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35

John! Ssshhh! John! Wake up! Pssst! John! Ssshhh!

Im awake, Im awake, Dortmunder grumbled, and opened his eyes to look at a color-deprived room with the lights on dim.

Andy was leaning over him, still jostling his shoulder. You fell asleep, John, he said.

What gives you that idea? Dortmunder sat up to put his feet over the edge of the bed, and looked around. It was a big bed with a big soft spread on it. His shoes were on the tan wall-to-wall carpet. The room looked like it should be in the Carrport house. What time is it?

A quarter to five. He isnt coming, John.

Sure hes coming, Dortmunder said. Hes got to talk to Congress tomorrow. Today. You dont stand up Congress.

He isnt coming here at quarter to five in the morning, John. You want a cup of coffee?

Yes.

You want some breakfast?

Yes.

Andy went away at last, and Dortmunder got up from the bed, creaking a lot, and went over into the bathroom, where there was a fresh toothbrush in the medicine chest, along with many other little amenities.

This was some apartment. Two large bedrooms, each with its own full bath, plus a long living room, a pretty good compact kitchen, a smallish dining room, and a half bath off the hall between living room and bedrooms. Also off the living room was one of those balconies with all the concrete teeth, providing a view of Virginias low hills over the river. The design throughout was like the inoffensive design at Carrport, except this was much more basic and minimal, without the antiques and little fineries that would fit so nicely into the pocket of a passing wayfarer. There was damn-all here to steal, if it came to that. Unless you felt like roaming the halls with a television set in your arms, which they didnt at all feel like doing, you could leave this place starved for a sense of accomplishment.

The lights had been on all over the apartment, turned low, when theyd arrived, so theyd left them like that. It made it easy to move around the place, and wouldnt startle Fairbanks when he arrived. Except the son of a bitch wasnt arriving.

In the dining room, also dimly lit, Andy had set a nice spread at one end of the table, toast and jam and butter and orange juice and milk and coffee. Looks good, Dortmunder admitted, as he sat down.

There was Cheerios, Andy said, but it had little bugs in it.

No, Dortmunder agreed.

I figured, Andy said, one thing you dont want your food to do is walk.

Dortmunder filled his mouth with toast and butter and jam and said, I wonder where the hell Fairbanks is.

Andy looked at him. What?

So Dortmunder chewed for quite a long while, and swallowed coffee with the toast and the other stuff, and said, Fairbanks.

I wonder where the hell he is, Andy said.

Me, too, Dortmunder said.

He was supposed to be as regular, this guy, Andy said, as a person full of bran.

Dortmunder said, Things started going wrong when all of a sudden hes off the radar screen for the weekend.

Maybe he knows youre after him, Andy said, and grinned to show he was kidding.

Nevertheless, Dortmunder took the idea seriously, but then shook his head. No way. He cant know theres anybody looking for him, not yet. And even if he did, the last time we saw each other, I didnt look like somebody was gonna go after anybody.

Im sure thats true, Andy said, and he might have been smiling in an unacceptable way, but before Dortmunder could be sure one way or the other, Andyd covered his mouth with his coffee cup.

Dortmunder chewed some more jam and butter and toast, and thought about things. He drank coffee. Maybe theres something on television, he said.

Andy looked at him. You mean a movie? Watch a movie?

No. Maybe theres something about Fairbanks.

Andy didnt get it. Why would there be something about Fairbanks on television?

Because, Dortmunder said, the guy is rich and famous, and Congress is pretty well known itself, so maybe when the one goes to see the other, theres something about it on television.

Huh, Andy said. I never would of thought of that. Could be you could be right.

Thank you, Andy, Dortmunder said, with dignity.

After breakfastthey left the dishes in the dining room for the maid servicethey went into the living room, where there was a television set you wouldnt want to carry around the halls. It was as big as a drive-in movie, a huge screen almost up to the ceiling that made everything look slightly gray and grainy; not out of focus, exactly, but as though it were a copy of a copy of a copy.

At 5:30 in the morning, there were things being broadcast on this giant TV that maybe didnt look as scary at normal size. Dortmunder and Kelp watched a number of programs with disbelief before they found a news channelnot CNN, some other onethat promised a morning update of congressional activities, which conjured images of congresspeople playing volleyball and Ping-Pong, so they settled down to watch the giant people of that station on this giant screen, who just kept on promising the congressional activities update while showing countless commercials of grown-ups eating candy bars intermixed with noncommercials of grown-ups shooting at each other. It was nearly forty minutes before the blond lady with the bionic teeth said, And now the congressional update, and then another nine minutes of posturing and flapdoodle from other active congresspeople before paydirt was finally struck:


Appearing before the subcommittee on entertainment tax reform this morning will be media mogul Max Fairbanks, chief executive officer of the giant entertainment and real estate conglomerate called Trans-Global Universal Industries, better known as TUI. Mr. Fairbankss appearance is scheduled for eleven oclock, when he is expected to tell a sympathetic committee that only by the removal of the World War IIera entertainment luxury tax will the American film and television and multimedia industry be able to compete in the global markets of tomorrow, by producing the top-quality artistic and entertainment production which the industry, with a solid financial base, would be able to provide, were it not for this onerous tax.


Whadaya bet, Andy said, this station here is one of the things he owns?

Pass, Dortmunder said.


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