Dortmunder had never felt more sure of himself in his life. He’d stripped that door panel and jumped from that moving car as though he’d been practicing those jukes for a week. When the alley he’d run into, behind and parallel to the main drag, happened to go past the rear of the local hardware store, he’d paused, hunkered down by that back door lock, and caressed it with fingers grown masterful with rage. The door eased open and he slid inside, shutting and relocking it just before the thud of heavy police brogans sounded outside. And yes, they did try the knob.
Happily, this was another place that left a light on for burglars, so they wouldn’t hurt themselves tripping over things in the dark. Skirting the range of that light, Dortmunder made his way to the front of the shop, settled down there on a can of grout with his chained hands crossed on his knees, and watched through the big plate-glass front window as the search for him ebbed and flowed outside.
He’d thought it would take half an hour for officialdom to decide he’d managed to get clear of this immediate area, but in fact it was fifty minutes before the police cars—Suffolk County, as well as local—and the cops on foot stopped going back and forth out there.
When at last there was quiet again in Carrport, and Dortmunder rose from the grout can, it was to find he was very stiff and sore; and why not? Working his shoulders and legs and torso, moaning softly, he made his way slowly to the rear of the store, where a vast array of tools awaited him, wanting only to help him get rid of these cuffs.
Easy does it. Many screwdrivers and other small hand tools offered themselves for insertion into the keyhole in the middle of the cuffs. Something will pick this lock, something, something . . .
Ping. The cuffs fell to the floor, and Dortmunder kicked them under a nearby roach poison display. Rubbing his wrists, which were chafed and sore, he moved around the aisles of the store, choosing the tools he wanted to take with him. Then at last he went out by the same back door, and continued on down the same alley.
Carrport wasn’t that hard to learn. If you walked downhill, you’d eventually reach the cove, and if you turned left at the cove, sooner or later you’d reach Twenty-Seven Vista Drive. Of course, if you were hiding from police cars and foot patrols along the way, it would probably take a little longer than otherwise, but still and all, eventually there would be the house, dark again except for the lying burglar light in the upstairs hall. No police around, no reason not to visit.
Dortmunder’s method for bypassing the front-door alarm worked just as smoothly as Gus’s had, maybe even more smoothly, but this time Dortmunder didn’t merely saunter on in. This time, he knew the house was occupied—this was robbery, not burglary, important to keep that distinction in mind—and he knew the occupant had a gun and a telephone (and a ring he didn’t deserve, damn his eyes), and he was not at all interested in a dead-on repeat of their previous encounter. So he sidled, he slunk, he stopped many times to listen and to peer at the murky dimness of the upstairs hall, and after all that, the place was empty.
Empty. You try to be a burglar, and you’re a robber; then you try to be a robber, and turns out you’re a burglar. God damn it to hell!
Dortmunder tromped around the empty rooms, room after room after room, and it became clear that Max Fairbanks and his girlfriend hadn’t actually been living here at all, had just dropped in to complicate the life of a simple honest housebreaker, and once their bad deed for the day was done, they’d decamped. Yes, here are their terry-cloth robes, in the hamper. Been and come . . . and gone.
Dortmunder ranged through the empty house, turning lights on and off with abandon, knowing the cops now believed Max Fairbanks was in residence, knowing they would never for a second believe this particular escapee had returned to the scene of the crime.
But would Fairbanks have left his ill-gotten loot behind, possibly on that kitchen counter he’d mentioned? No; it was gone, too, just as gone as Fairbanks himself. Probably on the bastard’s finger.
I’m going to get that ring back, Dortmunder swore, a mighty oath, if I have to chew that finger off. Meantime, finishing his interrupted journey from earlier, he went upstairs again for some pillowcases.
Half an hour later, Dortmunder stepped through the side door to find a long garage with spaces for five cars, three of the spaces occupied. The nearest vehicle was a twelve-passenger Honda van, good only for bringing middle management here from the railroad station. The farthest was a little red sports car, the Mazda RX-7, meant for upper-echelon executives when they wanted to take a spin around the cove. And the one in the middle was a gleaming black four-door Lexus sedan; trust corporate America to buy all its cars from Asia.
The Lexus was Dortmunder’s choice. He loaded the back seat with eight full and clanking pillowcases, then found the button that opened the overhead door in front of his new transportation, and drove on out of there, pausing like a good houseguest to push the other button that switched off the garage lights and reclosed the door, before he drove away from Twenty-Seven Vista Drive, possibly forever.
There were a lot of police cars out and about at the moment, roaming here and there in the world, but none of them were concerned with a nice new gleaming black Lexus sedan. Dortmunder found the Long Island Expressway, switched on the stereo to an easy-listening station, and enjoyed a very comfortable ride back to town.
Where he had two stops to make before going home. The first, on the West Side in Manhattan, was to drop in on a fella named Stoon, who was known to exchange cash for items of value; Stoon liked the stuff in the pillowcases. And the second was to drop the Lexus off at the rear of a place called Maximilian’s Used Cars in Brooklyn. The lot was closed at this hour, of course, but Dortmunder put the Lexus keys into an envelope with a brief and enigmatic note, tossed the envelope over the razor wire for the dobermans to sniff, and then took a cab home, where May was still up, watching the eleven o’clock news. “I always look at that,” she said, gesturing at the set, “just in case they might have something to say about you.”
“I’m sorry, May,” Dortmunder told her, as he dropped twenty-eight thousand dollars in cash on the coffee table. “I’ve got bad news.”