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Authors: Donald Westlake

The Hot Rock

BOOK: The Hot Rock
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Chapter 1
Dortmunder blew his nose. “Warden,” he said, “you don’t know how much I appreciate the personal attention you been paying me.” There wasn’t anything for him to do with the Kleenex, so he just held it balled up in his fist.

Warden Outes gave him a brisk smile, got up from behind his desk, walked around to Dortmunder’s side, patted him on the arm, and said, “It’s the ones I can save that give me the most pleasure.” He was a latter–day Civil Service type — college–trained, athletic, energetic, reformistic, idealistic, and chummy. Dortmunder hated him.

The warden said, “I’ll walk you to the gate, Dortmunder.”

“You don’t have to do that, Warden,” Dortmunder said. The Kleenex was cold and gooey against his palm.

“But it will give me pleasure,” the warden said. “To see you walk out that gate, and know you’ll never slip again, you’ll never be inside these walls again, and to know I had some small part in your rehabilitation, you can’t imagine how much pleasure that will give me.”

Dortmunder was feeling no pleasure at all. He’d sold his cell for three hundred bucks — having a hot water faucet that worked and a tunnel to the dispensary made it a bargain at the price — and the money was supposed to be passed to him on his way out. He couldn’t have taken it before then or it would have been found in the final shakedown. But how could it be delivered with the warden standing right next to him? He said, playing a little desperation ball, “Warden, it’s in this office that I’ve always seen you, in this office that I’ve listened to your —”

“Come along, Dortmunder,” the warden said. “We can talk on our way to the gate.”

So they went to the gate together. On the last lap, crossing the big yard, Dortmunder saw Creasey, the trusty with the three C’s, start in his direction and then abruptly stop. Creasey made a small gesture that meant,
There’s nothing to be done.

Dortmunder made a small gesture that meant,
God damn it to hell, I know there’s nothing to be done.

At the gate, the warden stuck his hand out and said, “Good luck, Dortmunder. May I say I hope I never see you again.” It was a joke, because he chuckled.

Dortmunder switched the Kleenex to his left hand. It was really full, it had seeped all over his palm. He took the warden’s hand and said, “I hope I never see you again either, Warden.” It wasn’t a joke, but he chuckled anyway.

The warden’s expression had suddenly become a bit glassy. “Yes,” he said. “Yes.”

Dortmunder turned away, and the warden looked down at his palm.

The big gate opened, Dortmunder stepped outside, the big gate closed. He was free, his debt to society was paid. He was also out three hundred fish,
God damn it.
He’d been counting on that dough. All he had was ten bucks and a train ticket.

Disgusted, he threw the Kleenex on the sidewalk. Littering.

Kelp saw Dortmunder walk out into the sunlight and then just stand there a minute, looking around. Kelp knew what that feeling was, the first minute of freedom, free air, free sun. He waited, not wanting to spoil Dortmunder’s pleasure, but when Dortmunder finally started to walk off along the sidewalk, Kelp started the engine and steered the long black car slowly down the street after him.

It was a pretty good car, a Cadillac with side curtains, Venetian blinds across the back window, air conditioning, a gizmo that would keep the car moving at any desired speed without having your foot on the gas, a gizmo that would switch down your high beams at night when another car was coming, all sorts of labor–saving devices. Kelp had picked it up last night down in New York. He’d preferred to drive up here today rather than take the train, so he’d gone shopping for a car last night, and he’d found this one on East 67th Street. It had MD plates and he always automatically checked those, because doctors tend to leave the keys in the car, and once again the medical profession had not disappointed him.

It didn’t have MD plates now, of course. The state hadn’t spent four years teaching him how to make license plates for nothing.

He glided along after Dortmunder now, the long black Caddy purring along, tires crunching the dirty pavement, and Kelp thought how surprised and pleased Dortmunder would be to see a friendly face the first thing on hitting the street. He was just about to hit the horn when Dortmunder suddenly spun around, looked at the silent black car with side curtains following him, got a panicky look on his face, and began to run like hell along the sidewalk, cowering against the gray prison wall.

There were four buttons on a control panel in the door, and they operated the four side windows of the Cadillac. The only trouble was, Kelp could never remember which button operated which window. He pushed a button and the right rear window slid down. “
” he shouted, hitting the accelerator, the Caddy leaping forward along the street. There was no one else in sight, only the black car and the running man. The prison wall loomed tall and gray, and across the street the small grimy houses were closed and silent, shades and drapes blinding their windows.

