What's The Worst That Could Happen

BOOK: What's The Worst That Could Happen
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Chapter 1
From the circumstances, Dortmunder would say it was a missing–heir scam. It had begun a week ago, when a guy he knew slightly, a fella called A.K.A. because he operated under so many different names, phoned him and said, “Hey, John, it’s A.K.A. here, I’m wondering, you got the flu, something like that? We don’t see you around the regular place for a while.”

“Which regular place is that?” Dortmunder asked.

“Armweery’s.”

“Oh, yeah,” Dortmunder said. “Well, I been cuttin’ back. I might see you there sometime.”

Off the phone, Dortmunder looked up the address of Armweery’s and went there, and A.K.A. was at a booth in the back, under the LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS poster where some wag had blacked out most of the Jap’s teeth.

“What this is,” A.K.A. said, under his new mustache (this one was gingery, and so, at the moment, was his hair), “is a deposition. A week from Thursday, 10:00 A.M., this lawyer’s office in the Graybar Building. Take maybe an hour. You go in, they swear you, ask you some questions, that’s it.”

“Do I know the answers?”

“You will.”

“What’s in it for me?”

“Half a gee.”

Five hundred dollars for an hour’s work; not so bad.
If,
of course. Depending. Dortmunder said, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

A.K.A. shrugged. “They go looking for Fred Mullins out on Long Island.”

“Who’s he?”

“You.”

“Got it,” Dortmunder said.

“There’ll also be a lawyer on our side there,” A.K.A. told him. “I mean, the side of the guy that’s running this thing. The lawyer isn’t in on what’s going down, by him you
are
Fred Mullins, from Carrport, Long Island, so he’s just there to see the other side doesn’t stray from the program. And at the end of it, in the elevator, he gives you the envelope.”

“Sounds okay.”

“Easy as falling off a diet,” A.K.A. said, and handed him a manila envelope, which he took home and opened, to find it contained a whole story about one Fredric Albert Mullins and an entire family named Anadarko, all living on Red Tide Street out in Carrport between 1972 and 1985. Dortmunder diligently memorized it all, having his faithful companion May deposition him on the information every evening when she came home from the Safeway supermarket where she was a cashier. And then, on the following Wednesday, the day before his personal private show was to open, Dortmunder got another call from A.K.A., who said, “You know that car I was gonna buy?”

Uh oh. “Yeah?” Dortmunder said. “You were gonna pay five hundred for it, I remember.”

“Turns out, at the last minute,” A.K.A. said, “it’s a real lemon, got unexpected problems. In a word, it won’t run.”

“And the five hundred?”

“Well, you know, John,” A.K.A. said, “I’m not buying the car.”

Chapter 2
Which was why, that Thursday morning at ten, instead of being in a lawyer’s office in the Graybar Building in midtown Manhattan, just an elevator ride up from Grand Central Station (crossroads of the same four hundred thousand lives every day), talking about the Anadarko family of Carrport, Long Island, Dortmunder was at home, doing his best to clear his brain of all memory of Fred Mullins and his entire neighborhood. Which was why he was there to answer the doorbell when it rang at ten twenty–two that morning, to find a FedEx person standing in the hall there.

No FedEx person had ever before sought out Dortmunder, so he wasn’t exactly sure what was the protocol, but the person walked him through it, and the experience wasn’t hard at all.

What was being delivered was a Pak, which was a bright red–white–and–blue cardboard envelope with something inside it. The Pak was addressed to May Bellamy and came from a law firm somewhere in Ohio. Dortmunder knew May had family in Ohio, which was why she never went there, so he agreed to take the package, wrote “Ralph Bellamy” where the person wanted a signature, and then spent the rest of the day wondering what was in the Pak, which made for a fine distraction.

The result was, by the time May got home from the Safeway at 5:40 that afternoon Dortmunder couldn’t have told an Anadarko from an Annapolis graduate. “You got a Pak,” he said.

