MY WORK OF FICTION

aziz anom


ROOK

Rook had first seen her from the balcony of his house while he waited for his mother to finish preparing dinner. She would be taking a stroll in the narrow lane with her children, and sometimes with her husband.

She looked between thirty and thirty- five and she had eyes that seemed always to be smiling and lips that were thick enough to be kissable. Her body was well built and curvy: the breasts stuck out boldly, the heavy buttocks radiated a kind of animal sensuality inside the slacks that she usually wore.

The more he saw her the more he liked her and he began to have intercourse with her. He had not once touched a woman physically but he was used to having intercourse with them. His favourite picture of the stacked Mrs. Piko, the one he evoked the most, was one in which her voluptuous body was lying naked on its side and he pumping himself into her from behind, his legs pressing against her fleshy thighs, his hands grabbing her strong breasts. He had an idea to take a picture of her while she passed the balcony so that he could look at her when he was having her, but the evening light wasn’t strong enough for the kind of camera he had and also he wasn’t sure if he could do it without her noticing it.

He talked about her several times to Kaiz, his only friend, and Kaiz one day asked: ‘If you like her so much, why don’t you do something about it?’

‘What do you mean do something about it?’ Rook protested. ‘Damn it, she is married!’

‘So what? A woman is a woman—husband or no husband. She probably needs it from somebody else.’

It happened one day that Rook walked into Unchi, a restaurant he almost never went to because of its high prices. As he stepped out of the lift on the top floor of the high building, his eyes fell immediately on her. She was at the cashier’s desk. He nearly stopped in his tracks.

Because she wore the skirt and blouse (resembling in colour the uniform of the waiters) and her head hung over her work, he wasn’t absolutely sure it was she, not until he passed her and she looked up at him; and then he had an impulse to give her a smile, but his face couldn’t register it.

He slumped at a table from which he had a view of her and, his appetite having suddenly left him, he ordered a bottle of beer. He wondered why he had never known she worked.

There was of course no reason why he should have known such a thing, for he had always kept aloof from his neighbours. His two sisters, indulging as they did in a good deal of tittle-tattle with other girls in the lane, had told him the little he knew about her, that she was Mrs. Hava Piko and Mr. Piko was the manager of an electric bulb factory and that they had only those two children they saw in the lane.

He lingered over his beer; and when he had finished and paid for it, he did not wait for the waiter to come back with the change but followed him to the cashier so that he could collect it there.

She gave him a glance past the waiter as she took the bill and the note; and when she raised her hand to work the cash register her breasts protruded out of her blouse so powerfully that he wondered if the waiter too was looking at it. He felt jealous.

There was unfortunately nothing wrong with the change and all there remained for him to do was to tip the waiter. Tipping to him was a foul practice; he would never have given a tip in his life if he could have been sure no nasty trick would be played with his food next time. But now he gave it ungrudgingly and a generous amount too, and then he turned away diffidently, walked a few paces and pressed the lift button.

‘You live in Tooki Lane, don’t you?’

For a moment Rook couldn’t believe it. He turned and saw that the waiter had disappeared and there was no one else she could possibly have addressed.

‘Yes, I do,’ he answered hurriedly, smiling. He took a step towards her, wondering how she could have known that. As far as he was aware she had never looked up at the balcony. ‘Have you seen me there?’

‘How else would I know?’ she smiled.

That didn’t sound quite polite, but he laughed.

‘You are practically our neighbour,’ she added.

‘Yes,’ he returned. Then, after a nervous pause, ‘I didn’t know you worked here.’

‘I’ve just started.’

‘Oh...eh, have you been working some place before?’

She shook her head. ‘My first job.’

He didn’t think it proper to ask why she had started working, so: ‘Do you like it here?’

‘Not bad.’ She did not stop smiling.

He could not think of anything else to say and found it awkward to continue looking at her when she wasn’t saying anything else either. With nervous excessiveness, he nodded, ‘Well, see you sometime.’

‘Yes.’

Going down the lift he was in a fever. He made up his mind then and there that he would come back the next day. But then, a minute later, he checked himself: No, he would come back a week or so after, for she must not be allowed to get the impression that he was in any way interested in her.

When he told Kaiz she was working in Unchi, Kaiz wanted immediately to have a look at her, to see if ‘she is all that you say she is.’

His verdict when he had seen her was expressed with a distortion of his facial muscles and a single word: ‘Fat.’

‘Go to hell !’ Rook told him.

‘Just imagine lying there on all that meat. Like a fly on a cake.’

‘Well, she is certainly better than one of your scraggy ones. Who the hell wants to lie on bones! Hell, one can even get hurt!’

Rook started going regularly to the Unchi, always making sure that there was a decent interval between each of his visits. And since he had to pass the cashier’s desk to go in, he nearly always got an opportunity of a few words with her. He found her good-humoured and friendly and he tried to be as nice to her as he could, never failing to keep himself on the look-out for any sign that she had had enough of their conversation so that he should not stand there for even a second longer. He was so suspicious that sometimes he walked away even though she appeared to want to continue talking.

She was a good conversationalist, with a talent for small talk, and she was completely at her ease. She was fond of making facetious remarks and she was pleased when he laughed at them. Rook had never liked indulging in small-talk; he found it awfully difficult to make trivial remarks he did not mean; but in order to keep talking to her he was willing to be insincere. He was afraid his insincerity would show and to cover it up he delivered his remarks with an unnatural stress. This later made him feel ridiculous and awful.

His talking to her had excited his imagination even more. The fantasy he created most often now was the one in which he comes out of the lift and she, upon seeing him, takes him to some bedroom behind the restaurant. There he immediately lifts her skirt and with a tug at her flimsy panties tears them off. He falls with her on the bed, she on her back, he between her thick thighs. And then when they have finished he drinks a beer in the restaurant while she does a bit of work at her desk. The beer having been drunk, he calls her again—this time to the restaurant’s balcony. There they do it standing, as they watch the city down below.

Rook never failed to report to Kaiz his chats with her. Once, after listening to him, Kaiz said:

‘Well then, what are you waiting for, you fool?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘She wants you.’

‘Oh, don’t talk rubbish.’

‘It’s not rubbish. Why don’t you ask her out?’

‘She doesn’t want me; she has a husband.’

‘Husband,’ Kaiz sneered. ‘To hell with the husband. She doesn’t care about him; why the hell should you?’

‘What do you mean she doesn’t care about him? How do you know?’

‘Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Why do you think she hasn’t talked to you about him?’

‘She has,’ said Rook. ‘She said he was a factory manager...’

‘Something you already knew. Anything else?’

‘Well...I don’t remember, she must have...well what more can she say?’

‘Plenty. If she only loved him. But she doesn’t love him and that’s why she is throwing all those hints at you.’

Rook fell silent. He felt confused.

‘Look, I wouldn’t be saying this if I wasn’t sure,’ resumed Kaiz. ‘It’s a certainty, you can’t fail to get her. For once you have got to stop being frightened and go and ask her boldly.’

‘Just like that, eh?’

‘Yes, just like that! Damn it, you have got to make a start sometime. How long are you going to continue the way you are doing? It’s unhealthy, I tell you.’

‘Suppose she has a shocked face when I ask her? I will never be able to talk to her after that.’

‘She won’t, I promise you.’

But not all Kaiz’s promises would convince Rook, and then Kaiz, in all seriousness, declared:

‘Well, if you don’t do it, I am afraid I’ll have to.’

Rook threw him a sharp look. ‘You?’

‘Yes me. I can’t bear to let go of something as easy as that.’

‘But you said she is fat. You don’t like her.’

‘I don’t really mind the fat. She is still a woman.’

With a violent movement, Rook thrust his finger out and shook it at him. ‘You will do no such thing, you hear,’ he screamed. ‘Just you keep your hands off her!’

Kaiz, smiling, shrugged his shoulders. ‘All right, then you do it.’

At the Unchi the next day, on his way in, Rook exchanged the usual greetings with her and at the bar proceeded to drink three beers. He wore new shirt and trousers. It was around three in the afternoon and the restaurant had only a handful of customers, one or two of whom were obviously very drunk. Rook loved to see people make fools of themselves. Other people’s troubles were a source of great comfort to him. Downing his last bottle he began suddenly to wonder if he too had had too much? Had he gone and overdone it? He got up and went to the balcony and, standing before the city, took deep breaths of the fresh air. He looked at his watch and told himself it was time he made the move.

‘Take it easy,’ Kaiz had said, ‘just relax and smile while you say it.’

But he waited still more, and then he began to worry once again about the degree of his tipsiness. Had he stood there too long? Should he swallow another beer? Yes...No...Yes...No, there really was no time left. It would soon be four-thirty and she would be knocking off from work.

He went.

He did not, as he had intended, rush back to the restaurant afterwards to get drunk; instead he went down the lift, as he had done so many times before, feeling drunk anyway. Yes, she would love to dine with him the day after tomorrow.

But by the time he had brushed his teeth before going to bed that evening, his feeling of ecstasy had almost vanished; drowned gradually by a whole set of new problems.

What restaurant was he going to take her to? What food was he going to suggest they eat? What things was he going to talk to her about? What was he going to do when they had finished eating?

He began to feel dismay. He had only one thing to be glad about: that he had Kaiz to turn to for help and advice; the gratitude he felt now for Kaiz knew no bounds.

But the trouble with Kaiz was that he thought everybody else was like him. ‘You don’t want to just feed her and let her go, you fool,’ he said. ‘You will disappoint her like mad. No, you have got to decide how you are going to make it easy for her to pop into bed with you. Have you got any ideas?’

‘But that’s impossible, I can’t do that, not on the first date.’

‘Why the hell not? There is no time like the first date.’

‘Now look here, Kaiz, I am not going to rush in like a fool. So just don’t make me...I am going to take my time and I am going to find out how far she is willing to go...I won’t touch her until I am sure she is keen.’

‘But she is keen! Look, why else would she come with you?’

‘Maybe just to talk. For the sake of my company.’

‘Your company, my arse!...But all right, you do what you want, it’s just that I can’t bear to think you will mess it up.’

‘Well, I’ll try not to mess it up.’

But after a while Kaiz was back on the subject. ‘You realize don’t you that you have a problem when it comes to sleeping with her.’

‘I told you I am not going to try to do that.’

‘Suppose you did try and she accepted?’

‘Then I’ll sleep with her.’

‘Yes, but where? She can’t take you home because of the husband and you can’t take her home because of the mother. Decent hotels are expensive and she doesn’t look the type to go to one of those cheap, run-down ones in an area full of bad people. Look, take her to my flat, I’ll go and do some work or something.’

‘Very decent of you, Kaiz, but...I told you I am not going to sleep with her.’

‘All right, don’t sleep with her, but take her to my flat, you will have a better atmosphere.’

Rook had thought it over. Going to the flat would obviously be more private but he was a little afraid of it. For one thing he did not want to give her the impression that he had invited her because he wanted to sleep with her and for another he wasn’t sure if he wouldn’t find it more difficult to conduct a proper conversation with her there. A public place seemed better because there it would be more natural for him to look away from her, and thus avoid embarrassment, when they had finished a topic and were searching for another. But when Kaiz kept on saying that he was speaking from experience and that there was no better place than the flat to get to know a person, Rook fell in with the idea. His fears melted in the face of a constant flow of persuasive words.

Hours before he was going to meet and fetch her, he had finished preparing, with Kaiz’s help, the food he was going to eat with her. Then arose the question of where they should eat—in the kitchen, where Kaiz did his eating, or the main room? Rook didn’t think the kitchen suitable for a guest, not for the kind he was having. But Kaiz said that was nonsense.

‘I don’t mind your using my writing table, but for heaven’s sake don’t go and overdo it. Treat her like a bitch, not like a bloody queen; that’s how women like it.’

‘You mean those girls you have brought here have all eaten in the kitchen? asked Rook.

‘Sure. Those that came to eat, that is. But they were only a few; I usually give them a drink.’

When Mrs. Hava Piko walked into the little flat, the food was waiting for her on the kitchen table. She wore a pink sleeve-less blouse, a tight white skirt and her short hair was done up in a fancy way with ribbons and clips. She said she was starving. She looked around the flat and said it was nice. And she was surprised that Rook knew how to cook.

He saw that she really meant it when she said she was starving, for she kept wolfing down the food. He wondered if her appetite was always that big and concluded that it probably was. She chattered on gaily in her usual way about one thing and another and he, not being in the habit of talking while eating, did not enjoy the food; but he was glad she could find something to talk about. The fear crept into him that maybe she would run through the food and still be hungry. Kaiz had advised him to keep pouring the wine into her glass and this he did. He wished now that he had two bottles instead of one: he was sure he needed the liquid more than she did; he decided that later he would pick Kaiz’s fridge and drink some of his beer.

At last she was finished and they had the dessert. They got up and then she began automatically to clear up the table.

‘Don’t worry, I’ll do the washing up,’ she said. ‘You just take it easy.’

He was very glad but thought he should protest. ‘But...but you are my guest.’

She waved her hand at him as if to drive him away. ‘I may be your guest, but I am also a woman.’

He stood watching her a few seconds, his face full of worry, so that she should not suspect that he was glad, and then, ‘Well, all right...I’ll just smoke a cigarette and wait for you.’

‘You do that.’

He withdrew into the main room, and stood looking out the window as he smoked. He was happy to get a breather. Already he was feeling tired: his facial muscles of smiling; his throat of having to deliver a laugh from time to time; and his brain of having to think of interesting remarks to make. It was all too much work for him. He realized now that he hadn’t faced all that much of a problem talking to her at the Unchi; there he had always been able to leave her if their conversation floundered, but here the talking simply had to be continued if she wasn’t to be made to feel that he had got tired of her. He wondered if he should try to make an effort to call her Hava or something? She was calling him by his name (had done so from the very beginning) but he was still behaving as if she was a stranger. It was preposterous but there he was. And now that he had known her for several weeks the problem had become even more difficult to put right.

‘Well, that was that,’ she smiled as she came in from the kitchen later and went and sat on the sofa where she had kept her handbag.

He ground out his second cigarette in the ash-tray on the writing table, his mind occupied with the thought that he had wasted wine on her; she seemed to be behaving no differently. He turned to her anxiously. ‘Will you have a cigarette?’

‘Thank you.’

He went and held out his packet and when he struck a match for her, said, ‘Thanks for the washing up.’

‘It was nothing,’ she leaned back on the sofa, exhaling a jet of smoke from her thick lips.

He sank into the arm-chair facing her across the coffee table, drawing out a cigarette for himself. He didn’t want to smoke so soon again but not having the thing in his hand made him feel kind of naked in front of her.

Blowing the smoke again through her rounded lips she said, ‘Tell me, this friend of yours—what’s his name again?’

Kaiz.’

‘Yes, Kaiz...where is he now? Doesn’t he need the flat?’

‘Oh, he’s gone to work. For his Uncle. He is in the insurance business. He won’t be back until tomorrow.’

It was not quite true. Kaiz hadn’t been sure if he would be going to work but he said he wouldn’t be back before midnight, by which time he hoped Rook would have finished with her. But to be sure he would give Rook a ring before coming.

‘And you have been friends with him a long time?’

‘That’s right. He is about the only friend I have.’

‘But he is not married either?’

‘No. He is like me.’

‘Well, I never knew there were so many young people who didn’t believe in marriage,’ she smiled.

Rook shrank back. If there was anything he believed in, it was marriage. The trouble was it took two to enter into it. As for Kaiz, well, he couldn’t understand him: he seemed content to run from one girl to another, often calling himself ‘a young bull’.

To prevent her from pursuing that topic further, he sprang up. He asked her if she wanted beer. She said she would rather have tea and he went into the kitchen to make it.

The evening had so far gone on fine, but at the back of his mind was the fear that he would say or do something that would annoy her. Sitting down again after bringing her the tea, he clutched his beer bottle and helped himself liberally, and hoped that she would leave soon after the tea, before he really did something stupid.

But when she had drunk her tea, she said:

‘Tell me more about yourself.’

He wasn’t sure if she was asking because she really wanted to know or in order just to make conversation. He got up again. ‘Let me get myself another beer.’ And in the kitchen, remembering that he hadn’t asked her, he shouted, ‘will you have beer now?’

‘No thank you.’

‘More tea then?’

‘No thank you.’

When he had sat down again she repeated the question. ‘Now tell me more about yourself.’

He scratched his head, smiling. ‘I think you already know everything about me. There is nothing more to tell. Why don’t you tell me something more about yourself, or maybe your husband.

No sooner the words were out of his mouth than an intense pain shot through him. Quickly he put the beer bottle to his mouth, and then, not being able to look at her, he fumbled for a cigarette. What a blunder ! you fool, what a blunder ! he railed at himself.

But she said, ‘My husband I told you is all electric bulbs. He earns good money and his work is not bad.’ She laughed and went on to relate some trivial incident in the bulb factory. Rook gave a smile of relief.

She was so good at keeping up the conversation that three hours went by since she had come and still she was giving no sign of wanting to leave. He began his fourth beer but all that the stuff had done to him so far was to make him go to the toilet several times, and to have stimulated his desire for her. It was maddening that she was so near and yet so far. A little later she asked, ‘Could I have some more tea now?’

‘Of course,’ he jumped up.

‘Oh, don’t worry, I’ll make it.’

He stopped, nodding. ‘If you like.’

She went into the kitchen and he sat down again. When she came back with the steaming cup, her eyes rested on the record player.

‘Is that your friend’s?’

A stupid question, thought Rook. ‘Yes,’ he answered, and she picked up some of the records and began looking at them. It had crossed his mind to ask her if she would like to listen to some music but hadn’t thought it a good idea. He was afraid she would want it loud and then not being able to talk they would have to stare at each other’s faces. But now he said, ‘do you like any of them?’

‘Your friend seems to have a good collection.’ She held out one. ‘Can we play this?’

‘Sure.’

It was an old LP of the Beatles. He was glad that when he put the sound low she did not object. At that moment he couldn’t think of anything better to say so he made a remark about the Beatles.

‘The Beatles are good, aren’t they?’

‘Yes, I love them.’ She began to shake her head with the rhythm of the music, her eyes looking past him at the windows.

‘It’s a pity they split up,’ he said.

‘No, I don’t think so. I think they are making better music working without each other. Seems to me they have kind of grown up.’

He didn’t think at all that they were making better music, or that they had grown up. So he said, ‘I wonder what it is that makes us like music? I mean it’s just a lot of sound put together...’

She did not respond but smiled and continued with her head shaking.

‘But I have a hunch. I think it has something to do with relieving us of the usual everyday noises that we are so tired of hearing. It kind of brings a fresh experience to our eardrums.’

She made no attempt to bother with what he had just said. The Beatles seemed to have taken full possession of her. She was now not only shaking her head but also her hands and feet. He wondered if she had suddenly gone mad.

‘You seem to be in a dancing mood,’ he remarked with a smile.

She did not hear him for she leant forward and said: ‘Sorry, what did you say?’

‘I said you feel like dancing.’

‘Of course! Let’s.’ She sprang up.

He was flabbergasted. He stared up at her and he froze. ‘But...but I don’t know how to.’

‘Oh, that’s all right; come I’ll teach you. ‘She seized his hands and he could not but allow himself to be dragged up.

‘But I don’t know if...’

‘Oh, come on. Now hold me like so...this hand here...that one there...yes, that’s right...now you just move with me...one, two...that’s right...just relax and move with me, it’s not difficult at all...’

‘But I have never danced.’

‘Well, you are doing now...one, two, three, four...that’s right, just keep that up.’

He was confused and he felt like a fool. But he did as he was told. They moved around and the thought occurred to him that maybe Kaiz was right about her. He felt terribly excited and then terribly frightened. He tightened his grip around her waist a bit and was surprised that she was so soft. Her hand too was devoid of bones. He was looking over her shoulder and she was looking over his. Five minutes later he seemed to have got the hang of it and became a bit confident. Ten minutes later she remarked that he was doing wonderful and that she couldn’t believe that he had never danced.

‘You must have gone to some dancing school,’ she joked.

‘No, I haven’t.’

‘Well, why didn’t you?’

‘Because I didn’t see any need of it.’

He couldn’t very well tell her that the reason he hadn’t seen any need of it was because he had been scared stiff of the thought of having to go and ask a girl for a dance.

They continued.

And then the feeling crept into him that maybe she didn’t want to continue anymore. She had done it for his sake, and she would now rather sit down. He saw that her politeness would force her to go on with it until the record finished. His interest waned and he stepped on her toes once or twice. At last he said:

‘You are not tired, are you?’

‘Tired? She pulled out her head from him and he saw that she was smiling. ‘Why should I be tired? Are YOU tired?’

‘No. I thought maybe it’s not fun for you...I mean me being a beginner...’

‘What nonsense. You are doing fine...the only thing is there is a carpet on the floor. But it doesn’t matter.’

As she said this, the gap between them suddenly disappeared and he felt her body full against his. His heart leaped.

And then fear once again seized him. Suppose she really wanted to sleep with him? Could he be sure he could do it? Certainly his manhood was swollen, pressing hard against his trousers so that perhaps she could feel it too. But that was now. What about when they got down to it?

Tightening his hold around her still further, he felt their cheeks touch. She was wet with perspiration and he felt slightly repelled, but could not help disengaging his left hand from her right and passing it around her waist like his other hand. Then it was unbearable to keep his head still and he began withdrawing it, their cheeks rubbing, until his mouth got near the corner of hers.

The Beatles kept singing and, his feet refusing to move anymore, he clung to her. His worry about the record finishing soon had just begun when on a sudden her head turned and he found his mouth jammed full against hers.

He felt extremely uneasy to be sprawled stark naked on the carpet where countless number of shoes had stood and walked, but could find no way of suggesting that they pull out the sofa and make the bed, even though there seemed no doubt now that she was willing, having taken off everything herself, except for the panties.

He could not understand her taking time over it. His fear of impotency was looming ever larger. He tried to give one or two tugs at the panties but she took no notice and in desperation he reached for his bottle of beer, lying half-full on the coffee table. But, seizing his hand, she took the bottle away.

‘You mustn’t drink anymore, you know; you’ll spoil it.’

He couldn’t help it then: He fell on the panties and forced them off.

And when at last she helped him enter her (as Kaiz had assured him she would), he lunged and reared and bucked like some savage beast.

But it was only when she had left him and he had rushed to the bathroom and soaped himself thoroughly clean, that he began to gloat over his breakthrough.

BLOODY GIRL

I first saw her in a movie theatre, seated a couple of rows away. She was fantastic. I quickly made up my mind to make an ‘approach’ once the show was over.

When the lights came on, I sprang to my feet but only to get a shock. She was gone. Her seat was empty. Apparently she hadn’t liked the picture or something. I cursed my luck and walked out dejected.

Weeks later I was elated when I saw her again, in a restaurant. There she was, with the same dazzling face and smashing figure, seated alone at the table in the corner, with a glass of beer before her. Automatically I made my way towards her.

‘May I sit here?’ I smiled, pointing to one of the chairs at her table.

She looked up and, without speaking, nodded.

With an expressionless face she watched me sit down. Then, out of the blue, she coolly asked: ‘Would you like a beer?’

For a moment I thought I was going to fall off the chair. ‘Why.....yes....thank you,’ I said, recovering.

Later that evening she accepted my invitation to come up to my room and our affair began.

Not long after, however, a sneaking feeling told me that there was something wrong somewhere.

Once I happened to cut myself very slightly on the finger. I pulled out my hanky and was about to wrap it round the finger when suddenly she jumped up and, grabbing my finger, stuck it in her mouth. She said that was the best thing to do even for a trivial injury like that.

When we kissed she would at times bite my lips so hard that they hurt. She would then begin to osculate passionately, hurting me even more!

Then one day she suggested we go for a picnic. I agreed. Taking with us heaps of sandwiches and a flask full of coffee, we set out for a place outside the city.

We chose a secluded little spot. Heavenly indeed it was to lie there in the warm open air and be locked in ecstatic embraces. Soon we felt hungry and ate ravenously.

I drank the coffee she poured out for me. It tasted strange. A little later I felt my eyelids grow heavy. I saw her now as in a haze. She was watching me intently.

I felt so sleepy, I lay down and closed my eyes; a moment later I felt her body on mine and her lips kissing me around the ears.

I had slipped into a state of semi-consciousness when suddenly an excruciating pain on my neck pulled open my eyes and I saw then a face that was not hers. Gone was the beauty of a few moments ago. Her eyes flashed grotesquely, the lips were drawn back in a snarl and her teeth were ready to bite me again.

I heard myself yell. Forcing my benumbed limbs to move, I managed to kick her in the face. When she fell back I took instant flight. I came home exhausted and slumped heavily on my bed.

I never tried to see the bloody girl again.

AFTERLIFE

It was a large foggy space with no end to it. The man, wearing only a flowing white robe, walked about in a daze, looking for he knew not what.

Suddenly he saw a black robed creature who looked neither human nor anything else he had previously come across. But that could be because he could remember nothing. He approached this ‘person’ cautiously, stood some distance away and simply stared at him. Finally he opened his mouth: “Who are you?”

“That’s not important,” was the answer.

“It’s important to me.”

There was no further response.

Suddenly the man heard what seemed like a frightened voice of a woman from somewhere beyond. He ran towards it.

“God, oh God, where am I?” the woman was screaming, as she lay sprawled on the floor. “Doctor! Nurse! For God’s sake, what has happened?”

“Stop shouting, woman!” said the man, coming up to her.

“Who...who are you? Where are we?” she said.

“In hell, where do you think?”

He had said that without thinking but seconds later he began to wonder and fear suddenly seized him. He tried to shrug it off.

“What...?! cried the woman.

“We have died, madam. That’s what. Any more questions?”

“Died?! Oh, God, my God...”

“Have we met before?” he asked her.

“God, oh God”

“Woman, I asked you a question. Have we met before?”

Moments later she answered, “Met? I don’t know.”

“Are you sure?”

“I don’t know.”

They stared at each other for a while, then she heaved herself up.

“I certainly haven’t seen you,” he continued, “and yet we are somehow lumped together. There seems to be no one else here, except that creature.”

“What creature?”

“Either he doesn’t know or he won’t tell. It’s maddening! Are you sure you don’t know me?”

“What creature are you talking about?”

“He has a black robe and he doesn’t look human. Wait, could he be...?”