Kelp was veering all over the street, his attention distracted by his confusion over the window buttons. The left rear window rolled down, and he shouted Dortmunder’s name again, but Dortmunder still couldn’t hear him. His fingers found another button, pushed, and the right rear window rolled up again.

The Caddy jounced up over the curb, the tires slewed across the weedy space between curb and sidewalk, and then Kelp’s car was angling straight for Dortmunder, who turned, flattened his back against the wall, spread his arms out wide to both sides, and screamed like a banshee.

At the last second, Kelp hit the brakes. They were power brakes, and he hit them hard, and the Caddy stopped dead, bouncing Kelp off the steering wheel.

Dortmunder reached one shaky hand out and leaned on the Caddy’s quivering hood.

Kelp tried to get out of the car, but in his excitement he’d hit another button, the one that automatically locked all four doors. “
Damn doctors!
” Kelp cried, pushed every button in sight, and finally lunged from the car like a skin diver escaping from an octopus.

Dortmunder was still standing against the wall, leaning forward slightly, supporting himself with one hand on the car hood. He looked gray, and it wasn’t all prison pallor.

Kelp walked over to him. “What are you running for, Dortmunder?” he said. “It’s me, your old pal, Kelp.” He stuck his hand out.

Dortmunder hit him in the eye.

Chapter 2
“All you had to do was honk,” Dortmunder said. He was grousing because his knuckle was stinging where he’d skinned it on Kelp’s cheekbone. He put the knuckle in his mouth.

“I was going to,” Kelp said, “but things got kind of confused. But they’re okay now.”

They were on the express road to New York, the Caddy’s speed set at sixty–five miles an hour. Kelp had to keep one hand on the wheel and occasionally glance out front to see they were still on the road, but other than that the car was driving itself.

Dortmunder was feeling aggrieved. Three hundred bucks down the drain, scared out of his wits, almost run down by a damn fool in a Cadillac, and skinned his knuckle, all on the same day. “What do you want, anyway?” he said. “They give me a train ticket, I didn’t need no ride.”

“You need work, I bet,” Kelp said. “Unless you got something lined up.”

“I don’t have anything lined up,” Dortmunder said. Now that he thought about it, that irritated him too.

“Well, I got a sweetheart for you,” Kelp said. He was smiling all over his face.

Dortmunder decided to stop grousing. “All right,” he said. “I can listen. What’s the story?”

Kelp said, “Did you ever hear of a place called Talabwo?”

Dortmunder frowned. “Isn’t that one of those South Pacific islands?”

“Naw, it’s a country. In Africa.”

“I never heard of it,” Dortmunder said. “I heard of the Congo.”

“This is near there,” Kelp said. “I think it is.”

“Those countries are all too hot, aren’t they? I mean temperature hot.”

“Yeah, I guess they are,” Kelp said. “I don’t know, I never been.”

“I don’t think I’d want to go there,” Dortmunder said. “They got disease too. And they kill white people a lot.”

“Just nuns,” Kelp said. “But the job isn’t over there, it’s right here in the good old USA.”

“Oh.” Dortmunder sucked his knuckle, then said, “Then why talk about this other place?”


“Yeah, Talabwo. Why talk about it?”

“I’ll get to that,” Kelp said. “You ever hear of Akinzi?”

“He’s that doctor did that sex book,” Dortmunder said. “I wanted to get it out of the library in stir, but they had a twelve–year waiting list. I put my name on, just in case I got turned down for parole, but I never got the book. He’s dead, isn’t he?”

“That’s not what I’m talking about,” Kelp said. There was a truck moseying along in his lane, so Kelp had to do some driving for a minute. He steered into the other lane, went by the truck, and got back into his own lane again. Then he looked at Dortmunder and said, “I’m talking about a country. Another country. It’s called Akinzi.” He spelled it.

Dortmunder shook his head. “Is that in Africa too?”

“Oh, you heard of that one?”

“No, I didn’t,” Dortmunder said. “I just guessed.”

