Fiction

Wife-Hunt With Tom-Toms

Elephants, camels, fierce savages, tom-toms all over the place. It was a publicity idea. Miss Bing had ideas of her own on how to get a mate. They were effective—if primitive

LILIAN JACKSON BRAUN February 15 1951
Fiction

Wife-Hunt With Tom-Toms

Elephants, camels, fierce savages, tom-toms all over the place. It was a publicity idea. Miss Bing had ideas of her own on how to get a mate. They were effective—if primitive

LILIAN JACKSON BRAUN February 15 1951

Wife-Hunt With Tom-Toms

Fiction

Elephants, camels, fierce savages, tom-toms all over the place. It was a publicity idea. Miss Bing had ideas of her own on how to get a mate. They were effective—if primitive

LILIAN JACKSON BRAUN

UNTIL THE Old Boy summoned me into the conference room that particular June day, I must say I had rather fancied myself as a bachelor. I cut a dashing figure, I have been told. Tall. Tweedy. RAF type of mustache reddish but distinguished. Expense account. Good tailor. And quite a bit in demand for dinner parties, cocktails, sailing week ends and that sort of thing. Then quite abruptly I discovered myself in search of a wife.

The summons I mentioned came via Miss Bing— ridiculous name, what? Miss Bing is the bit of brunette fluff who recently came to preside in the flamingo-and-chartreuse anteroom outside the Old Boy’s zebra-striped office. (The decor of the whole place is horribly overdone, but Primitive Perfumes, Inc., always exhibits more exuberance than taste. Nothing at all like my last firm in London: all walnut and brass.)

Miss Bing walked into my office swinging her— that is, swaggering in the audacious manner she affects and accompanied by a gust of Primitive’s best-selling perfume: Zambezi. On Tuesdays all female employees are required to wear Zambezi. On Wednesdays the selection is Congo, a beastly odeur reminiscent of old harness. On Thursdays, L'Afrique —and so on. This was Tuesday.

“The boss wants to see you in the Jungle Room, Mr. Tripingham,” Miss Bing announced with a flip glance that could hardly be called businesslike.

“Please to pronounce it Triping’m,” I reminded her. She places a loathsome emphasis on the t hird syllable. “There is no ham in Tripingham.”

“That’s what you think,” and she did some utterly shameless things with her eyes, which I chose to ignore.

The Jungle Room, as the conference room is designated, is decorated with a dense growth of tropical flora, among which lurk items of furniture upholstered in imitation leopard, antelope and crocodile. Occasionally fauna stuffed accentuate the realism. Into this decorative monstrosity I followed Miss Bing, who was ostensibly to take notes on the proceedings. I passed my eye over a gnu and a hyena before finally locating the Old Boy at the far end of the room, half hidden by a .thing of red-flowering euphorbia.

The Old Boy is mad —stark mad, I am convinced. To the casual observer he may represent t he typical successful executive: he has battened comfortably on the profits of Primitive Perfumes: he has lost hair; his hands shake after lunch. But we who work closely with him are aware of those daily appointments with a psychiatrist . . . and the haunted gleam in his eye . . . and the interminable pacing and perspiring and listening for sounds that are not.there.

“Hello,” I greeted him. “What’s up?”

His gaze was distant and his ear was cocked. “D’you hear something, Trip, like drums?”

I performed the ritual of straining an ear (we always humor him about the tom-toms) and confessed I heard nothing but the several parrots in cages.

“Trip,” said the Old Boy, “I’ll make this brief.” He is always brief—in the manner of a man pursued. “Our Midwest manager is resigning, and the territory is going to need a top-notch executive. The man for the job is either youor Jim Boomer.”

I received the startling news with my usual composure and inclined my head graciously but not too possessively at the compliment.

The Old Boy glanced hastily over his shoulder.

It means full authority. Five thousand more a year. And maybe—someday—a crack at my job. Both you and Boomer are under close observation from now on.”

The Old Boy mopped his brow and progressed to a chair nearer the door. He had more to say—about deplorable business conditions. About people who buy pork chops instead of Primitive Perfumes. About our newly christened fragrance, Safari, soon to be introduced to the public. With Miss Bing redolent of Zambezi on my left and the same perfume coming in a trifle strong through the airconditioning grill on my right (this being Tuesday), I was feeling a touch of respiratory discomfort when the Old Boy suddenly said, “Ever think of getting married, Trip?”

“I hesitated, “As a matter of fact—can’t say that I have.”

