TOO MANY CROOKS

“DID YOU HEAR SOMETHING?” DORTMUNDER WHISPERED.

“The wind,” Kelp said.

Dortmunder twisted around in his seated position and deliberately shone the flashlight in the kneeling Kelp’s eyes. “What wind? We’re in a tunnel.”

“There’s underground rivers,” Kelp said, squinting, “so maybe there’s underground winds. Are you through the wall there?”

“Two more whacks,” Dortmunder told him. Relenting, he aimed the flashlight past Kelp back down the empty tunnel, a meandering, messy gullet, most of it less than three feet in diameter, wriggling its way through rocks and rubble and ancient middens, traversing 40 tough feet from the rear of the basement of the out-of-business shoe store to the wall of the bank on the corner. According to the maps Dortmunder had gotten from the water department by claiming to be with the sewer department, and the maps he’d gotten from the sewer department by claiming to be with the water department, just the other side of this wall was the bank’s main vault. Two more whacks and this large, irregular square of concrete that Dortmunder and Kelp had been scoring and scratching at for some time now would at last fall away onto the floor inside, and there would be the vault. Dortmunder gave it a whack.

Dortmunder gave it another whack.

The block of concrete fell onto the floor of the vault. “Oh, thank God,” somebody said.

What? Reluctant but unable to stop himself, Dortmunder dropped sledge and flashlight and leaned his head through the hole in the wall and looked around.

It was the vault, all right. And it was full of people.

A man in a suit stuck his hand out and grabbed Dortmunder’s and shook it while pulling him through the hole and on into the vault. “Great work, Officer,” he said. “The robbers are outside.”

Dortmunder had thought he and Kelp were the robbers. “They are?”

A round-faced woman in pants and a Buster Brown collar said, “Five of them. With machine guns.”

“Machine guns,” Dortmunder said.

A delivery kid wearing a mustache and an apron and carrying a flat cardboard carton containing four coffees, two decafs and a tea said, “We all hostages, mon. I gonna get fired.”

“How many of you are there?” the man in the suit asked, looking past Dortmunder at Kelp’s nervously smiling face.

“Just the two,” Dortmunder said, and watched helplessly as willing hands dragged Kelp through the hole and set him on his feet in the vault. It was really very full of hostages.

“I’m Kearney,” the man in the suit said. “I’m the bank manager, and I can’t tell you how glad I am to see you.”

Which was the first time any bank manager had said that to Dortmunder, who said, “Uh-huh, uh-huh,” and nodded, and then said, “I’m, uh, Officer Diddums, and this is Officer, uh, Kelly.”

Kearney, the bank manager, frowned. “Diddums, did you say?”

Dortmunder was furious with himself. Why did I call myself Diddums? Well, I didn’t know I was going to need an alias inside a bank vault, did I? Aloud, he said, “Uh-huh. Diddums. It’s Welsh.”

“Ah,” said Kearney. Then he frowned again and said, “You people aren’t even armed.”

“Well, no,” Dortmunder said. “We’re the, uh, the hostage-rescue team; we don’t want any shots fired, increase the risk for you, uh, civilians.”

“Very shrewd,” Kearney agreed.

Kelp, his eyes kind of glassy and his smile kind of fixed, said, “Well, folks, maybe we should leave here now, single file, just make your way in an orderly fashion through-“

“They’re coming!” hissed a stylish woman over by the vault door.

Everybody moved. It was amazing; everybody shifted at once. Some people moved to hide the new hole in the wall, some people moved to get farther away from the vault door and some people moved to get behind Dortmunder, who suddenly found himself the nearest person in the vault to that big, round, heavy metal door, which was easing massively and silently open.

It stopped halfway, and three men came in. They wore black ski masks and black leather jackets and black work pants and black shoes. They carried Uzi submachine guns at high port. Their eyes looked cold and hard, and their hands fidgeted on the metal of the guns, and their feet danced nervously, even when they were standing still. They looked as though anything at all might make them overreact.

“Shut up!” one of them yelled, though nobody’d been talking. He glared around at his guests and said, “Gotta have somebody to stand out front, see can the cops be trusted.” His eye, as Dortmunder had known it would, lit on Dortmunder. “You,” he said.

