4

Dortmunder was sorting money on his coffee table, a little pile of crumpled singles, a smaller pile of less-crumpled fives, and a thin pair of tens. His shoes and socks were off and he kept wiggling his toes as though they’d just been released from prison. It was late evening, the long August day finally coming to an end outside the window, and Dortmunder’s loosened tie, rumpled shirt, and matted hair demonstrated he hadn’t spent much of that day here in his air-conditioned apartment.

The doorbell rang.

Dortmunder got heavily to his feet, went over to the door, and peered through the spy hole. Kelp’s cheerful face was framed there, as in a cameo. Dortmunder opened the door and Kelp came in, saying, “Well, how’s it going?”

Dortmunder shut the door. “You look pleased with life,” he said.

“I am,” Kelp said. “Why not?” He glanced at the money on the coffee table. “You don’t seem to be doing too bad yourself.”

Dortmunder limped back to the sofa and sat down. “You don’t think so? Out all day, walking from door to door, chased by dogs, jeered at by children, insulted by housewives, and what do I get for it?” He made a contemptuous wave at the money on the coffee table. “Seventy bucks,” he said.

“It’s the heat that’s slowing you down,” Kelp told him. “You want a drink?”

“It isn’t the heat,” Dortmunder said, “it’s the humidity. Yeah, I want a drink.”

Kelp went to the kitchenette and talked from there, saying, “What sort of dodge you working?”

“Encyclopedias,” Dortmunder said. “And the problem is, you ask for more than a ten-buck deposit they either balk or they want to write a check. As it is, I got one ten-dollar check today, and what the hell am I going to do with that?”

“Blow your nose in it,” Kelp suggested. He came out of the kitchen with two glasses containing bourbon and ice. “Why you doing the encyclopedias?” he asked.

Dortmunder nodded at the slender briefcase over by the door. “Because that’s what I got the display case on,” he said. “You can’t sell a thing without a lot of bright pieces of paper.”

Kelp handed him a glass and went over to sit down in the armchair. “I guess I’m luckier,” he said. “Most of my work is done in bars.”

“What are you up to?”

“Me and Greenwood are working the smack over by Penn Station,” Kelp said. “We split almost three hundred today.”

Dortmunder looked at him in disbelief. “The smack? That still works?”

“They lap it up like cream,” Kelp said. “And why wouldn’t they? It’s me and the mark against Greenwood, there’s no way on earth we can lose. One of us has to win.”

“I know,” Dortmunder said. “I know all about it, I’ve tried that dodge myself once or twice, but I don’t have the face for it. It needs cheerful types like you and Greenwood.” He sipped at his bourbon and sat back on the sofa, closing his eyes and breathing through his mouth.

“Hell,” Kelp said, “why not take it easy? You can make ends meet on Iko’s two hundred.”

“I want to build a stake,” Dortmunder said, keeping his eyes closed. “I don’t like living on the bone like this.”

“That’s a hell of a stake you’ll build,” Kelp told him, “at seventy bucks a day.”

“Sixty yesterday,” Dortmunder said. He opened his eyes. “We’ve been tapping Iko four weeks since Greenwood got out. How much longer you think he’ll ante up?”

“Till he gets the helicopter,” Kelp said.

“If he gets it. Maybe he won’t get it at all. He didn’t sound happy when he paid me last week.” Dortmunder drank some bourbon. “And I’ll tell you something else,” he said. “I don’t have the belief in this job I have in some things. I’ve got my eyes open for something else, I’ve spread the word around I’m available. Anything else comes along, that rotten emerald can go to hell.”

“That’s the way I feel too,” Kelp said. “That’s why Greenwood and me are matching coins up and down Seventh Avenue. But I believe Iko’s going to come through.”

“I don’t,” Dortmunder said.

Kelp grinned. “You want to put a little side bet on it?”

Dortmunder looked at him. “Whyn’t you call Greenwood over and I can bet you both?”

Kelp looked innocent. “Say, don’t be in a bad mood,” he said. “I’m just kidding with you.”

Dortmunder emptied his glass. “I know it,” he said. “Build me another?”

“Sure thing.” Kelp came over and took Dortmunder’s glass and the phone rang. “There’s Iko now,” Kelp said, grinning, and went out to the kitchenette.

Dortmunder answered the phone and Iko’s voice said, “I have it.”

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Dortmunder said.

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