The woman stared at him, petrified.

“Yes, that’s it...We have indeed died.”

The woman was speechless.

The man continued: “I wonder if we look like what we used to look like. This dress we are wearing, I can’t feel it, can you?”

“I...I feel naked,” the woman muttered.

“Yes.” He casts a glance around. “Quite a place this. Nothing but fog. And you can’t smell a thing.” He sniffed.

“Perhaps there are others here. Only we can’t see them because of the fog.”

“No, no, I checked. I walked all over the place and all I discovered was that creature and now you.”

She broke into tears.

“Well, well, well, so you are going to cry now, are you? Fat lot of good that will do you.”

“Is this hell? Are we in hell?”

“I don’t think so. There are no fires burning here.”

“What is it then?”

“Perhaps a waiting room.”

“Waiting for what?”

“Maybe waiting to account for our deeds back on earth—an interview with God.”

“Then we still have a chance, I mean...”

Suddenly she began to shudder, then, “I just can’t imagine having committed any sins.”

“Then what the hell are you frightened of?”

She continued to sob.

“Well, what do you know,” he said, “A saintly lady hanging around in the company of...” He screwed up his face in puzzlement, unable to go on.

Suddenly she became hysterical. “It’s not hell. You said it wasn’t hell!” She turned and dashed away from him, trying to look through the fog. Finally she found the black robed creature. “Please, please,” she asked frantically. “Is this hell? Am I in hell?”

The creature shuffled his feet. “No, madam, you are not in hell.”

The man came up to them. “Has the fool spoken?” he asked.

“Stop talking like that,” she shouted at him. Then broke into sobs again.

“A respectable lady, did you know that, mister?” the man said. And hell bent on getting into heaven.”

“I don’t think you should tease her, sir.”

“You don’t think so, eh? Is it a sin, eh?”

No response.

“Just tell me this: Why are we the only two here? Me and her. Where are the others?”

“It would be best if you waited, sir. You would get all the answers you need—in a moment.”

“I want to know now, damn it!, “ the man said angrily. Then more calmly, “Look I don’t know her from Adam. What’s she doing here with me?”

“You haven’t got long to wait, you know.”

The man threw up his hands in disgust.

The woman, in control of herself now, asked, “Is it God we are waiting to see?”

No response.

She continued, “What’s going to happen to us?”

No response.

“What happened to the others? There must have been others before us...?”

“There were only a few.”

“Only a few?”

“Yes, Madam.”

“Where did they go?”

“They went where you are going.”

“And where’s that?”

No response.

“It’s no use, lady,” the man said. “This is not hell and yet we must keep on waiting.”

“Perhaps this is all a dream,” said the woman . “It must be.”

“Maybe,” the man said, then, “Look, my dear woman, let’s sit down somewhere and talk.”

“I would rather stay here, thank you.”

“Look, you won’t get anything out of this creature.”

“I would rather wait here.”

“But don’t you want to talk to me?”

“We can talk here.”

“In front of this fellow? Come on,” he grabs her arm.

“Take your hands off me!”

“All right,” he released her. “But please come. I’ll go mad if I don’t talk.”

She sighed. Then began to walk.

“That’s better. We can go where we won’t be heard.”

“Are you sure of that?”

“Hell, no.”

They walked some distance and squatted on the floor.

“There has to be a reason we have been brought together here. Despite your strange face, maybe you are someone I knew before.”

“I don’t remember a thing.”

“But wait a minute. I distinctly heard you cry out for Doctor and Nurse when you came to. Isn’t that right?”

“No”

“But you did. And you also said you were without sin—“

“I never cried out for any nurse or doctor and I never said I was without sin.”

“You did, damn it ! You did!” He suddenly became thoughtful. “Wait a minute. Crying for the medicos must have been before you came to. Yes, before you came to...”

“Maybe.”

“And the thing about being—“

He was suddenly cut off by the loud voice of the ‘creature’: “Sir, madam, please come now. It’s time to go in.”

“He is calling us,” said the man.

“Oh, God, I am so afraid,” she said, crying.

“Stop it, woman! Let’s go.”

She hung on to him as they walked back.

“This way, sir, madam, follow me,” the ‘creature’ said.

When they entered the place they were simply flabbergasted, their fears, along with the fog, melting away. They were so entranced, they ignored each other completely.

There was no need for any further directions from anybody: both of them knew instinctively which of the many tree-lined gravelled paths they should take.

He took one path and she another. They didn’t say any good byes, nor did they glance towards the other.

He walked past lakes and waterfalls and little houses surrounded by greenery. Now and then he came across people who greeted him warmly. He stopped to talk to one of them, a female, because she was so beautiful, not that he was thinking of any sex. He just asked her what she was doing.

“I am carrying on what I was doing back on earth,” she said.

“And what’s that?”

“Research.”

He didn’t bother to ask what research and moved on. In a little while he got to the huge building. It was the library. He just knew it would be there and that he would find it.

He sat down at a computer terminal and moments later a full list of all the people who were in this place came up before him. He studied the list again and again but the only names he saw were those of people like Somerset Maugham, Bertrand Russell, Einstein, Newton, Gandhi, Edison, Fleming, and some others he had never heard of. He could not find the names he was looking for, so finally he gave up and went up to the librarian. He gave her the two names he was interested in.

“Who are they, sir,” she asked.

“They are my mother and father.”

“If you didn’t find them, then I am sure they are not here,” she told him.

“Where are they, do you know?”

“Are you sure they died?”

“Yes.”

“Then I am afraid they don’t exist any more.”

“Is that a polite way of saying they are in hell?” a hint of anger crept into his voice.

“My dear man, there is no such thing as hell. Nor is there a heaven...”

“I thought this was heaven!”

“It isn’t,” she said.

He was thoroughly perplexed as he walked out of the library. Then he recalled that he had seen at least one name on the computer that had belonged to a renowned criminal back on earth. Deep in thought he resumed his walk, once again knowing exactly where he must go now.

It was a house surrounded by a huge garden just like the other houses he had seen. Coming up to the front door he saw his name written boldly on a plaque; and the name of another, a woman. It was then that it hit him—the woman was the one he had been ‘lumped together’ outside. He remembered her clearly now.

He went inside and saw that the house was fully furnished with all amenities at his beck and call. He poured himself a whiskey and sank into a very comfortable sofa.

He waited.

Eventually she came, smiling broadly and carrying a shopping bag full of groceries. “Are you hungry?” she asked.

“Is that where you went—to the supermarket?” he wanted to know.

“Yes, but first I went to our lab. Oh, it’s so beautiful! You’ll love it.”

“I am sure I will,” he said. “I just hope it doesn’t blow up in our faces again.”

She laughed.

He took another sip of his whiskey and got up to help her make the food.

When they had finished eating, they went to bed and made love like they had done many other times before. He had hoped it would be more enjoyable this time but it wasn’t. He shrugged his shoulders and brought up the subject that had bothered him ever since he left the library.

“How can a criminal be in this place when my parents aren’t?” he said.

She asked what criminal and he gave her his name.

“Oh, him...why, didn’t you know?”

“Know what?”

That after he came out of prison he had gone on to write a best selling book on prison reform...!”

“I’ll be damned,” he cried.

THE WOMAN GRABBER

Detective Inspector Mason felt a little uneasy as he picked up the post-mortem report that had just been delivered to him. It seemed for a moment that the nausea he had felt when he had first seen the victim was about to return. Never before had he had to do with such a bestial case. The corpse had in places looked like butcher’s meat, and he could certainly do without being reminded of it. With a sigh he began to read the document from the Coroner’s office.

It told him, among other things, that a single attacker had been responsible for the woman’s death. The same shoe had smashed into her skull in several places; and specimen slides under the pathologist’s microscope had indicated a single sexual assault.

Putting the report aside at last, Mason opened his drawer and examined once again the pair of men’s gloves which had been found near the mutilated body. There was little doubt that they belonged to the lust-driven sadist he was looking for. He had tried to show them around town, and a lot of people had even come to have a look at them after reading so much about the case in the press, but alas nobody had the foggiest idea who they might belong to.

Feeling more frustrated than ever, the Inspector picked up the autopsy report again. He had just began to re-read it when his phone rang.

‘Is that Inspector Mason?’ a voice asked.

‘Yes’.

‘About that murder in Town Hall Square.....I think I can help you.’

‘May I have your name please?’

‘Never mind my name!’ exploded the caller. ‘Do you want to hear what I have to say or don’t you?!’

‘Yes, of course, but—’

‘It was a deaf man! A chap wearing one of those hearing aids. I saw him running away into Main street about the time of the crime.’

‘Where was he running from?’

‘Well, where else from?! The Town Hall Square!’

With that the caller hung up. And Mason could not but feel that it was a hoaxer.

Until a few days later when a colleague of his made him aware of a club called Deaf and Dumb Welfare, situated no more than about a hundred meters from the scene of the crime—and in the Main street itself, towards which the caller claimed he saw the deaf man running.

He wasted no time in going over to the place. A Mrs. Porter, the secretary, welcomed him. She had read about the crime.

‘Horrible, horrible,’ she said, making a wry face. ‘But I can’t believe you would find anything here, Inspector. It’s unthinkable that any of our members should be capable of doing that sort of thing.’

‘Mrs. Porter, how many members do you have here?’

‘Well, about three hundred.’

‘And they are all handicapped?’

‘Yes.’

Mason scratched his head dejectedly. ‘Three hundred is quite a figure,’ he murmured.

‘Yes, but if you are looking for someone who came here on the evening of the twenty ninth of January, that’s easily found out. You see, we keep a register of the names of visitors for each evening.’

Mason’s eyes lit up.

‘If you’d like to come with me, I’ll show you.’

She took him to a desk near the entrance. On the desk was a book. She opened it and showed him a page.

‘January twenty-ninth—those are the signatures of members and their guests.’

Mason counted fifty-six names in all for that day. And the next few days, working with Mrs. Porter in her office, he interrogated all of them and later had all their stories checked. But it was all in vain. There was nothing he could pin on any of them. He threw up his hands and cursed his luck.

A month went by and then news of another crime reached Mason. It was Sunday evening and he was just finishing dinner with his wife when his headquarters called him on the phone.

‘Inspector, you had better go to DDW. A murder has just been reported there.’

‘DDW?’ asked Mason, his mouth still chewing. ‘What the hell is that?’

‘Deaf and Dumb Welfare—the place you have already visited.’

‘Good heavens!’ he cried, and dashed out.

When he got there he found a full complement of homicide officials to greet him. Pathologists had already taken over the club and photographers were busy beside the dead body.

Mason saw lying on the floor near the entrance door, a bloodied body of a young girl. She was naked, her dress having been stripped from her. She lay on her back, legs apart, hands folded across the chest, palms up, the fingers curved. Her eyes, glazed, were wide with a horror which had persisted after death.

A Detective-Sergeant approached Mason. ‘She has been kicked savagely about the face and head,’ said he. ‘It looks certain she has been raped.’

‘Yes it does, doesn’t it,’ said Mason, still staring down. Finally he turned toward the Sergeant. ‘All right, let’s have the facts.’

‘Well, replied the Sergeant,’ ‘it seems the victim had come about 5 pm to open the club for the evening and—‘

‘Who was she?’ the Inspector cut in. ‘An employee?’

‘No, a member. Apparently members of this club are required to work one evening a month and it was her turn today.’

Mason glanced at the corpse again. ‘Go on.’

‘Well, about half past five or so the evening’s first visitor came along and discovered the body. That’s all we know so far.’

‘A male?’

‘Yes.’

‘You talked to him?’

‘Yes we have. He is still here if you want him.’

Mason reflected for a moment, then: ‘Never mind. Just take down his name and address. We might need him later.’

‘Okay.’

The meticulous examination to which the club was subjected revealed that the brutal killer had left a blood-stained palm print on the edge of the entrance door. But that was not the only good news Mason received. The day after the murder he had a visitor who said that on the day in question, shortly after 5 pm, he had seen a man running from the direction of the club out towards the Square. He had taken a good look at him.

‘He was tall, he had short black hair and he wore specs.’

‘Did he wear a hearing aid?’

‘No,’ answered the informant.

Losing no time the Inspector got hold of the DDW secretary. But only to learn that she had no member who fitted that description.

In a search for more clues the club was sealed off; but there simply were no more clues to be found. When the days then went by and no further progress seemed to be made, Mason tried a bold new approach: he assigned a team of men for a massive door to door inquiry in the area. The maniac, he suspected, couldn’t be living far away.

After a good deal of walking and climbing, the officers got to a flat belonging to an old lady. She explained that she was then alone and that the flat’s only other occupant was her tenant, a twenty-five year old youth working as a dish-washer in a near-by restaurant.

The tenant was described as tall, well-built and having a crew-cut. The woman revealed that he usually wore glasses and that as far as she knew he had no difficulty in hearing.

It was decided to search the young man’s room. When the officers entered it they were relieved immediately of all their doubts: the little bed-sitter was filled with a bizarre collection of sex-oriented material.

Going immediately to the restaurant, Mason picked up the boy. He offered no resistance.

Back at headquarters, the boy’ palm print was compared with the one found on the door of the DDW. Even to the unaided eye they were clearly identical.

When brought into Mason’s office, the first thing the suspect did was to shoot a finger at the gloves lying on the Inspector’s desk. ‘

Those are mine!’ he cried.

‘Yes, I know,’ Mason told him, as he picked up the two specimen palm prints. ‘These are yours too.’

He studied the boy for a moment; looking at his strong physique and his almost child-like face that seemed to show only apathy; and he wondered, as he had wondered so often before, whether there ever really was a criminal, or for that matter any human being, who was responsible for what he did?

‘Tell me, son,’ he said, ‘how come you went to the Deaf and Dumb Club?’

The reply was promptly given. It was as if the boy was at a school examination and was asked a question the answer to which he knew:

‘The papers said you went there. I thought I’ll drop in there too.’

THE BUS STOP

At around half past ten at night the rain stopped beating on the roof of my house. My friend Morten, whom I had invited for a chat and some grub, cried ‘Oh’ and sprang to his feet. It was the first time he had been forced to stay on at my place after dark. He slipped into his overcoat and gave me an embarrassed smile.

‘Well, I’ll see you,’ he said quietly, his hands in his pockets.

‘No need to hurry, Morten,’ I said, making no move to get up from my chair. ‘It’s not all that late; the last bus is a long way off.’

‘No thank you, I must go now.’

‘But why? Tomorrow is Sunday, and you are not doing anything special, are you?’

‘No...but it’s such a bother to get home late,’ he screwed up his face.

‘Look, why don’t you spend the night here? It won’t be any trouble to me. You can go home tomorrow, nice and fresh.’

He shook his head. ‘Thank you very much, but...I think I should go.’

I sighed and stood up.

I had known Morten for about two years, having first met him in a cafeteria where, along with some of the other students from the near-by university, he went for lunch. After lunch, instead of going back for more work, he often continued sitting where he was until three or four O clock, talking, smoking, drinking beer and trying to ‘make’ the innumerable girls who came there. It was no wonder that at twenty eight he was still far from taking his final exams in Engineering. I saw him there often for I had the freedom of the writer to decide when I wanted to sit before my computer and when I didn’t. Whatever I was, I was not one of those who for the sake of earning big money are prepared to work like dogs. I managed very well on my small income for I had no wife and children to support and I was very thrifty.

Thriftiness was not one of Morten’s virtues, or vices, whichever way you like to look at it. He was recklessly profuse. The word ‘tomorrow’ didn’t seem to exist in his dictionary; only his immediate pleasure counted. And this, as one would expect, made him very generous towards his friends. When he was about to buy a beer or light a cigarette he always remembered to offer everybody, no matter how many were sitting with him.

Yes, Morten had a very kind and sympathetic nature but I wished he wasn’t also so excessively polite. It seemed awfully difficult for him to speak frankly; he never contradicted you, hated saying NO to any of your suggestions; and when a friend does that I can’t really feel free and easy with him. Friendship to me means forgetting ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, chaffing at the fellow and telling him to shut up when he gets boring. Standing in front of me now, smiling awkwardly, I knew he wouldn’t be able to bring himself to ask me outright to accompany him to the bus stop. Though it was only ten-thirty, it nevertheless was quite late for that part of the district I had chosen to live in.

‘Do you think you can manage to catch the bus by yourself?’ I asked him.

‘Well, if you feel like taking a walk...’

I laughed. And a moment later put on my mackintosh.

There were puddles of water everywhere on the soaked up ground. The sky was very dark and odd drops of rain were still falling. We walked between the hedges, along the dirt path that led up to the lake on the main road. A couple of hundred metres from the lake was the bus stop. Traffic on the road had died down except for an occasional car. There were no human beings to be seen.

We got to the stop and waited on the pavement, between the road and the cemetery.

I don’t mind admitting that I myself was not a little scared to wait there alone at night. Though the buses were quite regular, you could never be sure that they would not arrive some minutes later, or even earlier, than scheduled. In point of fact I had made it a rule to try to avoid as much as possible going out at night. Coming home late was all right: all you had to do then was to alight from the bus and walk away from the graves.

Facing the road, Morten said, ‘you can go as soon as we spot the bus.’

‘That’s all right,’ I said.

‘Man, they ought to put the stop some distance away from here,’ he muttered.

The remark made me wonder if a complaint had ever been made about it to the authorities. There weren’t many houses around and it was only rarely that I came across somebody at the bus stop. Most of my neighbours, the ever friendly farmers, were pretty well off and had cars.

The bus fortunately was not late in coming. I said good bye to him and started instantly to walk back. On a sudden, however, a queer feeling made me want to throw a quick look at the cemetery. I don’t know why; perhaps it was a desire to satisfy myself that I really was worried about nothing. Anyway when I did, I stopped in my tracks.

For there was something strange going on there: a  glow, bluish-green in colour; it hovered a few metres above the tombstones. As I watched it, it assumed the shape of a long veil and began floating horizontally in the air. It was spell-binding. But then the thought of my being there alone made me squirm with horror, and I turned to scamper off.

It was not until I had rushed a few paces that I saw him standing there.

‘What are you doing here?’ I shouted. ‘I thought you got on the bus?’

‘I did,’ said Morten. ‘But I got off it; I forgot my glasses at your place; I can’t go without them.’

‘Oh damn!’ I cried. ‘Look, what the hell is that?’ I pointed to the cemetery.

But the phenomenon was now not there. Vanished! I swore to him that I had seen it. He looked at me hard and then chuckled.

‘Denizens of the near-by lake sometimes lose their phosphorescence when they die,’ he said, ‘and such particles of phosphorous emit light while floating in the air.’

I waited, hoping it would re-appear. A beautiful and extra-ordinary sight like that was worth seeing again. Morten’s explanation, given in such a matter of fact way, didn’t somehow sound convincing. He appeared so sure of what I had seen that he didn’t say another word. After a futile wait I finally gave up and we turned back to collect his glasses.

Glasses? But that was rather funny. I had never seen him wearing them! Or had I? I gave him a sidelong glance.

‘What glasses are you talking about?’ I asked.

‘My reading glasses,’ he answered.

‘Do you wear them?’

He regarded me curiously. ‘Of course I do.’

‘How come I haven’t seen them on you?’

He grinned. ‘Maybe you need glasses too.’

I shrugged my shoulders and took a deep breath.

When we neared the lake, it became unusually cold and I folded my arms across my chest.

On a sudden a bat swooped down on Morten. It almost grazed his head and I laughed. But he didn’t seem bothered.

Further down the road, a farmer’s dog growled as it watched us from the other side of his master’s gate; then, suddenly, it made an about turn and ran off with a yell as if it had been hit on the head. At the same time a cat, which was seated on a boulder, snarled and disappeared among the trees.

Through it all I saw him walk with complete indifference, with his eyes fixed firmly on the road before him. I wondered at his peculiar attitude.

‘What’s wrong with you?’ I said, trying to sound casual.

He didn’t look at me. ‘Wrong with me? Nothing.’

‘Can’t you see anything at all without your glasses?’

‘No.’

‘Can’t you even hear without them?’

He made no reply.

We had now arrived back at the lake when suddenly he stopped and turning to me asked, ‘shall we take a swim?’

I stared at him, astonished, wondering if I had heard him right. He stared back at me with an expression that was quite serious.

‘Why not! A damn good idea to get friendly with the corpses,’ I smiled, trying to dismiss the suggestion.

Just then there rang out a loud croak. Turning quickly round, I saw that it was only some frogs, jumping up and falling into a pool of rain water. I drew a long breath. ‘Let’s get out of here.’ I said.

He seemed not to hear me, for he began picking up some mud from the side of the lake and started to apply it on his hands, as if to clean them. It seemed such a ridiculous thing to do that I burst out laughing. It was when he laughed back at me that I saw the bluish-green vapour again.

It was escaping from his mouth.

I looked aghast at him. My knees began suddenly to shake. Could it be that he had swallowed some of the bluish-green vapour, I wondered, and because of it was acting funny?

I repeated to him that we had better move on. I hoped now to keep him at my place and get him a doctor or something. He ignored me, and walked up to the lake and washed his feet. He went still further into the water until he was knee-deep in it, and then he shouted to me to do likewise. I stood there staring at him in bewilderment. He beckoned to me again and again, giving me a huge smile, which presently became narrower and narrower, until the corners of his mouth dropped, as if he was about to cry. When his lower jaw started to drop I saw it again. The silhouette of his teeth could be seen clearly against a background of bluish-green light. The glow became brighter and brighter and then, to my horror, I noticed that his body was gradually sinking into the water and that the water was devouring him.

I knew it would be of no use my trying to splash into the water to save him; I was too weak and now too scared. Besides, it was already too late. The poor fellow had almost gone.

All I could do was to make a dash for home. I thought I would ring for the police.

When I arrived I found my phone was ringing. I pounced on the instrument.

‘Hello,’ said a voice.

‘Who is that?’ I shouted, panting for breath.

Me. Morten.’

I was struck dumb for a second. ‘Is that you? God! Are you all right?!’

‘Sure,’ he laughed.

‘For heaven’s sake what happened?’

‘Nothing has happened,’ he answered. ‘I just phoned to ask if you got home all right.’

‘What are you talking about? What the devil happened to YOU?’

He laughed again. ‘Happened to me?’

‘At the lake; you were sinking; how did you come out?’

‘Sinking?’

‘Yes, damn it! What was wrong with you? Why did you go into the water?’

He hesitated. ‘I...I don’t quite know what you mean.’

‘What do you mean you don’t know?! Something happened to you after you got off the bus.’

‘After I got off the bus?’

‘Yes.’

For a moment he was silent, then with a puzzled voice:

‘Why...when I got off the bus I walked straight home.’

TOM, DICK AND HARRIET

Tom came out of the river and saw that there was still no one else about. He gave out a sigh of pleasure and lay down on the cloth he had spread out.

His eyes had been shut only a minute when he heard the shifting of the sand beside him. He looked up and was surprised.

‘Oh, hello Harriet,’ said he. He put as much warmth into his voice as he could.

It had been a week since he had seen her, in the park, and he had begun to think that after what she had witnessed there, she would not want to see him again. He had been seated on a bench with his arm wrapped around his new girl when suddenly he had noticed Harriet staring at them from the bench opposite. How long she had been seated there he did not know, but when he saw her—she had broken into a sardonic smile when he did—he was shocked, in spite of the fact that he had told her that he was seeing another girl. He had told her that because, strangely enough, it was she who had proposed that he get another girl. He got the impression that she said that out of a feeling of guilt: because she was running around with other boys and wanted to feel better by letting him be unfaithful to her. When confronted with this theory she had denied it hotly saying that it was because she liked him very much (she had never used the word ‘love’) and wanted him to be happy.

‘You are a full-blooded man and you need more sex than I can give you,’ she had said.

It was only later that he understood the real reason. Nothing but plain jealousy it was. She feared very much that he was having another girl and thought the best way to find out was by encouraging him to admit it.

When he had met this other girl and told Harriet about it she put on a sweet face and pretended that it was fine. But gradually her displeasure had come out into the open. Surreptitiously she had started to inquire about his movements and begun to drop in on him at unexpected hours in the hope of finding him with the other girl and thus embarrassing him.

In the park she had obviously expected him to come over to her bench or invite her over to his but he had done neither. Not wishing to risk letting the new one know of his relationship with her, he had simply ignored her; and when she left after a few agonizing moments he drew a long breath. He was glad she had enough pride not to come barging in.

He was no fool. He had no intention whatsoever of losing this new one. Very lucky indeed he was to meet her. She was the kind of girl he had really been looking for in the beginning. The kind of girl that was not only beautiful and sweet but was far from being vacant in the mind. She also happened to have that something extra which he rather oddly enough deemed desirable in a girl he would marry—long hair. Harriet had hers clipped near the ears; he had asked her several times to let it grow but she had refused on the grounds that her hair was ‘sick’.

‘It’s not your hair that’s sick, it’s you,’ he had told her once angrily.

He remembered the first time he had met Harriet. She was seated alone at a table in a night club. He had just come in and she was the first good-looking girl he had observed (he never wasted his time on plain ones). She had apparently come with some friends and they were away dancing. He had walked up to her and she had immediately jumped up. Hardly a minute had passed by when she was kissing him wildly with her tongue. Soon he had her address in his pocket and made a date to meet her the following week. The dance with her had lasted barely ten minutes; it was the quickest pick up he had ever made.

He had paid scant attention that night to the bandage she had worn around her knees. He came to know the reason for it only later, when they had been going out a few weeks. It seemed that when she was little someone had forced her to take up dancing lessons and ever since then she had come to detest dancing. When therefore for social reasons she had to go to a place where there was dancing she always put this fictitious bandage on to give her a ready excuse to avoid taking to the floor. He felt flattered that she wanted him so much as to take a turn with him in spite of her phobia. She had never danced with him again after that first dance.

On their first date she did not hesitate to tumble into bed with him. He got the impression that she was of easy virtue. His fear was confirmed a couple of months later when he took her to one of his friend’s parties. She came with the bandage on and told him that since she did not dance he should feel free to dance with other girls. And he did. Once, after one of the dances, when he came back to where she was seated, he found her in the arms of another boy. He got so mad that he told her to get out; he never wanted to see her again. But, to his great surprise, she went down on her knees and begged him to take her back, promising him that she would never do it again. At length he had given in and tried to put the incident out of his mind.

