Previously: Lamont Cranston and Margo Lane, on a cruise to Bermuda, find themselves embroiled in a mystery involving a crooked lawyer, an undercover F.B.I. agent, and a romance novel writer, all sharing a great interest in a rich heiress (and former flame of Lamont's), a stage magician (her new husband), and a jilted lover who is making all of their lives miserable. As the cruise ship leaves Bermuda and heads back out into international waters, Lamont and Margo find themselves feeling sleepy and disoriented, and as they return to their cabins and try to settle in for the night, Lamont's disorientation increases so dramatically that he is forced to confront a horrifying realization: He's been drugged...)
The voice sounded familiar...way too familiar. Lamont opened his eyes.
Ying Ko was sitting at the foot of his bed, looking very smug. "Comfy?" he taunted.
Lamont sat up. "Leave me alone," he told his darker side.
"Oh, come now, Lamont. This is just like the good old days. Lounging in the bedroom after enjoying a fine dinner, a good bottle of wine, and a couple of opium poppies. Only thing missing is a couple of concubines." He gave a glance toward the adjoining door.
Lamont looked horrified. No...he wouldn't dare...
"I wouldn't?" Ying Ko laughed out loud, The Shadow's taunting laugh echoing off the walls.
Lamont got right in the evil one's face. "Keep away from her, you monster!"
Another wicked, wicked laugh. "You talk to me like we're two separate people. Have you forgotten what The Tulku told you? I'm a part of you. I will always be a part of you. And every time you use that power inside you to 'drive the evil from the shadows into the light', you use some part of me." He smiled as he looked around. "Can't you hear it? Don't you feel it? The evil in the air...it's intoxicating. It's intense. Darkness, hatred, lust, death all around." He looked at Lamont. "And you can't do a thing about it. How powerful do you feel now"
Lamont was absolutely shaking with rage. "Go away."
Another laugh. "You like being able to pick and choose which parts of me you remember. Nice job with the horse this afternoon, by the way. Not quite as good as I'd have done it. But then, I'd have had Alexandra Doyle in bed tonight and slit her milquetoast husband's throat afterwards." He chuckled. "And your precious Margo would have been the after-dinner entertainment."
Lamont lunged for Ying Ko.
As his fist connected with the madman's chest, he felt a blow to his own chest shove him backward.
Ying Ko laughed hysterically. "You can't hurt me. You can only hurt yourself. I'm a part of you. And don't you ever forget that." With that, he smacked Lamont across the face.
Lamont sat bolt upright, holding his head, shivering with fear. The nightmare had been so intense he could still feel the sting of the slap on his cheek. A glance at his watch told him he'd been out cold for over two hours. His head still felt clouded, his mind still scattered, his body rubbery and weak. But the dream had been right--he could feel the evil in the air. It was heavy, dark, ponderous, all-encompassing. He tried to focus his mind to at least point him in the right direction, get him started on driving it out into the light...
A woman's scream filtered into his mind. Margo, he realized suddenly. She had to be just as drugged as he was--probably more, due to her smaller size. And with as telepathically receptive as she was normally, she would be even more so now with her psychic defenses compromised by narcotics and alcohol. Margo, he called out.
No answer...just more screams.
Margo! his mind shouted.
Only chaotic cries of pain came back to him.
He got to his feet and stumbled to the adjoining doors, then opened his door and banged on hers. Margo--wake up!
No answer; just more of the same disjointed cries of pain coming from her psyche. The fog the opiate and alcohol mix had blown into her mind was so strong his own weakened telepathy could not break through it.
He threw his shoulder into the door as hard as he could and broke it open. He'd worry about the cost of replacing the latch later; right now, his concern was with the woman lying awkwardly on the bed, tossing and turning, moaning in pain. He hurried over to her, climbed onto the bed next to her, and took her in his arms. Margo! he projected as hard as he could into her mind.
She opened her eyes. "Lamont," she whispered, her voice weak and slurred.
Sh-h. Don't talk. Think. Try to get yourself awake.
She could barely focus enough to find her mental voice. What's happened? I feel so sick...my head is so foggy...are you clouding my mind?
He shook his head. We were drugged. Someone slipped something into the wine or the food. With as much as we had to drink, we're lucky to be alive. He slid back toward the headboard and propped pillows up behind his back, then pulled her toward him and sat her up, leaning her against his chest.
She looked completely disoriented. Drugged? Why?
I don't know. I had a nightmare...
Ying Ko. I saw him. She shivered in his arms. What made you dream about him?
I think that was my mind's way of telling me some sort of opiate was used. I'm sorry you were dragged into that.
I had another nightmare before that one.
What did you dream?
I dreamed someone was running past me, carrying a gun. I heard a shot fired, and they ran right by me again. It was as if they didn't even hear me screaming for them to stop.
I didn't hear you screaming, either, until just a moment ago. He sighed. My God, whatever evil is in this place is strong. The dream was right; it really is all around, intoxicating, intense.
She clutched his shirt and looked up at him, her eyes frightened. Lamont, someone tried to kill us.
I don't know that they wanted to kill us, but they definitely wanted us out of the way.
I wish I knew. And I can't concentrate enough to go exploring, either. I can barely focus enough coherent thought to break through the fog in your mind, much less cloud anyone else's.
She tightened her grip on his shirt. Don't leave me...
I'm not going anywhere. He wrapped his arms around her and held her close. We've got to help each other through this. We've got to try and stay awake until the drug gets out of our systems.
Suddenly, her mind registered something he'd projected a moment ago. They put an opiate in the wine or the food?
Yes. Probably codeine--it's readily available, and easily blended with alcohol.
Oh, my God...Lamont, your addiction...
I know. He hugged her tightly to him. That's why I need you to help me. I need someone near me to help keep me focused away from the sensations of it. Opiates are very seductive drugs--they kill the pain, quiet the chaos in your head, make you numb to everything...including your conscience. And the last thing I need is to ever be that numb again.
She gently touched his face. Not exactly the way I pictured we'd be spending our vacation.
I know. He smiled wryly. My life has a way of taking turns like this.
I don't care. She leaned against him.
They both looked like they'd been through the ringer--cold sweat on their skin, dark circles under their eyes, hair disheveled, clothing wrinkled and mussed from hours of restless drug-induced sleep. But at that moment, each was the most welcome sight to the other's eyes they'd ever seen.
For the rest of the night, they held each other close, keeping each other's mind occupied...and sane.
Shrill screams penetrated the drug-and-alcohol-induced fog in Lamont's mind, jolting him wide awake. Margo? he called out reflexively.
Margo opened her eyes and put a hand to her temple, wincing. "Ow...Lamont, please," she said in a sleepy, pained voice.
"Sorry. Thought I heard a scream." He straightened up against the headboard, then helped her sit up.
It took a moment for them to remember what happened. The wine...the extremely hot food...the drugged sensation. And now both of them had hellacious hangovers. They both rubbed their eyes and shook their heads, trying to clear the cobwebs.
The screaming he'd heard got louder, and the sound of running feet went past their door. "Stay here," he told her, then got out of bed and looked out in the hall.
The bright sun coming from the solarium-like windows that enclosed the First Class deck nearly blinded him. He barely made out Lucille, Alexandra's maid, running down the hallway screaming frantically. "Lucille?" he called.
She turned around, then ran back down to him. "Oh, Monsieur...something terrible...come!" She raced for Alexandra's room.
Lucille stopped outside the door, seemingly overcome with fear and shock.
Lamont went inside, crossing from the small parlor area of the suite to the bedroom.
Alexandra Doyle was lying in her bed, blood all over the pillow, a bullethole in her right temple.
"My God," he whispered, then turned to Lucille, who had not moved from the hall. "Lucille, go find a steward and tell him to get Security down here immediately. Go!"
"Oui, Monsieur." She ran off.
Lamont looked around for a moment. It would not do to have Security arrive while he was making a first sweep of the place--things would look too suspicious. Concentrating as hard as he could over the opiate-induced hangover, he cast a mind-clouding suggestion over the entire First Class deck.
Anyone looking into the suite at that moment would only have seen a vague shadow across the walls and the floor of a man walking about the place, looking at the body, examining the evidence.
"Lamont?" Margo's voice called down the hall.
Down here, he answered back.
She followed the thought patterns to Alexandra's cabin. "Lamont?" she called as she came in the parlor, then spotted Alexandra's body in the bedroom and screamed.
An invisible hand clamped over her mouth. Please, Margo...I have a headache.
She reached up and felt for his wrist, then slipped her fingers under his hand and pulled it down. "A 'sh-h' works just as well," she scolded quietly.
But not nearly as quickly.
"What happened here?"
Alexandra Doyle was shot in the head.
My sentiments exactly. I think I know now why we were drugged. Someone didn't want anyone overhearing this.
She felt him move away from her, then saw the faded shadow move across the floor back to the bed. She moved in line with it. "You really need to watch the light sources when you do this."
There are times it's not always feasible to stay out of the light. His silhouette leaned in close to the body. There's a lot of gunpowder residue here--and scorching. The gun was held really close to her head. Death was probably instantaneous.
"The .45 again?"
There wouldn't be anything left of her head if a .45 had been fired at close range. Looks like a .22.
It certainly looks that way. Or, at least, someone means it to look that way.
Voices and footsteps approached. Into the shadows--quickly.
Margo moved to the darkened portion of the bedroom. She felt him come up behind her.
A ship's security officer came into the bedroom and snapped on the lights. "Good Lord!" he declared. "The woman's been murdered!"
The lights snapped off again.
"What the...?" the officer said, puzzled.
A strange chill swept by him, like the wake of someone moving quickly past. He turned on the lights again.
There was nothing in the room but himself...and the dead heiress.
The door to Lamont's cabin seemed to open and close by itself, then Margo Lane reappeared out of a swirling fog that deposited her onto the bed. The swirl then collapsed with a thud next to her, settling into the form of Lamont Cranston.
Margo rubbed her temples, trying to push the last of the disorienting sensations out of her head. "We have got to find a way to make that easier on both of us," she said. "I always feel like I'm in some kind of isolation booth."
