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37

"YAR?"

"Arnie, you know who this is. You don't have to shout out my name."

"Well, naturally, I know who this is! And is this also the best news in the world?"

"Well, no."

"So soon? The whole thing done, every"

"No, Arnie, it isn't done."

"It isn't done. Is this bad news you're calling me with?"

"No, Arnie, no bad news. In fact, no news, nothing."

"That's why you're calling? To tell me no news?"

"The reason I'm calling, I want to come over, have a conversation. On the same subject, you know what I mean."

"You wanna come here? You wanna come here?"

"I thought I'd come over now, if that's okay."

"This never happened to me, you know, back when I was obnoxious. This is a whole new world opening up before me here."

"I'll come right over."

"Yeah!"

Dortmunder rang the bell, and a voice trying very hard to be musical rasped from the speaker: "Is that you-oo?"

"Yeah, Arnie, it's me."

Buzz, slam, smell of wet newspapers, Arnie at the head of the stairs. Dortmunder plodded up, and Arnie said, "Wait'll you see. I made a change like you wouldn't believe."

Dortmunder looked at what appeared to be the same actual Arnie, and said, "A change in the apartment, you mean."

"It's the new me, John Dortmunder," Arnie said, ushering him over the threshold. "I dunno, I just gotta pat myself on the back. What a terrific guy I'm turning out to be!"

"Uh huh."

Arnie closed the door, Dortmunder started across the room, and all at once he was struck by any number of sensations. Sound, for instance a rather loud, continuing whoosh, as though your neighbor were warming up his jet plane. Smell, for a second instance there was none, not a whiff, not as much as you'd smell in a museum at midnight. Touch there's another one, a feeling of coldness all over his body. And finally, sight a big black, hulking box now filled the airshaft window, vibrating all over and giving off both the sound and the cold.

Dortmunder said, "Arnie? Is that an air conditioner?"

"It's August out there, John Dortmunder," Arnie said, "and yes, to answer your question, that is an air conditioner. All these years I didn't have an air conditioner, because I didn't have nothing, because I didn't think I deserved nothing, I was such a hopeless scumbag, the clerks at Gristede's would pay me to shop at Sloan's."

"I heard that."

"But this is the new me, John Dortmunder, and I deserve, I deserve, I deserve the best! Of everything! So it happened, this air conditioner moved into my life along with a few other odds and ends, I looked at it, I said to myself, why don't I break a link in the chain of commerce just for once and keep the goddamn thing? And the extra reward is, the smell is gone! Even from the bedroom!"

"That's great, Arnie."

"I am a changed man," Arnie explained. "I tell you, John Dortmunder, the next toaster comes into this place, it's mine. "

"I think you're right about that," Dortmunder said. "But the reason I wanted to come over, and this is even before I know about the air conditioner"

"It's brand-new. I mean, to me."

"So maybe we could sit and talk?"

"Absolutely," Arnie said, but then he frowned and looked around, betraying a little uncertainty. "The one little problem I got to admit to you," he said, "is, it's a little tough to sit at that table now. I mean, the air conditioner's great, but it does give you a little Mount Everest feeling if you get too close to it. I almost got frostbite at breakfast before I figured out what was going on."

Dortmunder looked around. "There's space on that wall if you move that other chair over," he said. "You and me, we could drag the table and chairs over there. You wouldn't have your view, but you don't have it any more anyway."

"It wasn't that much of a view to begin with. Let's do it."

So they did some furniture rearranging, and Dortmunder got just a glancing shot of the arctic blast up close, just enough to let him know there are worse things in life than heat and smells, and then they sat down in the new location, and Arnie looked around to say, "I never seen the room from this angle before."

"Yeah, I guess not."

"Maybe somebody'll move me some paint."

"Probably not Preston Fareweather," Dortmunder said, hoping to segue into the real topic.

