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Getting caught red-handed is inevitable when a TV producer convinces a thief named John Dortmunder — and his merry gang — to do a reality show that captures their next score. The producer guarantees to find a way to keep the show from being used in evidence against them. They’re dubious, but the pay is good, so they take him up on his offer.
A mock-up of the OJ bar is built in a warehouse down on Varick Street. The ground floor of that building is a big open space jumbled with vehicles used in TV world, everything from a news truck and a fire engine to a hansom cab (without the horse).
As the gang plans their next move with the cameras rolling, Dortmunder and Kelp sneak onto the roof of their new studio to organize a private enterprise. It will take an ingenious plan to outwit viewers glued to their television sets, but Dortmunder is nothing if not persistent, and he’s determined to end this shoot with money in his pockets.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2009 by Donald E. Westlake
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
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First eBook Edition: July 2009
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DORTMUNDER DID NOT like to stand around on street corners. A slope-shouldered, glum-looking individual in clothing that hadn't been designed by anybody, he knew what he looked like when he stood for a while in one place on a street corner, and what he looked like was a person loitering with intent. The particular intent, as any cop casting an eye over Dortmunder would immediately understand, was beside the point, and could be fine-tuned at the station; the first priority was to get this fellow in charge.
Which was why Dortmunder didn't like standing around on street corners: he hated to give cops the feeling there was duty to be done. And yet, here he was, in the middle of a weekday morning in April, as obvious as a carbuncle in the pale glare of the weak spring sunshine, the near-beer equivalent of real sunshine as in, say, August, but still plenty bright enough to pick out a questionable detail as large as John Dortmunder, who happened to be waiting, in fact, for a cab.
But not just any cab. The cab he wanted to see before he became a known loiterer would be driven by Stan Murch's Mom, Stan being a fellow with whom Dortmunder had engaged in for-profit activities from time to time in the past. Murch's specialty was driving; when it became necessary to leave a location at speed, Stan was your man. And his Mom drove a cab; so that was probably an argument for nurture.
Earlier this morning, Stan had phoned Dortmunder to say, "My Mom had an interesting fare yesterday, she wants to tell us about it."
"Whadaya mean, an anecdote?"
"No, I think something interesting for us."
So they were making a meet, except it hadn't happened yet. Amid the coughing buses and snarling delivery vans of Madison Avenue the occasional empty cab did go by, cheerful rooftop light gleaming its invitation, some even pausing fractionally to see if Dortmunder felt like hailing anything, but none of them was piloted by Murch's Mom, so he let them pass.
But then one did arrive with Murch's Mom herself glaring out from behind the steering wheel. It angled to a stop at Dortmunder's feet, and he quickly took shelter in the back, already occupied by Stan, a carroty-haired guy with a skeptical slant to his brow.
"Harya," Dortmunder told him, and to the driver's reflection in the rearview mirror, "Morning."
"It is," she agreed. "Hold on, let me get over to Eighth Avenue."
Dortmunder nodded. "That's where we're going?"
"I need a traffic jam," she explained, "so I can talk without distraction."
As Murch's Mom headed across Thirty-seventh Street toward her traffic jam, Dortmunder said to Stan, "How we doing?"
"I don't think we are doing," Stan told him. "I think we come to a stop. The last time I looked in my wallet, we're growing mushrooms in there."
"Does your mother's anecdote have a cash crop in it?"
"I hope so. Mom wanted to wait and tell us both together."
"So you don't know what the story is here."
"Nope. Mom wanted to wait and tell us both together."
Since the conversation had deteriorated to a loop, Dortmunder abandoned it and looked out his window instead at the thin sunlight out there, until Murch's Mom made the right turn onto Eighth Avenue and sank contentedly into the perpetual blockage there, a traffic snarl well into its second century, running—or not running—from below Penn Station up to above the Port Authority bus terminal.
"Now," Mom said, half turning in the seat, back against the door, one negligent hand on the steering wheel, "we can talk."
"Good," Dortmunder said.
"Yesterday I had a fare."
"So Stan tells me."
"Coming in from Kennedy," she said. "You know, when you pick up a fare at Kennedy, you don't throw the flag, it's just a flat rate."
