How much is an Englishman worth?
At first James didn’t believe in bandits— but they believed in him. Wasn’t the señor a writer who made much money? So as their prisoner, all he had to do was prove it
Señor Pollard,” the Lieutenant of Police said for the tenth time, “it is not wise to go into those mountains. I cannot stop you, of course,” he tapped a long fingernail on the letter of permission that James had received from the Ministry of the Interior, “but there are many things there that are not good for an Englishman alone.”
The lieutenant was sitting in his shirt sleeves and braces. His big round face was unshaven. He sat hunched, overflowing the swivel-backed office chair. Carefully he made himself a strong black cigarette.
James was staring with numb fascination at the lieutenant’s mustache. It drooped at the corners. It was a monument to droopy mustaches. The heat in the room and the wine he had drunk with his lunch made James sleepy. He seemed to have been staring at the mustache for days. He heard the lieutenant’s voice from a great distance.
“. . . and there are tigers ...”
James blinked. “Tigers?”
“Yes, señor. And they are fierce. Very fierce.” James knew that there were lynxes in the mountains, but that was about all, and anyway lynxes very rarely attacked humans.
“. . . And bandits.” The lieutenant made a throat-cutting gesture with his finger. “Señor,
it would not be safe. Why do you not spend your holiday swimming in the sea?” He smiled encouragingly. “The Mediterranean is beautiful at this time of year. Most beautiful.”
James got groggily to his feet. He had to sleep. He reached for the letter of permission and his passport. “I’ll be careful,” he said. “If I see any bandits I’ll run. I can run very fast.”
The lieutenant shrugged. The pantomime dropped away. “You are a writer, Señor Pollard?” James nodded.
“In the mountains there are many strange things. I hope one day,” he said in what James thought was a sinister way, “to read your writings. Adiós, Señor Pollard.”
James wrung his hand and then wandered back through the sunlight of the village square to his bed at the pension.
The next morning, a camera on his shoulder and his pack on his back, James swung along the dusty path that led into the magnificent sprawling snow-capped mass of the Sierra Maria mountains.
He laughed to himself at the lieutenant’s melodramatic stories of tigers and bandits. He had personally enquired about bandits from the ambassador before he left London. The ambassador had smiled and told him that the last bandits in the Sierra Maria had been rooted out in 1938, almost twenty years ago. The poor lieutenant probably had very little to do other than read cheap fiction. Bandits! James chuckled to himself again.
At exactly seven o’clock that night, when he was about a mile and a half from the little village where he hoped to sleep, James was captured by bandits.
They sprang from the cover of a large boulder at the edge of the path, waving a collection of aged shotguns and shouting excitedly. They formed a scowling circle around James.
He had been deep in thought when the attack was launched and had been pardonably frightened. Now, as he looked at the rag-bag quartet he recovered his composure and almost laughed. In their tattered trousers, split espadrilles, collarless shirts and tiny berets, they looked as if they had stepped out of a comic operetta, and he half expected them to break into song. James thought he had never seen a less fierce band of desperadoes. He estimated their average age at a battered sixty.
Instead of singing they were muttering and grimacing, making menacing gestures with their guns. James could probably have knocked the four of them down inside a minute, but they were nervously fingering the triggers and he had no wish to be accidentally filled with buckshot. He slowly raised his hands in the air.
The four tattered gnomes seemed to breathe a united sigh of relief that there was not going to be any trouble. One of them, slightly younger than the rest, stepped forward. He had a puckered, wrinkled monkey face, brown and leathery from years in the sun. He differed from the other three in that he wore shoes—not very good shoes —and a red cummerbund round his waist. He was obviously the leader and regarded the cummerbund as his badge of office. He stroked it continuously as though it had some magic property for instilling courage.
"Americano?” he asked.
James shook his head. "Inglés.”
The bandit looked disappointed. James thought he knew why. Americans had a certain reputation on the continent for wealth.
The bandit pointed a long dirty finger at his
own chest. “Me Manolo . . . spik Inglés,” he said proudly, “wekkin sheeps . . . lunnondox . . . milanbit . . . ,” he smiled happily. “Good?”
“Very good,” said James. He gathered that the bandit, whose name was Manolo, had once worked on a ship, had gone to London docks and had drunk mild-and-bitter.
One of the other bandits said something sharply to the leader, who instantly looked fierce again, and motioned with his gun for James to walk ahead of them.
