Drowned Hopes - Donald E. Westlake - ebook
Opis

An old cellmate asks Dortmunder for help robbing a reservoir. In his day, Tom was a hard man. He came up with Dillinger in the 1930s, and pulled a lot of high-profile jobs before the state put him away. They meant it to be for good, but after twenty-three years the prisons are too crowded for seventy-year-old bank robbers, and so they let the old man go. Finally free, he heads straight for John Dortmunder's house. Long ago, Tom buried $700,000, and now he needs help digging it up. While he was inside, the government dammed a nearby river, creating a reservoir and putting fifty feet of water on top of his money. He wants to blow the dam, drown the villagers, and move to Acapulco. If Dortmunder wants a clean conscience to go along with his share, he needs to find a nice way to get the money before Tom's nasty instincts get the best of both of them.

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Contents

Cover

About the Book

About the Author

Title Page

Copyright Page

FIRST DOWN

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

FIVE

SIX

SEVEN

EIGHT

NINE

TEN

ELEVEN

TWELVE

THIRTEEN

FOURTEEN

FIFTEEN

SIXTEEN

SEVENTEEN

EIGHTEEN

NINETEEN

TWENTY

TWENTY-ONE

TWENTY-TWO

TWENTY-THREE

TWENTY-FOUR

TWENTY-FIVE

TWENTY-SIX

TWENTY-SEVEN

TWENTY-EIGHT

TWENTY-NINE

SECOND DOWN

THIRTY

THIRTY-ONE

THIRTY-TWO

THIRTY-THREE

THIRTY-FOUR

THIRTY-FIVE

THIRTY-SIX

THIRTY-SEVEN

THIRTY-EIGHT

THIRTY-NINE

FORTY

FORTY-ONE

FORTY-TWO

FORTY-THREE

THIRD DOWN

FORTY-FOUR

FORTY-FIVE

FORTY-SIX

FORTY-SEVEN

FORTY-EIGHT

FORTY-NINE

FIFTY

FIFTY-ONE

FIFTY-TWO

FIFTY-THREE

FIFTY-FOUR

FIFTY-FIVE

FIFTY-SIX

FIFTY-SEVEN

FIFTY-EIGHT

FIFTY-NINE

SIXTY

FOURTH DOWN

SIXTY-ONE

SIXTY-TWO

SIXTY-THREE

SIXTY-FOUR

SIXTY-FIVE

SIXTY-SIX

SIXTY-SEVEN

SIXTY-EIGHT

SIXTY-NINE

SEVENTY

SEVENTY-ONE

SEVENTY-TWO

SEVENTY-THREE

SEVENTY-FOUR

SEVENTY-FIVE

SEVENTY-SIX

SEVENTY-SEVEN

FIFTH DOWN?

SEVENTY-EIGHT

Looking for more suspense?

Cover

Begin Reading

About the Book

An old cellmate asks Dortmunder for help robbing a reservoir.

In his day, Tom was a hard man. He came up with Dillinger in the 1930s, and pulled a lot of high-profile jobs before the state put him away. They meant it to be for good, but after twenty-three years the prisons are too crowded for seventy-year-old bank robbers, and so they let the old man go. Finally free, he heads straight for John Dortmunder’s house.

Long ago, Tom buried $700,000, and now he needs help digging it up. While he was inside, the government dammed a nearby river, creating a reservoir and putting fifty feet of water on top of his money. He wants to blow the dam, drown the villagers, and move to Acapulco. If Dortmunder wants a clean conscience to go along with his share, he needs to find a nice way to get the money before Tom’s nasty instincts get the best of both of them.

About the Author

Donald E. Westlake (1933-2008) was one of the most prolific and talented authors of American crime fiction. He began his career in the late 1950‘s, churning out novels for pulp houses - often writing as many as four novels a year under various pseudonyms - but soon began publishing under his own name. His most well-known characters were John Dortmunder, an unlucky thief, and a ruthless criminal named Parker. His writing earned him three Edgars and a Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America.

Drowned Hopes

Donald E. Westlake

 

BASTEI ENTERTAINMENT

 

Bastei Entertainment is an imprint of Bastei Lübbe AG

 

Copyright © 2015 by Bastei Lübbe AG, Schanzenstraße 6-20, 51063 Cologne, Germany

 

For the original edition:

Copyright © 2011 by The Mysterious Press, LLC, 58 Warren Street, New York, NY. U.S.A.

 

Copyright © 1972 by Donald E. Westlake

 

Project management: Lori Herber

Cover adaptation: Christin Wilhelm, www.grafic4u.de

Cover design by Mumtaz Mustafa

 

E-book production: Jouve Germany GmbH & Co. KG

 

ISBN 978-3-95859-647-4

 

www.bastei-entertainment.com

 

All rights reserved, including without limitation the right to reproduce this e-book or any portion thereof in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the publisher.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

FIRSTDOWN

ONE

As gray dawn crawled over the city, Dortmunder went home to find May still up, dressed in a baggy sweater and green plaid slacks. She came out of the living room into the hall when she heard him open the door, but instead of asking, as she usually did, “How’d it go?” she said, sounding nervous but relieved, “You’re back.”

He answered the usual question anyway, being tired and out of sorts and not at his most observant. “Not so good,” he said, opening the closet door. With slow and tired motions, he took tools from the many inside and outside pockets of his black jacket, placing them with muffled clanks on the closet shelf. “The jeweler’s gone, moved to Rhinebeck; there’s a pasta restaurant in there now. The antique guy’s switched to Disney collectibles. And the check-cashing place got a dog.” Taking his jacket off, he held it up and looked at the new ragged tear at the bottom in the back. “Mean goddamn dog,” he said.

