Read Watch Your Back Online

Authors: Donald Westlake

Watch Your Back (6 page)

Chapter 10
“If you don’t like the route I’m taking,” Murch’s Mom snarled at her only child, “why don’t you steal a car, find your
own
way to the O.J.? We’ll see who gets there first.”

“No matter who’s driving,” the ungrateful pup replied, “or how many cars we’re in, I wouldn’t try to drive up inside Central Park at ten o’clock at night in the summer. Do you
see
all these hansom cabs, all these horses crapping all over the place, all these tourists getting the experience of the
real
New York by riding around in a horse and buggy?”

“They’re not even
going
anywhere,” his Mom complained. Her right thumb hovered over the horn button but didn’t quite touch it.

“Sure they’re going someplace,” her son corrected, never agreeing with anybody. He shifted a little, trying to get his knees farther from the air conditioner wind here in the front seat of his mother’s cab, and said, “They’re going all around in a great big circle inside Central Park at, what, seven miles an hour? And back down to Fifty–ninth Street, and thank you very much, and
walk
back to the hotel and call Aunt Flo back home, guess what, we just had a real New York experience, forty minutes through Central Park behind a farting horse. Making
unwary
people late for their appointments.”

“It isn’t the
tourists
that bother me,” his Mom informed him. “It isn’t the
horses,
the
carriages.
It’s the cop on my tailpipe. Don’t look around!”

“Why not?” Stan asked, twisting all the way around to gaze at the patrol car that was, indeed, traveling so close behind their cab he could see a bit of spinach caught in its grill. “I can rubberneck just as well as anybody else out for a mosey through the park.” Facing front again, he said, “How did you let that happen?”

“I was committed to the turn into the park,” she said, “nobody behind me, and all of a sudden he was there. I think maybe he U–turned. Believe me, Stanley, I do not choose to be followed through the city of New York by a cop.”

“Bad luck,” Stan said, which was probably meant to make peace.

Accepting the offer, at least a little, his Mom said, “These horses and carriages and tourists aren’t going to get in my way, Stanley, not if I can use my horn. But with that cop behind me? They
love
to hassle the cabbies, especially when there’s tourists around to watch.”

“Well, here comes Seventy–second Street,” Stan said, “slower than I’ve ever seen it arrive before —”

“Enough.”

“When we do get outa the park, I think you oughta go —”

“I’ll pick my own route, Stanley.”

“Fine,” Stan said.

“Good.”

“You’re the driver.”

“That’s right.”

“The professional driver.”

“That’s right.”

“Years of experience behind the —”

“Shut up, Stanley.”

So he shut up, and when they finally got shut of the park, the horses, the tourists
and
the cop, he didn’t even tell her she was making a mistake when she took the right onto Central Park West. He didn’t mention that the better way was to run west past Amsterdam to Columbus,
then
make your right, so you’re on a one–way street with staggered lights, and to get back to Amsterdam it’s all right turns. No, fine, let her do it her way, up a two–way street, no staggered lights, and all left turns at the end of it. Great.

Eventually, though, they did get onto Amsterdam, but just as Murch’s Mom was pulling in next to the fire hydrant down the block from the O.J., out the door of the place came Dortmunder and Kelp, Dortmunder carrying a bottle. Surprised, Stan said, “The meeting’s over already? We can’t be
that
late.”

“Watch it, Stanley.”

“I’m only saying,” Stan said, and got out of the cab to say, “John? Andy? Whassup?”

Dortmunder gestured with the bottle. “Something screwy at the O.J.”

“What, it’s closed?”

“There’s some guys there,” Kelp said, “they seem to want privacy right now.”

Murch’s Mom, joining them on the sidewalk, said, “Closed for a private party?”

“Kinda,” Kelp said, and a horn sounded.

They turned to look, and Tiny was just buttoning open the rear window of a stretch limousine. Since he found regular taxis too form–fitting, Tiny tended to whistle up a limo when it was necessary to go somewhere. Now, window open, he said, “Everybody’s on the sidewalk.”

Dortmunder, walking toward him, said, “We can’t use the back room tonight, we gotta go somewhere else.”

Stan said, “Somewhere else? There isn’t anywhere else.”

Kelp said, “John, is May at the movies?” because usually that’s what she did when Dortmunder was out and about for one reason or another.

Lowering a suspicious brow, Dortmunder said, “So what?”

“So it looks,” Kelp said, “like we gotta convene at your place.”

“Why my place? Why not your place?”

“Anne Marie’s home, and she wouldn’t go for it, John.”

From the limo, Tiny said, “Josey wouldn’t go for it in spades.”

Stan said, “You don’t want to come all the way down to Canarsie,” that being where he and his Mom lived.

Dortmunder muttered and growled and scuffed his feet around. “I don’t see why everything’s gotta get screwed up.”

“John,” Kelp said, “it’s hot out here on the sidewalk. You got a nice air–conditioned living room.”

Stan called, “Tiny, we’ll meet you there. The rest of us will take Mom’s cab.”

“Done,” Tiny said, and spoke to his driver as he buttoned the window back up.

“Come on, John,” Kelp said. “You know it’s the only answer.”

“All right, all right,” Dortmunder said, still surly, but then he said, “At least I got this bottle.”

“Sure,” Kelp said. “Climb aboard.”

As they all did, Murch’s Mom said, “You know I gotta throw the meter, I wouldn’t wanna get stopped by a cop.”

“Fine,” Dortmunder said. “Stan can pay the fare.”

“No meter, Mom,” Stan said.

She sulked all the way downtown.