But he could not regain any faith in her; and one day, to test her, he had asked a friend of his to make advances to her. The friend reported back that she was quite willing to go out with him. He was convinced then that she did a lot of things behind his back.

But still no matter how ‘sick’ he thought she was, he had come to understand her and to sympathize with her. He knew what kind of childhood she had had—abandoned soon after birth by divorced parents, brought up by a lonely old lady, and grew up only to discover that her mother whom she had never seen was a part-time prostitute—and aware that she could not possibly have been anything else but what she was. The last few days that he hadn’t seen her he had been truly afraid for her. Of the life that awaited her.

‘I thought you would never come out of the water, Tom,’ she smiled, sitting down on the sand. She wore a plain white dress.

‘I am glad to see you, Harriet.’

‘Why haven’t you called me? she asked.

‘Harriet, I couldn’t talk to you that day in the park. I am sorry.’

‘Never mind that. Are you still seeing her?’

For a moment he looked at her without replying, then he smiled. ‘You told me to have another girl, so I am having her.’

She gave him a sudden fierce slap on his naked back. ‘I said you can GO OUT with another girl,’ she yelled. ‘I didn’t say you can HAVE another girl!’

‘We can still be friends, Harriet,’ he said soothingly.

‘I don’t want to be friends!’ she screamed, shaking her head wildly.

He got to his feet. ‘Look, I am going back into the river.’

He had just stepped into the water when suddenly the full force of her weight hit him in the back. He went splashing down with her.

He came up sputtering, trying to grab her. ‘Hey, what do you think you are doing?!’ he shouted.

She disappeared under the water and a moment later he felt her hands reaching for his trunks, pulling at them, and then one hand was inside it. Her head came out in front of him. ‘Tom, Tom.’

He looked back over his shoulder and he thought he saw some people beyond the trees.

‘Let go,’ he said, ‘we are being watched.’

‘Let them,’ she said. ‘They can’t see what’s happening under the water.’

He turned to her, his hands trying to get at her panties. But he couldn’t find them. She wasn’t wearing any.

She laughed and squirmed, pulling at him. ‘Oh, Tom, Tom.’ Frantically she hoisted herself on him. ‘I love you,’ she cried. ‘I love you.’

Their legs found the bottom of the river and then, thrusting himself into her, he felt the heat of her body.

A moment later she looked up at him and kissed him on the forehead. ‘You won’t leave me?’

Without replying he led her out of the water. He dried himself and tossed the towel to her. He climbed into his clothes.

‘Come, I’ll take you home, before that wet dress gives you pneumonia.’

He dropped her. And left.

Harriet stood and looked at herself in the mirror for a while, her wet, white dress sticking to her body. Then she went straight back to the river.

She contemplated the water listlessly, then dived in.

Only to end up in Dick’s bed.

Dick, wearing only shorts, sat on a chair with his legs crossed up on a table. He flicked the pages of a magazine and glanced at her from time to time. She was still unconscious. He wondered again how long it would be before she came round. He had waited a good deal and now he was getting tired and impatient.

He simply hated waiting. It was nothing but torture. Indeed his whole life had been one continual attempt to get things to move speedily.

There was the time in school when the stupid teachers had bored him so much that he was forced to kick up a racket or, if that failed, to play truant. And there was the time when he and his buddy had hid themselves in the church toilet, waiting for the warden to lock up and go home so that they could help themselves to the till: that had felt like an eternity and he had literally shit his arse out. Then, when he could stand it no longer and was in the process of clearing out, the warden got them, landing Dick before a magistrate.

That legal bastard had insisted on dragging his feet before calling up his case, only to find him too young to be sentenced. He was shoved on to a psychiatrist who, after another life time, only found out what to call him—a psychopath!

He did not know what that meant, nor did he care. All he knew was that he was perfectly happy with himself, if only things would happen more quickly, without a fuss.

He gave out now a large yawn, tossed the magazine on to the table and got up, ‘I might as well have something ready for her to eat,’ he thought, and strode out into the kitchen.

A little later, while still in the kitchen, he heard her scream. He rushed to her. She was flailing her hands and feet. Seizing her shoulders he pushed her head back on the pillow.

‘Take it easy, girl. Just take it easy.’

‘Where am I?’ she shouted, as she struggled in vain against his strong arms.

Having forced her to calm down, he stood there, lit a cigarette and with a smile watched her. The blanket that covered her naked body had slipped down. Becoming suddenly aware of it, Harriet sat up hurriedly, covering her breasts with her hands and pulling the blanket over her.

He grinned.

‘You shouldn’t bother,’ he said. ‘I’ve already had a good look at you. And you know something—you are a peach!’

He sat down close to her on the edge of the bed as she began to give out a stream of tears from her half closed eyes.

‘You all right now?’ Dick asked.

She made no reply but continued to cry.

‘You almost kicked the bucket, you know. But I gave you the kiss of life.’ He smirked. ‘It was the best kiss I have given for a long time.’

‘You...you saved me?’ she asked between sobs.

He nodded. ‘I was looking out the window from here and saw you jump into the river.’ He paused. ‘Why did you do it?’

The question made her tears break out into a flood. The blanket slipped away again as her hands went over her face, but she huddled herself together quickly. Presently her bare shoulders ceased to heave as the storm of reaction died down.

‘Can I have my clothes now?’ she asked.

‘What clothes?’ he smiled. ‘It was just a dress you were wearing and that’s still wet.’ Chuckling, he gave her a wink. ‘Panties are such a bother, aren’t they?’

He stood up. ‘Well, I’d better get you something to eat.’ He gave her a leer and left the room.

The mention of food made her realize how hungry she was. She rose from the bed, put on quickly the dressing gown he had hanging on the wall and went over into the kitchen. She asked if she could help.

He grinned. ‘That’s not the kind of help I am in need of, sweetheart.’ He pointed to a table in the kitchen. ‘Just sit over there. The grub is ready.’

She sat down and he placed before her an omelette and a glass of milk. She began to eat voraciously.

When she had finished, he said: ‘Now suppose you tell me what’s eating you?’

She shrank back, turning her face away from him. ‘Please. Leave me alone.’

‘We can help each other, you know.’

She looked doubtfully at him, not understanding quite what he meant. He grinned and came and stood close to her chair. Then, putting his arm around her neck, he began stroking her cheek in a consolatory way. As she turned her head anxiously up at him, she felt suddenly her other cheek brushing against his shorts and the hardness inside them. Violently, she threw back the chair and, letting out a deathlike wail, went flying out the kitchen door.

But she had managed to take only a step out of the house when he fell upon her, pulling off his dressing gown from her. She screamed and struggled, but got dragged straight into the bedroom and flung back to the bed.

There, incredibly, she took hold of herself. She fell silent and ceased the futile effort. She even managed to look at him as he threw away his shorts, releasing his stiffness. ‘Wait, please, I want to go to the bathroom first,’ she said quietly.

‘Bathroom? Well, of course.’

He took her to it. But before allowing her to go in he removed whatever shaving blades of his that were inside: ‘Just to make sure you don’t try that suicide stuff again. It would really be too bad at this moment.’

She went in and quickly locked the door. She drew a long breath. What could he do now if she didn’t come out? The swine! Would he try to break the door? She could expect him to do that. But then, even if he didn’t, how could she stay in there without food? She had sought death but not a slow and agonizing one like this. She felt utterly helpless and tears once again welled up in her eyes.

She looked about the bathroom. There was one window but it had iron bars across it. Couldn’t she find something there to cut away those bars? It was a mad thought. All she could see was one useless piece of wooden beam lying on the floor. She stared at it for a while. Then an idea crossed her mind. In a moment she had picked up the beam and gone over to the door. Unlocking it, she called out to him.

‘What’s the matter?’ he shouted from across.

‘I can’t get this thing going; will you come and help me, please.’

‘What thing?’ said he, as he came to the door. He was about to step in when she brought the beam crashing down on his head. He hit the floor instantly.

Oblivious of her naked state, she ran hysterically out of the house. For a while she followed the winding footpath, then, desperately, plunged across into the bushes and the trees. There her foot rammed into a rock and she fell, making her roll down the hill, crashing and tumbling, until the wide open river caught her and finally took her in its care.

ALL THAT GLITTERS...

She was a maid in her late thirties in a small hotel where he stayed and he didn’t pay much attention to her at first despite the fact that she had a great body: big but sexy, buttocks bulging out, breasts not small. Since there were not that many people he could talk to in the hotel, except the receptionist, he fell into the habit of chatting with her as well. He found her amiable, eager to help him with whatever he wanted for his room. He learned from the receptionist that she had a husband but that her marriage was on the rocks. He even saw the husband once or twice when he came to see her for something, but she herself never disclosed to him that she was married.

One day in the supermarket he bought a cake for himself but on impulse gave it to her instead. He never expected anything in return from her but the next day, when she came to clean his room, he could see that she was very pleased with him; she did a much better job of cleaning the room and was in no hurry to leave after she had finished. He felt kind of embarrassed, not knowing what he should say or do.

Later that day, as he lay in bed, he wondered if she was attracted to him and whether he should have put his arm around her or something. He was certainly not averse to having any casual sex that came his way. So the next day when she came, he took courage in both his hands and grabbed her elbow, saying “Do you want me?” He knew it was a stupid thing to say to a woman because the usual answer to that is a resounding “NO”, if not a slap in the face.

Luckily for him all she said was: “I’ll think about it.” He felt exhilarated and he couldn’t wait for her to come back in the next day.

When she did she had a slight smile on her face. He watched her do her work while exchanging small talk. And then, while she bent over the bed arranging the linen, he came behind her and put his crotch on her behind. She straightened up and turned towards him, saying nothing. He couldn’t help himself then: he reached for her breasts and squeezed them. She didn’t protest, so he lifted up her sweater. He saw that she had a very loose-fitting bra which he easily pushed up, exposing her. Still there was no sound from her, so he bent down and sucked on her nipples.

That was as far as she would go. Feeling high and dry he rushed to the bathroom to jack himself off.

The next few days when he passed her by in the corridor, he allowed himself to grope her, making her giggle. He could hardly walk afterwards because of his swollen manhood. He had the same condition just sitting down in the lobby opposite her, while she ate lunch with the receptionist; when he stood up with a “Ooh” to adjust his underwear to give his fellow more space, a knowing smile crossed her face as she looked down at her food. The receptionist, a younger woman, seemed unaware of what was going on.

Then one day it was the receptionist’s weekly holiday and the maid had been asked to stand in for her because there was no one else that day to take care of the front desk. He waited until the lobby had emptied of all guests and then he went behind the counter and seized her hand. He began to pull it back and forth, brushing past his erect highness with every more. Some five minutes of this and she suddenly says: “Go to your room and take a shower. I’ll be with you in a moment.”

He couldn’t believe his ears, but he went up and waited. Eventually she came.

But it was all a let down.

It started with the damn condom: while he tried to put it on he went limp. She offered to let him penetrate her without it, saying that she had had an operation and could not possibly become pregnant, but he said no; it was not pregnancy he was worried about but some disease such as Aids. Then her body was too heavy for him to maneuver; her genitals too had simply shriveled with age leaving behind only a slit. And to top it all, she began to indulge in french kissing which he disliked.

“Fuck!” he cursed out loud.

“Fuck you!” she shouted back, as she stomped out of the room.

YOUNG BULL

‘It’s these goddamned new movies!’

‘And the magazines!’

‘We are being screwed, that’s what!’

I was at my first underworld party and was listening to a bunch of racketeers discussing the whore business. There was, it seemed, too much free loading going on everywhere; no longer was it only the Don Juans who were doing it; every penny-pinching masturbator had got on to it.

Listening to them was all right for a while, but then it got bloody boring. Those pimps had nothing else on their minds. Even my Uncle, the local thug, who had insisted that I attend the party if I wanted to pick up the trade, which I did, even he seemed to be falling asleep.

‘Let’s scram, Uncle,’ I whispered.

‘Easy, boy, easy,’ said my Uncle drowsily. ‘You are learning even if you aren’t.’

‘What do you mean? ‘ I almost shouted, making some heads turn at me.

‘To put up with boredom,’ said he from the corner of his mouth. ‘Very important.’

Ordinarily I would have said ‘To hell with the old bastard’ and taken to my heels; but not this time. The aged relative had promised to put me up in a racket; he had to be oiled.

So I did the next best thing. I turned a little to the side and looked at the other gangsters in the room. And right away I caught sight of this indescribable thing, sitting alone in a corner. Boy, what looks! What curves!

‘Now that’s the kind of flesh you need to get your limbs on, boy,’ I said to myself, and I began to speculate, while I stared.

What the hell was she doing sitting there alone, looking miserable? The answer took shape immediately: she was a concubine of one of the sharks; she was tired of the shark and the lousy parties he kept taking her to; she wished she could make a get-away, free herself from it all.

I gave it no further thought. I took out my note book and a pencil. And I began to write, pretending that I was taking note of what the whoremongers were saying. I gave a glance at my Uncle to see if I had made him happy but he appeared to have dozed off.

I wrote :

ME, YOUNG BULL, WANTS TO MAKE LOVE TO YOU.

LET’S GET OUT OF HERE.

MEET ME AT HOTEL CUNTINENTAL IN HALF HOUR.

I didn’t expect her to of course. But it was a diversion. It was going to be fun looking at her reaction. I hailed a waiter, exchanged my empty glass with a full one and stuck him the note. Off you go, I said, nodding towards the sex object. He turned, looked, and turned back again, shaking his head. I got the message. I dug out a currency note from my pocket and handed it to the bastard.

Off he went. First, stealthily, like he was afraid to scare her away or something; then, as he got closer to her, like a greyhound, dashing up to her, almost throwing the note at her and bouncing back fast like a rubber ball. What a screwball, I thought.

She read it. And when she looked up I began waving to her so that she would know it wasn’t somebody ugly. She saw me, and before I could make out anything else on her face some bawd placed his filthy hand on my shoulder: ‘What’s the matter, young fellow? You dumb or something?’

The whole bunch broke out laughing then, staring at me. Encouraged by this, another wise-guy opened his mouth: ‘Just piss off if you don’t like our company.’

My Uncle woke up, and came to my rescue. But I didn’t allow him to get far. I suddenly no longer cared about him. ‘It’s a damn good idea, isn’t it, Uncle? That I should piss off?’

I began moving away, scanning for the broad.

A shock! She had pissed off too! I looked past all the swindlers but no one was clutching her. I dashed out through the door, towards the toilets, thinking she really had felt like a leak. I couldn’t go into the LADIES, so I waited outside it, watching one relieved female after another come out—except her .

On a sudden the doorman presented his tall carcass to me, his long face wondering if I was some kind of a peeping tom.

‘I am waiting for a lady,’ I told him.

‘What lady?’ he shot back.

I drew a picture and the bastard laughed—right in my face.

‘Why, you skyscraper! How dare you!’ I boomed.

‘Sorry, sir, but you are making a big mistake. She—‘.

‘Mistake?’ I cut in sharply, and his face suddenly got straight, full of respect-like. His bird brain finally realized who he was talking to.

‘She went out,’ he said simply, bowing.

I dashed out into the street, not knowing if I was making a jackass of myself. Every loafer there thought I was training for the Olympics; some jerks even shouted as though they had placed bets on me.

I had never been to the CUNTINENTAL before—inside it, I mean. I had mentioned it only because it was in the neighbourhood. A seedy looking place.

I got there panting for breath, so I waited a bit before going in. I mean I would have looked a bigger jackass if she hadn’t been there and I was groaning for nothing.

I took one step inside and I knew I was a jackass anyway—for picking that hotel. Its disgusting smell assaulted my nostrils like a clap of thunder. But there was no turning back—I had to make sure she wasn’t there.

She was.

Sitting at a table in front of the shabby reception, which was also a bar. The bartender shot me a look, I shot her a look, and she shot out an order for a drink. For me. The only other customer, a drunk, crouched on his bar stool as if he had seen a ghost.

Gulping down my drink, I told her how wonderful I was.

Gulping down hers, she sprang up, flashing her big tits at me. ‘Come on, let’s go up and get that ball game started,’ she said.

Before I could suggest another hotel, she had turned and was walking up the stairs, shaking her behind at all three of us. I said to hell with the smell and got a room. Giving me the key, the bartender shook his head, like a priest at a disclosure of a sin. The drunk cracked a vulgar joke and then screamed with laughter.

‘Stinking shits,’ I barked, as I went up to my promised land.

When she threw away her attire and parked herself in bed, a little naughty smile on her thick lips, I wasn’t sure if I had barked at the right people. I sniffed around in the room and then went up to the bed and stuck my nose at her. ‘Holy cow!’ I cried, reeling back.

‘I beg your pardon?’ she said, fingering herself.

‘When did you last take a bath?’

‘Yesterday,’ she lied, smiling away.

I pointed outside to the seedy hotel’s corridor, and told her to get cracking. She left, still smiling.

When she came back, she saw me lying in bed, fingering myself. ‘Wow!’ she screamed and jumped on me, smelling now of soap.

Next morning, when she awoke, she smiled again. ‘What do they call you, Young Bull?’ she asked.

‘Young Bull,’ said I.

‘All right, Young Bull,’ she got up from bed and pulled out from her clothes a bundle of cash. ‘Here,’ she threw the bundle at me. I caught it and began counting it, not saying anything.

‘There are five thousand in there,’ she said. I continued counting, regardless. Trust no one, my Uncle had admonished.

She was right. I got up and shoved them in my coat. Then I got dressed. ‘I take it you want me to fix your shark,’ I said.

‘What shark?’

‘The shark who forced you to go to that party.’

She shook her head, slipping on her bra. ‘I have no shark.’

‘No shark?’

No.

I had no need to torture her. She was telling the truth. I could tell. She had gone to that party alone—to look for me. Or someone like me. Would I be interested in helping her?

I couldn’t very well refuse. I caressed the notes in my pocket and nodded. ‘Shoot,’ I said.

She didn’t. Instead she finished climbing into her dress and barged out of the room. ‘Follow me,’ she commanded, pulling the string she had attached in my pocket. I obeyed like a slave.

The bartender held his nose when he saw us come down. The drunk did nothing: he was out on the floor. ‘It’s your damn hotel,’ I yelled as I threw the key and the money down. I had already assumed the role of my client’s protector. I began to feel like the great Mafia itself. I couldn’t wait to tell my uncle.

She led me down the streets, like an animal lover leads a puppy. Shit, I thought, and grabbed her arm. ‘Where are we going?’

‘You ask too many questions,’ she said, not looking at me.

I disagreed and pinched her. ‘I bet I know what you want me to do.’

Silence.

‘You want me to cook your ugly sister’s goose, right?’

Silence.

I guess I was asking too many questions. I shut my mouth and kept marching with her. We came to a house; she rang the bell; the door opened and there before us was not an ugly sister but an ugly grandmother. Old as Santa Claus himself. Inside, my client drew me aside.

‘I want you to knock her off.’

‘Knock her---!!’ I gasped, taking a peep into the kitchen where the oldy had set about making tea for us. ‘You don’t mean that!’

‘I do,’ said the client, dead serious.

I took another peep into the kitchen and shouted: ‘You have some cakes, lady? I am hungry.’ The lady didn’t hear me. I glanced back at the client, who now gave out a contemptuous shriek. ‘My granny is deaf.’

‘How do you expect me to do it?’ I said, wiping the sweat off my forehead.

‘I don’t know. Think of something.’

I thought of something. ‘You live here with her?’

‘Yes.’

‘Why do you want her out?’

‘None of your business.’

We sat before the tea, all three of us. My client sipped it; the oldy ignored it, smiling foolishly; and I was given no cup. I got up again, trying to think. I thought harder every time I felt the cash in my pocket. I barged into the kitchen and grabbed a cup. Coming back, I waved it under the oldy’s nose. ‘See,’ I said, ‘I couldn’t drink my bloody tea ‘cause you didn’t give me the bloody cup!’ I gave my client a wink, and sat down, grabbing the tea pot.

She winked back and got to her feet. ‘I’ll leave her to you then,’ she made for the door .

‘Hey, hold on!’ I shouted. ‘You can’t leave!’

‘I got to go, Young Bull. I got to get me an alibi while you do it.’

‘Just...just hold your horses,’ I sprang up and brought her back. ‘You are going to help me do it.’

‘You are being paid to do it alone, you bastard!’

‘You owe me one more screw.’

‘What?!’

‘One more time and then you can go.’

I persuaded her to take off her clothes, then and there, while the ancient lady looked on, visibly shaken. Then I took mine off and dragged her down to the carpet. I did all sorts of things to her, and she did all sorts of things to me; things that would make a sex maniac lie down and howl with shame. The old lady, however, did not lie down and howl with shame. She just lay down and froze. Satisfied, I climbed back into my clothes and prepared to go. But the client wouldn’t let me.

‘Let’s have that money back, you bastard!’ she said.

‘What for?’ I pointed to the sofa. ‘Can’t you see? She’s gone?’

‘You did nothing!’

I smiled and slipped my hand over my exhausted tool. ‘I did plenty.’

She came charging at me. I ducked, lifted her up screaming on my shoulders and threw her on to the cadaver. ‘There, I have now even smashed the old hag up,’ I said.

Then I fled.

(2)

My batteries needed to be re-charged, so I went into a restaurant and ordered myself a thumping big meal. I ate like a pig, making everyone in there stare at me. One chap who stared at me was my fat cousin. He swung his large bottom and put it on one of the chairs at my table. I gave him a neutral look as I tore away at a chicken.

‘Well, well, well,’ he began, in that degenerate tone of his. ‘Look who’s got rich.’

I said nothing. I simply threw away the chicken leg and picked up a chunk of beef.

‘You ought to be ashamed of yourself,’ he said then.

‘Look who’s talking,’ I retorted, spitting out a bone. I picked up a bowl of gravy and held it up at him. ‘You had better get lost if you don’t want this all over you.’

He put up his two hands like they do in the movies. ‘Now calm down, will you...I just want to pass on a piece of news, that’s all.’

‘What news?!’ I lowered the gravy and resumed gorging myself.

‘My father is mad at you. He said you walked out on him at a party. He said if you come anywhere near him again he’s going to blow your brains out.’

‘I see,’ I said between mouthfuls. I was now getting less and less hungry and more and more tired of the sight of that creep. Suddenly I pushed away the plates, leaned towards him and gave out a big belch. ‘Are you finished?’

‘Are you?’ he asked back, looking greedily at the food still left on the dishes.

l threw a note on the table, shot the waiter a ‘come and get it’ glance and sprang up. ‘Come on, you are going to take me to him.’

He forced himself to look up at me, his mouth watering.

‘I told you he doesn’t want you!’

‘Let me be the judge of that.’

‘You are going to be sorry, cousin.’

The swine didn’t get up. I told the waiter to stuff the change and barged out. From the pavement outside I threw a curious glance into the restaurant through the window and saw the waiter being bribed again.

Oh, well, I thought, smiling to myself. I walked into a fancy shop and bought a fancy present, something that would really turn on the old buzzard. Then I flung myself into a taxi.

When we got near the famous tobacco shop I got some speed into the driver with the help of some chink stuck in the back of his shirt collar. The taxi then roared on to the pavement, its tires screeching, almost crashing into all those cigarettes. It brought out all the tax evaders in the area, except the king of them all, my bloody uncle. He was busy in his back office, poring over some fabrication or other.

‘Hi, uncle,’ I grinned, shutting the door as violently as I had opened it, and not forgetting to wave the beautifully packed parcel of ladies’ underwear I had got for him.

The dirty look he gave me kept hanging on his wrinkles even after I had stuck the parcel under his nose, so I took out a wad of notes—a large portion of my earnings—and began waving that. ‘Look at this, uncle, it’s what I left the party for. I want you to have it.’

He stood up and grabbed it. Then gave me a piercing look, you know, the kind of look you give a dog when you see him sitting nicely at a table and eating with knife and fork.

‘It was just a fluke, uncle. I was damn luck.’

‘Sit down, my boy,’ he smiled. ‘Tell me about it.’

I sat down and told him. He was all goggle-eyed.

‘You mean to tell me you actually killed off the old woman?’ he wanted to know.

‘Sure. With my bare cock—I mean hands. It was like wringing a chicken’s neck.’

‘And the girl...why did she pick you?’

I gave out a sigh. ‘She could tell, uncle. She could tell I had it in me. And she was right.’

He fell silent for a while, glancing thoughtfully at my gift parcel. Then: ‘Well, boy, it looks as though you have proved yourself...’ He stuffed the bank notes into his drawer without so much as a thank you. ‘I’ll tell you what I’ll do,’ he began unpacking the parcel, ‘I’ll employ you myself.’

‘Really, uncle?’

‘That’s what I said.’

‘Why, that’s wonderful. When do I begin?’

‘What’s this...?’ He held up the panties in front of him and broke into laughter, his puffed up stomach shaking all over.

‘It’s not something that would fit my aunty, I am afraid.’ I said.

He couldn’t stop laughing.

‘I chose the colour black because I think it’s sexy.’

He continued roaring, falling back in his chair and covering his face with the panties.

When at last he pulled himself together, he said: ‘What am I supposed to do with it?’

‘Put it on one of your whores and take it off. It’s fun.’

He exploded again; and he didn’t stop until that shit son of his suddenly walked in, his belly rocking with my food.

‘What the bloody hell is going on here?’ he screamed.

My uncle’s face fell back into place like a shot. It was as if somebody had pulled a plug and cut off his blood supply. He put on a dirty look, dirtier than the one he had when I walked in. ‘Why, you idiot!’ he bellowed, glaring at his son. ‘How dare you speak to me like that?’

‘Sorry, father, I thought...it was somebody else.’

‘Somebody else in my office?!’

‘It has happened before; there...there was that gang—‘

‘They came to steal, you nincompoop. Not to laugh. Have you gone deaf?!’

No, he hadn’t gone deaf. What he had done was to see me and then see red. I leaned back in the chair and watched the dressing-down, enjoying every moment of it.

‘Now get back into your office,’ the old man finally wound up. ‘And take your cousin here with you. He’s going to work for us.’

The creep was dumbfounded. For a moment. Then he stammered: ‘To do what?’

‘He’s going to be in charge of the insurance department.’

‘But I am in charge of that!’

‘Well, you are not going to be in charge of that anymore. You have got too many other things to do. Now go out and brief him—and find him a table and a chair.’