“Fine thing, matrimony.” He was on his feet now and edging toward the exit, with wild eyes searching the vegetation in the far corner. “This job carries obligations. Conspicuous position in the community. Board of directors always prefers a married man. Too bad you and Boomer are both bachelors,” and he escaped out the door.

Rolling her active eyeballs at me, Miss Bing slapped her shorthand pad shut and pronounced, “May the best man get the job!”

“More likely the bridegroom,” I quipped, feeling rather frisky.

Returning to my own office, which is done conservatively in python with accents of African violet, I considered the prospect of promotion with a good deal of elation. The money and prestige could not be overlooked.

I smiled inwardly, remembering my witty riposte, “More likely the bridegroom!” Clever how I pop out with these things now and then. As a matter of fact, there might be more truth than levity in my bon mot; it might be advisable to marry just to be on t he safe side. At my age it was high time for a chap to start a family in any event. A man must progress. Good investment, too, in a business sense, indicating integrity, stability, all that sort of thing.

Finding a wife would take a bit of doing, I imagined. As an extra man I had been so confounded busy accepting invitations that I had no particular inamorata to mention. But with this fellow Boomer competing for the post, I could afford to take no chances Continued on page 24

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PERSONALLY, I failed to visualize Jim Boomer in t e role of regional manager for Primitive Perfumes, Inc. Plumbing fixtures, possibly, but not perfumes. He is personable and all that, but too much the back-slapper to have any real finesse. Still, these extroverts frequently advance without regard to actual merit; it would be enlightening to discover exactly how the board appraised him.

At this moment Miss Bing made an aromatic sally into my office with weekly reports and was about to sally out again. As secretary to the Old Boy, it occurred to me, Miss Bing might have some clue as to Boomer’s standing. Ticklish subject. Must proceed with circumspection.

“Ah, Miss Bing,” I called to her. “Have you a moment? Something to discuss with you.”

“I’m pretty busy until five-thirty,” she said, tilting her chin and regarding me obliquely.

“Tomorrow, then,” I concluded. “Tomorrow,” she informed me, “I’ll be tied up with the boss all day. I’m free tonight, though, after five-thirty.” I hat left me out. Could hardly ask the Old Boy’s secretary to work overtime, and I told her so.

“I only planned to have dinner by myself,” she pouted, “and then go home to my lonely little apartment.” “I sympathize with you,” I told her. “I shall probably be doing the same thing. Beastly way to spend an evening.”

“Yes,” she murmured, “beastly” The young lady turned her large eyes on me in a sad, reproachful manner that was quite touching.

“Chin up, Miss Bing. Possibly some Prince Charming will pop up and ask you to dinner. So sorry you’ll be occupied all day tomorrow.”

Miss Bing, whose histrionics I fail to fathom, stamped her foot and marched from the room. Pretty little thing, I thought, but moody. And then I had a brilliant idea. I rang up her desk.

“I say, Miss Bing,” I began, with a small cough of decorum. “This may sound like a caprice, but why not dine together this evening and discuss business over curried shrimp?”

She expressed such surprise and pleasure at my invitation that I felt goodish about it myself. I had to forgo my curry, however; the young lady had set her heart on dining at a beach restaurant because of the music. As it evolved, the orchestra played frightful jazz of an early vintage, but Miss Bing was ecstatic. She was, it musl be admitted, exceedingly agreeable to the eye. During the day she had worn a white blouse gathered up around her throat with a black ribbon. At the beach, however, the neckline stretched alarmingly until the aspect was all shoulder and very little blouse. Revealed interesting bone structure, I noted.

All in all, Alicia was sprightly company and divulged valuable tidbits of office intelligence. The board, it appeared, had open minds regarding the new position. Boomer they considered strong on promotional ideas; they labeled me a “level-headed realist with a fine analytical mind.” This epithet rather pleased meto the extent that I made no protest when the young lady suggested a ride on one of the preposterous contrivances they feature at beaches. We sat in a small compartment at the end of an enormous spoke and simultaneously whirled, plunged and jolted at a rapid rate. Alicia insisted that I grasp her lest she be

catapulted out of the compartment, and this seemed to be the accepted procedure among all the merrymakers, although a safety device was provided which appeared entirely reliable.

ALICIA clutched my arm as we L manoeuvred our way among the jetsam on the shore. I personally felt that the moon, especially large and incandescent, provided adequate lighting, but she seemed timid nonetheless. The boardwalk noises receded and all was silent save for the waves laving the beach, and I. could not help being aware of her slightness as Alicia clung to me, strangely quiet. She was wearing our L’Afrique scent, a light floral which I favor.