“Uh-huh,” Dortmunder said.

“What’s your name?”

Everybody in the vault had already heard him say it, so what choice did he have? “Diddums,” Dortmunder said.

The robber glared at Dortmunder through his ski mask. “Diddums?”

“It’s Welsh,” Dortmunder explained.

“Ah,” the robber said, and nodded. He gestured with the Uzi. “Outside, Diddums.”

Dortmunder stepped forward, glancing back over his shoulder at all the people looking at him, knowing every goddamn one of them was glad he wasn’t him-even Kelp, back there pretending to be four feet tall-and then Dortmunder stepped through the vault door, surrounded by all those nervous maniacs with machine guns, and went with them down a corridor flanked by desks and through a doorway to the main part of the bank, which was a mess.

The time at the moment, as the clock high on the wide wall confirmed, was 5:15 in the afternoon. Everybody who worked at the bank should have gone home by now; that was the theory Dortmunder had been operating from. What must have happened was, just before closing time at three o’clock (Dortmunder and Kelp being already then in the tunnel, working hard, knowing nothing of events on the surface of the planet), these gaudy showboats had come into the bank waving their machine guns around.

And not just waving them, either. Lines of ragged punctures had been drawn across the walls and the Lucite upper panel of the tellers’ counter, like connect-the-dot puzzles. Wastebaskets and a potted Ficus had been overturned, but fortunately, there were no bodies lying around; none Dortmunder could see, anyway. The big plate-glass front windows had been shot out, and two more of the black-clad robbers were crouched down, one behind the OUR LOW LOAN RATES poster and the other behind the OUR HIGH IRA RATES poster, staring out at the street, from which came the sound of somebody talking loudly but indistinctly through a bullhorn. So what must have happened, they’d come in just before three, waving their guns, figuring a quick in and out, and some brownnose employee looking for advancement triggered the alarm, and now they had a stalemate hostage situation on their hands; and, of course, everybody in the world by now has seen Dog Day Afternoon and therefore knows that if the police get the drop on a robber in circumstances such as these circumstances right here, they’ll immediately shoot him dead, so now hostage negotiation is trickier than ever. This isn’t what I had in mind when I came to the bank, Dortmunder thought.

The boss robber prodded him along with the barrel of his Uzi, saying, “What’s your first name, Diddums?”

Please don’t say Dan, Dortmunder begged himself. Please, please, somehow, anyhow, manage not to say Dan. His mouth opened, “John,” he heard himself say, his brain having turned desperately in this emergency to that last resort, the truth, and he got weak-kneed with relief.

“OK, John, don’t faint on me,” the robber said. “This is very simple what you got to do here. The cops say they want to talk, just talk, nobody gets hurt. Fine. So you’re gonna step out in front of the bank and see do the cops shoot you.” “Ah,” Dortmunder said.

“No time like the present, huh, John?” the robber said, and poked him with the Uzi again.

“That kind of hurts,” Dortmunder said. “I apologize,” the robber said, hard-eyed. “Out.” One of the other robbers, eyes red with strain inside the black ski mask, leaned close to Dortmunder and yelled, “You wanna shot in the foot first? You wanna crawl out there?”

“I’m going,” Dortmunder told him. “See? Here I go.” The first robber, the comparatively calm one, said, “You go as far as the sidewalk, that’s all. You take one step off the curb, we blow your head off.”

“Got it,” Dortmunder assured him, and crunched across broken glass to the sagging-open door and looked out. Across the street was parked a line of buses, police cars, police trucks, all in blue and white with red gumdrops on top, and behind them moved a seething mass of armed cops. “Uh,” Dortmunder said. Turning back to the comparatively calm robber, he said, “You wouldn’t happen to have a white flag or anything like that, would you?”

The robber pressed the point of the Uzi to Dortmunder’s side. “Out,” he said.

“Right,” Dortmunder said. He faced front, put his hands way up in the air and stepped outside.

What a lot of attention he got. From behind all those blue-and-whites on the other side of the street, tense faces stared. On the rooftops of the red-brick tenements, in this neighborhood deep in the residential heart of Queens, sharpshooters began to familiarize themselves through their telescopic sights with the contours of Dortmunder’s furrowed brow. To left and right, the ends of the block were sealed off with buses parked nose to tailpipe, past which ambulances and jumpy white-coated medics could be seen. Everywhere, rifles and pistols jittered in nervous fingers. Adrenaline ran in the gutters.

