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DORTMUNDER WAS NEVER HAPPY outside the five boroughs. There was always something wrong with the rest of the world, some way it had figured out to make him uncomfortable. For instance, at the moment, in the uncharted middle of Pennsylvania, he had to sleep on the kitchen floor.

Chester and his jolly wife, Grace, lived in a very small house in a very small town. Because Tiny and Stan, in their new persons from Jim Green, didnt know each other or anybody else in this area, they could stay at nice motels along the Susquehanna River while waiting to be employed by Monroe Hall, but Kelp had given the employment agency Chester as his kinsman and local contact, and Kelp and Dortmunder had to already know each other because theyd both allegedly worked at the same embassy down in Washington, D.C., so they both had to stay with Kelps relative at least the one night, and even before the coin toss Dortmunder had known which of them was going to get the living room sofa. So it was on some folded blankets on the kitchen floor that Dortmunder was expected to get his nights rest, and fat chance.

The problems were many. The floor, to begin with, but beyond that the very fact of kitchen. Even a small kitchen in a small house in a small town, like this one, is as full of gleaming machinery as that inside the villains mountain in a James Bond movie. The stove, the microwave, and the clock radio all had sharply bright numbers to tell you the time, in two shades of green and one shade of red, and of course they were all a minute apart except for a few seconds every now and then when two of them pretended to agree. So they were irritating, and they were also bright.

Then there was the refrigerator. At least it didnt have any shiny numbers glaring off it, but that was about the only good thing you could say about it. Occasionally it was silent, but that in a way was the worst, because that meant the victim had to wait, never knowing when the motor would suddenly thrug-ug-ug-ug And then also the icemaker, from time to time, with a muffled crash like somebody disposing of a skeleton in a Hefty bag, would spit out another strip of ice cubes onto the previously existing cubes below.

A very busy place, all in all, this kitchen, at the bottom of which, like at the bottom of a well, Dortmunder lay in discomfort and tried to grab a little sleep before morning, when he was supposed to be bright and rested enough to go play butler, an impersonation hed never tried before.

Well, hed gone into training for it, with Mays help. May was a movie fan, which meant she went to movies and remembered them, and which also meant she had recently added a time-flashing machine to their own lives, a DVD player, in the living room. Which was all right, because Dortmunder never slept in the living room anyway, except in front of the six oclock news.

Once this butler task had arisen, May said, I told you that would come in handy, and rented disks of Ruggles of Red Gap and My Man Godfrey and The Remains of the Day. He watched them all, parts of them more then once, and gradually felt hed got the idea. He wouldnt be able to work the accent, but other than that he thought he could handle the assignment. A lot of it, hed decided, was in the clothes.

Which could have been another problem, but in the end it turned out okay. When you do your shopping after midnight, what you bring home has got to be ready-to-wear, because you cant very well ask for alterations. Dortmunders new black suit, picked up with Kelps guidance and assistance, bagged a little bit here and there, but was, generally speaking, fine.

But now, lying all night in this very active kitchen, looking at the brightly lit if equivocal numbers, listening to the symphony of the refrigerator, thinking about butlers, all while he was supposed to be asleep, he did make a pretty long night of it. On the other hand, when Grace Fallon walked in at seven that morning to start twice her usual number of breakfasts, Dortmunder actually was asleep. Her arrival startled him awake, and for just a minute he couldnt figure out what he was doing lying on a kitchen floor or who was that woman in the blue jeans and pink sweater and gray hair walking around, reaching for the coffeemaker.

Morning, she said, as cheerful as anybody whod spent the night in their own bed. Sleep well?

Memory returned. Dortmunder sat up, aching all over. Just fine, he said.

Well, according to his research, butlers did tend to have bags under their eyes.

| The Road to Ruin | c