I followed cousin creep into his little office. He shared it with an accountant who was so busy adding up the month’s loot that he didn’t bother to look up as we came in. ‘Hi,’ I shouted, forcing him to take off his glasses and drop his pen.

‘Who you?’ he wanted to know.

‘Somebody who wants to throw you out,’ I said, grinning.

He grinned back. ‘A joker, eh?’

My cc—that’s cousin creep for short—sat down in his chair and pretended having something important to do. I went and banged my fist on the blank paper he was looking at. ‘What about that briefing and the table and chair?’ I demanded.

‘Oh, yes,’ he said, as if it had slipped his memory. ‘Let’s see now, where can we put you...’

‘Put him out in the street,’ said the accountant, grinning.

‘A joker, eh?’ I said, and went and sat on his table.

He glared up at me through his thick glasses. ‘Kindly remove your body from my table.’

‘It’s my table,’ I said.

‘Ha, ha,’ said he, not laughing.

‘I am afraid there is no room for you in here,’ said cc.

‘I know that,’ I said. ‘That’s why I want thick glasses out.’

‘Now look here, young fellow,’ thick glasses sprang up, now not at all grinning. ‘Let’s not try to be funny any more. I want you to either leave or show some consideration around here.’

I climbed down from the table and slapped him. He lurched towards me, fist raised, but cc swung his bulky body between us like a referee. ‘This is a respectable establishment,’ said be, eyeing only me.

‘All right, all right,’ I said. ‘Let’s forget the table. I can do without it. Just give me the low-down on insurance.’

(3)

What was low-down was that the job had no salary attached to it at all. Only a cut of the proceeds. And the cut was very much low. I might have guessed that just by watching cc.

So I wasted no time looking up the clients, armed with a full list of their fancy shop names.

One shop worthy of mention had no customers at all and the client sat fraternizing with his salesmen near the entrance while picking his nose and glancing at the passers-by on the pavement who wouldn’t be his suckers. I came in and said: ‘Lead me to your chief.’

The nose picker stood up. ‘I am him.’

I inspected him from top to bottom, not liking what I saw, then tilted my head towards the inside of his shop. ‘Private matter.’

‘Certainly.’ He led me inside where he offered me coffee. I looked at his dirty finger and shook my head.

‘Save your coffee. I am the insurance man. From Healthy Tobacco Co.’

‘Really? What’s happened to the other fellow?’

‘He’s alive. I am the new collector.’ I looked at him toughly.

‘Well, sit down. But...?’

‘But what?’

‘It’s not the first of the month...’

I sat down. Told him I had learnt the calendar in school and came to the point. ‘You realize, don’t you, nose-picker, that inflation has been galloping in this country?’

He was a fast thinker. I had to hand that to him. He knew immediately what I was getting at. At the same time he dropped his nose-picking, like a hot potato. ‘No, no, definitely not,’ he cried. ‘It’s completely wrong, my friend. What’s galloping is deflation, not inflation. All you do is buy from shops where there are sales.’

‘Never mind the sales!’ I said sharply.

‘But it’s true! And you can also buy things privately. It’s very cheap.’

‘Look—‘

‘And what about bulk buying? That can really bring your cost of living down. Really down.’

I lost my temper then and was about to land my fist in his filthy nose when he fell at my feet, begging. ‘Please, please, I can’t afford any increase. My business is bad, really bad, please...’

I took hold of his greasy hair and turned his head up at me. ‘No need for acrobatics, nose-picker, it’s only ten per cent more.’

‘I can’t manage that, oh please...!!’ He began kissing my knees. I felt so disgusted, I wrenched myself away from him.

‘Keep your distance, you unclean beast’, I shouted, and ran to the other side of his desk, to his chair. I sat down. He got up slowly and began to cry like a baby. His five sales boys heard and came running.

‘What’s the matter, boss? Why you crying like a baby?’

I came to his rescue: ‘Because he has just had to fire one of you.’

‘What...?’ gaped one of them.

‘To pay for the increased insurance.’

‘You from Healthy Tobacco?’ gaped another.

‘That’s right.’

‘Why you dirty snake.’ This was said not with a gape but an upraised hand and a lurch forward. Before he could get to me, however, he was seized by the others, the more clever ones, the ones who defied the law of the survival of the fittest.

I stood up, went to the hero-to-be and declared: ‘You are fired.’ I turned to the crying baby: ‘You hear that, boss? He’s fired. Your problem is solved.’ Then I walked out, satisfied.

Another establishment worthy of mention was a bookshop.

Plenty of bookworms swarming around in it, and if I had been one of them I wouldn’t have been able to find any salesman or salesgirl to help me; they were all busy rushing about, snatching up the cash for their master as fast as they could. My quick eye picked up a couple of shoplifters and I gave them a brotherly wink. Instead of smiling back to me in solidarity, they pulled out the loot from their inside pockets and placed it back on the shelves. Idiots, I muttered.

I couldn’t find the master; he wasn’t wearing any special clothes. So I went back to the entrance to inquire from the big, tough-looking fellow I had seen hanging about there, like some kind of a watchdog.

‘I want to hear your master’s voice,’ I said.

‘Why?’ he asked, impudently.

‘To find out if Healthy Tobacco has been doing him any good.’

‘Come again?’ Clearly he was too thick to catch a thing like that.

‘Look, who are you? His lawyer or something?’ I barked.

That shot through his skull. And he began to point. To a short man with a beard, who was talking and smiling to a plump lady with no beard. ‘That’s him.’

‘Thank you, my thick friend,’ I smiled and went over and interrupted the lively conversation, of the master and, perhaps, his mistress. ‘Healthy Tobacco,’ I said loudly, ‘want to talk to you.’

The bearded master turned out to be a bearded monster. He was furious. ‘What is it?!’ he demanded. The mistress smelled trouble and drew back. Even the crowd of customers around began to shrink, eyes popping out.

‘A small matter of insurance,’ I said. ‘Galloping infla—‘

He cut me short; a very rude man indeed. ‘I thought I told you hoodlums to keep away!’ he fumed.

‘Now that’s not a very nice thing to say,’ I said.

The monster shouted above my head to the thick skull I had talked to at the door. The big brute waded his way through the now excited crowd; I could see they were all boiling for a free fight.

‘Remove this scum from the premises!’ was the order.

I was seized not just by that one brute, but also by another who had come from somewhere behind me. Before I knew what, I was out on the pavement, kissing it. There, the first thing I saw was a police station, right across the street from the bookshop. ‘Holy cow!’ I said, and took to my heels.

 

(4)

‘Holy cow!’ I said again a little later, as I entered Healthy Tobacco.

‘We don’t have that brand, sir,’ joked one of uncle’s stooges behind the counter. I ignored him and went inside, wanting to grab cc by the neck. The bastard wasn’t there.

‘He had a headache, went home,’ thick glasses informed me, looking up from his figures. He screwed up his face. ‘What’s the matter? Had some kind of a rude shock?’

I fell into cc’s chair. ‘Is that bookshop across the police station a client of ours or not?’

Thick glasses began to laugh like a maniac.

‘Well, is it?!’ I shouted.

He shook his head, his body still quivering.

l decided to forget cc for a while and seized the telephone. I gave the order for the bunch of ruffians Healthy Tobacco had at its command to be called to duty at once.

‘But we have left that firm alone!’ thick glasses cried, regaining his countenance.

‘Why?

‘The cops. They hear everything there at night.’

‘Who said anything about night?’

The accountant’s eyes started out of his head. ‘You...you mean you want to do it in the day time?’

‘Exactly.’

‘You are mad!’

When the ruffians were lined up in front of me and I had explained them the mission, I asked, ‘you think I am mad?’

‘No, sir,’ they responded servilely.

‘There, you see!’ I turned to thick glasses, making him put on a disdainful grimace and hasten back to his book.

We went into action, dropping into the joint casually. I was attired like a priest with a beard, the ruffians like gentlemen with ties and all.

I took up a book and leafed through it, as I glanced over the throng of customers to the door. In a moment I saw the gorilla there begin to shut out the view of the cop nest. Closing time had arrived. I gave the whistle.

It made some dog of a creature near me open his mouth. ‘Can I help you, Father?’

‘What...?’

‘Are you looking for anything particular?’

Like lightning, I rammed my fist into his stomach, inquiring: ‘Got any porno books?’

He went crashing into the customers around. Turning, I checked the scene: the entrance had already been sealed; the two gorillas had been cornered and were being cuffed; the books were being ripped down from the shelves, the glass cases smashed up...

I made my way quickly towards the master at his desk. He was standing stiff, helped by two of my men. I said nothing. I simply went to work.

‘Kick his balls, sir.’ encouraged one of the ruffians. The fool, I thought. Couldn’t he see it was not easy to do that with the priest’s frock! Instead what I did was to swing my elbow and bring it whacking into the fellow’s ribs as a finale. Then I cast myself over his cash register.

At the door, a moment later, while the men behind me slipped out through the little opening, I addressed the stunned crowd: ‘Nobody goes out for five more minutes, you hear?! We’ll shoot you down like dogs if you do!’

Reaching for our transport outside, I caught a glimpse of a few cops stirring in their nest. They were stepping out. Leisurely.

As we drove back, I began distributing some of the loot to the men. ‘That’s double what you normally get. Are you happy?’

Yaaaaaa!’ they shouted in chorus, overwhelmed by my generosity.

‘Just don’t breathe a word to my uncle. He’ll grab the extra money back if he gets to know.’

No,no,no!!!’ they yelled.

(5)

I had to celebrate. And thinking that I might as well help the company’s business at the same time, I went downtown, under the dazzling lights where uncle’s whores hung about.

They were all lined up along the wall, hips swinging, headlights flashing. I began the inspection, poking at the tits as I went along.

‘Hey, do you mind!’ screamed one, bashing my head with her handbag.

‘Sorry girls,’ I said. ‘Just want to make sure they are not false.’

‘Piss off!’

‘Fuck off!’

‘Clear out, cock!’

One other was more helpful. She swung her chest to give me a profile. ‘They are real, baby—and big!’ she assured me.

At last I came to a fascinating combination: mouth shut, eyes smiling and hills and valleys to send even an Ayatollah round the bend. I felt my underwear shrink immediately. ‘I want you,’ I said, pointing at her.

She smiled now with her mouth and told me her price.

‘To hell with the price,’ I said. ‘Just tell me what you can deliver.’

She smiled again. ‘Upstairs and downstairs.’

‘For how long?’

‘Twenty minutes, half an hour...’

‘How about the whole fucking night?’

‘Price goes up ten fold.’

‘I said to hell with the price!’

She turned towards the door and the staircase behind her. ‘This way.’

‘No, not in there...at my place.’

‘Sorry, Romeo, that’s not allowed.’

‘Your pimp?’

She nodded and pointed to the character leaning on the car by the pavement. I turned and gave a whistle, like I would to a dog. He floated up, cigarette dangling from his mouth.

‘You mind if I take this whore home?’

He shook his head, cigarette still dangling. ‘No.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because I say so.’

‘Why do you say so?’

He glared at me for a while through the smoke. ‘I don’t have to give you no reason.’

With supersonic speed I snatched away his cigarette and stuffed it into his breast pocket; then I extinguished it by grabbing him by the coat. ‘How come you don’t smoke Healthy Tobacco?’ I said. He gave out an excruciating cry as the heat got to him.

I released him, took out my card and shoved it under his eyes. ‘Look at this, you bastard!’

He had difficulty focusing his eyes, so I read it out for him. ‘Healthy Tobacco Company...and that signature there, recognize that? It’s the old man’s!’

‘You...you from there?’ he faltered.

‘Insurance department.’

‘Why didn’t you say so?’

Turning away from him, I grabbed the girl. ‘Come on, sweetie, let’s go.’

The sweetie threw off her clothes as soon as she saw the bed. She even managed to spread out on it before I had time to shake my head at her.

‘What’s the matter?’ she wanted to know.

I went and pulled her up again, and pushed her under the shower. When she came out, I surprised her again. I had in my hand a black bra, black panties and a yellow gown.

‘Put them on,’ I ordered.

She eyed me suspiciously. ‘What for?’

‘Put them on.’

When she had obeyed, I told her to loosen her hair so that it flowed over the shoulders. Then I took her into the kitchen. ‘What can you cook?’

She stared at me, now confounded.

‘What food are you able to dish out, woman?’

‘Look, you one of those freaks?’ she ventured.

‘Aren’t you hungry?’

She shrugged her shoulders.

‘Well, you are going to eat anyway.’

I got her started and went and relaxed in the sitting room, arranging the dining table with candles and all, and opening the wine bottles.

Not a bad cook she turned out to be. We ate with gusto, sitting on opposite ends of the table and exchanging small talk. In between the dishes, while she fetched things from the kitchen and served me, I gave her small kisses on the mouth. When we had finished dessert and were sipping our wine, I told her I loved her and that I wanted very much to make love to her.

‘Pervert,’ she muttered under her breath, looking down at her plate.

I ignored her and put on the music. I took her up in my arms and began to dance with her, cheek to cheek, kissing her now and then.

Finally I led her to the bedroom. While she lay stretched out on the bed I started removing her clothes. First the dress; then, after a good deal of squeezing of her large breasts, the black bra.

I paused and removed all my clothes.

I had managed after that to get her panties down to her thighs, revealing her hair a little, when a sudden click somewhere in the sitting room put a stop to it. I looked at her; she looked at me. I got up; she lay frozen. I went to the door and listened. The sounds seemed to be coming from the kitchen. Whoever it was appeared to be hungry.

Slowly I opened the door and tip-toed out. I caught a glimpse of a man I had never seen; he was holding my milk bottle. I waited until his back was turned, then pounced on him like a tiger, grabbing his throat and twisting his arm. I dragged him out into the sitting room where there was more space and there I began bashing his head against the wall.

‘Come on, out with it !’ I said.

It took a great deal of bashing before he came out with it. But the bastard had some kind of a speech problem. ‘Your kh...kh...kh’ was all he could say. I helped by some more bashing; my bare balls swung in the air as I continued. In a moment my love came and stood in the doorway, watching, arms folded beneath her breasts, her panties still where I had left them. The sight of her made me more impatient with the stammerer.

‘Out with it!’

‘Your kh...kb...kh...’

‘Out with it!’

‘Your kh...kh...kh...kh...’

‘Out with it!’

‘...zlng...zlng...zing’

I stopped. ‘You come here to sing?’

Kh...kh...kh...kh...zing!’

‘Holy cow!’ I cried. ‘My bloody cousin...!’

He nodded, trying to stop his bleeding.

‘He sent you to kill me?’

He nodded again.

‘With what?’

A hand went into a pocket and a small bottle came out. Poison. I snatched it away. ‘What do you know!’ I exclaimed, examining the liquid against the light.

I dragged the stammerer out into the guest toilet. ‘Be my guest,’ I said and locked the door.

I hurried back to the bedroom. The poor darling had gone back to bed. I started to soothe her. ‘Don’t worry, sweetheart, you are not likely to see another display of such naked brutality.’

She said nothing, so I finished dragging down the panties and got in between her thighs and cheeks.

For a start.

 

 

(6)

In the morning I gave my guest bread and water, got rid of the whore and went to work.

cc and thick glasses were at their desks.

‘Hi, cc,’ I said cheerfully.

cc looked as though he had seen a ghost.

‘cc?’ said he, when he had recovered.

‘Just joking, cousin, just joking. Look, did you hear what I did yesterday?’

‘No.’

‘Sorry. Of course you can’t hear anything from a locked toilet’

‘I beg your pardon...?!

‘Thick glasses said you had an attack of dysentery and had gone home.’

‘Headache,’ thick glasses cut in. ‘And stop calling me thick glasses.’

‘Sorry, thick glasses—I mean...’ I turned to cc again.

‘You made a silly mistake; that bookshop across the police station wasn’t our customer at all. But never mind, I taught them a lesson. I think they will take out a policy now.’

cc leaned back in his chair, frowning. ‘You ought to know something,’ he said stiffly. ‘When we pay somebody a visit we have to show some result in the form of cash. My father is very strict about that.’

‘Don’t worry, cousin,’ I dug out from my pocket the handful I had brought with me. ‘Here’s the result.’

cc stuck his greedy fingers out. ‘I’ll take that.’

‘Oh, no, you don’t. I am the chief now, remember?’

‘My father has to have it.’

‘I’ll give it to him.’

‘What about the men? They have to be paid!’

‘They have been already.’ I paused, then added: ‘Don’t worry cousin, I still got something for you—an invitation. To that restaurant for a gorgeous meal. How about it? You too, thick glasses.’

Thick glasses threw his pencil at me. ‘Stop calling me thick glasses!’

‘Does that mean you are not coming?’ I looked hurt.

‘I don’t eat your kind of food!’ said thick glasses.

‘I accept,’ said cc.

I smiled. ‘Good. See you later.’ Then I went over to the old man with the booty.

He was busy entertaining some shark or other.

‘Sorry, am I disturbing?’ I said, poking my head in the door.

‘No, my boy. Come on in. I want you to meet somebody.’

The shark turned out to be a high-ranking cop, in sheep’s clothing. His hideout was across the street from that bookshop.

‘The inspector is investigating a bust-up at his neighbour’s, the old bird explained. ‘He thinks we might have something to do with it.’

‘Does he now,’ I said, looking at the cop. ‘What makes him think that?’

‘Well, actually, a complaint has been made against Healthy Tobacco,’ the law man smiled.

A queer cop, I thought. To say things like that and smile.

‘In fact they say it was somebody who looked like you’ he smiled again.

‘Have you been up to something?’ asked uncle, a twinkle in his eye.

I thought fast, trying to find an escape hatch. I couldn’t come up with anything, so I smiled like the cop. ‘We don’t do such things, do we, uncle?’

‘Don’t you?’ the cop smiled again.

I turned to him, grinning. ‘No. This is a respectable joint. We sell cigarettes, that’s all.’

‘What did you do yesterday, may I ask?’ Smile.

‘Screwed a whore! Anything wrong with that?’ I kept up my smile.

‘What else?’

‘Nothing. I was here most of the day.’

‘I can prove you weren’t. In fact I can prove it was you in the bookshop.’

I abandoned my smile and went for the smiling bastard. I pulled the chair from under him. He fell over with a thud. Then I began beating him black and blue, wiping out his cheerfulness.

‘Hey, get him away from me, will you?!’ he shouted to uncle.

Uncle flew past his desk and grabbed me, and he was laughing his head off.

‘Take it easy, my boy, just take it easy. It was a joke.’

‘Isn’t he a cop then?’

‘He is, he is. But he was only joking.’

What a joke, I thought, and helped the fellow back up on his feet. Only to find the smile come back on him. He clutched his head where I had hit him and made for the door. ‘Do some explaining to the fool,’ he told uncle and vanished.

‘Sit down, my boy.’

I sat down. I was glad the old man was taking it lightly.

‘You got a lot to learn, haven’t you?’

‘Who is that man, uncle?’ I asked as if I now didn’t know. I’ll butter the old man, I thought.

‘That man is our man.’

‘By Jove!’

He explained. Then asked: ‘What is it you have been up to?’

I told him and tossed the bundle of cash at him. He snapped it up: ‘Well done!’ Then his eyes narrowed. ‘How do I know this is what you actually collected? You are not cheating me, are you?’

‘I would never do that, uncle!’

He picked up his telephone receiver and showed it to me. ‘If I ever found out you were, I’ll shove this up your arse!’

‘No, no, uncle. I wouldn’t. It’s not in my nature to cheat.’

He put the money away and became thoughtful. ‘I wish I could trust that son of mine.’

‘Don’t you?’

He shook his head. ‘He’s a clown, I know that. But then again, he might not be when it comes to accounting for money.’

‘Then I got news for you, uncle...you won’t have to worry about him anymore.’ My mouth watered at the thought of that meal I was going to have with him that evening.

‘Oh...?’

‘He’s completely honest. It has never occurred to him to short-change you. He’s too scared.’

‘Well, I sure hope you are right.’

‘I am right.’ I got up. ‘Well, I’d better go. Got to round up some new customers.’

He lifted his finger at me. ‘Remember what I told you: if the cops catch you red-handed, our man will be able to do nothing to help.’

‘I’ll remember, uncle.’

(7)

I concentrated on the area around the police station. Bearding the lion in his den, so to speak. I passed on the message that with a brain like me in command, they should no longer count on the neighbourly cops as a deterrent. I pointed to the bookshop as an illustration.

The message was taken, except for a few dumb-bells who took my good looks as a sign of bluff. I jotted them down for later treatment.

When I finally entered the restaurant, my body tired from all that leg-work, I saw that cc was already there, enjoying a beer.

‘Hi, cc!’ I said, slumping into the chair opposite him. I checked the little bottle of poison in my pocket and smiled at him.

‘Why do you call me cc?’

‘Cousin, cousin. You know, just repeating.’

‘Oh.’

‘Well, have you looked at the menu?’

‘I think I’ll have what you were having the last time I saw you here. It looked good.’

‘It tasted good too,’ I said, giving him a wink.

We ordered, and then I told him what I had done that day in order to ruin his appetite by making him jealous. The bastard remained cool, at least outwardly.

‘You want to be careful,’ he said hypocritically. ‘Our experience has taught us not to touch some of those shops.’

‘What experience?’ I said arrogantly. ‘Healthy Tobacco just needs to be tough, that’s all. It needs more muscle power—and it needs brains!’

‘And you think you are providing all that?’

‘In the field of insurance—yes.’

He took a sip of his beer. ‘You certainly have a big mouth, cousin.’

‘And also a big prick,’ I retorted. I was determined to get him worked up, to make his departure from this world a bit more unpleasant. Notwithstanding, the fatty maintained his calm. He was obviously pre-occupied with the thought of all that free food that was on the way.

He pounced on it when it came.

‘Tell me, cc,’ I said when he had his mouth full. ‘Why aren’t you married?’

‘Why aren’t you?’ he mumbled.

‘I am promiscuous.’

He said nothing. He just ate. Just adding more useless fat to his about-to-die body.

‘I know what you are, cc,’ I said.

‘What?’ He looked only at the food he ate.

‘A masturbator.’

He grunted, chewing away.

‘Isn’t that right, cc? You don’t like a screw. You prefer to do it all by yourself.’

No words again. The food had taken complete control of him. I put away my napkin and stood up. ‘Excuse me, cc, I got to make a phone call.’

He nodded, waving me away with his knife.

When I came back I said, ‘Uncle wants to talk to you, cc.’

‘What...!’

‘Your old man. He wants to tell you something.’

He wiped his mouth. ‘How does he know I am here?’

‘Now that’s a very stupid question, isn’t it?’ I said, sitting down.

He sprang up. The old man was probably the only one who could make him tear away from food. ‘Why did you have to call him now,’ said he, rushing away.

I quickly took out the little bottle from my pocket and looked at his plate. Then I looked about the restaurant to make sure nobody was watching me. I leaned over and was about to pour the liquid out when something somewhere inside my masterly brain made me stop. I withdrew my hand, thinking. Absent-mindedly I capped the bottle again and put it back in my pocket. Then, suddenly, a brilliant idea took shape. I was impressed by myself. I smiled and resumed eating.

‘He had hung up!’ said cc irritably when he came back. ‘Are you sure he wanted me?’

‘Smile, cc,’ I said. ‘Whatever it was, you have won yourself some time on this earth.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘The later you talk to him, the later you would have to do something for him.’

‘Ah, there you have a point.’ He fell on the grub again.

‘Look, cc,’ I said a little later. ‘I just had a brain wave.’

‘Yes?’

‘Why don’t we go to my place for cakes and coffee and then I can tell you about it in complete privacy.’

‘What a splendid idea...it’s to do with business then?

Ya. About a nice new racket.’

(8)

Luckily there was not a sound coming from the guest toilet as cc and I walked into the house. I took him quietly into the sitting room and, as promised, made the coffee and took out the cakes. Then I watched him gobble away again.

‘Eat well, cc,’ I said, ‘you never know when you would end up in some shit hole with only bread and water provided.’

‘Jail?’ he said, his mouth stuffed.

Ya.’

‘No chance of that.’

‘Why?’

l am not that stupid.’

‘What if one of your ruffians is? And he blabbed?’

cc gave me a sudden stare, his chewing slowing down. For a second it looked as though he would throw up, however unimaginable that was. I hastened to add: ‘Relax, partner, I was only speculating.’

‘I don’t think I like your speculations,’ he said coldly.

He grabbed another piece of cake.

‘Well, here’s some concrete proposals then. The new racket I talked about...’ I leaned towards him, confidential-like. ‘Kidnapping.’

‘That’s madness.’

‘Why?’

‘Unsteady business. And very dangerous. Father would never go for it.’

‘To hell with the old fellow. I am talking about us.’

He swallowed the last piece of cake, downed a mouthful of coffee and looked at me. ‘Just who do you want to kidnap?’

‘You.’

His face froze. ‘Is that a joke?’

‘No, I am dead serious.’

He shot up from the chair, enraged. He turned towards the door. I sprang up and blocked his path. ‘Out of my way!’ he howled.

‘You are not going anywhere, cc,’ I pulled out a gun I had tucked away in my pocket.

‘Hey, put that thing away!’ He put up his hands instinctively, eyes popping out, feet backing away. He was scared out of his wits. ‘You crazy or something?!’

‘Something, you fat bastard! Come on, you are going into a real shit hole—to shit out all that food you have been putting away.’

Opening the toilet door I saw the stammerer stretched out on the floor, fast asleep. cc walked in holding a loaf of bread in one hand and a jug of water in the other.

‘No need to introduce you to him, is there, cc?’ I said, as I shut the door on him.

(9)

My plan called for an accomplice.

But who?

I thought first of some whore I could pick up and persuade to work out of bed; then I thought of corrupting one of the ruffians I had used to smash the bookshop; but I ended up looking at the house where I had screwed off the old lady. There was no one in it. The ringing and the banging I carried out brought only the neighbour out—a lady looking as though she had been disturbed in the middle of a wank.

‘If you are looking for her, she is not in!’ she shouted angrily.

‘Well, where the hell is she then?!’ I shouted back.

She slammed the door shut. I went over the hedge and rang her bell. She came back, opening the door only a little.

‘Look, have I offended you?’ I said.

‘Yes!’ she barked and shut the door again. I rang once more.