"It won't get easier until you learn to do it yourself," Lamont replied, pinching the bridge of his nose to stem the headache from his hangover. "Unfortunately, because I'm the center of the projection, you're always going to take the brunt of the suggestion when I cloud both of us."
She nodded, not really understanding but figuring it was something best explained later. "So now what?" she asked. "Do we just let Security take over?"
"Maybe," he said. "But I'd feel better if I knew what happened between the time we left the parlor and the time Alexandra turned up dead." He reached for the bedside telephone and clicked the switchhook. "Operator, could you please ring Mr. Roth's room?" A long pause. "Dan? The sun is shining." He waited for the appropriate response. "I don't want to get into it over the phone. Can you go down to Alexandra Doyle's room? There's something you need to see. I'll join you in a bit."
After a shower and a change of clothes, Lamont and Margo went down to Alexandra's suite, which now resembled a crime scene. Clearly, Dan Roth had taken over the investigation and was directing the activities of the people in the room. "Dan?" Lamont called.
Dan looked up from examining the bedside table. "Lamont," he greeted warmly as he came over to them, then noticed the fatigue on their faces. "What happened? You both look like you've been through the ringer."
"I'll tell you our story when you tell me yours. What happened last night after we left?"
The Security chief Lamont had seen earlier came up to them. "Excuse me, sir," the chief said, addressing Lamont, "but the two of you will have to leave. This is an official investigation..."
"Detective Jones," Dan said, "this is the man I was telling you about. And that's his assistant."
Jones' eyes suddenly widened, then stepped back. "Terribly sorry, sir...I didn't realize...feel free to look around." He walked away.
Lamont gave Dan a questioning look.
"Captain Davenport's given me permission to run the investigation, since we're in international waters," Dan answered. "I told him--and Jones over there--that I had a criminologist friend on board I needed as a resource. I also told him not to stop in any ports until we figure out what's going on so that no one has a chance to get off the ship. Davenport basically gave me carte blanche to use whoever or whatever I needed to use to get to the bottom of this. So do me a favor, Lamont, and don't embarrass me."
"I think I'll be able to hold my own," Lamont answered. "So, catch me up. What happened here?"
"Well, on the surface, it looks straightforward. Someone snuck into Alexandra Doyle's cabin, put a pistol to her head, and pulled the trigger. And just as an oh-by-the-way, someone made off with the pearl choker she was wearing last night. It isn't anywhere in the room."
"What time did this happen?"
"Ship's doctor puts time of death based on the physical evidence between midnight and 2 a.m." He looked at them oddly. "You were in your cabins by then. Didn't you hear something?"
Lamont and Margo both shook their heads. "We were both out cold," Margo observed.
"For reasons which I'll explain later," Lamont continued. "Caliber of the gun?"
"A .22. Held really close to the head." He led them over to the body, then stopped. "Margo...you aren't bothered by dead bodies, are you?"
"I'm an agent," she replied. "I've seen worse." Still, she clutched Lamont's hand tightly.
Dan nodded. "Anyway, take a look at the wound."
Lamont leaned in. In the light of the room, he could get a better look at the damage. "Scorching," he observed. "Heavy scorching. Looks like it shattered her skull. Death was probably instantaneous."
"Absolutely. Which is why this is odd." Dan pointed to her right hand, its index finger covered in blood. A "V" was painted on the nightstand in blood.
"Melodramatic, isn't it?" Lamont noted. "Clearly meant to implicate Valerie Bonfamile."
"I agree with you. But I can tell you with absolute certainty she didn't do it."
"Oh, that's right. You left early. You missed all the excitement."
"I don't think we missed any excitement," Margo said, remembering the horror of last night.
"I'm telling you, if you weren't in the parlor, you missed some genuine fireworks."
"What happened?" Lamont asked.
"Well, Alexandra left and you two left. Doyle and the Van Dykes tried to continue the card game. I joined Alicia in looking for her mother's stole..."
Dan looked under every chair and table, frowning in frustration at the lack of results of his search. F.B.I. agents were supposed to be better investigators than this. "I don't see it anywhere," he told Alicia.
Valerie sprawled out on the couch and downed another glass of wine. "Arthur, you naughty boy," she teased. "Did you make poor little Alicia's stole disappear?"
Arthur looked up from the card game, clearly annoyed. He'd moved to Alexandra's seat to play her hand, but the drunken floozy behind him was making that difficult. He tossed a card into the middle of the table.
Kennedy looked at it oddly. "Doyle, are you sure you want to just give a trick away?" he asked.
Arthur looked at the card and realized he had a much better one in his hands. "I'm sorry," he said.
"Maybe we should just call it a night," Rosalie observed, rising from the table. "See you downstairs, love." She left the parlor.
As she did, she nearly ran into Delilah Coventry, who stumbled drunkenly inside. "Excuse me, Madame," Delilah said. "Is my daughter still here?"
Rosalie pointed behind her at Alicia, then left, making a face at the drunken author.
"Alicia?" Delilah said, oblivious. "Did you find my stole, darling?"
"Not yet, Mother," Alicia said, crossing to her.
"Oh, dear. Someone stole my stole." She began laughing hysterically at her own joke.
"Stole your stole," Valerie replied. "That is funny. Almost as funny as Alexandra stealing my man."
Alicia sighed and steered her mother out of the parlor. "Mother, dear, go back to bed. I'll be down in a bit."
"Oh, all right," Delilah replied. "Maybe I left it in the bar..." She teetered away.
"Maybe it is time to call it a night," Kennedy agreed, gathering the cards up.
"What's the matter, Arthur?" Valerie cracked. "The magician losing his touch with cards?"
Arthur rose from the table and turned to Valerie. "I've had quite enough of this," he hissed.
Valerie stood up to face him, so only the coffee table stood between them. "What are you going to do, Arthur...kill me?"
He stepped around the coffee table, his expression furious. "You're drunk."
"And you're a fool. But which one of us will feel better in the morning?"
He gave her a shove. "Get out of here."
She stumbled back away from the couch, barely caught from behind by Alicia.
"Are you all right?" Alicia asked.
"What a gentleman he is," Valerie snapped, her expression contemptuous as she looked toward Arthur. "You make me sick."
"Go to bed!" he ordered.
"How dare you!" She fumbled with her purse, then pulled out her pistol.
Arthur's eyes widened. "Valerie, no!"
Arthur grabbed his leg and collapsed to the floor.
Horrified, Valerie dropped the gun and fell to her knees. "No...," she whispered softly. "No...no, I didn't mean to do that...oh, my God..."
Arthur pulled himself up on the couch and pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket, pressing it to his wounded leg. It was quickly covered in profusely flowing redness. He shook with pain and his face was contorted in agony. "Oh, God...my leg..."
Kennedy started to come over to him. "Good Lord, man..."
"You...your wife is a nurse? Go get her," Arthur said, his voice pain-filled and ragged.
"Of course." He ran out of the room.
"Arthur!" Valerie cried, trying to reach him.
"Take her away," Arthur said.
Alicia pulled her back. "Come, Miss Bonfamile..."
"Stay with her," he urged. "There's no telling what else she'll do..."
"I'll send for the ship's doctor," Dan said.
"Hurry," Arthur said. "For God's sake, man, hurry!"
"...and so I can tell you with absolute certaintly that Valerie Bonfamile didn't pull the trigger," Dan finished. "She couldn't have. The woman was in shock the rest of the night. When I checked in on her after I brought the doctor to Doyle, I gave her a sedative Rosalie Van Dyke gave me for her so she'd sleep. Mrs. Van Dyke relieved me about 1 a.m. and stayed with her the rest of the night."
"Sedatives to put someone to sleep," Lamont observed dryly. "Seems to be a common theme here."
"In what way?"
"You asked why I didn't hear anything. There was no way I could have. I was out cold."
"You must be a really cheap drunk, Lamont. I'd swear you didn't have more than three drinks."
Lamont nodded. "I normally have a very high tolerance for alcohol, even on an empty stomach. But last night, even after eating a very filling meal, I was completely drunk off three glasses of wine."
"So was I," Margo noted.
"So?" Dan asked.
"So," Lamont continued, "it wasn't until I got back to the room that I figured out why I felt so out of sorts. My skin crawled, my head spun, my nerves felt like someone had connected them to a live wire."
Dan's eyes widened. "Symptoms of opium poisoning," he realized.
"Exactly, except it was more likely codeine. But it had the same effect. I passed out...and that's about the last thing I remember clearly for over two hours. I woke up completely disoriented, then went to Margo's room once I realized what was happening and woke her, but we both must have fallen asleep again. The next thing I remember, Alexandra's maid was running down the hall screaming. I went to see what she was screaming about, and found the body. That's when I called you."
Dan blew out a long, slow whistle. "You're lucky to be alive," he realized, then turned to Margo. "Same thing happened to you?"
She nodded. "I had no idea what was happening until Lamont burst into my room and woke me up. The last thing I remember clearly before that was feeling this engulfing dizziness sweep over me and practically throw me onto the bed...then I blacked out."
Dan blew out another whistle. "So you both think you were deliberately drugged?"
"I think someone wanted to make certain they weren't overheard," Lamont answered.
"You realize you've just raised this case from a crime of passion to premeditated murder."
"Absolutely. I never thought it was anything but that. The only question is, who did it?" He walked around the suite, looking for something--anything--unusual or different. Out in the parlor area, he spotted the adjoining door. "Have you checked the adjoining room?"
"Yep. It's full of the Doyles' luggage, and Lucille Hebert--the maid--is staying in there."
"We need to talk to her."
"Already got Security looking for her. No one's seen her since early this morning, when you apparently saw her running away. Security said she came to fetch them, and that's the last anyone's seen of her."
Margo rubbed her eyes and leaned hard against Lamont.
"Are you all right, Margo?" Lamont asked.
"A little woozy," she said. "Think I'll splash a little water on my face." She excused herself to the bathroom.