They walked for miles in the darkness. Up and down rocky paths, along ledges, across small streams. James had not the faintest idea of the route. At last they came to the bandits' cave. It had to be a cave, James thought, so traditional, so in keeping. How tame a farmhouse would have been as a hideout.
In spite of his tiredness and his sore feet, James was enjoying himself. He knew that he was reasonably safe. The bandits looked too frightened of their own guns to use them, and he
was sure that after he spent the night with them and explained that he had no money they would release him. The whole adventure appealed to him.
THE cave was just about what he expected it to be. Not very big, not very clean, dusty blankets lying in one corner, and a mangy-looking mongrel in the other. On a fire in the centre of the cave a stew simmered in a large pot.
The bandits began their dinner immediately, courteously offering him his plateful first, and giving him the wineskin. Nor did they laugh when the jet of wine hit James squarely between the eyes. And as they ate they talked, looking darkly at James every now and then.
James’ knowledge of the language was slight and they were talking quickly. He did not even try to follow the conversation.
After the meal Manolo came over to him. “You,” he pointed to James, “stay weeth us. Get much money for you.
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Continued on page 29
“James walked out of the cave. He came back in. There was a bandit out there waving a shotgun”
Ransum.” He said it as though he had only heard about it the day before.
James shook his head, smiling. “No money.”
“Si, si, si,” the bandit said excitedly. “Money. Mucho money. One thousand pounds. From Eenglan.”
For a moment James felt quite sorry for the bandits. If he had had any money he would gladly have given some to them. They looked such a dispirited, beaten-down lot. But as it was he did not have any money. He had tried to talk his publisher into an advance before he left, but the old man was shrewd and, knowing James well, said that he’d think about it when he saw five more chapters.
James shook his head again. “No money. I'm sorry.”
But Manolo was a trier. This was probably the greatest thing that had happened to him in his life—the capture of a real live Englishman. He was not going to let all that lovely money, that he fmd been told lay in the vaults of the Bank of England, slip through his fingers.
“You wife in Eenglan,” he said brilliantly. “She send money, Love you mucho.”
"No wife,” said James, “no esposa.”
Manolo threw his hands in the air. “Cáspita!” he said, “You lucky hombre. Wives . . . they are terrible.” He grimaced and spat into the corner. The mongrel flinched.
Manolo stepped across to his comrades to impart this piece of information. They shook their heads slowly in wonder at his incredible luck.
“What you do?” Manolo called across the cave.
“Writer,” James answered, making typewriting motions with his fingers. “Books, stories.”
Manolo nodded and went into earnest conclave with his colleagues.
James felt very sleepy. The day’s walk and then the forced march had exhausted him. He gathered two of the dusty blankets round him. He slept almost instantly.
THE first thing he saw when he woke the next morning was his typewriter. He blinked, closed his eyes again, and turned over. He knew he was dreaming. Then he knew he wasn’t dreaming and wished he was. He opened one eye. It certainly was his typewriter. For the first time James began, to feel uneasy.
He sat up. Manolo was cooking breakfast. It was the same stew. He waved across to James. “Buenos días, señor. I ’ope you slep well.”
James nodded and then indicated the typewriter. “How did that get there?” Manolo smiled. “Pedro fetch eet las night.”
A look of peasant cunning crossed Manolo’s monkey face. He rose from his haunches and came over to James, stroking his red cummerbund vigorously. “You writer?” he said.
“How much for stories?”
“About a hundred pounds, if I’m lucky, but I don’t see . . .”
“Si, si, si, señor. Hundred pounds. Mucho money. You write story here. You
get hundred pounds. You give hundred pounds to us. We let you go.”
It was preposterous. “But you can’t make me . . .” James began.
“Si, señor. We cannot make you. But you wish to go home, no?”
“But look here . . .” James was on his feet. There was a very worried look on his thin face.
James argued. Manolo smiled and shrugged his shoulders. James shouted, Manolo smiled. James walked purposely out of the cave, and then walked smartly back again. There was a bandit out there waving a shotgun. Manolo smiled. James pleaded. Manolo shrugged. After five hours James gave up and sat moodily on the floor. He threw a stone at the mongrel. The dog eyed him nervously.
James sulked around the cave for three days until he realized that the bandits were quite serious. Then he put a fresh piece of white paper, into his typewriter. He was getting very tired of the stew and his back had begun to ache from the cold floor of the cave.
For three more days he stared at the blank paper. He grew miserable, resentful, and self-pitying by turns. It was all very well to be told to write a story. But what could he write about? His mind was empty of plots.