“I say there, young lady,” I remarked. “This is Tuesday.”

“Nicest Tuesday I’ve ever had,” she sighed.

“But you’re wearingL'Afrique. That amounts to treason on Tuesdays, don’t you know?”

“I did it for you, Trip,” she said, squeezing my arm ever so gently. “I just happened to know you don’t like the others.”

“It isn’t that,” I hastened to explain, “but our spicier perfumes are a trifle overpowering, and they aggravate my asthma. Nasty thing, asthma. Can’t breathe. Sensitivity in the mucous membrane of the respiratory tract. Causes spasmodic contraction — ”

“I know,” Alicia interrupted, “but let’s not talk about your asthma in this romantic moonlight.”

“What would you like to talk about?” I enquired. During the evening we had pretty well exhausted the usual trivia.

“Let’s talk about you. You’re so reserved and unemotional, Trip. Have you ever been in love?”

“Oh, I daresay,” I told her. “Don’t know really. Never analyze things of that nature.”

“The Board of Directors thought you were the analytical type. How do you expect to get that promotion if you go around never analyzing things?” This was the sort of badinage with which Alicia amused herself constantly. “What you need is practice, Trip. I’ll try you on another question. Do you think I’m pretty?”

She tilted her head back, and I halted in order to study her facial contours. “Face is a trifle too rotund to be actually pretty by classical standards,” I decided. “Eyes are good, though.” “What do they look like, Trip?” “Oh, I don’t know really. Just eyes.” “Co ahead; analyze, Trip. Do they look like stars? Or dark pools in the moonlight?”

All utter nonsense, of course, but I humored her.

“Now that you raise the question,”

I remarked, “they do remind me of those large, sweet black cherries. Bing cherries, what?” Ha, that was a good one. Bing cherries.

Miss Bing was not amused. At least, she ignored my quip and pursued the farce further. “You’re supposed to say my lips are like cherries.”

“I don’t see the connection,” I told her quite candidly. “Cherries are round. Your mouth is quite—quite “Quite what, Trip?”

“Quite mouth-shaped, to be exact.” Miss Bing’s taunting eyes roved over my face in what seemed like wondering contemplation. “You’re terribly slow on your cues, Trip. Didn’t anyone ever teach you that a girl’s eyes are filled with moonbeams and her lips are sweet like cherries?”

Her words pricked a response in my brain! I stood in a trance for a moment, and then—

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"Alicia,” J exploded, "I have an extraordinary idea! Sweet lips, you said. Why not sweet lipstick? Perfumed lipstick, don’t you know. Perfumed with Zambezi, ¡2 Afrique and

Safari!"

Her wide eves narrowed abruptly and her parted lips closed.

“Women are not spending money on I our perfumes, ’ I went on rapidly, j Lipstick, on the other hand, seems to be a necessity. Fancy a lipstick Ibat is also a perfume! Women will go wild about it! Oh, I say, I’m really J quite taken with the theory. What do J you say, Alicia?”

I say let’s go home,” she said with j sudden weariness. "It was a lovely evening before it turned chilly.”

I ake my coat ,” I offered, but she ¡ refused.

Í^AN’l say that. I slept well that.

A night, as I pondered the merchandising possibilities of perfume in lipstick form. Early the next morning J I was striding to and fro outside the I Old Hoy’s office well before he arrived. I’o my consternation, so was Boomer. He seemed in fine fettle, telling his repulsive jokes, thumping my shoulder blades, and chucking Miss Bing under t I.K! chin. I resented this familiarity with Miss Hing Alicia, that is but she appeared to enjoy it and manoeuvred her eyes at Boomer like a positive heathen. For me she reserved a small wan smile which I • interpreted as submissive and womanly. I remembered our agreeable evening together and the way her collarbones had looked in that low-necked blouse and I determined to see more of Alicia. I wondered if she could cook a curry.

The Old Hoy arrived at a trot, damp and panting. There was no one in pursuit, but he rendered the impression there might be. Boomer and I followed him into his zebra-striped office and were waved into chairs; the Old Hoy preferred to hover about the open window as if for an emergency exit.

I was invited to have my innings first. I shall not recount here the stirring presentation of my perfumed lipstick idea, systematically developed in each of its ramifications: manu-

facture, packaging, distribution, promotion. An admirable plan, if I do say so myself. Boomer listened with a smirk, which I dismissed as evidence of jealousy. The Old Boy, somewhat less abstracted than usual, gave an occasional nervous nod.