Arnie laughed. "No, all his paint's on canvas, signed 'Picasso, signed 'Monet. You want to be sure you get some of those."

"That's what I wanted to talk to you about," Dortmunder allowed.

Arnie looked alert. "Yeah?"

"We figure we're going in Friday."

"Friday's good."

"It's when we'll get the truck, that morning. We figure to do it all day, as long as it takes, get out of there long before dark."

"That sounds like a good plan."

"But from what you said about the place, it's got to be just jam-packed with goodies."

"It is, John Dortmunder, you'll have a ball."

"It's gonna be too much stuff for one truck, and we can only make the one trip."

"So choose the best," Arnie said, and grinned from ear to ear. "I can hardly wait."

"But that's what we're afraid of," Dortmunder told him. "What if we leave some really good stuff behind, and take same other stuff that's maybe okay, but not so good as the stuff we didn't take? We'd all feel bad about that. You'd feel bad about that."

"Come on," Arnie said, pooh-poohing the idea. "Don't sell yourself short. You know value, and I bet those other guys do, too."

"We're just uncertain," Dortmunder said, "and that's why we decided, we want to ask you to help."

Arnie looked pained. "I don't see how," he said. "I can't make a list, you know. I never seen the place."

"Exactly," Dortmunder said. "That's the problem."

Arnie looked at him, waiting for him to go on, but Dortmunder didn't go on; he just sat there, expectant, so finally Arnie had to say," What's the problem?"

"You never seen the place."

"That's right." Arnie shrugged. "Even if I knew the guy back when he was in New York, I don't think he'd of invited me over."

"So you need to see the place," Dortmunder said.

Annie shook his head. "I don't get how I could do that."

Dortmunder shrugged as though it were nothing: "You come with us."

Annie frowned. "Come where?"

"The penthouse. You can point and say, 'Take this, take "

"The penthouse? While you're robbing it?"

"You wouldn't even have to carry anything, just point and"

"John Dortmunder! I don't even leave the apartment! Especially not now, when I'm Look at me," he demanded, poking a finger of his right hand onto his left forearm, "I'm still olive drab."

He was. "I noticed," Dortmunder said, "and it's very becoming"

"It isn't becoming anything! It is! Even if I was a person went out on the street, I couldn't do it now. And to participate? I don't participate!"

"This is a special case, Arnie. Just remember Preston Fareweather. Just remember the kinds of things he'd say to you."

"Those are the things I'm trying not to remember."

"Well, remember anyway. This isn't just another job, Arnie, not for you. This is a matter of pride. This is self-respect."

"Well"

"You've got those things, now, Arnie, the new you is worth standing up for."

Arnie looked thoughtful. "I didn't even feel bad keeping the air conditioner," he said. "I felt it was okay to do something nice for me."

"And you were right. The new you wants comfort, dignity, the best of everything, you said so yourself."

"It's true, I did," Arnie said, and looked solemn as he contemplated his new self.

"So," Dortmunder said, "when the new you wants revenge, he wants the best revenge."

Arnie cocked his head. "He does?"

"He doesn't want to read in the paper," Dortmunder said, " 'Preston Fareweather says thank God they didn't get the Beethoven.

"He's a songwriter."

"Whatever. You get the idea. The new Arnie wants revenge. He wants to be part of it, he wants to watch it going down, he wants to read in the paper Preston Fareweather says, 'They were so brilliant, those guys, they even got the Le Corbusier. "

Arnie squinted. "The what?"

"Whatever." Dortmunder brushed that away. "The point is, this is a special case. You are gonna show that guy what your pride looks like. He can't talk to you that way."

"No, he can't," Arnie agreed. A bit of rosy flush had appeared on his cheeks, beneath the dun.

"You're gonna step right up to that son of a bitch," Dortmunder said, "and you're gonna rob him blind!"

The sudden smile on Arnie's face was like nothing ever seen on earth before. "John Dortmunder," he said, "what time you gonna pick me up?"


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