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This troubling possibility troubled Mark as well, but he was hoping against hope. But its the right thing to do, he insisted.

They arent gonna do it, Os said. He sounded pretty sure of himself.

The two were seated in the knotty pine rec room in the basement of Marks mother and stepfathers home in Westport, the rec room being just next to the lumber room he was unfortunately bunking in these days. It was difficult enough to have to move back in with ones parents at the age of forty-twoand a bit irritating to the old folks as well, as they had subtly but relentlessly made clearbut it was even worse to have to live in the basement.

That huge house above him contained room after room, yet not one of them was considered appropriate housing for a prodigal son. True, this was not the house in nearby Norwalk where hed grown up, nor the Daddy hed grown up with, so he wasnt actually returning, but why couldnt there be a comfy bedroom upstairs somewhere, with a view?

But, no. Mum had made that perfectly clear. Youre not to clutter up my sewing room with your tubular socks, and Roger needs the library for his research as you well know, and the keeping room is out of the question, being right in everybodys traffic pattern, and on and on, till it began to seem, if theyd had a manger, there wouldnt have been room for him there, either.

What was he to say? That he hadnt worn tube socks in twenty years? What good would that do?

Besides, the unspoken recrimination in all this was that some of the money that bastard Hall had siphoned out of Mark had, in fact, come from Mum and Roger. So the basement lumber room, with its faint essence of heating oil, was not the extent of Mums beneficence; there was her silence, as well.

Mark sighed. When would he get his own place back, his independence back, his life back? They ought to do it, he insisted. Theyre a union. Theyre a workforce.

Mac and the others wont ask them, Os insisted right back.

But why not? Mac says they have over twenty-seven hundred members in their W-whatchacallit. How many would we need? Twenty? Less.

Fewer, said Os, who was a stickler for the language. And they wont do it.

A tunnel, Mark reiterated. Way in the back where nobody can see anything. Late at night, along that dirt road by the cornfield. How long a tunnel would we need, just to get under the electric fence? A bunch of men with shovels, a few pickup trucks to carry in the shoring and carry out the excess dirt, and were into the compound.

They wont do it.

Lickety-split across the estate, Mark went on, not even caring that he was repeating himself, just loving the concept from beginning to end. Into that white elephant of a house of his, truss him up like a Christmas tree, cart him back to the tunnel, pop him out of there like a champagne cork, and off to the hideout.

We dont have a hideout, Os said.

Well have a hideout, Mark said, brushing that off. By then, well have one. Os, twenty-seven hundred members! Working men, strong horny hands, powerful backs. Ill bet you, they all have their own shovels.

They wont do it.

It could be like one of those prisoner of war escape movies. Many hands make light work.

They wont do it.

Why do you keep saying that?

Because its true. Because Mac is just a little too noble for our own good.

Oh, please.

He is, Mark, Os said. And if you suggest this thing to him, well lose the three of them, never mind the twenty-seven hundred. Hell decide we just want to use them.

We do just want to use them.

Collaboratively, Os said. That was the agreement. Think about this, Mark. That fellow Mac and his friends are sacrificing themselves for their union mates. They will not take kindly to your suggestion that they lead those selfsame mates into a life of crime.

Crime, crime, were kidnapping Monroe Hall, thats no crime, thats poetic justice.

Poetic justice is often a crime. But this one they wont do.

Then whats your suggestion, Mark demanded.

I never said I had one.

No, all you do is rain all over my ideas. The agreement with those three was, we would combine forces, and we would all work at coming up with something we could do together to get our hands on Monroe Hall, and then we would get back in touch. But you dont want to get back in touch, not with my idea. So why dont you come up with something?

Well, if I have to come up with something, Os said, how about that green Subaru station wagon?

Bewildered by the sudden change of topic, Mark said, What about it?

Its in and out of the estate all the time, Os said. Where we cant go, it goes constantly.

So do the hired guards, Mark pointed out. So what?

But that fellow in the Subaru isnt a hired guard, Os said. Who is he? Why does he have such frequent access to the estate? And why couldnt hethink about this, Markwhy couldnt he fit a few extra people into that big station wagon of his once or twice, once going in, once coming out?

Subarus arent that big, Mark said.

But could one be big enough? Os did a maybe-so-maybe-not hand waggle. Why dont you and I, he said, do a little window-shopping at a Subaru dealer?

You think?

Well, I dont know yet, do I?

Mark considered. It wouldnt fit five extra people, he said.

Os smiled, a thing he didnt do all that often. Oh, he said, agreements to one side, I dont believe we need bother our union friends with this concept just yet, do you?

Mark returned the smile. Over his left shoulder, the central air-conditioning thumped on.

| The Road to Ruin | c