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45

WHERE KELP GOT THE hard hats was a theatrical costumer in the west Forties, a place he'd patronized before, always very late at night, when the prices were better but you had to serve yourself, mostly in the dark.

It was a deep, broad shop full of crannies and nooks and little rooms, two stories of costumes and props, anything you might want in a stage show or on a movie set or shooting a commercial or running another day of a soap opera — all things that happen in that neighborhood just about every day. Kelp was always careful not to harm any locks here or otherwise be intrusive, and since they had so much and he took so little, he doubted they were even aware of his visits. Which was nice — he liked the opportunity to be a loyal customer, and wouldn't like them to feel the need to increase their security.

Ordinary yellow hard hats without logos were harder to find than cowboy hats and Nazi officer hats and football helmets and graduation caps, but eventually, on a low shelf upstairs near the rear, he came across a cluster of them, looking like the world's largest canary eggs. He put two in the plastic bag he'd brought for the purpose, let himself gently out of the place, took a cab home, had a brief pleasant chat with Anne Marie, slept peacefully, and at nine-thirty in the morning was crossing Fifth Avenue at Sixty-eighth Street when Tiny called to him, "Kelp!"

Kelp looked, and Tiny was waving from a limo waiting for the light to change so it could make the left turn onto Sixty-eighth Street. Kelp waved back, and Tiny called, "Come wait in the limo."

"Will do."

Kelp finished crossing Fifth and turned left to cross Sixty-eighth, because the driver of the limo was stopping it at the fire hydrant across the street from the garage entrance they'd be aiming at, but before he could step off the curb, a cab stopped at his feet, and out of it, astonishingly, stepped Arnie Albright, wearing the kind of cloth cap with a soft brim all around it that really terrible golfers wear, except without the comical pins.

Kelp said, "Arnie? You sprang for a cab?"

"Not on your life," Arnie said, and from behind him, putting his wallet away, out crawled Dortmunder, looking nettled and saying, "I paid for the cab. It was the only way to get him here."

"Though I still got my doubts," Arnie said as the cab hurtled away.

"Well," Kelp said, "let's go over there and wait in the limo with Tiny."

Arnie said, "Limo?" but then a white truck, sneaking around the corner just as the light turned red, made the left, then a right toward the garage door, which began to lift. Stan could be seen in the truck cab, putting the remote back down on the seat.

So instead of everybody getting into the limo, Tiny got out of it, and it drove away. Now that all the traffic had stopped, Tiny crossed the street to join them, and everybody followed the truck into the garage, where Stan thumbed the door shut again.

Stan was the only one who'd been in this place before, so everybody else had to look it over for a minute. They also had to study the truck. Kelp put the bag of hard hats on the passenger seat, and Tiny said, "Very clean. Better than I figured. What did it used to carry?"

"People," Stan said, and when they all looked at him, he said, "It's a long story, I'll tell you later, over a beer. The elevator's over there."

"We'll have to do a little alarm stuff first," Kelp said, "before we ride it anywhere."

Turned out, the alarm system for the elevator was a simpler problem than switching on the motor to run the elevator, which wanted a key they didn't have, which would fit in a slot to the right of the two buttons lined up vertically on the control panel and marked Top and Bot. Looking at those buttons, Stan said, "Did the manufacturer think the customer was gonna get confused?"

"Their lawyer made them add that," Kelp explained.

The problem with the key meant that both Dortmunder and Kelp produced leather toolkit bags and took the metal cover off the control panel, then found the way to bypass the ignition. When they checked it, it worked fine, but Dortmunder and Kelp were the only ones aboard, and the elevator just went up to the top without waiting for anybody else.

"We'll send it back down," Dortmunder said as they rose.

"And have the alarms taken care of by the time they get here," Kelp agreed.

Which they did. The second time the elevator opened at the top level, it was very full, mostly with Tiny, who seemed to be wearing Stan and Arnie as earmuffs.

(The three long rumbles of the elevator motor had not reached Preston in the master bedroom but had made a faint drone in the guest room, causing Alan to frown and shift position and have a brief, pointless dream about being in a submarine.)

"We'll just walk it through the first time," Dortmunder said, "and, Arnie, then you can tell us which things to take."

"I brung red dots," Arnie said. When everybody gave him blank looks, he said, "I got the idea from art galleries. When they have a show, if somebody buys a painting they don't get to take it home until the show is over, so the gallery has these little red dot stickers that they put on, to say, 'this one already sold. " Taking a sheet of such stickers from his pants pocket, he said, "That's what I figured I'd do here. When I see something good, I slap a red dot on it, you guys take it away."

"I like that," Stan said. "Clear, simple and classy."

"So let's take a look around," Dortmunder said.

All the floors of the penthouse were carpeted, in Persian and other antique rugs that were themselves worthy of red dots, though Arnie wouldn't be thinking primarily in terms of furnishings. But the rugs made their progress through the penthouse silent until they entered the big living room with its airplane views of Manhattan and its array of art and antiques.

Everybody stopped, impressed, staring around at the room and the view, and Arnie said, "Forget the dots. Just take the living room."

Stan said, "Arnie, the living room is bigger than the truck."

Dortmunder said, "We like the red-dot thing, Arnie, stick with it."

"Okay, then," Arnie said, and stepped over to the nearest Picasso and whacked its frame with a red dot. Sold.


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