Chapter FIVE

WELL, I talked her into it. It took a long time and it was as easy as cracking rock with a sponge.

Some men like strong-minded women. They say they know just where they are with them. Me . . I give them away with a box of crackerjacks. The trouble with a girl who knows her own mind is she’s one jump ahead of you all the time. If you want to fox her into anything, you’ve got to do a double jump, and like as not you end up by buying yourself a truss. Anyway, I sold her in the end. That’s all that matters. I got her to see that for a couple of days’ work, she’d save herself a stretch in jail and maybe make herself a load of jack. Why bother with details? It’s action that counts. I had a lot to think about and a lot to do, but that’s not your worry. All you want to know is how it worked out, not how I did it. Briefly then, the four of us agreed to put up at the hotel. It was as good a place as any, and until we had worked out the details of our campaign, it was no use us floating around the countryside like peas on a knife. We got ourselves rooms and we settled down. As soon as I was alone, I put a call through to Maddox. When I told him that I’d found the girl, I thought he was going to have a stroke. It seemed he hadn’t got his story fixed and he wasn’t nearly ready for me to bring her in. Then again, he was dead set on her being kidnapped by bandits because he’d worked out a swell story how she had been carried off from her hotel by thirty desperadoes.

I told him what I had in mind and that slackened the pressure on his arteries. I kept talking and I could hear his blood pressure going down. After a while, he said I was smart and finally he ended up by wanting to kiss me.

The set-up was this. I’d take the girl to Pepoztlan and get the snake-bite angle fixed. That alone would make a swell story. On her way back from Pepoztlan, Myra would be snatched by a bunch of greasers. I knew a little greaser who lived in the hills and who would be glad to do the job for a couple of hundred bucks. I’d take a few photos and then pull a rescue stunt.

The rest was plain sailing. The whole business was to be completed within a week. Maddox thought it was a swell idea. The snake-bite business excited him and he talked about buying himself in. I didn’t discourage him, but I made up my mind that if any money was to be made out of thin I was going to be the guy to cash in. I got him to let me spend anything within reason—my reason and not his—and then I hung up. That was that part fixed up.

Then I put a call through to Paul Juden and wised him up on the deal. I told him where to send my bag, demanded some money, and asked him how he was making out with the nurse. He said he’d do everything I wanted and the nurse business was just a gag. He knew I knew his wife.

When I’d done all that, I thought I’d go along and have a talk with Myra. I wanted to know more about this girl. I wanted to take the corners off our friendship and find out just how strong her mind was. So I went along to her room, and put my head round the door. She wasn’t there.

I found her messing around the Cadillac under the shade of a banana tree. She looked over her shoulder when she heard me coming and then lowered the hood of the car.

“Come on,” I said. “See those mountains? Well, let’s go out and look at ’em. I want to stand in the open with the wind against my face and feel that I’m somebody.”

She gave me an old-fashioned look, but something must have caught at her imagination because she got into the car without a word. I sat by her side and we jolted gently over the cobbles, through the square on to the main road that led out of Orizaba.

We didn’t say anything until we reached the mountain road and when we began to climb, with a sheer drop down into the valley whizzing past our off-wheels, she said suddenly, “We could go on and on like this and we wouldn’t have to worry about anything. And when we’re tired of each other we could say good-bye and both of us would have still less to worry about.”

“And the world wouldn’t have any snake-bite ointment and you and I wouldn’t feel very happy about it,” I said.

“You don’t really believe that stuff, do you?”

“I guess I do,” I said. “Besides, didn’t you promise the old man that you’d play along with him?”

She laughed gaily. “You a newspaper man and you talk about promise,” she said. “That’s a laugh!”

I looked at her. “What do you want to do, double-cross the old geyser?”

“I’m nor even thinking about him,” she returned, slowing the car as we ran past a line of ancient, weatherbeaten houses and refreshment booths, with their awnings over the street.

“No one dictates my life. I’m just saying we could go on from here and not go back.”

