by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 4

Although he'd now lived with his foster parents for several months, Mort still couldn't work out why they'd married. They seemed even less suited to each other than his grandparents had been before the cops pushed her. Amy and Leo almost never spoke to each other, and then only in the most general terms. Leo was always pleasant and understanding to her and everyone else, but she never unwound enough to even smile.

Mort talked about everything with Leo, telling him about himself and his interests, secure in the knowledge he wouldn't be ridiculed. Yet it didn't work the other way; there seemed to be an invisible shell around Leo. When asked a question he always answered pleasantly unless it was personal, when he would pretend not to hear and change topic. Increasingly, he seemed distracted, almost sad, and Mort had to control an urge to wrap his arms around him and give him the sort of hug his grandfather had given him. This would start Mort thinking about his Grandpa and he'd struggle not to cry, even though Leo had told him that if a man cries with genuine feeling it indicates a good character. More than anything Mort longed to have a relationship with Leo as uncomplicated and mutually supportive as he'd had with his grandfather.

Amy was very different. She was distant. Not interested in him, which he conceded was fair enough as it was Leo who had insisted on fostering him because of his friendship with Shrude. What was beginning to seriously concern him was Amy's lack of concern for Fystie. Her son was a great person, despite his crazy muscles and slack jaw and tongue that kept getting in the way when he talked. He was incredibly brave, but had recently been crying silently sometimes because of the pain. His hands kept bending at the wrists and sometimes his feet started to point like a dancer. He could still walk — usually, but his body sometimes twisted alarmingly and someone always had to stay close to stop him falling.

Amy would never walk with him, she'd just plonk him into his wheelchair, strap him in and tell him to push himself around and keep out of her way. But his muscles often wouldn't obey him and he didn't get very far. When the pain got so bad he could hardly breathe she'd give him strong painkillers and a sleeping pill, so he became dopey. Leo got angry when she did that and they'd shout about it, but he wasn't home all the time.

Mort hated it when they shouted. All he wanted was a home like in a story he'd read. Warm and peaceful and loving. Never any arguments. Like he'd had with his grandfather. He determined to have a home like that when he grew up, and nothing would stop him. And if he married it would be with someone he loved until death and who loved him the same, no matter what he did.

Amy's increasing distaste for her constantly active, irritatingly even tempered and, as she unfairly put it, exhibitionist husband, added to their marital strain along with the worry of how to cope with their disabled son. Shortly before Mort arrived to occupy the third bedroom, she had used the excuse of Leo's erratic hours and Fystie's special needs, to move out of their bedroom and double bed, taking Fystie' slightly smaller, but much quieter and more pleasant bedroom at the rear of the house. Fystie's large barred cot, which prevented him from falling out of bed as he slept, had been placed next to Leo's double bed. There wasn't a lot of room left.

Cerebral palsy: cause unclear but it probably happens in the womb or during birth when something such as infection or lack of oxygen damages the infant's nervous system. Boys, premature or low weight babies, and twins have the highest risk of this terrible affliction in which conflicting signals are sent to the muscles. Instead of one muscle contracting and its opposite number relaxing, enabling a joint to flex correctly, both muscles might contract or relax at the same time, causing a spastic reaction; opening a hand instead of keeping it closed so things drop; making legs and arms jerk uncontrollably; causing the tongue, which is almost pure muscle, to behave erratically preventing speech. As if this isn't bad enough, muscles can continuously contract, pulling the body and limbs out of shape, twisting the spine, crippling the legs, forcing the feet to point down making walking difficult or impossible, or the hands to bend painfully towards the wrist preventing useful manual activity; even feeding oneself.

Some sufferers get off relatively lightly and can live more or less normal lives with assistance and a few aids, with little change in their condition over the years. Fystie wasn't one of them. His muscle spasticity increased as he grew, and became increasingly painful. At times he turned dreadfully pale and sweat poured from every pore as he strove to blank out the agony until it passed. Almost never did a sound escape him even during the worst episodes, but he couldn't conceal the physical effects that left him exhausted. He never complained, and understood and forgave strangers who made jokes about his deformed body, incomprehensible speech and jerky movements. He blamed no one, least of all his mother.

