FICTION

The Girl With the Teal Blue Eyes

Her duck shooting was high, deadly and fancy. That was because she was a little shooting fool with an aim that never missed, whether it was a duck — or a man

ERIC ACLAND October 15 1949
FICTION

The Girl With the Teal Blue Eyes

Her duck shooting was high, deadly and fancy. That was because she was a little shooting fool with an aim that never missed, whether it was a duck — or a man

ERIC ACLAND October 15 1949

The Girl With the Teal Blue Eyes

Her duck shooting was high, deadly and fancy. That was because she was a little shooting fool with an aim that never missed, whether it was a duck — or a man

ERIC ACLAND

JOHN TABOR eased forward the safety catch of his gun as a soft rush of wings in the outer darkness whispered of approaching daylight. Narrowing his eyes, he could already make out the outline of the nearest decoys on the black waters.

As he waited, the long fingers of his right hand caressed the inlaid stock of his hammerless gun, a custom-built job by a London gunsmith. He crossed and uncrossed his legs. He was jumpy and he knew it. Come up here to relax, get his mind off bids and contracts and the tensions of business generally. Well, it wasn’t working; that Explorations bid that meant so much to Turbines Inc., John’s company, kept bothering him, returning again and again. Should have left New York in time to get settled down in camp instead of rushing into a duck blind right off the train.

His ears picked up a distant throbbing. Whistlers! He stood and fired as the grey squadron zoomed low over the decoys. First his right—and then his left. A clean miss with both barrels! He scarce had time to reload before a flock of bluebills came down the bay. He got away both barrels again, but too late.

The Labrador retriever turned her eyes from the water to him. “What’s the matter with this guy?” they asked.

“First round for the ducks, dog—just wait a while—you’ll have plenty to do,” he answered.

He spotted a big flock coming in high from the left. Crouching low, his eyes followed the target over the arm of the bay. Two puffs of white smoke broke out on the point.

“The fool,” he muttered as the sound of the shot reached him. “They must be seventy yards out.” The flock veered off, but two of them hit the water. Chagrin at having his shooting spoiled did not entirely drown out his admiration.

“The fellow can shoot, though,” he confided to the dog. She wagged her tail in agreement.

The act was repeated with the next flock that came in. He watched the gunner push a canoe into white water to pick up a cripple. The way the limiter handled the canoe, and the slightness of his figure indicated he was a local youth. That further irritated John Tabor. He made up his mind to speak to old Angus about it. No way to run a camp.

Soon after, the hunter left his blind out on the arm and picked up his decoys, and before paddling off signaled to Tabor. As much as to say, “They’re all yours now, chum.”

John grinned despite himself. “Cheeky little devil, too. But, boy, can he shoot.”

A pair of teal came in and he got them both. It improved his humor to some extent, but when old

Angus came with the outboard to pick him up he had his say.

“That young fellow out on the point . . .” he shouted over the roar of the motor . . . “Shooting at all comers . . . sort of messed up my shoot.” “Sorry about that Mister Tabor . . . I’ll move Frankie to your blind if you wish . . . and you can have the point.” The old Scot cast an apprehensive eye on the two teal in the bottom of the boat. “They come in mighty high over the point though.” John Tabor yanked down the peak of his cap. “You leave that to me, Angus. I can handle ’em.”

HE LEFT old Angus to moor the boat and walked up the path between the giant maples to the lodge. The main room, he thought, looked much larger in daylight and the fire on the hearth was good. He was sitting on a bench by the wall pulling off his waders, when he noticed the legs propped up against the fireplace front. The legs ended in small beaded moccasins, half of them covered by trousers, brown corduroy stuff that had slid down to the knees. By way of being a connoisseur he decided they were nice legs. When he stood to empty the shells from his jacket pockets he raised himself on tiptoe for a squint over the back of the chair. He caught a glimpse of reddish-gold hair.

“Hello ...” the voice from the chair was throaty but nicely modulated. “I suppose you’re Mr. Tabor?”

Startled, he dropped back on his heels and, as he did so, noticed the mirror over the mantel. She had been watching him. He felt slightly ridiculous. “Yes, I am,” he admitted walking to the hearth. The girl measured his lank frame with her eyes. “So . . .”8hesaid. “You’re John Tabor, captain of mining industry.”

He smiled. The color of her eyes. He had seen just that shade of deep blue somewhere. Ah, yes— The blue patch on a teal’s wing.