And all the while he sat before his typewriter the bandits treated him with great consideration. They tiptoed round the cave, miming grotesquely for each other to be silent. When they kicked the dog they did so quietly. They knew when they were in the presence of genius.
James noted with bitterness on the first walk along the mountainside that even if he did manage to evade his captors he might wander in the mountains for days before anyone found him.
Still the paper in the machine remained blank.
And then one day James had an idea. None too soon either, he thought, for the wine and the stew were beginning to give him violent indigestion. The idea was simply this: a newspaper or magazine feature story on the bandits themselves and his own predicament. He was delighted with the idea and wondered why he had not thought of it before.
He told Manolo. But Manolo was not enthusiastic.
“Señor,” he said, “when they read it they come to the mountains to fetch us. It is no good.” And then he added mysteriously, “You do not understand, you ’ave no wife and family.”
“But, Manolo, this is for English paper. What does it matter if Englishmen read it. They cannot come to the mountains to fetch you. Do you see?”
Manolo nodded his head thoughtfully. “One momentito," he said, stepping to the mouth of the cave and calling his companions. They talked for an hour. There was much shrugging and shaking of heads. James was depressed. It was the best idea he’d had—the only one in fact —and he saw no likelihood of another on his present diet.
Then Manolo rose. “English papers, they pay well?”
James nodded vigorously. “Si, si, si, very well. Mucho money.” He found himself slipping into the pidgin idiom quite easily.
“Is all right then. Me and my hombres are 'appy.”
For the next two hours James pottered happily about with his camera, taking pictures of the cave and the four men. The bandits were slightly suspicious at first, as though expecting the camera to conceal some annihilating ray. Then when they saw that it was quite harmless and just went “click” they entered into the spirit of the thing.
They took off their berets and combed their matted hair and washed their faces. Manolo even changed his shirt. When he came out into the sunlight the other three sniggered. James thought he heard one of them say, “If only your wife could see you now.” Manolo shot the man a mean look. They were like delighted children and James had some difficulty in restraining them from smiling at the camera. He tried to make them look as fierce as possible. It was going to be hard getting anyone to believe him as it was without them looking like four harmless scarecrows.
Later in the day he began to type the story: “The Last Bandit — an exclusive interview and story by James Pollard.”
THE story was not a sensation but it was just what the feature editors of newspapers like. James' agents in London, to whom he had sent the story, had no difficulty in selling it for seventy-five pounds to a mass-circulation Sunday paper. The paper, which had bought world rights to the story, then began to sell the story anywhere it could through its syndication department. It was bought by a newspaper in Chicago, by one in Melbourne and by one in Cape Town. It was also bought, later, by a digest magazine that publishes in five languages throughout Europe. So that all in all a great many people read it.
James waited three weeks for the cheque to arrive from London. But to the bandits it was just a piece of paper, and they were most anxious to feel the texture of high-denomination notes in their fingers. So the next day Manolo took him to the nearest large village where there was a bank. James gave his w'ord of honor to the bandit chief that he would raise no alarm, and taking with him his passport, he cashed the cheque. Indeed, James thought, as the cashier was counting out the notes, seventy-five pounds was quite cheap. For with the cheque had come a letter from his agents, saying that he had received a great deal of favorable newspaper publicity with the publishing of the story. It boded well for his new book.
When he rejoined Manolo he took out the bundle of notes, but Manolo shook his head. “We wait,” he said. “For the sharing of the money, the others must be there.” They started on the walk back to the cave.
All was not well at the cave. When they were still half a mile away they could see that Pedro, who usually sat near the mouth nursing his shotgun, was absent. Manolo broke into a trot and led James up the path.
The first person James saw on entering the cave was the Lieutenant of Police. His mustache seemed to droop even farther than James remembered. With him were two constables. They each carried Sten guns on their shoulders. In the far corner three elderly desperadoes sat in depressed silence.
“Well. Señor Pollard,” the lieutenant said, stretching out his hand in greeting, “we meet in the strangest places. Are you a permanent resident here?”
“Not quite,” said James. “A paying guest, you might say.”
“So?” The lieutenant smiled. Then he motioned to Manolo, and began to talk in a quick low voice. James saw Manolo’s face become even longer and more depressed. There was fear at the corners of his eyes. His fingers fretted at the red cummerbund.
James also felt depressed. He was sorry it had turned out this way, sorry that the bandits had been caught. They were really quite harmless, playing at being desperadoes like elderly children. And certainly for James they had brought into his fairly humdrum life a colorful adventure that he would never forget. Still, the police had their duty too. He would not interfere. It was not his country, nor was it his business. He made up his mind, however, that he would not prefer charges. The police would have to convict them on other evidence than his.
