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60

DOES A KIDNAPPER REPORT a stolen car? On the other hand, did Dortmunder want to go wandering the highways and byways of ruralest Pennsylvania just waiting to catch the eye of some curious cop? Or did he want to slink around in the most out-of-the-way places he could find, on his way to going to ground?

The problem was, he just couldnt see himself slipping back into the role of John Howard Rumsey, butler to the murdered and the kidnapped. There would be cops all over the Hall compound, and for the once-missing butler theyd have a thousand questions. Also, since hed gone off at the same time as both the kidnappers and the kidnappee, there would certainly be at least one or two of those cops whod want to know just exactly which of those categories they should place him in. Jim Greens recycled identifications had worked for background checks during the employment phase, but would John Rumsey make it through a total acid-bath investigation? Lets not find out the answer to that.

Having finished Halls breakfast and his own study of the lodge where hed been held captive, Dortmunder had gone back outside to inspect the one car those clowns hadnt taken off in, being the greeny-gold Buick Regal. He hotwired it and drove it down from the mountain, getting lost a couple of times on little nothing dirt or gravel roads that seemed to be doing all right until hed realize theyd gradually veered around and were now headed uphill. No, no, weve been uphill, lets find us some valley for a while.

Which he finally did, and then found a blacktop road, and then at last an intersection with signs. The Buick contained a Pennsylvania roadmap in the drivers door pocket, and with its help he made his way across the state to Shickshinny, being very careful to stay on secondary roads. A dubious butler would create suspicion enough; a dubious butler in a hotand hotwiredcar would be just a little too much.

Taking these routes, it was so long before he turned in at the driveway to Chesters house that he was late for lunch, but that wasnt the primary consideration. The small one-car garage was just to the left of the house; leaving the Buick in front of it, Dortmunder went over to ring the front doorbell, and after a minute the door was opened by Grace Fallon, who gave him a surprised look, then a kind of critical once-over: Well, look at you.

Another distraction. What about me?

Well, youre dressed nice, she allowed, but other than that you look like a bum. Not shaved, dirt all over you, you didnt even comb your hair.

I dont have a comb.

Youve got fingers, she pointed out.

Enough. Dortmunder said, My question is, is Chester here?

She frowned. Why?

Because I wanna know if his car is here, Dortmunder told her, realizing the only way to handle this was to make as open and full a case as he possibly could. And the reason I wanna know that is, if his car isnt here, I wanna put that Buick over there in the garage, and the reason I wanna do that is because I stole it. We up to speed now?

Well, you dont have to get huffy, she said.

Is his car in there?

No, she admitted. But Im not sure hed like you to put a stolen car inside there in its place.

Hes gonna love it, Dortmunder said.

Chesters garage was as messy as most garages, which was sort of a surprise. Youd think a driver would have a different attitude toward garages, but apparently not. Still, there was just enough room to squeeze the Buick in, open the door partway until it hit the snowblower and the wheelbarrow and the sack of fertilizer, and squeeze himself out. He shut the garage door, walked back to the house, and she was still standing there in the doorway, arms folded, frowning.

He nodded to her, wanting to make nice. Ill move it when Chester gets back, he said.

Fine.

And youre right, Im very dirty. If I took a shower, what could I wear afterwards?

A different house, she said.

Come on, he said.

She thought about it, then sighed. Ill see what I can find, she said. But take those shoes off before you come in.

I was gonna do that, he lied.


| The Road to Ruin | c