“You seem surprised,” he said.

“I am . . .” she tossed her cigarette butt into the open fire and lowered her legs, which he thought was a pity. “I expected a man with a bay window, a bald head and, of course, a cigar.”

As he filled his pipe he noticed the green plaid

shirt she was wearing. There must have been green plaid shirts long before plunging necklines became the fashion. Yet the designers hadn’t made much improvement, he thought.

“You haven’t told me who you are yet,” he suggested. She smiled, “I’m Frances Macdowell— Angus Macdowell’s youngest offspring—I am afraid you didn’t have much luck this morning. Too bad, on opening day too—I thought you were shooting under and over that first two flocks that came in—”

John Tabor gaped, stabbing in the general direction of the bay with his pipe stem . . . “You —you must be the Frankie who was out on the point.”

The halo of reddish gold nodded. “Yes, that was me—I hope you don’t think I spoiled your morning shoot.” The implication of the remark was not lost to him. Obviously, she thought he could not hit the side of a flying bam.

This, from a slip of a girl, John Tabor found amusing. Every year since leaving the Air Force he had been high gun in the Skeet Club shoot.

“If you don’t mind a tip—I think you’re too anxious—that over and under habit is a bad one. You get over it with practice though,” she added hopefully.

Tabor lit his pipe very deliberately. He could have told her he had hunted duck from the marshes of China to the Mississippi River bottoms. He decided to let it pass. In the morning she would see what real shooting was.

“Wind’s rising,” old man Macdowell announced when he came in. “If it keeps up should be a good shoot in the morning—I see you folks have introduced yourselves.”

“Yes,” replied Tabor, thrusting his hands in his pockets and rocking back on his heels with a patronizing look at the redhead. “As a matter of fact your daughter has just been giving me some tips on duck hunting.”

Angus Macdowell missed the humor entirely. “Well,” he said. “It’s a subject she knows something about. Funny that, take her three brothers now, off to the city they are and not caring two hoots for the duck season. But Frankie she hasn’t missed a season, except when she was away to the war. Mr. Tabor is taking the point in the morning.”

“With the wind rising off the lake you’ll find them hard to hit off the point—they come in fast and high. What sort of a load are you using?” the girl asked.

“Long range—with one and a quarter ounces of No. 6 shot.”

“Uh-uh,” she shook her head. “Too light—you want at least No. 4 shot out there—carries farther and you get fewer cripples.” He smiled as he tapped his pipe bowl out in the fireplace. “I prefer 6 for ducks, high low or wide,” he said firmly. “Get a better pattern.”

Old Angus evidently thought it time to break in. “How about stirring up one of your fancy toddies, Frankie—Mr. Tabor here is not used to our cold weather and it’ll take the chill out of his bones.”

John Tabor watched the girl until she swung out of sight behind the kitchen door.

THE OLD man was right; the wind did not drop.

In the morning the white caps slapped hard against the side of the boat. f

When the first light came, John Tabor let two flights pass on up the bay, to the girl’s decoys. That was only fair. She had let two pass yesterday. “After this, my girl,” Tabor promised, “there’ll be mighty few ducks for Frankie.”

The next flock came in as though it was jetpropelled—and high too. Taking more care than was normal John let the highfliers have it. The only effect it had was to change their course. He muttered to himself as he slipped in two more shells. A flock of mallards came scudding in from the open water. This time the flock divided at his salvo—-but nothing more. Half of them went directly over Frankie’s blind. She knocked one down and it fell in the reeds.

When she brought it in she raised it at arm’s length over her head. John Tabor could feel her puckish grin even at that distance. So he swore, and tried to grin back.

When they picked her up she had seven to his five, and he found himself trying to avoid the blue eyes.

“You were shooting better today, Mr. Tabor,” she said brightly. “Too bad you didn’t switch to 4’s—they’re hard to reach out there.”

John Tabor said nothing.

That night they played gin-rummy. She talked about everything under the sun except ducks and John Tabor felt she was steering the conversation away from them to spare his feelings. That made him even more irritable and sent him to his bunk early.

Old Angus watched him set out two new boxes of shells ready for morning. “Maybe, Mr. Tabor, you would like the backend of the bay in the morning,” he suggested.

Tabor took the pipe out of his mouth. The girl’s blue eyes were on him and she had a half-smile on her lips.

“No,” he said shortly. “I’ll take the point again.”