“John,” May said. She sounded tense. Her left hand pretend-smoked, fiddling with an imaginary cigarette, flicking ghost ashes on the floor, something she hadn’t done since just after she’d quit.

But Dortmunder was full of his own problems. Hanging up his torn jacket, he said, “It’s almost enough to make you rethink a life of crime. I did get a little, though, after I locked the dog out and he ran away.” He began pulling crumpled money from inside his shirt, putting it on the hall table.

“John,” May said, her eyes very round and white, “there’s somebody here.”

He paused, hand over the money. “What?”

“He says—” May glanced at the doorway to the living room, apprehension and mistrust defining her features. “He says he’s an old friend of yours.”

“Who does?”

“This man.”

“Al?” The voice, hoarse and ragged but somehow self-confident, came from the living room. “Is that you, Al?”

Dortmunder looked bewildered, and then startled. “No,” he said.

A man appeared in the living room doorway. He was as gray and cold as the dawn outside, a thin gristly bony old guy of just over six feet tall, dressed in a gray windbreaker over a faded blue workshirt, and baggy gray pants and black worn shoes. He had a craggy rectangular head sitting up on top of his stony body like a log redan full of guards. His eyes were bleak, cheeks ravaged, brow furrowed, hair gray and thin and dead and hanging down over his large leathery ears. “Hello, Al,” he said, and when he spoke his lips didn’t move; but what ventriloquist would use this for an alter ego? “How you doin, Al,” the hoarse gray voice said through the unmoving lips. “Long time no see.”

“Well, I’ll be goddamned,” Dortmunder said. “They let you out.”

TWO

The gray man made a sound that might have been meant for a laugh. “A surprise, huh?” he said. “Surprised me, too.”

May said, “So you do know him.” She sounded as though she wasn’t sure whether that was good news or bad news.

“Tom and I were inside together,” Dortmunder told her, unwillingly. “We were cellmates for a while.”

The gray man, who looked too flinty and stringy and knotted to be named anything as simple and friendly as Tom, made that laugh sound again, and said, “Cellmates. Pals. Right, Al? Thrown together by the vagaries of fortune, right?”

“That’s right,” Dortmunder said.

“Why don’t we sit in the living room,” Tom suggested, his lips a thin straight line. “My coffee’s gettin cold in there.”

“Sure,” Dortmunder said.

Tom turned away, going back into the living room, walking rigid, like a man who’s been broken and then put back together a little wrong, using too much Krazy Glue. Behind his stiff back, May waggled eyebrows and shoulders and fingers at Dortmunder, asking, Who is this person, why is he in my house, what’s going on, when will it end? and Dortmunder shrugged ears and elbows and the corners of his mouth, answering, Idon’t know what’s going on, I don’t know if this is some kind of trouble or not, we’ll just have to wait and see. Then they followed Tom into the living room.

Tom sat on the better easy chair, the one that hadn’t sagged all the way to the floor, while Dortmunder and May took the sofa, sitting facing Tom with the look of a couple who’ve just been asked to think seriously about life insurance. Tom sat on the edge of the chair, leaning forward, lifting his cup from the coffee table, sipping with deep concentration. He looked like the background figure in a Depression movie, a guy hunkered over a small fire in a hobo encampment. Dortmunder and May watched him warily, and when he put the cup down he leaned back and sighed faintly, and said, “That’s all I drink now. Lost my taste on the inside.”

Dortmunder said, “How long were you in, Tom, all in all?”

“All in all?” Tom made that sound again. “All my life, all in all. Twenty-three years, this last time. It was supposed to be for good, you know. I’m habitual.”

“I remember that about you,” Dortmunder said.

“Well, the answer is,” Tom said, “while I been eating regular meals and getting regular exercise and a good night’s sleep all these years on the inside, the world’s managed to get worse without me. Maybe I’m not the one they should of been protecting society from all along.”

“How do you mean, Tom?”

“The reason I’m out,” Tom said. “Inflation, plus budget cuts, plus the rising inmate population. All on its own, Al, without any help from yours truly, society has raised up a generation of inmates. Sloppy ones, too, Al, fourth-rates you and the wouldn’t use to hold the door open.”

“There is a lot of that around,” Dortmunder agreed.

“These are people,” Tom went on, “that don’t know a blueprint from a candy wrapper. And to pull a job with a plan? When these bozos take a step forward with the right foot, they have no really clear idea what they figure to do with the left.”

“They’re out there, all right,” Dortmunder said, nodding. “I see them sometimes, asleep on fire escapes, with their head on a television set. They do kinda muddy the water for the rest of us.”

“They take all the fun outta prison, I can tell you that,” Tom said. “And the worst of it is, their motivation’s no damn good. Now, Al, you and the know, if a man goes into a bank with a gun in his hand and says gimme the money and a five-minute start, there’s only two good reasons for it. Either his family’s poor and sick and needs an operation and shoes and schoolbooks and meat for dinner more than once a week, or the fella wants to take a lady friend to Miami and party. One or the other. Am I right?”

“That’s the usual way,” Dortmunder agreed. “Except it’s mostly Las Vegas now.”

“Well, these clowns can’t even get that much right,” Tom said. “The fact is, what they steal for is to feed their veins, and they go right on feeding their veins inside, they buy it off guards and trusties and visitors and each other and probly even the chaplain, but if you ask them why they ignored the career counselor and took up this life of crime for which they are so shit-poor fitted, they’ll tell you it’s political. They’ll tell you they’re the victims.”

