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11

EVERYBODY HATED DORTMUNDER'S living room. Dortmunder hated it himself, under the circumstances. They couldn't sit all together around a table, everybody at the same height, the same distance from one another. There was nobody to bring drinks, and not that much variety of drink anyway. The only thing Tiny could find to mix with his vodka was cranberry juice, which was a comedown from the red wine he was used to. Stan and his Mom did have the beer they preferred to harder stuff when driving (and backseat driving), but neither of them liked Dortmunder's salt shaker. "It comes out too fast!"

The first ten minutes were spent going back and forth to the kitchen, which was actually quite far from the living room, a fact Dortmunder had never noticed before. Finally, though, they all settled down, Dortmunder in his regular chair, Murch's Mom in May's regular chair, Tiny on much of the sofa with Kelp on the sliver of sofa that was left, and Stan on a wooden chair he'd brought from the kitchen.

"Now," Tiny said, "I know we're here because you people got something, but first I gotta know, what's with the O.J.?"

Dortmunder said, "Rollo wouldn't let us use the back room. He didn't look happy."

"He looked morose," Kelp said.

Dortmunder nodded at him. "The very word I was thinking."

"Also," Kelp said, "the regulars weren't saying anything."

Stan said, "What? The loudmouths at the bar?"

"Not a peep," Kelp told him. "They looked like they didn't wanna attract attention."

"That's the only thing they ever want to attract," Stan said, and his Mom said, "When Stan is right, he's right," and Stan said, "Thanks, Mom."

"Also," Dortmunder said, "there were two guys in the place, throwing their weight around."

With a little purr in his voice, Tiny said, "Oh, yeah?"

Kelp said, "Those were mob guys, John. You could smell it on them."

Tiny shook his head. "Mob guys in the O.J. Why don't they stick to the Copacabana?"

Dortmunder said, "I think something's going on in there that's linked up with the mob."

Kelp said, "You know how they like to kill one another in restaurants and bars? Maybe those guys were in there waiting for Mickey Banana Nose to walk in, and bang-bang."

"Then I'd like them to get it over with," Dortmunder said. "And not do any stray bullets into Rollo."

"That could be why he was morose," Kelp said, then held up the jelly glass into which he had poured from Dortmunder's freebie bottle. "You know, John?" he said. "Not to badmouth your apartment, but this stuff doesn't taste as good here as it does at the O.J."

"I noticed that myself," Dortmunder admitted. "I guess it doesn't travel."

Tiny said, "Whadawe gonna do about the O.J.?"

"Tomorrow afternoon," Kelp told him, "John and me, we'll go over, see what the story is, are they finished whatever they're doing over there. Right, John?"

"Sure," Dortmunder said. "Could we get to the actual topic now? The reason we're here?"

"If I'm gonna get back to Canarsie before my bedtime," Murch's Mom said, "we better."

"Good," Dortmunder said. "This opportunity comes to us courtesy of Arnie Albright."

"He's off in rehab," Stan said.

Dortmunder sighed. "No," he said, "he's back." And he then related, with footnotes from Kelp, everything Arnie had said to them in his apartment.

When he finished, Stan said, "This elevator goes up the outside of the apartment building?"

"Right," Dortmunder said. "And it's only got doors at the top and bottom."

"Something goes wrong up top," Stan said, "that sounds like maybe you're trapped."

Kelp said, "Stan, that's not the only way in and out. That's the best way, for us. But the apartment's got a front door, too, and a hall, and other elevators, and even staircases."

Murch's Mom said, "That part's okay, Stanley. What I wonder about is this seventy percent."

"That's not natural," Tiny said. "For a fence to take the light end of the seesaw."

Murch's Mom appealed to Dortmunder: "So what do you think, John? Did he mean it?"

"Well, in a way," Dortmunder said. "I think he meant he was that mad at the guy owns the apartment. He's still that mad at the guy, so that right now what he thinks he wants is revenge."

"I agree," Kelp said. "But this is before Arnie has paper money in his hand."

"Green beats revenge," Tiny said, "every time."

"The thing is," Stan said, "seventy percent of what? We give him, I dunno, a silver ashtray, he says I got a hundred bucks for it, here's your seventy. Whadawe know what he got for it? He doesn't deal with people where you're gonna have invoices, receipts."

"If Arnie ever saw a paper trail," Dortmunder said, "he'd set fire to it."

"So what it comes down to," Murch's Mom said, "we do the work, we take the risks, he gives us whatever he wants to give us."

"Like always," Kelp said. "It's trust makes the world go round."

"Tomorrow," Tiny said, "I'll go look at this place." To Stan and his Mom he said, "You wanna be there?"

They looked at each other and both shook their heads. "We just drive," Stan said. "You guys say it's good, we'll show up."

"Right," his Mom said.

"Fine." Tiny looked at Dortmunder and Kelp. "You two are going to check on the O.J.?"

"That's the plan," Kelp said.

"So where do we meet after?"

"Not the O.J., I don't think," Dortmunder said. "Not until we know for sure what's what." He looked around his crowded living room. "And maybe not here."

"It's daytime," Tiny said. "We'll meet at the fountain in the park. Three o'clock?"

"Fine," Dortmunder said, and they all heard the apartment door open. The others looked at their host, who stood and called, "May?"

"You're home?"

May appeared in the doorway, gazed around the room, and said, "You're all home."

Everybody else got to their feet to say hello to May and get likewise back, and then she said, "How come you didn't go to the O.J.?"

"It's a long story," Dortmunder said.

"We've all heard it," Tiny said, moving toward the door. "Night, May. Three o'clock tomorrow, Dortmunder."


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