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But a Short Time to Live

by James Hadley Chase

The fat woman smiled self-consciously at Harry as he gave her the card. It was a pity, he thought, that she had let herself go. Her uncared for hair straggled from under a hat that didn’t suit her, her eyes were heavy and tired, and there was a shine on her face that made you think she had just this  moment finished cooking a stodgy, uninteresting meal. But she seemed pleased that Harry had photographed her, and she read the card carefully before putting it in her bag.

“And to think I didn’t see you,” she said as she closed the
bag. “I bet I’ll look a proper fright.”
“No, you won’t,” Harry returned. “People always look their best when they don’t know they’re being photographed. It will be ready by tomorrow afternoon. There’s no obligation to buy, only I hope you’ll go along and see it.”
“Oh, I’ll go,” the woman said. “Link Street’s somewhere near the Palace Theatre, isn’t it?”
“That’s right. First turning on the left as you go up Old Compton Street.”

She thanked Harry and gave him a smile. Some of the lost prettiness came back like a transparency you hold up to the light, and as she walked away, she tucked up the strands of hair that escaped from under her hat.

That was the last photograph for the day. Thank goodness for that, Harry thought as he wound off the film, slipped the spool into its metal case and put the case in his pocket. He felt chilly and tired. To be on your feet for four hours at a stretch wasn’t so bad if the sun shone and people were pleased to be
photographed, but today heavy clouds had hung over the West End and there had been a cold East wind.

The crowds moving in a steady stream up and down Regent Street weren’t in the mood to be photographed, and some of them had scowled at Harry and his camera, refusing to take his cards, or if they did, threw them away after an indifferent glance. He had taken over a hundred photographs and considered he would be lucky if twenty-five of them found buyers.

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