Dortmunder nodded. “I’ve heard that one,” he said. “It’s useful in the sentencing sometimes, I think. And in the parole.”

“It’s a crock, Al,” Tom insisted.

Gently, Dortmunder said, “Tom, you and I’ve told the authorities a couple fibs in our time, too.”

“Okay,” Tom said. “Granted. Anyway, the result is, inflation makes it cost more to feed and house a fella in the pen in the manner to which we’ve all become accustomed, and budget cuts—Did you know, Al,” he interrupted himself, “that health-wise, long-term cons are the healthiest people in America?”

“I didn’t know that,” Dortmunder admitted.

“Well, it’s the truth,” Tom said. “It’s the regularity of the life, the lack of stress, the sameness of the food intake, the handiness of the free medical care, and the organized exercise program. Your lifers are the longest-lived people in the society. Any insurance company will tell you so.”

“Well,” Dortmunder said, “that must be some kind of consolation, I guess.”

“Yeah.” Tom made that laugh sound again. “Just knowing if you were out somewhere having fun you’d die sooner.” Tom slurped coffee without apparently opening his lips, and said, “So, anyway, with all of those things coming together, with its costing more to house the and feed me, plus you’ve got these budget cuts so they got less money to do this housing and feeding, plus you’ve got the entire male population between seventeen and twenty-six clamoring to come in to be housed and fed, the governor decided to give me a seventieth birthday present.” Grinning closed-mouthed at May, he said, “You wouldn’t think I was seventy, would you?”

“No, I wouldn’t,” May said.

“I look younger than Al here,” Tom told her.

May frowned at Dortmunder. “John,” she said, “why does he keep calling you Al? If you do really know him, and if he really knows you, and if you really lived in the same cell together, and if your name is John—and it is John—why does he call you Al?”

Tom made a sound that might have been meant for a chuckle. “It’s a kind of an inside joke between Al and me,” he said.

Dortmunder explained, “It’s Tom’s idea of comedy. He found out my middle name’s Archibald, and I don’t much love that name—”

“You hate it,” May said.

“It’s one of the worst things about being arrested,” Dortmunder said. “When they look at the and say, ‘John Archibald Dortmunder, you are under arrest,’ I always cave in right away, and that’s why.”

May said, “And when this man found out how much you hated that name, that’s what he decided to call you from then on?”

“That’s right,” Dortmunder said.

“And his idea of a nickname for Archibald is Al?”

“Right again,” Dortmunder said.

“Inside joke,” Tom said, and made the chuckle sound again.

“That,” May said, “is his idea of humor.”

“You’re beginning to get the picture,” Dortmunder told her.

“Al,” Tom said, “are you really close with this woman? I mean, can I talk in front of her?”

“Well, Tom,” Dortmunder said, “if you plan on talking much in front of me, you’ll be talking in front of May. I mean, that’s the way it is.”

“That’s okay,” Tom said. “I got no problem with that. I just wanted to be sure you were secure in your mind.”

Dortmunder said, “Tom, you want something.”

“Of course I want something,” Tom told him. “What do you think I am? You think I do reunions? You think I make my way around the country, drop in on old cellmates, cut up a lot of old jackpots? Al, do I look to you like a guy sends out Christmas cards?”

“Like I said, Tom,” Dortmunder answered patiently, “you’re here because you want something.”

“Yes,” Tom said. “I want something.”

“What?”

“Help,” Tom said simply.

“You mean money?” Dortmunder asked him, though he didn’t think that could be it. Tom Jimson was not a borrower type; he’d rather shoot you and rob the body than be reduced to begging.

“Well, it’s money in a way,” Tom said. “Let me explain, okay?”

“Go right ahead.”

“You see,” Tom said, “it’s like this. What I always did when I made a good-sized haul, I always stashed some or all of it, hid it somewhere so I’d have it if I needed it later on. I learned that when I was just a kid, from Dilly.”

May said, “Dilly?”

Dortmunder told her, “John Dillinger. Tom started out with Dillinger, and that’s what he called him.”

May said, “To his face?”

“Lady,” Tom said, “I never had a lot of trouble gettin my own way. I want to call this fella here Al, I call him Al. I wanted to call Dilly Dilly, that’s what I called him.”

“All right,” May said. The wary look in her eyes was on the increase.

“So anyway,” Tom said, “Dilly and I kind of come out together, in a way of speaking. What I mean, he got out of the pen in Indiana in ’thirty-three, and that’s when I was just gettin started myself. I was fourteen. I learned a lot from Dilly that year, before he pulled that fake death of his, and one of the things I learned was, always stash some of it away for a rainy day.”

“I remember that,” Dortmunder said. “I remember, while we were cellmates, every once in a while you had to tell some lawyer where another of those stashes was so he could go dig it up and pay himself what you owed him.”

“Lawyers,” Tom said, his voice rasping more than usual, and his lips moved slightly, just enough to give a glimpse of small, white, sharp-looking teeth. “They got their hands on a lot of my stashes over the years,” he admitted, “and they never gave me a thing for it all. But they didn’t get the big stash, and they weren’t going to. That one I held out, even from the lawyers. That one’s my retirement. There’s a place in Mexico I’m goin, way down below Acapulco on the west coast. That money’s gonna get me there, and once I’m there that money’s gonna keep me happy and healthy for a good long time. I’m gonna be an old man, Al, that’s the one ambition in life I got left.”

“Sounds good,” Dortmunder said, wondering why Tom didn’t just get on that southbound plane. Why come here? Why tell this story to Dortmunder? Where was the part he wasn’t going to like?

