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35

OF THE SEVERAL guarded telephone conversations that took place on that Wednesday, Kelp was involved in most if not all of them. The first was midmorning, when Kelp's cell vibrated against his leg, and the caller turned out to be Stan Murch, who, based on the balalaika music in the background, was calling from a cab: "I seen our friend."

"Uh huh."

"About the swap."

"Gotcha."

"Says he can."

"Good."

"Day after tomorrow."

"Not today?"

"No. Looks like we'll move the smaller one first, take it out there."

"But," Kelp objected, hunkering over the phone, "what we said, we'd use the big one to pick up the small one."

"Not the way it's gonna work."

"Too bad," Kelp said, wondering how they'd get at that alarm without a nice, tall truck to help.

"So what we've got here," Stan said, "is what Tiny would call another delay."

"Yes, he would. In fact, he will."

"I was wondering, could you call him."

Kelp made a regretful face, which, of course, Stan could not see. "Gee, I don't think I could," he said. "I think of it as your news."

"Well, it's everybody's news."

"It was yours first."

"Well, then, there's the other issue."

"Other issue?"

"The location you were gonna find, for the trade."

"I'm working on that."

In fact, Kelp was at that moment sharing muffins and eggs with Anne Marie at a neighborhood beanery, but he had actually turned his thoughts once or twice so far to the question of where to stash the truck once it was full of product for Arnie Albright. "But now, turns out," he said, "I got an extra forty-eight hours."

"Use them well," Stan advised.

"Thank you."

Kelp broke the connection, pocketed the cell, kissed Anne Marie on the cheek, the nose, and the lips, and went off to look for a little cranny somewhere. It was such a nice sunny August day, without that humidity that sometimes happens, that he decided to leave the medical profession alone for once and start his search on foot. If I were a truck, he asked himself, where would I want to stash myself?

The problem is, Manhattan is not only an island, it's crowded. Other places, where people and their civilizations spread out like kudzu, you've got your front lawns, back yards, side driveways, alleys, mewses, cul-de-sacs, empty lots. In Manhattan you've got three things: street, sidewalk, building. Bang bang bang, that's it. (Forget parks; they're watched.)

There was a cubbyhole in Manhattan once, way downtown, about the size of the original Volkswagen Beetle, and one day an immigrant from Pakistan found it, moved in, and sold CDs and sunglasses from there for years until he retired to Boca Raton. Sent a son through NYU, a daughter through Bard. Is this a wonderful country or what?

Or what, if you're trying to stash a truck. The upside to this crowded-island thing was that always, somewhere, here and there around town, something that wasn't wanted any more was coming down to make way for something new that would be much more useful, at least for a while. The city is forever pockmarked with construction sites, some of them quite extensive, up to a full city block rectangle (city blocks aren't square; would you expect them to be?).

It was Kelp's initial idea that he would ankle this way and that around town in the pleasant sunlight and see did he come across a construction site large enough for its workers not necessarily to notice the addition of one extra truck parked in a corner, particularly if it was in with materiel not yet in use or a section they were temporarily finished with. After all, how long would it be before Arnie found some other location for the goods? Just a few days, probably, especially if they insisted. Especially if they sent Tiny to insist.

It's true the extra two days was a bit of an irritation, but on the other hand, it took the pressure off Kelp in his search. So he ambled along, and when next his cell vibrated against his leg, he took a couple of extra steps to get in the shade of a very nice plane tree before he uncorked the thing, and said, "Yup."

"Another delay."

Tiny — so the news had spread. "I've been thinking about that," Kelp told him, "walking around here remembering the three most important things about real estate—"

"You got your location yet?"

"I'm not gonna need it till day after tomorrow, you know."

"Where you looking?"

"Around and about."

"I don't like these delays."

"We just roll with the punches, us guys."

"Not my punches," Tiny said, and broke the connection.

Over to the west by the river was where a lot of construction was taking place these days. For many years, New York City ignored its riverfronts, got along somehow without all those esplanades, boardwalks, colonnades, market piers, and waterside restaurants that lesser cities tried to console themselves with, but now the real estate devil-princes, in their aeries on top of the taller buildings, have noticed that gleam of water far below and have devised just the perfect way to deal with it. Put up a Great Wall of separate huge buildings, jammed together, marching for miles up the West Side, with windows. That way, the office workers and residents in those buildings can have terrific river views and then come out and describe them to everybody else.

