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Authors: Donald E. Westlake

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BOOK: Good Behavior
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“He knows his stuff, Dortmunder,” Tiny said. “He maybe oughta live under a rock, but he knows his stuff.”

Dortmunder, still dubious, settled himself in his chair to watch. Several minutes of silence went by—punctuated at one point by May's departure from the apartment, shutting the front door a bit more emphatically than necessary—and then Howey shut the second book, evened them both on his lap, and said, “Well, this is the goods, okay. And it's guaranteed up-to-date, huh?”

“Yes,” said Dortmunder.

“Well, there's no problem here.” Howey cackled, and did a drumroll on the cover of the top book on his lap, and grinned at Tiny, saying, “If I could get ahold of a tomato the way I can get ahold of this building, whoa, boy, look out, Charlie!”

Tiny said, “Well, Dortmunder? What do you think?”

“I think we'll have to keep him away from the nun,” Dortmunder said.

Tiny shook his head. “
gonna keep away from the nun,” he said. “So Wilbur can stay with me.”

Howey tapped his fingers and danced his feet and grinned at everybody. “It's a nun got you all this stuff, huh?”

“That's right,” Dortmunder said.

“How'd she do it?”

“Beats me.”

“Huh,” Howey said, and bobbed his head, and clicked his tongue, and thought his own thoughts. “Must be a frisky little nun, huh? Huh?”


One of the nice things about being quiet most of the time is that after a while you become sort of invisible, too. Sister Mary Grace (née Elaine Gwen Ritter), small and slender, in flat-heeled soft-soled shoes, wafted through her apartment/prison like the ghost of a nun walled up in a medieval castle. Her large eyes saw everything, her delicate ears heard every word, and most of the time people didn't even know she was there.

Take the matter of the locks. The doors leading to the two stairwells were both armed with very sophisticated electronic locks, using not keys but computers, with a small pad like a Touch-Tone telephone's buttons, built into the wall beside each door. Hendrickson the deprogrammer, who lived down one flight on seventy-five, used one of those doors, and the guards, whose offices were in the Margrave Corporation space two flights down on seventy-four, used the other. Any number of times Sister Mary Grace had observed—while remaining herself unobserved—those doors being used, and she saw that what the guards and Hendrickson did was punch out a four-number code to unlock each door. Unfortunately, she could never get quite close enough to see
four numbers they punched out, nor in what sequence; that unobservant they weren't.

The possibilities were mathematically daunting. The ten buttons on the pad contained the numerals 0 through 9. There were one thousand six hundred possible combinations of any four of those numbers. With the dark-suit-and-necktie guards constantly roaming about, day and night, she would never have long enough to try every combination on one of those doors.

Then, one day in the kitchen, about a month after her imprisonment began, she thought of a possible solution to the problem. What if she could at least learn which four numbers were used, regardless of sequence? There are only twenty-four possible combinations of any specific four-number group, and
many variants she could easily try. And a little something in the kitchen told her how to find out which were the four numbers.

The little something was a spray can called Pam, containing a hydrogenated vegetable oil to be sprayed into frying pans in lieu of butter or other shortening. If you spray Pam onto a smooth surface and then wipe it off with a cloth, it leaves long skinny streaks behind, visible in the reflected light when you look at the surface at an angle. If you then touch your finger to that surface and lift the finger without sliding it, what you see when you study the surface at a sharp angle is little bubbles of Pam, raised and left behind by your fingertip.

Sister Mary Grace borrowed the Pam and brought along a paper towel, and sprayed the keypad beside Hendrickson's door, wiping off as much as she could, leaving those long streaks. She then suffered in silence another session of Hendrickson's deprogramming—at least this insufferable fat man had long since given up any reference to God, and now limited himself to discussions of her duty toward her insufferable father—and after he had at last departed she studied the buttons and on four of them clearly stood those bubbles: on 3, and 4, and 7, and 8.

3 - 4 - 7 - 8 . No.

3 - 7 - 4 - 8 . No.

3 - 7 - 8 - 4 . No.

3 - 4 - 8 - 7 . No.

3 - 8 - 4 - 7 . No.

3 - 8 - 7 - 4 . No.

4 - 3 - 7 - 8 . No.