“I’m not with theml” Dortmunder shouted, edging across the sidewalk, arms upraised, hoping this announcement wouldn’t upset the other bunch of armed hysterics behind him. For all he knew, they had a problem with rejection.

However, nothing happened behind him, and what happened out front was that a bullhorn appeared, resting on a police-car roof, and roared at him, “You a hostage?”

“I sure am!” yelled Dortmunder.

“What’s your name?”

Oh, not again, thought Dortmunder, but there was nothing for it. “Diddums,” he said.

“What?”

“Diddums!”

A brief pause: “Diddums?”

“It’s Welsh!”

“Ah.”

There was a little pause while whoever was operating the bullhorn conferred with his compatriots, and then the bullhorn said, “What’s the situation in there?”

What kind of question was that? “Well, uh,” Dortmunder said, and remembered to speak more loudly, and called, “kind of tense, actually.”

“Any of the hostages been harmed?”

“Uh-uh. No. Definitely not. This is a … this is a … nonviolent confrontation.” Dortmunder fervently hoped to establish that idea in everybody’s mind, particularly if he were going to be out here in the middle much longer. “Any change in the situation?”

Change? “Well,” Dortmunder answered, “I haven’t been in there that long, but it seems like-“

“Not that long? What’s the matter with you, Diddums? You’ve been in that bank over two hours now!”

“Oh, yeah!” Forgetting, Dortmunder lowered his arms and stepped forward to the curb. “That’s right!” he called. “Two hours! More than two hours! Been in there a long time!” “Step out here away from the bank!”

Dortmunder looked down and saw his toes hanging ten over the edge of the curb. Stepping back at a brisk pace, he called, “I’m not supposed to do that!”

“Listen, Diddums, I’ve got a lot of tense men and women over here. I’m telling you, step away from the bank!”

“The fellas inside,” Dortmunder explained, “they don’t want me to step off the curb. They said they’d, uh, well, they just don’t want me to do it.”

“Psst! Hey, Diddums!”

Dortmunder paid no attention to the voice calling from behind him. He was concentrating too hard on what was happening right now out front. Also, he wasn’t that used to the new name yet.

“Diddums!”

“Maybe you better put your hands up again.”

“Oh, yeah!” Dortmunder’s arms shot up like pistons blowing through an engine block. “There they are!”

“Diddums, goddamn it, do I have to shoot you to get you to pay attention?”

Arms dropping, Dortmunder spun around. “Sorry! I wasn’t- 1 was- Here I am!”

“Get those goddamn hands up!”

Dortmunder turned sideways, arms up so high his sides hurt. Peering sidelong to his right, he called to the crowd across the street, “Sirs, they’re talking to me inside now.” Then he peered sidelong to his left, saw the comparatively calm robber crouched beside the broken doorframe and looking less calm than before, and he said, “Here I am.”

“We’re gonna give them our demands now,” the robber said. “Through you.”

“That’s fine,” Dortmunder said. “That’s great. Only, you know, how come you don’t do it on the phone? I mean, the way it’s normally-“

The red-eyed robber, heedless of exposure to the sharpshooters across the street, shouldered furiously past the comparatively calm robber, who tried to restrain him as he yelled at Dortmunder, “You’re rubbing it in, are ya? OK, I made a mistake! I got excited and I shot up the switchboard! You want me to get excited again?”

“No, no!” Dortmunder cried, trying to hold his hands straight up in the air and defensively in front of his body at the same time. “I forgot! I just forgot!”

The other robbers all clustered around to grab the red-eyed robber, who seemed to be trying to point his Uzi in Dortmunder’s direction as he yelled, “I did it in front of everybody! I humiliated myself in front of everybody! And now you’re making fun of me!”

I forgotl I’m sorry!”

“You can’t forget that! Nobody’s ever gonna forget that!”

The three remaining robbers dragged the red-eyed robber back away from the doorway, talking to him, trying to soothe him, leaving Dortmunder and the comparatively calm robber to continue their conversation. “I’m sorry,” Dortmunder said. “I just forgot. I’ve been kind of distracted lately. Recently.”