Chapter 11
Everybody hated Dortmunder’s living room. Dortmunder hated it himself, under the circumstances. They couldn’t sit all together around a table, everybody at the same height, the same distance from one another. There was nobody to bring drinks, and not that much variety of drink anyway. The only thing Tiny could find to mix with his vodka was cranberry juice, which was a comedown from the red wine he was used to. Stan and his Mom did have the beer they preferred to harder stuff when driving (and backseat driving), but neither of them liked Dortmunder’s salt shaker. “It comes out too fast!”

The first ten minutes were spent going back and forth to the kitchen, which was actually quite far from the living room, a fact Dortmunder had never noticed before. Finally, though, they all settled down, Dortmunder in his regular chair, Murch’s Mom in May’s regular chair, Tiny on much of the sofa with Kelp on the sliver of sofa that was left, and Stan on a wooden chair he’d brought from the kitchen.

“Now,” Tiny said, “I know we’re here because you people got something, but first I gotta know, what’s with the O.J.?”

Dortmunder said, “Rollo wouldn’t let us use the back room. He didn’t look happy.”

“He looked morose,” Kelp said.

Dortmunder nodded at him. “The very word I was thinking.”

“Also,” Kelp said, “the regulars weren’t saying anything.”

Stan said, “What? The loudmouths at the bar?”

“Not a peep,” Kelp told him. “They looked like they didn’t wanna attract attention.”

“That’s the only thing they
ever
want to attract,” Stan said, and his Mom said, “When Stan is right, he’s right,” and Stan said, “Thanks, Mom.”

“Also,” Dortmunder said, “there were two guys in the place, throwing their weight around.”

With a little purr in his voice, Tiny said, “Oh, yeah?”

Kelp said, “Those were mob guys, John. You could smell it on them.”

Tiny shook his head. “Mob guys in the O.J. Why don’t they stick to the Copacabana?”

Dortmunder said, “I think something’s going on in there that’s linked up with the mob.”

Kelp said, “You know how they like to kill one another in restaurants and bars? Maybe those guys were in there waiting for Mickey Banana Nose to walk in, and bang–bang.”

“Then I’d like them to get it over with,” Dortmunder said. “And not do any stray bullets into Rollo.”

“That could be why he was morose,” Kelp said, then held up the jelly glass into which he had poured from Dortmunder’s freebie bottle. “You know, John?” he said. “Not to badmouth your apartment, but this stuff doesn’t taste as good here as it does at the O.J.”

“I noticed that myself,” Dortmunder admitted. “I guess it doesn’t travel.”

Tiny said, “Whadawe gonna do about the O.J.?”

“Tomorrow afternoon,” Kelp told him, “John and me, we’ll go over, see what the story is, are they finished whatever they’re doing over there. Right, John?”

“Sure,” Dortmunder said. “Could we get to the actual topic now? The reason we’re here?”

“If I’m gonna get back to Canarsie before my bedtime,” Murch’s Mom said, “we better.”

“Good,” Dortmunder said. “This opportunity comes to us courtesy of Arnie Albright.”

“He’s off in rehab,” Stan said.

Dortmunder sighed. “No,” he said, “he’s back.” And he then related, with footnotes from Kelp, everything Arnie had said to them in his apartment.

When he finished, Stan said, “This elevator goes up the outside of the apartment building?”

“Right,” Dortmunder said. “And it’s only got doors at the top and bottom.”

“Something goes wrong up top,” Stan said, “that sounds like maybe you’re trapped.”

Kelp said, “Stan, that’s not the only way in and out. That’s the best way, for us. But the apartment’s got a front door, too, and a hall, and other elevators, and even staircases.”

Murch’s Mom said, “That part’s okay, Stanley. What I wonder about is this seventy percent.”

“That’s not natural,” Tiny said. “For a fence to take the light end of the seesaw.”

Murch’s Mom appealed to Dortmunder: “So what do you think, John? Did he mean it?”

“Well, in a way,” Dortmunder said. “I think he meant he was that mad at the guy owns the apartment. He’s still that mad at the guy, so that right now what he thinks he wants is revenge.”

“I agree,” Kelp said. “But this is before Arnie has paper money in his hand.”

“Green beats revenge,” Tiny said, “every time.”

“The thing is,” Stan said, “seventy percent of
what?
We give him, I dunno, a silver ashtray, he says I got a hundred bucks for it, here’s your seventy. Whadawe know what he got for it? He doesn’t deal with people where you’re gonna have invoices, receipts.”

“If Arnie ever saw a paper trail,” Dortmunder said, “he’d set fire to it.”

“So what it comes down to,” Murch’s Mom said, “we do the work, we take the risks, he gives us whatever he wants to give us.”

“Like always,” Kelp said. “It’s trust makes the world go round.”

“Tomorrow,” Tiny said, “I’ll go look at this place.” To Stan and his Mom he said, “You wanna be there?”

They looked at each other and both shook their heads. “We just drive,” Stan said. “You guys say it’s good, we’ll show up.”

“Right,” his Mom said.

“Fine.” Tiny looked at Dortmunder and Kelp. “You two are going to check on the O.J.?”

“That’s the plan,” Kelp said.

“So where do we meet after?”

“Not the O.J., I don’t think,” Dortmunder said. “Not until we know for sure what’s what.” He looked around his crowded living room. “And maybe not here.”

“It’s daytime,” Tiny said. “We’ll meet at the fountain in the park. Three o’clock?”

“Fine,” Dortmunder said, and they all heard the apartment door open. The others looked at their host, who stood and called, “May?”

“You’re home?”

May appeared in the doorway, gazed around the room, and said, “You’re all home.”

Everybody else got to their feet to say hello to May and get likewise back, and then she said, “How come you didn’t go to the O.J.?”

“It’s a long story,” Dortmunder said.

“We’ve all heard it,” Tiny said, moving toward the door. “Night, May. Three o’clock tomorrow, Dortmunder.”

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