“Nice of the owners to allow you to do that,” I proffered.
“Well, why the hell shouldn't they?”
“I didn't say there was, did I?”
“No. Well, then, what is the reason?”
“You'll laugh when I tell you.”
When I told him that I wouldn't, he evidently believed me because his manner changed. He locked his fingers behind his head and settled back in his chair. His hard cynicism changed into a kind of bluff heartiness.
“Then,” he said, “I'll tell you. It's because once I was a client here. A damn good one, too. Right here at this very desk I once signed a contract to buy a $40,000 house which.....
“But look here,” he said. “I can't tell you about it in a few words. This thing goes back quite a way; and maybe you're in a hurry. Now if you want to listen, I'll go back to the beginning. If you don't - well, it's up to you.”
“How does it begin?” I prompted.
“Damn poor,” he said. “Literally, I mean. I landed smack into the lap of poverty the moment I arrived in this world. That was fifty years ago. Fifty-six, to be exact. I was born on a cotton plantation near Howe, South Carolina. No, we didn't own it. We didn't own a damn thing. Not