`An hour or more,' answered the other, negligently, and took a pull at the dark beer. All his movements - the way he grasped the mug, the act of drinking, the way he set the heavy glass down and folded his arms - had a firmness, an assured precision which made the big and muscular Ossipon, leaning forward with staring eyes and protruding lips, look the picture of eager indecision.

`An hour,' he said. `Then it may be you haven't heard yet the news I've heard just now - in the street. Have you?'

The little man shook his head negatively the least bit. But as he gave no indication of curiosity, Ossipon ventured to add that he had heard it just outside the place. A newspaper boy had yelled the thing under his very nose, and not being prepared for anything of that sort, he was very much startled and upset. He had to come in there with a dry mouth. `I never thought of finding you here,' he added, murmuring steadily, with his elbows planted on the table.

`I come here sometimes,' said the other, preserving his provoking coolness of demeanour.

`It's wonderful that you of all people should have heard nothing of it,' the big Ossipon continued. His eyelids snapped nervously upon the shining eyes. `You of all people,' he repeated, tentatively. This obvious restraint argued an incredible and inexplicable timidity of the big fellow before the calm little man, who again lifted the glass mug, drank, and put it down with brusque and assured movements. And that was all.

Ossipon, after waiting for something, word or sign, that did not come, made an effort to assume a sort of indifference.

`Do you,' he said, deadening his voice still more, `give your stuff to anybody who's up to asking you for it?'

`My absolute rule is never to refuse anybody - as long as I have a pinch by me,' answered the little man with decision.

`That's a principle?' commented Ossipon.

`It's a principle.'

`And you think it's sound?'

The large round spectacles, which gave a look of staring self-confidence to the sallow face, confronted Ossipon like sleepless, unwinking orbs flashing a cold fire.

`Perfectly. Always. Under every circumstance. What could stop me? Why should I not? Why should I think twice about it?'

Ossipon gasped, as it were, discreetly.

`Do you mean to say you would hand it over to a 'tec if one came to ask you for your wares?'

The other smiled faintly.

`Let them come and try it on, and you will see,' he said. `They know me, but I know also every one of them. They won't come near me, not they.'

His thin, livid lips snapped together firmly. Ossipon began to argue.

`But they could send someone - rig a plant on you. Don't you see? Get the stuff from you in that way, and then arrest you with the proof in their hands.'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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