WHEN DORTMUNDER WALKED INTO the O. J. Bar & Grill on Amsterdam Avenue at eleven that night, Rollo the bartender was nowhere to be seen. The regulars, clustered as usual at the left end of the bar, were continuing without him, like a conductorless orchestra.
At the moment, the discussion concerned global warming. “The reason for global warming,” one of them said as Dortmunder leaned his front against the bar somewhere down to the right of them, “is air conditioners.”
Two or three of the regulars wished to object to this idea, but he with the most powerful voice won out, speaking, perhaps, for the group as a whole: “Whadaya mean, air conditioners? Air conditioners make things cold.”
“Indoors,” the first regular said. “What happens to all the heat used to be indoors? It’s outdoors. It’s what they call vent. All the cold air’s inside, all the hot air’s outside, there you go, global warming.”
A third regular, who’d been outshouted the last time around, now said, “What about in the winter? Nobody’s got their air conditioner on then, they got furnaces, they’re keeping the heat inside.”
“So?” the first regular demanded. “Is there a point in this?”
“A point?” The third regular was astounded. “The point is, no air conditioners in the winter, so how does that make for global warming?”
“Come on, dummy,” the first regular said. “There isn’t any global warming in the winter, everybody knows that. It’s cold in the winter.”
“Not in South America,” said a fourth regular.
“‘Dummy’?” said the third regular. “Did I hear ‘dummy’?”
“Not you,” the first regular assured him, “just in general.” And to the fourth regular he said, “Okay. So maybe in South America they got global warming in the winter. In our winter. It’s their summer. It’s the same thing.”
The third regular, trying to fix his stance in all this, muttered, mostly to himself, “Dummy in general?”
Meanwhile, a fifth regular had chimed in. “It isn’t air conditioners, anyway,” he informed the group. “It’s coal mine fires.”
Nobody liked that one. The third regular even forgot his “general dummy” dilemma to say, “Coal mine fires? A couple little underground fires in Pennsylvania, you think that makes global warming?”
“Not just Pennsylvania,” the fifth regular told him. “In Russia you got coal mine fires. All over the world.”
The second regular, whose loud voice had not been heard for some time, now said, “What it mostly is, you know, is holidays. I mean, those other things may help, I wouldn’t know about that, but your basic cause is holidays.”
The first regular, the air conditioner stalwart, turned on this new theorist, saying, “What do holidays have to do with anything?”
“There’s too many of them,” the second regular said. “You got a holiday, everybody gets in their car and drives, or they take a plane. All that fossicle fuel everybody’s burning, that gives off a lotta heat.”
Before anybody could comment on that, the third regular said, “What I wanna know is, how come all the holidays are on Monday? I mean, does it just work out like that, or is this a conspiracy?”
Conspiracy; huh. They all thought about that. Then a woman from the regulars’ auxiliary, a little farther down the bar, said, “Thanksgiving isn’t on Monday, it’s on Thursday. I been known to cook it.”
“All the others,” the third regular told her. “All the ones you can’t remember their names.”
“Christmas,” the first regular suggested, “isn’t always on Monday, it’s all over the hell. I remember there was a Christmas on a Sunday once, threw everything outa whack.”
Rollo the bartender came in then, from the street, wearing over his high-calorie apron an eleven-foot-long Bob Cratchit scarf, even though it was balmy late May outside, just past the Monday on which, or so the politicians thought, Memorial Day—remember that? — had been “observed.” Seeing Dortmunder, he said, “Be right with you.”
“Take your time.”
Rollo would anyway, but he said, “Thanks.” Going around behind the bar to his usual location, unwinding and unwinding the scarf, he held up a little package and said, “I ran outa D’Agostino bitters.”
Now that he was facing the bar, Dortmunder noticed, on the backbar, some kind of strange glittering machine that seemed to be half cash register and half television set, except the program showing was simply a set of squares and rectangles in different shiny colors. He pointed his forehead at this thing and said, “What’s that?”
