Dortmunder was very very very angry.
To be arrested was one thing, to be convicted, sent to prison, given a record, made to wear ill-fitting denim, forced to live in close proximity to thoroughly undesirable citizens, listen to lectures, take shop, eat slop, all part of the same thing, all within the known and accepted risks of life. But to be made fun of? To be humiliated? To be robbed . . . by a householder ?
To have May’s ring stolen, that was what hurt. That was what changed the whole situation, right there. Until that point, facing the householder and the householder’s gun—and so much for all those chapters the householder was supposed to be away in—and then facing the local law, Dortmunder had fully expected to go forward from here in a normal fashion, through the program, all hope gone, three times and you’re in, throw away the key, okay, ya got me, I’ll never live on the outside again.
But when the son of a bitch stole the ring, that’s when it changed. That’s when Dortmunder knew he could no longer play by the rules. He was going to get that ring back. Which meant, he was going to escape.
The woman cop with the lard ass walked him out to the cop car in the driveway and put him in the backseat, then hit the button that locked both rear doors and raised the thick wire mesh divider between front and back seats, imprisoning him in there. Then she sat up front, behind the wheel, to use her radio.
All right. He was going to escape, that was a given. Which meant he had to do it before they reached the local police station, where they would not only have sturdy cells to lock him into but would surely take his fingerprints at once, so that even if he escaped after that they’d still know who he was, and it would be much more difficult, henceforward, to live a normal life. So it had to be now, in this car, before they got where they were going.
A workman thinks first of his tools. What did he have, besides these handcuffs, which all they did was restrict his movements? (His movements would be even more restricted were the cuffs holding his wrists behind his back, but Dortmunder had undergone the process of arrest once or twice before in his life, and he’d learned, particularly with a younger or fairly inexperienced cop, that if one humbly extended one’s wrists and looked hangdog, often one got the more comfortable option of being cuffed in front. It had worked this time, too, so he didn’t have to do the Houdini thing of climbing through his own arms, like squirming backward through a barrel hoop.)
Tools, tools, tools . . . He had a belt, with a buckle. He had shoes, with shoelaces. His pants had a zipper, and the zipper had a pull tab, the metal piece you grasp when opening or closing the zipper. The pull tab was not attached to the zipper slide but was held to it by a tooth extending inward from the tab into a groove on each side of the slide. Dortmunder, watching the back of the woman cop’s head, reached down to the front of his pants. Grasping the pull tab in one hand and the slide in the other, he twisted them in opposite directions, and the pull tab came off in his fingers. A tool.
The rear doors of the cop car were shut and locked, but were otherwise ordinary automobile doors, except there were no buttons or cranks to open the windows, just little blank shiny metal caps where the buttons or cranks would normally be. The inside panel beneath each shut window was held in place by a whole lot of Phillips-head screws.
Dortmunder slid over to the left, behind the woman cop. His right hand moved under his left hand, as he reached down between his hip and the door and inserted a top corner of the pull tab into the X in the head of the nearest screw. He applied pressure, but nothing happened, so he stopped, took a breath, gripped the pull tab more tightly, and gave a sudden jerk. Resistance, resistance; the screw turned.
Fine; loose is all we need right now. Dortmunder moved on to the next screw, up near his left elbow. Same resistance, same sudden jerk, same abrupt victory. The third screw, though, had to be jerked twice before it quit fighting.
Dortmunder had loosened five of the screws, with at least that many still to go, when the male cop with the dirty hat came out, got into the passenger seat up front, gave one casual glance back at his slumped and oblivious prisoner, tossed his hat onto the floor (no wonder it was dirty), and said, “Okay, we can take him in.”
“What did he want to talk to you about back there?”
The male cop laughed. “Wait’ll you hear,” he said, and Dortmunder loosened the sixth screw.
The female cop drove, Dortmunder worked on the screws, and the male cop told the story about Max Fairbanks and the bankruptcy court. Fairbanks—so that son of a bitch who’d copped Dortmunder’s ring was the guy himself, the head cheese—had given the cop a capsule version of his legal situation, and it came out exactly the way Gus had described it to Dortmunder, except with the added wrinkle that Max Fairbanks was in violation of the court order in re that house there, and didn’t want anybody to know about it.
Isn’t that a nice one? Max Fairbanks is breaking the law, he’s going against an order from a judge, and he asks this meatheaded cop with the dirty hat to aid and abet him in his crime, and the cop does it! Is life unfair, or what?
It’s unfair. The cop had agreed that, since Max Fairbanks wasn’t supposed to be there, and since in addition he certainly wasn’t supposed to be there with that particular young woman, it was the two cops who had noticed a light on in the house they knew was supposed to be empty, and had entered, and captured the burglar themselves.
“That’s better for you, too,” the male cop said, turning his head to look back at Dortmunder through the wire mesh. “If there’s nobody in the house, it’s simple burglary, but if there’s somebody home when you break in it’s robbery, and you’ll do heavier time for that. So you luck out, you see?”
“Thank you,” Dortmunder said, and popped the last screw.
Carrport is an early town, and on weeknights not much of a happening town, not since the Gatsbys and the flappers faded away. The streets are lined with many more leafy trees than streetlights, so there was rarely enough light to make its way inside the police car as it drove steadily from the residential area surrounding the cove and headed uptown and uphill toward the main business district, where the police station stood. The darkness was fine for Dortmunder as he removed all those screws, pocketing them so they wouldn’t make noise rolling around on the floor, and as he silently popped the panel out at last and leaned it against the rear of the front seat, behind the female cop, carefully smearing fingerprints away with his palms. But then the darkness got to be a little too much of a good thing, because Dortmunder needed to see the machinery inside the door before he could go on to phase two.
And here’s the business district, such as it is; real-estate agents and video stores. Most places call this section downtown, but in Carrport it’s uphill to here from the cove, the businesses placed up and away from the more valuable real estate down around the water, so the locals call it uptown, and when they need anything they go somewhere else.
Still, there were more streetlights here, and fewer leafy trees, so now Dortmunder could see the layout inside the door. This bar goes across here, this elbow goes this way, and if you pull this pin out here—
Thunk. The window dropped like a guillotine into the doorwell.
“What was that?” cried the male cop, and the female cop slammed on the brakes, which was good, because Dortmunder, headfirst, pulling and then pushing himself with his handcuffed hands, was going out the window, kicking himself away from the car as he fell, ducking his head down and hunching his shoulders up, landing on his curved upper back, then rolling out flat, faceup, then spinning to the right several times because of his remaining momentum from the car. And then, bruised, battered, manacled but free, he staggered to his feet while the cops were still trying to get their vehicle stopped over there, and ran for the nearest darkness he could find.