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ANDY KELP TRUSTED DOCTORS. Not so much on the medical side, though some of them were pretty good at that, too, but on the question of automobiles. As far as he was concerned, if you trusted a doctors judgment when it came to his personal wheels, you were not likely to go far wrong.

Doctors have a deep understanding, for instance, of the difference between comfort and pain, so theyre unlikely to choose a car with a badly designed drivers seat or misplaced steering wheel or one of those accelerators where your knee begins to hurt after a hundred miles. Also, doctors have a perhaps too-vivid picture in their minds of the aftereffects of high-speed physical impacts, so theyre mostly going to wrap themselves in products that will (a) avoid accidents where possible, or (b) survive them when necessary. Thus, when Andy Kelp went shopping in the streets and parking lots of greater New York for transportation, he always went for the sign of the MD plate.

Today, however, Kelp had a second criterion to include in his search, which was that he needed not just a car and not just a doctors car, but a large car currently owned by a doctor. This wasnt because the car would be carrying five travelers, but because one of the travelers would be Tiny.

It was, therefore, a distinct pleasure to him when, the morning after the meeting at the O. J., while roving the outer reaches of long-term parking out at Kennedy International Airport, a place where youre pretty much guaranteed to have a few days head start if you choose a vehicle with no dust on it, he saw ahead of him a Buick Roadmaster Estate, seven or eight years old, an antique the day it was built, a nine-passenger station wagon with not only room enough inside for a bowling team but room enough for that team to bowl. And proudly below that broad rear window and door, a yes! MD plate.

This grand vehicle was a color not seen in nature, nor much of anywhere else except certain products of Detroit. It was a metallic shimmering kind of not-chartreuse, not-gold, not-silver, not-mauve, with just a hint of not-maroon. It was in effect a rendering in enamel of a restaurants wine list descriptions. But even better, from Kelps point of view, the Roadmaster was dust-free.

Its amazing how many people dont want to carry their parking lot ticket with them when they travel, preferring to hide it behind the sun visor instead. Even some doctors. Kelp was happy to pay the two-day parking fee, explaining to the ticket-takers surprised look, Emergency at the hospital.

Oh, too bad.

Kelp took his change, took the Van Wyck Expressway toward the city, and while stopped by the monorail construction phoned the troops. Im on my way, he told them, not completely accurately.

Still, they didnt have that long to wait, at Ninth Avenue and Thirty-ninth Street, before Kelp slid the Roadmaster in at the curb next to them. Once he got there, it didnt take them long to sort themselves out. Chester and Stan, of course, had to ride up front with Kelp, because theyd be the drivers on the day and Chester knew how to find Halls place. Tiny, of course, had to sit on the back seat; all of the back seat. And Dortmunder, of course, had to open the rear door and climb over the tailgate and sit on the backward-facing final seat, as though hed been bad in class.

Been waiting long? Kelp asked, after everyone was in and the door closed.

A while, rumbled Tiny from behind him.

They waved down a couple real doctors, Chester said, between Kelp and Stan. I think one of thems gonna send a bill.

Well fight him to the Supreme Court, Kelp said, and accelerated to and through the Lincoln Tunnel and across New Jersey without looking at it, and halfway across Pennsylvania.

There it is, Chester said.

There what is? Kelp asked.

The compound. Halls land, it started just back there.

Tiny said, Pull off, lets look at this.

Right, Dortmunder said, from way in the back.

This was a fairly straight county road, rolling along with the low hills to either side, some of it farmed and some of it forested. This stretch was forested on both sides. The right shoulder was wide enough for a car to pull off, but just beyond the shoulder was an old low stone wall that suggested this land too had at one time been farmed, or at least settled. Beyond the wall was second-growth forest, tall but skinny-trunked trees with a lot of bramble and shrubbery underneath.

This is it here, Chester said. The main entrancewell, the only entrance nowis a couple miles farther on.

Kelp peered past Chester and Stan at the empty forest. Wheres the security start? Down by the entrance?

No, its here, Chester said. Not right out by the road, in behind the wall about ten feet. Stan, open the window, would you?

So Stan, next to the door, rolled the window down and said, I dont see anything.

You cant see the wires, Chester told him, but you can see the uprights. He pointed past Stans nose at the trees. See them?

Stan sighted along Chesters forearm, closing one eye. Oh, yeah, he said.

