PUMPKIN PECAN PIE FOR breakfast is only good at first. When Dortmunder followed Kelp and Murch out of the house Friday morning to start their second day on the job, he noticed he wasn’t the only one burping.
Riding back to the main house, Dortmunder reflected on how surprised he’d been by Monroe Hall. He’d expected a real bastard, but the guy had been easygoing, even kind of shy. Dortmunder couldn’t see why everybody hated him so much. He didn’t voice this opinion, though, because he knew it wouldn’t be understood by the rest of the crew, and so, like them, he remained silent.
At the house, Hall himself greeted them just inside the front door. “Ah, Fred,” he said to Kelp, with a big smile, “go on in the office, I’ll be right with you.”
“Check,” Kelp said, and went off.
Dortmunder planned to go off, too, to his position in the butler’s pantry, a cross between a smallish windowless office and largish closet off the kitchen where the bells to summon him were mounted on the side wall, but as he took a step, Hall gave him an icy look and said, “Wait right there, Rumsey.”
Oops. That was exactly the tone of a tier guard in a state pen; once heard, not easily forgotten. What was wrong now?
Hall was willing to let him wait for the answer, turning instead to Murch, switching on the big friendly act again, saying, “Gillette, Mrs. Parsons wants to visit some farm markets this morning.”
“Will do,” Murch said, which was probably not what a real Gillette would have said, but Hall’s concentration was actually still on Dortmunder, i.e., Rumsey.
As Murch headed for the kitchen and Mrs. Parsons, Hall lowered a look of utter contempt in Dortmunder’s direction, and said, “Do you call yourself a butler?”
At the moment, there was only one answer to that: “Yes, sur.”
“They must have quite a lax view of butlers in eastern Europe,” Hall suggested.
“I don’t know, sur.”
“All those years of the workers of the world running things, and we see how well that panned out. And you’re still one of them, are you, Rumsey?”
Dortmunder had no idea what they were talking about. “Oi’m Amurrican, sur,” he pointed out.
“Perhaps a little too American,” Hall said. “I suggest you take a look at the upstairs corridor, Rumsey, and try to see, do try to see, in what tiny way you have been remiss.”
“Yes, sur,” Dortmunder told Hall’s back, as the man marched off to convene with Kelp, who was a good boy.
Upstairs corridor. Dortmunder had already noticed that you never call a corridor a hall in a house owned by somebody named Hall. But what was the upstairs corridor—or hall, dammit—to do with Dortmunder? He hadn’t yet even been up there, so what could he have done wrong?
Well, it was time to go see how he’d managed to get himself in the doghouse in a location he’d never even visited. Feeling ill used, he climbed the broad stairs, and here was an upstairs hall, very wide, with closed doors. Dortmunder started down it, looking for clues, and a cuckoo spoke eight times, seven minutes late.
The corridor was almost empty. Here an antique three-legged table with an elaborately shaded lamp on it; there a pair of black oxford shoes less gunboaty than his own, placed neatly side by side next to a closed door; here a big painting on the wall of mountains and clouds and sunset. Or sunrise.
Dortmunder walked down one side of the corridor and back up the other. No dog crap on the floor, no spilled glasses, no overflowing ashtrays. What’s going on here? He stood finally near the stairs, gazing at the corridor, scratching his head, until one of those doors opened and Mrs. Hall came out, looking fresh and beautiful and, when she spied Dortmunder, bewildered.
“Mr. Hall sent me up here, mum.”
“I dunno. He got mad about somethin and said I was supposed to come up here.”
“Hmm.” She too looked up and down the corridor, but when she turned back to him her expression was oh-please. “Oh, Rumsey,” she said. “Do you call yourself a butler?”
Which was what the husband had asked, and which Dortmunder didn’t like to hear at all. Everybody was threatening to blow his cover. He was beginning to think there was something about buttling he’d missed in those training films. “I do my best, mum,” he said.
“The shoes, Rumsey.”
He blinked at them. There they were, neatly placed on the floor, midway down the corridor on the right. “I didn’t do that, mum.”
“Well, of course not, Rumsey.” Now she clearly didn’t know what to think. “Mr. Hall put them out there.”
“Don’t you know why, Rumsey?”
“Take them to the shoe repair?”
“Rumsey, I can’t believe you have been a butler for—”
“We never had nothing about shoes at the embassy, mum.”
She looked skeptical. “Who polished the ambassador’s shoes?”
In that instant, he got it. The boss puts the shoes in the corridor; the butler mouses through, later at night, to take them away to his pantry and polish them; then the butler brings them back and puts them where he found them, only now gleaming like bowling balls.
So why hadn’t he known that? And who did polish the ambassador’s shoes? “His orderly, mum,” Dortmunder said, floundering for the word. “Military orderly. All that sort of thing. Tie bow ties, polish shoes, all that. Specialist, mum.”
“Well, that’s certainly a different way to do things,” she said. “But we may never understand the eastern Europeans. Somehow, it’s all Transylvania, all the time.”
“Well, do them now,” she said, with a graceful gesture shoeward. “And assure Mr. Hall you’ll understand your duties much better from this point forward.”
“I will, mum,” Dortmunder said.
You’d think that would be the end of it, but no. When he carried the damn shoes—not that dirty, anyway—down the stairs to the first floor, there was Hall hanging around down there, obviously waiting for him, to give him a nasty spiteful smirk when he saw the shoes hanging from Dortmunder’s fingers. “Well, we are full of the old initiative, aren’t we?”
“Sorry, sur,” Dortmunder said, while in his mind’s eye he held one shoe in each hand and slapped their soles smartly up against both sides of the son of a bitch’s head. “Done differently in the embassy, sur,” he explained. “Be better from now.”
“How encouraging,” Hall mocked, and then, as Dortmunder turned away toward his pantry (come to think of it, he had noticed shoe-polishing equipment in there), called after him, “Former boss assassinated, eh? For wearing filthy shoes, do you suppose?”
“No, sur,” Dortmunder muttered—the best he could do.
Raising his voice even further, Hall ordered, “Bring them to me in my office when they’re clean.”
Well, he knew what that meant: white-glove inspection. “Sur,” he said, and plodded on.
In the event, he only had to go back twice to buff the shoes some more, even though he could see his reflection in them the first time he’d whacked them around. But three trips was all it took. While Kelp sat smug and amused in his little corner of the office, Hall gave each shoe a long and critical once-over, and at last grudgingly said, “I suppose they’ll do. And do you know what to do with them next, Rumsey?”
“Put em outside your door, sur. Where I got um.”
“Very good,” Hall told him. “We may make a third-rate butler of you yet.”
“Thank you, sur.”
Dortmunder turned away, the gleaming shoes in his hand, but Hall said, cold as ice, “I’m not finished.”
Oh. So Dortmunder turned back, lifted his head and his eyebrows, and said, “Sur?”
“A riding instructor is coming with horses this afternoon at two,” Hall said. “The gate will ring you in your pantry. You will go to the door to await his arrival. When he reaches the house, you will instruct him to wait outside, then come in here and inform me of his presence.”
“That’s all. Dismissed.”
Dortmunder thudded up the stairs to return the shoes to where he’d found them. Horse, with trainer. Now, in his mind’s eye, he saw Hall, atop a horse, turn to listen to an instruction from the trainer, oblivious of that oncoming tree branch. Very thick tree branch.