So Peter waited, and listened to the horrible sounds of people in agony, and pleading with others to put them out of it. Peter heard voices of men giving orders, and realized that these must be policemen, and that no doubt there would be ambulances coming. Maybe there was something the matter with him, and he ought to crawl out and get himself taken care of. All of a sudden Peter remembered his stomach; and his wits, which had been sharpened by twenty years’ struggle against a hostile world, realized in a flash the opportunity which fate had brought to him. He must pretend to be wounded, badly wounded; he must be unconscious, suffering from shock and shattered nerves; then they would take him to the hospital and put him in a soft bed and give him things to eat—maybe he might stay there for weeks, and they might give him money when he came out.
Or perhaps he might get a job in the hospital, something that was easy, and required only alert intelligence. Perhaps the head doctor in the hospital might want somebody to watch the other doctors, to see if they were neglecting the patients, or perhaps flirting with some of the nurses—there was sure to be something like that going on. It had been that way in the orphans’ home where Peter had spent a part of his childhood till he ran away. It had been that way again in the great Temple of Jimjambo, conducted by Pashtian el Kalandra, Chief Magistrian of Eleutherinian Exoticism. Peter had worked as scullion in the kitchen in that mystic institution, and had worked his way upward until he possessed the confidence of Tushbar Akrogas, major-domo and right hand man of the Prophet himself.
Wherever there was a group of people, and a treasure to be administered, there Peter knew was backbiting and scandal and intriguing and spying, and a chance for somebody whose brains were “all there.” It might seem strange that Peter should think about such things, just then when the earth had opened up in front of him and the air had turned to roaring noise and blinding white flame, and had hurled him against the side of a building and dropped the bleeding half of a woman’s body across his chest; but Peter had lived from earliest childhood by his wits and by nothing else, and such a fellow has to learn to use his wits under any and all circumstances, no matter how bewildering. Peter’s training covered almost every emergency one could think of; he had even at times occupied himself by imagining what he would do if the Holy Rollers should turn out to be right, and if suddenly Gabriel’s trumpet were to blow, and be were to find himself confronting Jesus in a long white night-gown.
Peter’s imaginings were brought to an end by the packing-box being pulled out from the wall. “Hello!” said a voice.
Peter groaned, but did not look up. The box was pulled out further, and a face peered in. “What you hidin’ in there for?”