4 - 7 - 3 - 8 . No.

4 - 7 - 8 - 3 . No.

4 - 3 - 8 - 7 . No.

4 - 8 - 3 - 7 . Yes!

The door opened. Propping it slightly ajar with a wad of balled-up Kleenex, just in case it became necessary to get back and the keypad on the other side of the door had a different combination, Sister Mary Grace tiptoed down the broad gray-painted metal stairs to the next floor, and there was the gray metal door to Hendrickson's apartment, with a keypad beside it. She tried 4 - 8 - 3 - 7, but it didn't work, so she went on down the stairs one more flight to the same closed and locked mesh screen gate that Dortmunder and Kelp would be studying two months later. This gate defeated her. She could see the hall door down on the landing, but if she were to shout, and if someone passing by were to hear her out there in the public hall, what were the chances of that someone being connected to the Margrave Corporation?


So she retreated from the mesh gate, as Dortmunder and Kelp would do later, and went back up to her apartment/prison on seventy-six, where she picked up the Pam again. Back down to seventy-five she went, and sprayed the keypad for Hendrickson's apartment door, and just to be a completist she sprayed the keypad on the outside of her own apartment/prison door as well.

By the next evening, she knew her own door was 4 - 8 - 3 - 7 on both sides, and Hendrickson's door used the numbers 2 - 5 - 8 - 9. After long trial, the right combination turned out to be 9 - 5 - 8 - 2, but then Hendrickson's door was
, from the inside! The only time it wouldn't be bolted was when Hendrickson was upstairs pestering her, when she'd be unable to get away and come down here. If he were in his own apartment, or anywhere out in the world (using the apartment's front door), this door would be bolted, from the inside, and impassable.

The guards' door was in much more frequent use, which made things trickier, but that was the only other alternative. The Pam trick got her through it, and down the narrow carpeted stairs with the wood-paneled walls, down two flights—there were only bare walls at the landing on seventy-five—to the back entrance to the Margrave Corporation. Pam again, and into Margrave.

Which was never empty.
. Sister Mary Grace sneaked down there over and over, day and night, risking exposure a dozen times, and it was permanently just no good. There were several offices she could prowl through more or less safely at night, but toward the front of the area there were always people on duty. Men sat at consoles and studied closed-circuit television screens. Men talked on phones. Men unlocked gun cabinets and took out guns or put guns away. Beyond all these men, just glimpsed, women staffed a reception area, day and night, facing the only exit to the public hall. It was impossible to get through.

One of the many reasons Sister Mary Grace needed to escape from this tower was that it was so filled with the occasions of sin. During her two verbal hours every Thursday afternoon, she constantly overstepped herself, committing sins of anger and disrespect, and in her head for the rest of the week she was frequently uncharitable, unforgiving and proud. But the worst was when she had finally accepted the fact that all her cleverness with the keypads had come to naught, that she had merely expanded her prison without escaping from it, and that the farther barriers were absolutely impassable; at that point, and for some time after, she was guilty of the deadly sin of despair.

It wasn't that she exactly contemplated suicide, although she did find herself asking God in her prayers why He didn't simplify matters by drawing her
to His Bosom. And she was, without noticing it, eating less and less, until poor Enriqueta Tomayo finally made such a fuss one day, carrying on and crying in two and a half languages (some Indian dialect got in there), that Sister Mary Grace gave up anorexia at once.

Giving up despair, however, took a little longer. She was trapped, probably forever, in a high tower, surrounded by people who did not and would not understand her and who were determined to turn her into something she could never be. She was the butterfly, and this was the rack, and they would eventually break her, but to no one's satisfaction.

She had always felt herself to be different, both from her siblings and from the rest of the world she knew. She didn't care about what the others cared about. She didn't want
. She didn't know what she did want until, when she was sixteen, she visited a sanatorium operated by nuns where her mother was “resting.” Asking about a separate building she'd noticed on the property, she was told that was where the cloistered members of the order lived, those who had renounced the world entirely and devoted themselves exclusively to contemplation of the All-Powerful.

Around Elaine's house, until then, the concept of all-powerful had meant only the Ritter family, personified by Frank Ritter himself. Her older brothers and sisters, great galumphing things, bowled one another over for the privilege of serving this ideal. But was there a better ideal? Was there a better way to spend one's only transit here on Earth?