The Cadillac began to mount again, leaving the small town behind. I had no idea what the name of the town was and cared less. We were heading for the wooded country and signs of human life began to thin out. The few Indians, jogging along the roadside, straddling the rumps of their burros, became fewer as we went on. Then suddenly she slowed down, swerved off the road and pulled up under the shadow of the forest fringe.

“Let’s get out,” she said.

I followed her as she moved away from the car, and sank down beside her on the parched, brown grass. She looked up at the brilliant sky, screwing up her eyes against the brightness of the sun, then she heaved a little, contented sigh.

I found her disturbing. I don’t know what it was, but her metallic hair, gleaming in the sun, the white column of her throat, the curve of her figure under the blood-red shirt, her small finely boned hands and the courage of her mouth and chin got me. I found myself groping back into the past to remember any one woman I had known who looked as good as this kid. Pale ghosts paraded in my mind, but none of them clicked.

“Look, sister…” I said.

“Just a minute,” she interrupted, facing me. “Would you mind not calling me sister? I’m no sister of yours. I’ve got a name. Myra Shumway. We met. Remember?”

“You’d’ve been a better girl if you’d been my sister,” I said grimly.

“All you tough guys think of is violence. That’s your only reply to a woman, isn’t it?”

“What do you expect, when they feed us hot tongue and cold shoulder?” I asked grinning.

“Besides, a little violence works.”

“Get me out of this,” she said, suddenly turning so that she was close to me. “You can do it. I don’t want to go on with it.”

I thought, ‘If you knew half what I’ve got lined up for you sweetheart, you’d be climbing trees.’ But, I just shrugged. “Don’t let’s go over that again,” I said. “You’ll thank me in a week or so. You’re not scared of this Quinn guy, are you?”

“I’m not scared of anything on two legs…” she began.

“I remember, you told me.”

“But, it’s crazy,” she went on. “It’s all right to talk about it, but actually doing it… why, it’s crazy! I can’t speak the language. They’ll know I’m a phoney.”

“You leave it to Doc. He’s got it all worked out,” I said. “Why should you worry?”

She fumbled in her bag and took out a deck of cards. “There’s something about you,” she said, flipping the cards through her fingers so that they looked like an arc of a rainbow. “I wonder what it is?”

“When I was very young,” I returned, lolling back on my elbow, “my mother used to rub me in bear fat. It built up my personality.”

She leaned forward and took four aces out of my breast pocket. “Would you say I’m a serious young woman?”

I watched the cards flutter through her slim fingers. “Yeah,” I said, feeling my throat thicken suddenly. “More than that. I’d say you were a remarkable young woman.”

She looked at me with quick interest, “Really?”

“Hmm, I guess so. We’re going to know each other an awful lot better before we wave good-bye. Do you know that?”

She reached over to take the King of Spades from my cuff. I could smell the scent in her hair. It reminded me of a summer spent in England in an old country garden full of lilac trees. “Are we?” she said.

I caught her band and pulled her close to me. She didn’t resist, but let me pull her across the small space that divided us. “I think so,” I said, sliding my arm under her shoulders. “An awful lot better.”

We lay like that, close to each other, and I could see the overhead clouds reflected in her eyes.

“Will you like that?” she asked, her lips close to mine.

“Maybe—I don’t know.” Then I kissed her, pressing my mouth hard on hers.

She lay still. I wished she would close her eyes and relax, but she didn’t. I could feel the hard muscles in her back resisting me. Her lips felt hard, tight and child-like against mine.

She made no effort to push me away. Kissing her like that was as good as kissing the back of my hand. I dropped onto my elbow again, releasing her. “All right,” I said. “Forget it.”

She shifted away from me. Her fingers touched her lips carefully, “You meant that to be something, didn’t you?” she asked, curling her legs under her and adjusting her skirt.

“Sure,” I said. “But what of it? Sometimes it’s all right, but not this time. The trick is not to rush this kind of thing.”

“No,” she said, looking at me seriously. “The trick is not to do it at all.”

Then I thought what’s wrong with me? What am I trying to do? I’d got a job on my hands. I’d got 25,000 dollars just around the corner with my name on it, and here I am gumming up my chance trying to neck a kid that meant as much to me as last year’s income tax return. I guess it was her hair. I was always a sucker for blondes.