‘Go away!’ she screamed from inside.

‘Not until you tell me where she has gone.’

l won’t!’

‘Yes, you will.’ I started banging on her door. ‘If you don’t, you’ll never be able to finish wanking off.’

That brought out the neighbour next to her. A young boy. He didn’t look as though he had been disturbed from anything. ‘Look, sonny,’ I shouted. ‘You happen to know the smelly woman who lives over there?’ I pointed.

‘Sure.’

‘Where is she, do you know?’

‘She moved.’

‘Where to?’

‘Why should I tell you?’

Smart lad, I thought, as I climbed over the hedge once more. I stuffed a note in his shirt pocket. ‘That’s why,’ I told him, and felt as though I was in the presence of one of the leaders of tomorrow.

He told me. And when I went over to the new address, I saw not a house but a mansion. ‘ Holy cow!’ I cried, as I leaned on the fancy bell, waiting for my nostrils to pick up my former client like a radar.

The radar seemed to be out of order. lt registered not stink but perfume. I have been conned, I thought. That boy was heading for nothing less than the Presidency!

But the huge gate opened and there stood she, wearing the loveliest of nightgowns, and an expression that said: Who the hell are you?

‘Don’t you remember me?’ I asked, barging in past her. I looked around, admiring the riches. I found the sitting room, descended on the leather sofa and began nibbling at the peanuts on the table. She came rushing after me.

‘Just who the hell do you think you are?!’ she yelled.

‘Who the hell do you think I am?’ I yelled back.

She fell on the peanut dish, snatching it away. ‘What do you want?’

‘Peanuts,’ I said, stretching out my hand at the dish. ‘Put it back.’

She stamped over to her fancy bar and put the dish there. Then she turned back at me. ‘All right, say what you have to say and then get out!’

‘Now that’s not a very nice thing to say to an old friend,’ I said, getting up. I went over and stood before her, inhaling her perfume.

‘Friend?!’ she shouted in my ear. ‘You call yourself a friend?!’

She was right there but I said: ‘Well, what else?’

‘A cheat! That’s what you are. A cheat! You take five thousand and you don’t do a fucking thing!’

I smiled and walked past her to the bar. I began to pour myself a drink. She didn’t stop me. ‘I took five thousand and I did a fucking thing, remember? In fact two fucking things, come to think of it.’

‘You were paid to kill the old bitch! Not to fuck me!’

‘I kill by fucking. I always do that.’

‘You can’t kill a fucking fly!’

‘Look,’ I sipped my drink and grabbed the peanuts again. ‘It doesn’t matter how she died—she died!’

With a swift movement of her hand which I didn’t see, she snapped away my glass and put it on the bar. ‘No thanks to you! Now get out!’ She gave me a big push.

I lost my temper then. I went for her nightgown above her breasts and gave a mighty pull downwards. It tore instantly with a swish, releasing her large breasts in the air, hopping up and down. I grabbed her by the shoulders and dragged her to the sofa and then, unzipping my trouser, I fell on her.

‘Let go, you bastard,’ she screamed.

I held down her two hands and I held down her two legs and I held down her belly, but I didn’t penetrate her. A voice inside me said: Let go of her, you bastard; you want her voice, not her pussy.

‘Look,’ I said. ‘I am here to offer you money. You want it or don’t you?’

She stopped struggling. ‘Money?’ her eyes turned up.

Ya, money. You interested?’

‘Sure,’ she said doubtfully.

I released her. ‘I am going to give you a chance to earn back much more than that five thousand.’

‘You mean that?’

‘Of course.’

‘What do I have to do?’

I explained it to her and she, very stupidly, said: ‘Is that all?’

‘No, you bitch!’ I retorted. ‘You also got to screw—now!’

‘Gladly, Young Bull,’ she smiled, and flung herself down on the sofa again.

I fell on her.

And into her.

Young Bull that I was.

 

 

 

(10)

The next morning I was at work as usual. The first thing I did was to say to thick glasses: ‘Where the hell is cc?’

‘Why don’t you call him by his proper name?’

‘What’s it to you!’

He leaned back in his chair, sighing. ‘Well, can’t you see? He’s not here. Now please don’t disturb me anymore.’

With that he bent over his cookery book again.

‘Have you any idea where he might be?’

‘No.’ He didn’t look up now.

‘Didn’t he say anything?’

‘No.’

‘That’s odd, isn’t it?’

This time the book worm said nothing. He ignored me completely. So I went and pulled his recipes from under him.

‘I said that’s odd, isn’t it!’

He sprang up, boiling. ‘Now look here -- !’

I flung the book back on his desk with a big thud. ‘Never mind!’ I shouted, and walked out of the room, leaving him gasping for breath.

I knocked on the old thug’s office. ‘Come in,’ he said.

He was glad to see me. In fact I was just the man he wanted to see then. ‘I have heard nice things about you,’ he said.

‘Oh, have you now, uncle?’

‘Yes. Sit down.’

I sat down. ‘I have been hearing them all my life,’ I grinned.

‘Skip the funny stuff,’ he said sternly. ‘This is serious.’

I wiped the grin off my face.

‘The men have been very satisfied with you,’ he said.

‘Yes I know.’

‘They liked your personal contribution in the bookshop case...’

‘I know, I know.’

‘I want you to stop doing that.’

‘What?!’

‘It’s dangerous for us to be personally involved. If you fail and get snatched, a finger can be pointed at Healthy Tobacco immediately...’

‘But—‘

‘Besides, we can’t afford to indulge in the rough stuff ourselves. It’s undignified. And it provokes demands for higher pay.’

‘Higher pay?’

‘The men are demanding twice as much now.’

‘I see.’ I could think of nothing else to say.

‘I have told them to go to hell.’

‘Will they?’

‘I said skip the funny stuff!’

‘Sorry, uncle.’

‘I want you to look around for some new men. Make it top priority. We can’t be held to ransom by these cut-throats.’

Ransom. What a lovely word, I thought. ‘Where do I look for them, uncle?’

He raised his eyebrows at me. ‘You still got a lot to learn haven’t you?’

I kept my mouth shut, and put on an idiotic face, pretending he was right. I simply had to if I were to hit that jackpot I had in mind.

‘The employment agency! Where else?’ he barked.

I let my mouth open in astonishment. ‘The employment agency? You mean I just walk in there and inquire if they have any hoodlums needing employment?’

‘Of course you don’t, you fool. You hang around outside it and you try to recruit them yourself. Now do you get me?’

I shook my head in disbelief, like an imbecile looking at his first porno movie.

‘You pick on the chronically unemployed,’ he went on. ‘They are usually ripe for picking. Now go on and get on with it.’

I stood up like a trained soldier. ‘Sure, uncle.’ I made for the door.

‘Send that clown in, will you.’

I turned, smiling. ‘Oh, he’s not in today. I meant to ask you about him.’

‘Why isn’t he in?’

‘He’s taken up bread and water.’

The old fellow regarded me blankly.

‘He’s gone on a diet,’ I continued. ‘He wants to lose some of that fat.’

‘Is this one of your jokes again?’

‘No, uncle, honest. I had dinner with him last night and he happened to mention he was going to reduce from today. I thought you might know more about it.’

‘Well, I’ll be damned!’ The old fellow wiped his forehead.

‘You will be—l mean, we all will be—damned.’

‘How is he going to get his work done on bread and water?’

‘Search me, uncle,’ l answered daringly.

‘Well, just have him sent in when he comes. I’ll sort the fool out.’

‘Will do,’ I said and went back to thick glasses.

The accountant ignored me as I landed on cc’s chair. I stretched out my legs on the desk and checked my watch. There were a few minutes to go to hour zero. How was I going to kill those few minutes?

I looked at thick glasses, ‘Excuse me.’

Thick glasses gave a quick glance at me, as if he hadn’t heard me right. ‘What is it now?’ he said stiffly.

‘Sorry to disturb you but uncle has just told me a fantastic thing. I think you ought to know.’

‘What fantastic thing?’

‘About cc.’

‘What?’

I laughed, slapping myself on the leg. ‘You won’t believe this.’

‘Try me.’

I continued to laugh. He stared at me like I were some kind of a nut.

‘Is it that funny?’ he said then.

That triggered off in me even louder laughter. He kept his stare for a while, then, shrugging his shoulders, turned back to his book. ‘Screw-ball,’ he muttered under his breath.

‘cc...cc...’ I couldn’t stop laughing. I tried again: ‘cc...cc...he...he’s gone on a diet.’

Thick glasses turned again. ‘That’s not new. He’s been trying to lose weight for a long time.’

‘But not by bloody locking himself up...’

‘What...?’

‘He’s locked himself up in a toilet and thrown the key away. He says all he wants to do is to eat bread, drink water and shit.’

‘What nonsense is that!

My laughter died down. My stomach had really begun to ache. ‘It’s true, thick glasses.’

‘Stop calling me -- !’

He was cut short by the old man who marched in unannounced. ‘What is the meaning of this?’ he demanded. ‘Is this a blooming joke house?!’

I took my feet off the desk and stood up, full of respect-like. ‘Sorry, uncle, the accountant was relating a story. It was very funny.’

‘Now look—‘ Thick glasses sprang up, seething. Only to be told by the big man to shut up and sit down, which he did dutifully, like a lamb.

‘Why haven’t you gone to the employment agency?’

l was just about to, uncle...’ I began to move.

‘Never mind! Come into my office.’ He turned away. I followed him, excited. He sat down in his chair while I stood before his desk. He looked at me with anger in his eyes. He was so angry he had difficulty speaking.

‘Some damn woman just called me on the phone...’ He broke off and lit one of his healthy cigarettes. He began to puff, his eyes now looking through me.

‘What is it, uncle?’

‘It’s unbelievable!’ he shouted. ‘The nerve some of these swines have! Who the hell do they think I am?!’

‘What’s happened?’

‘Do they really think they could pull that stuff on me?! Me, of all people? By Jove, I’ll show them!’

‘What stuff? Show them what?’

He pointed to the telephone with his cigarette. ‘The bitch wants me to cough up half a million, in return for that...that...’ He heaved himself out of the chair and flung the cigarette into the ash tray. He looked at me, eyes blazing. ‘They have nabbed him. That’s why he isn’t here!’

‘Who?’

‘Who do you think?!’ he bellowed, so loud that I was sure thick glasses heard it.

Realization dawned on my face. I bent forward slowly, hands on his desk and looked at him close. ‘Cousin? They have...? ‘ I trailed off, shocked. He slumped back in the chair, lighting another cigarette.

‘You mean they have kidnapped him?’ I couldn’t believe it.

He nodded grimly, not looking at me. He was thinking fast.

‘A half million?’ I whistled in astonishment. ‘That’s a lot of money.’

He turned and leaned towards me. ‘I want you to drop everything, forget the employment agency—and I want you to take the men and go and find this bitch and whoever is behind her. You hear?’

l hear, uncle.’

‘Get cracking then! Now!’

‘But, uncle—‘

‘I’ll get hold of our cop friend. See what he can do.’ He grabbed the phone.

‘But, uncle, there are one or two things we have to be clear about...’

‘Yes?’

‘The risk...I mean to cousin’s life.’

‘Nothing will happen to him! These snakes wouldn’t dare. Now get on with it!’

I withdrew, only to stop at the door. I turned to him again ‘The men. Do they get double?’

‘Yes, yes—just give it to them. But make them work for it.’ He waved me away.

‘Holy cow! ‘ I said as I came back to thick glasses.

‘Now look here—‘ began thick glasses.

I took the wind out of him instantly: ‘Shut up!’ I yelled. ‘cc has been kidnapped!’ I picked up the phone and gave the order for the men to assemble for duty.

‘Why?’ said thick glasses when I put the receiver down. He appeared stupefied.

‘What do you mean why? Why do you think people get kidnapped?’

‘Who would kidnap him?’

‘Why, you think he is too fat to be kidnapped?’

‘I mean the boss would never pay. It’s for money, isn’t it?’

Ya.’ I looked at him closely. ‘How long you been in the firm?’

‘Long enough.’

‘And you know the boss inside out, eh?’

He nodded, smiling. He felt superior-like then. I wished I had consulted him.

When the ruffians came, standing to attention, I put my hands behind my back, looked down at the floor, and paced up and down the line as I spoke. Thick glasses listened from his desk.

‘Something important to tell you, boys.’ I said, graciously. ‘Something that would make you all happy.’

The ruffians smiled. I glanced at thick glasses behind me and saw that he had pricked up his ears.

‘I told the boss that you were indeed underpaid. I told him you had to have a raise. I told him you had to get at least double of what you are getting now. And you know what...?’

I paused dramatically. I paced like a General, studied their ugly faces, and looked at thick glasses. Then I resumed.

‘He’s agreed.’

The ruffians broke out cheering and clapping like a bunch of school children who had been promised an outing somewhere. When they fell back to their normal, nasty expressions, thick glasses spoke up though he was not supposed to. ‘I don’t believe it,’ he said.

I looked at the men. ‘He doesn’t believe it! How do you like that?’

They booed.

‘You had better believe it, boys. Because when I say something, it bloody well is true!’ They clapped again, this time thunderously. ‘Mr. accountant will believe it when he gets down to entering it in his ledger.’

This time they laughed, making thick glasses resume his work hastily.

‘And that is not all,’ I continued. ‘Being underpaid was one thing. But there is another thing you deserve that has been denied you, and that is...’ I stopped, looking at thick glasses. ‘Well, since our accountant does not believe in anything good that happens to you, I think we ought to get rid of him, don’t you?’

This time there was embarrassment all round. I could see I had gone too far.

‘You are not going to get rid of me,’ said thick glasses. ‘This is my office.’

‘It’s mine too. And I got some very important things to tell the men. Things that are not for your ears...!’

‘Nothing is kept from me in this firm.’

‘Now is that right?’ I said sarcastically.

‘Yes.’

I went close to him and whispered in his ear. ‘You want me to throw you out?’

‘Now look here --!’

‘Listen, this concerns the kidnapping of cc. It’s a top secret mission. Even you are suspect! Now do you want me to haul you out of here by force and humiliate you in front of the men, eh?’

‘Me, a suspect?!’ He was shocked.

Ya!’

‘The boss say that?’

Ya. Now what do you say?’

He stared at me; then he stared at the ruffians; then he stared back at me as I still bent over him. Then, slowly, he nodded. ‘I’ll go.’

‘Good.’

When he had gone, I started to pace again. Now I really felt like a General inspecting his men, with nobody behind me, sitting and spoiling it all. ‘Now for the other good news, boys.’

The ruffians stiffened a little. One even gave a salute. I saluted back. That made the others salute, making me salute again.

‘Enough saluting,’ I said. ‘Time to get down to the nitty-gritty.’

I paused, pacing again. Then I said: ‘ Now you have been working very hard, haven’t you?’

‘Yes, sir,’ they answered in chorus.

‘You feel tired? Exhausted?’

‘No, sir,’ was the chorus again.

‘No?’

‘No!’

‘That’s funny,’ I said. ‘You look bloody exhausted to me!’

‘We do anything for sir. Just tell us.’

‘All right, listen,’ I said. ‘I want you to take two weeks holiday.’

Their jaws dropped. It was as if somebody had suddenly started pissing all over them. ‘No, sir. We work. We no want holiday.’ They began shaking their heads wildly.

‘Attention!’ I said, sounding angry. ‘When you are before me, you stand stiff like a penis!’

They stiffened up instantly, but one or two tongues continued to wag. ‘We no tired, sir. We want work.’

‘Look, you bloody clots,’ I said loudly. ‘It’s a bloody paid holiday!’

Their jaws dropped again. ‘A paid...???’

Ya. Go away from this joint. Do what you like.’

They began looking at each other, disbelief plastered all over their crude faces. I had obviously gone mad.

‘Boss say this, sir?’

‘No. I told the boss. He agreed. Now what do you say? You want to go?’

They began jumping about in wild jubilation, throwing discipline to the wind. They grabbed me by the arms and legs and hauled me up in the air like a statue. ‘Attention!’ I shouted, only to see myself drop down to their suddenly stiffened legs. I got to my feet, my arse hurting. ‘Now listen,’ I said, looking at them standing all over, facing in every direction. ‘I want you to grab this chance and relax. Go away any place you like, just don’t come back here the next two weeks. Is that clear?’

‘Clear, clear, sir.’

‘All right. Clear out!’

(11)

‘Knock them off, you bastard!’ said the smell, her face buried in the large soft pillow. She could feel I was not concentrating.

‘That’s easy,’ I said, and made an energetic movement of the hips.

‘Is it?’

I continued the hip movement to emphasize that it was. ‘Well, of course, you bitch! But what good would that do me?’

‘You take over cc’s job. And all that goes with it.’

‘That’s peanuts,’ I let my hand slip over the bed sheet to her crammed chest. ‘Flat peanuts.’

That remark suddenly brought on a cross connection in my brain, making me shudder for an instant.

‘Hey, why do you stop?’ she cried through the pillow.

I made no reply. I was thinking of her grandmother.

‘Hey, what’s the matter?’

I ignored her, for I was now on to something. Something I hadn’t thought of before.

‘Hey, continue—for fuck’s sake!’

This time her voice was a desperate scream. She began to shake her arse like a belly dancer, making up for my absence. I let myself shoot and then I withdrew immediately.

‘Hey, what about me?!’ she screamed again, turning up her head from the pillow.

I climbed into my clothes rapidly. ‘Abuse yourself,’ I said as I hurried out the door.

(12)

I hadn’t seen the old bag in years so it was no surprise when she turned out looking like a broomstick. She mistook me for the postman.

‘Why no letters?’ she squeaked.

‘Don’t you remember me?’ I asked idiotically and walked straight past her into the villa.

She screwed up her wrinkled face, trying to rack her aged brain, and she shuffled after me. She came and stood right beside me and she peered into my eyes. A century later she lifted her finger and shook it at me. ‘You are from the shop...’

I nodded. ‘Healthy Tobacco. That’s right.’

‘You got a message for me...’

I nodded again. ‘That’s right. A very important message.’

The corners of her mouth sagged as if she were going to cry, but she didn’t. She just turned her back on me and wobbled to a chair. ‘My husband isn’t coming home tonight,’ she murmured.

‘No,’ I corrected. ‘Your son isn’t coming home tonight.’

She paid no attention to what I said. She didn’t look at me; she took out a handkerchief from somewhere and began wiping her eyes. I still couldn’t see any tears.

‘In fact your son is going to be away for a long time unless you do something about it...he’s been kidnapped!’

Apparently I still hadn’t got through to her for she had that far away look. Shit, I thought.

‘Didn’t you hear what I said, aunty?’ I shouted and went and bent beside her, holding her hands. ‘Look, I am that very lovable nephew of yours. You remember me?’

She looked straight into my eyes, dreaming. ‘I get lonely...so lonely...’

‘What are you talking about?’

‘...when he doesn’t come’

‘I am not talking about your bloody husband!’ I held her by the shoulders and shook her. ‘I am talking about your bloody son.’

‘Why can’t he come in the evenings...?’

‘Look, he is coming tonight!’ This time I really shook her violently. ‘He bloody well is coming tonight. There is nothing wrong with him. You hear? Nothing wrong with him!’

Her eyes lit up suddenly. ‘What did you say...?’

‘He is coming home tonight. Uncle is coming home tonight.’

‘Uncle?’

‘My uncle.’

Her face went all soft. She attempted a smile and began stroking my hair, ‘You are kind...very kind...but your uncle—‘

‘Your husband! He’s my uncle! He’s coming home tonight. It’s not him at all I am talking about. I am talking about your son. My cousin!’

‘Son? Cousin?’

Ya.’

‘You are my cousin’s son?’

‘No, you bloody cabbage! Your son’s my cousin. I am your nephew!’

Her eyes sparkled. I saw that I had finally got through.

‘You are my aunty! Don’t you remember me?’

‘Then you are not from the shop...?’

l am—Oh, hell! Never mind that! What you should know is—‘

She cut me short, eyes wide: ‘I remember you. When you were that high.’ She stretched out her hand like a Hitler salute.

‘Yes, yes, but—‘

‘You used to stage sword fights. Imaginary sword fights. All by yourself. Oh, you were so funny—‘

‘Yes, never mind that. I got some important—‘

‘And you were always making my son cry. You naughty boy.’

She stroked my hair again, smiling.

Just then I lost my temper. I sprang out of her reach, unable to stand her ageing hand mussing up my well combed hair. I shouted: ‘I am going to make you cry now, you dried up old hag! Your son’s been—‘

The sudden opening of the front door stopped me. I turned and who do I see? The old thug! What the hell was he doing there at that time of the day? I looked about for an escape door but there wasn’t any. Besides, it was too late; he saw me straight away and marched up. ‘What the devil are you doing here?!’ he howled.

‘Eh, visiting...’

‘Visiting?’

Ya, I thought—‘

‘Why?’

‘What do you mean why, uncle? Can’t I pay my aunty a visit?’

‘Since when have you—‘

‘It was nice of him, dear,’ cut in my aunty.

Uncle turned savagely on her: ‘Shut up!’ making her instantly fold into the chair. Then he turned to me again, putting his arm on my shoulder and drawing me away into the next room. ‘You haven’t stepped in here for donkey’s years,’ he told me sharply. ‘ Besides you are supposed to be out on a mission, remember?’

‘Yes, I am doing all I can, uncle.’

He seized me by the shirt collar. ‘What is it then, eh?’

‘Uncle you are hurting me.’

‘I’ll hurt you much more if you don’t tell me the truth!’

It was such a temptation to give him one punch on his fat belly and another on his foul mouth, but I was too smart. ‘The truth is that I thought aunty might be able to tell me something...’

‘Like what?’

‘About cousin’s movements, anything that might help in the search.’

‘Don’t you think I would have asked her that? And that I would have told you if there had been something, eh? You take me for a fool?’

‘No, uncle, no, you are not a fool.’

He released me contemptuously. ‘What did you tell her?’

‘Me? Tell her?’

‘Yes, what did you tell her?’

‘What should I tell her? She was supposed to tell me!’

‘Did you tell her he was missing?’

For a moment I couldn’t think of anything to say. Then it occurred to me: ‘I tried to but she wouldn’t listen. I mean she just wouldn’t understand. She was more worried about you not coming home.’

He stared at me suspiciously, then his lips gave way and he began to chuckle. I suppose he was relieved. He placed his arm on my shoulder again and took me back to her.

‘Nephew is staying for dinner, dear.’ he announced, and then he looked at me again as he said: ‘He’s going to tell me everything he’s been up to.’

(13)

When I dropped into Healthy Tobacco again I got a little jolt. From none other than thick glasses himself.

He said: ‘What’s this about holidays?’

I turned sharply at him, then I looked in the other direction to see if there was anybody behind me he was talking to. There wasn’t.

‘Holidays?’ I said.

‘The holidays you gave the men.’

‘Who told you this?’

‘I heard,’ he smiled.

I fell on him instantly, pulling him out of the chair by the shirt collar. ‘Who from!’

‘No...no...nobody,’ he stammered. ‘I...I overheard.’

‘You were listening?’

‘I...I couldn’t help it.’

I snatched away his glasses, threw them on the floor and stepped on them. I released him. ‘You nosey bloody parker!’

If my old auntie hadn’t cried, this man certainly made up for it. He began to shed tears like that nose-picker, as he picked up the broken pieces of glass. ‘You shouldn’t have done that,’ he moaned.

‘You shouldn’t have listened!’ I roared.

He flopped back in his chair, eyes out of focus. I stood over him. ‘Who have you been blabbing to?’ I demanded.

‘No one, honest...’ he shook his head.

‘Not even to the boss?’

‘No!’

‘You sure?’

He squinted at me. ‘ Why should I tell him? He is in on it, isn’t he?’

‘You could have discussed with him.’

‘I didn’t.’

I smiled, but I realized he couldn’t see me so I came close and patted him on his neck, like I would a dog. ‘Relax, Mr. Accountant, sir. I just didn’t want the boss to think I had told you when I wasn’t supposed to. Look, I’ll buy you new glasses, what do you say?’

‘You had better.’

‘No, I’ll do better than that. I’ll buy you a meal too. How’s that?’

He said nothing. He just squinted at me, flabbergasted-like.

‘You don’t want me to buy you a meal?’

‘No.’

I dragged cc’s chair up to him, and sat down. ‘Why the hell not?’

‘Thank you, but no.’

‘Look, I want to make it up to you.’

‘I am afraid I consume only certain special things.’

‘Like what?’

He shook his head. ‘You won’t understand.’

‘How about bread and water?’

He sprang up from the chair and flew to cc’s desk, as if I had made an indecent suggestion. ‘You are playing something on the boss, aren’t you?’ he said.

I got up, facing him. ‘Now what makes you say a stupid thing like that?’

‘Why should you suddenly want to be good to me?’

‘I told you!’

‘You are lying.’

I went for him, fist raised; but the phone stopped me in my tracks. I answered it. It was the old bastard; he wanted to see me right away.

‘Can’t it wait, uncle? I have to fix thick glasses.’

‘Thick glasses?’

‘Our accountant’s thick glasses. He’s broken them. I am trying to help.’

‘To hell with the damn glasses! Get here at the double!’

I got there at the double.

‘Anything to report today?’ he wanted to know.

‘Nothing, I am afraid. The men are still hunting.’

‘Where are they now?’

‘They are doing the holiday resorts. Eh, some of our customers are from there and cousin, I believe, had some personal dealings with them.’

‘What personal dealings?’

‘No, I mean he knew them personally—not that he conducted private business with them.’

He regarded me uncertainly for a moment, then nodded and dropped his eyes on the desk. He picked up a piece of paper and held it out at me. ‘Look what they have sent us, the swines!’

I peered at it. ‘What is it?’

He did not answer me. Instead he seized his lighter and set fire to it. ‘That’s my reply to them,’ he said grimly.

‘Are those the instructions for paying the ransom?’ I said frantically. The door behind me suddenly opened and thick glasses barged in, eyes naked. ‘Excuse me, sir, but I have something very important—‘

‘How dare you walk in like this!’ shouted the old man.

‘Sorry, sir, but there is something you must—‘

I flung myself on the squinting twig, whirling him around and hurling him back towards the door.

‘Your nephew, he is -- !’ he began before a kick in the arse sent him into the corridor outside. Slamming the door shut, I turned back to the old man.