“What it was,” Tom was saying, “it was an armored car on the Thruway, taking money from Albany on down to New York. We had a nice clean hit, but then my partners ran into some trouble later on, and it wound up I had the whole seven hundred thousand.”

Dortmunder stared at him. “Dollars?”

“That’s what they were using back then,” Tom agreed. “Dollars. This was a year or two before I went up the last time. I was pretty flush, and what with one thing and another I didn’t have any partners to share the stuff with, so I got me a casket—”

“A box, you mean,” Dortmunder said.

“A casket, I mean,” Tom told him. “The best kind of box there is, Al, if you want to keep something safe. Airtight, watertight, steel-encased.”

“Sounds great,” Dortmunder said.

“It is,” Tom said. “And, you know, you can’t just go out and buy one of those. The company that makes them, they keep those babies under very tight control.”

Dortmunder frowned. “They do?”

“They do. See, they don’t want you to take it into your head to buy a box and stick old granny in it and shove her in a hole in the back yard. Free-lance burial, you see. The law doesn’t like that.”

“I suppose not,” Dortmunder said.

“So it happened,” Tom went on, “I happened to know this undertaker around that time. We did business together—”

Dortmunder and May exchanged a look.

“—and he slipped me a box out of his inventory. Sunny-side Casket Company’s best, and worth every penny of it. It’s a crime to waste those boxes on dead people.”

“Uh-huh,” Dortmunder said.

“There was a little town up there,” Tom went on, “not far from the Thruway. Called Putkin’s Corners. I went in there one night and went out behind the library to a spot where you couldn’t be seen from any windows where anybody lived, and I dug a hole four feet deep, and I shoved the casket in and covered it up, and I drove away, and nobody in the entire world—except now you two—ever knew I was ever in a town called Putkin’s Corners in my entire life.”

“And that’s what you need help with?” Dortmunder asked. “Getting that casket full of money back out of Putkin’s Corners?”

“That’s where I need help, all right,” Tom agreed.

“It doesn’t sound like it should be that much trouble,” Dortmunder assured him, thinking Tom meant that, now he was seventy years old, he wasn’t up to all the digging and lifting required.

But Tom shook his head, saying, “A little harder than you might think, Al. You see, about four years after I went up, a while before you come in to be my cellmate, the state of New York condemned all that land and houses and four villages up there, including Putkin’s Corners, and made everybody move away. And then the city of New York bought up all that land, and they threw a dam across partway down the valley, and they made themselves another reservoir for all you people down here.”

“Oh,” Dortmunder said.

“So that’s why I need help,” Tom explained. “Because as it stands right now, that stash of mine is under three feet of dirt and fifty feet of water.”

“Ah,” Dortmunder said. “Not easy.”

“Not impossible,” Tom said. “So here’s the deal I’d like to offer. You got a head on your shoulders, Al—”

“Thanks,” Dortmunder said.

“So you come into this with me,” Tom finished. “We get that box of mine out of Putkin’s Corners, you and me and whoever else it takes, and when we get it we split down the middle. Half for me, and half for you, and you share your half how you like with whoever else you bring in. Three hundred fifty thousand. I can live to be an old man on that much, especially down in Mexico. What do you say?”

“Interesting,” Dortmunder said, thinking he’d like to know more about the problems that had afflicted Tom’s partners in the original robbery, leaving him sole possessor of the seven hundred thousand dollars. But thinking also that at seventy Tom was probably not quite as dangerous as he’d been at forty-three or forty-four, when the robbery had taken place. And thinking beyond that to the amount of money itself, and the hassle he’d just gone through tonight for petty cash out of a check-cashing place with a bad-tempered dog. He didn’t know exactly how you went about digging up a casket from fifty feet down in the bottom of a reservoir, but let’s just say he had to bring in two or three other guys, say three other guys; that still left nearly a hundred thousand apiece. And there are no dogs in a reservoir.

Tom was saying, “Now, you probably want to get some sleep—”

“Yeah, I’m due,” Dortmunder admitted.

“So maybe this afternoon, early afternoon, we could drive on up and I could show you the place. It’s about two hours up from the city.”

“This afternoon?” Dortmunder echoed, thinking he’d like to sleep a little longer than that. The check-cashing place’s dog had kind of taken it out of him.

“Well, the sooner the better, you know,” Tom said.

May said, “John? Are you going to do this?”

Dortmunder knew that May had taken an aversion to Tom Jimson—most human beings did—but on the other hand there were all those advantages he’d just been thinking about, so he said, “I’ll take a look at it anyway, May, see how it seems.”

“If you think you should,” May said. The air around her words vibrated with all the other words she wasn’t saying.

“I’ll just take a look,” Dortmunder assured her, and faced Tom again to say, “Where are you staying now?”

“Well,” Tom said, “until I get my stash out of Putkin’s Corners, that sofa you’re sitting on’s about as good a place as any.”

“Ah,” Dortmunder said, while beside him May’s cheek-bones turned to concrete. “In that case,” Dortmunder said, “I guess we better drive up and take a look this afternoon.”

THREE

After the Thruway exit, the road took them through North Dudson, a very small town full of cars driven with extreme slowness by people who couldn’t decide whether or not they wanted to make a left turn. Dortmunder didn’t like being behind the wheel, anyway, and these indecisive locals weren’t improving his disposition much. In his universe, the driver drives—usually Stan Murch, sometimes Andy Kelp—while the specialists ride in back, oiling their pliers and wrapping black tape around their screwdrivers. Putting a specialist behind the wheel and making him drive through little towns hundreds of miles from the real city—well, tens of miles anyway, around a hundred of miles—meant that what you wound up with was a vehicle operated by someone who was both overqualified and nervous.

