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    Talo Segura
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Hustle - 2. Chapter 2

The street was deserted apart from the station wagon parked outside the hardware store. A gentle breeze stired the dust on the sidewalk, picking up a long discarded paper wrapper and sliding it whimsically into the road. Clinton watched as the paper entagled itself on the spikey leaves of a weed, flapping madly, then sinking into the dirt as the wind died.

Across the street from the bench they watched as the children played in the yard. Clinton staring silently. Morgan kicked at the dust, then let his chin rest in both hands, his arms propped up on his knees. He glanced sideways at his brother.

"We could join them," he suggested, prompted by boredom.

Clinton looked at him, then back to the group of kids. He was listening to their shouts and cries as they chased each other around. Then he saw Vaughan approaching from down the far side of the street. The tall boy stoped to talk to the rest of the group and then they crossed the street in the direction of the candy store.

Morgan was watching too. Once again he kicked at the dirt.

Time almost stood still, motionless. There was only Clinton and Morgan, on the bench. Suddenly the children charged out of the store and ran back across the street clutching their Rocket Pops. They resumed playing outside. They, the well loved, rooted, happy as you please. Those with a good life, money, and a proper family.

Clinton had had enough of sitting around. He stood up.

"Let's go."

He walked away, down the street, back towards the farm. Morgan gave one last glance back towards the girl with the polka dot dress, Melissa was standing next to her. The little girl looked back at him, giving a little wave. He wasn't certain, but perhaps she smiled. Odd, he thought, when the last time they met he had pushed her over.

"You coming?" Clinton turned back.

He gave a little sign with his hand, half raising his arm, before turning and running to catch up with Clint.

 

Clinton was leaning on the broken paddock fence, rolling two dice between his fingers. They clicked together as he played with them.

"Watcha doing?" Morgan asked, watching his brother.

"Nothing," Clinton replied, staring off across the parched grassland which extended from the paddock to the horizon. Broken only by the odd tree on the ridge and some bushes to the right.

"Nah, you always do that when you're thinking."

Clinton moved to sit down in the dirt, propping himself up against a fence post. Morgan sat cross legged, looking at him.

"I've decided something."

Morgan didn't reply, he waited to learn what.

"You need to win their confidence. To be their friend."

He accepted unquestioningly his brother's instruction. Morgan would never contradict Clinton, he always did what his brother told him.

 

Clinton watched from a distance as Morgan wandered down the street then crossed to the yard where the group were playing.

"Hi," he said to Melissa, looking down at the ground.

The little girl was the only one sitting out this round of chasing. She looked at him. He half raised his head and gave her a little smile. She smiled back.

"Hi yourself," she stared intensely. "Are you being nice today?" She gave a little smirk, which was quickly replaced with that same beautiful smile.

"Ah huh," Morgan grinned.

Melissa's hand went to her hair and she started to twist a strand around her finger. She had curly, hazel coloured hair that almost matched her eyes.

"Because..." She gave that same smirk. "If you're not nice, you know what will happen."

Morgan looked down and kicked the dirt.

"Yeah, I know."

"I didn't really mean for you to get in trouble. Did it hurt?"

"What do you think?"

"I was sorry when I saw you crying."

"It hurt Clint more than me and he didn't even do anything."

She moved up close to him.

"I am sorry. Friends?"

He looked up and smiled. Their eyes met.

"Friends," he confirmed.

 

That night lying in bed listening to the bush crickets, Morgan let his head rest on his arms.

"You're winning their friendship?" Clinton leant his head on one arm, looking down at his little brother beside him.

Morgan smiled. "Yeah, I like them."

"They're not your friends Morgan. This ain't real. Remember, it's a con. And when it's done, we've just got us, and we'll be moving on."

The smile disappeared from Morgan's face.

"Now you tell the story, about the trunk and the treasure."

"They won't believe it," Morgan complained.

"You say you watched some men drag it out of a boat. You describe it. In detail. You're good with stories."

"I need more time."

Morgan looked intently at the ceiling. Watching the spider move across the web it had spun around the top of the wire from which the light hung.

"No. You tell the story. We didn't drag that old beat up trunk down to the river for nothing. They'll want you to show them where. Once they ask you where it is. We got 'em."

Clinton grinned.

"You tell them you will take them there, but it has to be Sunday, after Sunday school."

"Why Sunday?"

"You wanted more time. You got to Sunday. After Sunday school."