“You’re playing with fire here, Diddums,” the robber said. “Now tell them they’re gonna get our demands.”

Dortmunder nodded, and turned his head the other way, and yelled, “They’re gonna tell you their demands now. I mean, I’m gonna tell you their demands. Their demands. Not my demands.

Their de-“

“We’re willing to listen, Diddums, only so long as none of the hostages

get hurt.”

“That’s good!” Dortmunder agreed, and turned his head the other way to tell the robber, “That’s reasonable, you know, that’s sensible, that’s a very good thing they’re saying.”

“Shut up,” the robber said.

“Right,” Dortmunder said.

The robber said, “First, we want the riflemen off the roofs.”

“Oh, so do I,” Dortmunder told him, and turned to shout, “They want the riflemen off the roofs!”

“What else?”

“What else?”

“And we want them to unblock that end of the street, the-what is it?-the north end.”

Dortmunder frowned straight ahead at the buses blocking the intersection. “Isn’t that east?” he asked.

“Whatever it is,” the robber said, getting impatient. “That end down there to the left.”

“OK.” Dortmunder turned his head and yelled, “They want you to unblock the east end of the street!” Since his hands were way up in the sky somewhere, he pointed with his chin.

“Isn’t that north?”

“I knew it was,” the robber said.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Dortmunder called. “That end down there to the left.”

“The right, you mean.”

“Yeah, that’s right. Your right, my left. Their left.”

“What else?”

Dortmunder sighed, and turned his head. “What else?”

The robber glared at him. “I can hear the bullhorn, Diddums. I can hear him say ‘What else?’ You don’t have to repeat everything he says. No more translations.”

“Right,” Dortmunder said. “Gotcha. No more translations.”

“We’ll want a car,” the robber told him. “A station wagon. We’re gonna take three hostages with us, so we want a big station wagon. And nobody follows us.”

“Gee,” Dortmunder said dubiously, “are you sure?”

The robber stared. “Am I sure?”

“Well, you know what they’ll do,” Dortmunder told him, lowering his voice so the other team across the street couldn’t hear him. “What they do in these situations, they fix a little radio transmitter under the car, so then they don’t have to follow you, exactly, but they know where you are.”

Impatient again, the robber said, “So you’ll tell them not to do that. No radio transmitters, or we kill the hostages.”

“Well, I suppose,” Dortmunder said doubtfully.

“What’s wrong now?” the robber demanded. “You’re too goddamn picky, Diddums; you’re just the messenger here. You think you know my job better than I do?”

I know I do, Dortmunder thought, but it didn’t seem a judicious thing to say aloud, so instead, he explained, “I just want things to go smooth, that’s all. I just don’t want bloodshed. And I was thinking, the New York City police, you know, well, they’ve got helicopters.”

“Damn,” the robber said. He crouched low to the littered floor, behind the broken doorframe, and brooded about his situation. Then he looked up at Dortmunder and said, “OK, Diddums, you’re so smart. What should we do?”

Dortmunder blinked. “You want me to figure out your getaway?”

“Put yourself in our position,” the robber suggested. “Think about it.”

Dortmunder nodded. Hands in the air, he gazed at the blocked intersection and put himself in the robbers’ position. “Hoo, boy,” he said. “You’re in a real mess.”

“We know that, Diddums.”

“Well,” Dortmunder said, “I tell you what maybe you could do. You make them give you one of those buses they’ve got down there blocking the street. They give you one of those buses right now, then you know they haven’t had time to put anything cute in it, like time-release tear-gas grenades or anyth-“

“Oh, my God,” the robber said. His black ski mask seemed to have paled slightly.

“Then you take all the hostages,” Dortmunder told him. “Everybody goes in the bus, and one of you people drives, and you go somewhere real crowded, like Times Square, say, and then you stop and make all the hostages get out and run.”

“Yeah?” the robber said. “What good does that do us?”

“Well,” Dortmunder said, “you drop the ski masks and the leather jackets and the guns, and you run, too. Twenty, thirty people all running away from the bus in different directions, in the middle of Times Square in rush hour, everybody losing themselves in the crowd. It might work.”

