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34

WHEN YOU SPENT LAST night on a kitchen floor, you dont have that much to pack today. Dortmunder was packing it when Kelp came by to say, Ill go promote us a car now.

Dortmunder said, You cant take one with MD plates, you know.

Kelp looked stricken. Why not?

Youre a private secretary, not a doctor. You got guards at the gate there, theyre gonna have your license number on their list.

Gee, Im glad you thought of that, Kelp said. Ill grab a couple extra plates, too.

He would have left then, but Chester came in and said, I got it. You wanna see it?

Kelp said, You got what?

Dortmunder said, Why would I wanna see it?

Pretty soon, Chester pointed out, youre gonna have a bunch of hot cars on your hands. Youre gonna want to stash them. I think I got the place. You wanna see it? Ill drive you there.

Kelp said, Great. And then you can drop me at a mall, I gotta shop for a car.

It is a mall, Chester said.

Okay, Dortmunder said. In that case, I gotta see it.

It took most of an hour to get there across trackless Pennsylvania. They arrived just before six in the evening, still full daylight at this time of year, though the little anchorless mall somehow seemed darker then the rest of the world. Chester had explained about the loss of the anchor, so Dortmunder was prepared for a mostly empty parking lot, but the reality was still grim. It was like a medieval village after the plague.

As Chester drove the length of the mall building, the proprietors of most of the satellite shops were just closing after another day of rotten business, leaving only the restaurant and video store open at opposite ends. Chester said, The restaurant stops serving at nine, so everybodys outa there before eleven. And the video place shuts at eight.

Dortmunder said, Good. We dont know yet exactly how its gonna go down, but probably at night.

Late at night, Kelp said.

Thats right, Chester said, as he made the turn around the restaurant. Most of the cops around here know those cars, because Mrs. Hall drives them a lot, and people like to look at Mrs. Hall. Including the cops. There it is.

The rear wall of the building was very blank. The only vehicles in sight were two cars parked together down at the far end, not next to the building but out by the chain-link fence that separated the pavement from the scrubby woods beyond.

Chester pulled to a stop by the middle of Speedshops three loading bay doors, and they got out to see what was what. Immediately, Kelp pointed up at a rectangle of unpainted cinder block wall above the door. Thats where the alarm used to be.

One of them, Dortmunder said.

No, John, Kelp said, I dont think theres power in there. Lets see. He tugged at the door handle. Locked, but this is nothing.

Dortmunder came over to look. Can you open it without busting anything?

Sure.

Chester said, What if there is another alarm?

Maybe, Dortmunder told him, you should be in the car with the engine running and a couple doors open. Just in case.

Right, Chester said, and went to do that while Kelp took two thin metal spatulas from his shirt pocket and bent over the keyhole in the door handle.

Watching him, Dortmunder said, I never broke into an empty store before.

Think of it as practice. There we are.

The door slid up a foot. They cocked their heads, listening, and heard nothing but Chesters car engine. Kelp leaned down, stuck his head in through the opening, listened some more, then brought his head out to say, Its ours, and signal to Chester to cut the engine.

With the door lifted a couple more feet, they climbed up and inside. Kelp lowered the door almost all the way, and they moved forward into the dimness.

All of the shelving and wall dividers had been removed, but the space wasnt entirely empty. A few broken clothes racks and a couple wooden chairs and some other miscellany were shoved against one side wall, and the store pattern was still visible on the floor, where the pale rubberized squares marked the main aisles, with different flooring for the different departments, some bare wood, some composition, some industrial carpet. From the inside, they could see that the windows across the front were very dusty. Near the front right corner, two electric panels stood open, their main switches set to OFF.

The only interior walls still in place were around the rest rooms, at the rear left. Dortmunder went into MEN, turned the faucet at the nearest sink, and nothing happened. Going back out to the others, he said, They really shut this thing down.

Sure, Kelp said. They dont want electric fires, and they dont want leaks.

Dortmunder looked around the big dusty empty space. I wish there was something we could use for a ramp.

Well need something, Kelp assured him. And Ill leave that door unlocked.

Chester, very pleased with himself, said, I knew this was the place.

It is, Kelp agreed.

They went back outside, closing the unlocked door, and Kelp looked over at the parked cars at the other end of the area. Lets take a look at those, he said.

So they drove over to the parked cars, and both were very dusty, though they were locked. Kelp said, Chester, tell me you have a couple screwdrivers in the car.

I got a couple screwdrivers in the car, Chester said.

Good, we can take off two plates at a time.

I got one regular screwdriver, Chester said, and one Phillips. Which do we need?

Oh. Kelp looked at the license plate. Regular.

Ill get it.

As Chester headed for his trunk, Kelp shrugged and said, So Ill take off one at a time.

Dortmunder looked over toward the building. There were only gray metal fire doors to the different shops back here, no windows. If somebody opens a door and looks out, he said, they might notice no plate on the back of one of the cars.

So well do three, one at time, Kelp said, and move the one I dont need from the front of one car to the back of the other. Nobodys gonna notice both cars have the same plate number.

Chester came around with the screwdriver. Here you go.

Great. Taking the screwdriver, Kelp said, Just gimme a minute here, and then take me to the hospital.


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