“Changed your mind about knowing me awfully well?” she said, watching me intently.

“I guess not,” I said. “I’ll keep trying. Did I tell you about the red head I met in New Orleans?”

“You don’t have to,” she said, scrambling to her feet, “I can imagine it,”

“Not this red head,” I returned, looking up at her. “She had a figure like an hour glass. Boy! Did she make every minute count!”

She began moving slowly towards the Cadillac. “So you’re not going to help me?” she said.

“Not after I’ve been nice to you?”

“What’s wrong?” I got to my feet and we both walked towards the Cadillac. “You were feeling fine about it this morning.”

“I’ve thought about it,” she said, getting into the car. “I don’t like the idea any more.”

“Give it a chance,” I urged, feeling the heat coming at me from off the dusty road. “Be big minded about it.”

“What are you getting out of it?” she said, starting the engine “You’re selling it too hard to be disinterested.”

“A story,” I said. “And, Pie-crust, if you were a newspaper man you’d know just what that meant. It’s going to be a beautiful story, with lots of publicity, and they’ll even print my picture.”

“You never give a thought to those folk who have their meat wrapped in your newspaper, do you?” Myra returned, driving slowly back the way we came.

I winced. “I wish you wouldn’t,” I said. “Wisecracks spoil your romantic appeal.”

She slightly increased the speed of the car as we began to descend the steep winding rood. Just ahead of us was the little mountain town we had already passed on our way up.

“Let’s stop and buy some beer,” I said. “My tonsils are dusty.”

We entered the town, drove along the cobbled main mad, ignored the group of Indians, lounging behind heaps of van-coloured flowers which they stretched towards us, and pulled up outside a little beershop. There was a long wrought-iron table and bench outside the shop, shaded by a gaily covered awning. A smell of beer and stale bodies came through the doorway.

“We won’t go in,” I said, sitting at the table. “That smell reminds me of a newspaper office.”

She came and sat by my side and pulled off her wide straw hat, which she laid carefully on the table.

A thin, elderly Mexican came out of the shop and bowed to us. There was an odd, worried look in his eyes that made me wonder if he was in trouble.

I ordered beer and he went away without saying anything. “Now, there’s a guy who looks like he’s got more than his hat on his mind,” I said, opening my coat and picking the front of my shirt carefully off my chest.

“These greasers are all alike,” Myra returned, indifferently. “They worry over which way a flea will jump. At one time I was sorry for them, but now, I don’t worry—” She broke off and looked pest me, her eyes widening.

I glanced over my shoulder.

Standing in the doorway of the shop was the fattest man I’d ever seen. He was not only fat, but he was big with it. I guess he must have been seven inches over six foot. He was wearing the usual straw sombrero, a sarape hung over his great shoulders, but I could see his neat black suit and his soft Mexican riding boots ornamented with silver inlay.

He leaned against the doorway, a cigarette banging from his thick lips and his black eyes on Myra.

I particularly noticed his eyes. They were flat like the eyes of a snake. I didn’t like the look of this party. He didn’t belong to the town. I was sure of that. There was too much class about him. I didn’t like the leer he as telegraphing to Myra.

“Isn’t he cute?” Myra said to me. “I bet he was twins before his mother cooked him in a too hot bath.”

“Listen, Apple blossom,” I said, keeping my voice low, “keep your funny stuff for me, will you? That hombre won’t like it.”

The fat man picked his cigarette out of his mouth and flicked it across at me. It landed on the table between us.

If any other greaser had done that, I’d have pinned his ? ears back, but I’ve got a superstition about hitting a guy twice my size. I’ve been over that with you before. But when that guy gets so that he’s three times my size, I’ll take an awful lot from him before I go into action.

Myra didn’t mind pushing me into a fight. That’s like a woman. They think uneven odds is a sign of chivalry.

“Why don’t you poke that fat boy in his pantry?” she asked.

Maybe the guy couldn’t speak anything but his own language, but how was I to know? The most unlikely people get educated these days.

“What do you want me to do?” I whispered. “Commit suicide?”