But the alternative, this time, was even worse. If Tom Jimson had ever known how to drive a car, and had ever cared enough about humanity to try to drive it in a nonlethal fashion, both the skill and the caring had disappeared completely in the course of his latest twenty-three-year visit inside. So Tom had rented the car—a rental, not even something borrowed from the street, another nervous-making element—and now Dortmunder was doing the driving, regardless.

At least the weather was good, April sun agleam on the white aluminum siding sheathed around all the quaint old houses that made North Dudson so scenic a place that a city boy could get a migraine just by looking at it. Particularly when he hadn’t had enough sleep. So Dortmunder concentrated on the few familiar reminders of civilization along the way—traffic lights, McDonald’s arches, Marlboro Man bill-boards—and just kept driving forward, knowing that sooner or later North Dudson would have to come to an end. Beside him, Tom looked around, smiled ironically without moving his lips, and said, “Well, this place is still the same piece of shit, anyway.”

“What do I do when I get out of town?”

“You keep driving,” Tom said.

A taco joint with a neon sign in its window advertising a German beer made in Texas was the last building in North Dudson, and then the fields and forests and farms took over. The road began to wobble and to climb, and here and there horses looked up from their grazing in rock-littered fields to give them the fish eye as they passed by.

About four miles out of town, Tom broke a fairly long silence by conversationally saying, “That was the road.”

Dortmunder slammed on the brakes, sluing to a stop on the highway and giving the old fart in the pickup truck tailgating him yet another infarction. “Where?” Dortmunder demanded, staring around, seeing no intersection, his question blotted out by the squawk of the pickup’s horn howling in outraged complaint as the truck swung on by and tore away down the road. “Where?” Dortmunder repeated.

“Back there,” Tom said, and gave him a look. “You can’t take it now,” he said. “Putkin’s Corners is gone, remember? That’s the whole problem here.”

“You mean the old road,” Dortmunder said. “Not any road I’m supposed to take now.”

“You can’t take it now,” Tom said. “It’s all overgrown. See it?”

Dortmunder still couldn’t see any road, so Tom must have been right about it being overgrown. “When you said, ‘That was the road,’” Dortmunder told him, “I thought you meant I was supposed to turn or something.”

“When you’re supposed to turn or something,” Tom said, “I’ll tell you so.”

“I thought you did tell me so,” Dortmunder explained.

“Well, I didn’t.”

“Well, it just sounded that way,” Dortmunder said, as a station wagon went by, yapping its horn at them for being stopped in the middle of the road. “When you said, ‘That was the road,’ it sounded like you meant that was the road.”

“It was the road. Twenty-three years ago it was the road.” Tom sounded snappish. “Now what it is is a lot of trees and bushes and hills.”

“It was just confusing, what you said, is all,” Dortmunder explained, as a big truck full of logs gave them the air horn on its way by.

Tom half turned to look full at Dortmunder. “I understand what you’re saying, Al,” he said. “So don’t say it anymore. Drive on, okay? I’m seventy years old. I don’t know how much longer I got.”

So Dortmunder drove on, and a mile or so later they came to a sign that said: ENTERING VILBURGTOWN COUNTY. “This is the county,” Tom said. “When they did the reservoir, they covered almost this whole county. There’s no towns left here at all. Putkin’s Corners was the county seat. There’s the road.”

A two-lane blacktop road went off to the right. Dortmunder nodded at it and kept going straight.

Tom said, “Hey!”

“What?”

“That was the road! What’s the matter with you?”

This time, Dortmunder pulled off onto the gravel verge before he stopped. Facing Tom, he said, “Do you mean I was supposed to turn there?”

“That’s what I said!” Tom was so agitated his lips were almost moving. “I told you, ‘There’s the road’!”

“The last time you told me ‘There’s the road,’” Dortmunder said icily, getting fed up with all this, “you didn’t mean ‘There’s the road,’ you meant something else. A history lesson or some goddamn thing.”

Tom sighed. He frowned at the dashboard. He polished the tip of his nose with a bent knuckle. Then he nodded. “Okay, Al,” he said. “We been outta touch with each other awhile. We just got to get used to communicating with each other again.”

“Probably so,” Dortmunder agreed, ready to meet his old cellmate halfway.

“So this time,” Tom said, “what I meant was, ‘Turn here.’ In fact, I’m sorry that isn’t the way I phrased myself.”

“It would have helped,” Dortmunder admitted.

“So I tell you what you do,” Tom said. “You turn around, and we go back, and we’ll try all over again and see how it comes out. Okay?”

“Good.”

Dortmunder looked both ways, made the U-turn, and Tom said, “Turn here.”

“I already knew that, Tom,” Dortmunder said, and made the turn onto the new road.

“I just wanted to practice saying it right.”

“I’m wondering,” Dortmunder said as they drove through the forest along the new road, “if that’s some more of your famous humor.”

“Maybe so,” Tom said, looking out the windshield, watching the road unwind toward them out of the woods. “Or maybe it’s concealed rage,” he said. “One time, inside, a shrink took a whack at me, and he told me I had a lot of concealed rage, so maybe that’s some of it, coming out in disguised form.”

Dortmunder, surprised, gave him a look. “You got concealed rage?” he asked. “On top of all the rage you show, you got more?”

“According to this shrink,” Tom said, and shrugged, saying, “But what do they know? Shrinks are crazy, anyway, that’s why they take the job. Slow down a little now, we’re getting close.”