She sought counsel and instruction, and bided her time. Six years it had taken to be sure of her vocation, to be sure she believed in God and loved God and wanted to serve Him contemplatively the rest of her life. Six years, in short, to be absolutely sure she wasn't merely running away from her father.

She was twenty-two, legally and allegedly an adult and capable of making her own decisions, when she went back to that sanatorium and applied to enter the cloister. But the order's rules were that service in the community came first; only after so many years would the cloister be open to her. Frank Ritter's daughter was a semi-public figure; if she were to break from the world it would have to be completely and all at once. And that led her to the Little Sisterhood of St. Filumena and the convent on Vestry Street from which, three months ago, on her biweekly turn to go to the neighborhood grocery store, she was kidnapped by her father's goons and locked away in this tower.

Why shouldn't she despair? But she fought against it, as she fought against Hendrickson and her father and every other target she could find, and at last the news had come from Mother Mary Forcible: a man named John would rescue her. Blessed John! Was there anything she could do to help?

Down in the Margrave Corporation, in one of the offices she could prowl at night, were the thick looseleaf books showing the tower's security systems. Would those help? Similar books, though empty, were in a supplies closet. She took the records, left the blank books in their place, and Enriqueta smuggled them out beneath her voluminous skirts. And now Sister Mary Grace waited, despair all gone, for Blessed John to appear.

On the surface, she was silent. But inside, she sang.


Dortmunder and Tiny Bulcher walked up Fifth Avenue together, the Avalon State Bank Tower rising up ahead of them, bleak and gray and stern. When they reached the tower, a green-uniformed man was washing the glass entry doors to the lobby. “That means rain,” Tiny said. “Never fails.”

They went on inside, and over to enter one of the 5–21 elevators, joining two Orientals in expensive black topcoats, holding attaché cases and talking together very earnestly in Japanese. They paused briefly to look at Tiny, and one of them muttered something that sounded like “Godzilla.” Then they went back to their conversation.

Tiny pushed the button for the seventh floor and said, “Now, remember. I don't know this bozo myself. Maybe it's no good.”

“So what did your friend say?”

“Nothing. Just told me to come see J.C. Taylor and said he'd phone ahead to set me up. But he acted a little funny.”

The elevator door closed. The two Japanese kept talking together, secure in their native tongue. Dortmunder said, “What kind of funny?”

Shrugging, Tiny said, “I don't know for sure. Just a feeling I had.”

“I don't want to walk into anything stupid.”

“No, no,” Tiny said. “This guy wouldn't do anything like that. People don't do humorous things to me, they know I don't appreciate it. I just had a little funny feeling, that's all, the way he talked.”

The elevator stopped at seven, and they stepped out to the hall. Behind them, the door slid closed and the Japanese gentlemen rode on up.

The office directory facing the elevators listed far more firms than were on the floors higher up. A ramshackle conglomeration of small companies had rented space on this non-prestige lower floor, leaving richer businesses to pay the higher rents that went with a higher address.

“Seven-twelve we want,” Tiny said. “Down this way.”

The corridor walls were dotted with doors showing obscure names on their doors. The door of room 712 listed three:

Super Star Music Co.
Allied Commissioners' Courses Inc.
Intertherapeutic Research Service

Dortmunder said, “Which one do we want?”

“J.C. Taylor, that's all I know.”

Tiny pushed open the door, and they stepped into a small cluttered receptionist's office. All the available wall space was taken up by floor-to-ceiling gray metal shelves, piled high with small brown cardboard cartons. A door in the opposite wall was marked with the one word
The receptionist, typing labels on an old black manual typewriter on a battered gray metal desk, was a hard-looking brunette of about thirty. She was wearing a pale blue blouse and tight black slacks over black boots. She glanced up when Dortmunder and Tiny walked in, looked back down at her work, finished the label she was typing, and swiveled from the typing side of her desk to the side with the telephone and the Rolodex and the clutter of correspondence and pencils and general trivia. “Good morning, gentlemen,” she said. She was brisk and efficient and in an apparent hurry to be rid of them, so she could get back to her typing. “What can I do for you?”

BOOK: Good Behavior
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