“You’re not going to let a pail of lard insult me?” Myra said, her eyes suddenly flashing.

“Didn’t you see what he did?” She pointed to the cigarette end that smouldered near her hand.

“That little thing?” I said, hastily. “Why, that was an accident. He didn’t mean anything. You pipe down. It’s dames like you who cause revolutions.”

Just then the thin Mexican came out of the shop. He edged round the fat party as if he were passing close to a black widow. Then he set two beers in front of us and faded back to the shop fast.

The fat party was smoking again and he took his cigarette out and flipped it once more. I had my hand over my glass as the smoking cigarette curled through the air, but it dropped into Myra’s glass.

I took her glass before she could say anything and gave her mine. “There you are, sweetheart, and for the love of Mike don’t make anything of it.”

Myra’s face scared me. She’d gone a little white and her eyes looked like those of a cat in the dark.

The fat party suddenly laughed. It was a high tinny sound that went with his sideboards and pencilled moustache. “The senor has milk in his veins,” he said, slapping his thick thigh and looking as if he was having the time of his life.

I considered getting up and giving him one, but something warned me off. I’ve knocked around this country for some time and I’ve seen plenty of tough greasers, but this party was something special. If I was going to do anything, I’d have to do it with a gun. That was the kind of guy he was and I didn’t have a gun with me

That didn’t put Myra off. She gave him a look that would have stopped a runaway horse and said, “Go jump into a lake, you fat sissy; if one won’t hold you, jump into two.”

You could have heard a feather settle on the ground.

The fat party stopped laughing. “You’ve got a very big mouth, little rabbit,” he said. “You should be careful how you use it.”

Boy! Could that guy look mean?

“Get out of the sun, fat boy,” Myra said. “Before your dome melts. Take the air—drift— scram—dust off.”

The fat party put one hand under his sarape. I guess he was going after his arsenal, so I said quickly, “We don’t want any trouble, pal, we’re just going.”

But, he wasn’t looking at me. He wasn’t even moving any more. He just stood like a great block of granite with his eyes sticking out of his head like long-stemmed toadstools.

I looked at Myra. She had her hands on the table and between her cupped fingers was the head of a little green snake. It darted its spade-shaped head in a striking movement and its forked tongue flickered in and out in a way that gave me the heebies. Then she opened her hands and the snake wasn’t there any more and she smiled at the fat party as if they’d known each other for a long time.

I wish you could have seen his face. One minute he was all brag, meanness and confidence and then, in a moment, he was a deflated bag of wind. He covered his eyes with his hand end then shook his head. He seemed to hitch himself together with an effort.

“Didn’t you hear me the first time?” she said to him. “Beat it. You’re using too much air.” Then the thin elderly Mexican came out quickly and said something to the fat party. He looked sick as he pointed down the road.

The fat party followed his trembling finger and then glared over at us. “We meet again,” he said. “Especially will I meet the senorita. She has too big a mouth. I put a hornet in it and sew her lips together,” and he went quickly into the shop, leaving the thin elderly Mexican watching a cloud of dust that was coming up the road at a pretty fast lick towards us.

I eased my collar. “Did you get that line about the hornet?” I said. “And you had to crack wise with a guy like that.”

She picked up her hat. “Skip It,” she said. “He was as yellow as a canary.”

“I know. And I loved the way he sang,” I returned. “Come on, we’ll beat it too. I have a feeling that there’s a cloud of trouble heading our way.”

We hardly got to the car before a bunch of Federal soldiers came galloping up.

A little guy with a complexion like stale cream cheese pulled his horse over to us and slid to the ground. He was an officer by the look of his dirty uniform and he seemed excited.

I said, “Hello,” and automatically felt for my papers. But, he wasn’t interested in me. He asked if we had seen a big fat guy anywhere around.

Myra opened her mouth, but I stumbled against her. My elbow hit her in the wind and that held her.

“No one around here,” I said. “Maybe some one else has seen him. Have you asked?”

The officer spat in the dust. “They said he was here. Not five minutes ago,” he said, fiddling with his revolver butt.

