DORTMUNDER could never get used to the feeling of riding in the cab of a tractor-trailer when there wasn’t any trailer hooked on the back. This big loud red engine, snorting diesel fumes oh a pipe just above his window, growling through all the gears, struggling like it was puling a building along behind itself, and when you turn around and look back there’s nothing there. Just the growling cab and himself sitting up high on the passenger’s side while Stan Murch did the driving. For some reason, this cab-without-trailer experience always made Dortmunder feel as though he were tilting forward, as though he were about to fall off a cliff. He kept his feet planted on the floor and his back pressed against the seat.
“There’s Kelp,” Murch said.
Dortmunder squinted. “I see him,” he said.
It had taken a long time for Dortmunder to be willing to see Kelp again—almost a year. And a couple of mouths after that before he’d work with him any more. He still wouldn’t have anything to do with any big stuff Kelp might bring around, but he was grudgingly willing now to join in with Kelp on the occasional burglary or, like tonight, the occasional hijacking.
It was nine o’clock in the evening, and this space under the West Side Highway along the piers was lined with trailers. Some were empty, waiting to be loaded tomorrow morning with goods coming in by ship. Others were full, waiting to be off-loaded tomorrow morning with their goods going into ships. Almost all of them were trailers only, without cabs.
This was the best time of day to hit this area. Late enough for the workmen all to have gone home, but not so late than any passing patrol car would get suspicious. Hook their cab onto a trailer, drive down to Brooklyn, turn it over to their contact there, take their money, go home.
But not just any trailer. It had to be a trailer with useful goods in it. Like the one tonight. Kelp claimed to have learned about a trailer full of television sets. If he was right, it was rent money and then some.
Murch pulled to a stop next to where Kelp was loitering. Kelp had been prepared to fade away between the trailers if anybody else had come along, hut now lie stepped boldly out and said, “Hiya,” as Dortmunder climbed down from the cab.
“Hello,” Dortmunder said. They had an agreement:
they were polite, even friendly with one another, but neither of them ever mentioned the past. It had been a year and a half since the kidnapping fiasco and they both knew that Dortmunder still had a tantrum left in him on that one and that the tantrum, if it did burst, would have to burst on Kelp’s head. S0 neither of them talked about yesterday, or permitted any reminder of the past.
“It’s this one,” Kelp said, gesturing to a ratty-looking trailer with a lot of dents on it.
Dortmunder looked at it, and the trailer just didn’t give the impression of being full of valuable things. He said, “You sure?”
“Yeah,” Dortmunder said, and he did not say, You’re been positive before. What he did, he walked down to the back of the trailer, saying, “Let’s just double-check.”
Kelp, following him down between the trailers, said, "I don’t think maybe we ought to—”
Dortmunder threw the lever and opened the rear door.
The alarm made an awful sound, it went right through your head like a science-fiction ray gun. “Shit,” Dortmunder said. Through the open door, streetlight glare reflected off white cartons with the letters TV on them. “Shit again,” Dortmunder said.
Kelp was already running, and now Dortmunder followed him. Murch was boiling out of the stolen cab, and all three men ran across Twelfth Avenue and down into the warren of side streets known as the West Village. After two blocks they slowed to a walk, and then strolled on eastward toward Greenwich Village, ignoring the propositions of the homosexuals who hung out in this area at night.
It took Dortmunder four blocks to build himself up to it but finally, gritting his teeth, he turned toward Kelp and said, “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Kelp said. “Could have Happened to any. body.” He was so glad that for once he couldn’t be blamed for what had happened that he didn’t even mind the loss of the TV sets.
They walked on a bit farther, reaching the relatively bright lights of Sheridan Square, where they stopped again and Murch said, “So now what?”
“Look,” Kelp said. “We’re done so early, why don’t we grab a movie? Stop off, pick up May, go to a movie.”
“A movie,” Dortmunder said.
“Sure. Maybe a nice comedy, take our minds off our troubles. There’s a new one out called Kid Stuff, supposed to he pretty funny. Whadaya say?”
“Sure,” Murch said.
Dortmunder shrugged. “What can it hurt,” he said.