Lamont watched her worriedly, then turned back to Dan, as if something just occurred to him. "Has anyone told Arthur Doyle what happened?"
Dan shook his head. "I thought we could do that together."
"Where's Doyle now?"
"In the infirmary. The bullet broke his femur and nearly severed an artery. Another one lucky to be alive."
"Lamont?" Margo called from the bathroom.
Lamont hurried over to her. "What is it?" he asked.
She pointed to a nearly empty bottle of nail polish next to the other items on the vanity. "That's red, right?"
Lamont looked at her, puzzled. "Are you developing your father's color blindness now?"
"Be serious and follow my logic here. That's bright red, right?"
"Last time I checked. Why?"
"Alexandra's fingernails weren't red. They were pale pink." She pointed to another bottle of nail polish, this one pinkish in color.
He looked at her a moment. "I'm a little dense this morning, Margo. Your point?"
"I don't recall seeing her with red nails on this trip. They were always pink."
"Maybe because the red bottle is almost empty."
"Then why keep it? Why not throw it out? It's not like she's a working girl who needs to hold onto the dregs of a bottle, especially when her nails aren't polished that color to begin with."
Something finally clicked. "Good point." He took a tissue, then picked up the bottle of polish and turned it slightly. "It's awfully thin for nail lacquer." Taking great care not to put any fingerprints on it, he unscrewed the cap with the tissue and took a whiff of the contents. He made a face, then put it under Margo's nose.
She snorted. "Vinegar," she said, puzzled.
"No lacquer aroma at all." He closed the top, then turned back to the suite. "Dan?"
"Yes?" he said, coming over to them.
"Do you have fingerprint dusting equipment?"
Lamont handed him the bottle, still wrapped in the tissue. "Have that dusted for prints. There's something really odd going on here."
He looked at the bottle. "You want to find out who gave her a manicure?"
"That's not nail polish. It smells like food dye or ink. And I want to know why a woman would have such a thing on her vanity."
He turned the bottle and watched the last drops swirl around. "Too thin for polish," he realized. "Wish I had a chemical analysis kit here."
Lamont sighed. "I think we're going to be wishing we had a lot of things by the time this is through."
Dan nodded in agreement. "Then maybe we ought to make a list of what we can find here on the ship...starting with everyone who might have had a motive."
"I hope we have enough paper," Margo groaned.
Arthur Doyle looked up at his visitors, complete shock on his face at the news they'd brought him. "She's dead?" he said.
Dan nodded. "I'm sorry, Mr. Doyle."
Arthur ran his hand through his hair. "I knew she was difficult at times, and not very well-liked, but I had no idea..." He looked away, trying to hold back emotions.
"Mr. Doyle," Lamont said, "I realize this is a shock, but we need your help. We need to know if you have any idea who might have done this."
He laughed ironically. "It probably looks bad for Valerie right about now, I imagine."
Dan shook his head. "I think it's pretty safe to assume she didn't do it. There's enough direct evidence to eliminate her."
"The woman was mad," Arthur sighed. "I blame myself for that. Alexandra was just so dazzling, it was hard to see anyone else. I never dreamed Valerie could get so insanely jealous."
"Can you think of anyone else who might have wanted to kill her?" Lamont pressed.
He shrugged. "No shortage of suspects, I suppose. But right off the top, I can't think of anyone."
Margo kept rubbing her eyes, as if she were still not feeling well.
Lamont looked over to her. Are you all right?
She cringed, as if the sound of his voice in her head hurt. "I hate hangovers," she said aloud.
He patted her gently on the shoulder, thankful for the reminder of a question that needed an answer. "Mr. Doyle...just so I'm clear on this, you did give us that wine last night, correct?"
"Yes, I did," Arthur replied. "I was so grateful for all your help earlier. I thought you might like it."
"Good choice, by the way. I love chianti. But the carafe was open when we got to the table."
Arthur shrugged. "Probably the wine steward opened it so it could breathe."
"Did you happen to see if anyone other than the wine steward came near it?"
He shook his head. "Not that I recall. Why?"
"Just curious. It tasted a little 'off'."
Lucille Hebert burst in the room suddenly, breathless, as if she'd been running everywhere. "Monsieur Doyle...," she began, then realized he was not alone. "Oh...pardon..."
"There you are," Dan said, moving to block her exit. "You know, we've been looking for you all morning." He showed her his badge. "F.B.I."
She looked frightened. "Monsieur, I did not kill her..."
"No one said you did. But no one's seen you since you went to get Security. Why?"
"I...I was scared...someone killed Madame Doyle, and I was afraid someone would blame me..."
"Why were you afraid they would blame you?" Lamont asked.
"Because I was next door...because I found the body."
"You don't have to be afraid of telling the truth," Dan said firmly. "Did you see anything? Hear anything?"
"No," she said sadly. "I feel so badly, though. If I had been restless...if I had been awake...if I had only looked in on her, everything might have been all right." She looked up at Arthur. "Oh, Monsieur, you know what I am saying..."
"I know," Arthur reassured. "You've been such a good and faithful servant. You'll be taken care of. Nothing to worry about."
"Oh, merci, Monsieur Doyle," she said gratefully. "Merci." She looked back at Dan. "May I go?"
"Of course," Dan said. "But don't hide any more, Miss Hebert. We may need to talk to you again later."
Lucille nodded, then left the room quickly.
Arthur laid his head back on the pillow, looking very tired and pale. "I'm really spent, gentlemen...and Miss Lane...is there anything else?"
"No," Dan said. "Get some rest. We'll keep you updated." He gestured with his head to Lamont and Margo, and the three of them left.
"So, what's next on the agenda?" Lamont asked as they stood outside the infirmary.
"I'm open to suggestions," Dan said.
"I don't know," Margo said. "I keep thinking we're missing something really obvious."
"Well, maybe when we talk to the others on that list we made, we might find what we're missing."
"When you look too hard for the hidden, your mind can get clouded to the obvious," Lamont mused.
Dan shook his head. "That sounds like something he..." A glare from Lamont cut off him off, and he quickly thought of an alternate choice of words. "...something someone wiser than us might say."
Lamont almost smiled. "Where do you think I heard it?"
Dan nodded. "Now I really wish we had reinforcements."
"I think the three of us can figure it out," Margo encouraged.
"I hope you're right."
"I'd like to go over once more what happened in the parlor...but this time, with a map of the First Class deck to help put everything in perspective," Lamont said, trying to shift the conversation back to the real topic. "Can you get a set of blueprints, Dan?"
"I can try."
Valerie Bonfamile came down to the infirmary. "Oh," she said, looking surprised to see anyone else there. "Mr. Cranston...what are you doing here?"
"Miss Bonfamile," Lamont returned.
"Just the person I wanted to talk to next," Dan Roth said, pulling a badge out of his pocket. "Dan Roth--Special Agent, F.B.I."
Valerie looked nervous now. "F.B.I.? Are you here to arrest me for shooting Arthur?"
"We'll deal with that little detail later. Right now, I'm investigating the death of Alexandra Doyle."
Now she looked alarmed. "Surely you don't think I did it?"
"No, but someone's trying to set you up for it. Any idea who?"
She shook her head. "I can't imagine. I mean, I know I made a spectacle of myself on this trip, but I can't understand why someone would want to set me up for murder."
"Why did you come down here?" Lamont asked.
"I...I wanted to see Arthur," she said, her eyes nervously darting about. "I just wanted to tell him I was sorry about what happened to him. I...I'm not restricted from seeing him, am I?"
Roth blew out a frustrated stream of air. "Come with me." He led her back inside the infirmary.
Lamont looked thoughtful. "There are times that I just want to put a gun to that witch's head and pull the trigger for what she's done to me," he said aloud.
"What?" Margo asked.
"Something she said to me the other night. Interesting how that's exactly what happened to Alexandra."
Margo recognized the tone of his voice. "You think she's involved."
"I know she is. But I don't know how. It doesn't make any sense."
"May I remind you that witnesses place her in her room at the time of the shooting, so hysterical she had to be sedated?"
"I know. That's why it doesn't make any sense."
She took his hand. "By the way, you didn't hurt me in there," she told him softly.
It took a second, but he suddenly realized what she meant. He looked over at her. "You were trying to get me to ask about the wine."
She nodded. "Since I can't project, I'm at a disadvantage sometimes. And my mind's not focused enough this morning to tickle the edge of yours to get your attention."
He pulled her close for a kiss. "You're amazing."
Dan came out of the infirmary alone. "Oops," he said, embarrassed that he had interrupted them.
They stopped and looked toward him. "Where's Valerie?" Lamont asked.
"Lovers' reconciliation," he said, rolling his eyes. "Thought they could use a little privacy."
Margo looked taken aback. "So much for maintaining the illusion of propriety."
"Yeah, I know. But Doyle wouldn't be the first guy to turn to an old girlfriend in time of need. Anyway, what's next?"
"We need to get those blueprints," Lamont answered. "Then we need to talk to the others."
Dan looked at him oddly. "You look like you know something."
"I have a theory. But it's so completely insane that I need to make sure I eliminate everything else first."
"Care to share?"
"Not until I've eliminated all the other possibilities. I want a different perspective on what happened last night...and I want to find out what the missing pearl choker has to do with all of this."
"Then let's get started."
The parlor had been turned into a crime scene as well, but it was receiving considerably less attention than the Doyle suite. The three Shadow agents were now using it as a meeting place to examine the blueprints for the ship and reconstruct the events leading up to the murder. "O.K.," Lamont said, looking at the diagram of the First Class deck that was spread across the large card table. "All of this is windows." He gestured over the outer frame. "The stairs to the other decks are here." He gestured over a schematic of stairs. "And these are eight First Class suites." He gestured over the inner section, then began pointing to individual suites. "Margo is here...I'm here...the Doyles...the Doyles' luggage and Lucille Hebert."
"A separate suite for the luggage?" Margo laughed. "Now I've heard everything."
"I once heard Alexandra tell a clerk at a hotel, 'I do not sleep in my clothes, and I do not sleep with my clothes.' She always had a separate suite for her luggage and whatever hired help she took anywhere." He looked at the schematic oddly. "Interesting. All the criminal activity is on the port side."
