Hart’s papa, Albert Hart Senior, was not what I expected. He was stood outside the drug store, smiling to himself and leaning back on his dreamy Buick 8 Business Coupe. He smiled at me – that same dumb smile as his boy had – only Hart Senior didn’t come across as evil when he did it. From where I was looking, there didn’t seem to be a mean bone in that fella’s body, so when he offered me his hand to shake, I took it.

“Why, you must be Mr.- ” he stopped, when he realised I hadn’t given him my name.

“Just John is fine, sir.”

“Well then, Just John, you’ll have to call me Just Bertie.”

We fell to talking then, and the whole thing felt to me like being with an old friend. He even offered to let me try the Buick when I told him how much I liked it.

We set off on the road out of town, looking to loop back into the city when we passed the Moore farm. About half way out a quiet settled between us so that all we could hear was the road and the engine. Then Bertie said,

“So, Junior went to see Mary?”

“Yeah, shouted all kinds of murder at her, too.”

“The boy’s an idiot. It’s his mother’s fault – she was too soft on him and Junior suffered for it,” he paused, “or rather, Ruth will.”

“You know about his other girl?”

“Yes, sadly – he came to me asking for money to keep her. Nancy, her name is – she’s Ruth’s cleaner. And she’s pregnant.”

I hated the boy even more right then because I saw myself in him. Fooling around with Betty meant that I no better than he was, just lucky that the same thing hadn’t happened to me. I kept quiet a minute while I turned the Buick back towards town then decided to try and talk about something else.

“So why did you send the boy to Mary?” I fished in my pocket and tossed him the now oily photograph, “And how in hell is this possible?”

I glanced at Bertie and saw him staring down at the picture, his smiling cheeks drooping into a bull-dog jaw. He was quiet a long while, until we reached the edge of town and he asked me to pull over. I did as I was told and turned the car onto a side lane, killing the engine’s purr and waiting.

“I’ll speak frankly to you, John, because I like you. I took this picture when I was a little boy – the man in it is my father and the wall-paper is that of our old London house. That is Mary, but I can’t tell you any more than that. I pride myself on being a gentleman and I swore to her that I would never let a stranger know who she really was. I’d wanted to keep Junior from her and have tried for years to do so but… Well, you’ll know yourself. When Mary speaks, the world listens.” He paused for a long minute, his sausage-fingered hands trembling on the picture. Finally, he gave it back to me, “You can take us back to the drug store now, if you like?”

I told him thanks for everything – the drive, the talk, even the picture – but I decided to walk back in to town. Driving was too quick, and I needed time to think.

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