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14

"MAKE THE LEFT on Fifth," Tiny said from the backseat.

"Okay," Judson said, stopped the rented black Lexus Dzilla at the traffic light, and signaled for the left.

This was their third time around the block, over Sixty-ninth Street, down Fifth, over Sixty-eighth, up Madison, over Sixty-ninth, on and on. And Tiny never said, "Circle the block"; he always just gave the next turn, as though he hoped Judson wouldn't notice or remember the route.

Well, Judson did notice and remember the route, and he had even figured out what it was they were looking at. "Very slow here," Tiny would say every time they made the left turn from Fifth Avenue to Sixty-eighth Street, and every time Judson watched in the rearview mirror to see what Tiny was focused on, and every time it was the first house on the right after the big apartment building on the corner. There was something about that house that interested Tiny a whole lot.

"Make the left on Sixty-eighth."

"Okay."

Waiting for the green light, Judson could look diagonally across at that house, an old town house with what looked like a more recent garage cut into it on the right. Glancing once more at Tiny's reflection in the mirror, he could see Tiny frown at the house, as though something about it troubled or baffled him.

Green light. As Judson made the turn, Tiny said, "Stop on the right. At the driveway."

Directly in front of the house, in other words. So this was something new.

Judson had to watch what he was doing when he parked, because this SUV was really big, but once he'd stopped, he could do his own frowning at the house. What was it Tiny was trying to figure out?

"I'll get out here," Tiny said, opening the right-hand door. "Go around the block and pick me up."

"Okay."

Driving on, Judson saw Tiny just stand back there, head cocked to one side as he looked upward at the house. Upward. At what?

By the time he'd circled the block once more, he'd worked it out. Tiny was on the other side of the street now, looking not at the house but at his watch. Fortunately, there was a fire hydrant on that side, so Judson slid in there, and as Tiny got back into the car, Judson told him, "You could boost me up."

Tiny finished entering the car, shutting the door, adjusting himself on the seat, and only then did he look at Judson's right ear and say, "To what?"

"The alarm box. That's what you're trying to figure out, isn't it? How to reach the alarm box."

"Drive on down and make the left."

"Okay."

It wasn't until they'd made the turn onto Madison that Tiny spoke again: "Go up to Seventy-second and take the left. Why would I wanna reach any alarm box?"

"I don't know, "Judson said, stopping for the light at Sixty-ninth. He was beginning to think maybe he'd been just a bit too much of a smart-aleck. "I could be wrong."

"You think so?"

"I dunno."

The light turned green, and as Judson drove on, Tiny said, "One time, in the can, I knew a guy, said he knew how to break out, we could use the ductwork from the main boiler. I was too big and I didn't like the idea, but this other guy said it sounded great, he'd go first, so he went first, only he went the wrong direction."

"Did he get back?"

"Some ash did."

Judson thoughtfully made the left on Seventy-second, and Tiny said, "We'll go into the park."

"Okay."

"We wanted to get into a museum one time," Tiny told him, as he drove slowly through the heavy two-way traffic of Seventy-second Street. "One of the guys said he'd go there in the afternoon, hide himself in the mummy case, come open up for us at four in the morning. We get there at four in the morning, he doesn't show. Turns out, there's no air in the mummy case, so first he falls asleep, then he falls dead."

"Gee, that's too bad," Judson said, and stopped at the red light at Fifth.

"Wasted a night," Tiny said. "I was with some people once, we were in a penthouse, the owners weren't home. There was a power outage, that whole part of the city, this one guy said he could find the fire escape, he already counted the windows."

With gloomy foreboding, Judson said, "He counted the windows wrong?"

"No, the floors."

Judson nodded. "Mr. Tiny," he said, "do any of your stories have happy endings?"

"Not so far. The light's green."

So they crossed Fifth Avenue into the park, with a stream of traffic. "Stay on the transverse," Tiny said, when the option came to angle right northward toward the boathouse. They kept westward instead, Ramsey Playfield and then Naumburg Bandshell on their left, Bethesda Terrace with its fountain on the right. "Pull over to the right."

"I don't think I can," Judson said, looking in the mirror at the traffic behind him.

"I think you can."

