.
May called to Murch, “Stop at Eighth Avenue. He can take the subway there, up to Central Park West.”
Jimmy had been half dozing, sitting on his Air France bag and leaning back against May’s side. Now she jostled his shoulder, saying, “Here we are, Jimmy. New York.”
“Mm?” The boy sat up, blinking. When he stretched, his bones cracked like tree limbs. “Boy, what a trip,” he said.
Murch drove to Eighth Avenue and stopped. May gave the boy a token, and Kelp opened the rear door for him. Carrying his bag, he climbed awkwardly out onto the street. (In some places this might have caused comment, but at Eighth Avenue and Forty-second Street in New York City a twelve-year-old boy with an Air France bag climbing out of the back of a veterinarian’s truck at eight-thirty on a Friday morning was the closest thing to normality that had happened there in six years.)
“So long, Jimmy,” May called, and waved to him.
“So long, everybody,” Jimmy said, waving to them all through the open door of the truck. “Don’t feel bad,” he said, and turned away.
Kelp pulled the door shut, and Murch drove them on. “How much farther?” he asked.
“Turn down Seventh,” Dortmunder said, “and park as soon as you can.”
Kelp was frowning. He said, “Don’t feel bad’? What did he mean, ‘Don’t feel bad’?”
May said, “I suppose because we’re all separating now. We kind of got close there, after all, and he did warn us about the police.”
Kelp continued to frown. “It doesn’t feel right,” he said.
Dortmunder looked at him. “What’s up?”
“The kid said, ‘Don’t feel bad.’ Why would he—?”
Kelp blinked. Dortmunder looked at him. The two of them swiveled their heads and looked at the suitcase May was sitting on. May said, “What’s the mat—?” Then she too looked down at the suitcase. “Oh, no,” she said.
“Oh, no,” Kelp said.
“Open it,” Dortmunder said.
Murch, stopping for the red light at Seventh Avenue, called, “What’s going on back there?”
They were all on their knees now around the suitcase. May was releasing the catches. She was opening it. They were looking in at two pieces of broken shelf, for weight, and several pieces of small-size clothing, to keep the boards from rattling around.
“He pulled a switch on us,” Kelp said.
Dortmunder yelled at Murch, “Circle the block! Get that kid back!”
The light was green. Murch tore the Econoline around the corner, down to Forty-first Street, and made the next right turn on the yellow.
“Here’s something else,” May said, and took from the suitcase a small package wrapped in brown paper.
Murch, driving like hell, yelled back, “What’s happening?”
“He pulled a switch on us,” Kelp yelled. “He left us his laundry!”
May had opened the package. Inside the brown paper was a stack of bills. “There’s a note here,” May said, and read it aloud while Kelp counted the bills. “Dear friends. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me. Let this be a small token of my esteem. I know you’re too smart to come after me again, so this must be farewell. Kindest regards, Jimmy.”
“There’s a thousand bucks here,” Kelp said.
“Two hundred apiece,” Dortmunder said. “We just made two hundred dollars.”
“Here we are,” Murch said, and braked to a stop at Eighth Avenue and Forty-second Street.
Jimmy was gone.