Dell Shannon

Exploit of Death


The Mendozas were on the way home. They had had an enjoyable, if tiring, five weeks' vacation, touring England and Scotland after a week in London. They had visited Bateman's, Rudyard Kipling's old home, and seen Pook's Hill. They had dutifully visited all the tourist attractions and they had called on Mairi MacTaggart's cousin Jennie in Inverness. They were both tired and it would be good to be home. Louis had needed a vacation, reflected Alison sleepily. But half the fun of going away somewhere was coming home. It seemed years since they had been home-since they had seen the twins, Johnny and Terry, and tomorrow was the twins' sixth birthday-and the baby Luisa would be a year old in a few weeks-and the cats and Cedric, the Old English sheepdog, and of course Mairi, the surrogate grandmother, and the Kearneys, and even the Five Graces, the sheep Ken Kearney had recommended for eating down the underbrush. It would be nice to get home to the big Spanish hacienda in the hills above Burbank, La Casa de la Gente Feliz, the house of happy people.

They had flown from New York this morning and had a two-hour wait at O'Hare Airport in Chicago for a flight to Los Angeles; when the flight was announced, there was quite a crowd of passengers flocking down the tunnel to board. The Mendozas were in the middle of the little crowd as the stewardess ushered them down the aisle of the big jet. The seats were in tiers of three across each side of the aisle, and there was a girl sitting in the window seat of the three the stewardess indicated.

Alison sat down in the middle seat next to her and Mendoza took the seat next to the aisle. The girl gave them a shy, tentative smile. She was a very pretty girl in the mid-twenties with a neat cap of smooth, dark hair, a pert triangular kitten face with a tip-tilted nose, and a wide, friendly mouth. Alison had noticed her before on the flight from New York, sitting several rows ahead of them. She was unobtrusively dressed in a smart navy-blue suit and a white tailored blouse. When the jet began to roar and presently trundle down the runway and lifted off, the girl gave a little exclamation and said apologetically, 'It is the first time I have flown, I am nervous,' and laughed. 'But it is exciting to see America for the first time.'

'Oh, of course, it must be,' said Alison politely.

'You see, my mother was American, but never have I been out of France.'

'Oh,' said Alison. She was feeling. very sleepy and suppressed a yawn. 'You are going to see relatives then, Miss-'?'

'Martin,' said the girl. 'I am Juliette Martin.' She gave it the French pronunciation. She spoke nearly unaccented English. 'My grandfather, yes.' She hesitated, considered Alison's friendly, encouraging expression and went on, 'It is a funny little story perhaps. You see, my mother was studying to be a teacher of languages and she came to France with a scholarship for postgraduate work, and met my papa. And her father was quite furious that she wished to marry a foreigner, a Frenchman, and said he would have nothing more to do with her. My mother wrote to him when I was born, five years later, but never heard from him. But when my parents were both killed in the auto accident, that is six months ago, I thought he should know if he is still alive, and so I wrote, and he wrote back. We have corresponded, and he is most anxious to meet me. He is very remorseful now about how he treated my mother.' She smiled at Alison. 'I think he is very old and lonely and sentimental as old people become. I am sorry for him.'

'Of course,' said Alison conventionally, suppressing another yawn. Mendoza had leaned back and shut his eyes.

'That's very interesting. Are you going to stay long?'

'Not long. I have three weeks' holiday due to me because last spring I could not get away when we were busy in the office? She smiled slightly. 'M. Trennard is not so easy an employer as his uncle, but he had to admit that I was owed a holiday.'

'I hope you'll enjoy it,' said Alison sleepily.

'Oh, yes. At first Paul did not want me to go. That is my fiance, we are to be married in January. But he came to understand there is the family feeling. Grandfather is the only family I have, except for my two uncles. But you are having a holiday, also?' That was polite, conventional.

'No,' said Alison through a large yawn. 'We're on the way home,' and how sweet it was to be going home. The vacation had been her idea, but she felt now that she didn't want to leave home again for a long, long time. She felt her eyelids drooping, but the girl had been friendly, perhaps was feeling lonely this far from home. Alison swallowed another yawn. 'Do you live in Paris?' she asked at random. But the drowsiness was increasing. She thought the girl mentioned a rue de something and then her eyes closed and her red head fell back on the seat.

An unspecified time later she was jerked awake when the stewardess came round taking orders for a meal. When the trays were served, Miss Martin said, 'You are tired. I should apologize for bothering you.'

'Oh, not at all,' said Alison. 'It's just, I'll be so glad to get home.' She had never been so tired in all her life. Perhaps the girl was tired too. After that she slept a little and they exchanged only a little desultory conversation in the last half hour before the plane landed at International Airport in Los Angeles. The last Alison saw of her, she gave Alison a shy, fleeting smile as she stood back for the Mendozas to precede her up the aisle.


And it was blessedly good to be home again, even in the midst of the twins' clamor, to find everything just as usual. The house was running like clockwork under Mairi's capable management. There was a boisterous birthday party for the twins. Everyone had to hear all about the vacation. And after Alison had slept the clock around, she felt a good deal better.

'And you don't have to go into the office right away,' she said to Mendoza.

'Change of pace,' he said. He'd been fidgeting around the living room most of the evening, unable to settle with a book. 'It's time I got back to work, mi vida.' He hadn't been away from the thankless job so long in twenty- six years. These days, the thankless job at the Robbery-Homicide office at L.A.P.D. Headquarters.


He had talked to Hackett on the phone briefly on Sunday night, the day after they got home. To the inquiry as to what was new on hand, Hackett had said merely, 'Just the usual. You can look over the reports when you come in. Nothing very abstruse, Luis.'

There wasn't, as a rule, anything very complicated or mysterious in the reports. Just more evidence of human nature. But when Mendoza showed up at the office on Monday morning, dapper as usual in silver-gray Dacron, only Hackett was in. Robbery-Homicide was a little busier than usual. At the beginning of September the worst of the summer heat was on them and the crime rate up in consequence. There had been, Hackett told him, a new bank heist on Friday, and these days the FBI left the bank jobs strictly to the locals. Landers, Galeano, and Grace were out talking again to the various witnesses but probably would turn up damn all. It had been a slick pro job. Two men on it, and nothing so far useful in the way of descriptions. They had the usual run of heists to do the legwork on. Higgins and Wanda Larsen were out on those. It was, of course, Palliser's day off. The perennial heisters were anonymous, coming and going. Only occasionally did they drop on one with sufficient evidence to pin down a court case.

'Of course,' said Hackett, 'we've got this and that on this Baby Face. I've got the latest witness coming in for a session with the Identikit for whatever it might be worth.'

He leaned back and the desk chair creaked under his wide bulk. 'He's hit three times since you've been away. Two twenty-four-hour convenience stores and a liquor store. Everybody says he's big, blond, very polite, and sort of apologetic. Says please and thank you. No sort of description of the gun, what size or type, just a gun. He sounds

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