IN THF morning it was Joe, the Indian guide, who took him out.

He wanted to ask about Frankie, but remembered he had decided to put the girl out of his mind.

“Mr. Macdowell not about this morning?” he asked instead.

“No” said Joe, yanking at the starter string. “Had to drive over to the station.”

After putting out the decoys the Indian turned the boat and headed off into open water. Frankie must have come out ahead he thought. Immediately he set her out of his mind. Mustn’t let that redhead get under his skin. He was in for a stretch of high and fancy duck shooting.

The first bunch of Northern ducks that came in proved he was right. He got two.

“You’re going to be busy today, girl,” he informed the Labrador when she came back with the first kill. And he was right. Before the morning shoot was over he had his limit. Whistlers, blue bills — mallards — Smarty pantif could cast her blue eyes over that lot and lump it!

Too bad she hadn’t been out to see. There had been no decoys set at the end of the bay.

Old Angus picked him up. “That’s a grand lot of ducks you have, Mr. Tabor. You must ha’ been right on today.”

John grinned. “Makes a difference when a man gets settled,” he said modestly.

Passing the islands he shouted to the old man in the stern. “Frankie not shooting today?”

Angus shook his head. “No—had to go back lo the city—Too bad, the lassie likes her duck hunting—But her Uncle Bill, she works for him—sent a wire and she had to go back.”

For some reason the value of the ducks in the bottom of the boat took a sudden slump in John Tabor’s mind.

The cabin seemed empty and cheerless despite the efforts of the log fire. Tabor fussed about with his gear all evening taking his gun down and putting it together again. There was less than a handful of shells left from the two boxes he had taken out in the morning. He took them out of the box to put them in his coat. It was then he noticed the “4” on the end of one. They were all “4’s!” He looked at the empty box—“Long Range 6’s.” It was his box of shells all right, the full one he had taken out to the blind.

Then he saw the piece of paper in the bottom. It was a note—“See what I mean, John Tabor?” was all it said.

“The little hellion switched shells on me,” he said, half-aloud.”

“What’s that Mr. Tabor?” asked old Angus.

“Nothing—just talking to myself,” said John Tabor, pushing the note in his pocket.

DURING the winter and, more particularly, when the crocuses popped in Central Park, John Tabor began to have Frankie trouble. The only similar symptoms he could recall involved a freckle-faced girl who had sat two seats ahead of him in grade 8. Parties, even good parties, tended to become a bore.

When Fifth Avenue shop windows once more got cluttered up with autumn leaves and post-and-rail fences and Abercrombie and Fitch broke out in a rush of hunter’s red and khaki, John Tabor had to take himself in hand. Twice, in as many days, he dictated a wire to old Angus Macdowell reserving space for opening day and twice he refused to sign it. Each time he tried to tell himself it was ducks he was going after and each time the small voice inside him told him to quit kidding.

Then Friedman called from Chicago. B. J. wasn’t fooling.

“It’s that bid we have in with Explorations Ltd. up in Canada. Been hanging fire almost a year now,” he puffed. “Just heard Michigan Steel have sent Sam Smedley up on the job and we don’t like it, boy. You know Sam.”

Tabor admitted that he did. The big high-pressure windbag.

“We figure this order may eventually mean millions to Turbines Inc.— Michigan Steel are on to it all right and Sam will be putting on the heat—” John Tabor could see the boys sitting around the boardroom table nodding their heads, listening to B. J.

“The way we feel about it, John— we’ve got to bring our heavy guns up fast or we’re going to lose out. The boys think you should take a run up to Montreal yourself.”

“Okay” agreed Tabor. “I’ll get the first plane out in the morning. You’d better wire Explorations.”

“Fine, boy—fine. That’s taken a weight off our shoulders. Say, watch out for Calder, president of Explorations. He’s touglj mining engineer— take a bit of handling.”

“Shall do.”

BAD weather delayed arrival at Dorval by more than an hour so John took a cab straight to the offices of Explorations Ltd. The blonde at the switchboard looked up and stopped chewing gum.

“Yes, Mr. Tabor—” she paused to finger her hair and flick her eyelashes. “Mr. Calder’s secretary has been expecting you—.”

As he pushed open the door a voice came to meet him. It was pleasing, and distinctly familiar.

“You’re late, Mr. Tabor,” it said.

A trim, businesslike female moved towards him from behind the mahogany reception desk. She wore her goldenred hair in ringlets, high on her head, and smiled at him through blue eyes— eyes the color of a teal’s wing patch.