On the right, the forest was interrupted by a dirt road marked NO ADMITTANCE—VILBURGTOWN RESERVOIR AUTHORITY, with a simple metal-pipe barrier blocking the way. A little later, there was another dirt road on the same side, with the same sign and the same pipe barrier, and a little after that a fence came marching at an angle out of the woods and then ran along next to the road; an eight-foot-high chain-link fence with two strands of barbed wire angling outward at the top.

Dortmunder said, “They put barbed wire around the reservoir?”

“They did,” Tom agreed.

“Isn’t that more security than most reservoirs get?” Dortmunder waved a hand vaguely. “I thought, most reservoirs, you could go there and fish and stuff.”

“Well, yeah,” Tom said. “But back then, the time they put this one in, it was a very revolutionary moment in American history, you know. You had all these environment freaks and antiwar freaks and antigovernment freaks and like that.…”

“Well, you still do.”

“But back then,” Tom said, “they were crazed. Blowing up college buildings and all this. And this reservoir became what you call your focal point of protest. You had these groups threatening that if this reservoir went in, they’d lace it with enough chemicals to blow every mind in New York City.”

“Gee, maybe they did,” Dortmunder said, thinking back to some people he knew down in the city.

“No, they didn’t,” Tom told him, “on account of this fence, and the cops on duty here, and the state law they passed to make this reservoir off limits to everybody.”

“But that was a long time ago,” Dortmunder objected. “Those chemicals are gone. The people that had them took them all themselves.”

“Al,” Tom said, “have you ever seen any government give up control, once they got it? Here’s the fence, here’s the cops, here’s the state law says everybody keep out, here’s the jobto be done. So they do it. Otherwise, they wouldn’t feel right taking their paycheck every week.”

“Okay,” Dortmunder said. “Complicates things for you and me, but okay.”

“Not a real complication,” Tom said, but unfortunately at that point it didn’t occur to Dortmunder to follow through and ask him what he meant by that.

Besides, here came the reservoir. The fence continued on, and through it water gleamed. A great big lake appeared, smiling placidly in the afternoon sun, winking and rippling when little playful breezes skipped over it. Pine trees and oaks and maples and birch trees surrounded the reservoir, growing right down to the water’s edge. There were no houses around it, no boats on it, no people in sight anywhere. And the road ran right along beside it. On the other side of the road, past another fence, was a big drop-off, the land falling away to a deep valley far below.

“Stop along here somewheres,” Tom said.

There was a very narrow shoulder here, and then the fence. If Dortmunder pulled right up against the fence, Tom wouldn’t be able to open his door, and anyway the car would still be partly on the road. But there hadn’t been any traffic at all along this secondary road, so Dortmunder didn’t worry about it and just stopped where they were, and Tom said, “Good,” and got out, leaving his door open.

Dortmunder left the engine running, and also climbed out onto cement roadway, but shut his door against the possibility of traffic. He walked around the car and stood beside the fence with Tom, looking out at the serene water. Tom stuck his gnarly old tree-twig finger through the fence, pointing as he said, “Putkin’s Corners was right about there. Right about out there.”

“Be tough to get to,” Dortmunder commented.

“Just a little muddy, is all,” Tom said.

Dortmunder looked around. “Where’s the dam?”

Tom gave him a disbelieving look. “The dam? Where’s the dam? This is the dam. You’re standing on the dam.”

“I am?” Dortmunder looked left and right, and saw how the road came out of the woods behind them and then swung off in a long gentle curve, with the reservoir outside the curve on the right and the valley inside the curve on the left, all the way around to another hillside full of trees way over there, where it disappeared again in among the greenery. “This is the dam,” Dortmunder said, full of wonder. “And they put the road right on top of it.”

“Sure. What’d you think?”

“I didn’t expect it to be so big,” Dortmunder admitted. Being careful to look both ways, even though there had still been no traffic out here, Dortmunder crossed the road and looked down and saw how the dam also curved gently outward from top to bottom, its creamy gray concrete like a curtain that has billowed out slightly from a breeze blowing underneath. Beyond and below the concrete wall of the dam, a neat stream meandered away farther on down the valley, past a few farms, a village, another village, and at the far end of the valley what looked like a pretty big town, much bigger even than North Dudson. “So that,” Dortmunder said, pointing back toward the reservoir, “must have looked like this before they put the dam in.”

“If I’d known,” Tom said, “I would of buried the goddamn box in Dudson Center down there.”

Dortmunder looked again at the facade of the dam, and now he noticed the windows in it, in two long rows near the top. They were regular plate-glass windows like those in office buildings. He said, “Those are windows.”

“You’re right again,” Tom said.

“But—How come? Does a dam have an inside?”

“Sure it does,” Tom said. “They got their offices down in there, and all the controls for letting the water in and out and doing the purity tests and pumping it into the pipes to go down to the city. That’s all inside there.”

“I guess I just never thought about dams,” Dortmunder said. “Where I live and all, and in my line of work, things like dams don’t come up that often.”

“I had to learn about dams,” Tom said, “once the bastards flooded my money.”

“Yeah, well, then you got a personal stake,” Dortmunder agreed.

“And I studied this dam in particular,” Tom told him. Again pointing through fence, this time at an angle down toward the creamy gray curtain of the dam, he said, “And the best place to put the dynamite is there, and over there.”

Dortmunder stared at him. “Dynamite?”

“Sure dynamite,” Tom told him. “Whadaya think I got, nuclear devices? Dynamite is the tool at hand.”

“But—Why do you want to use dynamite?”

“To move the water out of the way,” Tom said, very slowly, as though explaining things to an idiot.