"Says so on the back of your seat here."
"That's right. So there's no point you do anything but the shortest quickest route. Not that any of them are short and quick."
"So we were in a mess on the Grand Central," she said, "kind of like this here—Hold on." And she moved the cab two car-lengths forward toward the next light. Then, "So the guy and I get into a conversation, he's a TV guy, they do productions in New York, I started to tell him about Stan here—"
Stan said, "Hello? You started telling him what about me?"
"I'm looking to see," his mother told him, "could he get you a job."
"In TV? What am I gonna do, sports?"
"Whatever," his mother said. "Face it, Stanley, your previous occupation is coming to an end."
Stan frowned at her profile. "How do you work that out?"
"Cameras," his Mom said, and pointed at one mounted on a nearby pole. "Security. ID. Tracking. Records of everything. Global positioning. Radio chips. It's harder for people like you and John every day, and you know it is. It is time, Stanley, you underwent a career change."
Dortmunder said, "It isn't that bad."
"Oh, it's all right for you," she told him. "You go on doing what you're doing because what else have you got, but Stanley's possessed of an actual marketable skill."
"Mp," said Dortmunder.
Stan said, "Which skill is that?"
"Driving," she said. "Keeping your wits about you. Anyway, the point is, I liked this guy, Doug Fairkeep his name is, so I wound up I gave him a little more of your background than I originally planned."
"Oh-oh," Stan said.
"It's okay," she promised him. "Turns out, what he is, he's a producer of those reality shows, you know the deal, and when he figured out what sort of driver you are and your kind of associates and all that, he got very interested."
"Oh, did he," Stan said.
"He did. He wants to do a reality show of you guys."
Dortmunder said, "That's the shows where they follow real people around while they do real things. Kinda real."
"That's right," she said. "Hold on." And she burrowed the cab forward all the way across the intersection, at the same time shifting one lane to the left.
Dortmunder waited till that maneuver was complete, then said, "What does he want to follow us around while we're doing?"
They both looked at her as though she'd lost her mind. Dortmunder said, "He wants to make a movie of us, committing a crime?"
"A TV show."
"Where's it gonna play? Court TV?"
"He's got some ideas," she said. "How you could do it and not have anything fall on you. He wants to talk it over with you." Drawing a business card from her shirt pocket, she extended it toward Stan, saying, "Use your cell, give him a call."
"When you're committing a felony," Dortmunder pointed out, "the idea is, you don't want witnesses. What you want is privacy. And you especially don't want the entire television-watching population of America for a witness."
Stan, who had taken the card from his mother's fingers to study it, said, "Well, John, the guy does look legitimate."
"Of course he's legitimate," Dortmunder said. "We're the ones that aren't."
"While I'm over here anyway," Murch's Mom said, "I might as well pick up a fare at the Port of Authority. Unless you want me to deliver you two somewhere, only I'd have to throw the flag. I still got a living to make."
Dortmunder and Stan looked at one another. "Weather like this," Dortmunder muttered, "I like to walk."
"Me, too," Stan said.
"Well, we're stopped anyway," Murch's Mom observed, "so you might as well get out. I got my Port of Authority right over there."
"Fine," Stan said. "See you later, Mom."
As they stepped out of the cab into this diorama of un-moving transportation at its worst, she opened her window to say, "Call Fairkeep, Stan. The rest of your future starts right here."
ONE OF THE PRODUCTION assistants had a problem. A short overweight girl named Marcy Waldorf, a very recent hire, she wandered into Doug Fairkeep's office at The Stand looking bewildered, which is to say looking mostly like a chipmunk on steroids. She held some script pages in her hand and waved them vaguely as she said, "Doug, I'm sorry, but this just looks to me like writing."
"Marcy," Doug said, turning his attention with some relief from the budget for next week's shoot, "what have you got there?"
"The script I've been writing, Doug," she said, and held it out to him as though he'd never seen a script before. "And it's just—I'm sorry, Doug, this is writing."
"That is not writing, Marcy," Doug assured her, being patient and kind. This was not the first time he'd explained the facts of life to a newbie. "Those are suggestions."
