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55

WHEN DORTMUNDER WALKED into the O.J. Bar Grill at ten that night in mid-September, the regulars were all clustered at the left end of the bar, heads bent, gazing at money, as though they were playing liar's poker. Midway across the bar to the right, Rollo was pouring a drink, and a little farther on was the guy Dortmunder was here to see, one Ralph Winslow.

As Dortmunder approached the bar, it became clear the regulars weren't playing liar's poker after all; they were looking at the colors on the bills, because one of them, sounding aggrieved, said, "What are all these colors? Money is supposed to be green. People say, 'The long green. Pay me in green. What is this, a paint-by-number?"

"There's still a lotta green in there," a second regular assured him.

"Yeah?" The first regular was not assured. Stabbing a finger at the bill, to the left of Jackson's head, he said, "What's this here?"

The second regular studied his own copy. "That's charters," he decided.

The first regular shot him a look of revulsion. "It's what?"

"Charters. That's a green with a lotta yellow in it."

Dortmunder and Ralph Winslow's drink, a rye and water in a squat thick glass, arrived at the same moment. "Whadaya say, Ralph?"

Ralph, a hearty, heavyset guy with a wide mouth and a big, round nose, was the fellow they were supposed to meet here way back in July, when it turned out he'd had to leave town for a while instead. Now he was back, and belatedly the meeting could take place, once everybody got here. In the meantime, he lifted his glass to Dortmunder, and the ice in it tinkled like far-off temple bells. "I'm glad to be back, is what I say," he said. "Cheers."

"Be right with you." Dortmunder said to Rollo, "We're gonna be six. I could take the bottle and Andy's glass."

"Sorry," Rollo said. "You can't use the room right now."

Dortmunder stared at him. "What, again? I thought those guys were too busy with the felony cases and the mob war."

"No, it's not them," Rollo said. "That's okay now, knock on wood," and he knocked on the copper top of the bar. "What it is, there's a support group uses the place sometimes, they're running a little late, one of them had a relapse."

"Sorry to hear that."

"I'll get you your drink."

"Thank you."

Over to the left, a third regular said, "This Hamilton's still green. He's still got the frame around his head, too."

"Really?" The second regular was very interested. "That's an older one, then," he said. "Whadaya suppose that's worth now?

The third regular said, "What? It's a ten-dollar bill!"

The first regular said, "Who was Hamilton anyway? All the rest of them are presidents. He wasn't a president."

They were all silent. They all kind of knew the answer, but not precisely. Then the second regular lit up. "He got shot!"

"Big deal," the first regular said. "My cousin got shot, they didn't put him on any money."

The second regular, interested in everything, said, "Your cousin got shot? Who shot him?"

"Two husbands."

"Two husbands?"

The first regular shrugged. "He was unemployed at the time."

Rollo had just poured Dortmunder's bourbon over ice, with Ralph Winslow tinkling beside him, when Rollo looked up and said, "Here's two more of you."

Dortmunder looked around, and it was Tiny and the kid. "We aren't in the back room," Tiny said.

Dortmunder explained about the support group and the relapse, and Rollo came back with two identical-looking tall glasses of bright red liquid with ice, which he placed in front of Tiny and Judson.

Dortmunder, not sure he believed it, said, "Tiny? The kid's drinking vodka and red wine?"

"No," Tiny said. "Rollo won't let him."

"It's strawberry soda." Judson sipped, made a face, and said, "Yep, strawberry soda. That's all Mr. Rollo will let me have."

"Ever since the trouble with the Jersey guys," Rollo half-apologized, "the precinct has been keeping an eye on the place. I serve an underage drinker, you know what that means?"

Dortmunder said, "They close the place?"

"It means I get Otto back up here again," Rollo said, and Ralph said, "Whadaya say, Andy?"

"You're looking good," Andy Kelp told him, arriving, reaching for his glass and the bourbon bottle Rollo had left on the bar. "Your vacation agreed with you."

"More than home did, right then. But what can you say about mountains? They're tall." And he tinkled as he sipped his rye.

"What's this?" Kelp asked, gazing off to his left.

It was the support group: seven people, some men, some women, a little blended together. They were all extremely thin and all dressed entirely in black. They seemed to be embarrassed about something and wouldn't meet anybody's eye. They moved through the room like an approaching low on the Weather Channel, and one of them peeled off to come to the bar and press an envelope into Rollo's hand without looking him in the face. "Thank you," he whispered, and rejoined his pod, and they faded into the night.

"The back room is open, gents," Rollo said.

They all thanked him, not whispering, picked up their drinks, and headed for the back room, Ralph gently tinkling along the way. As they rounded the end of the bar toward the hall, the regulars decided spontaneously to laud Rollo in song:

"For he's a jolly good fell-oh,

For he's a jolly good fell-oh,

For he's a jolly good fell-OH!

For he's a golly good fell."

"I don't think that's right," the second regular said. "I think the last line goes, 'For he's a jolly good elf. »

So they tried it that way.


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