“I’ve got two entire bags. Here, carry one.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Dortmunder told her, accepting one of the two grocery bags containing May’s daily unofficial bonus to herself. He followed her to the kitchen, put the bag on the counter, pointed to the Pak on the table, and said, “It’s from Ohio. FedEx. It’s a Pak.”

“What’s in it?”

“No idea.”

May stood beside the table, frowning at the Pak, not yet touching it. “It’s from Cincinnati,” she announced.

“I noticed that.”

“From some lawyers there.”

“Saw that, too. It came this morning, a little before ten–thirty.”

“That’s what they say they do,” May agreed, “deliver everything by ten–thirty in the morning. I don’t know what they do, the rest of the day.”

“May,” Dortmunder said, “are you going to open that thing?”

“Well, I don’t know,” she said. “If I do, do you think I’m liable for something?”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know. Lawyers,” she explained.

“Open it,” Dortmunder suggested, “and if it’s some kind of problem, we’ll both lie, we’ll say we never got it.”

“Did you have to sign for it or anything?”

“Sure.”

May looked at him, and finally understood. “Okay,” she said, and picked the thing up. With hardly any hesitation at all, she pulled the tab along the top, reached inside, and withdrew a folded sheet of top–quality letterhead stationery and a small box, such as earrings might come in, or a kidnap victim’s finger.

Putting down the Pak and the box, May opened the letter, read it, and silently passed it to Dortmunder, who looked at the five legal names and the important–looking address all in thick black across the top of the heavy expensive sheet of paper. There was also a whole string of names running down the left side, and then the typing: A heading to “Ms. May Bellamy” at this apartment in this building on East Nineteenth Street, New York, New York, 10003, and:

Dear Ms. Bellamy:
We represent the estate of the late Gideon Gilbert Goodwin, sanguinely related to yourself. The deceased having passed away on April 1st inst., intestate except for a holograph letter to his niece June Havershaw, dated February 28, inst., requesting of her that she distribute his worldly goods to family members upon his demise as she saw fit, and Ms. Havershaw having come to the conclusion that you, her sister and therefore also a niece of the decedent, should receive the enclosed from among the late G.G. Goodwin’s effects, we are pleased to forward to you the late Mr. Goodwin’s “lucky ring,” which he considered one of his most prized possessions, and which Ms. Havershaw felt you would most appreciate for its sentimental value.
Further enquiries on this matter should be directed directly to Ms. Havershaw, the executrix of the G.G. Goodwin estate.
With warmest regards,
Jethro Tulley

“G.G. Goodwin,” Dortmunder said.

“I remember him,” May said. “At least, I think I do. He’s the one smelled like horse manure, I think. He was out at the track all the time.”

“You weren’t all that close to him, I guess.”

“I didn’t want to be, the way I remember it.”

“Your sister was closer to him.”

“June always sucked up the grown–ups,” May said. “She didn’t care
what
they smelled like.”

“Out to the track a lot, you say,” Dortmunder said.

“He was a horseplayer, that’s right.”

“And yet, he didn’t die broke. I notice your sister sent you the stuff with the sentimental value.”

“Uncle Gid wouldn’t have left much,” May said. “He was also married a lot of times. Women he met out at the track.”

“I’m surprised he had anything at all, then. What’s this ring look like?”

“How do I know?” Shrugging, May said, “It’s still in the box, isn’t it?”

“You mean, you don’t remember it?” Dortmunder was baffled. “I figured, sentimental and all, there was some connection between you and this ring.”

“Not that
I
know of,” May said. “Well, let’s have a look.”

The box wasn’t wrapped or sealed or anything; it was just a black box with a spring inside to keep the lid shut. May opened it, and they both looked in at a cloud of white cotton. She shook the box, and something in it thumped, so she turned it upside down over the table and the cotton fell out, and so, separately, did the something that thumped.

A ring, as advertised. It was gold–looking but it wasn’t gold, so it was probably brass at best. The top was a flat five–sided shape, like the shield around Superman’s big
S
on his uniform chest. Instead of an
S,
though, the ring displayed on its flat surface three thin lines of tiny stones — chips, really — that were diamondy looking, but were not diamonds, so they were probably glass. At best. The top line was discontinuous, with a blank section in the middle, while the other two were complete. It looked like:

Dortmunder said, “Which sentiment exactly does this represent?”