John Tabor’s mouth opened and emitted strange sounds.

“Oh, yes,” she said. “I thought you knew—Mr. Calder is really Uncle Bill. He is waiting for you now.”

John Tabor found himself propelled through the green baize door and into the presence of William Calder.

“Glad you’re here, Tabor,” he growled, thrusting out a big fist. “But I’m afraid it’s too late . . . Ï like the kind of machinery Turbines turn out, but your price is away over our heads ... A long way over ... As a matter of fact we had all but reached a decision and it isn’t favorable to you.” John Tabor watched his man through the cigar smoke. He was certain Calder favored Turbine over Michigan Steel. He’d play his cards face up.

“That’s very disappointing, Mr. Calder. We want this contract and we’re not particular what we make on it. We want to get in on the ground, floor of this development. If you would like our machinery in your mines then we ought to be able to work out a deal that would suit us both.”

“IJh . . . huh,” said William Calder leaning forward. “Go on talking young man.”

An hour later John Tabor walked out with a twenty-four hour reprieve for Turbines Inc. and the right to revise and resubmit their estimates by the next morning.

He found the outer office disappointingly empty. After all, he told himself, it would have been good business to take Miss Macdowell out for lunch. Out of consideration for Turbines Ltd., of course.

ON these grounds he stopped and asked the switchboard girl if Miss Macdowell would be returning. The blonde arched her overpencilled eyebrows and smiled sugar sweet.

“Oh, no—Mr. Tabor. Miss Macdowell has gone to lunch” adding in an over-the-shoulder tone. “She had a luncheon date with Mr. Sam Smedley.” John snorted as he picked up his brief case and darted for the elevator. He called Chicago as soon as he reached his hotel.

“Is Sam Smedley getting anywhere9” was Friedman’s first sally.

“Uh-huh—I think so,” admitted Tabor. “The loud-mouthed so and so!” B. J. was startled. He had never known John Tabor to put so much feeling into a business conversation.

“Well, boy—don’t take it hard. I’ll get the engineers in right away—we’ll cut right down to the bone.”

At five minutes of five John Tabor had his draft revision in the hands of the public stenographer. He looked at his watch, reached for the telephone and put in Explorations’ number. “Miss Macdowell, please.”

“Just a minute, sir.”

Her voice, over the telephone, sounded just as he expected it would, only more so. She was sorry she had not seen him when he left the office, but she had a luncheon engagement.

“That’s all right,” he off-handed. “How about dinner tonight. Be nice to celébrale the contract in advance.” There was a pause. “I’m awfully sorry, Mr. Tabor—but I already have a dinner engagement . . .” another pause, and then. “And look, don’t be too certain about the contract, your opposition, I’m afraid, has it all over Turbines like a tent ... on price, I mean.” Another pause. “But I’m glad you called ... I would like your revised estimates first thing in the morning ... so I can have copies made for the Board meeting.”

John Tabor dined alone. Afterward he wandered about the lobby for a time then bought The Times at the newsstand and retreated to his room.

Ho read the financial page and wondered if she was dining with Sam Smedley. Then he read the sports pages . . . and wondered the same thing. Halfway through the foreign news he wondered what a girl like that could see in a windbag like Smedley Finally, he threw the newspaper on the bed and reached for his shoes. Might as well go and look for some life as sit and moon over somebody’s private secretary.

He was following the Normandy Roof head waiter when he spotted the green dress on the dance floor. Green when you looked at it from one angle and silverish when you looked at if. from another. Whichever way, what was in it looked good. Then his eyes, traveling upward, saw the red-gold hair and, beside it, Sam Smedley’s full-moon face.

The music stopped and he could see they were going to pass his table.

“Hi-ya, John, boy,” said Sam. “How did they pry you loose from New York — with the shows just starting?”

John ignored that one and the band saved him.

“Perhaps—I might have one dance,” he suggested.

“Oh, yes,” said Frankie. “I’m sure Sam won’t mind. Will you, Sam?”

OUT on the floor she rested her head on his left lapel.

“Nice dress,” he said.

“Thank you, sir,” she replied “They call it. ‘Elfin Green’ . . . but it’s really the color of a mallard drake’s head.”

“The season opens next week,” he said. “Going up for opening day?” “Why, of course,” she paused. “And you?”

“All depends on how I make out with Explorations Ltd.”