“Mighty far-reaching,” was his verdict when I had concluded. “Long range. Radical, too. Write it up in triplicate: will present it to the Hoard.” This amounted to flattering enthusiasm from a man as preoccupied as the Old Hoy. 1 relaxed in my chair, mentally sharing my triumph with Alicia, as Boomer took the floor.

“Well, Chief,” he began, ambling over and securing the Old Hoy by the lapel. "This will stagger you. I gotta gimmick to publicize this new Safari perfume. Now get this, Chief: it’s fabulous! We organize a genuine safari out to your country club, see. Invite the press and store buyers from all over the country, see. Have ; elephants camels savages tom -toms orchids all over the place! There’s thousands of dollars’ worth of publicity in it.”

I could see through Boomer’s scheme immediately. Naturally this plan would be to the liking of the demented old codger and was deliberately designed to curry favor, regardless of whether the idea had practical merit.

“Big barbecue,” Boomer chortled. "Drinks in coconut shells. And get this: all our executives in breeches and pith helmets ; How d’vou like it. Chief?”

The Old Boy’s eyes had a strange glint. "Whole plan’s terrific,” he wheezed, mopping his brow. "Drop everything else and get to work on it. Boomer. Spare no expense. Take anybody in the organization for an assistant.” He started backing around the wall toward the door, his face glistening. “Savages, did you say? Tom-toms?” Then he turned and fled.

A lurking qualm that Boomer might maliciously choose me for an assistant in his vile project was dispelled later that morning when I sought out Alicia. She had just gone to lunch, I discovered, with Jim Boomer. Again in the afternoon I enquired: she was downstairs having a spot of coffee with Jim Boomer.

I must sav I did not appreciate the fellow’s forcing himself on Alicia. Of course, he was an executive, and a young girl new to our organization might be flattered by his attention, but he was a terribly gross character,

I felt, and Alicia was actually a fine young person. I decided to approach her on the matter, with delicacy, you understand.

Catching her just before half-pastfive 1 made another go at the curried shrimp.

"I say, Alicia,” I began, "would you care to join me in a curry this evening?” “Sorry, Trip,” she declined, with too little remorse, I thought, “I’m having dinner with Jim.”

"Then tomorrow evening?”

She shook her head. “I’ll be seeing Jim tomorrow night. I’m helping him with this safari, and it’s a day-andnight job. Only two weeks to do the whole thing.”

That was fine, that was. Boomer was using the excuse of vital office business as a cloak for his his depredations. Alicia needed protection, it was clear, but that was devilishly difficult when I could not even lay eyes on her. Day after day went by and she was closeted in Boomer’s office a sybaritic den with fur rugs and a chaise longue.

THE entire organization churned in turmoil and negotiations with florists, caterers, costumers, booking agents and zoological authorities. And still no one had experienced so much as a whiff of the new perfume we were promoting outside of the Old Boy and the laboratory in New Jersey. The odeur known as Safari was a shrouded secret, to be uncorked as the climax of the forthcoming safari. Boomer’s idea, of course. Cheap theatrics, I thought. Hut the most irksome phase of the entire junket was the prospect of dressing up like a fool in a pith helmet.

It was the day prior to the safari that I managed a word with Alicia. She flounced into my office and cast an impudent glance in my direction.

"Alicia!” I cried, springing to my

“Here’s your assignment for tomorrow,” she said breezily, skimming me a memorandum. "All the executives are responsible for some detail; you look after the out-of-town buyers. The boss wants you at the club and in costume by four o’clock. Okay?” “Under protest.” 1 remarked. “I consider the whole project a travesty, but my greatest regret is that you have been coerced into playing such an active role. In fact, I should like to discuss that with you.”

“Can’t,” Alicia said, sidling toward the door. “Jim Boomer wants to see me right away.”

"That is exactly what I wanted to discuss Boomer . . . and the wretched way he has imposed himself upon you, day and and evening.”

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"Why, we've had lots of fun to gether," she said, "especially evenings. And now that you mention it, Mr. Tripingham, what business is it of yours, anyway?" "I intend to make it my business whenever 11 see a young lady of your refinement becoming enmeshed with a bounder of Roomer's type." "Maybe I like his type," Alicia said. `He's informal, friendly, and under standing. He reacts to moonlight in a normal way, and he says things a girl 1ik~s to hear. And for your information: he's asked me to marry

him !”

All my wrath and suspicion flooded. ‘‘I suppose he has promised you that promotion on a platter,” I snapped.

