Once we got all that straightened out and Diego introduced us, we got on fine. I even liked him, the way you might like a big dumb puppy who, yes, blunders around breaking the furniture, but you can tell even while he’s doing it that he means well. As a matter of fact, I was the one who got him into wrestling.

“You?” Carolyn squealed. “Why, that’s wonderful, Ponsie!”

“Why?”

“Because he’s undoubtedly grateful and fond of you and he’ll think you’re worthy and it will all be over. Gad, I’m one lucky broad. Fancy you being his mentor. He must love you.”

“He must, must he?”

“Oodles and oodles.”

I didn’t say anything. There was nothing I could say.

“Doesn’t he?” There was a warning tone in her voice that suggested she was beginning to suspect that all was not quite as chummy between myself and the Puker as it had at first appeared. I wriggled uncomfortably on the seat and pretended I hadn’t heard her. “I’m sorry. What was the question?”

Carolyn looked at me with narrowed eyes. The effect was similar to being measured for a casket by a particularly suspicious mortician. “Doesn’t Mike love you?”

“Not exactly.”

Her eyes were down to squinty slits of flint. “He at least likes you, though. Right?”

I coughed. There seemed to be some sort of bone in my throat. “I don’t think I’d say ‘like’ was the appropriate word here.”

“No?” she said, baring her teeth in what only the most fanatic of optimists could have considered a smile. “And what would you suggest a more appropriate descriptive might be, Ponsonby?”

She called me Ponsonby. That was bad. Very very bad. She only called me Ponsonby when she was one step away from roasting my gonads with a welding torch. “Less than thrilled?”

“How much less than thrilled?”

“Considerably less.”

“Considerably?”

“Alright, alright. Significantly less. You happy now?”

“I was happier before when I thought you were buds. Now it turns out he can’t stand the sight of you.” Her slits of eyes revealed themselves to be the nozzles of hidden flame-throwers.

“That’s way harsh. I never said that.”

“Would you attempt to maintain that the statement is inaccurate?”

I coughed again. That bone seemed suddenly to be sprouting cactus needles on both ends. “Not inaccurate, precisely.”

“What, then? Precisely?”

I hemmed. I hawed. I stuttered. Carolyn leaped like an avenging prosecutor, straightening in her seat and shooting me with a long accusatory finger. “I put it to you, Mr Braithwaite, that in fact Mike ‘Pukin Nuke’ McCoy loathes and despises you. I put it to you that you have done something in the past to make Mr McCoy view you as a pestilence, a plague, a fetid, infected pustule on the butt of humanity.”

“Alright! Yes! Yes yes yes.”

“What was it, Mr Braithwaite? What was it you did to make Mr McCoy hate you?”

Confucius Say:

A story doesn’t get any shorter just cause you tell it in a hurry.

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