“Well, a lot can happen in five minutes,” I said. “Maybe he was in a hurry. Who was he anyway?”

But the officer had lost interest in me and went over to the thin, elderly Mexican. I shoved Myra into the car and got in myself. I wanted to put a lot of space between me and likely trouble.

Myra had got her breath back. “Why didn’t you tell him?” she demanded. “You’re riot scared of him, are you?”

“It’s not a matter of being scared,” I said starting the engine and throwing in the clutch.

“I’ve been around in this country long enough never to interfere with anyone. It’s paid me pretty well up to now, and I’m seeing that it continues to do so.”

I sent the car snarling towards Orizaba.

Myra began to laugh. “Did you see that fat boy’s face when I did the snake trick?”

“I did,” I said grimly. “And I heard what he said about the hornet.”

“So what? You don’t think that means anything, do you?”

“I know it does,” I replied. “A guy like that would do just that little thing and think nothing of it. The next time we meet, I’m going to shoot him first and apologize after.”

The idea seemed to shock her and we went back to the hotel without saying another word. Bogle was sitting on the verandah drinking beer and he waved to us as we came up the steps. “Where’ve you been?” he asked, putting his mug on the table and getting up. “Doc’s worried sick. He thought you’d walked out on him.”

Myra said, “Hello, Samuel. You ought to keep in the shade. The light’s a little too hard on you.”

Bogle watched her disappear into the hotel He scowled at me. “One of these days she’ll shoot her mouth off once too often,” he said darkly. “Don’t that prove you can’t be too careful in picking a blonde? I knew a dame once with hair just like hers. Got the nicest mouth I’ve ever listened to. You oughta hear the drippy names she used to call me. You’d’ve been surprised.”

It surprised me that Bogle had a sentimental streak in his make-up, but I didn’t tell him so.

“Your love life bores me,” I said, grinning at him. “Never mind about the drippy names. They won’t get you any place. Where’s Doc?”

Bogle sniffed. “Oh, he’s feeding his face. I didn’t feel hungry, but maybe I’d better do something about it now.”

“Come and feed with me,” I said. “No sense in eating alone”

Bogle brooded darkly. “I’d rather eat alone than with that blonde wise guy,” he said at last.

“I’ll wait. When I sit down to a meal I like to enjoy myself.”

“If that’s how you feel,” I returned and moved towards the lounge.

Just then a kid came quietly up the verandah steps. He was a little Indian boy, very dirty, wearing a dirty white shirt and a pair of ragged trousers. He carried a small wooden box In one of his grubby bands and he looked at Bogle with a calculating eye.

Bogle smirked at him. “Hullo, son,” he said. “Coming to have a talk with old Uncle Sam?” The kid stared at him thoughtfully with his head on one side and shuffled his bare feet on the verandah floor.

Bogle looked over at me. “I like kids,” he said simply, exploring his teeth with his finger nail. “This little punk’s all right, ain’t he?”

The kid shuffled a few paces nearer. “Shine, Johnny?” he said, hopefully.

“You don’t have to be scared of me,” Bogle said, leering at him. “Come and tell Uncle Sam all about it.”

The kid didn’t seem full of confidence, but he put his box down and said again, “Shine, Johnny?”

Bogle stared at him. “Wadjer mean… shine?”

“He wants to shine your shoes, you dope,” I said, grinning. “He’s got beyond Uncle Samuel’s bedside chats for kiddies.”

Bogle looked disappointed. “Gee! I thought the kid was lonely.”

“Shine, Johnny?” the kid repeated monotonously.

“He’s got a one-track mind, ain’t he?” Bogle said, then seeing the kid was a bit restless, he waved his hand grandly. “Sure, help yourself, son,” and he stretched forward one of his great feet.

The kid flopped on the floor and began turning up Bogle’s trouser ends.

“Well, I’m hungry,” I said. “I’ll tell ’em to leave you something.”

“What’ll I give the little punk?” Bogle asked, watching the kid polishing away at his shoe.

“What you like,” I returned. “These kids ain’t particular.”

