by Dan Swanson
Pete Lincoln’s father owned the Redcliff Inn and had volunteered one of his function rooms for a welcome home party for Lily DeLuna. A lot of her friends were there, and she mostly had a good time, though she had one weird encounter and learned a lot about another old acquaintance.
Mr. Lincoln had set up a buffet table and cash bar. Lily was picking up a couple of hors d’oeuvres from the buffet when Biff Redondo walked up to her. From what her Uncle George had told her about Biff’s recent appearance, he usually needed a bath and a shave, and his clothes were ragged and dirty. Much to her surprise, Biff was clean and clean-shaven, his hair neatly trimmed and greased back. He was wearing a really loud zoot suit, with wide lapels, padded shoulders, and a wide brimmed hat. With his patch on, he actually looked exotic and a little mysterious. He wasn’t belligerent, as she had expected he would be. At least, not at first.
“Hey, Lily! You sure look nice tonight!” said Biff. “And you sure had a good season this year! I read your box scores every day. Who would ever have guessed that there’d be a professional baseball league for girls? I saw your fight on one of the Saturday newsreels, too! That old bat never had a chance!”
“Hello, Biff,” she responded, coolly. Except for the time he asked her out, he had only spoken to her one other time in the past, just before he started their fight. She didn’t feel any compulsion to pretend they were, or ever had been, friends.
“Say, Lil, do you think we could let bygones be bygones and try to start over? I was pretty stupid back then, but I’m wised up now. Can I buy you a drink?”
He pulled out a big wad of cash. Lily realized that she was supposed to be impressed, but seeing that much money just made her wonder where he could have got it. She immediately thought about the recent home robberies. But she had no proof, and she didn’t have any reason not be civil.
“Thanks, Biff, but I don’t need a drink right now. Please call me Lily — I really don’t like being called Lil. And you needn’t worry about ‘bygones.’ I forget things like that almost before they’re over. I’m very sorry about your eye and the Army. I know it’s got to be difficult, being stuck here in Redcliff when everyone else is heading overseas.” Patriotism was running very high right now, and it was every kid’s dream to join the military as soon as he or she was old enough.
“Lily it is, then!” he said heartily. “Hey, the eye thing is no big deal! I’ve got another one, right? Besides, who wants to go where a bunch of Nazis and Nips are going to be shooting at you, anyway?” He shrugged, clearly dismissing the war from his thoughts, and he sidled a little closer, almost touching her. His attitude toward the war really surprised her. There were people who would have accused him of treason if they could have heard him say those words in that tone of voice.
“Besides, with half the men in the country overseas, it leaves more girls for the rest of us!” He leered at her. “Most of the guys that are left are either old coots, or there’s something wrong with them. I think I look pretty good next to them, don’t you? A pretty girl like you shouldn’t waste her time with those weak sisters, not when I’m around!”
He moved another step closer, and she realized that she hadn’t been paying attention, and he had somehow maneuvered her into a corner between the table and the wall. She was just getting ready to break his wrist if he tried to touch her, when a voice called out to them from behind Biff.
“Hey, Lily! I brought you your drink! Hi, Biff! Haven’t seen you in a while, but you sure look a lot better than the last time I saw you! Great suit! And you look so good in it, too!”
Over Biff’s shoulder, Lily saw “Skinny” Spooner. He was the last person she would have ever expected to come to her rescue, but she seized on a chance to get out of this unpleasant encounter without violence. It was clear from the mocking smile on his face, which Biff couldn’t see, that he didn’t really think much about the zoot suit.
“Hey!” said Biff sharply. “I thought you said you didn’t want a drink.”
“Thanks very much for offering, Biff, but…” Lily had to think fast to remember Skinny’s real name. “…Richard was already getting me one.” She thought it was Richard Spooner and hoped she was right, or it would be embarrassing for both of them.
“Richard, huh? Sounds like you guys are pretty close! What do you see in a jerk like him?” This was more like the Biff she remembered. She was about to tell him it was none of his business, even though she was sure it would start something loud. She refused to be talked to that way by anyone.
“Say, Lil, would you like to dance?” Skinny cut in before Lily could reply, or Biff could say any more. He clearly wanted to cut this fight off before it started.
“Why certainly, Richard. Thank you!” Biff had turned to face Richard, and Lily was able to slip out of the corner. Lily took Richard’s extended arm, and they whisked away to the dance floor. Biff watched them go, his face dark as a thundercloud. He hadn’t missed that Skinny had called her Lil, and she hadn’t told him that she preferred being called Lily. She was definitely going to pay for that, and all the other trouble she had caused for him.
As they reached the dance floor, Lily smiled at Richard. “Thanks for the rescue, Richard.”
