The gray man made a sound that might have been meant for a laugh. "A surprise, huh?" he said. "Surprised me, too."
May said, "So you do know him." She sounded as though she wasn't sure whether that was good news or bad news.
"Tom and I were inside together," Dortmunder told her, unwillingly. "We were cellmates for a while."
The gray man, who looked too flinty and stringy and knotted to be named anything as simple and friendly as Tom, made that laugh sound again, and said, "Cellmates. Pals. Right, Al? Thrown together by the vagaries of fortune, right?"
"That's right," Dortmunder said.
"Why don't we sit in the living room," Tom suggested, his lips a thin straight line. "My coffee's gettin cold in there."
"Sure," Dortmunder said.
Tom turned away, going back into the living room, walking rigid, like a man who's been broken and then put back together a little wrong, using too much Krazy Glue. Behind his stiff back, May waggled eyebrows and shoulders and fingers at Dortmunder, asking, Who is this person, why is he in my house, what's going on, when will it end ? and Dortmunder shrugged ears and elbows and the corners of his mouth, answering, I don't know what's going on, I don't know if this is some kind of trouble or not, we'll just have to wait and see . Then they followed Tom into the living room.
Tom sat on the better easy chair, the one that hadn't sagged all the way to the floor, while Dortmunder and May took the sofa, sitting facing Tom with the look of a couple who've just been asked to think seriously about life insurance. Tom sat on the edge of the chair, leaning forward, lifting his cup from the coffee table, sipping with deep concentration. He looked like the background figure in a Depression movie, a guy hunkered over a small fire in a hobo encampment. Dortmunder and May watched him warily, and when he put the cup down he leaned back and sighed faintly, and said, "That's all I drink now. Lost my taste on the inside."
Dortmunder said, "How long were you in, Tom, all in all?"
"All in all?" Tom made that sound again. "All my life, all in all. Twenty-three years, this last time. It was supposed to be for good, you know. I'm habitual."
"I remember that about you," Dortmunder said.
"Well, the answer is," Tom said, "while I been eating regular meals and getting regular exercise and a good night's sleep all these years on the inside, the world's managed to get worse without me. Maybe I'm not the one they should of been protecting society from all along."
"How do you mean, Tom?"
"The reason I'm out," Tom said. "Inflation, plus budget cuts, plus the rising inmate population. All on its own, Al, without any help from yours truly, society has raised up a generation of inmates. Sloppy ones, too, Al, fourth-rates you and the wouldn't use to hold the door open."
"There is a lot of that around," Dortmunder agreed.
"These are people," Tom went on, "that don't know a blueprint from a candy wrapper. And to pull a job with a plan ? When these bozos take a step forward with the right foot, they have no really clear idea what they figure to do with the left."
"They're out there, all right," Dortmunder said, nodding. "I see them sometimes, asleep on fire escapes, with their head on a television set. They do kinda muddy the water for the rest of us."
"They take all the fun outta prison, I can tell you that," Tom said. "And the worst of it is, their motivation's no damn good. Now, Al, you and the know, if a man goes into a bank with a gun in his hand and says gimme the money and a five-minute start, there's only two good reasons for it. Either his family's poor and sick and needs an operation and shoes and schoolbooks and meat for dinner more than once a week, or the fella wants to take a lady friend to Miami and party. One or the other. Am I