Hogben and Shaw: Hammersmith (one)
Hogben and Shaw climbed down into the root cellar, one after the other; Shaw, a respectable parasite, from wanting to be useful. Hogben, because he hadn’t seen it yet. He’d otherwise sized up every inch of Mrs. Bard’s place. He would like also to learn if Shaw was suggestible.
“Quite a few’s gone rotten,” was his first remark. There was about room enough for him to stand, facing the shelves, and for Shaw, as indicated by the restless nudging of a toe against the heel of Hogben’s shoe, to block the only space available for turning around.
“I don’t think the Widow Bard ever mentioned,” he said, swinging a burlap sack behind him, one with a notable black patch of wet on the bottom, and a smell…Hogben knew of no descriptive term adequate to the smell of rotting potato. He jogged the sack up and down. Shaw seemed to stand inert. “If she was tossing em in a stewpot, or a frying pan, or what all.”
“But…well…I suppose we’ll lay them out on the grass, and if very many are bad…” Shaw fell away from this speculation. “Widow!” he said. “Is that the story you got from her yourself?”
It was the moment to be wise. “You get on up those stairs, Shaw.”
Hogben heard, and felt, a drop of liquid from the sack hit his polished brogue. “Take that with you. Now, listen. We’ll walk out into the town after lunch and have a private talk along the way.”
And this was mystery. She’d given Shaw a different story. Or Shaw had surmised differently.
Hogben snatched another sack, and held it as near arm’s length as the wooden steps allowed. The two ladies, Ruby and Minnie, came out, Ruby winding and tucking her hair. He thought it could not be much after ten—it had been ten sharp when he’d checked his watch before giving Mrs. Bard his answer.
“Yes, ma’am, don’t mind. Get to it from the outside or the inside?”
He always checked his watch when asked to do a chore. It was a treat how that little trick could make them go ask someone else.
But ten in the morning—Hogben finished his thought—was late for a woman to be finishing up dressing.
“Ruby Magley,” he said. “Now why wouldn’t you call yourself Leybourne, and be Minnie’s sister?”
“Oh, what are you saying? Magley’s not a euphonious sort of name? It’s my own, mister.”
Hogben and Shaw
More of this piece on Hammersmith page
(2017, 2018, Stephanie Foster)