“The thing is,” Dortmunder said.
“Washington,” May suggested.
“That’s it. That’s it right there.”
They were walking home from the movies in the rain. May liked the movies, so they went from time to time, though Dortmunder couldn’t see what they were all about, except people who didn’t need a lucky ring. When those people in the movies got to a bus stop, the bus was just pulling in. When they rang a doorbell, the person they were coming to see had to have been leaning against the door on the inside, that’s how fast they opened up. When they went to rob a bank, these movie people, there was always a place to park out front. When they fell off a building, which they did frequently, they didn’t even bother to look, they just held out a hand, and somebody’d already put a flagpole sticking out of the building right there; nice to hold onto until the hay truck drives by, down below.
Dortmunder could remember a lot of falls, but no hay trucks. “Washington,” he said.
“It’s just a city, John,” May pointed out. “You know cities.”
“I know this city,” Dortmunder told her, pointing at the wet sidewalk between his feet. “In New York I know what I’m doing, I know where I am, I know who I am. In Washington I don’t know a thing, I don’t know how to go, to do this, to do that, I don’t know how to talk there.”
“They talk English in Washington, John.”
“Maybe,” Dortmunder said.
“What you need,” May said, “is a partner, somebody who knows that place, can help you along.”
“I dunno, May. What do I give him? Half the ring?”
“This Fairbanks is very rich,” May pointed out. “A place he lives, there’s got to be other stuff around. Look how much you got from his place on the Island.”
“Well, that’s true,” Dortmunder said. “But on the other hand, who do I know in Washington? Everybody I know is from around here.”
“Ask,” May suggested.
“Ask everybody. Start with Andy, he knows a lot of people.”
“The thing about Andy,” Dortmunder said, as May unlocked them into their apartment building, “is he likes knowing people.”
They went up the stairs in companionable silence, Dortmunder thinking about a nice glass of bourbon. Spring rains are warm, but they’re still wet.
May unlocked them into the dark apartment. Switching on the hall light, Dortmunder said, “Andy isn’t here. Think of that.”
“Andy isn’t here all the time.”
May concentrated on relocking the door. Dortmunder said, “You want some bourbon? A beer?”
“Tea,” she said. “I’ll make it.” Probably something she’d picked up in one of the magazines she was always reading.
“I’ll stick to bourbon,” Dortmunder decided. “And I’ll make it.”
They headed to the kitchen, switching on lights along the way, and Dortmunder made himself a bourbon on the rocks that just looked warm; even with the ice cubes floating around in there, you knew that drink would warm your insides.
May was still waiting on her tea. “I’ll be in the living room,” Dortmunder said, and left the kitchen, then turned back to say, “Here he is. I told you, remember?”
Not looking up from her tea, May called, “Hi, Andy.”
Andy, just entering, shut the hall door and called, “Hi, May.”
Dortmunder headed again for the living room, saying to Andy, “You might as well come along.”
“Long as I’m here.”
Andy was carrying some kind of leather shoulderbag with a flap, like a scout on horseback in a western movie. Dortmunder wasn’t positive he really wanted to know what was inside that bag, but he was pretty sure he’d be finding out. In the meantime, Andy shifted this bag around on his shoulder, indicating it was fairly heavy, and said, “I’ll just get a beer first.”
Dortmunder thought. He looked at the glass in his own hand. Rising with some difficulty to the responsibilities of host, he said, “You want a bourbon?”
“Thanks for asking, John,” Andy said, “but I’ll just stick to beer.”
So they went their separate ways, Dortmunder settling himself into his own chair in his living room, tasting the bourbon, and finding it every bit as satisfying as he’d hoped. Then Andy came in with his beer, sat on the sofa, put the beer and the shoulderbag on the coffee table, reached for the shoulderbag’s flap, and Dortmunder said, “Before you do that, whatever it is, lemme ask you a question.”
“Sure,” Andy said. His hand, en route, made a left turn and picked up the beer instead.
“Who do you know in Washington?”
Andy drank beer. “The president,” he said. “That senator, whatsisname. An airline stewardess named Justine.”
Dortmunder tasted bourbon; that was still good, anyway. “Who do you know,” he amended, “that isn’t a civilian?”
Andy looked alert. “You mean, somebody in our line of work? Oh, I see, to be the local for when you do the Watergate.”
“May says, probably there’ll be enough stuff in the guy’s place to make it worth somebody’s while.”
“That’s true, judging from last time. Lemme think about it,” Andy decided, and leaned forward, putting down his beer. “In the meantime,” he said, reaching again for the shoulderbag, “here’s the reason I’m here.”
“Uh huh.” Dortmunder held tight to his bourbon.
Andy flipped back the shoulderbag’s flap, and pulled out a smallish black metal box with a telephone receiver on one side of it. “I’m gonna have to unplug your phone for a few minutes,” he said.