‘He’s got no manners, uncle.’

‘You didn’t have to do that.’

I shrugged my shoulders. ‘He gave me a shock.’

‘Did he have something to say about you?’

‘Your nephew, he is hurting me, I think he wanted to say.’ I shot a finger at the burning paper. ‘But, uncle, you shouldn’t have done that; it could give us vital clues!’

He threw the ashes on the floor. ‘The only clues we are going to get is by keeping up the search!’

‘What if we draw a blank?’

‘We won’t!’ he said emphatically. ‘Just you make sure.’

He swung his head to dismiss me. ‘Get that idiot now.’

‘Yes, sir,’ I dashed out.

The idiot wasn’t to be seen anywhere. Not in his office; not in the shop. He had obviously gone out.

‘He went that way,’ said one of the salesmen in the shop.

I flew that way.

I was lucky to have smashed his glasses. He was wobbling his way among the crowd on the pavement not far from the shop. It was one hell of a job making contact with him but when I did, I put him straight into a taxi. ‘I am going to get you that meal I promised, thick glasses,’ I said, stuffing his mouth with my handkerchief.

I gave him three large loaves of bread and a jug full of water before he went and joined the party.

‘Have a ball!’ I shouted, throwing a fresh roll of toilet paper inside.

(14)

‘Knock them off, you bastard,’ said the smell again. She was leaning against her decorated wall and I was preventing her from falling down by supporting her two legs with my two arms.

‘That’s easy,’ I said, thrusting her tighter against the wall.

‘Is it?’

‘Look, I am too smart for that.’

‘Are you?’

‘Look, all this needs is a change in the modus operandi, that’s all.’

She gave out a sigh. ‘All right, put me down.’

I did.

‘I am listening,’ she said then.

‘We need to simplify it; concentrate on the essential element.’

She shrugged her pretty shoulders. ‘All right.’ She walked to the bed, lay on her back and spread out her legs. ‘Just fill me in, that’s all I ask.’

That turned out to be not quite true for, when I did, she kicked me away. ‘Me fuck with him...?!’ she cried.

‘Well, you can try not to’, I said, ‘but rub some sense into him.’

‘Oh,’ she said, calming down. Then, after a moment’s thought: ‘How do I make contact with him?’

‘Leave that to me.’

(15)

‘Uncle,’ I said. ‘The whole thing has been left to me now.’

The oldie sat in his chair, feeling his chin pensively. From time to time he looked up at me slyly, giving me the creeps. Suddenly he rammed his palm on the desk. ‘How can he disappear like that!

‘Maybe he had an accident or something. He could hardly see without his glasses’

‘In the traffic, you mean?’

Ya. Probably got hurled away by a taxi. You know what road-hogs they are’

‘Why haven’t we heard of it then?’ He gave me the funniest of looks, making me wonder if there was something else behind that question.

‘Search me, uncle,’ I said, regardless.

He got to be thoughtful again but I revived him. ‘Getting back to my problem, uncle: How am I going to cope with cousin’s work, the accountant’s work and my own work all at the same bloody time? I may be smart, uncle, but I am no superman.’

‘I suppose you have some sort of solution,’ he said dryly.

‘As a matter of fact I do.’

‘I thought so.’

I gave him a searching look, not liking his tone.

‘Well?’ he said.

‘Simple. We take on a new face. And I know just which face.’

‘Which?’

‘The client I picked up at that party. Remember her? She’s our kind. She understands our business.’

‘All right.’

I gave him another look, thinking it odd that he agreed so readily.

‘There’s something fishy,’ I told the smell when she moved into the office.

‘What?’ she asked, arranging herself on thick glasses’s chair.

‘The old bastard might have begun to suspect me.’

‘About time too.’

I grabbed her by the breasts. ‘Look, you be serious about this, you hear.’

‘Sorry, Young Bull.’

She was serious all right, but the old buzzard refused to get hooked. Days simply passed and the men came back from their holidays, but the oldie acted as though there was not a cunt around.

‘You sure he’s got his cock where his balls are?’ the smell said, throwing up her hands.

‘Look, you had better start waving it at him,’ I said.

So the next day she came to the office in a thing that looked almost like a night dress, naked shoulders and breasts half showing. It attracted one of the salesmen in the shop but I sent him back in the water. When she went in to the oldie for all sorts of flimsy reasons she took up various postures around the desk and once or twice even managed to brush her tits against his head as she stood over him explaining the day’s accounts. Still the bastard acted like an eunuch.

‘He probably needs a shot of hormones,’ said the smell.

‘Hormones, my foot,’ I said and marched over to him, determined to find out what the fuck was the matter.

‘How are you finding our new accountant, uncle?’ I asked.

He did not look at me but went on doing his work. ‘She is all right,’ he murmured.

‘Very sexy, isn’t she?’

‘Is she?’ he still didn’t look at me.

‘I was thinking. Those panties I gave you. They are just her size.’

‘Are they?’

Ya.’

He pushed away his work and glared at me. Then he reached for his drawer and pulled out my present. He threw it at me.

‘Here, you may have them back.’

‘But, uncle, I didn’t mean that.’ I looked hurt.

‘Never mind what you meant. Let’s get back to business. How’s the hunt going?’

‘Well, I am doing all I can, you know that.’

‘You are not doing enough.’ His voice was stern. ‘I am taking over the men now, and I am personally going to get to the bottom of it. Now go back and attend to your other duties.’

‘But—‘

‘Out!’

Now the bastard had really hurt my feelings. I went to the smell and ordered the panties to be put on.

‘What, now?’ she exclaimed.

‘Yes now, you bitch! We are going to do it on office time.’

She put them on.

And I took them off.

‘Now what?’ she asked.

I grabbed a chair. ‘We sit on this.’

The chair creaked as her entire body rested on my thighs, and the smell of her perfume engulfed my nostrils.

‘The stinking affair is beginning to weigh on me,’ I complained.

She stroked my hair as she rode me like a horse. ‘Take heart, Young Bull,’ she said.

I took instead her tits in my mouth.

‘Let’s just sit on it for a while,’ she said.

I didn’t think much of that scheme but I thought it best not to try to say anything more. I was really feeling down in the mouth now.

 

 

(16)

He held the note up at me again: ‘Here’s another one.’

‘They must be getting desperate, uncle. We had better do something about it.’

‘You mean pay up?’

‘No, I mean trick them. By going along with their demands.’

He looked at me curiously. I stretched out my hand. ‘If I could just look at it, I might be able to come up with something smart.’

He thought it over for a moment, then gave the note to me. I read it, really read it. ‘Okay, uncle, listen, we do exactly as it says. We take the bag full of cash to this place and we set up a ring around it using all our men. We’ll make sure the bastards don’t get out with the money. How’s that?’

‘Sounds interesting,’ he said, though his face looked bored.

‘We’ll grab them red-handed, and we’ll wipe them out then and there!’

He remained unmoved. ‘And what if they get out of the net?’

‘They won’t! We’ll have it so tight, they won’t!’

‘It’s a big park, with trees and bushes everywhere. How are you going to seal every little outlet?’

‘It can be done, uncle. Just trust me. Hell, we can even get the cops to give us a hand.’

He gave a smile and then he asked something that sent my balls curling up: ‘Just what is your role in this?’

‘My role? What do you mean?’

‘What exactly are you going to be doing?’

My balls loosened up. ‘Why, I’ll put the money bag on the spot, withdraw behind some bushes and keep a constant eye on it. I want to be the first to pounce on the bastards, you know me!’

‘Yes, I know you,’ he said dryly and stretched out his hand for the note. When he had it back, he smiled and took out his lighter. He set fire to it.

‘But uncle!’ I shouted, horrified.

He waited until the whole thing had burnt out, then: ‘That’s still my answer. Now get back to work!’

 

 

(17)

‘Knock them off, you bastard!’ repeated the smell.

She was beginning to bore me. To liven things up a little I bought her a whole range of new bras and panties, various colours and designs, so that there was a different pair for each day. That smoothed out the passage to the first of the month, and then I went and got hold of a blower.

He laughed straight in my face: ‘Imagine a thing like that happening to Healthy Tobacco.’

‘Will you do it?’

‘Of course I will. I have done lots of jobs for your uncle.’

‘Okay, let’s go.’

He looked puzzled. ‘Now? In the middle of the night?’

‘Sure. That’s when you normally work, don’t you?’

I opened the door to the shop with the key I had and then inside I used a series of bent wires to open the old man’s office.

The blower was more puzzled.

‘How can you lose both the key to the door and the safe combination?’

‘Somebody pinched the old man’s jacket,’ I explained.

‘He kept the safe combination in his jacket?’

‘No,’ I said irritably. ‘He kept it in his underwear which was in his jacket.’

The man scratched his head, not knowing what to make of that. He looked at the giant safe, examined it and began pulling out the explosives from his bag. ‘Sure feels good working without haste for a change,’ said be.

I didn’t feel good looking at him working without haste. I felt good only when, with a bang, the thick door opened and the loot was exposed to sight. I grabbed it and began dumping it in my suitcase.

‘Sure is rich, your uncle,’ he kept staring at the notes, mouth watering.

I finished emptying the safe, then took a bundle and stuffed it in his hand. ‘Here, that’s ten times your fee. Enjoy it.’

Before he had time to say how happy he was, I seized him by the throat. ‘Only if you keep your mouth shut about this!’

He began to shake. ‘Sure...sure, but...but why?’

‘Nobody must know, you hear!’

‘Sure, sure’

‘Not even my uncle!’

‘Not even...?’ He was more than puzzled now.

‘Not even my uncle!’ I repeated.

‘You mean...?’

‘Yes. Now get the hell out of here!’

He fled like he had seen the devil himself.

I fled like I had robbed a safe.

I went straight into the arms and legs of the smell who was looking after my guests and waiting for her share.

We stood facing each other in the shower. Above the sound of the running water, we could hear the now frantic cries from the guest toilet.

‘You know what I like about you?’ I said.

‘What?’ she pressed herself harder against me.

‘You are always warm and wet.’

She gave a giggle and said: ‘And you know what I like about you?’

‘Yes,’ I said.

She screwed up her face. ‘What?’

‘Rain or no rain, I deliver the goods.’

She giggled once more. Then we heard the cries again and she said .’You realize, don’t you, you have to knock them off now.’

‘No I don’t,’ I said and grabbed her buttocks.

‘Well, you can’t let them go!’

‘Why not?’

‘They’ll knock you off!’

‘Who says I have to stay in this town or this country?’

‘They’ll get you—wherever you go!’

I shoved myself out of her warmth and, grabbing her arms, swung her around to face away from me. Then, brutally, I bent the upper part of her body down and searched for her warmth again, but the bitch kept wriggling her buttocks, shouting: ‘Bastard, you bastard!’

I pushed and pulled and shifted myself but her bloody slit eluded me. Finally I let her go, exhausted. She turned and we stared at each other for a while like some beasts, the water falling between us.

‘Why did you have to do that?’ she said then.

‘Nobody is going to get you if you don’t want to be got,’ I said.

‘What?!’

‘You heard.’ I went and gave her a kiss. Her brain never was as quick as her cunt and it was a long time before she flung her arms around my neck again.

‘But isn’t it just easy to knock them off?’ she asked. ‘Then you don’t have to run. You can continue with your uncle.’

I shook my head. ‘The old bastard might still find out. He’s already begun to suspect me; that I can tell. Besides, I don’t trust that blower.’

‘You should knock him off too.’

‘Look, let’s resume knocking ourselves up, shall we?’

‘Sure. Young Bull,’ she turned around, showed me her back and bent down. I smiled and thrust myself into her. Only to hear on a sudden a great big crash from somewhere near the front door, making my blood scamper in all the wrong places. In another flash the shower curtain got swished away and there stood enjoying us was one of Healthy Tobacco’s ruffians. Another second and more ruffians tramped into the bathroom, their heavy boots scratching on the tiled floor.

The smell straightened up, trying to hide her wealth. I glared straight back at them, hiding nothing.

‘What the hell is going on?!’ I shouted, as if I didn’t know.

The ruffians only grinned. Behind them the old thug’s voice boomed: ‘That’s what I’d like to know!’

‘Uncle! What’s wrong?’ I turned off the shower.

‘Come out of there, you dirty swine!’

We came out and grabbed our bathrobes; if I had to die, I thought, let it not be with nothing on. ‘What’s happened?’ I asked again, baffled.

‘Where’s the money? And where is my son?’

‘What money?’ I was confounded.

‘Put him against the wall!’ he ordered the ruffians.

‘Now wait a minute!’ I protested.

Two pairs of rough hands grabbed me and held me against the cold bathroom wall. The old thug waded past the other ruffians and stood before me, ignoring the smell paralyzed near the shower.

‘You going to tell me or do I have to make you?’ he brought out his lighter and lit it in front of my eyes. Just then the guest toilet exploded with cries again, making him turn away from me. He nodded to the other ruffians. ‘Get them.’ Then he held the lighter up at me again. ‘Where’s the money?’

‘Why don’t you look behind in your arse!’ I hollered, and sent a mighty kick in his stomach with my free feet. He went flying to the floor. In an act of frenzy, I struggled with the ruffians holding me and lo and behold I shook them off! I turned, snatched a towel hanging behind me on the wall and went for the oldie, wanting to strangle him. But the ruffians, rushing PAST me, beat me to him. They lifted him up and put him against the opposite wall.

‘He’s yours, sir,’ said one of them, and I saw that he was speaking to me. Then the second one nodded: ‘You good to us, sir.’

They could have knocked me down with a bank note.

I gave the smell a quick look and saw her still frozen near the shower. Then I dashed out of the bathroom and saw the door to the guest toilet still locked. The other ruffians were just standing there, hands folded. I called out at the bathroom: ‘Bring the bastard in here!’ The command was promptly obeyed. Then I pointed to the toilet: ‘Shove the bastard in there!’ That too was promptly obeyed.

After that I got out the bottles.

‘Here’s to my health,’ I said, lifting my glass up.

‘To your health,’ they all cheered.

Not to be left out, the four guests in the toilet cheered too, only in a different sort of way, bringing laughter to everybody, except to the smell, who said: ‘I bet I know what you are going to do with them.’

‘What?’

‘You are not going to knock them off.’

‘Knock it off, will you!’ I said, and raised the glass again to my faithfuls.

‘To Healthy Tobacco.’

‘To Healthy Tobacco,’ they hollered.

(18)

Imagine putting the loot back where you took it from!

It made me feel so funny I had to glance quickly at the smell for re-assurance. She sat at the brand new desk I had ordered for her. She was so taken up by her new role as my adviser and secretary that she hardly had time to look at me, even though we were bunched together in the same room. She just pored over the documents and talked incessantly on the phone, trying to get a grip over Healthy Tobacco’s many tentacles and coming up now and then with some daft ideas for turning more chink.

‘We got to go into the nursing profession,’ she said once.

‘Nursing?’ I said, wondering if I had heard her right. ‘Surely you mean the massage profession.’

‘No, nursing. Taking care of the very old and the very rich. Our girls would not only nurse them, they—‘

‘They would massage them!’

‘They would get them to alter their wills—in our favour.’

She beamed, pleased with herself.

I shook my head. ‘What makes you think the girls wouldn’t try to have the wills changed in their own favour?’

‘Why don’t our whores fuck for themselves?!’ she countered.

‘Forget it.’

I seemed to have dealt a blow to her ego, so I added, ‘Look, anything we go into has to be really big—like your tits.’

Then I picked up the phone and told cc to make the fifteen metre run. He made it in the same number of minutes. ‘You getting too fat, cc?’ I remarked when he had shut the door behind him.

‘Of course not,’ he answered, and there wasn’t a trace of resentment in his voice.

‘If your thumping salary is making you so sluggish, then...’

‘No, no, cousin,’ he blurted, ‘I had to finish counting last week’s proceeds from the casinos, that’s all.’

‘All right, sit down...how much did you total up?’

He shrugged his rubbery shoulders. ‘The usual.’

I gave the smell a glance. ‘Our secretary thinks we ought to be collecting much more.’

He eyed her questioningly. ‘From gambling?’

‘From everything,’ replied she. ‘We need to expand.’

‘Have you got any ideas, cc?’ I said.

He hesitated. ‘We can expand into new areas of the town, but...’

‘Not new areas. New business,’ emphasized the smell.

‘But what, cc?’ I asked.

cc went on to shock us. His father, the old thug, had, it seemed, come to a gentleman’s agreement with the only other thug in the city. According to this agreement the city was divided into two zones of influence, so there was no question of Healthy Tobacco getting into any new territory. And who was this other thug? Why, none other than that loud-mouth who had told me to piss off at that party the smell and I had picked each other up!

‘Holy cow!’ I whistled.

‘Dirty pig!’ screamed the smell.

‘But that’s not all,’ resumed cc.

The smell and I held our breaths.

‘We are forbidden to have anything to do with dope.’

I recovered first. ‘You mean Mr.Piss Off can dope while we can’t?!’

cc nodded.

‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ shouted the smell.

‘Think of what?’ I yelled.

‘Hash. We go into hash. It’s big!’ She began to swing her chest from side to side, grinning foolishly.

I ignored her and stood up, thinking.

‘I said we can’t go into hash,’ cc repeated to the smell.

‘Fuck him! Fuck that man!’ she retorted.

‘Shut up, you two! Can’t you see I am thinking?’

Silence. I went round my desk and began pacing the floor. One thing I was sure of was that I did not like hash, like I did not like tobacco. But l also did not like some arse-hole coming and waving a gentleman’s agreement under my nose, especially when I had nothing to do with it. At last I stopped, in front of cc. ‘You think your papa could be persuaded to change his mind?’ I asked him. If I was going to take on Mr. Piss, I reasoned, it wouldn’t at all be a bad idea to have the old fellow around.

cc shook his plump head. ‘Negative. I told you he doesn’t want even me to work here.’

I got back into my swivel chair, trying to figure out something else. But I couldn’t. The dethroned uncle kept needling me. I sat up and slammed my hand on the desk. ‘What’s wrong with the old dog?!’ It was a rhetorical question but cc, slow witted that he was, opened his mouth:

‘He can’t get over it.’

That was obvious to anybody. What was not obvious was that I had offered all my toilet guests—except the stammerer—excellent terms of employment, something that would make even a goddamned prince look up and take notice; and yet the only one to accept was cc. Never mind the old thug—even thick glasses had preferred to go to other pastures.

‘Has he managed to set up another racket?’ I inquired.

‘No,’ answered cc. ‘He just sits at home and dreams of smashing you up.’

‘Why do you want him?’ said the smell. ‘He’s finished. And he is old!’

‘All right, to hell with him!’ I said. Then turned to cc. ‘cc, I want you to get cracking. Take the first plane out of the country and get us a load of hash.’

Attah boy! ‘ cheered my adviser.

‘But—‘ began cc.

‘Don’t you worry about Mr.P. I’ll take care of him.’

Attah boy!’ The adviser.

‘But—‘

“No buts, cc. You fly out right away. That’s an order!’

(19)

Buying the stuff abroad was one thing. Getting it into the country was another. So the smell and I paid a little informal visit to the custom house, or rather to its grand vizier. As expected, he treated us like contraband: grasping handshake, smug smile and a quick transport into the confines of his inner office. ‘What can I do for you?’ he said gloatingly.

‘Let me do something for you,’ I said, and opened our attache case. The bundles of lolly packed in it made him go dumb. For a moment. Then, getting up and turning to a cupboard, he asked, ‘whiskey?’

‘Only if it’s smuggled,’ I answered, making him go dumb again. For a while. Then he broke into a giggle.

‘I am afraid I am dead serious,’ I said.

He poured the drlnks silently and passed them on to us. Sitting down again, he said, ‘ Excuse me for being stupid but just what are you serious about, Mr...’

‘Bull. Call me Bull.’

‘Mr. Bull.’

His eyes had shifted to the smell as he said my name, so I let her pick up the ball. True to her form, she picked up the attache case and placed it smack in his lap, saying, ‘We are serious about making you happy.’

He gave a little smile and began stroking the attache case. ‘And why, may I ask?’

I thought that remark a little odd and so did the smell for she looked at me. I got up and descended beside him. ‘We like you, that’s all,’ I grinned.

‘But you don’t know me, do you?’

‘No, we don’t. But we like you.’

‘Any man who can massage an attache case like that has to be likeable,’ added the smell. Clever girl, I thought.

‘But...’ He checked himself suddenly and there appeared on his face a grimace. ‘You know something?’ he looked at me.

‘No, we don’t know something,’ I responded.

‘You are lucky.’

‘Bravo!’ cried the smell. She fell on his other side, put her arm around him and kissed him on the cheek. ‘I knew you were a smart guy.’

‘I mean you are lucky I don’t throw you out.’

She reeled away from him as if struck by lightning.

‘What do you mean?’ I said quickly.

‘It’s a disgusting suggestion,’ he said, but went on stroking the attache case.

‘Yes it is,’ I countered, giving him a wink. ‘So beautifully disgusting.’

‘Just what kind of a cargo is it?’

‘Hash.’

On a sudden the grand vizier sprang up. Turning huffishly to me, he almost threw the attache case in my hands, eyes blazing. ‘Do you know who I am?’ he thundered.

‘The grand vizier of the customs!’ I fired back.

‘Please go!’

‘Now look here!’ I dumped the attache case on the sofa and got to my feet, staring him in the eyes. ‘Just cut out the bull!’ I pointed to the attache case. ‘If that’s not enough, name your figure.’

He thrust his chin out. ‘I am not that kind of a man! Now good-bye!’

‘I don’t believe this,’ I said to myself, scratching my head.

‘Neither do I,’ added my partner.

I took a deep breath; and I took a hold on myself. Then I took a hold on my girl. ‘Look at her, Mr. Vizier,’ I said softly. ‘You like her?’

‘I said good-bye!’ He turned and tramped towards the door.

I faced him again. ‘You can have her as long as you want, how’s that? And the money.’

He flung open the door. ‘Off with you!’

I went to the open door and swung it shut. When I turned to him, he had already hit the floor; my girl was on top him, squeezing his throat like a lemon.

‘What’s with you, you son of a bitch!’ It was the whine of a she-devil. ‘You gone crazy or is there something else?’

He certainly hadn’t gone crazy. That he made clear right away. His problem, as he related while struggling frantically for a breath of air, was another party which insisted on the sole rights for that particular commodity. ‘Name anything else,’ he gasped, ‘and it shall be chalked through—just not that one item.’

I had no need to ask who that mean, wangling party was but I did, just to be sure.

Mr. Piss Off!

‘He’ll kill me if I double-crossed him,’ the reclining vizier moaned.

‘And do you think we won’t kill you?!’ the smell raged, and she began crushing his throat with everything she had.

I got to her just in time, tearing her away from him.

‘What are you doing, you bastard?!’ she began now to fight with me. ‘Let go of me!’

‘Take it easy, girl, just take it easy,’ I tried to dampen her as I dragged her out of the vizier’s house. But she kept kicking and flinging her arms about and calling me names. She made quite a spectacle of herself in the streets.

And she was still in a blaze when we got to Healthy Tobacco, so I flung her on to her desk, slipped down her undies with a quick up and down movement of my hand under her skirt and mounted her.

It was like giving her a tranquilizing injection: hands and legs limped away onto the surface of the desk, the head ceased heaving itself up and the lips contracted to their natural kissable thickness.

However, before long, she was like a tigress again; it was so sudden, I turned and fell off the desk, dragging her down on top of me. She had me floored and she went to work on me with a vengeance, squatting on me and jerking her arse up and down as if she were sitting on a supersonic see-saw.

‘You’d better come up with something fast, you fool,’ she droned in my ear as we lay on the floor, spent.

‘The first thing to do is to come up’ I said and got to my feet. ‘And the second thing to do is to fall back,’ I collapsed in my chair, ‘on diplomacy.’

‘Diplomacy?’

‘If you can’t beat them—butter them!’

She stood up and slipped on her panties. ‘Do me a favour, will you?’ she said.

‘Sure.’

‘Quit horsing around.’

‘I am not! Look, get on that phone and get me Mr. Piss Off.’

‘What have you in mind?’

‘A summit conference.’

Doubtfully she picked up the receiver and began dialling. But Mr. Piss Off was not available. He was busy. And he was still busy when the smell tried again after a little while, and the next day and the day after that.

‘I don’t understand!’ she finally exclaimed, slamming the phone down.

‘I do,’ I said. ‘He’s pissing on us.’

‘Why? He doesn’t even know what we want.’

‘But he does know who we are.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘He’s probably used to pissing on my uncle. How do you think he could push through this gentleman’s agreement down the throat of Healthy Tobacco? Look, do something else. Get a pamphlet printed announcing our entry into hash, and have it sent to the bugger.’

Her mouth broadened into a smile. ‘Yes, sir.’

The next few days I shut myself in cc’s office. Downing cups of tea and reading books about hash. My knowledge was still incomplete when the smell, sounding extremely pleased, began telephoning me. ‘You ready now?’

‘No,’ I told her, and kept telling her, until finally her nerves couldn’t stand it anymore: ‘If you are not ready now, you’ll make a hash of it all!’ she cried.

‘All right, all right, put him on,’ I leaned back in the chair and a little later, with tremendous coldness, announced, ‘Bull here.’

‘Look here, Bull, I have been trying to get you for days!’ the man boomed.

‘Have you now, Mr. Piss Off...?’

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘I said have you really.

‘Listen, my name is—‘

‘I know what your name is!’ I cut in savagely. ‘We have met before.’

‘Yes, indeed.’

He remembered me at the party. He remembered everything, except: ‘Just piss off if you don’t like our company.’

‘Did I really say that?’ He sounded more amused than sorry.

‘Look, Mr. Piss Off, I am a busy man, so let’s get to the point.’

‘Well, yes, the point is that I think we ought to get together.’

‘What for?’

‘What for?’ he sounded baffled. ‘My dear man, we run the city’s only two businesses. If we didn’t get together for a little pow-wow now and then, we’d be inviting trouble. Your Uncle and I certainly did.’

‘Invite trouble?’

‘Get together! Talk things over’

‘Oh, you mean like gentlemen?’

‘Of course.’

‘Well, let’s see now...’ I said, turning slowly the pages of one of the hash books. ‘I might...be able to...fit you in on...’

‘Make it tomorrow, Bull.’

