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19

"HOW CAN YOU KNOW nothing?" Tiny demanded, spread over much of the backseat of the Cadillac Conquistadore Kelp had borrowed for this journey to the Middle Earth section of Queens. "That guy didn't know nothing. I never seen anybody know such a total goddamn nothing."

Kelp, in the remaining portion of the seat beside Tiny, sounded a bit strangled as he said, "He was different, I'll give him that."

Stan, at the wheel of this monster machine, frowned out at the low buildings and broken sidewalks and stunted trees of this landscape he maneuvered through, which looked as though it had never received good nutrition in its formative years, and said, "What gets me about him is, he don't react. Four guys walk into his house, Tiny bings him on the head, what does he do? Does he yell, does he call the cops, does he make a run for it, does he tough it out, does he beg for mercy, does he say, 'No, you want Medrick the Meshugah next door'? No. He does nothing."

"He does nothing," Tiny agreed. "And he knows nothing."

They were all silent as they considered Raphael Medrick, who continued to recede uselessly behind them in his rickety little hovel beside the bay. It was probably the first time an automobile of this magnificence had ever driven down that dead-end street — dead-end in more ways than one — but what a waste of time.

It was a nice car, though. Kelp had picked it out, in the staff parking area of an East Side hospital — a very big vehicle to accommodate Tiny, MD plates to accord with Kelp's belief that doctors, living as they did on the cusp between pleasure and pain, could be relied on in their choice of transportation, and a green the color of money for that homey look.

"What I think it is," the diminished Kelp said after a couple of silent blocks, "I think he's one of those artists."

The others considered that idea. With a glance at the rearview mirror, Stan said, "One of what artists?"

"You know," Kelp said, "the artistic kind of artists, unworldly, all he knows is his art."

Stan said, "I thought they wore berets."

"Maybe not in the summer," Kelp suggested.

Tiny said, "I didn't see any pictures."

"I think," Kelp said, "he was doing music art in there. In the earphones and stuff."

"Oh, that crap," Stan said. "Every once in a while, I get in a car, it's tuned to a station like that, I gotta pull over, switch it around. You can't drive to that stuff, believe me."

Until this point, Dortmunder, in the front passenger seat, had been silent, brooding out at the undernourished neighborhood, but now he said, "I'm thinking about the O.J. He's gonna be no help on the O.J."

"None," Kelp agreed.

Tiny said, "Now more than ever, Dortmunder, the O.J. is history."

"Don't say that," Dortmunder asked.

"Raphael Medrick is not gonna be of any use," Tiny told him, "and Mikey and his friends are not gonna change their minds for nostalgia."

"This Mikey," Kelp said, "he's the son of a mob guy, which is even worse than a mob guy. He came up soft, and he thinks he's hard."

"So it's over," Tiny said.

Dortmunder, frowning mightily at the windshield, said, "I don't want it to be over."

Kelp, as he made minor adjustments in his body in a vain attempt to become comfortable back there with Tiny, said, "Then you know what you have to do, John."

Silence.

"John? You wanna give up the O.J.?"

"No."

"Then you know what you gotta do."

More silence. Finally, Dortmunder sighed and nodded at the outside world and said, "I think it looks a lot like this."

"I understand there's some nice parts," Stan said.

Dortmunder shook his head. "Otto Medrick won't be in one of them," he said. Then he cleared his throat and, as though casually, said, "Will you guys come along?"

"No, John," Kelp said.

"I'll drive you to the airport," Stan offered.

"What the heck," Dortmunder said. "Florida can't be that bad."

"Why not?" Tiny asked.

"In August?" Stan asked.

"It's just, you know," Dortmunder said, "it's better if I don't go alone. More intimidating."

"No, John," Kelp said, "Some things you got to do by yourself."

"If you even gotta do them," Tiny pointed out. "You know, what we're supposed to be thinking about right now, we're supposed to be thinking about that apartment we're gonna take down."

"That can wait," Dortmunder said. "The O.J. is right now, but that apartment is empty. It'll wait for us."


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