Ah hah. So this was the moment of decision. Press on, or not?
The real fury that had driven Dortmunder on the eventful night, that had fueled his brilliance and expertise in escaping from those cops, was gone now; you can’t stay white-hot mad at somebody forever, no matter what they did. Between the stuff he’d sold to Stoon, and the unexpectedly large return on the car, he’d cleared almost thirty grand from his encounter with Max Fairbanks, which was probably about three thousand times what the ring was worth. So did he really still want to pursue this vendetta, chase down some jet-setting billionaire who, as Andy had pointed out, would usually be surrounded by all kinds of security? Or was he ahead now, enough ahead to forget it, get on with his life?
Well, no. Having seen Andy Kelp’s reaction, and in a more muted way May’s reaction, to what had happened to him, he could see now that most people would look at the story in a way that made it seem like he was the goat. Also, given Andy’s big mouth, it was pretty certain that in no time at all everybody he knew would have heard about the ring incident in Carrport. They might laugh to his face, like Andy did, or they might laugh behind his back, but however they handled it, the point was, Max Fairbanks would come out of it the hero and John Dortmunder the jerk.
Unless he got the damn ring back. Let him walk around with that ring on his finger, on this personal finger right here, and then who’s the goat?
Okay. Max Fairbanks, here I come.
Which meant, first, Wally Knurr here I come, so Dortmunder walked on into the living room and there he was, Wally Knurr, looking the same as ever, like a genial knish. A butterball in his midtwenties, his 285 pounds, devoid of muscle tone, were packed into a ball four feet six inches high, so that he was at least as wide as he was tall, and it seemed arbitrary in his case that the feet were on the bottom and the head on top. This head was a smaller replica of the body, as though Wally Knurr were a snowman made of suet, with blue jellybean eyes behind thick spectacles and a beet for a mouth. (The makers presumably couldn’t find a carrot, so there was no nose.)
Dortmunder was used to Wally Knurr’s appearance, so he merely said, “Hey, Wally, how you doing?”
“Just fine, John,” Wally said. When he stood from the chair he’d been perched on, he was marginally shorter. The orange juice stood on the end table beside him. He said, “Myrtle and her mother say hello.”
“And back at them,” Dortmunder said. This having exhausted his social graces, he said, “You found my guy, huh? Sit down, Wally, sit down.”
Wally resumed his chair, while Dortmunder crossed to the sofa. To the side, Andy sat at his leisure in the overstuffed chair, smiling upon Wally as though he’d created the little fella himself, out of instant mashed potato mix.
Wally said, “Finding Mr. Fairbanks wasn’t the problem. He’s kind of everywhere.”
“Like bad weather,” Dortmunder said. “Wally, if finding him wasn’t the problem, what was the problem?”
“Well, John,” Wally said, swinging his legs nervously under his chair (his feet didn’t quite reach the worn carpet when he was seated), “the truth is, the problem is you. And Andy.”
Laughing lightly, Andy said, “Wally thinks of us as crooks.”
“Well, you are,” Wally said.
“I am,” Dortmunder agreed. “But so is Fairbanks. Did Andy tell you what he did?”
Andy said, “I just said he had something of yours. I figured, you wanted Wally to know the details you’d rather tell him yourself. Put your own spin on it, like they say.”
“Thanks,” Dortmunder said, and to Wally he said, “He’s got a ring of mine.”
Wally said, “John, I don’t like to say this, but I’ve heard you tell fibs about rings and things and this and that and all kinds of stuff. I like you, John, but I don’t want to help you if you’re going to do felonies, and after all, that’s what you do.”
Dortmunder took a deep breath and held it. “Okay,” he said, “here it is,” and he gave Wally the full story, including the Chapter Eleven stuff and the house supposed to be empty—and yes, it was a felony he and an unnamed partner, not Andy, planned in that supposedly empty corporate-owned building that night—and when he got to the theft of the ring he got mad all over again, and it didn’t help when he saw Wally—Wally!—hiding a smirk. “So that’s it,” he finished, sulky and feeling ill-used.
“Well, John, I believe you,” Wally said.
“Nobody would tell a story like that on themselves if it wasn’t true,” Wally explained. “Besides, when I looked for Mr. Fairbanks, I read all about the Chapter Eleven bankruptcy, and I even remember something about the house in Carrport.”
“So there you are,” Dortmunder said.
“You told that very well, John,” Andy said. “There was some real passion in there.”
“But if you do meet with this Mr. Fairbanks again,” Wally said, “how are you going to get him to give you your ring back?”
“Well,” Dortmunder said, “I thought I’d use a combination of moral persuasion and threats.”
“You aren’t going to hurt anybody, are you?”
There’s only so much truth a person should tell in one day, and Dortmunder felt he might already have overdosed. “Of course not,” he said. “You know me, Wally, I’m one hundred percent nonviolent.”