‘I am afraid I can’t tomorrow.’

‘Well, then, the day after tomorrow.’

‘Sorry, can’t.’

‘The day after that then.’

I turned some more pages of the hash book and I hummed. Finally I said: ‘Yes. I can just squeeze you in there. Shall we say nine in the morning?’

‘Fine. I’ll be expecting you.’

‘Oh no, Mr. Piss Off, I’ll be expecting you.’

He gave out in the background what I thought was a loud fart. But I may have been wrong, for he ended up saying: ‘Oh, very well.’

(20)

He came in his big chauffeur driven car. I got my ruffians to escort him in like they would a common bum. A special low chair was installed for him in my office. When he sat down the smell and I had to reach forward on our desks to get a glimpse of him: awkward but satisfying.

The super thug was far from ruffled. He simply strained his neck high in the air and smiled up at me. ‘Let me congratulate you, Bull.’

‘Congratulate me?’ I feigned ignorance. A little mock modesty, I thought, would be appropriate.

‘On your brilliant coup against the old fellow. I couldn’t believe my ears when I first heard about it.’

‘Neither could I.’

He thought that as some kind of a bad joke and went on to something else: ‘If at any time you need any help from me you have only to ask, you know.’

‘Thank you,’ I said, exchanging a look with the smell. I could see she had difficulty controlling herself; I was sure she wanted me to take out my gun and shoot the bastard then and there.

‘Your uncle and I had the closest of ties,’ the worm went on. ‘I did him a lot of favours.’

‘Like what, Mr. P?’

‘Oh, you know...I don’t like to appear arrogant but I run a very effective organization; there are things that I can get done which a lot of other people can’t...’ He spread out his hands and shrugged his shoulders.

‘Such as?’

A sweet smile. ‘Oh, perhaps you think I am underestimating you. Not at all, my friend. Look, may I call you Young?’

‘Certainly.’

‘Quite an extraordinary name you have,’ he chuckled, then abruptly: ‘Well, look, Young, I understand you are going into narcotics.’

‘Only hash.’

‘I suppose you know that up to now I have had a monopoly on it?’

‘So they say.’

‘Let me tell you something...’ He paused, sort of dramatically, making the smell shift noisily in her chair. He gave her a glance. ‘What a charming secretary you have...’

The old crow certainly had his cock screwed on right, I thought, but said: ‘That I know.’

He turned hastily to me. ‘Yes, well...’ he raised his finger to emphasize what he was going to say ‘...in this town, everyday of the week, there is at least one sucker trying to get past the cops with a load and...and do you know what happens to them all?’

I shook my head. ‘Tell me, Mr. P.’

‘The cooler! They end up saying good-bye to life. It makes me want to cry.’

He made such a downcast face, I thought he really meant it. But I didn’t wait to find out. I said quickly, ‘Just what has that got to do with my firm?’ I almost shouted, my pulse quickening.

‘Now I am not saying that you are an amateur too—‘

‘Aren’t you?!’ This time I really shouted.

‘No, no, I have the greatest respect for your firm. It’s an old firm, like mine. We are professionals, but...when we begin on something new, something as explosive as hash, we have to be careful—very careful. We can’t afford to make mistakes. Those amateurs have nothing to lose, except years and years of freedom. But we, we stand to lose our entire business. When we come out of the ice-box, we are not where we were—we are worse off. Do you get me?’

I almost made an effort to get up and get him. ‘Listen to me, Mr. P,’ I jabbed a finger towards him, you are here because you don’t want me to crack your monopoly! You are scared stiff I might bust up your business! You want me to forget about hash so that you may go on picking up the loot! You are a dirty, low-down—‘

‘Hold it, Young,’ he lifted up his hand, ‘just hold it. It’s not like that at all. Why, if you want to go ahead with hash, then go ahead by all means. I have nothing against it. I merely wanted you to know what it is like going into hash. As I said, your firm has been closely allied to mine; I just didn’t want you to make a false move and go under, that’s all.’

‘Why should you be worried about me?’

‘I am. I was worried about your uncle too.’

‘To hell with my uncle! He was a fool to let you have your way. Me, I am going to—‘

‘You can do what you like, for God’s sake!’ he cut in, raising his voice for the first time. ‘I told you that. But don’t come and blame me if our two firms begin fighting each other. As you know, business is business. When there is competition there is always the risk of misunderstandings!’

I leaned back in the chair, willing my pulse to slow down. I smiled. ‘Why competition, Mr. P? Why not co-operation?’

He made no reply. He smiled back and began shaking his head. He seemed to be embarrassed to say no.

‘The two of us together can reach the stars,’ I went on. He kept shaking his head and smiling. ‘Why not?’ I demanded

‘You mean we share my profits?’ he said finally.

I guess that’s what it really boiled down to, if one assumed that the town had no new customers whom I could help feed. So I said, ‘You don’t really know me, Mr. P. I am one hell of a devil at rounding up new mugs.’ I turned to the smell, ‘Isn’t that right?’

‘Correct,’ she opened her mouth for the first time. The big fish threw her a lustful look.

‘Why, we’ll make a junkie out of every Tom, Dick and Harry. There won’t be a single bastard able to stand up and open his eyes!’

l am sorry, Young. That’s out of the question.’

‘Then at least help us,’ the smell spoke again, giving him the sexiest of expressions. He turned to her and I was sure he was helping himself to her mentally.

‘How can I do that?’ he asked, interrupting himself from his telepathic deed.

‘Come, come, now, Mr. P,’ I said, ‘you know how.’

The hypocrite that he was, he kept insisting that he did not know what I was talking about, so I painted him a caricature of the grand vizier.

‘But he is not my man!’ he protested. ‘Not my exclusive man, that is. He is free to serve anybody he wishes, honest...’ He put his two hands on his heart.

‘Listen to me, Mr. P, a moment ago you said we should come to you for help if we needed it. Is that invitation still open?’

‘Yes, of course.’

‘All right, we’d like you to put a word into the grand vizier’s ear for us. That’s all we ask.’

Suddenly the superman stood up, towering over us. He was not at all happy. He reminded me of a mouse in a mouse trap. He issued a huge sigh. He said: ‘All right.’

‘You mean you will do it?’ the smell burst out, excited.

‘I said all right, didn’t I,’ he turned to her, a scowl on his face.

I was afraid she would grab and kiss him so I called quickly for the ruffians standing outside the door.

‘Our honoured guest is leaving,’ I said to them. I extended my hand. ‘Thank you, Mr. P, you certainly are a gentleman.’

‘Good luck,’ he said wryly, and stalked out.

 

(21)

‘The bastard wants to settle our hash,’ I told the smell.

‘He said he—‘

‘To hell with what he said. I don’t trust him.’

‘Neither do I, but let’s see if he does it.’

‘Just then the door opened and one of the ruffians came in hurriedly with a telegram. It was from cc. It read: BACK TOMORROW

I looked aghast at the smell. Here was cc, the clown, about to return from the mission I had set for him, and here was me, the great fox, still fumbling with a simple import problem. I had to make a quick decision: get cc to dump the cargo or rely on Piss Off’s word and risk getting pissed on!

Resorting to dumping a fortune just wasn’t my style. No, I had to go through with it; the super thug had to be put to the test. I picked up the phone and told him about cc’s home-coming.

‘Don’t worry, Young, I’ll have it fixed for you,’ he quibbled.

This time I thought I really heard a fart in the background. Have it fixed for me indeed!

I ordered a general mobilization, cancelling all leave for the men. The smell and I held a vigil in our office. The grand strategy was this: if cc walked past the barrier in one plump piece, well and good. If he got nabbed, I was to deny all knowledge of his existence. Healthy Tobacco, I would say, had never heard that anybody could be that fat.

The tension of waiting within the four walls of the little office got so menacing, we spent most of the time on the floor, screwing.

When things at last began to happen, they did so when we were least expecting it. CC came suddenly just when I did. It was for me a joy on top of another joy. For the smell, however, it was a different matter: a joy on top of no joy! She looked as though she didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I didn’t bother to get back into my clothes. I just ran to cc and hugged him. ‘cc, you made it!’ I kept slapping him on his back. My jubilation so moved him, he couldn’t move his tongue. Or maybe it was the sight over my shoulder of the naked smell trying to dive into her clothes that had affected him. Poor cc, I thought. He had probably never seen a woman stripped to her vitals; he had probably begun to wonder if he had all those years been cheating himself by being self-sufficient. Disengaging myself from him, I grabbed the suitcase from his hand and flung it on to my table.

I had still not managed to open it when all hell broke loose. The door was thrown open with a whack and a horde of cops stamped in. Luckily for the smell, she was no longer dressed like Eve. But I didn’t give a damn; I stood tall and erect and demanded:

‘What the blazes is this...!’

The bastards went straight for the suitcase, wrenching it away from me. ‘You are under arrest,’ I was told.

‘Arrest?’ I looked mystified. ‘Look, you guys have come into the wrong place. It’s the shop next door you probably want.’

The shits took no notice of me. They all gathered round my table and watched as one of them fumbled, as I had, to open the suitcase. I saw that there was nothing doing, that my jig was finally up. I had been out-smarted. They hadn’t grabbed cc at the barriers but had allowed him to lead them to me.

But, to their chagrin, the suitcase wouldn’t open. They shook it, banged on it, and even kicked it, but it wouldn’t open. I smiled, then chuckled and finally roared with laughter. If I was going to be split, I thought, I might as well split my sides as well. Imagine my astonishment then, when cc suddenly hurries over to help them! I could have butchered him, the over-fed bird brain!

It’s opened and out come cc’s extra large-sized clothes, smelling of his sweat. Several hands fight their way to the bottom, tossing the filthy garments all over my neat office. That there should be so many clothes packed in there was a sight to behold. Eventually they got to the bottom and the suitcase was turned upside down; then they started pulling it apart. They ended up destroying it. Still no hash. Everybody, including me, turned to cc, mouths gaping; cc shrugged his shoulders like a half-wit and made to open his mouth but they fell upon him, undressing him to his flabby skin. They looked into all his holes, smelling away disgustingly. Still no hash. Then somebody had the bright idea to speak to him:

‘Where is it?’

He shrugged his shoulders again. ‘Haven’t got it.’

‘Did you throw it some place?’

I butted in: ‘Did he throw what some place? Look, what is this?!’

I was ignored but I kept shooting my mouth. ‘Look, this is a respectable fag house! Not some pod joint! Now if you don’t get the hell out of here, I’ll get my lawyer!’

I had no need to get a lawyer. The bastards left, after a bit more searching into holes, including mine. They had been humiliated. How and why, I had no idea. I seized cc’s naked body to my naked body in another triumphant hug. ‘cc, you are a genius. How did you do it?’

I might have guessed, for he said, ‘I couldn’t get hold of the stuff. Those foreigners wouldn’t sell it to me.’

Astounded, I looked at the smell, but she still looked as though she didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I turned back to cc. ‘Wouldn’t sell it to you?! Why on earth not?!’

‘Don’t know. They denied having the stuff.’

‘Did you go to the right place?’

‘Of course. They just wouldn’t sell it.’

I rubbed my balls, thinking. The cops, I concluded, must have started playing a new game—sending gawky and deformed-looking characters like cc into the hunt to arouse the least suspicion! And the ever-smart dealers had wizened up to that!

‘Cheer up, cc,’ I said. ‘Handsome is what handsome does.’

 

 

 

(22)

Mr. Piss Off’s goose had definitely to be cooked.

But how?

I couldn’t very well take my ruffians and conduct an open shooting war. His organization was bigger and better equipped; we would have been chopped up like hash.

‘Send the serpent a letter bomb,’ advised the smell.

‘You think he is stupid?’ I said. ‘You think he doesn’t have his mail checked?’

‘We don’t ours.’

‘Well, then, it’s time we did.’

The smell started examining the delivery the moment it arrived that day. And lo and behold she found something.

‘From Mr. P himself!’

We staggered to a comer, holding our farts, while we waited for the bomb experts. Only to see them uncover just a blasted card. An invitation! Mr. P. was throwing a party and he wanted me to do him the pleasure. I felt like throwing up.

‘Do go and give the snake the pleasure,’ said the smell sardonically.

‘What’s his game?’ I re-read the thing, scratching my head.

‘Snaking in the grass,’ answered the smell. ‘Anyway, he didn’t think you would be able to make it.’

‘By Jove, I’ll show up! And I am going to take along that bottle of poison I never used!’

Atta boy!’

(23)

‘Ah, Young. Glad to see you.’

The snake seized my hand at the entrance to his house and guided me inside among the throng of his other guests. He insisted on clutching my hand, instead of a glass, like everybody else. He was not, it seemed, even going to allow me to feel the bottle in my pocket, let alone feed it to him.

‘I am so glad you came, Young. I really mean to build a solid friendship between our two firms.’ He turned to a passing waitress. ‘Here, sweetheart, let me have a glass, will you?’ He took one from the tray and handed it to me, releasing me at the same time at last.

‘Aren’t you drinking anything yourself?’ I said.

‘Oh, I have already had a couple.’ He tapped his belly, smiling. ‘A man of my age mustn’t over do it, you know? Now tell me, how did it go?’

‘How did what go, Mr. P?’ I began to finger the bottle longingly.

‘Look, Young, why do you insist on that piss-off stuff? Can’t we just put that behind us? It was never meant seriously, you know.’

‘I am sure it wasn’t,’ I said. ‘You never mean what you say, do you?’

The punk narrowed his eyes. ‘What do you mean?’

I pointed to his belly. ‘That you have already had a couple.’

‘Oh, but I have,’ he smiled.

I turned away from him and scanned for the sweetheart. From the corner of my mouth, I said, ‘I am afraid I am never friends with people who don’t drink.’ I caught sight of the sweetheart. ‘I’ll fetch you a glass.’ I walked quickly away from him before he had time to say anything. My back safely turned on him, I fished out my bottle and emptied it surreptitiously into my drink, as I waded through the crowd.

When I got back, carrying a glass in each hand, he wasn’t alone. He was talking to another newly arrived, a smiling face I thought I had never seen before until the introductions were made.

‘You know him, don’t you, Young?’ said Mr. P.

It was that sheep of a cop I had once almost clobbered to death.

‘Why, of course,’ I unloaded my glass on P, and we clinked. ‘He tried to frame me for a bookshop robbery once. Cheers.’

I took a quick sip, eyeing the super-thug eagerly. He raised the glass to his lips, but the polite host that he was, he brought it down again and handed it to the empty-handed sheep. He turned to me. ‘Don’t worry, Young, I’ll get another one.’ He began walking away from me. ‘If that’s what you insist.’

I could have made mutton out of that cop!

But that would have been a waste of all that good poison. Besides, he was Healthy Tobacco’s man. I kept talking to him, thinking of a way to prevent him from drinking it.

‘So you are his man too,’ I remarked.

He smiled. ‘You don’t blame me, I am sure.’

‘No, no. one must grab as much as one can.’

‘I am only sorry that the two of you have begun to compete with each other.’

‘Oh, so you know?

Smile. ‘One can’t help knowing such things in my profession. Here’s to your health.’

‘Wait, wait...hold it...don’t drink that!’

He gave his glass a stare, eyes still twinkling. ‘Why ever not?’

‘You might stop smiling. Here, give it to me,’ I took it away from him.

‘You’ve been trying to...?’ Apparently he was not the man to be shocked by such a discovery. But he was inquisitive: ‘Like to tell me about it?’

‘I thought you said you knew.’

‘I know that it’s drugs. I know that you had a raid a few days ago. But they don’t add up to anything.’

‘Did you know the raid was going to take place?’ I asked.

‘If I had I would have warned you.’

‘I don’t believe you.’

‘Why?’

‘You work for him too, don’t you? Mr. Piss Off, our host.’

‘How do you know he was behind it?’

‘Well, wasn’t he?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘What do you mean you don’t know? Who else could it be?!’

He shrugged his shoulders, smiling away: ‘I can’t believe it was him.’

The bastard was obviously in a fix. I put myself in his position and saw that he had no choice but to deny having foreknowledge of the raid. I felt an enormous regret snatching that glass away from him.

‘Why should he invite you here then?’ he went on.

I glanced around for a table or something to put the damn glass away. I did not see any table. I saw instead a familiar face at the other end of the hall—a very familiar face indeed.

‘What’s he doing here?’

‘Who?’ the sheep turned in the direction I was looking.

‘Thick glasses.’

‘Oh, you mean your former employee? Why, didn’t you know?’

‘Know what?’

‘That he is now working for our host.’

‘You don’t say...’

‘Accounts.’

‘Why, the traitor!’

‘You didn’t give him much choice, did you? Locking him up in a toilet.’

My first impulse was to go up to the twig, hold him by the neck, and force the poisoned drink down his throat. But, as it always happened with a brain like mine, I had an inspiration. I went instead to the exit and looked at the doorman in the eye.

‘What kind of a pissed up party is this!?’ I growled, thrusting the two glasses in his hands. ‘Some jerk is trying to poison me!’

Then I swept out of the building.

(24)

I waited for him in his dog-hole of a flat, now pacing about the floor, now sitting down, now peeping into his fridge. No matter how many times I peeped into his fridge, I still had nothing decent I could help myself to. Only some fruits and honey and yeast, and vegetables. By Jove, he had to be bananas!

And as if all that yeast lying there wasn’t enough, he came in carrying some more. He dropped one of the packets when he saw me and reeled back. ‘What do you want...! How did you get in here...?’ he squawked, his hands trembling.

‘Hello, thick glasses.’

‘Don’t -- !’ he couldn’t complete what be wanted to say.

I went and picked up the fallen yeast from his feet. ‘You make a lot of bread, thick glasses?’

He pressed back against the door, wild-eyed. He clutched the box of yeast like be was clutching dear life itself. I never knew be felt like that about me now.

Relax, thick glasses. Don’t you remember me?’ That, I realized instantly, was a stupid thing for me to have said.

‘Please leave me alone.’

‘Now pull yourself together, I want to talk to you.’ I seized his arm and led him to one of his best chairs. He sat down like a dummy, still embracing the yeast. He squinted up at me. I looked at the yeast in my hand. ‘You some kind of a food faddist?’

No answer.

‘Don’t tell me you eat this stuff. Like cheese or something.’

No answer. Only an empty stare.

‘Look, I am here to talk to you. I mean no harm’

‘I don’t want to talk to you.’

I was taken aback at the sudden surge of defiance. I didn’t know whether to start threatening him or...’How are you finding your new job?’ I said.

‘All right,’ he answered stiffly.

‘Is he a good boss—that piss man?’

‘Yes.’

‘Pay you well?’

‘Yes.’

‘Well, he has to, hasn’t he? I mean accounting is a very important job, unlike some other jobs.’

No response.

‘I mean accounting involves everything, doesn’t it? Any bum gets paid anything and you got to know about it.’

No response.

‘Yes, sir, it’s a highly responsible job. Nobody can keep any secrets from you.’

He looked down at the box in his hands and then, slowly, he put it away on the floor. He looked back at me. ‘What is it you want?’ he said, voice now completely normal.

I tossed the yeast in my hand up in the air and grabbed it back. ‘I want us to be good friends, like before.’

Puzzled stare.

‘You know cc is still with me, don’t you?’ I went on. ‘He’s forgotten all about the toilet business. He doesn’t care a shit about it.’

‘So what?’

‘I want you to do the same. Hell, you can’t go on being angry with me all your life.’

‘Is that all?’

‘No. I want you afterwards to let me into a little secret...behind this yeast. I have a few health problems too.’

A slight smile came on his lips but he suppressed it immediately. He didn’t open his mouth.

‘Will you?’ I extended him my hand. ‘Shall we let bygones be bygones?’

The bastard got up and walked away from me. ‘What else?’ he said, talking back to me roughly.

‘What do you mean what else?’ I now raised my voice. ‘Look,’ I stuck my fingers into my hair and bent the head towards him, ‘I got dandruff.’

‘Please don’t try to be funny.’

I collapsed in the chair he was using. ‘Is yeast good for dandruff?’ I persisted.

He dropped his eyes to the lump in my hand. I could see he felt like thawing. He looked up at me again. ‘It’s good for the skin,’ he muttered.

I jumped up from the chair, excited. ‘Then it is good for dandruff!’

‘I don’t know,’ he said quietly.

‘I am going to give it a try, thick glasses!’ I danced in joy.

‘Please don’t call me thick glasses.’

I ignored him, for I was all agog. I unpacked the lump and began eating it. ‘What else is it good for?’ I wanted to know as I munched away.

‘It’s supposed to be eaten on an empty stomach,’ he said, looking at me as if I was some kind of a barbarian.’

I didn’t give a damn about that. I kept munching. ‘What else is it good for?’ I repeated.

‘Please, I am rather busy, if you don’t mind...’ He gave a strong glance towards the door.

‘What does all that health food do to you?’ I finished off the horrible tasting lump. And I sat down again.

‘I said I am busy.’

‘You must have missed it a lot in the toilet,’ I smiled and then suddenly belched. ‘It must have made you feel awful.’

‘Yes. Now please be good enough to leave me alone.’

I began to feel awful myself—right there. Not only did the belching continue—I started even to fart. A leaky disposition like that is enough to make anyone abandon ship and dive into the rough sea. I staggered up, collected the boxful of yeast on the floor and went and dumped it in the fridge. Thick glasses followed me into the kitchen.

‘Health is wealth, isn’t it, thick glasses? Right, so I am taking over your fridge!’

‘Look here, I’ll call the cops!’

‘No need to, thick glasses. All you have to do is to let me into your secret, that’s all. The secret of great wealth.’

Thick that he was, he looked dumbfounded at the fridge.

(25)

I felt once again like a General as I stood looking out the window through the binoculars. My men were huddled around me in the little cafeteria we had taken over.

‘See anything, sir?’ they kept asking, as they poured one cup of tea after another into their bellies. I guess the waiting was getting on their nerves.

‘Nothing,’ I said.

‘Something gone wrong, sir?’

‘I hope not.’

I took a sip of the brew; then looked through the instrument again, hoping that nothing had ‘gone wrong’.

‘See anything now, sir?’

‘Yes,’ I said, getting a bit peeved.

They huddled closer towards me. ‘Has the van come?’

‘No, the van hasn’t come.’

I heard a lot of hurried quaffing of the tea as I continued the surveillance. ‘I see the enemy fortress and I see a lot of neutral flags loitering about.’

‘The cops?’

‘I said neutral flags—members of the public!’

‘Could be cops.’

‘No chance. Our intelligence has ruled that out.’

‘Isn’t that a warehouse, sir?’

Indeed it was. So what were those jokers doing out there, worshipping the big closed gate?

‘They’d be no problem, sir.’

Perhaps. But I was not the one to take any chances. I did not like the possibility of busy-bodies and home-made heroes messing up my operation. However, before I could think of a way to deal with them, they disappeared. A little door in the big warehouse gate opened and gobbled them up.

‘Must be the hoods working in there, sir.’

‘Why are they coming so late to work then?’ I said, wiping my eye-brows and the binoculars.

‘Shift workers.’

‘No chance. Our intelligence has ruled that out.’

I took a quick decision. I ordered two of my men off their arses. ‘I want you to do some reconnoitering. Get to that gate and start loafing about like them.’

But they had hardly got there when the door suddenly opened on them, spitting out those jokers. My photographic eye could tell they were the same people. I watched intently, wondering what my scouts would do.

‘What’s happening, sir?’

‘They are coming back.’

‘Must be pushers then, sir.’

‘No, I mean our boys. They are coming back.’ I did not like the fools returning so soon. Obviously I had over estimated their intelligence.

‘Sir, something funny going on there,’ they gushed as they came in. ‘Those people are junkies...’

The men around me whistled in astonishment.

‘Morphine, heroin, hash, everything.’

‘You mean those bastards are selling the stuff there?!’

‘Secretly, sir. Without the boss knowing.’

‘Holy cow!’

I did a quick re-think. I saw that that could make things a little easier. Gulping down my tea, I laid out my new strategy to the men. They were so impressed, they stood up and gave me an ovation, while I strolled out, alone, towards the enemy bastion, like a cowboy from a saloon.

Frantically I started hammering on the gate and the little door, making a shifty looking guy pop his head out. ‘Scram!’ he said, like be were talking to some beggar. I assumed a humble posture. ‘Begging your pardon, mister,’ I drooled. ‘I need help.’

‘What is it?!’ The tone was pugnacious; the hand was itching to slam the door.

I said nothing. I simply folded up my sleeve and stuck a finger in my arm.

‘Something wrong with your hand?’

‘Need a fix...’ I fluttered my eyelids abjectly.

He puckered up his face. ‘Have I seen you before?’

‘Yes, yes. Many times...’ I began to shiver and scratch myself all over.

A long, searching look. Then: ‘Get lost!’ He swung the door on my crouching body but I stopped it with a quick foot forward.

‘Please,’ I said, still cringing but holding the foot firm.

‘You got to help...I am finished if—‘

‘I’ll finish you if you don’t get out of here!’ he snarled and turned around and called out to his buddies inside. And soon three or four other shady faces were looking down at me through the door.

‘We have never seen this guy,’ said one of them.

‘What does he want?’

I jabbed a finger into my arm again. ‘Just a small shot,’ I pleaded.

‘Get the hell out of here!’

‘Scram, you bum!’

‘Beat it!’

I lifted my shaking hand to the inside of my jacket and fished out the stack of notes. I caught them almost jumping up, stunned. ‘Where did you pinch that from?’

I coughed pitiably.

Two pairs of hands competed to snatch me in. The others shut the door hastily. They glued their eyes to the bundle still in my hand. I clutched it tightly.

‘What will you have?’ they wanted to know as they kept ogling at the dough.

‘What have you got?’ I asked, now straightening up.

Taken deeper inside the joint, I was shown something. I shook my head, haughty-like. ‘That’s peanuts.’ I shoved the lolly back in my pocket.

‘Peanuts?’ Their mouths hung open.

I shook my head again. ‘I want a whole lot of shots. Everything this thing will buy.’ I patted the bulge in my pocket.

There ensued an urgent conference with quiet, murmuring sounds that wouldn’t reach me. I waited patiently, and scornfully, surveying their stronghold. Finally one of them got back close, his mouth still watering.

‘You pay in advance now. You come back a little later. You get what you want.’

I laughed in his furtive face. ‘You think I was born this morning?’

