DORTMUNDER SAT IN HIS living room to watch the local evening news, and had just about come to the conclusion that every multiple-dwelling residence in the state of New Jersey would eventually burn to the ground, three per news cycle, when the doorbell rang. He looked up, surprised, not expecting anybody, and then became doubly surprised when he realized it had not been the familiar blatt of the hall doorbell right upstairs here, but the never-heard ing of the street-level bell, sounding in the kitchen.
Rising, he left the living room and stepped out to the hall, to see May looking down at him from the kitchen, her hands full of today’s gleanings from her job at Safeway as she said, “Who is it?”
“Not this bell,” he told her, jabbing a thumb over his shoulder at the hall door. “The street bell.”
“The street bell?”
Dortmunder clomped on back to the kitchen, to the intercom on the wall there that had never worked, that the landlord had just repaired in a blatant ploy to raise the rent. Not sure of the etiquette or operation of this piece of machinery, for so long on the inactive list, he leaned his lips close to the mouthpiece and said, “Yar?”
“It’s Andy,” said a voice that sounded like Andy being imitated by a talking car.
May said, “Let him in, John.”
“Oh, yeah.” Dortmunder pressed the white bone button, and yet another unpleasant sound bounced around the kitchen.
“Will wonders never cease,” May said, because Andy Kelp, who was occasionally Dortmunder’s associate in certain enterprises, usually just walked on into their place, having enjoyed the opportunity to hone his lock-picking skills.
Dortmunder said, “What if he rings this one up here, too?”
“He might,” May said. “You never know.”
“It’s an awful sound,” Dortmunder said, and went down the hall to prevent this by opening the door, where he could listen to the echoes as Andy Kelp thudded up the stairs. When the thuds stopped, he leaned out to see Kelp himself, a sharp-nosed cheerful guy dressed casually in blacks and dark grays, come down the worn carpet in the hall.
“You rang the bell,” Dortmunder reminded him—not quite an accusation.
Kelp grinned and shrugged. “Respect your privacy.”
What an idea. “Sure,” Dortmunder said. “Comonin.”
They started down the hall and May, in the kitchen doorway, said, “That was very nice, Andy. Thoughtful.”
“You want a beer?”
“I’ll bring them.”
Dortmunder and Kelp went into the living room, found seats, and Dortmunder said, “What’s up?”
“Oh, not much.” Kelp looked around the living room. “We haven’t talked for a while, is all. No new acquisitions, I see.”
“No, we still like the old acquisitions.”
“So,” Kelp said, crossing his legs, getting comfortable, “how you been keeping yourself?”
“May’s been keeping me,” Dortmunder told him. “She’s still got the job at the Safeway, so we eat.”
“I figured,” Kelp said, “you didn’t call for a while, probly you didn’t have any little scores in mind.”
“I mean,” Kelp said, “if you did have a little score in mind, you’d call me.”
“Unless it was a single-o.”
Kelp looked interested. “You had any single-os?”
“As a matter of fact,” Dortmunder said, as May came in with three cans of beer, “no.”
May distributed the beer, settled into her own chair, and said, “So, Andy, what brings you here?”
“He wants to know,” Dortmunder said, “have I been working without him, maybe with some other guys.”
“Aw, naw,” Kelp said, casually waving the beer can. “You wouldn’t do that, John.”
Dortmunder drank some beer, in lieu of having something to say.
May said, “What about you, Andy? Anything on the horizon?”
“Well, there is one little remote possibility,” Kelp said, which of course would be the other reason he’d happened to drop by. “I don’t know if John’d be interested.”
Dortmunder kept the beer can up to his face, as though drinking, while May said, “What wouldn’t he like about it?”
“Well, it’s in New Jersey.”
Dortmunder put the beer can down. “They got a lotta domestic fires in New Jersey,” he said. “I was just noticing on the news.”
“Family feared lost?” Kelp nodded. “I seen that sometimes. No, this is one of those big box superstores, Speedshop.”
“Oh, that,” Dortmunder said.
Kelp said, “I know you had your troubles with that store in the past, but the thing is, they’re having this giant television sale.”
“Got one,” Dortmunder said, pointing at it. (He’d turned it off when all the bell-ringing started.)
“Well, here’s my thinking,” Kelp said. “If they’re gonna have a giant sale on these things, it stands to reason they’re gonna have a bunch of them on hand.”
“That’s right,” May said. “To fill the demand.”
“Exactly,” Kelp said to May, and to Dortmunder he said, “I happen to know where there’s an empty semi we could borrow.”
“You’re talking,” Dortmunder said, “about lifting and carrying a whole lot of television sets. Heavy television sets.”
“Not that heavy,” Kelp said. “And it’ll be worth it. You see, I also happen to know a guy out on the Island, recently opened up a great big discount appliance store out there, Honest Irving, not one item in the store is from the usual channels, he’ll take everything off our hands but the semi, and I might have a guy for that, too.”
“Honest Irving,” Dortmunder said.
“His stuff is just as good as everybody else’s,” Kelp assured him, “same quality, great prices, only maybe you shouldn’t try to take the manufacturer up on the warranty.”
“Speedshop,” Dortmunder said, remembering his own after-hours visit to that place. “They got a lotta security there.”
“For a couple guys like us?” Kelp spread his hands to show how easy it would be, and the phone rang.
“I’ll get it,” May said. She stood, left her beer behind, and headed for the kitchen, as the phone rang again.
“I know I’m wasting my breath,” Kelp said, “but what a help for May it could be, I give you a nice little extension phone in here.”
“No, thank you.”
“One phone in an entire apartment,” Kelp said, and shook his head. “And not even cordless. You take back-to-basics a little too far back, John.”
“I also don’t think,” Dortmunder said, “I wanna buck Speedshop, not again. I mean, even before the question of Honest Irving.”
Kelp said, “Where’s a question about Honest Irving?”
“The day will come, an operation like that,” Dortmunder said, “all of a sudden you’ve got this massive police presence in the store, cops looking at serial numbers, wanting bills of sale, all this paperwork, and whadaya think the odds are, we’re there unloading television sets when it happens?”
“A thousand to one,” Kelp said.
“Yeah? I make it even money,” Dortmunder said, and May came in, looking worried. He looked at her. “What’s up?”
“That was Anne Marie,” she said, referring to Kelp’s live-in friend. “She says there’s a guy in the apartment, says he wants to see Andy, just waltzed in, won’t give a name, just sits there. Anne Marie doesn’t like it.”
“Neither do I,” Kelp said, getting to his feet. “I better go.”
“John will go with you,” May said.
There was a little silence as Dortmunder reached for his beer can. He lifted his eyes, and they were both looking at him. “Uh,” he said, and put the beer can down again. “Well, naturally,” he said, and got to his feet.