Marcy now held the pages out in front of herself with both hands, as though she intended to sing them, but intoned instead: "Grace: Why don't we display the strawberries right next to the melons? Maybe then some people will buy both. Harry: That's a good idea. Worth a try, anyway."
"Very realistic," Doug said, approving. "Very nice. Totally on message."
Looking over the pages at Doug, she said, "That's writing."
"It is not writing, Marcy," Doug said, "for two reasons. In the first place, The Stand is a reality show, the cameras catching real life on the fly, not a scripted show with actors. The Finches aren't actors, Marcy, they are an actual family struggling to run an actual farmstand on an actual farm on an actual secondary road in upstate New York."
"But," Marcy objected, "they're saying the words we write, down here in the production assistants' room, Josh and Edna and me."
"The Finches often," Doug allowed, "follow our suggestions, that's true. But, Marcy, even if they followed your suggestions one hundred percent of the time, you still wouldn't be a writer."
"Because The Stand is a reality show, and reality shows do not have actors and writers because they do not need actors and writers. We are a very low-budget show because we do not need actors and writers. If you were a writer, Marcy, you would have to be in the union, and you would cost us a whole lot more because of health insurance and a pension plan, which would make you too expensive for our budget, and we would very reluctantly have to let you go and replace you with another twenty-two-year-old fresh out of college. You're young and healthy. You don't want all those encumbrances, health insurance and pension plans."
Doug's secretary Lueen, a cynical youngish woman in training to be a battle-axe, stuck her head in the door and said, "Doug, you got a party named Murch on the line."
Surprised, Doug said, "She did call? I didn't think she would."
"A male party named Murch."
"Oh, my God, the son! That's even better." Putting his hand on the phone as Lueen vacated the doorway, Doug said to Marcy, "You're a very good production assistant, Marcy, we all like you here, we'd hate to lose you. Just keep those suggestions coming." And into the phone he said, "Mr. Murch?"
"I don't know about that," said a voice much warier than Marcy's. "My Mom said I should call you, make a meet. Me and a friend of mine."
"John," Doug said, remembering that other name, smiling at the phone. Oh, this was going to be a thousand times richer than The Stand. The Gang's All Here. "Your mother told me all about him."
"He'll be sorry to hear that," Murch said. "For a meet we were thinking about now."
Surprised, Doug said, "Today, you mean?"
"Now, we mean. Across Third from where you are there's a sidewalk restaurant thing."
Doug had often wondered who those people were at those tables on the sidewalk, one lane away from all those huge buses and trucks; it would be like having lunch next to a stampede. He said, "Yeah, I know it."
"Come on over, we're there now."
Oh, of course; that faint noise behind Murch's voice was traffic. Doug said, "If you're there anyway, why not come up to the office? It's a lot more comfortable."
"We're already settled in down here. Come on down."
"Well—" Murch was clearly trying to control his environment, protect himself from the unknown. Didn't he know there was no self-protection? Apparently not. "Okay," Doug said. "How will I know you?"
"We'll know you," Murch said, which sounded ominous, and broke the connection before Doug could say anything more.
All right; let's work this out. He called, "Lueen!" and when she appeared in the doorway he said, "Get me Marcy."
She smirked, just slightly. "Your standards are slipping," she said, and vacated the doorway.
Rising, Doug shrugged into the soft suede jacket he wore to the office at this time of year, then took a moment to wire himself, with a radio-microphone in his shirt pocket and its receiver in a pocket of the car coat.
As he finished, Marcy appeared in the doorway, now looking like a frightened steroidal chipmunk, meaning she expected she was about to be fired. "You wanted me, Doug?"
"Indeed I did. Do. Have you got your cell on you?"
"You know that sidewalk café across the street."
"Trader Thoreau, sure. I can't afford a place like that."
"I," Doug told her, "am going to meet with a couple fellows over there. I want you to leave a minute or two after I do, go down there, and get pictures of them both."
"Be discreet, Marcy."
She nodded, with a fitful smile. "Sure, Doug."
"Nice clear pictures."
Doug headed for the door, patting the receiver in his pocket. "We don't know each other," he said.
"Oh, sure," she said.
DORTMUNDER WAS DUBIOUS about this. "What's in it for us?" he wanted to know, employing the plural form of the motto on his (stolen) family crest: Quid Lucrum Istic Mihi Est.