 

Morgan could be quite cunning. He met the gang of children nearly everyday, he even became a good friend of Vaughan and another boy, Huey. But it was Melissa who took his fancy and the feeling seemed mutual. He more or less convinced them with his story. By being vague and not saying it was his discovery. The story went like this: Clint had heard part of a telephone conversation at home. Not enough to know what was being talked about, but enough to know it was something important. And it wasn't to do with them, Morgan joked, which made some of the other kids giggle.

"So the old man gets up," Morgan continued the tale. "And he never gets up if it ain't important. Clint decided to follow him out of the house, coz he saw him going on foot. Cutting across the fields towards the river. He followed at a distance, it was obvious where he was going, but not why. So, anyway, later..."

Morgan looked around conspiratorily, making sure he'd got their attention. And he had. Even Vaughan was hooked.

"There's this boat, you see, and two men in it. Waiting for the old man to get there. Then the three of them hauled this battered old trunk out onto the bank and dragged it a few yards. They got shovels and started digging. Buried the thing in some huge hole in the ground and covered it up."

"What's in it?" One of the kids asked.

"Well we don't know. We need your help. And anyway we wanted to share it with you. But..."

"But what?" Piped up Vaughan, getting all haughty.

"Well it's worth something ain't it?"

Morgan looked around the close circle of faces, all eyes were on him.

"You all give a dollar and I'll take you there."

"A dollar? I don't got no money," Huey told him.

"Not now. I can't take you there now. On Sunday. After Sunday school."

Vaughan gave him a stare, Huey seemed okay, the others, maybe. Then little Melissa's bright, trusting face was looking right at him. A moment of silence. Then she clapped her hands excitedly and everyone else jumped up.

"You'll likely get much more back. One dollar each. Sunday."

It was a done deal. They all agreed. They would meet up by the river path on the edge of town, after Sunday school.

 

The kids were all excited and each of them took out their dollar bill and handed Morgan the cash. He looked almost crestfallen as his eye caught Melissa's joyful gaze. Led by Morgan the children, in their bright Sunday clothes, ran along the river bank towards the trees. When they reached the wooded area where the path turned away from the river they slowed down. You knew the river was still there by the sound of the water that was never far away, but the ground became quite marshy as they made their way through the wood. At the farthest end they had to cross the floating lake.

Morgan told everybody not to rush. The vegetation would support their weight, but too many people, or moving too quickly, and they risked getting their clothes wet. The hoard of kids charged on, paying him little attention, each one eager to reach the buried treasure trove. Their combined weight made the ground sink and it quickly turned muddy before they could reach the far side. If they'd waited and gone one at a time, that might not have happened. Clinton knew that when he'd told Morgan to be sure the kids were excited. Vaughan complained, but Morgan told him, "I warned you."

Morgan stopped and pointed ahead.

"There," he said, indicating a spot where the earth had been recently dug.

The kids saw it.

"Just like I told you."

Morgan stood hands on hips watching as the group gathered round and started trying to dig out the trunk. It wasn't buried deep and the loose earth was easily pushed aside revealing the top of an old trunk. Melissa moved next to him and Morgan held the girl's hand. She was laughing, her eyes full of wonder.

Suddenly there was a loud bang and shouting. They heard somebody calling. Frightened, they stopped what they were doing and looked at each other, undecided as to what to do next.

"Quick. Run!" Morgan said, making it sound urgent..

He turned and made his way back rushing off in the direction they had come from. Everybody followed after him. Once past the lake and through the woods Morgan halted.

"I got to get back home. You know where it is now."

They were all chatting excitedly, and laughing, happy at their adventure. The muddied children left him and started walking home. When they had gone, Clinton appeared from the woods.

"Worked like a dream," he said, smiling.

Morgan handed him the money.

"Nine dollars. Not bad," he said.

 

Mr MacPherson got up when he heard the noise. Opening the front door he wiped his brow and stared through the dust cloud. Three cars had pulled up in front of the house, with a fourth coming up the track. He recognised one car was that of Mrs Adams, silently he cursed to himself.

As he stood looking on, several adults accompanied by their offspring, marched towards the house. Soon they were all standing on the porch. The parents and several muddy children.

Clinton and Morgan listened to the raised voices.

"Your boy led our kids on some wild goose chase. Look at the state of them."

And he looked, and listened as they explained the whole story. The adults followed him inside, the kids were left out on the porch. He stared angrily at the two brothers.

"You've tried may patience boys and I'm not having it. Where's the money?"

