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63

AT LEAST WHEN HE chauffeured Mrs. Hall, Stan got to drive a good car, a black Daimler like a sofa converted to a tank. Also, while she was in the hospital and while she was at her lawyers office, instead of trailing after her as with Mrs. Parsons, he got to stay at the wheel and read his newspaper, his wrong-size hat on the seat beside him. And driving between the hospital and the lawyers office, he got to hear at least parts of her several telephone conversations, which didnt sound at all good.

She told more than one person that poor Monroe had lost his memory forever, and it wasnt ever coming back, and that meant there was permanently no way to get at you know, which he guessed would be money in banks where she didnt know the secret word. She also talked about liquidating this and that, which from a mob guy would have meant somebody was gonna die but which from a respectable married lady meant something along the lines of a visit to the hock-shop. She also told a few people shed be coming home, which after a while he realized didnt mean the compound but somewhere else.

But the main thing she kept saying, in conversation after conversation, was that she wanted this or that taken care of today. I mean today. I know its Saturday, but I dont want to have to still be in that compound tomorrow. Or any other day. So I want it taken care of today.

She said that several times, and though she never raised her voice or sounded angry, Stan somehow had the feeling she was going to get her way. Whatever it was she wanted done today, it would get itself done today.

What it added up to, when he put it all together, there was no Monroe Hall any more. Everything that had been fixed tight around him, his wife, his compound, his employees, the people there to steal his cars, everything was now untied, off and away, as though Halls gravity had been turned off.

So far as Stan could see, this was bad news for the heist. He supposed they could still do it, still collect the cars, deal with the insurance company, but somehow it felt different now. How would the other guys feel about it? How would Chester feel about it? It was Chesters need for revenge against Hall that had got them into this thing in the first place.

On the other hand, did they want to go through all this for nothing?

It was just after twelve-thirty when they got back to the compound, sailing past the guardshack where the brown-uniformed plug-ugly on duty saluted, not very well, when he saw Mrs. Hall in the backseat. Stan drove her up to the house, got out, opened her door, and when she climbed out she looked very sad, I believe this is good-bye, Warren, she said.

On a sudden impulse, he said, My friends call me Stan.

She liked that. Smiling, she said, Then I hope weve become friends, in this very short time. She stuck her hand out. Good-bye, Stan.

She had a strong handclasp, but he treated it gently anyway. Good-bye, Mrs. Hall, he said, and walked down the road, heading for the green house and lunch, when ahead of him, out of the side road, came a flatbed truck with a yellow convertible Triumph Stag on it, its black hardtop in place. Stan had studied the list of Halls cars, and remembered that one; it was from 1976.

But where was it going? Toward the gate. As he walked on, Stan watched the truck go through the gate, out to the county road, and turn left.

Stan turned left, too, onto the side road toward the green house, and here came another flatbed, this one bearing a 1958 Studebaker Golden Hawk, creamy white with black trim on its roof, hood, and tail fins. The truck driver, a skinny guy in a straw cowboy hat, gave Stan a casual wave on the way by. Automatically, but not really meaning it, Stan waved back.

What was going on here? Where were they taking those cars? Come on here, Stan thought, those are our cars.

He walked faster, hoping Kelp or Tiny would be at the house to tell him what was going on. Or maybe Dortmunder would be back by now. Ahead of him he saw the house, and then saw, on its tiny porch, Kelp and Tiny standing against the rail, like people watching a parade.

Well, they were watching a parade. Another flatbed truck, this one bearing a 1967 Lamborghini Miura, all gleaming white, a flat-nosed front like a predator fish, was next in line. This truck, like the ones before it, had Pennsylvania license plates, so theyd been hired locally. But where were they going?

Stan was practically running by the time he reached the house. The bitter expressions on Kelps and Tinys faces were not encouraging. As a black Lincoln Continental Club Coupe from 1940 sailed by, the vehicle Frank Lloyd Wright once described as the most beautiful car in the world, and that the Museum of Modern Art chose as one of the top eight automobile designs in history, Stan said, Whats going on?

Our heist, Kelp said, Out the window.

Off the property, Tiny said. He looked as if he wanted to eat that Lincoln, flatbed truck and all.

Stan said, But where to?

Florida, Kelp said. A car museum in Florida.

Tiny growled, and the red 1955 Morgan Plus 4 was trucked by. Stan said, All of them?

Every last one, Kelp said. Except the Pierce-Arrow. The missus is taking that with her to Maryland.

Theyre closin shop, Tiny said.

Stan found it hard to look at the cars going past, but then it was even harder not to look. Frowning at the house instead, he said, John not back?

Nobody knows where he is, Kelp said.

Dortmunder always shows up, Tiny said. Clearly, he didnt want anything to deflect from his irritation.

Well, wherever he is, hes better off than here, Stan said. 1950 Healey Silverstone, white, the car Mrs. Hall most often drove, was next. Stan shook his head. John wouldnt like to see this, he said.


| The Road to Ruin | c