Another kid in a dirty red shirt came sidling up the steps. He took one look at Bogle and ran over and shoved White Shirt out of the way.

Bogle blinked. “What do you think you’re doing?” he demanded, as Red Shirt began to lay out his shining materials.

“You’ve got competition,” I said, feeling that I might enjoy this. I leaned against the wall and prepared to watch. From past experience I knew what leeches these kids were, once you encouraged them.

Bogle looked quite gratified. “I told you kids liked me,” he said, smirking. “They’ll even fight over me.”

He’d got something because White Shirt recovering from his surprise grabbed Red Shirt by the throat and put on squeeze.

Bogle was quite shocked. He dragged them apart and held them, one in each great fist.

“Hey!” he said. “This ain’t the way to behave. Now, listen, you two…”

Red Shirt kicked out at White Shirt and succeeded in landing a bone shattering smack on Bogle’s leg. Bogle let the kids go like they were red hot and clasped his leg with a grunt of anguish.

The two kids began to mix it all over the verandah.

“Holy Moses!” Bogle gasped. “Can’t you stop ’em?”

“Don’t bring me into It,” I said, watching the kids with interest. “I’ll just be the historian.” Bogle got to his feet and managed to separate the kids. “Shut up, you two!” he said fiercely.

“No fighting! Now, listen, you can do a shoe apiece. How’s that?”

Neither of them understood what he was saying, but they quieted down and looked at him with bright, intent eyes.

Bogle seemed pleased with his tactics. “See that?” he said, sitting down again. “I can handle kids. All you’ve got to do is reason with ’em.”

He was hardly in his seat when the two kids streaked at him and grabbed his right leg. They began thumping each other and dragging his leg backwards and forwards. Bogle hung on to the table, his eyes popping in alarm.

They struggled first one way and then another, worrying at his leg like a couple of bull terriers.

“Reason with ’em, Sam,” I said, weak with laughter.

He beat them off finally with his hat and they stood back, breathing heavily. If he’d’ve been a nice juicy pork chop with a little frill at the end of it, they couldn’t have eyed him with more interest.

As they edged towards him again, he raised his hat threateningly. “Keep off, you punks,” he growled, then catching my eye, what the hell do you find funny in this? Tell ’em to behave themselves.”

I came over and explained to the kids that they could each clean one of Bogle’s shoes and there was no need to fight about it.

They considered this for a moment, then they wanted to know if the payment would also be divided.

I referred this to Bogle.

“Aw, the hell with it” he said, losing patience. “Tell ’em to dust. I thought they were nice kids. Money’s all these brats think of. I don’t want to be bothered with ’em.”

“Hey! Where’s all this stuff about liking kids?” I said severely. “You’ll disappoint ’em, you know.”

Bogle fanned himself with his hat. “Iszatso?” he said violently. “What about me? They nearly broke my gawdamn leg.”

“Have it your own way,” I said and explained to the kids that Bogle had changed his mind. When it had sunk in, they started howling at the tops of their voices.

They even put my teeth on edge.

“Now, do you see what you’ve done?” I said.

“Get ’em out of here,” Bogle said, confused. “They’ll raise the whole neighbourhood.” Myra and Doc Ansell came running out.

“What’s going on?” Ansell asked, looking over the top of his sun glasses in surprise.

“Notin’,” Bogle said between his teeth. “Just a couple of kids bawling. That ain’t anything, is it?”

Myra looked at him with withering scorn. “So you even bully children, you big cheese,” she said indignantly. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself!”

Bogle closed his eyes. “You again?” he said, tapping ominously on the table. “Every time I open my mouth, I get a broadcast from you. Listen, these kids want to shine my shoes. Well, I don’t want my shoes shined see? Does that call for anything from you?”

The kids stopped howling and looked at Myra hopefully. They sensed that she was on their side.

“And why don’t you want them shined?” Myra demanded. “Just look at them! They’re like exhumed coffins.”

Bogle loosened his collar. “I don’t care what they look like. I don’t want them shined,” he said, furiously. “If I want them shined, I’ll shine ’em myself.”