Dan pointed to the diagram. "There's a connecting corridor down by Lucille's suite...then the Van Dykes are here, on the backside of Lucille's suite...the Coventrys...me...Valerie Bonfamile."
"All on the starboard side. How interesting."
"You're still thinking this wasn't spur-of-the-moment?"
"Now that I look at the diagram, I'm more sure than ever that it wasn't. It's too much of a coincidence that all the chaos was on one side of the ship, while the real crime was on the other side."
"That's why we were drugged," Margo realized. "Look how close all of this is together. Someone wanted to make sure that we didn't hear the murder or the chaos right behind us."
"I think you're right," Lamont agreed. "Someone wanted to make sure everyone was occupied with something between midnight and two."
"But not the whole time," Dan pointed out. "About the only people who were completely occupied during that time were the two of you and Valerie--all of you were sedated. Oh, and Doyle, whose leg was broken by a bullet. The rest of the folks in this set of suites all were at some point or another unoccupied and unwatched." He smiled slightly. "Of course, I should be asking who could prove the two of you were unconscious during the magical time frame. You two are, after all, each other's alibi, and that won't hold up in a court of law."
Lamont fingered his fire opal ring absently and cut his eyes sharply toward Dan. If there was anything that set his nerves on edge more than a careless agent, it was one who forgot the rules of complete honesty and unquestioning trust. You're getting off track, The Shadow's voice said firmly.
Dan looked embarrassed. "Forget I said that," he said. "I'm getting off track."
You remember Lamont and Margo were very drunk, to the point of being incoherent.
"I mean, I remember how completely incoherent you both were."
You would swear to it under oath.
"I'd swear to that under oath in court."
Lamont smiled to himself and let the hypnotic spell drop.
Dan shook his head, then rubbed his eyes. "Man, the sun through those port holes is bright," he said. "Giving me a headache." He shook his head again. "Where were we?"
"We were talking about the things that don't quite add up here," Lamont told him.
"Right." He lit a cigarette and looked around. "There's certainly a lot of them. Starting with who gave you knockout drugs, and why."
"Well, we know Doyle sent the wine over. But with it sitting open on the table, anyone could have slipped something into it."
"Could it have been in the food and not the wine?" Margo asked. "That food was awfully hot."
Lamont shook his head. "Too much of a chance that we wouldn't get the drugged plates. Besides, most opiates add a bittersweet taste when they're mixed in things, not spicy or hot."
"Voice of experience?" Dan asked.
"I'm allergic to opiates," Lamont replied. "I've had to learn how to recognize the taste of them in medicine. Sometimes, doctors don't tell you what's in the drugs they've given you. I should have recognized they were what was giving the chianti that extra dry taste."
"You're allergic? You are lucky to be alive, then."
Lamont's expression hardened, and he almost shivered. "Don't remind me."
"So, we've got one poisoned carafe of wine. What else?"
"I'm not sure Lucille Hebert is completely innocent," Margo said. "She was acting really strange."
"In what way?" Dan asked.
"She was so nervous--like she wasn't sure she should be talking to us."
"That's not unusual with witnesses who find dead bodies."
"I agree with Margo, though," Lamont noted. "It's one thing to be nervous about finding a dead body--it's another to be trying to avoid the police altogether. Why do that if you've got nothing to hide?"
"You've got a point. And she is one of the few people who is completely unaccounted for during the magical time frame." He started to flick the ashes off his cigarette, then noticed there was no ashtray on the card table. "Is there an ashtray around here?"
Lamont and Margo looked around. "I don't see one," Margo said.
"There's one," Lamont said, taking a small smoked glass ashtray off the bar. Then, he looked around curiously. "In fact, it's the only one in this whole room. And there should be at least one more--Alexandra was smoking during the card game last night."
"I remember now," Dan said. "There was a big white marble one, and it was on this table. And it's gone."
"Maybe the cleaning crew got it," Margo suggested.
"I would hope not. I specifically told the Captain I wanted this room left the way it was last night." He took the ashtray from Lamont and flicked his ashes into it. "Wonder where it went to?"
"Did you ever find that stole last night?" Lamont asked.
"Come to think of it, no."
"So we're missing a stole and an ashtray."
"And Valerie's gun."
Lamont sighed. "Probably pitched overboard. I'd be willing to bet we never find it."
"So, we're missing a stole, an ashtray, and a .22-caliber pistol."
"And a pearl choker," Margo reminded them.
"That's another thing," Lamont noted. "If someone was trying to set Valerie Bonfamile up for murder, why would they take the choker? That doesn't make any sense."
"Botched robbery, maybe?" Dan suggested.
Lamont shook his head. "Whoever did this wanted it to look like Valerie did it--the .22, the 'V' on the nightstand. Why add the element of a robbery? That just obscures the identity of the murderer instead of clarifying it."
"Two separate incidents?" Margo asked.
"The question then becomes what order they were done in," Dan realized. "Was the necklace stolen before or after the murder?"
"I think we'll find that out when we talk to the others," Lamont realized.
"Right." He looked at the diagram. "The Coventrys, then the Van Dykes?"
"Sounds good to me."
"We probably ought to talk to Lucille Hebert one more time to make certain she doesn't remember anything else," Margo indicated.
"Good idea." Dan looked at his watch. "Good grief, it's almost noon. They start serving lunch in a few minutes. I skipped breakfast this morning, and I'm starved."
"That makes two of us," Lamont agreed. "Margo, do you think you've sufficiently recovered from last night to risk a meal?"
"Probably," Margo answered. "But can we go back to my cabin first? I need some aspirin."
"Of course. Meet you in the dining room, Dan?"
"Sure thing. I need to change clothes anyway--I just threw on the first thing I could find when you called me this morning. See you there."
They started to leave, only to run into Delilah and Alicia Coventry, who were walking the deck. "Oh, there you are, Mr. Roth," Delilah said. "I was hoping to find you this morning."
"What a coincidence," Dan said. "So was I. Won't you come in?" He gestured into the parlor.
The two ladies came into the parlor, and were joined by the three agents. "I was hoping you found my stole," Delilah continued. "It's a sentimental piece--Rudolph Valentino himself gave it to me..."
"No, I never did," Dan said. "But perhaps you can help me find something."
"Oh, I would be delighted. What can I do for you?"
"Maybe you can help me find Alexandra Doyle's killer."
"Oh, what a horrible crime. The flames of passion drive a jealous woman to kill her lover's new wife...scandalous. Absolutely scandalous."
"So you think Valerie Bonfamile did it?" Lamont asked.
"Well, from what Alicia told me about last night, it wouldn't surprise me at all. I heard all about how she boldly shot her ex-lover. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."
"So they say," Dan replied. "But I think there's more than one scorned woman around here."
"Like you, for instance."
Delilah looked taken aback. "Whatever do you mean?"
"You did call Alexandra Doyle a whore the other day, didn't you?" Margo asked. "Pretty scornful thing to say to someone."
Delilah looked nervous.
Alicia reached over and took her mother's hand. "My mother says lots of things that people sometimes misinterpret," she interjected. "She's never been shy about speaking her mind."
"Oh, I don't doubt that," Dan replied. "But you were out on deck when Miss Bonfamile shot Mr. Doyle, Mrs. Coventry. You didn't, perhaps, see the shooting, wait until everyone had left the parlor, then go back in and find the gun...and then shoot Alexandra Doyle with it? After all, she had sued you--and stood a good chance of winning her suit and perhaps destroying you in the process."
Delilah turned up her nose in a huff. "That is so ridiculous, not even I would write it," she snapped.
"Oh, I agree with you in principle. But it's not out of the realm of plausibility." Dan turned to Alicia. "By the way, Alicia, you asked me a question yesterday that I thought was rather interesting. I didn't give you an answer then, but I think I'll give you one now. You were correct in your assumption that it is not possible to libel the dead."
Alicia now looked alarmed. "You don't think I did this?"
"You tell me."
She looked indignant. "Who are you to suggest that I would even think of doing such a thing?"
Dan showed her his badge. "An F.B.I. agent, that's who."
Now she looked angry. "You lied to me. You told me you were a lawyer."
"I am. But I'm also a Federal Special Agent." He walked over to the couch. "You weren't really doing a very thorough job of looking for your mother's stole. Perhaps you were just hanging around, biding your time, establishing an alibi?" He stood between the door and the couch now. "This is about where you were last night, right? Valerie Bonfamile shoots Arthur Doyle...she drops the gun, and falls to her knees...and you move to catch her. You know, we still haven't found the gun from last night. You didn't happen to pick it up when you knelt down to help Valerie to her feet, did you? And then perhaps take her to her room, wait for her to be sedated, then leave with the gun to make certain Alexandra Doyle could never bother you again?"
Alicia looked horrified. "How dare you? How dare you make such accusations? I would never even think of doing such a thing..."
"Then why ask if you could libel the dead?" Lamont interrupted.
Alicia shook. "I was angry...I was worried about Mother...don't tell me you've never been so angry at someone you wished them dead."
"Oh, I think everyone has at one time or another," Dan said. "The question is, did you act on that impulse?"
Delilah stood up, self-righteous indignation in her features and carriage. "Come, Alicia, darling," she said. "We don't have to tolerate this kind of ruffian behavior any longer." The two women left the room.
Dan watched them go. "What do you think?"
Lamont looked after them. "I think they're both innocent. I think they were angry enough to do it...but I'm still inclined to believe this wasn't a crime of passion, but rather a carefully staged murder."
"I don't quite share your certainty, but that's neither here nor there. The Van Dykes after lunch?"
"Definitely." He turned to Margo. "Let's go get that aspirin now."
"I think I need it," she sighed.
"See you at lunch," Dan returned, and the three of them went their separate ways.
Still tired from the hangover, Lamont reclined on Margo's bed as she headed for the bathroom. "I'm still puzzled," he said rubbing his eyes. "Valerie Bonfamile is involved with this--I'm sure of it. But she's fully accounted for during the timeframe of the murder--there are witnesses with her every step of the way."