He was an intelligent lad who was reading by the time he was four, and could hold his own in argument and conversation with a witty turn of phrase and sharp observations. Sadly, few discovered this side of the boy, being too embarrassed to look at his slack jaw, lips drawn back with effort, spittle-drenched teeth and clumsy tongue while he struggled manfully to communicate.

Leo invariably understood the sense, if not every word his son uttered, and always let him finish his thoughts no matter how long they took to express. Amy was impatient and never let him finish, always interrupting and saying what she imagined Fystie wanted to say — which was what she would have said in the circumstances and bore no relation to the multitude of intricate thoughts inhabiting her clever son's brain.

Fystie was eight when the full significance of his condition hit him. The knowledge that there was no hope of release from the prison of his deformed and uncontrollable body seemed to eat a great hole in his chest and belly. He couldn't eat, think or speak and remained withdrawn for several weeks. The boy who emerged from this agony of introspection was cool, determined and eerily calm. Every spare minute was spent on the Internet reading everything he could find about and around his condition, and he joined Internet groups formed by other CP sufferers, where he made several acquaintances whose lives seemed to be as bad as his. Most were many years older, and filled his head with ideas Leo hoped weren't too extreme.

When Mort arrived, Fystie had for the first time in his life a real friend, and Leo was relieved to once again hear the chortling laughter of his son. Mort scoured the local library and brought home whatever books Fystie asked for and they read them together, played board games, went exploring the local area, down to the drain, the small park and sometimes even as far as the beach.

There had been no educational centre for disabled children near where Leo and his family lived, so when it was time to go to school they moved to their present house near such a school. There, Fystie felt less of a monster but didn't find an intellectual equal, even among the staff who were caring but overworked with no time or desire to socialise with their pupils.

Amy's natural urges had allowed her to treat Fystie with love and care until he was three, but when he reached school age and she reluctantly accepted there was no cure, no hope of improvement and things might possibly get worse, the differences between her boy and those of her friends were too great to ignore.

Imagining they were being kind, her friends ignored Fystie's disability, but covertly exchanged glances and took care that their own progeny did not to get too close to the wide-mouthed, spittle-spraying, flailing-armed monstrosity. Such insensitivity sowed anger in Amy's bosom. Anger that mutated to distaste and loathing — not for her friends, but for the innocent child. When called on to bathe him, change his soiled underwear, even wipe away mucus and saliva, her distaste was so obvious Fystie shuddered and tried to withdraw when she came too close.

His wife's aversion to their son was distressing for Leo, but she was immune to all pleas for compassion. The boy should have been put down at birth and that was the end of the matter. If Leo wanted to sacrifice his life for a monster, that was his choice, but left to her the kid would be put into a home and forgotten about.

Mort had been a godsend. Nothing about Fystie's problems disturbed him. The first day they met they liked each other and decided to be friends for life. Although Fystie's condition had worsened somewhat since that promise, it didn't occur to Mort to behave differently. He calmly accepted the facts and got on with being the best friend he could. When Fystie's muscles gave him pain, Mort was ready with oil and a gentle massage, the benefits of which were perhaps more psychological than physical, but of benefit they surely were. The two boys had no secrets, enjoyed the same quirky jokes, and behaved as best friends should.

One night, shortly after he came to live with Leo and Amy, Mort was sleeping in Leo's bed because he was working late, when Fystie gave a cry of pain, his body contorting in agony. Mort climbed in beside him and hugged him tightly, preventing him from lashing out at the bed rails and damaging himself. Fystie eventually calmed and Mort removed his sweat and urine drenched pyjamas, carefully led him to the shower, getting in with him, then after drying them both, took his friend into his own bed, where Leo found him asleep in Mort's arms.

Amy was unusually cheerful when Mort arrived home with his bandaged head. Their favourite meals were prepared and ready in the fridge for them to microwave when they were hungry.

'You look very pretty,' Mort informed her diplomatically, while agreeing silently with his dead grandfather that too much lipstick and too few clothes were probably a sign of desperation. A car horn was the signal for her to peck Fystie on the cheek, take up her purse and leave.

Fystie, who was in his wheelchair in front of a blank computer screen, pulled a wry face. 'What brought that on?'

'No idea, but it's a welcome change.'

'Thank goodness you're home. My stupid hands are twitching too much to even turn this thing on, let alone press the right keys.'

Over their meal Mort told Fystie about pissing in his teacher's chair. Fystie nearly threw himself onto the floor in delight. Both laughed till tears ran.

