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25

The lockman was not the woman from the restaurant at dinner. The lockman was Wally Whistler, and Andy Kelp didnt mention the woman at dinner, or dinner itself, or anything about that entire scene. Which was okay with Dortmunder. No sweat off his nose. He didnt mind if Andy Kelp wanted to snub him at dinner and have secrets. Didnt matter to him.

Since Gus Brock had already showed up, a couple minutes early, the arrival of Wally Whistler and Andy Kelp meant the gang was all here. Wally Whistler was a cheerful guy and a first-rate lock expert, whose only flaw was a certain absentmindedness. Hed once spent a period of time in an upstate prison merely because, visiting the zoo with his kids, hed absentmindedly fiddled with a lock, and the resulting freed lion had made everybody upset and irritated until the tranquilizer dart had made it possible to put the lion back in his cage. Another time, Wally had been helping some people one night at a Customs warehouse on the Brooklyn dockspeople who hadnt wanted to encumber Customs with a lot of documents and formsand he was, as usual, playing absentmindedly with locks, and when he realized hed somehow unlocked his way from the warehouse into the bowels of a cargo ship, the ship had already sailed, and he hadnt managed to get off the thing until Brazil, which was unfortunate, because Brazil and the United States dont have an extradition treaty. Wally Whistler, like some other of Dortmunders friends, liked to travel by extradition, which meant, when overseas, theyd confess to a crime in America they knew they could prove they hadnt done, be extradited back home, produce the proof of innocence, and walk. Without extradition from Brazil, it had taken Wally a long time indeed to get home, but here he was at last, as good as ever, and just as absentminded.

This is our room here, thats somebody else, Dortmunder pointed out, seeing Wally drift in the direction of the connecting door to some other room.

Oh, right, Wally said.

Gus said, Open sesame.

They looked at him. Dortmunder said, What?

Were going to Aladdins Cave, arent we? Gus asked. So why dont we do it.

Everybody agreed that was a good idea, so they trooped on out of the room. Wally carried a few small tools in his pockets, but none of the others had brought along anything special. They were prepared to wait and see what they found when they got down to the apartment. It was true Max Fairbanks had to be approached with care, since he was known to carry heata memory Dortmunder would retain for a good long timebut they expected that the element of surprise, plus their force of numbers, would be able to deal with that problem.

They took the public elevator down to seventeen, then walked around to that unmarked door in the center section, which Wally went through even more quickly and laconically than Andy had. The four crowded insidewith the maids cart already there, it was a tight fitand Wally hummed a little tune as he hunkered down in front of the control board. Very nice, he commented. The lockmakers are getting smarter and smarter. Look at this stuff.

Dortmunder said, Is it gonna be a problem?

For answer, the elevator started down.

I guess not, Andy said.

The ride was short and smooth, and at the end of it was a closed wood door just like the one up above, except that this one, when Wally tried the knob, wasnt locked. Less work for mother, Wally said, and cautiously opened the door.

They looked out at hallway, a cream-colored wall decorated with fine Impressionist paintings and faux Roman electric sconces. Wally was about to stick his head out a little farther, look to left and right along this hall, when they all heard the voices.

Somebody coming, Dortmunder hissed, and Wally eased backward into the elevator, allowing the door to close almost completely, leaving just a hairs breadth through which they could hear the voices as two people walked past the door.

A woman: a good nights sleep.

A man (Max Fairbanks! Dortmunder recognized his irritating voice, here sounding rather bitter): Im looking forward to it.

Andy whispered, Theyre going to bed.

Gus whispered, Perfect.

Dortmunder visualized himself, in half an hour or so, tiptoeing into that bedroom, the ring in sight at last, gleaming on Fairbankss sleeping finger, getting closer and closer.

Meanwhile, the woman, her voice receding down the hallway, was saying, And in the morning, Ill go with you to the airport, and then ...

And then she receded out of hearing range, and Wally slowly pushed the door open once more, and the four of them crept out to the gleaming art-filled hallway, with gleaming rooms visible at both ends.

They were about to move when the womans voice was heard again, distinctly saying, Were ready, Arthur. So she was one of those people who spoke more loudly to servants. And then she was heard saying, And you can go home now, I wont be back till tomorrow afternoon.

Dortmunder said, What? He turned toward the sound of the voice, while the other three reached out to restrain him.

Oh, wait, said the womans voice, and then there was a loud single clapping sound and the lights went out.

Pitch blackness. The sound of an elevator motor, whirring somewhere nearby. They left ! Dortmunder cried.

Hush! Ssshhh! Hush! everybody cried, and Andy half-whispered, There could be other people here.

In the dark? Dortmunder demanded. Theyre gone, goddamit.

Gus said, How do we get these lights on?

Oh, theres nothing to that, Dortmunder snapped. The point is, we got here just too late. The son of a bitch is gone, and you know hes got my ring on his goddam fat finger.

The sound of the elevator stopped. The son of a bitch and his woman had reached street level.

Gus said, What do you mean, theres nothing to that? You know how to turn on the lights?

Sure, Dortmunder said. But we should wait until they get away from here, just in case they happen to look up, that son of a bitch with my ring on his finger.

There was a little silence at that, until Andy said, I dont know how to turn on the lights. You mean theres some trick?

No, its very easy, Dortmunder said, and clapped his hands together once, and the lights came on.

Everybody blinked at everybody else. Gus said, You clap for the lights to go on?

And off, Dortmunder said. Didnt you hear the sound when they left? Its a stunt kind of electric thing people do, Ive run into it a few times. Youre going along, minding your own business, you make just the wrong noise, the lights come on. People do it in their living rooms, wow their friends. I never saw it in a whole apartment before.

Gus said, What if they turn on the television, and theres applause?

Probably, Dortmunder said, they get migraine. But the point is, Max Fairbanks and my ring are gone.

Aggravated, disconsolate, he turned away and went down to the end of the hall and turned right, and there was the door to the other elevator, over there across the reception room.

Two minutes. Two minutes earlier, and hed have had Max Fairbanks in his grip, hed have gotten his ring back, no question. No question.

No, not even two minutes. Step out of the elevator when the son of a bitch is going by, grab him right then, yank the goddam ring off his finger, and then let the scene play out however it wants. But, no. Cautious, that was his problem. Too goddam cautious, hide in the elevator until its too late.

John.

Dortmunder turned, glowering, and there was Gus, who didnt even notice the expression on Dortmunders face. The expression on Guss face was one huge beaming smile. In his right hand he held a gold bracelet, and in his left a small but exquisite Impressionist drawing. John, he said, about that Carrport deal. I just want you to know. Were square.

Im happy for you, Dortmunder said.


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