“Oh.” Kelp glanced at the highway. “Yeah, it’s another country in Africa,” he said. “There was this British colony there, and when it went independent there was trouble, because there were two big tribes in the country and they both wanted to run it, so they had a civil war and finally they decided to split into two countries. So that’s the two countries, Talabwo and Akinzi.”

“You know an awful lot about this stuff,” Dortmunder said.

“I got told about it,” Kelp said.

Dortmunder said, “But I don’t see any caper in it yet.”

“I’m coming to that,” Kelp said. “It seems that one of these tribes had this emerald, this jewel, and they used to pray to it like a god, and these days it’s their symbol. Like a mascot. Like the tomb of the unknown soldier, something like that.”

“An emerald?”

“It’s supposed to be worth half a million bucks,” Kelp said.

“That’s a lot,” Dortmunder said.

“Of course,” Kelp said, “you couldn’t fence a thing like that, it’s too well known. And it would cost too much.”

Dortmunder nodded. “I already thought of that,” he said. “When I thought what you were going to say was heist the emerald.”

“But that is what I’m going to say,” Kelp said, “That’s the caper, to heist the emerald.”

Dortmunder found himself getting irritable again. He took his pack of Camels out of his shirt pocket. “If we can’t fence it,” he said, “what the hell do we want to lift it for?”

“Because we’ve got a buyer,” Kelp said. “He’ll pay thirty thousand dollars a man to get the emerald.”

Dortmunder stuck a cigarette in his mouth and the pack in his pocket. “How many men?”

“We figure maybe five.”

“That’s a hundred fifty grand for a half–million–dollar stone. He’s getting a bargain.”

“We’re getting thirty grand each,” Kelp pointed out.

Dortmunder pushed in the cigarette lighter on the dashboard. “Who is this guy?” he said. “Some collector?”

“No. He’s the UN Ambassador from Talabwo.”

Dortmunder looked at Kelp. “He’s who?”

The cigarette lighter popped out of the dashboard and fell on the floor.

Kelp repeated himself.

Dortmunder picked up the cigarette lighter and lit his cigarette. “Explain,” he said.

“Sure,” Kelp said. “When the British colony split into two countries, Akinzi got the city where the emerald was being kept. But Talabwo is the country where the tribe is that always had the emerald. The UN sent in some people to referee the situation, and Akinzi paid some money for the emerald, but money isn’t the point. Talabwo wants the emerald.”

Dortmunder shook the cigarette lighter and flipped it out the window. He said, “Why don’t they go to war?”

“The two countries are even Stephen. They’re a pair of welter–weights, they’d ruin each other and nobody’d win.”

Dortmunder dragged on the cigarette, exhaled through his nose. “If we cop the emerald and give it to Talabwo,” he said, “why won’t Akinzi go to the UN and say, ‘Make them give us back our emerald’?” He sneezed.

“Talabwo won’t let on they got it,” Kelp said. “They don’t want to display it or anything, they just want to have it. It’s symbolic with them. Like those Scotchmen that stole the Stone of Scone a few years ago.”

“The who that did what?”

“It’s a thing that happened in England,” Kelp said. “Anyway, about this emerald heist. You interested?”

“Depends,” Dortmunder said. “Where’s the emerald kept at?”

“Right now,” Kelp said, “it’s in the Coliseum in New York. There’s this Pan–African display, all sorts of stuff from Africa, and the emerald’s part of the display from Akinzi.”

“So we’re supposed to swipe it from the Coliseum?”

“Not necessarily,” Kelp said. “The display’s going on tour in a couple weeks. It’ll be in a lot of different places, and it’ll travel by train and truck. We’ll get plenty of chances to get our hands on it.”

Dortmunder nodded. “All right,” he said. “We cop the emerald, we turn it over to this guy —”

“Iko,” Kelp said, pronouncing it eye–ko, accent on the first syllable.

Dortmunder frowned. “Isn’t that a Japanese camera?”

“No, it’s the name of the UN Ambassador from Talabwo. And if you’re interested in the job, that’s who we’re going to go see.”

Dortmunder said, “He knows I’m coming?”

“Sure,” Kelp said. “I told him what we needed was an organizer, a planner, and I told him Dortmunder was the best organizer in the business and if we were lucky we could get you to set things up for us. I didn’t tell him you were just finishing a stretch.”

“Good,” Dortmunder said.

BOOK: The Hot Rock
7.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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