'You'll have to come to my school now,' Fystie shouted.

'Can't, I have to be disabled.'

'I reckon not being able to hold your piss should count, and not suffering horrible teachers, and being stuck with me must rank as a very severe disability,' he grinned.

'And I must be a mental cripple if I sometimes sleep with a dribbling spastic kid.'

Fystie nearly choked on his tongue from laughter. 'You make it sound as if we have sex. Like in those videos we watched. Leo saw that last one in my downloads folder, just after you left for school.'

'Shit! What'd he say?'

Just that they didn't look very fit. And if that's all it took to be a porn actor he'd have a go himself.'

'He wasn't shocked?'

'Not at all, just told me they faked having all those orgasms in one session. In reality the film is shot over several days, and even the cum is often detergent they squeeze through a thin tube. I can't wait to have an orgasm. I wonder what it feels like. He says most kids don't have them till they're eleven or twelve.'

'Your cock gets stiff enough.'

'Look who's talking!'

'I think I nearly had one watching Leo at the Gymnasium this afternoon.'

'He's good eh?'

'Fantastic. Then Hugh kissed him on the lips for a long time, and then he kissed me too. My cocks getting stiff again thinking about it. You'll have to suck me off.'

'You can kiss my bum!'

Both boys rolled around giggling at ideas and images they barely comprehended, but which sounded adult and exciting.

'You know it mightn't be such a stupid idea,' Mort gasped when he could stop laughing.

'What? Kissing my bum or being a porn star?'

'Going to your school. You learn everything we do at ours, so I could do my schoolwork, then help them with you and the others at lunch times and after school.'

'You'd hate it. Not many of the kids are as handsome and attractive as me... most are either dumb or brain damaged. You can't have a conversation with them, all they want to do is play pathetic games.'

'Fystie!' Mort said in mock shock. 'You're an intellectual snob!'

''Fraid so.'

'And here I thought I was unique!'

They grinned at each other. Mort wiped snot and saliva from his friend's face and hands before playing a game of chess, moving Fystie's pieces for him, then they showered together so Mort could clean all the parts Fystie couldn't reach — which seemed to be increasing daily. As always when in the house alone, Mort slept in Leo's bed in case Fystie needed him.

On Sunday morning Hugh drove the four friends several kilometres along a dusty road to a farm belonging to one of his ex-lovers with whom he'd remained on good terms. The sky was overcast, the air hot, the water in the stony waterhole cool and clear, and within a minute there was a pile of clothes on the bank and four naked males splashing, diving and swimming. Fystie was a different person in the water. Relieved of gravity's burden, his aches receded and he was able to pull himself through the supporting liquid, his deformed body unseen. Not that he felt embarrassed with these people, but when only his head was visible he could pretend the rest was like everybody else's.

Mort was a natural swimmer, having been taught by his grandfather. Diving off rocks, swimming between legs, disappearing from one place and surfacing in another while Fystie worried he'd drowned. They'd brought sandwiches and soft drinks, and after a quick meal Leo lifted Fystie carefully into his sling, slung it over his shoulders and, after climbing over the fence that protected the area around the swimming hole, they set off up hill in the hope of finding a view back down to the city.

The walk was neither beautiful nor uplifting. Cattle had eaten everything they could reach, leaving dead scrub, debarked trees, and great piles of shit that fed marsh flies that zoomed silently in for a meal. One with huge green eyes managed to take a bite from Leo's foreskin. Mosquitoes arrived baying for blood, and a pair of squawking parrots told them they had no business being there. They never got high enough to see anything interesting and the stench of a dead kangaroo sent them laughing and slapping their bodies back to the pool for another dip.

During supper that evening at Hugh's, they discussed the idea of Mort going to Fystie's school.

Hugh grinned in astonishment. 'You're an odd kid, that's for sure. Well, you can only ask.'

Leo shook his head. 'We'll have to be more subtle than that. I know the principal; she brings some kids to exercise in the pool at the gym. And one of her staff members belongs to my aerobics group. She's nice enough, but a stickler for rules. You'll have to make yourself indispensable, Mort, like I did at the gym. Take Fystie to school, then ask if you can stay for the day because you're changing schools and have nothing else to do. Make yourself useful so she asks you back, then after a couple of days if you still want to stay there, make your suggestion as if you've just thought of it.