"Well," Stan said, "according to my Mom, he'll wanna pay us."
"To let him make a movie of us boosting something."
"That part can't be exactly right," Stan said. "We'll just listen to what he has to say. Is that him?"
They had taken an outdoor table at Trader Thoreau along the line of black wrought-iron fence separating the dining area from the pedestrian-and-vehicle area, which gave them an excellent view of the broad facade of the office tower across the avenue. Out of those doors now had come a purposeful youngish guy in a tan jacket, who paused to peer across at this café, then looked to left and right to see which intersection was nearest (neither), then struck off to his right.
"That's him, all right," Dortmunder said. "He's wired. See him pat the pocket?"
"I see him."
"I'll keep him," Dortmunder said.
Which meant Stan would keep an eye on that building entrance to see what else might come out, while Dortmunder followed Doug Fairkeep's progress to the intersection, where he had to stand fidgeting while he waited for the light to change.
"Fat girl in red."
Dortmunder looked, and Stan was right. The girl was young and short and very nervous. Also, that shin-long red coat was too heavy for this time of year, making her look more like a sausage than a person. She too started off to the right, then apparently saw Fairkeep still stuck at the DON'T WALK sign, and veered around to hurry off in the opposite direction so abruptly that she knocked two other people out of their orbits, though neither actually fell to the ground.
Meanwhile, Fairkeep's traffic light had finally changed, permitting him to cross the avenue, and as he came nearer they could see he was a pleasant-looking guy in his early thirties, with that kind of open helpful manner that people's mothers like. Which didn't mean he was trustworthy.
Or particularly swift. He reached the entrance at the far end of the wrought-iron fence, then stood there gaping around, apparently not able to figure out who anybody might be, until Dortmunder raised an arm and waved at him.
Then the guy came right over, big smile on his face, hand stuck out for a shake from several yards away, and when he got close enough he said to Dortmunder, "You must be Mr. Murch."
"In that case, I got it wrong," Dortmunder told him. "I'm John. This is Murch. Siddown."
Still smiling, Fairkeep put his unshaken hand away and said, "I'm Doug Fairkeep."
"We know," Dortmunder said. "Siddown."
So Fairkeep sat down and said to Stan, "I had a very pleasant chat with your mother yesterday."
"I heard about that," Stan said. "Usually, she's a little better at keeping her lip buttoned."
"Oh, don't be hard on your mom," Fairkeep said, with a little indulgent smile. "She could tell I didn't mean any trouble for you guys."
Dortmunder said, "What do you mean for us guys?"
"I work for Get Real," Fairkeep explained. "We produce reality shows and sell them to the networks. Maybe you've seen some—"
"No," Dortmunder said.
Fairkeep was almost but not quite hurt. "No? How can you be sure you never saw even—"
"John and I," Stan explained, "don't do much TV."
"I do the six o'clock news sometimes," Dortmunder allowed, "for the apartment house fires in New Jersey."
"Well, reality TV," Fairkeep told them, regaining the wind in his sails, "is the future. You don't have these fake little made-up stories, with actors pretending to be spies and sheriffs and everything, you've got real people doing real things."
Dortmunder gestured at Trader Thoreau and its surround. "I got all that here."
"But not shaped," Fairkeep said. "Not turned into entertainment."
Stan said, "Why doesn't she come sit with us?"
Fairkeep looked at him. "What? Who?"
"Your friend," Stan said, and pointed to where she lurked just outside the fence in crowded pedestrian land, being knocked about by elbows and shoulders as she tried to pretend she wasn't taking pictures with a cell phone. "The fat girl in red."
For just an instant, Fairkeep turned as red as the fat girl's coat, but then he laughed, open and cheerful, and said, "You guys are something. Sure, if you want. Where is she?" Not waiting for an answer (because he obviously knew she would be behind him to focus on the other two at the table), he twisted around and waved to her to join them.
She obeyed, but hesitantly, as though not sure she'd interpreted the gesture properly, and when she neared them Fairkeep said, "Join us, Marcy. Marcy, this is John and that's Stan Murch."
