KELP was very excited and very happy. He couldn’t sit in one place, and the result was he got to Dortmunder and May’s place half an hour early for the meeting. He didn’t want to risk annoying Dortmunder again, so he spent the half hour walking around the block.
He was so sure of this idea that he didn’t see any possible way for Dortmunder to turn it down. With Dortmunder and May in, plus Murch to do the driving and Murch’s Mom to handle the kid, it was all going to work just beautifully. Just like the book.
The way Kelp had come across that book, he’d been in jail at the time: a fact he didn’t intend to mention to anybody. It had been upstate in Rockland County, a small town where he’d run into a little trouble when some cops stopping cars to look for drugs had found a whole lot of burglar tools in his trunk. It had taken five days to get the whole thing squashed because of the element of illegal search, but during those five days Kelp had been kept locked up in the local pokey. And a very poky pokey it had been, too—nothing to do but roll Bugler cigarettes and read paperback books donated by some local ladies’ club.
Several of the hooks had been by this writer Richard Stark, always about the same crook, named Parker. Robbery stories, big capers, armored cars, banks, all that sort of thing. And what Kelp really liked about the books was that Parker always got away with it. Robbery stories where the crooks didn’t get caught at the end—fantastic. For Kelp, it was like being an American Indian and going to a western movie where the cowboys lose. Wagon train wiped out, cavalry lost in the desert, settlement abandoned, ranchers and farmers driven back across the Mississippi. Grand.
Child Heist was the third of the Parker novels he’d read, and even while he was reading it he’d known it meant something special to him, even more than the others. And as he was finishing the book the revelation had come on him like a sudden flood of heavenly light, like his little gray cell had just been illumined by a thousand suns. That’s the way it had been. And when, the next day, the Public Defender had finally gotten him sprung, he’d walked out of there with Child Heist concealed inside his shirt, and as soon as he’d made it back to the city he’d gone to a bookstore and picked up half a dozen more copies.
Would the others see it the way he had? May probably would, she was smart, and in any case she’d go along with it if Dortmunder did. Murch probably not, he tended not to understand anything that didn’t have wheels, but that wouldn’t really. matter, not if Dortmunder went for it. Murch would follow Dortmunder’s lead, and Murch’s Mom would follow Murch.
So it all came down to Dortmunder, and how could Dortmunder say no? It was a natural, it had struck Kelp in that jail cell as a natural, and it was going to strike Dortmunder as a natural. Going to. Have to. No question.
Kelp, growing more and more terrified that Dortmunder wasn’t going to think it was a natural, walked around and around the block for half an hour until a voice called to him from amid the traffic, “Hey, Kelp!”
He looked up and saw a cab going by, with Murch in the back seat, waving at him out the window. Kelp waved back and the cab continued on, toward the building in the middle of the block where Dortmunder and May lived. Kelp turned around and walked briskly after it, and saw the cab pull in next to a fire hydrant down there. Murch got out, waving at Kelp again, and then the driver got out and walked around the front of the cab to the sidewalk. The driver was short and stocky, wearing gray pants and a black leather jacket and a cloth cap.
“Hi,” Kelp shouted, and waved.
Murch stood waiting, and when Kelp got there he said, “Hey, Kelp. How come you were going the wrong way?”
Kelp frowned at him. “The wrong way?”
“You were going that way. You miss the address?”
“Oh, right!” Kelp said. He didn’t want to display nervousness or indecision, so he shouldn’t mention about walking around the block for half an hour. “Ha ha,” he said. “How do you like that, I walked right on by it. I guess I must have been thinking, huh?”
The cabdriver said, “We going in or what are we gonna do? I could be out making a buck.” She pulled the cloth cap off, and it was Murch’s Mom.
“Oh, hi, Mrs. Murch,” Kelp said. “I didn’t recognize you. Sure, let’s go in.” -
“This is my shift,” Murch’s Mom said. “I’m supposed to be working now.”
“It’ll be a short meeting, Mom,” Murch said. “Then maybe you’ll get somebody that wants to go to the airport.”
The three of them had entered the tiny vestibule of the building, and Kelp was pressing the button for Dortmunder and May’s apartment. Murch’s Mom said, “You know the kind of fare I’ll get? You know the way it’s been lately? Park Slope, that’s what I’ll get, into darkest Brooklyn for a two-bit tip and no customers and drive back to Manhattan empty. That’s what I get.”
The door buzzed and Kelp pushed it open. He said, “Mrs. Murch, your days of driving a taxicab are over.”
“I’ve had traffic cops say the same thing.” She really wasn’t in a wonderful mood at all.
The staircase was narrow; they had to go up one at a time. Kelp let Murch’s Mom go first, and naturally her son had to follow, so Kelp went up last. He called past Murch, “Did you read the book, Mrs. Murch?”
“I read it.” She was stumping up the stairs as though stair-climbing was the punishment for a crime she hadn’t committed.
“Wha’d you think?”
She shrugged. Grudging it, she said, “Make a nice movie.”
“Make a nice bundle,” Kelp told her.
Murch said, “The part where they put the car in the truck. That was okay.”
Kelp was feeling the awkwardness of a guy bringing his new girl friend around to meet the fellas at the bowling alley. He called up the stairs to Murch’s Mom’s back, “I thought it had a like a kind of realism to it.”
She didn’t say anything. Murch said, “And they got away with it at the end. That was okay.”
