KELP walked into the O. J. Bar and Grill on Amsterdam Avenue at five minutes after ten. He hadn’t wanted to make a bad impression by showing up too early, so he’d hung back a little and the result was he was five minutes late.
Two customers at the bar, telephone repairmen with their tool-lined utility belts still on, were discussing the derivation of the word spic. “It comes from the word speak,” one of them was saying. “Like they say all the time, ‘I spic English.’ So that’s why they got the name.”
“Naw,” the other one said. “It didn’t come like that at all. Don’t you know? A spic is one of those little knives they use. Din you ever see one of the women with a spic stuck down inside her stocking?”
The first one said, “Yeah?” He was frowning, apparently trying to see in his mind’s eye a spic stuck down inside a woman’s stocking.
Kelp walked on down to the far end of the bar. Rollo the bartender, a tall meaty balding blue-jawed fellow in a dirty white shirt and dirty white apron, came moving heavily down the other side of the bar and pushed an empty glass across to him. “The other bourbon’s already here,” he said. “He’s got the bottle.”
“Thanks,” Kelp said.
Rob said, “And the draft beer with the salt on the side.”
“Gonna be any more of you?”
“Naw, just the three of us. See you, Rollo.”
“Hey,” Rob said, in a confidential manner, and made a head gesture for Kelp to come in closer.
Kelp went in closer, leaning toward him over the bar. Was there trouble? He said, “Yeah?”
Rob, in an undertone, said, “They’re both crazy,” and made another head gesture, this one indicating the two telephone repairmen down at the other end of the bar.
Kelp looked down that way. Crazy? With all those screwdrivers and things, they could get kind of dangerous.
Rollo murmured, “It comes from Spic-and-Span.”
A confused vision of people eating a detergent and going crazy entered Kelp’s head. Like sniffing airplane glue He said, “Yeah?”
“On account of the cleaning women,” Rollo said.
“Oh,” Kelp said. Cleaning women had started it apparently, drinking the stuff. Maybe it was a kind of high. “I’ll stick to bourbon,” he said, and picked up the empty glass.
“Sure,” Rollo said, but as Kelp turned away Rollo began to look confused.
Kelp walked on down past the end of the bar and past the two doors marked with silhouettes of dogs and the words POINTE and SETTERS, and then on past the phone booth and through the green door at the back and into a small square room with a concrete floor. All the walls of the room were lined floor to ceiling with beer and liquor cases, leaving only enough space in the middle for a battered old table with a green felt top, half a dozen chairs, and a dirty bare bulb with a round green tin reflector hanging low over the table on a long black wire.
Dortmunder and Murch were seated together at the table. A glass was in front of Dortmunder, next to a bottle whose label said AMSTERDAM LIQUOR STORE BOURBON— “OUR OWN BRAND.” In front of Murch were a full glass of beer with a fine head on it, and a clear glass saltshaker. Murch was saying to Dortmunder, “. -. through the Midtown Tunnel, and—oh, hi, Kelp.”
“Hi. How you doing, Dortmunder?”
Fine,” Dortmunder said. He nodded briefly at Kelp, but then looked away to pick up his glass. Kelp could sense that Dortmunder was still feeling very prickly about this, still wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to be friends or go along with this kidnapping idea or anything. May had told Kelp to go slow and easy, not push Dortmunder too hard, and Kelp could see that May had been right.
Murch said, “I was just telling Dortmunder, as long as they’ve got that construction on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, I give up on the Midtown Tunnel at all. At night like this, I can come right up Flatbush, take the Manhattan Bridge, FDR Drive, come through the park at Seventy-ninth Street, and here I am.”
“Right,” Kelp said. He sat down not too near Dortmunder, and put his glass on the table. “Could I, uh…” He gestured at the bottle.
“Help yourself,” Dortmunder said. It was brusque, but not really unfriendly.
While Kelp poured, Murch said, “Of course, going back, what I might try is go down the west side, take the Battery Tunnel, then Atlantic Avenue over to Flatbush, down to Grand Army Plaza, then Eastern Parkway and Rockaway Parkway and I’m home.”
Is that right, Kelp said.
Dortmunder pulled a paperback book out of his hip pocket and slapped it down on the table. “I read this thing again,” he said.
“Oh, yeah?” Kelp sipped at his bourbon.
Dortmunder spread his hands. He shrugged. He seemed to be considering his words very carefully, and finally he said, “It could maybe be used a little.”
Kelp found himself grinning, even though he was trying to remain low key. “You really think so?” he said.
“It could maybe be adapted,” Dortmunder said. He glanced at Kelp, then looked at the book on the table and gave it a brushing little slap with his fingertips. “We could maybe take some of the ideas,” he said, “and work up a plan of our own.”
“Well, sure,” Kelp said. “That’s what I figured.” He had his own copy of the book in his jacket pocket. Pulling it out, he said, “The way I saw it—”
“The point is,” Dortmunder said, and now he looked directly at Kelp, and even shook a finger, “the point is,” he said, “what you got with this book is a springboard. That’s all, just a springboard.”
“Oh, sure,” Kelp said.
“It still needs a plan,” Dortmunder said.
“Absolutely,” Kelp said. “That’s why the first thing I thought of, I thought to bring it to you.”
Murch said, “What, are we back with that book? I thought we weren’t gonna do that.”
Dortmunder was being very dignified, very judicious, and Kelp was hanging back and letting him have his head. Turning to Murch now, Dortmunder said, “I give the book another reading. I wanted to be fair, and we don’t have that much on the fire that we ought to turn something down without giving it a chance.”
“Oh,” Murch said. He pulled out a copy of the book and said, “I brought this along to give back to Kelp.”
“Well, hold onto it,” Kelp told him.
He was immediately sorry, because Dortmunder apparently hadn’t liked that. “Hold onto the book if you want,” he said, “but what we’ll do is, we’ll work out our own plan from it. We do what we do, not what the book does.”
“Sure thing,” Kelp said, and tried to flash Murch a high sign that he should go along with it.
Whether Murch saw the sign or not, all he did next was shake his head, look baffled, and say, “Fine with me. You want my Mom in on it?”
“Right. She and May can take care of the kid.”
“Okay,” Murch said. “Only, where’s the kid?”
“Up till now,” Dortmunder said, “we’re going along with the idea this book can tell us how we get one.”
“That’s right,” Kelp said. “How to find just the kid we want, it’s all in the book here.”
Picking up his copy, Dortmunder said, “Well, I got an open mind. I’m always ready to have a book writer tell me my business. Let’s take a look at that part.”
Kelp, riffling hurriedly through his own dog-eared copy, said, “It’s chapter four. Page twenty-nine.”
Dortmunder said, “Thanks,” and turned to the right page. He read slowly and patiently, his lips not quite moving, his blunt fingertip following the words from line to line.
Kelp watched him for a few seconds, then began to read the same chapter in his own copy of the book.
Murch sat there by himself. He looked at Dortmunder, and then at Kelp. It took him quite a while to figure out what they were doing; until, in fact, both of them had turned a page. Then he shrugged, picked up his own copy of the book, shook a little salt into his beer to get the head back, drank a bit, and settled down to read.