Kelp squinted, looking past Chester and Stan, glance roaming among the trees; then all at once he realized he was looking at a slender black metal pole, about six feet tall. Off to the left, a little farther, a little farther, there was another one. I see them, he said. Very discreet.

They didnt want it to look like a penitentiary or something, Chester explained.

Dortmunder, from way back there, said, I dont see them.

Tiny said, What kinda wire?

Electric, Chester said. Not enough to kill you, but enough to make you go away. Like a deer fence. But if a wire gets broken, theres a signal in the guardhouse, tells them exactly where, between which two posts. And theres lights in the trees, you cant see them from here, but if the wire gets broken at night, they can switch the lights on, its like high noon in there.

I dont see them, Dortmunder said.

Stan said, Just one wire?

No, three, Chester said. At two feet, four feet, and six feet.

Hey, Dortmunder called. Im back here, remember me?

Kelp looked in the mirror and saw him way back there, waving for attention. Oh, hi, John, he said. Almost forgot about you.

I noticed that, Dortmunder said. What I dont notice is these posts youre all talking about.

Theyre right there, Tiny said, and waved a paw at the woods.

I dont see them, Dortmunder insisted.

Chester said, Okay, John, you and I can get out, Ill show it to you.

So thats what they did. Stan had to get out first, to let Chester out; then he leaned against the side of the car, leaving the door open, while the other two stepped over the stone wall and walked in among the trees. The occasional vehicle went by, mostly pickup trucks, but nobody paid any attention to the parked car or the strolling men.

With the door open, Kelp could hear Chester as he said, Closer in, theyve got motion sensors, but not way over here. So we can walk right up to it. See it, John? See it there? Stop, youre gonna walk into it!

What? TheresI cantOh, this! Its metal!

Sure, Chester said, and pointed away to the right. Metal poles. See them? Every so often, all the way to the cornfield back there, thats where Halls property stops.

I thought it was gonna be wood, Dortmunder said. I was looking for wood.

They did it in metal.

Yeah, sure, I get it.

Dortmunder now squinted off to the right, holding a hand up to his brow to shade his eyes even though he stood under a whole lot of trees in full leaf. He said, So then it makes the turn and goes along next to the cornfield, is that it?

All around the property, Chester said. Miles of it.

What happens if I touch the wire? Dortmunder asked, and he could be seen to lean toward where the fence must be, as though touching it might be a good idea. Does it tell the guards?

Not unless you break it. But itll give you a hell of a wallop, John, knock you back a few feet, probably give you a sore arm for a few days.

Kelp called, Dont do it, John.

I wasnt going to, Dortmunder said, and the two of them came back to the car, where he said, Now that were here, maybe Chester or Stan would like to switch with me, I can ride up

No, John, Kelp said. We need Chester to describe it to us.

Stan said, And I gotta keep my eye on the routes.

Dortmunder sighed. Fine, he said, and stumped away to get into the third tier again.

When they were all aboard and Kelp had them rolling once more, slowly, beside the forest and the stone wall, Dortmunder called to them, Its amazing to me how many grown men and women, if youre sitting back here, make faces at you. Stick their tongue out. Grown-up men and women, driving, think theyre funny.

Pretend you dont see them, Kelp advised.

I do, Dortmunder said. But I do see them. Waving their hands, thumbing their nose, yukking it up. It wears you down after a while.

If we find a store, Tiny suggested, we can buy some carpet tacks, you can toss them out your window back there.

Thats a very good idea, Tiny, Dortmunder said. Thank you.

Looking ahead, Kelp said, Whats happening, now?

The forest was coming to a ragged end, followed by a very large expanse of weedy barren land, with a few farm buildings very far back. The low stone wall continued, and so did the black metal poles bearing the electric wires, the poles more visible now that they werent in among trees.

Chester said, They used to lease this part to commercial tomato growers every year. These people would come in, a little earlier in the spring than this, plant a million plants, put chemical shit everywhere, go away, come back at the end of August for one harvest, middle of September for another, leave the rest of the tomatoes right where they are, you had this whole carpet of red here until frost. Very pretty.

Kelp said, But they dont do that any more.

Well, they cant, with the security, Chester said. Also, I understand it, the company didnt want to do business with Hall any more.

Kelp said, People that fill up the food and the ground with chemicals, even those people wont deal with Monroe Hall?