Mort practised his spiel on Fystie during their short walk to school. 'Reckon she'll be convinced?'

'You're a born con man.'

'Thanks, and pushing you to school every day in this thing will make me as fit as Leo, so one day everyone will want to watch me dance naked like him.'

'You're already fit and he doesn't dance naked.'

'Almost. Have you seen his pouch?'

'I helped him make it.'

'Great! Then you can help him with the one he said he'd make for me. Here we are, which way do we go?'

Nerves had made Mort arrive very early, so the school was empty except for three teachers who could be seen through classroom windows. After parking Fystie in a sheltered area under trees next to seats and playground equipment, he helped him out of his chair, then went and knocked firmly at the door labelled "Administration".

'Come in.'

'Good morning, Mrs. Dominint, I'm Mortaumal, Fystie's foster brother. I've brought him to school because…'

'I hope nothing's happened to Leo?'

'No, he's fine. I…'

'Why didn't he bring him as usual, and why aren't you at school?'

Mort was already losing the thread of his carefully prepared presentation, so frowned in concentration. 'That's why I'm here. You see…'

'You're the young lad who micturated on Mrs. Pettit's chair! Aren't you?'


'Relieved himself. Piddled…' She pulled a face to conceal a smile.

'Yes, Miss, but…'

'I thought you'd been badly injured and were in hospital.'

'No, Miss, I only had three stitches. But you see…'

'Have you told the school you're not dying?' Mrs. Dominint had given up trying not to smile.

'No, Miss, you see I'm not going back there.'

'Why not? You'd be a hero.'

This was something Mort had not considered, however he valiantly chose to stick to his prepared spiel. 'Leo and I thought it would be better to spare Mrs. Pettie the embarrassment.'

'How noble. But I doubt that embarrassment is an emotion with which Mrs. Pettie has any familiarity, which is a pity as she would derive some benefit from it.'

Mort had no idea what the woman was talking about and was in danger of being totally sidetracked, so doggedly returned to script. 'The point is, Mrs. Dominint, I think it would be better if I found a new school, and while I'm searching I hoped I could spend the day here to be of assistance to Fystie and the other pupils.'

Mrs. Dominint held her tongue, while allowing her eyes to register disbelief.

Before despair at the apparent hopelessness of his mission overwhelmed him, Mort nervously ploughed on. 'I look after Fystie a lot of the time at home, you see, because Leo's so busy, and Amy is often at work or out. I feed him, shower and toilet him, we talk all the time and play chess, and go on the internet, and laugh and I put him to bed and massage him if he hurts too much and...' tears were welling in his earnest eyes and he had to stop and swallow. 'And he is my bestest friend and…' His throat seemed to close and he couldn't continue. He'd done his utmost, so took a deep breath, blew his nose and impatiently wiped his cheeks before looking manfully into the Principal's eyes; his grandfather having warned him not to trust men who won't look you in the eye.

'Can you really understand what Fystie is saying well enough to have a conversation?'

'Of course I can, he speaks as good as anyone. He's much cleverer than me, can even beat me at chess. And he makes me laugh all the time.'

'And you love him.' It was a statement, not a question, so Mort felt no embarrassment in agreeing.

'You'll have to go back to your old school because there's no other school handy, and even if there were, how would you find it if you're here all day? Do you realise that if you don't go to school Leo will be accused of being a bad parent and you'll be taken away from him.'

A freezing chill enveloped the boy. 'No!' he whispered with such intensity of feeling Mrs. Dominint shuddered. 'Leo is the nicest man in the world. I can't... they can't… I…'

Mort's thoughts churned. His plan wasn't working so he'd try the direct approach – one he'd have preferred anyway, only trying the other because Leo had suggested it. 'Well, Miss, if there's no other school, can I come to this one and at interval and lunchtime I can help you. And if the teachers are busy I can help other kids with their work and…' he ran out of ideas.

I'm sure you would be of great help to Fystie, but he's the only CP student. The rest have different problems.'

'What's CP?'

'Cerebral Palsy, what Fystie has. It's terrible for him, especially as he's so quick and intelligent. This is not the ideal environment for him, but at least here he doesn't get laughed at like he did at his previous school.' Mrs. Dominint shook her head sadly.

'What's wrong with the other kids?'