“Right,” Kelp said. All of a sudden he was convinced Dortmunder wasn’t going to see it. Murch hadn’t seen it, Murch’s Mom hadn’t seen it, and Dortmunder wasn’t going to see it. And Dortmunder had this prejudice anyway about ideas brought to him by Kelp, even though none of the disasters of the past had been truly Kelp’s fault.
They were at the third-floor landing, and May was standing in the open doorway of the apartment. There was a cigarette dangling in the corner of her mouth, and she was wearing a dark blue dress and a green cardigan sweater with the buttons open and with a pocket down by the waist that was bulged out of shape by a pack of cigarettes and two packs of matches. She looked very flat. footed, because she had on the white orthopedic shoes she wore in her job as a cashier at a Bohack’s supermarket. She was a tall thin woman with slightly graying black hair, and she was usually squinting because of cigarette smoke in her eyes, since at all times she kept a cigarette burning away in the corner of her mouth.
Now, she said hello to everybody and invited them in, and Kelp paused just inside the door to say, “Did you read it?”
Murch and his Mom had gone through the foyer into the living room. Voices could be heard in there, as they greeted Dortmunder. May, closing the front door, nodded and said, “I liked it.”
“Good,” Kelp said. He and May went into the living room, and Kelp watched Dortmunder just leaving the room by the opposite door. “Uh,” Kelp said.
May said, “You want a beer?” She called after Dortmunder, “John, and a beer for Kelp.”
“Oh,” Kelp said. “He’s getting beer.”
Murch and his Mom were settling on the sofa. The two full ashtrays on the drum table suggested that May was probably claiming the blue armchair, and that left only the gray armchair. Dortmunder would be sitting in that.
“Have a seat,” May said.
“No, thanks,” Kelp said. “I’d rather stand. I’m sort of up and excited, you know?” -
Beer cans were being opened in the kitchen; kop, kop, kop. Murch’s Mom said, “May, I’m crazy about that lamp. Where’d you get it?”
“Fortunoff’s,” May said. “On sale, a discontinued model.”
Murch said, “I know we’re a little late, but we ran into traffic on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. I couldn’t figure it out.”
“I told you there was construction there,” his mother said. “But you don’t listen to your mother.”
“At eight o’clock at night? I figured four, five o’clock, they go home. Am I supposed to know they leave the machinery there, close the thing down to one lane all night?”
Kelp said, “To come to Manhattan you take the Brooklyn Queens Expressway?”
“Up to the Midtown Tunnel,” Murch said. “You see, coming from Canarsie—”
Dortmunder, coming in then with his hands full of beer cans, said, “Everybody can drink out of the can, right?”
They all agreed they could, and then Murch went on with his explanation to Kelp, “Coming up out of Canarsie,” he said, “you’ve got special problems, see. There’s different routes you can take that’s better at different times of day. So what we did this time, we took Pennsylvania Avenue, but then we didn’t take the Interborough. See what I mean? We took Bushwick Avenue instead, and crossed over to Broadway. Now, we could have taken the Williamsburg Bridge, but—”
“Which is exactly what we should have done,” Murch’s Mom said, and drank some beer.
“Now, that’s what I’ll do next time,” Murch admitted. “Until they get all that machinery off the BQE. But usually the best way is the BQE up to the Midtown Tunnel, and then into Manhattan.” He was leaning urgently toward Kelp, gesturing with his full beer can. “See what I mean?”
It was more of an explanation than Kelp had been looking for. “I see what you mean,” he said.
Dortmunder handed Kelp a beer and gestured at the gray armchair. “Have a seat.”
“No, thanks. I think I’d rather stand.”
“Suit yourself,” Dortmunder said, and went over to sit on the arm of May’s chair. “Go ahead,” he said.
All at once, Kelp had stage fright. All at once he’d lost all confidence in his idea and all confidence in his ability to put the idea across. “Well,” he said, and looked around at the four waiting faces, “well. You’ve all read the book.”
They all nodded.
The empty chair was like a bad omen. Kelp was standing there in front of everybody like an idiot, and right next to him was this empty chair. Turning his head slightly, trying not to see the empty chair, he said, “And I asked you all what you thought of it, and you all thought it was pretty good, right?”
Three of them nodded, but Dortmunder said, “You didn’t ask me what I thought of it.”
“Oh. That’s right. Well, uh, what did you think of it?”
“I thought it was pretty good,” Dortmunder said.
Kelp grinned with relief. His natural optimism was re turning to him now. Clapping his hands together he said, “That’s right. It is pretty good, isn’t it? And you know what else it is?”
None of them knew.
“It’s full of detail,” Kelp said. “The whole thing is worked out right from one end to the other, every detail. Isn’t that right?”
They all nodded. Dortmunder said, “But where do we come in?”
Kelp hesitated; this was the moment. The gray armchair hung like a teardrop in his peripheral vision. “We do it!” he said.
They all looked at him. Murch’s Mom said, irritably, “What was that?”
It was out now, and a sudden rush of excitement carried Kelp along on its crest. Crouching like a surfer in the curl, he leaned toward his audience and said, “Don’t you see? That goddam book’s a blueprint, a step-by-step master plan! All we do is follow it! They got away with it in the book, and we’ll get away with it right here!”
They were staring at him openmouthed. He stared back, fired with the vision of his idea. “Don’t you see? We do the caper in the book! We do the book!”