Hes not well liked, Chester said.

If they left the rest of the crop like that, Stan said, theres probably volunteers growing in there now.

Never volunteer, Tiny commented.

Soon the weedy field came to an end, with more farm buildings, some of them looking abandoned, and then a blacktop road that ran through a greater variety of landscapeparts with trees, cleared parts, buildings of different kinds, some looking like small residences, some like storage.

Kelp said, Whatve we got here now?

Some of the cars are in those buildings there, Chester said, pointing. The ones without windows.

What about the ones that look like houses?

Theyre houses, Chester said. Where the staff lives. See that nice green one? Thats where I lived, me and my family.

Its like a little village in there, Kelp said.

Not as much occupied as it used to be, Chester said. He lost a lotta staff.

Running out of money?

No, hell never run out of money. Its just more people he screwed, like me. And other people left cause they just didnt like him any more. Its tough for him to hire people now. I hear hes trying to recruit in South Africa.

Kelp said, South Africa?

Because they speak English, Chester said, but they never heard of Monroe Hall. He needs people that never heard of him. Here comes the entrance.

First there was a long one-story office building of gray stucco, with Venetian blinds in all the windows, some up, some down, some crooked. Then there was a six-foot-high wall of gray weathered barn siding, and then a blacktop road, one lane on either side of a rustic guardshack that looked like a tugboat coming at you. Serious-looking metal rods were down across both lanes, and three people in rent-a-cop uniforms could be seen inside the big-windowed guardshack. The blacktop road wandered in among more village-type buildings and some not-well-cared-for lawns and plantings. And way in back just a glimpse could be seen of Tara, the house from Gone With the Wind.

Kelp drove on, past another barn-siding wall, as Dortmunder called, Was that it? The big white house back in there?

Chester said, It goes for about another mile along this road, and then theres a shopping mall, by the intersection with the state highway.

Stan said, Was that big white house back there where Hall lives?

Yeah, thats his place.

Andy! Andy! Hey, dammit, Andy!

Kelp looked in the mirror, and there was Dortmunder again, waving like before, or maybe a little more desperately. Hi, John, he said. You wanted something?

Find a place and park. Stop. I gotta talk to you people and I cant do anything back here.

Sure, John, Kelp said. But maybe we oughta look at this mall first, see if theres a way in from there.

Forget the mall, Dortmunder said.

Chester said, It isnt easier at the mall, Andy, its worse. Theres an eight-foot-high chain-link fence all along the property line there.

Forget the mall, Dortmunder said. The mall doesnt matter.

Tiny said, If we brought a truck in, we could go over the top of the fence.

Forget the mall, will you?

Chester said, But youve still got the electric fence. That goes all the way around the property.

Forget the mall!

Well, well go on to the mall, anyway, Kelp decided. See what things look like along the way. I think John wants to stop for something anyway, when we get there.

Yes, stop! Thats right! Stop!

Kelp said, Chester, is there anything interesting along this part, before the mall?

No, its all pretty much the same.

I give up.

So they drove on to the mall, and when they turned in at the entrance Kelp said, Any kind of store in particular you want, John?

A parking space, Dortmunder said. Stop the car. Stop it. Make it stop.

Stan said, Thats a pretty big fence they got up there. Maybe we should get over closer to it.

Stop! Stop! Stop now!

Thats what Im doing, Kelp said, and drove around a little, and then found a parking space not too far from the home appliance store, in case it turned out anybody needed anything. He switched off the engine, looked in the mirror, and said, John? Here okay?

Twisting around, Stan said, John, it took forever to get out here. We dont want to waste too much time sitting around some mall. We gotta figure out a way to deal with that electric fence. We gotta figure out how to get in there and get back out again, with a whole lotta cars.

Forget that, Dortmunder said. Forget the fence. Finally he had everybodys attention. They all twisted around to look at him, the ones in front banging each other up pretty well along the way, and then Tiny said, Dortmunder, were outside. The fence is there, all around. We gotta get inside. We gotta get past the fence. We cant forget it.

This is what Ive been trying to tell you, Dortmunder said. Theres no way to defeat the fence. We gotta do it another way.

Chester said, John, there is no other way.

Well, Kelp said, if John says there is, maybe there is. John?

Monroe Hall needs staff, Dortmunder said. We hire on.

| The Road to Ruin | c