He looked directly at Morgan, taking a few steps closer. Clinton stood up. He removed the scrunched up bundle of dollar bills from his pocket.

"Give it here. I could of guessed you were both in this together. Both as bad as one another."

Mr MacPherson walked over to the table and slapped the money down.

"Git over here boy," he said, looking at Clinton and taking off his belt.

 

The boys had packed their suitcase and Clinton dragged it out onto the porch. He waited with Morgan and glanced one last time at the place. The broken paddock fence, the barn and old tractor, nothing had changed.

They got into the back of the pickup. Their foster father turned the ignition and swung around and out past the barn in a cloud of dust. He said nothing and neither did they. He left them in town, dumping the suitcase on the sidewalk. Clinton looked the old man square in the eyes, then watched as he drove away. They made there way to the bench across from the yard and sat down gingerly on the edge of the wooden seat, the suitcase in front of them.

Then Clinton got up. He turned to his brother.

"Wait here."

He walked off down the main street, stopping outside the dry cleaners. J.P. Downside, the sign over the window read. Looking in through the large glass front, he saw the children's clothes hanging on the rack. Lined up all neat and clean, but devoid of life, a charade, filled only with empty promises. The little bell tinkled as he opened the door and stepped inside.

Morgan watched all this from the bench at the other end of the street. A few minutes later Clinton emerged. The store owner peered out after him, looking up and down the street as Clinton turned back and gave a salute.

Joining his brother on the bench, he showed him the wad of dollar bills, before stuffing them in his pocket.

"You see, it was worth it," he told Morgan.

"I guess," he replied, shuffling on the bench.

There was a honk of a horn. Clinton turned to see the battered old orange and brown car pull up. The Child Welfare Officer.

Morgan looked back out the car window at the girl leaving the candy store, he pressed his palm against the glass and looked through his fingers until she disappeared from view.

Copyright © 2020 Talo Segura; All Rights Reserved.

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Chapter Comments

The boys are back in the battered old orange and brown car again. Of course, I wonder how Clinton ended up with another wad of dollar bills, and I expect that it will be revealed in the next chapter. Clinton reminds me of Tom Sawyer, conning the local kids to willingly pay for the privilege of whitewashing the wooden fence. The discarded paper wrapper caught in the spikey leaves of a weed and flapping in the breeze was a good chapter starter. It helps set the scene. The spider moving across the web it had spun near the ceiling later in the chapter is another. Subtle nuances that help bring the scenes to life to the reader and create a mood. Good work, Talo.

Any one else?

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Another interesting chapter in which I, also, was reminded of the Tom Sawyer fence painting episode.

Clinton certainly seems able to come up with interesting schemes and I suspect this one, apart from simply being a way of making some money, was also designed to upset Mr MacPherson enough that he would decide he no longer wanted to foster the boys. To answer Arran's question above as to how Clinton ended up with another wad of dollars, my reading of it is that Clinton knew that he would likely be forced to hand back the money Morgan had got from the other children, but had already struck a deal with the owner of the dry cleaning establishment for commission as a result of the fact that he would be getting a lot of custom from the parents of the kids whose Sunday clothes had got muddied in the treasure chest adventure...

I feel sorry for Morgan in a way. It seems he doesn't really get a say in his older brother's schemes, but just has to go along with them. I get the feeling he is almost sad right at the end, as he looks out of the car window at the little girl, who I assume was Melissa, disappearing from view as he and Clinton were leaving town in the battered Child Welfare car. We've not been told just how old Clinton and Morgan are, but I'm reminded of some of the schemes my older brother got me involved with when I was young; I never really had a say in those either. In my case it was my eldest brother, who is five years older than me.

I love the author's "sparse" style at times, which often leaves readers having to fill details in for themselves. Like, for example, what caused the loud bang and shouting just as the children had unearthed the chest? I'm assuming it was Clinton hiding in the woods. And Talo (deliberately, I assume) doesn't go into explicit detail about the beatings that the boys receive. Instead he just tells us that Mr MacPherson took off his belt, and that the boys after being dropped in town sat down 'gingerly' (which, I assume means their backsides had become acquainted with the belt). Getting away from that old farmer is probably for the best, but I just can't help worrying as to where the boys will finish up next...

Yup! As Arran says: Good work, Talo!

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Thank you for your comments, it is interesting to hear readers' takes on the story. Certainly, @Marty you got it correct above. As for ages, it's possible to work out, because later on it is stated, but for now you simply know they are just kids.

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