'Oh, a range of difficulties, mental as well as physical. Two boys spend most of their time in wheelchairs, unable to move even as well as Fystie, the rest of the pupils are reasonably active. All have learning difficulties, but we love them and do our best to make their lives happy and productive.'

'I could help them play games and stuff too.'

'It's a tempting offer, Mortaumal, but we don't have time to spend teaching one person.'

'You wouldn't have to teach me, just give me the exercises and I'll work out how to do them with Fystie, and Leo can help me at home and I'll be no trouble, you can teach me when you teach the other kids. I'll…'

'Won't you miss your friends at the main school?'

'I don't have any friends except Fystie. I've never had any. Only Grandpa and Leo. Other kids don't like me much. They bully me because I'm a bit small and they reckon I've got yellow skin, but I haven't, have I?'

'No, you have a light tan and look extremely fit and healthy. What do Amy and Leo think about this idea? '

'Amy isn't interested, and Leo thinks it's a good idea. He doesn't want me to go back to that school, and hopes that if I'm here I'll be able to make Fystie happier, because although he laughs a lot he isn't really happy. He's worried all the time when I'm not there. And he's sometimes in pain and...'

The interview was out of his control. Mort realised he had three options: give up, burst into tears and plead, or try to reason with the woman. Fighting back despair he asked as reasonably as he could manage, 'Please, Miss, can you enrol and teach me here just for a while and see if it works? I'll work very hard, do anything you want. Look after some of the kids at lunchtime and after school?'

'I wouldn't have to enrol you. Because although we're several kilometres from your old school, we're run by the same administration, and have the same principal. But I can't make a decision like this on my own; there are three other teachers who must be consulted, as they will be affected.'

'Can you ask them now? It's still early. Please?'

'If you look out the window, you will see cars arriving bringing pupils. Their parents usually want to speak to me, and the other teachers are busy from now until lunchtime. Go and spend the morning with Fystie and the others and see what it's like, then come back here at lunchtime and we'll discuss it with the other staff members. However, you must promise to abide by their decision and not argue or keep pestering us.'

Mort's relief was visible. He smiled and promised that if they didn't want him he'd go back to Mrs. Pettie.'

Mort enjoyed the morning. No one told him he was a yellow-skin runt, shoved him around or made him feel stupid. When he crossed paths with the adults they smiled pleasantly. There were twenty-two pupils, ranging in age from five to seventeen. Fystie introduced him to everyone as his brother and they played with a ball until the chimes sounded to go inside. He then wandered around looking at what everyone was doing, showing interest, admiring, and on two occasions holding something while it was being glued.

At interval, Mort had fun playing ball with Fystie and a girl with a very narrow face and prominent teeth who, when she had the ball, instead of throwing it at one of them, would suddenly swing around and throw it in the opposite direction and then look surprised. No one minded. No one laughed at Fystie for his funny walk or incomprehensible speech; indeed, several children listened to him politely as if they understood. A fat little boy held Mort's hand and smelled his fingers. A larger lad told him a story about a fish, and when they were all inside again with everyone concentrating on different tasks in more or less silence, he felt sure he would be happier here than in the aggressive, competitive atmosphere of the main school.

During interval Mrs. Dominint explained Mortaumal's request to the other three teachers; Miss Glee, a round and jolly bottle-blond in a flowered sun frock; Mrs. Kind, grey haired, lean, serious with a tight mouth and straight back, wearing a grey trouser suit; and Mr. Brawn, tall, powerfully built with a barrel chest, powerful calves. A floppy T-shirt, tartan knee-length shorts and canvass boat shoes gave a sporty look, and a shaven head rendered his large round face more jolly than threatening. He confessed to thirty, but the women suspected forty was nearer the mark.

'Mortaumal Aywun…' he said with a thoughtful frown. 'The name rings a bell. How come he arrived here on his own? And why's he living with Fystie's family?'

'He was living with his grandparents, you must have heard of the Aywuns, market gardeners. Refugees from somewhere in South East Asia... Laos I think... or could have been Cambodia… somewhere there. His grandmother suffered brain damage. Some say the police beat her and others say the husband did it. Whatever the truth, she's now gaga in a nursing home and the Grandfather died about a year ago.'

'Where's his mother?'

'No one knows.'

