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48

Well, it seemed to work. Dortmunder went here and there around Las Vegas, wearing this horrible clothing Andy Kelp had foisted on him, and nobody gave him a second glance. Cops drove by on the street and didnt even slow down. Hotel security people frowned right past him at boisterous kids. Citizens walked on by without snickering or pointing him out to one another as something that must have escaped from Toon-town, and the reason for that, he could now see, was that most of them were dressed just as foolishly as he was. More.

In fact, the only comment he received, pro or con, was on Friday morning, when he came out of his room at the Randy Unicorn and the mummified woman was standing there, outside her office, squinting in the sunlight as though shed just vaguely remembered that sunlight was bad for her, and when she saw Dortmunder in his new togs she looked him up and down, said, Uh huh, and went back into her office.

The acid test came when Dortmunder and Kelp went over to the Gaiety. They walked around the Battle-Lake, and studied the cottages where Max Fairbanks would be staying come Monday, and while they were doing all that the exact same rent-a-cops never gave Dortmunder a tumble, didnt even recognize him from two days ago. It was amazing, this protective coloration stuff, simply amazing. Dortmunder said, What if I wear this crap in New York?

Dont, Kelp advised.

They called Anne Maries room from the lobby, but she wasnt in, so they wandered some more, looking at the casino, which was shaped mostly like a Rorschach inkblot. From the front entrance, if you came into the hotel and angled to the right youd find the doors out to the pool and the Battle-Lake and the rest of the outdoor wonders, and if you went straight ahead you soon reached the broad check-in desk, with half a dozen clerks on duty, but if you angled to the left you entered a kind of cave, low-ceilinged and indeterminate and endless, with all the light you needed at any one specific spot and yet nevertheless an impression of overall darkness.

The first part of the cave was a ranked army of slot machines, brigade after brigade, all at attention, many being fed by acolytes in clothing like Dortmunders, but with cups full of coins in their left hands. They were like sinners being punished in an early circle of Hell, and Dortmunder passed by with gaze averted.

Beyond the slots, the same room spread left and right, with the crap tables to the left, extending for some surprising distance, and the blackjack tables to the right. Following the crap tables leftward would funnel you back to the lounge, a dark room with low tables and chairs where drained holidaymakers dozed in front of a girl singer belting your favorites in front of a quartet of Prozaced musicians. If you went the other way, past the blackjack tables, you came to the more exotic dry-cleaning methods: roulette, keno, and, in a roped-off area staffed with men in tuxes and women in ball gowns, baccarat. The keno section was actually the back of the lounge, so you could continue on through and wind up at the crap tables again.

This was all one continuous room, without a single window. The ceiling was uniformly low, the lighting uniformly specific and soothing, the air uniformly cool and crisp, the noise level controlled so thoroughly that the shouters at the crap tables could hear and be excited by one another but would hardly be noticed by the intense memorizers at the blackjack tables.

In here it was neither day nor night, but always the same.

Dortmunder went through it feeling like an astronaut, far out in the solar system, taking a walk through the airless reaches of space, and he wished he were back on his native planet; even the protective spacesuit he was wearing, with its many colors and its white pocket, didnt seem like enough.

Eventually they found themselves outdoors again, where the nice bushy green plantings along the rambling blacktop paths at least were reminiscent of Earth. They roamed a bit more, breathing the airlike air, and then Kelp said, There she is, and pointed to Anne Marie, swimming in the pool.

They went over and stood by the pool, crowded with kids of all ages, until she saw them; then she waved and swam over and climbed out, trim in a dark blue one-piece suit. Hi, guys, she said. This way.

They followed her around to her towel, on a white plastic chaise longue. She dabbed herself, then gave Kelp a moist kiss and Dortmunder a skeptical look, saying, Who dressed you?

Dortmunder pointed at Kelp. He did.

Get to know who your friends are, she advised.

Kelp said, Its protective coloration. Before, people kept wanting to make citizen arrests.

It seems to work, Dortmunder said.

Good, she said. I suppose you want to see the view.

Yes, please.

They rode up in the elevator together, and Anne Marie unlocked her way into the room. Dortmunder immediately went over to look out the window, and there it was. The field of play, laid out for him like a diagram.

I took some pictures, Anne Marie said, bringing them out. Up here, and down there, too.

I love your camera, Anne Marie, Kelp said, and went over to stand beside Dortmunder and look out the window. They contemplated the scene down there together for a minute, and then Kelp said, So? Whadaya think?

Dortmunder made shrugging motions with head and eyebrows and hands and shoulders. We might get away with it, he said.


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