“Wait a minute,” Dortmunder said. “Wait a minute wait a minute wait a minute. Your idea here is, you’re gonna blow up the dam to drain all the water out, and then walk in and dig up the box of money?”

“What I figure,” Tom said, “the cops and all are gonna be pretty busy downstream, so we’ll have time to get in and out before anybody takes much of an interest.” Turning away to look across the road (and the dam) at the peaceful water in the sunshine, he said, “We’ll need some kind of all-terrain vehicle, though, I think. It’ll be pretty goddamn muddy down in there.”

Dortmunder said, “Tom, back up a bit, just back up here. You want to take all that water there, and move it over here.”

“Yes,” Tom said.

“You want to blow up this dam here, with the people inside it.”

“Well, you know,” Tom said, “if we give them the word ahead of time, they might get upset. They might want to get in our way, stop us, make problems for us or something.”

“How many people work down in there?” Dortmunder asked, pointing at the windows in the dam.

“At night? We’d have to make our move at night, of course,” Tom explained. “I figure, at night, seven or eight guys in there, maybe ten at the most.”

Dortmunder looked at the windows. He looked downstream at the farms and the villages and the town at the end of the valley, and he said, “That’s a lot of water in that reservoir, isn’t it?”

“Sure is,” Tom said.

“Everybody asleep down there,” Dortmunder said, musing, imagining it, “and here comes the water. That’s your idea.”

Tom looked through the chain-link fence at the peaceful valley. His gray cold eyes gleamed in his gray cold face. “Asleep in their beds,” he said. “Asleep in somebody’s beds anyway. You know who those people are?”

Dortmunder shook his head, watching that stony profile.

Tom said, “Nobodies. Family men hustlin for an extra dollar, an extra dime, sweatin all over their shirts, gettin nowhere. Women turnin fat. Kids turnin stupid. No difference between day and night because nobody’s goin anywhere anyway. Miserable little small-town people with their miserable little small-town dreams.” The lips moved in what might have been a smile. “A flood,” he said. “Most excitin thing ever happened to them, am I right?”

“No, Tom,” Dortmunder said.

“No?” Tom asked, misunderstanding. “You think there’s a lot of excitement down there? Senior proms, bankruptcy auctions, Fourth of July parades, gang bangs, all that kind of thing? That what you think?”

“I think you can’t blow up the dam, Tom,” Dortmunder said. “I think you can’t drown a whole lot of people—hundreds and hundreds of people—in their beds, or in anybody’s beds, for seven hundred thousand dollars.”

“Three hundred fifty thousand,” Tom corrected. “Half of it is yours, Al. Yours and whoever else you bring in on the caper.”

Dortmunder looked frankly at his old cellmate. “You’d really do that, Tom? You’d kill hundreds and hundreds of people for three hundred fifty thousand dollars?”

“I’d kill them at a dollar apiece,” Tom told him, “if it meant I could get outta this part of the world and get down to Mexico and move into my goddamn golden years of retirement.”

Dortmunder said, “Tom, maybe you were inside too long. You can’t do things like that, you know. You can’t go around killing hundreds and hundreds of people just like snapping your fingers.”

“It isn’t just like snapping my fingers, Al,” Tom said. “That’s the problem. If it was like snapping my fingers, I’d go do it myself and keep the whole seven hundred. If I learned anything on the inside, you know, it’s that I can’t be a loner anymore, not on something like this. Except at the very beginning, with Dilly and Baby and them, I was always a loner, you know, all my life. That’s why I talked so much when we were together in the cell. Remember how I used to talk so much?”

“I don’t have to remember,” Dortmunder told him. “I’m listening to it.” But what he did remember was how odd he used to find it, back in the good old days in the cell, that a man who did so much talking was (a) famous as a loner, and (b) managed to get all those words out without once moving his lips.

“Well, the reason,” Tom went on, “the reason I’m such a blabbermouth is that I’m mostly alone. So when I got an ear nearby, I just naturally bend it. You see, Al,” Tom explained, and gestured at the sweet valley spread out defenseless below them, “those aren’t real people down there. Not like me. Not even like you.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. If I go hungry three, four days, you know, not one of those people down there is gonna get a bellyache. And when the water comes down on them some night pretty soon, I’m not gonna choke at all. I’m gonna be busy digging up my money.”

“No, Tom,” Dortmunder said. “I don’t care what you say, you just can’t do it. I’m not a real law-abiding citizen myself, but you go too far.”

“I just follow the logic, Al.”

“Well, I don’t,” Dortmunder told him. “I can’t do something like this. I can’t come out here and deliberately drown a whole lot of people in their beds, that’s all. I just can’t do it.”

Tom considered that, looking Dortmunder up and down, thinking it over, and finally he shrugged and said, “Okay. We’ll forget it, then.”

Dortmunder blinked. “We will?”

“Sure,” Tom said. “You’re some kind of goodhearted guy, am I right, been reading the Reader’s Digest or something all these years, maybe you joined the Christophers on the inside, something like that. The point is, I’m not too good at reading other people—”

“I guess not,” Dortmunder said.

“Well, none of you are that real, you know,” Tom explained. “It’s hard to get you into focus. So I read you wrong, I made a mistake, wasted a couple of days. Sorry about that, Al, I wasted your time, too.”

“That’s okay,” Dortmunder said, with the awful feeling he was missing some sort of point here.

“So we’ll drive back to the city,” Tom said. “You ready?”

“Sure,” Dortmunder said. “Sorry, Tom, I just can’t.”

“S’okay,” Tom said, crossing the road, Dortmunder following.