“Jeez, it might,” the robber said. “OK, go ahead and-What?”

“What?” Dortmunder echoed. He strained to look leftward, past the vertical column of his left arm. The boss robber was in excited conversation with one of his pals; not the red-eyed maniac, a different one. The boss robber shook his head and said, “Damn!” Then he looked up at Dortmunder. “Come back in here, Diddums,” he said.

Dortmunder said, “But don’t you want me to-“

“Come back in here!”

“Oh,” Dortmunder said. “Uh, I better tell them over there that I’m gonna move.”

“Make it fast,” the robber told him. “Don’t mess with me, Diddums. I’m in a bad mood right now.”

“OK.” Turning his head the other way, hating it that his back was toward this bad-mooded robber for even a second,

Dortmunder called, “They want me to go back into the bank now. Just for a minute.” Hands still up, he edged sideways across the sidewalk and through the gaping doorway, where the robbers laid hands on him and flung him back deeper into the bank.

He nearly lost his balance but saved himself against the sideways-lying pot of the tipped-over Ficus. When he turned around, all five of the robbers were lined up looking at him, their expressions intent, focused, almost hungry, like a row of cats looking in a fish-store window. “Uh,” Dortmunder said.

“He’s it now,” one of the robbers said.

Another robber said, “But they don’t know it.”

A third robber said, “They will soon.”

“They’ll know it when nobody gets on the bus,” the boss robber said, and shook his head at Dortmunder. “Sorry, Diddums. Your idea doesn’t work anymore.”

Dortmunder had to keep reminding himself that he wasn’t actually part of this string. “How come?” he asked.

Disgusted, one of the other robbers said, “The rest of the hostages got away, that’s how come.”

Wide-eyed, Dortmunder spoke without thinking: “The tunnel!”

All of a sudden, it got very quiet in the bank. The robbers were now looking at him like cats looking at a fish with no

window in the way. “The tunnel?” repeated the boss robber slowly. “You know about the tunnel?”

“Well, kind of,” Dortmunder admitted. “I mean, the guys digging it, they got there just before you came and took me away.”

“And you never mentioned it.”

“Well,” Dortmunder said, very uncomfortable, “I didn’t feel like I should.”

The red-eyed maniac lunged forward, waving that submachine gun again, yelling, “You’re the guy with the tunnel! It’s your tunnel!” And he pointed the shaking barrel of the Uzi at Dortmunder’s nose.

“Easy, easy!” the boss robber yelled. “This is our only hostage; don’t use him up!”

The red-eyed maniac reluctantly lowered the Uzi, but he turned to the others and announced, “Nobody’s gonna forget when I shot up the switchboard. Nobody’s ever gonna forget that. He wasn’t herel”

All of the robbers thought that over. Meantime, Dortmunder was thinking about his own position. He might be a hostage, but he wasn’t your normal hostage, because he was also a guy who had just dug a tunnel to a bank vault, and there were maybe 30 eyeball witnesses who could identify him. So it wasn’t enough to get away from these bank robbers; he was also going to have to get away from the police. Several thousand police.

So did that mean he was locked to these second-rate smash-and-grabbers? Was his own future really dependent on their getting out of this hole? Bad news, if true. Left to their own devices, these people couldn’t escape from a merry-go-round.

Dortmunder sighed. “OK,” he said. “The first thing we have to do is-“

“We?” the boss robber said. “Since when are you in this?”

“Since you dragged me in,” Dortmunder told him. “And the first thing we have to do is-“

The red-eyed maniac lunged at him again with the Uzi, shouting, “Don’t you tell us what to do! We know what to do!”

“I’m your only hostage,” Dortmunder reminded him. “Don’t use me up. Also, now that I’ve seen you people in action, I’m your only hope of getting out of here. So this time, listen to me. The first thing we have to do is close and lock the vault door.”

One of the robbers gave a scornful laugh. “The hostages are gone,” he said. “Didn’t you hear that part? Lock the vault door after the hostages are gone. Isn’t that some kind of old saying?” And he laughed and laughed.

Dortmunder looked at him. “It’s a two-way tunnel,” he said quietly.

The robbers stared at him. Then they all turned and ran toward the back of the bank. They all did.