"Maybe the murder didn't take place when Dan said it did," Margo suggested.
"No, I think the timeframe is right. Rigor mortis had set in, and that takes about five or six hours after death. Lucille woke us after eight, so sometime between midnight and two is about right."
He could hear bottles rattling in the bathroom. "Where is my aspirin?"
"Probably in my cabin, since I borrowed it the other night," Lamont said. "I'll get it."
"No, that's all right," she said, coming out. "I'll get it. You look so comfortable lying there."
He sat up on his elbows and smiled mischievously. "You could come join me."
She smiled wryly. "I have a headache."
Lamont groaned. "I'll bet you've been waiting all morning to say that."
She smiled, then turned on her heel smartly and headed through the adjoining doors into his cabin.
He lay back down again to rest and refocus his mind.
He heard Margo gasp suddenly. Quickly, he sat up. Margo?
Lamont, don't come in here...there's a snake in your bathroom.
A snake. A cobra. And it's looking right at me.
Margo, don't move. He began looking around quickly. He needed something to run through the snake, something to kill it quickly before it could strike back. A nail file, a pair of scissors, a fountain pen, anything sharp...
Lamont, my steamer trunk has a false lid. Open it. Your guns are in there.
Don't argue--open my steamer trunk and pull out the false lid!
The urgency in her mental voice told him there was no time to ask further questions. He opened the steamer trunk and found the false panel, then pulled it out.
Packed neatly inside the hidden compartment were The Shadow's clothes, including a pair of chrome-plated .45s in a black leather shoulder holster.
Lamont reached in and grabbed one of the pistols. He popped out the magazine to make sure it was loaded, then slapped it back in and stealthily moved through the adjoining doors, into the bedroom, and toward the bathroom.
At the edge of the doorway, he could see Margo frozen in place and the black cobra against the wall, pulling itself up to nearly three feet in height. Hold very still, he told her, steadying his aim.
The cobra turned toward the motion in the doorway.
The bullet split the cobra's head open, splattering it against the wall.
Lamont was quick to catch her and knelt to the floor with her in his arms. Margo--are you all right?
She blinked, then looked up at him, terror in her eyes. "Somebody's trying to kill us," she whispered.
"Me," he corrected. "It was in my bathroom."
The sound of running feet came down the hall, heading for their cabin.
"Get out of here and hide that," Margo whispered. "I'll cover for you."
Lamont laid her gently on the floor, then vanished.
Someone pounded at the door. "Lamont!" Dan's voice called. "What's going on in there?"
Margo got to her feet, then staggered to the door. "Coming," she called.
Dan's alarmed expression and drawn gun greeted her when she opened the door. She screamed.
"Easy, Margo," he urged.
She breathed a sigh of relief. "You scared me," she said.
"Sorry. I heard a shot and came running." He reholstered his gun. "What are you doing in there?"
"Looking for my aspirin," she replied in a shaky voice. "But I found this." She gestured with her head to the bathroom.
He followed her in, then looked shocked at the splattered snake against the wall. "My God," he said. "What was that?"
"A cobra, I think. I was so scared I could hardly think straight, much less remember my reptile biology."
He looked at the snake, then at the bullet hole in the wall. "Who fired the gun?"
"I don't know...I had my back to the door. Suddenly, I heard a shot, the snake splattered, and I fainted. That's the last thing I remember until you knocked."
At that moment, Lamont burst through the doorway to his cabin. "I heard a shot," he said.
"Lamont!" Margo cried, throwing herself into his arms.
He hugged her tightly. Even though this was an act for Dan's benefit, he was grateful for her ingenuity and resourcefulness. Without it, she'd be dead and he'd be staring a cobra in the eyes. "You're all right," he whispered, then looked in the bathroom. "There you are," he said to Dan. "I was looking for you..." He then noticed the snake. "Nice shot."
Dan shook his head. "Wasn't me," he said. "That was a .45 you heard...and I'm not packing anything that heavy." He turned to Lamont. "You were looking for me?"
"Yes. Margo screamed that there was a snake in the bathroom. I was hoping you'd packed a pistol or something we could use to kill it." He looked at the remains of the snake. "But if you didn't fire that shot...who did?"
Dan looked around the room, as if he were looking for something out of the ordinary. "Who do we know who packs a .45 and can come and go without being seen?" he said, smiling.
Lamont looked at him oddly. "No," he said, incredulous. "Here?"
"Has to be," Dan said. "I've had this funny feeling all day that somebody was watching us."
"I think you're imagining things."
"You got a better explanation?"
Lamont sighed. "No," he admitted.
Dan smiled. "Suddenly, I feel a lot better about this case."
"I don't," Lamont said. "Particularly since that was probably meant for me."
"True. I'll have Security dust for fingerprints." He looked at Margo. "You are all right?"
She nodded, then tightened her grip around Lamont.
Dan got the message. "Think I'll go find Security," he said, leaving.
"Thanks," Lamont said.
"You're welcome. See you at lunch." He left.
They waited until they were certain he was gone, then both let out a sigh of relief. You are a genius.
And you're an outstanding shot. She hugged him tightly.
I thought The Shadow was staying home on this vacation.
She looked sheepish. I think Moe and I just broke even. He gave them to me and bet me that I'd never tell you I had them. She sighed. I'm so glad I brought them. I really didn't want us to need them...
...but there is always evil in the shadows somewhere. He stroked her hair soothingly. I'm glad you brought them, too. I'm not sure I could have saved you otherwise.
You'd have thought of something. You always do. She reached up and brushed a stray strand of hair off his forehead. I sometimes forget that The Shadow is always around as long as you're with me.
He smiled. Even on vacation?
She shook her head and held him tightly again. I was so silly to even try to put that kind of restriction on you. That would be like you telling me I had to leave my right arm at home.
You're right. I'd never do that. You wouldn't be able to hug me like this if you did.
They both laughed, then held each other close for a long time.
Dan had already sat down to eat by the time Lamont and Margo reached the dining room. "You two all right?" he asked.
"I've had better vacations," Margo admitted.
"Remind me to change travel agents when we get back to New York," Lamont agreed.
Dan laughed. "Order you a drink?"
"No, thank you," Lamont said firmly. "Think I'll skip alcohol for the next few hours. I'm still feeling out of sorts." He snapped his fingers for a waiter. "Coffee?" he asked Margo.
"Please," she said.
"Two cups of coffee," he ordered.
The waiter nodded, then left.
"Security dusted your bottle of nail polish," Dan said. "Whatever prints were on there were badly smudged."
"How odd," Lamont remarked. "I tried to make sure I didn't smear anything on there."
"It happens. I wish I had access to better equipment--we could match partial prints."
"I told you we'd be wishing for a lot of things by the time this was over."
The waiter delivered lunch for Lamont and Margo, interrupting the conversation. They waited until he left, then leaned in to continue the conversation. "I can't help but think we've got enough information to solve this," Margo said. "I can't put my finger on why, but I feel like the answer's right in front of us."
"I know what you mean," Dan said. "It could have been anyone...but I feel like we're overlooking something that could answer the questions for us."
Detective Jones came into the dining room, looking around.
Dan spotted him and waved.
Jones came over. "Sorry to disturb your lunch, Agent Roth," he said, "but I thought you might want to see this." He put a green cloth-wrapped parcel on the table.
Dan looked at it oddly. "What is this?"
"The safety crew was performing a standard check of the lifeboats and found that hanging from the rigging of one of the boats. It's very heavy, and there's gunpowder residue on the cloth. We thought it might be important."
Lamont looked at the cloth. "Emerald green. Beaded."
"Delilah Coventry's stole," Dan realized. He fingered the bottom of the parcel. "A bullet hole," he said, then took a closer look. "Several holes, in fact." He untied the knot that held the parcel together at the top and looked inside it. "A .22-caliber pistol." He took a handkerchief out of his pocket and pulled out the gun, then set it aside.
"The marble ashtray," Margo observed.
"And a red-stained handkerchief," Lamont finished, then looked up at Jones. "Where did you find this?"
"It was caught on the rigging of a lifeboat."
"Near the parlor?"
Dan looked at Lamont. "What are you thinking?"
He shook his head. "Something that absolutely makes no sense." He thought for a moment. "How many rounds were fired?"
Dan flipped open the gun. "Three," he said, counting the empty chambers.
Lamont and Margo both looked at each other. "Three?" they said simultaneously.
Even Dan looked confused. "One into Doyle's leg...one into Alexandra's head...where'd the other one go?"
"Was it possible that the gun wasn't fully loaded?" Margo asked.
Lamont shook his head. "If you're carrying a gun for defense, like Valerie said she was, you're always going to make sure it's fully loaded." He looked thoughtful for a moment, then something clicked. He turned to Margo. "To pull a rabbit out of a hat...," he began.
"...one must first get the rabbit into the hat," Margo finished, then gasped. "No. That's impossible."
"Do you mind telling me what you're talking about?" Dan snapped. "It's like you can read each other's minds or something."
Lamont turned to Dan. "You need to find Lucille Hebert," he said. "If I'm right, she saw everything."
"But she said she didn't..."
"No, that's not what she said--although, if you weren't paying close attention, it would certainly sound that way. She said if she'd been restless, if she'd been awake, if she'd just looked in on Alexandra, she might have been able to stop this."
"She was restless. She was awake. She did look in on Alexandra. And she opened the adjoining door and saw the murderer leave the suite."
"What? That's insane. Why not tell us?"
"Alexandra had promised her a dowry when she was ready to get married. Last night, I saw her run out of the suite crying. Alexandra told me that she had refused to give her the dowry because she didn't want to pay for Lucille's lover's divorce."
"Blackmail," Margo realized.
Now Dan was on the same track. "Oh, that's crazy."
"Find Lucille Hebert. I'll bet you find out it isn't." He looked around, spotted the Van Dykes eating at another table, and turned to Margo. "Come on," he said, standing and offering her his hand.
"Where are you going?" Dan asked.
