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12

It was raining over Maximilians Used Cars. Actually, it was raining over this entire area, the convergence of Brooklyn and Queens with the Nassau County line, the spot where New York City at last gives up the effort to go on being New York City and drops away into Long Island instead, but the impression was that rain was being delivered specifically to Maximilians Used Cars, and that all the rest was spillage.

Dortmunder, in a raincoat that absorbed water and a hat that absorbed water and shoes that absorbed water, had walked many blocks from the subway, and by now he looked mostly like a pile of clothing left out for the Good Will. He should have taken a cabhe was rich these days, after allbut although it had been cloudy when hed left home (thus the raincoat) it hadnt actually been raining in Manhattan when he left, and probably still wasnt raining there. Only on Maximilians, this steady windless watering-can-type rain out of a smudged cloud cover positioned just about seven feet above Dortmunders drooping hat.

One thing you could say for the rain; it made the cars look nice. All those !!! CREAMPUFFS !!! and !!! ULTRASPECIALS !!! and !!! STEALS !!! shiny and gleaming, their rust spots turned to beauty marks, their many dents become speed styling. Rain did for these heaps and clunkers what arsenic used to do for over-the-hill French courtesans; gave them that feverish glow of false youth and beauty.

Plodding through these four-wheeled lies, Dortmunder looked like the driver of all of them. As he approached the office, out through its chrome metal screen door bounded a young guy in blazer and chinos, white shirt, gaudy tie and loafers, big smile and big hair. He absolutely ignored the rain, it did not exist, as he leaped like a faun through the gravel and puddles to announce, Good morning, sir! Here for wheels, are we? Youve come to the right place! I see you in a four-door sedan, am I right, sir? Something with integrity under the hood, and yet just a dash of

Max.

The young man blinked, and water sprayed from his eyelashes. Sir?

Im here to see Max.

The young man looked tragic. Oh, I am sorry, sir, he said. Mister Maximilian isnt here today.

Mister Maximilian, Dortmunder said, has no place to be except here. And he stepped around the young man and proceeded toward the office.

The young man came bounding after. Dortmunder wished he had a ball to throw for the fellow to catch, or a stick. Not to throw. I didnt know you were a friend of Mister Maximilians, the youth said.

I didnt know anybody was, Dortmunder said, and went into the office, a severe gray-paneled space where a severe hatchet-faced woman sat at a plain desk, typing. Morning, Harriet, Dortmunder said, as the phone rang.

The woman lifted both hands from the machine, the right to hold one finger up toward Dortmunder, meaning Ill talk to you in just a minute, and the left to pick up the telephone: Maximilians Used Cars, Miss Caroline speaking. She listened, then said, You planted a bomb here? Where? Oh, thats for us to find out? When did you do this? Oh, yes, yes, I know youre serious.

Dortmunder moved backward toward the door, as the gamboling youth entered, smiled wetly, and crossed to sit at a much smaller desk in the corner.

Harriet/Miss Caroline said, Oh, last night. After we closed? Climbed the fence? And did you change the dogs water while you were here, were you that thoughtful? Laughing lightly, she hung up and said to Dortmunder, Hi, John.

Dortmunder nodded at the phone. A dissatisfied customer?

Theyre all dissatisfied, John, or why come here? And then they call with these bomb threats.

Jerking a thumb over his shoulder, toward the cars outside, Dortmunder said, Those are the bomb threats.

Now, John, be nice.

Dortmunder seemed to be doing a lot of gesturing; this time, it was toward Peter Pan in the corner. I see you got a pet.

My nephew, Harriet said, with just a hint of emphasis on the word. Have you met?

Yes. Is Max in?

Always. Picking up the phone again, she pressed a button and said, Max, John D. is here. She hung up, smiled, started typing, and said, Hell be right out.

And he was. Through the interior door came Maximilian himself, a big old man with heavy jowls and thin white hair. His dark vest hung open over a white shirt smudged from leaning against used cars. For a long time hed smoked cigars, and now, after hed given them up, he continued to look like a man smoking a cigar; a ghost cigar hovered around him at all times. Chewing on this ghost in the corner of his mouth, he looked left and right, looked at Dortmunder, and said, Oh, I thought she meant John D. Rockefeller.

I think hes dead, Dortmunder said.

Yeah? There goes my hope for a dime. What can I do you for?

I dropped a car off the other night.

Oh, that thing. Max shook his head; a doctor with bad news for the family. Pity about that. A nice-looking car, too. Did you notice how it pulled?

No.

More headshaking. The boys in the shop, they figure they can probably do something with it, they can do anything eventually, but its gonna be tough.

Dortmunder waited.

Max sighed. We know each other a long time, he said. You want, Ill take it off your hands.

Max, Dortmunder said, I dont want you to do that.

Max frowned: What?

I dont want you to load yourself up with a lemon, Dortmunder said, while Harriet stopped typing to listen, just on account of our friendship. I wouldnt feel right about it. The things that much of a turkey, Ill just take it away, and apologize.

Dont feel like that, Max said. Im sure the boys can fix it up.

Itll always be between us, Max, Dortmunder said. Itll be on my conscience. Just give me the keys, Ill see can I get it started, Ill take it off your lot.

This time Max scowled. John, he said, whats with you? Are you negotiating?

No no, Max, Im sorry I dumped this problem in your lap, I didnt realize.

John, Max said, beginning to look desperate, its worth something.

For parts. I know. Ill take it to a guy can strip it down, maybe Ill get a couple bucks off it. Harriet got the keys?

Max stepped back, the better to look Dortmunder up and down. Lets change the subject, he decided. Whadaya think a the weather?

Good for the crops, Dortmunder said. Harriet got the keys?

You met Harriets nephew?

Yes. He got the keys?

Ill give you twelve hundred for it!

Dortmunder hadnt expected more than five. He said, I dont see how I can do that to you, Max.

Max chewed furiously on his ghost cigar. I wont go a penny over thirteen fifty!

Dortmunder spread his hands. If you insist, Max.

Max glowered at him. Dont go away, he snarled.

Ill be right here.

Max returned to his inner office, Harriet returned to her typing, and the nephew opened a copy of Popular Mechanics. Dortmunder said, Harriet, could you call me a cab?

The nephew said, Youre a cab.

Harriet said, Sure, John, and she was doing so when Max came back, with an old NYNEX bill envelope stuffed with cash, which he shoved into Dortmunders hand, saying, Come back when its sunny. Rain brings out something in you. He stomped back into his office, trailing ghost cigar smoke.

Dortmunder read an older issue of Popular Mechanics until his cab arrived. Then, traveling across the many micro-neighborhoods of Queens, he reflected that hed just done much better with Maximilians Used Cars than ever before. Was it because Max happened to have the same first name as the guy who stole Mays uncles lucky ring, and this was a kind of revenge to beat down all Maxes everywhere? Or was he just on a roll?

That would be nice. Hed never been on a roll before, so hed have to pay attention to what it felt like, if it turned out thats what this was. Eight hundred fifty dollars more than hed dared hope for; so far, it felt good.

Home, he unlocked his way into what should have been an empty apartment, since May would be off at work at the supermarket, and there was Andy Kelp in the hall, walking toward the living room from the kitchen, a can of beer in one hand and a glass of orange juice in the other. Hi, John, he said. Where you been?

Dortmunder looked at his apartment door. Why do I bother to lock this thing?

Because it gives me a challenge. Come on in. Wallys got your rich guy pinned to the wall.


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