“No idea,” May said. She slipped the ring onto the middle finger of her left hand, then held that hand with fingers downward over her right palm, and the ring fell into the palm. “I wonder if he found it in a cereal box.”

“That was the lucky part,” Dortmunder suggested.

“The whole purpose of sending me this,” May said, as she slipped the ring onto the middle finger of her right hand, “is that June wants
me
to call
her.

“Are you going to?”

May held her right hand over her left palm, fingers downward. The ring fell into the palm. “Not a chance,” she said. “In fact, I’m not even going to answer the phone for a while.” Turning the ring this way and that in her fingers, she said, “But it isn’t a bad–looking thing, really.”

“No, it’s kind of restrained,” Dortmunder agreed. “You don’t expect that in a horseplayer.”

“Well, it doesn’t fit
me,
” she said, and extended a hand toward Dortmunder, the ring lying in the palm. “Try it.”

“It’s yours,” Dortmunder objected. “Your uncle G.G. didn’t send it to
me.

“But it doesn’t fit. And, John, you know … Umm. How do I phrase this?”

“Beats me,” Dortmunder said. He had the feeling he wasn’t going to like what came next no matter how she phrased it.

“You could use a little luck,” May said.

“Come on, May.”

“Skill you’ve got,” she hastened to assure him. “Adaptability you’ve got, professionalism you’ve got, good competent partners you’ve got. Luck you could use a little. Try it on.”

So he tried it on, sliding it onto the ring finger of his right hand — a ring of any kind on the ring finger of his left hand could only remind him of his unfortunate marriage (and subsequent fortunate divorce) many years ago to and from a nightclub entertainer in San Diego who operated under the professional name of Honeybun Bazoom and who had not been at
all
like May — and it fit.

The ring fit perfectly. Dortmunder let his right arm hang at his side, fingers loose and dangling downward as he flapped his hand a little, but the ring stayed right where he’d put it, snug but not tight. It felt kind of good, in fact. “Huh,” he said.

“So there you are,” she said. “Your lucky ring.”

“Thanks, May,” Dortmunder said, and the phone rang.

May gave it a look. “There’s June now,” she said. “Wondering did I get the package, do I love the ring, do I remember the good old days.”

“I’ll take it,” Dortmunder offered. “You aren’t here, but I’ll take a message.”

“Perfect.”

But of course this didn’t necessarily have to be May’s sister calling, so Dortmunder answered the phone in his normal fashion, frowning massively as he said into the thing, with deep suspicion, “Hello?”

“John. Gus. You wanna make a little visit?”

Dortmunder smiled, so May would know it wasn’t her sister on the phone, and also because what he had just heard was easily translated:
Gus
was Gus Brock, a longtime associate in this and that, over the years, from time to time. A
visit
meant a visit to a place where nobody was home but you didn’t leave empty–handed. “Sounds possible,” he said, but then caution returned, as he remembered that Gus had described it as a
little
visit. “How little?”

“Little trouble,” Gus said.

“Ah.” That was better. “Where?”

“A little town out on Long Island you never heard of, called Carrport.”

“Now there’s a coincidence,” Dortmunder said, and looked at Uncle Gid’s lucky ring, nestled on his finger. Seemed as though the luck had already started. “That town owes me one.”

“Yeah?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Dortmunder said. “When do you want to make this visit?”

“How about now?”

“Ah.”

“There’s a seven twenty–two train from Grand Central. We’ll make our own arrangements, coming back.”

Even better. The location of the visit should include a vehicle of some sort, which could be made use of and then turned into further profit. Nice.

Seven twenty–two was an hour and twelve minutes from now. “See you on the train,” Dortmunder said, and hung up, and said to May, “I like your Uncle Gid.”

“This is the right distance to like him from,” she agreed.

BOOK: What's The Worst That Could Happen
8.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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