“I don’t know about this,” Dortmunder said. “I don’t know about those knees, to begin with.”
“You brought those knees in with you, John,” Kelp reminded him. “Look at the clothes.”
It was very hard to look at the clothes, with those knees glowering back at him from the discount-store mirror like sullen twin hobos pulled in on a bum rap. On the other hand, with these clothes, it was very hard to look at the clothes anyway.
This was the end result of Dortmunder’s having told Kelp, in the car on the way to Henderson, how everybody in this town seemed to gaze upon him with immediate suspicion. If he’d known that admission was going to lead to this he’d have kept the problem to himself, just resigned himself to being a suspicious character, which is in fact what he was.
But, no. Despite the absolute success of the meeting with Lester Vogel—that scheme was going to work out perfectly, he almost believed it himself—here he was, humiliated, in this discount mall on the fringes of the city, in front of a mirror, his knees frowning at him in reproof, wearing these clothes.
The pants, to begin with, weren’t pants, they were shorts. Shorts. Who over the age of six wears shorts? What person, that is, of Dortmunder’s dignity, over the age of six wears shorts? Big baggy tan shorts with pleats. Shorts with pleats, so that he looked like he was wearing brown paper bags from the supermarket above his knees, with his own sensible black socks below the knees, but the socks and their accompanying feet were then stuck into sandals. Sandals? Dark brown sandals? Big clumpy sandals, with his own black socks, plus those knees, plus those shorts? Is this a way to dress?
And let’s not forget the shirt. Not that it was likely anybody ever could forget this shirt, which looked as though it had been manufactured at midnight during a power outage. No two pieces of the shirt were the same color. The left short sleeve was plum, the right was lime. The back was dark blue. The left front panel was chartreuse, the right was cerise, and the pocket directly over his heart was white. And the whole shirt was huge, baggy and draping and falling around his body, and worn outside the despicable shorts.
Dortmunder lifted his gaze from his reproachful knees, and contemplated, without love, the clothing Andy Kelp had forced him into. He said, “Who wears this stuff?”
“Americans,” Kelp told him.
“Don’t they have mirrors in America?”
“They think it looks spiffy,” Kelp explained. “They think it shows they’re on vacation and they’re devil-may-care.”
“The devil may care for this crap,” Dortmunder said, “but I hate it.”
“Wear it,” Kelp advised him, “and nobody will look at you twice.”
“And I’ll know why,” Dortmunder said. Then he frowned at Kelp, next to him in the mirror, moderate and sensible in gray chinos and blue polo shirt and black loafers, and he said, “How come you don’t dress like this, you got so much protective coloration.”
“It’s not my image,” Kelp told him.
Dortmunder’s brow lowered. “This is my image? I look like an awning!”
“See, John,” Kelp said, being kindly, which only made things worse, “what my image is, I’m a technician on vacation, maybe a clerk somewhere, maybe behind the counter at the electric supply place, so what I do when I’ve got time off, I wear the same pants I wear to work, only I don’t wear the white shirt with the pens in the pocket protector, I wear the shirt that lets me pretend I know how to play golf. You see?”
“It’s your story,” Dortmunder said.
“That’s right,” Kelp agreed. “And your story, John, you’re a working man on vacation. You’re a guy, every day on the job you wear paint-stained blue jeans and big heavy steel-toe workboots—probably yellow, you know those boots?—and T-shirts with sayings on them, cartoons on them, and plaster dust like icing all over everything. So when you go on vacation, you don’t wear nothing you wear at work, you don’t want to think about work—”
“Not the way you describe it.”
“That’s right. So you go down to the mall, and here we are at the mall, and you walk around with the wife and you’re supposed to pick up a wardrobe for your week’s vacation, and you don’t know a thing about what clothes look like except the crap you wear every day, and the wife picks up this shirt out of the reduced bin and says, ‘This looks nice,’ and so you wear it. And when we leave here, John, I want you to look around and see just how many guys are wearing exactly that shirt, or at least a shirt just like it.”
Dortmunder said, “And is that who I want people to think I am?”
“Well, John,” Kelp said, “it seems to me, it’s either that, or it’s you’re a guy that, when people look at you, they think nine and one and one. You know what I mean?”
“And this,” Dortmunder said, as he and his knees glared at one another, “is something else Max Fairbanks owes me.”