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2

"DORTMUNDER! JOHN DORTMUNDER! ARE YOU THERE, JOHN DORTMUNDER?"

"Aack!" Dortmunder recoiled, flinging his telephone hand as far from his body as he could without surgery.

"JOHN DORTMUNDER! IS THAT YOU?"

"Don't shout!"

"What?"

"Don't shout!"

The phone muttered something. Cautiously Dortmunder allowed it to approach his head. The phone muttered, "This is it? I come back and the phones don't work?"

"Arnie?" This was three weeks since the non-meeting at the O.J.

"There you are! Hello to you, John Dortmunder!"

"Yeah, hello, Arnie. So you're back, are you?"

"Not ten minutes since I finished unlockin the door."

"So it didn't work, huh?" Dortmunder was not surprised.

But Arnie, not quite shouting, cried, "Whadaya mean, it didn't work? A course it worked! I graduated with honors, John Dortmunder. What you see before you is a changed man."

"Well, I'm not seeing you," Dortmunder pointed out, "and I have to say, you don't sound that different."

"Well, it's a makeover, that's all," Arnie explained, as Dortmunder's faithful companion, May, came into the living room with a pen in her hand (she'd been doing a crossword puzzle in the kitchen) and an expression of concern on her face, wondering what all the racket was about. "It's not like they slid a new chassis in," Arnie went on. "I'm still the same physical plant like I was before, except my skin is all this khaki color."

"Well, you been in the tropics," Dortmunder said, as he showed May an elaborate combined shoulder shrug, head shake, eyebrow waggle, and torso twist, to indicate that he didn't know so far exactly what was going on, but it didn't seem to include any imminent threat.

"That's it, all right," Arnie agreed. "I don't know when I'll be able to leave the house again. But listen to me, what I'm saying, I never leave the house anyway."

"That's true," Dortmunder said.

"In fact," Arnie said, "the reason I'm calling, fresh offa the plane, I want you to come here."

"There? Your apartment, you mean?"

"That's where I'm gonna be, John Dortmunder, and that's where I'm gonna put before your eyes a proposition so good you'll fall right over."

"What do you mean, a proposition?"

"Dortmunder, not to go into details on this public instrument here, this telephone—"

"No no, I follow that."

"But you know," Arnie said, "in our transactions, me and you, I always give top dollar."

"That's true."

"I always had to give top dollar," Arnie reminded him, "because if I gave medium dollar like that goniff Stoon, nobody would ever come to do business with me, because of my basic unpleasantness."

"Yrm."

"Which is in the past, John Dortmunder," Arnie promised him. "Wait'll you see. You come over, I'll lay it out, you're never gonna even thought about a dollar as large as this one. Come over, I'm here, until I get my pallor back I am not leaving the apartment. Come over any time, John Dortmunder. And I'll tell you this, it's good to be back. Good-bye to you."

"Good-bye," Dortmunder told the phone after Arnie hung up. Then he also hung up, and shook his head.

"I've been patient," May reminded him.

"Let's sit down," Dortmunder said.

So they sat, and May looked alert, and Dortmunder said, "I mentioned, from time to time, a character called Arnie Albright."

"A fence," she said, and put her pen on the coffee table. "You sell him things sometimes. You don't like him."

"Nobody likes him," Dortmunder said. "He doesn't like himself. He told me once, he finds himself so disgusting, he shaves with his back to the mirror."

"But you sell him things."

"He makes up for his personality," Dortmunder explained, "by paying a better percentage than anybody else."

May said, "Is he really that bad?"

"Well," Dortmunder told her, "he just came back from the intervention."

"Intervention? He's a drunk, too?"

"No, he's just obnoxious, but it's enough. Turns out, his family couldn't stand it any more, it was either drop him out of an airplane or intervent. I don't think any of them had a plane, so they went for the other."

"John," May said, "when a group of people do an intervention, they go to the drunk or the druggie or whatever he is, they tell him you have to go into rehab now, or detox, or whatever it is, or nobody wants you around here any more. If they did an intervention for obnoxiousness, where would they send him?"

"Club Med," Dortmunder told her. "Down in the Caribbean somewhere. They figured, all the good weather, all the smiley faces, maybe it'd soak in. He called me once when he was there, he hated it. I figured, it's not gonna work, but now he's back and he says it did work, so go know."

"Did he sound like it worked?"

Dortmunder thought back to the recent conversation. "Gee, I don't know," he said. "Could be. He was still loud, but maybe he didn't grate quite so much. Still and all, he wants me to go over to his place, he's got a proposition for me, he called me as soon as he got home, but I dunno about that."

May said, "Did you say you'd go?"

"I don't think I said one way or the other."

"But he called you right away when he got home. I think you've got to do it."

Dortmunder sighed, long and heartfelt. "I don't think I can go over there by myself, May."

"Call Andy," she advised.

He nodded, slow and heavy. "That's what it comes down to," he agreed.


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