“Okay, John.” Smiling, animated, Wally said, “You know, finding Mr. Fairbanks was very interesting, very different from other stuff I do.”
“Usually, if you’re looking for somebody,” Wally explained, “you go through the airline computer systems, probably United Airlines, most of the others run through that. And you go to the big hotel chain computers, like Hilton or Marriot or Holiday Inn. And the car rental companies, and like that. But not with Mr. Fairbanks.”
“He doesn’t travel the way other people do. He has all kinds of offices and homes all over the world, and they’re all tied together with fax lines and phone lines and protected cables and all kinds of stuff, so he doesn’t stay in hotels. And when he goes someplace, he doesn’t take a commercial flight. He travels in one of his own airplanes—”
“One of,” Dortmunder echoed.
“Oh, sure,” Wally said. “He’s got five I know about, I mean passenger airplanes, not cargo, and I think there may be some more over in Europe he isn’t using right now.”
“Uh huh,” Dortmunder said.
“So I have to track him with the flight plans his pilots give the towers.”
“And this,” Andy said, “is the guy you’re gonna hunt down like a wounded deer, am I right, John?”
“Yes,” Dortmunder said. To Wally he said, “Tell me more.”
“Well, they send out his schedule,” Wally said. “His staff does, to his different homes and offices. Just a rough schedule of where he’s going and what he’s doing. They fax it, mostly, and they fax the changes to it, he’s always changing it, so everybody knows where he is and how to get in touch with him.”
“That’s one nice thing, John,” Andy said. “Here you’ve got a guy, he tells the world where he’s gonna be.”
“Good,” Dortmunder said. “Then he can tell me. Wally, where is he?”
There was a manila envelope on the floor beside Wally’s chair. Stooping now, with many grunts and false starts, Wally picked up this envelope and took from it two sheets of paper, as he said, “You just want for the rest of May, I guess.”
“Sure,” Dortmunder said.
“Okay.” Wally studied the papers. “Well, today,” he said, “he’s in London.”
“That’s fast,” Dortmunder said. “He was on Long Island last Thursday.”
“Wait for it,” Andy said.
Wally said, “He got to London this morning.”
“How long is he gonna be there?” Dortmunder asked, thinking he really didn’t want to have to go all the way to London to get his ring back.
“Day after tomorrow,” Wally said, “he’s going to Nairobi.”
“Nairobi.” Dortmunder didn’t like the sound of that. “That’s in Africa someplace, isn’t it?”
“Is he ever coming back to the States?”
“Saturday,” Wally said, “because he’s going to testify at a congressional hearing next Monday, a week from today.”
Andy said, “What you’ve got there, John, you’ve got your basic moving target.”
Dortmunder said, “London, Nairobi, Washington, all this week. He’s going to Washington on Saturday?”
“On Monday. He’s going to spend the weekend at Hilton Head, in South Carolina.”
“Nice for him,” Dortmunder said. “How long’s he gonna be in Washington?”
“Until Wednesday. Then he goes to Chicago for two days, and then Sydney for the next—”
“Sydney? That’s a person.”
“Sydney, Australia, John, it’s a city. And then the Monday after that he flies back and goes to Las Vegas, and then he—”
Dortmunder said, “Are we still in May?”
“Oh, sure, John,” Wally said. “The schedule says he’ll be in Las Vegas two weeks from today.”
“I’m almost feeling sorry for this guy,” Dortmunder said.
“I think he likes it,” Andy said.
“Well, I’m not gonna chase him around London and Africa, that’s for sure,” Dortmunder said. “I can wait till he comes back this way. Washington isn’t so far, where’s he stay in Washington? Got another house there?”
“An apartment,” Wally said, “in the Watergate.”
“I’ve heard of that,” Dortmunder said. “It’s some kinda place.”
Wally and Andy looked at one another. “He’s heard of it,” Andy said.
Wally said to Dortmunder, “It’s a great big building over by the Potomac River. It’s partly offices and partly hotel and partly apartments.”
“Apartments are harder,” Dortmunder said. “Doormen, probably. Neighbors. Could be live-in help there, a guy like that.”
Grinning, Andy said, “John? You planning a burglary at the Watergate?”
“I’m planning to get my ring back,” Dortmunder told him, “if that’s what you mean.”
Andy still had that little crooked grin. “No big deal,” he suggested. “Just a little third-rate burglary at the Watergate.”
Dortmunder shrugged. “Yeah? So? What’s the worst that could happen?”
“Well,” Andy said, “you could lose the presidency.”
Dortmunder, who had no sense of history because he had no interest in history because he was usually more than adequately engaged by the problems of the present moment, didn’t get that at all. Ignoring it as just one of those things Andy would say, he turned to Wally. “So he’s gonna be there next Monday night? A week from today.”
“That’s the schedule,” Wally agreed.
“Thank you, Wally. Then so am I.”