Thieves' Dozen (Dortmunder Novels (Paperback))
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FROM THE PUBLISHER
On a literary landscape filled with cunning criminal masterminds, Donald E. Westlake's John Dortmunder is in a league of his own. With no scam too outrageous to contemplate, and no plan too simple to go wrong, this quirky career thief has stolen everything from money buried under a reservoir to a bank-the whole bank. Now the ultimate repeat offender returns in a first-time collection of short stories that prove that just like bagels and donuts, with Dortmunder it's always better by the dozen … Thieves' Dozen.
He was here for his health, as a matter of fact, New York having become too hot for comfort, at least temporarily, and Dortmunder wasn't a man who liked to sweat. "Charleston," said his faithful companion. "They say Charleston's cool. You can stay with my cousin. She breeds ferrets."
Meeting ferrets had done nothing to relax Dortmunder, least of all having to inspect every article of clothing carefully before putting it on.
"It's only a little bite," the cousin's husband had observed with a big smile, handing Dortmunder a bandaid. A small bandaid. "It just looks big because of where it is. You know, in comparison. If it was on your tush you wouldn't notice it at all."
So Dortmunder was here in this small coffee shop, avoiding ferrets and cousins and small humour, sourly contemplating a plate full of what the waitress had promised would "Git yor crawdads shaggin', honey," while he reflected that his faithful companion's cousin had an irritating way of rolling on the floor laughing when she ran into him around the house. And the ferrets in her arms smiled at him in a way he didn't quite like.
But the view was good here. Across the road Dortmunder could see people with mops and buckets through the door of the corner store. Now and then one would walk out and tip a bucket of water into the gutter. A plumber's van was parked outside, not quite obscuring the sign identifying the premises as "Broad's Jewels".
It had been Dortmunder's experience that broads and jewels were a happy combination, and maybe once the fuss had died down, he could take a quick peek in amongst the shorted-out alarm systems and waterlogged security cameras, maybe check out if anything had sort of floated loose in the flood.
"These seats free?" said a voice at his ear, settling herself into one of the three empty chairs at Dortmunder's table. She was short, and sitting down didn't help. But where God had squeezed down on top, he had pushed out impressively in other places, and Dortmunder couldn't help his eyes straying to look at those other places, between those other places, from where a tiny green light winked at him from out of the darkness.
"That coffee any good?" Dortmunder tore his gaze away. An elegant man with eyes to match was twinkling at him. "You know, sometimes they don't grind the coffee the way they should. You can taste the difference."
"Ooooh, sorry, sweetie." Another voice in his other ear, and a walking frame planted firmly on his toes. There was an elderly lady pushing hard and determinedly on the frame, giving it a corkscrew action as she wobbled into place beside the final empty chair. The downwards force increased as she hefted a bag onto the table, a bright green bag that must have weighed about as much as she did.
It flopped sideways on the table and a quart bottle of Southern hospitality rolled out, knocking over Dortmunder's coffee, and continuing on to the edge of the table. A skinny arm shot out and disappeared it back into the green bag with Olympic-class speed.
"They don't tamp it firm enough, you know." The elegant man smoothed a five into Dortmunder's hand. "Tell them they need thirty pounds and four ounces exactly. You can feel the difference on your tongue."
Somewhere a bell began ringing, and Dortmunder looked around with professional interest for the source. Bells (and sirens and whistles) were usually not a good sound. Silence was a good sound for a man in his line of work.
Somehow his ears and eyes strayed to the lady opposite. She turned away and the ringing sound stopped.
Dortmunder's toes begain their own insistent alarm calls, telling him that a state of emergency had been reached and if nothing was done about it they would cut free and head off on their own. He glanced down, noting that the walking frame was still settled in position, the grinding, corkscrewing motion now augmented by a sawing action as the lady holding the walker teetered back and forth, smiling fondly at him.
"Darling, it's the hotel again," the short but impressive lady announced, a cell phone at her ear. "They don't quite understand what it is we do, and they are talking about postponing the booking for a week until they get legal advice that it isn't criminal activity and littering. We've got to talk to them."
"Get them to drop a grain of salt in," advised the man, helping the women off towards the entrance. "It clarifies the grounds and brings out the taste. A small grain, mind. Don't overdo it. Nice to meet you."
Dortmunder smiled in a fixed fashion after them, before looking down to check that his foot wasn't actually in the middle of a spreading red pool of blood and severed toes. It wasn't, he noticed. It just felt that way.
"Git you all another cup, honey?" A pair of brown eyes smiling at him from behind a dishcloth. "And you near got coffee on yor book."
"It's not my..." Dortmunder began, before thinking better of it. Books were valuable items, after all, and books left lying around thoughtlessly could be found new homes. Homes with good and careful owners.
"I'll take care of it," Dortmunder replied, slipping the five in between the pages like a bookmark, and noticing that the action in the jewelry store across the street had come to an end, and a hand-lettered "Closed due to Flood" sign swung helpfully from the door. A door with a lock that, even from the far side of a busy street, Dortmunder recognised as a pal of many years.
"Yeah, sure. Why not? Another coffee would be just great." Dortmunder smiled at her. "And you know what else? Charleston is cool."
We are restocking the bookshelf as it is looking very tatty and it needs some better quality books to smarten it up.
WILD RELEASE NOTES:
To be given to a fellow bookcrosser.