So he did, and stopped half off the road, angry drivers de-touring around him. Swarms of people walked around the park in the August sun, many of them going up and down the broad stone steps leading down to the fountain and the lake beyond.

Tiny rolled his window down as he said to Judson, "Honk."

So Judson honked, and two men who'd been loitering off to one side of the steps suddenly looked their way, then waved and walked over.

"One in front, one in back," Tiny told them when they arrived, and after a brief, silent, unmoving struggle of some kind out there, the cheerful, sharp-nosed one got into the front seat next to Judson while the gloomy one got some of the seat next to Tiny.

"Drive on," said Tiny. So Judson drove on, and Tiny said, "Dortmunder," meaning the one in back, "and Kelp," for the one in front, "this is Judson Blint. He's Josey's office manager now."

"Harya."

"Hello."

Tiny said, "He says I can boost him up to the alarm. I didn't ask him, he just says it."

Judson felt many eyes on him, but didn't dare look back at anybody. I'm being taken for a ride, he thought. No, I'm taking myself for a ride.

Kelp, the one in front, with a pleasant manner Judson didn't at all believe, said, "Judson? You like to volunteer?"

"Oh, no," Judson said. "No, I just thought — I don't know, I must have been wrong."

"I knew a guy wanted to volunteer once," Tiny said. Judson sighed, and Tiny went on, "We were in a thing together where the cops took an interest, and he thought it would be a good thing if he rolled over first."

Interested, half-turned around in the seat, Kelp said, "What happened?"

"He rolled off a roof instead," Tiny said. "Keep going across Seventy-second," he told Judson.

The red light at Central Park West was ahead. "As soon as the light changes," Judson promised.

"Maybe he's some kinda burglar." That was the other one back there — Dortmunder.

"You think so?" Tiny asked. "Judson, is that it? You a burglar?"

"Not me," Judson said, and drove forward under the green light.

He could sense Tiny looming behind him, larger than ever, but refused to look in the mirror. Lots of traffic to look at, two-way traffic. Very dangerous out here.

"Or maybe," Tiny said, "it's your idea I'm some kind of burglar."

"Oh, no, sir."

The one called Dortmunder said, "Tiny? What does J. C. think of him?"

"What, this driver here?" Tiny chuckled. "She thinks he's a good scam artist."

Kelp, still friendly and amiable, said, "That doesn't make him a good burglar."

Dortmunder said, "But what you're saying is, J. C. trusts him."

"In her business." To Judson he said, "Head up for the Boat Basin."

"Yes, sir," Judson said, and over the next several minutes, while they kept on with their conversation, he traversed West Seventy-second Street, Broadway, and West Seventy-ninth Street, headed for the West Seventy-ninth Street Boat Basin, where you could launch your boat, or some people kept their yachts or their houseboats, or conceivably you could drop an unwanted volunteer into the river and let him drift out to sea. Judson drove well, breathed shallowly, and didn't say a word.

"So I looked at this thing," Tiny said, "and maybe so."

"Good," Dortmunder said.

"But first I wanna know," Tiny said, "about the O.J."

"Well," Dortmunder said, "it's a bust-out joint."

"Shit," Tiny commented.

"You should see it in there, Tiny," Kelp said.

"Maybe I should."

"No, you shouldn't," Dortmunder said. "It's too late for anything like that. Tiny, they're already muscling the customers out. The back room is full of merchandise. The ladies' room is locked, so it must be full, too."

"If they're busting out," Tiny said, "how come they don't just do it?"

Dortmunder said, "You know those guys, Tiny, they're greedy. One way or another, they got control of the O.J.—"

"Usually," Kelp said, "the owner's some kind of dumbass gambler."

"Something like that," Dortmunder said. "But they got their hands on this legit business, good line of credit, they're not just gonna bounce in, bounce out, Tiny, they're gonna use up that credit until it's gone. Buy buy buy, fill the booths up next, lock the men's room—"

"Not too soon for that one," Kelp commented.

"No," Dortmunder agreed. "But the thing is, Tiny, they're not gonna move the stuff out until the bills start to come in."

Kelp said, "They might not even have all the customers lined up yet."

Tiny said, "But they will."

"Sure," Kelp said. "When your cost of doing business is zero, you can give real deep discounts."

Tiny said, "So that's it for the O.J."

