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happy for you."
The King read the grins. Some were good and he marked those. Some were false
and he knew those anyway. The men echoed Max's thanks.
Max herded the men outside once more and began to divide the treasure. "It's
shock," he said quietly. "Must be. Like shell shock. Any moment he'll be
tearing the Limey's head off." He stared off as another burst of laughter came
from the hut, then shrugged.
"He's off his head  and no wonder."
"For God's sake," Peter Marlowe was saying, holding his stomach. "Let's eat.
If I don't soon, I won't be able to."
So they began to eat. Between laughter spasms. Peter Marlowe regretted that
the eggs were cold, but the laughter warmed the eggs and made them superb.
"They need a little salt, don't you think?" he said, trying to keep his voice
flat. "Gee, I guess so. I thought I'd used enough." The King frowned and
turned for the salt and then he saw the crinkling eyes.
"What the hell's up now?" he asked, beginning to laugh in spite of himself.
"That was a joke, for God's sake. You Americans don't have much of a sense of
humor, do you?"
"Go to hell! And for Chrissake stop laughing!"
When they had finished the eggs, the King put some coffee on the hot plate
and searched for his cigarettes. Then he remembered he had given them away, so
he reached down and unlocked the black box.
"Here, try some of this," Peter Marlowe said, offering his tobacco box.
"Thanks, but I can't stand the stuff. It plays hell with my throat."
"Try it. It's been treated. I learned how from some Javanese."
Dubiously the King took the cigarette box. The tobacco was the same cheap
weed, but instead of being straw-yellow it was dark golden; instead of being
dry it was moist and had a texture; instead of being odorless it smelled like
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ABC Amber Palm Converter, http://www.processtext.com/abcpalm.html
tobacco, sweet-strong. He found his packet of rice papers and took an
overgenerous amount of the treated weed. He rolled a sloppy tube and nipped
off the protruding ends, dropping the excess tobacco carelessly on the floor.
Godalmighty, thought Peter Marlowe, I said try it, not take the bloody lot.
He knew he should have picked up the shreds of tobacco and put them back in
the box, but he did not. Some things a chap can't do, he thought again.
The King snapped the lighter and they grinned together at the sight of it.
The King took a careful puff, then another. Then a deep inhale. "But it's
great," he said astonished. "Not as good as a Kooa - but this's  " He stopped
and corrected himself. "I mean it's not bad."
"It's not bad at all." Peter Marlowe laughed.
"How the hell do you do it?"
"Trade secret."
The King knew he had a gold mine in his hands. "I guess it's a long and
involved process," he said delicately.
"Oh, actually it's quite easy. You just soak the raw weed in tea, then
squeeze it out. Then you sprinkle a little white sugar over it and knead it
in, and when it's all absorbed, cook it gently in a frying pan over a low
heat. Keep turning it over or it'll spoil. You've got to get it just right.
Not too dry and not too moist."
The King was surprised that Peter Marlowe had told him the process so easily
without making a deal first. Of course, he thought, he's just whetting my
appetite. Can't be that easy or everyone'd be doing it. And he probably knows
I'm the only one who could handle the deal.
"Just like that?" the King said smiling.
"Yes. Nothing to it really."
The King could see a thriving business. Legitimate too. "I suppose everyone
in your hut cures their tobacco the same way."
Peter Marlowe shook his head. "I just do it for my unit. I've been teasing
them for months, telling them all sorts of stories, but they've never worked
out the exact way."
The King's smile was huge. "Then you're the only one who knows how to do it!"
"Oh no," said Peter Marlowe and the King's heart sank. "It's a native custom.
They do it all over Java."
The King brightened. "But no one here knows about it, do they?"
"I don't know. I've really never thought about it." [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]


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