A prolonged hesitation, punctuated by artful glances at his buddies. Then: ‘All right, you come a little later. You get what you want.’

‘Why a little later?’ I said, as if I didn’t know. ‘Why not now?’

‘We are expecting a new load.’

‘When?’

‘Soon.’

‘How soon?’

He had no need to answer that. A sudden mighty blast sent us all diving to the cold, stony floor, covering us with dust and debris. Try as I did, I couldn’t get to my gun, let alone to my feet. I just lay there like a hedgehog, listening to the roar of the van bumping in through the blown out gate.

‘Sir, all right?’ said a couple of my men as they dug me up presently. I felt like a garbage can, and probably looked like one. But as it turned out, it was worse: I couldn’t keep standing like one.

‘Was the stuff in the van?’ I spluttered, leaning on them.

‘Yes, sir, all there.’

‘Right, grab everything in here and let’s go.’

Carried back into Healthy Tobacco, the smell received me like a war casualty. ‘I don’t care if you can stand or not’, she soothed, arranging me into a chair. ‘As long as your cock can.’

(26)

What pleasure to lie back and let a woman play active. The smell was ingenious. I was sure if she wanted to she could have made even the Pope come. But there was no need for that, for there were enough coming already, snapping up our stock of instant heaven.

Unknown to us, however, there were still others who had it in their heads to snap up everything we had—lock, stock and barrel. This was let out one day by that smiling sheep who was on a routine mission to Healthy Tobacco to have his battery re-charged.

‘Why didn’t you come before?!’ I snapped at him, as I sat rooted to my chair. ‘Damn it, that’s a piece of vital information!’

‘It’s not going to happen for another four days,’ he smiled.

‘So what? Don’t you think we need time to prepare?’

Smile. ‘Four days I thought were enough.’

‘Oh, you thought, eh? Well, let me give you something else to think about...if we don’t come out of that clean, you’ll never have your battery charged again—not in here!’

‘You’ll get through all right.’ Smile.

If I couldn’t get to my feet indignantly, at least I could to my hair: I ran my fingers through them. ‘Anyway, what time?’

‘Noon.’

‘The same guys who came in here last time?’

He nodded. ‘Narcotics division.’

‘How did they get wind of it?’

‘Tip off, I think.’

‘Who?’

‘Don’t ask me that, because I don’t know.’

‘You don’t know or you won’t tell?’

‘I don’t know, I swear! And I don’t believe it is who you think it is.’

‘We’ll see about that,’ I wound up the audience. When he had smiled off, his battery in order, I called for cc and the smell who were in the shop helping to turn on the ever-growing throng of customers.

‘Sit down, you two. We got trouble. The cops are planning a fall on us.’

‘Not again!’ the smell cockled.

‘Can we think of a place to dump the stuff? ‘I said.

‘Who put them up to it?’ The smell.

‘Mr. Piss Bloody Off, who else?’

‘How could he know?’

‘Maybe he doesn’t know. But he can take a good guess.’ Absent-mindedly I tried to get to my feet but fell back as the pain shot through. ‘He knows I am cock of the walk.’

‘But why doesn’t be come and try to get it back himself?’ That was the smell again.

‘Well, he’s a hole and corner animal, isn’t he?’ I turned to cc for he had said nothing. ‘Where do you suggest we store it, cc?’

‘How about my place?’ the smell cut in.

‘Your palace?’

‘Yes’

I shook my head. ‘It can’t be in any of our places. They’ll get to it in no time.’ I turned to cc again. ‘What do you say, cc?’

‘We...we could put it in my father’s house,’ he said uncertainly.

‘But you live there, don’t you?’

‘I moved.’

‘Oh? Why?’

‘Couldn’t stand the old man. He was pestering me to leave you.’

I sighed. ‘Haven’t you told him how happy you are here with your new salary? And with all the exciting things you are called upon to do?’

‘ Yes, yes...but it means nothing to him.’

I peered at the smell for a moment, thinking. ‘You know, I’d like to make it up with the old fellow...I think I’d like to invite him back into the firm.’

‘As a partner? ‘ she asked.

Ya. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t run the joint together.’

‘Very generous of you, Young Bull,’ she said. ‘But right now you have a problem, remember?’

‘Yes, where were we?’ I looked at cc.

‘A place for the stuff,’ he said.

Ya, it isn’t a bad idea, cc, keeping it in the old man’s house, now that you have moved. Will he get to know?’

‘No. There’s a shack in the garden he never goes into. We can even lock it.’

I turned to the smell. ‘What do you think, woman?’

‘What’s happened to you, Young Bull?’ she said, and she glanced down at my feet.

‘What do you mean?’

She rocked her head pitifully. ‘I guess your brain is pulling your legs.’ She leaned back in the chair and regarded me hard. ‘If your cousin here has moved from your uncle’s, so what? He used to live there, not so long ago and that’s unchangeable!’

I rubbed my chin thoughtfully.

‘She might have a point,’ broke in cc.

I looked at him, still rubbing my chin. Ya.’

‘Back to square one,’ said the smell.

It was back to square one and it was stay put. Unless we could bring ourselves to undertake the ticklish job of digging a very big hole someplace.

‘Let’s screw on it,’ I said, feeling fatigued.

‘Damn good idea,’ responded the smell. She stood up instantly, put a hand under her skirt and began to pull down the knickers. cc got to his feet post-haste, making a dash for the door.

‘Screw yourself on it, CC,’ I quipped, before he disappeared.

But no matter how many times we screwed, there was no release from that square one. Our best hope seemed to be that the cargo would somehow get all sold and the problem would thereby simply vanish. But the morning of D-day found the shop still stinking of the stuff, and as if that stink wasn’t enough, there materialized another one—Mr. Piss Off himself!

‘Sitting pretty, Young?’ he crocked, barging in.

My trouble-shooters followed behind him like tigers. I swung in my chair to face him: ‘Well, if it isn’t Mr. P!’

‘May I sit down?’

‘You alone?’

He gave me an inscrutable look. ‘No, I got my chauffeur out there.’

I turned to my men. ‘It’s all right. Back to your duties.’

‘What’s all that?’ he said, looking at them disappearing. He turned to me: ‘Is it that bad...?’

‘What?’

‘Your leg.’

‘My legs are all right. I’ll be up and about in no time. The men were just being careful, that’s all.’

‘How did it happen?’

He put on such a look of innocence, I thought for a moment that he really didn’t know, or that he hadn’t put two and two together. ‘What have you heard?’ I asked.

‘That you had some sort of an accident.’

‘Is that all?’

‘That’s all,’ he fished out a cigar from his pocket and lit it. Blowing out the smoke, he said, ‘I am glad you are in business.’

I knew what he was referring to. He had now even seen it with his own eyes in the shop on the way in. Blowing still more smoke, he went on, ‘Glad to be of service.’

I wished I could have gotten up. To be exposed to insinuations like that was enough to get anybody jumping to his feet. I felt almost sure he had come to beat me up personally. I grabbed the telephone and told the smell to hurry into the office.

‘What’s up?’ she said, then, discovering who it was that was before me, ‘I don’t believe this!’

He feasted his eyes on her curves as she went round him to her desk. ‘What is it you don’t believe, young lady?’ he asked.

She appeared so nonplussed by the question that I had to step in: ‘That you have the strength to visit us after your recent great misfortune?’

He flung his cigar hand out. ‘Well, who else could I visit?’

The smell and I exchanged a glance.

‘I like to have some of the dope from you, Young’ he continued.

l beg your pardon?’

l want to get back into business.’

I didn’t know what to say, and neither did the smell.

‘Have I embarrassed you?’ he asked then.

‘No...no.’

‘I felt certain that after all I did for you, that you would help.’

‘What did you do for me, Mr. P?’ I followed that one up with a smile so that I could appear as devious as he.

He burst out laughing. ‘That’s a good one, Young?’

‘No, do tell me. I have an awful memory,’ I said.

‘Get off it, Young. You made me sacrifice my monopoly. You made me lose a lot of business to you. You are not likely to forget that! Nobody can!’

‘I am afraid you are beating about a lot of bushes,’ I said. ‘Why don’t we just come to the point.

‘I already have, my dear man. I want you to sell some of your dope to me so that I can go on meeting the immediate demands of my customers. You know how long it takes to get down new consignments...’

‘Did you say sell?!’ the smell burst out, hanging forward on her desk.

‘Yes, indeed.’

‘Holy cow!’ said I.

‘How soon do you want it?’ The smell.

‘Now,’ said Mr. P. ‘l want it put in my car.’

27

High noon.

I ordered the firm closed for business and had myself deposited on to one of the counters in the shop. Standing before me was my entire staff.

‘Are you ready?’ I spoke, feeling like some kind of Indian chief about to initiate a victory celebration of his braves.

‘Yes, sir,’ they shrilled.

‘Right.’ I raised my hands and clapped grandiosely. From the inside of the shop, the smell wheeled in an entire bar and the men broke into a roar. Glasses were distributed and filled. I raised mine. ‘To Sitting Bull,’ I proposed.

‘To Sitting Bull!’ they howled.

One of my worriors, I noticed, wasn’t drinking. He was standing there in a sort of stupor, like a mushroom. ‘To Sitting Bull,’ I repeated, looking at him.

‘He’s stoned, sir,’ someone said.

‘Stoned...?’

‘Shall we throw him out, sir?’

‘Why, the thieving rat...how many of you have known about that?!’ I demanded.

Silence, and a solemn shaking of the heads.

‘Search his bloody pockets!’ l ordered, glancing urgently at the clock and at cc. ‘cc, take a peep out into the street, quick!’

‘He’s got this, sir.’ A cloth bag, the size of a hand, was heaved out of the mushroom’s pocket. It was rushed to me and true enough it stank. Before I could decide what to do with it, the smell snatched it away from me. ‘I’ll take care of it,’ she said, stuffing it into her bra.

A madcap thing to do, I thought; like trying to hide from a child his lollypop by burying it among his toys. But cc distracted my attention.

‘They are not here but he is! ‘ he exclaimed, running to me.

‘Who’

‘My father.’

‘Your father?’

‘Yes, I told him what you said the other day about taking him back into the firm. I think he wants to—‘

‘You tell him a lot of things, don’t you.

‘Let him come!’ the smell stormed, displaying her claws. ‘I know just how to polish off the freak!’

‘But I think he wants to try to stop the raid,’ said cc.

‘Oh, he does, does he?’ I said and found myself listening immediately to the deafening screech of tyres outside. A moment later they were in, gate-crashing our party.

‘Come on, where is it?’ the bastards wanted to know of everybody. Only the mushroom, dazed as before, bothered to respond: ‘Yes, where is it?’ he said, as he fumbled through his pockets.

From the smell a sudden shriek. I thought they had already got to her but no, she had caught sight of the old thug as he took a cautious step into the now half open shop along with some of the Peeping Toms from the street and she flew to him.

I felt like a duck in a thunderstorm. I was sure she was going to murder him, cops or no cops.

But she embraced him! Like a long lost lover; showering him with kisses all over his aged face. I couldn’t figure out what had got into her, unless it was an attempt to shock the apparently sex-shy man to death.

Two pairs of ardent arms fell upon her, dragging her away from him. And they kept dragging her until they disappeared with her into my office; leaving me counting my beads and the cartons of cigarettes as they were ripped off from the shelves one by one.

What a mess!

The old thug, if he had come to stop them, certainly did nothing. He just stood there like he was watching a show. Perhaps he saw the futility of trying. There was after all such a thing as police prestige.

The smell was pushed back into the shop. It was clear she had done the strip-tease, for she was busy buttoning up her sleeves. But she appeared unshaken. In fact she seemed to be laughing in her sleeves. I wondered if she had exchanged a couple of screws for a bolt. I almost expected her to swish out of the shop and out of my life. Nothing of the kind. She came over to me, a twinkle in her eyes.

More rummaging. And then, as suddenly as they had come, they left, minus their police prestige.

I seized the smell by the breasts: ‘What’s going on? Where is it?’

‘Yes, where is it?’ joined the mushroom, going through his pockets again.

‘Why don’t you talk to your uncle,’ the smell said. ‘He’s dying to have a word with you.’

I turned to him, realization dawning on me.

‘Well, uncle, long time no cc?’

He came nearer, looking lost.

‘What horrible things have you been up to, uncle?’

‘My son tells me you are prepared to...’ he cooed finally, unable to finish the sentence.

‘Smoke the peace pipe?’ I said. ‘Well, I never knew we were at war.’

‘Ask him if he knows anything about drugs,’ the smell put in.

‘Do you, uncle?’

‘What do you mean?’ he knitted his brows proudly.

‘Healthy Tobacco isn’t the same anymore. It has taken on dope. If you are going to come back, you’ve got to know how to take care of the stuff,’ I smiled, giving the smell a wink.

‘Of course I can take care of it!’ he shouted. ‘You think I could have done all this,’ he swept his arms about to indicate the shop, ‘without knowing that?!’

‘I believe you, uncle,’ I grinned.

‘And so do I, old cock,’ quipped the smell.

cc stepped in: ‘Is he back then?’

‘Sure,’ I said. ‘He’s got an experienced brain, your father. If we didn’t make use of it, we’d be dopes.’

‘If we can’t make use of his brains,’ the smell interjected, smacking her lips, ‘we can always make use of his pockets.’

 

 

 

28

The old man certainly had his brains intact, after his long period of forced retirement. He was excited about narco and though he wouldn’t admit it, I could sense that there was in him some sort of admiration for me for having cut Mr. P down to size. He was in a hurry to get on a plane himself and arrange for us to import the stuff; he knew exactly where to go and how to do it.

‘But, Uncle, we still got a problem here at home. We got to solve that first.’ I sat across his desk in cc’s office, or rather in what was once cc’s office. I had moved cc into my office, wanting to preserve some of the man’s ego by letting him have his own exclusive four walls as before.

‘I’ll leave that to you to solve,’ he gave me a smile.

‘And suppose I don’t solve it?’

‘Are you telling me you have suddenly become incapable?’

I stood up and began to pace the floor, feeling good to be able to use the legs again. I thought of all the bums I had bumped into since the start of my career but I could not for the life of me point to anybody who would be in a position to indulge in tipping off the cops. Except one. But I found it hard to believe that.

‘Well, what do you say?’ The old man interrupted my thoughts.

‘I don’t know, Uncle...look, can’t we put it off for a few days. I need more time.’

‘We haven’t got much time. We already have some customers built up, and now they are not getting anything from us. That’s bad for our reputation.’

‘Yes I know.’

‘So what do you want us to wait for!

‘All right, all right, just get on that damn plane, if you must.’

29

With three desks in it, my office was now a little crammed. But it was a delight to watch cc’s reaction when the smell and I fell upon each other from time to time. The fatty would usually walk out but sometimes urgent business would keep him glued to his desk and then he couldn’t help eyeing me in a disgusted sort of way.

He was however far from disgusted at the moment for he was trying to rack his brains in response to a query of mine. ‘No, I don’t think I ever did...’ he muttered.

‘But you did meet him before you took off on the hash mission.’

‘I might have.’

‘Might have? Don’t you bloody know?!’

‘Yes, yes. I think I did...meet him.’

‘You met him after I employed you and before you left to get dope, right?’

‘Yes.’

‘How many times?’

l don’t know.’

‘Try to remember.’

cc scratched his head. ‘Maybe twice or thrice’

‘Why?’

‘For old times sake.’

‘What did you talk about?’

‘I don’t remember.’

‘Did you talk about Healthy Tobacco?’

‘Might have.’

‘Oh, hell, cc, you are being impossible!’

The smell looked up from her work, chuckling to me. ‘He is afraid, ‘she said. ‘He is afraid you’d hammer him for having been indiscreet.’

‘Let me assure you, cc, you have nothing to be afraid of. If you told him something, well, it was by mistake. After all you had worked with him for a long time, you couldn’t help telling him what you were doing. So just let me have the truth, eh.’

‘I...I think I must have...mentioned it to him.’

‘All right.’

‘But it can’t be him,’ cc hastened to add.

‘He’s right there, you know,’ the smell looked at me. ‘That crow of a man wouldn’t dream of such a thing, just to take revenge. And he is a vegetarian too.’

‘What has that got to do with it?’ I snapped.

‘They are sort of non-violent, aren’t they?’ answered the smell.

‘Then you should have seen him when I first came in here,’ I said. ‘Isn’t that right, cc? Remember how he was prepared to fight with me?’

‘Yes,’ said cc, looking at his desk, feeling perhaps embarrassed at the memory.

I stood up. ‘Well, the old man is probably buying the stuff right now, so I had better hurry up and do something.’

30

I felt it futile to go to him so I went to his boss.

‘Ah, Young!’ I was greeted effusively. ‘Come on in, it’s good to see you.’

I sat down in the cushy chair I was offered and looked about the room.

‘You like it, eh?’ he grinned.

I nodded. ‘Got to hand it to you, P. You certainly know how to park yourself.’

‘It’s a necessity, my boy, considering how strenuous our business is. Besides, it’s bad for our reputation to appear shabby.’

‘You think my office is shabby?’ I asked.

‘Well, it’s not my style.’

‘Is it shabby?’

‘Your secretary isn’t. She is gorgeous.’

‘I am not talking about my secretary. I am talking about my office. Do you think it’s shabby?’

‘Well, if you want the truth—yes.’

‘Thank you.’

He lit a cigar. ‘I hear it’s overcrowded now.’

‘No,’ I said, ‘there’s room in it for one more desk.’

‘Oh?’

‘That’s why I have come to see you.’

He looked hard at me. ‘Don’t tell me you want us to join up.’

I paused. If that by any chance were to happen, I thought, my problem would disappear just as smoothly. I decided to pursue it. ‘Why shouldn’t I tell you that?’

‘Won’t do any good.’

I leaned forward. ‘Look, Mr. P, the trend everywhere in the business world today is towards amalgamation. These days you cannot survive being split up in small groups. You got to unite to be strong.’

‘You have told me all that before, Young.’

‘That was only concerning narco. What I am suggesting now is total fusion. A complete getting together to form a giant corporation?’

‘Sorry, Young.’

‘But why?’

He spread out his hands. ‘I value my independence.’

‘You’ll still have your independence, damn it! You’ll still be sitting here in style, doing everything you have been used to doing, and earning no less than what you are doing right now. The only difference would be that we would coordinate our activities, cut our redundancies, become more efficient. Our loot would grow thousand fold!’

‘I am sure it would, but it’s just not me.’

‘Like to explain?’

l told you. I’d like to be on my own. It feels good working without having to be democratic, if you know what I mean,’ he smiled.

‘There’s nothing wrong with democracy,’ I said. ‘It just means equality of rights; if your rights are being trampled on, it’s my duty to protect you and vice versa. Democracy comes in handy like for instance when you have a Judas in your ranks and you don’t know about it but I do.’

Mr. P’s face stiffened. ‘Are you suggesting something?’

‘Well, if I haven’t been suggesting something then I don’t know what I have been doing talking to you. Yes, I think we should—‘

‘Judas!’ he cut in loudly, face twisted into a snarl. ‘Do I have one?!’

I put my feet up his desk and gave him a smile. ‘Why don’t you offer me a drink?’

He sprang up without a change in his expression, went to his shiny cupboard and began to fix me one. He gave me the glass and kept standing over me, cigar in mouth. ‘I am willing to pay handsomely for that kind of information,’ he said.

I took a sip, and felt nauseated. ‘What is it?’ I frowned.

‘Bloody Mary.’

I put the glass away on the desk and stood up, looking him in the eye. ‘Bloody vegetarian,’ I said.

‘I beg your pardon?’

Your Judas. He is a health maniac. Need I say more?’

‘Health Maniac...?’ He creased his face in puzzlement.

‘Don’t tell me you don’t investigate your employees’ eating habits,’ I said.

‘I certainly don’t!’

I moved my head from side to side in a show of superior knowledge. ‘Very important, Mr. P. Haven’t you ever heard the boast: “Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are”?’

‘You mean to say you actually find out what your fellows eat?’ His eyes bulged in amazement.

‘Sure. To give you an example, take a man who is lapping up a lot of beef gravy or custard pudding. What kind of worker do you think he is going to make?’

He shook his head, confounded.

‘Certainly not a white-collar one.’

‘Why?’

‘Piles, Mr. P, piles! He wouldn’t be able to sit in a chair. He would rather stand up and scratch his arse!’

Mr. P. began to scratch his head. ‘You don’t say.’

l certainly do. And what about some fish! They give you nightmares! Can you imagine getting any work out of a man who has starred in a horror movie the night before...?’

As I said all this, an idea for a new racket began to evolve in my computer. Now, more than ever before, I wanted that crow of a man, as the smell had put it, out of P’s clutches. And as a consequence it became imperative to do a bit of a somersault and begin down-grading food instead, if I didn’t want P to have the same food for mind. ‘Anyway,’ I said, ‘the health food hasn’t done Judas’s eyes any good. He wears thick glasses.’

‘You mean my accountant? The fellow who was with you before?’

‘That’s him.’

‘I don’t believe it.’

‘Why?’

‘He is such a conscientious worker. How can he stoop to such a thing?’

‘He brought the cops on me twice, P, and he deprived you of a large cargo not so long ago. A real two-timer.’

‘But he had a grudge against you. You put him in a toilet, I hear.’

‘He doesn’t need a grudge. He has greed.’

‘Who did he inform about my cargo?’

I shrugged my shoulders. ‘Search me.’

‘How do you know it was him then?’

‘I tortured him. About my raids. He happened to let out some of his other secrets as well.’ I turned to go. ‘Well, do I get paid handsomely for that or would you rather consider Union?’

Deep in troubled thought, the man went slowly to his chair and sat down. He ground out his cigar. ‘I’ll send you a check,’ he said.

31

As soon as I got word that Thick Glasses had hit the streets, I hurried off with cc to pick him up. The presence of cc, I thought, would soften the fellow, but I was wrong. Instead of inviting us in among his yeasts and vegetables he stepped out on the street to talk to us. His eyes looked indignantly at me.

‘We hear you got fired,’ cc told him.

He made no answer but kept glowering in my direction. I decided that the best thing would be to keep my mouth shut for a while, so I put my hands in my pockets and glanced up and down the street, as if I were looking for an address.

‘Have you found another job?’ I heard cc say.

‘No.’

‘You know my father has rejoined Healthy Tobacco.’

l know.’

‘Won’t you consider doing the same?’

‘No.’

cc, the crude clot, shuffled his feet; from the corner of my eyes I could see that he had turned helplessly towards me. I faced them. ‘I am afraid my cousin hasn’t told you the complete truth,’ I told the crow. I paused. ‘The truth is that we can’t do without you.’

‘How’s that?’

‘We have given up smoking.’

‘Please, I am not interested in your jokes.’

I put my hand to my chest. ‘Honestly Mr. Accountant, sir, I am not joking.’ I turned to cc. ‘Isn’t that right, cousin, that we have become health conscious?’

‘Yes,’ said cc, a slow grin crossing his face.

‘That’s why we could think of no one else but you,’ I added. ‘Look, come with us and see for yourself,’ I glanced up and down the road for a taxi.

‘No thank you.’

‘But it’s just up your street.’

The thick fellow looked up his street. ‘Where?’ he asked.

‘Healthy Tobacco, where else,’ I said. ‘Only it’s not called Healthy Tobacco anymore. We have chucked out the cigarettes.’

‘What’s it called then?’

‘Come and see for yourself.’

‘No thank you.’

‘It’s an offer you can’t refuse.’

‘Are you threatening me?’

‘Hell, no! I wouldn’t dream of it,’ I dug out then a bottle of pills from my pocket. ‘In fact we have stopped dreaming altogether with this.’

He looked curiously at the bottle.

It’s vitamin E,’ I went on. ‘Am I right?’

A moment’s silence. Then he gave a little nod.

‘It’s good too if you are worrying yourself to death, right?’

‘Yes.’

‘In fact it’s a natural tranquilizer. Now how many of those medical bastards know about this? None. But you do. You are—‘

‘How come you know?’ he interjected.

‘I had a vision,’ I said, exchanging a glance with cc and feeling thankful for his previous close ties with the crow. ‘A message from beyond. My mission is to spread it, to break the power of the white-coated infidels, to stop them from feeding poison to the sick. I am to tell everybody to follow the path of food instead, for that is the path of righteousness.’ I suddenly dropped my head solemnly. ‘Let us pray,’ I said, and began to chant:

“Praise belongs to Food, Lord of Health,
The delicious, the mouth-watering,
King of the day of celebration,
Tis thee we worship and Thee we ask for strength,
Guide us on the culinary path,
The path of those whom Thou hast flavoured,
Not the path of those who incur Thine distaste,
Nor of those who go ash-tray.”

When I looked up I saw that cc too had lowered his head reverently.

Thick Glasses’s head, however, was held very high. But there had appeared a glimmer of amusement on it.

32

The old man, coming home with the precious cargo, took one step into the shop and turned back before I pushed forward and seized his arm. ‘Welcome back, Uncle,’ I greeted.

He stared blankly at me, then at the shop and then at Thick Glasses behind a desk. ‘What’s happened here?’ he blurted.

I pointed at the name board above the threshold: ‘That’s what has happened.’

He looked up and let out a cry: ‘HEALTHY FOOD?!’

I pulled him in and took him on an inspection tour round the shelves. ‘See here, Uncle, that thing over there is camomile, and that’s artichoke and butterbur, this one is horse chestnut and black currant and rosemary,’ I kept pointing, ‘and this one here is roilroil, garlic, dandelion, hawthorn, pumpkin seeds, linseed, paprika, fennel. We got everything, Uncle; all the natural cures in the world you can think of.’ We came to Thick Glasses who stood up dutifully. ‘And here is the man to take care of it all.’

‘But he is an accountant,’ the old man exclaimed.

‘We have a woman accountant now if you remember, Uncle.’

‘But does he know anything about this?’

‘Yes, sir, I do,’ said Thick Glasses, smiling.

‘But who will believe it?’

Thick Glasses looked hurt but the man corrected himself: ‘No. I mean who will believe in all these remedies?’ He waved his hand at the shop.

I put my hand over Uncle’s shoulders and led him away to his office. ‘It’s only a front, Uncle,’ I reminded him. ‘Like the cigarettes were. Besides, it was the only way we could have stayed healthy.’

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