“How ridiculous!” Myra said. “I think you’re just being mean. You don’t want to pay these kids to shine your shoes. You want them to do it for nothing.”

Bogle picked up his pewter mug and flattened it between his hands. “I’ve changed my mind about having my shoes shined,” he said with a hiss.

“Changed your mind?” Myra repeated. “Who did you find crazy enough to swap with you?”

Bogle flexed his fingers. He seemed to have developed acute asthma.

“There’s no need to lose our tempers,” Ansell joined in, soothingly. “If Bogle doesn’t want his shoes shined, then there’s nothing more to be said. We came out because we thought someone was being hurt. Come along, Myra, well go back to our meal.”

“You might do those kids a lot of harm if you frustrate them,” Myra said warmly. “Haven’t you ever heard of repression?”

Bogle blinked at her.

“I wouldn’t have it on toy conscience,” Myra went on. “All for the sake of a peso. Don’t tell me you can’t afford it or have you a hole in your sock?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Bogle said, becoming dazed. “Why don’t I let ’em shine them? What do I care? Let ’em do anything.”

“There now,” Myra said. “After all this fuss.” She smiled at the two kids and pointed to Bogle’s shoes.

They were on him like terriers on a rat. I’ve never seen anything like it. Bogle, the two kids and the chair went over with a bang that made Bogle’s teeth rattle. The two kids fought Bogle, fought each other and went back and fought Bogle again. They pulled off one of his shoes and threw it into the Square. Then they twisted his toes.

Bogle just lay on his back making a humming noise like he had swallowed a bee.

The kids fastened onto his other shoe. They smeared blacking on themselves, on the floor and on Bogle. White Shirt got so excited that he jumped up and down on Bogle’s chest.

Myra and I just clung together and wept.

Ansell took off his glasses. “I do hope they’ll be careful,” he said mildly. “They’ll hurt him in a moment.”

As soon as White Shirt had got his breath back, he seized Bogle’s other leg. When he found the shoe was missing, he threw it down and rushed at Red Shirt.

Red Shirt didn’t like the look in his eye, and tucking Bogle’s foot under his arm, he tore off in a circle, spinning Bogle round like a top.

Then quite suddenly they both seemed to lose interest in their work and they quit. Maybe, they thought they were giving too much value for money. They stopped rushing round in circles, looked at each other, nodded, regarded Bogle without interest and then put their shining materials away. They stood over Bogle, smiling at him, with two grubby hands held out for payment.

“You’d better pay ’em,” I said weakly. “Or they might start all over again.”

Hastily he dug out a few coins which he threw at the kids. While they were chasing the money, he got painfully to his feet and inspected a long tear in his trousers.

“Don’t worry about that, Samuel,” Myra said. “It was time you got yourself a new suit anyway.”

Bogle gave her a blank look. Then he limped painfully across the verandah, into the Square and collected his other shoe. He put it on and regarded his feet with a sour eye. Before, his shoes certainly had looked dusty. Now they looked ready for the ash can.

“I hope you’re all satisfied,” he said, in a low, strangled voice.

“Just look at those kids,” Myra said, wiping her eyes. “They’re as happy as larks.”

“Yeah,” Bogle said, creeping back slowly on to the verandah. “As happy as larks.”

Myra heaved a contented sigh. “Well, I enjoyed that,” she said. “I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. You ought to be pleased you made those kids happy, Samuel. You’re quite a nice piece of cheese after all.”

She waved to the two kids who were standing watching with bright eyes and then she turned to go back into the lounge.

Bogle took out a silver peso and held it up so the kids could see it, then with a tired but triumphant gleam in his eyes he pointed to Myra’s shoes.

They were off the mark like a streak of lightning. Myra hadn’t even time to run for it. She gave a wail of terror and then her legs flew up and she came down on the floor with a jar that sounded like music in Bogle’s ears.

She disappeared under the two kids.

Bogle sat down and relaxed. There was a sharp, ripping sound of tearing linen. It seemed to do Bogle a power of good. For the first time, since I met him, he looked happy.

“Make a good job of it,” he said airily, and then catching my eye, he added, “Didn’t I tell you they were all right little punks?”

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