"To find a pearl necklace and a .45 with two shots missing," Lamont replied. "Find Lucille Hebert. I have a feeling we are right on the edge of breaking this wide open." With that, he and Margo left the dining room.
"What are we looking for?" Margo asked as they walked into the Van Dykes' suite.
"Kennedy Van Dyke fired those shots we heard yesterday while horseback riding--I'm sure of it," Lamont answered. "And Rosalie Van Dyke couldn't take her eyes off Alexandra's jewelry--yesterday, she tried to get Alexandra to take her jewelry off so she could examine her hands more carefully after the horse incident. From what Dan said, she left the parlor not long after we did. Nobody locks their doors on this level--I'll bet she slipped in while Alexandra was sleeping and snatched the necklace off the dresser."
"Unscrupulous lawyers, jewel thieves, blackmailers, and murderers." She shook her head. "Next time, we vacation on a deserted island."
He nodded in agreement as he looked through Kennedy's briefcase. "Well, well," he said.
He pulled a pen out of the briefcase, then slipped it into the trigger guard of a .45 revolver. He wrapped his handkerchief around the gun's handle, then flipped out the revolving chamber. "Two shots missing."
"What do you think you're doing?" a man's voice called from the doorway.
Lamont and Margo turned to see Kennedy and Rosalie Van Dyke coming into the room. "Nice gun," Lamont complimented. "Planning to kill someone?"
"So I carry a gun," Kennedy replied. "So what? I'm probably not the only armed passenger on this ship."
Lamont chuckled. "You've either got really bad aim, or you were just intending to scare her. But you fired two shots yesterday that spooked Alexandra Doyle's horse. Really rotten thing to do, 'Uncle Kennedy'." He snapped the revolver chamber closed and tossed the gun onto the desk behind him.
"You can't prove that," Kennedy retorted.
"Oh, no?" Margo said. "Bet we can. What was your hurry yesterday, Mrs. Van Dyke? Anxious to get out of the way of the stampede? Or wanting to make sure you got first crack at Alexandra's jewelry when she fell off and broke her neck?"
Rosalie clutched her purse tightly. "I don't know what you're talking about," she snapped.
Lamont and Margo exchanged a glance. The purse, Margo thought.
I'll take it from here, Lamont replied. He folded his right arm across his midsection and rested his left elbow on his right hand, then stroked his chin with his left fingers.
Rosalie's eyes went right to the vibrant fire opal on his left hand.
Lamont smiled. It worked every time. There was something about wearing an attention-getting piece of jewelry that made it embarrassingly easy to redirect people's gazes exactly where he wanted them. It was so much easier to hypnotize someone when he didn't have to break their attention away from something else. Now, he had her looking right at his face. He reached up and brushed his left temple.
Her eyes followed.
He quickly locked gazes with her.
Her eyes glazed over, now completely under his spell. She fumbled with the clasp of her purse.
Kennedy looked astonished. "Rosalie...what are you doing?"
The purse opened, and she spilled its contents to the floor.
Among the items that now lay at her feet were an expensive pearl choker and a pair of matching earrings. Margo bent down to pick them up. "Bet Mr. Doyle will recognize these," she said.
Rosalie blinked, then looked astonished. "What...no! I didn't..."
"...kill her?" Lamont finished.
She looked at her husband. "Kennedy..."
"You don't have to say anything to them," he told her.
"Oh, yes, you do," Lamont said, then lowered the hypnotic boom on both of them. You are both going to tell me exactly what happened yesterday...starting with you, Kennedy Van Dyke.
Now it was Kennedy's turn to lose all contact with the world around him. "I wanted it to look like an accident," he said. "I fired the shots toward her, but not at her. It almost worked."
Why did you do it?
"Because Doyle would be an easier mark to sign away control of certain portions of the estate."
The portions dealing with the Donatello drug ring?
Did you know your wife was a jewel thief?
"No...I had no idea."
He turned his attention to Rosalie. Rosalie Van Dyke...why did you steal Alexandra Doyle's necklace and earrings?
She looked completely lost. "I just wanted them," she said.
How long have you been stealing?
"Four years, from patients in the hospital. Most of them don't miss the jewelry, or forget about it after an operation."
Did you kill Alexandra Doyle?
"No. She was asleep when I came in. I came down from the card game and walked by her room. I tried the door and found it unlocked...I went inside and saw the necklace and earrings on the dresser and took them off. I thought she wouldn't miss them."
Did you see who did kill her?
Lamont could not resist a low, sinister laugh. The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. And the two of you are about to collect your harvest. You will both go down to Security and tell Detective Jones your stories. And you will forget you ever saw Lamont Cranston and Margo Lane in your suite.
Wordlessly, both Kennedy and Rosalie left their suite and walked away.
Margo watched them go, then turned to Lamont. "You are dangerous," she told him.
He smiled. "I thought you liked things a little dangerous."
"True." She looked at him for a long moment. "You're absolutely sure you know who did this?"
He nodded. "No doubt at all. All we need is Lucille Hebert to back it up."
One of the ship's security officers looked into the room. "There you are," he said. "Agent Roth needs to see you right away. They've found a body in the Doyles' other suite."
Lamont's eyes widened. "Oh, no..."
"Somebody else got to her first," Margo realized. "But who?"
"The accomplice. Come on." He took her hand, and they hurried out of the suite.
"So much for talking to the witness," Dan said, gesturing to the floor, where Lucille Hebert lay in a pool of blood, her throat slit. "Somebody gave her a permanent ear-to-ear grin. All for a fistful of Franklins." He showed them the corner of a $100 bill. "This was pinched between her fingers when we found her."
Lamont smacked himself in the forehead. "Idiot!" he berated himself. "We should have pressed her for more information sooner, but I thought it could wait. And now, because of her greed and our indecision, she's dead."
"You think you feel like an idiot?" Dan asked. "I can't believe I didn't figure it out sooner. So much for F.B.I. criminology training."
"We are wasting time," Margo reminded them. "The killer is probably planning his next move."
"Killers," Lamont corrected.
Margo looked confused, then suddenly followed the train of thought. "Oh, that's completely insane..."
"...but it's the only way everything makes sense."
"What are you two talking about?" Dan asked.
"We've got to talk to Arthur Doyle right now," Lamont said. "Come on."
They were halfway down the hall when Delilah Coventry suddenly came down the stairs. "There you are," she said. "I've been looking all over for the three of you."
"Not now, Mrs. Coventry," Lamont said.
"But I have to talk to you," she protested, standing in their way. "I know who killed Alexandra Doyle."
Dan held out a hand to stop Lamont and Margo. "You know?" he said. "How?"
"Well," she began, "I just heard you found Lucille, that little French maid, dead in her suite."
"Yes. But what does that have to do..."
"Would you not agree that whoever killed Lucille had something to do with the death of Alexandra Doyle?"
"Yes, we've already figured that out," Lamont told her. "Now, if you'll excuse us..."
"I'm not finished yet," she scolded. "After you were so rude to us earlier, Alicia went for a walk and I started downstairs..."
"Because the bar wasn't open," Dan said, rolling his eyes.
Delilah snorted derisively. "As I was saying, I started downstairs when I suddenly heard a door slam."
"Did you see anything?" Dan pressed.
"I most certainly did! I saw someone running out of Lucille's suite and ducking into Mr. Cranston's, carrying some kind of large canvas bag! And, if Lucille was killed by the same person who killed Alexandra Doyle, or at least had something to do with killing her, that makes the murderer..."
A shot rang out.
"Get down!" Dan shouted, drawing his gun and crouching in a nearby doorway.
Lamont practically threw Margo to the floor, then covered her protectively.
Delilah Coventry fell beside them.
Lamont looked up to see Kennedy Van Dyke's .45 lying on the floor at the end of the hall, still smoking. He slowly moved off Margo. "Are you all right?" he asked.
"I'm fine," she replied, then screamed.
Lamont and Dan both followed her gaze, then gasped themselves.
The back of Delilah Coventry's head was bloody.
Lamont reached to take her pulse. Thankfully, he found none. "She's dead."
"Good Lord," Dan whispered, shocked.
"We have got to get down to the infirmary," Lamont said firmly. "This has gone far enough." He turned to Dan. "You get Alicia Coventry and Valerie Bonfamile and bring them with you. Do you still have the package Security found?"
"It's in my cabin."
"Bring it, too. Margo, come with me."
"Where are you going?"
"To see if there's a scalpel missing from the infirmary's supplies."
Dan looked confused. "This is insane," he said.
"Murder often is," Lamont replied. He picked up the gun off the floor with his handkerchief. "Now, get moving. We're running out of time. The killers are getting desperate."
Arthur Doyle looked up as Lamont and Margo came running into the infirmary. "Mr. Cranston? Miss Lane? What's the hurry?"
Lamont ignored him and went straight to a supply cabinet. "Scissors...suture silk...aha." He pulled out a scalpel kit and opened it. One of the scalpels was turned a different direction from the others. He took a gauze pad from the cabinet and lifted it out. "Surgeon didn't do a very good job cleaning it," he noted, pointing to a reddish area near the handle.
"Oh, my God...," Margo began.
"I think we've found the last clue."
As if on cue, Dan arrived with the two ladies. "Did you find it?" he asked.
Lamont held up the scalpel. "Doubt you'll find many fingerprints--but the stain in the groove near the handle should be helpful."
Dan took it and looked at it. "Sloppy."
"Not as carefully planned as the first one." Lamont turned to the ladies. "Take a seat, please," he told them, gesturing to chairs and stools around the room. "Alicia, has anyone told you about your mother?"
She nodded, her face bearing the shock of the news. "I can't believe it," she said softly. "Who would do such a thing?"
"You're about to find out." He gestured for Dan and Margo to take a seat, then took the parcel of evidence from Dan and laid it, Kennedy's gun, and the scalpel on a nearby table.
"Mr. Cranston, what is going on?" Valerie asked impatiently.
