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A huge amount of money for a simple job. The deal seemed too good to be true...


Bucky Shannon leaned forward across the little hexagonal table. He knocked over the pitcher of thil, but it didn't matter. The pitcher was empty. He jabbed me in the breastbone with his forefinger, not very hard. Not hard enough to jar the ribs clean loose, just enough to spring them.

"We," he said, "are broke. We are finished, through. Washed up and down the drain." He added, as an afterthought, "Destitute." I looked at him. I said sourly, "You're kidding!"

"Kidding." Shannon put his elbows on the table and peered at me through a curtain of very blond hair that was trying hard to be red. He says I'm kidding! With Shannon's Imperial Circus, the Greatest Show in Space, plastered so thick with attachments..."

"It's no more plastered than you are." I was sore because he'd been a lot quicker grabbing the pitcher. "The Greatest Show in Space. Phooey! I've wetnursed Shannon's Imperial Circus around the Triangle for eleven years, and I know. It's lousy, it's mangy, it's broken-down! Nothing works, from the ship to the roustabouts. In short, it is Buckhalter Shannon's Imperial Circus to Buckhalter Shannon's face unless he's tired and wants a long rest in a comfy fracture-frame.

Shannon got up. He got up slowly. I had plenty of time to see his grey green eyes get sleepy, and hear the quarter-Earthblood Martian girl wailing about love over by the battered piano, and watch the cat-eyes of the little dark people at the tables swing round toward us, pleased and kind of hungry.

I had plenty of time to think how I only weigh one-thirty-seven to Shannon's one-seventy-five, and how I'm not as young as I used to be.

I said, "Bucky. Hold on, fella. I..."

Somebody said, "Excuse me, gentlemen. Is one of you Mister Buckhalter Shannon?"

Shannon put his hands down on his belt. He closed his eyes and smiled pleasantly and said, very gently: "Would you be collecting for the feed bill, or the fuel?"

I shot a glance at the newcomer. He'd saved me from a beating, even if he was a lousy bill-collector; and I felt sorry for him. Bucky Shannon settled his shoulders and hips like a dancer.

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