“No! He’s promised me fun . . . love . . . romance!” she flaunted back at me. “You wouldn’t know anything about those commodities. You’re the type who’d marry for income tax purposes. Well, Mr. TripingHAM,” she concluded, “the grapevine whispers that you're the one who’s getting that job, and I hope you do! Then maybe we can get the temperature up to normal around here.” She marched to the door in high dudgeon, then paused and turned to flash a wistful little smile. “And it’s really too bad about you, Trip,” she sighed, “because you’re such a handsome guy.”

I stood there nonplussed. What was too bad about me? Was I really going to get it? As for the temperature in our building, I had always found it most agreeable; thermostatic controls in each office and all that.

I had hoped for a pelting rain the next day—the variety that sets in before noon and continues until everything is a welter of mud, but the morning of the safari dawned disagreeably bright and fair.

In late afternoon I started for the country club, scene of the ordeal. Nearing the club I began to detect the muffled beat of tom-toms. Raises the hackles, don’t you know. If that is what the Old Boy heard when he cocked his head and assumed that faraway expression, he had my sympathy. And then — by Jove! — a Zulu village loomed before my eyes. Thatched huts dispensing refreshments centred about a steaming cauldron in a clearing, and alarmingly authentic tribesmen were warming up for their war dance, impelled by the muted beat of the tom-toms. Beyond the huts, hidden in the trees, were the animals all decently caged, but roaring with realistic menace.

En route to the locker room to change, I noticed several of our lesser executives — the pin - stripe and foulard type—looking sheepish in their breeches and helmets.

Strange thing about the pith helmet or topee, as we called them in India. You have to be the right sort to wear one. And when 1 glanced at myself in the locker room mirror, it was obvious that I was the sort. The effect was rugged, intrepid. Eric Tripingham adventurer, explorer, and regional manager of Primitive Perfumes, Inc.! My tan, acquired on sailing week ends, showed up to excellent advantage.

So it was romance that Alicia wanted, was it? I emerged from the clubhouse with a masterful stride and made my way down to the tribal village in search of her.

1 COULD NOT spot Alicia immediately; the guests were arriving, and the area was becoming quite populated.

I was much in demand among the out-of-town buyers, but between pleasantries I kept an eye alerted for a certain young lady with devastating collarbones. Boomer, in his ill-fitting

breeches, kept bustling across my path j on errands of exaggerated importance, and I must admit feeling a certain benevolence toward him. Poor chap,

I mused; let him have his moment of glory; it will be over when he learns he’s not getting the promotion.

I discovered Alicia leaning exhausted against a tree. The poor girl had been worked half to death.

“Alicia!” I cried, nearly bursting ¡ with romance.

Her weary eyes turned and, growing | larger with admiration, surveyed me ¡ from head to foot. “Why, you look wonderful in that get-up,” she said.

She appeared most appetizing herself with her collarbones well revealed.

I looked avidly at the curls lying \ on her fine wide brow, at her cheek: bones tilted up to me, at the curve ; of her jaw, and at the one provocative collarbone so sweetly exposed. I clenched my fists, and the words I tumbled from my lips.

“Alicia,” I breathed, “you have nice bones.”

Her eyes sprayed me with warmth j for one fleet moment, and then someone tapped me on the shoulder. Boomer!

“Get with it, Tripingham,” he blustered. “There’s work to do. Lish, honey, the chief is looking for you.”

Wrenched cruelly out of a romantic mood I might never recapture, I glared at Boomer with venom, and seizing j Alicia by the hand, I tore her away | from his very vicinity.

“We’d better go find the boss,” she said. “Have you seen him in his j breeches? He looks like a nervous j turnip.”

“They’re usually phlegmatic, turI nips,” 1 said.

“He’s got reason to be nervous,” Alicia went on. “He’s let Jim spend too much money on this picnic, and if the new perfume doesn’t go over, the boss is sunk.”

“Have you smelled the stuff yet?”

I asked.

“No. Nobody has, except the boss. See that big perfume bottle on the platform? The chairman of the board is going to unveil it, and at the same time a fountain of Safari will spray up out of that big kettle.”

WE DISCOVERED the Old Boy gazing hypnotically into the cage of a rock python. He appeared more distraught than ever, his jowls quivering in unison with the flesh on his plump hands.

At that moment the tom - toms ceased.

“It’s the signal for the unveiling,” Alicia said.

Now all conversation stopped with them, all eyes turned and saw the chairman of the board mounting the platform.

