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WHEN DORTMUNDER WALKED INTO the O.J. at four that afternoon, one of the daytime regulars down at the left end of the bar was fast beginning to work himself into a fulltime rant. Who come up with this great idea? he demanded of the universe. Thats what I wanna know. Whose idea was this, English is a second language?

Rollo was at the right end of the bar, doing the crossword puzzle in the Daily News. Dortmunder headed straight for him.

I was born in this country. I got English as a first language, and thats the way I like it!

Rollo nodded a hello, and said, The other bourbons got your glass in the back.

Dortmunder said, Was there anybody else with him?

Rollo looked confused. Im not sure.

Thatll be the guy, Dortmunder said, from what I hear of him.

Youre gonna have to come rip English out of my cold dead hand, thats what youre gonna have to do.

Rollo said, You got more comin?

The vodka and red wine, and the beer and salt.

Hes gonna push me into the profit margin, that beer and salt.

English was good enough for my father, and it was good enough for his father, and it wouldve been good enough for his father if hed been here!

Dortmunder headed down around the vocal end of the bar, where the regulars around the ranter had a fixed, glazed, genre painting look.

English is a second language, said in tones of deepest contempt and disgust. So whadawe supposeta do now, learn Mexican or something?

Por favor, said a deceptively mild voice, as Dortmunder rounded the corner, headed down the hall, and entered the back room, where Kelp had naturally taken the best seat for himself, facing the door, with some nondescript guy to his left.

So Dortmunder went around the table the other way, to take the seat at Kelps right, as Kelp said, Hey, John. John Dortmunder, this is Jim Green.

Dortmunder said, So were using our own names, are we?

Some of us are, Kelp said.

Jim Green stood up to extend a hand past Kelp as he offered a bland smile and said, How are you today?

Terrific, Dortmunder said, and shook the hand, which didnt do a whole lot of shaking back.

Kelp said, Ill explain things when the other two get here.


Dortmunder sat, then looked past Kelp to remind himself what Jim Green looked like. Oh, yeah, right. He poured himself a glass of bourbon from the bottle on the tray at Kelps right elbow, then leaned forward again to see what Green was drinking. Beer, no salt.

But here came the beer with salt, through the doorway, saying, Id of been here sooner, only I started up Eleventh Avenue, and they got a whole shipment of BMWs comin in to the dealer there, nothin but trucks full of high-priced cars all over the place, backin into the windows, backin into each other, backin into the cabs all over there, so then I went over to the West Side Highway, and theres a cruise ship on strike at the docks there, pickets in Hawaiian shirts, handin out pink leaflets, whado they want with a livin wage, they got room and board on a ship, so I did a U-ey and went all the way down to Forty-second, and come up Tenth, and the way its goin in midtown, I think next time, Ill take the Holland over to Jersey, up to the bridge, come down here. Either that or Staten Island. By then, he was seated, beer and salt in front of him, to Dortmunders right, and he nodded and said, Hi, John. Hi, Andy.

Dortmunder said, Well, you made it, anyway.

Yeah, at the very least.

Kelp said, Stan Murch, this is Jim Green.

Oh, hi, Stan said. I didnt notice you over there.

How are you today, Green said, and Tiny Bulcher came in, carrying a glass of red liquid and frowning at some personal dissatisfaction of his own. Green looked at him. Is he one of you?

Kelp said, Tiny Bulcher, this is Jim Green.

Harya, Tiny said.

How are you today, Green said, but more warily than before.

Im still okay, Tiny said, and shut the door, then sat at the place in front of it, facing the rest of them.

Now were all here, Kelp said, and Jims gonna tell us what he can do to give us clean identities.

Right, Green said, and could be seen to forcibly remove his attention from Tiny. Like I told Andy, he said, a whole new identity, perfect and forever, is a very expensive proposition, and not easy, and I cant do it even once as a favor. But I got some lightly used identities that I can adjust for you guys if its just short term, but theres the slight risk, and Andy says youll chance it, that the real owner might show up. Or, worse, somebody that doesnt like the real owner could show up.

Dortmunder said, I dont get that. How does that work?

So Green explained it, and then Stan said, Theres something I dont follow in there.

So Green explained it again, and Tiny said, Are you talking about some bozo finds us or finds the paperwork?

So Green explained it again, and Dortmunder said, If you say it works, it works, lets let it go at that.

Thank you, Green said.

Kelp said, So what now?

Now, Green said, and lifted from the floor beside his chair a big black squared-off leather case of the kind photographers use when theyre away from home, we start assembling the identities. And he placed the case on the table in front of himself, folded the top back, and it actually was, at least in part, a photographers case, with a camera and some lenses and lights, but there were also other little dark machines in there, tucked together very neatly, that could have been intended to do anything from trim your toenails to encourage a confession.

Tiny, not sounding pleased, said, Whadawe got here?

I need stuff for your new identities, Green explained. Photos, fingerprints, eye and palm scans, a swab for DNA.

Stan said, Without even a phone call to my lawyer?

Kelp said, Its okay, Stan, it just stays with him.

Green said, Also, Im gonna tape-record little bios from you, where you grew up, where you went to school, any jobs, specialties, scars or things like that I wouldnt see, stuff like that. The closer I can get the new you to the old you, the less you got to memorize.

Tiny said, Dortmunder? This is what were doing?

Hes Andys friend, Dortmunder said.

Well, hes Anne Maries friend, Kelp said, but hes okay, Tiny, Im pretty sure.

Green smiled, friendly with them all. You really can trust me, he said.

Tiny considered him. No, he decided. I dont have to trust you. I just have to find you, if I want to, and you got found once, so you could get found twice. If we want to. So go ahead. Turning his massive head to the left, he said, This is my good profile.

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