"I think you know," Lamont told her. "Within the past twenty-four hours, three people have been murdered...Alexandra Doyle, Lucille Hebert, and Delilah Coventry. In that same time frame, two attempts have been made on my life, and one on Miss Lane's. I went on vacation to get away from the crime in New York City, so naturally I'm more than a bit put out about this." He began to pace. "For the longest time, I knew what happened to Alexandra Doyle, when it happened, and how it happened. I also had a pretty good idea of why. But I didn't know who. Actually, I did have a good idea who, but it didn't make any sense. It was impossible. From what Dan described, from what eyewitnesses saw, it couldn't have happened that way." He stopped pacing and turned to face them. "But what if everyone didn't really see what they thought they saw? What if it was all an illusion?"
Arthur laughed. "It would take a better illusionist than I to fool an entire room full of people like that."
"You used to do it every night, Mr. Doyle. Are you saying you're not a good illusionist?"
Arthur's expression suddenly turned serious. "What are you suggesting?"
"I think you know." Lamont reached into his pocket and pulled out a quarter. "I don't know if your wife told you or not, Mr. Doyle, but I too am an illusionist...an amateur prestidigitator, if you will." He flipped the coin into the air, then caught it in his right hand. "I like to call this little trick 'the illusion of propriety'." He held the coin up for all to see. "Keep your eye on the coin." He began manipulating it across the back of his closed fist, using only his knuckles to roll the coin from one finger to the next. "We all know what happened last night--the Doyles were playing cards with the Van Dykes, Alicia Coventry and Dan Roth were searching for a missing stole, and Valerie Bonfamile was making a drunken spectacle of herself. Very busy room, lots of distractions." He kept rolling the coin. "Still watching the coin?"
"Get on with it," Arthur said, annoyed.
"Oh, come now, Mr. Doyle. A good illusion takes a lot of careful work to set up properly. The magician has to make certain all eyes are where he wants them. Anyway, Alexandra leaves, Margo and I leave, Rosalie Van Dyke leaves, and the tension in the room increases." He rolled the coin faster across his fingers. "Words are exchanged, Mr. Doyle shoves Miss Bonfamile, she gets angry, pulls out a gun, and fires." He flipped the coin into the air, clapped his hands, then caught it again and continued rolling it across the knuckles of his right hand. "Now things are really out of control. Mr. Doyle sends Mr. Van Dyke to fetch his wife, tells Miss Coventry to take Miss Bonfamile back to her cabin and watch over her, and Mr. Roth offers to get the ship's doctor." He smiled. "Have you noticed that all the action is taking place on the starboard side?" He held up his left hand, palm outward. "No one's paying a bit of attention to the port side. So, while everyone's on the starboard side..." Lamont rolled the coin into his right fist, raised it to his mouth and blew on it, then opened his empty palm wide for everyone to see. "...Arthur Doyle disappears."
"I didn't disappear, old man," Arthur said indulgently. "I was on the couch with a broken leg."
"Ah, but that's part of the illusion," Lamont continued. "You see, you wanted everyone to think you were on the couch, just like I want everyone to think I blew the coin out of my fist into nothingness. When, in actuality..." He clapped his hands dramatically, then held up his left hand, which now held the coin. "...you were on the port side, running down to your wife's room to put that gun, which Valerie so thoughtfully dropped at your feet, to Alexandra's temple and pull the trigger. Then you ran back..." He flipped the coin into the air, caught it in his right hand, and began rolling it across the knuckles again. "...grabbed the marble ashtray off the card table, sat down on the couch, pulled out Delilah Coventry's stole from underneath one of the sofa cushions, held it against your leg so that there wouldn't be any scorching from the pistol on your pants, used a little bit of the stole to wrap around the handle of the gun..." He rolled the coin into his right fist again. "...and fired at your own leg." He clapped his hands, then raised them to show they were both empty. "Now you had to get rid of the evidence. You put the gun and your first 'bloody' handkerchief into the stole, added the ashtray so it would sink, tied it all together, then opened one of the port holes and tossed it across the deck, hoping it would go overboard." He clapped his hands again, then held up his left hand again, holding the coin. "Now you could sit on the couch, a fresh handkerchief on your leg, this time writhing in genuine agony with the broken leg that would give you the perfect alibi."
Now Dan looked confused. "That's crazy, Lamont," he said. "All of that on the spur of the moment?"
"This wasn't spur of the moment," Lamont said firmly. "It was carefully planned, well thought out. The proof is in the first attempt on my life and Miss Lane's life...the drugged wine." He looked to Alicia. "Miss Coventry, do you remember why Miss Lane and I left the parlor early?"
"You were both very tired," Alicia answered. "And Miss Lane looked as if she'd had too much to drink."
"I felt that way, too," Margo replied. "But that wasn't the case at all."
"When Margo and I arrived at dinner, we found a carafe of wine on the table--chianti, my favorite." He smiled. "It was Alexandra Donatello who introduced me to the wonders of chianti. Remember, Miss Bonfamile?"
Valerie looked askance. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"I think you do. You see, when we met the first night on this cruise, I didn't remember you at first. But I do now. It was Paris, the summer of 1920, and I was dating your roommate, Alexandra Donatello. You were quite the drama student, as I recall, but not as flamboyant as Alexandra. Always in her shadow. But you and your date and Alexandra and I would occasionally slip off to northern Italy for a weekend with Alexandra's relatives and some of the world's finest cooking, wines, and after-dinner liquors." He smiled. "The decadence of Europe in the 1920s." He turned serious. "So, imagine my surprise at finding a very dry, very smoky chianti at dinner, courtesy of Mr. Doyle. It was delicious. But after three glasses, I was completely drunk...because someone had slipped codeine into the carafe." He looked at Arthur. "You, of course, had to realize that opiates and alcohol multiply the effects of each other. Why else would you choose that combination?"
"You're mad," Arthur said.
"Did you know it takes over 24 hours for opiate by-products to completely leave your system?" He turned to Margo. "You would be willing to submit to a blood test to detect opiate by-products, wouldn't you, my dear?"
"Absolutely," Margo answered.
Lamont turned to Arthur again. "Shall I call the ship's doctor in now? Or are you going to admit to trying to poison us?"
Arthur looked nervous. "I'll admit to no such thing," he finally said.
"Suit yourself. The fairly simple chemical test the ship's doctor will use on our blood will answer the question soon enough."
Now Arthur was indignant. "There were other people aboard who had motive. What about the shots fired while we were riding? What about the thief who stole my wife's necklace?"
"Oh, that." Lamont paced again. "You'll be happy to know that Kennedy and Rosalie Van Dyke are down in the Security office at this very moment, confessing to the attempted murder yesterday afternoon and the theft of the pearl necklace and a pair of matching earrings. They were both quite eager to stress, however, that neither of them had anything to do with the murder last night. And I believe them. Why would Kennedy Van Dyke need to use a snub-nosed .22? He had his own gun. And Rosalie Van Dyke left long before the shooting, and didn't return until after the gun had been tossed away, so she couldn't have done it. And neither of them had any reason to poison anyone on the port side to cover their tracks, because they could easily have slipped around the connecting corridor to your room without having to pass anyone else's room on the port side." He smiled wickedly. "You had to poison us, Doyle. You had to make certain no one on the port side would hear you running down the hall."
"But he had a broken leg," Dan reminded him. "I saw him get shot."
"Did you? Or did you just see a gun being fired and a man clutching his leg with a red-stained handkerchief?" Lamont picked up the stained handkerchief. "As you can see, Doyle, you didn't throw your little parcel quite far enough. It got caught in the rigging of the lifeboats, which was where the maintenance crew found it. This handkerchief is quite interesting. Human blood, when it dries, turns a burnt orange color because the iron content oxidizes. This is bright red. My guess is either food dye or printer's ink, both of which stay red when they dry." He looked at Dan. "Remember that bottle of nail polish we found on the vanity?"
Dan looked as if the light suddenly went on. "You're right," he realized.
"So, the prints on the bottle were smeared not from me opening it with a tissue..."
"...but from Doyle's handkerchief, which he held the bottle with while he poured it on his leg." Dan nodded, as if everything were becoming clearer now. "Of course. And he had to put it back on the vanity so we wouldn't find it in his clothes when he was 'rescued' later."
"You saw my broken leg," Arthur reminded him.
"I did. And I remember wondering why your leg was broken so badly. Valerie Bonfamile was about six, seven feet away when she fired the gun. You can't break a femur with a .22 from that distance--it's the biggest bone in the body. The worst you'd get is a flesh wound."
"And not even that if she missed," Lamont reminded him. "I'll bet there's a bullet embedded in the leg of the coffee table in the parlor."
Dan stood up. "Arthur Doyle, you are under arrest for the murder of Alexandra Doyle," he said.
"Not so fast, Dan," Lamont cautioned. "You're forgetting something. Doyle didn't act alone. He couldn't have. There are two other murders that are closely tied to this that Doyle couldn't have committed."
Lamont turned to Valerie. "Every good magician needs an assistant."
Valerie's eyes widened. "No!" she declared. "It's not true!"
"Don't bother denying it," Lamont returned sharply. "You're not that good an actress. You and Doyle were lovers." He waved dismissively. "You still are. Oh, you were trying to create the illusion you were broken apart--the whirlwind courtship of Alexandra, your blatant hatred of her which you were only too happy to share with anyone who'd listen, your obsessive behavior, Doyle's indignant self-righteousness. It was a good act. I was almost fooled. But you made one crucial mistake--you had to set it up so Doyle's injury was only disabling, not fatal. That hardly fits with the outrageous jealousy you were projecting to the world."
"So this whole thing was staged," Margo realized.
