Damn Your Mitts

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

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Dinah said she would prefer anything to being shot at again. I said it was all right with me, though I would rather have tried to find some path back to the city.

We followed the dirt track cautiously until our headlights settled on a small clapboard building that badly needed the paint it had never got.

“Is this it?” Dinah asked Reno.

“Uh-huh. Stay here till I look it over.”

He left us, appearing soon in the beam of our lights at the shack door. He fumbled with keys at the padlock, got it off, opened the door, and went in. Presently he came to the door and called:

“All right. Come in and make yourselves at home.”

Dinah cut off the engine and got out of the car.

“Is there a flashlight in the car?” I asked.

She said, “Yes,” gave it to me, yawned, “My God, I’m tired. I hope there’s something to drink in the hole.”

I told her I had a flask of Scotch. The news cheered her up.

The shack was a one-room affair that held an army cot covered with brown blankets, a deal table with a deck of cards and some gummy poker chips on it, a brown iron stove, four chairs, an oil lamp, dishes, pots, pans and buckets, three shelves with canned food on them, a pile of firewood and a wheelbarrow.

Reno was lighting the lamp when we came in. He said:

“Not so tough. I’ll hide the heap and then we’ll be all set till daylight.”

Dinah went over to the cot, turned back the covers, and reported:

“Maybe there’s things in it, but anyway it’s not alive with them. Now let’s have that drink.”

I unscrewed the flask and passed it to her while Reno went out to hide the car. When she had finished, I took a shot.

The purr of the Marmon’s engine got fainter. I opened the door and looked out. Downhill, through trees and bushes, I could see broken chunks of white light going away. When I lost them for good I returned indoors and asked the girl:

“Have you ever had to walk home before?”

“What?”

“Reno’s gone with the car.”

“The lousy tramp! Thank God he left us where there’s a bed, anyway.”

“That’ll get you nothing.”

“No?”

“No. Reno had a key to this dump. Ten to one the birds after him know about it. That’s why he ditched us here. We’re supposed to argue with them, hold them off his trail a while.”

She got up wearily from the cot, cursed Reno, me, all men from Adam on, and said disagreeably:

“You know everything. What do we do next?”

“We find a comfortable spot in the great open spaces, not too far away, and wait to see what happens.”

“I’m going to take the blankets.”

“Maybe one won’t be missed, but you’ll tip our mitts if you take more than that.”

“Damn your mitts,” she grumbled, but she took only one blanket.

I blew out the lamp, padlocked the door behind us, and with the help of the flashlight picked a way through the undergrowth.

On the hillside above we found a little hollow from which road and shack could be not too dimly seen through foliage thick enough to hide us unless we showed a light.

I spread that blanket there and we settled down.

The girl leaned against me and complained that the ground was damp, that she was cold in spite of her fur coat, that she had a cramp in her leg, and that she wanted a cigarette.

I gave her another drink from the flask. That bought me ten minutes of peace.

Then she said:

“I’m catching cold. By the time anybody comes, if they ever do, I’ll be sneezing and coughing loud enough to be heard in the city.”

“Just once,” I told her. “Then you’ll be all strangled.”

“There’s a mouse or something crawling under the blanket.”

“Probably a snake.”

“Are you married?”

“Don’t start that.”

“Then you are?”

“No.”

“I’ll bet your wife’s glad of it.”

I was trying to find a suitable come-back to that wise-crack when a distant light gleamed up the road. It disappeared as I sh-sh’d the girl.

“What is it?” she asked.

“A light. It’s gone now. Our visitors have left their car and are finishing the trip afoot.”

A lot of time went by. The girl shivered with her cheek warm against mine. We heard footsteps, saw dark figures moving on the road and around the shack, without being sure whether we did or didn’t.

A flashlight ended our doubt by putting a bright circle on the shack’s door. A heavy voice said:

“We’ll let the broad come out.”

There was a half-minute of silence while they waited for a reply from indoors. Then the same heavy voice asked: “Coming?” Then more silence.

Gun-fire, a familiar sound tonight, broke the silence. Something hammered on the boards.

“Come on,” I whispered to the girl. “Well have a try at their car while they’re making a racket.”

“Let them alone,” she said, pulling my arm down as I started up. “I’ve had enough of it for one night. We’re all right here.”

“Come on,” I insisted.

She said, “I won’t,” and she wouldn’t, and presently, while we argued, it was too late. The boys below had kicked in the door, found the hut empty, and were bellowing for their car.

It came, took eight men aboard, and followed Reno’s track downhill.

“We might as well move in again,” I said. “It’s not likely they’ll be back this way tonight.”

“I hope to God there’s some Scotch left in that flask,” she said as I helped her stand up.

— Dashiell Hammett

About Fabrizio del Wrongo

Recovering liberal arts major. Unrepentant movie nut. Aspiring boozehound.
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