“That?” Rollo turned to look at the machine, considering his answer. “That,” he decided, putting the bitters bottle in pride of place next to the grenadine, “is the new computerized cash register. The owner put it in, for the efficiency.”
“Yeah. Let’s say, for instance,” Rollo said, “you asked for a beer. I know you didn’t, but let’s just say.”
“Fine,” Dortmunder agreed.
“What it does,” Rollo said, turning to the machine and not quite touching its glittery screen, “it reads your order, depending where I touch the screen.”
“You touch the screen?”
“Not unless you actually order the beer,” Rollo said. “But say you did.”
“I got that part,” Dortmunder said.
“Right.” Rollo demonstrated, his meaty forefinger never quite making actual contact with the multicolored screen as he said, “I press beer, I press domestic, I press eight-ounce, I press sale. Then the order shows up down here, in this rectangle, the yellow one.”
“I see it.”
“It says one domestic beer, eight ounces, and then it says, ‘Press here if correct, press here if incorrect,’ and I press correct, and then I press cash, and then I press sale, and then the cash register drawer opens.”
“The cash register drawer is open,” Dortmunder said.
“Yeah,” Rollo agreed. “I keep it that way. It’s simpler.”
At the other end of the bar, the regulars were trying to figure out what ever happened to Armistice Day. “It used to be,” the third regular said. “I remember it.”
The second regular, the one with the voice, intoned, “The eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.”
The third regular said, “Maybe if that ever shows up on a Monday, we’ll get Armistice Day again.”
“So what happened,” the fifth regular inquired, “when all those elevens came up?”
“Why, the war ended,” the second regular told him, with great solemnity.
“The war they were having at that time.”
The buttinsky from the regulars’ auxiliary said, “What if it’s the tenth minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, and the lieutenant tells you to take a peek over the top of the trench, see if the Germans are still there?”
Darkly, the third regular said, “I had a lieutenant like that.”
“Yeah?” The first regular was interested. “What ever became of him?”
“I take it,” Rollo said, placing on the bar in front of Dortmunder a round enameled Rheingold Beer tray, “you’re meeting some of your associates in the room in the back.”
“Yeah,” Dortmunder said, as Rollo put two thick squat glasses and a shallow ironstone bowl with ice cubes in it and a bottle of murky brown liquid labeled Amsterdam Liquor Store Bourbon—Our Own Brand all in a row on the tray. “We’ll have the vodka and red wine and the beer with salt and the other bourbon,” he said, because Rollo knew his customers strictly by their liquid preferences. “And a guy with like a barrel chest and skinny arms and legs, answers to Chester, I don’t know what he drinks.”
“I’ll know,” Rollo said. “The minute I look at him.” Pushing the tray closer to Dortmunder, he said, “You’re the first.”
Good; that meant he’d get to sit facing the door. “Thanks, Rollo,” he said, and carried the tray past the holiday debate team, who were trying to decide if Arbor Day was an actual holiday or a typo for Labor Day. Leaving the front part of the bar, Dortmunder went down the hall with doors decorated with black metal dog silhouettes labeled POINTERS and SETTERS and past the phone booth surrounded by graffiti of hacker’s code and on into a small square room with a concrete floor. The walls were hidden, floor to ceiling, by beer and liquor cases, leaving just enough space for a battered old round table with a stained felt top that had once been pool-table green but now looked mostly like Amsterdam Liquor store bourbon. The table was surrounded by half a dozen armless wooden chairs.
This room had been dark, but when Dortmunder hit the switch beside the door, one bare bulb under a round tin reflector hanging low over the table on a long black wire let you see all you wanted to see of the place.
Dortmunder walked all around the room to sit in the chair that most directly faced the door—the prize for being first. Then he added an ice cube to one of the glasses, poured in a little murk, and sat back to await his crew.
As far as Dortmunder was concerned, holidays were mostly an opportunity to improve your luggage.