Dortmunder glared at the box. “Is that an answering machine? I told you before, Andy, I don’t want—”
“No no, John, I told you, I gave up on you with technology.” Grinning in an amiable way, Andy shrugged and spread his hands, saying, “I understand you now. The only reason you’re willing to travel in cars is because there’s no place in an apartment to keep a horse.”
“Was that sarcasm, Andy?”
“I don’t think so. What this is,” Andy said, “is a fax. You’ve seen them around.”
Well, that was true. A fax was something you picked up and carried to the fence. In the straight world, they were yet another way to tell people things and have them tell you things back. Since telling people things and hearing what bad news they had to impart had never been high among Dortmunder’s priorities, he didn’t see where the fax figured into his own lifestyle. If he had a fax, who would he send a message to? What would it say? And who would send a message to him, that they couldn’t send by telephone or letter or over a beer at the O.J. Bar & Grill on Amsterdam Avenue?
Andy carried this black box of his over to the telephone on its end table, hunkered down beside it, and briskly unhooked the phone from the wall outlet so he could hook up his fax instead, while Dortmunder said, “Why do I have this, all of a sudden? And how long am I gonna have it?”
“The thing about a fax, John,” Andy explained, “it’s harder to bug. It isn’t impossible, the feds got a machine that can pick up a fax and it still goes on to the regular party, without anybody being the wiser, but it isn’t routine, not yet, not like a phone call. Just a minute.” Andy picked up the phone part of the fax and started tapping out a number.
Dortmunder said, “Is that a local call?”
“No, it isn’t.” Andy listened, then said, “Hi, it’s Andy. Go ahead,” and hung up.
“Don’t mind me,” Dortmunder said. His bourbon glass was almost empty, except for ice.
Hunkering beside the fax, Andy swiveled around to Dortmunder and said, “Wally called me. He’s got news, but none of us wants him to tell me on the phone. So he’s—”
The phone rang. Dortmunder said, “Get that, will you? You’re right there.”
“No, no, this is Wally,” Andy said, and the phone rang a second time, and May appeared in the doorway with a mug of tea. She looked around at everything and saw the black box and said “What’s that?” just as the box suddenly made a loud, high-pitched, horrible noise, like a lot of baby pigeons being tortured to death all at once. May’s eyes widened and the tea sloshed in her mug and she said, “What’s that?”
The pigeons died. The box chuckled to itself. Dortmunder said, “It’s a fax. Apparently, this is the only way Wally likes to talk now.”
“Here it comes,” Andy said.
Dortmunder and May watched in appalled fascination as the box began slowly to stick its tongue out at them; a wide white tongue, a sheet of shiny curly paper that exuded from the front of the thing, with words on the paper.
Andy smiled in paternal pleasure at the box. “It’s like a pasta machine, isn’t it?” he said.
“Yes,” Dortmunder said. It was easier to say yes.
The white paper, curling back on itself like a papyrus roll, kept oozing from the box. Then it stopped, and the box made a bell bing sound, and Andy reached down to tear the paper loose. Straightening, he went back to the sofa, sat down, took some beer, unrolled the fax—he looked exactly like the herald announcing the arrival in the kingdom of the Duke of Carpathia—and said, “Dear John and Andy and Miss May.” Smiling, he said, “What a polite guy, Wally.”
“He’s a very nice person,” May said, and sat in her own chair. But, Dortmunder noticed, she didn’t sit back and relax, but stayed on the edge of the chair, holding the mug of tea with both hands.
Andy looked back at his proclamation, or whatever it was. “I just picked up an internal memorandum of Trans-Global Universal Industries, which is Max Fairbanks’s personal holding company, and his plans have changed. Instead of going to Nairobi, he’s coming to New York—”
“Good news,” Dortmunder said, with some surprise, as another person might say, Look! A unicorn!
“He’s going to be arriving tomorrow night—”
“Wednesday,” May said.
“Right. —because he has an appointment with his Chapter Eleven judge on Thursday. Then he’ll leave for Hilton Head on Friday and go back to the schedule the way it was before.”
“He’s going to be here,” Dortmunder said, tinkling the ice in his empty glass. “Staying here. Two nights. Where?”
“We’re coming to that now,” Andy said, and read, “In New York, Fairbanks stays with his wife Lutetia at the N-Joy Theater on Broadway. I hope this is a help. Sincerely, Wallace Knurr.”
Dortmunder said, “The what?”
“N-Joy Theater on Broadway.”
“He stays at a theater?”
“It isn’t Washington, at least, John,” May pointed out. “It’s New York. And you know New York.”
“Sure, I do,” Dortmunder said. “The guy lives in a theater. Everybody in New York lives in a theater, am I right?”