Dell Shannon

Mark of Murder

… their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands. Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths. The way of peace they know not…

- --Isaiah 59:6-8

ONE

'Such a blessing,' said Alison, 'to be able to walk right off, with never a minute's worry. Mairi's such a dear, and so reliable. Isn't it a beautiful day!' She sat up in her deck chair and conscientiously inhaled several deep breaths of the sparkling sea air.

Mendoza grunted. 'All the same, you're worrying because there wasn't a card or letter at Norfolk.'

'I'm not really,' said Alison. 'She probably wasn't sure of catching us, and will write direct to the hotel in Bermuda.'

Mendoza grunted again.

'For goodness' sake, look at the pretty ocean or-You're supposed to be enjoying yourself, on vacation.'

'I know, I know,' said Mendoza. He sat up and looked at the calm blue Atlantic, bright in the sun of early July, said perfunctorily, ' Que bello,' and leaned back again. 'I wish the damn boat would go faster. Maybe I can get a Times in Bermuda.'

'And the first vacation you've had in years,' Alison went on. 'From what I can make out, whenever you have taken a few days, you've found some excuse to go back and hang around the office, and never got a proper vacation at all. It's ridiculous-'

Mendoza turned lazily and looked at her, from her wind-blown gleaming red head to her frivolous green linen sandals, which matched her sleeveless linen dress, which in turn displayed her very satisfactory figure.

'Things come up,' he said. 'You finally managed to drag me away, querida.'

'Well, you might enjoy it a little more, that's all,' said Alison.

'I am, I am.' Mendoza sat up and looked at a man walking briskly past down the deck. 'Well, fancy that,' he said.

'What?'

'That fellow looked like Benny Metzer. We had the word he'd gone to working the liners since we chased him out of town the last time. I think I'll just-'

'You'll stay right where you are,' said Alison firmly, 'and enjoy the nice sea breeze-. I swear you're more married to your job than you are to me.' She looked at him with her head cocked. 'What's wrong, Luis? You did enjoy New York, and the first night and all. But ever since we've been on this ship you've been-fidgety. It can't be seasickness, you'd have succumbed by now.'

'Damn it,' said Mendoza, 'it's just-three weeks. Out of touch. I wonder whether Art got anywhere on that body in the hotel. It looked damned anonymous. Damn it, I've just got the feeling I shouldn't be here, there's something going on that-”

'?Que disparate! ' said Alison, and laughed. 'And I know why, too. It's not that you're psychic, it's just that you're firmly convinced the L.A.P.D. can't operate efficiently without you there in the homicide office at headquarters. Egotist!'

Unwillingly he grinned. 'And maybe you're right. But -' He stood up; he still felt undressed in the casual gray slacks and open-necked sports shirt; he felt uncomfortable without tie or jacket. 'I'm going to take a walk,' he said. 'The way they feed you on these ships…' He didn't much care for the consciously superior service of the stewards and waiters either, as too, too British as this cruise liner. And he definitely didn't like-'Oh, my God,' he said, looking up the deck, 'I'm off indeed, here they come again. Those Kitcheners.'

Alison giggled. 'You've no idea how funny it is, watching you evade Evadne.'

Mendoza said shortly that Kitchener ought to beat her, and fled up the deck; Alison was left to withstand the Kitcheners' onslaught. Evadne Kitchener had attached herself and her paunchy little husband to the Mendozas the first day out; professing to recognize Mendoza as a certain well-known actor incognito, she-as Alison put it-arched at him simperingly while her husband told Alison how vivacious dear Evadne was.

'Your charming husband not with you?' she called gaily now. 'How too disappointing! I do trust he isn't straying toward that rather vulgar little blonde at your table. I must say, I thought-'

'He's brooding,' said Alison gravely, 'on all the murderers he might be arresting, instead of wasting time like this.'

Evadne gave a little scream of mirth. 'You will keep up your little joke! Calling himself a policeman indeed, when we both know who the dear man really-but we won't give you away, my dear. So thrilling-'

Mendoza paced moodily down the deck, ignoring the bright sun on the beautifully calm sea. He wondered what Art was getting on that corpse. If anything. And there'd been that deliberate wrecking of the S.P. Daylight too. Homicide got the train wrecks. The engineer being quick-witted, it hadn't been a bad one, nobody killed; but that switch had been thrown deliberately, and they'd have to find out who had done it. There'd been a couple of prints, but not in Records.

Well, damn it, Alison was probably quite right. Other men went off on vacation and the force struggled along without them. But ever since he'd been on this damn cruise liner he'd had the irrational feeling, the nervous feeling, that he hadn't any business to be heading leisurely for Bermuda and the luxury hotel. That he was needed in the office, that something big was happening and they needed him. Damn fool, he said to himself now, standing at the rail and staring back in the general direction of New York. Just, probably, because he'd never been away from the job this long before, in all the twenty-two years he'd been on the L.A. force.

He'd enjoyed a week or so of the vacation, and so had Alison-when she wasn't worrying about the twins, though she wouldn't admit it. Which was silly too, because that treasure Mrs. MacTaggart was completely reliable.

But suddenly now he felt-well, admit it, he thought ruefully, he felt homesick. For his own office, where he ought to be, in respectable city clothes, going over the latest cases with Hackett and his other sergeants, deploying men, making decisions.

There hadn't been much to get hold of, he thought, on that bloodily slashed corpse in the Third Street hotel room. The doctor had said, a distinctive knife, but…

He wondered how it had turned out. The damn New York papers didn't print news from anywhere west of the Hudson, unless it concerned a national catastrophe. They'd be in Bermuda tomorrow. Maybe Art had found time to write him a few lines. Maybe he could get an L.A. Times somewhere. Didn't most resorts stock papers from all over? Of course it was British territory…

And, my God, there were the Kitcheners and Alison bearing down on him. Undoubtedly-he could see the words forming on Evadne's mauve-painted lips-to carry him off for pre-lunch cocktails. Foreseeing the present impossibility of detaching Alison without downright rudeness, Mendoza left her to her fate and, pretending he hadn't seen them, dived down the nearest companionway. He found himself at the door of one of the plush saloons and dodged in.

Almost at once he began to feel a little happier. Various groups, mostly of men, were sitting over cards here; in one corner he saw the man who looked like Benny Metzer just sitting down with four other men. He sauntered in that direction. That flat back to the man's head, and the left shoulder carried higher, and the lobeless ears…

It was Benny, all right. Dressed to kill in expensive sports clothes. Mendoza stood a little way off and

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