Marcy perched herself on the leading edge of the table's fourth chair, but as she opened her mouth to speak a waiter appeared, harried and hurried but somehow with a smooth still inner core, to say, "For you, folks?"
Stan said, "We all want a beer. Beck."
Fairkeep said, "Oh, nothing for me, thanks."
"You're paying for it," Stan told him, "so you might as well take it." He nodded to the waiter, who was anxious to be off. "That was four Beck."
Slap, four paper napkins hit the table and the waiter was gone.
Stan said, "Marcy, let me look at that phone."
"Sure." She handed him the phone, and he smiled at her as he pocketed it.
Fairkeep said, "Hey—"
"While we're at it," Dortmunder said, "why don't you give me that receiver now? It's there in your right pocket."
"The thing that's recording us," Dortmunder said.
Fairkeep bridled. "I'm not going to give you any company equipment!"
Stan said, "You know, we could get the same effect if we just throw you under that bus there."
Fairkeep turned and looked at the bus. "It's moving pretty slow," he said.
Dortmunder said, "That could make it worse."
Fairkeep thought about that, while Marcy sat and stared from face to face. Whatever was going on, she was pretty sure she wasn't qualified at this level.
Then all at once Fairkeep offered a broad smile, like the sun coming out on a previously cloudy day, and said, "You guys really are something. Here." Taking the little gray metal box from his pocket, handing it to Dortmunder, he said, "You don't want the mike, do you?"
The waiter returned then, to slap bottles and glasses and a check on the table. "That'll be twenty-six dollars," he said.
Fairkeep, about to reach for his wallet, reared back and said, "Twenty-six dollars!"
"I just work here," the waiter said.
Fairkeep nodded. "Maybe I should," he said, and put two twenties on the check. "I'll need a receipt."
"I know," the waiter said, and sailboarded away.
Dortmunder said, "Cash? I thought guys like you always used credit cards."
"Cash," Fairkeep told him. "I leave a ten percent tip and put in for twenty."
Stan laughed. "Doug," he said, "you're a desperado."
"No," Fairkeep said, unruffled, "but you guys are. Here's what I'm offering, if I get an okay from you and an approval from my bosses up above. Twenty thousand a man, plus six hundred a working day per diem. That's for up to five men, and what you're selling us is permission to film you at work, doing what we needn't go into in any detail but that which makes you of interest to us. We would expect to be filming a few days a week for no fewer than six and no more than twelve weeks."
Dortmunder said, "Filming us doing what we do."
"What we do for real."
"That's why it's called reality."
"And then," Dortmunder said, "you're gonna show all this on TV."
"That's the whole point of it."
"The part I don't get," Dortmunder said, "is the part where we don't go to jail."
"Oh, I know there's gonna be a few problems along the way," Fairkeep said, cheerily confident. "There's always a few problems, and we work around them, and we'll work around the problems this time. Believe me, this one is gonna be easy."
Dortmunder looked at him. "Easy," he said.
"Compared to the dominatrix series we did," Fairkeep told him, "this is a snap. That one was nothing but problems. And laundry."
"So what we're gonna do that you're gonna make a movie of is break the law. I mean, break a bunch of laws; you never get to break just one."
"We'll work around it," Fairkeep assured him. "We got a great staff, crack people. Like Marcy here."
They all contemplated Marcy. "Uh-huh," Dortmunder said.
"So we'll all kick it around," Fairkeep said. "Beat the bushes, burn the midnight oil. You'll bring your expertise, we'll bring ours. And you guys never have to go one step forward if you're not comfortable."
Dortmunder and Stan looked at each other, and Dortmunder knew Stan was thinking just what he himself was thinking: We don't have anything else. Twenty grand to playact with a bunch of clowns with cameras. Plus the per diem.
Dortmunder nodded at Fairkeep. "Maybe," he said firmly.
"Me, too," said Stan.
Fairkeep beamed. "Great!" From inside the jacket came a fancy pen and a cheap pad. "Give me a contact number," he said.
"I'll give you my Mom's number," Stan told him. Since he lived with his Mom, this was also Stan's number, but Dortmunder felt Stan wasn't wrong to try for a little distance here.
- On Sale
- Jul 17, 2009
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Grand Central Publishing