He grinned back. “I suspect Biff’s the one who needed the rescue. He didn’t learn much the first time he backed you into a corner! By the way, my name’s Rich.”
She stepped back and looked him over appraisingly, scanning from his feet to his face. “You’ve changed a lot since the last time we talked. And it looks pretty good on you!”
Rich actually blushed. “To be honest, Lily, I should be thanking you. After our last, well… shall we say ‘encounter,’ I realized I didn’t need to be hero-worshipping a bully who tried to beat up girls, and I sure never wanted to get beat up by any girl again! So I stayed away from Biff after that, sent away for the Charles Atlas program, and started thinking for myself, and here I am!”
Lily was just a little bit alarmed. That line about never getting beat up by a girl again — did that mean he wanted revenge? “I hope you didn’t rescue me just to try to get your own revenge,” she said, a warning tone in her voice. “I’ve had enough of that ‘tough guy’ crap for one evening!”
Rich held both hands up. “Honest, Lily, that fight was the best thing that ever happened to me! Anyway, I’m joining up on Monday, and I don’t want to fight against Americans. I want to save my fighting for the Axis!”
“You really have changed, haven’t you, Rich? Say, you brought me out here to dance, didn’t you? So, let’s dance!”
“Just a moment, Lily. You really do need to be careful about Biff. He never talks to me anymore, but I’ve heard he really has it in for you. He could be dangerous.”
Lily was a little amused. “He’s not nearly as dangerous as he thinks he is. He’s hardly bothering to hide his pistol.”
Rich was startled. “He’s packing, now?” Lily nodded. “Well, I’m not surprised. His dad always left guns out all around the house. But how do you know? I don’t see anything.” He stared at Biff for several seconds, but couldn’t notice anything unusual.
“My momma taught me to look for things like that. Tell you what; see if you can figure it out. Say you’re Biff and you want to carry a pistol. But you don’t want anyone to know. What do you do?”
“Well, you wear it under your jacket, I guess. He must be wearing a shoulder holster?”
“Smart boy! Now, is he right- or left-handed? Which shoulder would he wear it on?”
Biff had been the quarterback on the football team, and nobody had ever seen a left-handed quarterback. “Right-handed. So he would want to put it under his left shoulder, huh?”
“A winner every time!” Lily said, smiling. “So, now that you know where it is, can you see it?”
Rich stared some more. Fortunately, Biff was frowning darkly at a shot of whiskey and didn’t notice Rich’s interest. “I still can’t see it, Lily!”
“Actually, Rich, I can’t, either. But I know it’s there. What gave it away? Watch him move,” she suggested.
Biff tossed back his shot and headed for the bar. Rich watched him intently. “His left arm doesn’t hang right. His right hand sometimes bumps his leg when he moves, but his left hand is held out just a little bit from his body. And it looks like he favors the shoulder a little bit.”
“You got it! I would say the holster is a little bit too tight, and it causes him a little discomfort. He ought to get it adjusted by an expert. Or…” And she grinned ironically. “…stop wearing it!”
“Wow! That’s incredible! Why’d you check him out? Did you have some reason to think he had a gun?”
Lily actually blushed a little herself. “Actually, Rich, I sort of notice that kind of thing for everybody, not just Biff. It may never make a difference, but I just like to know.”
“Everyone? You watch everyone around you that closely?” Rich was really very impressed. But Lily shook her head.
“Actually, no. I don’t really need to study anyone. I usually just know. Momma trained me so I do it without even thinking about it. I didn’t really know what gave Biff away until you made me think about it. Somehow my mind just puts all the little clues together, and bingo, I know.” Her expression changed to show some concern.
“Sometimes, I don’t know. Those are the really dangerous people — they’ve learned to conceal all the clues their bodies normally give. That sets off a warning like an air raid siren in my head! Momma told me that if you can’t tell about someone, you should always assume he’s carrying a gun, and that he’s very good with it.”
“Can you teach me?” Rich asked eagerly.
“Not me, surely. My mom could, if you have a couple of months.”
“Darn! Actually, on Monday I’m off to enlist in the Navy. I want to be in submarines!”
Lily looked him over again. “I think they only take short, skinny guys for submarines, Rich. You are probably much too tall! But don’t worry, they’ll find something for you to do! Now, how about that dance you asked for so long ago?”
Neither of them noticed Biff storm out of the hall. He almost knocked down a couple of people, pushing them rudely out of the way. Instead, they danced several dances together, and Lily realized that Rich really had changed, and she liked the new Rich a lot. She invited him to come to the ballgame the next day, and of course he said yes.
Since she did have a game tomorrow, and she really wanted to play well, she decided to call it an early night. Rich asked her if she wanted a ride home, but she had her bike with her. He kissed her hand before she left, which impressed her a lot. Too bad he was going off to war in a few days.