They’re too excitable for this line of work, Dortmunder thought as he walked briskly toward the front of the bank. Clang went the vault door, far behind him, and Dortmunder stepped through the broken doorway and out again to the sidewalk, remembering to stick his arms straight up in the air as he did.

“Hi!” he yelled, sticking his face well out, displaying it for all the sharpshooters to get a really good look at. “Hi, it’s me again! Diddums! Welsh!”

“Diddums!” screamed an enraged voice from deep within the bank. “Come back here!”

Oh, no. Ignoring that, moving steadily but without panic, arms up, face forward, eyes wide, Dortmunder angled leftward across the sidewalk, shouting, “I’m coming out again! And I’m escapingl” And he dropped his arms, tucked his elbows in and ran hell for leather toward those blocking buses.

Gunfire encouraged him: a sudden burst behind him ddrrritt, ddrrritt, and then kopp-kopp-kopp, and then a whole symphony of fooms and thug-thugs and padapows. Dortmunder’s toes, turning into high-tension steel springs, kept him bounding through the air like the Wright brothers’ first airplane, swooping and plunging down the middle of the street, that wall of buses getting closer and closer.

“Here! In here!” Uniformed cops appeared on both sidewalks, waving to him, offering sanctuary in the forms of open doorways and police vehicles to crouch behind, but Dortmunder was escaping. From everything.

The buses. He launched himself through the air, hit the blacktop hard and rolled under the nearest bus. Roll, roll, roll, hitting his head and elbows and knees and ears and nose and various other parts of his body against any number of hard, dirty objects, and then he was past the bus and on his feet, staggering, staring at a lot of goggle-eyed medics hanging around beside their ambulances, who just stood there and gawked back.

Dortmunder turned left. Medics weren’t going to chase him; their franchise didn’t include healthy bodies running down the street. The cops couldn’t chase him until they’d moved their buses out of the way. Dortmunder took off like the last of the dodoes, flapping his arms, wishing he knew how to fly.

The out-of-business shoe store, the other terminus of the tunnel, passed on his left. The getaway car they’d parked in front of it was long gone, of course. Dortmunder kept thudding on, on, on.

Three blocks later, a gypsy cab committed a crime by picking him up even though he hadn’t phoned the dispatcher first; in the city of New York, only licensed medallion taxis are permitted to pick up customers who hail them on the street. Dortmunder, panting like a Saint Bernard on the lumpy back seat, decided not to turn the guy in.

His faithful companion May came out of the living room when Dortmunder opened the front door of his apartment and stepped into his hall. “There you are!” she said. “Thank goodness. It’s all over the radio and the television.”

“I may never leave the house again,” Dortmunder told her. “If Andy Kelp ever calls, says he’s got this great job, easy, piece of cake, I’ll just tell him I’ve retired.”

“Andy’s here,” May said. “In the living room. You want a beer?”

“Yes,” Dortmunder said simply.

May went away to the kitchen and Dortmunder limped into the living room, where Kelp was seated on the sofa holding a can of beer and looking happy. On the coffee table in front of him was a mountain of money.

Dortmunder stared. “What’s that?”

Kelp grinned and shook his head. “It’s been too long since we scored, John,” he said. “You don’t even recognize the stuff anymore. This is money.”

“But- From the vault? How?”

“After you were taken away by those other guys-they were caught, by the way,” Kelp interrupted himself, “without loss of life-anyway, I told everybody in the vault there, the way to keep the money safe from the robbers was we’d all carry it out with us. So we did. And then I decided what we should do is put it all in the trunk of my unmarked police car in front of the shoe store, so I could drive it to the precinct for safekeeping while they all went home to rest from their ordeal.”

Dortmunder looked at his friend. He said, “You got the hostages to carry the money from the vault.”

“And put it in our car,” Kelp said. “Yeah, that’s what I did.”

May came in and handed Dortmunder a beer. He drank deep, and Kelp said, “They’re looking for you, of course. Under that other name.”

May said, “That’s the one thing I don’t understand. Diddums?”

“It’s Welsh,” Dortmunder told her. Then he smiled upon the mountain of money on the coffee table. “It’s not a bad name,” he decided. “I may keep it.”

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