There are many ways to bypass or otherwise defeat a burglar alarm. On the walk through town from the railroad station in the evening dark, Dortmunder and Gus discussed the possibilities, learning they had different favorite methods, depending on the manufacturer of the alarm. “I’ll let you handle it,” Dortmunder finally agreed. “My fingers slip sometimes.”
“Mine don’t,” Gus said.
The house was as Gus had described it; large and rich and dark, except for that usual upstairs hall light people leave on to tell burglars there’s nobody home. Gus looked at the front door and then went around to consider a couple of windows, and then went back to the front door and on into the house, pausing only briefly to give the alarm a little attention on the way by.
Inside, the place had the anonymous good looks of any corporate milieu; a lot of beige, a lot of good but uninteresting furniture, nothing quirky or individual. Nobody had actually lived in this house for many years, and it looked it.
But that was okay; Dortmunder and Gus didn’t plan to move in either. And corporate types do tend to throw the money around when they’re spending company cash on their own perks, so there should be more than one item of interest in this place.
Beginning with the large dining room, an imposing space with a table that could seat sixteen, four pairs of French doors leading out to the wraparound porch and the view of Carr’s Cove, and a long heavy mahogany sideboard containing a whole lot of first-rate silver. “Nice,” Gus said, lifting a cake server. A winter scene with horse and sleigh was engraved on its wide flat blade.
Dortmunder looked into the drawer Gus had opened, and yes, indeed, that was all silver in there. Not silverplate; silver. Antique, probably. “I’ll get some pillowcases,” he said, and while Gus explored the sideboard further, Dortmunder went back to the front hall, found the broad staircase, and was halfway up the stairs when the lights came on.
A whole lot of lights. Dortmunder stopped. He looked up, and at the head of the stairs was a bulky older man in a white terry-cloth robe. The telephone in the man’s left hand didn’t bother Dortmunder nearly as much as the gun in his right.
“Um,” Dortmunder said, as he tried to think of an explanation for his presence on this staircase at this moment that didn’t involve him having broken, or intending to break, any laws. Hmmmm.
“Freeze,” the man said.
Freeze. Why does everybody say freeze anymore? Whatever happened to “hands up”? With “hands up,” you had a simple particular movement you could perform that would demonstrate to one and all that you weren’t making any trouble, you were going along with the armed person, no problem. What are you supposed to do with “freeze”? Teeter on one foot? Maintain a stupid expression on your face? “Freeze” is for television actors; in real life, it’s demeaning to all concerned.
Dortmunder ignored it. The gun was taking most of his attention, while the telephone the man was dialing one-handed took the rest. (Except for his faint awareness of a soft and sibilant swooshing sound from the dining room, as a French door was gently opened, and as gently closed. Gus Brock, bless his heart, was outta here.) So, rather than freeze, Dortmunder put a hand on the banister, rested his weight there in gloomy patience, and tried to think.
Well. When the going gets hopeless, the hopeless keep going. “Mister,” Dortmunder said, knowing this was a waste of breath, “I’m prepared to just go home, you know? Forget the whole thing. Nothing’s hurt, nothing’s taken.”
“If you move,” the man said, as he lifted the phone to his ear, “I will shoot you in the kneecap and you will walk with a limp for the rest of your life. I am a very good shot.”
“You would be,” Dortmunder said.