“Friends,” said the chairman, a small | man somewhat swallowed by his sun j helmet, “we have come on safari in j search of a rare perfume . . . one so rare that scarcely a living soul knows its fragrance. It is not for me to uncover this precious treasure, but rather the man who has led this safari.”

I could see Boomer pushing his obnoxious way to the rostrum.

“The new perfume known as Safari,” went on the chairman, pushing his helmet back so he could see, “the new ; perfume will be revealed for the first time by one of our fine executives who j —you may be interested to learn is due for more than one surprise tonight !

I present Mr. James Boomer, who doesn’t know that he is our new . . . Midwest . . . regional . . . manager!” What was the ruffian saying? Boomer! I turned to stone, just vaguely aware that Alicia was pressing my arm in extreme agitation.

“Oh, Trip,” she whispered with tragedy in her voice. “I thought that YOU everyone was so SURE ”

1 reached for her hand and tried to think to rationalize. But the disappointment had stunned me. 1 had a foggy impression of Boomer ensconced tin the platform, bowing and beaming. Then he summoned Alicia to join him in the spotlight: with hesitancy she complied, leaving my side reluctantly in t his moment of my defeat.

There was a ripple of excitement as Boomer unsheathed the gigantic perfume bottle. Everyone in the clearing pressed closer to the cauldron for a first memorable whiff of Safari. Alicia, smiling sweetly but without heart, it seemed to me, had her hand on the huge stopper. That was the cue for the tom-toms to resume an accelerated heat, which they did now with bloodcurdling insistence. The yellow twilight was turning pink; the atmosphere was tense. Alicia raised the stopper and bent forward to inhale long and soulfully. Suddenly her face contorted. If was a painful expression I could not ; identify until it exploded into a resounding sneeze!

At the same terrible moment the fountain of Safari shot up from the cauldron, its spray falling on the breeze. There was an experimental sniffing and a sneeze from one of the guesfs. And another. First gently,

I hen convulsively. And someone coughed, a desperate, wheezing cough. At this point the wave of perfume engulfed me. I choked; I struggled; I could not breathe! It was my asthma.

“Jupiter!” 1 thought, “I’m allergic i to Safari!"

“Jupiter!” I thought again, “so is nearly everyone else!”

Gasping, I fled the clearing for a breath of fresh air. In fact, the entire assemblage had the identical intention. They stampeded for the woods, pushing and coughing and sneezing. The lucky I ones who were not affected also stampeded for the woods, just pushing. I saw Alicia trip and before the mob rode over her, I snatched her up. Shielding her with my body, I assisted her to shelter.

Her eyes were swollen and reddened, and her white face was blotched, hut she looked beautiful in the dim light.

In the panic no one had given the tom-toms the signal to stop, and the mounting din drove me to frenzy. As my breath returned, I seized her roughly and planted mad kisses along her collarbone. Some fell into tilt* hollow of her neck and wandered off over her shoulder. I didn’t care. I was wild with feeling. The keen hurt of disappointment, don’t you know, and the spasm of choking, and the tom-toms beating with such passionate fu ry.

Suddenly the pliant creature in my arms petrified as a maddened scream split our ears:

“The drums! The DRUMS! Stop the drums!”

“It’s the boss,” gasped Alicia.

We rushed from our refuge and crossed the deserted clearing. The fountain had been quelled. A fresh wind had blown up. But there was the Old Boy. scratching like mad. Several people were fluttering around him. The board of directors huddled in ;t disturbed knot nearby. Boomer was there, bumbling and bewildered.

“Funny,” he kept saying, “the stuff didn’t bother me at all.”

The hoard members, 1 observed, glanced frequently in my direction, and at last the boss approached.

“Hives,” he explained. “1 get th#m from eating tomatoes, too. Tripingham, this has changed everything.” He glanced at Boomer. “You may consider yourself our new Midwest regional manager.”

“Oh, I say,” I replied, striving to maintain my usual aplomb.

“And, Tripingham,” he added, “I’m counting on your perfumed lipstick idea to pull the company out of the red. Now if you’ll excuse me ” He hacked away, rubbing vigorously here and there.

Alicia raised her lovely face to mine. “Trip, dear,” she said, “1 hope I’m not allergic to mustaches.” Her lips quivered. “I’ve never kissed a man with a mustache.”

“I have,” I replied. “When I was a small hoy, my grandfather had a giant of a one. Reminded me of a shredded wheat biscuit. Scratchy.”

“Yours isn’t,” she cooed into my mustache. Mine is the RAf' type, don’t you know. Reddish, but distinguished, if I do say so myself. ★