She didn’t, comment on that, but gave her full attention to the music.

“Look,” he said “1 thought you didn’t care for men with bay windows — bald heads and cigar smokers.”

“I didn’t say that

“Oh, yes, you did. At the Lodge that first day when I came in.”

“Person’s taste can change in a year.”

Rack at their table he thanked her for the dance. “Think nothing of it Johnny boy,” Sam butted in. “Just chalk it up to Michigan Steel, eh Frankie?”

In the morning, while the uniformed messenger boy stood by, picking his teeth. John Tabor sat in his dressing gown scribbling a note to enclose with the estimates. “Dear Miss Macdowell: Please call mv room when Mr. Calder is ready to see me. 1 hope the attached is in good order. Yours very truly, John Tabor.” On rereading it looked" too curt so he added a P.S. “How about lunch? I am taking ap cigar smoking, the best l cap6b on short notice.”

Two packs of--eigarettes later the telephone rang.

“Good morning, Mr. Tabor,”—her voice had a correct Explorations Ltd. intonation. “Mr. Calder and the Board of Directors arc ready to see you— could you come over immediately?” “Yes, I’ll be right over . . .”

She was waiting for him in the outer office, trim with efficiency and

“Thank you. Mr. Tabor.”

“How about that luncheon . . . hello . . hello . . .”

“Yes, Mr. Tabor?” ... it was the switchboard blonde. “Do you wish me to connect you again?”

“No!” he shouted, reaching for his hat.

His hopes went down even faster than the hotel elevator. Obviously she knew Turbines Ltd. hadn't a chance and was avoiding him.

with a black folder in her hand.

“They’re waiting for you. I had copies of your revised estimate prepared,” she said, giving him the binder. He started to say he had a copy in his brief case, but by then she had the boardroom door open.

Old man Calder was using words the way a man drills hard-rock. “Good effort of yours, Tabor—to meet our budget. Hoped from the outset to be able to use Turbines’ equipment. Your cut of $20,000 most gratifying . . .” John Tabor opened his mouth to correct the figure to $50,000, but the chairman was going on in a manner of a man who is not used to being interrupted.

“We are unanimous in the opinion . . that Turbines should get the order . . at your revised price of $300,000. It will be necessary for your engineers to . . .”

Tabor reached for his brief case. There it was in black and white. “Revised total cost $270,000.”

He opened the folder Frankie had given him. A neat, accurate copy, except it read . . . “Revised total $300,000.” He closed the folder, ran a finger around the inside of his collar and tried to focus his attention on Calder’s talk.

IN THE outer office he found Frankie alone, staring out of the window. “You changed those figures,” he accused. “Nearly made a fool of me in front of the Board—that’s even worse than switching a man’s shells.”

She was dabbing at her nose with a handkerchief. “I know I did—it wasn’t fair to poor Mr. Smedley—and he’s such a nice man.”

John Tabor edged closer—to look out ot the window . In the square, fifteen stories down, pigeons were zooming on and off Queen Victoria’s regal stone head.

“Why did you do it then?” “Because—because Uncle Will would never have approved so large a cut—it would have made him suspicious—and —and—because you’re such an over and under fool. John.”

She turned toward him and neither of them were watching the old Queen and the pigeons. He kissed her forehead where the red-gold started. Then he kissed one ear.

“Oh—John—you arc such an over and under fool—”

Then he kissed her on the lips . . He was continuing to do so thirty seconds later when a noise like that of a displeased bull moose came from behind.

“Fir f. . umph!” it went again. John tmwfbd about still holding Frankie. It .Xas Uncle Will.

“What is going on here!” roared Uncle Will.

“Well, sir,” Tabor fumbled . . . “We’re just planning some duck shooting.”

“Duck shooting! is that what

they call it now.”

“Yes, Uncle Will,” Frankie came to the rescue. “John is just going out to buy shells loaded for duck—4’s.” “6’s.” corrected John Tabor.

“4’s,” said Frankie firmly.

John Tabor’s right hand left the region of Frankie’s waist and, describing a half circle, came down smartly on that portion of her anatomy admirably designed, among ether things, to fit the thwarts of a duckboat.

“6’s,” he repeated as he made contact. Uncle Will, muttering, retreated back into his board room. And Frankie, who had always dreamed of being married in the village kirk when the northern ducks were coming in, capitulated. She had already ordered enough shells for two to shoot out the season— 4’s.