WHEN HIS vibrator went off, Andy Kelp was standing in an elevator with a bunch of people he didn't know. He was on his way to an upscale furrier whose display space was on the eleventh floor of this midtown Manhattan building, and he was going there today because, this being a Tuesday in mid-August, the entire staff of that exclusive boutique was away on vacation, as he'd verified this morning by listening to their answering machine. A good day, therefore, to shop.
Now, riding the elevator, feeling the vibration against his leg, he thought, this is a bad time for this, but on the other hand, in the hall in front of Gogol's Sables would be even worse, so he pulled the phone from his pocket, opened it, and murmured into it, "Yes?"
Around him, all the other people put that face on that pretends they're not listening, the way they always do, while they leaned in a little closer just the same.
"You doing anything?"
"Naturally I'm doing something," Kelp said, having recognized the voice as belonging to his sometime associate, John Dortmunder. "I'm usually doing something."
"Oh." Voice now reeking with suspicion, Dortmunder said, "On your own?"
Meaning, of course, was Kelp freezing him out of something good. "Sure, single-o," he said, while around him the other people began to clear their throats and rub their noses and move their feet around on the floor to express their dissatisfaction with the interest level of the phone call so far. "It happens."
Two people coughed so loudly, Kelp had trouble hearing Dortmunder's response: "So call me when you get a little time off."
"Hour, maybe maybe."
"I'll be home," Dortmunder said, he being someone who, Kelp knew, very often did nothing at all.
"Done," Kelp said, and hung up as the elevator stopped at 11. He got off, and the elevator continued on up, full of sneezing, nose-blowing and elbow scratching, and fifty-five minutes later Kelp walked into his own little apartment in the west Thirties, carrying a big shopping bag from Wal-Mart, full but not too heavy, with a polyester sweater in lime green on top. He went through into the bedroom, and his close personal friend Anne Marie Carpinaw looked up from the computer, where she was lately in frequent hyperspace correspondence with history freaks who wanted trivia answers about her daddy, who had for a long time been a congressperson from the greatish state of Kansas.
"Shopping?" she asked, fingers still on the keys. "At Wal-Mart? You?"
"Not exactly," he told her, as he put the shopping bag on the bed. "I was more hunting for the pot." Tossing the sweater into the wastebasket, he reached into the bag and brought out a short silver sable coat of a style that's never out of fashion. "I think this one's your size."
She leaped up from the computer. "Sable in August! How appropriate."
"I got three of them," he told her, admiring the way she snuggled into the coat. Taking two similar trophies from the bag, he said, "One for you and two for the rent."
"Well, this is the best of them," she said, smiling as her hand smoothed the fur down her front.
"John wants me to call, I'll do it in the living room."
"These people," she said, with a dismissive wave of the hand at the computer. "They want to know where Daddy stood on the Cold War. As though Daddy ever stood on anything. He was a politician, for God's sake."
"Tell them," Kelp suggested, "your daddy felt the Cold War was an unfortunate necessity and he prayed every night that it would come out okay."
He left her standing there in the sable but with a sudden fraught expression on her face, as though wondering if she'd wound up with her father after all, and in the living room he sat on the sofa, looked at the television set, and called John.
Who answered on the fifth ring, sounding out of breath. "Ern?"
"You hadda run from the kitchen."
"It turns out, snacking's a good thing. Many small meals all day long, easier on the system."
"Still, you hadda run from the kitchen."
"You aren't going to," Dortmunder said, "talk to me about extra telephones."
"I am not," Kelp agreed. "I gave up on you long ago. Besides, you're the one wanted to talk, so you get to pick the subject."
"Good," Dortmunder said. "Arnie Albright."
Kelp waited, then said, "That's the subject?"
"He's down south, for the intervention."
"He's back, he called me, he says it worked."
"I'll want a second opinion."
"You can have one," Dortmunder offered. "Your very own opinion. He wants to see us, he says he's got a great proposition for us."
"Us?" Kelp watched Anne Marie walk through the room toward the kitchen, smiling. She still wore the coat. Into the phone, he said, "Arnie didn't call me, John, he called you."
"But he knows we're a team."
"Arnie Albright didn't call me," Kelp said, "so I don't need to go over there."
"He says it's a really great offer."
"Fine," Kelp said. "You go over, if it turns out it really is a really great offer, then you call me. You can even come here and describe it to me."
"Andy," Dortmunder said, "I'm gonna level with you."
"Don't strain yourself."
"I just can't do it alone," Dortmunder admitted. "I'm afraid to know what Arnie is after Club Med. Either we go together, or I'm not going."
Kelp was beginning to feel trapped. "Look, John," he said, and Anne Marie walked through the room again, from the kitchen toward the bedroom, still smiling and still wearing the sable coat. She stopped midway and opened the coat, and she didn't have anything on underneath it. "Uuuuu," Kelp said.
"So you'll meet me there," Dortmunder said.
It was unfair; life was too full of distractions. How could a person figure a way to weasel out of a thing? Anne Marie walked on to the bedroom, the coat twitching behind her legs, and Kelp said, "Only not right now. Later on today, say four o'clock."
"I'll meet you there," Dortmunder said. "Out front."
"I can hardly wait," Kelp said, and hung up.