"Goddamn it," Dortmunder said. "I don't want it to be."

Kelp said, "John, nobody wants it to be, but if they're that far along, if they've already burned the credit rating and the customer base that much, there's no getting it back, you know that. They're in there now, they'll strip the place, sell everything they ordered, disappear, the owner goes into bankruptcy, end of story."

"There's gotta be a way," Dortmunder insisted. "If only we could make a meet. But we need the O.J. to do a meeting!"

Kelp, being kindly, said, "John, you're pretty good at thinking things out. Think about this problem. We've still got maybe a couple days before they pull the plug. You come up with something to save the O.J., we're with you. Right, Tiny?"

"The kid, too," Tiny said. "If we decide to keep him."

A very small moan escaped through Judson's clenched lips. He drove slowly and carefully. He hoped he'd never reach the Seventy-ninth Street Boat Basin.

Dortmunder said, "All right, I'll try. But I don't know."

"If anybody can do it, John," Kelp said, "you can."

"Here's the Boat Basin," Tiny said. "Kid, park somewhere."

"Okay."

There were parking places below the West Side Highway, with views over the Hudson toward New Jersey and, closer at hand, boats of various kinds, many of them occupied. I'll be safe with all those people around, Judson thought, but didn't believe it for a second.

Tiny said, "Leave the engine on, kid, for the A/C."

"Okay."

Kelp said, "I guess next on the agenda is this youth here."

Tiny said, "I wanted you two to take a look at him. Josey thinks he's okay, but that's in her area. Us, I don't know."

"Let's find out a couple things," Kelp said, and offered Judson his untrustworthy smile. "Let's just say," he said, "batting these ideas around here, let's just say Tiny did boost you up to that burglar alarm. Then what?"

"I dunno," Judson said. "I figured, Mr. Tiny'd tell me what he wanted."

Kelp cocked his head, the smile turning quizzical. "No idea? What, you figured you'd go up with a screwdriver, open the thing up?"

"Well, whatever," Judson said. "I don't know how those things work."

Dortmunder said, "What's in it for you?"

Judson blinked at him. Dortmunder at least wasn't smiling. In fact, he didn't look optimistic at all. "Well, sir, "Judson told him, "I thought you people would want to share with me or something."

Dortmunder nodded. "And you'd leave it up to us, the details and all that."

"I never did anything like that," Judson explained, "so I don't know how it works." Then, desperate, reaching down deep inside himself for the truth, he said, "What it is, I don't know anything, and I just want to get along until I figure out what I should be doing out here, so when I realized Mr. Tiny was interested in that alarm box I just offered to help, like, on the spur of the moment kind of thing."

Dortmunder said, "What you should be doing out here? What's 'out here'?"

"Well, out of high school."

I shouldn't have said that, he thought, as they all looked at one another. Then Tiny said, "Up to you two."

"Up to Andy," Dortmunder said. "He's the one would have to teach him."

Kelp laughed. "I was thinking," he said, "I don't think I'd like Tiny to boost me anywhere." Turning his smile on Judson, he said, "Judson? You got any close friends at home? High school buddies?"

"Oh, no," Judson assured him. "I said good-bye to all that."

"Live with your folks?"

"Until I find a place in the city, yes, sir, but I don't talk to my parents. Never did."

"Ever been in trouble with the law?"

"Not real trouble, no, sir."

Again Kelp laughed. "You mean, you got away with it."

Judson couldn't help a sheepish answering smile. "A few times, yes, sir."

Kelp nodded at the two in back. "I'll give him a try."

Judson said, "Thank you, sir."

Still with the unchanging smile, Kelp told him, "If I'm making a mistake, Tiny can always drop you from a high place."

"Yes, sir."

"Let me know," Tiny said, and opened his door, saying, "I'll walk it over to Riverside from here. Kid, drive these two home."

"Yes, sir."

Tiny left, and Kelp said, "I'm west Thirties."

"East Nineteenth," said Dortmunder.

"Yes, sir."

Relieved, amazed, giddy, Judson drove up around, out of the Boat Basin, onto the West Side Highway south. Driving along toward the ship terminal and the USS Intrepid, he said, "And if it turns out you could use some help on that bust-out joint, I'm up for that, too."

Well, they didn't have to laugh that much.


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