DORTMUNDER WAS DRINKING COFFEE, though what he would rather be drinking was anything that started with “B.” But tonight was when, at long last, the heist would go down, and he should be at his quick-witted best for the occasion. Some time after midnight, with Tiny alone on guard duty at the entrance to the compound and with the cops gone from the place because the kidnapping was over and solved and done with, at last they could go in and get the goddamn cars and deliver them to the Speedshop. And then Dortmunder could get out of Pennsylvania, back to New York, back to a cozy living room with his faithful companion, May, and drink everything in the house that started with “B.” Something to look forward to. In the meantime, he was seated here in Chester’s living room, with Chester and his faithful companion, Grace, all of them drinking coffee and waiting for Dortmunder’s clothes to get here. Chester’s overcoat wasn’t bad, but it didn’t really fit all that well, and it was uncomfortable having to worry about your coat tails all the time.
They’d stopped watching television, because it was obvious the story was over, even though the newspeople were prepared to go on beating it into the ground for several hours yet. Monroe Hall had been kidnapped, then found, then found to have lost his memory. His butler had been kidnapped with him, and was now disappeared. One of the five kidnappers had been nabbed, one had skipped the country, and the other three would never be rounded up unless they put signs on their backs saying, “I did it.” So it was over, all except the swiping of the cars.
Ding-dong. Ten minutes to six, and Dortmunder watched eagerly as Grace Fallon went over to open the door, though he didn’t stand yet, just in case this was somebody other than somebody with his clothes.
But, no, here came Andy Kelp, with two suitcases, only one of them Dortmunder’s. And behind him Stan, with a suitcase. And behind him Tiny, with a duffel bag.
Dortmunder stood, coattails forgotten. “Everybody?” he asked. “And packed?”
“It’s over, John,” Kelp said, and handed Dortmunder his suitcase.
Dortmunder wanted to go to some other room and change into actual clothing, but he had to know: “Over? What’s over?”
Stan answered, “Forget the cars.”
Dortmunder shook his head. “Forget the cars? After all this? Why?”
Stan said, “Because they aren’t there any more.”
Kelp said, “It was awful, John. We stood there and watched them go.”
“On trucks,” Tiny said. He sounded as though the trucks themselves were an insult.
Dortmunder said, “I don’t get it.”
Chester said, “John, do us all a favor. Get dressed. Use our bedroom.”
“Don’t say anything till I get back,” Dortmunder warned them, and was gone a very short period of time, to come back dressed like a person, not like either a refugee or a butler. He said, “Okay, now what?”
Kelp said, “Because Monroe Hall lost his memory, his wife can’t get at the money he had stashed, so she’s selling everything.”
“Starting with the cars?”
“Turns out,” Kelp said, “Hall really didn’t own those cars. A museum does.”
“That was a scam,” Chester said, “so he could keep the cars and not have to turn them over to the bankruptcy court.”
Kelp said, “Well, it was a scam and it wasn’t a scam. This car museum in Florida really does own them all, but Hall got to keep them at his place. Now, with the situation like it is, the museum wants their cars. So today, they left.”
Dortmunder said, “So that’s it? We plan, we prepare, we do everything right, and it’s over? Just like that?”
Stan said, “There’s still some of that other stuff Arnie Albright said he’d take.”
Dortmunder shook his head. “I did not come here to load a car with music boxes,” he said. “I am not a pilferer, I got my dignity. If there’s no cars there, there’s no reason to go there.”
Kelp said, “That’s why we all packed up and came over.”
Tiny said, “I’m not going back to that place. If I did, I’d break something.”
Dortmunder sat down on the sofa, where he’d been for so long in the overcoat. “I’ve been drinking coffee,” he said.
Grace Fallon said, “I believe we have some bourbon.”
“Thank you,” he said simply.
After getting concurring nods from everybody else, she left the room and Stan said, “One drink, and we might as well drive back to the city.”
“Forever,” Chester said. “That’s how long I’m gonna listen to Hal Mellon’s jokes.”
Dortmunder said, “You know, I’m beginning to realize what the worst of it is.”
Kelp looked interested, but apprehensive. “There’s a worst of it?”
“If we’re not pulling a heist here tonight,” Dortmunder told him, “you know what we’ve been doing the last three days? We’ve been having jobs.”