The lieutenant stopped talking. The four bandits moved out of the cave followed by the two constables each carrying two shotguns as well as their automatic rifles.
The lieutenant turned to James. “Señor Pollard, can I give you a lift, or do you
prefer to stay? The air in the mountains is very bracing, no?”
"I’ll be glad of the lift. The air is a little too bracing.” He shouldered his pack and moved off down the path after the ragged band.
AT the bottom of the mountain, where the road twisted like a dusty snake, the police van was parked. James got in front with the lieutenant. Manolo and his cutthroats climbed over the tailboard at the back, followed by two constables. The air was thick with gloom and depression.
Once James said. “Lieutenant, do you have to arrest these men? They’re quite harmless, you know.”
“But, Señor Pollard, you yourself said they were desperate men. The police have their duty.”
"I said they were desperate men?” James voice was surprised. “I never said anything of the sort. I haven’t spoken about them.”
“No, señor, but you have written about them.”
James bit his lip. Of course—he had forgotten that the lieutenant might have seen the article. He was plunged into an even deeper depression.
About halfway to the town, as the road was curling over a high mountain pass, the lieutenant stopped the van.
"Will you smoke, señor?”
James shook his head.
The lieutenant carefully began making a strong black cigarette. “In my country everyone smokes. For some it eases the hunger.” He looked over the match at James. “Not only of the belly.”
James heard bumping in the back of the van and thought that the constables were getting irritated by the halt. It must be very hot in the back, with no windows.
The lieutenant drove on and soon they came into the town from where James had begun his trip. They pulled up outside the police offices.
“Well, Señor Pollard, this is as far as I go.” There was a smile on the lieutenant’s face that baffled James.
At that moment, in noisy pandemonium, four formidable old women clattered down the steps of the police station, chattering angrily among themselves. The woman in the lead, a big rawboned female with a wide sullen face, rushed up to the lieutenant, brandishing a short stick.
"Manolo?” she shrieked. "Dónde está Manolo?”
"Momento, señora,” the lieutenant said, forcibly restraining her. "Momento.”
The three other women surged like harpies round the policeman shouting at the tops of their voices.
"Silencio!” he roared, and moved through them to the rear of the van. Producing a large bunch of keys he unlocked the doors. James craned his neck over the shoulders of the agitated women, peering into the dark interior of the police van.
What he saw was two police constables, lying on their sides, neatly trussed with ropes, and firmly gagged with handkerchiefs. And that was all. Even the shotguns were gone.
"Dios mio!” the lieutenant exclaimed piously, throwing up his hands to the sky. “They have escaped!”
There was an angry wail from the four women, and then in unison they all began shrieking invective at the lieutenant, the constables, the escaped bandits, and even at James. The big sullen woman beat on the sides of the van with her stick. A crowd gathered.
It was fifteen minutes before the lieutenant could silence the women. For James it was fifteen minutes he never wanted to experience again. At any single moment he felt they might turn and tear him apart as an outlet for their rage.
The lieutenant was making promises in a loud voice. James caught the constant repetition of the word mañana. Eventually the women moved off angrily, shaking their fists in the sky, taking the sympathetic crowd with them.
James looked at the lieutenant. The lieutenant looked at James—and then he winked. No, not quite a wink, just a twitch of one droopy end of his mustache. They freed the constables, who seemed none the worse for their captivity, and went into the lieutenant’s office.
James was sitting in the same chair he had occupied before; he was smoking one of the lieutenant’s black cigarettes. "Where will they go?” he asked.
"Into the mountains. Where else?”
“Do you think you’ll find them again?” The lieutenant shrugged. "In my country there are many mountains.” Then, obliquely: “You are not married?”
“Ah. Sometimes . . . but no. My wife she is a good wife.” He sighed. “For some, the unlucky ones, the mountains are better than wives. In the winter there is snow, in summer the heat. These things they know. It is never bad all the time.” He paused. “No, señor, 1 do not think we shall find them again.”
James put his hand in his pocket and pulled out the roll of bank notes. “1 owe them this for the lodging they gave me,” he said. "I’d like to leave it with you in case you see them again."
The lieutenant put the money in his pocket. “Take my word, señor, they will receive it. 1 thank you on their behalf.” He opened the drawer in his desk and brought out a bottle of brandy and two glasses. They drank.
"And this too for the soul,” the lieutenant said.
James saw the end of his mustache twitch again.