'Aywun,' Miss Glee said with a frown. I went to school with Perdita Aywun. I wonder if it was her? She was a strange little thing. Not bad looking but no one liked her. Rumour had it she'd go with boys to the tin shed behind the supermarket and... you know, do it.'

'Have intercourse, do you mean?' Mrs. Dominint sounded irritated.

'Yeah. It's silly how difficult it is to say that.'

'Not silly, criminal. The refusal of adults to speak openly, frankly and truthfully to children about sex is the cause of a great deal of misery.'

'What happened to her?'

'She got herself pregnant and left school.'

'She didn't get herself pregnant, virgin births are a myth.'

'You know what I mean.'

'Yes, blame the girls.'

'Sorry. According to gossip, she gave birth in the hospital and the next morning took off. Not been heard of since... although I suppose she contacted her parents otherwise the cops would have been advertising.'

'Not necessarily, thousands of teenagers run away from home every year, and many aren't reported. Most come home after a while. The cops stay out of it unless there's a public scandal.'

'That means Mortaumal could be…'

'Anything could be,' Mrs. Dominint said with a sigh, 'but it's not our business. You now know everything I know. Mortaumal will repeat everything to you at lunchtime, and then you can decide what to do. Has he been a nuisance so far?'

'The opposite,' Mr. Brawn said firmly. 'He got Augustus, who hasn't uttered a word for weeks, to laugh and talk about the drawing he's been engaged with for the last week; made me feel a tad superfluous.'

Mrs. Dominint sniffed as if she agreed.

At lunchtime, Mort knocked nervously on Mrs. Dominint's office door. She handed him a biscuit and a cup of weak tea that he managed to spill as he sat down. The teachers came in, smiled at him and sat in the three remaining chairs. Mrs. Dominint, in the chair behind her desk, formally introduced Mortaumal, then asked him to tell the teachers exactly what he'd told her, including how he cared for Fystie.

When he'd finished and answered their questions, the principal sat back in her chair in silence, as if determined not to influence her staff.

Miss Glee turned to Mort and smiled. 'Wouldn't you sooner be playing cops and robbers and computer games with children in the other school instead of worrying about disadvantaged children?'

'I don't worry about them, Miss Glee,' Mort replied thoughtfully. 'Fystie is my friend, so it's fun to do things with him, and I didn't like being at the other school, and I hate Mrs. Pettie, so this can only be better.'

'Goodness, an honest young man,' Mr. Brawn laughed. He had a warm, gentle voice that made Mort smile with him.

'Please don't take offence, Mortaumal,' Mrs. Kind said slowly, but I can't help wondering if you're a little too young for such a responsibility.'

'A few years ago,' Mrs. Dominint interrupted before Mort could respond, 'I was on a teacher exchange program to a school in rural India. Two years before I arrived, the village had no school, so a nine year-old boy wrote letters to officials, collected signatures from the locals, raised money from a few large businesses, organised textbooks and interviewed a young teacher. He also found a suitable room for the classes, organised the rent and cleaning, and kept the accounts. Mortaumal is eleven years old and has proven himself responsible. We render our children infantile by not trusting them to take responsibility, by not being honest about our aims and opinions, and by thus forcing them to be dependent instead of self sufficient.'

Mr. Brawn nodded his head vigorously. 'I agree with you Angelica. I'll be very happy with any assistance you can give me, Mortaumal. I've not been able to get close to Fystie, nor understand much of what he says, so already you've proven yourself useful. And I'm sure you'll soon get the trust of the other boys.'

'I'm for it,' Miss Glee announced decisively. 'It'll be no trouble to set you work at your level and check it.'

Mrs. Kind added her approval and asked Mrs. Dominint's opinion.

'I think Mortaumal could be quite an asset to us,' she said carefully. 'So I'd like to enrol him as a pupil/assistant for a trial period.'

Mort's eyes shone. 'I won't let you down.'

'If you do, I'll send you back to Mrs. Pettie,' she said with mock seriousness, and the others laughed. 'But I still have to get the permission of the Principal.' She picked up the phone, made her request, listened, smiled and replaced the receiver.

'You can stay here as long as I find you useful, but we must have a letter from your foster father confirming his permission.'

'Thanks, Mrs. Dominint, you're a good persuader.'

'Not especially, they were as relieved to be shot of you as you were to leave them. So everyone's satisfied.' Her eyes crinkled in what Mort assumed was a smile, and he relaxed for the first time that day.

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