"Every bit of it," Lamont replied. "Down to the classic misdirection, designed to give each other the perfect alibi." He flipped the quarter into the air and caught it in his right hand, then began rolling it across his knuckles again. "Who gave Doyle his alibi by shooting him in front of a group of witnesses? Valerie. Who told Alicia Coventry to stay with Valerie? Doyle. Who suggested I be given a carafe of chianti, making certain the poisoned wine would be completely consumed? Valerie. Who used Alexandra's finger to trace a 'V' in blood on the nightstand, a move so outrageous it could only serve to eliminate Valerie as a suspect? Doyle. A set of circular circumstances, so tightly intertwined that they had to be more than coincidence." He rolled the coin into his fist, clicked his fingers, and then opened his empty right palm again. "There was just one problem. Not everybody on the port side was accounted for." He reached to straighten his right cuff with his left hand--and the coin dropped into it from his sleeve, knocking against his heavy ring with a "clink". "Oops," he said. "This is why magicians don't wear jewelry. You never did, did you, Doyle? Never a watch, never a ring, never a bracelet. Too easy for something to knock against them, get caught...give you away. And that's exactly what happened to you."
"Lucille Hebert," Dan interjected. "She overheard the shooting, looked in, and saw Doyle running away."
Arthur scoffed. "Preposterous. You were here when she said she didn't see anything."
Lamont laughed. "You'd like to think that's what we heard. And at first, that's what we did hear. But something wasn't right. Why would Lucille tell us that if she'd been restless, if she'd been awake, if she'd looked in on Alexandra, et cetera? Because she had done all those things. But she wasn't trying to communicate that message to us. She was communicating it to the killer. And the only other person in the room at the time was Arthur Doyle." He smirked. "And you told her exactly what she wanted to hear--that she'd be taken care of. She thought she'd won...she'd successfully blackmailed you. She didn't count on your accomplice being quite so ruthless."
"And I messed up," Dan realized. "I left Valerie alone with him."
"That was the fatal mistake," Lamont agreed. "Stop me if I'm wrong, Doyle, but I'm betting the conversation went something like this..." He looked thoughtful for a moment, then began mimicking both sides of the conversation his telepathic senses were picking out of their growing fear. "'Oh, Arthur, darling, it's going perfectly.' 'The Hell it is--Lucille knows! She saw me! And Cranston asked a lot of questions about the wine--he suspects it was tainted!' 'Then we'll have to shut them up.' 'What? You can't be serious.' 'We have to--it's the only way. Do you still have that snake you were going to put in Alexandra's bed?' 'Yes, but it's in Lucille's cabin.' 'All right, I'll take care of Lucille first. Where's your money--it's what she wants; it'll catch her off-guard.' 'In my jacket.' 'All right--I'll take her some money and deal with her there, then leave the snake for Cranston.' 'This is insane.' 'But it's the only way. We're almost there--just a bit longer.'" He stopped and looked at Arthur and Valerie. "Did I miss anything?"
Shock was spreading across both their expressions. That was almost exactly what they'd said to each other.
"I thought not," Lamont continued. "So, Valerie steals a scalpel and goes off to kill Lucille. But this murder's considerably less carefully planned--and not only does she leave behind a scrap of a hundred-dollar bill in Lucille's hand, but she's also seen by Delilah Coventry heading into my cabin with a large bag in her hands. Presumably the bag contained the cobra Margo accidentally ran across in my bathroom."
Alicia looked stunned. "She killed Mother because Mother saw her," she realized.
"Exactly. Your mother didn't have the most discreet voice...I imagine when she boisterously stopped us in the hall, Valerie overheard her saying she had seen Lucille's killer, went down to Kennedy Van Dyke's room, found the gun she'd seen him fire yesterday to spook the horses, and shot your mother to shut her up." Lamont held up the gun. "I imagine F.B.I. analysis ought to find some extra prints on here that shouldn't be there, right, Dan?"
"Absolutely," Dan agreed.
Lamont put the gun down, then flipped the quarter into the air once more and caught it in his right hand again. "Thus ends the illusion of propriety. All the magician's tricks are known--all his secrets revealed. So, in the end, there was no magic at all--just two people trying to fool lots of others."
Arthur applauded sarcastically. "Excellent performance, Mr. Cranston. But you're forgetting one thing--you have no proof. And no witnesses. Not one person who can verify any of your wild story."
"That's where you're wrong," Margo retorted. "I saw you."
Arthur looked shocked.
Lamont looked at her for a moment. Margo, are you mad?
I know what I'm doing, her mental voice replied. Trust me.
"Don't listen to her, Arthur," Valerie cautioned. "She's bluffing."
"Am I?" Margo smiled. "It was about 12:30 in the morning. Opiates have a strange effect on me--they tend to make me sleep really fitfully. I woke up from one nap and heard feet running by, then a 'pop', and feet running by again. I looked out my door and saw you running back toward the stairs, Mr. Doyle. I forgot about it because I passed out again so quickly, and I thought I'd dreamed it at first. But after what's happened today and what Lamont described, I'm absolutely certain I saw it. And I'll swear to that in a court of law."
Arthur was shaking now. "Valerie, what..." Then, he caught himself.
"What do we do now?" Valerie replied, realizing they were caught. "Nothing." She stood up and walked over to Lamont. "You're very clever, Mr. Cranston. I was hoping you wouldn't catch on to my little act. I should have remembered that you were a very bright man who always got his way." She leaned against the table. "Arthur, do you remember what you said the night you first met Alexandra?"
"That it was a shame such wealth should be wasted on someone so shallow," he replied. "That probably the best thing any man who married her could hope for was that she'd die and leave him everything because it was the only way he'd get any satisfaction out of being with her."
"And that's when I saw the idea form in his head." She shook her head. "Arthur was quite the showman, but he was terribly disorganized. I had to make sure everything was set for him to move from trick to trick. I've always had to take care of everything." She smiled. "So, I staged a second meeting, a chance encounter at a restaurant, where poor Arthur confessed to her that he was so overcome with her dazzling beauty that he had to ask her out. And she fell for it." She looked at Lamont. "Alexandra was always a sucker for men with sparkling eyes and mischievous smiles."
"And you took care of the rest," Lamont told her. "The public scenes...the encounters on the honeymoon...the indignant reactions...all of it."
"Such a bright man." She walked over and sat next to Arthur on the bed. "Yes, I took care of everything...all the details. I've always had to take care of the details." She embraced her lover. "Isn't that right, darling?"
"Valerie, I love you," Arthur said.
Margo rolled her eyes, then noticed the snub-nosed .22 was missing off the table. "The gun!" she shouted.
No sooner had the words left her lips than a shot fired. Arthur Doyle's head collapsed onto the pillows behind him, a bullet through his temple.
Dan drew his gun.
"Stop!" Valerie said, putting the gun to her own temple.
No one dared move. Valerie had already shown her desperation to avoid prosecution with three murders, and no one doubted she would commit suicide if she had to.
Suddenly, a piercing, high-pitched shriek filled the room. Everyone screamed and held their ears, the incredible noise driving into their skulls like a high-speed drill.
The gun flew out of Valerie's grip.
Lamont reached up and caught it.
The shriek stopped.
Dan recovered his senses, then noticed Valerie was no longer holding the gun. "Valerie Bonfamile," he said, "you're under arrest for the murder of Arthur Doyle. And I'm sure we can find lots of other things to charge you with." He pulled handcuffs out of a pouch on his belt, then slapped them on her wrists.
The ship's doctor came running into the infirmary. "What was that horrible shriek?" he asked.
"Probably a steam engine venting," Lamont suggested, shaking his head and rubbing his ears. "You'd better see to Miss Coventry over there--she's been through quite an emotional strain, and I'm sure this didn't help her."
"Of course." The doctor hurried over to her.
"I've never heard a steam engine vent so loud," Margo said, holding her head. "It felt like someone blew an air horn right inside my head."
Or a strong telepathic projection, perhaps?
She looked up at Lamont, her eyes wide. You made that noise?
He nodded discreetly. Telepathic energy converted to sound, then to force. It was the best way I could think of to paralyze everyone in the room so they wouldn't see the gun fly out of her hands. Did I hurt you?
She looked at him sternly. I've certainly felt gentler projections from your mind.
He quietly put the gun back on the table and gently stroked her temples. Sorry about that.
It's all right. You did what you had to.
He looked at her. Did you really see Arthur Doyle running down the hallway?
She smiled mysteriously. Who knows what I really saw? After all, what you described sounded an awful lot like one of my nightmares that night. Maybe I did see it. Or maybe I just dreamed it.
He smiled back. You are amazing. He kissed the top of her head gently.
Dan dragged Valerie off the bed. "Come on," he said. "Security's little brig's about to get a new resident."
"Getting awfully crowded down there," Lamont observed.
"Good. Better there than walking around here." He shoved Valerie out the door.
The Tropical Blossom returned to Florida three days early, and F.B.I. agents came aboard to help Dan Roth bring his three prisoners--Kennedy Van Dyke, Rosalie Van Dyke, and Valerie Bonfamile--off the boat to face justice.
"Well, that about wraps this case up," Dan told Lamont and Margo as the three of them prepared to disembark. "I couldn't have done it without you both. Thanks for everything." He shook their hands.
"You're welcome," Margo said.
"Glad we could help," Lamont added.
Dan looked around for a moment, then turned to Lamont. "Told you he was here," he whispered.
"Who?" Lamont cautioned.
Dan nodded. "That 'steam engine venting' noise we heard? I heard that same sound the night a gunrunner had a shotgun to my head. Same result, too--the next time I looked up, his gun was gone and someone was beating the tar out of him." He smiled. "And you doubted me."
Lamont shrugged. "Just didn't think he needed a vacation."
"Who?" Dan teased, then left.
Lamont and Margo watched him leave. "Well," he said, "so much for a relaxing cruise."
"We do still have three days left before our plane leaves for New York," she reminded him.
"So we do." He took her in his arms. "What did you have in mind?"
She looked thoughtful. "I was thinking maybe we could check into a hotel, get a room overlooking the beach, and spend the next three days creating beautiful memories."
He looked at her sternly. "Two rooms."
"The illusion of propriety?"
He smiled. "The reality of two people with too much luggage. One suite for the bags..."
"And one for us?" She giggled. "Scandalous, Mr. Cranston. Absolutely scandalous."
"Whatever will people say?" he returned.
"Ask me if I care."
Their lips met in a long, luxurious kiss.