Moving up along this serial construction site, Kelp had made it into the upper Fifties when he thought he saw something that might serve. So he swerved that way, but then the cell started vibrating, so he swerved the other way, unleashed the cell, and it was Dortmunder:

"I understand you're out lookin for the place." I am.

"Even though we got the delay and all."

"Well, the weather's nice, so why not take advantage."

"You want company?"

"What, to walk?"

"Well, yeah, to look around, see what's happening."

What is he up to? Kelp asked himself. "I don't know," he said, deliberately not using any of Dortmunder's names, not out in public like this, "I seem to be doing pretty good as a solo here. You're at kinda loose ends, I guess."

"Well, kinda. Except, naturally, I gotta go have a word with our friend."

Kelp immediately saw what was what. "Our friend" was Arnie Albright, and Dortmunder had volunteered to have a word with him, Dortmunder and nobody else. Hence, "Ah hah!" said Kelp.

"Whadaya mean, 'ah hah'? I just said."

"You want you should come with me so then I should go with you."

"Well, it seems kinda the thing, you know, we went there together last time, worked out okay."

"I don't think so."

"He'd probly expect us to show up together."

"He'd be wrong."

"You said yourself how much he improved."

"Not that much."

"Well, anyway."

"Get it over with," Kelp advised. "It's one of those things better looked back on than forward to."

"Sure," Dortmunder said, and grumpily hung up.

By that point, walking and talking, Kelp had almost circled the construction site that had caught his eye, and was being stopped by a tall chain-link fence where there used to be, more than likely, all three of the city's basic elements: street, sidewalk, building. There was quite a dropoff beyond a low metal barrier to his right, with the West Side Highway rushing back and forth below, and the Hudson sparkling all the way from there over to the squat towers of New Jersey.

The Hudson is a tidal river for up to a hundred miles inland, and the tide at the moment was coming in, which was slightly disorienting. It was a little weird to know that upriver was to your right, and yet the strong flow of water was headed up that way. He knew it didn't actually slop over the sides when it reached the top up in the Adirondacks, but it felt that way.

Anyway, this chain-link fence. Kelp turned and ambled back alongside it, and here was a broad gate kept open during work hours because cement mixers and other large workhorses were pretty steadily passing in and out. Inside, a temporary dirt road led down to a cellar level, where the work was going on. Far over to the left, down there, half a dozen trailers were set up as site offices. Guys and vehicles moved in constant random motion, like a disturbed anthill.

Kelp waited while an empty flatbed truck groaned up and out of there; then he entered and walked down the slope, because it seemed to him some unused vehicles were parked behind the office trailers. Would they like a playmate?

"Where's your hard hat?"

A guy called that from over to the right, just as Kelp reached the foot of the slope. With a big smile and wave, Kelp pointed leftward at the trailers. "Just going to get it!" And he moved on, striding pretty fast.

Yes, as he approached the trailers he could better see the other things parked back there, and they were tow trucks, a couple of pickups, and some other things, including a dump truck with its forward-tilting hood standing up like a parrot's nose.

"Where's your hard hat?"

This safety expert was a guy coming out of one of the trailers. "Just going to get it!" Kelp assured him, with a big smile, and pointed the direction he was going.

Definitely this was the place. The parked vehicles were not all jammed in together like a parking lot, but just left here and there in the empty space behind the trailers as the drivers had no more immediate use for them. The truck Stan would bring here after the visit to the penthouse would fit in perfectly right there, between the hook-nosed dump truck and a red pickup with a see-through Confederate flag covering its entire rear window.

Having seen enough, Kelp turned about and headed back for the ramp.

"Where's your hard hat?"

"Just going to get it!"

Kelp kept moving, kept smiling, kept looking around at everything there was to be seen. They wouldn't be able to move their truck in or out at night, because that big gate would be locked and there would be night watchmen in here, but that was okay. The penthouse was a day job, and they could finish it up and get the truck over here long before the end of the workday. Then, once again, when Arnie was ready, they could move the thing out during the day. No problem.

The only thing was, before he came back here, he'd really have to get a hard hat.


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