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Mort closed his copy of Everybody Drops the Dime and replaced it thoughtfully on his shelf of first editions.

‘My job,’ she said shortly. She didn’t look up again. Mort took the hint and left.

‘It’s not mine,’ he said, but it was funny, wasn’t it? Yesterday, when he had almost reached out and taken the script from the man who had brought it to him, he’d thought about what an accommodating beast a man was. Apparently that urge to accommodate stretched in all directions, because the first thing he’d felt when he read those three sentences was guilt … and wasn’t that just what Shooter (if that was really his name) had wanted him to feel? Of course it was. You stole my story, he’d said, and weren’t thieves supposed to feel guilty?

He stood in the living room for a moment, looking at the abandoned vacuum cleaner in the middle of the rug. In his head he heard the man with the lined face saying patiently, This is between you and me. We don’t need any outsiders, Mr Rainey. It is strictly between you and me.

Mort sat down and worked his way slowly through the two stories, reading back and forth. By the time he was halfway through, he understood he really didn’t need to go any further. They varied in diction in some places; in many others even that was the same, word for word. Diction aside, they were exactly the same. In both of them, a man killed his wife. In both of them, the wife was a cold, loveless bitch who cared only for her garden and her canning. In both of them, the killer buried his spousal victim in her garden and then tended it, growing a really spectacular crop. In Morton Rainey’s version, the crop was beans. In Shooter’s, it was corn. In both versions, the killer eventually went crazy and was discovered by the police eating vast amounts of the vegetable in question and swearing he would be rid of her, that in the end he would finally be rid of her.

Mort thought of that face, recalled it carefully to a mind which was trained to recall faces and actions, and thought: It wasn’t just a momentary aberration, or a bizarre way to meet an author he may or may not consider famous. He will be back.

He sat down and began to rummage slowly and thoroughly through the drawers of his desk. It was a big one, so big the furniture men had had to …….


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