They got into the car, and Dortmunder said, “Do I U-turn?”

“Nah,” Tom said, “go on across the dam and then there’s a left, and we’ll go down through the valley and back to the Thruway like that.”

“Okay, fine.”

They drove across the rest of the dam, Dortmunder continuing to have this faintly uneasy feeling about the calm, gray, silent, ancient maniac seated beside him, and at the far end of the dam was a small stone building that was probably the entry to the offices down below. Dortmunder slowed, looking at it, and saw a big bronze seal, and a sign reading CITY OF NEW YORK—DEPT. OF WATER SUPPLY—CITY PROPERTY,AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY. “City property?” Dortmunder asked. “This is part of New York City up here?”

“Sure,” Tom said. “All the city reservoirs belong to the city.”

A New York City police car was one of three vehicles parked beside the building. Dortmunder said, “They have city cops?”

“The way I understand it,” Tom said, “it’s not duty that’s given to the sharpest and the quickest. But don’t worry about it, Al, you wanted out and you’re out. Let the next guy worry about New York City cops.”

Dortmunder gave him a look, feeling a sudden lurch in his stomach. “The next guy?”

“Naturally.” Tom shrugged. “You weren’t the only guy on the list,” he explained equably. “The first guy, but not the only. So now I’ll just have to find somebody with a little less milk in his veins, that’s all.”

Dortmunder’s foot came off the gas. “Tom, you mean you’re still gonna do it?”

Tom, mildly surprised, spread his hands. “Do I have my three hundred fifty grand? Has something changed I don’t know about?”

Dortmunder said, “Tom, you can’t drown all those people.”

“Sure I can,” Tom said. “You’re the one can’t. Remember?”

“But—” Just beyond the stone building, with the reservoir still barely visible behind them and the forest starting again on both sides of the road, Dortmunder came to a stop, pulling off onto the gravel verge and saying, “Tom, no.”

Tom scowled, without moving his lips. “Al,” he said. “I hope you aren’t going to tell me what I can do and what I can’t do.”

“It isn’t that, Tom,” Dortmunder said, although in fact it was that, and realizing it, Dortmunder also realized how hopeless this all was. “It’s just,” he said, despairing even as he heard himself say it, “it’s just you can’t do that, that’s all.”

“I can,” Tom said, colder than ever. “And I will.” That bony finger pointed at Dortmunder’s nose. “And you are not gonna queer the deal for me, Al. You are not gonna call anybody and say, ‘Don’t sleep at home tonight if you wanna stay dry.’ Believe me, Al, you are not gonna screw me around. If I think there’s the slightest chance—”

“No, no, Tom,” Dortmunder said. “I wouldn’t rat on you, you know me better than that.”

“And you know me better than that.” Looking out his side window at forest, Tom said, “So what’s with the delay? How come we aren’t whippin along the highway, headin back to the city, so I can make the call on the second guy on my list?”

“Because,” Dortmunder said, and licked his lips, and looked back at the peaceful water sparkling in the sun. Peaceful killer water. “Because,” he said, “we don’t have to do it that way.”

Tom looked at him. “We?”

“I’m your guy, Tom,” Dortmunder said. “From the old days, and still today. We’ll do it, we’ll get the money. But we don’t have to drown anybody to do it, okay? We’ll do it some other way.”

“What other way?”

“I don’t know yet,” Dortmunder admitted. “But I just got here, Tom, I just came aboard this thing. Give me some time to look the situation over, think about it. Give me a couple weeks, okay?”

Tom gave him a skeptical look. “What are you gonna do?” he demanded. “Swim out with a shovel and dive and hold your breath?”

“I don’t know, Tom. Give me time to think about it. Okay?”

Tom thought it over. “A quieter way might be good,” he acknowledged. “If it could be done. Less runnin around afterward. Less chance of your massive manhunt.”

“That’s right,” Dortmunder said.

Tom looked back at the reservoir. “That’s fifty feet of water, you know.”

“I know, I know,” Dortmunder said. “Just give me a little time to consider the problem.”

Tom’s gray eyes shifted this way and that in his skull. He said, “I don’t know if I want to stay on your sofa that long.”

Oh. Dortmunder stared, agonized. The thought of May came into his mind but was firmly repressed, pushed down beneath the hundreds and hundreds of drowned people. “It’s a comfortable sofa, Tom,” he said, his throat closing on him as he said it but managing to get the words out just the same.

Tom took a deep breath. His lips actually twitched; a visible movement. Then, the lips rigid again, he said, “Okay, Al. I know you’re good at this stuff, that’s why I came to you first. You want to find another way to get down to the stash, go ahead.”

“Thank you, Tom,” Dortmunder said. Relief made his hands tremble on the wheel.

“Any time,” Tom told him.

“And in the meantime,” Dortmunder said, “no dynamite. Right?”

“For now,” Tom agreed.

FOUR

Joe the mailman came whistling down Myrtle Street in the bright sunshine, his tune blending with the songs of birds, the hiss of sprinklers, the far-off murmur of a lawn mower. “Myrtle!” shouted Edna Street, turning away from her regular spot in the upstairs front bedroom window. “Here comes the mailman!”

“I’ll get it, Mother!” Myrtle Street called, and went skipping down the well-polished mahogany staircase toward the front door. A pretty person of twenty-five—no longer really a pretty girl but somehow not quite a pretty woman either—Myrtle had lived most of her life in this old sprawling beautiful clapboard house here in Dudson Center, and was barely conscious anymore of the oddity of having the same name as her home address. At least some of the mail Joe would be bringing up onto the porch this afternoon would be addressed:

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